The Slayer Bride

People probably think I’ve been a little too serious lately. This turned up as I was looking for a longer version the “most likely kill you in the morning” line from Princess Bride, and should dispel any such notions. Honestly, if someone had ever said the phrase Buffy / Princess Bride crossover fan fiction[1] to me before, I probably would have turned up my nose at the very idea. It’s actually not bad, though.

As they walked along, they suddenly stopped as a strange popping noise filled the air. Glancing at each other with raised eyebrows, they were carefully continuing to edge forward when a huge plume of flame shot up right on the spot that the popping noise had originated from. While fortunately both Buffycup and Xander were far enough away that they didn’t lose any limbs, the bottom of Buffycup’s gown (which had really seen better days at this point) caught on fire. Thinking quickly, she tore the majority of her hemline off (which left her gown significantly shorter – in fact it could now be best classified as a mini-skirt) and tossed it to the ground, where Xander beat out the flames before they could spread.

“Well,” Xander said, “that was certainly an adventure. And by the way, I like your dress.”

[1] …which is hard to pronounce, with a slash[2] in the middle.

[2] No, this is not example of the “slash” variety of fan fiction, but yes, that was a deliberate pun[3].

[3] Of couse I’m also a Pratchett fan. Why do you ask?

Critical Thinking

Aaron Swartz recently posted an article called All News is Bad News in which he tries to argue that reading news is a waste of time (or worse). I posted the following in reply.

Sturgeon’s Law says that 99% of science fiction is junk, but then 99% of everything is junk. Does that mean we should then give up on science fiction? Ditto for news. Just because 99% is junk doesn’t mean we should give up on it; instead, we should work on improving our ability to filter it and get to the other 1% that’s worthwhile. Part of that can be based on automatic or collaborative methods, but that makes one vulnerable to manipulation by the people who write the filters or assign the ratings. Anybody who gets all of their news third- and fourth-hand from weblogs is an idiot, and will sooner or later become a parrot for the authors of the weblogs they read. Just look at the blogosphere right now to see a zillion examples, both left and right. There’s really no substitute for developing one’s own internal human-brain-based methods of filtering.

I guess he missed the point. First he proposed a “solution” which is to delegate one’s filtering of the news not to a traditional news organization, but to a Big Bad Bundle Blog…as though there would really be any difference, other than that his idea puts a technology he favors first and foremost (and of course that it’s his idea instead of somebody else’s).

He didn’t stop there, though. He went on to challenge me personally, to provide examples of news that’s worthwhile. My first answer was to observe that, no matter how information gets filtered, somebody has to do the legwork and those “reflective analyses” he prizes often rely very heavily on the news sources he dismisses. To illustrate, I will use two examples from today’s morning surf. Both referred to my home-town Boston Globe, which just happens to have a pretty good online version to make linkage easier.

  • The first example comes from Kathryn Cramer, who has been writing quite a bit lately about US duplicity and incompetence in Iraq. In today’s Nicholas Berg article, she refers to the New York Times, Boston Globe, and NJ Star Ledger as sources.
  • The second example comes from La Leva di Archimede, which had an article entitled Research finds new risk for fractures – Amino acid cited; vitamins urged today. Again, the source is given as the Boston Globe; this time it’s a Globe staff writer and not just an AP story.

Clearly, the Boston Globe has proven quite useful to both Kathryn Cramer and “Ivan” at LLdA, and thence to me. Did I particularly need to know about these things right now? Of course not. However, it would hardly have hurt me to have read these stories in the Globe, and the Globe also played an important role in the creation of others’ ongoing analyses within their respective areas of interest. That hardly sounds like “reading the news isn’t just boring, it’s bad for you” as Aaron claims. Between the two posts already cited and his I Hate Books yesterday, it seems to me that Aaron is trying to cast aspersions on writers and journalists as a way to rationalize not putting forth the effort to do his own filtering and interpretation. Sorry, Aaron, but there’s no magic pill that will help people become and stay informed. It takes work, and if you want to be a pundit (as you so obviously do) you have to make the effort. You can’t delegate it to someone else.

Tyranny of the Past

As if to prove that the web can be a place for serious philosophical inquiry, Chris Bertram at Crooked Timber has written a very thought-provoking piece about intergenerational sovereignty.

