Betsy Devine: Funny ha-ha and/or funny peculiar

Making trouble today for a better tomorrow…

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Entries from April 2007

John Smith, “self-fashioning,” and Nobel autobiographies

April 16th, 2007 · Comments Off on John Smith, “self-fashioning,” and Nobel autobiographies

Colored engraving of Pocahontas saving John Smith

“Captain John Smith was widely believed to be a liar .. he was also, arguably, the first American historian,” says the recent New Yorker article where I first learned the (cynical and condescending, hence surely pomo) term for autobiographical writing, “self-fashioning.”

Modern taste in biography enjoys debunking but sniggers at “inspiration.” (Middle-schoolers who wouldn’t know Trenton from Bunker Hill can tell you that George Washington owned slaves and badly-fitted false teeth.) One non-modern and inspiring antidote to this trend can be found at the Nobel Prize website, where untrendy and innocent new Nobel laureates try to create a brief history of the family and lifetime behind their scientific achievement. Just a few favorites, not coincidentally all physicists:

  • Joe Tayior (1993), whose big childhood influences were ham radio and his family’s “deep Quaker roots.”
  • Gerhard ‘t Hooft (1999), whose childhood ambition was to become “a man who knows everything.”
  • Anthony Leggett (2003, and now Sir Anthony Leggett), whose family history reaches back to a cook on Nelson’s flagship the Victory.
  • Frank Wilczek (2004), whose autobiography’s good qualities include photos of our family!

Many of the supposed lies of John Smith turned out, in the end, to be true. And some at least of his debunkers turned out to have their own ulterior motives–e.g., debunking an early Virginia colony in order to augment the luster of New England Pilgrims. And George Washington did a few things that make him worthy of being remembered aside from slave-owning, false teeth, and his failure to chop down cherry trees.

So, if you’re ready to join me in being cynical about knee-jerk cynicism, one inspiring place to start would be Nobel biographies.

Tags: Reputation systems · Science

Freedom of speech, funny ha-ha and peculiar

April 15th, 2007 · Comments Off on Freedom of speech, funny ha-ha and peculiar

Creationist car

Originally uploaded by Amy Watts.

What a month this has been for the First Amendment, which protects us from getting arrested, but not from getting yelled at or even fired.

Stephen Metcalfe’s deconstruction of Imus’s downfall has the best explanation I’ve seen yet for Imus’s “funny” riff on abusing some young women who play college basketball. Imus and his fans felt free to enjoy a wide range of sexist or racist insults because they were “really” mocking Political Correctness and boring old middle-class decorum. Says Metcalfe,

In talk radio, the P.C. bogey is kept on life support, the better to allow the heaping of abuse on the marginal and disenfranchised to pass itself off as speaking truth to power.

In other crazy-speech news, the rightwing program of “abstinence only” sex education, financed by our tax dollars, turns out to be useless in protecting young people from any of the bad outcomes that sex education is supposed to help them avoid.

I fear this may be a bad thing for my corresponding suggestion of “Abstinence-Only Drivers’ Education.”

p.s. Even more photos of this inspiring car

Update: Not so funny, but more eloquent–Ronni Bennett defends free speech. And taking a cue from David Weinberger’s “Moral means ambivalent,” I also was more eloquent in 2003:

Moral absolutes–they’re easy to ridicule when they’re the “absolute” morals of born-again Baptists from Birmingham, Alabama. But we on the Left have our own cherished absolutes–and we need to refresh our ambivalence about them too.

Is any remark claimed as “authentically Black” immune from criticism? If so, does that make any XX type who ever had sex a ho? Or should we switch perspective, and say any statement that degrades women is evil, deserving of powerful retaliation? If so, does that mean we should demand lip service to middle-class ideals before any kid from the ghetto gets to speak?

No–absolutes make for fast and powerful moral judgments, but not for intelligent moral judgments. Because….

Moral means ambivalent.

Tags: Editorial · funny

Catlike tread, my haiku won, and other reasons to love Twitter

April 12th, 2007 · Comments Off on Catlike tread, my haiku won, and other reasons to love Twitter

Picture an activity that sounded so, so foolish until you tried it….but then…!!!…no, I’m not starting to write an X-rated post. And I’m not referring to Gilbert and Sullivan, either. I’m talking about the silly webservice called Twitter.

Twitter is like a tiny newsreader I keep at the side of my desktop in a browser window because a lot of online-friends drop little notes into it from time to time. Some notes are chatty, some are short insights, and some are just plain great stuff that I wouldn’t have heard about otherwise, for example:

  • I heard about a haiku contest to win a Joost beta invite — and my haiku won! (, which ran the contest, is also a site that I’m glad I discovered.)
  • When my brother had trouble getting Windows to make a screencapture, I asked friends in Twitter for help. Both Laura Moncur and Mr. Noded gave me the solution in minutes.
  • Twitter let me re-connect with faraway friends, not to mention local friends I see too rarely–for example, Jack Hodgson, whose fine blog steered me to that Pirates of Penzance YouTube video.

