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By TheophileEscargot (Sun Dec 07, 2008 at 11:14:30 PM EST) Reading, Web, Watching (all tags)
Reading: "Hiding the Elephant", "Dead of Winter". Watching: "Idiocracy". Web.


What I'm Reading
Hiding the Elephant by Jim Steinmeyer. Excellent book about the golden age of stage magic, in the late 19th and early 20th century. There was an explosion of new illusions as mirrors, mechanisms and new scientific inventions revolutionized magic; an intense rivalry as magicians competed to create new ideas, steal others' ideas, and try to keep their own secrets until they could some money out of it.

Was interesting to see the connection between magic and science; and the feuding between magicians and spiritualists, who used the same tricks and filled the same venues, but claimed to be genuinely supernatural. Some of the early tricks were just straightforward applications of science which fooled audiences by their novelty: a glass tube that powered a pneumatic device; the Strongest Cheese in the World containing a flywheel/gyroscope so it couldn't be overturned, an electromagnet making a box unliftable, airbrushes producing spirit paintings with no brushstrokes.

The rivalries, taking place over generations, give the book a decent narrative. The tricks are sometimes just complicated mechanisms, sometimes simpler than you'd imagine. One magician, who every show brought a child on stage to verify his levitation illusions, just swore so savagely at the child not to touch the wires that every time the kid was awed into silence.

Excellent book, well worth reading. Definitely unmissable if you liked "Carter Beats the Devil".

What I'm Reading 2
Grabbed a comic from the library: Dead of Winter. They seem to have had some cast changes since last time: Black Canary's out and a couple of new girls are in.

I think this was one of those where you have to be following the whole storyline to appreciate: had a host of new characters that I found hard to keep straight, and the plot tied up threads I've never heard of.

What I'm Watching
Saw Idiocracy on DVD. Fairly amusing light satire where idiots have inherited the future Earth. No particularly original barbs, but things are nicely visualized. Could have done with either more pointed satire or more jokes, but still pretty entertaining.

I think one problem is that Douglas Adams and Futurama have done the dumb corporate future pretty thoroughly already, so they have to resort to "Dumb and Dumber" style humour instead. However, that's not as easy as it looks: both the lead and his sidekick are bit too low-key for it to work. Really needed a more energetic clown to carry it off: a Jim Carrey or Chris Rock or Adam Sandler or Ben Stiller or someone. Terry Crews as President Camacho manages to keep things alive when he's on screen though.

Overall, pretty watchable though.

Me
Dammit, hope the Greeks stop rioting in time for my holiday. Aaaargh.

Update [2008-12-9 4:44:45 by TheophileEscargot]:
Doesn't look like it, so I've cancelled the Greek bit of the holiday, just going to Turkey. I'm insured, so hopefully it won't cost too much.

Web
BBC, /., on the UK censorship of Wikipedia's Virgin Killer album page. The Register has lamely regurgitated their standard wikipedia troll.

It's a very 21st century style of censorship. It's not that the jackboot of government has stomped down on Wikipedia: that would be nice and easy to protest against. Instead we have a tangled web of whiny bureaucracy, where no-one takes responsibility.

The government? "Oh, we don't censor, deary me, no. We just strongly recommend that the ISPs don't let child porn through."

The Internet Watch Foundation? "Oh no, we don't censor, all we do is provide a list that ISP can voluntarily use, if they feel like it"

The ISPs? "Oh, we don't censor. You can always choose a different ISP if you want to look at naked kiddies, you dirty little pervert."

The media? "Oh we're dead dead dead against censorship. It's just that we might want to stir up a frenzy of paedo-panic against an ISP that doesn't filter, which might just happen to drive them out of business".

So, all the parties can sit smugly back, secure in the knowledge that they're firmly committed to free speech and any censorship is someone else's fault.

Web 2
Betamax Christmas.

Econospeak's Sandwichman1 has a radical plan to cope with recession. Interesting idea: shame he has to present it with the usual twee irony that no-one will get.

