the blog eclectic

All the world's a blog
And all the men and women merely bloggers.....
--As You Like It, Act II Scene 7 Contact:
eclectic@rigoletto.com

Monday, Aug 19, 2002

The Keystone Mullahs

Monty Python, eat your heart out. The Goon show might have been able to come this close to real-world farce. From Thursday's BBC: Waiting for the fatwa

There's a small, radical Islamist group in London called Al Muhajiroun. They called the Press to attend a meeting in which they were going to announce a fatwa. In the group were 4 of the most radical speakers of the "hardline fringe", including Yasser al-Siri, who was recently released from an English jail after England decided not to extradite him to the U.S., where he might have faced trial.

The press arrived at the hotel, and were told that there would be a 30 charge (about $45). The press told them where they could shove it. The spokesman told the press that they should be glad to pay to hear "Muslim leaders from all over the country". The press was Not Amused.

The reporters milled around outside, and asked the spokesman how he thought they expected to get their message out if the press wasn't going to get in.

Conference back inside.

He said that if any of the reporters declared the Muslim faith, they could get in.

It is not reported how that went over.

After a little while, somebody wheeled out a cart of books that the reporters could buy. There were apparently no takers.

Around noon, the leader of the group, Sheikh Omar Bakri, left. His parting words were, "No fatwah today".

Somewhat later, the rest of the group left, in a scene best described as total chaos.

Much later, the group sent out a fax announcing the fatwa, saying that an attack on Iraq was an attack on all Muslims.

Legitimate British Muslim organizations said that this group was a bunch of misfits who couldn't make it in life. That seems a pretty apt descrtiption.

The problem is that these misfits carry guns, bombs, and grudges against Western Civilization. In many cases, they have the ear and the cooperation of thousands of supporters. This is the part where it stops being funny.

posted by Mike 4:38 PM

Wednesday, August 14, 2002

Aristotle's Law at Berkeley

Conceptual artist Jonathon Keats is gathering signatures in Berkeley, California, proposing that the city adopt Aristotle's Law of Identity.

Briefly stated, this law says that anything there is, is identical to itself.

Here's the sfgate story, which you've probably all read by now.

This may not seem like a great step forward in the history of thought, but remember, this was about 2300 years ago, and we were still trying to sort things out, especially, difficult concepts like that.

To be fair to Aristotle, that wasn't his One Big Contribution to the history of thought. For his time (about 350 BC), he was one sharp cookie, and his works and thought have become one of the pillars of Western civilization. There's a good short bio of the old guy here.

This quote, from one of the biographies, stands out:

He thought, indeed, that a man could not claim to know a subject unless he was capable of transmitting his knowledge to others, and he regarded teaching as the proper manifestation of knowledge.

He thought about, wrote about, and taught in every branch of knowledge that was known at the time. He was among the first to bring order out of the chaos that clouded much of the way people saw the world in those days.

Unfortunately, the Greeks believed in the supremacy of Thought over Experiment. That worked really well for Euclid, who invented geometry as we know it today. But Aristotle couldn't keep his mind off physical phenomena, or physics (which was called "natural philosophy" up until just a few hundred years ago).

Aristotle taught that things fell faster, the heavier they were. This was most likely from observing nature: the stone falls faster than the leaf. It may be that the Greeks thought that actually doing experiments with their hands was beneath their dignity as Philosophers; it may be that it just never occurred to them.

He also taught, along with Ptolemy, that the Earth was the center of it all, and that everything else we see up there was carried around on immense crystalline spheres.

Because he thought and wrote about so much, and because almost everything he wrote about turned out to be true and useful, he was considered the Final Authority on just about everything known to Man. Later on, the Church adopted Aristotelian thought, and to argue that Aristotle may have been wrong about something was to risk getting burned at the stake.

Which is partly why Galileo got himself into so much trouble back in 16th and 17th century Italy. He threw stuff off the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and showed that heavier things did not fall faster than lighter ones. He invented (or at least improved on) the telescope, and saw things that convinced him that the Earth wasn't the center of everything. When the Church found out about his irreverent actions, they threw him in the clink (much like the U.S. wanted to do with Phil Zimmerman).

