res ipsa loquitur

the map is not the territory

Posted on: Wed, 11/30/2011 - 18:19 By: Tom Swiss

I've always been a bit fascinated by maps. When I was a kid, we had placemats with a historical/cultural map of the Chesapeake Bay, and being the "read anything in front of me" child that I was this may have been formative. I remember having a world political map on the wall, and later a world topographic map (including the sea floor) on my ceiling. I always loved looking at the maps of fantasy realms like Middle Earth and Earthsea that would show up in the front of books. (Yes, I am geek.) When I started driving, back in the days before GPS and smartphones, I had a good collection of ADC street atlases floating around the car.

anticlimactic list of crimes

Posted on: Tue, 08/16/2011 - 22:10 By: Tom Swiss

I recently received a flier from the local neighborhood watch group, "Westchester Citizens On Patrol". I don't have anything against neighborhood watches, but I almost had to chuckle about the list of local crimes in this flier:

1. Assault and trespassing off of Norhurst Way

2. Motorcycle stolen at gunpoint off of Stonewall.

3. Murder on Meyers Drive.

4. Large rock thrown through car windshield near St. Paul’s Church and on Meyers Drive.

5. Alert from Wilkens Precinct regarding a spike in vehicle break-­‐ins

6. House egged on Norhurst Way North

I'm sure that folks having their house egged found it a mess and quite upsetting. But to put that in the same list with a motorcycle-jacking and a murder...that's a bit anti-climactic, to say the least.

Alex Trebek injured chasing a burglar out of his hotel room

Posted on: Thu, 07/28/2011 - 09:39 By: Tom Swiss

According to CNN, Alex Trebek, 71-year-old host of famous quiz show "Jeopardy", ruptured an Achilles tendon while chasing a burglar out of his hotel room early Tuesday. First, I wish him a speedy recovery, and second, not only is the guy still working at 71, he's chasing down crooks -- this has to make him the most awesome game show host ever.

Glenn Beck says Norway victims "a little like...the Hitler youth"

Posted on: Tue, 07/26/2011 - 09:54 By: Tom Swiss

I thought this had to be something from The Onion, but nope, it's real: commenting on the massacre at Utoya, Glenn Beck said that "There was a shooting at a political camp, which sounds a little like, you know, the Hitler youth. I mean, who does a camp for kids that's all about politics? Disturbing."

Beck is apparently unaware that not only have the the Young Republicans had camps for teens, but the Tea Party followers who briefly catapulted him to stardom have done camps for kids -- modeled, not surprisingly, on vacation Bible schools, and full of the usual teabagger delusions about history and economics.

And so, having compared his own core consistency to the Nazis (accurately or not...), methinks that about wraps it up for Mr. Beck. Thanks for playing and we have some lovely parting gifts.

where does the TSA find these people?

Posted on: Thu, 07/14/2011 - 11:52 By: Tom Swiss

If you need conclusive proof that the Transportation Security Administration carefully picks the most ignorant and incompetent applicants, consider the words of Sabrina Birge, an airport security officer at at Nashville International Airport. When Andrea Fornella Abbott refused to have her daughter subjected to molestation or to radiation, Birge informed her that the scanner was not an X-ray but "uses the same type of radio waves as a sonogram."

That's right. She claimed they use the the same sort of radio waves as a sonogram.

The new backscatter scanners do, in fact, use X-rays, and the evidence is clear that the TSA has lied about the evidence for their safety.

RIP Jeff Conaway

Posted on: Fri, 05/27/2011 - 16:42 By: Tom Swiss

Actor Jeff Conaway died today. He was 60.

Conaway is best known to most people from his roles in the TV series Taxi and the movie Grease. But to SF fans, he will be warmly remember for his role as Zack Allan on Babylon 5. I recently finished re-watching the whole run of B5, and was once again impressed with both the character and with Conaway's portrayal.

Conaway struggled with drug abuse and addiction for much of his life. (Knowing this lends quite a bit of pathos to a scene in an episode of Babylon 5 where he confronts an alcoholic friend about relapsing.) In recent years he had been put through the exploitation of VH-1's Celebrity Rehab and subject to the bullshit of the "Church" of Scientology. Perhaps if he'd gotten genuine help, things could have gone differently; but instead, on May 11, Conaway collapsed from use of painkillers and prescription drugs, and was hospitalized with pneumonia and sepsis, which eventually proved fatal.

macabre grammar

Posted on: Fri, 05/06/2011 - 22:11 By: Tom Swiss

Over on Facebook, our good friend Molly Griest pointed out the linguistic curiosity that if you whack somebody with an ax, you are an "ax murderer", but if you use anything else you're just "a murderer".

This got me thinking. It seems to me that we'd say "an ax murderer", and maybe refer to "a poisoner", but almost never "a strangler" -- "the Boston strangler" or suchlike, yes, but not so much "a strangler". You'd never say "a strangulation murderer" or "a poison murderer". "A shooter" or "a gunman" doesn't necessarily mean a killer, and you don't say "a gun murderer". You'd almost never say "a stabber" and certainly not "a knife murderer".

Or so it seems to my ear. But why speculate when we can actually examine how people actually use certain phrases? It's Google-fu time! Here are the number of hits on various murderous phrases. To keep the comparisons fair I've included the "a/an" in each search, so that we're not including "Boston strangler", for example:

  • "an ax murderer": 157,000
  • "a poisoner": 77,300
  • "a poison murderer": 9
  • "a strangler": 103,000. But, results for strangler figs show up on the first page. If we adjust our search to cut those out ("a strangler" -fig): 75,000
  • "a strangulation murderer": 0
  • "a gun murderer": 2,240. Though two of the top results are about this topic of how people use "ax murderer" and not "gun murderer"!
  • "a knife murderer": 19,800. As with "a gun murderer", top results also include discussion of how rare this phrase is.
  • "a stabber": 11,800. But the first several hits are about a class of spaceship in the game EVE Online.
  • "a baseball bat murderer" : 8
  • "a bow murderer": 6
  • "a crowbar murderer": 1

I'm surprised that "a knife murderer" comes in higher than "a stabber". But in the end, there's no doubt about it -- despite their rareness, ax murderers get people talking in a way that no other murderers do. (That is, by the way, not a suggestion. Just to be clear.)

R.I.P. Elisabeth "Sarah Jane Smith" Sladen

Posted on: Tue, 04/19/2011 - 23:34 By: Tom Swiss

As a long-time Whovian, I'm saddened to learn of the death of Elisabeth Sladen, who portrayed the Doctor's companion Sarah Jane Smith in the original Doctor Who series, in the revival, and in the spinoff The Sarah Jane Adventures. Ms. Sladen had been suffering from cancer; she was 63.

Steven Moffat had this wonderful praise of her:

'Never meet your heroes' wise people say. They weren't thinking of Lis Sladen.

Sarah Jane Smith was everybody's hero when I was younger, and as brave and funny and brilliant as people only ever are in stories. But many years later, when I met the real Sarah Jane - Lis Sladen herself - she was exactly as any child ever have wanted her to be. Kind and gentle and clever; and a ferociously talented actress, of course, but in that perfectly English unassuming way.

There are a blessed few who can carry a whole television show on their talent and charisma - but I can't think of one other who's done it quite so politely. I once showed my son Joshua an old episode of Doctor Who, in which Lis appeared. "But that's Sarah Jane," he said, confused "In old Doctor Who. From years ago. How come she always look exactly the same?" It's not a comfort today, of course, but children will still be saying that fifty years from now.

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