Steven Pinker, the Most Annoying Man in the World

This article summarizes very well my reservations about Pinker and his brand of “public intellectual.”

It begins:

You know, of course, what the most grating and infuriating human behavior is. It is not when another person is simply being unreasonable. It is when that person is constantly insisting that they are Just Being Reasonable, and wondering why you’re acting so crazy and irrational, while they themselves are in fact being extremely goddamn unreasonable. It is not when they are just wrong, but when they top it off by patronizingly explaining your own views to you, purporting to refute them, while not having the faintest understanding of what those views actually are.

Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker is that guy. He thinks many people are very unreasonable, and makes sweeping claims about their irrationality and moral imbecility, but often doesn’t bother to listen to what they actually say. While insisting for page upon page on the necessity of rationality, he irrationally caricatures and mocks ideas he hasn’t tried to understand. Then, when the people who believe those ideas become upset, he sees this as further proof of their emotion-driven thinking, and becomes even more convinced that he is right. It is a pattern displayed by many of those who are critics of “social justice” and the political left. Pinker, however, takes it to an extreme: Nobody has ever tried to look more Reasonable while being so ignorant and condescending.

If you’re curious about Pinker, go read the whole thing.

This is hilarious

Bill O’Reilly, almost getting it:

Screen Shot 2019 06 24 at 12 48 37 PM

Yeah, Bill, it’s a LOT like that.

In case the graphic gets lost:

Slavery reparations is a far-left favorite because it does a number of things. It reinforces the radical belief that the United States was founded by racist white men who installed a system whereby white guys would run everything and blacks, women and others would be exploited.

followed by

It also suggests that personal responsibility does not count when the legacy of slavery dropped a curtain of oppression on the black race and there is no recovering from that. The radical left says our society remains unjust to this day, forget personal responsibility.

(Widely linked; screenshot from BoingBoing.)

Mississippi is apparently upset that not enough people are laughing at them

So, as of now, it’s illegal — like, jailable illegal — to refer to burgers or hotdogs not made from animals as “veggie burgers” or “veggie dogs”.

No, seriously.

More:

This week, a new law went into effect in Mississippi. The state now bans plant-based meat providers from using labels like “veggie burger” or “vegan hot dog” on their products. Such labels are potentially punishable with jail time. Words like “burger” and “hot dog” would be permitted only for products from slaughtered livestock. Proponents claim the law is necessary to avoid confusing consumers — but given that the phrase “veggie burger” hasn’t been especially confusing for consumers this whole time, it certainly seems more like an effort to keep alternatives to meat away from shoppers.

Donna Tartt knew where she was going.

After seeing the new trailer for the film version of her latest book, I fell down a bit of a Donna Tartt hole online. I’d missed her Charlie Rose interview, for example, which is interesting; she’s famously press-shy and intensely private.

At the bottom of this Google pit I found this archival piece from Vanity Fair, which heralds her as a grand new voice in fiction. The web version dates it from 1999, but it’s written as though it was published closer to the release date of her first novel, The Secret History, in 1992.

Point being, it’s early on in her laconic career. Tartt, for all her accolades and success, is a slow writer. She’s taken a decade to produce each of the two followups to her splash debut. The Little Friend didn’t appear until 2002; her third and most recent work, The Goldfinch, came 11 years later.

Anyway, here’s the point; it’s in the last paragraphs of the Vanity Fair piece:

We’re driving down a dark back road in Bennington, and I suddenly wonder how fame and wealth will take her. “I’m like Huck Finn,” she says. “I can be perfectly happy on no money at all. Now that I have money, my life has changed not a bit. Everybody’s expecting me to buy a condo, make investments. I don’t care about any of that. I like ephemera—books, clothes. Food. That’s all.” I ask, musingly, if she ever intends to settle down and have a family. She shakes her head firmly. “Je ne vais jamais me marier,” she says.

Suddenly she spots, with delight, a whirling flock of goldfinches. “Look at these goldfinches—do you see?” she cries. “Goldfinches are the greatest little birds, because they build their nests in the spring, a long time after all the other birds do. They’re the last to settle down—they just fly around and they’re happy for a long time, and just sing and play. And only when it’s insanely late in the year, they kind of break down and build their nests. I love goldfinches,” she sighs, huddling tinily in the big car seat. “They’re my favorite bird.

Emphasis added.

Yup, we see you, Ms Tartt.

“We’re talking about language”

I have a longstanding fascination with regional dialects. I think it’s because in my own lifetime, so many are vanishing thanks to easier mobility and the ubiquity of mass communication.

