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Ms. Kitaen
Wednesday, November 22, 2000  permanent URL for this entry

What a lot of 2's there are today!

Something writes:

Congratulation someone has just performed a "web search" at the HootingOwl Search Engine using the search term

tawny Kitaine

and your web site


is being displayed on the first page of search results.

Now given that this here site has only used the word "tawny" once, and has never ever used the word "Kitaine", I'm afraid this doesn't speak very well for the "coverage" of the HootingOwl "Search Engine". Also they seem rather short of congratulations, being able to spare only one. Still, perhaps their "hearts" are in the right "place".

Just in case that searcher happens by again, I suspect e has a misspelling: e was probably looking for Tawny Kitaen. A natural mistake.

You put your left nose in
You take your left nose out
You put your left nose in
And you shake it all about

You do the heebee-jeebee
And you gallop like a trout

That's what it's all about!

Tuesday, November 21, 2000  permanent URL for this entry

Some more politics today, although I hope somewhat more interestingly than your typical Florida Update of the Second. On our Triumph of Democracy issue, a reader writes:

I agree with you 100% on Friday's comment on the election. The fact that we didn't know the winner of the election the day after the election is a Minor Inconvenience, not The Collapse of American Democracy as some pundits would have us believe. Now, if we don't have a winner by Jan. 20, then we have a Slightly Larger Problem (but still not a Crisis).

which is heartening. Steve told a related joke at lunch the other day:

In other countries, the election is determined by who controls the most generals. Here, it's who controls the most lawyers.

To which I responded that we ought to have a posse comitatus law for lawyers. I'm not sure exactly what it would mean (hey, jokes don't have to make sense); perhaps lawyers would be forbidden to intervene in any disagreement where both parties were citizens.

This lead me to look up posse comitatus on the Web. As well as being a very old term for "all the able-bodied people in the area who the sheriff might call upon in time of need", and a name used by at least one odious hate group, "posse comitatus" is the name of a very good and useful United Statesian law, to wit:

Whoever, except in cases and under circumstances expressly authorized by the Constitution or Act of Congress, willfully uses any part of the Army or Air Force as a posse comitatus or otherwise to execute the laws shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both. 18 U.S.C. § 1385

The basic idea is that the military are not the police, and must not be used as such. We have no physical Rubicon (the creek that marked the closest the Legions were allowed to come to Rome itself), but we have a virtual one, and it seems like a good idea. This Washington University Law Quarterly article discusses the Posse Comitatus Act, why it was passed, its conceptual and historical root, its gradual erosion through various bad ideas (using the military to enforce drug laws, for instance), and ideas about how to make it better and stronger.

Relevant to the Current Crisis, the Act was first passed just after a very close presidential election:

the situation came to a head during the 1876 presidential election, which was determined by only one electoral vote. In the election, Rutherford B. Hayes won with the disputed electoral votes of South Carolina, Louisiana, and Florida. In those states, President Ulysses S. Grant had sent troops as a posse comitatus for federal marshals to use at the polls, if necessary. This misuse of the military in an election -- the most central event to a democracy -- led Congress to enact the PCA in 1878.

(Note: Florida!)

Cafepress.com has put together a page of election-related T-shirts; as you might expect, a great mix of qualities and opinions. Democracy in action on the Net! *8)

From Dan Weinreb, election stuff for law geeks, from "The Jurist" web portal.

Speaking vaguely of politics and government, did you know that the CIA has its own venture capital firm? "We're spook-funded!"

On a completely different topic, CNN has a refresingly (and/or accidentally) open configuration on their Web server. Some fun pictures can be found by browsing through the CNN website's image directories.

(I was right about the potluck math yesterday, by the way; M tells me that we have slightly more than one entire pie left over. Poor us! What shall we do?)

And finally, I'd like to point out humbly that the company I work for does sometimes do cool stuff. *8)

Monday, November 20, 2000  permanent URL for this entry

The mathematics of Pot Luck are simple: the amount of food you need is (what a person eats) times (how many people are eating). The amount of food each person should bring is that divided by (how many people are bringing food). Assuming that everyone that's going to eat is bringing food, and that no one else is, the amount that a person should bring is just the amount a person will eat. Now there are caveats ("amount" by what measure? weight? calories? volume?), and it's better to have too much than too little, and some people will forget, so we round up. But still, the basic idea is simple.

Now they're having a Thanksgiving Feast in the little boy's first grade class, and we signed up to bring pie. "Two pies should be fine" they said. Whoa! This seems a bit much: even allowing for a factor of two error, that means that the average first-grade kid is expected to be eating the equivalent (in miscellaneous foods) of an entire pumpkin pie. Hungry little kids!

JOCASTA enters, stage left.

JOCASTA: Henry? Henry, are you Bach?

HENRY (from behind couch): Yes, but I'm Hayden!

I have never...

I have never eaten Dr. Seuss, with a moose.

I have never done something that I may or may not be about to do soon.

I have never... me, neither.

