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It's the issues, stupid

At the admirably practical site Issues
you can research and compare the various
presidential candidates according to their positions on the issues that
matter most to you. Investigate by candidate or by issue; there are
broad main categories like Health Care or Environment along with a
helpful index telling you where to find more specific concerns like
National Endowment for the Arts funding or school violence. The
candidate list includes several largely or completely ignored by the
mainstream media: Harry Browne, Alan Keyes, Bob Smith and Orrin Hatch.
Each position is reported as a brief single-line summary that’s
cross-indexed to a dated, sourced quotation, making this a potentially
useful site for journalists and activists as well as savvy voters. Just
be aware that you won’t be seeing these quotations in their full context
— which means a little more research may be indicated before you decide
to run full-tilt with them.

Judging a book by its cover

That 100-year-old book you found in the flea market last Sunday for
50 cents … could it possibly be worth something? Well, of course, it’s
worth whatever you can get for it at
which is up to you. But its intrinsic value to serious book collectors
is another matter. The fact that it was published in 1883 doesn’t in
itself make it worth much. The standards are high — and crucial —
regarding what constitutes a good enough condition to make the book
valuable. To properly describe the condition of your book, or to
properly evaluate one you see offered for sale, you need to understand
what terms like “fine”
or “very good” actually mean. You’d be surprised how unimpressive a book
in “good” condition can turn out to be. Here is a brief, rough
as to what condition you ought to expect in a book of a given age. If
you’re looking at ads for old books online and find yourself mystified
by arcane-looking terms like “8vo” or “foxed,” consult a more
comprehensive glossary
(an alternative is

The academic resurrection of Ayn Rand

Fans of Ayn Rand’s work and philosophy have never been lacking,
either in numbers or in individual significance: it has been reported
that no less a creature than Alan Greenspan has fessed up to feeling
“exhilarated” by a reading of “Atlas Shrugged.” (Would that constitute
“rationa” exuberance, I wonder?) But in the academic world, Rand has
been persona non grata for, seemingly, forever. So, when a major
discussion of Ayn Rand’s significance makes it into Lingua Franca
magazine, you’ve got to suspect some kind of seismic shift is taking
place. In his September essay, “The Heirs of Ayn Rand: Has
Objectivism Gone Subjective?” Scott McLemee notes how Rand’s work has
lately begun making incursions into college classrooms. Whether the
emergence of a degree of scholarly engagement with Rand bodes well or
ill for her and her disciples remains an unresolved question; in any
case, McLemee gives a useful account of the rather combative history of
the Objectivist movement, up to and including the various recent

Lobster Men From Mars

Bad movies — really bad — can be so bad they’re actually good, as
if the good-to-bad spectrum was bent around into a great big circle such
that its opposite ends actually meet. (This is actually how I always
think of fascism and Stalinism, too — far left meeting far right, like
with the equator.) If Ed Wood and his ilk are your bag, or if titles
such as “Avenging Disco Godfather” and “Cannibal Women from the Avocado
Jungle of Death” (really!) just satisfy something deep within your soul,
you’ll enjoy Oh, the Humanity!, a
site devoted to “the worst movies on earth.” Browse reviews, vote for
your (least) favorites, take the Javascript-dependent B-Movie Quiz of
the month, and putter about aimlessly.

Just dig a hole in the ground…

Take a Journey to the Center of the
and find out where you would emerge
if you dug a hole straight down from where you’re sitting all the way to
the other side of the planet. (We are pretending the Earth is not filled
with various types of liquid fire for the purposes of this little parlor
game.) In my case, I would drown if I did this, because I would end up
poking my head out somewhere in the sea off the southeast coast of
Australia. All I have to do now is explain this problem, slowly and
patiently, to a certain canine member of my family who fervently
believes that there is gold in them thar hills. Or, possibly, just juicy
little chipmunks — but the end result will be the same, darn it.