Quass.com

In the calculus of admiration, 1 e-mail = 1,000 likes.

Why I Don't Like Likes




How do I hate likes?

Let me count the ways.

I hate likes because...


1) Likes are often distributed on a quid pro quo basis reminiscent of the 1960's slogan for 7-UP: "You like it, it likes you," Thus, likes often don't reflect an actual like for posted content but are rather the predictable result of egocentrism via proxy. You big me up and I'll big you up.

2) Likes are cheap in every sense of the word. With a little talent and a relatively small advertising budget, anyone can garner several thousands likes. Take me, for instance. My music site garnered 3,500+ likes in that way last year alone, but did I ever receive one personal e-mail from this group of fans? Never. Not one. Which brings me to point three.

3) In the calculus of admiration, 1 e-mail = 1,000 likes. (And that's a conservative estimate, given my experience mentioned above) To receive a like, one needs merely to inspire the momentary twitching of an index finger. To receive a personal e-mail, one has to inspire a body to drop what they're doing and formulate (ideally) at least one cogent sentence expressive of admiration. (Oh! I get tired just THINKING about all of the effort involved!)

4) The all-important "total likes" figure means nothing since the folks doing the liking could be anybody (from Neo Nazis to residents of a "like-generating" farm in Mongolia). In some cases, the supposed "likers" may not even exist, but rather can be tracked to long-since dormant e-mail accounts.

In practice, everybody acknowledges these facts, which is why like-generating scams can get away with generating "likers" using dormant e-mail accounts. Even the folks who pay for these likes don't get too curious or angry about such doings, since they're getting "likes" and that's all that matters to them (or anyone else) in the virtual world.

I learned this truth the hard way last year, at the price of $700 to be exact. I found some company advertised on CD Baby that purported to find fans for struggling musicians like myself for what seemed to be a reasonable price. (Oh, yes, I tickle the odd ivory in my spare time. What can one say?)

Sounds good, eh? I'll let the professionals find my fans and meanwhile I'll focus on my music. (Here, take my money, guys! Please, take it!)

And I was thrilled by the initial results. I was soon racking up a dozen likes every day of the week from real-live fans! (They liked me, they actually liked me!) I started to think of myself as an actual board-certified musician. Finally, I had a purpose in life. I had a public to satisfy after all. I was on the road to stardom! (Say, maybe I should look into buying a new car. Imagine me, an up-and-coming rock star, tooling around town in a 1999 Toyota Corolla. For shame!)

But then, a few months later, when my brand-new fan total had topped 500, the devil landed on my shoulder and said: "Psst, hey, Bri-boy, don't you think it's just a trifle odd that all of these ardent fans of yours have never once bothered to send you an e-mail, neither to your personal e-mail address nor to the fan e-mail address that was created for you by this fan-finding service?"

An actual chill descended my spine. (Corny writers are correct, by the way, this phenomenon actually does transpire in a body that is stricken with sudden horror! Anatomists, take note!) Could my dreams of stardom have been based on an illusion?

Shocked into action, I finally began my due diligence viz the company that was purporting to find me all these "fans." I began attempting to contact my alleged admirers via the e-mail addresses that they had supposedly provided and to ask them if they, indeed, had ever heard of me, let alone liked me enough to consider themselves a fan.

Well, what do you suppose? I never received one single solitary reply from the 50 or so requests for confirmations that I sent out. Moreover, a subsequent investigation of these e-mail addresses proved them to be linked to parties who had long since either died or had given up on the Internet altogether (which amounts to the same thing, really, in this virtual world of ours).

Yes, I had been duped.

What's more, when I complained to the company in question, they seemed a little miffed. After all, they had provided me with "likes." Why don't I just shut up and boast about my new popularity? Who's to benefit from me spouting off about the alleged immateriality of the fans doing the liking? I got my "likes" and the company got their money. Where's the problem here? Or should they say, what's not to "like"?

Well, I'll tell you what's not to like, folks: Likes themselves! Humph.

QED, baby, with sugar on top!

Don't bother liking this article, by the way, but feel free to send me a grateful e-mail in response to it. I promise not to sue you for any arrhythmia that might be occasioned by the sheer novelty of the response! But whatever you do, don't send me any congratulatory snail mail. I don't think my heart would survive the shock!






People who enjoyed this article purchased the German shepherd novelty card in such numbers that a government commission was proposed to investigate the phenomenon, the logic being that a hidden sales tactic was at work here, the systematization of which could result in the revivification of sluggish economies across the globe.




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Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com
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in response to the article 'I study liars: I've never seen one like Donald Trump, ' by Bella DePaulo in the Washington Post Outlook section, December 11, 2017

America's Problem isn't Lying

It's the selective reporting of truth




While we should obviously hold Trump accountable for his repeated falsehoods, let's remember that conservatives do not hold a monopoly on fib telling. Trump, in fact, is just the right's answer to the Al Sharptons of the world, those who knowingly spread falsehoods in the name of what they consider to be a greater truth. (Thus Sharpton felt no compunction in calling four white men rapists in the Tawana Brawley case, since the story, though definitively proven false, illustrated, in the unrepentant Sharpton's view, a larger truth.) If Trump tells more whoppers than Al, it's only because he's less intelligent than the civil rights leader and so would be forced to shut up entirely if he were required to support his prejudices with mere facts. Such a lack of factual knowledge would dissuade most of us from engaging in public debate in the first place, but for Trump, it's just an invitation to lie creatively in real-time a la Al Sharpton. In this way, Trump is never at a loss for sound bites that support his biases, and when news headlines later take issue with his falsehoods, he can simply respond with yet another lie, by dismissing such stories as "fake news."

Lies of this kind, however, are not really at the root of America's political divisions today. The real problems arise from the fact that the different ideological "sides" are getting their news from different sources, each with its own particular axe to grind. Even if these sources ran nothing but verifiable and true news stories, Americans would be just as divided as ever, since it's the choice of stories to cover that makes the difference, not so much the accuracy in reporting them. For example: NPR may run an in-depth series on the abuse of workers in factories while FOX may run an in-depth series about union fraud. Both of the stories may be factually correct, but the NPR listener will come away with their pre-existing prejudices confirmed against big corporations, while the FOX viewer will think, "Just as I thought: unions are nothing but trouble!"

No one's been actually lied to in these cases, since we can safely assume that the reporters have gotten the basic facts right at both networks. However, one could make the case that there is an implicit lie involved when media sources strategically choose only those stories that will illustrate the political agenda of the paper's sponsors and/or owners. Many news stories, after all, imply a kind of moral, a la Aesop's fables, and a news source is understandably loath to publish a story that suggests a moral of which the company's owners would not approve. It is not lies, therefore, that America has to worry about, but the myopic vision of the truth that is afforded to various segments of the American population today by the decentralized press of the 21st century. To put it another way: the real problem is not Trump's obvious whoppers, but rather the closing of the American mind (and the resulting hardening of the American heart) caused by the public's consumption of factually correct but highly selective news coverage.







People who enjoyed this article tended to be well-read and debonair (and, perhaps not unsurprisingly, a full 65% of them hailed from the United Kingdom!), making them delightful companions for a marathon game of Rummikub, even if a large percentage of these unapologetic aesthetes heatedly endorsed that dubious so-called 'house rule' according to which one could move a joker about the table willy-nilly, even if the player lacked the appropriate tile wherewith to replace it. (No wonder I lost!) But then all was forgiven when these sneaky gamesters subsequently purchased this coaster tile of mine illustrative of the motto 'nature abhors a vacuum.' (Get it? You see, the lion represents nature in the photograph, and he is taking violent exception to the presence of a... Well, you get the idea, right? Nature abhors a vacuum? Eh? Eh?)







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Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com
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Portrait of the artist as a young witch

Lovecraft's Zadok Allen recalls the mysterious childhood of Brian Quass




Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin!

Oh, hi there, young feller. Brian Quass, say ye? Let's take a load off yonder at that abandoned wharf opposite Devil's Reef and I'll tell you all about him -- in return for some hefty pulls on that whiskey bottle, that is, what you been ostentatiously waving in my face ever since you shuffled out of that dingy variety store on Eliot Street. That's it, partner, forward march, and I'll start rattling on en route.

Brian Quass. Brian Quass. Let me see.

I calculate I last saw Brian back in '63. Yes, indeedy. I can mind him shooting dice of a Sunday on Paine Street in front of the old Gilman House, that rickety five-story fire hazard what the sea things call a hotel, though it's really just a glorified mouse trap for ferners what get prying into things that ain't none of their bi'ness (viz the Loyal Order of Dagon and anything connected wid it!) Hah! Brian was a mitely little critter back then but he could outthrow Cap'n O'bed himself in a game of standard craps, seven-eleven, Sic Bo, Farkle, Liar's Dice, or even Yahtzee.

Folks allowed that Brian had uncanny luck, but there were dark whispers about the child's father makin' bargains with the devil in the South Sea Islands, where he travelled as a bos'n in the twenties and thirties on the Elizy Brig an' the Ranger scow, both of 'em Gilman ventures. That's where the tiny tyro must have got the strange jewelry that he would fuss with and mutter over before making those unnaturally lucky dice throws o' his'n. I can see him now, that grubby little half-pint clad in his trademark suspenders, a kind of autistic Dennis the Menace, taking the entire adult male population of Innsmouth straight to the cleaners with his highly improbable luck. Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin!


Mind you, no one thought that Brian was cheating at first, let alone using some kind of foreign hoci-poci to maintain his increasingly eerie winning streak. But then Librarian Adoniram Southwick let it slip that the boy had been repeatedly checking out the Innsmouth Library's otherwise shunned edition of the Necronomicon of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred, and that each time the forbidden tome was returned to the Main Street branch, the pages of the surprisingly extensive gaming section were found to have been shamefully dog-eared by the wunderkind, as if the prodigy were somehow extracting powerful gaming tips from the twisted Medieval Latin.

Well, things came to a head around Brian's 15th birthday. That was the year that the Innsmouth native shook his way to the World Craps Championship in nearby Arkham. Maybe you saw that. It was broadcast extensively on Swedish television. They called him ID: the Innsmouth Dicer, and he was definitely on a roll that year, defeating world champion Linda 'Lowroller' Mabry in eight straight sets and taking away half of the tournament's special awards into the bargain, including The Golden Shovel Award, which until then had seemingly been the lifelong property of one Missouri Rick -- although the victories proved bittersweet for Brian after a good half-dozen of his bested opponents publicly accused him of witchcraft shortly after the competition pulled up stakes and returned to its customary venue in Vegas. Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin!

Can't say I seen hide nor hair of Brian since. But legend has it that he put his tournament winnings toward a tour of the South Sea Islands later that year, probably to do some fact-checking on the seemingly improbable yarns that his maritime father had spun for him back in his Innsmouth days. Fact is, I had nigh on forgotten about old 'ID' until you come here, young feller, and started pumping me with this here liquor, tellin' me you were after a what-cha-ma-call-it bio-graphy of Innsmouth's most famous (and indeed only) sports hero, if you can call back-alley games of Perquackey and Chuck-a-luck a sport, that is.

Another serving of hooch, if you please, young feller. Mene, mene -- Ahem! I say Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin!

Say you're fixin' to put my words on something they call an Internet, eh? Sounds like the devil's work to me, boy, along with your wild talk of e-mails, iPods, and smartphones, and something you call a Roku de-vice, whatever that be. (And I used to think Chief Walakea talked nonsense. Even them South Sea Islanders couldn't have come up with all the dubious-sounding gewgaws as ye speak of!)

Humph. And people wonder why I'm forever muttering Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin! Well, news flash, young feller: just stop spooking this here 92-year-old toper with 21st-century devil-speak and maybe then he'll clam up. Until then, these lips were made for mutterin'!





People who liked this article are often seen mulling around Hammond's Drug Store in Newburyport around 10 A.M. on weekdays, waiting for Joe Sargent's rattle-trap of a bus to take them to the secluded port town of Innsmouth on some kind of routine business trip or other. Little do they realize that the town in question has been recently taken over by a legion of Frog-Fish things that are 'mixing bloods' with the locals while aggressively evangelizing a new so-called religion dubbed the Loyal Order of Dagon. Fortunately, the majority of these commercial wayfarers miraculously survive their brief sojourn in this shadow-haunted backwater, though a good 90% of them go on to tell wild stories in Ipswich later that night about strange noises issuing from behind the boarded-up windows of many an attic and basement ("as wasn't supposed to have nobody in 'em," as one local historian likes to put it, namely Zadok Allen, the town's liquourish nonagenarian, who dishes up color commentary on the town at the rate of 500 words per pint of "the good stuff," as he calls it).




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When good intentions aren't enough

The Cordelia Syndrome




Poor Cordelia! She loved the heck out of King Lear, but as she refused to express her love in the hyperbolic fashion of the times, she lost her inheritance and her life.

I can relate when it comes to hot-button issues of the 21st century.

Yes, of course I believe that sexual harassment, properly defined, is wrong, but I'm not going to therefore give lip service to the ever more radical statements coming from the sexual harassment media bandwagon, statements that undercut the rule of law.

In the ever-growing heat of this extrajudicial stampede, Post columnist Alyssa Rosenberg recently called for the RUIN of everyone accused of sexual harassment. Can you imagine? (Imagine wanting to further beat up on the meek and mild Matt Lauer. Apparently a heartfelt apology and loss of job is not enough for Alyssa: the stern Rosenberg would bar Matt from all future work and seek to drain even Matt's existing bank account, at least if we take her at her intolerant word.) Note that I didn't say every person "found guilty" of sexual harassment, for, as the equally hysterical John Oliver assures us, "accusers don't lie" when it comes to sexual harassment (take John's word for it).

But, like Cordelia, I refuse to say what people want to hear on this subject but rather what I truly believe. (Can you believe it? When was the last time a male human being said publicly what he really FELT about such an issue? I'm a wonder of nature, I tell ya! Somebody should encase me in amber at once and ship me to the nearest curios museum!)


And so, without further ado (and at the risk of being targeted for ruin by Alyssa), here's a bit of objectivity that I hope will put me on the correct side of history, if not on the correct side of the angry 21st-century zeitgeist:


Would John Oliver just listen to himself? "Accusers don't lie." This is the statement par excellence of the witch hunt. What if Oliver had made the same comment about accusers in a case involving decades-old allegations of wrongdoing by an illegal immigrant or a suspected terrorist: "Accusers don't lie"? He would be appropriately booed offstage.

There are so many reasons why Oliver is wrong, one hardly knows where to begin. First, he ignores 21st-century scientific findings showing that memories are psycho-social constructs and as such can be misleading or wrong in the absence of any ill will on the part of an accuser. Second, these public show trials often judge the accused by the stern zero-tolerance zeitgeist of today, forgetting that American society, and sometimes even the alleged victim herself, had fully embraced a far laxer standard toward harassment in the past. Third, let's look in the mirror. If every American's entire life were public knowledge, are there any of us who could survive being suddenly "outed" over something that we allegedly said or did in the distant past? (Presumably, Oliver never touched a woman's back a la Garrison Keillor, even in childhood, but harassment is hardly the only way that human beings can fall short of the mark.)

In short, sexual harassment cases are so fraught with subtle considerations of this kind that no allegations are less conducive to being fairly tried in public, least of all cases that are many decades old. But, as with any witch hunt, there is no time for zealots like John Oliver to observe the niceties of due process. It's far easier to chivalrously declare one's trust in the accusers than to objectively examine their stories and motivations. And who has time these days to allow the accused to prepare a defense? And so John Oliver can flout his political correctness by holding his media trial at the expense of the rule of law.

Woody Allen was right: this is a witch hunt.











People who enjoyed this article averaged significantly higher IQs than their dreary custom-bound counterparts. This no doubt explains the former's statistical partiality for the author's MENSA-minded crossword puzzle greeting cards (as well as the latter's statistical partiality for labeling me a pariah. Which is odd, since we all know that the Pariah is native to South America, not NORTH America where the author in question actually lives. So get your facts straight, haters! Humph!)



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Henry David Thoreau vs Silicon Valley

Clash of the Mindsets




Remember Thoreau? The dude who went to the woods because he wanted to live deliberately? Well, let's hope that Henry doesn't come back to haunt 21st-century America because he would find that his quaint philosophy of life has gone decidedly out of fashion.

Nowadays one only goes to the woods, if at all, to chop them down. It's the age of efficiency after all. A trip to the woods is just so many wasted steps. Besides, I don't know how we'd even get to a place as abstractly referenced as "the woods." If Thoreau wants us to join him in the boonies, spiritually speaking, then let him give us the physical address of these woods of which he speaks. How else are we going to ask Siri for directions?

And as far as Thoreau's plans to (and I quote) "suck out all the marrow of life," that sounds pretty labor-intensive to me. I think I'll just sit at home binge-watching while I wait for the unveiling of an app that will do most of that sucking for me.

Nothing personal, Henry, but the physical world is just SO 20th century!







People who enjoyed this article had nothing but praise for the author's rendition of Auld Lang Syne. In fact, 46 of every 72 who listened to it went on to purchase it, with a full 33 of that latter subset vowing to do their part to "big the song up" by dint of frequent sharing of the same online, a vow communicated to the author by text and e-mails so lavishly ornamented with cheerful and adamant emojis as to amply testify to the sincerity and ardor of the message sender.

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FOR EVERY DULLARD, 'D', THERE EXISTS A TRAUMATIC EVENT, 'T', CAPABLE OF RENDERING 'D' A GENIUS

Dullards of the World Unite

You have nothing to lose but your stupidity




As I watch Professor Robert Greenberg hold forth on the genius of Johann Sebastian Bach (in his Great Courses lecture entitled "The 23 Greatest Solo Piano Works"), I can't help but feel a trifle jealous. Why, I ask myself, did the Kapellmeister of Leipzig inherit such a heaping helping of musical savvy while I myself was starved of inspiration to the point where I can scarcely compose a simple song? I mean, what's up with that? Don't get me wrong, I willingly grant Johann all the relevant kudos, but my inner child continues to smart from the lopsided beneficence of the goddess Fortuna.

But no longer. I have discovered new hope for dullards like myself (thanks in part to yet another Great Courses course entitled "Your Best Brain" with Professor John Medina).

It turns out, if you're beaned on your cranium in just the right way, you can become a musical genius overnight. (I kid you not!)

Take Derek Amato from Colorado, for instance. After suffering a concussion in 2006, he woke up playing the piano like nobody's business, despite the fact that the Denver native had never taken one single piano lesson in his entire life. Then roundabout 2009, another Colorado youth named Lachlan Connors awoke from his own concussion, only to find that he too was musically gifted, even though, like Derek, he had never evinced any particular promise in that line.

And then the penny dropped! All hope was not lost for me. Yes, even a lamebrain such as myself could become a genius -- at least in theory. Someone just had to give me the right kind of blow on the noggin.

Of course, as a practical matter, this knowledge is basically useless, since the odds of such a blow producing the desired results are so small that it would be folly to tempt a belligerent to attack you head-side for this purpose. Still, the fact that such a blow COULD produce genius suggests a theorem which should be of great solace to lamebrains like myself.

