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A paradox:
Thursday, March 25, 2004  permanent URL for this entry

On yesterday's Complexity of Europe piece, a reader writes:

David-- Walloons speak French


It'd be no fun if it were that simple. They do, sort of, speak French. But it's not the French I learned in school. And in fact they seem to have at least five different dialects of Walloon. In (you will recall) the southern part of a country roughly the size of Maryland.

If we did that kind of thing around here, there'd be ninety different ways to spell "father" in Nevada alone.

As another reader says:

"Europe was created by history. America was created by philosophy."
Margaret Thatcher (Love, Stewart)

Which sort of sums it up. Must be an interesting place to hang out.

And speaking of love, a spammer tantalizes us with the prospect of intimacy with the Deity:

Subject: GOD in the sack? No? Here's how! passion orchid mookie

We're not sure what the "mookie" part means, though.

But that reminds me of why you're all really here: to hear about this dream I had last night.

I dreamed that I was walking with someone across a college campus, and we came upon a group of people who were having a rally, or a support vigil, or a fund-raising effort, or something, for some transsexuals. I started talking to this (quite attractive) pre-operative male-to-female transsexual, and next thing I knew I had signed up to be her support person after the operation. (I know that in real life it isn't just one operation: this was a dream.)

In the next scene she was coming out of the hospital after her operation, and people were hugging her, and then she came over to me. Then we were like sitting around reading these "health symptoms to watch out for after your operation" pamphlets, and she was being worried about bleeding and stuff. Then a quick cut to an emotional scene where she was coming to terms with the fact that I was a boy, and that I was going to stay that way (I'm not clear exactly why this was a problem).

Apparently she got used to that idea, or something, because although there was no more actual content to the dream, and overall tone was that the whole thing was a reminiscence that we were sharing some time later, like years, maybe having a glass of wine together and remembering the old days.

It was a nice dream, all around. I like to think that those dreams, the interesting ones that leave you (that leave me) with a warm feeling afterwards even if the literal content is sometimes odd or apparently neutral, are little sideways memories of other lives, of experiences in alternate universes that happened to flow nearby while I was sleeping.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004  permanent URL for this entry

(I'm going to be silly about foreign places in this entry, in typical insular-USian fashion. No offense is intended toward anyone; I'm sure all the cultures I mention here are rich and noble, despite or because of how utterly confusing their names and interrelations look from here.)

I could have sworn I've complained about "Holland" here in the weblog before: the rather amazingly confusing country that's called "Holland", but that is actually "the Netherlands", and whose people are therefore called "Netherlanders" or (natch) "Dutch". (But I can't actually find it, so there I just did it again.)

Well yesterday M asked me if I knew exactly what "Flemish" meant, because of some book she was reading, and I went and looked around, and it turns out that right next to Holland / the Netherlands there's an even more confusing country.

First off, it's called "Flanders", and people who live there are called "Flemish", and they're "Flemings". Why they aren't Flanderish Flanderings, I dunno. (But anyway it's a good thing the country isn't "Flem".)

The Flemish apparently speak Dutch (not to be confused with "Deutsch", which is German for "German", which the Flemish also speak), as well as "Flemish dialects" (dialects of Flemish or of Dutch, I'm not clear).

But that's just the start of it. It turns out this country is actually in Belgium. Which suggests that it isn't, strictly speaking, a country. But it does have a Parliament, and a President, and 5 provinces, and 308 municipalities.

Turning to the good old CIA World Factbook for clarification, we find that Belgium in fact has ten provinces and three regions. One of the regions is Flanders (which, as mentioned above, itself has five provinces and three hundred and eight municipalities). Belgium apparently used to be part of Holland (and/or the Netherlands), but in 1830 they split apart, because the situation was just too confusing.

Things aren't all that simple now; the CIA notes with awe that Belgium has "three levels of government (federal, regional, and linguistic community) with a complex division of responsibilities; this reality leaves six governments each with its own legislative assembly". Cool, eh? Compact, too! As the CIA puts it for us ignorant Yanks: "about the size of Maryland".

