Thursday, February 28, 2002

Actually, this is pretty cool. Professor Jeffrey Hillman of the University of Florida may just have eliminated tooth decay.

Tooth decay is caused by bacterium that live in the mouth and feed on the sugar that remains on your teeth when you don't brush. Dr Hillman has genetically altered these bacterium and produced a variant that doesn't produce the acid that causes decay. In animal testing, the mutant bacterium displaces the native form, eliminating a lifetime of tooth decay with a single inexpensive treatment.


And I immediately thought of a science-fiction novel, Steel Beach by John Varley, in which the Central Computer that runs the Moon solves this problem essentially the same way. It's a small scene in a 500-plus page book, so of course I can't find it just this minute. But I wonder if Dr Hillman has read it?

LATER: Found it. Early in the book (page 116 in the Ace paperback), Hildy sarcastically asks the CC to do something about "the way my mouth feels when I get up in the morning before I brush my teeth. We're so goddam advanced, you'd think we'd have done something about that by now, wouldn't you?" Well, Hildy's in a Mood, and not expecting anything to come of this.

Some days later (page 205), Hildy wakes up with a mouth that tastes like peppermint. The CC explained:
"You asked me to work on that. I did. ...I synthesized a nanobot that goes after the things that would normally rot in your mouth while you are sleeping, and changes them into things that taste good."
"I'm afraid to ask how you slipped this stuff to me."
"It's in the water supply. You don't need much of it."
"So every Lunarian is waking up today and tasting peppermint?"
"It comes in six delicious flavors."
"...Do me a favor, don't tell anyone this is my fault."

Wednesday, February 27, 2002

Hide! A Cow's Outside!
You can relax now, they caught the cow.

"The cow escaped from the meatpacking plant by jumping a six-foot fence." It did what? I thought that moon thing was a fairy tale. Cows can jump?

No way can I take this seriously. Especially with offers flowing in from all over the country offering the cow "sanctuary".

"A cow ... managed to elude capture for 10 days..."? There's never a cowboy around when you need one. Quick, where's the nearest rodeo? (Failing that, those cow-tipping high school kids...)

LATER: More on the cow's fate.
Pile on!
Glenn Reynolds didn't warn us what was coming, and I won't warn you either, but you must read this piece by James Lileks.

Monday, February 25, 2002

Is this another GoogleGame?
Is this another inside joke that I'm on the outside of? Why is everyone Googling "What was the name of the first personal computer"? (And why aren't you Asking Jeeves, which can parse a plain English question?) Not that I'm not happy for the page views...

You may be trying to find this page of Personal Computer Milestones, which concludes that... Oh, why spoil their fun. Go there and see for yourself. I'll accept their answer.

Their definition includes this provision: "It must be simple enough to use that it requires no special training beyond an instruction manual." By those standards, I would argue, we haven't built one yet.

(By the way: I asked Jeeves. Nanny nanny.)

Sunday, February 24, 2002

When is a private conversation private?
Lengthy quote from Punditwatch follows, then a comment:

Pundit of the Week was David Brooks. He was witty on the subject of campaign finance reform and expressed the pro-administration spin on the GAO suit most eloquently:

We have always assumed when a bill goes up to Congress from the Administration, the question is is that bill, is that piece of legislation good for the country? But now, under the logic of the GAO, the question becomes was it conceived in immaculate conception? Did the aides in the White House have impure thoughts or did they meet with impure people while they were drafting this piece of legislation? And that is like Cotton Mather taking over the government looking for impurities in the drafting of legislation.

It seems to me the fundamental question -- and the lawyers will settle that -- for the rest of us, the fundamental question is who cares? Who cares what they met with? The piece of legislation Cheney came up with and the Administration came up with is out there. The principle should be is the legislation good legislation -- not who did they meet with or what did they eat or talk about.

I can't argue with that. Is it good legislation? That's all that should matter.

However, the open secret that no one dares acknowledge in Washington is that nobody knows what half of these bills say. It's far easier to identify the hands that made them and vote on that basis than to actually read all these laws. Who has time for that?

Goodbye, Daniel Pearl

My degree is in newspaper journalism. Fresh out of college, I had an opportunity -- well, a potential opportunity, an offer to interview -- to actually work in the field, for actual money one presumes. I never found out, because I didn't pursue it. It would have meant a move to a city I didn't know, and I wasn't ready to do that. Little did I know it was the closest I would ever come to a career in journalism.

So, in what way is this about Daniel Pearl?

Because it illustrates a gulf that separates him from me. I wasn't willing to move across the state: He traveled to, and met his fate on, the other side of the planet, in a country that hates the religion he practiced.

Our world is diminished because he is no longer in it.

The killers of a storyteller deserve neither mercy nor negotiation. But in Pakistan, the murder of a Jew is not a capital crime. Some there would say it isn't a crime at all. And these are our allies...?

LATER: As is often the case, Natalija Radic at Libertarian Samizdata said it first and better.

