Jim Aikin's Oblong Blob

Random Rambling & Questionable Commentary

Archive for November, 2011

Ron Paul

Posted by midiguru on November 30, 2011

Having seen Ron Paul and Ralph Nader agreeing with one another in a cordial way on some video clip or other, I was prepared to take a closer look at Mr. Paul, without prejudging him. Having learned a little more, I have to say — the guy makes my skin crawl. He’s your worst nightmare.

I went over to ronpaul2012.com, his campaign website, and read through some of the pages outlining his positions on matters of public policy. What follows is all the analysis I could manage without throwing up.

The problem with conservative ideologues like Ron Paul is that they adopt positions based on abstract doctrine, without examining whether their positions are likely to lead, in the real world, to justice and happiness. Sometimes their doctrines may have this effect, but often their doctrines will surely lead to misery, or simply make no sense at all. Conservatives can’t tell the difference.

Ron Paul’s position on national defense is sensible (though I’m not sure about the idea of securing the national borders, which he strongly favors). He wants to end wasteful military spending and bring troops home. Good!

In every other area, unfortunately, the guy is a basket case. He’s a brainless turd. Let’s take a closer look. The quotes below are drawn from the ronpaul2012.com page, which presumably has his endorsement.

Energy

We should probably note at the outset that ronpaul2012.com has no Issues page on the environment. It’s not hard to see why. The results of letting private corporations destroy our air, water, land, and oceans are plain for anyone to see, but reining them in would require government action. It would mean a reduction in freedom — freedom, in this case, for giant corporations. Like other Libertarian-oriented conservatives, Ron Paul positively worships freedom. (Except when he doesn’t — see the section on Abortion, below.)

According to the web page, “…much of the ‘pain at the pump’ Americans are now feeling is due to federal policies designed by environmental alarmists to punish traditional energy production — like oil, coal, and natural gas — in hopes of making energy sources they favor more ‘economical.’” Shorn of rhetoric (the word “alarmist” and the quotation marks around “economical”) that statement is not too far off the mark. Yes, Ron — gas would be cheaper if it weren’t taxed. And yes, a modern nation needs a comprehensive energy policy that includes the development of alternate forms of energy production, even if they are not currently economical.

More than half of the gasoline and diesel tax, however, is levied by states, not by the federal government. And more than half of the federal fuel tax goes to pay for highway and bridge construction, as is, I’m sure, a good deal of the state fuel tax. Thus, if the federal government stopped taxing gasoline, the primary result would be that our highway system would become decrepit more rapidly than it is doing already. (The website has no statement on infrastructure maintenance.) We should also note that the federal fuel tax is not indexed to inflation, so in constant dollars it has been steadily declining for a number of years.

“As President, Ron Paul will lead the fight to remove restrictions on drilling, so companies can tap into the vast amount of oil we have here at home.” There it is, in black and white. Ron Paul wants Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in politics | 3 Comments »

Padding

Posted by midiguru on November 28, 2011

The crime novels of the 1930s and 1940s were tightly focused on the crime itself, and the detective’s efforts to solve it. In Raymond Chandler’s books we learn almost nothing about his sleuth, Philip Marlowe.

But as the years rolled on, the crime novel stealthily cross-bred with the soap opera. Writers started giving their detectives more elaborate personalities and a supporting cast that didn’t change from book to book. To be sure, Conan Doyle gave Sherlock Holmes a distinct personality and a supporting cast, but the we never hear a peep about Mrs. Hudson’s personal life. She wasn’t important. A few decades later, Rex Stout gave Nero Wolfe a wisecracking assistant (Archie Goodwin), a cook (Fritz Brenner), four occasional freelance operatives (led by Saul Panzer), Archie’s occasional girlfriend (Lily Rowan), and even a seldom-seen orchid tender (Theodore Horstmann). Not to mention the reliable newspaper man (Lon Cohen) and no less than three heavy-handed policemen (Lieutenant Cramer, Sergeant Stebbins, and Sergeant Rowcliff).

Still, the crime stories in most of Stout’s books were at least passable, and some were quite good. I got to thinking about this last night after re-reading Lawrence Block’s The Devil Knows You’re Dead. I had read it years ago, but had forgotten the plot. I now realize it was the book that made me lose interest in Block.

The book is heavily laden with soap opera. The detective, Matt Scudder, goes to a lot of AA meetings, and we learn bits about what the speakers said at those meetings. Scudder also meets with his AA sponsor, so we get nuggets of AA wisdom and even a couple of AA jokes. You could do worse in the cracker-barrel wisdom department. I’m not knocking it, I’m just saying it has nothing to do with the crime story.

