Asimov’s rules, where are you when we need you?

Rossum's Universal Robots
Rossum's Universal Robots

R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) by Karel Capek (translated and recorded for BBC radio)

RUR stands out for that third R, the first place robot was used to describe mechanical golems. In Capek’s play, the robots are more like the modern cylons in BSG, indistinguishable from humans. The play tells the tale of the island factory where the robots are made, the worldwide demand for robot labor fast bottoming out the world work economy. The people who make the robots want to use them to introduce utopia, but the people who run nations use them to fight wars. Only instead of following the advice from The Simpsons and sending the robots into space to fight wars, they fight on the ground. Eventually, the robots decide they don’t need any of us and turn all Agent Smith. Some thoughts:

  • Asimov called this a pretty terrible play, but I disagree. I didn’t think it was amazing or even all that good, but the idea Capek thinks through had been and continues to be a central concern for SF writers and A.I. researchers alike. And the Alice in Wonderland character of the scientists works well for me. The play is hampered by the external realities of all the actions. There are only so many things that we can be happy to let happen off stage. It would be interesting to see how this might be restaged in modern parlance. Oh wait, The Matrix.
  • Asimov’s three rules seem really important in the light of the robot revolution here. Capek suggests at one point that the problem stems from having given the robots weapons. In today’s terms, it seems the problem will stem from giving the robots(agents) r/w permission on our databases.
  • Interestingly, Capek doesn’t consider data storage at all — everything is still done on paper and there’s only two copies of the secret to making the robots live.
  • Spoiler. There’s some religious stuff at the end that’s interesting. Capek gives two robots (in conversation with the last surviving human) emotions and love for one another. The human suggests that they should go be happy, and multiply. He even calls them a new Adam and Eve, suggesting that he himself represents mankind’s Godliness. They were made in our image–which is why they killed us all in the first place.
  • Spoiler. The whole problem begins with giving the robots “a soul.” I couldn’t help but think of Marvin, the depressed robot from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. “Oh, why did they give us emotions?” The robots were perfectly content until one human–a woman, that snake–felt bad for them and insisted they have emotions.

The BBC radio drama version of the play is pretty interesting, with solid acting and accents. Worth checking out for the history if nothing else.

Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes
Sherlock Holmes

There are two kinds of people in this world: those who think Sherlock Holmes must never battle dinosaurs, and those who acknowledge that sometimes a dinosaur will pop up in London and need battling.  I’m firmly in the latter camp.

Sherlock Holmes, a “mockbuster” film made at the same time (and usually with VERY similar title) as the 2009 huge-budget mainstream release, features the eponymous hero investigating the sinking, via tentacled monster, of one of her majesty’s ships.  Whereas the original scene could very well have gone Lovecraftian (and don’t we all wish it had), the plot actually veers toward dinosaurs, clockwork ladies, and a steampunk Iron Man.  My notes below are full of, um, spoilers, but really, if you’re watching this movie to be surprised by the plot, I’m saving you some trouble here.

  • The movie’s chockablock full of dinosaurs (actually, robot dinosaurs), automata, and Iron Men.  My favorite, though, is the battle between the clockwork dragon menacing London and the Wellesian balloon (with optional machine-gun attachments).  Jenny commented that it was like the final battle in Wild Wild West.
  • Holmes purists would probably balk at turning Mycroft into a villain, and into LeStrade’s partner.  Of course, there aren’t very many clockwork villains or diabolical sea monster machines in the original Doyle stories–only three by my count–so the pedants are already upset, probably.
  • The production values are what you’d expect, with decent scenery when they shot live, but also cheesy computer graphics.  The film is shot in overwhelming sepiatone (not unlike the Guy Ritchie movie), and the acting is equally colorless.  Particularly NOT menacing is the villain, who seems like a cross between James Franco (circa Spider-man) and Gary Oldman.
  • The worst scene, for my money, was the sequence where Dr. Watson gets lowered over the edge of the cliff so he can see the wrecked ship “better.”  After he’s halfway down the cliff, he stops and looks at the water, where he spots someone foundering in the surf.  After a moment’s panic, he realizes they’re dead.  There’s no ship, to speak of.  Then, after he reaches the top of the cliff, he tells Sherlock and LeStrade that he saw nothing.  Later, Holmes mentions that Watson had seen nothing in the hold of the ship, yadda yadda yadda.  Completely ignoring the fact that he saw nothing at all.  Plus, you can tell they spent a lot of time and energy shooting the cliff climbing scene because they included WAY too much of it.
  • My favorite scene splits between the end (dragon vs. balloon) and the beginning (with giant tentacles grabbing men and pulling them over).  The beginning reminded me a lot of the other big schlocky hit from last year: Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus.
  • There were two things I thought definitely anachronistic: electric lights and some psychoanalytic terms.  Oddly, both could be explained.  Apparently, there was a British company that started installing electric lights in homes in 1880.  The events take place in 1888 and the building where we see electric lights is a manufacturing concern that deals with wire and so on.  So it’s not inconceivable that they might have put up lights.  Dr. Watson also uses some terms that depend on Freudian concepts, something that would have been new but not wholly unheard of for someone keeping up to date on the literature, as far as I can tell. Screenwriter? one.  My smug snarking? zero.

