g r o t t o 1 1

Peeve Farm
Breeding peeves for show, not just to keep as pets
Brian Tiemann
Silicon ValleyNew York-based purveyor of a confusing mixture of Apple punditry, political bile, and sports car rentals.

btman at grotto11 dot com

Read These Too:

Steven Den Beste
James Lileks
Little Green Footballs
As the Apple Turns
Cold Fury
Capitalist Lion
Red Letter Day
Eric S. Raymond
Tal G in Jerusalem
Aziz Poonawalla
Corsair the Rational Pirate
Ravishing Light
Cartago Delenda Est

Cars without compromise.

Book Plugs:

Buy 'em and I get
money. I think.
BSD Mall

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 3/21/2005 -  3/27/2005
 3/14/2005 -  3/20/2005
  3/7/2005 -  3/13/2005
 2/28/2005 -   3/6/2005
 2/21/2005 -  2/27/2005
 2/14/2005 -  2/20/2005
  2/7/2005 -  2/13/2005
 1/31/2005 -   2/6/2005
 1/24/2005 -  1/30/2005
 1/17/2005 -  1/23/2005
 1/10/2005 -  1/16/2005
  1/3/2005 -   1/9/2005
12/27/2004 -   1/2/2004
12/20/2004 - 12/26/2004
12/13/2004 - 12/19/2004
 12/6/2004 - 12/12/2004
11/29/2004 -  12/5/2004
11/22/2004 - 11/28/2004
11/15/2004 - 11/21/2004
 11/8/2004 - 11/14/2004
 11/1/2004 -  11/7/2004
10/25/2004 - 10/31/2004
10/18/2004 - 10/24/2004
10/11/2004 - 10/17/2004
 10/4/2004 - 10/10/2004
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 9/20/2004 -  9/26/2004
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 8/16/2004 -  8/22/2004
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  8/2/2004 -   8/8/2004
 7/26/2004 -   8/1/2004
 7/19/2004 -  7/25/2004
 7/12/2004 -  7/18/2004
  7/5/2004 -  7/11/2004
 6/28/2004 -   7/4/2004
 6/21/2004 -  6/27/2004
 6/14/2004 -  6/20/2004
  6/7/2004 -  6/13/2004
 5/31/2004 -   6/6/2004
 5/24/2004 -  5/30/2004
 5/17/2004 -  5/23/2004
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  5/3/2004 -   5/9/2004
 4/26/2004 -   5/2/2004
 4/19/2004 -  4/25/2004
 4/12/2004 -  4/18/2004
  4/5/2004 -  4/11/2004
 3/29/2004 -   4/4/2004
 3/22/2004 -  3/28/2004
 3/15/2004 -  3/21/2004
  3/8/2004 -  3/14/2004
  3/1/2004 -   3/7/2004
 2/23/2004 -  2/29/2004
 2/16/2004 -  2/22/2004
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 1/26/2004 -   2/1/2004
 1/19/2004 -  1/25/2004
 1/12/2004 -  1/18/2004
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12/29/2003 -   1/4/2004
12/22/2003 - 12/28/2003
12/15/2003 - 12/21/2003
 12/8/2003 - 12/14/2003
 12/1/2003 -  12/7/2003
11/24/2003 - 11/30/2003
11/17/2003 - 11/23/2003
11/10/2003 - 11/16/2003
 11/3/2003 -  11/9/2003
10/27/2003 -  11/2/2003
10/20/2003 - 10/26/2003
10/13/2003 - 10/19/2003
 10/6/2003 - 10/12/2003
 9/29/2003 -  10/5/2003
 9/22/2003 -  9/28/2003
 9/15/2003 -  9/21/2003
  9/8/2003 -  9/14/2003
  9/1/2003 -   9/7/2003
 8/25/2003 -  8/31/2003
 8/18/2003 -  8/24/2003
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 7/28/2003 -   8/3/2003
 7/21/2003 -  7/27/2003
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  7/7/2003 -  7/13/2003
 6/30/2003 -   7/6/2003
 6/23/2003 -  6/29/2003
 6/16/2003 -  6/22/2003
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  6/2/2003 -   6/8/2003
 5/26/2003 -   6/1/2003
 5/19/2003 -  5/25/2003
 5/12/2003 -  5/18/2003
  5/5/2003 -  5/11/2003
 4/28/2003 -   5/4/2003
 4/21/2003 -  4/27/2003
 4/14/2003 -  4/20/2003
  4/7/2003 -  4/13/2003
 3/31/2003 -   4/6/2003
 3/24/2003 -  3/30/2003
 3/17/2003 -  3/23/2003
 3/10/2003 -  3/16/2003
  3/3/2003 -   3/9/2003
 2/24/2003 -   3/2/2003
 2/17/2003 -  2/23/2003
 2/10/2003 -  2/16/2003
  2/3/2003 -   2/9/2003
 1/27/2003 -   2/2/2003
 1/20/2003 -  1/26/2003
 1/13/2003 -  1/19/2003
  1/6/2003 -  1/12/2003
12/30/2002 -   1/5/2003
12/23/2002 - 12/29/2002
12/16/2002 - 12/22/2002
 12/9/2002 - 12/15/2002
 12/2/2002 -  12/8/2002
11/25/2002 -  12/1/2002
11/18/2002 - 11/24/2002
11/11/2002 - 11/17/2002
 11/4/2002 - 11/10/2002
10/28/2002 -  11/3/2002
10/21/2002 - 10/27/2002
10/14/2002 - 10/20/2002
 10/7/2002 - 10/13/2002
 9/30/2002 -  10/6/2002
 9/23/2002 -  9/29/2002
 9/16/2002 -  9/22/2002
  9/9/2002 -  9/15/2002
  9/2/2002 -   9/8/2002
 8/26/2002 -   9/1/2002
 8/19/2002 -  8/25/2002
 8/12/2002 -  8/18/2002
  8/5/2002 -  8/11/2002
 7/29/2002 -   8/4/2002
 7/22/2002 -  7/28/2002
 7/15/2002 -  7/21/2002
  7/8/2002 -  7/14/2002
  7/1/2002 -   7/7/2002
 6/24/2002 -  6/30/2002
 6/17/2002 -  6/23/2002
 6/10/2002 -  6/16/2002
  6/3/2002 -   6/9/2002
 5/27/2002 -   6/2/2002
 5/20/2002 -  5/26/2002
 5/13/2002 -  5/19/2002
  5/6/2002 -  5/12/2002
 4/29/2002 -   5/5/2002
 4/22/2002 -  4/28/2002
 4/15/2002 -  4/21/2002
  4/8/2002 -  4/14/2002
  4/1/2002 -   4/7/2002
 3/25/2002 -  3/31/2002
 3/18/2002 -  3/24/2002
 3/11/2002 -  3/17/2002
  3/4/2002 -  3/10/2002
 2/25/2002 -   3/3/2002
 2/18/2002 -  2/24/2002
 2/11/2002 -  2/17/2002
  2/4/2002 -  2/10/2002
 1/28/2002 -   2/3/2002
 1/21/2002 -  1/27/2002
 1/14/2002 -  1/20/2002
  1/7/2002 -  1/13/2002
12/31/2001 -   1/6/2002
12/24/2001 - 12/30/2001
12/17/2001 - 12/23/2001
Tuesday, March 29, 2005
16:21 - The fog of blog

Anything happening out there?

Seriously... it seems things have gotten pretty quiet lately. And perhaps that's only because I got new glasses yesterday, which I'm still getting used to (they're huge amounts sharper than my old ones, but if I look in any direction other than straight ahead, the image both goes out of focus and exhibits extreme chromatic aberration, like looking through a prism), so I'm still getting headaches whenever I try to read anything.

Ah well. Here's something from Sunday.

San Francisco Streets

My camera has better lenses than my glasses.

Monday, March 28, 2005
09:26 - Why don't cats ever need chiropractors?

The Silly Sleeping Pose Olympics.

Via Marcus.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005
13:20 - Everybody knows that

This New Scientist article (via Brian D) makes the following claim:

THE rich are getting richer while the poor remain poor. If you doubt it, ponder these numbers from the US, a country widely considered meritocratic, where talent and hard work are thought to be enough to propel anyone through the ranks of the rich. In 1979, the top 1 per cent of the US population earned, on average, 33.1 times as much as the lowest 20 per cent. In 2000, this multiplier had grown to 88.5. If inequality is growing in the US, what does this mean for other countries?

Almost certainly more of the same, if you believe physicists who are using new models based on simple physical laws to understand the distribution of wealth. Their studies indicate that inequality in market economies may be very hard to get rid of...

And from there it springboards off into funky applications of gaseous particle physics to determine how the wealthiest gas particles keep the poor gas particles crushed under their jack-booted neutrons. But I have to wonder where the underlying assumption comes from, or how right it is.

As Dean Esmay quizzed a few weeks ago:

1) In the last ten years, has the rate of violent crime gone up or down in the United States?

2) How about the rate of auto fatalities over the last ten years?

3) How about teen pregnancy and STD rates?

4) How about drug and alcohol use and abuse rates?

5) As a percentage of the average American's annual income, or net wealth, has the national debt gone up or down over the last 50 years?

6) Are casualties in Iraq higher than Vietnam, lower than Vietnam, or about the same as Vietnam?

