Dagger in hand

A man of prodigious fortune, coming to add his opinion to some light discussion that was going on casually at his table, began precisely thus: "It can only be a liar or an ignoramus who will say otherwise than," and so on. Pursue that philosophical point, dagger in hand.

--Michel de Montaigne, Of the art of discussion.

Stab back: cmnewman99-at-yahoo.com


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Friday, December 08, 2006
Your results:
You are Zoe Washburne (Second-in-command)

Zoe Washburne (Second-in-command)
Wash (Ship Pilot)
Kaylee Frye (Ship Mechanic)
Dr. Simon Tam (Ship Medic)
Malcolm Reynolds (Captain)
Inara Serra (Companion)
River (Stowaway)
Jayne Cobb (Mercenary)
Derrial Book (Shepherd)
A Reaver (Cannibal)
Dependable and trustworthy.
You love your significant other and
you are a tough cookie when in a conflict.

Click here to take the "Which Serenity character am I?" quiz...

Thursday, June 15, 2006
Are their views on some points divergent?

Shloss dissents openly from Joyce’s view on the legitimacy of academic and archival self help while Joyce dissents tacitly from Shloss’s views on suppresion of the influence of hebephrenic balletics on the paternal literature, citing both the existence of altenative methodologies for flaying felines and the dissheveled plumage of certain migratory Columbidae upon return to their habitation in the territory sobrinamed auric.

I'm sure there are people out there who can do a better job of this than I.

Monday, November 28, 2005
'Tis the season to excoriate bad Christmas songs.
And as with so many similar pastimes, no-one does it better than Lileks.
They’re playing Christmas songs at the coffee shop now; the staff informs me that the selection consists of the same four songs played over and over again, but by different artists. I wouldn’t doubt it. There are only four songs, really – religious, secular songs sung like religious songs, happy upbeat modern tunes, and modern krep in which Grandma is run over by a reindeer or the various members of the family gather to rock around the Christmas tree. How this rocking is done I am unsure, since the tree is usually in the corner; thus it would be difficult to rock around the Christmas tree. You would have to rock in a semi-circular pattern. The people on the end would either have to circle around the others, which would mean they were rocking around the persons rocking, or the entire line would have to shift back and forth, permitting the occupant of the center position no more than a few feet of rocking. It is also unclear what sort of rocking we are talking about here; most rocking doesn’t take you around anything. From the Bruce Springsteen grin-and-thrust-and-pump-hip dance to the Foghat-stoner stand-in-place-and-bob-head style, most rocking is done in place. So the whole song falls apart under analysis. Note: it is possible to rock around the clock, this being an expression of rocking performed in time, not space.
To bad he didn't get off a riff on that supremely stupid lyric "It's the new old-fashioned way." Though I suppose that's a pretty accurate description of Hallmark's business model.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005
Of wands and trenchcoats

Via a commenter on Heidi's blog, I found this bit of Harry Potter fanfic, in which the premise is that John Constantine (if you associate that name with Keanu, I pity you) gets hired by Hogwarts to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts. Now one could easily imagine doing this sort of thing as a quickie pastiche joke. But the author Camwyn is far more ambitious, and has the talent to carry it off. While she certainly mines the rich vein of humor inherent in viewing Hogwarts from Constantine's jaded perspective, she's also writing a mini mystery novel that's as intruiguing and engaging as one of Rowling's, in which the characterizations and voices of both Constantine and all the Rowling characters ring perfectly true. If you're a member of that particular subclass of geekdom to whom the above sounds interesting, you should definitely check it out.

Here's a taste from Constantine's "field notes" to whet the appetite:
Hagrid's war all down to one man, some git calling himself Lord Voldemort. Apparently he's some magic psychopathic racist dictator or something who held power 15+ yrs. ago. Reign of terror, people dying left & right, armies of sinister magic creatures, etc. etc., but got his arse served to him on a silver platter by a baby name of Harry Potter. Been trying to stage comeback ever since. Lord V wants to 'purify wizarding race', can't even stand wizards w/muggle ancestors, would be happier if muggles all died screaming. Sounds like every fascist wanker to come down the pike only w/magic. Tried telling Hagrid this. Did not help. Hagrid unwilling even to say Lord V's name. Talked about his allies, though. His Nibs has gang of wizards & witches hanging on his every word- "Death Eaters". Pure-bloods and Muggle-haters, the lot of 'em. All chomping at the bit for a magical race war, though they'll stop off for a bit of torture & such along the way if they're not in a hurry. Then they kill you.