(The CIA seems to be getting into the swing of things themselves; for instance when quoting the amount of irrigated land in Belgium, they give a figure that "includes Luxembourg", which I had the impression was a different country altogether. "Note: population figures for Chicago include that part of George's Bend, Utah north of Main Street.")

A crowning touch, of course, is that the people in the southern part of Belgium are Walloons. But I'm afraid to look up what language they speak, or what the place where they live is actually called, or how many different governments they have.

Odd place, Europe. Full of what we information technologists call "legacy".

Medley points to an interesting interview with Richard Clarke in Salon, where he says various things about the administrations attempts to discredit him. And in a related story comments insightfully

Sometimes, I think that the no one has informed this White House of the existence of a thing called Google, much less Lexis-Nexis.

(See handy list of administration claims constrasted with reality.) But you've seen that on the news, and you're getting tired of it.

A casual comment about the Left and the Right the other day draws some reader response:

"mean people with plausible economic ideas"? And here I thought that fun tax law change was pure silliness. :)

Well, yeah, I oversimplified. Certainly most economic ideas publicly endorsed by the Left or the Right are completely implausible. But my impression has been that the few plausible ones are generally associated with the Right. On the other hand, another reader chimes in:

And yet the country (in the past hundredish years, at least; as long as modern conceptions of Right and Left obtain) does better by almost every conceivable marker when a Left-aligned party is in power than a Right. Granted, you could argue that it's usually the Right side of the Left-aligned party that's in power, but still: your idea that the Right is composed of mean people with plausible ideas about economics doesn't seem to be borne out in real life.

Interesting claim! Is there a website somewhere with the data, nicely arranged and laid out, and with pointers to the best rebuttals? (I like my politics presented in the form of TV dinners when possible.)

Subject: Please your lady pyrrhic downing philosopher

I don't actually have a lady pyrrhic downing philosopher (at the moment), although it's an interesting thought.

Jessamyn points out Sexy Librarians, to general acclaim.

Geegaw's Three Mirandas reminds us what writing's all about in the first place.

From: "Blondness P. Stockiness" <smuggle@wordsfailme.com>

Words fail me, also! Frequently.

Seen on metababy:

Metababy is an immature, puerile place, with only Zach, davidchess, angrymodem, and me to give it any kind of true wit and profundity.

I found this momentarily terrifying, but then remembered that "davidchess" is my MetaFilter handle, and I'd posted some mb-related stuff on a MeFi thread the other month, and that's probably how my name got in that paragraph.

I hope.

Rebecca Blood (can how imagine how cool it would be to be named "Rebecca Blood"?) points to some interesting research using Tetris (you know) to study the mechanism and function of dreaming.

And somebody (was that also Rebecca?) points at this rather amazing example of the Thatcher Illusion (most of the examples of which on the Web aren't nearly as good as the Madonna one).

The human nervous system is at least as odd as Europe.

Monday, March 22, 2004  permanent URL for this entry

The game started normally, slowly. They both played defensive openings, taking no risks. His opponent's dark eyes moved from the board, the pieces, up to his face, and back down; sizing him up.

At first the rest of the company went about their business, unloading their horses in the dusty square, calling curses to each other, laughing in unsettling ways. But gradually one, then two, then a double handful of the men gathered around the board and began to comment rudely on the moves, insulting both players about equally.

He was relieved that the shape of the board and the pieces had apparently not misled him, although he wished again that he had been able to witness at least one game before being drawn into this one himself.

The gathered group cheered as one of his opponent's knights swept down the King side of the board, unsupported, in a suicidal rush. It offered check, and the crowd (for now it was a crowd) applauded and stamped their feet.

"You said you could play the game, outlander?" one of them called derisively, a tall brigand with a scarlet cloth around his head.