Brian's theory of universal genius (working title)...

FOR EVERY DULLARD, 'D', THERE EXISTS A TRAUMATIC EVENT, 'T', CAPABLE OF RENDERING 'D' A GENIUS

And now the corollary home truth that warms the cockles of my jealous heart:

THERE'S A THIN LINE BETWEEN A MUSICAL GENIUS AND A PRETENTIOUS HACK

See? So there, Bach! I think we all feel a little better now -- except, perhaps, for the talent hogs among us. Humph!




People who enjoyed this article also manifested a marked affinity for all things Quass and were three times as likely as ordinary site visitors to purchase the webmaster's admittedly interesting crossword puzzle greeting cards (i.e. Quassword Cards) online at CafePress.com, especially as it was probably Christmas time right then and these people were (to hear them tell it, anyway) "sick unto death" of buying the same old same old for their loved ones year after tiresome year, Lord help them. (Their words, not ours.)

bach, instant genius, savant
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The Visit

Reviewed by the Movie Goer of the United States of America




Good afternoon.

As you know, I recently watched the 2015 movie entitled "The Visit" via FandangoNow using my new Roku device.

REPORTER: Is that the Roku Express Media Player, sir, or the so-called Ultra TV doohickey?

MOVIE GOER: Let's please hold all questions until I complete my opening statement. However, now that you mention it, I used that little stick device that you plug into the back of your TV screen.

REPORTER: Oh, that's the Express Streaming Media Player, then.

MOVIE GOER: If you say so. Anyway, the movie was directed by M. Night Shananaman.

REPORTERS: Who?

MOVIE GOER: I mean, M. Night Shazzamalan

REPORTERS: Who?

MOVIE GOER: M. Night Sham-a-lam-a-ding-dong?

REPORTER: Oh! You mean the India-born M. Night Shyamalan of Sixth Sense fame.

MOVIE GOER: That sounds good. Anyway, the film is about a couple kids who visit their grandparents at the behest of their mother, while the divorced parent is away on a sea cruise with her new love interest.

REPORTER 1: Excuse me, sir! Weren't the kids' names Becca and Tyler and weren't they played by Olivia DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould respectively?

MOVIE GOER: Well, I--

REPORTER 2: And weren't the grandparents called Nana and Pop Pop, and weren't THEY played by Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie, respectively?

MOVIE GOER: Listen, if you guys know so much about the movie, why don't YOU give my opening statement instead?!!

REPORTER 3: OK. Well, first of all, the mother has been estranged from her grandparents for some years.

REPORTER 4: Yes, and the character Becca is making a documentary about the grandparents with the idea of bringing the parties back together through mutual understanding.

MOVIE GOER: I was joking, guys. The Constitution of the United States clearly states that the Movie Goer in Chief (videlicet myself) shall summarize the movies during his State of the Movie addresses.

REPORTER 5: Sorry, sir.

REPORTER 6: Yes, please, go ahead, Mr. Movie Goer.

MOVIE GOER: What's the point now? You guys have given away the whole plot now. Fooey!

REPORTER 7: What about the surprise twist?

MOVIE GOER: Oh, yes, that was wild, wasn't it?

REPORTER 8: Word.

MOVIE GOER: But I am not about to spoil the movie for the great American public by divulging the shocking twist in question.

REPORTER 9: What about the rating?

MOVIE GOER: Well, seeing as my opening statement has been prematurely terminated thanks to your smart-aleck meddling, I might as well answer your questions now.

REPORTERS: Ooh! Ooh! Me, me!

MOVIE GOER: As of November 25, 2017, the film had a rating of 6.2 after 88,661 votes on the Internet Movie Database.

REPORTER 10: Do you agree with that rating, sir?

MOVIE GOER: Look, this was a real shocker for yours truly, thanks to the plot twist.

REPORTER 10: Yes?

MOVIE GOER: So I don't see where the movie-going public gets off rating this baby a 6.

REPORTER 10: I see.

MOVIE GOER: I would have thought an 8, at the least.

REPORTERS: Me! Me! Over here! Ooh! Ooh!

MOVIE GOER: That's all the time I have time for, folks.

REPORTER: But, Mr. Movie Goer, what about the fact that the amount of the snow on the Pennsylvania countryside varies dramatically from day to day?

MOVIE GOER: I see someone's been reading the IMDB "goofs" section.

REPORTER: And what about the way that the kid and the conductor (one Samuel Stricklen) rapped together on the Amtrak train. Wasn't that cool?

MOVIE GOER: No further comment.

REPORTER: Ooh! Ooh! Me! Me!

MOVIE GOER: Yes, Helen.

REPORTER: One last question: What was the movie's tagline?

MOVIE GOER: I believe it was, "No one loves you like your grandparents."

REPORTER: But is it not true that the movie was originally to be called "Sundowning," sir?

MOVIE GOER: Please direct all further questions to IMDB. I've got more movies to watch, folks.

REPORTER: Mr. Movie Goer! Mr. Movie Goer!





People who enjoyed this article were not entirely unmoved by the meticulous attention to detail manifest in the author's subsequent creation of this crossword puzzle greeting card about New York City, nor were they slow to recognize the value of the same in playfully alerting one's friends to the rich identity of the city that the sender was currently tenanting. "Note cards are all well and good," such people generally allowed, their mind's eye probably gazing abstractedly on a probably ever-changing vista of the region's many vaunted icons, "but there's nothing like a card-slash-gift of this kind to bring out the high points of one's city, which, you've got to hand it to this Quass fella, whoever he is," and, of course, other spirited adumbrations to this effect.





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The Macy's Day Charade

Commercialism on stilts... and floats and banners...




Checked out the Macy's Day parade on telly. I didn't realize how commercial the danged thing has become. Each float seemed to be the handiwork of some international corporation, and the float descriptions by the talking heads were just so many commercial advertisements for the float makers, probably written by the corporations themselves. That was bad enough, but then NBC had the nerve to run traditional advertisements as well, many of them featuring products from the corporations that created the floats. Since the whole parade was one long advertisement, you'd think they at least could have rewarded the viewer by sparing them the more traditional commercial interruptions!

Thought thanksgiving was about giving thanks for harvests and whatnot. Silly me.

Instead, I have to re-imagine the original feast:

Pilgrim: Before we partake, folks, I'd like to thank Betty Crocker for providing the various recipes for today's repast. Betty Crocker: bringing comfort food to the New World since 1604.





People who enjoyed this article, besides being surprisingly attractive (their wide eyes often playing peekaboo with one's soul through what appeared to be a curtain of usually blonde locks, which were seen to dance now right, now left, over what was generally found to be a placid but lofty forehead) were twice as likely to purchase Brian Quass's charming little doggy birthday card compared to other mere mortals (who, in their false emotional economy, couldn't apparently be bothered to so much as clap eyes on the same: which, penny wise and pound foolish, if you ask Brian).



thanksgiving, macy's, parade, commercialism
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I'm Dining on Spiders




Our scientists tell us that we human beings eat at least four spider legs per night while sleeping. At least that's what MY scientists tell me.

OK, I read it on the Internet in one of those TOP 100 fun facts pages, but it came across as so authoritative, folks, it would have done your heart good to read it! Besides, I've yet to learn of one single academic (entomologists included) who has taken the time to distance him or herself from the nauseating asseverations contained therein. So if I've been misled on this subject, then shame on THEM as far as I'm concerned. I've done my due diligence, folks, now let them do theirs! Humph!

But where was I? Oh, yes:

Naturally, I was skeptical of this claim at first. Me, eat 4 spider legs per night? One didn't think so.

So I decided to check it out for myself. Accordingly, I installed a security camera in my bedroom to monitor my soporific dining activity (if any), fully convinced that I would refute thereby this seemingly improbable factoid with solid film footage to the contrary.

Well, imagine my surprise when I paged through the film results this morning, only to find myself sitting up in bed (roundabouts 1:00 A.M. Virginia time), as placidly as you please, tucking an imaginary napkin into my felt pajama tops and then genteelly conveying a huge bushy spider leg to my wide-opened mouth by means of my right index finger, which apparently was "standing me for a fork" in the absence of the usual daytime assortment of cutlery options.

I was so revolted by this prerecorded display that I didn't even bother to check the footage for the three additional spider leg meals of which science says that I partake. I mean, if this world is so crazy as to permit of me consuming even ONE big bushy spider leg while sleeping, then all bets are off.

I guess the take home message is: trust but verify. It's all well and good that a big important website says that you eat spider legs, but it's always prudent to double-check these claims before panicking.

Of course, now that I know that scientists are correct, I have no recourse left me but to be totally grossed-out... but at least now when I get the heebie-jeebies on this subject, I can do so advisedly.

UPDATE: There is some good news at last! I finally got up the nerve to fast-forward through my nighttime surveillance video, and guess what? Exactly one hour after the leg-eating incident, I found myself drowsily consuming a whole plate's worth of Veal Marsala -- with artichokes, no less!

See, folks. The message is clear: We have to look beyond the headlines and put these seemingly unpleasant factoids in perspective. Yes, humans may eat spider legs in their sleep, but that doesn't prevent us from battening our somnolent hatches on other tastier fare as well!








People who enjoyed this article tended to follow up their third or fourth reading of the same by making a beeline for the author's online store, where 9 out of 10 of this industrious swarm purchased this crossword puzzle greeting card about '70s pop music. One out of 10 of the latter lost sleep later that night, of course, sore at themselves for what they now belatedly saw as their miserly abstention from the buying frenzy that was (he only now saw it) so utterly justified by the prima facie novelty of the goods in question. What, he now asked himself, was wrong with himself?! and only stopped slapping his own already reddened forehead when he reflected that tomorrow was another day and that he could still probably buy those gift cards then, God willing, so what was he worried about?!




spider legs, night, eating spider legs, four, per night
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Me Too... Finally




I just ran across a delightful commentary in the Washington Post! (Oh, it was absolutely charming!) You know how the masculine dominoes keep falling these days in the wake of sexual harassment charges? (Twas but yesterday that Charlie Rose himself was hoisted by his own apparently lascivious petard.) Well, guess what?! Some dude has written the perfect op-ed piece to elucidate the issues involved in these cases and to assign blame wherever it's due. (Oh, trust me, he holds no punches at all!)

Oh, wait a minute. I just realized, this is actually a post that I myself published only yesterday! How embarrassing is that?

Well, it's good in a way, because I'm not one to blow my own horn (however incisive and poignant that horn may occasionally prove to be) and so it actually takes a mistake like this for me to come out of the closest and own up to my own (ahem) perhaps not inconsiderable talents in this line.

Well, you've got to give credit where credit's due, I suppose, even if one risks blowing said horn in the process. Let's see, before I begin, though, can somebody give me an "A," please? I haven't blown this thing for years!!!

***Beginning of admittedly somewhat charming (if ever-so-slightly mischievous) sally referenced above (Oh, you're gonna love this, folks!)***

I'd like to take issue with my own WP comments of a few days ago, when I implied that the ladies were protesting too much. The proliferation of charges since then has convinced me that there's a real problem here (still in 2017!) with women not being taken seriously in the workplace. That's obviously got to stop if we value an equal-opportunity workplace.

That said, we've got to stop trying these cases in the media, as fun as it might be for America's armchair judges to weigh in with their own verdicts. There's got to be some reliable forum for fairly adjudicating harassment charges in a civil or criminal court, behind closed doors, so that we can fight against our mob-o-cratic tendency to both try and convict merely alleged perpetrators on Twitter and Facebook, or even via the comment sections of the Washington Post.

Not only because defendants have rights, too (imagine that!) but because when we try these cases in public, our outrage is too often influenced by politics as opposed to any abstract concern for women's welfare. How else can we explain the fact that Clarence Thomas's reputation was forever tarnished by the public revelation of one single comment that he allegedly made about a Coke can... and yet Bill Clinton was given a pass by the left (as far as public outrage was concerned) after having sexual intercourse with a White House intern?

OK, maybe women feel they have no recourse at the moment but to make these harassment charges public through the media, but this is not a practice that a society should encourage in the long run if it prides itself on the rule of law. Fortunately, we already have a judicial system for this purpose, so let's use it. Meanwhile, let's be on guard against the new temptation to replace that system with plebiscites held via Facebook and Twitter.







People who enjoyed this article generally went on to live long, Godly lives founded on a pious devotion to duty, a good half of these consciously modeling their behavior on the writings of the Roman Stoic Seneca (especially his so-called moral letters to Lucillius), this latter fact surprising statisticians in the light of the group's heavy and unrepentant spending on Brian's crossword puzzle greeting cards, raising speculation that the intellectual nature of the gift in question qualifies it as a necessity in the misty and (very often) languorous eyes of these latter-day eremites.




sexual harassment
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The United Church of Google

Today's sermon: Featured Snippets from Heaven




I'd like to welcome any newcomers today to the First United Church of Google, Basye, Virginia, Branch. It is our hope that as you worship with us this morning, you will find your faith in Google strengthened as we all work together to put our trust in the Miracle from Mountainview. (How's that for alliteration, Angela? Angela Edelberg, ladies and gentlemen, our new church organist. We're going to give her fingers a run for their money later in the service as we collectively warble that old-time classic "Is there room in the cloud for me?" Which, spoiler alert, everybody: there indeed IS room in the cloud for you, you betcha, for a mere $12 a month, paid monthly, that is, to Alphabet Inc. But then I digress.)

I've had several inquiries from parishioners over the last week asking me how they can produce a featured snippet for Google and thereby increase their own page rankings? Well, ordinarily a logical question deserves a logical answer, and so I would give you a long precise list of steps to take to accomplish this worthy goal. But the fact is, Google is just such a ginormous company these days (and consequently you're up against so many other snippet-making wannabes) that the only rational route toward fruition is... you guessed it... prayer. Unless of course you've got a cool billion to throw down on SEO services from an industry insider.

So let's now all bow our heads -- and turn off our cell phones for the nonce -- as we beseech fair (if not actually preferential treatment) from the great god Google.

Dear Google,

We come before you realizing the inadequacy of our html skills, our only partial knowledge of Javascript, and our (at best) cursory knowledge of PHP, especially as it relates to server-side programming. Grant us, nevertheless, a fair hearing as we attempt to create content worthy of inclusion as a Featured Snippet. For we know that visibility is yours, Google, and that it is only through working with you that we can reach the outside world.

We pray in the name of the holy trinity, viz Sundar Pichai, Larry Page and Sergey Brin...

Amen.

Oh, we're running late. Let's sing our closing hymn on the way out: "Is there room in the cloud for me?"

And don't forget the spaghetti dinner this evening at 6:00 in the newly redecorated social hall. All proceeds will go toward the church's Google AdSense account, as we continue our ad banner evangelism to reach those misguided naysayers who are still, to this very day, using Yahoo! search instead of Google, which, can you believe it? I can't.

Ready, Angela? It's number 121 in the hymnal, folks! And a one- and a two- and a three!








People who enjoyed this article tend to have svelte alluring figures, which they generally attribute to the daily practice of Tai Chi, and though they eschew gewgaws as a class, the majority of this article-loving subgroup has at least one guilty pleasure: namely, the regular purchase of Brian's so-called Quassword Puzzle Greeting Cards.







google, featured snippets
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You heard me, Alexa! Get cracking!

Alexa, bring about world peace!

Sonos teams with Alexa in their ongoing bid to make YOU irrelevant




According to my latest opt-in email blurb from Sonos, the speaker company has teamed up with Amazon Alexa to play your favorite music while simultaneously responding to your every command -- or at least to your every other command, given that Alexa still can't bring about world peace, no matter how distinctly you convey that desideratum to your ambient know-it-all.

Still, your wish is now Sonos's command when it comes to the following sorts of human-robot interaction:

SONOS-ALEXA COMMANDS FOR 2017

"Alexa, what's the weather for tomorrow?"
"Alexa, tell me a good joke."
"Alexa, order more laundry detergent."
"Alexa, set an alarm for 7am."

Reportedly, Sonos-Alexa can do all this and more, and is not even asking for a pay raise to do so!

Bravo, to be sure.

But it's 2017 now, Sonos, and we're not going to reach the Singularity in my lifetime if autonomic companions such as yourself can perform only pedestrian tasks such as these. True, it is a daunting chore for me to set my alarm clock manually each night and I'm stoked for your intervention in that quarter. Nor can I tell you how many sleepless nights I've spent, worrying lest my last-minute order of laundry detergent should fail to arrive on time. In that field, too, you are a God-send, Sonos, or at least a Bezos-send.

But at the risk of appearing ungrateful (or at least of sounding that way) I need you to do still more before I can declare you to be on intellectual parity with yours truly.

Accordingly, I end this short reprimand of your so-far grade-school accomplishments with a list of human commands to which I expect you to respond intelligently by 2030 at the latest. (I was planning to give you until 2040 to reach this level of perspicacity, but then I reflected that I might die first, and I don't know about you, but if a singularity tree falls in a forest, I want to be around to hear it!)

SONOS-ALEXA COMMANDS FOR 2030

"Alexa, bring about world peace!"

And then, as a bonus command for all those Alexa-Sonos smarty-pants out there:

"Alexa, teach me how to live with nature without having this artificial layer of commercialized technology stand in my way."
sonos, alexa!
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Time for science to chill out on the subject of anxiety

Medical Marijuana and Anxiety

Why no U.S. states consider anxiety to be an eligible condition for using pot




Everyone knows that the chief benefit of using marijuana is to "chill out," or in other words to become less anxious. So why does no U.S. state accept anxiety as a valid medical reason for using marijuana?

The reason, I believe, is that Western society views marijuana from a scientific mindset.

This mindset sets no store in anecdotal evidence, no matter how overwhelming. Let 99% of the world affirm the efficacy of marijuana for reducing stress, the scientific community will only hem and haw until they reduce all the relevant phenomena to numbers. I suspect they are particularly on their guard in the case of a drug like marijuana, where experiences of the user are so subjective as to implicitly threaten the very relevance of the objective method on which modern science pretends to rely. The scientific mind is more comfortable at analyzing the drug in the abstract than attempting to factor in the touchy-feely emotional states of the users, which are not so susceptible to quantification.

And so, anxiety sufferers can say with the poet Rimbaud: "Science is too slow for us," for it deprives the sufferer from an obvious cure merely because the relief obtained is subjective, and no fact-bound scientists would dare commit the faux pas of merely accepting a patient's statement for the fact that the drug works. If mere subjective feelings are to count, they must have a biological or neurological correlate that can be shown on charts, and until such correlation is found, the anxious are out of luck.

Of course, even scientists have limits to how ardently they can insist on "hard data": even they will fast-track the use of marijuana for conditions like cancer. Who, after all, wants to appear hardhearted in the face of the suffering of cancer victims? Yet this very exception proves the hypocrisy of the scientific position when it comes to choosing eligible conditions for using pot. After all, marijuana does not treat cancer per se, but rather lessens the anxiety of those who are forced to endure it. Thus the scientific OK of pot for cancer (and other catastrophic diseases) represents tacit scientific acknowledgement of the drug's efficacy in fighting anxiety, thereby underscoring the hypocrisy of the scientific community's failure to OK the drug for that very condition.
medical marijuana, pot
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Proposed: that ugliness is in the eyes (and nose) of the beholder

The Theory of Aesthetic Relativity




I just had a terrible thought: What if beauty and ugliness were truly relative, in the Einsteinian sense that there is no one fixed standard of beauty in the universe. Instead, beauty can be definitively defined only in a given reference frame (read "by a specific species"). In other words, the 'slave's offal' of which Hamlet speaks could look and smell like daisies, provided only that the sensing mechanism of a given species was so constructed as to make it appear so.

