Brevity is the Soul of Wit

Nassim Nicholas Taleb is a mathematician and securities trader who also waxes philosophical.  The last of his books that I am reading is entitled “The Bed of Procrustes.”  Now the title alone would guarantee I would want to know about it.  In Greek Mythology, Procrustes is one of those idiosyncratic monsters that the Hero, such as Heracles or as in this case Theseus must conquer in order to eliminate Chaos and promote civilization or something like that.  Freud made much soup from this sort of thing.

So, Procrustes had a bed that he let travelers sleep on at night.  The catch was that if the sleeper was shorter than the bed then Procrustes would stretch him to the correct size.  And if the sleeper was longer than the bed then he would trim him down to fit.  According to the story up until Theseus arrived the bed-sleeper length optimization procedure had been 100% fatal to the “sleeper.”  And when Theseus shows up he turns the tables (more furniture!) on Procrustes and performs a bed fitting exercise on him.

Taleb is using the metaphor of Procrustes Bed to represent how often in life humans look at situations from the wrong point of view.  And he returns to one of the oldest formats to address his subject, the aphorism or proverb or wise saying.

The Bed of Procrustes is one hundred and fifty-six pages long.  His other books like the “Black Swan” are four or five times as long.  His next book will be written on the back of a match book cover.  I approve of this trend.

I’ve started reading them.  Some of them are pretty good.  I’m comparing them to those other aphoristic writers Solomon, Confucious and Robert A. Heinlein (through the agency of his alter ego Lazarus Long).  The emphasis is different.  Taleb is talking about life from the point of view of a savvy operator not a philosopher or a saint.  He has more in common with Lazarus Long.  But there are many interesting observations and some of them are original in some aspect.  When I finish reading Procrustes Bed and do some comparison to his peers I’ll probably have more to say, but one thing that occurs to me is to put out a regular quote of the day (week?) from someone.  I’m sure it will make me appear wiser.  Here’s the first one:

“What fools call “wasting time” is most often the best investment.”

Shakespeare has Polonius declare that brevity is the soul of wit.  Polonius is a windbag so you have to wonder whether Old Will believed this statement or not.  But I find that, many times, less is decidedly more, especially when you’re under the gun to fit in blog posting into a busy day.  I see that many bloggers churn out a couple of thousand words in a post.  I like to put up about five hundred or so (and sometimes less).  I know everybody is busy nowadays and I don’t want to impose so let’s stop right here.

2001: A Space Odyssey – A Science Fiction Movie Review

(Warning, this whole review is one long spoiler.  In my defense this movie is 49 years old.)

The only good thing about The Academy Awards is that for the whole month before, TCM plays many good (and not so good) old movies.  Last night I watched 2001.  As the exit music was finishing it occurred to me that this was the first time in almost fifty years that I had watched the movie from beginning to end.  Back in 1968 I attended the film in a large theater in Manhattan as part of a class trip.  At the time I was a sci-fi fan but I distinctly remember becoming incredibly bored during the “Infinity” sequence.  And sure enough, last night I found my eyes glazing over as I waited for Keir Dullea to stop making funny faces and show up in Versailles.  And then it also occurred to me that it was actually a very, very good movie.  So, let’s talk about it.  You already know I don’t like the “Infinity” sequence.  But I find the rest of the film is excellent.  Not everybody cares for Kubrick’s style in film-making.  There is a great deal of stylization and idiosyncratic imagery that bothers many people.  And without a doubt it is highly un-naturalistic.  In fact, the ape men were the most realistic as personalities.  The other characters are decidedly wooden.

But without a doubt this movie is an amazing spectacle.  The matching of images to the musical soundtrack is perfect.  The sequences of space ships landing and maneuvering are shown as if they were dancers in a ballet.  The “Dawn of Man” sequence is riveting.  I could believe that the actual event was very much like the portrayal (minus the monolith of course).  It captured the essence of human ingenuity.  The desperate and sordid circumstances of that ingenuity ring true.

