Wednesday, April 30, 2003


Metafilter's been particularly good lately. These are all from yesterday's thread on the announcement of the evidence against Mike Hawash:
that whole bit I heard this evening while watching The Trials of Henry Kissinger about liberal democracy and the rule of law's being "inevitable" is suddenly sounding like so much quasi-religious dogma. It's not inevitable. It's hard work, and speaking out about trials involving secret evidence and such is an essential part of that work.

"If the defendant, Maher Mofeid "Mike" Hawash, did go to China..."
Thank you. Now that I see that his real name is foreign and sinister-sounding, I can view him as the dehumanized caricature of evil he truly is.

Beholder's addendum to Godwin's Law [rejoinder that aborts all discussion]: "Tell that to the victims of September 11th."

Machiavellian ends-justify-the-means practitioners are a bigger threat to freedom than terrorists.

I am perplexed by this new logic that the only arena in which we really have a right to privacy is gun ownership.

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

character and metrics

From Slate, interesting movement afoot (with similar tactics to the grade the parents initiative) to shift the focus of children's sports from win-or-nothing into character building:
My job is to see to it that report cards get handed out to the referee and to the opposing team's TSL before each game and that they get filled out by the end of it. Each of us rates the behavior of the players, coaches, and parents on both sides, from "excellent" to "unacceptable."
...I'm not sure what's more surprising, that my kids are total converts to the cause or that I've bought into the program...
Like they say in business school, if you're going to improve a process the first thing you need to do is to find a way to measure it.

The article also mentions that they aim for a "5:1 ratio of praise to blame", which got me thinking of who I like to pound on in this space, and of how easy it is to sit on one's butt when all is satisfactory and only scream and throw things when you have a complaint. Which leads to the poor recipient getting nothing but abuse. So here are 5 things I've been impressed with recently in The Union:
  • Doug Mattson, who is to The Union as Tom Knudson is to The Bee. Both produce very well written, solid, factual, clear reporting about stuff we need to face up to. For examples, Mattson today on mitigation fees and traffic upgrades (also see his previously-linked-to growth issues piece), Knudsen's series (with others) on California, the State of Denial (how we protect our back yard from exploitation, instead feeding our desires via rape and pillage of the natural resources of other countries.)
  • Richard Somerville's column from Saturday on how the editorial section is structured, clarifying the ground rules as it were. Clarity/visibility/facts good. Other stuff good too: "On a regular basis, we run columns by Molly Ivins from the left, Cal Thomas from the right, and Dave Barry from Mars."
  • The Union's willingness (on the Katis matter) to do an about face in their editorial and say "we've changed our minds".
  • Katie Walsh's Reflections of a woman in black today on the varieties of reception she and the other 25 women got while standing vigil on the Nevada City overpass, some of which [varieties of reception] bring to mind this comment from right-winger Tacitus:
    it's easy to note that some of the most ideologically committed are also the ones most apt to savagely dehumanize their foes. When your political leanings skew your moral compass such that common decency no longer applies, it's time to step back.
  • Jeff Ackerman's comment celebrating hicks, in his column today: "A hick would have the courage to leave his name and phone number on my machine."

    Also this bit:
    And then there was the time I ruined a planned tour of a brothel by Nevada lawmakers. That one got national attention. A dozen or so legislators were preparing a "fact finding" tour of the Mustang Ranch and I penned a little column suggesting that "except for the degree of pleasure they provide, the prostitutes and politicians might actually have lots in common."

Nice work, guys.


via metafilter, token sucking:
The criminal carefully jams the token slot with a matchbook or a gum wrapper and waits for a would-be rider to plunk a token down. The token plunker bangs against the locked turnstile and walks away in frustration. Then from the shadows, the token sucker appears like a vampire, quickly sealing his lips over the token slot, inhaling powerfully and producing his prize: a $1.50 token, hard earned and obviously badly needed.
...deterrence, when dealing with someone willing to clamp his mouth to one of the most public surfaces in all of New York City, was next to impossible. token sucker acknowledged the depths of his desperation. "Hard times makes you do it," he explained, adding: "Anyways, I've kissed women that's worse."

Monday, April 28, 2003

SARS metrics, scenarios and prognoses

SARS reassurance syndrome:
Dr Niman's call for a revision to the mortality risk assessment procedure has fallen on deaf ears in the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and at the World Health Organisation (WHO), but has been a hot topic on SARS-related internet sites and discussion groups for much of the past two weeks.

Posting on 19 April..., Dr Niman gave mortality figures for a range of locations that should shake many health officials like Mr Tukuitonga to the complacent core.

On 19 April, based on country-supplied data, Dr Niman says the actual death toll was:
Hong Kong 18.2 per cent
Canada 18.2 per cent
Singapore 13.8 per cent
Viet Nam 9.8 per cent

SARS 'in perspective':
People in Toronto have a far greater chance of dying from influenza, a car crash or smoking than they do from SARS, says Dr. Richard Schabas, who's among health professionals in the SARS trenches nearly round the clock.

Some say SARS has been blown out of proportion:
We've been here before, said Dr. Don Woods, a University of Calgary microbiologist working on a biowar vaccine under contract to the Pentagon. Every so often, maybe once a year, a new bug crops up that's enough of a mystery to public health officials around the world to inspire a full-blown outbreak of media-driven hypochondria...

I wonder, is the urge to declare "cautious optimism" ASAP with SARS fundamentally the same as the one to declare that the stock market has finally hit bottom?

I think also there's a tendency to take a very narrow perspective, and scoff at people for acting/thinking that their risk of catching SARS is far higher than it currently is. But a) their community benefits from their actions since it does reduce the rate of transmission (if you're sick and wearing a mask, you're not going to set any records for long-distance sneezing) and b) in the longer term, their perceived risk might become right on target. We don't know.

PhilB on the Agonist SARS BB:
There seems to be a general relief that the Hanoi, Toronto and Singapore outbreaks are under control (I am not convinced about HK).

These places were never the problem. The problem is China and the trend there is still up.
We have yet to see the impact of the exodus from Beijing and any spread of SARS resulting from it. The next 2 weeks will be crucial. If in 2 weeks time we are seeing less than 200 new cases a day then SARS is not getting worse and there is real hope it can be got under control. If the daily new cases are significantly higher than 200 new cases a day in 2 weeks time then we are in deep trouble.
Epidemics don't start out exponential. They start as linear increases with an upward bias for a period, then suddenly go exponential. [he points to these 1918 flu stats]

From the Guardian, the worst-case scenario
Millions dead. Although the disease is spreading more slowly than the Spanish flu pandemic that killed up to 50 million people in 1918, it is more lethal and may simply take longer to spread. There are two big reasons the disease could get badly out of hand: no one is immune to Sars, and there is no effective treatment...

Actors have much to teach us dept: Why are they saying a SARS vaccine will take years, when it only took Dustin Hoffman a day or so to make one from a cute monkey in Outbreak?

sick request

I've been cleaning out an old storage shed which in the last few years has only been used by individuals of the small furry variety. So when you hear that I'm in the hospital with some undetermined illness could you please remind them that it's hantavirus?


p.s. to the vandal boys who broke into said shed: repent, or Someone might smite you too.

p.p.s. to my reader: what is the difference between disease and pestilence? is pestilence fleas and ticks? or is pestilence what broke into the shed?