He took the rash knight with a pawn before replying. "It was no threat."

"Pah," the red-scarfed one snorted, "but your king has been insulted, and so early in the game! Do you think you can easily make up for that loss of face and win?"

He considered for a moment, his lower lip between his teeth. The dust of the plaza smelled acrid.

"Tell me," he said, conversationally, "what do you call, around here, a move that attacks the king, where the attacking piece cannot be captured or blocked, and the king has no way to move to safety?"

The crowd as a whole made an unpleasant sound. His opponent spat into the dust.

"No man of honor would ever make such a move," the tall brigand sneered, and fingered the hilt of his dirk.

It was going to be a long week.

So the little boy got the PlayStation 2 version of Chessmaster for his birthday, and I've been playing against it. I'm really really really bad at chess! Always have been; something about my cognitive or perceptual style (or just my laziness) keeps me from looking even a good half move ahead, and I tend to lose important pieces at random. Chessmaster's got a huge variety of opponents, though, all ranked, and I've been playing against simulated people down around my apparent rank (somewhere around 500 I think it was), and I think maybe I'm getting a little better.

Of course I may only be getting better against simulated opponents. I wonder if there's somewhere on the Web where utter woodpushers play each other online? Finding it would probably require work, though.

What do you think?


I think students who plagiarize are disheartening. I think students who plagiarize using web resources they locate on Google are half-wits. I think half-witted plagiarizing students who are allowed to rewrite papers for a new grade (!) go on to become presidents and CEOs of firms like Haliburton, World Com, and Enron.

"I got a spam today with a big image advertising..." Just made me chuckle. An email with an image in it... How long is it since I saw one of them... I wonder if there's an idealism that I'm part of that shuns such high-technology parts of the Internet world. A sort of self-imposed simplicity. Hmm.

The ability of the human to hold several contradictory opinions at any one time is sometimes startling.

I got the hookah key in the box, push the red button to make the pulleys move, and can poke the "Beh!" guy and spin the arrow sign, but ... in what order? It goes no further. :-(

The problem is that the pulley system is slightly broken. That's actually one of the obscurer puzzles in the game, even though it's on the first level.

And yeah, I occasionally feel a bit odd, being philosophically fond of nice low-function minimalist mail clients that just show you the text, yet on the other hand using Lotus Notes as my main mail client (which is about as far from minimalist as you can get, although in Version 6 there's now a way to actually see the more or less uninterpreted text of your SMTP mail, which is nice).

Steve Lamont points out a place where you can see the political contributions made by people in particular area code, or with particular names. Interesting stuff at more than one level.

Today's Quote of the Day is from Steve:

The Passion of the Christ is a religious movie in the same sense that Debbie Does Dallas is a love story.

Pursed Lips has a very pointed "Dear Mr. President" letter, explaining why she'll be voting differently than usual this year.

(At the moment I see the distinction between the Right and the Left as being (in very broad outline) between mean people with plausible economic ideas and nice people with less plausible ones; and I know which of those I prefer. Of course if a less right-wing administration was in power I might see the balance somewhat differently.)

The official merchandise Web site for President George W. Bush's re-election campaign has sold clothing made in Burma, whose goods were banned by Bush from the U.S. last year to punish its military dictatorship.

Our spam subject line of the day reveals a whole new niche market:

Look Great in 2004, while sleeping.

Medley links to a great "powerful people I don't much like, caught looking stupid on TV" video. It does seem plausible that quick access to stored information could make it easier to catch politicians (and others) lying (or just making mistakes), more or less in real time. It's an arms race.

Those wacky Europeans: "EU backs tighter rules on piracy":

The directive allows companies to raid homes, seize property and ask courts to freeze bank accounts to protect trademarks or intellectual property they believe are being abused or stolen.

Here come the jackbooted copyright thugs!

Headline o' the day: "We locked you up in jail for 25 years and you were innocent all along? That'll be £80,000 please".

On the other hand, now it's Spring.


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