As Jenny said about a third of the way through (while I was giggling during a dinosaur chase), this would be great for the bad movie club.

Music Roundup: December, January, February, March

I love my music !
I love my music !

I’ve been listening to a lot of stuff in the last few months and not documenting any of it.  Rather than writing long posts about each of the things, I’ll note what albums and mixes I’ve been rocking, and then make a few comments.

December:

  • Michael Jackson, The Essential Michael Jackson, disc 1.
  • Mojo Nixon, Gadzooks! The Homemade Bootleg
  • Barenaked Ladies, Everything to Everyone
  • Bjork, Volta
  • Crash Test Dummies, Jingle All the Way
  • christmas songs from Cover Lay Down

January:

  • Mojo Nixon, Live at the Casbah
  • songs from Cover Lay Down

February:

  • Mojo Nixon, Mojo and Skid
  • songs from Cover Lay Down
  • Julandrew, Sings your Favorite Songs
  • Barenaked Ladies, Barenaked Ladies Are Me

March:

  • Mojo Nixon, Otis
  • songs from Cover Lay Down
  • Intercontinental Music Lab, Ancient Greeks and Circus Freaks
  • Social Distortion, assorted songs
  • Dan Mills, Fiction in Photographs

That’s a lot of music.  A few thoughts:

  • I’ve discovered that I really can’t absorb more than four albums a month, maybe a little more.  Between music I get free from some places and emusic, I’m overflowing.  Cover Lay Down alone does between five and ten tracks a week.  I’ve stopped downloading from them just to stay sane.  But the collector in me gasps at all that music passing me by.  I’m glad I never did Napster or other illegal downloading — I couldn’t handle the volume of choices.
  • There’s a lot of Mojo Nixon here.  There was a period last year when Amazon made MN free to download.  I downloaded something like 12 albums and am slowly listening my way through them.  They’re hit and miss.  The punk rock/ rockabilly crudeness isn’t my favorite, but some of the songs are great.  My favorites thus far: “Bring Me The Head of David Geffin,” “Just Dropped in to See What Condition my Condition Was In,” “Destroy All Lawyers,” and “Perry Mason of Love.”
  • I like Social Distortion a lot.  I’ll have to download more of that later.
  • The BNL and Bjork I got for $2 each at the Deal$ store near our house.  The aren’t memorable, I’m sad to say.
  • Julandrew, Interconinental Music Lab are each great, and free on Jamendo.  I still like Superheroes of Science as my favorite IML album, but this one’s pretty good.
  • I like Dan Mills, but don’t feel like I got enough of it.  It’s been recycled into the July or August playlist.

Logout for Civility?

Logout for Civility

I was recently invited to join a Facebook event called “Logout for Civility.”  Here’s the event description:

Express your desire for a peaceful and civil facebook community! Join us in a 12-hour facebook logout to express our displeasure with facebook groups that broadcast hate speech and promote violence.

