Thursday, December 20, 2007

Just How Crazy Do You Have to Be...?

...to get the American Conservative magzine to call bullshit on you?

Apparently, you have to be Rudy Giuliani crazy.

(And everyone in and related to New York City starts to slowly let out the breath they only now realize they've been holding ever since Rudy started running for President, now that the country is beginning to realize how bugfuck insane Giuliani is.)

(Hat tip to The Rude Pundit.)

Monday, December 17, 2007

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Mitt Romney and Wicked Huge Gay Rats

The sad thing is that this ad is only a slight exaggeration of what's airing in Iowa these days.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Nice Political Ad

Apparently, this ad (PDF) is being run in 10 Iowa papers.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Whaa....?

Dennis Kucinich would like to have Ron Paul as his running mate.

My brain has officially given up. There's no way you could top that.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

WTF? (Republican Evil Edition, volume XXXVII)

The Carpetbagger Report has the story that wounded soldiers are being asked to return signing bonuses because, you see, they aren't fulfilling the terms of their contract. Because, being wounded, they aren't out there fighting.

I think my head has officially imploded.

How pathetic can the Democrats be to have this bullshit going on and still not be able to fight off the Support the Troops "argument"?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Why Are Democrats So Lame, #1319: Torture Edition

Via Making Light and Carpetbagger Report, an Air Force interrogator smacks down the idea that torture can work in a "ticking bomb" situation.

Why isn't the Democratic response to these chickenhawks simply this?

  • Torture doesn't work.
  • Torture is immoral. There's no room for relativism here.
  • Torture puts our troops at risk. If we torture, we pretty much guarantee that our troops will be tortured. If you're pro-torture, you're against the troops.

This seems obvious to me. Am I missing something?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Is it Just Me...

...or is anyone else wondering what Trey Parker and Matt Stone could do with a straight-up fantasy epic (perhaps in paper-craft animation like South Park)?

(See TV Squad or Comedy Central for more info, or to watch the Imaginationland 3-parter.)

Now That's What I'm Talking About

MIT's modular car.

I don't want to buy another car -- we simply don't need one -- but it'd be nice to have rentals easily available, and I live just slightly too far out (so far) for ZipCar.

Plus, this is really neat.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Which SF Crew Would You Be Part Of?

Via Emma Bull, Which sci-fi crew would you best fit in with?.

Somewhat surprisingly, I ended up on Serenity:

You scored as a Serenity (Firefly)
You like to live your own way and don't 
enjoy when anyone but a friend tries to 
tell you should do different. Now if only 
the Reavers would quit trying to skin you.
Serenity (Firefly)                                81%
Moya (Farscape)                                   75%
Nebuchadnezzar (The Matrix)                       75%
SG-1 (Stargate)                                   63%
Millennium Falcon (Star Wars)                     63%
Babylon 5 (Babylon 5)                             63%
Heart of Gold (Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy)  56%
Galactica (Battlestar: Galactica)                 56%
Deep Space Nine (Star Trek)                       56%
Andromeda Ascendant (Andromeda)                   50%
Enterprise D (Star Trek)                          50%
FBI's X-Files Division (The X-Files)              44%
Bebop (Cowboy Bebop)                              38%

Friday, October 05, 2007

Saturday, September 29, 2007

No Wonder No One Listens to Classical Music

I was listening to WCRB (Boston's classical music station), and their station identification phrase is "Relaxing and Unique, Boston's Classical Music Station".

No wonder so many people think that classical music is the province of orthodontist waiting rooms.

Feh.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Bad Web UI Rant #769

Is it just me, or are more and more web sites looking more and more like bad knockoffs of MYST, without the pretty pictures? I mean, in terms of trying to find functionality -- you have to go rooting around a bunch of different pages and dropdown menus and make sure you don't overlook some small link over in the corner, and so on.

No, wait, MYST was fun. These are more like bad knockoffs of Riven.

(I am mostly referring to DNS registrars, who in my experience mostly suck. There's a reason I'm up at this hour.)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

WTF? #1517

In Orem, Utah, a 70-year-old woman was arrested for not watering her lawn.

Apparently she "is charged with resisting arrest and failing to maintain her landscaping, both misdemeanors."

WTF?

Failing to water your lawn is a misdemeanor? In Utah? It's a desert, for crying out loud!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Review: Heroes

Heroes Season 1 came out on DVD a couple of weeks ago, and The Spouse and I got it from Netflix (actually, we rented disks 3 and 4 from our local video store because we were impatient) and watched it. We enjoyed it immensely.

Good writing, good acting (great casting), high quality production values (including really perfect use of CGI to flesh out various locations), great camera work, and a fabulous soundtrack (which isn't out in audio form yet, more's the pity). Overall, it's one of the best shows I've seen in a long time.

What I'm mostly worried about going into Season 2 are (a) having to go from a DVD marathon to week-to-week broadcasts; and (b) how do you top Season 1? A big problem with a lot of SF/Fantasy work is that the first volume (book, season, whatever) establishes the backstory and the universe (which is, after all, a whole lot of the fun), and later volumes can't do more than embroider it or maybe reinterpret it.

One minor quibble: we were both able to predict a major plot point in the season finale based on a prophetic dream they showed us about 2/3 of the way through the season. It seemed fairly obvious. But there were enough twists and turns throughout the season that had us chortling and OMFG-ing that I can't really hold that against them too terribly. (There was one episode mid-season that had a really big plot hole in it, but I cannot at this moment remember what it was, so I guess it didn't stress me out too much.) The pacing was pretty good, too.

Bottom line: highly recommended.

Bad Web UI Rant #761

Today's things I hate about bad web sites:

  • Sites which can't (won't) take passwords with non-alphanumeric symbols. (I've even run across some sites which won't take numbers. [!])
  • Form fields which are supposed to take numbers (like phone or credit card numbers) and require you to not include spaces or dashes. How hard is it to strip those out?

Weak.

</rant>

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Summer Movie Roundup

Well, RavenWeb did a summer roundup, so this give me the excuse to do so as well....

I finally saw two Will Ferrell movies on DVD over the past few days: Talladega Nights and Blades of Glory.

