1. souse, n.5: 3. A drunkard. slang (chiefly U.S.). (OED)
  2. white souse, n.1: A blog for literature, politics, science, and the occasional cocktail.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Snow Leopard = MacTablet coming

I have to agree with Andy Ihntako; Snow Leopard is pretty cool, but what it really looks like is a dry-run for a full-featured Mac OS for a low-power (read: netbook) processor. Combine that with nVidia's excitement about ramping up their "media pad" chip for various yet-to-be-announced partners, and the dream is finally here.

Microsoft is about to get pantsed again.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ted Kennedy, RIP

Sometimes you can feel history turn over; coming in the year of Obama's inauguration, I both nostalgic and hopeful. On a personal note, my uncle died from the same form of cancer last year. As he traveled regularly to Houston for consultations, I was luck to spend so much time with him. It's shocking how fast that year can pass.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Fun with Photoshop

We were discussing Sci-Fi mashups when my friend Mike suggested a scene we'd all love to see:

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Tale of Two Cents

Marc Ambinder has a post up about Chuck Grassley's recent claims regarding the "death panels" and contrasts them with Lisa Murkowski. Little need be said about such mendacity here; I'd rather take up the title of Marc's post: "A Tale of Two Senators on Death Panels."

I recently wrote a paper on Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities, and used as opening gambit, the observation that no title has been so widely mimicked. The reasons are clear enough -- it's a famous book, which has been widely read (it used to be the standard Dickens novel for highschool curricula, before Great Expectations ascended). But most importantly, the form of the title "A Tale of Two ________" asserts a connection without, well, asserting the connection. It juxtaposes two objects without telling us anything about they're actual relationship. They've just bumped into each other, as it were, in some "tale."

Which is not to say that Marc doesn't get some mileage out of the comparison, or turn it to good use. But in general, the "Tale of Two" formula disguises a lot of mediocre essays, papers, and talks which don't have a clear idea of what connects the two subjects. And to extend the point a little further, this is the basic problem of Dickens' original novel, which sets out to clarify the relation between pre- and post-revolutionary France and contemporary England -- homelands of the "Two Cities," London and Paris, where the action of the novel takes place. Despite a lean but complex story line replete with English and French doubles (to cop David Simon, the full "Dickensian"), the plot is ultimately resolved when its French and English objects agree to disagree; Sydney Carton's heroic sacrifice, with the flight of the Darnay family, mark the novel's failure to tease out the connection it was looking for. England and France settle on divorce. It's left to some hypothetical future time when the Darnays will return to a stabilized France and reflect upon what had once driven them all so far apart.

I guess what I'm suggesting is that, while using "A Tale of Two X" is both lazy and a strong indicator that the writer's having trouble deciding what they're writing about, we shouldn't be too harsh. Dickens came up with the title in much the same situation.

'Sides, it's still more effective than Dickens' working title, "The Golden Thread." Try cribbing that.

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From his lips to your ears

Yglesias nails it:

[T]here’s something bizarre about watching an American conservative movement whose general goal is to have the public sector provide as little as possible to anyone, and whose specific goal is to prevent public policy from extending health insurance to the tens of millions of currently un- or under-insured Americans, posing as the defenders of the right to access to generous health care services.

Are we having fun yet?

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For those thinking of or swearing off marriage, here's what it looks behind the lines:

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Friday, August 7, 2009

Got Punk'd?

Now THAT is "priceless." Ooh, I can't wait to see what Ashton twats.

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Not So Grandparents

Yglesias argues that those emphasizing the lack of support from seniors for the healthcare overhaul are overlooking how much it's just electoral politics:

But the main issue here just seems to be that people who are inclined to like Obama are inclined to like Obama’s health plan. And for all the attention the press plays to demographic sub-samples, the tendency is for presidential politics to be dominated by pretty broad swings. If Obama were more popular in general, he’d also be more popular with seniors, and his plan would be more popular with seniors. To actually get a majority with seniors, he’d have to be wildly more popular than he currently is.

I disagree. I think the lack of support from the Medicare generation is a huge story -- one I'm getting increasingly angry about, and for two main reasons:

(1) They love their federal healthcare. They are currently the broadest swath of recipients of federal healthcare and are generally quite happy with the Medicare program; which means from experience they should be advocates of an expansion of federal healthcare benefits. It's hugely cynical to rely on national healthcare and then show up at town hall rallies and scream at senators and secretaries of health because, according to one woman, "what I see is a bureaucratic nightmare." The kind of bureaucratic nightmare that replaces kidney, and pays for prescriptions? Sounds a hell of a lot better than the $175 a month plan I've got which I can't use because, being healthy, I can't meet my deductible.

(2) They're checking out before the bill comes due. It is incredibly cynical for seniors to argue for the status quo when they won't have to face the financial cliff that's looming as costs skyrocket over the following decades (to 10% of GDP by 2030, 15% by 2040, etc.). This comes as the Medicare benefits they're currently receiving are projected to exhaust its funds by 2019.

