log (2002/05/17 to 2002/05/23)

older log
newer log


site news
talking place

Tell me something:
Thursday, May 23, 2002  permanent URL for this entry

On yesterday's story, a reader writes:

Please let us know if you learn anything more about the young woman on the plane.

I certainly will if I can. The odds are against it, though; as another reader will point out later, my general beneficence and good heartedness don't necessarily allow me to snoop.

Here's a page on involuntary treatment from the New York State Commission on the Quality of Care. Some interesting articles, including a couple of relevant Supreme Court decisions, are linked from that page. Sounds like there are various safeguards in place to make sure that the only people held or treated against their will are people who really are dangerous; but then, that's what they would say, isn't it?

Here's a site "working to eliminate barriers to treatment of severe mental illness". I get a very scary feeling from this site, in that one of the "barriers" that they're referring to is that the people that the Experts want to treat often don't want to be treated. They seem entirely too certain of the benevolence and wisdom of Experts (perhaps because they are Experts themselves).

Here'a a page about New York's "Kendra's Law" (and here's another one). Kendra's Law says that, since someone once got angry and pushed an innocent person under a train, anyone seen to be angry in public will be locked up. Oh, sorry, no, it's mental illness, not anger. But still...

Okay, so I'm being a little paranoid. The law as written applies only to people who "are unlikely to survive safely in society without supervision", it says, and there are all sorts of safeguards. "Safely" is kinda fuzzy, though; I really ought to read more about it. Or I ought to stop studying the theory and try to find out what happened to the woman with the cloud on her arm. Or maybe I shouldn't...

A reader with some clues writes (among other things):

I can tell you about Oregon's law... Two physicians are supposed to examine the patient and both have to agree that the patient is a danger to themselves or others. The patient is then notified of the finding and is read their rights. They have the right to an attorney, the right to appear in court ('in a reasonable amount of time', I believe is the wording) in front of a judge. They are cut loose in 72 hours if they don't get that hearing, or if they are deemed no longer a threat to themselves.

A good example for a good reason for a 72 hold is an overdose; the minute you reverse a heroin overdose with naloxone, they come up swinging in full withdrawal. They want to go out and score again; the problem is that the naloxone will wear off before the heroin does. If they shoot up before the antidote has worn off, you get the leftover amounts of heroin from the OD added to the new dose -- an even bigger OD. So you keep them under a hold until they are clean.

Which sounds pretty plausible. I shouldn't let my paranoia blind me to the fact that there are skilled and sensible and caring people out there doing hard and vital work for low pay, in rotten working conditions, and there's a good chance that the woman with the cloud is in caring hands that do in fact respect her will as much as I would. I'd just like to know that.

On the other hand, this same clued reader also writes:

As far as finding out what happened: if she was taken to a hospital, you can't find out the story except from her. Privacy laws, there for good reason: there is still quite a stigma to being institutionalized for mental illness, whether voluntarily or otherwise. Having that leak out could impair her chances at getting a job or a place to live in the future.

Which is also a good point; they shouldn't tell just anyone. Of course, in a well-ordered world when they found out it was me asking, they'd open their books with a smile.

Sigh! Tomorrow (which is next week) perhaps we will return to our usual lighthearted and barely sensible ironies.

I just hope she's okay...

Wednesday, May 22, 2002  permanent URL for this entry

Here's something else that happened, on the way back from LA. It happened, the memorable part, after I'd finished writing yesterday's entry; and at the time I posted that entry I hadn't processed it enough to add it as a postscript.

I'm still not sure how well I've processed it (whatever that means), but I want to write it down.

When I checked in at the gate at LAX, there was a woman just ahead of me in the line. I noticed her because she looked different somehow, out of place or maybe unusually in place, alert or maybe oblivious. In any case artistic.

Female, caucasian, mid twenties, very short dark brown hair, average height. Wearing an ankle-length sleeveless brown dress and soft brown leather boots, good quality. Tattoo on the left upper arm of a cloud and some lines (wind? weather predictions?); more tattoos on the right forearm, of birds and other shapes. Silver bangle bracelets over the birds. Carrying a red and white backpack with a red and white checked kerchief tied jauntily around one strap, and a painted paper bag perhaps from an upscale store. (A silver band on her left upper arm, below the cloud? I'm not sure.)