And then there’s HAL.  I hate HAL.  I always have.  But he is the perfect Frankenstein Monster.  And the arc of his crime and punishment is, for me, a thing of hideous beauty.  His relations with the astronauts are as creepy and dishonest as some Dickens villain, something like Uriah Heep.  Some people feel sadness when Dave lobotomizes HAL and reduces him to the level of a two-year-old singing “Daisy.”  I never shared that sadness.  I guess I’m more Old-Testament.

So, that brings us back to the “Infinity” sequence which sucks.  But following it we have what I call the “Versailles” scene where I guess Dave lives his life out as a captive of the monolith makers.  This is weird and I guess necessary to set up the conclusion.  Dave dies and is reborn as the next stage of human evolution.  And he is returned to our solar system and the picture ends with him floating above earth to the sequence of “Thus Spake Zarathustra” and “The Blue Danube Waltz” playing us out.

In sum we have a fifty year old movie that is still visually stunning, that addresses the inexplicable advance of savage animals to the brink of interplanetary travel and the frightening prospect of facing our masters in artificial intelligence.  What’s not to like?  Well he could have added a few good-looking space babes but nobody’s perfect.

Sony’s First Real E-Mount Sports Lens is On Its Way

Sonyalpharumors.com has a photo of this new pro sports lens discovered out in the wild (https://www.sonyalpharumors.com/sony-400mm-f-2-8-versus-canon-lens/) .  At over $10,000 each probably the only buyers will be pro sports shooters (and a few old rich guys, of course).  Looks like Sony is serious about the sports market.  I’m guessing at some point if the market materializes for them they’ll put out a 600mm f/4.  Of course, they might get some competition from sigma.  They’ve got some telephotos and unlike with wide angles the long lenses would easily adapt onto the e-mount with no need to change the lens formula.  Should be an interesting situation for the Canon and Nikon pros.  I’m sure being able to use the no-blackout, 20 frames per second A9 for football or soccer would be a very tempting choice for the guys who do that for a living.  Good work Sony.  Now let them come out with the A7 III.  I hope it has the same good autofocus as the A9.

The GOPe’s on the Ropes

Over the course of the post-Reagan republican clown parade we have seen many sorry excuses for conservatives.  And from where I was watching the Bushes were not even the worst of them.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I think that George Herbert Walker Bush was the political equivalent of the Civil War’s General Burnside.  Burnside was a general so disastrously incompetent that during the closing days of the Civil War upon hearing of his latest battlefield disaster Lincoln was alleged to have said that “Only Burnside could have managed such a coup, wringing one last spectacular defeat from the jaws of victory.”  I do not make this comparison idly.  Here is a man who was handed the presidency on a silver platter from Ronald Reagan’s hands and in only four years lost it to a combination of Ross Perot and the trailer trash chasing Governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton.  Yes, the Bushes have much to be ashamed of as fake conservatives.  And the outpouring of stupidity they have provided during and since the 2016 election only confirms their terrible political skills and lack of the common touch.

Or, I could wax poetic about that “maverick,” that “Reagan foot soldier,” John McCain but his health status makes me squeamish about pummeling him with the truth.  We could talk about !JEB!  We could talk about W.  But without a doubt the worst example of republican empty suit syndrome is Willard Mitt Romney.  The whole country has had a chance to enjoy Mittens during his disastrous attempt at the presidency.  The Press had a field day with the photo of his dog riding in a crate on top of the family SUV and the infamous “binders full of women” shows how unable this man was to confront even the most inept partisan attacks against him.  And his craven supine caving to Democrat and MSM demands that he turn on Trump during the election was pure Romney gold.

