The Literary Salon

A free salon wherein patrons and passers-by may view or contribute ideas on literary and generally intellectual matters. The blog will strive to maintain its commitment to wit, humour and perspicuous analysis.

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Location: Toronto, now Ottawa, Ont, Canada

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Taco Hell

The following image is from this morning's Holy Taco. The poll in the right hand side had me rolling in the aisles:

FYI, both are flattering pictures of their respective subjects. I've seen Coulter resemble a mummy at times.

But seriously, it's a tough one. Coulter probably has an age advantage, so lookswise, she's slightly better off. However, for personality, etc, one has to favour Ms. Huffington. I saw her recently on the Bill Maher show, and she seems like a lovely person. Given her age, she ain't bad lookin neither!

My one hesitation with Coulter is that I think she's a total idiot. Once in a blue moon, when the planets are in alignment, I actually agree with something she says, but otherwise, I honestly think she does not hear 99% of what she says. I may actually find interviews with her and use them in my upcoming essay writing class as exemplars of logical fallacies.

Conclusion: who would I rather "be with"? I would have to say Huffington.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


Given my increasing level of insanity, I am susceptible to random thoughts. Last night I thought of the once famous Nostradamus for the first time in years.

I was introduced to the putative prophet (more like bad poet) over a decade ago through a documentary on him, narrated by Orson Wells, entitled The Man who Saw Tomorrow. As with all other Nostradamus programs, they claim that he had actually predicted everyting from Napoleon, Hitler, the Iranian Revolution, and everything in between. Of course, one can retroactively "prove" that any text, even Moby Dick, predicted such events.

The doc was created in 1980, and they used some of Nostradamus's quatrains to interpret some specific future events. It's worth seeing whether any of those were true.

Of course, you have nutjobs like John Hogue, an "expert" on Nostradamus who also looks eerily like him, making predictions, and then disappearing when they aren't realized. A few years ago I saw him on TV discussing the figure of Mabus, the supposed third Anti-Christ. Hogue, using some magical anagram formulas he made up on the spot, argued that Mabus is none other than Sadam Hussein. Well, Mr. Sadam, he dead!

Nevertheless, I think the video made predictions based on some quatrains that are not entirely without merit. First, they claimed that sometime in the near future (post 1980), there would be a worldwide famine, the like of which had not been seen. This didn't come true, BUT there was a massive famine in Africa during the mid to late 1980s.

Even more interesting is Nostradamus's supposed prediction of World War III. He claimed it would be caused by one Mabus, a dude from the middle east wearing a blue turban. The film's dramatization depicted an Arabic looking man wearing a blue turban firing nuclear missiles on New York City in the year 1999. This would start the third (and last) world war, which is to last 27 years.

As ridiculous as it seemed, something similar, though not as extreme, occurred: 9/11. Guys from the middle east, following a guy in a turban, attacked the "New City". Though this hasn't started WW III, it could very well be that the new world war is the "war on terror." Perhaps the whole business in Iraq, Afghanistan, etc, that is going on now is the third world war.

This post requires a huge disclaimer: I don't believe in Nostradamus, and votaries of the man often make him say things he did not. His quatrains were random, poorly written, encrypted passages which require heavy interpretation. There was one putative quatrain circulating on the internet a few years ago, which supposedly proved that Nostradamus himself predicted 9/11. However, thirty seconds of research revealed that the quatrain in question was actually an assemblage of unconnected passages from Nostradamus's corpus, with some new words thrown in. Perhaps it's easier to say that the makers of the documentary predicted something like 9/11?

Here is one of the significant passages in question:

At five and forty degrees, the sky will burn,
Fire approaches the great new city,
Immediately a huge, scattered flame leaps up.

