log (2001/12/07 to 2001/12/13)
Thursday, December 13, 2001
So, the Attorney General of the United States tells me: "To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: your tactics only aid terrorists."
I'm sure that's not what he's trying to say. He's the Attorney General, after all; no Attorney General would say something like that. He must be trying to say something else.
Find of the Day: the base document of the entire Internet. It should be, like, sitting on a dias in a cave somewhere, bound in gold and guarded by Amazons.
For the past month, the wages of the bakery staff of J. Lyons, Ltd., and good many routine office calculations besides, have been worked out on a full-sized electronic computor at Cadby Hall.
From "HTML o' the Day" again, a chance to show just how immature I am ("hey Ralphie, see if it has 'tits', heh heh heh!"). And while we're bashing certain government officials, I can also show off my 133t URL-hax0ring sk1llz. (Oops, there I go aiding the terrorists again.)
"HTML o' the Day" itself seems to be pretty mysterious. You can find quotes from it all over the web (I get mine via a mirror, possibly at beer.org, of a similarly mysterious mailing list called devnull; I can't remember how I got onto the mirror list, or who runs it, or anything). But who picks the links and writes the (sometimes stunningly great) captions? Dunno.
Beth (among others) notes that Google Groups now has all of Usenet back to 1981! This is Very Cool. Here is for instance an ancient alt.hackers posting of mine that I thought was gone forever. They even have archives of alt.test and misc.test. I forsee lots of sociology theses in the near future.
The Catholic Church: if they didn't exist, one would have had to invent them.
Before describing how an address should be written, or how a letter to an ecclesiastical personage should be begun and ended, it may be well to say that the paper must always be white, no other colour being allowed. The size and form of stationery considered appropriate is that known in Italy as palomba; it is used by the Roman Congregations, and is so called because it has the watermark of a dove (It., palomba). In other countries the paper used for protocols or ministerial correspondence may be employed, but it should be handmade, as both stronger and more suitable.
Of course it's a pity about the wars and persecutions and autos da fé and all. If only religions and other large institution would limit themselves to making up elaborate ceremonies and rules. Where do you post suggestions for changes to the laws of physics?
(Speaking of which, I finally got my gravships in Alpha Centauri this morning while having breakfast at the corner deli. I may have to give up on the Economic Victory; there are so many factions that still exist and have large populations that cornering the world energy market would be Real Expensive, and I'm not that rich. Fleets of gravships (vroom vroom!) don't come cheap.)
Why would anyone want to ban "A Wrinkle in Time"? Exploring around the web for possible answers, I find that some people also want to ban C. S. Lewis' "Chronicles of Narnia". Apparently people have wanted them taken off the shelves because they're "against Christianity". That's really bizarre! Both L'Engle and Lewis are Christian apologists, for pity's sake; Lewis is one of the most powerful modern Western voices promoting Christianity! I guess the problem is that both L'Engle and Lewis speak in parables, rather than directly talking about Jesus and Biblical Salvation. But Jesus himself often spoke in parables! Don't these people know that?
Reminder to self: don't spend too much time looking for rational reasons for the actions of religious fundamentalists.
(On the other hand, I notice that the Sleeping Beauty Trilogy by A.N. Roquelaure (Anne Rice) is also on the list. This is not a huge surprise, as it's pure porn (and rather tedious pure porn at that). I guess the reason "Debbie Does Dallas" isn't on the list is that most libraries don't stock it in the first place. Funny "Lolita" isn't there; it's not actually porn, but it looks like it when viewed through a sufficiently narrow mind.)
What about looking for rational reasons for the actions and/or statements of the enemies of capitalism? Having alienated my right-wing readers by mercilessly bashing John "lost an election to a dead guy" Ashcroft above, I will now attempt to alienate my left-wing readers as well.
Jessamyn writes that she believes "that capitalism is a corrupt system", and links the phrase to this page, which talks about how bad capitalism is, in the context of critiquing the recent "Walk for Capitalism" (which I thought was kinda silly, but good-hearted).