I inadvertently participated in this event by not logging in at all on Saturday, so there’s that.  But I marked myself as “not attending.”  But I feel like there are a few things to say about the event:

  • There are dozens of posts by people surprised that it was “so easy” or “not as hard as I thought it would be” to stay logged off Facebook.  As someone who takes Bradley’s “day of rest” idea pretty seriously, I’m a little befuddled.*  And a little depressed by the folks who wrote stuff like “I discovered that I spent almost no time on my Mac, and I actually experienced life.  I got things done and talked to people.”  Others commented about how much work they got done that day.  If I were an employer, I’d be ramping up the blocking software after seeing this forum.
  • From an activism standpoint, I’m not sure how this accomplishes anything.  It seems like surrendering the field to hate speakers, no?  This proposes to work like advertising boycotts on network television, right?  I wonder if FB even noticed the drop in logins. (Doubt it.)
  • I’m also reminded of a campaign in the 1950s and 1960s in America (whose name I forget and can’t find easily) in which progressive whites encouraged other progressives to confront racist comments with embarrassed silence.  The difference, here, is that in the cone of silence created by online groups, silence from the outside makes no difference at all.  By contrast, face to face embarrassed silence confronts the issue (in a roundabout way).

I’m also a bit bothered from the free speech angle.  Yes, Facebook is a private concern with its own rules and as such isn’t beholden to the U.S. Bill of Rights, but when we invest so much energy into communicative spaces, I feel like questions of free speech become embroiled with the use of that space.  And to suggest that Facebook should restrict that speech strikes me as counter-productive.  Freedom begets freedom, censorship begets censorship.  For instance, because Blizzard wants to avoid hate speech, it prohibits any public discussion of sexual preference.  Thus, they kicked out a group of players who’d formed a gay-friendly guild.

So how should we respond?  The Daily Show and The Colbert Report and the prologue to Al Franken’s Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them all say the same thing: incisive humor.  Humor cuts through the bullshit and calls things out for what they are.  Clever humor can highlight the problems in a point of view and can make progress for the middle-of-the-road folks.   I’m interested what others think can or should be done about things like hate groups on Facebook.

* When I was in grad school, C Bradley Dilger, friend and mentor extraordinaire, said that he takes one day a week to do little or no online work.  He doesn’t check email or work at the computer at all.  It’s not something I do religiously, but I get pretty close on Saturdays.

The Manual of Detection

The Manual of Detection
The Manual of Detection

by Jedediah Berry, narrated by Pete Larkin

What happens if Terry Gilliam (Brazil) and Marc Caro/Jean Paul Jeunet (City of Lost Children, Delicatessen) got together to make a book about detectives?  Jedediah Berry seems to draw inspiration from these films in The Manual of Detection, a book both surreal and fantastic with a heavy dose of detectivosity.

The novel follows the travails of 14th floor clerk Charles Unwin, a meticulous staffer at “the Agency,” a Kafkaesque Pinkerton society reining in the malevolent forces of Enoch Hoffman, the man of 1000 voices.  Unwin stumbles into the middle of the action when the detective for whom he writes reports goes missing and he finds himself set up for a murder.  Berry tells the story in an environment of intense atmosphere, with powerful imagery and characters.  It’s not to be missed.

A few additional thoughts:

  • It’s hard not to think of the book working in allegorical terms, with Unwin stumbling back and forth between the real world and his dreams.  Each character could very well mean something, and the over-reaching arms of The Agency seem rife for connection with the modern surveillance society.  Unwin’s unassuming nature also makes him a Sam Lowry innocent meandering through a dark world.
  • Another connection the novel makes to Brazil comes from its 1930s-era technology.  The book depends on the trenchcoat detectives of hard-boiled novels and it makes rich use of the physical technologies of that era: typewritten reports, telephones, phonographs.  The book never puts itself in that era explicitly, but the physicality of that era gives it an aesthetically-pleasing quality that eludes digital detection.
  • The secondary characters have the rich patina of fantasy, and the abstractions (The Agency, The Port City, The Carnival) disconnect the story a bit further from reality.  My favorite characters are the menacing former-conjoined-twin brothers who haven’t slept in the seventeen years since they were separated from one another.  One speaks for the other, saying things like “My brother advises that you should join us to play poker.”
  • The story’s use of the carnival as an opponent begs a Bakhtinian comparison of criminal syndicates to carnival, the loosening of society’s bindings in jest and joy.  Of course, they’re also thieves and murderers.
  • As a clerk, Unwin writes up the official case files for each of his detective’s cases.  He gives them their titles, which become useful shorthand for the cases (as opposed to using their numbers).  Among the cases his detective solved: The Oldest Murdered Man and The Three Deaths of Colonel Baker.

As a narrator, Pete Larkin does an amazing job with this book.  His voice characterizations are distinct and interesting, and the pacing works nicely for me.  He does gravelly detective voices perfectly, and the voice of Enoch Hoffman, described as being higher than you’d expect, works much better than I can possibly imagine it working on paper barring typeface shenanigans ON PAR WITH THE DIALOG IN A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY.

