31 July 2009

Bloggers and research

Well, since I was preening about figuring out the economic uptick through intense research, and then blogging about it, here is another video by the world's greatest living philosopher discussing: blogging and research.

that sucks.

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The Economy: basic research

A few weeks ago I was intending to write a post on how the economy was improving, at least from my myopic viewpoint here in the land of Wilkes. Mora struck hard for the first time this summer and I did something else. Wish I'd written it because I would have looked prescient. Which I sometimes am on the principle that even a stopped clock is right twice every 24 hours.

Things are indeed looking up this quarter. The economy doesn't seem to be in free fall anymore, and lord knows the $billions$ for clunkers program seems to have won the hearts and minds of every car dealer in the country (will they now vote Democratic?).

So why did I see this coming? Well, it could have been the $18 million that the Stimulus Program just added to the county schools budget virtually of of which will be spent locally, much of it in salaries. Or it could have been that my TIAA/CREF and 403(b) accounts both show a big increase in the latest quarterly report instead of the BIG decrease I've been seeing the last few quarters.

No - it was research, pure research of the most difficult and exacting kind. And thoughtful analysis of said rexearch.

I went on a field trip to Dudley's Pub and Grill and had a few beers with the owner. He told me that Dudley's had faced the bad economic news BEFORE the rest of the country was aware of it. By the time the bottom fell out of both the economy and the Republican presidential campaign his monthly receipts were cut in half. It stayed that way until a few months ago. Now his business is about back to normal.

One thing you can say for the good folks of Wilkes is that they are economically modest. Their finely tuned economic sensors are out there sniffing the wind for the slightest change. Apparently one of the first things to go is the weekly trip to the bar.

I'll go do some more research and alert you the next time this starts to happen. It's my civic duty you know.

and this was before the president convinced cable news that men setting around a small table sharing a beer was the single most important news event of the week. I was there first.

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30 July 2009

Quote for the day

Napping, writes James B. Maas, a Cornell University sleep expert, “should have the status of daily exercise.”

from the NYT.


26 July 2009

Ah, youth

Now that I have reached a ripe old age, approximately a quarter of a century older than the average life span for most of human history, I find this video of one of our greatest living philosophers discussing youth oddly comforting. Or not. Depending on your point of view.

It is, however, absolutely true.

It also explains a lot about our culture in the 21rst century.

... but now I can ride the bus for half price.

this link came from andrewsullivan.com bte.

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24 July 2009

Oh! Canada.

I must say our neighbours to the North are much more liberal than I thought.

Is there a medieval history conference in Ottawa this fall?

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22 July 2009

Well this certainly explains Minnesota

From the Andrew Sullivan site, where Eric Weiner attempts to explain why Danes are happier than other Scandinavians.
Danes tend to be healthy, married and active — all contributing factors to happiness. But why, researchers wondered, are Danes happier than Finns and Swedes, who share many of these traits, not to mention a similar culture and climate? The answer is, in a word, expectations. Danes have low expectations and so “year after year they are pleasantly surprised to find out that not everything is rotten in the state of Denmark,” says James W. Vaupel, a demographer who has investigated Danish bliss.

My emphasis btw. Of course, you would have had to live in Minnesota for a few years to really understand this post.

or listen to Garrison Keillor non stop for a weekend or two.

maybe this explains Jesse Ventura. Or Al Franken.

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21 July 2009

Visca Catalunya!

Late last night I was working on my article about the Catalan mercenaries hired by the Byzantines in the early 14th century (Catalans being Catalans it did not end well for the Byzantines). What better than to listen to a little faux medieval music from Miklos Rozsa while writing.

Then on a whim I looked at Andrew Sullivan and found this little map showing Catalunya as an independent country! None of that ol' Castilian for them.

what happens to France is kinda interesting too.


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Best Congress Money can Buy

This just in:
The Washington Post reports that the health care industry gave nearly $170 million to federal lawmakers in 2007 and 2008, with a narrow edge of 54% going to the Democrats -- increasing to 60% in the first quarter of this year, after the Dems expanded their majorities.

Hope you're feeling well.

I myself am feeling mighty puny.


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20 July 2009

Without Comment

From this blog.


18 July 2009

More on Romance novels

I always thought successful romance writers were well paid. Then I met Cheri the Archivist at the Minnesota Historical Society. She had a sister who wrote romance novels. She did it part time and only cranked out one a year and was usually paid $5,000 (1987 $) for each one. So that's why most writers churn out at least two a year. And why so many seem to follow the same formula.

One of the workshops at the Washington conference for Romance novelists (see last post) was called "High Concept," and consisted of a slide presentation on how to create instantaneous plots by choosing items from under the headings of:

Universal Themes, Classic Plots and Innovative Twist.