I often find myself torn, because leftist opponents of capitalism are often nice, kind, bright and friendly people, and they tend to have civil liberties opinions that I can easily agree with. Their economic opinions, on the other hand, usually seem dead wrong, and this puzzles me.
The page cited above, for instance, says:
While Capitalist interests ranging from Shell to De Beers have done a great job of transferring African natural resources and the product of African workers' labor to the economic centers of Global Capitalism (Western Europe, North America, Japan) it doesn't exactly have a stellar record of raising those workers' standards of living or allowing them to enjoy the benefits of the natural resources around them.
Now while that last phrase ("it doesn't exactly...") is presented in a tone of self-evident truth, I think it's in fact wrong. Subsistence agriculture sucks as a lifestyle, and the reason it sucks as a lifestyle isn't that you're being exploited by capitalists, it's that you work hard, suffer much, die young, and have very limited life options. To the extent that African workers, or anyone else, have gotten out of the subsistence agriculture business and into something more enjoyable and fulfilling, isn't it because either (a) they've gotten humanitarian relief from some agency which is funded by the excess production of capitalist society, or (b) they've entered into profitable trade relationships that in general deserve to be called capitalistic themselves?
Sure it's true that capitalism exists and people suffer. But that damns capitalism only if there's some alternative social arrangement that, if we replaced capitalism with it, would result in people not suffering. I don't know of any such alternative. Some people taking part in the capitalist system are in fact corrupt, and do violate the rights of others, but I'm not aware of any alternative arrangement that prevents that. Is there no corruption in socialist society? Capitalist societies need institutions to protect rights, but that's not a unique failing of capitalism.
The cited page describes "the anarchist vision of a leaderless society based on cooperation, freedom, and mutual aid with abundance for workers and nothing for parasites." I'm not sure why that's a particularly anarchist vision. In particular, the only way I can imagine ensuring cooperation and freedom and mutual aid and abundance for workers and nothing for (someone's definition of) parasites, is to have a government in place enforcing those things. What if Fred and Joe have different ideas of what constitutes "mutual aid"? What if Sue and Sally have different ideas about who is a "parasite"?
How do, how could, we acheive this very definite notion of what society should be like (how, for instance, do we prevent something like capitalism from occurring as the result of voluntary agreements) without a strong authority in place? And if we want to have a strong authority in place, how are we anarchists?
I'm not really a big fan of capitalism. What I really am is an economic (and a social, for that matter) libertarian. I think people ought to be able to enter into whatever economic (or social) relationships they feel like, as long as it doesn't violate anyone's rights. So if these "anarchists" want to set up a leaderless society based on cooperation, freedom, and mutual aid with abundance for workers and nothing for parasites, that's great; they should do it. If they're stopped from doing it by the government, or anyone else, violating their rights to free action, I'm fully on their side to get that rights-violation ended. Of course they can't force anyone to take part in their vision against their will, but that shouldn't be a problem.
If anarchy in this sense is a good idea, why would you have to smash capitalism to accomplish it? Just start doing it, and people will see what a good idea it is and join you. Eh, what? I'm sure I'm being naive about this; enlightenment is welcome.
Steve is back! And Plurp is being updated. In related news, onepine.com doesn't seem to exist anymore this morning, which is fitting; it seemed unfair for the aliens to have abducted all the sites onepine hosted, but left onepine itself on the Net.
Steve has fled to the same server that Ian fled to, and I think I will begin making more definite motions toward that flight myself (it'd be nice to have davidchess.com up again, cozy as the campsite here is). Although whatever I do I'll have to wait for Netsol to get around to my fax before anyone else can see it (or I could persuade everyone in the world to edit their own 'hosts' file).
