Electronic voting machines

"Is it too late to start selling bumper stickers that say “I think I voted”?"

The Dilbert Blog: Electronic Voting Machines.

The last word about the election is at the link. Here’s a sample:

"I think about the history of ATMs when I hear all the nervous Nellies wetting their pants over electronic voting machines. I believe those worries are totally misplaced. Now don’t get me wrong – there’s a 100% chance that the voting machines will get hacked and all future elections will be rigged.  But that doesn’t mean we’ll get a worse government. It probably means that the choice of the next American president will be taken out of the hands of deep-pocket, autofellating, corporate shitbags and put it into the hands of some teenager in Finland. How is that not an improvement?"

Wacky racing frogs

I just received this nice email and I thought I’d share it.

This e-mail is from Wacky Web Fun and is for the parent or guardian of jenii.

jenii has visited http://www.racingfrogz.org ( Frog Pond ), an edutainment website aimed at 7-13 year old children. The reason for us contacting you is that jenii has provided us with a first name and e-mail address (optional). We invite you to visit the site and check that the content is suitable and to check out our comprehensive privacy policy.

Racing Frogs is a simple entertainment experience that includes both a book and a website. The book is a "young readers novel" and is an ideal gift for 7-13 year olds. It can be ordered online; details are available at www.racingfrogz.org

Wacky Web Fun has sent you this e-mail to comply with COPPA, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.

If, as the guardian of jenii you are not happy with Wacky Web Fun storing these details please follow the procedure below.

jenii: To completely remove this person’s name and e-mail address from the Racing Frogs database, please carry out following steps:

(removed by Maxine as provides Jenii’s password etc)

If you would like to check out the suitability of the book for your child please send a blank e-mail to frogcitybook@getresponse.com – we will despatch a sample of the book via e-mail.

With kind regards,

Julian Patrick
Author of Frog City and the Racing Frogs
Managing Director of Wacky Web Fun Ltd.
info@wackywebfun.com

Of course, Jenny had asked me if it was OK before she subscribed to this website, but isn’t that a nice, reassuring email for a parent to get?

Autumn books:evidence for evolution

Here is another excerpt from a book reviewed in Nature’s Autumn Books supplement. The book is called "The Making of the Fittest: DNA and the ultimate forensic record of evolution" by Sean Caroll, and the reviewer is Brian Charlesworth. As before, this review is subscription-only, so let me know in the comments if you’d like me to tell you how to read the full version.

"Sean Carroll begins his excellent book The Making of the Fittest by pointing out that about 50% of the American public doubt the truth of darwinian evolution, yet accept other aspects of biological science, such as the use of DNA in forensics. His aim is to use evidence from modern research on DNA to convince the general reader of "the case for biological evolution as the basis for life’s diversity, beyond any reasonable doubt". He deliberately does not introduce any of the standard evidence for evolution as a historical process, and only briefly describes the use of DNA sequence data to reconstruct phylogenies. Instead, he uses a series of examples intended to provide compelling evidence for the basic processes involved in evolutionary change, with particular emphasis on mutation and natural selection."

The full list of Nature’s Autumn Books reviews can be seen here.

The crouching monster

Link: Magnificent Octopus: The crouching monster.

Isabella writes an excellent post about Patrick Hamilton, whom I haven’t read but have often meant to. She quotes here the opening of Hamilton’s The Slaves of Solitude:

"London, the crouching monster, like every other monster has to breathe, and breathe it does in its own obscure, malignant way. Its vital oxygen is composed of suburban working men and women of all kinds, who every morning are sucked up through an infinitely complicated respiratory apparatus of trains and termini into the mighty congested lungs, held there for a number of hours, and then, in the evening, exhaled violently through the same channels.

The men and women imagine they are going into London and coming out again more or less of their own free will, but the crouching monster sees all and knows better."

This book was published in 1947.

Although I concur wholeheartedly with these sentiments of Hamilton’s, I was reminded of rather an opposite conclusion in a book which I read many years ago, and thoroughly enjoyed: The Ladies of Lyndon by Margaret Kennedy (best known for "The Constant Nymph"). I don’t remember many of the details of this 1920s (or thereabouts) book apart from the love-triangle theme, but what sticks in my mind is the liberation via commuterdom experienced by one of the characters.

I suppose commuting must once have seemed refreshing and novel.