He starts cheating on his girlfriend, for no very clear reason other than that he can. He has a friend who is dying of pancreatic cancer and wants Read the rest of this entry »

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Too Many Clues

Posted by midiguru on November 26, 2011

This week I’ve been reading the better sort of murder mysteries — Raymond Chandler, Ross McDonald, P. D. James, Lawrence Block. Good stories, all of them, and expertly told. Yet in each case, there has been something that was jarringly not quite right. But only if you pause after you finish reading and think about what you’ve read. I find myself wondering, don’t these writers know that they’ve blundered?

Maybe yes, maybe no.

Block’s A Walk Among the Tombstones is about a pair of sex killers who decide to spice up their action by kidnapping women, collecting fat cash ransom payments, and then returning the women’s dismembered bodies. At first the detective thinks there may have been three killers, the third driving the panel truck while the other two snatch the women and bundle them into the back of the truck. Eventually he decides that the witnesses who saw the truck just assumed there was a third man driving, that in fact there were only two men, one of whom hopped into the driver’s seat before the van sped away. And indeed, at the end of the book it’s very clear there were only two men.

What, then, are we to make of this passage from Chapter 1: “The back doors of the panel truck were open, and the two men who had gotten out of it earlier were on the sidewalk once again. When Francine emerged from the store, they moved up on either side of her. At the same time, a third man, the driver of the truck, started his engine.”

There it is, in black and white. Block changed his mind about the plot after drafting the opening chapter, and never got around to revising it.

In P. D. James’s Death of an Expert Witness, much is made of a white lab coat that has been stained with the victim’s blood earlier in the day (owing to a fist fight). It has mysteriously vanished, and the assumption is Read the rest of this entry »

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I Read the News Today, Oh Boy…

Posted by midiguru on November 22, 2011

I really should avoid reading The Huffington Post. I’d be in far better spirits if I didn’t know what’s going on in the world.

The administration at a Pennsylvania high school (including the principal) seems to be intent on blaming one of the victims of Jerry Sandusky’s molestation. They had been allowing Sandusky to remove this kid from high school without notifying the kid’s parents, they tried to discourage the mother from calling the police, they ignored reports that the kid was later being bullied for having reported the abuse — and now they’re lying about what they did and didn’t do. And these people are in charge of the education of hundreds of children. If these reports are accurate, they should all be taken out behind the gymnasium and quietly strangled.

Mitt Romney’s opening foray against Barack Obama is an ad that contains a blatant lie — and neither Romney nor his campaign people sees anything wrong with that. But let’s not forget the context: Romney is a Mormon. Mormons, or so I’ve been told by a friend who is an ex-Mormon, are required to stand up in church and vocally assert as known truths things that they cannot possibly know to be true. Thus it’s clear that Romney has been lying all his life, and has reaped substantial social rewards for lying. Why should his campaign be held to a higher standard than his spiritual life?

This week’s Nation has a long and enlightening piece by Naomi Klein about climate change deniers. Klein’s central point is that the deniers know something the progressives haven’t yet figured out, which is Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in politics, society & culture | 1 Comment »

Ads on My Posts? WTF?

Posted by midiguru on November 17, 2011

Usually I’m logged in when I visit my blog. As a result, I don’t necessarily see quite what others see when they visit. Only tonight did I happen to learn that when a visitor clicks on the title of a post so as to read the whole thing, they get an animated advertisement. Maybe even a video.

And there seems to be no close button, so the ad can’t be dismissed.

This is fuckin’ unforgivable. I am not a commercial site. I derive no income from Sears or whatever the fuck is being advertised. I was not advised by WordPress that they had instituted a new policy. I’m not sure yet what I’m going to do about it, other than stagger into the bathroom and toss my lunch. But some action is clearly called for.

Apologizing to my tiny readership? Well, yeah, but I’ve done nothing that I need to apologize for.

Folks — whatever you see advertised here, I’d really appreciate it if you would visit the nearest commercial outlet that provides the advertised product and urinate on the floor in front of the cash register. You can always claim it was an unfortunate accident.

Apparently the ads are intermittent. But just to prove that I’m not hallucinating:

Commercial Truck Season

Posted in media, society & culture | 2 Comments »

Work in Progress

Posted by midiguru on November 17, 2011

I’d love to read comments on this piece. It’s not quite finished, and it’s complicated enough that my thought processes are getting a little scattered. I’m not going to point out the things I feel may need more work — I want to find out what you think.

The only thing I’ll say up front is: This piece is in 31-note equal temperament, but it was written in such a way as to avoid confronting the listener too directly with that fact. It’s intended, in other words, to sound almost like conventional 12-note equal temperament … but not quite. It’s called “A Very Slow Carousel.”

The outer sections use triadic harmonies, which sound much sweeter in 31 than in 12. In the center section you’ll hear some slightly more outside chords and a chromatic run. And as I often do, I avoided 4/4 time.