Sunday, April 27, 2003

Recite these too

At the local place of coffee this morning there was newspaper-inspired discussion on the Bill of Rights, and attempted enumeration of the 5(?) rights in the First Amendment, and our abysmal performance got me to thinking, here every day students are putting hands on hearts and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, isn't it just as important for the future of our country that they also be able to recite the Bill of Rights?
Admittedly the BofR is a handful, but what if the class just learned one new amendment per grade, and maybe only had to recite one or two of them each day... This would provide both variety and excellent topics for discussion and debate. And clearly it's needed, Roger Ebert concurs :
I begin to feel like I was in the last generation of Americans who took a civics class. I begin to feel like most Americans don't understand the First Amendment, don't understand the idea of freedom of speech, and don't understand that it's the responsibility of the citizen to speak out...


What I use (not from any feeling that 3 of 4 of these are innately superior products):
Win98, M$IE6, Outlook Express for email, TextPad for text editor. Textpad is nice because unlike M$IE and Outlook it doesn't deliberately make your work harder by forcing you to do that backspace mambo thing; alas Word Wrap is off by default, but you can turn it on from the "Configure" menu item. You can download a free evaluation version and it only nags you occasionally (to pay ~$30, takes no more than 5 min).

And you, gentle reader, have done your good deed for today, namely by being present you have shamed me into finally paying. thanks.

Saturday, April 26, 2003

kleptomaniac goulash

apologies in advance. best i could do under the circumstances.

on geekdom:
I wear my label proudly now of course, as many of my kindred do, but once upon a time in a galaxy not so very far away it was anything but cool to be a Geek. We were social outcasts living on the fringes of our peer groups. No one imagined that one-day we might be giants. No one knew that our kind would someday become titans of industry and kings of new uncharted digital realms.

Doc Searls via Deborah:
Napster and its successors are the listeners' workaround of the failed radio industry, which replaced trusted music connoisseurs with payola-driven robots that serve only as freebie machines for the record industry's pop music factories.

the very cool Cary Tennis:
Addiction is like a repairman who breaks your car and then insists that only he can fix it; then he breaks it again and insists that only he can fix it; then he breaks it again and says his rates are going up. And you keep going back because he always fixed it in the past.

Thomas Henry Huxley:
If a little knowledge is dangerous, where is the man who has so much as to be out of danger?

The Other Sixties, in Boston Globe:
Menand writes, "The change that the counterculture made in American life has become nearly impossible to calculate-thanks partly to the exaggerations of the people who hate the sixties, and partly to the exaggerations of the people who hate the people who hate the sixties. The subject could use the attention of some people who really don't care."

Doc Searls waxing on TiVo:
Commercial television has always been conceived as a device driver for consumers.

Friday, April 25, 2003

musical interlude

Big White Guy composes a fine one. Easy to play on the piano too. But "I don't recommend singing this to your kids"...


Blogger webmaster, use shorter ALT text! with image loading turned off the "Post and Publish" button is somewhat to the right of John Ashcroft.

the consequences of "harmless fun"

Jon Carroll is a popular San Francisco Chronicle columnist who wrote (and writes?) entertainingly and frequently insightfully about anything from current events to his cats.

Kaycee Nicole Swenson was a tragic yet brave terminally ill young woman who won the hearts of throngs with her weblog describing her fight with cancer (her self description -"...creator of smiles and laughter, and i have a mischievous side that is nothing short of infectious." might seem a bit over the top, but hold on.) People sent her letters and gifts and prayers, alas to no avail, her Blogger of the Week status was of no help when the time came.

As it turned out, Kaycee was a fiction, created by a then-40 yr old woman named Debbie Swenson for her entertainment, as Big White Guy of current SARS fame explained at the time in full detail. Much gnashing of teeth and betrayal of trust and investigative work to uncover this on the part of bloggers.

And J.C. wrote about it. To decry the lies and deliberate manipulation of thousands? Well, no. To defend them:*
Seems to me Debbie Swenson was an artist using the tools at her disposal. She was a writer who wanted an audience, and she found a way to get one. Sure she lied a little -- have you never lied to get a job you really wanted? Did it even matter once it was clear that you could do a good job?

Everyone agrees that Debbie Swenson did a good job. Why should people feel cheated? Their emotions were real; their tears were real; the sense of hope they experienced was real. Was that not worth the unwilling suspension of disbelief?

this was when I stopped reading his column.

Fast forward a couple of years to the recent past (yesterday), Sacramento Bee, Diana Griego Erwin of "don't call people names" fame writes about - yes - online friend Dingbat Annie, who is nobly facing terminal lung cancer and has throngs of wellwishers who are heartbroken and are doing all sorts of good deeds for her.:
...Phil drove 512 miles round-trip from Topeka, Kan., to Aurora, Mo., in the Ozarks to pick up Annie's mother...Yet another started a campaign to make sure Annie received cards or packages from every state in the nation...Lobster dinners appeared at her door...[one person] started a "Tell Annie a Story" thread, suggesting tales related to the view from one's window. Already there are 46 posts...

And your response to this news? is it "how heartwarming, that people are coming together to care for someone like that"? and - if not - do you feel that you, and the world, are better or worse for it?

(of course, maybe she is another Kaycee, in which case I guess we should be thankful for the gift of cynicism.)

*This (added Oct 2004) could explain a lot: The Elements of Journalism,pp. 179-180:
For decades urban columnists...had found an eloquence in these places [of which they wrote] that many of their colleagues thought was part fiction...It was one of those unspoken dark alleys of the business.

morning sight for eyesores

Another truck with character parked downtown this morning. (Previous ones are here and here)

title of post means absolutely nothing, in case you haven't figured that out.

and speaking of case you haven't figured this out - "belaboring the obvious" has two of them. Either it seems obvious to me but i'm not so sure it's obvious to you, or it feels fresh and marvelously new to me but is eye-rollingly clear to everyone else.
the latter is typically more applicable.

Thursday, April 24, 2003

Easter for adults

ok, you're a bit old to believe in the Easter Bunny. So you've helped dye eggs, you've hid both them and the good ones, you've watched the children run through the house wide-eyed with greed and wonder seeking maximum chocolate bunny (and proto-bunny) biomass, and all of this was fine, but still, there's something missing...

namely -

the Easter Beer Bottle Hunt. buy a sixpack or two (of good beer) per participant, and while you're hiding eggs inside, have the kids hide the bottles outside. Then after their hunt, you get to have yours. (or if you're really cruel, insist that they wait and watch yours first...)

one warning: do not hold hunt in yard with male dog when it's been weeks since the last rain. you wouldn't enjoy it.

body and soul

wonderful, thoughtful, heartful piece by Jeanne at on downsides to blogging in these times. a must read, here's a taste, re current national politics-
I gave them the benefit of the doubt. I tried telling myself that even though they didn't do things the way I would, maybe their way could work, too. Maybe there was a value that I would come to recognize over time.