Autumn books: innate morality

Nature‘s Autumn books issue came out last week. I enjoyed all the reviews, virtually all of which are of books that can be read and appreciated if you are not a scientist, so I’m going to post about them here in a series of posts. Nature content is site-licence or subscription only, so if you want to read the entire text of a review and aren’t a subscriber, let me know in the comments and I will tell you how.

First up, in an article entitled "The Chomsky of morality" Paul Bloom and Izzat Jarudi review  "Moral Minds: How nature designed our universal sense of right and wrong", by Marc Hauser.

From the review:

"In Moral Minds, Marc Hauser makes an audacious claim about moral thought. He argues that morality is best understood in much the same way as Noam Chomsky described language: as the product of an innate and universal mental faculty. For Hauser, moral intuition is not the product of culture and education, nor is it the result of rational and deliberative thought, nor does it reduce to the workings of the emotions. Instead, it is human nature to unconsciously and automatically evaluate the moral status of human actions: to judge them as right or wrong, allowed or forbidden, optional or obligatory.

As Hauser is careful to point out, he is not the first to make the leap from a chomskyan theory of language to a chomskyan theory of morality: this analogy was proposed by the political philosopher John Rawls, the legal scholar John Mikhail of Georgetown University in Washington DC, and by Chomsky himself. But Moral Minds is the first detailed exploration of this idea. It is a trade book, highly accessible to a general audience and drawing on diverse examples from literature, popular culture and history. But it is also a deeply significant intellectual contribution: everything that’s done in the new science of moral psychology in the coming years is going to be a response to this important and enjoyable work."

It’s an excellent review of what seems to be a fascinating book.

Where Hobbits dare

Our house is fairly well-stocked with books by Brian Sibley about various aspects of the Lord of the Rings movies. Well-enough, I had thought, until I read an excerpt in the Times the other day from his latest — a biography of Peter Jackson. The Times article focuses on the meetings between the Weinstein brothers and Jackson and his wife Fran Walsh, at the time when Miramax was considering providing the backing. (In the event, the films were financed by New Line.) I particularly liked this part:

“Bob Weinstein had obviously read the treatment, or skipped through it, but I remember this moment as if a lightbulb had gone on and there was almost a palpable moment of sudden understanding. Bob said: ‘Wait! So the Elf is like a bowman, shooting arrows, yeah? And the Dwarf has got axes and he can throw axes? And Sam, he’s got this magic rope, right? And Frodo’s got this light thing?’ Then he got really excited and you could see there was this moment of utter revelation and he said: ‘It’s like that movie where they had the explosives expert and the code expert and the marksman and they all had their own special skill . . . It’s the f****** Guns of Navarone!’

“The best thing to do in these meetings is try and keep a straight face and, occasionally, kick each other under the table, which Fran and I were prone to doing.”

Almost enough to make me buy the book, though I’ve never yet read a celebrity biography that I’ve enjoyed, with the exception of Wired by Bob Woodward. (I read that one only because I read all Bob Woodward’s books.)

The Times article was published on 26 Oct, so will only be freely available for a few more days.

Six-word biography challenge

I am enjoying many of the six-word stories currently going the rounds, Caroline of In Search of Adam has invented a twist — the six-word biography. I picked this up at Marie’s blog Deep Thinker. It seems as if you actually get 18 words, as you are allowed three six-word lines.

Caroline’s three six-word bios of herself — pretty good I think:

1. Born 1973. Easily influenced by television.
2. Gets pregnant easily. Has three kids.
3. Teacher. Writer. Mother. Wife. Friend. Tit.

Here are Marie’s, also very neat:

1. Love singing, music, writing, reading, art.
2. I believe I’m a bit psychic.
3. Favourite colours are blue and burgundy.

My effort:

1. Made plans but life happened instead (ack: John Lennon)
2. Takes refuge in books and thoughts
3. What destination for my pilgrim’s burden? (ack: John Bunyan)

I am afraid I am not very witty or indeed original, but did my best. I challenge readers to write your own six-word autobiographies, either in the comments to this post or on your own blogs (in which case, please add a link in the comments).

Thank you.

Detectives old and new, and Narnia

Bookshelves of doom reviews Neil Gaiman’s collection of stories "Fragile Things". Here’s one that appeals to me: " "The Problem of Susan" — Neil Gaiman on Narnia.  This one’s a must read for anyone who enjoys the occasional Pullman-rant re: C. S. Lewis.  It’d also be a good one for those who think Pullman maybe should calm down a little bit.  And it’s a good one for people who are interested in All Things Narnia.  It’s just good, period, okay?"