LATER STILL: I'm beginning to regret having written this. Why? Because it's depressing to check my site meter and see how many people are searching for "Daniel Pearl videotape".

Friday, February 22, 2002

It's still fresh
...and it will seem more so as you read this from the Guardian (UK). It's only been five months since 9-11, too soon for a "where are they now" article not to hurt.

LATER: Dr Frank at The Blogs of War posted an article by Tristin Laughter that was commissioned for, and later rejected by, Punk Planet magazine. Read it.

Then remember the words spoken by Rabbi Marc Gellman at the memorial service at Yankee Stadium: "Six thousand people didn't die that day, one person died six thousand times." Tristin Laughter wrote one story, of one person who died one time, and I cried -- again. There are, at best estimate, 3500 or so stories very much like it.

And Osama laughs.

Thursday, February 21, 2002

Cloning cats
Okay, I have no ethical problems with cloning anything, as it is currently being practiced. (There go my conservative friends. Sorry.) But, Holy Bob Barker, does the world really need more cats?
All right, maybe we don't understand them either
Apparently it was all just a game to those fun-loving Afghans.

Many Afghan Taliban and Northern Alliance soldiers were friends who had found themselves drafted into opposing armies. They would communicate over rudimentary radios, sometimes taunting each other in the heat of battle.

"Your bomb missed us," one would say, recalled members of Team 555.

"Where did it land?" a Northern Alliance officer would respond with some coaching from the Americans.

Five hundred meters to the north, would come the answer. Or 1,000 meters to the south. The combat controller would immediately recalculate the coordinates and pass them to the nearest aircraft, which could restrike the target within minutes. Team 555 members said that in a week, they killed many Taliban commanders this way and destroyed much of their communications network.

The full article is in the Washington Post: I saw the reference in the National Review's Corner.
Next on CNN: How to pirate video tapes
Can anyone explain, or even guess, why CNN aired travel tips for Americans wishing to vacation in sunny Cuba?

Media Minded and the Miami Herald are curious, too. It's illegal, you know: The U. S. is maintaining an embargo against Cuba. Not that it has stopped many of our more fatuous celebrities -- and newsmen, occasionally -- from making the trip to congratulate Fidel Castro for his sterling record in human rights. "What you're doing down there is trading with, supposedly, the enemy," offers travel consultant Chris McGinnis, as he warns you not to use your credit cards while you're there (incriminating paper trail, don't you know) -- and CNN helpfully diagrams your route through those necessary intermediate stops in other countries that aren't, supposedly, the enemy, I guess.

I guess Donald Rumsfeld made Guantanamo Bay look too darned inviting, at that.
The Texan and His Rogues
I guess I'll be the hundredth blogger to mention the cover of the new Der Spiegel, but somehow I don't feel as badly as the Germans think I should. Here's an English-language summary of the lead article.

(How can I get a poster of this cover?)

Rand Simberg at Transterrestrial Musings has a great take on it, as well as some nigh-incomprehensible European respondents, the most incredible of which seems to think we're being arrogant by assuming that an article about America is about America. (I said it was incomprehensible.) Maybe we're supposed to pretend we don't notice when the Europeans talk about us behind our back in an internationally-circulated magazine. (It is in German, after all: Perhaps we ignorant rednecks weren't supposed to be able to read it.)

They don't understand us. We keep telling them who we are and what we're about, and still they willfully, deliberately don't understand us.

We've spent the last decade being told we don't pay enough attention to what's going on outside our borders. Now they have our attention, and they complain about that. I guess they expected us to settle for a few sternly-worded words of reprimand in the international press. As if 3,000 people in New York and Washington were pushed off the seesaw at recess.

They were killed.

It's not going to happen again.

Is it that hard to understand?

Monday, February 18, 2002

Those $100 bills over Afghanistan won't go away
I can't believe I forgot that Reuters was also the service that reported that Al Gore misquote, "We have started a family restaurant in Tennessee and we are running it ourselves. It is a low-cost restaurant." The actual quote was "... we stopped at a little family restaurant in Tennessee. We were eating there by ourselves. It was a low-cost restaurant called Shoney's." Aside from the fact that Al seems to attract misquotes, I wonder if Reuters Nigeria (where Al spoke) and Reuters India speak to each other?

Now, more than ever, I wonder if those were real $100 bills. It takes a thousand good stories to make a reputation, and one bad one to break it.

(The best source for the two stories side-by-side is Mark Evanier's POV Online. Of course, you won't find the erroneous story at Reuters any more.)
I think I should answer my mail
..or, at least, draw your attention to some of the marvelous comments I've gotten.

Regarding the World's Fair, Jerry Lawson wrote:

Many years ago I had a 1939 Popular Science magazine, and it showcased the 1939 World's Fair in glowing detail.

That seemed like a marvelous time - and in retrospect, maybe it was. Coming out of the Depression, a message of hope and promise was needed - and that was certainly it.