7) Has the air been growing more polluted or less polluted over the last 10 years? How about over the last 50 years? Or the last 100?

8) How about the quality of water in rivers and lakes over the last 10 years, or the last 30 years?

9) Have standards of living for the poor gone up or down over the last 10 years? The last 30 years? The last 50 years? The last 100 years?

10) Compared to, say, 40 years ago, do more people have health insurance today, or less people?

Go see the original post for the answers, but you can probably guess from the tone, huh?

Seems to me that someone, on some side or other, is cherry-picking data to look as heinous (or as rosy) as possible. Which one do you suppose it might be? Which one is it more likely to be?

Of course, whenever something makes the news and is presented to the public as an extant problem, the gut reaction that's all but engineered into the very presentation is "There oughtta be a law". Whether intentional or not, that's surely at the heart of so much perceived media bias, right?

After all, they're just watching out for our best interests.

Monday, March 14, 2005
15:35 - If you say so

Matt Labash of The Weekly Standard:

"Pursue your happiness. We were the first country to do it. And we live for that, the fact that people have personal rights. Go where you want. Do what you want. The fact that I chose Canada is almost a bigger embodiment of the American dream. . . . I still love America."

"So you're saying being unpatriotic is an act of patriotism?" I counter, though my heart is no longer in it.

"I've had too many cocktails for that one," Wright says.

It stops looking like Canada-bashing after the first few paragraphs, I promise. After that it becomes good.

Seriously, for any who care: if I ever come across as being derisive or dismissive of Canada, that's almost certainly not my intent. There are things about the country's politics and social impulses that I don't agree with, and that I find interesting as illustrative measures in understanding how our own government works—a rather important thing, one would think, as we watch a whole part of the world on the brink of inventing new governments of its own after the models it sees in us and other modern democracies. But that doesn't mean I don't find the place fascinating, the people friendly (America-bashing aside), and the country itself a place I'm looking forward to visiting again this summer. Just because I'll be glad to get back home—unlike those profiled in this article—doesn't mean I never wanted to come in the first place.

Via Paul Denton.

12:13 - Yesteryear

I always enjoy Zack "Geist Editor" Parsons' updates on SomethingAwful.com; he's more serious and even-handed than the rest of the site's writers, he's a great storyteller, and he's well-read and incisive and deeply, deeply interested in his subject matter to boot. As an obsessive student of World War II, he shows a loving familiarity with the silliest and most awesome technology to come out of Nazi Germany, and with respectable apolitical figures like Rommel; but he never lets that cloud his vision of the larger issues, as with his republishing last week of Julius Streicher's Never Trust a Fox in His Green Meadow and Never Trust the Oath of a Jew—which may in fact be illegal to read if you live in some European countries. (I'm sure we all remember when France tried to sue Yahoo for allowing French citizens to stumble onto auctions where Nazi paraphernalia was being sold.)

Which is a shame, because nothing—nothing—is more important than making sure people are familiar with this sort of thing and what it looks like.

If it's kept under lock and key, we stop being able to recognize things like it—and more alarmingly, we start mistaking everything for it. I'd challenge any of our professional alarmists, the ones who insist that America is a racist state sowing fear and hatred against minorities in our midst and insinuations that every Muslim hides a bomb under his coat, to take a good look at what Parsons is shoving in our faces and forcing us to confront, and then to explain where in modern American society anything like this is allowed to exist. Seriously.

Ours is a world where our "Hitler" figure, rather than commissioning books like this from our "Streichers", gives speeches fawning over our "Jews". And yet, to many, the situations are indistinguishable.

On a related note, I've been re-reading the Chronicles of Narnia, just because it's been so long—and I am finding myself endlessly amused by all the subtext that C.S. Lewis apparently couldn't resist throwing in, increasingly as the books went on. I'm not just talking about the "Aslan is Jesus" stuff; we all know about that (glorifications of Bacchanalian orgies notwithstanding). I'm talking about Lewis' unapologetic disdain for democracy and romanticization of divine monarchy. Everywhere you turn there's more evidence of it. Nothing's ever as it should be except when a Human is king. Nothing made Caspian an inherently better ruler than Miraz except that he was the "rightful" king by birth. Miraz is scornfully referred to as having originally seized power under the title of "Lord Protector", a reference that must have been alarming to Lewis' original British readers—and all the more so today—in its derision obliquely directed toward Cromwell's republican revolution in British government. The tenor rises along these lines throughout Lewis' writing and reaches a head in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, in which Lewis gives himself thoroughly over to the conceit—embodying everything he loathed about modern utilitarian British society in Eustace, as well as in the bureaucratic Governor Gumpas, whom Caspian overthrows and replaces with a Duke ("I think we've had enough of Governors") seemingly for the crime of doggedly administering his province according to the people's expressed needs, though the overt reason (outlawing slavery) is honorable enough. In that same book, Lewis muses that the kids' earlier return to Narnia had been like King Arthur returning to Britain, "as some say he will. And I say the sooner the better."

But all this is just amusement. What I wonder is this: what chance would the Narnia books have of being published today, given Lewis' unflattering and unmistakable portrayal of Calormen, the all-but-undisguised stand-in for the Islamic world—which in its imperialism and militancy and social equivocation is responsible ultimately for the destruction of Aslan's whole universe? None, that's what chance.

And yet compared to Streicher's work, it's nothing.

Some days I think we have to invent these cartoons of old, defeated problems simply to avoid having to face the real problems we legitimately face in the modern world. At least we know we can defeat Naziism, so we'd rather spend our time running the last vestiges of racism and sexism and homophobia and lack of diversity to ground than turn and deal with Islamofascism. We haven't converted that particular storybook into a museum piece yet.

Thursday, March 10, 2005
11:58 - Something that deserves attention

AK Comics: "Middle East Heroes". A comic book company based in Egypt with an aim toward being "educational and a force for moderation". And you know—their site could use an editor, but the art is damn good, as are the stories they appear to be presenting. Quite a breath of fresh air indeed.

Via Dean, who was similarly pleasantly surprised.

11:30 - Scylla and Charybdis

Poor IKEA. I wouldn't want to be in their shoes.

Wednesday, March 9, 2005
17:06 - Oh, Napster. Will you ever learn?

Remember how quickly people figured out how to break Napster? Constrained only by the speed of real-time playback and re-encoding from a WinAmp output plugin, any Napster subscriber—or free trial user—could simply download as many songs as he wanted and convert them into DRM-less MP3s, and there was nothing Napster could do to stop him or even to determine that he was doing it.

Well, now even that one saving grace (the real-time playback step) is gone: a program called Virtuosa 5.0 allows users to convert DRM'd WMA files with nary a care as to their purported copy-protection. And now you can simply download all Napster's music for free.

What're ya waiting for?

(Via Bob, whose friend is now 15,000 free songs richer after his 2-week free Napster trial.)

15:29 - Shooting the messenger

Either incompetent or lying. This kind of vocabulary sucks to have to use; but it's the only one that works.

I don't see any other way to attempt to explain the people who are trying to minimize or change the terms of discussion regarding the Rathergate memos. Like Tim Goodman of the estimable SF Chronicle, via Tim Blair:

The fetid amusement of killing Dan Rather ends tonight. And what a tired affair it was.

There’s no pride in watching the deconstruction of a man. You can take all your conservative pundits who rode down the warpaths of perceived biased and mute them forever now. You can take your navel-gazing journalists who believe Rather made A Big Mistake He Must Pay For and put them in a room, where their own self importance will choke them all to death. And you can take your CBS backstabbers who found in Rather’s last hours of weakness a chance to rise up and join the chorus of haters—becoming smaller themselves as the time of his career suicide drew near—and give them all a great big prize for bravery.

And yes, that includes Walter Cronkite.

Take them all away. Anybody who found joy in this deserves to rot in their own mean-spiritedness. Bravo, you threw stones at a 74-year-old careerist. You whispered sad stories about a weird man to a press corps all too willing to take him out. Dan Rather, who was by most accounts ambitious, polarizing, determined, a self-promoter, a tireless worker, a man who believed in his own ideals, a square peg in the proverbial round hole, the replacement for a myth, a flawed arbiter of history, a man less smooth than his peers and, lastly, a man complicit in a story that may have been inaccurate but not entirely wrong, is no longer the Dan Rather we knew …

And now his time is over—not merely part of an era ended, as when Brokaw retired, but a tortured anti-hero paying the price for indiscretions few can even remember.

It's times like this that all you can do is stare quizzically at the person spewing words like these, squint a little, see if they're joking... and if it's clear that they're not, flail your arms as wildly as you can and yell, at the top of your lungs, THEY WERE FREAKING FAKE!

Auto-centered address at the top. Times New Roman. Crumpled and smoothed out to look old. Etc, etc, etc.

This is what Dan Rather presented, uncritically and with great fanfare, to a credulous public that trusted him. That's a failure of basic journalism that would disgrace a freshman stringer. And yet Rather, senior anchorman, spiritual heir to the legacy of Cronkite and Murrow, whether because of intent to deceive or inability to detect obvious fraud went ahead and presented it anyway. And we're supposed to feel sorry for him? We're supposed to give him a break?