But after awhile it started to feel a lot like living with an abuser. You can only make so many excuses for the creep, before you finally give up and admit that trusting him and trying to see things his way isn't being open-minded, it's just being a doormat...
I'm a writer, not a lawyer. I'm better at musing and questioning than I am at building unassailable arguments. Arguments, to be honest, bore me. I don't write to persuade, I write to figure things out myself, and readers, to me, are not people whose minds I want to change, but people I've invited along on the journey (and who sometimes have suggestions for a direction to go in that I hadn't thought of before.)

(voice of the crass biological determinist - here's hoping that as our xenoestrogenic environmental pollutants build up they turn lots of guys into Jeannes, i think it is our only hope)

now you have no excuse

Email address is at bottom of that bar on the left. Use the rodent.

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

dim sum

I'm tired and incoherent so here, have some chicken feet:

via road to surfdom: "When the axe came into the forest the trees said: at least the handle is one of us".
Also this -
The trouble for people like Donald Rumsfeld and any number of pro-war bloggers and pundits who continue to take credit for a liberation as if this was the sole intention, or even a primary intention, of unleashing a war on Iraq, is that there are those, not least amongst them the Iraqi people, who are going to hold you to it.

If you tell someone that you are liberating them, don't be surprised if they take you seriously and demand the right to, say, choose their own system of government...

via personal experience: Microsoft does not always know what is good for you. I finally submitted to the full-body upgrade/patches/etc due to the usual dire security warnings, now Outlook takes an at-least-daily (and generally very inconvenient) fatal antipathy to what once was known as the carriage return. Not fun, not appreciated.

Amin Maalouf via Christopher Lydon:
I never try to think what should be my opinion coming from this or that background. I try to think as a human being. I hate for example to see people in debates, each one defending the opinion of his tribe, with all the bad faith that is put into defending his own tribe. I love people who defend the other side, you know? I love to see a debate in which an Arab and a Jew debate, but the Arab is defending the opinion of the Jews, and the Jew is defending the opinion of the Arabs. I love to listen to that, and I feel I belong to this kind of debate.

truer and more heartfelt words rarely spoken, from Geoff at work: "it's amazing what a difference a single digit makes"

via Deborah Branscum, marketers' humor (or not, depending on whether you are among them)

the not so great Santorum ("If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual [gay] sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy . . . polygamy . . . adultery . . . incest . . . anything.") - handily neutered by Andrew Tobias today - brings to mind a .signature from years ago, "I'd rather have a bigot mistake me for a lesbian than a lesbian mistake me for a bigot"

Slate on McSweeney's, the literary mag that's "created in darkness by troubled Americans," typeset "using a small group of fonts that you already have on your computer, with software you already own," and "proofread, but not by paid professionals." (actually this McS tagline is the best part of the article)

the Red Dress Run (you have to scroll some). sad to say Nevada City could never pull something like this off - Grass Valley could though, or Penn Valley if not summer.

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

why radio stations should have a companion weblog

Great article by web usability guru Jakob Nielson on the superiority of Low-End Media for User Empowerment:
Almost every Web usability study we've ever conducted found that low-end [ie text and a few photos] media forms are superior to high-end [ie video,audio] media forms.
... The easier it is for users to get exactly what they need, when they need it, the more satisfied they will be...
Low-end media gives users control over three key processes: how they read, how easily they find relevant information, and how easily they can produce information.
[1.] Reading. With simple text and images, the user can scan the page and control what they read. Because their page access is non-linear, users can spend as little or as much time as they want on each element. They can focus on the information they want and ignore irrelevant parts...
High-end media often forces users to suffer through material designers want to showcase, rather than taking users directly to the material they came for. This is completely contrary to the freedom of movement that characterizes a happy user experience on the Web.

So what does this have to do with radio, which is typically not experienced via the web at all? Answer: radio is missing a segment of its potential audience simply because it is "fat media" and therefore unsearchable: the people who would be interested in some parts aren't listening, because they're not interested in wading through the rest. A companion weblog, giving highlights in a terse and service-oriented manner, can provide these people with the scannable information they crave and is likely to drive up listenership by drawing their attention to features of which they would otherwise remain ignorant.


Monday, April 21, 2003

misc holier-than-thou Takings of words from the mouths of others

These are apropos of local property rights personalities&reporting in general -

from SARS Watch Apr. 20:
Peking Duck [in China] writes about what a jaw dropping and unprecedented experience it was to see the government hold a two-hour, live press conference broadcast on national television, with international reporters hammering them with tough questions. [Rare editorial note: Heck, that doesn't happen in the United States any more.]

Poynter article on SacBee columnist Diana Griego Erwin:
Treat other points of view with respect.
"Try not to attack others in order to make a point. There are so many ways to make your point without being ugly and mean about things. Never resort to name-calling. Call people on where they are incorrect -- factually incorrect. Call them on their behavior, not on who they are."

Patrick DiJusto on emotions over intellect: (btw the article is excellent)
Our emotions are too powerful to be placed in the hands of politicians. Adolescents are a firestorm of 100% emotion with very little thought attached to anything they do, God bless 'em. An adult, on the other hand, is supposed to have the self-control NOT to act on every emotion she has.

and an excerpt from updated Dr Seuss, via email:
For although our story pits Grinches 'gainst Whos,
The true battle lies in what we daily choose.
For inside each Grinch is a tiny small Who,
And inside each Who is a tiny Grinch too.
One thrives on love and one thrives on greed.
Who will win out? It depends who you feed!

(the sentiment's nice, but i suspect the "Mean people need Prozac" bumpersticker approach is more effective - when you're in Grinch mode it is not easy to climb out.)

Sunday, April 20, 2003

letters to the editor from Bill Weismann

Keep reading. They get more extreme.

A few posts ago I typed about how we project our motives onto others (ie belabored the obvious)... here are excerpts from alleged hit-man-hirer Mr. Weismann's letters to the editor of The Union. (to see everything, go to The Union's post-Jan02 archives and search for "Weismann")

emphasis is mine.

in chronological order...
  • Jan 23 02 letter
    ...uses the old liberal standby: "Attack the messenger" - in this case, the signs - "and ignore the message." ...we are pleased and happy that these "No on NH 2020" signs are driving Ms. Jordan nuts. Every time she and her fellow SBC supporters write one of these tantrum, tizzy-fit columns, we get more donations. With more donations, we can make more "No on NH 2020" signs. We really appreciate Ms. Jordan and The Union for helping us out.

  • Feb. 16 02 letter
    Both have shown that they don't expect these laws to apply to them. Let's get rid of these arrogant career politicians....

  • Mar 19 02 letter
    Bisnett is a member of the Community Advisory Committee for NH 2020. We hope he will continue to express his extreme views. It sure makes our job easier...

  • Apr 29 02 letter
    Starr's theories (April 20) about what will happen after Martin and Conklin are out of office, I thought Starr was trying his hand at humor, or sharing his entry in the April Fools liars contest!...The truth is Hank Starr is a lying political hit-man, and not a very good one, at that.