But enough about Aristotle. Back to Keats.

Jonathon Keats seems to be a pleasant fellow, unfettered by any distinguishable talent. According to that news item:

The San Francisco Arts Commission once paid him to do portraits, and because he can't paint, draw or take good photographs, he took fingerprints instead.

So he set up in Berkeley, gathering signatures on a petition to make Aristotle's Law of Identity a city ordinance.

It's a good thing Berkeley isn't a university town, or he'd be laughed off the street.

[aside: What's that? It is? Good God.]

Anyway, he seems to be gaining some support:

Michelle Grisat, who has a doctorate in philosophy, signed.

Though not overwhelming:

One guy shouted that Keats needed therapy. Keats offered to do sidewalk therapy with the man, who stomped away in frustration.

Eugene Volokh, who noted the news article earlier, points out that there are a few other laws in force in Berkeley, even though they may not be on the books, among them:

"Remember: 186000 miles per second; it's more than just a good idea, it's the law."

The problem with the Aristotle/Keats ordinance is that it's very hard to break, and very hard to detect violators. I suppose this could bring about a corps of Identity Police.....

"Excuse me sir, may I see your Identity Card?"
...
"Is this really you?"
...
"And are you, in fact, you?"
...
"Very well, then, you may proceed."

It's easy enough to detect light-speed law breakers: they could set up radar speed traps on the main thoroughfare.

Catching them, though, seems to be a bit of a problem.

There are grounds that this law may be discriminatory: one day, there may happen to come into the city a certain barber, who only shaves those who do not shave themselves. But that's a topic for another day.

The city of Berkeley really shouldn't be wasting their time on this thing. They have a lot of more serious ordinances on their books, such as those against loitering (this draconian ordninance was later overturned), against politically incorrect coffee, and laws boycotting unwholesome organizations (a move that was less than enthusiastically appreciated by the rest of the country).

posted by Mike 2:00 PM

Lawsuits and Healthcare Costs

A recent article in the Mississippi Clarion-Ledger helps explain, among other things, the high costs of healthcare.

Background: Dr Kirk Kooyer came to the Mississippi Delta in 1994. That's a poor area. A doctor doesn't go there to get rich and camp out on golf courses.

He managed to do a lot for the community:

The community's success prompted the National Perinatal Association to honor Kooyer in 2000 with its Individual Recognition Award for improving the health of mothers and infants.

Soon after he got there, he ran into the System::

Within two years of his arrival in Mississippi, Kooyer was sued in a wrongful death case after a patient died of a rapidly advancing infection. Although Kooyer felt he did nothing wrong, the case was settled rather than risk a verdict because his insurance company had gone bankrupt, he said.

Doctors aren't miracle workers.

Last fall, he was sued again, for prescribing Propulsid (heartburn medicine, linked to 80 deaths nationwide).

A woman "read the drug might cause harm" and stopped taking it.

"Actually, I didn't get hurt by Propulsid," Norton, who had the drug prescribed for her heartburn, said.

But because she had taken the drug, she said she thought she could join a class-action lawsuit "and I might get a couple of thousand dollars."

The last thing she intended, Norton said, was for Kooyer to be sued.

Anybody want to guess where she "read about it" and how she found out about the class-action lawsuit? (Hint: think "lawyers advertising".)

She said she intended for the drug company to be sued, but that lawyers told her it would be better for her case to sue Kooyer in order to keep the case in Mississippi.

Plain and simple case of lawyers looking for easy money.

He [Kooyer] recalled an overweight patient coming to him several years ago for the diet drug combination fen-phen. He said he warned her the drugs were deadly.

She went instead to an Arkansas physician, who gave her the drugs, and she was given $125,000 in a lawsuit settlement for alleged heart damage, he said.

The patient came by his office and showed him the check, he said.

"I told you about the damage, and you decided to get the drugs anyway. It doesn't seem fair for you to be accepting that check," he said he told her.