Nowdays - the future is malleable. It's hard to imagine someplace (like a World's Fair) oriented towards displaying a future - even Disney has a hard time with it. Probably because what looked like 20+ years out is darn near yesterday's fad, and the technological changes are coming so fast that by the time you get a display designed to showcase them the next big thing is already showing up...

Here we are, in the future. Not what we expected, eh?

If I understand the term correctly, it�s what Alvin Toffler called �future shock�: the inability to cope with the ever-increasing speed of change. By the time a new innovation has hit the market, it�s obsolete.

It didn�t used to be that way � though few people now alive can remember living in a house without, say, a refrigerator, the wonder of the age that transformed the way we lived and shopped. Women would not now be concerned with the Glass Ceiling � or jobs at all � if the refrigerator had not come along. Procuring, cooking and serving food before it spoiled was a full-time job in the 1920s.

Computers are neat toys, but we don�t need them the way we need refrigerators.

This passage is from 1939: The Lost World of the Fair, by David Gelernter:

In 1939 technology�was not remote and esoteric. It was down-to-earth. And its achievements were heroic.

��At every turn,� writes a modern historian of the 1933 Century of Progress Exposition, �fairgoers were bombarded with pamphlets urging them to make use of the latest scientific research in industrial laboratories to modernize their kitchens.�

It takes an intellectual to suggest that women had to be brainwashed into wanting electric kitchen appliances.

And this:

�Nowadays technical-minded people over thirty get a certain feeling when they contemplate a computer. They can visualize the vastly weaker machines of the past; when they do they are apt to experience full force, like a faceful of sunshine, the flat-out marvelousness of modern technology. In the fair�s age anyone over thirty might have experienced that same sensation whenever he looked at an electric socket.

I was talking about the campaign finance reform bill when Tom S. asked:

Can you explain why, if Shays-Meehan is nothing but Incumbent Protection, it has taken so long to pass and why it has been so strongly opposed? It seems to me that any bill that is IP would be passed without much effort or passage of time!!!

Well, that�s a good question. (I didn�t say it was �nothing but Incumbent Protection�. The most self-serving clauses are smothered and disguised in other verbage, as with most bills.) My own feeling is that some of our representatives won�t want to be seen to have supported it if it fails.

There�s also the issue that it won't take effect until after the midterm Congressional elections, when the Democrats expect to retake Congress (and they will call in every chit they can to make it happen). If it affected both parties equally, there would be less of a battle over it.

I mean, I�d like to think that some of our representatives are aware of the Constitutional issues involved, and recognize that it is a waste of everyone�s time to pass a law that the Supreme Court will toss out anyway. However, experience tells me that�s entirely too idealistic.

The Wall Street Journal, and John Fund in particular, have been particularly enlightening.

And then there was that flurry of $100 bills over southern Afghanistan. Redsugar wrote:

egads. that's swatting a fly with a hand grenade, isn't it? where is your average afghani going to exchange hundred-freaking-dollar bills? bin laden's the only guy in the country with that much money to trade in one go. "let them eat cake," huh? what happened to 10 fives? in more envelopes?

Oh, I don�t think they�d have any trouble finding anyone to take American money. They probably won�t get a fair exchange rate, but at 4250 Afganis to the dollar, they can afford to get taken by the moneylenders. (That may be why we dropped hundreds and not fives and tens.)

What bothers me is that the people who are confiscating the food we drop and selling it to the people we intended it for, are probably the same people who are going to charge 1000% commission to exchange dollars for Afganis.

I talked about the U.S. flag, and the TV critic who thought its "original meaning" was "I am a conservative Republican, and more American than you". Ron Butler replied:

Why should there be a 'remove by' date on U.S. flag pins if there is no such limit for AIDS ribbons, breast cancer awareness ribbons, violence-against-women ribbons, etc.?
Is love of country less enduring than those other causes?
Or is somebody hoping that -- with its visible symbols removed -- it will just quietly go away?

There do appear to be people in this country who don't love it unless it directly benefits them to do so. A quick world tour might help them learn that it does. Jerry Lawson wrote:

Another thing that saddens me about it, however, are those in the U.S. who insist on seeing the U.S. Flag as a symbol of oppression. I suppose it's how you view things - but if there were some sort of moral balance put on the actions of our country (and somehow symbolized by the flag) I would think that the things we've done wrong (and there's a good number) have been well outweighed by the things we've done right over the years.

There must be a few, the European Union to the contrary. "We really are one country, still, and that which unites us is, as ever, more important than that which divides us." Walkman said:

I couldn't agree with you more.
For me, I'm just glad that now there will be more than just my family saluting the flag when it passes by in a parade. It's about time.

And from the lovely Redsugar:

i was thinking this same thing a few days ago. it seems i'm the only one in my neighborhood with my american flag still up. like it was a pre-christmas decoration. i'm still tickled by the "united we stand" sign on the marquee of the thai restaurant up the street. everywhere else you go in the world, their flags are everywhere. they even have giant billboards with pictures of their leaders. and they have so much less to wave their flags about than we do...