Only a few places retain a clear local accent or dialect — several areas of Louisiana, for example, including accents that outsiders would probably place in Brooklyn. There’s still a real Boston sound.

And off the coast of North Carolina, we find the hoi toiders. There’s video.

Meanwhile, in 1979…

Joy Division, with an important Transmission.

This might be the best one-song TV performance I’ve ever seen, and it’s 40 years old now. I’m having trouble nailing down the date, but there’s a graphic for Unknown Pleasures behind them; that album was recorded in April of 1979, and behind it they played twice on British television: in July of 79, on Granada TV, and soon after that on BBC2’s Something Else.

They’d release Transmission as a stand-alone, non-album single the following November, seemingly poised for larger success. And then, of course, Ian Curtis would take his own life in May of the following year, at 23.

No one writes better about aviation

William Langewiesche has written no end of wonderful pieces about flight. This makes sense; his father Wolfgang wrote the definitive text on the subject back in 1944, so young William grew up with flight, and indeed worked as a pilot himself for years before taking up writing.

Eventually working with both Vanity Fair and The Atlantic, Langewiesche has won two National Magazine Awards, and been nominated for many others — and not always about flight. He’s written about the Sahara, the unbuilding of the World Trade Center, and nuclear proliferation in the third world, international shipping, and the Chilean mining disaster.

But it’s in flight that he seems to be the most compelling to me. Over the years he’s covered the so-called Miracle on the Hudson, the Columbia disaster, the now-nearly-forgotten collision of planes over the Amazon in 2006, and, most compellingly, about the 1999 crash of EgyptAir 990

This month, in the Atlantic, he has a new piece, on the loss of flight MH370; it appears that we now have as close to a rock solid explanation as we’re likely to get, given Malaysian corruption and the realities of ocean searches. Sadly, this situation has a lot in common with EgyptAir 990.

The piece is long, but it’s very good, and well worth your time.

So, what’s the story with the 737 MAX?

It’s possible you’re curious.

Greg Travis breaks it all down in this long Medium post that’s super worth your time.

The tl;dr here is that Boeing was doing everything in their power to make fundamental changes to the 737 without the result being considered a new airplane, and they went WAY THE FUCK TOO FAR. Moreover, the software at work to make the new plane fly like the old plan (& thus prevent legions of pilots from needing recertification on the MAX) made some seriously, seriously stupid assumptions.

One wonders if this plane will fly again at all, but if it does I suspect it’ll be as a creature distinct from the 737 parent.

The Importance of Relative Velocity in Military Aviation

Recently, a Dutch F-16 managed to shoot itself with its own gun during maneuvers.

The rounds have a muzzle velocity of 3,450 feet per second (1050 meters per second). That is speed boosted initially by the aircraft itself, but atmospheric drag slows the shells down eventually. And if a pilot accelerates and maneuvers in the wrong way after firing the cannon, the aircraft could be unexpectedly reunited with its recently departed rounds.

Click through; this is also not the first time something like this has happened. In fact, the first time was in 1956.

Also hilarious: the gun in question, a 20mm Vulcan cannon, can fire 6,000 rounds a minute — but the F-16 only carries 511 rounds, or about 5 seconds of fire.

Rule #1 Online: Nobody else needs your password

So Facebook has apparently been asking people for their email passwords, which is just amazingly wrongheaded and evil. I’m sure plenty of folks gave them up, too. But here’s the thing:

There is never a good reason to give your password to anyone. Note I didn’t say “email password;” I mean literally ANY password. Maybe we get a little flexible about this where spouses come into play, or that shared Hulu account, but for things like email: NOPE.

It’s ABSOLUTELY a red flag if anyone online ever asks you for a password to some other site, as Facebook does here. There’s no reason for Facebook to need this information. There’s no reason for you to give it to them. Seriously. NO GOOD CAN COME FROM THIS.

This Week’s Best Thing On The Internet

So, Tom Hiddleston did a funny little vitamin commercial for the Chinese market, and it’s notable for lots of reasons if you’re interested in that sort of thing. For one thing, it was released on Hiddleston’s own Weibo channel, so it’s not just advertising native to social media, it’s advertising tailor-made for a Chinese social media platform — and is meant to be consumed on phones (hence the vertical video).

Anyway, it’s apparently hugely successful in China, but lots of it seems super weird to Western consumers — not the least of it being the weird “immersive” style, and obviously the food choice.