Talladega Nights is somewhat funny, and might be worth a rainy-Saturday rental, but it's not fantastic. (The extras are far funnier than the movie, which is always a bad sign.) It's too long by 30 minutes or so, and goes in too many directions at once -- over the top crazy for a while, then maudlin, then tear-jerker, then crazy again. It takes genius writing and editing to pull that off, and the filmmakers don't in this case. The supporting cast is quite good, with small but good supporting turns by Molly Shannon, Amy Adams, Michael Clarke Duncan, Jane Lynch, and Gary Cole, plus a criminally underutilized Sacha Baron Cohen. The two actors playing "Ricky Bobby"s sons ("Walker" and "Texas Ranger") are fantastic, especially the younger, Grayson Russell. Expect to see more of him.

Blades of Glory was a pleasant surprise: a tight, funny movie that never takes itself terribly seriously. Ferrell and Jon Heder play men's figure skaters who get booted out of competition for fighting, and later combine to do doubles skating (through a rules loophole) to get back on the ice. Hilarity ensues. Lots of homosqueamish jokes ensue, but they don't seem mean-spirited (except towards the characters showing the squeamishness). Good guest turns by Jenna Fischer, Will Arnett, Amy Poehler, and several real figure skaters round out a fun time. Recommended for a nice brainless hour and a half of fun.

RavenWeb may have liked Knocked Up, but I thought it rotted. The 40 Year Old Virgin was far funnier, and far less stupid, in my opinion. I found Knocked Up implausible, semi-insulting, and far too hyped. Plus, I don't like Seth Rogen much. Paul Rudd was good in the supporting role, but it's Leslie Mann (director Judd Apatow's wife) who really shines -- as an actress -- her character was annoying.

I know I saw more movies this summer, but I can't remember them.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Bandwidth Theft

So apparently dozens of people have decided to use a picture from my web site as their blog picture, by simply linking to it (which of course, means that my web site gets a hit every time someone reads that blog page). Many of these are in Spain.

I have renamed the picture and unlinked it from anything in my web pages (it was only linked to one).

I am very tempted to replace the picture with a GIF containing the text "I Steal Bandwidth", in English and Spanish. But since the original picture was a copyright-violating scan of the Michael Whelan cover of Chanur's Venture (which ironically has no cover image available on Amazon), I think I'll (regretfully) pass.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Don't Use Antibacterial Soap

I've long thought that antibacterial soap should be banned, and now scientists confirm this.

It does make me wonder how creationists deal with this, since antibiotic resistance is clearly Evolution In Action.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Why Cory Doctorow Matters

Cory Doctorow writing in the Guardian about Digital Rights Management:

The DRM business model is the urinary tract infection of media experiences: all of the uses that used to come in an easy gush now come in a mingy, painful dribble - a few pennies out of your pocket every time you want to watch a show again, hit the pause button, or rewind.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Cheney Earns his First Name, Again

Dick Cheney in 1994 explains why George H.W. Bush didn't push on to Baghdad after the Gulf War.

If I weren't so cynical about the current Administration, I'd wonder what happened to Cheney between 1994 and 2000 to make him so seriously crazy.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Stardust

Saw Stardust tonight with The Spouse. We both enjoyed it a lot. The theater was at most 25% full for a 6:30 show, which doesn't bode well for the weekend gross. It's not like I'm not going to buy it on DVD anyway.

It's a tad long and a bit loose at the end -- some extra editing might have kept the pace up. But other than that, it's really enjoyable. Some reviews knocked Claire Danes, but I thought she was well cast. Some reviews (possibly the same ones) thought it was confusing -- but that just tells you something about the reviewers, since I thought everything was fairly clear. (Admittedly, I've read the book -- but not in a couple of years.) Michelle Pfeiffer was great, De Niro was over-the-top (in a good way), and small parts by Rupert Everett and Ricky Gervais were wonderful. But in my opinion, the real find is Charlie Cox, as Tristran (the hero).

Highly recommended.

Best Panda Video Ever

Back in the mists of time, one of the first things we recorded on our first TiVo was an Animal Planet (I think) show on pandas. There was a clip that we used the TiVo "jump back 8 seconds button" on incessantly. I wish we'd kept that recording, but now we don't have to worry, because the Group Mind has placed it on YouTube. Now if only can I figure out how to put it on continuous loop....

Friday, July 20, 2007

Avenue Q meets Fiddler on the Roof

I can't believe I haven't already linked to this mashup between Avenue Q and Fiddler on the Roof. (Part of the Broadway Cares / Equity Fight AIDS program from 2006.) Possibly one of the funniest things I've seen in years.

Netflix and Bill Hicks

So Netflix knows I like Bill Hicks. But their explanation why they recommended one of his DVDs is really weird:

Buh.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

What Would Wile E. Coyote Order From Here?

Found and photographed in Buffalo, posted with no comment.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Rapturous Bumper Stickers

My sister saw one of these a few days ago (apparently there are actual "Come the rapture, this car will be unmanned" bumperstickers around where she lives): "In case of rapture, can I have your car?". Also "In case of rapture, this car will be unmanned. It will then recklessly careen into children at a school crossing -- killing all of them.".

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

I Am Never the First To Think of Something Part 2

I came up with this a few days ago and lo! the Internet provides proof that someone came up with it at least a month before I did: ICANN has cheezburger.

(See ICANN and lolcats if you didn't get that. But if you didn't get it, you probably won't care.)

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Boom

Now this is a summer camp I wish we'd had when I was a teenager.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Reviews 2007-06-16: Non-Fiction Books

I'm way behind on writing up what books I've read. This is non-fiction books.

In this roundup:

  • 1421: The Year China Discovered America, by Gavin Menzies
  • Programming the Universe, by Seth Lloyd
  • Parasite Rex, by Carl Zimmer
  • How Doctors Think, by Jerome Groopman
  • Better, by Atul Gawande
  • Stumbling on Happiness, by Daniel Gilbert

Gavin Menzies' 1421: The Year China Discovered America is a great companion to 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus (which I reviewed previously). The book subtitle is "The Year China Discovered the World" for the non-American editions. (<insert snarky comment about stupid Americans here>)

Menzies starts his book with an account of how he found a map dated authoritatively to 1424, which showed islands that he eventually deduced were Puerto Rico and Guadeloupe -- including a notation that there was a volcano on Guadeloupe, which matched geological evidence that there had been an eruption between 1400 and 1440 - and not for a hundred years before or after. He started looking at more and more old charts and maps, and kept finding evidence that the European explorers had accurate charts of diverse parts of the world (including Antarctica!) long before they actually visited them. He came to the conclusion that only China could have done the original charting at that time -- no one else had the technology or the manpower to do it.