(Emphasis mine.)
Redsugar, you're a girl after my own heart. Now you've made me go all misty-eyed.

Oh, by the way: I'm now a "Commuter blog stop" at Libertarian Samizdata, and proud to be so.

Sunday, February 17, 2002

Bookmark me if you ever want to find me again: I'm about to fall off the Blogs of Note list! Aieee! (C'mon, I know from reading my site stats that 96% of you click that link, take a quick look around, and leave forever. I'm OK with that. It's the other 4% I'm talking to...)
LATER: Too late, I just fell off... *thud*
Are you Addicted to the Internet?
Of course not. And I can prove it:

Are you Addicted to the Internet?

42% (41% - 60%)
You seem to have a healthy balance in your life when it comes to the internet and life away from the computer. You know enough to do what you want online without looking like an idiot (most of the time). You even have your own Yahoo club or online journal! But you enjoy seeing your friends and going out to enjoy life away from your computer.

The Are you Addicted to the Internet? Quiz at!

Actually, I do moderate three Yahoo groups...

Saturday, February 16, 2002

Friday Five
1. What was the first thing you ever cooked? You can actually remember the first thing you ever cooked? What, did you only start cooking last week? *Ahem* You mean, something more than warming up the contents of a can, I suppose. It would have been a variant on fried rice with Chinese vegetables.
2. What's your signature dish? Chess pie. I make a mean chess pie, if I do say so myself, almost as good as grandmother used to make.
3. Ever had a cooking disaster? (tasted like crap, didn't work, etc.) Describe. Frequently. Helpful tip: When the recipe says "evaporated" milk, don't use "condensed".
4. If skill and money were no object, what would you make for your dream meal? Reservations. (I cook because I must, not because I enjoy it.)
5. What are you doing this weekend? Working, as usual.

Friday, February 15, 2002

Just throw money
Back in early December, I mentioned a story from Gulf-News about afghans deliberately attracting American bombs in order to salvage the shell casings and sell them for scrap. At the time, I said:

Heck, why don't we just drop money? It'd be cheaper to drop a sack full of quarters, and we'd throw the local economy into utter chaos. I mean, more so.

Now Neal Boortz says we're actually doing that (I'm unable to find his source: Can anyone confirm?):

In the latest propaganda move by the US in Afghanistan, C-130 transport planes dropped envelopes over the southern part of the country. Printed on the envelopes was a picture of George W. Bush. Inside the envelopes were two $100 bills...that�s right, two one-hundred dollar bills.

Hundred dollar bills? Back to to get the current exchange rate...

Results: 200.00 US DOLLAR (USD) = 950,000.0000 AFGHANISTAN AFGANI (AFA)

Heck, call it a million. Can you imagine the effect this would have? I keep saying that they understand us even less than we understand them. They think that wars are won by the people who yell the loudest. Many of them still don't really comprehend that America is even involved in their country, or that anything we do could possibly matter to them.

And now we're dropping a fortune on them. Well, it's not a fortune to us (I know people who have blown $200 on a single meal), but it is to them. And Mr Boortz thinks this is a bad PR move because there's no message in the envelope? I'd say it's a pretty powerful message.

LATER: The Times of India reports it, crediting the story to Reuters -- but I can't find it at Reuters' web site.
LATER STILL: Who was that anonymous commentor? I don't know, but he left a silver bullet -- that is, a link to Yahoo India News' feed of the same Reuters story.
Hollywood Southerners
There was a time when it really bothered me that Southerners are stereotyped in the mass media, typically portrayed as people whose family tree doesn't fork, if you know what I mean. It took Dave Shiflett, writing for the new American Prowler, to put it in perspective:

Being thought of as backward, shiftless, provincial, conniving, and prone to violence can have its advantages. For instance, it keeps people like Robert Altman from moving into our hood, which is no small advantage. More to the point, being criticized by an industry known as a haven of self-absorbed, intellectually shallow greed-heads is not the most damning thing that can happen to a people or region.

I reckon so.

Thursday, February 14, 2002

Nothing up my sleeve
It's fairly obvious that the current Shays-Meehan version of Campaign Finance Reform is actually Incumbent Protection, and does nothing to remove the influence of money from politics. (But then, nothing can.) Aside from its subtler implications (of which one is described here), the prohibition of campaign advertisements that name names within 60 days of an election is blatantly unconstitutional. John McCain (who co-sponsored the previous attempt, McCain-Feingold) told Bill O'Reilly that the bill is phrased such that if parts of it are thrown out on that basis, the rest remains in force. This is supposed to make me feel better.

The only financial reform our elected representatives are interested in is reforming themselves into office and reforming as much money as possible into their own pockets. Repeat after me: "The foxes are guarding the henhouse."

