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September 13, 2014

Something positive about Ronald Reagan

On Christopher Lydon‘s excellent Radio Open Source program, I heard him interview the historian Rick Perlstein about his book The Invisible Bridge. Kissinger tells it in his memoir.

When Kissinger was in the White House, he had to call Reagan, whom he despised. This was during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. In the course of the conversation he said that the Egyptians were claiming to be shooting down an absurd number of Israeli planes. Everyone knew they were lying, but the White House wasn’t sure how to counter the propaganda.

Ronald Reagan immediately said, “Well, Henry, announce that the US will replace every downed Israeli plane, one for one.”

Yes, Ronald Reagan had a brilliant idea.

Tomorrow: You won’t believe what Sarah Palin told the Dalai Lama that changed his life forever.

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August 1, 2014

Time to invoke the Streisand Effect?

The Register just posted one of the most ridiculous pieces of clickbait trolling I’ve ever seen. They’re claiming that by posting the parody video below, the UK’s Open Rights Group is comparing people who defend their copyright to Hitler:

It helps to know a few things:

First, the movie the clip, taken from Downfall, has been used for this sort of re-titling parody well over a hundred times, with Hitler fulminating over everything from Miley Cyrus twerking to spam. (Here are seven recent parodies, and 25 from an article in 2009.) Note that the video above was created and posted by Brad Templeton in 2009.

Second, a few years ago, the producers of Downfall apparently got fed up with their movie becoming so well known and started issuing DMCA takedown notices for the parodies.

Third, two days ago the House of Lords protected parodies against copyright infringement suits — covered in the US by our policy of Fair Use. ORG linked to the Downfall parody to celebrate this victory for free speech.

So, it hurts my head how many ways The Register’s trolling gets things wrong. It’s as if someone were accused of violating Godwin’s Law because she invoked Godwin’s Law. [I am taking Godwin’s Law as normative. Sue me.]

Here is the link to The Register article but I encourage you not to go there, just so they won’t feel that this sort of ridiculous trolling is profitable. Instead, we could perhaps invoke a version of the Streisand Effect by posting the video widely.


[A few hours later:] The Register just appended the following to their post:

Since the publication of this story, the ORG has contacted The
Register with this comment: “Earlier this week, the Open Rights
Group tweeted a Downfall parody about copyright on the day that
parody exceptions for copyright were approved by the House of
Lords. Downfall parodies are widely recognised and have been used
to great satirical effect about a wide range of subjects. It is
wilful ignorance to portray a Downfall parody as a direct
comparison with Hitler and Nazism.”

Yup.

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June 14, 2014

Reservations

Here’s a humor thing of the sort I sometimes write. You know, the sort that isn’t very funny. Enjoy

Reservations

A restaurant with three Michelin stars is now trying to up its customer service game by Googling its customers before they arrive. According to a report from Grub Street, an Eleven Madison Park maitre d’ performs Internet recon on every guest in the interest of customizing their experiences.

Casey Johnson, April 13, 2014, Ars Technica

[SCENE: Interior of the entryway of an upscale restaurant. A large LCD panel on a side wall announces that it is Chez Henri. A casually elegant maitre d’ welcomes a couple dressed for a night out.]

Don: Hello, we have a reservation for…

Maître d': Welcome, Ms. and Monsieur Hartman.

Don: Wow. Um, I’m Don Hartman…

Maître d': Indeed! We’re so pleased you have chosen to dine with us tonight.

[Maître d’ claps twice at the LCD. It now reads "Chez Randi & Don."]

Don: Oh, that seems a bit much.

Maître d': Ah, on a normal night, yes, absolutely. But when Randi Hartman née Fox, co-director of the Rockvale Chamber of Commerce, shows up with Donald Hartman, Revco’s newly appointed Regional Manager of Operations, on her arm, within one week of their fifteenth wedding anniversary…

Don: I don’t think I mentioned any of that when I made the reservation.

Maître d': You’ve barely changed, Ms. Hartman, if I may say so.

Randi: Thank you. I guess.

Maître d': So we have tonight decided to adjust our menu to accommodate the difference in tastes exhibited in the — if I may — struggle at your wedding between the contemporary Japanese hors d’oeuvres and the classic French entrees.

[Claps twice at the LCD panel which updates to say "Chez Randi & Don: NY’s Finest Sushi-Poisson Fusion Restaurant.]