An excellent read.  Perhaps my favorite book so far this year.

A reason to love life for life itself

[Youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VFLdIGNUKuw]

A lovely song from The Streets.

The prisoner’s dilemma

In both my Game Culture class and my New Millennium Studies class this week, the students played a game of iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma.  First, here’s how it worked:

  1. Each person got a card with the scores on it that said DEFECT on one side and COOPERATE on the other.  The point matrix was as follows: both cooperate = one year each; defect/coop = zero/ten years; both defect = five years.
  2. I divided the students into groups of four or five (depending on class size) and they paired up to play against one another between 10 and 16 times per series.
  3. Each round, I called the following cues with brief pauses between each: find your opponent, cards on the table, show ’em!
  4. After each series, I power-matched the students, putting the lowest-scoring (thus most successful) with one another, etc.  Then we played another series.
  5. Each class played four series.  At the end I added up their total scores and we talked about the experience.
Bars image by assbach
Bars image by assbach

Learning goals:

  • Game Culture: we’ve talked off and on about the different kinds of game players and the different kinds of cooperative systems at work in games.  Playing this game helped the class think through and talk about how those systems work.  We also talked about how community helps shape behavior and where players were able to cooperate (one group managed to cooperate entirely, scoring 9 points each) and where they turned untrustworthy.
  • New Millennium Studies: this class approaches questions of art, ethics, community, and values.  I thought this exercise would be useful in helping talk about the tragedy of the commons and the problems with systems that don’t foster trustworthy behavior.  It worked okay, but could have gone better.

A few more thoughts about the exercise:

  • It was fun watching the way the students would turn on one another when they took advantage of cooperators.  The spirits got quite high in the game culture class.
  • There were a few students who became griefers, openly declaring that they were randomizing their choices and not caring what their scores were.  Others cooperated no matter what, or defected no matter what.  A few hit on the tit-for-tat strategy generally acknowledged as the best opening strategy.
  • I had to add an additional rule part way through the third series in the game culture class.  In series two, one group managed to cooperate entirely, so in series three another group decided to do the same, and all just placed their cards face up on the table unattended.  Since the idea of the game is to be unsure what your opponent is going to choose before it’s revealed, I made a rule that you had to pick up your card each round and keep it hidden until I called for the reveal.  This way there was at least a chance that someone would betray the group.  Sure enough, that group was among the most vicious I’ve yet seen.

The Martian Chronicles

Martian Chronicles
Martian Chronicles

By Ray Bradbury

I hadn’t read this book yet — I know, that’s sad — so I thought I’d give it a whirl.  Bradbury tells a series of stories that document the rise and fall of humankind on Mars.  It’s a compelling collection, with good lessons about the dark side of humankind and our tendencies toward new things (particularly the American approach to the world).  Some thoughts:

  • The book actually comes off as more of a fantasy of “another planet” than of Mars itself, since we’ve now mapped enough of Mars that we’re sure there’s no one there.  They probably were in the 1950s too, but there it is.
  • I love the notion that the planet would be covered with ancient cities and strange artifacts which we would proceed to demolish in order to build hot dog stands and ore mines.
  • My favorite stories are the early ones from before humans came to stay on the planet.  The Martians weren’t really any better than us.  These had the character of Alfred Hitchcock presents stories, with excellent twists at the end.
  • Spoiler: I was very sad to see Earth destroyed in an atomic war.  The notion of it happening (particularly from a 1950s perspective) wasn’t surprising, but the idea that everybody on Mars would pack up and go home struck me as silly.  Of course, we didn’t know as much about fallout and nuclear winter as we do now.
  • It would be interesting to re-read Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars in the context of this book to think about two different colonization stories, steeped in different SF traditions, but with similar ideas about how humans and societies might move into space.  KSR doesn’t have any hot dog stands in his book, though.
The Martian Chronicles creepy cover
MC - creepy cover

Overall it’s a good book, if outside what we’d hope for today in a book about Mars.

Update: Here’s the cover art from the edition I read.  I’m not sure what it’s supposed to depict (perhaps it’s from the movie?), but it’s kinda nightmarish, IMO.

Up!