I favor removing any and all restrictions on who may give money to whom -- with full financial disclosure. is a great start.

More at Reason Online.
The world's worst flag
Okay, I had more to say. So sue me.

The highest-scoring flags all embody the five basic principles listed in NAVA�s upcoming publication on flag design, Good Flag, Bad Flag:
1. Keep It Simple (The flag should be so simple that a child can draw it from memory�)
2. Use Meaningful Symbolism (The flag�s images, colors, or patterns should relate to what it symbolizes�)
3. Use 2�3 Basic Colors (Limit the number of colors on the flag to three, which contrast well and come from the standard color set�)
4. No Lettering or Seals (Never use writing of any kind or an organization�s seal�)
5. Be Distinctive or Be Related (Avoid duplicating other flags, but use similarities to show connections�)

The new Georgia flag fails all five of these principles. I defy anyone, including Governor Barnes whose pet project this was, to sketch the five mini-flags at the bottom in their correct order on the flag -- which, by the way, is not chronological. Darned if I can figure out what order they're in.

Don't get me wrong. The flag needed to be changed.

I am not among those who thinks of the Confederate stars and bars as a Symbol of Slavery. (Those who have looked no further might find it enlightening to study the other issues behind the American Civil War. I won't deny that slavery was an issue: It wasn't the issue.) That doesn't really matter. The fact is that a significant percentage of the population of the State of Georgia, rightly or wrongly, were insulted and offended by the flag that flew over us. That is reason enough to change it.

But the pre-1956 Georgia flag was a lovely flag. The basic design also dated from the Confederacy, but it carried less baggage. What was wrong with it? Well, apparently, it was felt that it would have been seen as a capitulation to the SCLC. (It's represented: Bottom center on the yellow banner.)

But nobody seems happy with the new flag, so what was gained?

LATER: Photodude got there first. Twice. And's contributors (use caution if browsing from work) know a sucky flag when they see one.

Wednesday, February 13, 2002

Short takes
Life is hard when you're Miss America.

The fireplace on NBC's Olympics coverage set is fake. Well, of course it is, it's a set. No, it's really fake: It's a video monitor.

It's official: The current Georgia state flag is the ugliest on the continent, and it wasn't even close. Hey, let's go for the world title!

Wish I'd said it: People who say that money can�t buy happiness are just no good at shopping.

Monday, February 11, 2002

Stars and Stripes Forever...or at least for now
I guess America has "returned to normal", whatever that means, if people are arguing about this. John Carman, writing for the SF Chronicle, wonders how long Leno and Letterman are going to continue wearing flag pins. It's entertaining enough, for a while, but then it hits what is, for me, a massive speed bump:
"The pins have to come off sometime, if only because in another year or two, they will reclaim their original meaning: I am a conservative Republican, and more American than you."
Original meaning? Only if history began in 1968 at Haight Ashbury.

I'll admit I was disconcerted when flags started reappearing in massive numbers, in the most unlikely places, in the aftermath of 9-11. The news networks made it a part of their identification graphics and "bugs", and that really irks me. And "God Bless America" still looks out of place on the marquee in front of KFC.

Jeff Jarvis at "WarLog: World War III" summarizes some very good arguments for and against wearing one. This is one of those rare moments where Doonesbury actually gets it right, although as usual Trudeau backs into the message and nearly subverts it in the process. (For some reason the "real link" will not work for me: Perhaps this one will work for you.)
"You guys [meaning conservatives] hijacked the flag years ago, during the Cold War, especially the Vietnam era, turning it into a symbol of unquestioning, jingoistic nationalism."
No, Garry, nobody hijacked the flag. Sixties liberal philosophy spat at it, shat on it, and burned it. The right flew it because they could: You rejected it because they embraced it. It was your flag too, even then, but you didn't want it.
"Now it's back to being a symbol of patriotism and love of country, not a particular political agenda. So thanks for restoring it to ALL of us."
So now you want it again. Welcome back. We really are one country, still, and that which unites us is, as ever, more important than that which divides us.
Short takes
Okay, you people who have been Googling for "Mardi Gras 2002 Nude" for the last week (and I know you have, because you've been hitting my page, as incriminating as that sounds): Do you own a calendar? Mardi Gras 2002 is tomorrow. Nobody's gonna have any yet.

Finally, someone agrees with me about the pointlessness of grammar-school Valentine's-Day-exchanges. Why did it have to be Slate?

In the Salt Lake City Olympic opening ceremonies, did Bob Costas actually say "Here comes New Zealand, and there are no Hobbits marching in with them"?
It's a bad time to be a Britney Spears fan...
...what with every blog in creation linking back to that Weekly Standard parody. All those (not that) innocent fans, searching the web for fresh (un-) coverage (goodness knows information about, and photos of, Britney Spears are sparse on the web), and within the space of a week, their Google searches return dozens of these blog things, whatever they are, but there's nothing on 'em but text, and they aren't even about Britney Spears. Nude or otherwise.