Ronni Bennett says that Twitter sounds stupid–ok, and she’s right, it does sound really stupid. But it’s also fun and rewarding in ways that would be hard to justify to somebody who hasn’t yet moved past the silly part into the wow, amazing! part.

Just like, for example, Gilbert and Sullivan?

Tags: funny · Metablogging · twitter

Waterlily from summer 2003

April 10th, 2007 · Comments Off on Waterlily from summer 2003

Waterlily from summer 2003

Originally uploaded by betsythedevine.

I took this photo hoping to get a good focus on the honeybee inside the flower. Instead, I got a sharp focus on all the surface-tension-droplet action at the surface of the pond itself.

Then in springtime 2007, I rediscovered this photo and re-cycled it into a background image for my posts at

Surely there are some metaphors for life itself here?

Tags: Metablogging · Wide wonderful world

Good Good-Friday advice and un-jellybean Easter

April 6th, 2007 · Comments Off on Good Good-Friday advice and un-jellybean Easter


Originally uploaded by The Department.

I get Google traffic looking for “E.B. White essay“; AKMA gets it for Good Friday sermon advice. He just posted some very good Good Friday sermon advice, so keep pointing there, Google!

For more (if more pagan) inspiration, I love the Marge Piercy poem Kalilily just posted.

…The soil stretches naked. All winter
hidden under the down comforter of snow,
delicious now, rich in the hand
as chocolate cake: the fragrant busy
soil the worm passes through her gut
and the beetle swims in like a lake.

As I kneel to put the seeds in,
careful as stitching, I am in love.
You are the bed we all sleep on.
You are the food we eat, the food
we are, the food we will become.
We are walking trees rooted in you…

It’s worth reading more of, as is Kalilily, so be your own angel and go check it out!

Tags: Heroes and funny folks · language · Metablogging · religion

Dave Winer gets Wired story, and vice versa…

April 6th, 2007 · 1 Comment

It’s not the cover of Rolling Stone

Originally uploaded by scriptingnews.

Now here’s a picturesque cover, full of good blog jokes–Dave Winer’s sneaker and XML-orange couch, in honor of his ten-year bloggiversary.

Amen! And it’s giving me huge satisfaction this morning, thinking about all the things that I learned from Dave–e.g. blogging, RSS, and unconferences–that this just may be something that Dave learned about from me!


Tags: funny · Metablogging

Xerox puts Frank Wilczek on the cover of Wired

April 5th, 2007 · 2 Comments

Frank Wilczek on a mock-up cover of Wired magazine

Can’t read the headlines?

  • All-singing, All-dancing Nobel guy
  • Einstein: “Know when to hold ’em.”
  • Extra dimensions? CERN says no.
  • Want wit, wisdom? Eat salmon, soy!
  • Turkey is no longer a superfood.
  • Blueberries hold the secret of eternal life!

You too, or your sweetie, can be similarly featured thanks to this crazy promo page sponsored by Xerox.

Tags: Frank Wilczek · funny · Science

Ninja Turtles kill Spartans, bloggers get sued

April 5th, 2007 · Comments Off on Ninja Turtles kill Spartans, bloggers get sued

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles…and other gems from this month’s Ansible:

  • From Thog’s Masterclass, Eyeballs in the Sky Dept. “His eyes ran, literally, across the whole of the upper portion of his face …” (Richard Marsh, The Beetle, 1897)
  • Arthur C. Clarke appeared on the BBC website in his favourite t-shirt: “I invented the satellite and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.”
  • Literary agent Barbara Bauer is suing Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden and others, for blogging about her.

Arthur C Clarke, whose Tshirt slogan says I invented the satellite and all I got was this lousy Tshirt.

Tags: funny · Learn to write good

Happy tenth blog-birthday to Dave Winer

April 1st, 2007 · 3 Comments

BirthdayCandles: Birthday cake with lit candles

Dave Winer’s Scripting News, still going strong at the ripe old age of ten (that’s 110 in blogyears)…

Doc Searls got it right, in “A Post of Thanks.”:

“When they scroll the credits of my life, Dave’s is going to be one of the first names on the list. And when they scroll the credits for blogging, outlining, writing, scripting, journalism, XML, RSS, SOAP, podcasting and a pile of other technologies, standards and practices we will all eventually take for granted, the same will be true for those as well.”

In 2003, I quoted what Dave said about “Why weblogs are cool

Later, I called Dave a “big hairy non-girl”, while praising him for something that now is just a broken link. Update: Here it is!

Dave’s contribution to my first year of blogging, when he was a Harvard Berkman Fellow, may be overshadowed in the view of history by his use of Berkman Thursdays and Bloggercons to assemble a critical mass of bloggers, “real news” people, and technophiles and get them excited about stuff like campaign blogging. At Bloggercon 1, Dave showcased audiobloggers in front of a roomful of Apple-toting technophiles–those people, including Dave, soon pushed those concepts forward into podcasting.

For more of the wit and wisdom of Dave, see his own blog. Happy tenth, Dave, we look forward to the next ten!

Tags: Heroes and funny folks · Metablogging