A different fen-phen patient was also paid even though she had nothing wrong with her, he said. "She called her settlement a blessing."

There is no right or wrong for some - for far too many - people. It's just a matter of "my lawyer can beat your lawyer".

Meanwhile, doctors are leaving Mississippi:

Kooyer is among about 100 physicians who are leaving or have left the state within the past year, according to the Mississippi State Medical Association. The association doesn't have a figure on how many are specifically leaving because of litigation risks and insurance premiums.

Kooyer sums it up:

"What we have is a crisis of character. At the root of this, the problem we have is individuals as well as legal and medical professionals have forgotten their sense of responsibility."

posted by Mike 9:00 AM

Wednesday, July 17, 2002

Friends don't let friends...

Apparently, the primary concern of a friend is to keep his friends from doing the wrong things (sometimes known as "falling into error"). This seems to be a deep-rooted duty in our culture; a Google search for the phrase "friends don't let friends" returns over 21,000 hits. Many of these are bound to be duplicates, but that still leaves a lot of things to keep friendwatchers busy.

The range of things to watch out for covers just about everything, from the sublime to the ridiculous, profound to silly, serious to whimsical. This is a collection of Web sites dealing with this crucial issue.

I don't know when the term originated, but I suspect that "...drive drunk" is one of the earliest.

Almost all of these sayings are epigrammatic, and many make their way onto bumper stickers and T-shirts. I sometimes wonder about the advisability - or propriety - of proclaiming your views, sandwich-board-like, on your clothes. Did Jefferson have a T-shirt that said "I am a Jeffersonian Democrat"?

To save space, I've left out the string "friends don't let friends" in the links below. When you read them, be sure to add the "don't" back in, otherwise, you're likely to end up doing all sorts of wrong things. This will probably get you a lot of attention, not necessarily appreciated, from your friends.

Also, a few headlines appear in more than one category.

Disclaimer: Inclusion of sites in this list does not imply either my endorsement or disapproval.

There are a lot of links here. That is, after all, the point. Some of them are bound to be so fascinating that you're likely to wander off, and may end up gone for days. That is, after all, the point of the Web.

I left out two or three that turned up in the search, on the basis of extremely bad taste.

The List

Many sites deal with computers, and what you should or shouldn't use. Some of them are pretty esoteric.
When there are many sites with the same philosophy, the number of sites is in parentheses after the title.

use AOL (191)

In this case, inclusion in the list does in fact denote my endorsement.
use DOS (149)
Sometimes the alternative is Linux, as with this site (as if someone is really going to jump from DOS to Linux), sometimes it's Mac (OS X is said to be quite stable, and is built around Unix).
buy brand-name computers
The solution? Roll your own.
double click
A note about communication in the wired age, and whether it's really gotten better.
forward HTML eMail
This one is in "computers" because just about all the chain mail has moved to eMail.
type QWERTY (27)
Does anybody type on a noncomputer keyboard these days? These sites promote the Dvorak keyboard, but there's a recent article (reported on Slashdot) that tells how Peter Klausler found an even better layout, using a neural network algorithm and a few million words of online text.
use Microsoft (528)
This one's a little odd: it's a message apparently on a Linux board, and it complains that a Linux installation patch failed.
use PowerPoint (528)
There's a major article in Fortune about the dark side of PowerPoint.
And here's one from ZDNet News, about the Pentagon's take on "a growing electronic menace: the PowerPoint briefing".
The Fortune article has an example of how not to use PowerPoint: the Gettysburg Address, if Lincoln had had our advantages.
use Passport
Ouch! Four hits so far on Microsoft.
use Palm
use Unix
(There's always one in every crowd.)
use table-based layouts
What else, then? Style sheets, of course. Some browsers even react the way the writer intended.
word process without Reveal Codes
(See Notes.)
write crappy RPGamer editorials
This one gets a nod because it encourages good writing.
write HTML with Word
This one is about as close to a Universal Truth as you can get, in the world of computing.
drink and su(1)
(See Notes.)
do web pages
use dial up

