Archive for October, 2005


I spent much of the day doing some of the maintenance work around here that I’d been putting off for a while. The Links page has been updated, clearing out dead links and adding sites that I’ve started reading regularly since the last Links page update. Similarly, the Tools page has been brought up-to-date and I made a couple minor changes to my about page. Re-writing the Tools page reminded me to synchronize my Kinja digest to the feeds my aggregator is currently subscribed to. In the process I had to export my subscriptions as an OPML file; on the “what the hell, somebody might find this interesting?” theory, I uploaded it so that it’s now available for your perusal, and is linked from various appropriate locations on the site.

Somewhere in the midst of all this, Colby Cosh’s link to his Flickr account reminded me that, although I’ve had my own Flickr account for a while, I’d never actually added any photos to it. Obviously an untenable situation, so I fixed it. Also, the Photographs page now accurately reflects the fact that I actually have photos up on Flickr. As explained there, large photosets will continue to be posted as in the past, but other random pictures go on Flickr.

Probably made a few other changes that I’ve already forgotten, but those are the most notable.

Le vrai homme révolté

I’ve spent the last month wading through the complete poems of François Villon, which is not a bad pace given that the 600 year old dialect, topical references, in-jokes, allusions, slang and the whole string of ballads written in lower-class jargon (not to mention the unmodernized spelling–thank you Livre de Poche editors!) makes huge swaths of the poems virtually indecipherable. Even in French the editors offer speculative translations of whole poems in the footnotes. Nevertheless, through all of that, and largely thanks to the monotonous choice of subjects and versification of medieval poetry, a pretty consistent picture arises from the poems.

Villon is an interesting case, as he is generally considered the first great modern poet in French, while also possessing one of the most notorious personal histories in all of literature. He killed a priest, robbed a college, probably joined a band of marauding vagabonds and was sentenced to death twice (both sentences were commuted to exile). Although he was certainly not the first major poet to focus on the life of the poor and outcast rather than love, religion and chivalry (the poète maudit was something of an archetype in that age as well–Rutebeuf is but one well-known example of a poet who prefigures many of the themes that Villon later addressed, although he treats them less violently and more pathetically), the depth of his immersion in these subjects is somewhat unique.

And what one finds in much of his poetry is the same pathology that people like Dalrymple (or rather Anthony Daniels) observe rampant in the underclass today. Villon, or at least his poetic persona, is for the most part totally lacking in ethical scruples. He usually takes the position that the rich (or rather anyone whom he robs or would like to rob) is, by virtue of their possessing something he does not, worthy of being divested of it. At the same time, when called to account for his actions, he adopts a pervasive fatalism, claiming that the stars, his destiny and the circumstances of his birth precluded any alternative to what he has done. It’s important to recognize that Villon was a real brigand, not one of the pseudo-rebellious modern poets who launch provocative rhetoric from cushy academic appointments or Parisian café’s. As such, Villon does not fetishize his crimes or the criminal existence, as those who have never actually committed any frequently do. He simply avers his desire to have certain things and a general indifference as to how he obtains them, leavened with a consuming paranoia about getting caught. Indeed, in the revealing ballades en jargon, which due to this fact were obviously addressed to other criminals, this fear is virtually the only subject of and emotion evident.

On a related subject, in order to understand the poems I think it is necessary to appreciate that different poems were addressed to different spheres of society. There are the public poems, intended for a patron or the general public, which are mostly colorless and indistinct poems about patriotism or love. Then there are the long poems, the Lais and the massive Testament, which as the name implies are fake testaments where the largely destitute poet satirically pretends to bequeath all kinds of gifts to various enemies. These are halfway between public and private, so the poet mocks many of the rich and powerful, but only through irony, which is to say indirectly. Then there are the private poems and those written in a slang which would be incomprehensible to anyone outside of criminal or underclass circles. This is important because many commentators write I think falsely about the purported repentence and humility of the poet in his works. It is true that Villon in his public poems makes some gestures in this direction, usually in the context of a plea for a stay of execution, but these usually only go so far as to plead for mercy, which is not the same thing as expressing regret or remorse for what he has done. By contrast, in the private poems or those addressed to his peers in the underworld, Villon demonstrates incessantly his defiance of society and his contempt for the victims, in describing whom he uses all the synonyms in the language for “idiot” and “gullible.” Sometimes he demonstrates empathy for the victims of his satire by putting mournful poems in their voices, but never any for the victims of his actions or those of his comrades.