The "new city" is often interpreted as New York, so you can see how the interpretation game works. Other, more serious, scholars argue that the new city referred to here and elsewhere refers to a city in France, Nostradamus's native land. I could be wrong, but I recall hearing that the planes that attacked the WTC in NYC approached at a 45 degree angle. Whatever it means, NYC is NOT on the 45th parallell: this is somewhere in Canada.

Oh, I almost forgot the last sentence in the quatrain, which even the Orson Welles documentary omits:
When they want to have verification from the Normans. Res Ipsa loquitur.

This reminds me of the utter nonsense of the "Bible Code," promulgated a few years ago. The author (whose name escapes me) argued that the Bible actually predicted many major world events, including the "assasination" of Princess Diana. If you actually read the author's method, if there is one, you will see that, far from being a code, it is nothing more than a game of finding random words and letters to support pre-existing predictions. Some very clever people who wanted to discredity the author used his own method and "proved" that Moby Dick also predicted the assassination of Princess Di.

The lesson is that you can make anyone (any text, etc) say just about anything, and this is never easier than with a hack poet who lived five centuries ago. In my first published paper, I argue (among other things) that Roman Jakobson, the famous 20th century linguist, does just this: by citing some of what X says, and omitting other things, he often makes X say the opposite of what he actually did.

This post is going nowhere fast, so I will stop.

Monday, July 28, 2008

High Life

Recently, I was did some research on the cost of living, especially that of western Europe compared to North America. Turns out that the cost of living in Canada, and even much of the US, is much, much lower than Europe and Australia.

Here is a related piece that should make those caffeine consumers in us happy. Ironically, perhaps, Moscow is one of the most expensive cities in the world.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Night at the Movies

After not having seen a film in a few weeks, I finally sat down to watch one tonight: Smart People.

The film was not so bad as it was disappointing. Instead of giving a review, however, I will merely pose the following question:

Am I the only one who finds pseudo-independent films portraying depressed, pseudo-witty white people not a little passe and boring?

Speaking of films, I haven't seen Dark Night yet as I'm waiting for the dust to settle before seeing it. From what I've seen and heard, it's one of the best movies in years. Can't wait, especially since the offerings from the film industry this year have been fairly poor.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Browser Update

I recently lauded the newly launched Mac Safari browser for Windows. After about a week of use, I have reached some conclusions:

The browser is great, when it works. It is by far the most lightweight browser, and is aesthetically pleasing since it renders pages nicely. However, it has some problems:

1) Memory leak: although Safari starts off by using up no more than about 10-15,000 K of RAM (sometimes less), I found that when I visited certain webpages, my CPU would load like crazy for no apparent reason, which would increase the RAM usage exponentially. This would occur even after the page in question had finished loading.

2) Safari is undoubtedly the least stable browser I have used. Occasionally it will freeze inexplicably or, as mentioned above, load like crazy for no apparent reason.

3) Finally, the browser has compatibility issues. I use my browser for almost every conceivable internet application (videos, blogging, etc), including conducting research. I found that I could search academic databases fine, such as the MLA database, but that for reasons that are unclear, Safari could not open the sites of journals, much less the articles themselves.

As just about every well-known browser has issues, I decided to look into some lesser known candidates. Last night I downloaded two browsers most people have probably never heard of: Avant and K-Meleon, the latter of which I am using right now.

I have only used the two browsers for less than a day, so I will reserve judgment until further trials are conducted. So far, however, both seem quite good, especially K-Meleon. Here are some of its advantages:

1) Lighweight: as I'm typing this, K-Meleon is taking up a mere 28,000 K of RAM, less than half of what Firefox uses.

2) Compatibility: so far I have noticed no compatibility issues. I've been able to browser a vast array of pages without a hitch, and I've also been able to access journal articles online.

3) Built-in features: Firefox's biggest claim to fame, in my opinion, is it's AdBlock add-on, truly a gift from the heavens. K-Meleon has a very simple AdBlock option built in, which works very well, but sometimes too well. That is, it will sometimes block "false positives," pictures or links that it perceives as ads but really are not.
K-Meleon has one amazing feature that not even Firefox has: optional flash blocker. If selected, the browser will stop all flash applications on a web page, which you can activate if you wish. This is great since nine times out of ten, you don't want to see those apps anyway.