Max Hastings on challenges for Cameron:

But what then? Even the most optimistic Tories do not anticipate a large majority. Cameron's government will be obliged to act with shocking ruthlessness, to address the weakness of the public finances. When Thatcher did this in 1981, her government's ratings slumped. She won the 1983 election only because of the Falklands war and the unelectability of a "loony-left" Labour party.

Neither of these circumstances is likely to be repeated in the next decade, if the Tories scrape into power. A centrist Labour party will remain a credible alternative government. No responsible course by a Cameron administration will be electorally popular. The Tories will soon start losing byelections, struggling to govern amid constant parliamentary difficulties. Where will be the joy for Cameron and his party in achieving power, if they find themselves thereafter almost impotent, clinging by their fingernails to the clifftop?

Zimbabwe:
In 1979 I began to realise that whatever they made of Amin’s brutality, the Ugandan people experienced the Asian expulsion of 1972 -- and not the formal handover in 1962 -- as the dawn of true independence. The people of Zimbabwe are likely to remember 2000-3 as the end of the settler colonial era. Any assessment of contemporary Zimbabwe needs to begin with this sobering fact.
Note 1: "Sandwichman" is an ironic name intentionally chosen to illustrate the kind of insecure, unskilled service sector job that people struggle to get by with in a modern economy. It unintentionally demonstrates the way modern leftists utterly fail to communicate with normal people by using cryptic and impenetrable ironic references.
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Footprints in the butter | 21 comments (21 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback
Elephant book by Herring (4.00 / 1) #1 Mon Dec 08, 2008 at 12:07:41 AM EST
Ta. Will add to Winterval list. Just finished re-reading Carter BTD (not USM). Like it very much.

Fair analysis of the Wikipaedo row. They had someone from the IWF and a spokesman for Wikipedia on The Today Programme this morning. The Wiki person, several times, pointed out that said album (with original cover) was available in the high street as well as on Amazon. The interviewer didn't pick up on the the high street thing and the IWF woman brushed off the Amazon thing with "We only act on complaints we've received".

People talk about the Great Firewall of China ignoring the fact that there is, effectively the same thing in the UK (search on Cleanfeed). And yes, Jacqui Smith does want to use it for stuff other than kiddie porn.

christ, we're all old now - StackyMcRacky

No doubt by jump the ladder (4.00 / 1) #2 Mon Dec 08, 2008 at 01:12:19 AM EST
Extreme porn, pro-drugs sites and then radical politics. They want a super Ceefax and debate framed withiin certain parameters.

[ Parent ]
Correct by Herring (4.00 / 1) #3 Mon Dec 08, 2008 at 01:39:37 AM EST
Also, the IWF will be policing the extreme porn law too. There will be no courts involved in their decisions and no right of appeal.

I must admit, I haven't seen the image but to pronounce it illegal on Wikipedia when it's available on loads of other websites (Amazon, HMV, Play.com) and in the shops seems just stupid.

People on The Reg comments are alleging that a significant proportion of UK police "successes" in arresting people for "child abuse images" are for nothing more than holiday snap type pictures (remember Julia Somerville). I wonder how true this is. But I'm not about to embark on research from work.

christ, we're all old now - StackyMcRacky

[ Parent ]
Ob: Please don't read my comments as condoning by Herring (4.00 / 1) #4 Mon Dec 08, 2008 at 01:40:43 AM EST
German Heavy Metal

christ, we're all old now - StackyMcRacky
[ Parent ]
I'm pretty sure by jump the ladder (4.00 / 1) #5 Mon Dec 08, 2008 at 01:52:56 AM EST
I've seen it in a sunday supplement magazine on the worst album covers of all time many moons ago before this hysteria got out of hand. Terrorism and CP are menaces but as has been demonstrated so many times by the current govt, they use the powers in other areas that they find inconvenient like lawful protest.

[ Parent ]
Carter beats the Devil by nebbish (4.00 / 1) #6 Mon Dec 08, 2008 at 01:55:05 AM EST
Ran out of steam I thought. I didn't finish it. A factual look at the era like "Hiding the Elephant" sounds much more interesting.

The IWF are interesting, completely self-regulating and unaccountable. Similar to the BBFC in the bad old days.