  • June 11 02 letter
    What happened to the liberal party line, "He's scary"? Shumaker rambles on like a madman,...As for Larry Shumaker: "Sir you are nothing but a lying liberal hit man, and not a very good one, I might add."

  • Aug 9 02 letter
    Many individuals driven to public service pursue personal agendas and fringe ideology versus representing us in our best interest. They view themselves as wise shepherds leading a misguided flock down the proper path. ...The fangs of NH 2020, still packed with venom, are the science report and the GIS mapping of private property...

  • Oct 19 02 letter
    In four years, [Izzy Martin and Bruce Conklin] have divided the people...Nevada County deserves better people...

News on Bill Weismann the alleged attempted murderer

Articles on property rights activist Bill Weismann's arrest for allegedly trying to hire a hit man to kill his neighbor over an 18" wide prescriptive easement:
  • 4/12/03: Murder for hire halted ("Court records show Weismann was convicted of vandalism earlier this year, after a neighbor claimed Weismann punched him in the mouth in August 2002...")
  • 4/15/03: still in shock
    "I've always had a lot of respect for Bill," said Margaret Urke of the California Association of Business, Property and Resource Owners. "He's an extremely intelligent and intense person. He cares deeply about the things he cares about."
    Crawford Bost worked with Weismann for Citizens for Property Rights Inc....."All I can tell you is that he has not been active on anything that I know of since (the grandchild's illness)," Bost said, "and he has been under a tremendous amount of stress."

  • 4/16/03: Property spat spiralled
  • 4/20/03: The Union's commentary, Mediation can resolve property disputes

Rumor has it that the desire to see a couple of more prominent local persons dead was also expressed by a local property rights activist. Mediation would not have solved this. The problem is loose cannons, and the tolerance of them by particular factions (e.g. see the end of FReep This: How the right-wing is making itself heard, also the "The Attack on Citizen Participation in Civic Life" section of the Yubanet article on Property Rights Politics In Nevada County), not the perceived lack of a system for ruling on conflicts.

I must also take issue with The Union's once again attempting to obscure distinctions ("Seething anger - on both sides - fueled the debate over Natural Heritage 2020...") (From Dr. Ink: "If ... journalism is an art of verification rather than assertion, we must work hard in our reporting to distinguish between competing positions rather than to assert them as equal.") - anyone viewing or attending the NH2020 public meetings or reading letters to the editor of The Union could not help but be struck by the difference in tone/civility/rationality between the factions.

Friday, April 18, 2003

competence, credibility, and the value of apologies

via the original Wiki, Donald L. Kirkpatrick on the four levels of (increasing) competence:
  1. Unconscious Incompetence = you don't know that you can't do it well. (and nobody can tell you - see the full report of the Cornell study on incompetence)
  2. Conscious Incompetence = you know you can't do it well.
  3. Conscious Competence = you do it well, and you think about the work as you do it.
  4. Unconscious Competence = you're so successful it's "automatic" -- you do it well, without thinking about it.

Of persons/institutions on the four levels, the one you least want to be on the receiving end of (due to the likelihood of being misled) is #1.

given that all people/institutions screw up from time to time, how do you determine whether or not the one you're dealing with is a #1?

Answer: (i think) are they aware when they screw up, and just as importantly do they let you know? Some people are virtually incapable of admitting fault - they seem to be the more competitive ones, who are afraid of finding themselves in a "one-down" position. Some institutions don't want to admit fault because (i think) they want to project an image of power and competence to their customers (some of whom might not have noticed the error).

But to those customers who have noticed if, if you try to cover it up/pretend it never happened this tells them that either you don't know you erred or that you hide your errors (and leave people believing wrong info). Neither of which is conducive to trust.

If you want to rebuild damaged credibility, the most effective way to do it is to repair the damage directly, by saying "I/we did X, where X was wrong, Y is right, I/we will try not to make this mistake in future." Otherwise your customers have no way of knowing that you're aware it was wrong.

moral of story: apologies build trust if they demonstrate that you share the standards of your customers.

optimism (from somebody else)

from an essay by Theresa Nielsen Hayden a few years ago:
I wouldn't want to live in Tomorrowland, where the social patterns and infrastructure are all so spiff and modern and rational and well-designed that any remaining problems must needs be insoluble, and so a cause for despair. And I'm not any fonder of the idea that we're living on the tattered, weary, played-out edge of postmodern time.

My own personal theory is that this is the very dawn of the world. We're hardly more than an eyeblink away from the fall of Troy, and scarcely an interglaciation removed from the Altamira cave painters. We live in extremely interesting ancient times.

I like this idea. It encourages us to be earnest and ingenious and brave, as befits ancestral peoples; but keeps us from deciding that because we don't know all the answers, they must be unknowable and thus unprofitable to pursue.

Thursday, April 17, 2003


the actual SARS mortality rate is considerably higher than the reported 3-5%:
It is likely from all reports that those patients that will die, do so between one and three weeks after they go to hospital. Which means that the death rate should not be calculated by dividing the number dead by the number of cases now, but by dividing the number dead by the number of cases one or two weeks ago...

Evidence that the Iraqi museum looting may have been planned. This is sick.

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

binocular coverage

been meaning to pull together coverage of same (or roughly same) story from different sources for a while now. Here's the first round:

Anonymous anti-Martin hit piece and the guy behind it:
Sac News and Review, Yubanet, The Union

Sea Change in county govt with election of Bedwell and Sutherland:
Yubanet, The Union 1, The Union 2

Property Rights Politics -
Yubanet (re Nevada County), Sac Bee (not local to us)

Bedwell's illegal apartments
Yubanet, The Union

I understand that The Republic is out there somewhere but have not been able to find it.


points made by Fareed Zakaria in How to Wage the Peace:
Weren't the forces of democracy also the forces of ... harmony and tolerance? Actually, no.
Elections require that politicians compete for votes. In societies without strong traditions of tolerance and multiethnic groups, the easiest way to get support is by appealing to people's most basic affiliations... Once one group wins, it usually excludes the other from power.
...The single most important strength a society can have is a committed, reformist elite. That has been at the heart of the success of Central Europe, weathering through all its ups and downs. When Michael Camdessus, former head of the IMF, is asked why Botswana, a diamond-rich African country, has done well, while most diamond states have not, his answer is, "Three words: three honest men." Botswana has had three honest and competent presidents.

Add "tries to hire hit men to kill the neighbor" to the litany of local conservatives' antisocial behaviors. If you are an ethical conservative, please get involved, and take back your party! Your county and your country need you.

i like these people

Wash. Post on parents of James Riley:
..."That's just who we are, we're eccentrics," Jane Riley said with a laugh.
Like their son, the Rileys said they intensely dislike public attention. Why then, they were asked today, were they putting up with reporters camped in their back yard, their sunroom and their driveway, and giving nonstop interviews to all who wanted their time?