Audible.com, on the other hand, did get around to answering my mail, and all is now forgiven (thanks to Maureen in Customer Support). So last night I downloaded the audiobook of "The Vagina Monologues", which I've heard alot about but don't have any immediate prospect of going to see in person. I've listened to the first ten seconds so far and it sounds like fun. The awkward bit is, of course, that I can't actually tell anyone about it face-to-face; I suspect I'm too shy to say the word "vagina" to anyone on Earth in casual conversation.
I was going to listen to the Monologues while doing Aerobic Things this morning, if this week's Science News ran out, but it didn't; it lasted to just the end of Pretending to Cross-Country Ski, and I decided to read Reason while Pretending to Bicycle.
Another reason to fear Windows Everywhere: The Pretending to Bicycle machine crashed twice while I was using it. "Crashed" in the computer sense ("Application Error! Windows will now restart"), not the Pretending to Collide with a Tree sense. The first time I was amused, the second time I was just annoyed; while Windows is rebooting, the device turns off all resistance to the pedals, and it's really hard to pretend you're doing your heart any good. Pheh!
The fit young person at the desk said that yeah, they've been having trouble with those machines, since the company that originally installed them went out of business, and they haven't found anyone to take over maintenance. Go figure.
(Speaking of Windows Everywhere, "Dreamcast game spreads virus". Next month, XBox viruses?)
Another story from the Club this morning: while doing my push-ups I noticed that the speakers were playing the timeless classic "Paradise by the Dashboard Light". I had just been playing that at the office the other day myself, and wondered vaguely if the "passionate groaning" part was entirely appropriate for the Corporate Environment, and I wondered the same thing about the Upscale Health Club Environment; how would the (simulated but convincing) moans of these teenagers making out sound among the sweating suburban parents?
As it turned out this wasn't an issue. It's possible that something about the ambiance just masked out the juicy parts of the soundtrack, leaving the sportscaster's voice clearly audible, but I think it's more likely that this was a bowdlerized version of the song, specially cleaned up for a General Audience. The Disney (or perhaps Wal-Mart) version.
Let's see. Andre Norton's "Wheel of Stars" was weak. Plot summary: Shy but curious woman tries to resist mysterious supernatural forces that are calling to her, but fails. It's okay, though, because it turns out the mysterious supernatural forces are the good guys, and handsome, too. I should go back and reread some Norton that I really liked as a kid; some Witch World book, or "Judgement on Janus" or "Moon of Three Rings". Or maybe I shouldn't! *8)
I've finally ordered a bunch of Ken MacLeod books from Amazon. Now I have to hunt around the Web for a page that tells me which one to read first; I gather that they're a rather complicated tangled narrative with alternate histories and stuff, and it'd probably be good to get them in the right order.
M finished reading the Novel, and now I want to go back and fix all the typos she found, and think about the continuity problems and larger-scale suggestions. But I can't, because I'm still too busy playing Alpha Centauri. The durned University has wiped out the United Nations on the northern continent, and keeps getting mad at me because I won't join them in attacking random other factions; so they attack me, and I've had to waste so much time slapping them down that I don't have my gravships yet, arg!
We should all be very grateful to whatever has infected Caterina. Not that she doesn't write beautifully when she's not sick...
From LinkFilter, a very cool Flash puzzle/game. I got to some level, and then realized that I really ought to be working instead.
From Zannah, an intriguing Web-hacking puzzle. I got to Level 5, but finding the Level 6 URL involves reverse engineering a VBS program, and that's just too much like work.
"Alpha teens are very highly networked, and they tend to be the ones marketers want to reach."
It's been pointed out to me that I incorrectly identified the Attorney General of the United States the other day; he is, of course, John "lost an election to a dead guy" Ashcroft. We regret the error.
Speaking of John "laetadg" Ashcroft, here's a "who said it?" test from morons.org (can you tell Ashcroft from Joe McCarthy?), a People for the American Way page on the general subject, and an article describing Ashcroft's statements to the effect that anyone who questions his actions is helping the terrorists.
