Oh, the Bush administration wishes they had this kind of behind-the-scenes string-pulling ability. They would really have liked to make Fahrenheit 9/11 (not to mention An Inconvenient Truth) vanish in the same way:

Exhibs drop "Yasukuni" in Japan

No doubt, it's truly being canceled because it might cause trouble for other tenants. I'm sure it's just a coincidence that the Diet (parliament) had a private screening of the movie last month. As I've said before, if you want to decrease your cynicism about U.S. politics, try living somewhere else for awhile.

A Criminal History of Mankind

This book by Colin Wilson has the in-depth research and lurid topic that would seem to guarantee page-turning reading at the least. Now, maybe it's just because of my recent reading of Nassim Taleb's books, but instead when I read through Wilson's very thick book, I'm continually dumbfounded at a unsupported assertions made, as well as a the fact-making-by-anecdote (Reagan would have been proud) that abounds in it.

For instance, Wilson repeatedly asserts that, "this kind of crime (meaning meaningless acts of murder) only began when mankind started to live in large cities." Oh really? While in general urban crime rates are higher it's not clear that's true across all time, and he doesn't offer any statistics in support of that fact.

"Meaningless acts of murder are only a phenomenon of 20th century society" -- this one seems totally unsupportable. Widespread reporting of meaningless acts of murder is definitely a historically recent phenomenon - people in rural Scotland in the 12th century couldn't really hear about the latest grisly murders from Cornwall, but now they can. Furthermore, pre-20th-century mores also had a strong sliencing effect; there's little reason to think we would have had about the Michigan murders in an Elizabethan society.

Finally, "the criminal mind" is an incesssant topic of the book. While I'm open to the idea that certain thought patterns are more prevalent among law-breakers than law-abiders, lots of the criminal mind discussion is again based on anecdotal pattern-finding. As Taleb would surely point out, it's all the worse because Wilson is trying to infer patterns from an extremely small sample (serial killers who were in the end caught) making almost any claim to widespread patterns of criminal thinking dubious.

Of course, the book is an exercise in anecdotalism by design -- it's more interesting to read about that sort of crime than the infinitely more common shooting as the result of a drug gang turf war. But I'm having a tough time convincing myself it will be worth wading through this book!

(so I read "The Last Shogun: The Life of Tokugawa Yoshinobu" while thinking about it...)

Hillary turns further and further to the dark side

I'm growing ever more disgusted with Hillary Clinton's campaign. The capacity for innuendo, tricks, and underhandedness that I always worried was there is becoming more and more evident. It started with arguing that the sham elections in Michigan and Florida should be counted. Sorry Hillary, but as you agreed last year, rules have no meaning if you don't actually stick to the rules. But lately it keeps doing downhill every couple days:

We need to realize that propagating this kind of innuendo, attack politics is how we got to a situation where people feel disenchanted and disenfranchised -- which is turn is the greatest threat to democracy of all. If Hillary wants to debate issues, that's fine (although it's hard since she and Obama hardly differ on issues). But we've had enough of attack-machine politics no matter which party the initiator is a member of.