See LGF for all the rest of the damning analysis including lots of visual aids every bit as good as the one above. Incorrect abbreviations, date discrepancies, unauthentic military usage and style, badly forged signatures, testimonials from the people who knew Killian (including the secretary who would have typed the memos if they'd been real), and on and on.

But really, none of it should be necessary at all; because the docs are bloody WORD PRINTOUTS. They just are. Who seriously cannot tell that? Anyone who has used a computer at all in the last ten years knows a Word document when he or she sees it—there are just certain subtle but obvious elements to the way Word creates default documents, including the font, the margins, the tab stops, the word wrap, and the autocorrected features like the infamous superscript "th" that people are still trying to tell the public was a common feature on 1972-era desk typewriters in general use in Texas Air National Guard offices and used by colonels who hated typing.

You don't need to know the arcane details of typography to see these things for what they are. All you have to do is use Word on occasion. And considering that these are all reporters advancing these defensive stories, how likely is it that none of them have ever used Word? Of those who have, how many have even seen the memos in question and done any thinking on their own about what they rather seem to look like—let alone looked at the LGF/Power Line/INDC Journal images to see the evidence of their own eyes? Any of them?

Either they're ignoring material evidence or they're unable to interpret it in a professional manner. Does that make them incompetent, or outright liars? It's got to be one of the two.

They're trying to shift the discussion onto being some kind of "witch-hunt" where sinister conservative bloggers are given "marching orders" (I love how often that term comes up) by some "Buckhead" guy at The Free Republic (Karl Rove in disguise, perhaps?) to go forth and whip up a media frenzy over pointless little inanities of fonts and kerning and such, gnawing on it tenaciously until we have the precious, precious blood of our lifelong foe Dan Rather.

To me, though, and to LGF's readers and most of the sane sector of the blogosphere, it looks instead like there's a big ugly FACT sitting right here on our front lawn like the biggest dog turd you've ever seen, and Dan Rather's standing there smirking with his huge slobbery Great Dane at his side, and he's pointing innocently at himself and going, "What? Me? You think I did something wrong here?"

Seriously, it does not get much more cut-and-dried than this here. And yet it's apparently a sign of the times that even that isn't enough to generate a case any more conclusive than the O.J. trial. Now we have Rather retiring among accolades and retrospectives and sniffly defense editorials, rather than with the disgraced discretion anyone of his credentials should have the decency to assume after being so closely associated with such a scandal. Either Rather is incompetent or lying—or he's totally surrounded by assistants and deputies who are incompetent or lying, which is hardly any better.

That's what I don't get about this, and why I feel compelled to weigh in for what I hope is one last time (it's okay, Tim Goodman): this should be an open-and-shut case, where not just the evidence itself but plain common sense tells us a more unequivocal story than just about any since Watergate or Monicagate. And yet not only is there no real contrition among the affected parties for what happened, there's not even any consensus. It's like we've got a team of philosopher-poets all crouching around that big steaming pile on the lawn, all rubbing their chins and trying to come up with as many possible explanations as they can, some plausible and some not, for what else but what it looks like it might possibly be.

I'd love to put it behind us. It's a disgrace to all of us for it to have happened in our news media at all. But we can't do so if the way this incident goes into the history books is as a mean-spirited, blown-out-of-proportion smear job by a bunch of paid partisan hacks against an honorable and honest newsman at the end of his career. That's a grave insult to the very concepts of civil rational discourse, honest and well-researched news reporting, and careful scientific analysis, the very things we're supposed to be trying to have more of in this country. ...Right?

UPDATE: And now that Dan's history, it's on to more fertile territory, in which a new and potentially embarrassing account of Saddam's capture is debunked in detail by the technically savvy and first-handedly familiar before the news media even have time to put together their front-page treatments of it. SomethingAwful is mentioned.

UPDATE: Oh yes—and as Steve W. mentions, couldn't Rather have saved himself hundreds of thousands of dollars by simply firing up Word on his own computer (assuming he has such a device) and trying to reproduce the Killian documents on his own? If he has any conversance whatsoever with the basic modern tools of journalism, that little experiment ought to tell him all he ever needed to know.

Tuesday, March 8, 2005
16:34 - Frabjous Day

It should be noted that Google Maps works with Safari now.

And there was much rejoicing. (Are we still allowed to say that, like 1990's college freshmen?)

14:21 - With great power comes great responsibility

So, it seems, goes the thinking that underlies actions like the "several dozen European victims of Asia's tsunami disaster" who have decided to sue the Thai government, the French hotel chain Sofitel, and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for criminal negligence in not being all-powerful—for not, in effect, preventing the tsunami.

It's not just that "there's money on the table", as with the case of these lawsuits against the iPod and iTunes Music Store for using technologies widely in use across a whole spectrum of devices and services—technically everyone from Microsoft to Creative to Napster should be targets too, but it's just that Apple is the big fish, and so they're the ones getting sued. No, in this case it appears to be something subtly more insidious: it's the belief that now that the U.S. is the world's most conspicuous superpower, it ought to be expected to behave as though it had superpowers. It's like, "Okay, you Americans: you want to act like you own the place? Fine, then—you get to take the blame for anything that goes wrong, even things that aren't remotely your fault. Even things that you do more to remedy after the fact than anyone else on the planet. Because, you see, anything that goes wrong, no matter how well you clean it up afterwards, still went wrong—and thus is your responsibility. You wanted this role, you get everything that comes with it. Including the most unreasonable demands ever made in an acolyte's desperate prayer. You're God now, so you'd better act the part."

To some, I'm sure, it must seem like the height of hubris for a country in the position of the U.S. to have sole superpower status—in other words, to refuse to voluntarily give up power until it's coequal with everyone else, whatever sense that would make—and yet to decline to be held responsible for Acts of God. (After all, we should be in the position to prevent Acts of God, shouldn't we?) If we're the world's policeman, we have to be the world's caretaker too, goes the logic. Seasoned as it is with sour grapes.

I'm reminded of a Star Trek: TNG episode, a particularly tedious one (though probably through no fault of its own) in which Clarke's hoary old "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" witticism is played to the hilt: "The Picard" is charged with the unenviable task of explaining to a preindustrial, hut-dwelling race that his starships and transporters are merely the historical expansion of bows and arrows, not superhuman magic. Of course, he can't get through to them that he doesn't possess the power to defeat death and is not there to pass moral judgment on them; they end up placing both the plaudits due a god, and the demands for favorable weather and restoration of loved ones' lives expected from one, at his feet.

Of course the episode ends with wisdom having been dispensed and understanding sown—but the Prime Directive has to hold sway, and The Picard refuses to be held responsible for bringing either supernatural good or supernatural evil to the planet; the price is that the Federation will keep its distance and not be seen. A god can't be seen, or else he's bound to be held responsible for anything that happens, regardless of how much in his power it is to affect it one way or the other.

So we're being tested, here on post-Cold-War Earth. Can America play a realistic role on the world stage—where we keep order and provide plenty and comfort where it's in our power to do so, and yet where it's acknowledged where our powers and responsibilities end? Or do we have to accept the mantle of omnipotence, with all that implies, through the very decision of refusing to withdraw from world affairs altogether?

As Michael Demmons, who comments on this story, says:

I'm a Canadian who has lived here for nearly 5.5 years. I really don't know how Americans put up with constantly being blamed for, well, everything.

I guess it comes with the territory.

Friday, March 4, 2005
21:30 - Redundancy of the day

Seen in the checkout line:

"Gambling for Dummies"

Wednesday, March 2, 2005
11:54 - Keep the dream alive

Via Instapundit and transcribed by James Taranto, a fly-on-the-wall moment where the horror of the realization that maybe there might be some good in the world coming of the Bush Doctrine creeps out, manifested through Jon Stewart's ever-increasing cognitive dissonance at seeing everything he's fought so hard against having such positive consequences for the world.
Soderberg: The truth always helps in these things, I have to say. But I think that there is also going on in the Middle East peace process--they may well have a chance to do a historic deal with the Palestinians and the Israelis. These guys could really pull off a whole--

Stewart: This could be unbelievable!

Soderberg:---series of Nobel Peace Prizes here, which--it may well work. I think that, um, it's--

Stewart: [buries head in hands] Oh my God! [audience laughter] He's got, you know, here's--

Soderberg: It's scary for Democrats, I have to say.

Stewart: He's gonna be a great--pretty soon, Republicans are gonna be like, "Reagan was nothing compared to this guy." Like, my kid's gonna go to a high school named after him, I just know it.

Soderberg: Well, there's still Iran and North Korea, don't forget. There's hope for the rest of us.

Stewart: [crossing fingers] Iran and North Korea, that's true, that is true [audience laughter]. No, it's--it is--I absolutely agree with you, this is--this is the most difficult thing for me to--because, I think, I don't care for the tactics, I don't care for this, the weird arrogance, the setting up. But I gotta say, I haven't seen results like this ever in that region.

Soderberg: Well wait. It hasn't actually gotten very far. I mean, we've had--

Stewart: Oh, I'm shallow! I'm very shallow!

Soderberg: There's always hope that this might not work. No, but I think, um, it's--you know, you have changes going on in Egypt; Saudi Arabia finally had a few votes, although women couldn't participate. What's going on here in--you know, Syria's been living in the 1960s since the 1960s--it's, part of this is--

Stewart: You mean free love and that kind of stuff? [audience laughter] Like, free love, drugs?