Some warn against a particular product, or endorse some other:

buy Beck

Not the beer. This one's a rather critical review of a CD.
call collect using OPTICOM
Looks like a dissatisfied customer.
DDR forever
This doorway (anime) opens into a huge world. Take a picnic basket.
drive Chevys (bumper sticker) (63)

drive Fords (163)

There's a life story in this one, about the search for the perfect car.
Based on the ratio of Ford/Chevy, it looks like Chevys are way ahead in popularity.
drive SUVs
Those last three cut out a pretty big chunk of the market.
go to UVA
Collegiate rivalry (Virginia Tech vs. University of Virginia)
listen to Moffatts crap

read Beer Connoisseur

The very fact that there is a magazine called Beer Connoisseur is somewhat unsettling. This one makes it even more unsettling.
use AOL (196)
A different look at the problem. (Again)
use Microsoft; Palm; Passport; PowerPoint; Unix
Links are in the computer section above.
wear fanny packs
A short essay on style, family bonding, and the Minnesota State Fair.
I like that one.
fly Bonanzas
This is a report of a tail falling off in flight.

This topic wouldn't be complete without the political:

vote Republican (289)
vote Democrat (89)

Those two seem to have the bases covered. Nobody seems interested in keeping their friends from voting Libertarian or Independent.
Like the Ford/Chevy split, Democrats seem to be more outspoken than Republicans.

On the serious side, there are the friends who don't want their friends to hurt anyone:

abuse kids
drink and drive (581)
get abortions
shoot other friends
execute their citizens
rape
join gangs

Naturally, religion plays a part:

underestimate the power of God's love
go to Hell

The popular "drink and drive" prohibition gets a lot of coverage. Here are a few representative sites:

drink and drive
WHEN THE PARTY'S OVER
Drinking and Driving: Ringing in the New Year Safely
drink 'till they drop

This one isn't about drinking. It's about someone drinking until they fall over. This is apparently considered quite clever on some college campuses.
drive lawnmowers when drunk
Talk about a niche market...

But if somebody is so uncouth as to drink, drive, and be stopped by an Officer of the Law, a Southern California attorney could very well be their friend:
plead guilty ™ (379)
(Notice the TM symbol. He's a lawyer. Say no more.)
This guy does not advocate drunk driving. But, the consequences can be quite harsh, and as there are always borderline cases, he maintains that if you do go there, you'll need the best defense money can buy. Either way, it's going to cost you a bundle.

Then there are the odd ones, some serious, some not, that just don't fit into the broad categories:

ride with a training wheel

Not so fast - he's talking about a unicycle here.
Friends don't let women dive cold
This DUI is a diving suit company, Diving Unlimited International.
become verifiers
Canada's unusual approach to firearms control.
cheerlead
dial and drive
drink and play
He's talking about poker. Especially in Vegas.
drive sober
Not so fast - he's talking about golf.
fling frisbees
These things can be deadlier than you think.
get married
get sick
go to law school
invest and drive
shop and drive
pay sales tax
California "Friends of the Library" are exempt.
put their cabinets outside
Generally not a good idea to keep your arcade games outside, especially if it snows, rains, or floods.
read junk
ride junk
Here's a hat, leaving room for a t-shirt and a bumper sticker.
Ride what, then? Skis (as this one suggests), and bicycles
sing sober
What most Karaoke books don't tell you.
speak up
There's a time for speaking up, and a time for not speaking up.
think
It's a terrible habit, but it can be overcome.
who are new gardners buy annuals
And other sage advice for gardners.
flunk only if they're friends on TV
I think it's a bit of a reach for the concept. This one is on how to keep from falling behind in class, from an editor at CliffsNotes.com.