Maître d': As for the salad with mandarin oranges, we’ll just let that go by as a courteous response to a well-meaning new in-law.

[As they are taken to their seats, another couple enters and the LCD panel changes to display "Pat & Miriam’s Yeehaw Chopsticks: NY’s Finest Szechuan-Longhorn Fusion Restaurant"]

[SCENE: Don and Randi are seated at a table. Their waiter steps up.]

Marcus: Hello, Ms. and Mr. Hartman. I’m Marcus, and I’ll be your server tonight. May I offer you a cocktail on the house to celebrate your anniversary and also your reaching the half-way point in paying off your mortgage?

Don: Really? I didn’t realize…

Marcus: Halfway in terms of the number of payments, but unfortunately you won’t hit the halfway mark in the total amount you owe for another 3 years and two months. Do come back to us then!

Randi: That’s very kind of you and simultaneously chilling. I’ll have a …

Marcus: Dirty martini. Tanqueray. Three olives. Very cold.

Randi: Why, yes…but…

Marcus: Dumb luck. There was a thirty-five percent chance tonight was going to be a Cosmo night. Shall I queue up a Cosmo for cocktail #2?

Randi: Oh, I hardly ever have two…

Marcus: No need for pretense here at Chez Randi and Don. We can just accept who we are. In fact, I’ll make that a double. And for you, sir, your usual?

Don: Usual? I’ve never been here before…

Marcus: Of course, but you have cookies turned on in your browser. Firefox. Excellent choice. By the way, you’re two upgrades behind, which I wouldn’t mention except that the latest update has important security patches. Let me know if you’d like me to take care of that. [sotto voce] (I’ll clear your browser history while I’m there. Seriously.)

Randi: I have to say that I’m finding this pretty creepy…

Marcus: I’m so sorry. I didn’t realize you’re so uncomfortable with yourself.

Randi: That’s not the point…

Marcus: I’ll be right back with your drinks.

[Marcus exits.]

Don: Wow.

Randi [fiddling with her phone]: My signal sucks. Can I borrow your phone?

[Lights quickly fade and return. Marcus is taking their order.]

Marcus: And I assume that you would like your fillet medium rare, and with no onions anywhere on the plate, or preferably anywhere in the entire restaurant, haha. I know how you feel about onions, Mr. Hartman! And for you, Ms. Hartman, may I recommend something that will help you get into the size six dress you bought three months ago? By the way, I was able to reach your bathroom scale over wifi, but the pesky thing keeps insisting on telling the truth, doesn’t it?

Randi: Sure, whatever, Marcus. And since you know everything, perhaps you can tell me how a place with three Michelin stars would ever get a health violation for improperly refrigerating its shellfish.

Marcus [flustered]: What? Oh, that was ages ago…

Randi: November 9, 2012.

Marcus: The thermostat on one of our refrigerators went on the fritz and wouldn’t you know it, that’s the night a city health inspector showed up.

Randi: What are the chances of that? Thirty-five percent?

[Lights quickly fade and return. Antonio is refilling Randi’s water glass]

Randi: Thank you, Antonio.

Antonio: You’re welcome…Wait, how do you know my name?

Randi: I went to your Facebook page. Looks like that new tattoo must have hurt.

Antonio: Uh, thanks. I almost didn’t do it.

Randi: Well, Martina seems like a nice woman. Strong.

Antonio: You don’t know the half of it.

Randi: Are you sure about that? Let me ask you something. Did the restaurant tell you anything about my husband and me?

Antonio: No, not really. Just to be super-sure that your silverware is set perfectly straight, and that your bread basket has to stay full of sweet rolls no matter how many you chow down because your blood sugar is dipping below 80.

Randi: Anything else?

Antonio: Well, just that if you think we’re treating you different because you’re a woman, you’ll go ballistic.

Randi: So, they called me a bi…

Antonio: No, no. Although it’s true your avatar in our system is a pig with a stick up its butt. We hardly ever use that one.

[Lights quickly fade and return. Marcus is back and the dinner plates are being cleared.]

Marcus: And how was everything? Were the Julienne potatoes not to your liking, Randi, or was the portion just too big? I can assure you that the serving size is precisely the same as we offer to people with penises.

Randi: So you talked with Antonio.