Soderberg: If you're a terrorist, yeah.

Stewart: They are Baathists, are they--it looks like, I gotta say, it's almost like we're not going to have to invade Iran and Syria. They're gonna invade themselves at a certain point, no? Or is that completely naive?

Soderberg: I think it's moving in the right direction. I'll have to give them credit for that. We'll see.

But there's "always hope that this might not work". Just as some have held that a KFC outlet in Baghdad would be a far worse fate for Iraqis than a lifetime under Saddam, for some people—even aides to President Clinton, such as this Nancy Soderberg—find it far more important to ensure that Bush and the Republicans don't get credit for any positive change in the world than for that change to happen in the first place. Better the Middle East status quo should endure for another eight years than have Iraqis and Lebanese SMS'ing each other "Thank You George W. Bush" messages.

As Soderberg also says: "As a Democrat, you don't want anything nice to happen to the Republicans, and you don't want them to have progress. But as an American, you hope good things would happen." It speaks volumes right there that these two goals, these two identities, should be at odds, doesn't it?

Right now the big thing that MoveOn.org is gearing itself up for is the defense against Bush's Social Security renovation. They're soliciting Flash ads bolstered by talent from John Cusack, Aaron McGruder, and other luminaries, with the goal of preventing Bush's plans for partial Social Security privatization from becoming reality. This is an issue I have no strong opinions on; I stand to be convinced either way. I don't know a whole lot of facts on the subject. But I do know a few bits of trivia that seem to be getting covered up and kept out of the public discourse on the matter:

  • FDR never intended Social Security to be a mandatory federal program for perpetuity; he explicitly stated that he intended it to be privatized over a gradual process (or maybe he didn't—but there's plenty of debate over what he meant Social Security to be);

  • Bush's plan is entirely voluntary—you can continue to put your money into Social Security if you'd rather trust it than the stock and bond markets;

  • Politicians on both sides of the aisle have been direly warning us of the imminent doom of Social Security for decades now; I spent my high school years listening to earnest adults telling me solemnly to make sure to save money in private accounts—just stick $1000 in a savings account at age 18, they said, and let the compound interest accrue—because there would be no money to pay for my retirement if all we relied on was Social Security; and as far as I know, nothing has changed to make that less true in recent years;

  • "Safe until 2038" is not a very reassuring thing for the Democrats to be saying. I don't consider 30 years to be sufficiently long-term for any program that has an effect on my life—it's barely sufficient to hope that UNIX timestamps will be retrofitted by that time.

    So given these pieces of information, what exactly is the genesis of this reluctance to make a few changes in the interest of greater flexibility and freedom with our money? The college kids rallying behind Michael Moore must understand that they'll be retiring at just about the date that Social Security is being projected—by their own statistics—to run out its guarantee of solvency. Can't they see that it's in their interests to do something? It must go against their very nature, too: what college-campus mob ever rallied around banners saying EVERYTHING'S OKAY and KEEP THE STATUS QUO? It's ridiculous. It's like a bumper sticker Principal Skinner would have on his car.

    What it comes down to, apparently, is simply that it's something Bush is in favor of, so automatically it's something that must be opposed. The worst outcome ever, of course, would be if Bush were to fix Social Security—and then get the credit for it. Better to ride a sinking ship down into the deep than to be rescued by a boat with an elephant printed on the side.

    It's all the harder to escape this conclusion when we've got Howard Dean showing his dedication to pluralism by kicking off his stint as head of the DNC saying "I hate the Republicans and everything they stand for." Really, Howard? Everything?

    I've seen this kind of reactionaryism in several places before, but nowhere so vividly as in Muslim victims of bombs or earthquakes or tsunamis refusing to be rescued by Israelis.

    That isn't what the Democrats have become, is it?

    UPDATE: Not if people like this are as capable of putting dedication to the greater good above party purity. Guys, nobody's going to laugh at you if you say you were wrong. Here's a little secret: it'll make people respect you more.

  • 09:41 - Yahoo turns ten

    It's the big one-oh for the oldest websites out there these days; and Yahoo is celebrating by buying everyone ice cream cones at Baskin-Robbins.

    And look what they used to look like...

    And Flash can be used for good, it seems...

    Monday, February 28, 2005
    00:10 - Being Jim Henson

    How French does a French student film get?

    About this French.

    16:41 - 9/11 Republicans

    Via LGF:

    Thoroughly disgusted by the behavior of those on the left, I began to look elsewhere for support. To my astonishment, I found that the only voices that seemed to me to be intellectually and morally honest were on the right. Suddenly, I was listening to conservative talk-show hosts on the radio and reading conservative columnists, and they were making sense. When I actually met conservatives, I discovered that they did not at all embody the stereotypes with which I'd been inculcated as a liberal.

    Although my initial agreement with voices on the right centered on the war on terrorism, I began to find myself in concurrence with other aspects of conservative political philosophy as well. Smaller government, traditional societal structures, respect and reverence for life, the importance of family, personal responsibility, national unity over identity politics and the benefits of living in a meritocracy all became important to me. In truth, it turns out I was already conservative on many of these subjects but had never been willing to admit as much.

    In my search for like-minded individuals, I also gravitated toward the religiously observant. This was somewhat revolutionary, considering my former liberal discomfort with religious folk, but I found myself in agreement on a number of issues. When it came to support for Israel, Orthodox Jews and Christian Zionists were natural allies. As the left rained down vicious attacks on Israel, commentators on the right (with the exception of Pat Buchanan and his ilk) became staunch supporters of the nation. The fact that I'm not a particularly religious person myself had little bearing on this political relationship, for it's entirely possible to be secular and not be antireligious. Unlike the secular fundamentalists who make it their mission in life to destroy all vestiges of America's Judeo-Christian heritage, I have come to value this legacy.

    So I became what's now commonly known as a "9/11 Republican."

    So that's how such a thing might happen!

    Oh yeah. I guess I knew that already.

    And incidentally, what with events having played out this weekend while I was up playing in the snow, it sure seems like such people have a lot to feel vindicated about these days. Mike Hendrix rounds up reactions from many of those whose voices have played significant roles in bringing us to this point.

    Thursday, February 24, 2005
    17:41 - 1000 words, but you only need seven


    "That'd be the short bus," says the caption as forwarded by a friend.

    13:32 - All in one convenient location

    Mike at Cold Fury once again renews his claim to said blog title with an outstanding essay on "supporting the troops":

    But tell me, does the arrogance of that approach sound at all familiar? It should by now; we’ve heard plenty of it over the years, and the latest incarnation (besides Will’s, I mean) surfaced just after the ‘04 election, with the phrase “they (meaning red-state Americans) voted against their own best interests.”

    Well, thanks a lot for coming down from the mountaintop to render that enlightened judgment, fellas. And I’se sho’ the soldiers would want to thanks you too for not laughing right out loud at they po’ ign’ant selfs, Marse Will. I take that tone advisedly; liberal condescension reminds me of nothing so much as the old slave-owner’s rationalization that the Negro actually needed slavery because without it, he was too darn stupid to be counted on to come in out of the rain. The difference between that attitude and the one these Lefties are taking with soldiers—and anybody notice how often they refer to these mostly in-their-20s men and women as “kids” or “children,” by the way?—is one only of degree.

    But the real fun to be had is in the comments—where exactly the same people Mike criticizes drop in to leave some of the most inane, frothingly mad, patently ridiculous posts I've seen, and all of them striking a "Yoo idi0tt!!!1 I AM genious and U are STOOPID evil Nazi facist!!!1" tone that would be cute if there weren't so darned many of these guys. Hell, all they have to have is an editor, and they're qualified to run a radio or TV talk show or make Oscar-winning documentaries.

    They're they only ones capable of leaving such a thread thinking the same things they did going in, and as such I think I have to agree with Mike: they're beyond help. Trying only leads to heartbreak.

    Hey, I didn't say stop.

    Wednesday, February 23, 2005
    21:20 - I can change, I can change

    Reading this piece in Der Spiegel, why is it that I'm reminded inexorably of the end of Rocky IV—the one from 1985 where after beating Dolph Lundgren, the Soviet superman boxer dude, to a bloody pulp, Sylvester Stallone slurs out drunkenly that "I guess what I'm trynna say is.... if I can change.... and you can change... everybody can change"? And after sitting there looking stunned for a moment, the Gorbachev stand-in and all his bemedaled retinue slooowly stand... and slooowly begin clapping... and the Soviet Union sloooowly begins to crumble?

    As I think back on it, that must have been one of the most insulting movies ever, if you were a Russian democrat. The idea that all that had to happen to get communism to fall was for some drooly palooka to stumble off the edge of a boxing ring and blurt out some puddle-deep crap about how it's conceivable to do something else with your economic and political system. I mean, imagine you're some political dissident or expatriate, a victim of Khrushchev's or Brezhnev's KGB, with family that had been "disappeared" and five name changes and as many fake passports covering your trail. What goes through your mind: "Wow, you mean we can change? That's all we had to say?"

    And yet, somehow, it ended up being on the right side of history—and a better prognosticator of future events than, say, White Nights. Perhaps "stupid but optimistic" simply carries a more lasting and infectious message than "glumly realistic" to the most important audience of all, the body politic.