This would all be fuel for discussion on its own, but then Phil Wang made something amazing with it, and that’s why I’m posting it here. Enjoy.

GenX Uncle Chet Explains: Music Shopping

Things were very different when I was a teenager. We had a senile, right-wing Republican president with bellicose thoughts, a precarious economy, and the Russians were scarier every day, so really a totally different environment than we have today.

Right.

Anyway, music was huge — transformational, definitional, personal, and incredibly important, at least to some folks. It’s tempting to assert that people today don’t feel that same connection, but I suspect that’s more about me being older and missing it myself. What’s definitely true, though, is that finding, listening to, exploring, and purchasing music were materially different processes in 1985.

First, all we really had for exploration was radio. Radio was a little better in the 80s — more local control, more idiosyncratic DJs — but that “better” was unevenly distributed. You had a shot at hearing new and interesting things if you lived in a big city, but for kids like me in the hinterlands you were lucky if you had two top-40 stations in a sea of country and “easy listening.”

The exception was folks lucky enough to be in range of a good university station. This is where the term “college radio” came from; those stations — typically weak enough that you’d lose them in a car wash — played ALL SORTS of weird and idiosyncratic stuff, and many’s the GenXer who discovered, say, the Velvet Underground, or Captain Beefheart, because some weirdo was spinning them at 3 in the morning on KTRU or WVUA.

But say you heard something you loved, and you wanted to buy it. Well, good luck! You might not even know what it was, and there was no Shazam to help you. Again, if you lived somewhere cool — large cities like New York or LA; interesting ones like Houston or New Orleans; a good college town like Tuscaloosa or Athens — you probably had a pretty damn good record store, of the type most folks today have only seen in movies. These places had clerks with nearly encyclopedic knowledge of at least a few genres, and could point you at new things you’d dig based on the records you bought.

But even then, this was the exception. In the bleak rural wastelands where many of us grew up, the only real vendor would be a chain store in a mall. In my hometown, it was Camelot Music. And as with any mall vendor, what kept them open was the hits — hits which, increasingly, mattered not at all to me and my friends. Until the late 80s, when so-called college/alternative bands basically took over, even finding something like REM’s “Murmur” or U2’s “War” could be a challenge in a place like this. Mail order was technically possible, but mostly focused on more niche material — lost of my punk pals ordered tapes from a zine called MAXIMUMROCKNROLL, for example. But there’s risk there; you had to more or less order blind, since obviously nobody was playing punk on the radio, and for the most part there was no exposure outside tape trading or live shows.

But what cousin Mickey asked about was the joy of it, not the suck of it. I had no real joy in this department until I went to college, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, which then was home to a truly great record shop called the Vinyl Solution. Owner George Hadjidakis was a musical sensei for an endless stream of curious misfit freshmen; he must have sold thousands of copies of albums like “White Light/White Heat” and “Raw Power” over the years; I know that’s where MY copies came from (to say nothing of George’s evangelism for Big Star and Alex Chilton!). To enter a shop like this was to enter a temple; the acolytes might smile at you, or judge you, but once you were IN you’d be IN for good — you’d get tips about where the next cool band was playing or partying, and maybe even get on the guest list. They’d play new stuff for you, so you’d know about Janes Addiction before other people. Folks would hang out, smoke, and bullshit about music for hours — and inevitably leave with something they didn’t think they needed when they got up that morning.

The thing that’s hard to communicate today is the degree to which shops like this — with no cafe, no bar, no espresso machine, and usually nowhere to even fucking SIT — were destinations. To go to the record store was an escape, an activity intended to be open-ended. You’ve got somewhere to be in a could hours? Can it wait? Yeah, it can wait; George just got some copies of that VU bootleg you were asking about.

So you drift in, chat, and start sifting, flipping album after album or CD after CD – it was the 80s, after all – looking for the next treasure you didn’t know you wanted, the one that would open your next musical door. Writing this now, I have an intensely strong sense memory of the scent of used records and stale cigarette smoke, and how enveloped in sound you’d be thanks to the excellent speakers mounted on the walls.

Eventually, you’d leave with your purchases bundled up, maybe wondering a little how you’d eat for the rest of the week — we were, after all, college students — but more than anything excited to get home and play the records or CDs you’d just bought, which more than likely you’d already played once on the store’s system. At home, though, there’d be a cold beer, or maybe a joint, and you could play the wizened clerk to your friends who’d stayed at the dorm that day, and pass along your whatever new tips you’d gleaned from George.