Menzies is a retired British submarine commander, and has experience crucial to being able to work with the old charts and maps he was investigating -- hands-on experience navigating by stars (especially in the southern hemisphere) as well as first-hand knowledge of currents and charting from near-sea-level.

After a short introdcution, the book starts off with an account of China in 1421: Emperor Zhu Di, third Ming Emperor, opened the just-completed Forbidden City in Beijing (hosting leaders and potentates from all over southern Asia and eastern Africa), and launched a huge fleet of trade/tribute ships (commanded by eunuchs loyal to the emperor), to first take back all the leaders who had come to Beijing and then to chart the world and bring it into China's tribute system.

While the fleet was away, though, lightning started a fire the destroyed much of the Forbidden City, which led to a revolt amongst the Mandarin class (who had been push aside by Zhu Di). The Mandarins, pointing to the fire as evidence that the Mandate of Heaven had been withdrawn from Zhu Di, took power, and closed China. When the trade fleets returned, they were burned to the waterline and all documentation that could be found was destroyed.

What became clear to Menzies was that what little documentation -- some charts and maps -- remained, leaked westward until it was picked up by the Portuguese and Spanish, who used it to their advantage when exploring. Magellan claimed to his mutinous crew to have a chart showing that the Straits of Magellan were actually a strait -- narrowly averting the mutiny. Columbus and his brother made a distorted copy of a world map that showed Africa and Malaysia both extending much further south than they actually do, and used that to convince the Spanish Crown that the Portuguese were in for a rough time looking for an eastward route to the Spice Islands -- and thus the westward route was worth trying. Prince Henry the Navigator ordered his fleets to find the islands they'd seen on a chart ("Antilia" and "Satanaze" -- modern-day Puerto Rico and Guadeloupe).

Menzies, details his slow deciphering of old charts (mostly copies of other, even older charts), and his slow realization that some of these are stunningly correct about parts of the world that Europeans had never seen at that point. (One fascinating example of this is a map that shows what we now call Patagonia, which included drawings some of its now-extinct megafauna. Another is a map of Africa which becomes accurate once ocean currents are taken into account -- the chart was most probably drawn with dead-reckoning as the measurement method; factoring in the current that goes up the west side of Africa and then turns west around the bulge, the map is accurate.)

The book has dozens of examples and a huge amount of detail about the four giant fleets that China sent out in 1421 -- they went all across the Indian Ocean, and thence around to the Cape Verde Islands, where they rendezvous'd and then commenced huge charting expeditions. Menzies believes that there were upwards of 800 ships involved, some of which were 400 feet long. (In contrast, the Santa Maria was about as long as my house.) In addition to the charts, there are a large number of pieces of archaeological, linguistic, and sociological evidence which can at least tentatively be explained by Chinese visitation or even colonization around the world.

Some of the examples seem seriously stretching (there's a claim that Navajo elders in the early 1900s could understand Chinese, which seems really weird to me), but if even half -- or even a third -- of the possibilities connected to Chinese voyages of discovery, it would be an amazing discovery.

Fundamentally, there's nothing outlandish (or even surprising) about the idea that Chinese seafarers made it to the Americas or had charted most of the world -- China in the early 15th Century, after all, was decades if not centuries ahead of the rest of the world technologically and scientifically. But the idea that they might have charted the world, and then thrown it all away, is just mindblowing. But the Mandarin closing of China is (ironically) fairly well documented, and any such voyages of discovery could easily have been wiped out of the official historical record. (Far stranger things have happened.)

The documentary evidence in European archives -- letters between the Columbus brothers, Magellan's claims to his sailors, and so on -- are in many ways the most convincing, although a few archaeological sites (like a wreck buried in the sands in the Sacramento river turning out to be a Chinese Junk) would be well-nigh incontrovertible. The drama of this discovery is still unfolding -- a lot of data is still being brought to light. Menzies has a web site, www.1421.tv, which includes recent finds and corroborating data.

Bottom line: fascinating subject and an entertaining book. The book could have been edited a bit better, and I really wish that more diagrams had been included -- like "before" and "after" versions of charts with the currents included. I also wished for more of the actual detective story in addition to the results. But overall, highly recommended.


Seth Lloyd's Programming the Universe was a disappointment. It's hard to tell if it would be disappointing to other people, though, because it's about the physics of the Universe being a computer. Being a former physicist and current computer geek, I figured this would be right up my alley, but it turned out to be far too vague for me on both the physics and the computing. It may be that someone for whom both subjects were relatively unknown would feel more enlightened.

Bottom line: I was bored by it, but you might not be.


Carl Zimmer's Parasite Rex is a collection of essays that Zimmer put together in 2001. It feels more like an interconnected set of essays than a book, which isn't always bad, but this seemed like a rough joining job. That being said, I really like Zimmer's writing (he blogs over at scienceblogs.com too), and there's a lot of fascinating (if potentially disgusting) things in here.

From the life cycle of malaria to liver flukes, there are a lot of weird life forms out there, and Zimmer's central point -- that scientists have neglected parasites -- is well supported. Some of his more speculative ideas (that lack of parasites in first world countries lead to increased allergies and other immune system disorders) are less well supported, but are quite plausible and seem like great areas of further research.

Bottom line: recommended if you have a strong stomach.


It seems like every other doctor in Boston is writing a book these days, and Jerome Groopman is one of the better ones. I've been reading his articles in The New Yorker and other places for a while now, and almost always enjoy them. How Doctors Think is Groopman's long meditation on the number of ways that doctors can mis-think, mis-diagnose, and otherwise mess up when treating patients.

The book is a good read. It's mostly anecdotal in approach, and while each episode is fascinating, I ultimately wanted some higher-level wrapup or framing for the various cognitive issues that Groopman is addressing.

Bottom line: a good read, but not the best thing in the world.


Atul Gawande's Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance is another of the Boston-doctor-written books (he's also a New Yorker writer), and it's a very good book indeed. Gawande is for my money a better writer than Groopman -- better on the word-by-word, sentence-by-sentence level (he approaches poetry sometimes), and better on the integration of large and small scales of focus. Better is about efforts to make health care, well, better. His critical eye ranges from attempts to make doctors actually wash their hands (a truly scary chapter for anyone who knows someone who's been in the hospital recently) to the effort to eradicate polio in India, taking in along the way doctors involved in capital punishment, what kind of money doctors make, and how army physicians have achieved astounding results saving lives in Iraq.