What a fscking dolt!
Would it hurt him so much to acknowledge that active debate and
open airing of differences of opinion are important parts of
running a democracy?
Does he really think that people expressing doubts about Bush Jr's
Speaking of Bush Jr, Happy Putsch Day!
It is confidence in the men and women who administer the judicial system that is the true backbone of the rule of law. Time will one day heal the wound to that confidence that will be inflicted by today's decision. One thing, however, is certain. Although we may never know with complete certainty the identity of the winner of this year's Presidential election, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. It is the Nation's confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law. --
The Double-Slit Garage Experiment:
We are pleased to report that a classic atomic-scale physics experiment -- the double-slit experiment -- has now been carried out on a macroscopic scale. We have demonstrated the wave/particle duality of a familiar, "everyday scale" phenomenon -- the stream of cars passing through the exit lanes of the Loyola University of Chicago parking garage.
I remember in High School a physics teacher telling us that the double-slit experiment should in theory work with (say) soccer balls, but the effect would be far too small to notice. The paper above does not, sadly, actually study the question in any rigorous way, but the picture is kinda funny.
Hi, my name's Bruce Sterling, I'm a science fiction writer. And a futurist. You might also call me an industry observer. If you were kind.
(What's R. U. Sirius has been doing lately?)
EU Sticking to Tough Spam Law:
The planned law, which still needs the approval of the European Parliament, will forbid direct marketers from sending unsolicited mail without the customer's prior consent throughout the EU.
So will United Europe actually ban spam, or do they just like talking strong in committee?
COMPUTER VIRUS MAKING TO BE PROSECUTED AS HATE CRIME FOR TARGETING STUPID PEOPLE:
Congressional leaders also said they will amend the 1990 Hate Crimes Statistics Act and require the FBI to track data on crimes based on race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or stupidity. As a result, some experts expect the annual number of hate crimes in the U.S. alone to jump from 6,500 to 132 million.
Wired News reads the blogs: Big Stink Over a Simple Link:
Within a day of Raettig's posting, several dozen sites were linking to KPMG's front page, according to Blogdex, a weblog indexing system. So many people visited Raettig's site that it was knocked offline for awhile, which he found "very amusing."
Blogs are big! I heard the tail-end of a (rather superficial, but whaddya expect?) piece about blogs and blogging and bloggers on the radio this morning (probably NPR's Morning Edition on WNYC, but who knows; both organizations don't seem to update their websites until well after the broadcast, heh).
Also seen on Wired:
Court transcripts show that in response to an earlier order to secure computer systems, Dominic Nessei, the Bureau of Indian Affairs' former top technology officer, commissioned 18 independent security assessments at a cost of $1 million, and later admitted he never read any of them.
Par for the course.
France debates right not to be born:
Last week France's highest appeals court ruled that children with Down syndrome have a legal right never to have been born and could sue doctors that attended the pregnancy.
Not quite as silly as it sounds from the pullquote, but...
Ashcroft's appalling failure to explain military tribunals:
Ashcroft told the Senate, in essence, that he didn't have any information about how these tribunals would operate. Rather blithely, he said those details were being handled by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, and his 3,000 lawyers at the Defense Department. It is difficult to believe the attorney general is as uninformed as Ashcroft indicated, but that's what he said.
Anyone out there like Ashcroft? Defend him (anonymously if you like) in the inbox.
" [D]on't be surprised to see Ethernet ports on guitars within the next 12 to 18 months."
Strom Thurmond transfers soul to middle-aged black body. (caption thanks to HTML o' the Day.)
Whew! There's my quota of Interesting Links for the week. M's almost finished reading The Novel and noting down typos and continuity problems, and more important telling me that yes it really seems to be a novel, and no she doesn't find herself having to stop and read something else every chapter or two just to stay awake. *8)
Lessons from Alpha Centauri: Be nice whenever possible, even go out of your way to be nice, but don't give in to unreasonable demands. Don't hit first, but if someone else hits you hit back fast and hard, and then give them a chance to apologize. Build your infrastructure; even in wartime make sure your bases have recreation areas and that your satellites are being launched on schedule.