This no doubt appears a pretty dour and humorless interpretation of a large and varied body of work, especially given the considerable verbal dexterity and intermittant humor (although I found Villon’s vaunted sardonic wit generally less impressive than it is praised to be, probably because at this distance in time only the broadest, most universal and hence generally the most leaden ironies are still comprehensible to us), which I have not even mentioned yet. But if anything justifies this attitude, it is that, to repeat, Villon, unlike the modern poets, actually did the things he talks about, and hence was genuinely, as Kierkegaard put it so perfectly, “heterogenous with the ethical.” Hence he is rather problematic for contemporary literarios: he makes the ideal of the poet defying society and its standards seem rather embarassing, given that he actually murdered someone. The fact that he remains a great and venerated poet compounds the embarassment, by exposing the amorality at the heart of literature. This is not to say that literature or writers themselves are necessarily amoral, but simply that writing is just a skill and hence can be put to almost any use, good, bad, or neutral. The fact that someone living a life like Villon’s could be a master of the art attests to this fact. In any case, I need a literary pariah who has been persecuted for more ethically defensible reasons–so, on to Salman Rushdie.

p.s. Villon ironically shows his lack of concern for the ethical by his refusal to idealize his actions. To me this indicates that he does not even feel uncomfortable enough about them to try to reconcile them with any sort of ethical norm. On the other hand, he does frequently idealize his own existence. He often implies that, although he was expelled from the clergy for his criminal activity, his way of living has actually brought him closer to God by exposing him to persecution and by cutting his ties to human societies, thus putting him solely under the protection of God. He also rather astonishingly insinuates a likeness between himself and Christ, for example by, before one of his expected executions (he was about 30 at the time), writing a stanza about how Jesus died for for humanity after 30 years on earth while writing his own name in actrostics with the first letter of each line.

p.p.s. Doubly ironic that this poet whose name is virtually synonymous with a morbid obsession with death is one of the few poets of whom the death has never been confirmed, as after his second reprieve from execution he left Paris and was never heard from again. Thus, despite his fixation on dying he remains, like Schrödinger’s cat, officially in an uncertain state, suspended in the limbo between death and life.

The possessed at the mosque

To me this book seems like perhaps the first analysis of “jihadi” terrorism that really digests the psychology behind it. The central point that the author, Faisal Devji, makes is that for the likes of al-Qaeda violence is an “ethical” rather than a “political” act. As I understand it, what that means is this: in the 20th century even the most murderous ideologies like Nazism and Bolshevism tended to justify themselves teleologically, i.e. the end justifies the means. Of course there was idolization of militarism, but generally they envisioned an ultimate world order that would sanctify the ideals of peace, harmony and unity. Of course this may well have been merely a fig-leaf to justify the inherent violence of the movements, but at least ostensibly this long-term goals made the violence tactical, a means of arriving at a future which would not itself be violent.

If i understand Devji right, al-Qaeda and its ilk have functionally discarded long-term reconciliation with bourgeois morality. They look at the warrior-life of constant battle and overcoming as their ideal of day-to-day existence. Their utopia really would be a war without end. I don’t know if this makes jihadis any different than Nazis or Maoists practically speaking, but it does make the possibility of any compromise or common-ground between our society’s ideals and their even more inconceivable, in the sense that it would be theoretically possible to rearrange our social institutions to accomodate Marxist ideals or whatever and thus circumvent a murderous struggle with its opponents. But when the very essence of jihadi culture consists of strife and battle we literally cannot coexist with them, because the movement is predicated upon the destruction of those outside the group. Of course this may deepen jihadism’s threat but it also limits its reach, since it necessarily turns the whole world into the enemies of its followers. As the self-negating implications of this become clearer, the ideology will no doubt soften. The reversion to simple demands for territory like Palestine and Iraq is probably symptomatic of that.

p.s. Three cheers for anyone who noticed that my post-title is a Dostoyevsky reference.