Before you conclude that I'm a communist, I'm not: I don't mind unobtrusive ads, but I draw the line when they give me seizures. These types of ads not only ruin the browsing experience but DO slow it down as well.

I have not used Avant as much, but it seems ok so far. It is even more lightweight and does come with a built-in adblocker. However, the latter isn't very effective: I still see those annoying and ubiquitous "get laid tonight" ads in the sidebar.

Lest one thinks that I have flip-flopped, I would like to paraphrase a quote from George Walker's anti-Jacobin novel The Wanderer (1798): To say that my opinion has changed from yesterday only means that I am wiser today than I was yesterday.

On a side note (pun intended), I have added a new application in the sidebar that tells me (and readers) whence people come to this blog. It seems like a huge invasion of privacy, but I can assure both of you that it's merely to satiate my curiosity.


Thursday, July 17, 2008

Postmodern Postmortem

This is tantamount to beating a dead horse, but such stories never cease to make me shake my head and laugh simultaneously.  

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

By the Numbers

I'm often fond of hyperbole and use it myself whenever possible.  

I'm still wondering about this one, though.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Safar(i), so good

I have previously argued for the merits of the Firefox browser, and how it is infinitely better than the standard Internet Explorer which, for reasons I'll never know, still commands approximately 75% of the market share (on PC).  

However, I have become somewhat weary of the browser, especially since version 3 was released a few weeks ago.  Don't get me wrong: it's a powerful browser that has many great features, and the addons, most notably AdBlock, enrich ones browsing experience.  

However, Firefox is still a memory hog.  Immediately after Firefox opens, it already takes up no less than 60,000 K of RAM, even if it isn't doing anything.  The longer it stays open, the worse it gets.  I also noticed that, despite the claims of the Firefox team, the browser can be slow at times, especially with certain pages.  I would argue that fewer people would use the browser were it not for the great addons.  

I have since discovered a new browser: Safari.  This browser has  been around for quite some time on the Mac, and was released for Windows recently.  I have used it for about a week now, and here are my findings:

Safari is by far the fastest browser on for the PC I have tried (I also have tested IE, Firefox, and Opera).  I have never seen a browser load pages as quickly.  As far as resources go, it is the most lightweight, often taking up as little as 8,000 or 10,000 KB of RAM.  It is also probably the most attractive browser I've seen.  I've been using PCs my entire life, but, whatever be the faults of Mac, it is aesthetically superior.  

I have so far found few faults with this browser.  It doesn't seem to be able to multitask very well: it supports tabbed browsing (I tab like crazy), but especially if you are dealing with content rich sites (videos, etc), it doesn't like it when you have more than one or two loading at once.  The browser occasionally hangs for a few seconds, but I have a hunch it is the barrage of advertisements intended to overwhelm you into submission that is doing this more than anything else.  Unfortunately, Safari does not (yet) have an adblocking apparatus.  I haven't had any problems yet, but I can't say for certain how safe Safari is.  

The bottom line: if you want a lightweight, lightning fast browser, get this.  

Speaking of software, for a year or so I was using MSN lite as my messaging client.  This is MSN but without the annoying ads or hidden software that gets installed on your computer.  I found that even this lite version was remarkably inefficient: even after signing out, I noticed MSN was taking up no less than 20,000 K, which is far too much for a program that isn't doing anything.

There are a few alternatives to MSN that most people probably aren't aware of.  I have tried a few of them, including Miranda, Pidgin, and Trillian, and I find the latter to be the best overall.  Trillian is just as good as MSN, if not better, and it is faster and more efficient.  Right now I am signed off, but the program is still running in the task bar, and it is taking up only 1,500 KB.  It is a lightweight alternative that has many neat features, and I highly recommend it.  Pidgin and Miranda also work well, but they leave something to be desired.  Miranda is incredibly fast and lightweight, and works great if you only chat and do nothing else.  Pidgin appears more lightweight than Trillian,  but surprisingly, it takes up more RAM.  