"Because that's what our son was over there fighting for -- freedom," Athol Riley said. "We believe freedom of the press is very important. If you've lived where it's not free, or even not totally free, you find out how important it is."

the route of all evil

Big White Guy (in Hong Kong) on SARS:
I've been meaning to mention this for some time, but one avenue of transmission of the SARS virus that's been overlooked or largely ignored is money.
An article I just read pointed out a study on how easily money can transmit diseases. The American Society of Microbiology examined dollar bills collected from students at a high-school game and from shoppers at a grocery stores. Of the bills collected, 7% contained serious pathogenic bacteria, 86% carried ordinary bacteria, and 7% were clean. Thirty years ago, the American Medical Association reported that 42% of notes and 13% of coins were contaminated by dangerous fecal germs (such as E. coli) and staphylococcus...

later, being a silver lining kind of guy, he adds:
...I like to maintain a balanced look at things. There are benefits to the outbreak.

I haven't seen anyone pick their nose in weeks.

in retrospect maybe it would have been better if we'd skipped putting a man on the moon and stuck to finding a cure for the common cold...

Monday, April 14, 2003

accuracy, fairness and balance

Accuracy, fairness and balance are said to be the fundamentals of good journalism.

but when there are two factions and the facts do favor one, or the preponderance of X (whatever X is) lies on one side, how can the reporter go about conveying this info to the reader in a fair and balanced way?

What is balance? if you are not balanced, can you still be fair?

presumably "balance" does not mean positioning the viewpoint of the story equidistant between said factions? or does it? if it does, doesn't accuracy (in mirroring the world) suffer?

is "contextual objectivity" ("an attempt to reflect all sides of any story while retaining the values, beliefs and sentiments of the target audience") the de facto meaning of Balance in the U.S. media as it is for Al Jazeera? (other Al Jazeera articles here)

those are my questions, & here are some writings that resonate with what I see as reality:

The media is failing if it does not educate its readership on the facts

on journalism, objectivity and bias:
The difference between fact and opinion is not a bright line: It is a spectrum. At one end you have "2 + 2 = 4," and on the other you have "Social Security should be privatized"

Tied up in balancing:
What we in the media are concerned about are allegations of bias or imbalance. Fairness is all, but the attaining of a position of perfect balance between two positions on an issue is something else entirely. The pursuit of balance has lead to vast slabs of inadequate copy that can be characterised as "he said-she said" journalism.

This holds that the story is adequately handled if you go first to one side then the other and line the comments up side by side. What might be said might be highly misleading or completely untrue or just meaningless drivel but who cares - journalism is about collecting and collating opposing comments.

There are a myriad of difficulties with this approach. Who said there is only two points of view to most issues? [If it's] a Tweedledee and Tweedledum affair of two sides equally and mutually scared of upsetting the same bunch of horses, the comments can usually be predicted pretty perfectly and won't amount to much anyway. The usual suspects for comment will be those with their hands up, and those least likely to have anything new, different or challenging to say.

The alternative view is that the story is not done, unless you are telling the punter what is really going on. Simply collecting and collating the he saids and she saids won't do that, but requiring comments to be meaningful and challenging those that are untruthful might. This usually implies going to he and she for their comments after a bit of basic digging into the story, rather than going there first and only there.

what ails journalism:
Some critics charge that objectivity is illusory to start with since journalists inevitably control the sources (or, as is sometimes the case, sources control the journalists). Others feel that the objectivity mindset leads to point-counterpoint or he said/she said formulas of news reporting that ultimately have a paralyzing effect on the public. So long as journalists see themselves as detached, value-neutral observers, news becomes a mere recital of context-free information -- often irrelevant, often misleading.

On balance as equidistance:
You [reporters] think you've covered a story when you put yourself equidistant between two groups and then you don't have to evaluate who's telling the truth or what their records are." -- Jeff Cohen

Patty Calhoun: "I think it's more important that we pursue the truth, and I think that's what we're doing. By saying objectivity isn't out there, what we're saying is you cannot, bottom line, be objective because you're going to go in with certain biases. You're going to go in and say I'm a white woman without a girdle who's writing a story. I'm writing it differently than a white woman in a girdle on a daily newspaper might be. Those biases are there and that's going to rule out objectivity, but you can certainly pursue accuracy and fairness and the truth, and that pursuit continues."

Kim Elton:
Michael Kinsley, a journalist, once noted that if a politician declares that two plus two is five, reporters might note in the story that the position is not without some critics. Indeed, he added, journalists probably would quote another politician in the opposite party saying the sum should be four. They might even quote a third politician suggesting there is a possible compromise between the advocates of `five' and the advocates of`four'.

By strict journalism standards the story headlined "Politicians battle over sums" would be balanced if all three politicians are quoted. But readers who don't know what the sum really is or how math really works will have to guess at the truth and may go for the most facile quote.

Reporting that reflects reality instead of `spin' too often is limited by the radical agnosticism in the media that refuses to classify any quote as untrue...

Deni Elliott (in a much more general and wide ranging article):
If a statement known to be false is worth publication, news organizations should help their readers understand that the statement ought not to be believed. The era in which news organizations could claim that they ought not be accountable for knowingly printing falsehoods disappeared in the 1950s coverage of Senator Joe McCarthy and his unchallenged claims of communists in our midst.

Sunday, April 13, 2003

psychology today

on inferring other peoples' motives -
a few months back I was talking to someone who mentioned offhand that being manipulative was the normal human condition. which blew me away. then yesterday ran across this MMPI description:
Amorality -...
High: Justifies manipulativeness by projecting own selfish opportunistic and exploitive tendencies onto others.
Low: Denies that other people are selfish, opportunistic, and manipulative.
...A unique scale. It's not as pathological as "Amorality" sounds. It would be better to call it, "Manipulativeness", or what Alex Caldwell (1988) likes to call it, "Opportunism"...

and in combination with other recent events it got me thinking about how we as a species - not just the Opportunists - do infer motives, and I think projection is the way we all do it - i.e. an awful lot of the inference comes from just mentally putting our own psyches into the other person's, uh, shoes. So as a mirror it can be informative.

(digression - footwear metaphor complaint - of course it hurts when the shoe is on the other foot! this is to be expected, says nothing about the intrinsic worth of the shoe.)

Lectures on The Emerging Mind are still in process but if all are as good as the first one (Phantoms in the Brain), read. The explanation of why we laugh will shed scales from your eyes.

definition for today:
witzelsucht (vit'sel-zoocht) [Ger.] - "A mental condition characteristic of frontal lobe lesions and marked by the making of poor jokes and puns and the telling of pointless stories, at which the patient himself is intensely amused."

and a very interesting article from Paul Krugman on the evolutionary psychology of investing (The Ice Age Cometh), and why we do so badly at it...
The more I look at the amazing rise of the U.S. stock market, the more I become convinced that we are looking at a mammoth psychological problem. I don't mean mammoth as in "huge" (though maybe that too), but as in "elephant". Let me explain...

happy Iraq links

from Electrolite, wonderful Time mag photo. of Infantrywoman Felicia Harris making herself at home at Chez Uday...

and POW James Riley and others from his company found safe.

i covet my neighbor's truck

snow again this morning.
truck reappeared.

we sure have some fine vehicles in this town.

Saturday, April 12, 2003

smorgasbord, not local, mostly not timely

Everyone else is linking to the report by Eason Jordan (chief news executive of CNN) on The News We Kept to Ourselves in order to keep the CNN Baghdad bureau open.