In a famous letter to James Madison, Thomas Jefferson set out the problem of intergenerational sovereignty :it is as unjust for the dead to impose their laws on the living as it is for one country to impose its laws on another. In both cases, those subject to the laws are being obliged to obey legislation that they had no hand in formulating and have limited opportunity to repeal. As Jefferson points out, later generations may be burdened in all kinds of similar ways by earlier ones. So, for example, they may be held liable for the borrowing of their ancestors. But why should they be any more responsible for the repayment of such debts that the inhabitants of one country are for the repayment of the debts of another?

Jefferson’s solution to the problem was to apply the mortality tables of his own day to estimate the time that would need to pass after the enactment of a statute before a majority of citizens would be subject to laws they had not enacted. He proposed that after such a period, laws would either have to be renewed by the living or would lapse. (Jefferson’s estimate was 19 years.)

Many of the comments are equally informative or insightful on not just the original issue but the more general ones of consent and social contracts, and even some history; I particularly appreciated one commenter’s link to Madison’s response to Jefferson’s letter.

I have often (perhaps not here) expressed deep reservations about the ethics and consequences of not limiting inherited wealth, and about the excessive authority some cede to our Most Holy Constitution (cf. Daniel Lazare’s Frozen Republic for more about the latter) but I confess that I had never quite thought about our legislative inheritance in the way that Jefferson/Otsuka/Bertram suggest. It seems like a pretty problematic issue for the libertarian extremists, so I suspect I’ll be posting more about it in the future.

Too True

One of the principles I apply in my reading is “know your enemy.” I read books, magazine articles, weblogs and forum posts representing views I find repugnant, because I feel it’s important to know what the dangerous idiots are up to. That’s why I read USS Clueless; Den Beste is a bombastic twit, but a lot of people take their cues from him. In such a tremendous flow of verbiage, though, the occasional truth is likely to slip in despite his best efforts. One example happened today, right at the top of his front page.

I have lots of topics. I just don’t have anything particularly interesting to say about any of them.

Filtering

Aaron Swartz put up an entry about not reading the news:

I don’t read any news. No newspapers, no newsmagazines, no cable news outlet, no news websites. What’s the point?

Most of the news is completely useless. How does it help to know that Kobe Bryant is entering a formal plea or that the mother of the Osmond family has died? These things aren’t interesting, they aren’t important, and they aren’t useful. Reading through them everyday is like some sort of intellectual busywork. “Gee, I read a whole day’s worth of trivia. I’m so well-informed!”


So spread the word: reading the news isn’t just boring, it’s bad for you.

Sturgeon’s Law says that 99% of science fiction is junk, but then 99% of everything is junk. Does that mean we should then give up on science fiction? Ditto for news. Just because 99% is junk doesn’t mean we should give up on it; instead, we should work on improving our ability to filter it and get to the other 1% that’s worthwhile. Part of that can be based on automatic or collaborative methods, but that makes one vulnerable to manipulation by the people who write the filters or assign the ratings. Anybody who gets all of their news third- and fourth-hand from weblogs is an idiot, and will sooner or later become a parrot for the authors of the weblogs they read. Just look at the blogosphere right now to see a zillion examples, both left and right. There’s really no substitute for developing one’s own internal human-brain-based methods of filtering.

Kerry Boobies

Not what you think. No, not at all

Life

OK, I know I’ve been updating less frequently than usual. Part of the reason is that work has been even more crazy than usual, in the way that only someone who has been in a leadership role at a startup can fully appreciate. However, that’s not the real reason. As a few of you have known for months now, I’m going to be a daddy. Whether you’re one of those people who thought it was about time, or one of those who had pretty much given up, or one of those who comes here for the technical stuff and doesn’t really care, some time on or around June 1 (we’re all betting on some time before) my life is going to be turned upside down and inside out in the best of ways by a baby girl. Yes, we do have a name picked out. No, I’m not going to tell you what it is.

Actually, the part about me being a daddy doesn’t occupy my thoughts much, because the part about Cindy being a mommy seems much more pressing. She is, after all, the one who has already changed shape and had to deal other “side effects” of pregnancy. She’s the one who’s looking forward to what I would consider the terrifying prospect of labor and childbirth, and who will be more involved with some of the basic necessities for some time to come. That’s not to say I have any intention of not being involved or doing my share, but let’s face it: even if I do absolutely everything I can, my part right now is still easier. As a consequence of basic biological reality I’m in a supporting role, so my main focus is on helping the star(s) of the show.

So we’ve been making room and buying stuff and going to childbirth classes, and all the things that parents-to-be tend to do. Now that the cat’s out of the bag maybe I’ll write about some of that – particularly the more humorous incidents – but for now I think the announcement itself will have to do.