The Literary Saloon reviews "Jar City" (sometimes called "Tainted Blood") by Arnaldur Indridason. They give it a B plus. Fair enough — though they don’t pick up on the book’s main flaw — the plot depends on a double-blind code being broken, which is impossible. Here’s a link to my review, for comparison. And here is a link to my review of "Silence of the Grave", the second of Indridason’s books to be translated into English and winner of the CWA gold dagger award. The third, "Voices" is out in hardback but not yet in paperback. True to the bizarre tradition of Scandinavian noir, Indridason’s books aren’t translated in reading order. See some discussion on this question at International Noir Fiction, with Henning Mankell as the type-example.

Here is a nice comparison between Peter Wimsey and Roderick Alleyn, at Random Jottings. There is a lovely picture in the post, but I can’t believe Alleyn looks like that. I used to own all the Ngaio Marsh books, but they got given away at some distant point in my past. Pity, I feel quite tempted to return to them one day. I remember being very struck by the artist heroine’s name of "Troy" — actually her first name is Agatha, but sensibly she goes by her surname. I thought it would be great to call my own child Troy, but sadly when that happy event actually occurred, this idea was vetoed. (Along with Robin, Scarlett, Rowena and, had I thought of it, Leia.) Incidentally, there are lots of other interesting posts at Random Jottings, including the biggest pile of books I could imagine carrying away from a book sale. (Nice Shakespeare posts sandwiched inbetween.)

Karen of Eurocrime is currently reading a book called "The Torso". Would take a lot to convince me to read a book with a title like that, but she says it is good (so far).

Crimeficreader of It’s a Crime! reviews "The Not Knowing" by Cathi Unsworth, which does not seem to live up to its promise.

Shoe shine or boot camp?

Much has been made of a survey by "Woman and Home" magazine that the "average woman" over 40 in the UK has 19 pairs of shoes, with 5 per cent of women having more than 100 pairs. Nothing beats a woman’s desire to show off a fresh pair of heels – Britain – Times Online is a typical write-up.

However, I would respectfully suggest that the readers of "Woman and Home", a magazine of which I’ve never heard, might be quite likely to over-represent the upper echelons of the shoe-owning fraternity.

Shoes have always been something of an elusive dream to me, as I have had very big feet since I was born, which became larger than the biggest standard women’s shoe size when I was about 14. These days it is easier to buy large-size shoes than it was when I was of an age where I cared about these things. But actually, I never cared that much, preferring to categorise shoes with make-up, jewelry and all those other mysteries of femininity that I never quite understood or became aware of. (Oddly, as my next sister was rather adept at all that kind of stuff, so I am not sure why it all passed me by.)

Marginally more interesting than the magazine survey, though, was a review by Joanna Trollope of all people in last Saturday’s Times of a book called "Shoes: a History from Sandals to Sneakers". This book purports to be about the cultural significance of shoes through the ages. Hmm.

Prompted by this lunacy, The Times roped in its fashion editor Lisa Armstrong to list her favourite shoe books. Lisa Armstrong is the woman who criticised Margaret Beckett’s dress sense in several pages and a cover story in the Times upon her (Beckett’s) appointment as Foreign Secretary (let’s get our priorities right, after all). A sad day for women journalists as role models.

So what are Lisa’s top five shoe books? Several Grimm’s fairy tales (Cindarella, Elves and Shoemaker); Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons; Ballet Shoes (and other similar) by Noel Streatfeild; Tess of the d’Urbervilles (that one made me think a bit — Lisa means the bit where Tess loses her pair of boots); and two I’d never heard of: Drawings by Mahlo Blahnik and How to Walk in High Heels by Camilla Morton.

What would be your choice of a great shoe book? I’d go for:

First on the Moon by Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. ("one small step….")

The Wizard of Oz by Frank Baum

Journals of Captain Scott ( "I may be some time….")

Hop o’my thumb (also known as "seven league boots")

Walkabout by James Vance Marshall (I loved this book as a young girl — it was one of Peter Weir’s first movies, maybe his very first, starring Jenny Agutter.)

Puss in Boots by Charles Perrault

and the complete works of Alfred Wainwright (the Lake District guide)

Any better ideas? Or are these suggestions shoe- (oops, shoo!) -ins?