Notes

My two picks for the Most Esoteric Prohibition are:

friends don't let friends drink and su(1)

I found this in a signature line on a message board posting. It is attributed to Kevin Harris.
su is the Unix command that gives you full control over a computer. Once you successfully su, it and all its files are yours. If you're drunk, you might suffer a momentary lapse of judgement, and delete all the files. I'm told that this happens, but rarely.
The (1) indicates the section of the Reference Manual that describes su, and it's probably unnecessary, as su only appears in one section. The (1) does make it clear that we're talking about Unix.

friends don't let friends word process without Reveal Codes

Reveal codes are little formatting codes used by most word processors to specify how a document is formatted: paragraph breaks, lists, numbered sections, etc. Word thoughtfully hides these from you, which can be annoying at times. If you're revising a long, complicated document, it's a lot easier if you can see the codes on the screen. That entry is by a lawyer, which is interesting because there was once a very good word processing program, XyWrite (this was in the Old Days, when companies other than Microsoft were allowed to write applications). It was much used by the legal profession, and one of the function keys let you toggle the reveal codes on and off.

posted by Mike 5:38 PM

Tuesday, April 23, 2002

Speaking of Words:

Someone proposed a rule to cover the "I before E" (or vice versa) thing:

I before E, except when it's not.

That should completely eliminate any confusion.

posted by Mike 6:58 PM

Monday, April 08, 2002

WORDS

Words are the bricks and mortar with which we build our sites. The key thing about people who like to write is, that they like to write. If Hougton-Mifflin won't buy their work, and the New Yorker won't print it, that's OK - they'll write anyway, and put it up on this, the world's biggest town square bulletin board.

As in all human endeavors, some are better than others. In this corner, I'll try to point out what I think is "good writing". This is partly a subjective issue - there's no one standard of "good writing", at least not as far as the words themselves, taken individually, like links on a chain.

What sets good writing apart from the rest, is the expression of ideas, the construction and layout of a good, convincing argument, the marshalling of facts to support a stance. When good ideas are handicapped by bad grammar and spelling, there's a problem. Readers have to trip over debris to get at the ideas.

MINING FOR GOLD

There may be a count of active blogs; I'd guess somewhere around 100,000. A Google search for "blog" shows 823,000; "weblog", 992,000. MIT's Blogdex shows 14,214 sites and 1,092,797 links. (In proofreading, a day later, the Google "blog" count went up to 859,000; 'weblog", to 1,050,000. I'll check back in a week or so.)

Probably not more than a handful of us read all of them. There's probably a parallel between blogs and specialty-interest magazines. The last time I looked, there were about 10,000 specialty-interest magazines, most with small circulations and dedicated readers. Many great bloggers go for months with fewer than 100 readers. More than once or twice recently, I've read bloggers write, "Wow! Where did all those hits come from?". In at least one case, he followed up and found out: The Tipping Blog.

There seems to be a dozen or so people now whose blogs have attracted significant attention (and that number is most likely off by a factor of 10 or so (which isn't at all bad in cosmology)). You know who you are; you know who they are. I'll put in links, and I'll tell why I think they're good writers. (I don't want people to get the idea that I'm linking to good sites so I can bask in their sunshine, and pull in a few links myself.) If I don't mention somebody's site, it's just because I haven't seen it yet, or haven't read enough to make a call. (As if anybody would be depressed if this uppity newcomer didn't gush over their site.)

Some, like Andrew Sullivan and John Derbyshire, are working journalists whose business - and life - is writing. Others, like asparagirl and The Last Page work in other fields. (IT seems to be a good source of bloggers.) But they all write, most because they want to, a few because they're driven to.

My first example of "good writing" comes from John Derbyshire. This appeared in his NRO review of The Time Machine:

The best reason to watch this latest version of The Time Machine is 19-year-old Zambian-Irish (no kidding) pop-tart Samantha Mumba, who is exceptionally easy on the eye.
I like that one because in an imaginative use of a single word, a single image (pop-tart: breakfast-food concoction by Kellogg, designed to be popped out of a toaster, from "tart: n. A pastry shell with shallow sides, no top crust, and any of various fillings"), he categorizes a popular singer/actress. (I'm certain Ms Mumba would not be amused by that label, but it is the sort of thing that goes with the territory.) At least, JD doesn't stoop to the despicable levels of Chrstopher Hitchens - the Oscar Wilde-turned-Darth Maul.

posted by Mike 3:04 PM

Sunday, April 07, 2002

LAST WEEK'S LOGGINGS

WSJ 4/5/02

Korean Airlines flight crews get Tasers. They've already gone through martial arts training. UAL is said to have bought 1300 Tasers, but the FAA hasn't approved their use.