Back up!

My computer has been making ominous noises tonight, which makes me think it might not be a bad idea to back everything up. To date I’ve been backing up my most important documents to CD, but there’s rather a lot of other stuff I’d like not to lose that comprises enough gigs that CDs are impractical. So I’m thinking external hard drive; any suggestions of good ones?

The end of the modern artist–not with a bang but a whimper

I just watched a Hungarian-German film called Mephisto, about an actor who refuses to leave Germany after the Nazis take over and, despite his own dislike of Nazism, does propoganda work and becomes the biggest star in the country. The film relies overly on symbolism as shorthand in lieu of real dramatic development, including a conclusion that tries far too hard to sum up the entire film in a single image instead of drawing to a general conclusion, and thus makes the film seem not concluded but merely arbitrarily curtailed. More importantly, it falsely sums up the film by suggesting that the protagonist has gained the world but lost his own soul. This is of course the classic Faustian theme, suggested by the film’s title and by constant references in the film (being a German stage actor, Goethe naturally comprises a large part of the protagonist’s repertoire). But the real conclusion of the film is indicated a bit earlier, when the protagonist attempts to intervene on behalf of a friend who has been arrested and his patron, the Göring-like Reichspräsident, mocks the actor’s insignificance. Hence, while the short-term result of his Faustian pact is an increase in personal fame, in the end the Nazi regime will end by obliterating, or at least trying to, the very literary culture that is the foundation of the theater and his career. It reminds me of a comment I once read regarding Carl Schmitt, the German theoritician of the ’30’s who praised dictatorship and ambivalently embraced the Nazi regime, of whom it was said that it was ironic that he idolized a political system that had no real need or use for philosophers like him.

So while the portrayal of an artistic personality grappling with a social conscience may be revealing on a personal level, it would be somewhat presumptuous for another artist to claim that the stakes of this artist’s battle are as high as Faust’s for the rest of the world. The protagonist in the film is little more than artistic window-dressing for the Nazis, and in my opinion here, as in much of the 20th century, it is the insignificance of artists in society rather than the immoral use of their talents at which it is most to be remarked. Or as Douglas Adams puts it in The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul:

“Things had certainly come down a long way since the great days of Faust and Mephistopheles, when a man could gain all the knowledge of the universe, achieve all the ambitions of his mind and all the pleasures of the flesh for the price of his soul. Now it was a few record royalties, a few pieces of trendy furniture, a trinket to stick on your bathroom wall and, whap, your head comes off.”

p.s. Although Faust is one of the constant points of reference in the film (Hamlet is another), the protagonist actually portrays Mephistopheles on the stage and is identified with him off it. Is this to insinuate a more condamnatory tone than is otherwise presented in the film, and to imply that he is more the seducer to evil than the seduced? These are rather intriguing ideas but somewhat unconvincing, since the protagonist is a opportunist and a follower of the path of least resistance, someone without the boldness or the stamina to be much of a force for good or evil, though the circumstances in which he lives may be enough to tip him decisively to one side or the other. A more natural comparison, though one with less resonance to the specific events of the film, would be to The Hollow Men.

Wikipedia Wars

Sean Lynch and John Lopez are both more or less correct about Wikipedia, though they might not agree with each other. Lopez:

Wikipedia is the Internet equivalent of a public toilet. Anyone can use the facilities, including that subset of folks who simply splash feces around for the fun of it, or who are too dumb or ill-bred to get everything inside the rim.