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It's political correctness gone mad!

[ Parent ]
Agree re Carter by herbert (4.00 / 2) #7 Mon Dec 08, 2008 at 04:31:55 AM EST
Seem to remember thinking it was way too long.  J. B. Priestley's Lost Empires is a better novel about a magician in that era (but in Britain).  Well, it's really about the music halls in general but the main dude is a magician.


[ Parent ]
Thanks, wishlisted! by nebbish (4.00 / 1) #8 Mon Dec 08, 2008 at 06:32:08 AM EST
The music hall era fascinates me, cheers for that.

It was a shame with Carter because it started so well.

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It's political correctness gone mad!

[ Parent ]
If you like Priestley by gpig (4.00 / 2) #13 Mon Dec 08, 2008 at 04:56:22 PM EST
pick up The Good Companions too. It's about a struggling theatre company, rather than music hall, but it has that feel to it.
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(,   ,') -- eep
[ Parent ]
Wishlisted too! by nebbish (4.00 / 2) #15 Tue Dec 09, 2008 at 01:10:49 AM EST
Never read Priestly actually, about time I did.

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It's political correctness gone mad!

[ Parent ]
The logic of over blocking by Alan Crowe (3.50 / 4) #9 Mon Dec 08, 2008 at 07:09:38 AM EST
There seems to be a push to expand what is considered child-pornography to cover all images of children. Think forward to 2028. You are interviewing a candidate for the job of school caretaker. He has a conviction for downloading child pornography.

Your baby sitter has a child pornography conviction because her boyfriend left his copy of Virgin Killer behind when they broke up and the cover art is illegal. One of your harmless, eccentric friends stopped being a nudist after his holiday snaps got him six months in prison. You were a character witness at his trial.

You are sick of the child-porn hysteria, shrug, and give the man the job. It turns out to be a terrible mistake.

The issue is dilution. Who benefits from this dilution? Abusers. What does that make those driving the dilution? Either "useful idiots" or  abusers themselves.

Over taken by events by Alan Crowe (2.00 / 0) #10 Mon Dec 08, 2008 at 07:58:13 AM EST
I've just posted, portraying absurd dilution as something that will be upon us in 20 years time. Then I surfed over to Reddit and found that it is already upon us.

[ Parent ]
Idiocracy. by nightflameblue (4.00 / 1) #11 Mon Dec 08, 2008 at 10:43:34 AM EST
It would have been difficult to accept someone like Jim Carey as being "current average." I think they did a good job of portraying someone that's the average joe being forced into a situation where he was no longer average.

I think the brilliance of Idiocracy is that the general population became so over-the-top that the main character(s) had to be pretty level headed to be noticeable. Had they been freak-out Jim Carey alikes, they would have just blended in.



There's only one reason I've not viewed Idiocracy by lm (4.00 / 1) #12 Mon Dec 08, 2008 at 04:29:21 PM EST
I saw an interview with Luke Wilson on one of the late night shows (I think Conan O'Brien) where he said that he'd wished that he could have spent his younger years as a widower for the sympathy sex.

I've had no interest in seeing any movie he takes part in ever since.


There is no more degenerate kind of state than that in which the richest are supposed to be the best.
Cicero, The Republic
Haha, would you give us the full list of actors by Imperial Mince (4.00 / 2) #14 Mon Dec 08, 2008 at 11:38:19 PM EST
that are on your list for saying stupid things?

--
This space reserved for whining like a little bitch and being sanctimonious.
[ Parent ]
I think it's just Luke Wilson by lm (4.00 / 2) #17 Tue Dec 09, 2008 at 03:12:43 AM EST
No other name comes to mind as I don't really keep a list. I don't usually follow the Entertainment industry closely enough to find out who is saying what particularly stupid thing.

In this case, I just happened to see him on the show and say those particular words and I thought to myself, `what a fucking imbecile.'

Come to think of it, though, I've got Jerry Springer, Michael Moore and Michael Savage on a similar mental list. Springer because I think he's done no small amount of damage to society with his TV show. Moore for doing more damage to the liberal cause with his stories spun of half truths and misleadings than any modern conservative. Savage for being a nazi asshat. I'll never willingly watch, listen or read any project either of those three men are involved with.