I have never bought anything at a barnes & Noble and my fingers still work, coincidence?

I have never gone bungee jumping

I have never shut up.

I have never typed this exact sentence.

I have never wrapped duct tape round my eyes whilst eating catfood and lying amidst shards of broken glass with pieces of garlic, hair, straw, and styrofoam strewn amidst my general surroundings. Well, OK, yes I have.

And two comments on the former extra Wednesday:

I have never had two Wednesdays in the same week before. But it looks like this week is the magic week, at least for that

I have never considered November 16, 2000, to be a Wednesday.

Bill Arnold points out some more memorable devices, including big Leyden jars, some cool antique medicine cabinets (not the kind you keep medicine in, but the kind you do flashy zappy medicine with), and a do-it-yourself X-Ray machine.

WARNING! You must take these precautions
First, Oudin Coils are notorious emitters of radio waves that take the form of ragged noise. They can black out radio and television reception for miles around. Federal regulations prohibit the operation of such devices unless they are thoroughly shielded...

Whenever the machine is in operation, the experimenter must wear a lead apron and stand well behind the orifice through which the rays are emitted. Never turn your back to the machine so that you are between it and the apron!

I like "Oudin coils".

The mysterious Mia:

Chirp! Chirp! What happened to the chicken? On the ledge with Mia, I think, and a pity it is for them both. There was postfix notation there that Mia couldn't read, and the chicken ignored her insistent pleas for help. Compile, my friend, compile!

I continue trying to get my head around the still largely inchoate thoughts about (not) separating content from presentation that I sketched badly the other day. I hope to talk about them more later (and maybe someday we'll even have another round of Nomic!).

Friday, November 17, 2000  permanent URL for this entry

Thanks to all the alert readers who noticed that yesterday was accidentally Wednesday for awhile. We have retconned it into the more traditional Thursday.

Lots of people are saying that this whole U.S. Presidential Election thing is somehow a failure of democracy, or a constitutional crisis, or something that makes the country look bad. My impression is exactly the opposite: this is a triumph of democracy! Under stress, things are working exactly as they're supposed to.

We have a really really close election, hotly contested. We don't know the results yet, ten days after the usual endpoint. But there is no blood in the streets. The election is not going to be decided according to who has the best relationship with the military, or whose followers are best at building barricades, or even (as far as I can tell) who can afford the biggest bribes. It's going to be decided by a process run and overseen by people that we elected, or that were appointed by people that we elected, according to laws enacted by people that we elected, and governed by a legal system that's the best one we've been able to come up with so far. That's great, that's perfect!

That's just how it's supposed to work.

It's true of course that we're getting to exercise some parts of the system that are usually dormant, so we may decide after all the dust settles that some laws need changing. But that's fine, too, and that's also a success rather than a problem. It's also true that the system isn't grounded in perfection; voting machines have an error rate, votes get lost, people who have obvious conflicts of interest don't always voluntarily bow out when you'd hope they would. But that's because there are humans involved! "Involves humans" can hardly be said to be a serious problem with a system of government. I think United Statesian Democracy is doing a great job here, and I wish people would give it more credit.

I woke up in what I thought at the time was a strange place, surrounded by beings I thought were strangers.

They told me that I was now awake, for the first time in a long time, and that all the life I remembered, Tina and James and the aquarium, was a dream, or an illusion, that I had gone into voluntarily, as part of a game, or a work of art. My true memories, they said, would come back before long.

This disturbed me.

The second day after I awoke, I sat with my feet on a curved windowsill, looking out at a bluish landscape that did seem to be increasingly familiar. One of them came into the room.

If, I asked, I had been so certain that that dream-life on Earth was reality while I was living it, how could I be sure that this new life to which I had awakened and which I would soon remember as my real one, was not also just a dream?

He smiled, and nodded his head, and told me. My God, I thought, turning away to look out the window again, of course! How could I have forgotten that?

Beth Roberts has had an epiphany. Epiphanies are great things. I suggest you read Beth's, if only for the fire in her eyes.

I've had an epiphany or two over the years (not to compare mine to Beth's; every epiphany is probably different in important ways). The primary one happened when I was a young teenager sometime. Like Beth's, mine involved a powerful set of insights that wanted to be written down. Having no Web around, I wrote them in a set of spiral-bound notebooks that are still (come to think of it) on a shelf at the head of my bed. I should read them again. When I set the epiphany to paper, it came out as words like "Self-Aware", "Realization" and "Plan". A feeling that I now knew everything important, both in terms of what is, and what I ought to do. But of course, even at the time, I realized that that wasn't exactly it, that I didn't really know any new facts. It was more that I was just suddenly awake.

Perhaps the content of an epiphany is "Hey, Look!!!". And then one puts down lots of words to try to get other people to fall into the same feeling.

One day Banzan was walking through a market. He overheard a customer say to the butcher, "Give me the best piece of meat you have." "Everything in my shop is the best," replied the butcher. "You can not find any piece of meat that is not the best." At these words, Banzan was enlightened.


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