Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Notes for Noting, Links for Thinking

* A very charming science fiction story, "Such is Fate," by Arsen Darnay, read aloud (in a way that is also charming) and discussed. It was the first time I had actually come across it, despite the fact that it seems to be something of a minor classic (published in 1974). A nice thing about the Internet is that it has the potential to make obscure classics less obscure. I liked the story quite a bit; it has a sort of Olaf Stapledon sweep, with more sense of humor. (Hat-tip to Arsen Darnay himself)

* Speaking of audio SF online, I've found that it's fairly easy to find the excellent X Minus One series online. X Minus One was an absolutely exquisite science fiction radio show, adapting short stories by some of the great names in science fiction -- Bradbury, Asimov, Heinlein, Dick, Sturgeon, Blish, and others. I especially recommend the following:

Almost Human
The Cold Equations
To the Future
Star Bright
The Old Die Rich
Surface Tension
The Lifeboat Mutiny
Protective Mimicry
Chain of Command
The Discovery of Morniel Mathaway
The Merchants of Venus

* And since I'm speaking of radio classics, Inner Sanctum is awesome, too. It was a sort of horror/suspense show, whose ghoulish host, Raymond became a sort of classic in his own right, spawning many imitations. One of the charming facets of the show was that it was sponsored by, of all things Lipton's Tea, whose representative during the commercial break was Mary, a cheerful, sensible woman (she was selling brisk iced tea, after all), whose interactions with the morbid host became classics in their own right. (One of the pleasant things about a lot of classic radio shows, those for adults, at least, was that they were creative in their handling of the advertising. The Burns & Allen Show was famous for putting the product placement in the most hilariously bizarre places, for instance. But nobody ever topped the sensible charm and wit of Mary clashing with the bad death-related puns of the host of Inner Sanctum.

* Is our particular version of society a Ponzi scheme, whereby we raise our standard of living by making things harder and harder for future generations? Joseph Romm suggests so.

* Nathanael Robinson tagged me with a meme; but I find, unfortunately, that I can't play. The idea is to "Think of 15 albums that had such a profound effect on you they changed your life." But there are no albums have changed my life in any way. I was an early foreshadowing of what is to come: the Album-less Generations, where albums exist, certainly, but where individual songs are so easily separable from their albums that the albums become thoroughly incidental. There have been albums I've liked; U2's Joshua Tree is an obvious one. But the days of thinking in terms of albums are vanishing, and I was one of the early symptoms of their fate.

* Apparently some state legislators in Connecticut (PDF) have decided it would be a good idea for the state of Connecticut to have laws reorganizing the structure of the Catholic Church. Needless to say, lots of Catholics are somewhat annoyed by this. It's pretty close to requirements in a number of other states, already, as parts of their incorpration laws; and is actually less of a change from the current situation than one might think (the current law is here). The main point of controversy is that it would guarantee that the bishop has no authority in deciding on any monetary or financial matters (if the diocese incorporates). In any case, here is the justification for the bill by one of the sponsors.

* Obama will continue the use of signing statements. He promises to be "responsible" in the use of them, but this is not good enough. President Obama, if Congress sends you unconstitutional legislation, veto it rather than engage in this practice of dubious constitutionality yourself.

* Microsoft has a bit of software called Songsmith that, given vocals, automatically adds background music by some sort of statistical method. It was inevitable that someone would try it with actual songs. And it turns out that it thinks Michael Jackson's "Beat It" is techno-pop, Billy Idol's "White Wedding" is bluegrass, Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train" is polka (which is actually one of the better ones), Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger" is a slow pop ballad, The Eagles's "Hotel California" is electro-pop, The Police's "Roxanne" is slightly Carribbean latin music, and Sara Bareilles's "Love Song" is rock. Some of them, like Elvis Presley's "Suspicious Eyes" still manage to be bearable, if mindlessly generic, but some of them are just insane. Proof that computers won't be competition for musicians anytime soon.


* The SEP has a nice article up about the early modern manualist tradition of the Navya-Nyaya school in India. The whole Nyaya tradition is something that should be taught more widely in philosophy programs; it was highly logical in its approach to philosophy, with a carefully worked out theory of inference, and in the Navya-Nyaya branch this combined with another metaphysical school to develop a carefully reasoned system of metaphysics based on empirical observation.

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