We are, here in Houston, impossibly lucky, because we still HAVE at least a few great record shops. Maybe my favorite is Cactus Music, now over 30 years old. Music shopping is different now, but Quinn and his posse have kept a bit of the experience I loved at Vinyl Solution alive for a new generation. You really should treasure these shops; they’re rare and hard to sustain. Most were only precariously viable even in the “good years” of the 80s, and were ill-equipped to survive what Apple and Amazon brought to the marketplace. Among the dead is, it breaks my heart to tell you, is Vinyl Solution.

The thing is, though, that every time I play Big Star, or Pylon, or Iggy, part of me is back in George’s dusty shop with my buddy John, soaking up new music like a sponge, dizzy with musical euphoria. I only have $20; what can I get today, and what can I put off? Who’s playing later at the Chukker? Let’s get some Beast and drop the needle on that bootleg instead; I think Jolly’s got some weed.

That, my millennial pals, is something that’s hard to download. But Quinn will do his best to sell it to you at Cactus, and he won’t be far off. Tomorrow’s Saturday; there’s no better day for a trip to the record shop.

The ULTIMATE Florida Man

ZOMG:

If I understand this story correctly, Port Richey, Florida just had its second mayor arrested in the last three weeks. The first wasn’t your standard mayoral arrest. Mayor Dale Massad was arrested when he opened fire on a SWAT team that had come to arrest him on charges of practicing medicine out of his home without a license. Sheriff Chris Nocco said Massad was a violent drug user who kept a stash of weapons in his home, had had previous run-ins with the law and lost his medical license 25 years ago after a three year old patient died.

After the mayor was arrested in this shootout the state also announced an insurance fraud investigation. Governor Ron DeSantis then suspended Massad from office and replaced him with Vice Mayor Terance Rowe. The new acting mayor criticized how the Sheriff’s office had treated his predecessor but conceded that Massad was “not a perfect role model.”

Now Rowe has been arrested for obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice and using a two-way communications device to facilitate the commission of a crime. Notably, Massad is also charged with that two way communications device charge, which sounds like a clue.

Florida Department of Law Enforcement agent Mark Brutnell said the case against Rowe is “related but [to Massad’s] it’s an off-shoot.” Both cases are “very active investigations” with “lots of moving parts.”

1/10/16.

When I woke up on the 10th of January 3 years ago, for a minute things were pretty okay.

Then NPR came on, and it told us that Bowie had died, and in retrospect I’m pretty sure that’s when things started going to shit.

I mean, think about it:

  • Bowie died on January 10
  • Alan Rickman on January 14
  • ABE FUCKING VIGODA died on January 26
  • Prince died on April 21
  • Muhammad Ali in June
  • Leonard Cohen, November 7
  • Carrie Fisher, two days after Christmas

Even Scalia finally shuffling off this mortal coil in February didn’t help, because of how absurdly, disgustingly craven the GOP would be in outright denying Obama his SCOTUS pick.

Oh, and then something happened in November.

But when I woke up, for a few minutes on the 10th of January in 2016, things were at least a little bit better, weren’t they?

Salesdroids don’t speak English

Holy CRAP I just got the most salesy-bullshit email EVER from VMWare.

GAZE up on this, together with my translation back to actual english:

Hello,

I’m reaching out to introduce myself and to ask for your guidance. I’m responsible for the Commercial customer segment at VMware, and Forproject Technology Inc is currently aligned to my team. We’re in the process of finalizing our resource coverage for 2019 and before we make any changes I figured I’d ask directly about your preferred coverage to ensure we’re on the same page.

“I just got assigned your account.”

Our charter is to help lead our customers through secured cloud and business mobility transformations, which includes periodic overviews of the entire VMW portfolio of solutions. A lot has changed in the past few years, including our role in the largest technology merger in history (with Dell/EMC), several key acquisitions (Wavefront, VeloCloud) and our joint offering with Amazon Web Services – VMC on AWS. We’d love an opportunity to walk you through the current VMware roadmap and to understand your top priorities to see if there is an opportunity to expand our relationship.

“You’re on our customer list and we want to see if we can get more money out of you pitch you some other products.”

If you’d prefer continued coverage from our sales, engineering, and specialist teams, my ask is for a 30-minute roadmap and discovery meeting with Brecca Hansen from your VMW account team.

“Can we waste half an hour of your time with a sales pitch?”

If you’re happy simply maintaining support, we can align you to the renewals organization who’ll be more than capable of facilitating support quotes moving forward.

