Archive for: December 2009

This Nova Scotia: the view from Baddeck

View from Baddeck-cc-s

The view from the Baddeck, Nova Scotia, wharf at 4 p.m., December 28, showing the iconic Kidston Island lighthouse in the right foreground, Beinn Bhreagh in the left middle distance, and Contrarian‘s Kempt Head home barely visible in the center background.

Steve Jobs: Three stories about my life

As an antidote to Keillor’s unpleasantness, check out this short, sweet talk by Apple founder and design genius Steve Jobs, his 2005 commencement address to the graduates of Stanford University. Contrarian doesn’t usually link to YouTube videos with three million views, but perhaps some of you missed it, as we had.

Hat tip: Doug MacKay.

Bile to the world, Garrison Keillor has come

After the First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, played host to Garrison Keillor this month, the Minnesota writer repaid the favor with a splenetic column excoriating the congregation for varying the words of Silent Night. Unitarians were not his only target.

Garrison Keillor-scUnitarians listen to the Inner Voice and so they have no creed that they all stand up and recite in unison, and that’s their perfect right, but it is wrong, wrong, wrong to rewrite “Silent Night.” If you don’t believe Jesus was God, OK, go write your own damn “Silent Night” and leave ours alone. This is spiritual piracy and cultural elitism, and we Christians have stood for it long enough. And all those lousy holiday songs by Jewish guys that trash up the malls every year, Rudolph and the chestnuts and the rest of that dreck. Did one of our guys write “Grab your loafers, come along if you wanna, and we’ll blow that shofar for Rosh Hashanah”? No, we didn’t.

Christmas is a Christian holiday – if you’re not in the club, then buzz off. Celebrate Yule instead or dance around in druid robes for the solstice. Go light a big log, go wassailing and falalaing until you fall down, eat figgy pudding until you puke, but don’t mess with the Messiah.

Raised as a Plymouth Brethren, at the opposite end of the Christian spectrum from Unitarians, Keillor joined the Episcopal Church as an adult. Though he affects a charming, avuncular manner while spinning yarns from fictional Lake Woebegon on NPR’s Prairie Home Companion, he is said to be vain and disagreeable in person.

When the “Jewish guys trashing up the malls” column appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, a friend of editorial page editor D. J. Tice wrote to ask why he decided to run it. Dice replied:

We discussed the column and whether it crossed the line, aware that it had already stirred controversy. We decided it was not anti-Semitic, not least because Keillor spread his nastiness so widely, the way many Christians (and others) try to spread good will at this time of year. He is a regular presence on our Sunday page, with a substantial following, and our bar is very high for spiking a regular column.

In no case, however, does our publishing a column… imply any endorsement of its message. We publish pieces that we think are provocative and/or illuminating. Sometimes what is illuminated is not exactly what the writer intended, and the reaction to Keillor’s piece suggests this may be one of those times. Wouldn’t you agree that readers with eyes to see may have learned something from this piece?

For my part, Keillor is welcome to his narrow, misanthropic Christmas. I hope the real spirit of the season reaches him someday.

The pastor of the offending and offended First Church congregation responded with what could be called Christian charity, were it not for the legions of Keillor-minded adherents to that faith.

The best response Contrarian saw came from a fellow Minnesotan. For Adam Minter, a Jewish writer now living in Shanghai, Keillor’s column immediately called to mind the Christmas party he attended at Shanghai Putuo Spare Time University a few days ago. His description, and one other response, after the jump.

Read more »

The hopes and fears

Christmas Eve-sc

Merry Christmas to all.

Farewell Selectric – feedback

Long-toothed newshawk Dan Badel recalls:

Teletype-model-28-s

Model 28

I distinctly remember several of us standing around watching in awe in early 1976 as our trusty Remington was set aside and our first IBM Selectric was set up in the newsroom at CIGO radio in Port Hawkesbury. The entire set of characters fit on one shiny little rotating metal ball, which you could easily swap to change fonts or type size.

For news copy, we used the ball that produced only oversized upper-case letters because they more-or-less matched the font used on CP wire service stories tapped out 24/7 on our two monster-sized Teletype Model 28 printers, which cranked out the news at a mind-boggling 60 WPM with their distinctive clickety-clack sound, occasionally punctuated by bells alerting us to news bulletins.

I shudder to even think of how many rolls of paper and smelly black ribbons I changed over the years .

Insurance stocks soar as “reform” bill nears passage

Speaking of Glenn Greenwald, the Salon.com columnist has a fact-filled column eviscerating Barack Obama’s claim that Senate Democrats are “standing up to the special interests” opposed to American health care reform.

Greenwald catalogs the explosion in health insurance company stock prices as the severely watered-down reform bill edges toward passage. By way of illustration, he notes that Susan Bayh, wife of Indiana Democratic Senator Evan Bayh and board member of the Indianapolis-based insurance giant WellPoint, has seen the value of her stock in the company rise between $125,000 and $250,000 since her husband helped defeat the bill’s already lame public option.

Although Greenwald considers the bill, which will force Americans to pay private insurance premiums under penalty of income tax penalties, a massive public subsidy of the insurance industry, he supports its passage as a lesser evil than the current health care void. But he is troubled by the vilification of liberals who oppose the bill by the Obama administration and its friends in the media and the blogosphere.  Well worth a read.