There is no more degenerate kind of state than that in which the richest are supposed to be the best.
Cicero, The Republic
[ Parent ]
Sandwichman by Scrymarch (4.00 / 2) #16 Tue Dec 09, 2008 at 01:48:28 AM EST
The Basic Minimum Wage I already agree with on the grounds of simplicity and limiting the scope of government - seems this idea is now popular on the classically liberal right and the "post-autistic economics" left.

The proposal to ration the hours of work just looks like the lump of labour fallacy - I don't see how it really creates wealth or puts the economy back on track.

From the Manufacturers of Candles, Tapers, Lanterns, Candlesticks, Street Lamps, Snuffers, and Extinguishers, and from the Producers of Tallow, Oil, Resin, Alcohol, and Generally of Everything Connected with Lighting [...] We are suffering from the ruinous competition of a foreign rival who apparently works under conditions so far superior to our own for the production of light that he is flooding the domestic market with it at an incredibly low price; for the moment he appears, our sales cease, all the consumers turn to him, and a branch of French industry whose ramifications are innumerable is all at once reduced to complete stagnation. This rival, which is none other than the sun, is waging war on us so mercilessly that we suspect he is being stirred up against us by perfidious Albion (excellent diplomacy nowadays!), particularly because he has for that haughty island a respect that he does not show for us.

What is the appeal with leftists and rationing, honestly, did no-one cut in front of them in the tuckshop queue or something?

Or maybe I misunderstood one of those ironic references.

The Political Science Department of the University of Woolloomooloo

He's gone on and on by TheophileEscargot (4.00 / 1) #20 Wed Dec 10, 2008 at 09:43:15 AM EST
About the lump of labour fallacy many times. Characteristically though, he's buried his main argument in a gated paper which I can't access.

His main argument seems to be that labour markets are highly imperfect and conventional models just don't fit. I think he probably has a point there. In simple models, without social security, unemployment should be zero as wages should fall to the equilibrium: that doesn't seem to actually happen. Also, neither the original eight-hour day movement nor the recent French 35-hour week had the apocalyptic consequences that some predicted.

However, I don't think he's saying it will actually create wealth: just distribute it differently in such a way as to reduce unemployment.

I think it's also worth thinking about Richard Layard's "Hedonic Treadmill". In that theory, human beings are status-seeking animals, and seek to have more wealth than their friends and neighbours, or at least not to fall behind. If Mr Jones works 36 hours, Mr Smith wants to work 37 to beat him in income. Capping hours would therefore not reduce overall wellbeing: even though people do it voluntarily, it's only because they're trapped by a collective action problem.
--
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
Ok by Scrymarch (4.00 / 1) #21 Thu Dec 11, 2008 at 12:40:25 AM EST
I clicked on the lumpoflabor tag originally but obviously fell over somewhere. At any rate, I can buy that the labour market is not perfectly effecient.

I'm pretty sure Keynes showed models could generate involuntary unemployment a while back; that might have been because I read it in an pop econ book I was browsing today however.

I can see that there are certainly aspects of the economy which are status driven, and it's parts I don't particularly like. I think it is more limited that things like hours of work though - more related to inherent scarcity. This is how the art and antiques market works. Indeed being able to afford status symbols without having to work as hard would give greater status I suspect.

The Political Science Department of the University of Woolloomooloo

[ Parent ]
Travel insurance by Herring (4.00 / 1) #18 Tue Dec 09, 2008 at 04:37:15 AM EST
In the old days, most policies exempted stuff like "war, terrorism, civil disturbance". For some reason, exclusions like that have become very unpopular in recent years so a lot of policies just cover everything (travel is our most profitable division at the moment).

christ, we're all old now - StackyMcRacky
Well by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #19 Wed Dec 10, 2008 at 09:30:04 AM EST
I got all my money back from the hotel and Athens-Istanbul, and the tax back from London-Athens, so I only lose 80 quid if they don't pay up.
--
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
Footprints in the butter | 21 comments (21 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback