Ramblings & ephemera

Some reasons why America hasn’t been attacked since 9/11

Image via Wikipedia From Timothy Noah’s “Why No More 9/11s?: An interactive inquiry about why America hasn’t been attacked again” (Slate: 5 March 2009): … I spent the Obama transition asking various terrorism experts why the dire predictions of a 9/11 sequel proved untrue and reviewing the literature on this question. The answers boiled down […]

Huck Finn caged

From Nicholas Carr’s “Sivilized” (Rough Type: 27 June 2009): Michael Chabon, in an elegiac essay in the new edition of the New York Review of Books, rues the loss of the “Wilderness of Childhood” – the unparented, unfenced, only partially mapped territory that was once the scene of youth. … Huck Finn, now fully under […]

Various confidence scams, tricks, & frauds

From “List of confidence tricks” (Wikipedia: 3 July 2009): Get-rich-quick schemes Get-rich-quick schemes are extremely varied. For example, fake franchises, real estate “sure things”, get-rich-quick books, wealth-building seminars, self-help gurus, sure-fire inventions, useless products, chain letters, fortune tellers, quack doctors, miracle pharmaceuticals, Nigerian money scams, charms and talismans are all used to separate the mark […]

The future of news as shown by the 2008 election

From Steven Berlin Johnson’s “Old Growth Media And The Future Of News” (StevenBerlinJohnson.com: 14 March 2009): The first Presidential election that I followed in an obsessive way was the 1992 election that Clinton won. I was as compulsive a news junkie about that campaign as I was about the Mac in college: every day the […]

How security experts defended against Conficker

From Jim Giles’ “The inside story of the Conficker worm” (New Scientist: 12 June 2009): 23 October 2008 … The dry, technical language of Microsoft’s October update did not indicate anything particularly untoward. A security flaw in a port that Windows-based PCs use to send and receive network signals, it said, might be used to […]

David Foster Wallace on postmodernism & waiting for the parents to come home

From Larry McCaffery’s “Conversation with David Foster Wallace” (Dalkey Archive Press at the University of Illinois: Summer 1993): For me, the last few years of the postmodern era have seemed a bit like the way you feel when you’re in high school and your parents go on a trip, and you throw a party. You […]

David Foster Wallace on the importance of writing within formal constraints

From Larry McCaffery’s “Conversation with David Foster Wallace” (Dalkey Archive Press at the University of Illinois: Summer 1993): You’re probably right about appreciating limits. The sixties’ movement in poetry to radical free verse, in fiction to radically experimental recursive forms—their legacy to my generation of would-be artists is at least an incentive to ask very […]

David Foster Wallace on the problems with postmodern irony

From Larry McCaffery’s “Conversation with David Foster Wallace” (Dalkey Archive Press at the University of Illinois: Summer 1993): Irony and cynicism were just what the U.S. hypocrisy of the fifties and sixties called for. That’s what made the early postmodernists great artists. The great thing about irony is that it splits things apart, gets up […]

Mine fires that burn for 400 years

photo credit: C. Young Photography From Joshua Foer’s “Giant Burning Holes of the World” (Boing Boing: 16 June 2009): … these sorts of mine fires can stay lit for a very long time. One burned in the city of Zwickau, Germany from 1476 to 1860. Another coal fire in Germany, at a place called Brennender […]

7 tools of propaganda

From Roger Ebert’s “The O’Reilly Procedure” (Roger Ebert’s Journal: 14 June 2009): The seven propaganda devices include: Name calling — giving something a bad label to make the audience reject it without examining the evidence; Glittering generalities — the opposite of name calling; Card stacking — the selective use of facts and half-truths; Bandwagon — […]

The Uncanny Valley, art forgery, & love

photo credit: hans s From Errol Morris’ “Bamboozling Ourselves (Part 2)” (The New York Times: 28 May 2009): [Errol Morris:] The Uncanny Valley is a concept developed by the Japanese robot scientist Masahiro Mori. It concerns the design of humanoid robots. Mori’s theory is relatively simple. We tend to reject robots that look too much […]

David Foster Wallace on rock, the rise of mass media, & the generation gap

From Larry McCaffery’s “Conversation with David Foster Wallace” (Dalkey Archive Press at the University of Illinois: Summer 1993): Rock music itself bores me, usually. The phenomenon of rock interests me, though, because its birth was part of the rise of popular media, which completely changed the ways the U.S. was unified and split. The mass […]

David Foster Wallace on the familiar & the strange

From Larry McCaffery’s “Conversation with David Foster Wallace” (Dalkey Archive Press at the University of Illinois: Summer 1993): If you mean a post-industrial, mediated world, it’s inverted one of fiction’s big historical functions, that of providing data on distant cultures and persons. The first real generalization of human experience that novels tried to accomplish. If […]

Van Gogh on death

From Roger Ebert’s “Go gentle into that good night” (Roger Ebert’s Journal: 2 May 2009): Van Gogh in Arles wrote this about death: Looking at the stars always makes me dream, as simply as I dream over the black dots representing towns and villages on a map. Why? I ask myself, shouldn’t the shining dots […]

Immortality, poetically

From Roger Ebert’s “Go gentle into that good night” (Roger Ebert’s Journal: 2 May 2009): And there is Shakespeare, who came as close as any man to immortality. In my plans for life after death, I say, again with Whitman: I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love, If you […]

Steve Jobs on mediocrity & market share

From Steven Levy’s “OK, Mac, Make a Wish: Apple’s ‘computer for the rest of us’ is, insanely, 20” (Newsweek: 2 February 2004): If that’s so, then why is the Mac market share, even after Apple’s recent revival, sputtering at a measly 5 percent? Jobs has a theory about that, too. Once a company devises a […]

Fossils are the lucky ones

From Errol Morris’ “Whose Father Was He? (Part Five)” (The New York Times: 2 April 2009): I had an opportunity to visit the fossil collections at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana. It was part of a dinosaur fossil-hunting trip with Jack Horner, the premier hunter of T-Rex skeletons. Downstairs in the lab, […]

David Foster Wallace on leadership

From David Foster Wallace’s “The Weasel, Twelve Monkeys And The Shrub: Seven Days In The Life Of The Late, Great John McCain” (Rolling Stone: 13 April 2000): The weird thing is that the word “leader” itself is cliché and boring, but when you come across somebody who actually is a real leader, that person isn’t […]

Why did Thomas Jefferson bring a stuffed moose to France?

From David G. Post’s “Jefferson’s Moose” (Remarks presented at the Stanford Law School Conference on Privacy in Cyberspace: 7 February 2000): In 1787, Jefferson, then the American Minister to France, had the “complete skeleton, skin & horns of the Moose” shipped to him in Paris and mounted in the lobby of his hotel. One can […]

Totalitarian regimes adopt the trappings of religion for themselves

From Steven Weinberg’s “Without God” (The New York Review of Books: 25 September 2008): It has often been noted that the greatest horrors of the twentieth century were perpetrated by regimes – Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia, Mao’s China – that while rejecting some or all of the teachings of religion, copied characteristics of religion at […]