Remembering some well-known dead guy

May 22, 2007

Kristine recounts that she was by sheer stroke of fortune the one to break the news to Richard Dawkins that Jerry Falwell had joined the Thanato-American demographic:

Later that night, I was at Richard’s table when someone asked how Jerry Falwell died. And if there was one moment in my life when I was ready with a clever answer, this was it.

“He had an attack where his heart should have been,” I replied.

Here’s something strange. When I heard about Falwell, the first thoughts in my head were of Jim Henson and John Lennon, two people who died unexpectedly and left the world poorer for it. Falwell was just the opposite of that—someone who lived to a ripe old age and made the world worse while he was here.

Some people are always looking for good ideas and good information, and when they find them they spread them far and wide, to the benefit of everybody. Other people fight the spread of information and try to keep people as ignorant and unquestioning as possible. Falwell and his defenders fall into the latter group. The world suffers from the presence of people like that.


Welcome to Reality Island

May 7, 2007

I always had a problem swallowing the positive-thinking, if-you-believe-it-you-can-achieve-it philosophy—and not just because it bears more resemblance to a sale pitch than a genuine philosophy. Mark Evanier at news from me puts his finger on the real reason:

But then I’ve never believed there’s a lot of value in blind optimism. The few times I watched Fear Factor, I was repulsed way before they got to the part where the contestants eat fried mule anus. At the beginning, six contestants are all saying over and over, “I will win, I will win, failure in not an option.” Well, it’s not only an option…it’s the future for five of them. Five of them are going to lose. I’m all for positive thinking but I’ve never felt there was any value to believing your victory is predestined. I’ve always found that if you’re aware of the possibility of failure and realistic about its probability, you can do more to avoid it.

Yeah, it’s all about how firm you like your grip on reality. Most people don’t seem to care for reality much, and I can’t say I blame them; I’m not all that crazy about it myself. But you ignore reality at your peril, since by definition—well, one definition anyway—it doesn’t go away because you stop believing it.

I’ll bet a lot of people first lose their taste for the sciences when they realize that science keeps you from believing stuff that you might well prefer to believe. Same goes for math, and probabilities in particular.

Other shoe, meet floor

May 3, 2007

When Imus, AKA Snarly McCryptkeeper, got fired, I had an inkling that the situation was bound to become more interesting. Honestly, I expected his public apologies to become gradually more emphatic as the gravity of his situation sank in. Let’s face the truth here, Imus had the most cushy and best-paying job you can imagine, one that left him with plenty of time to devote to outside projects geared to play on his celebrity. The only drawback I could see was having to wake up and go to work at such an early hour. At any rate, at the time I was thinking he had to be panicking somewhere behind that foam-latex countenance. He does not want to lose that swank job, thought I.

Now Gail at TestPattern reveals that the I-Monkey is already hatching a Plan B scenario:

Don Imus was all apologies when the fire was raining down on him for calling the Rutgers’ women’s basketball team names. But he’s not taking his firing sitting down, according to They report that the DJ plans to sue CBS radio for the $40 million remaining on his contract.

At first, the alleged suit seems laughable. Imus messed up, he got fired, and now he wants his big paycheck for doing nothing. But nothing is that simple. A source tells Fortune that Imus’ contract urged him to be “confrontational and irreverent,” and that he was promised a warning before he was fired. I’m no contract lawyer, but if that, especially the last bit, is really in Imus’ contract, he may have a case.

I should submit a cartoon to the New Yorker, one of those two-old-guys-in-chairs deals, with one coot saying, “I used to be just a cranky old SOB, but now I’m confrontational and irreverent.” Don’t you dare, Robert Mankoff, I thought of it first!

Pomposity of the Day Dept.

May 3, 2007

“Craft an email.”


“We need to get the district office to approve this, so I need to craft an email to them.”

I don’t know if I can explain what I find so hilarious about this. Seems to me that the phrase is condescending to forms of writing that really call for an application of craft.

Bush not entirely ignorant

May 2, 2007

Quiz time. Who said:

Victory means exit strategy, and it’s important for the president to explain to us what the exit strategy is.

And a couple of months later:

I think it’s also important for the president to lay out a timetable as to how long they will be involved and when they will be withdrawn.

That was W in 1999, in reference to Clinton pulling out of Kosovo.

To me, this doesn’t indicate hypocrisy as much as a simple lack of principle. He’s saying that something can be the right thing to do, except when it’s a case of W and something he’d prefer not to do.

Of course he has a history of resisting persuasion, not to mention logic, when he doesn’t want to do something. No telling why, but if he’s trying to simply avoid professional embarrassment, someone should tell him that that ship has sailed.