(Another lesson, harder to follow in the game, is "always keep a wall at your back". In this game as the Morganites I'm smack-dab in the middle of the map, and I'm currently in a rather vexing two-front war with the Hive and the University, one on each side. It'd be much easier if I had, say, a nice safe polar cap on one of my borders.)
Good Cause of the Day: Salute Our Troops. Send an Amazon gift certificate to someone in the armed forces; the armies of democracy should be well-read.
Well, that was interesting! Hope it worked. We just did our first archiving operation here in the campsite; if it all went well, last week's entries should be here. (No entries for Friday, Saturday, or Sunday; I was busy and/or lazy.)
The initial police investigation has revealed that the four built the program while embroiled in a fight with another group of boys over control of communications networks.
The fall of global civilization will be caused by IRC warkiddiez. See this sfgate article about the arrest of those responsible for the Goner virus (as mentioned last week). And/or see the Newbytes article, or the politech posting which points to a Ha'aretz article, the boys (15 and 16 years old) being in Israel and all.
(URL fun o' the day: munging the sfgate URL above slightly yields the article in raw form, suitable for syndication.)
Among other neighborly goodness in the input box, a reader writes:
"I've learned stuff about myself as a writer, and about the writing process."
Kinda hard to name. More "know a hawk from a handsaw" sort of knowledge than "know the radius of Saturn" sort of knowledge. Now I know what it feels like to write many, many pages of prose that are in some sense the same story. I know that turning off the internal censors and just writing lots of words can produce good and useful results. But it's a good question and one that I can't answer as choately as I'd like; I'll have to think about it some more and see what can be pinned down.
Over the weekend I finished formatting and spellchecking the novel, and printed it out on the printer in roughly the form factor of a trade paperback or small hardcover. The final page count was one hundred and eighty-four. Then I three-hole punched every sheet (ninety-some sheets, with even and odd pages appropriately mirrored thanks to a useful button in Word Pro), and tied strings through each of the holes. M thinks this is sort of a silly way to bind it, and I should just get a ring-binder. Shucks, I say! *8)
Against all expectation, I actually won the Alpha Centauri game I was playing last week. The other factions kept attacking me for no rational reason, so I got a chance to use my advanced weaponry. The first gravship I built for myself was sadly lost when I used it to capture a base too far from the rest of my forces, but later on I built many more, and every time another faction randomly attacked me I would send them out to capture one base from that faction and then allow them to sue for peace.
I won via the "Ascent to Transcendance" again, which is fun. I wasn't the Dominant Faction at the end (the Gaians were a ways above me), but that doesn't matter for victory; I used the large energy and material inflow from my extensive network of satellites to build the mysterious device that takes humanity to the next level of evolution first. Vroom vroom!
(One of the more annoying factions in that game was the United Nations Peacekeepers, who contrary to their name kept starting random wars, and even committed the one Atrocity that I've seen so far: they dropped a Planet Buster Bomb on one of my (minor) bases, apparently in a fit of pique. Sheesh!)
Now I'm playing (still at the third level of difficulty) as Morgan of Morgan Industries, the industrial tycoon guy. I'm having fun with base names ("Morgan Discount City", "Morgan Sports Equipment", "Morgan Toxic Sludge"), and vaguely planning to go for the "Corner the world energy market" victory, since it seems appropriate. I have various no-doubt-fascinating thoughts about the game and its underlying assumptions and reflection of the real world, about which I will probably go on at length in later days, unless I don't.
And it snowed on Saturday night, for the first time this winter. The kids were ecstatic; I came home from the grocery shopping on Sunday just after sunset, and they were running around the house in the cold twilight, lobbing wet squooshy snowballs at each other and shrieking. Great stuff, snow.