But in order to really see Mitt at his best you had to live in Massachusetts during the time when Romney tried challenging Ted Kennedy for his senate seat and then later during Romney’s tenure as Governor of the Bay State.  During his senate campaign he said, “I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country.”  Now this is a Mormon making this statement.  The official Mormon stance on abortion says, “Human life is a sacred gift from God. Elective abortion for personal or social convenience is contrary to the will and the commandments of God. Church members who submit to, perform, encourage, pay for, or arrange for such abortions may lose their membership in the Church.”  As a mitigating circumstance you could say that in a liberal state like Massachusetts anyone not claiming a pro-choice position had no chance of gaining elective office.  And the answer to that would be that a Mormon shouldn’t run for elective office in Massachusetts.

But Mitt had any number of pratfalls in Massachusetts.  While Governor his administration was blamed for some tiles falling from the ceiling of the newly built Big Dig tunnel and killing a passing driver.  Now the tunnel was built by the various crooked business interests that flourished under the Democratic Massachusetts House and Senate leaders who doled out the contracts as patronage rewards and squandered the federal funds and the State taxes used.  But Mitt took the blame with never a peep and almost seemed to enjoy the abuse that was heaped on him by the various rats in the legislature and press who better than anyone knew who was really to blame for the shoddy construction and outrageous price tag of the Big Dig.  And this is the real shame of the GOPe.  They never fight.  They just sit there and take it.  And even worse, they attack anyone who dares to fight back.  Instead of applauding Trump for defending himself they go out of their way to virtue signal to the press that they are more outraged than the Democrats at the shameless refusal to kowtow to scurrilous attacks.  “How dare Trump not cower like a true republican!”

But it appears the jig may be up.  In the last few months even the most dependably invertebrate members of the GOPe seem to be figuring out that you actually can beat the MSM game.  After seeing what happens when they work together with President Trump even such weak-kneed arthropods as Lindsey Graham are jumping on the Trump bandwagon and benefitting from the realization that acting like a man is possible for a republican.  Can you imagine what would happen if they survive the midterms without losing either chamber, maybe even making gains?

I’m almost afraid of what this trend could portend.  Will we see the likes of Lindsey Graham parading around the Senate floor sporting gold chains and flashing gang signs and talking trash about D’s who got curb stomped by the Notorious DT?  Man, I hope not.  But if we do, I only hope Romney doesn’t catch it too.  The image of Mitt with a gold grill and twin glocks would probably finish me off, laughing.

How Will Affirmative Action End?

For many people on the right wing, Supreme Court appointments are the highest priority for the Trump to-do list.  Gorsuch was the first act of that play.  But what they really want is a clear majority of socially conservative justices willing to act on issues where unconstitutional policy has been imposed on the country.  High on that list are the moral outrages of abortion and so-called homosexual marriage.  But at the very top of the list of unconstitutional policies that damage American life is affirmative action.  Here are a laundry list of protected classes ranging from half the population (women) to all non-white populations, to homosexuals and other deviants who only share one thing in common, they are not normal white men.  These groups are provided the coercive force of the federal and/or state government to gain preference in employment, housing and education.  And lately the sexual orientation and gender identity protected statuses are being used to dictate everything from who can be a boy scout to who can use a bathroom reserved for women.  But the truth of these laws is that they should really be called what they are.  They should be called Legalized Discrimination against Normal White Men.  Because this is the only group that is systematically discriminated against by every one of these policies.  An attempt to do this against any other group would be challenged legally and morally condemned.  But normal white men are undefended and in fact assumed to be unworthy of receiving the universal fairness that the left demands for every other group.

I am not an expert at how the Court system works.  What I think happens is some lower Court adjudicates some case that contradicts a Federal law.  If the lower court agrees with the existing law and finds against a plaintiff or defendant on the other side of this precedent then he has the right to appeal to a higher level of the federal court structure.  And if this continues, eventually it can reach the Supreme Court.  The decision of the Supreme Court is considered final and can even overturn a federal law if the Supreme Court finds it unconstitutional as happened with the Defense of Marriage Act.  That was Justice Kennedy’s handiwork.

