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Month: December 2003

Monday Mashup #21: Buckaroo Banzai

“Why is there a Mashup there?”

“I’ll tell you later.”

This entry, by the by, will probably not become a googlewhack, but only cause all of you are gonna use “Buckaroo” and “mashup” on your pages. C’est la vie.

Where was I… ah, yes. Mashup #21 is Buckaroo Banzai, goofy flagbearer of 80s sci-fi pulp. All the men want to be Buckaroo Banzai, and all the women want to look at him misty-eyed across the floor of Artie’s Artery. The movie is really a revamp of Doc Savage; you’ve got the mysterious ultra-competent leader and his henchmen, each of whom has a different specialty. If you dial down and focus on the movie’s plot, you’ve got a fairly standard alien invasion plot mixed with a kind of a pod people riff and some multiple dimension stuff which doesn’t entirely matter. More important, though, is the deranged hipness which permeates the entire thing. You could say that Buckaroo Banzai is a mashup itself: Doc Savage plus 80s style. You wouldn’t be far wrong.


Truth is, I don’t much care what Dean supporters will do if he loses the primaries. I think Dean’s veiled threats are pretty childish; they’re also stupid. He’s not gonna tell his supporters to stay home, and the vast majority of them will vote for the Democratic nominee anyhow. I also agree with Atrios on this one, in that the real question is what happens to Dean’s campaign machine.

In the ideal Democratic Party world, he keeps running it on behalf of the primary victor. In our world, he probably tunes it down and keeps it humming so as to keep himself well-positioned for 2008/2012, unless of course he gets the VP nod, which is what he’s angling for when he makes threats about taking his toys and going home.

Whatever. For me, the interesting question is what Dean does with his apparatus if he wins. Dave Winer has been kvetching about Dean for some time now (hm, I wonder why the search function doesn’t catch the first link, there… oh, because Dave didn’t write his own search, he just lets Google do it for him). What it boils down to, excepting the whinging about Dean not using Dave’s software, is that Dean isn’t doing things other than campaigning with his grassroots.

I think that’s reasonable during the election. But what will he do afterwards? He’s got all these people who badly want to make the country a better place, and he has the tools he needs to point them in a specific direction. Will he send ‘em over to be distributed proofreaders? Will he encourage them to run SETI@Home? Will he ask them to join house-building projects?

In my minarchistic view, Dean’s grassroots is the sort of organizational structure that has the potential to enable the kind of government structure I want to see. I don’t fool myself into thinking that Dean’s going to use it like that after the election, but even from the political junkie point of view, I’m damned curious about his intentions.

Proof in the paging

Distributed Proofreaders is one of those cool things enabled by the Internet. Project Gutenberg has the problem that proofreading OCRed books is painfully time-consuming. So what do you do? You farm out the proofreading one page at a time.

It takes a few minutes to proofread a single page; you do five, and you’ve made a difference. Come back the next day and do five more. At the moment, Distributed Proofreaders has provided over 25% of Project Gutenberg’s 10,000 books. It’s neat. Plus I got to proof some James Branch Cabell — in fact, I just proofed the last page of The Eagle’s Shadow.

There are also teams, in the tradition of distributed processing projects. I set up Population: Too (misspelling intentional for obscure reasons), and anyone’s welcome to join. I’m fairly certain that with some steady work we could overcome both Poland and Team New Jersey, although Team Canada’s hundred thousand pages seems out of reach.

WISH 78: Multitool

WISH 78 asks:

Do you think allowing one player to play more than one character in a game is a good or bad idea? Does the style of the game make any difference? What about the format (FTF, PBeM, etc.)?

Well, you wouldn’t want multiple characters in a LARP, I imagine. (I joke!)

I think that playing two equal characters face to face is generally a bad idea. I was in a game recently in which everyone had two players, and while I enjoyed the game, I gotta say I would have enjoyed it more if I’d been able to focus on one PC. If you’re playing in a purely tactical game, it perhaps makes more sense, but I like exploring personalities.

Troupes seem to work better. I’m defining “troupe” as “one primary PC, and multiple secondary PCs,” in Ars Magica fashion, which is perhaps a little too specific but it’ll do for a working definition. I expect this is purely psychological; a troupe-style game allows me to concentrate on a single PC, with the others being adjuncts. (I really looked forward to Amelia Wellstone’s band of street kids. Alas.)

I s’pose I had multiple PCs back on AmberMUSH, come to think of it. Usually only one primary, though. There, the trick was maintaining a serious amount of separation, and occasionally going through contortions to avoid having PC interests intersect. It was really more like having separate PCs in overlapping campaigns.