All through the book, it's clear you're in the hands of someone who is humane and cares deeply about both the systemic, emotional, moral, ethical, and, well, human dimensions of the practice of medicine. It's one of the best nonfiction, non-history books I've read in a long time.

Bottom line: highly recommended.


Daniel Gilbert's Stumbling on Happiness is a survey of the current understanding about how humans make -- and fail to make -- themselves happy. It's mostly about how we fail to understand what does make us happy, and how we mis-predict how we'll feel in the future and how we felt in thte past. It's a solid addition to the "wow, this data is totally counterintuitive -- our intuition sucks" genre.

I enjoyed reading this book a lot, but while I read it most recently of all the nonfiction books reviewed here, I really don't remember much about it. The amount of detail was overwhelming. One thing that did stick with me was the study that showed (based on highly granular emotional-state self-reports) that men and women react very similarly emotionally -- but later on, they drastically differ in their memory and categorization, with men de-emphasizing emotional reactions and women over-emphasizing them.

There's a lot of great detail in the book, and I think I'm going to have to re-read it to make it stick. Perhaps, though, I've forgotten most of it because to remember it would destroy my carefully-wrought defense mechanisms that I use to avoid predicting correctly what I've felt in the past and how I'll feel in the future.

Bottom line: recommended.


To summarize:

BookWriterRating (out of 5 stars)
1421: The Year China Discovered AmericaGavin Menzies4.7
Programming the UniverseSeth Lloyd3.0
Parasite RexCarl Zimmer4.0
How Doctors ThinkJerome Groopman4.0
BetterAtul Gawande4.6
Stumbling on HappinessDaniel Gilbert4.3

Home Inspection Nightmares

This Old House has a new gallery of Home Inspection Nightmares. (This is volume 6; there are links to earlier ones.)

I'm literally stunned at the kind of stuff people do to their houses.

Linked in honor of people I know who have just closed or are about to close on houses.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Movie Review Roundup #2

It's time for another installment of Movie Review Roundup!

In this issue:

  • The Departed
  • The Good Shepherd
  • Jarhead

First up: The Departed, which I saw on the LimoLiner bus to NYC. It's a fantastic cast (Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, Leonardo DiCaprio, Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin, and Jack Nicholson in the various leads, with a bunch of solid backup in the rest of the cast. It's very well-made, enjoyable to watch, and gratifyingly bang-y for the buck at the end. It's not the best movie ever made, and it probably wasn't really the Best Picture of last year (although it sure was better than Crash), but it was darn good. And they actually filmed Boston pretty well.

Bottom line: good, solid mob/cop movie with a stellar cast.


Apparently this is Matt Damon week, because I also watched The Good Shepherd recently. This is a very well done but awfully depressing movie which should be subtitled "How Skull & Bones Fucked Up the World". It follows Matt Damon's character, Edward Wilson, from 1939 (being inducted into Skull & Bones) as he works in the OSS during World War 2 and then helps set up the CIA, all the way through 1962, after the Bay of Pigs fiasco.

Good news: Robert DeNiro can actually direct.

Bad news: Robert DeNiro can't edit down as far as he should. The movie was about 20 minutes longer than it needed to be, I think. Also, I think casting Angelina Jolie as Wilson's unloved socialite wife was probably a mistake -- it makes it much harder to believe some of what goes on, because she's so damn hot.

Bottom line: good movie, but not one I'd see again.


Jarhead is one I've been meaning to see for a while, and we finally watched it yesterday. I enjoyed the book a lot, although I found it a little scattered. The move is less scattered; they linearized the plot and (of necessity) removed a bunch of details. I think this actually is a bad thing in a lot of ways. (They got Catch-22 to work as a movie, even with the insane time-jumping, but maybe Mike Nichols is a better director than Sam Mendes, or Buck Henry is a better screenwriter than William Broyles.)

Jake Gyllenhaal is a good actor, but I'm not sure he's right to play Swofford in this movie. On the other hand, the supporting cast is great -- Peter Sarsgaard's habitually flat affect actually works well here, and Jamie Foxx is great. The relative unknowns rounding out the rest of the cast do a good job too.

Ultimately, though, the movie seems kind of random and annoying in ways that the book did not, and it was fundamentally unsatisfying.

(It doesn't help that it was a stark reminder of when a President George Bush prosecuted a war in the Middle East with actual planning and multilateral cooperation.)


To summarize:

MovieQuality Rating (out of 5 stars)Enjoyability Rating (out of 5)
The Departed4.14.4
The Good Shepherd4.03.5
Jarhead3.53.8

Irony, thy name is Bork

Robert Bork, spurned Supreme Court nominee and noted supporter of tort "reform" sues the Yale Club of New York City for $1M + punitive damages, because he slipped and fell there when giving a talk.

I really can't add much to that.

Via Making Light.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Way Too Accurate

This will hit close to home for anyone who ever played D&D.

Via Pharyngula.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Today's Moment of Self-Reflexivity

I was reading Michael Bérubé's latest post at Crooked Timber, and he made reference (semi-ironic as is his wont) to a Bourdieu Chart. I wasn't familiar with that term, and went and google'd it -- and the first thing that came up was Michael Bérubé's latest post at Crooked Timber.

Perhaps Google should replace one or both of its "o"s with ourobouroses. (Ouroubouri? Ourobouropodes?)

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Kangaroos Self-rooing

I had no idea kangaroos did that.

Movie Review Roundup

I've watched a number of movies (on DVD, mostly) recently, and I figured I'd do some quick writeups. Since most of these movies have been out for months if not years, I figure I don't have to worry about spoilers.

In this roundup:

  • X-Men 3: The Last Stand
  • Kinky Boots
  • Children of Men
  • Happy Feet
  • Stranger than Fiction
  • Armageddon

First up: X-Men 3: The Last Stand, which I saw last night with Dan. Simply put, this was entertaining and pretty to watch, but ultimately brain candy, because they made the characters act so stupidly.

Case in point: if you're Magneto, and you can actually move the Golden Gate Bridge with your mind, and you want to destroy something on Alcatraz, why not simply drop the bridge on Alcatraz, rather than landing one end of it on the island, and then having your cannon-fodder minions run off of it into the enfilading fire of the US Army?