"I don't fly very often," she said to the desk clerk, "I don't have a ticket, I just have this e-ticket? Is that okay?"

I was in an aisle seat on the plane; she sat in the window seat of the row ahead of me. In that aisle seat, directly ahead of me, was a tall dark young man. During the flight everyone was sort of solicitous of the woman; she seemed uncertain ("Can I just have coffee? No sugar, just cream?"), and she smiled, and people smiled back at her.

When it was time to get off, the Voice said "Welcome to New York; will passenger [some name that wasn't mine] please contact the agent at the gate; thank you for..." and so on. We all stood up and waited for the snake of people to start moving. The young man got his bag down from the overhead rack, and got the woman's backpack down also and handed it to her; she thanked him.

The snake snaked off of the plane and into the jetway; the young man was just ahead of me, the woman just ahead of him. At the mouth of the jetway, just outside the door of the plane, was a professionally dressed lady, someone with a wheelchair, and roughly four New York City police officers in their very official black uniforms. People were eyeing the police uncertainly as we passed by, toward the slope up toward the gate and the terminal, and the police were looking competent.

The professionally dressed lady (gate agent?) made eye contact with the woman. The woman stepped over to her and identified herself (I wish I could remember that name), and the lady said something; what I caught was "will just be escorting you". The young man and I began to move past them up the jetway.

The woman said something; something like "yes, that's a problem; I'm a grown woman... visiting my parents". The young man turned and said something to the lady, or to one of the police officers.

"Are you a friend of hers?" someone asked him.

"Uh, yes, yes, I am," said the young man, and one of the police officers guided him aside. The snake continued up the jetway with me as part of it, carried by my feet away from whatever was going on.

I hung around at the gate, in the terminal, for a few minutes, watching people come out. The police didn't come out, the woman didn't come out. I don't think I would have recognized the professionally-dressed lady. Eventually the young man came out, his bag over his shoulder, looking (I thought, or I think I remember thinking) not happy, disgruntled. I thought about asking one of the gate agents what had happened, and then I thought about all the polite ways they must have of saying "none of your business".

I wandered away, and I wandered back. (I looked to see if there was anyone keeping an eye out for people loitering near the gate.) I called M on a payphone and told her the plane was down, and I'd be home as soon as the traffic allowed. Then I hung around for some more minutes. Some of the crew came out. A pilot-looking guy walked up to a man in a leather jacket who was also hanging around the gate; clearly a friend. He had that juicy-gossip look around him, and I circled casually closer so I could eavesdrop.


"... she was being committed ..."

"To what?"

"... insane asylum, I guess ..."

"... that many police to ...?"

"... don't know ...."

Of course they don't call them "insane asylums" anymore.

And they closed the door to the jetway, and no one else came out. I wanted to go home. I wanted to know what had happened.

On the drive home, I imagined myself standing next to the young man, saying that I was also a friend of the woman, asking her if she had a lawyer, getting her name.

It's easy to imagine bad scenarios: Mommer and Dadder finally persuading their daughter to come visit them in New York where the laws on involuntary institutionalization are more flexible and Dadder is friendly with a judge, so that they can finally get her away from those commie lesbian crazies she's been hanging out with in LA and finally get her trust fund back in their control.

It's harder to imagine good scenarios; she didn't look like she was a danger to anyone, or like she was someone whose will could justifiably be ignored "for her own good". She looked striking, different, vital.


I have no idea which of the details above are true; I doubt I'm an unusually reliable eyewitness. But I think I have the basic story straight.

So how do I find out who she was and what happened to her? Anyone out there an expert on involuntary institutionalization laws? What the heck kind of planet is this, anyway?

Tuesday, May 21, 2002  permanent URL for this entry

So here's what happened. Early Thursday morning I innocently went to a meeting to discuss a presentation that someone else was going to be giving in Los Angeles on Monday (yesterday). In that meeting I innocently showed some charts (foils, slides, viewgraphs, PowerPoints, Freelances) that I had made summarizing a brainstorming session we'd had the previous week, relevant to this thing on Monday.

The charts (foils, slides, viewgraphs, PowerPoints, Freelances) were apparently all too well crafted; by the end of the meeting I was also scheduled to be speaking in Los Angeles on Monday.

Los Angeles is far away!