Thank goodness I'm not playing that game.

Sunday, February 10, 2002

Bloggin' foole
Why is it I find John Dvorak's discovery of blogging to be mildly annoying, yet the Weekly Standard's wicked parody has me rolling on the floor? (Or ROTF LMAO, as we webdenizens say.) Both contain valid observations, good and bad, regarding the state of the art.

I think it's because the parody is so light-hearted, where Dvorak takes his subject matter, and himself, too seriously. I've seen the attitude in professional (that is, paid) writers before: Writing is a chore they perform because it beats honest work, but they derive no great pleasure from its practice. Thus, in a community where most of us are writing purely for the love of it, Dvorak is a visitor from another planet.

No insult meant: I've learned a lot from him over the years. It's just so rare that he chooses to address a subject that I know more about than he does (and I'm no expert), that it's a little off-putting when it happens. This piece needed a little more research and a lot less gravity.

Blogging is street theater, a juggler in the virtual park. It's Sunday morning punditry gone 24/7 and roll-your-own. And, yes, it's the next generation of vanity pages. Don't worry, John, the cat photos will be back soon enough. (There seem to be plenty at Photographica: Should we tell him?)

Saturday, February 09, 2002

All's Fair
Steven den Beste has a thought-provoking essay about Olympic competition, and its consequences for those who practice it.

It begins, though, with a brief discussion of World's Fairs, which is what I thought the comment would be about. It's saddening that the decline of this tradition doesn't warrant a whole essay in itself.

I'm fascinated by the 1939 New York World's Fair. (Apparently I'm not alone.) I'm not a collector of memorabilia -- but I would be if I could afford it.

The '39 Fair represented a peak of technological inspiration we spent the next fifty years trying to live up to. I find it all the more ironic that most subsequent Fairs left prominent landmarks behind, but very little remains of the 1939 Fair proper. The signature Trylon and Perisphere were torn down for scrap, for the War Effort, shortly after the Fair's closing. In a sense, though, the world we lived in from war's end through the sixties was the world promised us at Flushing Meadows in 1939.

But its dreams of the future, persuasive as they were, were eventually overrun by technology, which has a perverse habit of not developing the way its supposed to.

It may be that the construction of an intentionally short-lived theme park is less viable in these days of Disneyland, Six Flags, and Busch Gardens. Organizations who might have built a pavilion in New York in 1939, today sign a sponsorship / partnership deal with Epcot Center.

It may be that the world of the twenty-first century and beyond has easier, more cost-effective ways to celebrate itself. Part of what excites me about the Internet is that it may be one of those ways.
Why, I'm... outraged... outrageously outraged...
Since every other blog is saying it, too, I won't run on, I'll just say it and move on:

Our congressmen have no room to get sanctimonious in the ongoing Enron investigations, in light of their handling of our money (the consequences of which they diligently shield themselves from).

I love this.

Friday, February 08, 2002

Friday Five
1. What's the most romantic thing you've ever done for someone else? That's not for me to judge. I've never gone to a great deal of trouble to set up something romantic, if that's what you mean. However, I am the one who remembers our anniversary. And my wife seemed to appreciate the cartoons I used to draw on the envelopes of the letters I sent her back when we were in college. ("Why didn't you just e-mail?" There wasn't any such thing, youngster.)
2. [pardon the cosmo question] What are your erogenous zones? That's really a need-to-know kind of thing.
3. How old were you the first time you had sex? Care to expound? 18. As with so many first times, it was no one's finest moment. We decided to stay together anyway. It's 29 years later and we are still together.
4. What's the most unusual place you've ever had sex? I am hard pressed to think of any unusual place.
5. Do you have plans for Valentine's Day or is it just another Thursday? At this point, it's just another Thursday.

Thursday, February 07, 2002

Feeding the inner blog
Chris Taylor, Time correspondent, discovers how fleeting is fame: After one day in the number one most-linked-to position at Blogdex, the Time article in which he announced his blog plummets to... 2. (Of course, this link might just push him back up to #1. Sigh)

Meanwhile, your humble correspondent weeps at cruel fate (as he languishes at Blogdex ranking #13430, zowie, make it #11245, but who's counting).

"Time to do what all mainstream media types must do when ratings plunge. Celebrity nudes, anyone?" Worked for me.

Wednesday, February 06, 2002

In a small moment
This from the March Premiere magazine, describing the 2001 Oscars:

7:03 p.m.: While Randy Newman and Susanna Hoffs performed the nominated song "A Fool in Love", [Itzhak] Perlman and [Yo-Yo] Ma came into the backstage area and slowly climbed up the steps to the platform from which the two men would perform. Casually, unheard by anyone except a handful of nearby crew members, Perlman and Ma began to play along with Newman's song.