And poor Famke Janssen. All she gets to do for most of the movie is stand around and look either (a) miserable or (b) dangerous or (c) both. Oh, I guess she gets to kiss Hugh Jackman too, so she got to do something useful.

Bottom line: recommended as a fun DVD watch, but check your brain at the door.


Kinky Boots is one of those little English movies that no one should ever try to remake as an American movie (but they might try anyway). Based on a true story, it's about a guy (Charlie, played by Joel Edgerton) who can't wait to get out of Northampton and his father's shoe business, and ends up back there running it when his father dies suddenly.

Based on a chance encounter with a transvestite lounge singer named Lola (Chiwetel Ejiofor, stealing yet another movie), Charlie decides that the way to save the factory is to retool and make man-sized thigh-hugging kinky boots for transvetites. Hilarity and exquisitely gauged English embarrassment ensues.

Bottom line: a very fun little movie which I enjoyed even more than I'd hoped. Strongly recommended.


Children of Men is a visually fascinating, subtly acted depressing movie which I actually enjoyed a lot. Directed by Alfonso Cuarón (rapidly becoming one of my favorite directors), the entire movie is played low-key and hyper-realistic, which makes it all the more disturbing.

Basic plot outline is that sometime in our near future (2009 or so) people stop being able to have children (in the book, it's explicitly male infertility, which brings up the obvious "what about sperm banks" question; the movie sidesteps the cause of the infertility). Twenty-odd years later, society is coming apart at seams, and England has turned itself into a fortress to keep out unwanted types (like displaced Germans, in a nice twist).

Clive Owen (one of my favorite actors) plays Theo, a competent but disaffected guy who gets roped into a crazy scheme by his ex-wife Julian (played by Julianne Moore, possibly the only mis-casting in the movie), who heads up a radical group who are harboring a young woman (Kee) who is miraculously pregnant; they want Theo to get her to the coast where she can join up with some shadow organization that can keep her safe.

Betrayals and double-crosses ensue as Julian's group unravels (in part due to her lieutenant Luke -- played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, yet again stealing a movie), and Theo loses ally after ally as he and Kee try to make it to the coast for their rendezvous.

The movie is fairly elliptical, and doesn't actually explain a lot, but it's very well put together, and the picture of 2027 is extremely well done -- just enough change to be odd and interesting, not so much that it's crazy, and everything looks actually used. Also, it's got Michael Caine in a wonderful supporting role.

Bottom line: depressing as hell, but really well made. Recommended but not for people who weep easily.


Happy Feet was possibly one of the stupidest movies I've ever seen. It follows the antics of Mumble, an Emperor Penguin who can't sing (and thus can never get a mate), but who can (and does) tap dance. He's kicked out of the tribe because that makes him, you know, weird. On his adventures he discovers that their food supply is being picked up by weird creatures in big ships.

A lot of noise was made by right-wingers that this was a parable about gay people. I just don't see it. Mumble (voiced by Elijah Wood) wants a girl penguin -- a particular one voiced by Brittany Murphy. It's all about the boy-girl stuff. All his adventures are aimed at the goal of getting the girl.

Then there's the weird pseudo-environmental stuff: Mumble ends up captured by humans and put in an aquarium, where his tap-dancing convinces humans to stop over-fishing Antarctic waters.

The message seems to be that if you're cute, you can convince humans to stop kicking your ass. Otherwise, get out of the way.

And I wonder how many people, having seen this movie, actually think "Ah, problem solved.".

The only funny thing in the movie is Robin Williams as the leader of a set of Adelie penguins. And even that's diluted by having him also voice a different penguin (who has set himself up as a sort of oracle).

Bottom line: totaly incoherent, unfunny, and boring. Skip it.


Stranger than Fiction is a cute little movie which shows that Will Ferrell may actually be able to act. Ferrell plays Harold Crick, a numbers-nerdy IRS auditor who starts hearing a voice narrating his life. We the viewer find out that this is the voice of Karen Eiffel (played by Emma Thompson, making a potentially horribly unlikeable role quite sympathetic), a reclusive author, famous for killing off her protagonists, who is in the midst (or even throes) of writing her latest novel, which stars one Harold Crick.

Crick is assigned the task of auditing a baker played by Maggie Gyllenhaal; the least believable thing about the movie is that they fall for each other. Meanwhile, Crick consults psychologists and ends up talking to a professor of literature played by Dustin Hoffman (amiably chewing the scenery).

The movie probably could have been a few minutes shorter, and not every piece of the conceit works, but it was a fun little movie. My biggest complaint is that Queen Latifah (playing an assistant to Emma Thompson's author, sent by the publishers to get her back on track) didn't get enough screen time.

Bottom line: I enjoyed this little movie. A good DVD view.


Armageddon has been out for nearly ten years, and I finally saw it. This is without a doubt one of the stupidest movies I've ever seen. I feel like every Hollywood blockbuster should be required to have physics major (sophomore or above) vet the script before it goes into production.

Quick rundown: Ben Affleck can't act, Bruce Willis phoned it in, they wasted Jason Isaacs entirely, and the best reason to watch this movie was Steve Buscemi.

Bottom line: feh.


To summarize:

MovieQuality Rating (out of 5 stars)Enjoyability Rating (out of 5)
X-Men 33.03.8
Kinky Boots4.24.6
Children of Men4.64.3
Happy Feet1.21.2
Stranger Than Fiction4.04.2
Armageddon2.03.0


An oddity of this set of movies is that Joel Edgerton was in Kinky Boots with Chiwetel Ejiofor, who was in Children of Men (and also Inside Man, though they shared no scenes) with Clive Owen, who was in King Arthur with Joel Edgerton (who played Gawain).

Saturday, May 26, 2007

I'm never driving with the windows down again....

I know I keep posting things I see on Scalzi's "By the Way" blog, but this one is amazingly interesting.

How to Drive Like a Cop. Full of fascinating and (to me) non-obvious tips from the people who drive fast. A lot.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Never underestimate the bandwidth of...

FedEx has a higher bandwidth than the Internet. Of course, the latency is terrible.

This isn't surprising, given that the information density of disks has increased way faster than bandwidth speeds.

There's an old sysadmin quote: "Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of tapes hurtling down the highway." That's usually attributed to Andy Tanenbaum.