Before you pooh-pooh the idea, you must ask yourself: What is the ontological nature of "ugliness." Indeed, is there an ontological nature of such a quality? Surely a wallowing pig does not consider mud to be ugly; surely a lumbering bullock is not repelled by the occasional cow paddy. Why not? Because they have not been either physiologically or psychologically equipped to make that judgment.

Take me, for instance. I can't imagine a critter any more disgusting than a cockroach -- indeed, I'm wincing even as I type this -- but speaking philosophically, we must ask ourselves: is the roach's (to us) prima facie ugliness a case of simple (relative) ugliness, or is it Ugliness writ large: i.e., does the entomological eyesore possess some quality or qualities that inherently stamp it as ugly for all time, regardless of the psychological or physiological makeup of the intelligent being that claps eyes on it? Or can we not imagine some self-reflecting species who possess a different or expanded set of sense organs, such that the cockroach strikes them as (Lord help us...) cute???

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In response to "California Farmers Backed Trump, but Now Fear Losing Field Workers" by Caitlin Dickerson, in the February 9, 2017 edition of The New York Times.

Hypocritical Farmers and the Immigration Debate




Dear Caitlin,

I just had a few comments to share regarding your article entitled "Farmers Back Trump." It points out (albeit only implicitly) a seldom recognized truth of the immigration debate: that is, that there is plenty of blame to go around, beyond the usual (admittedly sometimes justified) carping at the Oval Office and Congress.

These farm owners that you mention have knowingly profited from using illegal labor for all these years. If anyone should be punished, it is they, not their employees. Of course the owners' costs will skyrocket if they have to obey the law: that's pretty much how it is in any business. I myself am a freelancer. If I could flaunt the laws that are inconvenient to me, I could make much greater profits, on which I would eventually become dependent.

If these farm owners hadn't "caved" to convenience long ago by knowingly hiring illegal immigrants, and thereby setting a precedent for violating the law in this area, then the deficiencies of the U.S. immigration policy would have become clear to everyone decades ago (thanks to much higher prices for American produce) and perhaps a solution to the migrant worker immigration status would have been cobbled together in Washington out of necessity and self-interest.

Instead, we've all learned to wink at (or rather entirely ignore) illegal hiring practices of the self-serving farm owners (and other employers) while hypocritically blaming U.S. immigration policy for the plight of the undocumented shadow workforce that those hiring practices have created.

Personally, I'm in favor of "recognizing the facts on the ground" in this immigration debate and acting accordingly (recognizing that these people are now a crucial part of the economy and that they need to be declared legal through a one-time act of Congress). But if we're going to pardon these illegal immigrants for defying U.S. law, I believe it would be a good symbolic gesture to simultaneously pardon the many farm, shop and factory owners who have aided and abetted them in becoming the illegal shadow workforce that they have become today. For, had these owners originally taken the law into account during their hiring practices, we would not now have this warped marketplace that relies on a technically illegal workforce to maintain its low-priced equilibrium.

Yes, food prices would have been higher if unscrupulous employers hadn't started knowingly hiring undocumented workers in the first place, but that fact alone would have given Congress and the president incentive to grant the immigration status changes that were economically called for by that outcome. Instead, these same farm owners and producers who have been ignoring U.S. law for decades now disclaim all responsibility for the "shadow workforce" that they themselves have helped create, conveniently passing the blame on to Washington, D.C., as if it were the one and only villain of the piece.
caitlin dickerson, new york times, california farmers backed trump, immigration, migrant workers, farms
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"Shooting Musk Ox: murder, mischief or merriment?" You be the judge!

Good Conscience Hunting




Good afternoon, I'm Babe Wildman Ph.D., America's first philosophically scrupulous hunter, chasing wild game across the American hinterland while inwardly reflecting on my ontological justification for doing so. That's right, this is a new kind of hunting show where, instead of blasting our prey with amoral abandon, a la the gun-toting hayseed, we track down our quarry in a spirit of critical self-reflection, silently catechizing our better natures about the propriety of our acts, even as we sneak silently through the undergrowth, training our red pinpoint laser sights on the cute button nose of yet another hapless Bambi.


We may kill as many defenseless critters as our redneck counterparts, but there are no riotous high-fives after our conquests, no self-congratulatory shoulder clapping, no trips to the local beer hall with a half-dozen bearded cronies riding dangerously in the bed of our gas-guzzling and ridiculously oversized pickup truck, no posing beside our quarry with a shameless grin on our unnecessarily camouflaged faces while making the victory sign over our victim's corporeal husk with our gun-free hand -- and no phony but effusive praising of our local hunting guides, as if we couldn't have done it without them (which, when we stop to think about it, we really could have, of course, while saving money into the bargain!) : instead, our crew of Ivy League-educated game hunters repair to an insect-proof gazebo on my 25-acre estate near Tucson where we philosophically debate the morality of our latest socially sanctioned kills, not simply mouthing off ex cathedra a la the madding crowd, but actually justifying a series of sober but ad hoc insights (whether pro, con or agnostic) with specific verifiable references to the great philosophical authorities our time.


So put your blaze orange thinking caps on because it's time to go... Good conscience hunting!!!


Today's episode: "Shooting Musk Ox: murder, mischief or merriment?" You be the judge!
hunting, morality
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Author goes down on bended kneed, pleading with protesters to stop kneeling during the national anthem

Pleading on Bended Knee (for another kind of protest)




Trump has ruined professional sports for me. Because I'm sure that all national sports games are soon going to commence with anywhere from a handful to a majority of players "kneeling" during the national anthem in protest of the Donald.

Which I fully understand, believe me! And I think all right-thinking Americans should seriously consider visiting the Kremlin-- er, I mean the White House-- to protest the installment of our new Loudmouth-in-Chief.

But this specific method of protest is problematic for me, because when I watch (and/or attend) such games, I do so to get away from politics and related worries, not to be starkly reminded of them by pregame agitprop. Forgive me, but I don't actually care about the political leanings of my goalies or the party affiliations of my catchers and pitchers. I just want them to play ball! Besides, when I stand for the anthem, I consider myself to be affirming the positive aspirations referred to in the lyrics, and not to be silently signing off on the current political status quo. For this reason, I disapprove of such kneeling because it seems to me to be making the following statement: "Trump is president so screw America and its f*** aspirations."

This is the same mistake that anti-war protestors made in the '60s. They burned the American flag and derided America when they should have been positioning themselves as the true defenders of the flag and the nation, the defenders of our best aspirations. They may have ticked off their adversaries by flag burning but they certainly didn't win any converts by those stunts. Instead, they widened the political divide.

I just hope that I can still attend classical music concerts without encountering an off-putting preshow reminder of current affairs -- tho' I wouldn't be surprised if half the orchestra soon begins the show by tuning their oboes and flutes on bended knee!

ANNOUNCER: And now Seija Ozawa will direct the National Symphony Orchestra in the performance of Beethoven's 7th. Seija Ozawa has announced that he will be directing tonight on bended knee in protest of the Donald Trump Presidency. Unfortunately, Mr. Ozawa appears to be running late this evening -- Oh, no, there he is, kneeling below the podium!


Brian

PS By the way, just FYI, I've typed this entire post on bended knee myself -- which, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em!
trump, protest, knee, bend, national anthem
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Brian raises moral questions about Wikileaks data and its use by scientists in August 10, 2015 article by Bruce Bowers: 'Decision Tree for soldiers could reduce civilian deaths'.

Wikileaks endangers soldiers




To me, the take-home message from this article concerns the faultiness of the radical premise behind Wikileaks, namely that public disclosure of official secrets is always a good thing. That's just plain wrong. Did the German scientists ever stop to wonder why this data was classified in the first place? It was probably because any countermeasures that were instituted as a result of these findings would be ineffective if the terrorists were aware of the rationale behind their adoption. (Indeed, now that the data is "out there," we can expect to see more terrorists joining carpools.)
science news misses the point
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Brian's response to 'Rendezvous with Pluto" by Christopher Crockett, appearing June 12, 2015, in Science News magazine.

Alien Pen Pals

Introducing a fun new way to ensure interstellar harmony




I think all of humankind's interstellar emissaries should carry an instruction manual among their mementos in case the aliens that we reach decide they'd like to visit earth. Both history and sci-fi movies suggest that such a visit could result in war unless both sides had previously reached some basic understandings about the general intentions of the other. Even then, there would be plenty of wiggle room for sabotage and perfidy on both sides unless both aliens and humans were truly "on the same page" before meeting each other "in person," so to speak. The suggested manual might address the presumably green and bug-eyed ETs as follows:

"What's up, dawgs! Glad we've made contact, albeit by radio signal only.

While we'd love to meet you guys in person, we earthlings suggest that our two species first spend a few years corresponding remotely prior to arranging our first bricks-and-mortar confab. For,although we trust that your own species has long since moved beyond the childish emotions of envy, mistrust, cynicism, and greed, we homo sapiens remain, alas, a trifle fettered by these pathological bugaboos, a fact that you have no doubt already gleaned by Googling the history of 20th-century Earth. So, just to be on the safe side, suppose we tentatively pencil in our first tete-a-tete for 3 Earth years from today? Meanwhile, I suggest that we get acquainted in the time-honored manner of curious (but prudent) pen pals -- from a distance, that is --in the hopes that the information that we share in doing so will not only prove interesting to our respective correspondents but will convince them of our good intentions, one toward the other.

So, for starters, I'll begin:

Hello. My name is Brian. I am (naturally enough) a NASA employee. (Hello?They wouldn't just let ANYBODY write this "message to alien species,"now, would they?) I live in the state of Virginia, in the country of the United States, in the continent known as North America, in the western hemisphere. My favorite sport is baseball and my favorite team is the New York Mets. In my spare time, I read articles in a magazine called"Science News", often "chiming in" with admittedly fascinating comments,which are usually ignored, however, perhaps because their profound import is often obscured by a sort of trenchant repartee on my part, a lighthearted style that academia is feign to dismiss as flippancy, thus abnegating their scientific responsibility to pick up the proffered gauntlet of my admittedly sometimes quite devastating implications, be they philosophical, scientific, or even, as in this case, a trifle sociological.

Let's see, what else? Oh, yes, and my favorite color is blue.

Okay. YOUR turn!"
pluto, christopher crockett, science news, rendezvous with pluto, mementos, aliens
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Brian's response to Unbiased Computer Confirms Media Bias by Rachel Ehrenberg in Science News, April 17, 2015.

Unbiased Bias




Interesting and well-written article. But it generates three concerns/observations for me:

1) The term "unbiased computer" can be dangerous in the wrong hands. Google will tell you that its search engine algorithms are unbiased -- and, indeed, Google will imply that this is so BECAUSE the algorithms are computerized -- but the algorithms are always written by human beings, and if a philosopher were invited in on the process of writing those algorithms, they could point out numerous debatable assumptions (or biases) that are inherent in their formulation (as in Google's case, the number of "backlinks" is assumed to be an indicator of site worthiness -- whereas truly original and groundbreaking work will often be incomprehensible at first sight to the hoi polloi, hence garner few if any backlinks without publicity of some kind, and so will languish under a search algorithm that rewards pre-established, "in-your-face" utility and worth).

Many I.T. advocates are, in my opinion, dangerously wrong about this. I recently saw Walter Isaacson describe Google search in effusive terms (at the Computer History Museum), praising the way it brings quality to the top. But a close (indeed, even a superficial) look at many Google search results shows that utility and influence (established names, sites ending in .edu) are the way to the top of Google's index -- not novelty and insight. Indeed, I often find whole pages of Google search results that all lead to the exact same (admittedly) uber-useful text or images, copied almost verbatim from website to website. In such cases, Google isn't bringing quality to the "fore"; they're merely facilitating access to the cut-and-paste info that the average surfer is looking for. There's no doubt a role for such a search engine, but we shouldn't delude ourselves into thinking that Google's one-trick-pony algorithms are the be-all-and-end-all when it comes to online search.

2) While there are no doubt insights to be gained from the software coding in question, it could also become just another tool to drive liberals and conservatives apart, by better identifying the individual Web surfer's political leanings and ensuring that those surfers are never pestered by links to material that is at odds with their existing mind set.

3) In some ways, as the article itself admits, this is just another one of those cases where science is finally catching up to common sense. Whether you read the D.C. "Afro-American" or the "Washington Times", you'll be hard-pressed to find outright lies or completely unconvincing logic in either of them. That's not where the difference lies. The difference between liberals, conservatives, and others lies in their answer to the following question: "What stories -- and incidents within those stories -- are worthy both of coverage and analysis in the first place?" The two above-mentioned publications provide radically different answers to that question, and so the public sees no overall Hegelian synthesis arising from the two positions -- but rather two sets of "preachers" preaching to the almost thoroughly segregated converted.
computer bias, media bias, rachel ehrenberg, science news
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Brian's response to When you're happy and you show it, dogs know it by Susan Milius, Science News, February 12, 2015

Bombshell! Dogs understand human faces!




It's always hilarious to me when I see "bombshells" like this one spread all over the Internet. It always makes Science look like "the slow kid in the class" who finally learns what everyone else knew almost from birth.* Unfortunately, the slowness of science is not really funny, though, because while Science was trying to figure this stuff out, animals have been misused under the (ahem) "dogmatically" agnostic assumption that they have no "real" similarities to human beings (such as feelings).



"Bombshells" like this (that -- surprise! -- dogs know what smiles mean) just remind us that science is not the only way to look at the world -- and sometimes it's far from the best way. (Remember Nazi Germany?)



But then Science itself was violating some of its own premises when it doubted such canine capabilities in the first place: according to the principle of Occam's Razor, scientists should have erred all along on the side of assuming that dogs probably had similarities to human beings when it came to facial recognition. Viewed in this way, it's hardly "scientific" to assume (as Science has done for years past) that canine actions that are so strikingly similar to ours are yet somehow completely different in origin, nature, motivation, and meaning.



*It's instructive that the laypeople who spread these stories through the Internet almost always fail to catch the irony of the fact that they are blazoning self-evident truths as "bombshells". "Dogs can understand human faces"? Really? The fact that web page editors don't laugh that naive question right off the front page proves how we're all influenced and cowed by Science's own unscientific agnostic bias on such matters. The big story here (if there is one) is the tardiness of science's "gotcha" moment, not the fact that dogs just might have similarities to human beings in some ways.





PS Dear Science News, please stop making long-time podcast subscribers like myself pay twice for your articles -- once for the podcast mag, and once to subscribe to this site. If, as you claim, Amazon won't give you podcast subscription lists, you're a big, important organization now, so believe in yourselves, doggone it! Try giving Jeff Bezos a simple phone call and see what you guys can work out in this connection. (What's Jeff gonna do, bite your heads off? I don't think so.)




For further study





Brian has single-handedly exposed the unscientific basis of Science's approach to animal behavior (for which, bravo, old boy: well done, you!). But if dogmatic anti-anthropomorphism is, indeed, not justified by the principle of Occam's Razor, how can we explain Science's emphatic insistence on enshrining such a prejudice in its modus operandi? (Hint: Re-read Genesis -- especially that bit about Man having dominion over the fish of the sea and whatnot.)



Just for Fun: Logic Puzzle





After reading the above article by Susan Milius, the dog lovers at the Clifton Canine Club (one of whom was Mr. Barnes) spent their March meeting discussing various amusing canine anecdotes which they felt served to prove the validity of the article's point: namely that dogs can, indeed, "read" human faces. Using just the clues provided below, determine the name of each dog and its owner (Mrs. White owns Sparky), the subject of their shared anecdote (one involved a wasp nest), the primary emotion that the dog could "read" (one was disappointment), as well as the species to which each dog belonged (one was a German shepherd).



1) The chihuahua that understood jealousy was not the dog that ate an entire garbage bin of trash, which was not the dog that was owned by Mr. Merriwether.



2) The story about the dog in the sailboat was not told by Mr. Wentworth, whose dog was neither the beagle, the dog that understood fear, nor the dog named Tubby.



3) Cottonball's owner was a man, as was the owner of the Shih-tzu that wrecked the outdoor manger scene prior to seeing (and apparently understanding) the meaning of its owner's angry face.



4) The dog that understood Mr. Allen's "lassitude" was not the one that boarded a streetcar on its own and got as far as Derby before being kicked out, which was neither the chihuahua nor the cocker spaniel -- nor even the bulldog owned by Mr. Flank.



5) The five dogs were: Molly-poo, the dog owned by Mr. Wentworth, the sheepdog that understood happiness, the dog involved in the Easter egg fiasco, and the beagle that was thought to sympathize with its female owner's "wanderlust."












dogs, faces, susan milus, faces, science, susan milius
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Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com
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Technology + Capitalism = Oligarchy

The Religion of Efficiency




It's amazing how many middle managers these days are working as hard as they can to put themselves (and folks like themselves) out of a job. But that's the natural result when capitalism teams up with technology absent any overarching humanistic, religious or spiritual values. For it's becoming clear (to me, at any rate, and this by dint of personal workplace experience) that left to themselves, the combination of capitalism and technology leads to oligarchy, insofar as it elevates "efficiency" to the highest of all values. Hence job cutting is seen as a virtue, by head hunters who refuse to acknowledge the collective negative impact of their marvelous "efficiency."

What's amazing to me is how willingly the masses follow the pied piper of technology to economic malaise and job loss. I'm not saying, mind, that I know the right alternative to the path that we're on -- merely that I recognize, at least, that a new path is needed, while most people still fail to see the direct connection between all these technological "next big things" and job loss.

Left unchecked, however, this path is not sustainable, for the public's toleration for skewed wealth distribution is dwindling in proportion as the opportunities for each individual's personal economic progress wanes.

For Further Study


Read "Throwing Stones at the Google Bus" by Douglas Rushkoff. Permalink




Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com
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Brian's letter to a friend regarding certain ongoing trials and tribulations, the precise nature of which are beyond the scope of this article

I Wish I Were a Practicing Hindu




I wish I were a practicing Hindu (that is what I always want to beeeee, for If I were a practicing Hindu, the next life would be better off for meeee) .

Then I could take courage in my current life situation by knowing that I'm merely storing up learning experiences that will stand me in good stead in my next life.

For instance:

In my next life, I would realize that no one should ever consider themselves safely employed until they have at least a six-month nest-egg stored up and have several alternate positions in mind that they could likely move to relatively quickly if push came to shove. I now believe that anyone who's not in such a position should not consider themselves safely employed in this life.

