Tuesday
Aug192014

Book Review

I have just finished reading How to Live; or, A Life of Montaigne by Sarah Bakewell. It is wonderfully conceived and brilliantly executed. I recommend it without reservation.

Well, just one reservation. It will make you want to read the Essays, at last or again. Go ahead; you know you should.

 

Monday
Jul282014

Belated

I don't know how I missed it, but yesterday was the 140th birthday of Frank Shannon, the Irish actor forever immortalized as Dr. Alexis Zarkov in the three original Flash Gordon serials. Though it lies beyond my power to add to the fame of a scientist who could, on the spur of the moment, unlock yet another mystery of the universe just to get Flash out of trouble again, I offer this image to convey the sort of conditions under which he was forced to work.

 

The costume department did him no favors, clearly. But, then, they were even harder on the actor Jack "Tiny" Lipson, the one with a case of metallic gynecomastia; he's playing King Vultan of the Hawkmen.

Hail, Dr. Z! Perhaps one day we will catch up with you.

Wednesday
Jul162014

Plans B and C

The leading challenger to the emergency measures proposed by President Obama to deal with the “crisis” on our southern border is the notion of sending the National Guard down there. Instead of spending three or four billion on housing, transportation, and judges and other staff to execute the laws on the books, the National Guard would move in and...well, that hasn’t been specified yet.

According to a well known online source, the combined forces of the Army and Air National Guards of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and three territories is roughly 462,000 men and women. This number includes the combat-ready, office staff, drivers, cooks -- the whole shootin’ match. I calculate that if all these personnel were stationed at equal intervals along the entire U.S.-Mexico border, each individual would be responsible for about 22 feet of it.

That doesn’t sound very tough at first, but consider the 40-year-old Guardsman who hasn’t done anything more strenuous than file things in triplicate for the last ten years. How is he going to catch one of these lithe and sneaky little 8-year-old Hondurans speeding across the desert like a roadrunner? Wile E. Coyote had it easier, and he had the ACME corporation behind him.

Then recall that something more than a thousand miles of the border runs down the middle of the Rio Grande. It can get deep out there. I assume here that the Guard would be posted on, not behind, the true border, because once over it the little devils are in God’s country and entitled the gentle embrace of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement folks. No, the idea surely is to stop them before they cross, and that’s going to mean SCUBA gear, at least, for about 300,000 of the guards.

How we are going to supply a 1,900-mile-long line of guards, 24/7, absolutely beats me. And who organizes the sleep rota? Do the adjacent guards shuffle back and forth to cover the gap left by a sleeper? Will this leave the other 313 million of us vulnerable to a devastating rush by Salvadoran and Guatemalan junior-high students?

I just don’t know.

P.S. Stay tuned to this blog. I am working on a plan to employ drones to drop the contraceptives not used by employees of Hobby Lobby and other devout corporations over the countries from which this Children’s Crusade originates, thus gradually eliminating the problem at its source.

UPDATE: Andy Borowitz outdoes me in this post at The New Yorker.

Tuesday
Jul152014

Help for the Little Ladies

Tip o' the beanie to Dave Weigel at Slate for this:

A congressentity from North Carolina has explained what the Republican Party needs to do to attract more votes from women:

Men do tend to talk about things on a much higher level. Many of my male colleagues, when they go to the House floor, you know, they’ve got some pie chart or graph behind them and they’re talking about trillions of dollars and how, you know, the debt is awful and, you know, we all agree with that ... we need our male colleagues to understand that if you can bring it down to a woman's level and what everything that she is balancing in her life — that’s the way to go.

Pie charts! Graphs! Eek! -- math!

She has definitely put her finger on a problem. But it's not the problem she aimed at, and it's not the finger she aimed with.

Tuesday
Jul152014

Write. Publish. Edit.

Every once in a great while I give in to the temptation to comment on Wikipedia. The comments that follow are occasioned by an article in the Wall Street Journal about a fellow who has created a "bot" that has written a couple million articles for that "encyclopedia."

1. Mike Nutter, a geography editor at Encyclopædia Britannica, created just such a program nearly 20 years ago. It was just an experiment and it was never used to produce actual copy. But there's nothing new in the idea.

2. As ever with Wikipee, the emphasis in the article is on quantity, not, you know, that other q-word.

3. Down towards the end of the article comes this minor concession:

When a project was done that needed bird photos, the bot turned to the Russian version of Wikimedia Commons, which provides millions of free-to-use images.

But at the time, Lsjbot couldn't read Cyrillic and made mistakes. Mr. Johansson later altered the software to address the glitch.

Ah, yes. Write furiously and publish precipitately; consider getting it right at leisure. And never, ever, mention the users who were ill-served while you did things backwards.