Oh, to be a fly on the wall...
Myself, the anti-intellectual
Arts & Letters Daily, a valuable compendium of popular philsophical thought, exposes me to viewpoints I might not otherwise consider. Take Mark Crispin Miller, for example, professor of media studies at New York University. In this essay, Miller divides the country into intellectuals and anti-intellectuals (no points for guessing in which category he places himself).

The categories themselves require further definition. At first I thought by "anti-intellectualism" Miller must mean that those who have not attained his degree of academic enlightenment have evaded it by specific intent -- that they are "anti-intellect", meaning opposed to thinking, convinced that excessive thought is, if not the root of all evil, at least not required in today's spoon-fed world of sound bites and weakest links.

As I continue reading, though, it becomes apparent that I misunderstand. By "anti-intellectualism" he means those who do not accept that his perspective is the correct one. He means people who disagree with people like him (who, being born of intellect and academia, are obviously of a superior breed).

In short, I realized with a start, he means people like me.

What really seems to have Miller's boxers in a bunch, it develops, is the treatment he received at the hands of Bill O'Reilly, on whose program he appeared last June as he was promoting his book, The Bush Dyslexicon. (Last June? Has this article been sitting on the shelf that long, or does Miller really hold a grudge?)

I have to wonder, though, why he bothered. Did he find out what O'Reilly was like in advance (somehow I suspect Miller does not regularly watch Fox News), conclude "I can take this guy" (or the academic equivalent), and prepare for the tactics he was likely to encounter? Or did he decide to "wing it" on a major national talk show?

If he believes what he says about the complicity of O'Reilly specifically, and Fox News in general, in promoting the image of Bush as a Real President (and I don't doubt that he does), did he really think six minutes' exposure to his presence would turn it around? Does he think that highly of himself? Or did he just assume he would look golden by comparison to O'Reilly because he's an Intellectual?

And if he had such a low opinion of Fox News' audience going into the broadcast, who did he think would be impressed by him?

The nature of the e-mails he received from Fox' viewers should not come as a surprise, but somehow, to Miller, they say so much more than they say. One man comments that he borrowed a copy, read it, and... well, he didn't like it. But Miller deduces that he couldn't possibly have read it; why, he wouldn't even know anyone who would have a copy, therefore he must be lying. And so, therefore, he "could not be said so much to hate it as to have despised the very thought of it." By the end of the paragraph, Miller is comparing GWB to Hitler, as a leader who commands this kind of loyalty from that kind of people.

"Anyone who flips out at the thought of personal analysis is really asking for it himself", Miller says, awash in unintentional irony. "Such venters tend to tell us more about themselves than any self-respecting person wants to know."

In this, Professor, we agree completely. I think that's a good place to stop.

UPDATE: Kayjay at Irving Place left a comment (Thanks!): She seems to think that the foul language and simplistic tone used in the e-mail Miller received (which Miller quoted, and I didn't) makes it clear that the writer hadn't read the book. I don't follow that, but as I consider it an unprovable point, I won't pursue it further.

In any case, I do not fault Miller for blowing off such "criticism". I fault him for using nuclear weapons where a flyswatter would do. I fault him for drawing the conclusion that anyone and everyone who disagrees with him does so out of ignorance, hostility and bias, and not for any intellectually acceptable reason. That is the textbook example of academic elitism. "I'm right, you're just jealous, nanny nanny." Does this argument work in academic circles?

Even if he had stopped short of equating Bush to Hitler (as Justin Slotman points out, the invocation of the spectre of Adolph Hitler is a well known "hallmark of a goofy argument"), it makes me question everything else he says, and does nothing to convince me that Miller has a valid point to make.

Monday, February 04, 2002

Good publicity?
Boy, I wish I could advertise my blog in Time magazine...

Seems that "real" journalists are joining the cutting edge in blogging, even if they won't call it that.

There are advantages for the individual journalist: Self-imposed deadlines with no printing delays. You write when you can, post it when you're ready -- and no editors. Well, "no editor" is really a mixed blessing: With no external fact-checkers, you'd better get it right, 'cause there's nobody but you to blame if it's wrong.

The trick is convincing someone to pay you for it...

[UPDATE: That wasn't a hint.]

[UPDATE 2: Chris Taylor of Time magazine mentioned me in his blog, the Daily Blah -- and my traffic shows about a 10% surge just from that exposure, so far. (I can tell because my counter tells me where you came from, but you regular bloggers know that.) I find this fascinating, and I hope he does, too. "This thing is getting too big. I never intended it to compete with anything..." Welcome to the blogosphere. If you can do it, someone else can measure it -- and will. Have fun.]

[UPDATE 3: Make it a 30% surge. But, "We are not competitors ...we are actually a resource for each other," as Perry de Havilland put it over on Libertarian Samizdata, and I agree. The blogosphere feeds itself: The more voices, the more interesting the mix.]
Why "they" hate us
That's it. That's exactly it.
Any ideology which can only survive through the suppression of foreign ideas is now doomed.