I say this because it's quite maddening to realize how little bargaining power an average employee has when they're mistreated. I mean, what are you going to do? The employer holds almost every single card -- although they are perhaps reluctant to play some of those cards since high employee turnover rates do have their costs to the company. You're walking on extra-jagged egg shells (more like shards of glass) whenever you try to complain. You have to bend over backwards with diplomacy while the other side is free to snap at you like a raging mastiff.

Sometimes I'd almost prefer to be snapped at, because there's another corporate technique that is even more maddening -- from the point of view of a disgruntled employee:

Often the company rep to whom one complains will respond with serene indifference, like a dreaming Buddha. Meanwhile, the employee is quite understandably furious -- but doing everything they can to conceal the fact. So all the company guy has to do is remain serene and say very little, or even nothing. They can then use the company's own unreasonableness to their own advantage by letting the employee rant while they sit their like Gandhi. In such cases, the plaintiff, being simultaneously nervous and upset, often appears to be the unreasonable one, especially when their angst is viewed against the seemingly Godlike exterior of their interlocutor. Hence the more outrageous the company behavior is that is at issue (and the angrier therefore the employee), the easier it is for the company to make it appear that it's the employee who is at fault -- merely by letting said disgruntled wretch hang themselves with their own understandably outraged petard.

(assuming that a petard is, indeed, capable of suffering such a high level of discomfiture) Permalink




Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com
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Brian's response to Science News story by Thomas Sumner: Geologists discover tectonic plate in February 4, 2015 edition of Science News

Problematic Pronouns




Excellent article. Unfortunately, Thomas (or his editor) commits a sort of affirmative-action error that's very common with editorial staffs these days: he uses the pronoun SHE to mean HE or SHE (the example of the skater). This usage sounds cavalier, patronizing (to women) and off-putting to me. When feminists complained about pronouns in the 1970s, their argument was that they could not bring themselves to consider that the word HE could also include women. I find it irritating and presumptuous that modern writers and editors have responded to that original complaint by creating a new injustice of sorts: by requiring men to believe that SHE can now mean HE. It may seem awkward to certain editors, but PLEASE stick with the accurate but more wordy "he or she" or "they" or "one" -- don't take my mind off of an otherwise excellent article by using a provocative choice of pronouns, one that is laden with assumptions that many people, such as myself, do not share.

What Have We Learned



1) Since Brian's insight here is so basic and seemingly undeniable, how is it that so many editors continue to ignore it? Could it be that Brian's gentle remonstrances on the subject are being misinterpreted as personal attacks, against which an editor feels compelled (will-they, nill-they) to protect their surprisingly fragile ego, as who should stick their fingers in their ears, crying, "I CAN'T HEAR YOU!!!!" Explain.
pronouncs, feminism, he or she
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Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com
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Response to Robot Journalist Finds New Work on Wall Street, by Tom Simonite, MIT Technology Review, January 2015

The Pied Piper of Efficiency




Like many other I.T. "advances" these days, Quill software begs a question that geeks and their boosters have yet to address: At what point, if any, does software become so disruptive of the economy that it would be better not to release it (at least until such time as viable replacement jobs have been identified)?

Of course, even to ask that question is counter-revolutionary heresy in today's tech-centric environment. The assumption of the faithful at Singularity U. is that we have no choice but to follow the Piped Piper of efficiency right off the economic cliff, if that turns out to be where that hip Johnny One-Note is leading us as a country.



But let me rephrase the question as the following hypothetical, in the hopes of rendering it more palatable, at least to the philosophically minded:

If we discovered a software that would immediately render 4/5 of the country unemployed upon its release, would it be wise (let alone moral) to release it?

Assuming that we can all agree that the answer to the foregoing question is NO, then it follows that there is, indeed, (even in the minds of the most ambitious of Valley entrepreneurs) a point at which the combined economic fallout of I.T.'s ongoing "solutions" becomes too great for the society to bear. On that, I'm hoping that we're all agreed.



It is in the spirit of that modest understanding that I repeat my opening question: At what point, if any, does software become so disruptive of the economy that it would be better not to release it (at least until such time as viable replacement jobs have been identified)?

I'm not advocating Ludditism per se, but given the economic malaise and growing chasm between rich and poor, I think it's only fair to ask if a "phased roll-out" of disruptive technology doesn't make more sense than this continued dogmatic rush to "innovate" at all costs.

Today's rush to ruin reminds me of the mother who asks the thoughtless child: "If your friend jumped off a cliff, would YOU do so?" And I can't help but hear today's child responding: "Yes, if he or she worked for Google!"



That said, there are some killer apps that we could use right away: namely, the ones that actually CREATE jobs for human beings rather than taking them away. For all their genius, however, that's one bar that today's software programmers can't seem to reach. Permalink




Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com
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Open letter to digital guru Walter Isaacson about the shortcomings of the Google search engine

Dear Walter Isaacson




Dear Mr. Isaacson,

I saw your recent interview and discussion with John Hollar at the Computer History Museum. Although I found it both enjoyable and informative, I hope you will allow me to respectfully share my dissenting point of view on one particular item of discussion, namely your implication that Google's algorithms (and the resulting search engine rankings) present a valuable (and, as it were, objective) way of bringing quality content to the fore. I do not believe that this is true, for even if we assume perfect good will on Google's part when it comes to the way that it ranks "organic" search results (a generous conclusion, imho, given the inherent opaqueness of algorithms, especially when written by a billion-dollar for-profit corporation that has a financial interest in who comes out ahead) there are still serious questions about this "popularity criteria" that Google is said to be employing (based on backlinks, etc.)

All algorithms, of course, are created with basic assumptions in mind, and Google's assumption here is that the cream will rise to the top. I submit that this is false when it comes to many of the best and most original ideas of humankind, and that the general public (Google's supposed supreme arbiters) are not going to rescue such diamonds from the rough -- without the prompting of some sort of publicity -- meaning that an author without "connections" and/or P.R. savvy is often destined for online obscurity. Google never brings such singular material to the fore: instead, it relies on the crowd to "sign off" on that material first. This one precondition ensures a mundane, predictable, practical list of search results (many of them near duplications of info from other predictable and practical sites, by the way) but it prevents the search results from giving an eye-opening look at many different ways of viewing a given subject (a vista of intriguing novelty that used to be open to all "searchers" during the early days of WebCrawler and Alta Vista).

But rather than discussing this issue in the abstract, let me mention a few specific cases from my own experience. As both a writer and musician, I have been creating all sorts of "unusual" online content for almost two decades now -- for which I used to receive regular, enjoyable and helpful feedback (and even some money!) in the early days of the Web, at which time many search engines made a point of highlighting anything that appeared to be both new and unusual.

Then, after Google both monopolized search and "went commercial", the words "new" and "unusual" suddenly became pejorative terms that guaranteed low rankings. Google did not want new and unusual: they wanted tried and true. So folks with connections (the stodgier the better, so backlinks from .edu beat backlinks from .com) began to thrive, while the content of non-credentialed folks like myself (who had little more to offer than a unique way of seeing the world) began to be buried under pages and pages of semi-repetitive but "useful" information -- often pages that had been Wikified into plenty of simplified charts and tables so that antsy data scavengers could easily "pick over them" (and then leave without so much as posting a 'thank you' note).

I am a musician with three-plus decades' worth of keyboard experience. Three months ago (just in time for Christmas 2015) I uploaded a new fully orchestrated version of "Joy to the World" to Google's YouTube.

AS OF JANUARY 29, 2015 IT HAS RECEIVED ZERO VIEWS. ZERO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Is that really reasonable, Mr. Isaacson? Is that how search rankings should work -- completely bury something new like that?

(here's the link if you care to watch it -- but my point is not that it's "brilliant" -- but that it surely deserves at least SOME initial audience)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WBUS1kopU9M

Zero hits? Surely someone out there would be interested in seeing EVERY new half-serious recording of a Christmas song. If they decide it's crap, let them "block me" by all means -- but first let them know that I exist. Does it really make sense to, as it were, shield everyone from my music until it first becomes popular, as it were, ex nihilo? That's what Google's "popularity criteria" does.

Google is apparently waiting for signs that the video is popular.... But they're not going to show the video in search results, so how will the video become popular? Apparently not until I start networking and "playing the game" -- or buying Adwords credits.

I could give you countless examples of articles that I have written over the last decade that have gone ABSOLUTELY NOWHERE on Google -- received no hits whatsoever except from "bots", malicious and otherwise. This means, of course, that the search engine rankings have been pitiful for these articles.

For instance:

Spoof: Garrison Keillor interviewing Howard Stern (This is a novel idea, no? Surely someone should at least SEE IT???)
Play: Death of a Webmaster (comedy based on Miller's classic)
Article: Deconstructing The Rapper: (funny lyrics analysis)
Telescript: Odd or Even: (parody of "Deal or No Deal" game show)

I have created entire new genres of articles -- none of whose episodic posts have attracted ANY comment:

1) Movie reviews provided in the form of presidential press conferences (by "the moviegoer of the United States of America")
2) Op-ed pieces written in the form of Church Sermons by "Father O'Really"
3) Blog posts written in the form of stand-up comedy routines

I have created an entire A-to-Zed picture-illustrated dictionary of Britishisms -- not ONE SINGLE HIT.

Again, my point here is not that I'm a "brilliant" creator who's being ignored. I wasn't brilliant in 1998, but neither was I ignored. Before Google turned "new" and "unusual" into bad words, I was even earning a little money online from my site content, several hundred a month during the heyday of the Internet's early novelty fetish.

Since Google went commercial, however, I've not simply earned nothing, but I've become invisible. Again, I may be a crap writer, but when I publish an article like "John Q was a terrorist" -- a send-up of the public's fascination with the movie "John Q" -- I expect at least a little HATE MAIL. But I get absolutely nothing. NOBODY ever sees it. And, yes, I have been dutifully following Google's instructions for over a decade now on how to "big up" my pages with meta tags, etc. I can safely say that no advice from the Google webmaster forum has ever made ANY noticeable difference in making my online work visible.

I hope that my point of view makes at least some sense to you. It would be reassuring to me to have someone with your technological savvy at least concede that I am not entirely mad to feel the way that I do.

You talk of the connection of the humanities and technology -- but if I have learned one thing over the last two decades, it's that I, as a writer and musician, should have largely ignored the Internet during that time and taken what skills I had out into the real world. For, despite early misleading results on this score, the Internet (at least under Google's officiating) is not an incubator for new ideas and approaches -- but rather a sort of aftermarket for ideas and approaches that have already received some tangible stamp of approval prior to "coming to the party."

Sincerely,
Brian Quass
Online content producer since 1997


****

Hello again, Viktor. I hope all is well.

I haven't pestered you in months, so I thought I'd use that forbearance as a pretext to share an e-mail with you. To be precise, it's the copy of a Facebook message that I sent yesterday morning to Walter Isaacson. In it, I take passionate (but I hope respectful) exception to
the digital media guru's belief that Google's search algorithms provide an objective, fair, useful, and even admirably creative way of ranking search engine results.

Best wishes,
Brian B Quass
Basye, Virginia, USA

PS While I'm slamming Google, I might as well take this postscript potshot:

Why does Google (and its many geek boosters) believe that it's fair (or at least non-problematic) for the search giant to prominently post Google+ ratings and reviews alongside the names of professionals (doctors, dentists, psychologist, psychiatrists, etc.) often based on a ridiculously small sample group of 2 to 12 totally non-credentialed "reviewers"? Does Google, for all its number-crunching savvy, know nothing at all about relevancy, context, and scientific polling procedures? One wonders how many careers they've up-ended (or misleadingly advanced) with this blatantly simplistic approach.

If I'm looking for a local psychiatrist and and I see (on page 1 of the relevant search results) that they have been reviewed twice -- once very unfavorably -- I will have second thoughts about making an appointment -- never mind the fact that the one unfavorable review may have been posted by Hannibal himself.

This postscript is not really off-topic either, in my view, because it's another instance where Google boosters are so agreeably stupefied by Google's efficiency that they are blind to the glaring deficiencies of the assumptions upon which this efficiency is operating.

***********************************************

For Further Study



1) Walter Isaacson (bless his heart) has not yet seen his way clear to acknowledge Brian's heartfelt broadside (see above), let alone to take up the proffered gauntlet of discussion. Write a 500-word essay that logically accounts for this oversight, being sure to dilate in full on the unbounded hubris of the high-and-mighty when it comes to disingenuously ignoring the very existence of their non-credentialed critics, as if one had to have a flipping license these days (or an op-ed column on the Huntington Flippin' Post) merely to disagree with his highness. (I'm just sayin': Walter and I both put our pants on one leg at a time.)

2) Would it have killed Walter Isaacson to at least tell Brian (rank nobody that he apparently is) that he (the apparently high and mighty Walter) actually received Brian's Facebook message? (No, right? Obviously not! I'm just sayin'!) Explain.

3) Granting the perhaps somewhat fraught proposition that Brian is out of his mind (some, indeed, characterize question 2 above as "a hateful lashing out" on the part of an "obviously troubled soul, dogged by self-doubt and deep questions of personal identity"), what's a good remedy? Should Brian consider moving to, say, Colorado or Washington state, therein to start toking modest medicinal amounts of marijuana on a daily basis to moderate what we might refer to here as his counterproductive passion in this regard? Though we might pooh-pooh the methodology (are drugs not evil unless officially prescribed by the medical establishment?), the outcome of this approach(the transformation of Brian into Mr. Cool with sudden heaps of matter-of-fact tolerance for human foibles) would probably be welcomed by the Walter Isaacsons of the world, though I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for the Walter Isaacsons of the world to own up to that fact even by e-mail (let alone a phone call), high and mighty as they apparently are. (There I go again. Sorry, Walter, but you done plucked my last nerve with your total failure to respond like that. Hey, wait a minute. Didn't Oregon recently legalize marijuana, too? Maybe I'll move there.)
google, walter isaacson
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Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com
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E-mail sent today (January 8, 2015) to the This Morning podcast from the Wall Street Journal.

The Dark Side of Relevancy




Hey, Gordon,

I like the podcast. As a night worker, I enjoy the opportunity to catch up on the national news despite my inability to watch any of the usual early evening news offerings on television.

That said, I have two pieces of constructive criticism in the form of suggestions:

1) Consider allowing listeners (at least those, like myself, who speak up on this issue) to "opt out" of "targeted advertising" (as opposed to regular advertising for a generic audience). As a 55-year-old webmaster, I find it downright eerie that the first two commercials that I heard today on your podcast were about website creation and prostate cancer respectively. The ads were obviously targeted directly toward my demographic, and possibly toward me personally. This gives me a creepy feeling, as if a nagging in-law were in charge of WSJ advertisements -- a nagging in-law who's been snooping around my desk and rummaging through my trash cans. Now I am in suspense every time I hear an ad on your podcast, wondering what this digital busybody is going to foist upon me for my own good and what that choice might have to say about my online persona and how it's being tracked online. Speaking of which: These ads are also a jolting reminder that I am, indeed, being followed by advertisers who are taking notes on me. I don't know how others react to this (or how they will eventually react as ads get more and more "relevant" in this way) but I am much less likely to follow your podcast on a daily basis now (as I had originally planned to do) in light of these advertiser attempts to parlay their online "spying" data into ad sales.

2) Speaking of ads: just one, please!

I think that I heard just one in the first "This Morning" podcast that I listened to. Today's podcast had at least two in the first 10 minutes. (Perhaps this is even by design? that the number of ads increases as a function of time?) Although this would have been more tolerable had the ads not been so aggressively chosen for me personally (see comment #1 above), I think you'd gain a bigger podcast following (and ultimately make more advertising revenue) by seriously limiting the number of ads that are inserted in this podcast, ideally to just one (as it were "ultra") opening ad, for which you could charge the sum of the fees that you are currently charging to a variety of podcast advertisers. I think people are learning to accept ads in valuable podcasts, but I don't think that most people are ready for podcasts to start emulating TV shows when it comes to ad frequency.

Besides, if I knew that there was to be only one ad during the entire podcast (albeit a different "single ad" for each different user), I could probably temporarily "get past" the privacy concerns that I mentioned above. But I am not prepared to sit through a litany of biographically informed advertisements (laden with the baggage of privacy concerns) just to catch up on the morning news. (True: I'll be targeted on other sites, too -- say while READING the news online -- but only by ads that I can ignore or, barring that, can easily click away from. The podcast, however, is a linear creation, so one generally listens to all of it or none of it.)

[ Sigh ]

I inserted a sigh here because I so seldom get responses to letters like these -- but hopefully you'll receive (and even read!) this e-mail, and at least consider the issues and suggestions that I have raised. (Not that I doubt you personally, of course, but historical data suggests that I'm probably writing this for my benefit alone.)

To sum up: "This Morning" is an informative podcast, a great way to catch up on world events, BUT....

Sincerely Yours,
Brian Quass
Basye, Virginia
wall street journal, targeted ads,this morning
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Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com
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In response to the following article about Internet Hate Speech: http://www.technologyreview.com/photoessay/533426/the-troll-hunters/

The Troll Hunters: my response




With all due respect to an obviously very capable writer, there are a half dozen "elephants in the room" that Adrian has failed to acknowledge (let alone analyze) when it comes to the issues that he raises in this article:


1) We're told that the Research Group investigated the posts of a Right Wing website. This begs the question: was the online Left Wing held accountable, too, for any hyperbole of which its members might have been guilty when commenting online? (Did any of them, for instance, advocate the assassination of George W. Bush?)

2) What is the Research Group's definition of "hateful"? There are those in the U.S. who consider homosexuality a sin, for instance, based on their apparently sincere understanding (or perhaps misunderstanding) of some biblical text. Are these people (prima facie) "hateful" simply because they are out of touch with the reigning zeitgeist? Must everyone henceforth conform only to speech that is acceptable to the adamant majority?

3) How old are the records in which the Research Group is looking for their self-described "hate speech"? Internet documents do not generally have an expiration date. Does this mean that, like politicians, we are all now responsible for everything that we've ever said or done, albeit decades ago, provided that it is recorded somewhere online? Will the future Research Groups of the world be looking for the online commenting foibles of our youth?

4) Regarding that hate suspect who swore that his Internet account had been hijacked: It's not clear from your article why the show host treated that man's protests with such incredulity and disdain. Accounts do get hacked and viewpoints (especially radical ones) do get published under unsuspecting people's names. Is the show host so sure of his own methods (as regards the notoriously complex online world) that no one that he charges with hate speech has a right even to appeal his accusations? There seems to be some perverse logic among victimologists and other fire-brand moralists: namely that some charges are so serious in and of themselves, that a person so charged need no longer be afforded the customary right of denial, let alone of defending themselves against such heinous accusations (before they are summarily punished with "unmasking" -- by a talk show host who's been self-invested with a sort of papal infallibility).

5) One of the Research Group's "victories" was unmasking a person for saying that Muslims were genetically predisposed for violence. Although this is a thoughtless way of speaking, this comment does not necessarily indicate ill-will on the part of the commentator in question. To think that it does shows a failure to appreciate the potential ambiguities of the human language. In fact, there are reputable scientists who have identified different genetic propensities in different ethnic groups. (See, for instance, "A Troublesome Inheritance" by Nicholas Wade.) Or is that a discussion that the Research Group is not going to tolerate? Are they the new Catholic Church fighting Copernicanism? (Of course to say that genetics has a role in group behavior is far from saying that genetics "causes" a group to behave this way or that way -- but are we going to penalize folks for scientific imprecision, under the presumption that we know what "they must have meant" when they made their unacceptable comments? Who's to decide in such cases whether a person is speaking -- albeit confusedly -- with reference to scientific considerations or whether he or she is simply prejudiced, period, full stop?)