That’s true and it’s a serious problem, but it’s not entirely an insurmountable one. The same could be said of the Internet as a whole, but, while there are plenty of places online where feces-splashing seems to be the primary objective, there are also plenty of quality websites that provide content you can’t find anywhere else. The same goes for Wikipedia. As long as you know going in what Wikipedia is and how it works, it’s easy to use it as an effective tool. For example, you’d probably be better off asking a 5-year-old about some controversial political or social question than looking it up on Wikipedia, because the only people with both the time to write a long Wikipedia entry about something controversial and the perseverance to defend it against every edit are true-believers pushing an agenda. But I’ve almost always found the Wikipedia articles on advanced math topics accurate and useful; to pick an example more or less at random, the article on fiber bundles is nice and straightforward. Obviously, if you’re trying to really do anything with fiber bundles, you need to look in a textbook, but you wouldn’t use a Britannica article as the sole basis for your research, either (and I’m pretty sure the phrase “fiber bundle” doesn’t appear in the Britannica or any other encyclopedia).

That having been said, Lopez’ point about the public goods problem is real, especially since the real experts aren’t wasting their time with Wikipedia in the first place:

Wikipedians on the other hand are busy correcting extra plurals or adding “Wikilinks? to their entry, because they lack both the motivation and the aptitude to add content. And I’m not about to help them, since I have better things to do than reproduce material from expert sources that’re only a mouse click away from anyone who gives half a damn.

Of course, real experts probably aren’t wasting their time with the Britannica, either, but the problem is more extreme with the Wikipedia. In fact, I would tend to agree with Lynch that this is Wikipedia’s biggest problem:

The reason Wikipedia is not as good as it could be is because of its incestuous nature. External links are discouraged in favor of internal links to other content within Wikipedia. The major problem with this is that the smartest experts in any given field probably have their own web sites and can’t be bothered to write in Wikipedia, so why should random people be paraphrasing information that’s already freely available elsewhere? Decentralized knowledge is not about letting anyone edit your one site. It’s about finding and linking to the best content that’s available. The best most people writing on Wikipedia do is paraphrase what they find elsewhere. If paraphrasing is so great why do we need hyperlinks in the first place?

Having participated in and witnessed innumerable debates about Wikipedia over the last couple of years, I can be pretty confident in asserting that Wikipedia consistently gets highest marks for (a) timeliness (b) breadth and (c) ease of use. These are all areas where Wikipedia easily beats the Britannica‘s pants off; sure the Britannica‘s article on Hurricane Katrina will probably be better-written and more accurate when it gets published in 2007, but it won’t be free and searchable, wasn’t available when people were really interested in the subject and probably won’t try to break down all the hurricane-related casualties by county. I’m not saying Wikipedia is better than the Britannica, just that there are some things it does better.

Given the fact that Wikipedia has these inherent advantages, I find it odd that its entire modus operandi seems to be predicated on trying to replicate the Britannica model of being a one-stop source of information. Much better, as Lynch points out, to emphasize their other big advantage over the Britannica: hyperlinks. I’m sure the official discouragement of linking off-site is because the folks at Wikimedia don’t want their baby to become “just another search engine” that gets swallowed up and spit out by Google and Yahoo, but (a) there are a lot worse examples to follow than Google’s and (b) the search-engine market is due for some serious diversification. Using Google is often a real crapshoot; for example, if you’re looking for “fiber product,” you’ll get 8 pages of stuff about the textile industry before the first relevant link appears. Google realizes this, which is why it was a smart move to separate Google Print, Google Scholar and Google Maps (which they’re now calling Google Local) from the regular web search. Just taking my own experience, while I still use Google for general search purposes, I find myself using Google Print, Google Scholar, A9 maps, IceRocket, Technorati, the Internet Archive, memeorandum, IMDB, Mathworld, JSTOR, Whois and, yes, Wikipedia all the time, because each is good at finding certain things I’m interested in (and if I ever come across a good sports-specific search engine, I’ll use that frequently, too). And let me tell you, there’s definitely a niche for the Wikipedia that Lynch envisions:

If Wikipedia had strived to be an editable-by-anyone collection of links to the best information and annotations of those links, it would be much more useful than it is now.