Even cheaper

About Cheaper by the Dozen: Roger Ebert is wrong, and pretty clearly wasn’t paying close attention to the movie anyhow, since he has a couple of factual errors in his review. So, no, it’s not a three star movie. 1.5 stars, maybe. Not funny, not charming, kind of depressing. Me, I like my cheerful uplifting Christmas movies to be about success rather than failure.

Uncomfortable spokesman

So, um, what’s up with Eric Raymond? (Unofficial spokesman for the open-source movement, if you didn’t know.)

The big problem with his commentary on IQ and race is the way he misrepresents criticism of the The Bell Curve. He links the criticism of The Bell Curve to criticism of the single-factor IQ model, but that’s simply inaccurate. There are plenty of errors of other sorts in the book. The statistical work is wrong, even according to the conservative magazine Reason:

The long discussions of heredity also distract attention away from the main thrust of the argument and generate needless controversy. The authors acknowledge, as does most serious science on the matter, the difficulty of identifying separate genetic and environmental contributions to intelligence. Most scholars assign some weight to both sources, but the allocation of precise weights generates much well-deserved controversy. The authors fail to justify why it is useful to establish any particular set of weights or even a range of weights, except the special weight that assigns all credit to the genes.

This observation points to the second, more fundamental, reason why this book fails to provide an effective challenge to contemporary egalitarian social policy. One might oppose such policies on moral or ethical grounds. Instead, the authors choose an empirical approach. Yet they fail to develop the empirical case in a satisfactory or coherent manner.

Raymond also cites Jon Entine, who “has investigated the statistics of racial differences in sports extensively.” Except that Entine has done no such thing, according to Scientific American:

Ironically, the greatest strength of Entine’s book — its single-minded focus and clarity — likewise yields its greatest weakness. Because Taboo takes the form of an argument — a case to be proved, rather than an inquiry — it has a polemical flavor. Instead of sifting through fragmented, conflicting data on the rise of black athletes in sports, Entine seeks to prove his case by presuming his conclusion is true, then supporting it with selected evidence. Such a “proof” would be reasonable, were it not for his claim of reliance on the “scientific method.” It is a disingenuous claim. The book does not even attempt to examine a robust data set, evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the information, or come to an evenhanded conclusion. Instead Entine chooses to spare his readers the ambiguities of robust data, which form the core of a scientific inquiry.

Jon Entine, like Charles Murray, is affiliated with the neo-con think tank AEI. Raymond notes that Stephen Jay Gould was a Marxist and extrapolates from that, declaring that “his detestation of g was part of what he perceived as a vitally important left-versus right kulturkampf.” It’s regrettable that Raymond didn’t apply the same filter to Murray and Entine; if political affiliation is a sign of bias, then one might well draw conclusions from the fact that Murray and Entine are substantially closer to the neo-con movement than Gould was to the Marxist movement.

I’m left wondering, as I said, what’s going on here. An uncharitable explanation is that Eric Raymond is a racist. A charitable explanation is that Eric Raymond defines himself, in part, as a rebel who stands up to the establishment, and that he is attracted to theories that are presented as rebellious. “It’s fashionable nowadays to believe that intelligence is some complicated multifactor thing that can’t be captured in one number.” Mix in a healthy portion of elitism, and there you go.

I have no idea which of those, if either, is true. Neither of them is particularly laudable. I’ll finish with a quote from the entry on demographics in the ESR version of the Jargon File:

“The ethnic distribution of hackers is understood by them to be a function of which ethnic groups tend to seek and value education. Racial and ethnic prejudice is notably uncommon and tends to be met with freezing contempt.”

End of the sword

I saw The Last Samurai on Tuesday — the new one, not the 1990 one, although I gotta say that one looks interesting. John Saxon and Lance Henriksen together again! But I digress.

Not particularly to my shame, I am a Tom Cruise fan about fifty percent of the time. I think he can be a superb actor; I also think that he spends at least half his movies chewing scenery. You just never know. This time around, he bothers to act rather than over-emoting, and that means that a fairly typical movie about Americans encountering a different culture gets to be better than it should be. That, plus Ken Watanabe, who makes a huge difference as a credible intelligent rebel lord.

Now, the end of the movie sucks big fat rocks. Seriously, do yourself a favor and walk out after the clear emotional climax. You’ll be happier that way. But up till then it’s a really solid understated movie that I liked a whole lot.