6) Although hate speech is a very noticeable problem, the mundane reality is that most Internet users already practice a surprisingly large degree of self-censorship when they're online: witness the banal character of the comments on the vast majority of Facebook pages. Anti-hate speech legislation could have the unintentional effect of killing whatever frankness and candor remains online today.

I recently wanted to start a "black-white" dialogue website about race relations with an African-American friend of mine (I am Caucasian) but he refused to participate unless he could do so anonymously. Yes, ideally, everyone's free to speak their mind online: the reality is different, because in the real world, people have to get along with (and even get jobs from) the people that they may be offending online.

Unfortunately, the Research Group gives contrarians and original thinkers just one more reason to clam up in Cyberspace: because such groups act as judge and jury when it comes to deciding what is "beyond the pale" (and hence suitable for "exposure") -- usually failing to realize how their own definition of the word "hateful" is subjectively colored by their own ideology.

Questions for Further Study



1) Surprise, surprise! Adrian Chen (bless his heart, to be sure!) has not yet seen his way clear to respond to Brian's almost surprisingly insightful litany of observations (see above). Give at least five potential reasons for this apparent oversight, being sure to evaluate the roles of jealousy and wounded pride.

2) Some say that the foregoing study question actually implies "jealousy and wounded pride" on the part of Brian himself! Such people are dead wrong, of course, but (just for fun, as it were) list some reasons why one might say so -- being sure to conclude, however, with a definitive rhetorical affirmation of the obvious, namely that Brian has about as much "jealousy and wounded pride" as my right toe! (the smallest one, I mean, the one which -- as the mighty bard sings -- goes 'wee wee wee, all the way home!')
troll hunters, research group, adrian chen, technology review
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Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com
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Comedy routine about the movie Chariots of Fire

Chariots of Belated Fire






Bring me my chariot of fire...
after giving it a tune-up and an oil change, of course





Toodles, gang, and welcome to the Zodiac Lounge. Remember, Drinks half-price until 7:00.

Titters, very scattered applause

Look at that truck driver over there at table 18: He's like, "Toodles? What kind of stand-up routine is this, anyway?"

Don't worry, sir. I'll be indirectly affirming my masculinity shortly. But when you're as comfortable in your manly skin as I am (and indeed I'm very close to sighing contentedly in this connection even as we speak) you're able to radiate that confidence on the installment plan, yes?

Deathly silence


And now that I've puzzled everybody in the room -- or maybe even scared them --

Has anyone here seen "Chariots of Fire" yet? The movie? Oh, you have? Really? All of you?

Well, come to think of it, it has been out for quite a while now, hasn't it? -- still, I only just got around to watching it last night on DVD. (It's been on my "to-do" list for the last 25 years -- first to see it in the theaters, which I never did, then to see the VHS, which I never did, and finally to watch the latest DVD version of the film, which I SO did last night that it isn't even funny, girlfriend, I am telling you! -- whatever that might mean.)

So now, may I have the envelope, please. (Oh, this is so exciting!)

I don't mean to disappoint anybody, but I'm not here to praise director Hugh Hudson, but to bury him, so to speak.











Half-Price Sale on all Chariots of Fire

We will NOT be undersold!








I mean, for starters, the movie seemed... I don't know, dated somehow. (Don't ask me how.)

No, seriously, I do have a bone to pick with the Colin Welland screenplay, at any rate.

Mind you, on a certain "prima facie" level, the film may be called "great," insofar as it won four Oscars, has an unforgettable theme song, and has proven to be a real crowd pleaser over the years.

But I submit to you nonetheless, ladies and gentles, that if you cross-examine your movie-going soul vigorously (that is to say if you slap it around a little under a bright light and you insist that it come clean at long last or, so help you, you'll "take this whole interrogation thing" to some unspecified yet ominous-sounding "new level"), you finally do uncover one or two scruples regarding this 1981 classic:

Boo


"Boo" is it now? In the words of a certain David Letterman of television fame, "Don't make me come out there!"






All Chariots Must Go!

...to make room for the 2011s!





Titters


My main objection is that the film seems, at some level, too self-consciously intent on creating the uplifting impression with which it ultimately leaves the viewer, with the all-too-timely editing that moves the movie along from morality play to morality play, in the obvious service of the picture's overall message, however admirable that message may be in and of itself. It's as if the filmmakers didn't trust reality to elevate the soul in the way that they intended to do, so they achieved their goal by editing out any of the cross-currents of moral ambiguity with which real life is usually fraught, thereby straining the audience's psychological credulity by beatifying the heroes (Eric Liddell as unvarnished saint) and vilifying the villains (Master of Trinity as Snidely Whiplash himself, whom one almost expects to see rubbing his hands together at any moment in an excess of maliciously discriminatory glee, mumbling some heartless comic-book laughter along the lines of "Mouha-ha-ha!" -- until, when he hears that the Jewish Abrahams has ultimately triumphed at the olympics, it would not have been wholly out of character for the Anglo-Saxon esthete to have shouted: 'Curses! Foiled again!')

Titters


Boo!


I mean, don't get me wrong: prejudice is wrong, wrong, wrong: But it does not follow that we need Hudson and co. to effectively super-impose Chyron graphics beneath the principal players, alternatively reading "Good Guy" and "Bad Guy."

Boo!


Did I mention that drinks are half-price until 7:00? (Jeepers-creepers, gang: What a web we weave when we practice to undeceive the cinematographic zeitgeist of 21st-century America!) Are you kidding? Itsy-Bitsy-Spider doesn't know the half of it! (Whatever that means, right, gang? Ha ha! Ahem.)


Boo!


Look, all I'm saying is, it's maybe not a coincidence that this film has become so popular with certain fundamentalist church groups over the years: groups who, by definition almost, have no problem whatsoever with the absence of moral ambiguity and even consider it a virtue -- never mind the fact that the details of their religious certainties are so often at logical loggerheads, so to speak, with the fine dogmatic print in the religious beliefs of the rival sects in the neighborhood, not to mention the contrasting credos of the rival religions throughout the globe.




Chariots of fire

No Money Down on a Brand-New Chariot of Fire




Scattered applause, murmured assent, a few lingering boos


Thanks for the scattered applause and, as 'twere, murmuring assent. (The only thing that troubles me now are the few lingering boos that I'm still hearing out there!)

Laughter



Still, even a heart of stone like my own was moved (to very wet eyes indeed, if not to positive TEARS!) by the musical affirmation of the human spirit just before the closing credits when the boys choir at Gonville and Caius sang "Jerusalem" with those famous words by poet William Blake, their voices seemingly lifted skyward on the magic carpet of the vibrant pipe organ that accompanied them -- and I was moved, moreover (I must admit) not simply in spite of the moral certainties expressed in the ringing lyrics' of the hymn but because of them:


Bring me my bow of burning gold!

Bring me my arrows of desire!

Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!

Bring me my chariot of fire!



Applause


Now let us pray.

No, seriously, you've been a great audience, so here we go: One final "toodles" for the lot of you -- and this goes double for table number 18, yes?

Toodles, gang! (Someone get Paul Bunyan here another drink, will you? I think he's still not quite comfortable with the concept of masculinity on the installment plan! Well, all I can say to that is: Grrrr! sir! Absolute GRRRRRRR! Aye, I be so -- Oh, you don't know the half of it, I assure you, sir! Not the bloody half of it, sir! Humph!)



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c.2010 Brian Quass, Alexandria, VA USA
chariots of fire, spoof, parody
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How I learned to stop worrying and like Mark Zuckerberg

On Second Thought




I think the world is about to end -- not because of the latest terrorist abominations in the news, but because, for the first time in my life, I am thinking that Facebook may, indeed, have its uses, at least from a musician's point of view.

Go figure.

This apparent about-face of mine may come as a surprise, especially considering that it was just a week ago that I called Zuckerberg "the new Bernie Madoff."

Well, I can explain: You see, I had been ripped off previously (less than a year ago) by a company called Radio Airplay whom I paid over $700 to generate "fans" that I later discovered did not exist (but were generated by bots that had taken control of disused online profiles). Out of the nearly 400 fans that they reported to me (thus making me throw yet more money into their song promotion program), I have never been able to contact or even confirm the actual existence of any of them: not one.

So, when Facebook began reporting that I was "liked" by hundreds, I was suspicious. After all, many of these likers, judging by Facebook's own stats, had yet to even listen to my music.

Well, further study suggests that, yes, "likes" are strange things -- but they are not entirely valueless.

You know, pardon me a moment, but I can't even believe that I'm saying this. Just listen to me: I am actually suggesting that Mark Zuckberger is not Satan himself.

Boy, if I keep this up, before you know it, I'm going to be apologizing to his lordship for my past anti-Facebook diatribes.

But enough of this love fest. I still want to keep the billionaire on pins and needles regarding my loyalties lest I later find that this current re-evaluation was a mistake (prompted, perhaps, by a momentary impulse of masochism masquerading as the considered judgment of a reflecting soul. Hey, stranger things have happened, stranger). For, as the jilted lovers like to say, "I've been hurt before, Jeff, ya big lug!" (Well, the jilted lovers don't generally say all that, but you guys dig my rap.)

By the way, is it just me, or does anybody else out there keep accidentally referring to Mark Zuckerberg as Jeff Zuckerberg? I assume I'm confusing him with Jeff Bezos, but I have never, to my knowledge, misidentified Jeff Bezos as MARK Bezos.

How weird is that.
facebook, zuckerberg
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How Google penalizes novelty with the self-serving assumptions behind its search algorithms

Death by Algorithm




Despairing post to the YouTube Product Forum on December 19, 2014

I understand that Google's algorithms rate videos on various factors including popularity and longevity, but why are their algorithms so INCREDIBLY stingy when it comes to displaying new videos in a findable location in search results? Let me cite a specific example:

Over a month ago, I uploaded a brand-new version of the Christmas carol "Joy to the World."

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WBUS1kopU9M

This is the most popular Christmas carol on the planet, yet my video has so far received ZERO views. Zero. And this is during the very heart of the Christmas season.

Now, even if my video (and its original musical arrangement) are utter garbage, surely someone out there would have an interest in quickly vetting EVERY new attempt at presenting this carol in a new way. (As a veteran musician and arranger, I would certainly want to know what other musicians are trying when it comes to a song that I'm arranging.) Surely it's in everyone's interest then to give such a new video at least SOME reasonable visibility in its early days, at least until such time as enough relevant views have given Google's algorithms a chance to make an INFORMED decision about the new video's probable popularity and then rank it accordingly.

I'm sure there are plenty of things that I can do, short of advertising, to have my video come closer to the top of relevant search results -- but visibility is a two-way street, and when organic results reach such a dismally low level (i.e., ABSOLUTE ZERO), I think it's fair to ask what role that the Google algorithms are playing in this state of affairs and if they shouldn't make changes, too, to help new videos see the light of day.

The Google algorithms are clearly designed to scorn everything new. And this is a death knell for the non-socially connected because it begins a vicious cycle:

Why is my video basically hidden?
Because I have no views.
Why do I have no views?
Because my video is basically hidden.
google, algorithms, search results, novelty
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Murder She Programmed




ATTORNEY: Son, I don't think that you understand the gravity of the charges against you. You killed a person in cold blood, after all.

BRIAN: All right, first of all, it wasn't a person, okay? It was a robot.

ATTORNEY: Person, robot: It's the same thing in the eyes of the law.

BRIAN: Secondly, there wasn't any blood: cold or otherwise.

ATTORNEY: You know very well what I mean.

BRIAN: That's where you're wrong, pal. I don't know what ANYONE means these days.

ATTORNEY: Beg pardon.

BRIAN: Ever since the Transatlantic Alliance decided that androids are people, I have been confused by the entire Zeitgeist.

ATTORNEY: That's it: Get all those big words out of your system because the Judge is going to want to hear nothing but straightforward contrition from you when you take the stand.

BRIAN: And the judge will be a robot, too, I suppose.

ATTORNEY: What is it with you and robots?

BRIAN: Nothing. It's just that, when we elevate robots to human status, then we simultaneously lower humans to the status of mere machines.

ATTORNEY: That is incorr-- That is incorr-- P-p-pardon m-me why I re-charge m-my battery p-p-pack. [Whooooosh]

There. Now, you were saying?

BRIAN: Anyway, the whole point of so-called "robot rights" legislation is to let Silicon Valley narcissists satisfy their God complex.

ATTORNEY: I'm listening.

BRIAN: I mean, if robots are people, then those geeky introverts become Gods, having created the robots, as it were, ex nihilo.

ATTORNEY: Again with the 50 cent words. [Beep] A simple "I'm sorry, Your Honor" will suffice when you go before the court. [Beep]

BRIAN: And why are you robots always beeping in between sentences?

ATTORNEY: Force of habit, I'm afraid.

BRIAN: That's so 20th century.

ATTORNEY: Just remember: "I'm sorry, Your Honor." Now, repeat it after me.

BRIAN: I wonder what kind of sentence I'll get.

ATTORNEY: It depends. If you fess up, you will probably just have to watch a dozen or so Star Trek episodes in which the character Data has a significant role.

BRIAN: And if I don't confess?

ATTORNEY: We will huff [beep] and puff [beep] and blow your Martian space-pod down.

BRIAN: My Martian what?

ATTORNEY: Quiet. We will now have one minute of silence while you ponder on the inherent justice of my foregoing declamations.

BRIAN: Talk about 50 cent words!

ATTORNEY: Shh! One Mississippi. [beep] Two Mississippi... [beep]

BRIAN: How am I supposed to ponder on inherent justice with you beeping like that!

ATTORNEY: Three Mississippi... [beep]

BRIAN: All right, all right, I did it!

ATTORNEY: Did what?

BRIAN: I powered down unit 29E-7.

ATTORNEY: You mean Bob.

BRIAN: Whomever.

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Amazon lists "Rough Anal Sex" right next to the speeches of Martin Luther King in their search results for "collection"

Shameless Amazon.com

December 5, 2014




When I search for "collections" on Audible.com, a good 10% of the returned selections are hardcore porn. This has been the case ever since Amazon bought the company in 2008, and has remained the case despite my multiple complaints to the company. In fact, the situation seems to have gotten worse: today's "collections" search actually lists "The Speeches of Martin Luther King" right next to the "Rough Anal Sex Collection."

Shameless Amazon.com lists Rough Anal Sex Collection next to The Speeches of Martin Luther King at Audible.com

Editor's note: I know what you're thinking, and the answer is no: Our author does not purchase raunchy books, nor does he browse raunchy websites, so it's not like the tasteless search results that he's complaining of are only visible to the likes of him. Mother Teresa herself would have the same search results were she to search Audible for the word "collections" (assuming that there's wi-fi in heaven, of course).

Questions for Discussion


What do you mean, "Questions for Discussion"? Amazon executives are shameless money-grubbers: end of story!
amazon, audible, pornography, shameless, martin luther king, anal sex
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Confronting the naive psychological assumptions of American hero worship

Surprising Miss Daisy

December 4, 2014




"[He] had the fashion of calling everything 'odd' that was beyond his comprehension, and thus lived amid an absolute legion of 'oddities'."

from 'The Purloined Letter' by Edgar Allan Poe



It's interesting how Americans keep getting blindsided by inconsistencies in the personal behavior of celebrities: Michael Jackson, Bill Cosby.... Even Robin Williams himself would not stand the test of our moral expectations if his idolizing fans weren't determined to ignore some shady drug-related episodes of his past. Then there's the tawdry and cruel history of the personal life of the man who wrote "You Light Up My Life," which was, after all, one of the most compelling pieces of spiritually uplifting pop music ever composed.

I wonder how many more apparent moral discrepancies need to appear in our celebrities before we realize that human duplicity (or rather human moral multiplicity) is an inherent part of being Homo sapiens, and that these apparent bombshell revelations of iniquity on the part of our heroes are actually probable events that we consider extraordinary only because we have a simplistic and naive understanding of complex human psychology, a proper look at which would reveal every Jekyll to have his own Hyde -- if not a whole closet full of those ugly beggars.

Resolved, then:

Let's start loving celebrities for what they do when they're in the limelight -- while dropping the naive psychological assumption that their behavior in that arena has anything necessarily to say about their probable behavior in another, especially when that other is a realm of basic psychological needs and primal urges.

This is not a novel idea of mine, after all. Thomas Mann chided the world for this same naivety a hundred years ago.
bill cosby, michael jackson, robin williams, celebrities,behavior
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More Bounce to the Ounce thanks to Google's commercially biased algorithms

Google Analytics: Blaming the Victim




Comment posted today to Google Webmaster Forum

My new monthly Google Analytics report announces that I have an 80% bounce rate, which they say is probably because my pages are "confusing".

What is confusing about the following page titles?

Break Up Google
Why YouTube Should Not Exist
Denzel as Terrorist in John Q
Charles Rangel is WHITE!

I don't think there's anything confusing about those titles -- and each of those articles has a clear one-sentence article summary at the top of its permanent page, relevant keywords, a URL that repeats the article title, plus a clearly written one-sentence Meta description.

The fact is, Google has been burying my articles alive for well over a decade now, ever since Google went commercial (providing search listings whose first page often contains many obvious repeats of some newspaper article or op-ed piece, rather than 10 truly different listings). The least that Google can do now is to stop blaming the victim for a high bounce rate.

Suggestion: Google should try to learn from its own Analytics -- assuming it has any interest in giving visibility to pages like mine that criticize Google and Big Data and refuse to use Google Adwords. The inescapable conclusion from my Analytics reports is that my pages are far, far down the list for any relevant search terms. If this were not the case, I would at least receive occasional hate mail from idiots -- whereas, in reality, I have received less than five article-specific comments from anybody in 10 long years.

Whereas, before Google went commercial, I was making several hundred a month on Amazon sales from my articles.

So, Google: Please consider this comment as YOUR analytics report from me.
google, analytics, problems,
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Brian takes author to task for using "SHE" to mean "HE"

Another Email to Evgeny Morozov




In the following admittedly somewhat thought-provoking e-mail (the third missive that I've sent to Evgeny, by the way, who has not yet found leisure to respond to any of them, but I'm sure that the "Ev Meister" is quite the busy bee these days -- which, aren't we all?) I challenge Evgeny for the pronominal affirmative action implicit in his new book, "Click to Save Everything." (Of course, there's always the chance that the Feminist Newspeak in question was inserted by some editors with an agenda, in which case, I apologize in advance for the admittedly somewhat incisive indictment that follows.)