Think: Good vs. Evil + Twins Switching Places + Banshees.

This explains a lot. Some idiot probably used this device to come up with:

Think: Good vs. Evil + Jane Austin + Zombies.

It would never sell.

well, time to get back to writing my article on the Alans. See if I can find a bodice for them to rip. It's going to published in Russia.


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Books: romance genre

I think it was books like "Wuthering Heights" that may be the great grandmother of today's 'bodice rippers.' Someone has to take the rap. Back when I was a grad student in the frozen north country a bunch of us history students would gather at the Oscar B. Lykes Bar and Grill every Friday to discuss history, and professors, etc., over large amounts of beer. When we were really toasted we would fantasize about writing Romance novels with historical settings. It was great fun - we actually came up with some good plots (if I could only remember what they were) - but I always had the sneaking suspicion that it took more skill and made less money then we thought. I was right on both counts.

Which may explain why I was so amused by this article in the Washington Post today about the Washington Romance Writers of America's annual conference. It's a hoot. I especially like the part about workshops for creating the perfect Alpha male love interest.
More than 100 sessions address everything from "High-Octane" kisses to sketching believable alpha heroes (sub-categories include: Warrior Alpha, Chief Alpha, Extreme Alpha, Bad Boy Alpha, Wounded Alpha, Swashbuckling Alpha, Geek Alpha and Gentle Alpha) to sketching out "imperfect" heroines...

Geek Alpha! Jack, I think I have found our niche. Anyway, at the Clemens household Leo the Dog thinks I am the Alpha dog. I like to think of myself as Warrior Alpha, or maybe Swashbuckling Alpha, but Carmen thinks of me as Bad Boy Alpha. Leo seems to think of me as 'Master-of--treats-I-really-shouldn't-have Alpha'.

now, about those "High-Octane" kisses


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17 July 2009

More on Journalism

I think I'll start a new feature: careers I love to trash, or something like that. Jack and I made a good start on English profs (who are, of course, completely different from History profs or Math profs), and I occasionally might mention some others. Though since my general thesis is that all professions have been disgraced and delegitimated during the first decade of the 21rst c., it is probably redundant.

So here I'll just continue to beat on the dead horse of journalism, courtesy of a "Letter from Washington" by Conor Friedersdorf guest writing at andrewssullivan.com. Here is my favorite intemperate blast:
There is this idea among movement conservatives—especially the rank-and-file—that Washington DC journalism is populated by a lot of disingenuous, careerist sell outs. These elites write to enrich themselves, to inflate their sense of self-importance, and to garner social capital, invariably measured by invitations to the dread “Georgetown cocktail party.” Thus they are unconcerned with truth, intellectual honesty, or the actual interests of anyone outside the New York to DC corridor.

This narrative is largely true!

It picks up steam from there. Friedersdorf ends up pointing it at mainly conservative hacks, of which there are plenty, but I think it is a much broader critique than that. If there is an underlying theme to the First Decade it has been careerism and the intellectual corruption it instills.

corruption: a family value.


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The Value of Higher Education

Found this little snippet on Andrew Sullivan, but it comes from Felix Salmon:
I think it’s fair to say that going to journalism school increases your chances of getting a job in journalism. If J-school graduates are almost by definition financially naive — if they weren’t financially naive they’d never have spent so much money on J-school — then maybe J-school is only serving to increase the number of innumerates working in journalism. Which is a sobering thought.

They don't know nuthin' bout History, either. Nor much about the English language.

But I'd take this more seriously if Salmon didn't look so much Lille that kid two semesters ago I had to flunk for not doing the assignments.


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Pick up the book and READ!

So the little kids outside the garden where a perplexed Augustine of Hippo was dithering are supposed to have chanted. In light of our last post and ensuing comments, it sounds like sound advice. The Old Man sent me this little news item from "Mom's Homeroom" that makes clear why:
In a paper called "What Reading Does for the Mind," Anne E. Cunningham, associate professor of cognition and development at the University of California, Berkeley, makes the case that reading:
-increases vocabulary more than talking or direct teaching
- substantially boosts general knowledge while decreasing the likelihood that misinformation will be absorbed; and
- helps keep our memory and reasoning abilities intact as we age.

Thus J.K. Rawlings saves Western Civilization! You hear that Máeráed? Mr Miggs? Read.

and remember, this isn't just any old article - it's a paper. Written by an associate professor! From Berkeley!

Odd. Suddenly I have the strangest craving to start reading Wuthering Heights.

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15 July 2009

We read these so you don't have to!