And that's it, apparently. No raising guardian demons from disjointed corpses, no summoning horrors from the bowels of Hell, no nothing. Kill, maim, start race war, all hail Lord V., who's up for jelly & ice cream.

Thursday, November 03, 2005
He comes by it honestly...

So it was Halloween, and what did Lucas insist on dressing as? A monk. Of course, this was not just any random monk. It was a monk with a well-defined schtick. You see, on the hallowed eve he walked around the neighborhood accompanied by a friend of his who was also dressed as a monk. The two of them chanted Latin in unison...pie Iesu domine, dona eis requiem...after which each of them would smack himself in the forehead with a wooden board. (In Lucas's case a clipboard, in his friend's a piece of stryofoam painted to look like wood.) They had a few other friends with them as well. One was dressed as the Black Knight, and the other as a strange cloaked figure in a viking helmet who asked at each house whether they had a shrubbery.

I won't even tell you what happened every time they passed some poor girl dressed as a witch.

Saturday, October 22, 2005
A Firefly/Serenity question.

Yes, I'm a fan. Not to the point where I'm spending large amounts of time and money to become a volunteer member of Universal's marketing arm mind you, but a fan nonetheless. I do have this nagging question, though.

Why don't the Reavers rape and kill each other until there's none (or, I suppose, only one) left? If they're that crazy aggressive, how can they even cooperate with each other enough to keep spaceships flying, plan sophisticated booby traps, organize raiding parties? How can Reaver society be anything but a contradiction in terms?


Friday, October 14, 2005
Aristocratic Originalism

I was intrigued enough to go see this movie, but didn't find most of it as funny as I'd hoped. To make that joke work, you either need truly inspired details that go beyond mere shock value, or a style of delivery that makes it funny. (If anyone's keeping score, I think the best two recitals were Carlin's and Cartman's, for those respective reasons.) Also in the inspired category is the below variation from Wings and Vodka. I think it's actually better than any of the ones in the movie. WARNING: If you are at all squeamish, read no further.
Harriet Miers walks into the Senate Judiciary Committee's confirmation hearings. Arlen Specter asks her, "Ms. Miers, how would you describe your approach to interpreting the Constitution?”

Miers, visibly excited, says, “I’m glad you asked. My approach is really quite interesting. I think you’ll like it.”

“Well then,” Specter says. “Let’s hear it.”

Miers launches into an explanation: “Well, first thing I do is find a fairly quiet room with a clean desk. I put the Constitution on one side of the desk, and a Bible on the other. I then completely disrobe, as to be completely unfettered for the job at hand.”

“Uh, Ms. Miers, I’m not sure that—”

“I then take the Constitution and stick it all the way up my ass. This is fairly difficult, because I like to use a large, leather-bound version, but I’ve gotten much better at it. It’s usually just the gold-plated index tabs that hurt.”

“Ms. Miers, you realize that we’re on C-SPAN right now....”

“Then, once the Constitution is safely hidden in my rectum, I bring my cat—Oscar—into the room, and begin feeding him pages of the Bible. He mostly likes the New Testament. Of course, since the Bible I use is printed on a 15% cotton-fiber stock, Oscar can only keep it down for so long. But when he finally coughs up the Bible-laden hairball, the pages have been reduced to a fine paste that it is somehow perfectly suited for use as decorative body paint.”

“I really think we should take a break now, Ms. Miers.”

“Wait just a moment. So now that I have this kitty-puke body paint, I’m finally ready for the midget to come in.”

“Ms. Miers—”

“I’m sorry, little person. The little person takes the cat-vomit paint, and begins transcribing my thoughts on the facts of the case in longhand, backwards, using, for parchment, my glorious, naked body, and using, for a quill, his glorious—”

“Would somebody get a paramedic in here? I think Feinstein just fainted!”