Posted in microtonal, music | 1 Comment »

Martian Accidentals

Posted by midiguru on November 16, 2011

This is one of those chores for which I wish I had an intern. I’m scanning a 155-page music score into the computer, one page at a time. It’s taking hours.

Why, you ask? A volatile mix of obsessive-compulsive behavior (borderline — not full-blown OCD, but clearly identifiable), intellectual curiosity, and a vague idea that I might actually be performing a public service. The score in question is Easley Blackwood’s Twelve Microtonal Etudes. Composed in the late 1970s thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and still available on CD, the Etudes were published in 1982 by Schirmer, but the score is out of print, and pre-owned copies are in mighty short supply.

I have the CD, of course. It’s out of print, but used copies are floating around. Recorded between 1979 and 1981 using a Polyfusion modular synthesizer, it’s certainly listenable, but the sound quality is, shall we say, primitive. Today’s synthesizers are so much better, and many of the best software synths will quite cheerfully do any tuning you can dream up. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I’m thinking, “Maybe I’d like to try re-recording one of these pieces using good modern technology.”

A couple of years ago, I contacted Blackwood and asked if he knew how I could get a copy of the score. (He had, years before, sent me a copy of the score for the “Fanfare in 19-Note Equal Tuning,” which is also on the CD.) He said he had a few left, and would send me one … but he never did. Since I was asking for a favor, I didn’t like to pester him about it.

The only extant copies seem to be in university libraries around the country — not surprising, really. But recently I found that I could get a copy through my local public library, which subscribes to an inter-library loan system. I now have on my desk the copy from the library at the California Institute of the Arts. This system is one of the marvels of the modern age, I have to say. I’m in awe.

At the bottom of the first page of the score, in small print, it says, “No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.” Hey, Schirmer — I’d buy a copy from you, if you still had it in your catalog. The way I figure it, since you’ve let it go out of print, you can Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in music | 5 Comments »

Pulp Fiction

Posted by midiguru on November 9, 2011

When I’m sick, I tend to grab Perry Mason mystery novels and read them. I only do it when I’m sick, because they’re far too degraded and awful to read at any other time.

I have a large collection of them.

Erle Stanley Gardner was, during his lifetime, probably the best-selling mystery writer in the world, outstripping heavyweights like Agatha Christie. He had started out, in the late 1920s, writing for the pulp magazine market, and his writing never got significantly better. He was a dreadful writer. His prose was stilted, his characters constructed of the flimsiest cardboard, his plots consistently preposterous to the point of absurdity.

But he was dreadful in a highly consistent, thoroughly professional way. He knew exactly what he was doing. He knew what the public wanted, and he supplied it unerringly. Above all, he knew how to keep readers turning the pages! And that’s no small skill.

Mark Twain once wrote a short essay called “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offences.” From time to time I imagine that it might be fun to write “Erle Stanley Gardner’s Literary Offenses.” Nobody would pay the slightest attention, of course. Gardner is beyond passé. But it would be fun.

Tonight I was reading The Case of the Lucky Loser. Summarizing the plot would take many paragraphs, because Gardner’s plots were always rich in twists and turns. What we learn in the final chapters, when Perry Mason has gathered the clues and stripped away the murderer’s web of lies, is this: Banner Boles, the ace troubleshooter for the Balfour Corporation, has been having an affair with the beautiful young wife of Guthrie Balfour. Guthrie Balfour follows his wife to a motel Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in fiction, writing | 3 Comments »

Attack Troll with Sword

Posted by midiguru on November 4, 2011

Back in June, I started a post on interactive fiction this way: “For the past few months I’ve been pretty much ignoring interactive fiction, but that may be changing.” In January, I started a post this way: “After ignoring interactive fiction for a couple of months, I’m drifting back in that direction.” Those have been my two most recent posts on IF.

It’s a good thing I took a look through recent history, or I would have started this post the same way. Periodically I get interested in IF, but it’s been a couple of years since I actually wrote a game. (“A Flustered Duck” won the 2009 Spring Thing competition.)

I have other absorbing interests, so I’m easily distracted. But I think the problem runs deeper than that. There are three principal development systems for IF — Inform 7, TADS 3, and Inform 6. None of them is entirely satisfactory. There are also half a dozen other systems swarming around the fringe, and they’re even less satisfactory.

At the moment, most of the authors have pitched their tents in the Inform 7 camp. Inform 6 probably has a few more aficionados than TADS 3, but the numbers are vanishingly small. (There was one T3 game in this year’s IFComp, and it was a tiny one.)

Inform 7 has a handsome cross-platform development environment. Unfortunately, I dislike its Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Interactive Fiction | 5 Comments »

 
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