Marcus: Let’s just say some texts were exchanged. Oh, don’t worry. You’re not going to have to give another $40 to the ACLU to protect him. By the way, you might consider upping your contribution, although that might mean you’d have to give up your subscription to Us Weekly. Us? Really? Not even People?

Randi: So, you want to do this, Marcus? I wonder how your 57 Twitter followers would feel about learning that MyOwnMan32 lives at home, hasn’t found a hair growth hoax he hasn’t fallen for, and writes erotic Harry Potter fan fiction under the name "Hermiones_Nipple"?

Marcus: You want to go Twitter on me? I’ll go Twitter all over your Spanx-wearing heinie. I will tweet you out so hard that Facebook’s timeline will run in reverse. Just try me, the former Most Likely to Smell Like Sperm.

Randi: That was a mean yearbook comment in high school! That’s not even on the Internet!

Marcus: You want to keep it that way, or do you want to take me on, bitch?

Randi: You do not want to unleash the kraken, my friend. I know where you live. I know who you’re stalking and why she calls you The Leaker. I know the real reason you gave the Fergus Slim Flashlight only one star at Amazon — funny review, by the way. I know why you can never go back to Rum Bay Beach in the Turks and Caicos. I even have a pretty good idea of exactly where to dig.

Marcus: Oh, you think you know alllll about me, do you, Ms. twice-a-week personal-zone waxer, you repeat-instant-replayer of that scene in House of Cards, you know which one. We are a fucking three star restaurant, lady. We don’t just do a Google search and call it a day as if were some goddamn house of pancakes. We do our research the way we prepare our Truite Sauté Sauce Amere: with a thoroughness that burns through sous chefs as if they were cheap votary candles. We’ve already named the constellations of the moles on your back, and we’ve alerted your primary care physician that M44, the Beehive Cluster, needs immediate attention. We know not only your past boyfriends, but have some statistical confidence about who the next one will be. A word to the wise, Don, there’s a point at which a family accountant is paying just too much attention to deposits and withdrawals, if you know what I mean. So, Randi-with-an-i since 1996, if you want to play, you better bring your game, because you are frankly an amateur playing in the big leagues of Knowing You.

Don [putting his hand on Randi’s]: It’s not worth it, sweetie.

Randi: But I could…

Don: I know you could, but he’s not worth it.

Marcus: Excellent choice. Now, [smiling] can I get you some dessert?

[Pause a beat.]

Randi [timidly closing the dessert menu]: Surprise us.

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January 1, 2014

A bad year for our annual Top Ten Top Ten Top Ten list

It’s been a disappointing year for those of us who enjoy Top Ten Top Ten lists. Last year I found an arguable ten or so for my Top Ten top Ten Top Ten list.

This year, my Top Ten Top Ten Top Ten lists contains only four:

Then there were some sites that seemed promising but can’t count in a list as rigorous as this. I have my standards, people!

Not only is this a disaster for this year’s list, it calls into question our progress toward the dream: a Top Ten Top Ten Top Ten Top Ten list. But I have hope. We can do this!

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November 27, 2013

Pronouns were a mistake that we can fix

I think half the questions I ask a certain set of people are of the sort “Wait, which ‘he’?” or “Sheila or Marg?” All pronouns do is introduce ambiguity, error, and irked moods. We’d be better off without them, by which I mean without pronouns.

Worse, in some languages pronouns force us to make decisions about the gender of inanimate objects and even of abstractions. How does that help? Why don’t we also pretend that every object has a race, an eye color, and a favorite fruit? Assigning everything hit points would actually make more sense.

There are two arguments in favor of pronouns. First, some people’s names are long. Might I suggest that if we got rid of pronouns, people would soon start taking shorter names? Or we’d come up with a convention to shorten the names in unambiguous ways. Perhaps “y” would be appended to the first syllable, as in “First Lady Michy said to President Oby, “Bary, I think you ought to meet with ex-Governor Schwarzy,” all without any implied disrespect.

Second, plural pronouns can be useful when the group doesn’t have a known name or an obvious common descriptor. For example, “Two men, a woman, and a cockerspaniel drove up to an off-duty waiter and a former action movie star, and said ‘Hey, why don’t you get in our car?,” which they did.” The ‘they’ in that sentence does some useful work. I will allow it.