Thanks to someone much more skilled at such things than I, travel arrangements were made in short order (in fact I sent out the plea to the more-skilled person via wireless from my laptop in the back of the auditorium on Thursday morning, and she'd replied with the arrangements by the time the conference broke for lunch). The flight out on Sunday was fine (or as fine as it could be, given that I could have been having bagels and lox while watching cartoons), the presentation on Monday went very well, and now it's Tuesday and I'm somewhere in the Midwest, in whatever sense being thousands of feet above a place travelling at hundreds of miles an hour can be called "being in" that place.

Los Angeles is a big flat place, with some neat-looking mountains off in the background. It has an airport, car rental lots, some freeways, some hotels and office buildings, and at least one really good restaurant that I highly recommend if someone else is paying.

(The other place with the same name also has good food, but is much cheaper, and a few thousand miles closer to home.)

There is no broadband connection on this airplane. There is a telephone with a data port on the back of the middle seat in the row in front of me, but I suspect the connection would be slow and Expensive.

(I hereby predict for the record that it won't be long until broadband connections on airplanes are common. I predicted this a year or three ago, and whoever I was predicting to said that it wouldn't happen, because of raw physical barriers; that there just isn't enough bandwidth available to an airplane. I think that's wrong, and I thought I'd record my prediction here before it's so obviously correct that it won't seem clever anymore.)

There was on the other hand a broadband connection in the hotel room, courtesy of STSN. Ten bucks a day, which seems sort of nickel-and-dimey, although given that most customers probably don't use it I suppose it's fair not to make them subsidize me. I suspect, though, that it won't be long until it's as free as the (considerably less valuable, and with a higher marginal cost of production) USA Today that appears outside one's door in the morning.

So I was able to VPN into work and check my email, and (more important) able to get to Neopets and continue my career as a commodity arbitrager.

(I originally wrote "airplace" for "airplane" somewhere up above there. A nifty word! Did I invent it?)

I didn't watch "The Shipping News" on the way over, because I liked the book quite a bit and the trailer didn't remind me of my personal visualization of it. But I did watch "A Beautiful Mind" on the way back (see previous references to John Nash). It was very good in a number of ways, and not bad in any. Lots of that boring old love stuff, but also some good material on the nature of reality and insanity and so on. Maybe I'll read the book (I'll bet it's very different from the movie.)

(There being as I noted earlier no decent Net connection on this plane (heh, I wrote "place" again), I can't look and see if the words the actor said when pretending to be John Nash accepting the Nobel prize were actually from John Nash's Nobel speech; surely they must have been, though. I think it would have been neat if they'd also worked in his thoughts on the ambiguous nature of sanity, from his Nobel autobiography.)

Today's bizarre coincidence: the last time I mentioned John Nash in the Log was the same week that I last mentioned the Depot Restaurant. Heh!

A reader writes to let us know that

Stephen Jay Gould just died. Although I think he was wrong about punctuated equilibrium, he was a considerably better evangelist for his ideas than Dawkins. He'll be missed by many.

I second the emotion; he was a smart guy on the barricades of Reason.

Wow, look, there's the ground down below all those clouds. We sure are high up!

Monday, May 20, 2002  permanent URL for this entry

Self-esteem is the only vice, self-loathing the only virtue.

I loathe all those, and only those, who do not loathe themselves.

Isn't that clever? I thought it up all by myself.

Fark points us to an alarmed article about how good video forgery technology is getting. Two samples of the alarm:

The technology for detecting such fraud will need to keep pace with the ability to create it, or else all video becomes suspect by default...

"This is really groundbreaking work," he said. "[but] we are on a collision course with ethics. If you can make people say things they didn't say, then potentially all hell breaks loose."

Fair enough, but consider:

The technology for detecting such fraud will need to keep pace with the ability to create it, or else all writing becomes suspect by default...

"This is really groundbreaking work," he said. "[but] we are on a collision course with ethics. If you can quote people as saying things they didn't say, then potentially all hell breaks loose."

Prediction: my children, or perhaps their children, will think it's really wierd that people once thought that there being a video of something happening was evidence that it had really happened in real life.

Small-world Event o' the Week: on the same day I went from searching Google for "Terry and the Pirates" to this page on ToonPedia, and completely independantly from Plurp to Kafkaesque to ToonPedia again. And I don't recall every having seen ToonPedia before.