“Not my department,” says Harper

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s insistence that the torture of prisoners Canada hands over to Afghan authorities is a problem for Afghanistan, not Canada, calls to mind Tom Leher’s lyric about rocket scientist Wernher von Braun’s apparent indifference to the consequences of his work on Germany’s World War II V2 rocket:

Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down?
‘That’s not my department’, says Wernher von Braun.

In fact, as Bob Rae points out in the same Globe and Mail article, transferring prisoners with the expectation they may be tortured is a violation of the Geneva Conventions – a war crime, in other words.

The blithe indifference to torture shown by both the Harper and Martin governments is a marked departure from the international standards Canadians are accustomed to upholding. But it pales by comparison with the US approach. Salon’s Glenn Greenwald (here) and the New York Times (here) have chilling recapitulations of the US torture and subsequent seven-year imprisonment at Guantanamo, without charge, of Al Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Hajj, during which he was interrogated not about terrorism but about Al Jazeera’s operations.

Says Greenwald:

The due-process-free imprisonment of this journalist by the U.S. government was ignored almost completely by the American media (other than Nicholas Kristof), even as it righteously obsessed on the far shorter imprisonment of journalists by countries such as Iran and North Korea (hey, look over there at those tyrannical countries – they imprison our journalists!!!!!).  Aside from al-Hajj, we’ve imprisoned numerous other journalists without charges in Iraq — and continue to this day to do so — including ones who work for Reuters and the Associated Press.

Visual data: search completion

Start typing “Is Nova Scotia…” into a search box, and Google will offer suggestions for completing your query:

a country? an island? in Canada? a good place to live?

All four, natch. Now try “Is Stephen Harper…” and watch Google suggest:

jewish? a freemason? a christian? a good prime minister? getting the h1n1 vaccine? liberal? a conservative?

OK, none of the above.

Search engines generate these suggested query completions by keeping a digital eye on the billions of searches they process every day. Fernanda Viégas and Martin Wattenberg, artist-scientists at IMB’s Center for Social Software, have been keeping an eye on the phenomenon.

Suggestions for the word “why” result in questions about the sky, cats and marriage… along with “why do dogs eat grass,” and “why do men cheat,” and “why is pink the color for girls.” This labor-saving device — part fortuneteller, part shrink? — has opened a window into our collective soul. With millions of people pouring their hearts into this modern-day confessional, we get a direct, if mysterious, glimpse into the heads of our fellow Web surfers.

Viégas and Wattenberg, whose work is hard to summarize in a single subordinate clause, have developed software to create pictures of these collective queries, which they present in an op ed piece in today’s New York Times.

search completion - santa-s

The size of the arrows and words reflect the number of web pages that answer each of the questions.

Civil service comix

Who knew that the US Government and various states had commissioned hundreds of comic books? Richard Graham, librarian at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, knew, and he assembled a collection of more than 180 digitized examples on the UNL website.

eyepatch-s

Charles Schutlz (Peanuts), Hank Ketcham (Dennis the Menace), and Chic Young (Blondie) were just three of the artists who turned in stints as civil service cartoonists. Topics ranged from the benefits of treating children for lazy eye, to the wonders of DDT in the battle against malaria.

Dennis the Menace had a thing or three to teach the Mitchell family about household safety.

Dennis the Menace

The New York State Department of Mental Hygiene found a role model for family values in Dagwood Bumstead’s turbulent home.

Dagwood

And in Dogpatch, when Lana Turnip chased Drawing Board McEasel into the Navy, Li’l Abner was right behind him.

Lil Abner

Hat tip: Tara Calishain, ResearchBuzz

Farewell Selectric

SelectricFrom a story by Alexandra Zayas in the St. Petersburg (Florida) Times:

TAMPA — For the first time in history, it allowed a human to tap a backspace key and make a mistake go away.

Called “Selectric II,” it was conceived when Richard Nixon was president, when IBM made typewriters and when a hand-typed card catalog tracked every book at Tampa’s downtown library.

Librarians got machines for the public, giving each a room of its own with walls the shade of an avocado. The workhorses spit out labels for spines of books and stamped Dewey decimals on paper cards. They typed resumes, got people jobs.

But sometime around the election of Ronald Reagan, IBM teamed up with a 32-person company called Microsoft and started selling “personal computers” for $1,565 apiece.

In 1982, Time named the computer Man of the Year.

After that, computers got lighter, cheaper. Libraries stocked up, monitors aglow.

No one watched as vandals slipped into the avocado rooms and did wretched things to typewriters. Soon they were kept behind locked doors.

Four public typewriters became three. Then, two. One.

Then sometime last week, the typewriter hammered over the same spot again. And again. Its ribbon refused to advance. Even the backspace key could do nothing to help.

Librarians rushed to find a second typewriter, one they’d kept hidden in case this one broke. But it, too, refused to comply.

If people asked — and not many did — librarians sent them half an hour away to Ruskin, where the last working county library typewriter remains. They called a repairman who gets maybe five jobs a month and takes payment only in paper checks. For $60 plus parts, it will be good as new.

Until then, the downtown library’s last typewriter sits alone behind a locked door, shrouded with a paper sign, which in big, bold letters reads:

OUT OF

ORDER.

Typed on a computer.

Hat tip: Resource Shelf.

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