News for View Master Fans

3dstereoFrom the latest bulletin Las Vegas-based 3DStereo  sent to its mailing list:

News and More News:
Sources at Fisher-Price have disclosed that View-Master products are listed in the product list of 2010. A discontinued product line would have no such listing. And although it was not clear what new products are in the offing, it is heartening to hear that View-Master is at least listed for next year.

Of much greater significance, is the news that a tentative agreement has been reached between Fisher-Price and a group of private parties to carry on the work of the now disbanded Custom/Scenic Division. With a surviving reel making machine in Seattle, like the Phoenix rising out of the fire, it appears that the future holds in store for the world, new and favorite scenic View-Master reel sets as well as the ability for custom reel production for the commercial sector.

The Seattle based Alpa Cine, which produced the processed film for the F-P factory in Mexico has combined with Debra Borer, former, able steward of the Custom/Scenic Division pre-2006 will once again head up that exciting, new part of Alpa Cine.

But all is not perfect, probably because the absence was too short, once again Finley-Holiday is being considered distributor of the scenic reels even though their inefficient attitude to View-Master in the past and its resultant distribution practices may have been partly the initial reason that Fisher-Price gave up on scenic View-Master. But then, nothing is always perfect.

More news will be forthcoming and 3Dstereo will endeavor to keep all informed.

Quotation “marks”

Via Language Log, a website devoted to pictures of signs that use quotation marks unnecessarily.  It’s hilarious, as these examples should illustrate:


Well, it tastes like chicken…

dekken and

To use the colloquialism, “and.”


He told me that was his name!


You wanna refund?  I give you a real good refund, sure- right in da face!

The Atlantic Monthly, October 2009

atlantic october 2009Mark Bowden starts his piece, “The Story Behind the Story,”  by recounting TV coverage of the announcement that President Obama had nominated Sonia Sotomayor to the US Supreme Court.  Within minutes of the announcement, Bowden turned on Faux News and was impressed by the depth of their reporting.  He then turned to MSNBC, which was airing precisely the same report, using precisely the same quotes from Judge Sotomayor.  Flipping through the channels, he found that every station was airing the same report.  Curious, he looked into the matter.  The report apparently originated as a post on a conservative blog called verumserum, which not only did the TV channels’ work for them, but even did a better job of trying to be fair to the judge, giving far more of the context in which she made her remarks than did any of the broadcasters. 

Andrew Sullivan asks George W Bush to apologize for promoting torture.  Sullivan is oh-so-sure that Bush didn’t know what was being done in his name.  It reminded me of something about Cuba I read in Reader’s Digest when I was a teenager.  The reporter described ordinary Cubans’ habit of looking at injustices and sighing “If only Fidel knew.”  I had the reaction I was supposed to have, which was to feel sorry for those poor benighted victims of tyranny and certain that Americans would never delude themselves into letting a leader off the hook that way.  Whether there was any truth to Reader’s Digest‘s  description of Cuba I don’t know, but I do now know that we in the USA are not immune from the delusion it attributed to the people of that island. 

Benjamin Schwarz’ review of some new books about the economic slump of the 1930s contains an intriguing sentence, “The defining characteristic of the middle classes has always been their orientation toward the future.”  That sounds like the summary of some sociological theory.  Mrs Acilius is a sociologist; I should ask her if she recognizes the summary and can identify the school of thought in which such a claim might have arisen.  The backbone of his piece is a discussion of Robert Stoughton Lynd and Helen Merrell Lynd’s 1937 study of life in Muncie, Indiana, Middletown in Transition:

The seminal book—really the starting point for the others—is Robert S. and Helen Merrell Lynd’s Middletown in Transition (1937). The Lynds, husband-and-wife sociologists, had first descended on “Middletown”—the then-prosperous if stratified city of Muncie, Indiana—with their team of researchers in 1924, during the boom years. For the next 18 months, they dissected the everyday lives, habits, and attitudes of its inhabitants, concentrating on the middle classes. The book that resulted, Middletown (1929), remains a classic of immersive sociology and the most incisive and complete portrait of American bourgeois life in the 1920s. Having taken this minute snapshot, Robert Lynd and a smaller team returned to Muncie 10 years later to see what had changed in the intervening period, which included the darkest years of the Depression. They interviewed the city’s industrial barons, plant workers, and prostitutes; chatted up its teachers, prosecutors, and real-estate agents (although all sources were anonymous, this much of their identities can be gleaned); and pored over its newspaper files and tax rolls. Mostly, they seem to have gossiped, lingered over dinners, and played bridge with the members of a stratum that ran from the “less-secure business class” to the engineers and middle managers, the young married set, and the well-established doctors, lawyers, and executives in the lower-upper class. The fruit of their sojourn, Middletown in Transition, reveals, fact by fact, detail by detail, anecdote by anecdote, the “staggering, traumatic effect” of “the great knife of the depression,” which “cut down impartially through the entire population, cleaving open the lives and hopes of rich as well as poor.”

