Sunday, August 24, 2003

Random Thoughts

It's Sunday morning, and I'm at the office because I'm drastically running short of time to work on a pleading. Once again, the core question of my life is pushed front and center: what do you do when you love your work, but your work is giving you an ulcer? So, I'm taking a brief break to throw out some random thoughts:

More on 12

Much to my surprise, there was a good discussion of Prop. 12 today in the Houston Chronicle. Janet Elliott does a good job of summarizing the issues and allegations flying around, though it concerns me a little bit that the anti-12 material gets top billing. Nevertheless, a person reading the entire article would have a good idea of the key arguments and issues. It isn't as good as mine, of course, but it's a start.

More on Connections

I mentioned James Burke's 1978 series "Connections" a couple of posts ago, and I've been fondly reminiscing about it ever since. (Apparently, Colleen shares my fondness for the series.) It's an amazing piece of thinking, presented as an amazing piece of television. Burke's trick is to take critical moments of history (usually inventions) and follow the consequences of that moment to the modern day, by showing how each development of history created its own problems. The first episode, "The Trigger Effect," sets the stage for this cause-and-effect relationship by showing how a single relay tripped at the Niagra power station, causing a massive blackout in New York.

Ironically, I much preferred the television series over the book, because the television series seemed to create a sense of immediacy that the book couldn't quite convey. Also, it's just cooler when you can actually see how a "touchstone" works, or a Jacquard loom, or a nuclear bomber. Each of the following series ("The Day The Universe Changed," "After the Warming," "Connections 2," "Connections 3") developed the same idea through different stories. They were also good, but decreasingly so, because I couldn't get away from the feeling that Burke was milking the idea a bit. Burke's book "The Axemaker's Gift" is a good twist on the theme; it traces the effects of the specialized "toolmaker" class of humanity, and urges the rest of us to use the tools to restrain the toolmakers. It's uneven, but thought-provoking. His more recent books ("The Pinball Effect," "Circles," "The Knowledge Web") have tried to show the interconnectedness of knowledge, to lesser effect.

The original ten-episode series "Connections" is available on DVD, though not easily. You can get it for the amazing sale price of $150 at Ambrose Video. (It's a Time Life production, so it's pretty pricey.) I haven't seen it turn up on television in many years, though Connections 2 and Connections 3 have. And it's not even available at Vulcan Video, the world's greatest video store, though you might have luck at your local library. I have the series on decrepit VHS tapes, recorded off of PBS who-knows-how-long-ago.

 10:06 AM

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