Favorite Spam Subject Lines o' the Week:

debt problem? 1264322111111000

Only You #1AF4

Only me, number 1AF4; how sweet!

Places you should go, because I said so: Boing Boing and the National Academies.

Friday, May 17, 2002  permanent URL for this entry

Wow, so! Lots of stuff to catch up on.

(Or not really "to catch up on". In doing something systematic and fun, like this weblog, it's all too easy to fall into habits and expectations, and think (or feel) "oh, now I have to do this", but that's entirely wrong, and antihedonic. I don't have to do anything, but I expect this to be fun if only I can focus for long enough to do it, and now I am.)

Our piece on the CBDTPA the other week was widely linked, and got significant feedback.

"He says most of what I want to say, only eloquently."

"One of many examples why I love David Chess and his weblog"

Dive in to Mark quoted the paragraph about the difference between being forbidden from driving over 55, and being forbidden to make a car that can do that.

"excellent summary of the problem"

"excellent deconstruction"

"I adore Mr. Chess for his enviable ability to remain bemused by the world around him" (warning: extremely amusing background image involving hairy naked people).

And backlinking greets also to Ian, Steve (who really started the whole thing), virulent memes, Al Chandler, Mark Pasc, and The Shifted Librarian (an extremely interesting looking weblog by a very techy librarian that I will have to remember to keep reading).

My referer logs suggest that it also got linked from a Metafilter thread, but my machine can't see Metafilter at the moment. (It hasn't closed again, has it? I'm so out of touch.)

A reader comments:

re saturday's log: Bravo! I'm on the anti-DMCA mailing list, the EFF mailing list and a few others. There's been a lot of talk, but yours handles it most succinctly.

Another reader:

3.a.2.D seems to be an escape clause? I am not a rules lawyer...

It's actually hard to say; the wording is real fuzzy there. At most, though, this allows the FCC to extend the deadline if all parties concerned are working in good faith and making progress. And of course they won't be...


Reminds me of the story, possibly apocryphal, about the lawmaker who wanted to outlaw spray paint to cure his city's graffiti problem. They didn't do it because someone realized that there a legal uses for spray paint. Unfortunately computers are harder to understand than spray paint.

In fact, I believe that here in Westchester County it's illegal to sell spray paint or "box cutters" to anyone under some age or other (extra points to the first reader to confirm or deny this with a convincing link).

Which segues nicely into the one bit of dissent I got. I like dissent, and I will try not to be cruel to the reader who wrote:

I'm all for copyright protection in hardware. Society has the right to require this. In many jurisdictions it is illegal to drive a car without seatbelts. You can't build a car in your garage and expect to drive it without getting it certified. You can't build a general purpose car. As for cars capable of exceeding X miles per hour, there never was a good reason for that if X is the speed limit. If we had sensible laws, there would be more pressure to increase the speed limit. As it is, we build safer and faster cars and roads than 40 years ago but we are stuck with low speed limits.

You can't trust people to respect copyrights so the copy protection is a practical solution. If you are opposed to copyrights, then that's a different matter. Perhaps you should be fighting copyrights rather than regulations on computers. Given that copyrights are granted by society, enforcement in silicon is reasonable in my view.

This is an interesting view. It seems to me to be related to the "innocent people have nothing to hide, so why shouldn't the police be allowed to bug all telephones?" argument; but perhaps I'm being uncharitable?

Seat belts are in fact a really good example of the point I was trying to make. It is indeed illegal to drive without seat belts in many jurisdictions (I've never really understood that law, but we won't go there right now). But do you know of anywhere that it's illegal to sell a car which it is possible to drive without fastening the seat belt?

For a number of years back in the XXth, car makers fiddled around with seat belts. They made cars that wouldn't start unless you buckled the seat belt; people hated them and didn't buy them. They made cars where the seat belts automatically clonched shut around you when you turned on the ignition; people hated them and didn't buy them. They made cars that just made a real annoying noise the whole time if driven without the seat belt fastened; people hated them and didn't buy them. (So now there are just quiet polite finite noises, because people didn't hate those.)

It's illegal to violate copyright, but I imagine (and I expect that the computer industry imagines, which is why the CBDTPA scares them) that if they made computers that were incapable of violating copyrights, people would hate them and not buy them.