Bitching about books

For those that haven’t seen it, TIME published a list this week of the “All-TIME 100 Novels”, by which they mean the 100 best novels written in English since 1923 (the year TIME started publishing…”All-TIME”, get it?). Needless to say, a bit of a misleading name. Now, obviously, any such list has to have a starting point, and, if you’re TIME, 1923 is an obvious place, but I think it’s interesting that the time period exactly corresponds to books that are still under copyright. Coincidence or not, I’m sure the publishing houses are pleased to note that none of TIME‘s books is available on Project Gutenberg.

That aside, the obvious thing to do when someone publishes a list like this is to criticize it; since I’ve got some spare time tonight and, to be honest, I enjoy this sort of thing, you get some gratuitous ranting about books. The first thing I noticed about the TIME list is how intentionally eclectic it seems to be. I’m a pretty well-read guy, but I admit I’ve read less than half these books, and there’s a goodly number I’ve never even heard of (and a few whose authors I’ve never even heard of). That doesn’t mean it’s a bad list, but it makes me a little apprehensive, especially when I see Judy Blume (?!?) on the list.

Of course, plenty of obvious choices are there: American Pastoral, Gravity’s Rainbow, Herzog, The Invisible Man, Lolita, Pale Fire, To Kill a Mockingbird, To the Lighthouse and, of course, Hemingway (though if I were to pick out one Hemingway book, it would be For Whom the Bell Tolls, not The Sun Also Rises). Oh, yeah, throw The Lord of the Rings, The Grapes of Wrath, 1984 and Animal Farm on the “obvious” list, too. Still, just because something is “obvious” doesn’t mean it really deserves to be there; The Catcher in the Rye makes all of these lists, despite being a pretty mediocre book. I’m also a little leery of having two Philip Roth books on the list. Admittedly I’ve only read one Roth book (American Pastoral), so maybe I’m off base; still, though American Pastoral was good, probably good enough to be on the list, it was pretty much a one-trick pony. I admit the trick was a good one, but not good enough to make me want to go out and buy the Roth collection, especially since, from what I’ve read, Roth is himself a bit of a one-trick pony.

I have the same issues with Gravity’s Rainbow and The Crying of Lot 49 both being on the list. Now I understand that Pynchon’s supposed to be this great writer, so I don’t begrudge Gravity’s Rainbow being on the list, even though I’ve never made it through more than 100 pages of it despite multiple attempts, but I have read The Crying of Lot 49 and was unimpressed. In fact, I came away from the experience confused (I’m still not sure exactly what happens in the book or why I should care) but very well-rested (it’s only like 150 pages but put me to sleep at least 4 different times). Of course, I have the same problems with DeLillo’s White Noise, which had a mildly interesting plot but was pretty dull to actually read.

As for Naked Lunch and Money, I admit I haven’t read either of them, but I still question their being on the list. I’ve read a couple of Amis’ books and nothing about any of them made me want to go out and buy Money on the spot. In fact, London Fields put me off Amis completely, even though I’d actually enjoyed Time’s Arrow (for the novelty, if nothing else). On the other hand, I’ve thought about picking up Naked Lunch a few times, not because it actually sounds like something I’d enjoy, but just because of the reputation. But every time I remember my dad’s concise review: “I couldn’t finish it.” → That may not sound like much of a review, especially since there are plenty of books I couldn’t finish when I initially tried to read them but eventually loved upon re-reading, but you have to understand that my dad never gives up on any book, no matter how bad. By his own estimation, there are maybe three or four books he’s ever started but never finished And let’s be honest, here: no book by John Le Carré should be on a 100 greatest novels list.