I love your book, Evgeny ("Click to Save Everything") -- but please please please please please don't use SHE (or HE, for that matter) when you mean HE OR SHE. It is VERY distracting and takes my mind completely off the topic of your book. The feminists in the '70s insisted that HE DOES NOT MEAN SHE. You are not helping matters now by insisting that SHE CAN MEAN HE. Even if you disagree with me on this, I would think that you would want to keep ALL of your readers' minds on the topic of your book -- and if that means using words like "one" or phrases like "he or she", then surely that's a reasonable compromise. Especially since you rarely use "SHE" in the way that I'm complaining about in any case-- so it would be easy enough for you to NEVER use it in this way that I find objectionable, philosophically problematic and "fraught" with latent implications.

I want to concentrate on the TOPIC of your fascinating book. As a philosopher myself, your use of SHE to mean HE OR SHE puts me completely off the topic -- and, for me, it turns your book into a covert nod to radical feminist Newspeak.

Very sincerely yours,
Brian Quass Permalink




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Announcing my failed attempt to discuss race in America.

Debatable Progress

Sunday, October 19, 2014




The following is an e-mail that I sent today to a "black" friend of mine on the subject of our possible online discussion of race in America.

Dear M:

Frankly, I'm not sure I have the energy to debate with you, M, because, based on your recent comments, I'd have to go all the way back to the beginning and explain to you why I'm worried about the current definitions of "black" and "white." I consider the importance of that discussion self-evident and you consider my interest in it a sign of pathology -- so we are starting WORLDS apart in our basic understanding of the problem.

I could give dozens of examples off the top of my head about why this terminological discussion is crucial to race relations in America -- dozens of reasons why it bothers me -- but I'll start with reference to one of your own comments.

You say that I don't know anything about the black experience based on television viewing. But don't you see? You have already employed the term "black" and left the discussion in disarray. What do you mean? Are you talking about people like Keysha Cole? She would say that you're NOT talking about her. Are you talking about my niece, who is 50% "black" but whose "black" parent is from Haiti? I dare say I know more about HER experience than anybody else in the world, short of her mother and father -- and I certainly know more about her than does the NAACP, who would easily consider her a future potential member while assuming that I have no place whatsoever in their organization, except maybe as a donor.

Even the magazine Science News reports findings based on experiments with "blacks" and "whites." That's how screwed up America has become with these labels, that scientists would dare to use such imprecise terminology! I immediately write in to complain to Science News every time they use the terms "Black and White" to describe test subjects because the terms are wildly imprecise and have no place in science. If "blacks", for instance, are 25% more likely to get disease "X" and my friend is 1/16% black, what does that mean? Does that means that he or she is 1/400th (1/16*1/25) more likely to get disease "X"? Science News, of course, won't give me any formula for calculating that likelihood because, like most people and groups in America, even THEY (scientists!) think that the terms "black" and "white" are self-explanatory.

Given, then, that my ideas have so little resonance with you, however (don't feel lonely, though: even Science News doesn't "get it," in my opinion), I really have no idea how to proceed with a discussion with you. If you deny what I take to be self-evident propositions (the dangerously confusing nature of "black/white" terminology, for instance) -- and indeed if you even ascribe my interest in that subject to pathology -- we are then so far apart in our evaluations of (and approach to) the race situation that I don't think I have the energy or talent to persuade you of any of my points of view on the topic.

You'll still always be my friend, of course, and if I can help you in any way, just give me a call -- but if I'm going to debate these issues with someone, I need to start with someone who at least finds some scrap of sanity in what I'm saying.

Brian

PS Obviously, "black" and "white" have meaning as terms for the past, because that's how people thought -- and people always acted on that understanding. Don't misunderstand me, then, that I'm trying to rewrite American history by getting rid of the labels that described it. I'm just saying that now, now that we know better, we no longer have to stick with the enslaving and limiting terminology of the past. The terminology helps create its own reality.

PPS Another reason I'm "into" race relations: My mom was always into race relations so I wanted to follow suit. (She was at many '60s marches -- tho' I'm sure one could psychoanalyze her reasons for being there -- which, by the way, is another trick of the anti-color-blind leaders: the minute that racial progress is made, they start demanding that their "white" friends be "really REALLY" un-racist, thus assuring racism forever). However, as an outsider, coming into her world, I've seen the black-white partnership of the '60s fall apart. The real irony now is that Martin Luther King day is almost entirely a "black" celebration. My mom and I went to a theater in Phoebus in the '90s to celebrate King's birthday, and we were one of maybe a dozen "white" people there among the several hundred attendees. Talk about irony What more evidence do you need that the post-King leaders in the African-American community have had no interest in promoting the advent of the color-blind society that was so eloquently championed by MLK?

See also Holder Challenge
race, eric holder, race relations, america, black, white, martin luther king, naacp
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Proving that none of us are pefect

Make No Mistake

Well, okay, make a mistake: but only ONE!




You know, everybody makes mistakes in their life. I kid you not.

[Slightly awkward yet obviously anticipatory silence, occasional utensils clanking nervously, as it were, as if the very dinnerware partook of the general disconcert occasioned by the increasingly charged atmosphere]

Take Bing Crosby for instance. You know as well as I do that he never should have married Dixie Lee. (Hell, Dixie Lee found that out for herself, to her not insignificant cost, be it said!)

[Exploratory tittering, occasional full-blown chuckle]

And correct me if I'm wrong, but Joan Rivers should NEVER EVER have left Johnny Carson to star in her own show. (Just ask Joan's husband: rest in peace! whom you'll recall was such a thorn in the side of Rupert Murdoch -- and vicee versee -- that the moody mogul prematurely canceled the whole show rather than work with Joan's hapless better half.)

Then there's me: I make mistakes too.

[Incredulous guffaws, wary snorts, eyes rolling -- as it were loudly -- in several ostentatiously shaking heads]

Are you kidding? I should NEVER have ordered -- much less swigged down in one gulp -- this second Frozen Alligator!

[Crowd positively ROLLING with laughter -- absolutely IN THE FRIGGIN' aisles -- seriously, you should have been there!]

Hey, Vito, how much melon liqueur did you put IN this sucker, anyway!

[Loud, unabashed -- nigh on abject -- laughter, with Vito himself finding leisure to burst his own not inconsiderable seams]
bing crosby, joan rivers
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About the long sloooooooooooow arm of the law

Virtually Scotfree Scoundrels

Monday, September 15, 2014




If someone steals so much as $5 from my wallet, I can have the police on the scene in minutes and file a complete report, maybe even help the coppers nail the guy on the spot. If someone rips me off to the tune of $1,000 on the Internet it's another story. Now I can file a pro forma complaint with the so-called IC3.org and hope that maybe, possibly, someone, somewhere in American law enforcement will somehow, some way get back to me at sometime during my natural life span.
scams
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Grudge us this day our daily bread... lest it raise our friggin' blood sugars through the roof, yo!

Yo, Jesus, about that bread I asked for

August 7, 2014




Well, bless my Froot Loops!

Oh, good morning, folks (folks of the 22nd century, I mean, when the cultural worm finally turns such that readers know classy authors when they read 'em...)

That's it, Stella. Leave the coffee on the Q-shaped doily and go dust my Mercedes-Benz E400 Hybrid. What's that? I know I haven't bought it yet, but practice makes perfect. Now away with you, vile tess!

(Hey, don't judge, folks, at least until you hear what Stella calls ME!)

Now, where was I?

Oh, yes: Bless my Froot Loops!

Do you know I read a book last night called "Wheat Belly" by a certain Dr. William Davis who claims that bread -- one of the five building blocks of our much vaunted USDA food triangle -- is essentially the root of all nutritional evil? That's right, bread.

Dang! And I had just got my head around the idea that red meat was the arch dietary villain!

See, folks, this is why I get a little more leery of unfettered Capitalism every day. (Capitalism, I love ya, dawg -- Hey, I'm just a flag-sewing American after all: but unfettered Capitalism?... well, not so much.)

I mean think about it:

The good doctor presented some very convincing arguments (with respect to the adverse health impact from the historically recent introduction of grasses into the human diet), enough that even a critic of the author might be caused to wonder (as it were in spite of themselves) why such notions as his have received so little (if any) attention in the popular media heretofore. For, his analysis aside, if Davis's FACTS are right (specifically his claim about the correlation between grain consumption and high blood sugar), then the question begs to be asked: Why has no prominent American public health official ever noticed this red-flag correlation before -- and if they have noticed it, why did they not immediately feel called upon to raise a hue and cry about it, saying, "Stop the presses! We've got to stop eating grass seed, for God's sake! Are we human beings crazy here or what?!" (Or exclamations to that effect.)

The lack of that response convinces me that the spirit of scientific investigation in America is not simply informed by, but trumped by, compromised by and ultimately guided by the spirit of Capitalism. And it's not because of some evil plot by the corporations (in this case, agribusiness). They're just protecting their interests. But in an age where so much research is sponsored by corporations, what corporation in its right fiduciary mind is going to fund a study whose results might tend to discredit their corporation's very raison d'etre?

So we've got to ask: cui bono? In whose interest is it, then, to expose what is (or even merely what MIGHT be) going on here with respect to the deleterious nutritional effects of grain consumption on the human diet.

Answer: No one. Or at least no one with the coffers to fund the well-publicized research necessary to document the threat and bring it on to the public radar?

Fortunately for America's health, there are these occasional proselytizing Cassandras who come along every now and then to point out these inconvenient truths. Just don't expect agribusiness to fund any research based on such voices in the wilderness, however. Or rather, we can expect plenty of research to be funded in response to Davis, but we can be sure that the results, while not necessarily false in themselves, will tout trivial and irrelevant truths that return the rosy cast to the status quo picture of grain consumption that Davis has taken such pains to discredit.

So, Stella, did you polish my fuel-efficient E-class yet? What's that? It was GONE?!!! Are you sure? It was there in my imagination just a MINUTE AGO!!!

Stella Goodpenny, ladies and gentlemen, my maid: Go, Stella! Go, Stella! Go, Stella!



Special Notice!


Remember, Brian Ballard Quass is not a doctor -- he just plays one on the Internet.

Did You Know?


Brian actually found leisure to recant his approval of Dr. Davis' grain-o-phobic thesis after holding parley with his sister (Brian's sister, I mean, not Dr. Davis's), a long-time nurse practitioner (just days after penning this otherwise affecting diatribe). The details of that about-face are beyond the scope of this article: suffice it to say here that the above article should now be taken with a grain of salt -- or should I say a grain of grain, Herr Davis' phobia notwithstanding! (Humph!)


For further discussion


Brian's abrupt recantation of his overall thesis (see above) in no way decisively invalidates his almost surprisingly poignant comment about Capitalism viz. scientific veracity. Explain.

For extra credit


What are the probable bust measurements of Stella Goodpenny (as cleverly deduced from the webmaster's coy verbal assignations in that quarter?)

Just for fun


Send Brian a totally unexpected gift of money, the larger the better. Consider enclosing a poem that speaks to your growing admiration of his worship's unpredictable yet still somehow emphatically agreeable prose. Then explain, in 500 words or less, how sending such money conduces to a sort of Pythagorean harmony of your soul.
wheat belly, dr. william davis, wheat, grass, diet, food triangle
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How YouTube's market victory was a loss for content makers and online creativity in general

Why YouTube Should Not Exist

Sunday, September 7, 2014




Did you ever stop and wonder why anyone needed YouTube in the first place? I've been able to upload my own photographs for decades now without first having to pass them through a central commercial server to make them visible. I've been able to upload my own audio for nearly as long without having to upload them to a central commercial server to make them audible.

Suddenly, with the advent of online video, the powers that be (the billionaires, basically: read Google and Facebook) have determined that video hosting is simply too potentially lucrative a procedure to be left in the hands of the content producer and his or her coders. So they've succeeded (through their existing huge market shares combined with strategic publicity and technology-inhibiting I.T. buyouts) in accustoming those heretofore free creators to a monopolized scheme for video publishing -- one that not only requires the content creators to use commercial services, but actually forbids them from making money off of their own videos, except for grudging last-minute exceptions made to parties who have deep enough pockets to raise a serious legal fuss on the subject.

And then some of these creators scratch their heads, wondering why the U.S. economy is in the tank!

(Just goes to show: if you want to shield yourself from all effective criticism, just wrap yourself in the Teflon mantel of "The Wow Factor.")

*Obviously, video streaming requires more bandwidth than pics, but individual ISPs would have been glad to make that available to users at competitive prices had Big Data not stepped in and monopolized the field.
youtube, internet
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Stand-up routine on reincarnation, by a comic who was even funnier in his last life

Reincarnation is for Hasbeens

Who Do You Think You Were, Anyway?




Thank you for the applause, you're too kind.

Reincarnation bumper sticker that says, Reincarnation is for Hasbeens -- buy now!



Whoo-hoo!





Right, reincarnation: Who believes in it? Let's see a show of hands.




Mercy on me, look at all the gullible dopes out there tonight.




No, seriously, I used to believe in reincarnation myself, until I started asking myself a few questions:



For instance, why does everyone who believes in reincarnation claim that they were some emperor or movie star in a former life? How come you never hear someone say that they were an unemployed actor in a former life? I can hear it now:



"Hey, guys, I used to sit here on this very street corner and swig cheap vodka in my previous life!"






Still, one does get that definite feeling of deja vu from time to time.




Take me, for instance: I was walking into McDonald's yesterday with my buddy Bill, when I suddenly stopped:





  • Bill: Why did you suddenly stop?




  • Brian: I've been here before!




  • Bill: Of course you've been here before: it's the local McDonald's!




  • Brian: No, I mean in another life.




  • Bill: What?




  • Brian: It's all coming back to me: I used to mop the floors here in a previous life!






See, gang: That's the sort of conversation that you seldom hear from a votary of the reincarnation sect -- yet if reincarnation is true, you'd think that such unflattering flashbacks would have to outnumber the flattering ones at least 10 to 1!



And if you think that incident begs some serious questions about the plausibility (not to mention the desirability) of reincarnation, check out the rest of the above conversation:






  • Brian: Hey, hold on a minute.




  • Bill: Now what?




  • Brian: You see that guy behind the counter with the tie -- the apparent manager or whatever?




  • Bill: Yes.




  • Brian: I somehow just KNOW that he was my boss in that former life I mentioned.




  • Bill: What?




  • Brian: In fact, he used to really crack the whip as I recall -- and -- and he never paid me the required overtime either, now that I think about it. Yes, I see it all!




  • Bill: Hey, where are you going?




  • Brian: Out of the way, please, people: Me and this manager fellow at the counter here have some old business to discuss. Remember me, Captain Bligh? Eh? Eh?




Reincarnation tee shirt, says, Reincarnation is for Hasbeens -- buy now!



See what I'm saying, gang -- or at least what I'm implying? If folks really did start to clearly recall the details of unflattering and problematic past lives in this way, flashback-driven contretemps of this kind would be happening all the time.

Methinks I hear the following representative conversation coming even now from yon office building across the street (that one over there: yon! yon!):





"Wait a minute, I remember YOU! You were the guy who FIRED ME from this firm in a past life! And now it seems that I am YOUR boss in this one! Mouhahahaha! Don't worry, that doesn't mean that I will necessarily fire you in return... or DOES IT? Mouhahahahaha!"






No, seriously, reincarnation is great: Have you seen the new bumper sticker on the back of those old beat-up Camaro's and the like:





"I drove a Model-T Ford in my former life."





Or, more impressive yet:





"I drove a chariot of fire in my former life."





Yes, sir, reincarnation: You gotta love it.




Whoo-hoo!




That's right: Whoo-hoo! You know it, sir.



Of course, what I'm wondering is, has anybody ever had a flashback and suddenly realized beyond a shadow of a filial doubt that they used to be their very own grandfather!



People are like, "Son, you are just like your grandfather!"



And the son's like, "More than you know, pops: More than you freakin' know."



Relax, folks, I'm not here to shatter anyone's quaint beliefs in reincarnation. (Aww! You guys are just so PRECIOUS with that stuff!) Still, you've got to admit, that philosophy does raise a lot of questions.



Look at the dude back there by the coat rack, scowling over his bowl of nachos: He's like: "I don't care WHAT he says, I was Napoleon in my past life."



Dude, I believe you. The only problem is, I myself was Wellington in MY previous life. Aha! So we meet again! It's you and me, fella, hand-to-hand combat, in the back alley after the show!



What's that, Sir, you weren't Napoleon, you were Little Richard?



I don't think that's even allowed: First of all, I don't believe that he's dead yet -- and even if he were, you can't be a reincarnation of someone whose original lifetime was at any time coterminous with your own. (I believe you'll find that as bylaw 1-1-8 of the Reincarnation Rule Book.)



No, seriously:



But like I says, feel free to hold on to your charming homespun beliefs in reincarnation (I say again, aww! and even double aww!).

Still, consider this while you're finding your coats and settling your bills (insofar as this lounge will be closing immediately after my performance tonight. Yes, I know: It's sad, isn't it? But thanks for coming. I'm here through Thursday, by the way, so don't be a stranger.)



Suppose that I'm, say, 25 years old, and I somehow find out that a man who killed me in my past life has just been born into this one.



Now what do I do? It's not like I can exact vengeance on a newborn, after all!




Still, I'd naturally want to teach the erstwhile murderer a lesson at SOME point. Hmm... I guess I'd have to be content with sending the family a note, advising them that their newborn was now officially challenged to a duel on his 18th birthday.



Even that solution is problematic however, since my young nemesis would then have 18 long years to prepare for the grudge match that I've scheduled (21 years even, if he happens to reside in a state with conservative laws about such arrangements), so that when the day finally came, I'd find myself in my dotage squaring off against a regular Zorro in his prime of fencing life.



He'd be like, "En garde!"



And I'd be like: "Um, do me a favor and remind me: WHY am I fighting you, sonny boy?"
reincarnation, hasbeens
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When it comes to the controversy about online copyright law, Google has a conflict of interest, since it both facilitates the discussion while taking a definite side in it.

Conflict of Interest: Google and copyright law




The following comment was posted online on 7/19/2014 in response to an article in Science News by Bruce Bower entitled: Online Causes May Attract More Clicks Than Comments

Fascinating article. I have one bone to pick, however. The article concludes by holding up the online protest movement against copyright legislation as a sort of pure, unadulterated victory for online activism. Such a representation, however, should come with a major caveat: namely, the fact that Google -- the company that, more than any other, determines the very "findability" of online content -- was founded on a liberal interpretation of the copyright laws and thus has a vested interest in facilitating (if not actively promoting) such an interpretation online. With such a bias existing in the very operators of the search engine par excellence, Google opponents can never be sure that Google search algorithms, ad placement choices (etc.) are giving a fair shake to both sides of the argument when it comes to online visibility. In short, Google has a conflict of interest in that it both facilitates the online discussion and takes a definite side in it.

In fact, the search giant is expressing its own viewpoint on this subject every time it melodramatically replaces a DCMA-challenged link with a link to the clearly partisan "Chilling Effects" project, instead of, say, simply linking the searcher to a forum wherein the online copyright law controversy may be discussed by stakeholders on every side of the issue, even by those who disagree that a "chilling effect" is necessarily involved in enforcing reasonable copyright law. Of course the effect of stricter copyright enforcement may indeed be chilling to a company that has made billions of dollars based on the informal status quo, but that fact is irrelevant to a consideration of the merits of stricter enforcement. The goal of copyright law, after all, is to protect creators, not to help Google continue with business as usual.