I hope this post has been useful for at least one person.  We live in an age of abundant free software, most of which works far better than default programs.  Why stick with something you don't like if you aren't stuck with it?  

Literary Anecdotes, vol ?

For my current research on Adam Smith, I was looking at his reception among the mid-eighteenth century Germans, notably Herder and Lessing, both of whom were the only ones for a long time who viewed Smith's moral theory with a mind to aesthetic applications.  Lessing's Laocoon, an aesthetic treatise, has been available in English for over a century now, but most of Herder's works are still unavailable to non-German speakers.  In fact, I read one of his works in which Smith is mentioned, and this was only translated into English for the first time in 2006.  

I don't know much about Johann Gottfried Herder, but I know this: holy shit he wrote a lot!!  The standard edition of his works, Samtliche Werke, consists of no less than thirty two volumes, which is even more remarkable since he only lived to the age of 57.  

Here's the amusing bit: not sure if this is an apocryphal story, but apparently the editor of the gargantuan edition of Herder's works, Bernard Suphan, eventually committed suicide.  It is entirely possible that his job had at least something to do with this as he stood on a huge pile of these works to hang himself.  

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Somnium Arbionis, vol. II

Last night I had my most vivid dream in quite some time, though characteristically f#$%ed. This is odd since I did not take any Melatonin, which often produces vivid and very strange dreams. The dream seemed, however, a fairly coherent one, which is unusual for me, but I can only remember episodes that seemed to have a seamless logic which now escapes me.
As most of the episodes will be meaningless to everyone given their private symbolism (though it would make for a good postmodern poem which no one else would understand), I will present the one episode that remains the clearest in my memory. I know of at least one person whom this should interest, given the subject matter. Comments in [] are my own attempts at rationalizing what I saw or heard.

I saw myself at what appeared to be either a T.S. Eliot Museum/exhibition of film, which is odd in itself since he's not one of my favourite writers, nor do I know much about him. I recall picking up a small, hardcover volume resembling those small, blue Oxford University Press hardcovers from the 1960s. This one had a hologram, resembling that of a magic 8 ball, of a skull on the back [there was a magic 8 ball character on a Venture Bros episode I saw two days previous]. Then I found myself standing at some sort of podium, reading the book, and then noticed a very, very thin stream of light which emanated from Eliot's (presumably) grave, was approximately a few hundred feet away situated at about 1 o'clock from my position, which was directed to my face, but it wasn't blinding. This was more like a Special Effects thing rather than a natural phenomenon, and it seemed a deliberate part of the exhibition.

From what I can remember next, I and many others were watching a film by/about Eliot (I think) in a venue that resembled the Bytowne cinema in Ottawa, an independent theatre that seats approximately 150-200 people. I then remember becoming incensed because some people, especially those in front of me, were "propping" themselves using additional chairs. This upset me, who was now sitting on the ground and unable to see the screen well. Just before I got up to voice my displeasure, a woman in the far back yelled something like "what's the point of having a chair if you're not going to use it?", to which I replied with a loud "Thank You." One of the guilty parties in front of me said something justificatory, to which I replied, "yes, but I can't see." He then said something like "use a magnifying glass," to which I replied sarcastically, "yeah, so I can see the guy's ass!" (this elicited some laughter from the audience). What is stranger is that I appeared in fact to have some telescopic device in my hand, which I only noticed just as I was offering my retort.

Though I think psychoanalysis and much of what Freud said is total BS, I would love to hear his interpretation. Better yet, I think I would rather hear what Jung would have to say, since his interpretations are often far more contextual and nuanced.