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Art-Books-Music / Re: "Great" v commercial
« Last post by mtgradwell on May 16, 2010, 04:56:08 PM »
Oh dear. I feel bad now. I'm kind-of hoping that the page I gave a link to, that quotes King, actually misquotes him. Or at least that enough instances can be found of critics calling King a hack to rescue the situation. Here I am, undermining the basic premise of one of your best quizzes, and in another thread I'm saying that you're unfunny, and in yet another I'm attacking the citations section of your "Opium for Scholars" page (albeit with tongue in cheek; I don't really believe that your citations are random). I didn't mean to be so destructively critical. It just came out that way. It seems I have a tendency to say what I think, without considering the consequences.

I hope you will see that in this particular thread I'm only the messenger; it isn't my fault that King isn't widely considered to be a hack, if that is indeed the case. Anyway, I apologise for being such a nuisance. That isn't what I intended.
Art-Books-Music / Re: Theory of Aces - Fermi or Groves?
« Last post by mtgradwell on May 16, 2010, 04:23:13 PM »
According to your "opium for scholars" page, the observed distribution of citations can be explained by assuming the "model of random-citing scientists": "When a scientist is writing a manuscript he picks up three random articles, cites them, and also copies a quarter of their references". It can even be proved that this happens often, by using a statistical analysis of copying of mistyped citations.

We might also assume that there are many conscientious scientists who carefully read every paper that they cite; however, that assumption could easily be shaved off using Occam's Razor.

So I hope you won't mind if I ignore the Citations section of your "Opium for Scholars" page. After all, what's the point of taking seriously and looking up links to three random articles, and to other articles cited by those first three? What are the chances that such links would take me to something that's actually relevant?  :)
Art-Books-Music / Re: "Great" v commercial
« Last post by mtgradwell on May 16, 2010, 04:07:35 PM »
I don't have Stephen King's book on criticism; what I wrote was based on what I have read about it on the internet; but I have just now found a website which quotes from it extensively ( ), and if the extract there is accurate then it would seem that you have misread King. When he says

"He's a hack! they cry indignantly. A hack with pretensions! The worst kind! The kind who thinks he can pass for one of us!"

he *isn't* referring to what critics say about himself. Rather, he is talking about the critical reception of writers who improve (from being "merely competent" to being "good") in general, and about *Raymond Chandler* in particular.

Here's a partial context:

Raymond Chandler may be recognized now as an important figure in twentieth-century American literature, an early voice describing the anomie of urban life in the years after World War II, but there are plenty of critics who will reject such a judgment out of hand. He's a hack! they cry indignantly. A hack with pretensions! The worst kind! The kind who thinks he can pass for one of us!

Critics who try to rise above this intellectual hardening of the arteries usually meet with limited success. Their colleagues may accept Chandler into the company of the great, but are apt to seat him at the foot of the table. And there are always those whispers: Came out of the pulp tradition, you know ..

For a fuller context, readers can refer to the link above, or to King's book if they have it.
Art-Books-Music / Re: Theory of Aces - Fermi or Groves?
« Last post by Mikhail Simkin on May 16, 2010, 03:25:42 PM »
I know this objection. But it can easily be shaved off usin Occam's razor.
Art-Books-Music / Re: Grammar is a clue
« Last post by mtgradwell on May 16, 2010, 03:21:33 PM »
I got 80% just now, but it should have been 100%. It would have been 100% if I'd thought about it just a little more.

The grammar of the Simkin answers isn't too bad now, but still needs improvement. For instance in #1,
"Similar to Osama bin Laden, who depends in his metabolism on a dialysis machine, George W. Bush depends on Karl Rove in his thinking."

depends *in* looks clumsy. We depend *on* something *for* something else. There are "on"s there, but the first one (the first "on") has become detached from the "depends" that it depends on. There isn't a "for" in sight, for there are "in"s in there instead. And so on.  :)

However the real problem is a lot harder to fix. It's the humor deficiency. All five of your Franken quotes are funny, which is quite remarkable if you chose them at random, and says something about the genius of the man. But look at your "quip" above, for instance. A depends on B, and C depends on D, so A+B is similar to C+D. So what? Maybe I'll "get it" tomorrow, and split my sides laughing, but so far, nothing.

Where I went wrong was in not "getting" #4 straight away. Because I didn't see the humor in it, I put it down as a Simkin. Then when I got to #9 and #10 I had a problem. Both seemed unfunny, but knowing your penchant for balancing things out I thought that one of them must be a Franken (even Franken must have off-days, or so I thought), and so I made a random guess. If I had thought about it for just a moment longer I would have gone back over previous answers and discovered my mistake.

If previous takers of the test scored badly, that suggests to me that many of them had a poor opinion of Franken for one reason or another. They expected him to be unfunny, so they guessed that the unfunny answers were Franken's.

By contrast, with the Coulter test, I was completely lost and scored something very low. You imitated her style perfectly, and all ten answers were equally unfunny. There really was nothing at all to choose between them.

Art-Books-Music / Re: "Great" v commercial
« Last post by Mikhail Simkin on May 16, 2010, 02:35:49 PM »
I  He has also written "on writing: a memoir", half of which I gather is advice for aspiring writers (the other half being autobiographical). I understand that this has been critically acclaimed, which would hardly be the case if he was considered a hack.
Actually, I took the word "hack" from that book. Here is how he described in it his critics "He's a hack! they cry indignantly. A hack with pretensions! The worst kind! The kind who thinks he can pass for one of us!"
Art-Books-Music / Theory of Aces - Fermi or Groves?
« Last post by mtgradwell on May 16, 2010, 01:17:43 PM »
'Groves replied that any general who had won five battles in a row might safely be called great. Fermi then asked how many generals are great. Groves said about three out of every hundred. Fermi conjectured that if the chance of winning one battle is 1/2 then the chance of winning five battles in a row is (1/2)5 = 1/32. “So you are right, General, about three out of every hundred. Mathematical probability, not genius.”'