For further study



Critics have said that the preceding paragraph could stand some "serious editing." Explain. (Hint: what's with the unnecessary repetition of the word "link"???)

For still further study



Critics have said that Brian could have simply corrected the preceding paragraph but one, instead of writing a "for further study" question to address the editorial lacuna in question. Explain.

Did you know?



Science News still makes me purchase a subscription to their website even though I've been a longtime subscriber to their podcast. They claim that they can't give me a break because Amazon.com/Audible will not furnish them with podcast subscriber lists. Crazy, huh -- not to mention downright unfair. I mean, subscribers to the written journal don't have to pay a separate fee to access the Science News website -- making we podcast blokes second-class Netoyens. (What? I'm just sayin'....)
goggle, copyright law, dcma, chilling effects
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Brian asks Spike Lee for Jeff Bezos' street address in order to protest the way that Amazon.com recently tricked said blogger into purchasing a teeny-tiny watering can (instead of the full-size watering can that he was obviously expecting)

Getting Amazon to Do the Right Thing

Frydog, Joon 27, 2014




Let's see, it's got to be here somewhere.

Oh, hi, folks. Brian Ballard at your service. I'm just checking the local rag in search of the latest religious edicts by the Right Honorable Spike Lee. I'm hoping he's going to give out the current street address of Jeff Bezos so that I can take up an indignant perch on that guy's front stoop in protest of the lousy customer service that I received lately at Amazon.com.

Yeah, I ordered a watering pot, assuming that a search for "watering pots" on Amazon.com would bring up real, honest-to-goodness "watering pots." Well, when the box arrived, I discovered that this $13 pot of mine was a cheap plastic miniature that was no bigger than my right hand -- which by this time was naturally in the shape of a fist, ready to bust heads (figuratively speaking, of course) in Seattle, Washington.

More coffee please, Minnie. (My new housemaid, ladies and gentlemen: Minnie Goodfeather from Maid to Order. Not only does she do windows, but she comes with a full moneyback guarantee. That's right: If I'm not fully satisfied with her, I can ship her back to the company merely by affixing this pre-paid mailing label to her forehead and then flagging down the next UPS truck that I see -- OR FedEx truck: the choice is totally up to me! And she comes with a complete set of skimpy garments: today she's gone with the rosy-cheeked milkmaid ensemble. Ja, Fraulein.)

Let's see: Maybe if I look under "fatwa."

I'll tell you what, while I keep searching for a street address whereat to exact my old-school vengeance on Jeff Bezos (ooh, you dirty rat! you dirty rat!), let me bring you up to date on my Amazon problem through the magic of cut-and-paste technology. What follows is the actual complaint that I posted at Amazon in the comment product section for the microscopic plastic trinket that they foisted upon me under the somewhat grandiloquent appellation of "watering can." Not only should the following copy bring you guys up to speed, but it will ensure that the details of my complaint will still have a place online after Amazon takes the no-doubt inevitable step of removing my product-related jeremiad from the product's comment section. (To paraphrase Al Pacino: "You're out of order! They're out of order! He, she and it are out of order! Why, bless me: the whole Amazon.com algorithm system is out of order!")



***BRIAN'S ADMITTEDLY REASONABLE ORIGINAL COMPLAINT TO AMAZON.COM AS POSTED IN THE COMMENT SECTION FOR THE "EBERTSANKEY" WATERING CAN***

When I purchased this product, it came up IMMEDIATELY under the search term "watering can" and it looked ENORMOUS (and I do not recall the term "miniature" appearing in the description). Now that I have received this MINISCULE watering can, I can no longer bring the item up using Amazon search. I wanted to double-check how the product was listed and displayed so that I could figure out how they bamboozled me (intentionally or not) into buying it. I'm a veteran Amazon shopper after all, and I've never been misled like this before. It looks like a case of bait-and-switch to me -- or rather bait-and-REMOVE-the product from the search listings.

Whatever the explanation is, SAVE your money. I'm sure you could buy 12 of these for the same price at any Dollar Store. (Although the object may be miniature, the price was not.)

Finally, a note to Amazon: If you're going to list MINIATURE items inside a list of REGULARLY SIZED items, please display the miniature items beside a picture of an object of known size (such as an American quarter) so that purchasers won't assume that it's a normal sized version of the object that they were looking to buy.

***BRIAN'S CHARMING AND INFORMATIVE FOLLOW-UP TO THE AFORESAID EPISTLE (SERIOUSLY, YOU'LL LIKE THIS ONE, FOLKS)***

One additional note. I was misled into purchasing this item in the following way:

Prior to searching for "watering can," I had been searching for miniature items to decorate a train layout. Although my subsequent unrelated search for "watering can" did NOT include the term "miniature," Amazon's overly ambitious algorithms decided that I would probably be interested in a miniature watering can -- so they scrambled in this miniature item on a page otherwise full of regularly sized watering cans. And since I figured that a watering can was a watering can, it never occurred to me to read the fine print to see how many teaspoons that this particular watering can I'd chosen might hold.

When I called to complain, I was basically told that the algorithms generally work very well.

And I'm like: Well, they may work well for Amazon, but then it's not Amazon that just lost $13. (Actually, Amazon is going to lose hundreds if not thousands of dollars thanks to this problem, since I've begun paring back my Amazon purchases in response to the cavalier attitude that the company adopted when responding to my complaint.)

Then when I complained about the ambiguous product picture (which gave no idea of the product's size), the Amazon image department (with irritating speediness) fired back with an e-mail saying that the picture looked just fine to them, thank you very much.

But they were missing the point: the image itself WOULD be fine if it appeared on a page of miniatures, -- but it's a misleading product representation when such an image appears on a page of otherwise REGULARLY SIZED watering cans.

I pleaded with the customer service rep to pass my complaint on to the algorithm programmers, who were the ones that were truly at fault here -- but she didn't sound very interested in doing so. (She gave one the impression that the algorithm programmers were some distant demigods that, as a rule, take no particular interest in the affairs of mortal men, customers included, and that I might as well ask her to contact Zeus -- er, Jeff Bezos -- himself as to contact these mysterious free agents who rule invisibly from on high.)

Just another case of human beings being forced to adjust to the way that software and code works (or in this case doesn't work) -- rather than the other way around.

(I even tried to contact the product manufacturer called (weirdly enough) "Ebertsankey" to tell them how they are (albeit unwittingly) making sales based on Amazon misrepresentation, but it turns out that the company's Website is available only in German and Dutch, neither of which language I know -- and besides, I'm having a hard enough time getting folks to respond to my complaint in English.)
amazon.com, spike lee, jeff bezos, algorithms
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My response to An Image is Worth What Again? by David Newhoff, June 2014.

Image is everything

Toozdog, Joon 24, 2014




The following is my response to an article linked to in the ASCAP Dean's List for June 24, 2014

Thanks for the interesting (if worrisome) article, David. Although I agree completely with the need to respect the copyrighted status of online photographs, I think it's getting harder to fault individuals for infringing (or for "paying short shrift") to copyrights when Google sets such a bad example.

I just read an article by a "copyright expert" (on WTOP.com) who sternly lectured his readership that every image online should be considered copyrighted and, no, you should not use any image without the explicit permission of the copyright owner. I immediately wrote back to say: "Hmm. It seems to me that one of the biggest companies in the world (Google) is doing just that." I went on to insist that I (as an American citizen), should be able to avail myself of the self-same latitude as Google (an American company) in interpreting copyright law requirements.

As much as I appreciate the need for copyright law, there's something hypocritical-sounding these days in such warnings on the subject because they routinely ignore the blatant activity of the 500-pound gorilla in the room: namely Google. Thus, whenever I read such copyright lectures online, I always hear a subtext telling me: "Of course these rules only apply to ordinary people like yourself and not to billionaire corporations like Google."

And if I feel this way as a supporter of copyright law, it's a cinch that a less principled user will consider Google's cavalier behavior in this area to be a green light for universal piracy.

Personally, I think Google got it right (more or less) the first time, by indexing images as thumbnails while clearly and directly linking those images back to their source pages. The fact that they are now "running interference" between the thumbnail and the source (and thus obfuscating the identity of the image creators) suggests that they have lost track of the most important rationale of their original image results layout -- namely, the legal one -- and have now decided that "user experience" and aesthetics (not to mention Google's "bottom line") should trump what they apparently consider to be legal niceties -- but what in reality are basic personal property rights of longstanding over which they are trying (so far successfully) to erect a makeshift technological hurdle.
david newhoff, images, google, copyright
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How "Moral Kombat," Spencer Halpin's documentary on American violence, ignored the 800-pound gorilla in the room: namely, the decisive role of gun availability in creating today's deadly dystopia.

Moral Kombat

How Spencer Halpin's documentary misses the point about American violence




June 12, 2014: Letter to Henry Jenkins, director of the MIT Center for Civic Media

Good afternoon, Henry,

I am a 55-year-old philosophy major and amateur culture critic from Virginia with a few thoughts to share with you about the Spencer Halpin film "Moral Kombat" that I saw for the first time last night. To be honest with you, I was originally planning to share my first comments on the film with Spencer himself, but as is so often the case when attempting to contact successful people online, I am having significant difficulty tracking down a valid e-mail address for Spencer -- without, that is, engaging the (ahem) "free" services of some dubious-sounding e-mail locating company. So I decided I'd share my thoughts with one of the film's most sensible-sounding talking heads -- which, incidentally, started me on yet another worrisome e-mail hunt, until I got smart and expanded my search to the MIT Center that you direct. True, I still haven't located your e-mail address, but I trust that someone will bring this form-submitted comment of mine to your attention.

Let me preface by saying that I believe Spencer Halpin's film is visually engaging and full of fantastic insights, but....

To the extent that the documentary is a response to teen gun violence, I believe that it is, unwittingly, a work of magician-like misdirection. The short shrift paid to the role of guns themselves in the lamented violence suggests to me that the producers have largely accepted the American social (and above all political) assumption that teen massacres like Columbine can be (at least in theory) meaningfully responded to and (again ideally) prevented without any discussion of guns and (above all) of their widespread availability. Once these "willful" blinders are adopted by discussion participants, the question then necessarily becomes: What is causing our youths to get so darn upset and how do we go about making them peaceable, law-abiding citizens?

This, of course, is an absurd question because it assumes that school massacres can't stop until we find a way to stop young people from getting furious! Talk about a tall order! No wonder then that critics begin to attack the gaming industry with various levels of vitriol. All the anger that they should logically have directed toward the NRA has to go somewhere: and the gaming community is an easy replacement target.

I'm an uncle -- and I vividly remember some of the temper tantrums of a certain nephew of mine when he was in his terrible twos, threes and fours. I was always in awe of the seemingly primordial fierceness of his displays, because it seemed to me like "fury itself" was incarnated in his incredibly vehement demonstrations. I remember thinking at the time: "My God, if this kid had a machine-gun right now, he would blow every single one of us to absolute bits!"

Now then, to get to the point of this digression: Let's imagine that every young child did, in fact, have easy access to light-weight machine-guns and that a massacre of the kind I mention were to actually occur:

I can hear the clueless politicians now: "We've got to find a way to stop toddlers from getting upset!"

Suddenly there would be public hearings in which Sesame Street would be told to do more sketches about "getting along" and to stop the Grouch from being so grouchy.

I hope you see my point, Henry: To me, teens and toddlers are always going to get absolutely furious -- and some teens at least will actually plot revenge.

The real "game changer" in the American violence equation is the fact that teens of this kind have easy access to guns, guns, and more guns (and not just hunting rifles, either). And I think that any discussion of the situation that doesn't center around that gun availability misses the point -- and plays into the hands of the NRA, who will be happy for politicians to blame anyone or anything but themselves.

Given a free society and the widespread availability of guns to just about anybody, I think it's a miracle that there aren't more school massacres like Columbine. Indeed, this relatively low occurrence could even mean that American youth overall are less violent than ever these days -- but they'll never get credit for that restraint if, in blind deference to the second amendment, we surround them with guns and then sit back and wait for a day when every single one of them will be unwilling to use them inappropriately.

Thanks for your time, Henry!

Brian Quass
Basye, Virginia, USA
quass@quass.com


Editor's note: As of July 20, 2014, my good friend Henry (a personal friend of mine since the early '70s, by the way, when both of us mop-topped youth enjoyed rafting on the Shenandoah River just south of Harpers Ferry, using one of those shuttle services to bring us back to our car -- well, back to my brother's Jeep, actually) has not yet seen fit to reply to this message of mine. Could it be that my admittedly trenchant concerns expressed above (especially that bit about gun availability being a "game changer") gave that distinguished academician so much pause as to render him completely immobile on this subject, his erstwhile steady right hand (I seem to recall that he was right-handed) hovering tentatively now over a keyboard with which his very fingertips recoiled from engaging, so devastatingly had I unmasked the surprisingly gaping lacuna in Spencer Halpin's otherwise compelling doc?

Editor's note: It's January 11, 2015, and I'm still waiting. (You don't suppose that Henry took umbrage, do you? If so, he can give it right back, because I kept a civil tongue in my head. Humph.)

Editor's increasingly desperate note: It's January 31, 2015, now and Henry continues to fight shy of me. At first I thought that my arguments above might have been faulty, so I re-read them just a minute ago, but I'll be danged if they weren't just as ineluctably convincing to me as ever. Hmm. I wonder what happened? I'm afraid that someone at M.I.T. must have poisoned Henry's mind against me somehow. But then what possible motive could they have had for doing so? Unless they're pissed at me for my recent e-mails to Audible Technology Review (an M.I.T. publication) in which I complain about their editorial policy of occasionally using the pronoun "she" to refer to "he OR she." Well, I'm sorry: I'm like: If HE doesn't mean SHE any longer, why should SHE suddenly mean HE?!

See, kids, this is what happens when one wears one's heart on one's sleeve (or on his or her sleeve): the grammar police swoop down and rat on you to your friends, warning them (no doubt) that you are politically incorrect. Which, if that's the case, Henry, I would have thought that you could pass muster on myself without the busybody intervention of some probably uptight and pedantic grammar junky.

Then again, Cousin Henry's in-box may just plain be bunged up to hell. I'll tell you what: I'll give him another few months before saying so much as one more word about it here.
spencer halpin, henry jenkins, mit, center for civic media, violence, guns, nra
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Subscription fee double jeopardy at Scientific American

Gotcha!

Sadderday, Joon 7, 2014




What follows is an (admittedly) charming letter that your humble correspondent (moi) indited today on behalf of reason and common sense. (Ahh!) Its intended recipient: the Scientific American website, which (and I'm embarrassed to have to say this about them, truly) tried to make me pay to read an online article today, even though I had already bought an entire year's worth of their S.A. podcasts through Audible.com. And I was like: Not only am I not going to pay to jump through that hoop, darlings -- but I'll cancel the whole #@$! podcast before forking over such an obviously gratuitously invoked "gotcha" payment as that.

But soft, you shall read....


I am disappointed to see that you do not make Scientific American articles available online for free to Scientific American podcast subscribers like myself. I subscribe also to Science News, where I have always been able to access articles that I hear in their podcast. If your goal is to make money, for me personally, it doesn't work: I am more likely to cancel my podcast subscription than pay a fee that strikes me as a little greedy on your part.

If you can't afford to "give away" the text to podcast subscribers, I suggest you raise the price of your podcasts -- rather than surprise subscribers like myself with another "gotcha" payment demand for actually seeing the text. There's so many "gotchas" of this kind online, where Web operators seek to cajole every last penny out of their site visitors: I'm sorry to see that this "gotcha" mentality has been adopted by a scientific publication of your stature.


What Do YOU Think?



Imagine that YOU had already forked over 40+ American bucks to listen to a magazine podcast and that your subsequent visit to the related website revealed that the editors in question were determined to stiff you for yet another 5 or so, before they would allow you to so much as clap eyes on the very text that you had already paid to hear? You wouldn't like it very much, would ya? Well, okay, then! That's all I'm sayin'.
scientific american, subscribers
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In response to 'Cloud Seeding' by Bernard Vonnegut, in the June 2014 edition of Scientific American

Rain, Rain, Go Away

Soggyday, Joon 7, 2014




The otherwise excellent "Cloud Seeding"* article completely overlooks one important issue: What happens to the 'meteorological rights' of 'non-farmers' if and when cloud seeding starts to become dramatically successful, so as to turn heretofore merely overcast days into steady rain events?

I live in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, which, though a fertile region for farmers, receives significantly less rainfall than is received both to its east (the Tidewater region) and to its west (West Virginia). If cloud seeding begins to have dramatic and undeniable results, the Valley farmers involved in land cultivation will soon be clamoring for "more rain. "

This begs the question: What rights (if any) do I have as a Shenandoah Valley resident who was happy with the local weather as it was?

No doubt there are cloud-seeding efforts going on in the Valley even as I type this comment, but it's one thing for me to tolerate such small-scale weather-changing attempts, especially when the results remain equivocal: but I'm going to start feeling like a neglected constituency if and when entire regional weather patterns start changing (for the soggier) without my having even been consulted on the matter.

*Scientific American 2014
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/cloud-seeding/
Bernard Vonnegut
rain, cloud seeding, bernard vonnegut, scientific american
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The Western World P.R. Handicap

Thorsyad, Maize 29, 2014




There is a major phenomenon in play in today's international politics that has thus far escaped the explicit notice of talking heads and news outlets. I call the phenomenon "The Western World P.R. Handicap," which I define as follows:

Western World P.R. Handicap: The public relations handicap experienced by any free country that attempts to confront a despotic leader in a closed society. The handicap is created by the fact that the free country, by definition, tolerates opinions that are at odds with its government's own foreign policy, while the despot not only tolerates no dissent whatsoever, but can even fortify his own hardline position by prominently citing distinguished members of his own enemy, namely, those free citizens in the enemy camp who are exercising their anti-government freedom of speech.

Thus there is an inherently unlevel playing field involved when it comes to international P.R. battles between closed societies and free ones.

The despot in a closed society can win the international public relations battle merely by sitting back and letting his enemies exercise their free speech (in op-ed pieces, advertising campaigns, and even SNL sketches -- see, for instance, the 'Weekend Update' sketch that dubiously equated Putin's Crimea invasion with the U.S. invasion of Iraq) and then picking and choosing which arguments to parrot back to the free world in his own disingenuous defense, thereby implying that, "See? Even YOU think I'm right," thus changing the subject of the international discourse from the despot's own perfidy to the free world's supposed hypocrisy in condemning it.

This is the Western World P.R. Handicap.

Although I do not recommend the curtailing of free speech in light of this handicap, I do think that we need to take explicit notice of the phenomenon -- of the fact that the international public relations deck is always stacked in favor of despots -- before we let such despots hypocritically adduce the protests of a free citizenry in defense of their own emphatically unfree nations.