Terry Eagleton’s “Reflections on the God Debate”

eagleton bookVia 3quarksdaily, an interview in which Terry Eagleton discusses his book, first published this March, Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate.  In his introduction, the interviewer quotes Eagleton as saying that the “New Atheists” (Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, etc) “buy their rejection of religion on the cheap.”  In the interview, he enlarges on this point, claiming that Dawkins and his ilk reduce religions to sets of propositions and behave as if arguments for and against these propositions were grounds for accepting or rejecting religions.  So far from being new, this approach represents positivism at its most naive.  They ask only, “What do the believers say about their creeds?,” never “What do believers accomplish by saying what they do about their creeds?”  For Eagleton, the life of the religion is in the relationship between beliefs and actions, and it is a ruinous mistake to treat a system of religious beliefs in the same abstract way that we would treat the propositions in a geometric proof.  Indeed, this is the same mistake fundamentalists make:

NS: You say he emphasizes a “propositional” account of religious faith above a “performative” one. But how far can one go believing in God performatively, through political acts, before it becomes a proposition?

TE: All performatives imply propositions. There’s no point in my operating a performative like, say, promising, or cursing, unless I have certain beliefs about the nature of reality: that there is indeed such an institution as promising, that I am able to perform it, and so on. The performative and the propositional work into each other. But it is a typically positivist kind of mistake to begin with the propositional, just as it would be for someone trying to analyze a literary text, which is basically a performance. Somebody who didn’t grasp that would be making a root-and-branch mistake about the kind of thing being confronted. These new atheists, and, indeed, the great majority of believers, have been conned rather falsely into a positivist or dogmatic theology, into believing that religion consists in signing on for a set of propositions.



Helen Scales

Helen Scales

A new book about seahorses has appeared; the author is a marine biologist named Helen Scales.  In its review, The Economist grants that “Scales” is an apt name for a person interested in fish. 



Emily Hornett

Emily Hornett

Some new discoveries have come from examinations of old collections of butterflies; the lead researcher is a biologist named Emily Hornett.  In his note about these findings, Ed Yong of Not Exactly Rocket Science mentions that Hornett is a “great name for an entomologist.” 


A name that is especially suited to the profession of its owner is sometimes called an “aptronym.”  The Wikipedia page for aptronyms lists some famous cases of this coincidence, including such ironic examples as the sometime primate of the Philippines, Jaime, Cardinal Sin.  According to blogger and aptronym maven Nancy Friedman of the “Fritinancy” blog, the American Name Society had a panel about aptronyms at its annual session this January.  Friedman cites a New York Times blog that had a little contest a couple of years ago for best aptronym; the winners included Peru, Indiana’s Eikenberry funeral home.  Friedman also mentions that Slate has posted lists of aptronyms from time, including lawyer Soo Yoo, psychiatrist William Dement, and former White House press secretaries Larry Speakes, who spoke, and Tony Snow, who snowed ’em under.  Here is a list of 180 aptronyms, including such worthies as a financial-services scammer named Robin Banks.  Some aptronyms are really quite eloquent, as for example in the anti-Apartheid activism of actress Honor Blackman


The Nation, 5 October 2009

nation 5 october 2009We take sexual violence seriously here at Los Thunderlads, and so welcome the first installment of The Nation‘s investigation of sex trafficking and of what’s being done in the name of stopping it.  The first part looks at some projects that don’t seem to be helping; the second part will look at other approaches that might represent an improvement.

At the opening of this first part, Noy Thrupkaew interviews Gary Haugen and Patrick Stayton of International Justice Mission, an evangelical Christian group that stages vigilante raids on brothels in southeast Asia; Thrupkaew then talks with other people who have tried to help the women and girls IJM has “freed,” finding that many of them wind up returning to sex work, if anything finding themselves more helpless after the raid than they had been before.  Not only did IJM dump their “rescuees” with other NGOs, simply assuming that those organizations would somehow take care of them, they made no effort to differentiate between, on the one hand, women who had chosen sex work as the least worst option available to them and, on the other, women and girls who had been forced or deceived into it.  Nor did they choose their allies intelligently; IJM’s strategy of working closely with the Cambodian police seems rather dubious when we read one Cambodian policeman’s confession of the nightly rapes he and his colleagues perpetrated against the sex workers in their district, and when we read reports that many Cambodian policemen are active in sex trafficking rings.  Thrupkaew closes this first part of the series with the voices of two other women who are on the ground in Cambodia trying to help victims of sex trafficking there:


The search for life as we know it, behaving as we would expect it to do

Today’s xkcd:











This may not really be fair to researchers who are currently searching the radio waves for signs of artificially produced transmissions from other planets.  After all, there is only one electromagnetic spectrum, while there might be any number of ways species might use or not use chemical traces to communicate.  Still, I think the basic point is well taken.