How I would see affirmative action overturned will be when some white man is discriminated against because of one of these policies and he gets his day in court and a majority of Supreme Court Justices says enough is enough.  Once the whole range of affirmative action policies are looked at it will be easy to justify their complete dismantling based on the very question of fairness that the left is always trumpeting.  The only question I’m not sure about is whether the Court will decide to phase out these policies or just end them outright.  I can foresee an enormous legal and bureaucratic endeavor to strip out all the affirmative action policies scattered throughout the federal and state statutes and government policy documents.

But none of this can happen until one of the sitting left-leaning Supreme Court Justices retires (or passes away) and there exists a conservative President and Senate to put a conservative appointee on the Supreme Court bench.  I have to confess this is one of the things I wait for most impatiently.  And as much as I’d like to see Kennedy go, I’d prefer it was Bader-Ginsburg or Breyer.  Kennedy’s bad but he is alright on the non-social issues.  I can wait for him to go next.

A Murder of Manatees by Larry Correia – A Science Fiction Book Review

As noted earlier, Larry Correia has published a second installment of his Tom Stranger stories (A Murder of Manatees: The Further Adventures of Tom Stranger, Interdimensional Insurance Agent[Audiobook] By: Larry Correia, Adam Baldwin, Audible Studios Sold By: Audible).

I have to admit.  This is a guilty pleasure.  The stories, such as they are, border on the ridiculous.  The plot is just an excuse to allow Tom Stranger and his friends and enemies to interact in an adventure that resembles science fiction in the same way that the old 1960s Batman tv series resembles Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight movies.

But I don’t care.  It’s fun.  Correia fills his little two-hour audiobook with good natured jabs at himself, modern politics, culture and the conventions of pulp science fiction.  There’s never any doubt that Tom and his associates will provide quality, excellent customer service and that the bad guys will get their comeuppance.

And we can also be assured that Adam Baldwin will continue to find ways of voice portraying whatever ridiculous characters Larry invents, no matter whether it’s a bubble gum snapping android from the Jersey Shore or a hard-tweeting U.S. President on the battle field of the Mar-a-Lago golf course.  Having only previously known Adam Baldwin’s acting skills from Full Metal Jacket, Firefly and Chuck I wasn’t prepared for his wonderfully hammy touch to this kind of goofy material.  He absolutely makes the most of the story and its characters.

I just finished it today and I enjoyed every silly second of it.  Bravo Larry and bravo Adam.  I only wish there were more.  And what I really wish is that Hollywood would wake up and make the Monster Hunter saga into a movie series (either tv or big screen).  And I think Adam Baldwin would be a natural as Agent Franks.

But that’s a rant for another day.  Meanwhile if you like goofy tongue in cheek pulp sci-fi or you’re a fan of Larry Correia or Adam Baldwin then I highly recommend A Murder of Manatees.  You could think of plenty of worse ways to spend two hours.

Is the Alt-Lite Helping, Hurting or Neither?

I was listening to the ZMan’s Friday Podcast today.  In one segment he raised the question whether people like Jordan Peterson helped or hurt the right-wing cause.  Peterson is a psychologist academic who is battling the politically correct behavior codes in Canada’s universities (and other areas of life).  He is a civic nationalist who does not espouse any ethnic nationalist leanings and in fact specifically rejects any white nationalism as the flip side of the identity politics on the left that he rejects.  ZMan concluded that for the most part the civic nationalists were a detriment.  This he said was because they tended to position themselves barely to the right of leftists.  And moreover, they were programmed to lose every fight.  Their only function was to register each new veer to the left with an ineffectual protest.  This response was their only function (other than being paid).

I found this interesting from a few different angles.  First off did I agree with this analysis?  Secondly was I in the same compromised position?  Was I my own enemy?!!!

I’ll address this question first.  I think the answer is no for two reasons. First and most importantly, I haven’t changed my opinions over time to keep up with the changing societal position.  My moral and social point of view hasn’t shifted to the left, over time.  If anything, it has moved to the right.  For that reason, I am safe from the charge of being a right guard of the left wing.  The question of mercenary status is easily answered by my lack of any site monetization.  Check and check.