Up
Up

Up is a beautiful movie.  My family watched it this week and we enjoyed it immensely.  Pixar hits another homerun.  I’ll hold off on slathering too much adulation, as you’ve heard it all before.  Some small thoughts:

  • As always, the characterization is excellent, with a few short scenes defining who our characters are and shaping how we understand them.  Doug the dog is my favorite; the depiction of his thoughts stands out  as the most accurate dog thinking in fiction since Christopher Moore wrote The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove.
  • The house doesn’t have enough balloons.  I remember hearing an interview with the Pixar guys where they talked about figuring out how many balloons it would really take to hold up the house (on the order of millions) and then they just made a bunch.
  • Watching the movie with Avery was hilarious–she busted out laughing at much of the physical humor, and the parts that made us cry went over her head.  We did have to navigate questions about why the man was sad, but that’s part of having a four year old.
  • Pixar has reached the top of this game, I think.  The animation is seemless enough that we stop marveling at it and enjoy, but the depth of detail and the retro design (very Incredibles) work brilliantly.  The bird stands out in this regard — genius character design.
  • Also, how old is that explorer guy supposed to be?  He was at least 25 when Carl was 10, so that makes him fifteen years older than Carl, whom I would peg in his seventies at minimum.

Definitely worth a watch if you haven’t seen it.  Get on that!

ps> When the dogs fall in the water after chasing the bird to the edge of the cliff, we hear a Wilhelm scream.

Adventures in silly signage

The CTA has these handy-dandy “elevator status” signs used by the station attendants to alert riders about broken elevators and whatnot.  In fact, I think they’re just to alert riders when there are elevators out of order.

"All CTA Elevators working" photo by Mark Susina
"All CTA Elevators working" photo by Mark Susina

Oddly enough, at the LaSalle Blue line stop, they have one of those signs on the main landing, which is at the top of one set of stairs and at the bottom of another.  This isn’t to say that people who can walk stairs don’t care about broken elevators, but it struck me as somewhat amusing that the sign was in a spot completely inaccessible to people in wheelchairs.

Why Am I Writing This?

"Caught in the Fence" by thorinside
"Caught in the Fence" by thorinside

Andrew Kozma, poet and playwright extraordinare, recently wrote a post about getting food from a co-op.  Toward the end of the post, he writes:

Why is this important to me? [Yes, why? –ed.] Why am I writing about this? [I already asked. –ed.] Here I could ladle out a metaphor stringing cooking and writing together, how both, for me, are a matter of taking what you’ve got (random ideas vs. random ingredients) and experimenting with a predetermined given (literary form vs. recipe), but that would be really silly.

Instead, I’ll say this: [Will you please stop using colons? –ed.] What’s important to me about the co-op and our buying food from there is that it at least makes gestures towards sustainability.  Of a few people.  In this small area of the earth.  Granted, I’m not growing the food that I’m buying and preparing, but I am making do with what can be grown around me and helping to give life – through buying the food – to this community. (link)

I like the metaphor, and am happy to be in a similar place with my own gardening (post coming soon about that).  But I’m more interested here in the first question.  Blogging, of course, has no single purpose or meaning, but works like writing itself.  Historically, though, it demands the mix of the personal with the professional, the blending of writing forms and the stretching of institutional boundaries.  As a poet, Kozma can’t write about food buying or sustainability unless it’s in poetry form.  As a Composition scholar (or new media scholar? popular culture scholar? Geek? Dad? Gardener? Incompetent DIYer? Book reviewer? Cineaste?) I couldn’t write about all the things this blog elicits, but as a blogger, I can–and must–write about all these things.

And for me, the approach to this blog feeds back on my scholarly style, which tends toward database writing, the assemblage of interesting nodes and engineering of them into aesthetically pleasing arrangements.  Geoff Sirc’s Box Logic and Gregory Ulmer’s conduction continue to prod me, as does Jeff Rice’s ydog.net as rhetoric.  But blogging also eschews the need for explaining the elaborate metaphor.  Ulmer once suggested to me (and probably did so somewhere in one of his books) that electracy shifts the burden of conclusion making onto the reader.  In literacy, we start with the conclusion, line up the evidence in order, and convince the reader.  In electracy, we pull together the nodes, make some links between them, and gesture toward an idea, all the while hedging our bets by offering other readings, other options, other possibilities.