I once drove a pile of full NetApp disk shelves from Boston to NYC and calculated that my bandwidth was around 100Mbps (much faster than our inter-city links at the time).

Via Scalzi.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Why Do We Keep Calling it the Iraq "War"?

Why do we call it the Iraq "War" still?

It's not a war. War is armies fighting armies. This is our Army (and Marines, and National Guard) fighting insurgents in a country whose armed forces we defeated and then disbanded. A country we conquered.

And of course, we know it's not a War because its Mission was Accomplished:

We need to call this what it is: the Iraq Occupation.

Air Conditioners: an underappreciated goad to exercise

It's 80 degrees Fahrenheit at 11:48 am.

I'm lugging my office A/C unit up three flights of stairs. I'm wheezing badly.

I am horribly out of shape.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Lee Iacocca Opens a Can of Whup-Ass

Lee Iacocca has a new book, and man is he pissed. Here's a scathing excerpt. Worth reading, to remind you of when Republicans were actually based in reality....

(Via Scalzi.)

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Matryoshka Doll Packaging

So we ordered a glass-fronted bread box from Williams-Sonoma. (We had had a stainless-steel one, but when it was closed it just looked like another appliance and we'd always forget we had bread in there. Stupid perceptual systems.)

It came today, in a box that seemed a bit large. I sliced it open with a box-cutter, put the box cutter away, opened the box, and found

Another corrugated cardboard box, surrounded by foam packing peanuts. I grumbled, got the box cutter out again, spent three minutes trying to get the inner box out of the pool of peanuts without spreading the foam peanuts all over the kitchen, finally got it out, sliced it open, and opened the second box to find
A third corrugated cardboard box, surrounded by large-bubble bubble wrap. Once this was out, I used the box cutter again (having learned my lesson and keeping it out of the tool drawer) and found
The display box (which you'd see at the store, I guess), nestled perfectly inside the third corrugated cardboard box. Pulling this out was difficult because it fit so perfectly that there was actually an audible hiss and then pop as I finally got it out. Opening that box (which required two cardboard tabs and several flaps) showed me
A plastic bag wrapped around -- finally --
The f***ing bread box.

Crazy.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Republicans are Pro-Troops like they're Pro-Child

Thought for the day:

Republicans spend a lot of time saying that their opponents don't "support the troops". They also say that they (the Republicans) are "pro-life" and "pro-child". They do seem to be "pro-troop" in about the same measure as they are "pro-child". Here's a quick rundown of their positions:

"Pro-Child""Pro-Troop"
We need lots of children so we don't get overrun by brown people. We need lots of troops so we don't get overrun by Muslims (who are mostly brown).
But I mostly care about other people having kids. But I want it to be other people's kids going off to fight.
I only care about children till they're born. I only care about the troops till they're deployed.
Education and health care for born children is optional. Training, armor, and health care for deployed troops is optional.
Cutting (really) rich people's taxes is more important than actual children. Cutting (really) rich people's taxes is more important than actual troops.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Chimeras!

Synchronicity is hitting me today. I ran across this article in Nature (linked via slashdot) about a pair of twins who aren't identical twins nor fraternal twins -- they're both chimeras. One of them is a "true hermaphrodite" (having both ovarian and testicular) tissue. This leads to an obvious question: how many intersex children are chimeras?

(And how many anti-science right-wingers heads are exploding over this? It's got a bunch of stuff they clearly can't handle: science, evolution, gender ambiguity.)

And then there was article in the New York Times (linked via Carl Zimmer's blog) that details the discovery that marmosets are almost invariably chimeras -- they are almost always fraternal twins who basically hybridize at the cellular level in utero.

The world is far stranger than we could ever imagine.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Shpaahtans!

I saw 300 last night with Dan and a crew of others. (This is not a movie to see with only one other person -- you need a crew.)

Quick responses:

It's an enjoyable eye-candy flick, though clearly not for everyone. ("It's about the battle of Thermopylae. You know, a date movie.").

This is what all the political posturing and kerfluffle is about? What a slender reed, to carry all that weight.

Gerard Butler (as Leonidas) is impressive, but his Scottish accent slipped in a number of times, making him sound almost as out of place as Sean Connery playing an Egyptian-by-way-of-Spain in Highlander. "Shpaahtans! Tonight...we dine...on haggis!". Or something like that.

The most over the top moment: the narration at the very end. It might have made sense in the graphic novel, but there are moments where you have to actually break from your source material.

Abs!

Dan and I agree that Lena Headey and more importantly her costumes have knocked Princess-Leia-in-a-bronze-bikini off the nerd pedestal.

After the 30th or 40th "sword time" shot (in analogy to the Matrix's "bullet time" -- start a shot in normal speed, slow down to show dismemberment or impalement, then speed up as the blood spurt flies off), that got a little, well, boring.

I feel sorry for the foley artists (sound effects people) who had to come up with the hundreds (thousands?) of blood squelches. Eeuuww.


More seriously, I pretty much agree with Aram (and his linkage to Penny Arcade) that there is a clear political context to the movie coming out now. It's just unclear how that plays out, is all. I mean, the U.S. invaded Iraq -- does that make Bush Xerxes?

Update: best mashup trailer ever. (Via Will Shetterly.)

Friday, March 23, 2007

I am never the first to think of something

I should get used to this. I will never be the first to think of something. Or at least, something cool that anyone other than, say, my boss would care about.

Case in point: I was listening to the radio a few days ago, really half-listening, probably in the kitchen making lunch, and someone says "semi-automatic weapons". Because I was not really fully listening, and because I'm, well, weird, my brain parsed that as "semiotic weapons".

Semiotic weapons. What a great phrase! I could build an SF story around that. (Unless Iain M. Banks already has -- Use of Semiotic Weapons? Or maybe he named a ship that at some point.) Or it could be a great name for a punk band. Or...wait a second....

Sigh. (Okay, this query only gets 53 hits, instead of 466,000, but still.)

Once again, I am way behind the times.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Possibly the Nerdiest Thing I've seen in Weeks[1]

Bub, bar cher flap!.

[1] Short of the email thread at work today comparing the oldest files we have in our homedirs -- mine date from my first day at work, over ten years ago.)

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Review Roundup

I've read a number of books and recently (and some not so recently), and I figured I'd do some quick writeups.