    But anyway, I'm glad to see some people in high places starting to talk like this, even if just because they know this kind of headline is so shocking that it's bound to sell newspapers. The argument this guy makes is pretty simple: no conspiracies, no dire evil. It's just sense. It's self-critical, but it has the ring of reality. Or so it seems to me.

    All things considered, I think this would be a better world if more people were to listen to such a perspective with an open mind, and do what the mindset it creates says needs to be done to and for this planet. Maybe believing in stupid fantasies isn't such a bad thing after all.

    UPDATE: Sure looks like it's working for Lebanon.

    14:19 - Here Comes the Metric System

    In this AFP story on the Los Angeles flooding, via CapLion:

    The winter season is the fourth wettest to hit usually-parched Los Angeles in 115 years, with more than 10.16 centimeters (33.87 inches) falling so far, compared to an annual average of around 4.5 (15 inches).

    The wettest winter ever recorded was that of 1883-1884 season, when 38.18 inches fell, meteorologists said.

    Uh... come again?

    I haven't checked the exchange rates recently, but last I saw, 1 inch = 2.54 cm. Right? So even reversing the units doesn't make sense. What the devil's going on here?

    I guess even the weather is too subjective for these guys to get the facts right, anymore.

    08:56 - Based on a true story

    I wonder if anyone in Hollywood has the will to make a movie that goes as follows:

    It's about the Iraq war and the campaign against the insurgency. It follows a unit of Marine Infantry through some of the more redoubtable towns as they try to take out the resistance while upholding the insane level of untouchability our military these days applies to certain "noncombatant" structures like hospitals, schools, and mosques and to differentiate between armed enemies and the civilians they were so often disguised as. A segment of the movie, about half an hour long, follows the unit through some particularly tough neighborhood in, say, Fallujah; Black Hawk Down-style, it observes as the men go house to house, breaking down doors, taking sniper fire from rooftops, chasing RPG-bearing insurgents down alleyways, and losing men in the process, not least because of the extreme precautions taken not to engage mosques and schools, even though those buildings are being audaciously used by the insurgents as weapons depots and sniper nests and gathering and staging locations. No matter, they're untouchable.

    Finally, at the end of the day, the area is cleaned out and secure, and through superhuman effort (and the sacrifice of a dozen or more soldiers), the local mosques survived with only a few chips in the mortar.

    Back at the forward base, the unit tiredly congratulates itself for a job well done, and yet the mood is somber because of the losses they took, the men they lost because they took risks they wouldn't otherwise have taken in order to minimize the impact on the civilian infrastructure which they'd committed to protecting even though the Geneva Conventions no longer applied. But it was worth it, surely.

    Then they get a CARE package from home, a shipment of letters from grade school students. Oh good! The mood lightens. The perfect end to a wearying but rewarding day, right?

    Pfc. Rob Jacobs of New Jersey said he was initially ecstatic to get a package of letters from sixth-graders at JHS 51 in Park Slope last month at his base 10 miles from the North Korea border.

    That changed when he opened the envelope and found missives strewn with politically charged rhetoric, vicious accusations and demoralizing predictions that only a handful of soldiers would leave the Iraq war alive.

    “It’s hard enough for soldiers to deal with being away from their families, they don’t need to be getting letters like this,” Jacobs, 20, said in a phone interview from his base at Camp Casey. “If they don’t have anything nice to say, they might as well not say anything at all.”

    One Muslim boy wrote: “Even thoe [sic] you are risking your life for our country, have you seen how many civilians you or some other soldier killed?”

    His letter, which was stamped with a smiley face, went on: “I know your [sic] trying to save our country and kill the terrorists but you are also destroying holy places like Mosques.”

    Makes it all worthwhile, doesn't it?

    Oh, how I would love to see that scene on the big screen. Any big-time producers in the audience?

    UPDATE: Especially if it has this scene in it.

    Monday, February 21, 2005
    16:18 - Do not eat Cooper Mini

    Who says the Brits get all the best tongue-in-cheek advertising campaigns?

    True, they have this IKEA series, which is just outstanding. But hey: we've got Counterfeit Minis, with its own website to support the TV campaign.

    It's really a hoot. Check out the whole site—it even has an area where you can upload your own "fakes"...

    Sunday, February 20, 2005
    16:07 - So you want to destroy the Earth

    It's harder than you might think.

    Have movies lied to me again?!

    Wednesday, February 16, 2005
    16:14 - I have the touch


    I was all set to buy a Canon Digital Rebel for the Alaska trip I'm planning. I figure I have six months to get good at using it, or at least to convince myself through lots of muttering and tinkering that it makes more pleasing photographs than I could get with a little pocket-sized point-and-shoot.

    I'd read countless reviews, all of which glowed. I'd looked at the product history since its 2003 introduction, during which it's become one of the most popular digital cameras out there. I'd talked to camera geek after camera geek, discussed lenses to buy, accessories to scrounge, beanbags to make (for quickly grabbing shots out the car window, to steady it on the windowsill). I'd gone to pricegrabber.com to find well-rated stores with criminally low prices at about 40% of MSRP. I'd placed the order.

    And the day I do so is the day that the Digital Rebel gets discontinued.

    How do I do it, huh? The same thing happened with the armoire and TV stand combination I bought last year: after searching for weeks to find the perfect style at the perfect price, I placed the order, only to find that the manufacturer had just killed the entire line, and since all the online furniture retailers just drop-ship from the factory and don't retain any inventory of their own, dozens of stores kept saying they had the units in stock, only to call me back after I placed the order and tell me that the manufacturer had shipped out the last unit the day before I placed my first order (of many, all of which I eventually gave up on).

    Maybe I should live in New York, where people don't seem to have these problems.

    Anyway, I'm not too worried—the reason for the Digital Rebel/300D's being discontinued is allegedly that it will soon be replaced by a newer, more studly model, presumably at the same price point, with 8 megapixels instead of 6 and the second-generation image processor—in other words, a stripped-down version of the new 20D rather than the (now-discontinued) 10D that the 300D was based on. Makes perfect sense. All I have to do is wait. The guy I talked to at the online camera store told me that his information confirms these rumors (the announcement is supposed to be at PMA this weekend, so this is all the same stuff we all go through right before a Stevenote); I can either get a better camera for the same money, or pick up a clearance-priced 300D for a song.

    Gee, I sure hope the actual photography is this much fun.

    UPDATE: Whew! Thank you! Boy, I posted this just in time, huh?

    Saturday, February 12, 2005
    19:37 - Everything is on the Internet

    Okay, roll call: who remembers Lockarm?

    It seems that in 1989, Nintendo Power held a contest for artists, which was to design up their own "Nintendo" games. My brother and I should have entered that contest. I rememeber spending day upon day "making" Mega Man 5, and my brother did the same with a Mario 5. I think we got rid of both of them by now, truely a great shame.

    The winner of this contest was Jeffrey Scott Campbell, of Aurora Colorado. His game, Lockarm, had a storyline such as what follows...

    Anybody raise their hand?


    (Personally, I thought Lockarm won solely because of the pretty drawings, and the potential of the gameplay itself was lame beyond imagining—particularly when I pictured what it would have looked like in 8-bit graphics. I thought the judges were dazzled by the kid's preternatural drawing abilities and were blinded by it to all else in the proposal. ...Or maybe I was just bitter that they didn't choose the pathetic Metroid clone set in Loch Ness that I submitted...)

    Thursday, February 10, 2005
    00:49 - Evil Use of Java #871

    This is pretty cool. A Java-based tracker of baby names throughout history. Very clever interface—a fast machine is recommended. Just as I thought: not too many Mildreds after about 1930, and not many Kaitlyns before 1980... and Brian seems to have been in its heyday right around the mid-70s, oddly enough.

    Via Paul Denton, who looks to be my go-to guy for word on the unfolding horror that is American Dad.

    00:45 - Wait a minute


    This is a government production?

    It's pretty damn clever. I never would have guessed.

    Wednesday, February 9, 2005
    18:29 - Surely you jest

    Peasant's Quest: The Movie.

    I am speechless.

    (Isn't it astonishing how something can start out as a silly side-joke, become a slightly sillier main-sequence joke, then achieve truly mythic stature in silliness, and now finally make the leap to pure distilled high-budget live-action silliness the likes of which I've never before encountered?)

    17:34 - Saw this coming a mile off

    Who'dathunk? Kim Jong Il is not amused by Team America: World Police.

    Parker and Stone could not be reached for comment, but I'm sure they're just mortified at how their innocuous movie was obviously misinterpreted by the North Korean leader, for whom they have the utmost respect. They'll be making a few non-critical but important alterations, it's expected, before the DVD is released.

    <snort> Shyeah. Hee hee hee.

    11:29 - Sittin' on top of the world

    Yesterday I made the final booking arrangements on the Alaska Marine Highway, the ferry that takes tourists and cars down the Inside Passage from Anchorage and Skagway back down to civilization. Over $1000, and space is filling up fast, so it's pretty much a done deal.

    See, I've decided to drive the Alaska Highway this summer.