Washington Post 4/5/02

Argenbright is out of almost all US airports. In the Washington area, they're replaced by Globe Aviation Services. We can all feel safer now - except that almost all of Argenbright's laid-off screeners are applying for jobs at Globe.

Washington Post 4/5/02

The air space around the White House, the Capitol Building and the Naval Observatory [note 1] is a Prohibited Area for all aircraft. Since 9/11, airplanes have drifted into this space almost 600 times - about 3 times a day.

[Note 1: The Naval Observatory is the traditional home of the Vice President. There are 4 other areas: 2) The Bush ranch in Texas 3) the Bush home in Maine 4) the nuclear plant in Amarillo, TX (thanks, guys - it's nice to finally know where that one is), and 5) George Washington's home in Mt. Vernon. (Well, maybe it's hard for him to sleep with all that noise).

Reuters 4/4/02

China's space program: Shenzhou III launched March 2002; astronauts early this century (by 2005); a manned space station soon; Beijing builds a space industry, aiming for a manned moon mission.

Times of London 4/4/02

The EU imposes a "green tax" of up to 50 pounds ($65) on London-LAX flights. Norway imposes a CO2 tax on all their flights.

Houston Chronicle 3/15/02

Russia pumps up the space tourism industry: They're aiming for 2005. Trips are expected to cost about $98,000, which buys you a 60 to 90 minute flight that gets you 63 miles up (probably a conversion of the Russian's 100 km), where for about 5 minutes you'll be weightless and extremely airsick.

posted by Mike 8:23 PM

Wednesday, March 06, 2002

Since the term "illegal alien" has been replaced by "undocumented worker", I don't think we should stop there. Let's keep going, and make these substitutions:

"thief" or "robber" will be "undocumented property transfer agent"

"car thief" will be "undocumented automobile repossessor"

"murderer" will be "undocumented mortician".

posted by Mike 9:24 PM

(Today's a good day for news.)

Reported in today's WSJ. It's not online; here's a summary.

After Mad-Cow Scare, German Pigs, Farmers 'Enjoy' More Quality Time

The government of North Rhine-Westphalia is trying to counter the mad-cow scare. They figure that farmers can improve the quality of their pork by improving their quality of life.

In typical German fashion, they proclaimed a decree (not just a guideline)which says, in part:

A pig should get one square meter of stall space and a straw or soft rubber mat for napping. When it's time to play, the pigs must have chains or chewy toys on hand. "Balls also can be made available to the pigs for activity material," the edict states. Each pig should get at least eight hours of daylight. During the darker, shorter days of winter, farmers must compensate with lamps. ... A farmer or farmhand must spend at least 20 seconds looking at each pig each day -- and back up the loving care with paperwork showing he has enough pighands to provide quality time.

Needless to say, the farmers are Not Amused.

Later on in the story we see the source of this Great Plan:

For farmers, two women personify the threat: local agricultural minister Baerbel Hoehn, who drafted the edict, and her fellow Green Party member, Renate Kuenast, a spike-haired former lawyer who runs Germany's national ministry for consumer protection, food and agriculture. The Greens, who run the state and federal governments in coalition with the Social Democrats, devised the local rules and have attracted the farmers' ire. At a recent farmers' forum, bodyguards stood by with umbrellas to shield the two ministers in the event of flying produce.

Gotta watch out for those Social Democrats.

At a state-sponsored agricultural center, one engineer seems to have a faint grip on reality:

"We can make all the rules in the world," he says. "But the pigs sort out what they like for themselves."

posted by Mike 10:49 AM

Tuesday, March 05, 2002

Election day in CA. More later.

posted by Mike 10:26 PM

First post. "Hello, World!"

posted by Mike 10:03 PM