Snake robots. How long until either robotic or live snakes can be equipped with "invisible fence" style collars (well, microchips) and let loose in your yard's gopher/mole tunnels to terminate their makers? seems like an idea whose time is coming...

from the tech blog of ken, a vegetarian saw:
With the device installed in a consumer-grade tablesaw, a company representative fed a hot dog into the spinning blade, using the hot dog as a substitute for a wayward finger. Remarkably, the blade stopped the instant it touched the hot dog, allowing the dog to escape with no more than a light scratch.

and, delving back to the Pleistocene of the web, a quote from C.J. Silverio:
...The net is precious to me because it gives ordinary human beings a way to communicate with other ordinary human beings. Corporations have too many ways to cram their ads down my throat. Human beings have the net...

and she wants you to go out and start a weblog:
...Don't give the world another glorified multimedia dot-finger file. Give the world your art, your music, your poetry, your political rants, your short stories, your first grade photos, your shareware and freeware, your archives of hobby stuff, your hints about how to make great tie-dye, your really handy Perl script, your list of the ten best bookstores in the Greater Podunk area. You know something that nobody else knows. You can do something that nobody else can do quite the same way. You've made something that the rest of the world has never seen...

remember, it's free quick and easy - and surely you could post better stuff than this. So go here to start your weblog. (although if you want to put up anything but text, money must change hands)

Friday, April 11, 2003

on Iraq

(edited to remove wild claims that might be substantiated in fact or might not but i have no confidence to judge)
via David Theroux via Dan Gillmor, the tearing down of Saddam's statue looks different from a distance. my not very educated guess is that inter-ethnic hostilities and the general inclination of the Bush administration to shy away from substantive policy issues make the near-term future of Iraq not look so good. It's a lot easier to tear down than to rebuild.

via bodyandsoul via stoutdem via slacktivist, here's a donor's guide to aid for Iraq.

via Dan Gillmor again, a great suggestion by Jeff Jarvis to support Iraqi freedom of the press by helping Iraqis to start weblog newspapers:
Weblogs give them the chance to publish freely, overnight, with no expense of printing presses and paper, no production equipment needed, no distribution network needed, no investment at all.
The beauty of weblogging is that it is the world's cheapest -- no, history's cheapest -- means of publishing. Weblogging brings the power of the press down to the people. And these people need it...
(of course initially there would not be huge #s of iraqi readers of these weblogs...)
Josh Marshall in Talking Points Memo making good points (which you will have to go & read, am not summarizing) on the looting:
...I think it is virtually inevitable that you're going to have some period of rupture -- a window of time when there's an utter vacuum of authority -- when a government like this falls under military assault...

make your will now, avoid the rush; or, howdy from Chicken Little

It kind of looks like SARS is on its way. BTW is a good place for info/links. (and hopefully unlike the Agonist the author doesn't plagiarize)

Also see the April 11 WHO report on Status of the outbreak and lessons for the immediate future.

my suspicion is that those of us whose colds always turn into $%^& bronchitis or pneumonia anyway best make the most of the time that's left, unless They figure out how to treat it soon.

question: in the short run health care will be swamped and the economy will tank, but if it cleans out us weak & sickly, won't that reduce health care costs & make the economy stronger in the longer run? and what an ingenious way to save Social Security...

on a lighter note...
great bumpersticker sighting:
I [heart] Explosives

which is running neck&neck with the previous Top NC sighting, namely
Warning: I drive like you do

and in case I'm wrong and sky is not falling, here's the pre-registration form for the Calif. "do not call" anti-telemarketing list.

fine art in Nevada City

Mike's truck is downtown this morning exposing itself to passers-by. At least i assume it is still Mike's truck. Having seen it evolve from something near normality to its present splendor, sure hope it is not for sale (vehicles parked in that spot often are) - would hate to see it driven out of town.

apologies for image lack of quality, the real thing is much better.

Thursday, April 10, 2003

fish wrap, cynicism, honor

ok, even the freshest part of this almost a week old, but...

Cynicism pervades Top Leadership (the feudal lords, if you will) at The Union. And perhaps in many if not most cases it's justified, and protects against gullibility; however when you see the world through cynic-colored glasses you're likely to make errors in the opposite direction, and ascribe cynical or base motives to honorable, decent people who are are basing their decisions on ethics, not on political maneuvering.

And yes, such people do exist.

To wit:

In last Saturday's editorial touching on the County supes' pro-war resolution, re the Nevada City Council deciding not to pass an anti-war resolution, the editorial said:
The council sensibly decided to not enter THAT lion's den.

Sounds like a calculated political decision, albeit one The Union agrees with. But the reporting at the time of city council meeting shows it in a different light:
"It is not inclusive," Mayor David McKay said of the resolution. McKay, who said he had been to a peace march in January, said the proposed resolution did not represent all of Nevada City's residents.

And of course he was correct; it didn't represent me, for one (am probably the only Nevada County resident who is still undecided on the war). And when I read the article I was proud to have have him as as our mayor; not everyone understands that achieving consensus (or as much of one as possible) is part of the job.

(aside, from the Grass Valley and Truckee City Councils:
Grass Valley Mayor Patti Ingram and Vice Mayor DeVere Mautino do not believe a stand against the war is within the City Council's purview, regardless of one's feelings. "I think that would be a pretty dumb move on our part," Mautino said...

Truckee will not take a position either. "We have a tradition of not taking positions on global issues," Truckee Mayor Ted Owens said Sunday.

The other case is that of former supervisor Bruce Conklin (who lost by 20 votes after his opposition's campaign coffers received a $28,000 still-mysterious donation); this article and this editorial questioned the ethics/motivations behind his being hired by the Nevada County Land Trust with money that the outgoing supervisors had voted (4-0) to give to the Land Trust.

Unquestionably, if you don't know the background to this story, it looks fishy. But this is a small community and we do know the background, most of which The Union's article and editorial neglected to mention.

First, was giving the money to the Land Trust an otherwise-unexpected course of action?

Clearly in most communities the answer would be yes--if you bequeath your money to the county, you expect your county to spend it, not to give the bulk of it to an entirely different organization to distribute. However, Nevada County right now is not like most communities. Here's the background:

  • To my knowledge it is undisputed that the money was bequeathed to Nevada County, for parks and open space.
  • At least one member of the new pro-property-rights regime of county supervisors made it clear that, given the opportunity, he would not spend the money in accordance with its donor's wishes. (so much for property rights...)
  • Therefore (given that there was only a month or so of time to allocate the money before the new group was in control) the only way to make sure that the money was spent as its donor wished was to put it in the hands of a non-governmental organization.
  • ...preferably one devoted to its donor's cause, namely preserving open space and other near-natural treasures.
  • ...and preferably one that was avowedly non-denominational, apolitical, willing-seller-willing-buyer etc.
  • which would appear to narrow the field down to a single potential recipient, namely the Land Trust.

Second, was hiring Bruce Conklin an otherwise-unexpected development, i.e. was there any indication that he was not the most suited for the job?