I wouldn't want a car that was incapable of violating the speed limit. What if I had to rush a child to the hospital? What if I had to speed up to get out of the way of an out of control truck? What if the speed limit were just raised in my area? It would be really annoying.

I wouldn't want a computer that was incapable of acting against the instructions of copyright owners. What if the mechanism were buggy, and kept me from doing perfectly legitimate things? What if the instructions prevented me from doing something that I had a legal right to do, due to the legal situation being more complex than the software could understand? What if I thought those instructions were violations of my rights, and wanted to commit an act of civil disobedience?

What if I had no interest whatever in copying or otherwise having anything to do with any product of the Disney Empire, and simply wanted to use (or to build) a general-purpose computer made by people whose resources had been put into making it more useful to me, rather than by people who'd been forced to piss away man-years making it obedient to Disney?

I guess it may depend on your general theory of or attitude toward the government. If you think of the government as a basically benign thing that accurately represents a sort of consensus will of the people, and that only real criminals with evil intent ever need fear, then requiring all computers to obey the instructions of copyright owners might be reasonable (although even then I would think that it'd only be reasonable to require them to obey copyright law, which is rather a different thing).

I don't think of the government that way, and I think the long tradition of U.S. Constitutional law is generally with me on that. The power of the government is a large and a dangerous thing. It is to be used only when absolutely necessary, and only to the minimal extent necessary to fulfill the urgent need.

Police may not bug all telephones not because individual policeman are bad (the vast majority are good, although some would certainly abuse it), but because government as a whole should not be given such intrusive powers.

Computers should not be hardwired to obey the instructions of copyright owners not (not only) because those instructions would be abused to rip off the consumer (and you know they would), but because it is not the case that every atom should be an arm of the State.

Clearly universal surveillance would be a bad thing, because the people watching would eventually be corrupted by the power, and abuse it, and have to be removed or overthrown. I think that's generally acknowledged.

What's perhaps less obvious is that even if the watchers were angels who would never abuse their power, universal surveillance would still be a bad thing, and universal constraints on the behavior of private devices would still be a bad thing, because the State is not the most important sphere of life. People's lives belong to them, and people's stuff belongs to them, and the State can intervene to limit people's power over their stuff and their lives only in the very rare instances where there's an overriding and immediate danger.

Not to mention, of course, that it's not the will of the people we're talking about here; it's the will of Disney. Copyright is granted by the Constitution to authors (not, you will note, to media conglomerates) for limited times, and only in order to promote the progress of science and useful arts, not to enable Disney to keep making money from Mickey Mouse forever and ever without doing any extra creative work.

So I'm not against copyrights, in their place; but that doesn't mean I'm willing to have every digital device that I own controlled by the government. I'm not opposed to laws against murder, but that doesn't mean I'm willing to have a policeman follow me around everywhere to ensure that I don't kill anybody.

Whew! End of rant... *8)

While combing through the referer logs to find the backlinks above, I found some other gratifying stuff as well: Hostile dot org linking to our remarks on Mr. Fukuyama, The Other Side linking to our poll on default assedness (of which I will no doubt eventually announce the results), and even a Usenet posting of a clever joke we made about virus hoaxes.

Gosh, this stuff is good for our ego!

The mention of Mr. Fukuyama somehow reminds me of another addition to our two lists of why various things are bad. Why should you oppose genetically altered foods? Four words: "Giant Radioactive Brussel Sprouts".

A new meme! What's better? The overall consensus is at once frightening, funny, sad, and comforting.

NTK points out that this guy who loves spam somehow neglected to include his email address in the article, but that it's "BDennis410@AOL.com". So if anyone wanted to do this guy a favor, they might consider arranging for "BDennis410@AOL.com" to get more of what he loves. Without, of course, violating any laws.

Also from NTK: I'm sure this is in just awful taste, but I can't quite pin it down: "It's believed that Skywalker was specifically trained by infamous terrorist O bin Wankanobi".

And finally from NTK, two interesting geeks talking about the interestingly geeky O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference.

Harry Potter and the Cup o' Hot Stuff.

And finally, how do you tell when an Internet registrar has gone mad with arrogance? When they start giving every document its own domain name. Can you spell "clueless"?


earlier entries