    In August, a friend and I will start out from San Jose, drive north on I-5 and US97 through Oregon and Washington, over the Canadian border, up through Kelowna, maybe taking in Banff and Jasper, then starting the actual Alaska Highway at Dawson Creek in northern BC. From there it's 1500 miles through tundra and forest and sawtooth mountain ranges, through Whitehorse and Liard Hot Springs and Muncho Lake and Haines Junction and Teslin and Kluane Lake and many other ringing names, into Alaska via Tok and Delta Junction. Then it's up to Fairbanks and to Denali, where my parents spent two summers when they were about my age—about thirty years ago—working at Mt. McKinley, my dad driving a tour bus dozens of miles into the interior and pointing out all the wildlife to awed tourists who would otherwise have been disappointed at the fact that the mountain is obscured by clouds 367 days of the year. This whole trip is something of a recreation of their own odyssey back in 1971 (and again in 1972), which they undertook back when the road was all gravel and they averaged no more than 30 mph in their orange VW squareback wagon with a cat riding in the back. They had three weeks to make it one direction. I've got three weeks planned for the entire round trip.

    After Denali, we'll head south through Anchorage, and that's where the really interesting part starts. This map is about bus routes, and doesn't show all the roads, but it gives the general gist: It starts with the Whittier Tunnel, longest highway tunnel in North America, recently refitted to allow a single lane of cars to share the same driving surface as the railroad that has used it for many years (they queue up 240 deep and then meter them through—if there's a fire or an emergency, there are a bunch of safe-rooms dug into the rock that are fireproof and have their own oxygen supplies). At the other end, at Whittier, is the first leg of the ferry: the brand-new M/V Chenega, which takes us across Prince William Sound to Valdez. Thence it's up through Glennallen and Slana to Tok again, and up one of the last major highways still gravel-surfaced: the Top of the World Highway, though such metropoli as Chicken and Eagle, past the trailer serving as the border station and customs office, and on to Dawson City.

    (My parents had to rely on The Milepost and hearsay as they went. I can look up all these towns on Mapquest.)

    Then down through the heart of Yukon and back to Whitehorse, where we head south across the border again, over the Chilkoot Pass and into Skagway, there to wallow in the Gold Rush nostalgia for a night before picking up the ferry for the leg down to Juneau. It's the M/V Fairweather, which looks like a Star Trek shuttlecraft, and will make the trip in 2.5 hours instead of the 7 it takes other ships. So we spend the evening in Juneau and then catch the M/V Matanuska for the long leg, the one down to Prince Rupert, BC, stopping at places like Ketchikan and Wrangell for an hour each, and landing at 6:15AM after a day and a half of travel. At which point we get up, rub the sleep from our eyes, and drive inland to Prince George, then turn south through Whistler on the way to Vancouver and Seattle. And then a straight shot back down south on I-5.

    The dates all seem to work out. Barring any major mechanical breakdowns or reservation mixups, I think it's doable.

    It'll be the longest vacation I've taken in... uh, ever. And I think that's just fine; as they say, nobody ever lay on his deathbed muttering, "Boy, I wish I'd spent more time in the office." If I can get this under my belt before I'm 30, I'll feel a whole lot better about my worldly accomplishments to date, and I'll have something I can really, genuinely look back on and brag about.

    Especially if I take lots of photos. Now I need to get a new camera. A good one. With lots of expensive lenses and stuff.

    Sheesh. So much for saving money. But then, I guess nobody lay on his deathbed thinking, "Boy, I wish I'd saved more money," either...

    Tuesday, February 8, 2005
    21:38 - By the way...

    Server's faster now. Anybody notice?

    21:32 - The way is shut

    Some warn of Eurabia. Some suggest that depopulation threatens Europe's native cultures, and that the only factors swelling the census numbers in Amsterdam and Hamburg are immigration from places like Turkey and Morocco, while a multiculturalism-besotted public is too fearful of how it'll look if they change their mind, and fall back on picking on the Jews instead.

    But maybe there's some fight left in the Europe of the castles and the cathedrals after all. The Netherlands:

    People applying to live in the Netherlands will have to take an examination to prove that they understand the language and culture, the government has proposed.

    The test will require 350 hours of study and cost £250.

    And now England:

    U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair plans to allow only people who speak English and have skills that are in demand to settle in Britain, after polls showed the public considers immigration rules to be too weak.

    . . .

    [The plan] sets out a four- tier system of points for those applying to work in Britain from outside the European Union. People who speak English and have skills in demand will be able to settle in the U.K., while unskilled workers and students won't be allowed to stay permanently.

    It's taken some high-profile murders and arrests to really bring the seriousness of the modern world's stakes home to some people, but they seem to be stirring at last.

    Now let's just hope they (and we) get out of this mess more cleanly than we did sixty years ago.

    Sunday, February 6, 2005
    21:21 - The Left's Behind (or, This reporter promises to be more trusting and less vigilant in the future)

    Wow. The more stuff like this I read, the more it irks me when people insist in all seriousness that the United States is in the thrall of a bunch of religious dimwits who treat the Left Behind books with more regard than the Constitution.

    For Bill Moyers, Grist, and the Minneapolis Star Tribune to allege that James Watt, as Secretary of the Interior, argued that "protecting natural resources was unimportant in light of the imminent return of Jesus Christ" is an outrageous libel.

    It's revealing, too, to trace the course of the libel over time. The Star Tribune relied on Bill Moyers, and printed a charge by him that, had the editors thought about the matter, they should have realized was ridiculous on its face. Moyers relied on his "favorite online environmental journal," Grist, which in turn relied on (and apparently embellished) a book by Austin Miles, a former circus ringmaster who became disillusioned with Christianity after an encounter with James Bakker. At no stage did any of these worthies think it necessary to do some fact-checking before besmirching the reputation of a former cabinet officer.

    . . .

    It would be possible, I suppose, for Bill Moyers to distort the truth and mischaracterize the words of others more baldly than he did in his Star Tribune op-ed, but it wouldn't be easy. One can only wonder what made Moyers think he could get away with such blatant misrepresentations. No, wait. It isn't hard to figure out after all. Moyers is just a year or two behind the times; he doesn't know about the blogosphere. Throughout Moyers' career, he was free to slander conservatives with impunity, knowing that there was no forum in thich their responses would ever be heard.

    Next time someone in a position similar to James Watt's actually says the kinds of things attributed to him with such airy surety by people like Bill Moyers, then I'll sit up and pay attention. But I've pretty much stopped assuming that any such aspersion is accurate, and now start from the presumption that there's some monkey business going on on the part of whoever's doing the reporting. Recent experience has me presuming a lot more innocence and virtue on the part of Christians than on that of the people determined to denigrate them.

    I hope Moyers is proud of himself. From now on I'll have to be convinced to his (or one of his compatriots') side, and he'll have a lot more ground to cover before winning me back.

    Thursday, February 3, 2005
    01:23 - Scouring of the Shire

    That's how Chris M. characterizes this account of the citizens of an Iraqi town giving back as good as they'd have gotten from the insurgents bent on "punishing" them for voting on Sunday.

    'No!' said Merry. 'It's no good "getting under cover". That is just what people have been doing, and just what these ruffians like. They will simply come down in force, corner us, and then drive us out, or burn us in. No, we have got to do something at once.'

    'Do what?' said Pippin.

    'Raise the Shire!' said Merry. 'Now! Wake all our people! They hate all this, you can see.... They just want a match, though, and they'll go up in fire.'
    Tim Blair likens it more to The Magnificent Seven, following from a different account by a Mark Willacy who conducted an interview on Australian ABC TV in which he was asked questions like, "Do you think that is a one off, Mark, or is it a sign perhaps that some Iraqis are no longer sympathetic to the insurgents' cause?"

    Just perhaps. Maybe some.

    I don't think anyone's naïve enough to expect Iraq to follow a storybook script of any kind. But these stories do come from somewhere, reflecting some fundamental impulse deep in the human character... and Iraq's now in one of those "building" phases, analogous to the Wild West, where there do appear to be great days ahead: high stakes, a reward that's been earned. People are willing now to fight to ensure it won't be stolen away from them now that they've had a sight of it.

    14:13 - Leonard Cohen, eat your heart out

    Wow. In the Arab News, of all places. Chances are that time and distance will make the impact of Sunday's elections fade behind more doubt and quagmire and "perspective", as with every other positive milestone since 9/11; but for now, at least, it's time to highlight it all so it lasts as long as possible. Here's what Saudi Dr. Mohammed T. Al-Rasheed has to say:

    Bravo Iraq! For history, Jan. 30, 2005, is one magnificent day for Iraq and the Arab nation. Regardless of who won and who lost, the day should be a permanent fixture on the Arab calendar forever. I don’t want to talk politics; I simply want to celebrate history.

    In spite of everything, the Iraqis voted. They did so with a passion and a seriousness that gives the lie to the cliché that Arabs are not ready for democracy. One myth down, a thousand to go.

    Everyone says that this is the first free elections in Iraq for fifty years. That is another lie. There has never been one single free election in the long history of the Arabs ever. This is the first one.

    It took the Americans to conduct it and force it down the throats of dictators, terrorists, exploding deranged humans, and odds as big as the distance between the USA and the Middle East.

    British guns and soldiers were in the area for so long yet did not care to look at the people.