Granted, both of these points run counter to the self-interest and party affiliation of seniors. But from the perspective of the financial and physical health of the nation, their obstructionism is crassly selfish. For a generation that still prides itself on the sacrifices it made for the future and for others, attacking healthcare expansion and reform is morally bankrupt. I have a deep love and respect for my grandparents, what they sacrificed and what they've done. But it's time for the "greatest generation" to get great.

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80's RIP

By way of Sullivan, a montage of John Hughes films set to The Who's "Teenage Wasteland."

The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller's Day Off capture growing up then -- what it was, and what it wished it was.

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Thursday, August 6, 2009

Do weddings have quartermasters?

I'm staring at a list of details yet to be taken care of (am I helping organize a wedding or planning for the invasion of Normandy by way of the Texas Hill Country?) and I'm overwhelmed by the odd traditions which have been salvaged, it seems, in the interest of providing additional fiscal stimulus. A cake stand? Rusticated wooden signs? Brunch outfits?

Of course, the to do list being shepherded by The Talented Videographer is an order of magnitude larger (I got a glimpse of it once, and it recalled the scene from Alias where Sidney learns the true extent of SD6's network; The horror, the horror...). On the upside, an additional item for my list is to coordinate the wet bar. I'm going to provide my Yellow Rose (w/ Bowdlerized label) and Slacker beers on tap, as well as an Old Fashioned with smoked Rye Whiskey. In addition, TTV has found her signature cocktail after consultation with Bobby Heugel over at Anvil -- the Lavender Daiquiri:

Texas Lavender Daiquiri

Ingredients: 1½ oz Railean White Rum, ¾ oz Lime Juice, ½ oz Texas Lavender Syrup. Pour ingredients into shaker with ice, shake, and strain into glass. Garnish with lavender sprig.

Lavender Syrup prep

Preparation (Lavender Syrup)

To make lavender syrup combine 2 cups sugar and 2 cups water in a saucepan. Bring syrup to a boil over medium heat and cook for 10 minutes, reducing the water and sugar to a syrup. Add 12 - 14 sprigs of fresh Texas lavender (dried lavender is an acceptable substitute) and allow to boil for 2 minutes. Remove sauce pan from stove and allow syrup to cool at room temperature. When cool strain lavender out and store in the fridge.

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Ad Patronym Attacks

Mark Ames' attack on Megan McArdle -- that her father received government largess -- is pretty sleazy. It also helps demonstrate the uses and abuses of Lexis Nexis in the hands of a determined conspiracy susser. It's a bit like handing a Thesaurus to an undergraduate -- sure, there's more ink on the page, but it's all ink and no blotter.

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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Cary and Kael

In a recent post dissecting a ham-fisted revue of Cary Grant's work that just appeared in the New York Times, Christopher Orr links back to Pauline Kael's own careful estimation of Grant and his life. Read it. Her prose could cut steak.

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Monday, August 3, 2009

Meant for Big Things?

The Washington Post has printed an excerpt from Dan Balz and Haynes Johnson's new book, The Battle for America 2008, including two passages that say interesting things about Obama's character. First, a memo Axelrod wrote to Obama in 2006, assessing his strengths and weaknesses:

At the risk of triggering the very reaction that concerns me, I don't know if you are Muhammad Ali or Floyd Patterson when it comes to taking a punch. You care far too much what is written and said about you. You don't relish combat when it becomes personal and nasty.

And this, from Obama himself in 2008:

"Axelrod's right," he continued. "I'm not somebody who actually takes myself that seriously. I'm pretty well adjusted. You know, you can psychoanalyze my father leaving and this and that, but a lot of those things I resolved a long time ago. I'm pretty happy with my life. So there's an element, I think, of being driven that might have operated a little differently with me than maybe some other candidates. ... I went into it with some modesty, thinking to myself: It may be that this really is all hype, and once people get a sense of my ideas and what's going on there that they think I'm some callow youth or full of hot air, and if that turned out to be the case, that was okay. I think for me it was more of a sense of being willing to do this, understanding that the odds were probably -- I gave myself 25 percent odds, you know, maybe 30 -- which are pretty remarkable odds to be president of the United States, if you're a gambling man."

I always get this sharp and disorienting sense of dissonance when I read a quote like this, or a passage from one of his books, and feel pressed up against a personality that seems both deeply intelligent and modest. There's been a lot written about Obama's poise or "cool" in handling tough situations and policy decisions, but it's the remarkable sense of balance in his self-perspective that keeps catching me off-guard.

As Ezra notes, it's always interesting to find out about
the decision-making process that candidates go through when they choose to run for president. On the one hand, it's easy to see the seductions of power. But few of us think we're the best, most intelligent, most capable person we know, much less the best, most intelligent, most capable person in the country. So how do you seek a position where that, at least in theory, is what's written under 'qualifications'?

What's unnerving about such passages, I think, is that they suggest a kind of humane grace that is very hard for me to relate to. Though I remain an ambitious person with an overly-generous estimation of my abilities, I often think of growing up as the process of learning that I was much more normal, and less important, than I'd imagined in childhood. In sharp contrast with his alternately brainy or chummy but imminently familiar predecessors, the personality that comes across in such passages has less in common with my experience of frail humanity than my idealized sense of major historical figures -- John Adams, Jefferson, Lincoln -- figures far outside my ken. So I read, and I feel a bit of (slightly rueful) worship.