So back to the first question, do I agree with his evaluation?  I do agree that there are lots of shills.  There seem to be a number of guys doing their act to collect pennies.  This actually doesn’t bother me.  We all have to make a living.  But what is more important is the claim that these guys are just barely staying to the right edge of the leftists and that they maintain this position by constantly shifting leftward over time.  Well, I don’t know.  Some of these guys are not so much moving left as much as they started in the center and seem to be gravitating rightward bit by bit as the Trump train rolls along.  In that case, I guess I give them the benefit of the doubt.  The folks the ZMan seems to be describing are the never-Trumpers.  This includes guys like Jonah Goldberg, Bill Kristol and Kevin Williamson.  These were folks who were willing to embrace Hillary Clinton rather than deal with Donald Trump.  To me that’s the kind of position that precludes being an actual conservative.  At least with Trump you had some chance of saving the country.  But are there any never-Trumpers in the Alt-Lite?  If anyone knows any let me know.  I’d like to look them up and see if the ZMan had this thing right or not.

So conditionally, I’m gonna say that the Alt-Lite ranges from neutral to helpful.  Some of them are moving along to a useful supportive position that reinforces the appeal of the movement to include some of the slow-moving center.  And the worst are just parasites feeding off attention in the wake of the Trump Train.  And even that isn’t such a bad thing from my point of view since I’m even enjoying my piece of that action too.  After all Trump is now the greatest show on earth and what would the circus be without the vendors selling the popcorn, the program notes and souvenirs?

What Am I Missing in the Sony E-Mount Lens Line-Up?

A few years ago the answer to this question would have been everything. Especially for the new full-frame 7 series cameras, the line-up was woefully poor.  In the last three years Sony (and Zeiss) have really stepped up to the plate and launched a goodly selection of high end lenses for the FE (full-frame e-mount) cameras.  In fact at this point the wide angle options are pretty much complete.  For the normal range there are several excellent options including a 50mm f/1.4, an 85 f/1.4, a 100mm macro and the recently added 70 – 200 F2.8 G Master zoom.

What is left? Telephotos.  Now, Sony has added a 100-400mm zoom.  But I would say that Sony is lacking a telephoto zoom that reaches 600mm.  If I were a sports photographer I’d be looking for a 600mm F/4.  But that is a very expensive lens.  I think what would be appropriate is for someone like Sigma or Tamron to produce an e-mount version of their existing 150 – 600mm zooms.  This would provide the compromise between price and capability that a large number of amateur wildlife and sports shooters would be willing to pay for.  In fact I know that if Sony produced this lens it would probably be too expensive.  So it is a natural fit for these two third party manufacturers.

The other thing that I would like to see Sony produce is a 200mm macro. I currently use the Minolta version with an adapter but since it’s a screw-drive focus system it either has to be used as a manual focus on the LA-EA3 or with the “translucent mirror of the LA-EA4.  Both of these are compromises.  I also think the chance of Sony manufacturing this lens is zero.  So once again I think this is a good opportunity for Sigma.  They already have a long focal length macro and this would probably only require adapting it to the e-mount.  This lens probably won’t have as many buyers as a 150-600mm  zoom.  But I throw it out there because I’m greedy and annoying.

There is a rumor on Sonyalpharumors.com that Sigma is about to announce a major effort to break into the FE market. The initial offering has been guessed to be a 35mm f/1.4.  This is a lens that Sigma has done a good job on already in their Art Lens series.  Whether it would require a major modification to work on the e-mount is a question.

So if we assume Sigma is looking to get the maximum bang for their buck in the Sony ecosystem then they should go for some of the open focal lengths that they already have technology for.  In that case both the 150-600 and 200mm macro are lenses they already make and represent gaps in the Sony line-up.

If you’re listening Sigma, get busy. You make money and I get to stop complaining.  A win-win.

You’re welcome Sigma!