    They waltzed with people Gerty and Lawrence (their colonial spies) baptized and were happy to see the nations slip into slavery.

    Likewise, the French could not bring themselves to see that the Arabs were good enough to cast a vote. And even when it happened in Algeria, the French orchestrated a putsch to annul it.

    On Sunday America vindicated itself to all doubters, including me. They delivered on the promise of an election, so I am sure they will deliver on the promise of withdrawal.

    . . .

    Perhaps in the coming weeks we will take issue with America again. But for today, I am celebrating by having a McDonald’s. I hate fast food, but for this day I will make an exception.

    Since people like Michael Moore are MIA, Robert Fisk is eating cardboard, Aaron McGruder is off on irrelevant tangents, and Garry Trudeau is entertaining fantasies of visceral racial hatred among soldiers whose primary charge in Iraq is spotting insurgents in a sea of friendly or indifferent Iraqi faces they're sworn to defend, maybe there's a chance that people like Dr. Al-Rasheed might get taken seriously, even if just for a day or two. Maybe that's all it will take for the world to realize that something has changed: even if everything up till the very present day was about imperialism and hegemony, now it's not. The facts on the ground are too obvious to ignore now. It's all been faith and presumption, but now we know.

    And knowing is half the battle. (Right, Guardian?)

    Wednesday, February 2, 2005
    11:24 - How you know you've lost

    Although it's soon to be as ubiquitous as no accessory has been since hats fell out of style, there's one place where the powers-that-be would dearly love for you not to love your iPod so much:

    To the growing frustration and annoyance of Microsoft's management, Apple Computer's iPod is wildly popular among Microsoft's workers.

    "About 80 percent of Microsoft employees who have a portable music player have an iPod," said one source, a high-level manager who asked to remain anonymous. "It's pretty staggering."

    The source estimated 80 percent of Microsoft employees have a music player -- that translates to 16,000 iPod users among the 25,000 who work at or near Microsoft's corporate campus. "This irks the management team no end," said the source.

    So popular is the iPod, executives are increasingly sending out memos frowning on its use.

    . . .

    "These guys are really quite scared," said the source of Microsoft's management. "It shows how their backs are against the wall.... Even though it's Microsoft, no one is interested in what we have to offer, even our own employees."

    Heh heh heh.

    Er—sorry. I mean, um, how sad for them.

    Heh heh heh.

    (Via Kris and MacNN.)

    Tuesday, February 1, 2005
    21:21 - Implied, Lisa... or implode?

    I guess they're finally starting to say it.

    I naïvely expected to hear words like this during the UN hearings on the foundation for the war, in which Powell's evidence (which turned out to be pretty flimsy, if not so transparent as to be disastrous in retrospect to his credibilty) seemed a lot more convincing at the time. But barring that, as grounds for such repudiations dissolved shortly afterwards, I expected to hear these words in the wake of the growing body of testimonials from Iraqis pining for freedom and taking peace activists to task for their "simplistic Nickelodeon diplomacy", and recantations of the Human Shields who cried, "Oh God, what have we done?" But it wasn't to be. Nor was it to be upon hearing freed Iraqis jubilantly call out for "Democracy, Whiskey, Sexy" as they dragged the Saddam statue to its knees. Nor did the Transfer of Sovereignty date evoke so much as a sniff of introspection on the part of those who insisted, not that we were in Iraq to steal the oil and kill brown people for the fun of it at the command of our Zionist masters, but that democracy was something Iraqis just weren't suited for, the poor dear darkies.

    In fact, I'd begun to despair of ever hearing anything like this:

    By now, you might have even voted against George Bush -- a second time -- to register your disapproval.

    But after watching Sunday's election in Iraq and seeing the first clear sign that freedom really may mean something to the Iraqi people, you have to be asking yourself: What if it turns out Bush was right, and we were wrong?

    It's hard to swallow, isn't it?

    . . .

    Obviously, I'm still curious to see if Bush is willing to allow the Iraqis to install a government that is free to kick us out or to oppose our other foreign policy efforts in the region.

    So is the rest of the world.

    For now, though, I think we have to cut the president some slack about a timetable for his exit strategy.

    If it turns out Bush was right all along, this is going to require some serious penance.

    Maybe I'd have to vote Republican in 2008.

    Whoa, now, let's not do anything rash.

    I'd be happier to see the Democrats remember what the name of their bloody party is, and put a few chips on the idea that maybe democracy is a good thing after all—not just for white people, but for anybody in the world. That's all I would ask.

    I saw (rather, heard) the first part of the Daily Show last night, too, before I tore myself away from what I was working on and changed the channel. It seemed Jon Stewart and friends were having a hard time figuring out how to spin jokes from a bunch of images of Iraqis gleefully holding up ink-stained fingers and dancing in banner-waving street mobs. "It was in fact a good day," said Stephen Colbert, "And that makes... what, three they've had. Three good days... the day the statue came down, the day we captured Saddam, and now this. So in the Iraqi Week of Good Days, we're up to... Wednesday! It's Hump Day!"

    The nervousness of the audience's laughter was palpable. I kinda wish I'd stuck with it until the end, though—it must have been downright tomblike in there when Stewart said this:

    Jon Stewart, late in the Daily Show last night to Newsweek pundit Fareed Zakaria: "I’ve watched this thing unfold from the start and here’s the great fear that I have: What if Bush, the president, ours, has been right about this all along? I feel like my world view will not sustain itself and I may, and again I don’t know if I can physically do this, implode. (Hat tip: David Frum).

    That would be awful, I know. But see, democracy is bigger than the details needed to bring it to life. Once you've accepted that the people who say they want it actually represent a popular movement, and are not just a bunch of paid flunkies preening for Western cameras and bags of illicit M&Ms, there is no more arguing against democracy. To argue against democracy is to argue against a country's people, and nobody wants the terminology to get that far, lest it reveal where one's priorities really lie.

    Believing the worst about the war all this time, whether or not one agrees with Brown in that "going to war still sent so many terrible messages to the world" (a statement which sends a quite reassuring message to would-be Hitlers), means believing that the Idiot Supergenius Bush deluded America into fighting for the spread and germination of democracy, a concept he was himself patently opposed to, and in whose service he was willing to construct the most elaborate, audacious, and shameless lie in American history. It takes believing that Bush says he likes freedom, but is lying and secretly hates freedom—but he's willing to subvert our entire governmental system to create freedom anyway, because it serves his nefarious goals.

    But there's another explanation, one that requires much fewer mental gymnastics.

    Being on the side of the war means simply believing Bush meant what he said and said what he meant. That he believed the things he said, that he acted in good faith, that he never knowingly lied, and that the end result—democracy in Iraq—depends not on subterfuge but on honesty. Hard as it might be, one only has to believe that Bush and the pro-war faction of American politics has simply been sincere all along for the sight of grinning, finger-waving Iraqi voters to make sense.

    Otherwise one has to layer the assumption of one lie on top of the assumption of another, deception upon conspiracy upon betrayal upon belief in the worst impulses of humanity manifesting themselves constantly in every level from Republican voters and Iraqi citizens up through the President and his cabinet. The only way to explain away positive developments in the face of such expressed evil would be to add yet more presumptions of ill intent on top. Eventually you end up with an edifice so hideously elaborate that it necessarily crashes in under its own weight.

    The theorists would call it "elegant" to believe that simply putting our faith in the higher ideals of freedom and democracy, ignoring the popular disdain for such concepts as have been made current by the nightly comedy lineup, and in our elected officials to act according to their own publicly expressed beliefs about the world instead of in direct contradiction to them, is enough to bring about positive change in the world. It requires no cynicism and no resentment. It requires no second-guessing, no overanalysis, no reliance on data that's guaranteed to be faultier than what the administration might be working with. It requires no spiderweb of half-baked beliefs all bolstered by nothing but prejudice and detestation and peer pressure. All it takes is a little bit of trust, the fundamental building block of any modern free society.

    The trouble is, when you trust in trust, there's not much comedy to be made from it. When one's mind is at ease, and not tugged in a million directions by a roil of contradicting, incompatible presumptions, there's not a lot left to say.

    And we're just not a people accustomed to silence. Because, after all, we're free.

    UPDATE: Tim Blair has more sightings of people starting to exit the "reality-based community" and re-enter actual reality.

    20:33 - If I have seen farther, it is by kicking the shins of giants

    Fascinating stuff about Galileo Galilei by John over at Cold Fury today.

    Seems the guy was a lot more human than a generation of college kids naming their dorm-room computers after him might suggest—and so were the actors of the Inquisition.

    Stop! Stop burning me with nuance!

    15:21 - Oh... my... God.

    This is more laughable even than Rathergate.

    Maybe the major journalistic corporations should start instituting a "Take a Blogger to Work Day".

    Monday, January 31, 2005
    17:43 - Putting a face with the name

    I'm fascinated by detailed reports of life in countries that we know very little about or that seem like Netherworld versions of our customary Western experience—Russia, Israel, China, Thailand, Iran—where allegedly life proceeds according to modern expectations of technology and discourse, but where there's just that much that's so very alien about it. I stare at maps and atlases with obsessive fervor, wanting to be able to put the texture of familiarity with the rich and rolling names on the paper.