But I also think about how others will read such passages, conservatives weaned on parsing every Clintonian statement as another iteration of "I did not have sex with that woman." And the dissonance that I feel will always register for them as deceit. If a birth certificate doesn't weigh with them, how much lighter statements from the campaign manager and the candidate himself? And this makes me sad, if only because it drives home the different histories we're all living right now.*** I don't care if large swaths of the population and its legislators fight Obama's political agenda tooth and nail; but if he's even half the person I think he is, I'm sad that they won't recognize the quality of their opponent and the history he's helping to shape.

P.S.> On the other hand, I *do* think that it's possible for people to change their mind; in her heart of hearts, I'm pretty sure Hillary Clinton has a different evaluation of Obama today than she did two years ago.

*** This sense of different histories reminds me of the much-maligned Carter presidency. I've always had a deep admiration for the man and his policies (if not always, their execution). I don't think there ever will be another president, for instance, who would go to Three Mile Island in the middle of the crisis, while experts were still worried it would melt down, simply because he felt that risking death was worth reassuring the American people.

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Two wrongs *do* make a right: (Why I can't never stand the double negative rule)

Everyone (even those, like me, who got a "d" in grade school grammar) knows that a negative proposition can only have one negation -- whether it be a "no," "never" or "not." What we don't usually learn is that it's one of the strange quirks of our relatively young language. Back in Shakespeare's England, the only English grammars that existed were written for and in Latin and Greek. But during the seventeenth century, an increasing number of anglophiles began to try and re-frame our language on logical principles. Never mind the profoundly illogical and contingent nature of language (especially ours); in a time when Aristotle and gnat-straining scholastics still held great sway, logic, however twisted, still ruled the day.

In love with the purported rationalism of Latin, and apparently fearing that two wrongs might be mistaken for a right, seventeenth-century grammarians argued against the double negative, with the codification of this rule credited to Anglican clergyman Robert Lowth's 1762 Short Introduction to English Grammar (at least, according to Wikipedia).

But there's nothing better (or at least, isn't nothing worse) than a double negative for emphasizing your negation. Speaking in terms of language theory, it's certainly worse to mistake a negative for a positive than a positive for a negative ("don't shoot!") and the double negative builds in enough redundancy to make sure your point gets across (unless you're admirer of the good Bishop Lowth). That seems to be the principle followed by the romance languages -- and you, too, if you've ever peppered your conversation with a n'est pas?

On the other hand, if it hadn't been for Lowth, we wouldn't have found so much not unattractive about the venerable litotes, including the close of this Flying Circuit skit:

I have a memory of Terry Jones yelling "Litotes" in some other skit but can't seem to find it.

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Sunday, August 2, 2009

Good red wine; bad white linen

Last night we also visited Block 7, a new wine bar that is soft-opening behind our house. It was also the after-party spot for "White Linen Nights" up in the Heights neighborhood, which meant the place was filled with ladies and gents in wrinkled-yet-expensive looking chinos, skirts, and blazers. Very, VERY creepy. (Apparently there was some kind of dust-up with a group of Linenites complaining about a failure to properly enforce the guest list, but that's neither here nor there.)

What was also wierd, but in a very pleasing way, was how friendly the management and staff were, and the remarkable range of wines they carry at retail price. The restaurant/bar is attached to the wine shop, and you can walk back and forth between them, selecting, sorting, and tasting. We had a couple of U.S. Sauvignon Blancs for less than $15 a bottle (!) and after a long discussion with one of the owners, Michael Housewright, he steered us toward an awesome, lightly chilled and slightly fizzy and fruity Barollo that wasn't listed (instead of one of the pinot noirs I'd been angling for). It was a great wine for a hot, muggy night. If you go, ask to be served by Davy Jones -- a tattoo-sheathed front man (whose band, I hope, is called "The Lockers") and a very gracious waiter.

I wasn't blown away by the food, though they're still working up to their full menu, and I didn't get to try the venison Sloppy Joe on Challah that was eying me (I was full of homemade tapas from our earlier engagement, see below). I also saw Bobby Heugel checking the place out -- he's the English grad student cum Mixology entrepreneur who started up Anvil. You know, the same old story.

I didn't get a chance to ask Michael what brought his place about, or even what Block 7 is named for, though I think he's started it with his wife, who was also there smoothing down those wrinkly white-worsted patrons (couldn't resist). But I've a feeling there'll be many more opportunities to get the skinny.

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On how we learned to stop worrying and love Chron.com

Last night I helped with a going-away party for one of The Talented Videographer's coworkers at the Houston Chronicle, and, as usual, the mood was somber. There have been something like six rounds of layoffs in the last couple of years. I noticed that, while individually they're all interesting people who I'd like to grab a drink with, assembled together they hum with a funereal air. Gallows humor isn't very humorous. The only mildly funny thing was the celebration: strictly speaking, the coworker isn't really leaving -- she's just moving from editorial to advertising. We generally agreed it was a vast improvement; the paper might not survive, but her new industry will.

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