“We have no idea if you’re currently under support, but we can put you in touch with those people if you want.”

Please let us know which option suits you best, or if there is someone else in your organization you’d like us to contact regarding this decision.

“Can we have some more email addresses to spam?”

I look forward to hearing from you.

“This is not my real email address.”

“This is happening without us!”

Paul Allen died on Sunday.

It’s possible you don’t know, or don’t quite remember who he was, even if you’re nerdy enough to read this site. Allen was Bill Gates’ partner in founding Microsoft back in 1975.

Gates writes, in his remembrance of Allen:

In fact, Microsoft would never have happened without Paul. In December 1974, he and I were both living in the Boston area—he was working, and I was going to college. One day he came and got me, insisting that I rush over to a nearby newsstand with him. When we arrived, he showed me the cover of the January issue of Popular Electronics. It featured a new computer called the Altair 8800, which ran on a powerful new chip. Paul looked at me and said: “This is happening without us!” That moment marked the end of my college career and the beginning of our new company, Microsoft. It happened because of Paul.

This wonderful world of computing where I’ve made my life (*) since the early 80s was built by men like Allen and Gates and Jobs and Wozniak and others whose names you don’t know, like Dennis Ritchie. I’ve joked for years that these guys were the only Boomers I actually liked, and it’s not far from the truth. (Well, Ritchie was older than that, but still.)

Computing was always a young man’s game for most of my life, but all those young men are getting older, and now, well, they’re shuffling off this mortal coil. Sic transit gloria mundi.

(*: My whole life. My career. My education. A huge chunk of my social life. And yes, even Erin; longtime Heathen will recall it was a blast email from a mutual friend that reconnected us 17 years ago this summer.)

We enter the holiday season!

With this memory from Facebook, we enter Broken Hip Advent!

Screen Shot 2018 10 03 at 8 53 02 AM

Reader, we did in fact book that trip, but we never saw either show, because 48 days later, on November 20th, I did this, which well and truly starts the 128 day Cursed Holiday Season:

It was more or less a parade of Suck from 20 November until 21 January, otherwise known at this house as End of PICC Line Day.

We got a little reprieve in the Joco Cruise (30 Jan through 8 Feb; you can rent wheelchairs on cruise ships!), and then the real fun started on Glorious PT Day, 16 February.

Walker Liberation Day is 25 February. I wasn’t done — I needed a cane, which I bought at Southland Hardware — but we were definitely on our way out of the woods.

Finally, 128 days after my injury, there was this:

IMG 3041  1

The whole saga, from the preamble of the potential two-plays-in-Chicago trip through the first time I rode my real bike again, is 176 days, or almost half a year.

Death to the Bullshit Web

Have you noticed that, even though your computer is insanely fast, and your connection is faster still, that web pages don’t seem to load any faster in 2018 than they did in 2008 or 1998?

Yeah. Me, too.

That’s the bullshit web.

Dept. of Surprising New Facts

Remember this scene in Top Gun, wherein Our Hero flies inverted over an enemy MiG and flips him off whilst Dr Greene Goose shoots a candid Polaroid?

Yeah, uh, just read this in a New Yorker article about Virgin Galactic’s lead test pilot, Mark Stucky, who has flown for both the Marine Corps and the Air Force:

Stucky also was a showboater. In 1985, on a patrol mission over the Sea of Japan, he spotted a Soviet bomber in the distance, caught up to it, flipped upside d own, got close enough that only a few dozen feet separated the cockpits, and snapped a photograph.

Maverick? Meet Mark Stuckey, who is way cooler than you on account of not being fictional.

Tom Waits’ Asylum Years

Longtime Heathen know our fondness for Mr Waits; this excellent retrospective of his early work — from his debut with Closing Time in 1973 through 1980’s Heartattack and Vine — traces his progression from neo-tin-pan-alley to the much more experimental artist he would eventually become.

After 1980, he would leave Asylum records and begin his collaboration (and marriage) with Kathleen Brennan; the changes were stark when Island Records released Swordfishtrombones three years later. (That’s the album, of course, which features “Johnsburg, Illinois,” about his new wife’s birthplace.)

It’s difficult to argue with this

It’s basically immoral to be rich:

Here is a simple statement of principle that doesn’t get repeated enough: if you possess billions of dollars, in a world where many people struggle because they do not have much money, you are an immoral person. The same is true if you possess hundreds of millions of dollars, or even millions of dollars. Being extremely wealthy is impossible to justify in a world containing deprivation.