I don't know the answer; I don't know who the other applicants were. I'll tell you though that my reaction on reading of his hiring was "of course, what a perfect choice". Not "it's all a political setup and he must have bought them off". And based on his experience he has qualifications that no other applicant could match.

yes, maybe I'm naive. certainly in my past i've erred in being too gullible, but my gut says that with a few people, even if you don't know them well, you can tell. There are people who are sincere and there are people who are not. There are people who take cheap shots and there are people who do not. There are people who are authentic and people who are not. There are people who do sleazy things for personal gain and people who do not. And, obviously, vast majorities lie in between.

Please excuse naive earnestness here; it's temporary.
And I count David McKay and Bruce Conklin among those whose integrity is obvious; they are cut from the same cloth as Jimmy Carter. The media was hostile to Carter too; remember the scoffing that went on, when he announced that "human rights" would be a consideration in determining which countries to have good relations with? When he confessed to feeling lust for women other than his wife? When he said "I will not lie to the American people"?

ie. executive summary: while it is good to be on lookout for less than straightforward motives it is not good to just assume that that must be what's there.

(for other articles and letters on the Bruce Conklin/Land Trust issue, on The Union's Search Page type Conklin "Land Trust".)

non-consumer reports

  1. [solved mystery and slightly cranky commentary deleted]

  2. did some research on web, on those credit-card-sized digital cameras, & found
    a) lots of sites scamming Google by uploading stale pages every day (note to site owners: this does not generate goodwill)
    b) Radio Shack started selling one, the FlatFoto, back in November for a paltry $80. And while it doesn't have a flash (as in bulb, not as in memory) still it seems worth buying/using until the flashy ones come out.

    went to get one yesterday, and found that no, Radio Shack doesn't have them anymore, that was just for xmas, but they do happen to have an equally tiny one for just $300...

the past

ran across this just now while digging through old email. reminds me of a few Blogger posts I have transiently known...

> Yesterday,
> All those backups seemed a waste of pay.
> Now my database has gone away.
> Oh I believe in yesterday.
> Suddenly,
> There's not half the files there used to be,
> And there's a milestone hanging over me
> The system crashed so suddenly.
> I pushed something wrong
> What it was I could not say.
> Now all my data's gone and
> I long for yesterday-ay-ay-ay.
> Yesterday,
> The need for back-ups seemed so far away.
> I knew my data was all here to stay,
> Now I believe in yesterday.

Wednesday, April 09, 2003

those supermarket cards

They dont save you money. ("Non-sale prices at stores with card programs 28%-71% higher")

They violate your privacy:
According to one privacy expert, at least one national grocery chain voluntarily handed over to the government records from its customer loyalty card database in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

And others say customer databases -- including those culled from travel, financial and insurance industries -- are routinely shared with the government for surveillance purposes.

They will violate it further in future:
The writer, who wished to remain anonymous, was employed in software development and worked on a data mining system to be used with card programs. The most interesting comments concern other businesses that were closely watching the project:
"[...] one of my jobs was to wow potential customers. I had to take them through my data center and development labs and show them our stuff. The usual suspects were there - various marketers and database mongers. But the most interesting were the reps from the insurance companies. we had a BUNCH of 'em."

"The reason they were interested is that they wanted to collect lifestyle information on people so that individuals can be charged according to their lifestyles. 'We see that you eat too much red meat so your life insurance will be higher than the norm'. 'We see that you've bought a lot of electrical supplies which means you're doing unauthorized electrical work on your house. Therefore we're canceling your homeowners policy.' that kind of stuff..."

But you can fight back:
"If you shop at Safeway, I need your assistance in creating an army... an army of clones.

Send me an email with your address and I'll send you a label with my membership number and bar code on it. When you get the label in the mail, stick it on the back of your own Safeway Club Card, carefully covering the old zebra stripes.

Anyone who does this will be lumping their shopping data together with mine. Together we might amass a profile of the single greatest shopper in the history of mankind..."

Tuesday, April 08, 2003


Did Herb Caen have the first weblog?

some days i am a (comparative) fount of mellifluence, other days just an inarticulate quotemonger. But being an I.Q. isn't completely pointless, it's just being a disk jockey in a different medium.

(when did disk jockeys become "Personalities"? how do you tell the difference between a "personality" and a "person"?)

Web[ma]ster's II

Self indulgence: acting upon the assumption that anything which interests you will be of equal interest to your reader. For examples see previous and following posts.

more cognitive dissonance in religion and politics

I do not know how it is possible to be simultaneously Libertarian and Christian. My understanding is that Christian teachings are about acting in such a way as to help the community, about being well socialized and nice to each other and not selfish, while Libertarianism is about self reliance and to hell with the rest of the community if they can't take care of themselves. So what happens when you combine the two? Ran across a weblog a couple months ago that did so, and the outcome was unusual. Never before have I seen heaven described as the place where at long last you get judged on what you can do instead of seeing your efforts diluted and obscured by those pesky halt and lame.

usual disclaimer: I am missing something.

Monday, April 07, 2003

cognitive dissonance and conservatism

Brad DeLong on why American conservatism is not a reliable friend of human liberty

and a short one at MemeMachineGo! on the irony of rich and powerful politicians being Christian

humanitarianism, to go with yesterday's post

Peter Maas in NY Times, via Body and Soul:
...I asked whether [the battalion commander] had talked with Iraqis and perhaps shared a meal to find out their needs. He said his civil affairs unit handles those things. He doesn't have time for kebabs. "I don't like eating goat," he said and smiled...

Sunday, April 06, 2003


From interview with former middle east peace envoy Anthony Zinni:
The biggest mistake the United States made in the war, Zinni said, was speaking of "shock and awe." "That was a way to say: 'Your fate is inevitable. We're going to crush you. The might of America will defeat you. Just surrender and throw down your arms.' You don't speak to Arab pride and Arab manhood in this way. That whole psychological business gave them another cause to fight for, more than they would have fought just for Saddam."

and, in BBC news via Shi'a Pundit (via Cobb, the blog, via Timothy Burke):
The townspeople, whose mosque was destroyed years ago, prayed in the privacy of their own homes. But instead of their worship being a secret and dangerous thing, it was freely performed with new joy. The 1st Battalion Royal Irish secured a public address system for the Imam and men from their attached Royal, Electrical and Mechanical Engineers installed it on Thursday night in time for Friday prayers.

and the comparison between British and American contact with civilians
The British soldiers suffered defeat on the dusty streets of Umm Khayyal, when they took on the local football team. A thousand spectators came from all ends of the town to watch the match, with the players wearing full strip, boots and squad numbers. The home side was rallied to a 9-3 victory by throngs of screaming men and children, who marked out the boundaries of the pitch...

Some British officers disparagingly refer to Americans as "Ninja Turtles" because they are covered in body armor, helmets and Ray-Bans. "There's a warrior-wimp syndrome in the U.S. Army," Wilkinson said...

and from Burke:
This is not a war that can be won solely with bombs and guns, though military action has had and will continue to have a major and legitimate role. Nor can it be won only with fabulous prizes and soup kitchens for the poor of the Muslim world.