First up: China Miéville's Un Lun Dun. This is Miéville's first novel aimed at young adult readers. He acknowledges his inspirations in the acknowledgements, including Neil Gaiman, who seems to hover over the first third of the book like some inverted Marley's ghost. Once past that part (mostly setup and exposition), though, Miéville hits his stride, and so does the book.

The story follows two London girls, Zanna and Deeba, who find themselves drawn into an alternate city, UnLondon (which has counterparts Parisn't, No York, Lost Angeles, and Romeless). Zanna, it seems, is the Shwazee (a bastardization of choisee, the Chosen One), who, it is prophesied, will save UnLondon from great evil.

At some point, this neat standard alternate-world urban fantasy goes off the smoothly greased rails, the Gaiman hommage dissipates some, and things get really interesting.

Favorite bit: animals apparently can move back and forth between London and UnLondon at will (so they all stare at Zanna, 'cause, you know, she's the Shwazee); all except cats, who it turns out are really stupid and only care about looking cool, not about anything like the survival of the world against great evil. Oh, and watch the giraffes.

Least favorite bit: the pun magic. It's funny once, but as a system of the world, it can get infuriating if it's not deftly handled. I felt a bit bludgeoned by it in the first third of Un Lun Dun, but it got better later.

Bottom line: recommended.


Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time. I had bought this last year, but finally got it off my shelf last weekend, while grumbling about the stupidity of moving the daylight-savings-time shift date.

The book is basically a light history of Daylight Saving Time (note: not Daylight Savings Time -- it's a timekeeping that, when in effect, is saving daylight, not banking savings of daylight).

The most obvious bizarrity of the story is the sheer number of different political players that have pushed for (or against) DST changes to benefit themselves. Obvious candidates: the New York Stock Exchange, which kept NYC doing Daylight Saving Time so they would have an hour of overlap with the London Stock Exchange (London later returned the favor, resisting Double-Summer time); the candy manufacturers, who wanted DST to start in November, so that Halloween would stay light later (they got their wish in this latest round); farmers (often blamed for DST although they in fact resisted it mightily); golfers; and Richard Nixon (who imposed year-round DST in 1973/1974 -- I vividly remember my mom driving my brother and sister to school [and me to preschool] in the dark; now I actually know why).

Perhaps the most vivid thing about the book is that it illustrates how insane timekeeping was (and still is) in the US and around the world. If nothing else, computers have made it effectively impossible to go back on that. I hope.

Bottom line: recommended for anyone who is interested in little corners of history.


The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson. I am a fan of Johnson's blog, and this book doesn't disappoint. It's a retelling of the classic urban planning story about stopping a cholera epidemic in London, with the legend teased apart, explained, and expanded.

It's not for the delicate of stomach (London in 1854 was apparently a really disgusting place), but it's a fascinating story, and Johnson has an ear for illuminating anecdotes to go along with and illustrate the main story.

My only real complaint is that the book seems a bit loose -- like it's not sure whether to be a straight forward detective story or a day-by-day history or what. That's minor, though.

Bottom line: recommended for anyone interested in cities.


I read 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann last year, and was mightily impressed. I just picked up the paperback version (having given my hardback copy to a friend), which includes a new afterword. I re-read the first and last chapters again for good measure.

This is a fascinating book, and an exemplar of the "passionate amateur synthesis" genre. It puts together 50-60 years of research in varied fields (mostly New World Archaeology) and paints a compelling picture of North and South America before the collision with European culture (and most importantly, its germs).

If there's any criticism I have of the book, it's that it doesn't label as well as it might which presentations are established facts, which are well-established and widely-accepted theories, and which are contentious hypotheses. (It does do some of that, but it's hard to tell if it does enough.)

Overall, though, it's a fascinating and mind-blowing picture of North and South America filled with tens (if not hundreds) of millions of people, with highly complex civilizations that were wiped off the map by smallpox and other virulent diseases that the invading Europeans were more immune to. These were civilizations that are only now coming to light because (a) by the time settlers made it into the center of the continent, the civilizations had long since collapsed and been overgrown; and (b) Indians Are Noble Savages, don't you know?

The sheer scale of the societies that existed in the Americas before Columbus's voyages is amazing. Anyone interested in humanity should read this book. Anyone interested in SF should find this fascinating from the standpoint of first contact situations. The "what if" stories or obvious and multitudinous. What if the indigenous Americans had been more disease resistant? (A couple hundred guys with guns will only go so far against millions of well-armed warriors with longbows -- see also Jared Diamond's Collapse, specifically the section where he talks about the Vikings who landed in Labrador and tried to get a foothold -- they ran off, basically saying "Stay away! Those guys are fierce, and dangerous, and don't want us there!"). What if there had been endemic disease in the Americas that had gone back to Europe and spread across the "Old World" as pandemically as smallpox did in the "New World"? I leave other scenarios as an exercise for the reader.

Bottom line: highly recommended.


To summarize:

ObjectArtistRating (out of 5 stars)
Un Lun DunChina Miéville4.0
Spring ForwardMichael Downing3.9
The Ghost MapSteven Johnson4.5
1491Charles C. Mann4.9

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Okay, I Concede. GMOs are a Bad Idea. Especially by Monsanto.

Aram has been mocking me for years for my optimism that GMOs could be useful. Well, I formally throw in the towel on this one.

Scientific American is reporting that Monsanto has a GMO corn that causes liver and kidney damage, and that they knew about this and marketed it anyway.

In my defense here, I always said it was a bad idea to trust the company that brought you dioxin and aspartame.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Clever Passwords Considered Harmful

I currently have a set of really nifty passwords, so nifty in fact that I really want to show off how clever they are. Which kinda sorta entirely defeats the purpose of having passwords.

Must. Resist. Urge. To. Show. Off. Niftiness. Of. Passwords....

Sunday, March 04, 2007

IT Folks, the Advice Columnists Have Your Back

In today's Boston Globe Magazine, the "Miss Conduct" advice column has this sidebar:

What computer people wish everyone knew: Asking an IT professional to take a look at your malfunctioning laptop (for free) is akin to asking a doctor for medical advice at a cocktail party. And not all "computer people" do the same thing. Asking a Web designer to fix your malfunctioning hard drive is like asking a lawyer for medical advice at a cocktail party.

I think we IT geeks are finally <sniff> accepted!

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Go Kiwi Geeks!