Stating the obvious

Via LemmusLemmus, a true (or at least, extremely plausible) story of life in the academy:

A colleague presented a fairly complex paper on how firms might use warranties to extract rent from certain users of their products.  No one in the audience seemed to follow the argument. Because I found the argument to be perfectly clear, I repeatedly defended the author and I was able to bring the audience to an understanding of the paper. The author was so pleased that I was able to understand his work and explain it to others that he asked me if I was willing to coauthor the paper with him. I said I would be delighted.

I immersed myself in the literature for a few months so that I could more precisely fit our contribution into the existing literature. We managed to reduce the equations in the paper to six. At this stage the paper was perfectly clear and was written at a level so that it could reach a broad audience. When we submitted the paper to risk, uncertainty, and insurance journals, the referees responded that the results were self-evident. After some degree of frustration, my coauthor suggested that the problem with the paper might be that we had made the argument too easy to follow, and thus referees and editors were not sufficiently impressed. He said that he could make the paper more impressive by generalizing the model. While making the same point as the original paper, the new paper would be more mathematically elegant, and it would become absolutely impenetrable to most readers. The resulting paper had fifteen equations, two propositions and proofs, dozens of additional mathematical expressions, and a mathematical appendix containing nineteen equations and even more mathematical expressions. I personally could no longer understand the paper and I could not possibly present the paper alone.

The paper was published in the first journal to which we submitted. It took two years to receive one referee report. The journal sent it out to a total of seven referees, but only one was able to write a report on it. Apparently he was sufficiently impressed. While the audience for the original version of the paper was broad, the audience for the published version of the paper has been reduced to a very narrow set of specialists and mathematicians. Even for mathematicians, the paper may no longer pass a cost-benefit test. That is, the time and effort necessary to read the paper may exceed the benefits received from reading it. I am now part of the conspiracy to intentionally make simple ideas obscure and complex.

 The original paper, by David R. Hakes, can be downloaded as a pdf here.

New Victoria Vox Video on Facebook

If you have a Facebook account, you should log in right away.  A new video of Victoria Vox’ “Bird Song” is up.  It’s animation produced by Arketype, Inc.  Look for Victoria’s Hitchcock-like cameo.

The Atlantic, September 2009

atlantic september 2009David Goldhill’s piece about health policy identifies the main problem with the current US system as health insurance.  Not the fact that so many people lack health insurance, or the way health insurers operate, or any of the usual complaints, but in the sheer fact that Americans pay for health care primarily by means of health insurance.  Goldhill argues that this payment system strips patients of the ability to make informed decisions about their own care, subjects health care providers to a regime of incentives that are unrelated to the rationality of the marketplace, and inflates the costs of health care to unsustainable levels.  Goldhill proposes a far-reaching plan to replace this system. 

Under Goldhill’s plan, the government would operate an insurance plan that would provide coverage to every American who faced catastrophic health care expenses; that plan would, in time, “ultimately replace Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance.”  It would pay only for genuinely catastrophic expenses.  Goldhill acknowledges that it would be difficult to define the limit of “catastrophic,” and discusses various dollar amounts that might be used as a cutoff.  Perhaps a percentage of national median income would be a better determinant than any absolute number of dollars, but Goldhill doesn’t bring that up. 

The second part of Goldhill’s plan are Health Savings Accounts.  Already in existence, these tax-sheltered accounts would under Goldhill’s plan be mandatory for all Americans, and would be the source from which virtually all health care would be paid.  Goldhill proposes that the government should subsidize low-income Americans with direct payments to their Health Savings Accounts, so that everyone would have at least as much money in his or her Health Savings Account as any patient would likely be able to claim from Medicare or Medicaid today.  The difference is that under Goldhill’s system, the patients themselves would be the ones writing the checks to health care providers.  The providers would then have to compete for patients.  That competition would take the mystery out of health care prices, and would give health care providers an economic incentive to keep prices down and quality of service up. 

Goldhill’s system would also give health-care providers an incentive to adopt best practices, breaking down resistance from entrenched stakeholders.  As an example of such resistance, Goldhill opens the piece with the story of his father’s death from a hospital-borne infection in 2007.  Remarking that about 100,000 Americans die of hospital-borne infections annually, Goldhill brings up Dr. Peter Pronovost, who has developed a checklist of simple disinfection procedures.  Hospitals which have adopted Dr Pronovost’s checklist have seen deaths by hospital-borne infection decline by about 2/3.  Yet most hospitals have refused to adopt the checklist, backing down in the face of doctors who are offended that anyone would suggest they need to be reminded to keep clean.  Goldhill closes the piece by asking us:

Imagine my father’s hospital had to present the bill for his “care” not to a government bureaucracy, but to my grieving mother. Do you really believe that the hospital—forced to face the victim of its poor-quality service, forced to collect the bill from the real customer—wouldn’t have figured out how to make its doctors wash their hands?