I’ve also got issues with the inclusion of Dog Soldiers and Snow Crash. I know a lot of people think Dog Soldiers is great and I understand it caused a big stir when it was first published, but I bought it immediately after reading Damascus Gate and I didn’t think it measured up at all. Damascus Gate was one of the better books I’ve read in the last couple of years, while Dog Soldiers was good but not particularly memorable. On the other hand, Snow Crash is one of my favorite books of recent years, but, then again, Neal Stephenson is one of my favorite current authors, so I’m a bit biased. So, while I’m pleased to see Stephenson make the list, Cryptonomicon is definitely a better book and The Diamond Age is arguably so. Of course, the Baroque Cycle might be the best of all of them, but it’s a trilogy (or nine separate books, depending on how you count), not a single novel, so I probably would have gone with Cryptonomicon over Snow Crash.

On the sci-fi tip, while I understand that William Gibson is, like, famous and shit, there’s nothing about Neuromancer that really makes it stand out from the crowd, once you get past the fact that it basically invented the cyberpunk genre (which, to be honest, didn’t really last that long or produce that much of note). A far better sci-fi choice would have been Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination, which, despite the superficial unoriginality of being a retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo, is actually one of the most inventive novels I’ve read. Brave New World also falls into that category and, while I don’t know which I would take out, probably could have replaced one of the two Orwell books on the list (though it should be pointed out that both Huxley and Orwell owe an enormous debt to Zamyatin’s We, which, if a choice had to be made, should have made the list over both 1984 and Brave New World if this list included Russian novels).

Of all the books that didn’t make the list, probably the most deserving is John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces. I’m still not entirely sure whether Toole was a genius or insane, but I think we can all agree that Confederacy is better than The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. The Wicked Pavilion probably also belongs on the list, as does Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, though I realize some may not think it should really be classified as a novel. Ulysses misses the cut because it was published on 1922 (though not in an English-speaking country in its entirety until the 30s), but Finnegans Wake probably deserves consideration, though I admit not having read it myself.

Libertarian nutjobs are probably pissed that Atlas Shrugged didn’t make the list, but I’m here to tell you it didn’t deserve to. Now, I enjoyed Rand as much as anybody back in high school, but let’s be honest: a craftsman of the English language she weren’t (is that the past tense of “ain’t”? I have no idea…warn’t, maybe?). Two-dimensional characters and interminable speechmaking may do the trick when you’re trying to put a dramatic sheen on your philosophical statement, but they don’t make for a great nove. And Atlas Shrugged isn’t even Rand’s best novel: that distinction goes to Anthem.

Criticism aside, the TIME list does make some nice choices even outside the “obvious” category. I just read Blood Meridian a few weeks ago and was pleased to see it on the list. Even though I have mixed feelings about Flann O’Brien, it was nice to see his name on the list (with At-Swim-Two-Birds). Nitpicking about Cryptonomicon vs. Snow Crash aside, I was also glad to see Stephenson, and similarly for Philip K. Dick (though I’d probably go with Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep or A Scanner Darkly over Ubik). They picked Red Harvest, the one Dashiell Hammett book I haven’t read, but it was still good to see Hammett on the list (and encourages me to seek out Red Harvest).

The Sound and the Fury gets all the hype, but I was pleasantly surprised to see my personal favorite Faulkner book, Light in August, also got the nod. I also like to see C.S. Lewis’ name on the list, even though I’m not really sure The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is one of the 100 best English-language novels since 1923. But if you’re going to put Judy Blume on the list, why not? (Of course, if that’s the mentality, why not scrap Judy Blume and list The Phantom Tollbooth, instead?) And, needless to say, I’m happy to see Infinite Jest on the list (and almost as happy to see John Dos Passos and Maxine Hong Kingston not on the list).

That all having been said, the one overwhelming thought that went through my head as I was scanning the TIME list was this: where are all the great 20th century novels? The answer: they weren’t written in English, so they don’t make the list. Of course, that’s half a lie, since plenty of the great 20th century novels were written in English, but it seems narrow-minded to exclude everything written in another language (after all, it’s not like TIME doesn’t review novels written in Spanish or French or whatever). Sure, it gives the listmakers a chance to up their esoterica quotient by namechecking Richard Yates (who?) and any list necessarily has constraints, but I constantly caught myself looking for the likes of Solzhenitsyn, Bulgakov, Camus, Hesse, Mann, Svevo, Fuentes, García Márquez, Murakami, Valle-Inclán et al. Of course, the insipidly clever but extremely misleading name of the list probably contributed to this.