“Now, while the anatomically-gifted dwarf is dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s, I take a moment to forcibly eject the Constitution from my cavity. I then beat the cat to death with it—that little fucker just ate my Bible, after all—skin his corpse, and spread it out onto the desk. I then proceed to pleasure the Sex Gnome with the Constitution, all the while rolling my body across the desk, which transfers a now-readable version of the transcription onto the spread-out cat’s fur. I then wrap myself in this fabulous cloak, borrow a quarter from my Magnificent Porn Pygmy, and flip it into the air. If it lands on heads, I donate the cloak to charity, marry the little guy, and decide for the appellant on moral grounds. If it lands on tails, I donate the Oompa Loompa to charity, have myself declared legally married to the Cat-Skin-and-Puke Blanket, and decide for the appellee on a technicality.”

At this point, Feinstein has fainted, Kennedy has had three heart attacks, and Specter looks as if he’s just vomited down his suit pants, which, in fact, he has. “That’s quite a judicial philosophy you have there, Ms. Miers,” he says. “What do you call it?”

Miers jumps up from her seat, gives a cute little wave of her hands and says:


Thursday, October 13, 2005
When judges have baggage

From a case I had to read today:
The Erlichs may have hoped to build their dream home and live happily ever after, but there is a reason that tag line belongs only in fairy tales. Building a house may turn out to be a stress-free project; it is much more likely to be the stuff of urban legends--the cause of bankruptcy, marital dissolution, hypertension and fleeting fantasies ranging from homicide to suicide.
Erlich v. Menezes, 21 Cal. 4th 543, 557-58 (1999)

Gee, I wonder what the backstory to that little observation was.

Indisputably hilarious
Opposing counsel has served a request for judicial notice of facts contained in a Wikipedia article. If you understand the operative terms in that sentence, you probably understand why I've been chuckling all morning.

Friday, September 09, 2005
What he said.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005
The watchmaker may be blind, but students should be taught to keep their eyes open.

While on one level my gut reaction is to agree with Glenn and Rick, on the other hand I actually don't think it is a worthless exercise to expose kids to a debate like this as an exercise in critical thinking. Which is what science is supposed to be: a careful weighing of the evidence and reasoning that support two different ways of understanding a phenomenon. Unfortunately, the way science is taught and discussed these days is too often too close to a sort of religious faith. Instead of "revealed truth" we have "proven theories," and instead of accepted dogma we have the current "scientific consensus." This is dangerous to science and to critical thinking in general, because it encourages the idea that unless you are a "scientist" you have no basis on which to form an opinion about certain topics and no ability to evaluate the relative merits of two "scientific" assertions. And yet we ask jurors to evaluate the competing views of opposing scientific experts, and voters to evaluate policy arguments based on competing scientific assertions of cause and effect. And well we should, unless we would place all decisions in the hands of a class of self-selected mandarins. We are all called upon to be scientists to some degree or other, and you do not train scientists by teaching them to toss out dissenting theories with a sneer rather than an argument. Intellectual authority is the death of science whether the authority is Aristotle, the Church, or the op-eds in Scientific American. Even if (as I believe it is) Intelligent Design is an inferior theory to Evolution, allowing proponents of both theories to present their arguments and critique those of the other side would be a valuable lesson, particularly because I guarantee it will make those kids understand the theory of evolution a lot better than they do now. You don't really understand a theory until you've seriously considered a counter-argument and worked through the reasons for choosing one over the other.

Note that I said ID is "inferior," not that it is "wrong." This is an important distinction, and it points to another issue that is buried in the way kids are taught to think about science. A scientific theory is a tool that serves some end, and it can be evaluated only by reference to how well it fulfills that end. The criteria for making these evaluations are not self evident, nor are they easily separable from the kinds of considerations one might well call religious. Go read the debate between Newton and Leibniz, or remember Einstein's rejection of quantum theory on the ground that "God does not play at dice." No doubt one of the reasons the ID crowd prefer their theory is that they think it more consonant with the dignity of man and his view of his place in the universe. Is that an invalid criterion? If so, is it moreso than the requirement that a theory be "elegant"? Why? I don't say there aren't good answers to these questions; I merely say that kids should be taught that they really are questions that need answers. Nor am I claiming that no theory is ever really "wrong." Sure it is, if it contradicts observed phenomena. Easy enough to say in the abstract. But in practice how do you decide how much skepticism to aim at reports of new observations that call into question theories you hold dear? That too depends in part on what ends your theory serves, and there is a margin within which all of us are willing to tolerate some sacrificed accuracy in exchange for a comprehensive worldview that we feel at home in. Easy enough to sneer at the knuckleheads who cling to ID; how many of the people doing the sneering cling to a worldview informed by Marxism?