(1/2)^5 = 1/32, yes, and this is very close to three out of a hundred. But is Fermi entitled to derive from this his conclusion, "Mathematical probability, not genius"? I think not. Not with any degree of certainty, anyway. The most he is entitled to say is that there is a distinct *possibility* that it is probability which is at work, and not genius.

Suppose that Groves was right, not just in his figures, but also in his assumption that there is something "great" about certain generals, which is reflected in their track record. To be specific, suppose that a "great" general will always beat one who is "non-great", regardless of any other factors such as superiority of numbers. Then suppose that we have a tournament to discover who is great and who isn't.

For a tournament the maths is easiest if the number of contestants is a power of two, so suppose that there are 128 generals, of whom four are great. 4 out of 128 is the same as 1/32, which we have already established is very close to three out of a hundred. Let's also assume that the great generals are astute enough not to face each other in battle unless absolutely necessary.

In the first round there are 64 battles, resulting in 64 victors, of which 4 are great and 60 won by chance.

The 64 defeated generals can be assumed to be removed from any further action, having been killed in battle, exiled to Elba, kicked upstairs to the House of Lords, or otherwise retired to somewhere where they can do little further damage.

In the second round there are 32 battles, resulting in 32 victors, of which 4 are great and 28 won by chance.
In the fifth round there are 4 battles, resulting in 4 victors, all of whom are great.

Note that if we have no means of discerning greatness other than track record, this whole scenario is indistinguishable from the one in which there is no such thing as greatness, only chance. The elaborate tournament, which might have been expected to decide the issue, actually tells us nothing one way or the other. The unresolved question remains unresolved.

It would have been an entirely different matter if, prior to the tournament, those judges best equipped to assess the aptitude of the untried generals had reliably pointed out the four eventual fifth-round victors, and only those four, as being destined for greatness. And it would have been yet another matter if the best judges of military aptitude had a track record of picking out the best generals in advance which was no better than chance.
Art-Books-Music / Re: [Dickens or Bulwer?] The difference is fairly obvious.
« Last post by mtgradwell on May 16, 2010, 12:15:56 PM »
It's a couple of days since I took the quiz, so my recollection may not be perfect, but I think my score was 50%.

If it's hard to tell them apart, it's because they were both members of the same "school", or genre. Bulwer-Lytton founded the Newgate School of writing, which Dickens later joined. In essence, Bulwer-Lytton was the master and Dickens his apprentice. Bulwer-Lytton exhibited great influence over Dickens, e.g. persuading him to alter the ending of "Great Expectations".

As "Bulwer Lytton: the rise and fall of a Victorian man of letters" puts it: "An author with a European reputation, outselling Dickens, Edward Bulwer Lytton was ennobled and, on his death, buried in Westminster Abbey."

Wikipedia will tell you that he was the author of 26 novels as well as several plays and works of poetry. These were successful enough to finance an extravagant lifestyle, and it wasn't just "the great unwashed" (a phrase Bulwer-Lytton coined) which read him. Mary Shelley wrote in her journal in 1831: "What will Bulwer become? The first author of the age? I do not doubt it. He is a magnificent writer."

The universal perception that Bulwer-Lytton was an execrable writer is a testament to the power of meme, nothing more. The running gag in Peanuts of Snoopy starting his novels with "it was a dark and stormy night" has a lot to do with it; as does the annual Bulwer-Lytton competition. But the fact of the populace getting it's literary opinions from cartoon strips should tell us more about the nature of modern pop culture than it does about the merits or demerits of Victorian authors.
Art-Books-Music / Re: "Great" v commercial
« Last post by mtgradwell on May 16, 2010, 11:06:53 AM »
I may be looking in the wrong places, but I don't recall ever seeing an instance of a serious mainstream reviewer calling Stephen King a hack. Perhaps you should provide links? His Amazon home page biography states that he is "the recipient of the 2003 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters". He has also written "on writing: a memoir", half of which I gather is advice for aspiring writers (the other half being autobiographical). I understand that this has been critically acclaimed, which would hardly be the case if he was considered a hack.

Googling for references to Stephen King and hack, there are instances of him being called one, but they seem to be mostly ironic, made with tongue firmly in cheek, or they are in anonymous or pseudonymous replies to blog posts. There are also many references to him calling Stephanie Meyer a hack. I only looked at the first three pages of Google's output, though. Maybe the serious accusations of hackery start on the fourth page.

If you really want examples of authors who have sold many books but are widely seen as hacks by those who consider themselves to have some literary taste, you could take your cue from Stephen King and go for Stephanie Meyer; or Dan Brown would be another excellent choice.
Art-Books-Music / Re: Ape or artist
« Last post by mtgradwell on May 13, 2010, 04:47:50 AM »
100%. The only marginal one was #5 - nice use of colour, and it could be interpreted e.g. as two standing figures - an abstract version of Millet's Angelus, say - flanked by ghostly trees. But the elements were so few in number and so roughly constructed that it was obvious any apparent structure could have arisen by chance. That's not to say that the chimp isn't an artist, but chimps take a different approach to art than humans do.

If the aim is to criticise modern art, then a better approach would be to take the works of deliberately anti-art "artists" - those who slap the label "art" or random objects and don't make even the slightest attempt at composition - and compare their work with that of a chimp; not asking people if they can tell the difference, but rather asking them which one they prefer.
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