This is primarily a struggle against an ideology, a way of seeing the world. How do you win such a war? In part, by understanding what makes it powerful and by persuasively countering its appeal with an appeal of your own....

i'm not here

short one tonight. Two inward links and two outward links, you get to decide which are which.

political cartoons from Denver Post via Yubanet, on dissent (a repost) and the media

nevada county as seen by san francisco chronicle this past week, with respect to the county supervisors' pro war resolution and our plethora of bookstores

and let us spare a compassionate thought for poor Richard Somerville, editor of The Union, caught in the crossfire as subscriptions are cancelled right and left. Look at it this way pRS, when the dust clears your readers will all be centrists which will make your job much easier.

Saturday, April 05, 2003

Searls, Stephenson, Welles, Orwell

was wandering around in Doc Searls's Reality 2.0, a you-gotta-read-em series of articles on how the web, open source software etc are changing society. ("...The Web obeys new structural and economic laws that seem to have more in common with the mathematics of loaves and fishes than with the traditional economics of scarce resources and diminishing returns...")
In one of them he points to In the Beginning was the Command Line by Neal Stephenson, author of (among others) SnowCrash and The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer (some of the best SF out there). It's a book (ie long, so although it's online you should buy it) - a ~30 year overview/exploration of computers and television and mediated experiences and market forces and societal effects as understood via Orson Welles' Elois and Morelocks, and wonderfully illuminatory. Sample:
...police in many lands are now complaining that local arrestees are insisting on having their Miranda rights read to them, just like perps in American TV cop shows. When it's explained to them that they are in a different country, where those rights do not exist, they become outraged. Starsky and Hutch reruns, dubbed into diverse languages, may turn out, in the long run, to be a greater force for human rights than the Declaration of Independence...
He souses even the dry stuff: "...The operating system market is a death-trap, a tar-pit, a slough of despond..." Search for "Reagan" for another good section.

fuse Orson with Welles, chop out some letters, keep the writing quality, you get Orwell ranting on political writing: (via metafilter)
...A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the
outline and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language
is insincerity. When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared
aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms,
like a cuttlefish spurting out ink.
If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of
orthodoxy. You cannot speak any of the necessary dialects, and when you make
a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself. Political
language -- and with variations this is true of all political parties, from
Conservatives to Anarchists -- is designed to make lies sound truthful and
murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

Friday, April 04, 2003

thugs and fascism

I wonder...

if you get a chance to talk, one on one, with someone who exhibits thuggish behavior, and you point out the difference between a free country and a fascist one, and that what freedom is is freedom to dissent...can they hear it? or is the attempt futile because (via metafilter post)
Human reason and rational discourse evaporate during war as humans begin to think less with their cerebral cortexes: they retreat into an instinctual, feeling-world of fight or flight responses associated with the mid-brain. They devolve into an instinctual tribalism in which it is perfectly obvious that the war is a struggle between Us" and "Them".

later: Apropos cartoon here.

abortive adventures in naive pan-selectionism

Ran across this passage in Deus Irae by Dick & Zelazny:
"Revert. In fact, sleep with Abernathy; a lot of good it'll do you." She made it meaningful; she put over the significance of her words by the wild tone alone. Women had such a great ability at that; they possessed such a range. Men, in contrast, grunted ...they an ugly chuckle. That was little enough.

Like Manly Camaraderie short stories about hunting, in which something ineffable is somehow attempting to be effed, with (to my mind) woeful lack of success. And George Clooney in the film Solaris, where it seems his craggy countenance has the power to convey maybe 2 1/2 emotions max.

or maybe it's just me.

but where i am trying to go with this is that it seems that stereotypical ultra-masculinity severely limits the range of emotional expression. (the ones that are successfully conveyed, don't know about the felt ones)

why is this? been trying to think of a reason, am stuck.

the quest for heat

The traditional early april snow came last night, & was hugely photogenic. Picture: a redbud in bloom in the snow (right next to a freeway overpass, but don't picture that); a rustic/ed 50's? 40's? Manly Man pickup truck, with faded multicolored body and jaunty snow top, juxtaposed against historic Victorian shopware; periodic hail knocking the daffodils flat. Unfortunately you have to picture because I didn't; need to get one of these tiny cameras.

So it's winter again. Others would turn up the heat but for us cheapskates there are alternatives. One of them used to be the Hot Water Bottle; alas no more. If you go to the drug store and ask for one you'll be directed to the Douche and Enema Section, which is something of an indignity; however, if you persevere you may be able to find something that looks like a hot water bottle. But if you take the time to read the box (guess who didn't) you will discover that no, it is a "water bottle" and is not designed to hold hot fluids, and if you carelessly take it home with you and wrest it from its coverings you will also discover that it emits vile plasticine fumes.

And it comes with a lifetime guarantee. Such a deal.

Long story short: avoid plastics, save money, take leg of old jeans and sew one end shut, fill to taste with miscellaneous grains that you know you're never going to get around to cooking, knot the top, nuke until hot but not so hot that grains start popping. You will discover that there's an amazing amount of water vapor in so-called dried grains (or maybe in the dried peas which are not recommended, they smell), so you might want to bake the water out before clothing them. The finished product should last for as long as it gets frequent enough heatings to cook anything that might otherwise want to take up residence.


...of Josh Marshall's thesis that this is the beginning of the neocons' WWIII:

Our ex cia director says so, and the Israelis wouldn't be restarting this oil pipeline if Syria weren't on the agenda too, or so the author believes.

I just believe whatever I read on the web.

Thursday, April 03, 2003

one more war link

also via metafilter, Neal Pollack on how the war is driving everyone insane...
...But there we were, two people against the war, having a bar fight about whether or not Michael Moore is a bad writer.
...We're all angry and afraid, and it's coming out in some very strange ways.

SARS links

Here are the daily WHO updates.

Yahoo, always on top of the news, covers the breaking story of Hong Kong fashion masks. (found on metafilter)

Via medpundit, a graph of SARS mortality can be found at the bottom of this New England Journal of Medicine page.

She also links to this weblog of a doctor from Singapore with an N95 mask and a passion for American Idol.

no comment

From today's San Francisco Chronicle, in D.A. who sued Pacific Lumber faces recall effort:
"We're going out to all the Pacific Lumber subsidiary plants and talking to the guys on their smoke breaks," Arkley said. "We're asking them if their jobs are important to them, and if they feel they are, we ask for $99 donations. I tell them I'll lend them the money if they don't have it. The response has been very positive."

flagellating the deceased equine

via an Agonist comments thread, The Last Refuge of a Scoundrel:
When a government seeks to paint any opposition as unpatriotic and any dissent as treason, when it uses its allies in industry and the media to hound skeptics and blacklist celebrities, when it attempts to paint legitimate questions of policy as either a vote for America or a vote for dictatorship, that's not freedom any more.

That's fascism. Smart people know the difference.

You might also read Tamim Ansary's What Does It Mean to Be a Patriot? (Also here's a copy of his Sept 2001 the Taliban and Bin Laden are not Afghanistan article)

Tuesday, April 01, 2003

freedom and fascism

good reading on Doc Searls today, the quotes under the heading 'Northern Lights'.
Also see They Thought They Were Free:
"...What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if the people could understand it, it could not be released because of national security..."