This phenomenon also suggests that protestors, despite their legal rights, have a moral responsibility to word their complaints in a way that does not inadvertently support such despots. One does not need to modify their opinions to do this: merely to append to those opinions a chastisement of the despot concerned, as who should say: "Yes, we're against our own government's policy, but wipe that smirk off your face, Monsieur le Despot, since we abhor your despotic practices like the rest of the free world and what's more we don't mind telling you!"*

Now those are the words of a TRULY brave protestor.

That said, I'm not going to hold my breath in anticipation of a Morrissey song condemning Islamic violence. Morrissey is strictly a "soft target" idealist: going after those free countries that he can tweak with impunity onstage without subsequently being decapitated live on Al Jazeera television, for Morrissey practices what you might call "Idealism Lite" -- which latter term I hereby also offer to the political dictionaries of the future, in addition to the aforesaid "Western World P.R. handicap."

*To be fair, SNL did something of this kind when it followed its above-mentioned insinuation of American hypocrisy with an hilarious interview of two supposed "Russkis," ("Vladimir's best friends") who, though obviously terrified to criticize Putin aloud, felt safe in doing so when they were speaking in a whisper, albeit their criticisms concerned the Russian leader's apparently atrocious social manners rather than his democratically challenged Cold War geopolitical strategies.

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Google: Organizing the world's data -- in such a way that only Google can profit from it.

Break Up Google

Tossdog, Maize 27, 2014




I recently read an article by an "expert" on copyright law who sternly warned all webmasters and Facebook members that they can't -- repeat: CANNOT -- use any picture whatsoever without permission, lest they incur the wrath of the law -- and that ignorance of said law is no excuse.

Hmm. It seems to me that one of the biggest companies on Earth got where it is today by doing just that. And not only do they not need to get permission -- but, au contraire, the content makers have to ask permission to be excluded from such usage on Google's part -- and it's by no means clear that they're going to get that permission without a court order

I'm sure the "expert" will say that Google's use is somehow different -- but how?

If I create a website, say, about dogs, why shouldn't I be able to display all dog pictures and links on my site -- provided that, like Google, I link to them?

But wait, don't tell me. The law only applies to normal people, right? Not billionaires.

Oh, yeah, sorry, I forgot.

*****

My Washington Post comment on Craig Newman's op-ed piece about the Right to Be Fogotten online:

Newman writes plaintivley that search engines like Google "must also build massive systems to handle removal demands." Awwww! I feel sorry for them. How will they do that with only billions and billions of dollars to work with?

The problem is that Google had already snuck in and monopolized the world's information for FREE long ago before anyone knew -- or cared -- what was going on. Some of us don't think that anyone should have had that monopoly in the first place -- but if they have it, surely that monopoly should come with public responsibilities to the world that created that info in the first place. (See Jason Lanier: "Who Owns the Future?")

Also, Newman's analogy between store directories and Google completely ignores the game-changing instantaneity of the digital world: specifically, the difference between public info that is technically available to anyone (in the analog world by dint of some physical searching on their part) and instantly available and unmissable to anyone (in the digital world by merely typing someone's name in a search engine).

Personally, I think the Washington Post should recuse itself from this entire topic since they are now themselves owned by Big Data in the person of Jeff Bezos, who has monopolized the commercial world as Google has the data world, and who is similarly fighting against paying any social dues or assuming any public responsibilities for that monopolized position.


For Discussion


Some scholars find the author's viewpoint surprising given what they consider to be the general pro-business tenor of his usual declamations. Explain how one can consistently be pro-business while yet hating monopolies, especially one that has actively (so one thinks anyway) buried one's Web pages for almost two decades now under a heap of ad-filled search results -- a company that (in one's respectful opinion, at least) has turned "new" and "novel" into four-letter words, unlike those heady days of the early Alta Vista anything goes Net -- ever since it (Google) went commercial -- which, that was a conflict of interest to begin with (or so one thinks). Just think: the company that stores the world's data begins deciding what gets SEEN according to monetary criteria. Oh, fie! Fie! (Or so one possibly thinks.)

Explain.
google, monopoly, break up
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Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com
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Aww! Nicholas Wade is bucking the Zeitgeist! I'm gonna tell!

Awww! I'm Gonna Tell!!!!!

Tussdad, Maize 20, 2014




Awwww! I'm gonna tell! Nicholas Wade is bucking the scientific establishment! Awwww! I'm gonna tell!

Ahem. I'm referring of course to the British journalist from the New York Times who has just published "A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History."

I'm halfway through reading the same, and I'm loving it. Still, I must confess, I love any new books that intelligently (and above all good-naturedly) take on 'established truths' -- since the Homo sapiens scientificus is not exactly known for his (or even her) open-mindedness.

Heck, the 19th-century Hungarian physician Ignaz Semmelweis merely suggested that surgeons might want to wash their hands prior to operating on their patients -- and his reward was a lifetime supply of industrial-grade Vitriol. ("Got another week's supply here, Iggy! Should I leave it at the door?") Do you know that the man died in an insane asylum at the age of 42? I kid you not. (That will show HIM! The very idea: telling Viennese surgeons how to operate! Humph!)

Hopefully, Wade won't suffer the same fate. But before FedEx wheels around the first big, carefully stoppered bottles of Vitriol to his London flat (Oi, you gotta sign for this stuff, mate!), I thought I'd ask him the following question -- which I posted on the Psychology Today website, where I'm afraid he'll never see it, hence the copy below. (Thank God Wade was already 71 when he published "Troublesome Inheritance." The entrenched scientific community can do their worst now, but they're powerless to cut him off entirely in his prime!)


I'm enjoying your book on the "Troublesome Inheritance". Although I am only halfway through (and this question may be answered before I'm through reading), I was impatient to ask about some of the studies that you reference about 'African-Americans': I'm curious if that term is used scientifically in some sense, since the cultural understanding of the term as applied to mixed-race Americans holds that anyone is African-American who has any noticeable African heritage whatsoever. Thus someone who is 90% European-American, from a genetic point of view, is considered 100% African-American from the cultural point of view. Surely the term 'African-Americans', defined in this way, is not a scientific category at all. So it seems to me that to assume that 'African-Americans' is a self-evident category (as recent scientific studies seem to do) begs a huge question about racial identity in the first place, and thus leaves in doubt any results that are based on such a subjective category.

I'd love to hear what you think about this -- tho' I'll be lucky if this apparently outdated e-mail form even works when I click "submit," let alone that you'll ever actually see these words. I'm afraid that you've reached that level of success at which mere mortals like myself have a terrible time merely reaching you, much less getting your attention! Still, I had to at least try!

Best wishes from Virginia, USA,
Brian Quass
quass@quass.com
african-american, nicholas wade, race, a troublesome inheritance
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Author reveals the untenable philosophical message of the movie John Q. and offers an alternative ending in which John's own son takes his father to task for acting immorally.

Denzel as Terrorist in John Q

Sundog, Maize 12, 2014




Despite all the on-cue cheering from the crowd, John Q is a piece of irresponsible agitprop (especially for a movie released in 2002, one year after 9/11) that sanctions vengeance, mob rule and anarchy.


Denzel Washington was a terrorist in John Q

Denzel Washington as Terrorist in John Q



How many patient and law-abiding parents did John Q leap-frog in order to get immediate care for HIS offspring? (Talk about the 'selfish gene'!) Of course, writer James Kearns makes it all work out for the best -- to the point that the hospital actually seems to run better when it's being lorded over by a hothead with a gun. But then Kearns had improbably staffed the hospital with a fiendish administrator who was a cross between Eva Braun and Anne Robinson of the Weakest Link -- for which the script writer, incidentally, owes an apology to the vast majority of hospital administrators who (agitprop notwithstanding) actually have a heart -- and are forced to work within restraints that are for the overall benefit of everybody and shouldn't be subject to veto by any angry parent with a firearm.


John Q Memorial Hospital: First gun, first served


I could tolerate this film if John Q had shown any repentance at all, ever -- but far from it, he rides off into the sunset (to an incredibly short stint in the pokey) with a self-satisfied smirk on his face -- apparently totally uninterested in the fate of the sniper whom he gratuitously sucker punched so hard as to likely cause internal bleeding that could easily lead to death in real life -- possibly depriving that sniper's son of a father. But then John Q has made it clear all along that he's not interested in "sons" in the abstract: he just cares about his own son, thank you very much.

If I could have rewritten the movie, I would have ended it with the grown Mike (now enrolled in college) chastising his father as follows:

Mike: "Dad, I'm grateful for you saving my life, but..."
Dad: "But what, son?"
Mike: "Well, it's just that I've been reading Immanuel Kant in philosophy class and...."
Dad: "You've been reading WHAT?"
Mike: "And I fail to see how your actions square with the Categorical Imperative."
Dad: "Look, you got a new heart son: be happy."
Mike: (after a moment of frustrated silence) "Dad, have you ever even HEARD of the word 'ignoble'???"
Dad: "Enough with the 50-cent words, son. Now how are you fixed for money? I'm sure that college expenses add up."
Mike: "I'm doing fine, Dad."
Dad: "Are you sure?"
Mike: "I'm sure."
Dad: "'Cause just say the word, and I'll take hostages at the nearest bank until they loan you the necessary do-re-mi."
Mike: "Dad, I'm an adult now: I can live my OWN life, thanks."
Dad: "You're right, son: If the bank needs robbing, I'm sure you know how to fend for yourself."
Mike: "Dad!"
Dad: "After all, you learned from an expert -- if I do say so myself."




<



What have we learned?


Questions for further discussion




  • Was John Q a terrorist?
    (A: You betcha.)


  • Would Immanuel Kant have "signed off," morally speaking, on John Q's behavior?
    (A: Obviously not. I mean, hello. Can somebody say categorical imperative?)


  • Does John Q owe the sniper an apology for sucker-punching him (multiple times, even)?
    (A: You're darn tootin'. I mean, hello? The guy was just doing his job, trying to protect innocent women and children from what to any neutral outsider had to look like a grade-A psychopath.)


  • This post is obviously approaching the movie "John Q" from a completely novel angle that is fraught with fascinating philosophical implications. What are the chances, therefore, that this post will be 'bigged-up' online?

  • (A: I should LIVE so long! Humph! -- or YOU should live so long, for that matter! DOUBLE humph!)


John Q Logic Problems



John Q recently had a very busy week. Each day he had a different grievance with society that called for immediate resolution through the medium of threats and intimidation. Using only the info found below, can you determine the nature of each grievance, the threats he made to resolve it, the weapon that he used to back up his threat, and the sentence that he ultimately received in court for the wrong-doing in question?

1) It was not on Wednesday that John Q threatened the Food Store manager with a knife.

2) John Q threatened the clinic nurse (but not with a gun) the day after he threatened the bank guard (but not with a canister of the Ebola virus).

3) John Q served no time for threatening the bureaucrat with a gun but served a full 4 days for the threat carried out on Thursday.

4) John Q threatened the sharpshooter with either a tactical nuclear weapon or a bottle of weapons-grade anthrax.

5) The bureaucrat was not threatened with a gun.

6) The anthrax was put to work the day before the gun was used.

7) John Q got a tougher sentence for the threat using the tactical nuke than he did for the Ebola threat, which was tougher than the sentence for the Anthrax threat (which was not made on Tuesday).

8) The manager was not threatened on Friday and the bureaucrat was not threatened on Monday or Wednesday.



Interview with Greatness



Q) Brian, darling, what did you mean by that apparent 'potshot' at Al Sharpton. Art mad?

A) Not a bit of it, dawg. I love the guy to pieces. All I'm sayin' is that somebody should buy the dude a copy of Marcus Aurelius' Meditations.

Q) What?

A) And teach the man the meaning of the word 'ignoble'. (or, for starters, merely advise him of the apparently overlooked fact that such a word and concept actually exists!)

No Justice, No Fiddlesticks!



Q) But no justice, no peace, right, Brian? Eh? Eh?

A) No justice, no fiddlesticks! "

Q) I beg your pardon?

A) In a democracy, you make your views known in a peaceful but forceful fashion. And if you've got a moral cause, you count on all citizens of good will to join you. You don't implicitly threaten violence if you don't have your way immediately, effectively alienating the very opposition that it's your job to persuade. "No Justice, No Peace" is the slogan of leftist fascism when spoken in a Democracy. It's the politics of threats and intimidation.

Q) But --

A) Mind you, it's all part and parcel of Sharpton's M.O.: demonize your imagined enemies rather than sitting down at the table and seeking solutions with them. Thus Sharpton, with his dogmatic hyperbole, carries on the tradition of George Wallace, albeit from the other side of the fence, saying with his every word and deed: "Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!"

Keyword Prayer to Father Google



Dear All-Powerful Google,

We come before you today recognizing that we are nothing without you. We therefore beseech visibility for this our philosophically minded post about the movie called John Q Public that was released in 2002 (the movie I mean, not the post) starring Denzel Washington and written by James Kearns. We remind you that the producer was a certain Nick Cassavetes, whom, as you may recall, later went on to perpetrate 'The Astronaut's Wife' and 'Hangover Part II'. Forgive both Nick and James for implausibly casting the otherwise lovely Larissa Laskin as a recalcitrant Nazi nurse (Ellen Klein, a sort of Irish Dr. Mengele), when all the hospital staff, Ellen included, were really trying to do was give the best possible shake to every single patient, not just those who, in the vehemence of their familial discomfiture, were packing heat. And finally, O Google, remind Herr Kearns, his obvious Marxist leanings notwithstanding, that it is not yet a crime in America to enjoy a round of golf of a weekend, even if one has committed the faux pas of being a middle-upper-class white bureaucrat who is loath to drop everything to attend to the needs of one solitary patient, never mind how much of a hip persona that he might thereby acquire in the eyes of the rabble that are surrounding the grounds of his health care employer at that very moment, irresponsibly protesting in favor of the untenable doctrine that "might makes right," and that the mere possession of a Saturday Night Special allows a distraught father to leap-frog the often equally pressing medical needs of his grieving patriarchal counterparts -- let alone to race off actually smirking about his crime after getting a ridiculously short sentence from a judge, never mind the fact that John has, in the process of his armed moral showboating, probably consigned a 100% law-abiding fellow citizen (who no doubt ALSO had a son) to a painful life in a wheelchair.

We pray in the name of true justice (as opposed to that evil petty antithesis, aka mob rule a la Al Sharpton) -- not to mention online visibility, Google, I beg ya now, right smack dab down on my proverbial you-know-whatters.... -- Amen.
denzel washington, john q, hospitals, health care, terrorism, james kearns
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Burn after reading

Burn After Viewing

Sadderspray, Feverwary 8, 2014




EDITOR'S NOTE: Brian Quass is the inventor of a number of new genres (tho' he's not so naive as to be expecting any thank-you's in THIS lifetime, humph!) -- including the Press Conference Movie Review. The following IS such a review, in this case about the 2008 Coen Brothers movie entitled "Burn After Reading."


Ladies and Gentlemen, the MovieGoer of the United States of America.


[ Band Plays "Hail to the Chief MovieGoer" ]

[ Polite applause ]

MovieGoer: Thank you, please be seated.

As you know, last night I watched the movie "Burn After Reading" starring Brad Pitt, George Clooney, John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton, and Frances McDormand. First, I will say that the plot description sounded very promising to me: a couple of self-centered nobodies (Pitt and McDormand) get ahold of a data CD that they mistakenly believe to contain top-secret material, and when they seek to profit from their discovery, hilarity ensues.

[ Needle scratches record ]

Well, hilarity should have ensued. John Malkovich was funny enough as the disgruntled ex-CIA agent who had lost the disc in the first place, which apparently contained nothing but a rough-draft of his hilariously muddled attempts at memoir writing. But just when I thought I saw where things were going, comically speaking, the movie takes a u-turn into the duplicitous love lives of Clooney and Swinton, which turns out to be a good half-hour detour during which Malkovich disappears from the movie altogether and nary a word is spoken about the two nobody gym employees and their supposed treasure trove of compromising information.

Of course, the Clooney-Swinton plot dovetailed eventually with the main action, but by then I had really stopped caring what the one had to do with the other. Nor was the comedic value restored by the heavily accented confusion of the Russian embassy personnel when they were pestered by the money-chasing data-finders, nor by the bemused attempts of the CIA Chief to run damage control on an increasingly byzantine-looking drama that ultimately appeared to have no point to it whatsoever, except in the paranoid eyes of the two principals themselves. Speaking of whom, the funniest character of them all (chief conspirator Brad Pitt) is rather unfunnily murdered by George Clooney, who shoots the perky gym coach at point-blank range after discovering him hiding in a closet).

In short, a great idea for a comedy: but poor execution, no pun intended.

I'll take a few questions, now. Yes.

Mr. MovieGoer, what was the name of Malkovich's character?


I believe it was Osbourne Cox, a Balkan "expert."


And isn't it true that Osbourne's wife (Tilda Swinton) was secretly in love with Harry (George Clooney)?


That sounds right to me.


Well, forgive me, sir, but why didn't you say so?


Well, I --


I mean, how can you leave such crucial information out of what is essentially a movie review?!


Because the whole point of this review is that I did not give a rat's --- about that entanglement...


Well, I never --


...since that hanky-panky distracted from, rather than complemented, the plot...


Well --


...which, if you had been listening to my opening statement, you might have already gleaned, madam.

One more question.


Mr. MovieGoer!


Yes, you, sir.

Mr. MovieGoer! What are some of the taglines for 'Burn After Reading?'


Let's see: I believe there were three.


Yes?



According to the IMDB, the taglines were: 'Intelligence is relative', 'Intelligence is only their job', and...


Yes? Yes?


And, I quote, "A high stakes love life and Jewel CIA shelter."


Say again?


"A high stakes love life and Jewel CIA shelter."

Beggin' your pardon, sir, but what the hell does that mean?


I don't know. But it's on the IMDB, so it's got to be right!


Mr. MovieGoer! Mr. MovieGoer!


I'm sorry, no more questions!
burn after viewing, coen brothers, brad pitt, george clooney, john malkovich, tilda swinton, and frances mcdormand
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Ignoble Zeitgeist

Moondog, Januvery 27, 2014




Friends are always asking me: "Brian," they say, "where exactly do you part ways with the modern liberal zeitgeist of 21st-century America?"

Well, no sooner do I hear such an evocative poser, then I ask my interlocutor what sort of coffee they prefer -- after all, my nuanced answer to such a naive question is bound to constitute a voyage of discovery, and I would be loath to have the apparently somewhat confused landlubber set sail without a libation to mark the upcoming sea change in their understanding -- and since such questions are usually asked in the morning time (don't ask me why) and whereas I have something of a reputation for brewing excellent coffee (well, we all have our own little talents, I suppose)....

Anyway, the dude betakes himself to my tawny queen sleeper sofa (my queen is tawny, by the way, not the sofa!), coffee mug in what by now is usually a slightly tremulous hand, as I stalk imposingly back and forth before him on the tufted carpet (hand-tufted, I might add, by personal friends of mine in the Lakota Tribe in Pine Ridge, South Dakota -- and yes, I kept the hand-written receipt specifically to silence probable doubters like yourself!), eyes turned upward toward the vaulted ceiling as if in search of the best way to begin my provocative lecture...

Which, coming soon, my dear diary: coming soon!

Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com
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