The Daily Blague

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25 February 2010


Matins: The exercise in "militainment" known as America's Army may be the cheapest recruiting technique since the English kings fostered village archery.

As Wardynski, the program's originator who now directs the Army Game Project that administers it, told National Defense, the military wanted to ensure that it wouldn't be "the sort of game where you tear off someone's arm and beat them to death with it."

Instead, America's Army is meant to imbue potential recruits with traditional military values. To join, would-be video soldiers have to pass training sessions not only for the game but also for U.S. military systems, lingo, and values. Over time, they can go through added training to specialize in becoming anything from a Javelin missile operator to a Humvee driver.

Once in, players enter a virtual battle built around a scenario from recent real-world U.S. Army experience -- in a squad with other online soldiers anywhere in the world. America's Army has proven so popular globally that, with so many users signing on from Internet cafes in China, the Chinese government tried to ban it. Real soldiers play too, usually identifiable by the unit insignias listed in their gamer names.

The introduction of video gaming into military training is so hugely inevitable that there is no reason to have an opinion about it. We believe, however, that it portends a smarter and more effective military. Not to mention the opportunity to attain military glory in peacetime, through games that bring the honor described by Virgil in the Iliad. (Foreign Policy; via The Morning News)

Lauds: David Cope, the creator of an AI program that composed plausible fakes of Bach and Mozart, is about to unveil its successor, Emily Howell. (Miller-McCune; via 3 Quarks Daily)

As Cope sees it, Bach merely had an extraordinary ability to manipulate notes in a way that made people who heard his music have intense emotional reactions. He describes his sometimes flabbergasting conversations with Hofstadter: “I’d pull down a score and say, ‘Look at this. What’s on this page?’ And he’d say, ‘That’s Beethoven, that’s music of great spirit and great soul.’ And I’d say, ‘Wow, isn’t that incredible! To me, it’s a bunch of black dots and black lines on white paper! Where’s the soul in there?’”

Cope thinks the old cliché of beauty in the eye of the beholder explains the situation well: “The dots and lines on paper are merely triggers that set things off in our mind, do all the wonderful things that give us excitement and love of the music, and we falsely believe that somewhere in that music is the thing we’re feeling,” he says. “I don’t know what the hell ’soul’ is. I don’t know that we have any of it. I’m looking to get off on life. And music gets me off a lot of the time. I really, really, really am moved by it. I don’t care who wrote it.”

Aside from our belief that each interesting composer has his own language and that to know who composed a work is to understand a little more about the composer's language, we quite agree.

Prime: The author of Economists for Firing Larry Summers has a question for Fed Chief Bernanke: Remember?

"We are not in a Great Depression by any means, but our economy has operated below potential for nearly three years. Nor is it by any means clear that recovery is imminent. Policy options exist that could greatly reduce these losses. Why isn’t more happening? To this outsider, at least, monetary policy seems paralyzed, with a paralysis that is largely self-induced. ... Perhaps it’s time for some Rooseveltian resolve."

If these words sound familiar, Chairman Bernanke, that is because you wrote them. You wrote them about Japan in 1999, when Japan's CPI was flat, and Japan's unemployment was at a mere 4.7%. You wrote that this called for "an aggressive depreciation of the yen", for a “helicopter drop of newly printed money" and for an "inflation target of 3-4%".

How much easier it is to give advice when one doesn't need any.

Tierce: Today's truly with-it potager has to be a garden planted on a restaurants rooftop.

It seems city farming in New York is all the rage these days. Just a few steps from the Long Island Rail Road's Jamaica Station, a church's rooftop will soon transform into New York's first hydroponic rooftop farm. At least, that is the hopes of a startup called Gotham Greens.

Winners of the grand prize at New York's Green Business Competition, they plan to start construction of the 12,000 square-foot greenhouse this fall and yield their first harvest early next year. The project, with an estimated cost of $1.4 million, will be powered by 2,000 square-feet of solar panels and will capture rainwater for irrigation.

In fact, the project's energy-savings potential even garnished them a $400,000 grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

"We are trying to demonstrate that sustainable, urban agriculture can be economically viable in the city," said the company's greenhouse director, Jennifer Nelkin, 30.

The water-based, soil-free farm is expected to yield roughly 30 tons of fruits and vegetables each year. To remain competitive, the company will deliver their own produce via biodiesel-based vans. Delivery services usually cost farmers a markup of 10% to 15%.

As Jerry James Jones notes, hydroponics sidelines fertilizer production and runoff. (Treehugger; via Good)

Sext: Cord Jefferson wonders if he ought to be dressing in "Old Money Green." (The Awl)

I like Barbour jackets a lot, and Tod's driving moccasins. I even like "Nantucket red" pants with a crisp white shirt and a blue blazer. But, as a person of color with no family crest of which to speak, I wonder if I should. It would be one thing if the current fashion trends were merely sentimental for grandpa's favorite pair of shoes. But here, amidst the money greens and plantation nostalgia, it seems as if they're also rooted in grandpa's stunted cultural outlooks as well. I now see a sick irony in myself and kids in East New York wearing bow ties and sweater vests. Not new money kids, not old money kids, but no money kids who, apart from the slacks, look nothing like the Take Ivy boys everyone's heralding, copying, designing for and listening to. To paraphrase one of my favorite poets, "I would go out tonight, but my ancestors were crushed under racial oppression for centuries."

Nones: Not again! According to BBC News, the Argentians are calling the Falklands "Las Malvinas" again — at the United Nations.

Argentine Foreign Minister Jorge Taiana said he had asked Mr Ban to help stop Britain from "further unilateral acts".

Mr Taiana was referring to the UK decision to begin oil drilling under a seabed off the islands.

The British government says the islands have a "legitimate right" to develop an oil industry within their waters.

There goes the Queen Mary 2. (Not!?)

Vespers: Laura Miller proposes five rules for novelists who aspire to attract readers, but we think that her concluding paragraph could be repackaged as an all-important sixth, entitled, "If you have to try to be a genius, you're not one; so give it up and get on." (Salon; via Arts Journal)

Naturally, writers of genius have broken these "rules" as well as every other rule ever conceived. But, let's face it, geniuses don't need lists like this and couldn't follow them even if they tried. Most writers are not geniuses, and most readers would be exhausted by a literary diet that consisted only of the works of geniuses. The novel can be a down-to-earth and companionable thing as well as an exalted one, and while management gurus like to go on about the good being the enemy of the great, they are in fact misquoting Voltaire. He said, "The perfect is the enemy of the good," which means exactly the opposite. And he, as you are no doubt aware, was a bona fide genius.

Compline: Jonathan Gourlay, who might be accused of having gone native, pretends to be an outsider, as he brings us up to speed on adultery in Pohnpei, which is much like adultery anywhere, only watch out for women wearing trousers. (The Bygone Bureau)

Sinking into my slow sakau-induced reverie, I contemplate the angelic face of Sweety (well, Sweetylynn, but we just call her Sweety). She’s a young Pohnpeian mother of two with enormous eyes and a face that could adorn the walls of some ancient Egyptian temple built for a god of peace. She isn’t drinking sakau, just sitting on a rock covered with a piece of cardboard in the corner of the market. This is a perfectly comfortable seat to any Pohnpeian, but years of pampering with couch cushions have left me handicapped and unable to sit on rocks. What’s she doing there? Perhaps she’s keeping an eye on her husband who is sitting across the market ignoring her with every fiber of his being.

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