Replacing Adobe Lightroom Revisited

So last time I was debating what to replace Lightroom with.  I was incensed at the idea of paying monthly for “the cloud.”  I installed Capture 1 last weekend.  So far all I can say is that after cataloguing my old photos in Capture 1 they look a lot nicer than in Lightroom.  Now maybe this is just the jpeg settings in the program but it was really striking how nice everything looks.  Other than that I can’t say much.  I don’t even know how to modify the photos yet.  But so far Capture 1 is not making me angry.  In your face Lightroom!

 

One Million B.C. – A Science Fiction Movie Review

Turner Classic Movies is a mixed bag. They do play a lot of good old movies.  But then you have to endure Alec Baldwin or Tina Fey talking to the insufferable host, Ben Mankiewicz about movies or anything else.  Well anyway, they’ve been playing a lot of old bad sci-fi movies lately.  It’s been great.  I’ll give my thoughts on them.  This is usually a combination of nostalgia and shock.  I’ve seen most of these movies before but in some cases I haven’t seen them in over fifty years.  Neither they nor I have aged well and so the re-acquaintance is sometimes off-putting to say the least.  Both these movies and my younger self have lost a lot of respect in my current eyes.  But today’s movie is a treat because I actually never saw this epic before.  And first off do not mistake this masterpiece for the sound alike “One Million Years BC” re-make with Raquel Welch.

This is the 1940 masterpiece with those two towering thespians Lon Chaney Jr. and Victor Mature. Honestly this movie should get a special award for unbelievably bad special effects.  But special effects is just the tip of the iceberg.  The cheesiness of the sets, the really bad acting and the silliness of the plot combine to create a feast of cinematic awfulness.  I loved it.

One of my favorite scenes has Victor Mature as caveman Tumak poking a seven foot tall miniature Tyrannosaurus rex in the stomach with his poorly made spear.  The monster is so obviously a man in a cloth suit that it’s hard not to burst out laughing, and actually I did.  Only slightly less silly are the real animals like dogs, goats, cows and even elephants covered in fake hair to make them “prehistoric-looking.”  Especially funny is the armadillo with horns glued onto its head.  It has been magnified to be the size of an elephant.  But it doesn’t seem to be doing anything particularly dangerous.  But the cavemen do look really scared of it.  Equally frightening to the cavemen are magnified images of modern day reptiles.  There are tegus and rhinoceros iguanas and even a baby alligator with a fake sailfish sail glued to its back.  One interesting historical circumstance is the fact that several of the reptiles are noticeably harmed by each other in some fight scenes including one tegu that is obviously killed in a fight with the fake sailfish alligator.  Nowadays the Humane Society would have the film-makers drawn and quartered for so much as stressing out a mosquito on set.  Progress!

But where the movie really shines is the portrayal of caveman tribal dynamics. Tumak is the son of the clan leader Akhoba (played by  Lon Chaney Jr).  When Tumak accidentally attacks Akhoba for trying to steal a chunk of dino-burger.  Akhoba throws him off a cliff.  After this he wanders away and ends up being adopted by a more enlightened clan.  They’re probably from Scandinavia because they have blondes, good table manners and neutered males.  After he gets ejected from the new tribe for beating a spear maker who objected to being robbed Tumak ends up back at the old clan cave with his blonde girlfriend in tow.  Apparently she likes the bad boy type and thinks she can fix him.  While Tumak was gone Akhoba has been demoted from chief to crippled loser after being severely injured in a fight with a giant goat.  Breaking with caveman etiquette Blondie institutes women and children and crippled losers first at food distribution time.  Surprisingly, Tumak is supportive of the new arrangement.  Progress!

Well anyway there soon ensues a crisis involving a volcanic eruption and a giant iguana that ends up with both clans coming together with Tumak as the new chief. The End.

Wow. This movie must be seen by all science fiction fans.  Afterwards you’ll have a new found respect for stop action animation or even well-made monster suits.  Only recommended if you really enjoy very bad sci-fi.