The small-time blogger from Georgia cedes the floor to the Captain of the USS Clueless. (It's not a description of the Captain, it's just the name of the ship.)

Sunday, February 03, 2002

Information wants to be free
It isn't often that technology news brings a smile to my face, but this article by James Fallows in The Atlantic does. (Thanks to Glenn Reynolds for drawing attention to it.)

Perhaps the hundredth time you receive the same spam e-mail, you'll remember this article and be renewed with hope for the medium. If anything, you'll resent the spam more -- but at least you won't pull the plug and move to an island somewhere. I don't think any of the mailing lists I'm on could hope to accomplish anything so worthy, but it's nice to know one could.

Saturday, February 02, 2002

Happy Groundhog Day
A few friends and I were chatting about Punxsutawney Phil, the Official Groundhog, who apparently predicted six more weeks of winter this morning. Now they're going to ask him who'll win the Super Bowl. (No, I'm not kidding.) This is the first year they've been able to do that, since this is the first year the Super Bowl has been played after Groundhog Day.

From AP news via AOL:
"Officials prepared for larger crowds than normal because Groundhog Day fell on a Saturday, and concerns about rowdy drinkers coupled with the Sept. 11 attacks led to stepped-up security at Phil's home. For the first time ever, organizers sold all 38,000 bus tickets to the event."

[Emphasis mine.] Well, if an innocent groundhog can't waddle out of his den to find a little female groundhog action (what, you think he's looking for his shadow?), then The Terrorists Have Won.

(Insert your own joke here about OBL's al-Jazeera interview surfacing so close to Groundhog Day.)

Thirty-eight thousand tickets? To see a groundhog? (I wonder how many of those people were reporters?)

Here in Atlanta, we have our own groundhog, thanks: General Beauregard Lee, who makes his home at the Yellow River Game Ranch in Lilburn, GA, near majestic Stone Mountain. This is the General's 22nd year, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

And admission is free, so there, Phil.

But wait a minute. According to my sources, groundhogs rarely live longer than 8-10 years. (I can't believe I'm looking this stuff up.) There's obviously a scandal here waiting to be investigated. Either the General is a world record long-lived groundhog (if so, why not mention it in the publicity?), or they've been slipping ringers in all these years. Ah, the death of innocence!

Next I'll be looking at satellite photos of the North Pole trying to find a gingerbread cottage. Some things just shouldn't be questioned.

Friday, February 01, 2002

I read the news today...
Media Minded is the kind of blog I'd want to write if I actually had any newspaper experience (as opposed to talking through my hat with an unused journalism degree, which is what I am doing). (By the way, the mystery person behind Media Minded says that the New Orleans "Times-Picayune" is "perhaps the greatest newspaper name in history". Personally I'm partial to the now-changed, unintentionally-honest Chattanooga "News-Free Press".)
Friday Five
1. Have you ever had braces? Any other teeth trauma? No braces: My teeth were within tolerances. I was always told that my parents signed me up to play trombone in the school band because the mouthpiece would correct whatever slight overbite I had. Either it's a baldfaced lie, or it worked.
Now, as to teeth trauma, you so do not want to go there. I hate dentists. Nothing personal. Every visit is trauma. Even if it's just a cleaning, I get so tense that I must schedule them such that I never have to go back to work after a dentist's appointment. When I was little I bit and fought the dentist (so my mother tells me). He sent me home with a sedative for mom to give me, then bring me back when I was too groggy to fuss. I have always hated going to the dentist.
2. Ever broken any bones? Broke a finger doing something stupid. (Playing on a broken trailer, if you must know.) No, not that finger. My left ring finger.
3. Ever had stitches? Once, when I stepped on a tent stake.
4. What are the stories behind some of your [physical] scars? Well, scars from 2. and 3. above are still visible, but I have no scars that have deep and complicated pasts. Why should they? I don't. I have a scar on my shin where hair doesn't grow that I have no idea where it came from. I hope I was having fun. Goodness knows what I'll find on my head when what's left of my hair departs. (Aargh.) I remember once waking up in my grandmother's bed with a goose-egg on my head, but I don't remember the actual fall off my bicycle.
5. How do you plan to spend your weekend? What is this obsession with weekends? Make every day count, not just the weekends. I hope to spend it working on scripts, voice tracks, and web page updates for my radio theater. (And watching the rest of my Buffy DVD set.)
MSNBC is using the "Smart, sharp, and a little bit sexy" tagline to advertise... Chris Matthews? (Okay, I'm cheating. The commercial begins just like That CNN Promo, except that when we get to "A little bit sexy?" the response is "Look somewhere else.") So it's okay to call someone "sexy" in a commercial -- so long as they're not? No, wait, I get it. It's okay to acknowledge that some people might be sexy so long as it's not presented as a reason to look at them. Hm. Doesn't make sense that way either. Oh, it's a joke, that makes it all right.

So, a priest, a minister, and a rabbi are in a rowboat... What?