That seems to be the idea behind a post over here called "Fired from the Canon." It lists books that usually make "the classics" list that you can safely drop, ignore, and forget about. It is pretty funny actually, and I am glad to say I have only wasted my time with one of them, A Hundred Years of Solitude.

After posting that post about children's literature that garnered more suggestions of books to read than anyone could get through in a lifetime, forget about childhood, I thought I should link to this as a public service. Here, for example, is its final word on A Hundred Years etc.
Magical realism wasn’t much of a trick to begin with – Gabriel García Márquez riding round in circles on a smallish tricycle, cigarillo clamped between teeth, occasionally raising his panama for people to throw coins – and is now thoroughly clapped out. Also, people who like it seem to have little or no sense of humor. No one knows why, but it’s true. Instead it inspires a sort of insufferably pious stupefaction. Perhaps if you were to read Solitude, you too would be borne aloft on its miraculous wings, transported by its spellbinding portrait of a world which is part exotic paradise, part nightmare, etc., etc., etc., but I wouldn’t risk it.

So set back, relax, and try to remember the worst book you ever read after being told "it's a classic. You have to read it!' You know, the one you couldn't finish but claimed you did anyway.

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Khazars become Kosher

I promised to write this in response to a response about the new Turkish game show, called something like "You Bet Your Eternal Soul." But I got distracted by Mr Sobrino's adventures in his ancestral homeland. It was the equivalent of "hiking the Appalachian Trail" as we say here in the Carolinas. But, now I am back on task with something important to do, so I'll do this first.

So - the Khazars. They were a Turkic tribe who put together an empire out in the steppes north of the Black Sea in the 8th and 9th Centuries. For awhile everybody was afraid of them, but they had a serious problem. While they seem to have been happy with that old time religion (shamanism, apparently), they were stuck into between powerful Christian and Muslim powers who wanted to convert them. They figured they were going to have to go one way or the other.

And, after all, they reasoned, going monotheistic was all the rage, so why not give it a try. So the Khazar khan called together all the nobles of his court to listen to a debate by a Priest, a Rabbi, and an Iman (sounds like the set-up of a bad joke, doesn't it?). They asked each only one question: what books do you regard as sacred?

The Rabbi said: the Testament of the Jews, of course.

The Priest said: the Testament of the Jews and the New Testament of the Christians, of course.

The Imam said: the Testament of the Jews, the New Testament of the Christians, and the Holy Koran, of course.

The Khazars thought about it and responded "Well, you all agree on only one thing: the Testament of the Jews is sacred. So we will convert to the faith of the Jews."

And that is why a fierce Turkic tribe became Jewish. There is even a theory that most of the Jews in Eastern Europe are not actually Semitic, but Turkic.

I once planned to write and illustrate a children's book about this for a little red-haired Jewish girl I knew in Manhattan. It was going to end with the line: "... and some of Khazars had red hair, but I am the only one who knows this. And now so do you," with a picture of a little Khazar girl pulling off her head cloth to reveal masses of red hair. It went nowhere.

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11 July 2009

New Meaning to the term ECUMENICAL

It seems there is a new game show in Turkey. It is very ecumenical. In fact I can imagine why an American company didn't think of it first. Here it is, as described by the Washington Monthly:
Reader R.K. alerted me to a very strange new gameshow in Turkey in which a Muslim imam, a Christian priest, a rabbi, and a Buddhist monk try to convert a group of atheists. "The prize for converts will be a pilgrimage to a holy site of their chosen religion -- Mecca for Muslims, the Vatican for Christians, Jerusalem for Jews and Tibet for Buddhists." The name of the show is "Penitents Compete," and is expected to begin airing in September.

Must be a last ditch effort to make the EU accept them as Europeans.

Hi Birsen!

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09 July 2009

It must be true ... I read it in a history book!

Well, no. A lot of what passes for history is to history what a factoid is to a fact. They look similar, but one's a total fake. So read this little article from Salon.com on history, its uses and abuses.

especially if you fancy yourself a brawny Scotsman with a clan kilt in your closet.

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05 July 2009

Kiddy Lit

Nicholas Kristof has a good column in today's NYTimes on 'The Best Kids' Books Ever.' Yes, it includes the Harry Potter books, but also some other unexpected ones. Freddy the Pig makes the list. Take a look.

Does anyone out there have any suggestions? Carmen?

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02 July 2009

Cats as political metaphor

Cute little beasts. Way better than rabid guinea pigs.

hurray! Blogger has suddenly decided to let me post pictures again.

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01 July 2009

Another historical ad

This one very, very, French.

hey, it was sent to me by our choir director.

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"Stand by Me"

Actually, it sounds kinda nice in Farsi.