Perhaps the SAT question for electrate argument would look like this:

author : reader  ::  database architect : API programmer

The Postman Always Rings Twice

The Postman Always Rings Twice
The Postman Always Rings Twice

by James M. Cain

The quintessential noir crime novel, The Postman Always Rings Twice follows the crisp, dark tale of a drifter who wanders into a diner, falls for the sultry wife of the owner, and conspires with her to off her husband, a nice guy who’s a bit boorish.  Some thoughts:

  • The only likeable person in the book is Nick the diner owner, and even he grates a bit.  His view of his wife springs from the conservative tradition, putting her on a pedestal until she can have children.  He’s ambitious and hardworking and, in the language of noir fiction, a chump.  Frank and Cora both wallow in self-pity, lack any kind of ethics, and fall in love.  It’s a recipe for a bad end.
  • The book comes straight from the perspective of the 1930s as a dark time when lives were cheap and everyone was corrupt.  The justice system was a game to be played (sometimes you et the bar, sometimes the bar, well, he et you). We see Frank as emblematic of the dislocated young men thrown out of work by the depression, drifting on the rails and hustling for a living.
  • Cain’s writing crackles, doing in three words what some writers need a paragraph to do.  The book’s only 100 pages, give or take, but it makes the most of those pages.
  • The sex works really well, with lots of metaphor, a little S&M creepiness (on their first encounter, Frank bites Cora’s lip hard enough to draw blood), and the grimy feel of the dusty hardscrabble roadside diner.  And, in classic noir tradition, as soon as they decide to be good for one another and make a new start of it, justice comes a’ callin.’
  • The title works as a metaphor for justice, but its origins are shrouded in confusion (at least so far as I can tell from my brief meandering on the web).  One story is that it comes from a true-crime case about a woman who got her lover to murder her husband; the other is that the screenwriter disliked getting rejection letters, so he didn’t answer the door when the postman came, but those darn USPS employees are pretty tenacious–they ring the bell again.  Cain and the screenwriter liked the metaphor.  That said, I spent the whole book waiting for the subplot about the goddamn mailman.

I read this book as part of my mystery book club at the ever-awesome Centuries and Sleuths bookstore in Forest Park, IL.  We had a lively and interesting discussion.

Things that make everything better

Randy Newman:

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kmC1UuBdp20&feature=related]

Believe it or not, their album has additional themes for Seabiscuit, Scarface, Return of the King,

Cowbell:

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Mie9hhQTUM]

Snark

Snark: It’s Mean, It’s Personal, and It’s Ruining Our Conversation (A Polemic in Seven Fits), by David Denby, narrated by William Dufris

Denby’s “Polemic in Seven Fits” seeks to categorize and understand the modern tendency toward snarky writing and commentary.  Denby makes the argument that snark works in a similar mode as satire and irony, but where those two forms have purpose and craft, snark does not.  He suggests that it’s the cheap joke without the purpose behind it.

  • Denby levels significant criticism at the Internet’s anonymous commenter culture, which allows individuals to make long-lasting criticisms of people that do not fade with time.  He suggests our penchant for snarky commentary exacerbates this problem.
  • He tends to focus much more ire at writers on the right than on the left, making an argument by implication that when you don’t have anything substantive to say, snark takes its place.  He also argues that people like Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart are not being snarky as they have a point and bring their wit to bear on crucial issues.  I feel like that line gets drawn too easily down partisan preference for this to be an open-and-shut case, but overall I think I agree.
  • The best part of the book is its historical survey, which stretches from the writings of Juvenal to user forums on JuicyCampus.com.  I love the treatise explaining why Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” is not snark.  There’s also a whole chapter devoted to Maureen Dowd’s tendency to write snark for snark’s sake.  He makes an interesting point toward the end of that chapter, noting that Dowd claimed the country was “losing its sense of humor” right around the time it became clear that her snarky voice wouldn’t work in that specific moment of Washington politics.
  • I’m not sure William Dufris was the right person to read this book.  I enjoyed his work on Anathem, but in this book his particular voice (which sounds a bit more nasal than the average voice) came off as a little snide, like the character from Kids in the Hall who sounds sarcastic all the time.  His inflection works well, but the tone doesn’t, for me.

I enjoyed the book overall. If nothing else, the samplings of snark (and the bits of snark Denby wields himself) amuse.

St. Louis, in pictures

While I was in St. Louis, I got away for an hour and a half to walk around the downtown area and take pictures.  I borrowed my friend Paul’s camera and took 110 pics.  Here they are:

All are CC licenced, so enjoy and use!