Hooray for Soviet education system!

Although lack of money is one of the problems discussed, those who still insist that American schools fail to do a competent job of educating their students because they are under-funded after reading this and this should probably just swallow their tongues. My brother will probably be nodding in agreement at this part:

“Russian students have a much deeper understanding of the models of mathematics,” says Alexei Odinokov, general co-manager of an Intel Corporation lab in Nizhny Novgorod, a city that was closed to Westerners in Soviet times.

Such mathematical training provides Russian computer programmers with more flexibility in crafting computer software, Mr. Odinokov says. “In the West, they know one algorithm and try to apply it more efficiently,” he says. Russian programmers, by contrast, consider other algorithms that could be used to solve a programming problem, he says.

Also relevant. Key line:

Teacher to classroom full of Asian kids: “Wun Lung, given two functions u(x) and v(x), the first derivative of uv with respect to x is u(dv/dx) + v(du/dx). True or false??

To gringo kids: “Billy, if during Grub Moon, one heart-warming aboriginal finds seven repellent grubs to eat, and another heart-warming aboriginal finds nine, how many will they have together?? (Answer: They won’t have a clue because their number system doesn’t go that high.)

Random outrage of the night

Goddamn retarded fucking Los Angeles “baseball fans”. Morons. Anybody who hurts his team’s chances of winning by reaching onto the field to grab a ball in play doesn’t deserve to be anywhere near a playoff baseball game.

Backstory for those that weren’t watching the game tonight: I’m sitting here working on some differential geometry and watching tonight’s Angels-White Sox game when Chone Figgins hits a long fly into the rightfield corner on a hit-and-run with Adam Kennedy on first base. Since Kennedy was running on the play, he’s going to score easily and, given Figgins’ speed, there’s a good chance Figgins will end up with a triple. Except an idiot Angels fan reaches into the field of play to grab the ball on one bounce below the level of the fence. So, rather than a run-scoring triple, it’s a ground rule double. Now, the stupidity of this is just staggering. The Angels were down 3-1 in the series and 2-1 in the game and yet this fan grabs a ball in play and potentially costs his team an important run in this critical game. The only good thing you can say about the guy is that he didn’t spill his beer in the process.

Fortunately for the Angels, the umpires correctly ruled fan interference and gave Kennedy a free pass to home plate. So the only repercussion for the Angels was that Figgins was stuck at second, which ended up not mattering since he scored two batters later anyway.

But the particular fan’s idiocy is somehow emblematic of Angels fans generally, with their idiotic Thunder Stix, their disturbing idolatry of the Rally Monkey and their incapacity to get excited unless the scoreboard tells them to, at which point they just go berserk. Point being, the average Angels fan seems to have no idea what the proceedings on the field mean, other than that when a guy in red hits it over the fence, that’s a good thing. Contrast with, e.g., Cardinals fans.

Although I’m partial to the White Sox, given that my father has been a White Sox fan since birth, I’d been taking pity on the Angels and their fans this ALCS since they’ve been getting jobbed by the umpires practically every step of the way (which doesn’t excuse their third-string catcher from being an idiot, but still). No more. I can’t sympathize with “fans” that don’t know that preventing their team from scoring is probably a bad idea. White Sox fans, I’m now firmly entrenched on your side (unless the Pale Hose face the Cardinals in the Series, which is starting to look pretty unlikely).

?оменклатура ещё живёт

The newspapers are still full of disappointment and scathing criticism, as the politically correct choice of a nominee with loyally orthodox views but dubious qualifications to join one of the most distinguished bodies in the world has caused commentators from across the political spectrum to condemn the selection as an “insult,” “sectarian” and “anaemic, dumb and hollow.” That’s right, Harold Pinter has just won the Nobel Prize for Literature.