First person plural is an interesting challenge. I think I would allow “we” only for an indefinite group, as in the title of this post. Otherwise, instead use the name or descriptor of the group you have in mind. Think about how clarifying it would be to actually have to specify who you’re pretending to speak for?

I will allow the use of the first person singular since it is less ambiguous than using your own name: “Give that to David” isn’t helpful when I’m in a room with David Winer, David Cameron, and Michelangelo’s Statue of David. Second person singular pronouns should not be allowed, however, since there can be ambiguity about whom one is addressing. Second person plural I will allow on the same grounds as third person plural. Plus, by disallowing the second person singular, I have solved the ambiguity caused by using the exact same frigging word for second person singular and plural. What were we thinking?

Y’all are welcome.

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November 3, 2013

This mnemonic does not mnemon

I fall forward far more often than I fall back.

I can’t remember the last time I sprang forward or sprang back.

Worst. Mnemonic. Ever.

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September 29, 2013

Fake spoilers to tweet during Breaking Bad

Here’s a sequence of fake spoilers you can tweet during tonight’s Breaking Bad finale.

There are IMPLIED SPOILERS in this if you haven’t seen the series. E.g., if you don’t know what happens to Gus, read no further. Mainly, though, it implies who is alive when the finale begins.

First, just a palette cleanser:

First time viewer! Can someone catch me up? #BreakingBad

Then:

The New Mexico landscape is so beautiful, forbidding. But why is Pisa leaning in the background? Foreshadowing? #BreakingBad
I don’t remember Jesse having a hook for a hand? Did I miss an episode????? #BreakingBad
Surprise! I really did not see that Paula Deen cameo coming! #BreakingBad
Hahahaha. First time Saul ever wins a case and it turns out to be a case of TNT! Boom! #BreakingBad
Don’t eat it, Huell. Don’t eat it. DON’T EAT IT!!!!!!! #BreakingBad
I told you not to eat it :( #BreakingBad
OMG. NPH is great in EVERYTHING #BreakingBad
One thing you have to say about the Neo-Nazis: they sing ABBA beautifully. #BreakingBad
Gus is alive??? I don’t think I’m buying this “bionic face” device #BreakingBad
Todd meet the new sheriff in town: Chuck Freaking Norris! Yeah!! #roundhouse! #BreakingBad
But if Skyler’s outfit is made from cloth from Krypton and is indestructible, how did she sew it? #BreakingBad
I looove Robin Williams, but was this really the right time for zany improv? #BreakingBad
Really? Wouldn’t the constant stream of water from the car wash have put out the Hell Mouth? #BreakingBad
Well, he died as he lived. In his tighty whiteys. #BreakingBad

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September 16, 2013

Breaking Bad SPOILER (not really)

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September 10, 2013

The Internet Must Go

I wouldn’t have thought that Net Neutrality would be a particular rich vein for humor. But I was wrong. The Internet Must Die is a Colbert-style satire, with many of the heroes of the Open Internet in it.

 


A court yesterday heard arguments about whether the FCC’s Net Neutrality rules [pdf] should be permitted to stand. Harold Feld does his usual superlative job of explaining in depth.

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August 23, 2013

Game of Thrones, Season 4 Episode1 [NO SPOILERS]

Valyrian steel spun sparks from the iron shield emblazoned with a red sun pierced by a golden spear. Rhaegar Targaryan pivoted left with the blow, causing the sword to rebound to the earth. Victarion felt his wrists twist with the strain, which only caused him to grasp the mighty two-handed sword more firmly.

As he pulled the tip from the loam it had pierced, the keen-edged weapon shed soil the way his wife had shed tears the day Tommen Baratheon, Lord Paramount of the Westerlands, had thrown their daughter Janna into the Karhold where she vanished beneath the waves without having time to scream for help or mercy. On that day a silence had descended between Victarion and his wife, broken only by the most necessary of exchanges.

His memories must have slowed him, for Rhaegar was now upon him, his double-bladed battle axe carving Victarion’s arm from his elbow as cleanly as a butcher preparing a lamb for his lord’s name day. The blood pulsed red-black from what remained of his limb. “Send a white raven to my wife Doreah,” he said with what breath remained.

“This I shall do,” Rhaegar promised as Victarion slumped to the ground. “But first I must ask you…”

“Be quick, for I shall not be quick for long.”

“I’ll do my best. But I’m just wondering why you have a shield emblazoned with a red sun and a golden spear.”