Now, would the teaching of ID endorsed by Bush come anywhere near to what I envision as potentially salutary? I don't know, and I fear not. Worst case scenario would be that both views are simply presented as "equally valid" and left to the children to choose between as a matter of preference or faith without any serious criticism of either one. In other words, the very sort of mindless multiculturalism the right is supposed to oppose. There's also a slippery slope problem. Does every crackpot theory get equal time to be heard and refuted in school? I actually think that there is a good argument for distinguishing ID from the other competitors that Rick lists, few of which are seriously cared about by many people or deal with basic scientific issues. It's worth having somewhere in the curriculum where basic questions about the nature and validity of science are problematized rather than assumed and spoon-fed, and this is a good place to do it precisely because it implicates deep religious concerns and yet the ID people at least purport to be arguing on a playing field of reason. So let them have their say.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005
Oh please

Let this be good. Oh please oh please oh please. [Seen via the yuppies.]

I dressed up as V for a Halloween party last year and had to spend all night explaining who the hell I was supposed to be. It appears that for once in my life I was ahead of the curve.

Friday, July 01, 2005
Goodbye to Sandra D.

Justice O'Connor is retiring. Effective, that is, upon the confirmation of her successor. How wonderfully in character! After all, we wouldn't want to decide now, definitively and for all time, whether she is retired. It's important to leave open lots of room for later facts to influence the result when the question is raised again:

"Is Justice O'Connor retired?"

"Well, I don't know. We need to apply the four-part O'Connor Retirement balancing test to the facts as reported in the newspapers today."

I guess this is my last chance to drag out the little ditty I scrawled in the margins of my Federal Courts casebook one frustrating day...
Look at me, I'm Sandra D.
Lousy with consistency
Won't draw bright lines, I can still change my mind!
Why not?! I'm Sandra D!
As Bill Maher would say, I kid the Justice. And I'll restrain my churlishness long enough to say that she's a very classy lady who deservedly made history. I wish her many happy returns back on the ranch.
Sandy, you must start anew
Don't you know what you must do?
Hold your head high, take a deep breath and sigh...

Thursday, June 23, 2005
Interview with Oriana
Such words--"invaders," "invasion," "colony," "Eurabia"--are deeply, immensely, Politically Incorrect; and one is tempted to believe that it is her tone, her vocabulary, and not necessarily her substance or basic message, that has attracted the ire of the judge in Bergamo (and has made her so radioactive in the eyes of Europe's cultural elites).
Just so. And it was so unnecessary. She could have made her case so much more reasonably, rigorously, without giving her enemies a pretext for dismissing it out of hand. But then she wouldn't be Oriana.

Now he tells me...

So I downloaded and read In the Beginning was the Command Line, Neal Stephenson's brilliant little (well, if 40,000 words is little) essay on the cultural and epistemological ramifications of operating systems. In junior high I actually took a "calculator/computer" class in which we programmed a computer (which even by the standards of that day seemed more like a glorified cash register, whose numeral-only output was printed on receipt tape) using punch cards fed into a reader, and got in trouble for playing with the resultant confetti just as he describes. And in college I had some fun writing little programs in BASIC to do things like calculate the golden mean or graph equations on my Apple II. (This was after Macs had already come out, thus continuing my unbroken pattern of being firmly behind the curve on adoption of new technology.) So even though my level of technical skill is so rudimentary that I would never dream of presuming to apply to myself the honorific "hacker," I kind of feel like a fellow traveller. So I read the essay, and Neal's got me all fired up to eschew the mediated idol worship of the GUI and take full grasp of my destiny by swallowing the red pill, learning Linux, and becoming a Morloch in good standing who actually knows how to read rather than just watch pretty pictures. And then, something in the back of my mind reminds me that long before I read the essay, I'd seen a follow-up comment about it by Neal on his website. What was it, now?

Oh yeah, that would be this comment:
In the Beginning was the Command Line is now badly obsolete and probably needs a thorough revision. For the last couple of years I have been a Mac OS X user almost exclusively.
Oh. Well. Never mind, then.