If WETA wasn't geeky enough for you, try out this heartwarming tale of a Kiwi engineer who made his own broadband link out of a $10 wok.

Brilliant.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

This Explains A Lot

Last week's New York magazine had a fascinating cover story about the effects of praising children.

The gist is that if you praise kids for being smart, rather than for working hard, they don't do as well, and in fact give up more readily, while kids praised for working hard rise to challenges more resiliently. The effect is pronounced and visible immediately.

This explains an awful lot. It explains a large number of people I saw in college (way more years ago than I care to admit now), and a lot of people at the dot-com where I started working at the leading edge of the bubble. It also explains a lot about my wife's (high-school) students.

Of course, everyone always thinks the next generation is callow and stupid and whiny and all that. But still. This time we have data.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Idiocracy

I watched Mike Judge's Idiocracy on DVD yesterday, and while it was no Office Space, it's still an amusing way to spend an hour and a half.

The plot setup of the movie is that Joe Bauers (Luke Wilson, playing a low-echelon army librarian who is dead-average on all measures, including IQ), and Rita (a similarly dead-average prostitute [she's a prostitute for the slimmest of plot threads]) are put into hibernation coffins, ostensibly for a 1-year tes sleept. Due to a bunch of mistakes, they wake up 500 years later instead.

In the intervening 500 years, the story goes, the average intelligence has plummeted because stupid people breed so much faster than smart people -- such that Joe and Rita are the smartest people in the world. The future is garbage dumps the size of cities, gatorade knock-offs replacing water, and Jackass-type shows ("Ow! My Balls!") as the height of pop culture. You know, fiction.

The movie was released in a tiny number of theaters (reports vary on the number), for a week, before being dumped to DVD. This might have something to do with the sheer trashing of major corporations (Fuddruckers morphs into Futtbuckers, and thence to Buttfuckers, Starbucks becomes a brothel chain, and so on).

I'm hardly the only one to remark on the similarity of the movie's plot setup to C.M. Kornbluth's "The Marching Morons" (and "The Little Black Bag"), first published in 1951. That's only in the plot setup, though. Kornbluth's story, which posits a few million "elite" smart people running the world behind the scenes while the billions of "normals" think that it is they who are running it, is actually much darker and nastier than Idiocracy.

By the way, I strongly recommend against googling "idiocracy kornbluth". That seems to pick up every insane right winger who ever read (and seemingly masturbated to) the Kornbluth story. I'm still feeling nauseated after reading some of those.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Greetings Fellow Drivers

Via BoingBoing: you can trick out your car with a device that plays audio files over your horn. It only holds eight audio files, but that's probably enough.

I've been wanting this product for years. My choices would be

  • "I would like to pass."
  • "The left lane is for PASSING", in that 1950s documentary voice
  • "Green means GO", in the same 1950s documentary voice
  • "Your left turn signal has been on since the battle of Verdun" (documentary voice)
  • "Asshole!" -- Kevin Kline from A Fish Called Wanda

I'm sure I can come up with a few more over time, but those are the ones I really want now.

What would you want?

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Greetings, Zetetical Society

A warm Blogospherical welcome to the Zetetical Society Meeting Notes. (Also added to blogroll.)

Why isn't it elench.zetetical.org, though, just to make the Iain M. Banks reference? <grin>

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Charles Stross is a GOD. Or at least a Demi-god. Or maybe a Fiend.

WARNING: Geek content ahead. Get ready to roll a saving throw.

A friend likes to tweak me about our years playing Dungeons and Dragons, especially our fascination with some of the more obscure Fiend Folio creatures. (The new Fiend Folio cover is hideously Harry Potter-ized. Feh.)

So he sent me some snark about whether I remembered what githzerai were. I could only remember that they were related to (or next to in the Fiend Folio) githyanki, which is one of my favorite names from the entire D&D bestiary. (Not least because I can make stupid jokes to annoy my friends, like "Githyanki." "You're welcome." <rimshot>)

I of course went googling and found the githzerai WikiPedia entry, which mentions that they were invented by Charles Stross. This was a major surprise, because Charles Stross is now a hotshot SF writer whose stuff I've been reading recently, and enjoying immensely. (I strongly recommend The Atrocity Archives, especially if you've ever been a sysadmin.)

I feel like I've come full circle in some deep way. Some incredibly nerdy, sex-and-dating-impairing, deep way.

Thanks, Charles Stross!

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Blog at Half-Mast: Molly Ivins, RIP

Molly Ivins was one of a kind. Her penetrating voice of sanity will be sorely missed.

Obits: New York Times, CNN, The Texas Observer (and its front page coverage.

Her columns.

Go in peace, Molly.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Braaaaains.....

What does it say about me that when I was in the supermarket yesterday and saw this magazine cover:

( specifically the "Get the Body You Want" headline) that I immediately thought: "Grave Robbing"?

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Jaw-Dropping Drivel

Via Nick Mamatas, an astonishingly stupid take on Jim Baen's publishing career:

BAEN BOOKS OFFERED AN ANTIDOTE to leftism generally in science fiction. It helped rescue science-fiction publishing from the leftist, nihilistic "New Wave" science fiction that had arisen in the 1960s and was concerned, in parallel with postmodernism and deconstructionism in other literature and art, with denigrating Western traditions and values. The "New Wave" was never really popular (New Worlds, the major New Wave magazine in Britain, was bailed out by public money after the buyers and readers stayed away in droves), but it might well have had the purely negative achievement of driving traditional science-fiction writers out of publishing. Baen Books gave -- and still gives -- a voice to stories of traditional Western values like honor, patriotism, chivalry, duty and military valor.

This is stupid in so many ways I'm not even sure where to begin. (Mamatas' post is a good start.) I guess it comes down to:

Yes, Jim Baen published a bunch of military SF, and a lot of Campbellian Engineer-saves-the-Human-Race SF (and a lot of which is quite good). But some of that military SF is written by writers like Lois McMaster Bujold and C.J. Cherryh, who hardly fit this guy's notion of a Real Science Fiction Writer, them having two X chromosomes and all. And for crying out loud, Baen published stuff by Marion Zimmer Bradley -- she of Mists of Avalon fame (or in some circles, infamy). (Note that Baen didn't publish The Mists of Avalon; Del Rey did.)

I don't know why I'm bothering to mock someone who writes for the American Spectator, in any case. Other than, well, it's fun.