“Why wouldn’t I?”

“Because, unless I’m very much mistaken, you are a Greyjoy, and the Greyjoy sigil is a golden kraken upon a black field.”

“That can’t be right. I’m definitely a Greyjoy,” said Victarion. “But I’m pretty sure the Greyjoy sigil is that sun and spear rigamarole. I remember thinking it looks like someone eating a pancake with a chopstick.”

“No, that’s House Martell. I’m right about this. Trust me.”

“Really? I bought it from Petyr Baelish. I definitely told him I was a Greyjoy.”

A crooked smile passed over Rhaegar’s face. Victarion shrugged, sending waves of pain down his frayed arm.

“Ok, if you’re so smart,” said the dying warrior, “which is your sigil, Targaryan?”

Rhaegar did not have to think before responding to the challenge. “Three black dogs on a dark yellow background. Our motto is ‘Cut us and you will cry.'”

“Hah! That’s the Cleagne sigil. And the motto belongs to the House Seaworth,.”

“No, I’m pretty sure Targaryan is the three dogs. And I never even heard of the House Seaworth.”

“Oh, it’s a real thing, alright. You don’t hear about Seaworth because it’s ruled by a landed knight, which doesn’t make a lot of sense.” Brightening, Victarion asked, “You know what they call that guy, Ser Davos Seaworth?”

“I have no idea.”

“The Onion Knight,” said Victarion before Rhaegar had even finished. “Wow, you really don’t know your houses!”

“You’re one to talk,” Rhaegar replied, idly kicking at Victarion’s severed arm. “Your entire backstory doesn’t make any sense.”

“The hell it doesn’t!”

“Alright then,” Rhaegar challenged the fallen knight. “Tommen Baratheon isn’t Lord Paramount of the Westerlands. Lord Paramount of the Westerlands is another name for Tywin Lannister, and Tommen Baratheon isn’t even a Lannister at all. He’s a Baratheon.”

“I thought a Baratheon was just a name, not a clan thing.”

Rhaegar burst out laughing. “Really? Really?? You thought Tommen Baratheon might be a Lannister.”

“Baratheon could be his middle name,” Victarion replied testily. “Tommen Baratheon Lannister. It could be!”

“We don’t have middle names!”

“Oh yeah? How about Tyrian Lannister the Imp?”

“What are you talking about, Victarion? ‘The Imp’ is an epithet, not a middle name.”

“‘The Imp’ is at the end. That puts ‘Lannister’ in the middle. In the middle, middle name.”

“By the Old Gods, you are an idiot. I don’t even know where to start.”

“Because you know my logic’s right.”

“You are so wrong. And even if you were right about the name — which you’re not — Tommen Baratheon is like eight years old. He wasn’t even born when your daughter Janna drowned.”

“I was pretty sure it was him.”

“I’m pretty sure not. And another thing, Janna wasn’t your daughter. She was actually the sister of Mace Tyrell, who grew up and married Ser Jon Fossoway.”

“Ah, to learn that she survived the waves and lived to the age of ripeness eases my passing. Thank you, sir.”

“You’re not listening. Jenna wasn’t your daughter. Couldn’t have been. She wasn’t killed by a boy who wasn’t even born yet. And the sea that you say she drowned in — Karhold — is actually a castle. It’s not even particularly close to water. And, sorry to break this to you, but Doreah isn’t your wife. She was just a handmaiden to Daenerys Targaryen.”

“The hot one with white hair and dark eyebrows?” Victarion said, perking up.

“Hey, she’s my relative, so don’t get all creepy on me. But, yeah, that’s the one. Anyway, Doreah was just a minor character who bedded Viserys, the guy with the white hair and dark eyebrows. Talk about creepy guys!”

“You got that right.”

“So, Doreah: not your wife. Right?”

“Fine. But I’ve got one for you,” Victarion said, his strength fleeing him like his blood seeping into the patient earth.

“What is it?”

“Fun fact: Rhaegar Targaryan was killed in Robert’s Rebellion before this whole series began.”

“No way!”

“Way.”

“Then who am I?”

“How the hell should I know? Why don’t you do what everyone else does? Keep a tab open to Google.”

With that, the might Victarion’s spirit fled. And then the hot one with the white hair and dark eyebrows strode firmly, proudly, nakedly, into her bath.

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