    That's why, when something like this photo tour of Libya by Michael Totten (via Mary Madigan) comes along, I gobble it right up. Fascinating stuff. All hail digital cameras and the Web.

    Same thing goes for this description of the likely crumbling façade of North Korea's regime. It's in this way that one starts to slowly attain an idea of what kind of mental strangulation one undergoes in a country ruled under a personage like Kim Jong Il or Saddam Hussein, how much of one's own human reasoning powers and perception of reality one is forced to flatly deny oneself... and why when people like Iraq the Model's Ali say things like this:

    2003; the year of freedom.
    Before you I was mute, and here goes my tongue praying for the best,
    Before you I was hand-cuffed, and here are my hands free to write,
    Before you my mind was tied to one thought and here I find wide horizons and greater thoughts,
    Before you I was isolated, and here I join the wide universe.
    I will never forget you; you broke the chains for my people, and rid us from the big jail.

    ...They're not preening, they're not trolling for comments, they're not posturing for favor from the overlords, they're not practicing their ironic sneers in hopes of building a J-school portfolio. They mean it. In a way that people like us can never fully understand. (Thank goodness.)

    Here's the kind of thing, from Iraqi Shiite sheik Hamid Chiati, that inevitably draws hollow latte-spilling guffaws from the Democratic Underground crowd:

    "Yes, we still face explosions, kidnapping and killing. But already the new Iraq is better even when we don’t have bread.

    "We don’t have water, but we are happy. Electricity - no. But we’re better off because under Saddam no one respected us - and today they do. That’s more important than bread or water or electricity."

    It's all the rage to second-guess everything we hear, to come up with a new and subversive angle that sounds like the exact opposite of what The Man would say, just for the frisson of smugness one gets from feeling like one sees through the smokescreen to the ugly, ugly truth beneath and attains appropriate cynicism to dismiss any otherwise inspiring development as so much futility in the face of an inexorably decaying and irredeemable world.

    But some days... well, you've just got to drop the cynicism and the irony by the wayside and just let people sound sincere for once. Take them at their word. The Iraqi insurgents were dead serious when they said they'd try to kill as many voters as possible; fortunately the Election Weekend nationwide curfew kept casualties to a very small number. We owe it to their intended victims to treat their words with just as much seriousness and respect, for they are just as earnest.

    Maybe one of these days a photo tour of Baghdad won't look like the snapshots captured by a lander on an alien world. Maybe someday it'll look so familiar that a stroll down a street there won't seem any more thrillingly different than walking around Toronto or Berlin. Maybe the people there will one day have spent enough time living under a government of their own making that in some ways they'll seem more familiar to us if we should meet them on the street than anyone but our own countrymen.

    I can think of many worse fates for the world.

    13:08 - I'm against picketing, but I don't know how to show it

    So is this, more than anything else we've seen to date, not the very definition of "dead-enders"?

    All the media keeps talking about is how happy the Iraqis are, how high turnout was, and how "freedom" has spread to Iraq. I had to turn off CNN because they kept focusing on the so-called "voters" and barely mentioned the resistance movements at all. Where are the freedom fighters today? Are their voices silenced because some American puppets cast a few ballots?

    I can't believe the Iraqis are buying into this "democracy" bullshit...

    Fortunately there are some in the comments with the ability to come back from the brink of pure insanity and refute this garbage. But this kind of thing seems to be all that's in the news today, all that anyone's talking about.

    I have not yet read, in fact, a single news story or blog post that mentions any projection of who won the election. Though for accounts of the casualties from terror attacks and protests against the horror of democracy around the world, well, I have to stick to Spongebob and Sailor Moon fan sites to avoid them.

    This is what it felt like on November 3, too. What should have been a great, elating victory turns into the somber, frustrated surveying of a field of battle where nobody even has the heart to cheer.

    UPDATE: Tim Blair's coverage makes for reassuring reading. Except if you're one of the Leftern naysayers, though. I keep thinking that if they had any sense or honor they'd be wallowing in introspection and shame today, but... I guess we all know better than that.

    Friday, January 28, 2005
    11:41 - The Last Good War

    In response to this post about the Left's beatific nostalgia for WWII (exemplified by Doonesbury), George H. e-mails:

    I'm of the opinion that the modern Left loves to reverently invoke WW2
    because its a safe way to claim they're not complete weaklings when it comes
    to national defense and related issues. See, they can say, we were all for
    fighting Hitler!

    It also doesn't hurt that the Nazis were/are the perfect foes for the Left,
    whose hivemind is notoriously emotion-ruled. Hitler and the gang were
    downright demonic - right out of Central Casting - and made to order.

    Also, hating the Nazis and celebrating their destruction in the post-1945
    period was the safest thing one could do. In the past 200 years, no regime
    has ever been so as destroyed, scattered, vilified and comprehensively
    liquidated as that of the Third Reich. Hell, even the most recent
    Euro-conqueror before Hitler - Napoleon - escaped with his life and one of
    Nappy's "Feldmarschalls" founded a royal dynasty in Sweden! The
    Swastikettes, on the other hand, were hung, shot, driven to suicide or
    chased to the ends of the Earth.

    GOOD, says I. But the point is that dancing on the grave of Nazism and
    idolizing the war that dug that grave was a pretty risk-free political
    endeavor after WW2. Very little chance that Otto Skorzeny was going to show
    up at your door with a Luger.

    Being comprehensively opposed to tyranny - you know, like a true classical
    liberal - was another kettle of fish entirely. As we both know, a regime
    just as bad as Hitler's survived the war and its bloodsoaked leaders mostly
    died in bed (unless killed by each other or by Stalin, the worst snake in
    the nest). Add to this the decades-long, collective blowjob administered by
    "progressives" to the Soviet State and the right-thinking Liberal has a real

    Solution? More WW2 nostalgia, please. Big Red was an ally, the eee-vil Nazis
    were the foe, and everything was ideologically comfortable.

    Also note the prevalence of the European theater over the Pacific - even
    though we fought the Japanese for longer than the Germans. There's also that
    messy Atom Bomb thing. And the far less snappy uniforms of the Japs. :)

    Yup, I'd noticed that too. Mentioning the A-bomb makes people inevitably start to bring up Dresden. And that wouldn't do.

    11:30 - Fundamental theorems

    Mike Hendrix has posted a deft summary of the position that a lot of us hold, which we all may as well just link back to as the starting point from which we can start having some new arguments. In the years since 9/11, our discourse has converged on these ideas, and while some might find parts with which to disagree (and even in a principled manner, in some cases), there's not much there to argue with. Sometimes getting it all into one big pile helps perspective. I don't think many people take the time to remember how much it felt like the world had changed on the evening of 9/11, for instance, and knew—instinctively knew—that the old rules of engagement and tolerance of global threats no longer applied, that the burden of proof and demonstration of necessity for preemptive war were things that would not survive in their familiar forms in the new, changed world.

    One might still argue that our priorities could have been arranged differently, that having the Europeans on board with the long-term War on Terror (through whatever concessions to them might be necessary) outranked taking out the immediate perceived threat of Iraq, and that Iraq should have waited if it meant sacrificing that global consensus. That's at least a principled position—not one that I agree with, because I don't happen to believe that the Europeans would have gotten on board with us beyond Afghanistan under any circumstances, as we can see through their relaxed dealings with Iran and their lack of outrage or even surprise at the moral implosion of the UN. I happen to think that there really was no other good option than the one we undertook, as the War on Terror might have been easier won with the Europeans on board, but it can never be won without us calling the shots. Nobody else has the resources or the willpower, or the clarity of purpose. Nobody else could stomach the hard, ugly transformative steps that are necessary to make Islamic terrorism die, not through short-term symptom-treating palliatives, but through the march of generations. Nobody else seems to share that vision, probably because nobody else shares our experience.

    I don't expect agreement from those who don't have the same vision of what the world needs to be. I don't like to have to say they'd just better get used to it, either. But I think we do know what we're doing here. The Europeans shouldn't make the all-too-common mistake of underestimating our understanding of human nature. We have figured a few things out. All on our own.

    AFP and the BBC may judge us harshly, but I'm confident that the history books will be more charitable. They'll have to be, because they'll be written in a better world.

    Thursday, January 27, 2005
    11:29 - Careful what you wish for

    Via InstaPundit:

    In the course of history, Manichaeism was ruthlessly eradicated as an heretical, ungodly doctrine. When looking at demographic statistics, however, one might think that the populations in developed countries have converted en masse to Manichaeism and decided to become extinct. The birth rate in most western countries has fallen bellow replacement level.

    In the so-called "New Europe", the situation is even gloomier. According to UN projections, Latvia will lose 44 percent of its population by 2050 as a result of demographic trends. In Estonia, the population is expected to shrink by 52 percent, in Bulgaria 36 percent, in Ukraine 35 percent, and in Russia 30 percent. In comparison with these figures, the projected population decline in Italy (22 percent), the Czech Republic (17 percent), Poland (15 percent) or Slovakia (8 percent) looks like a small decrease. France and Germany will lose relatively little population, and the population of the United Kingdom will even see a slight growth -- thanks to immigrants.

    . . .

    Today, children no longer represent investments; instead, they have become pets - objects of luxury consumption. However, the pet market segment is very competitive. It is characteristic that the birth rate decline in the 1980s, and especially in the 1990s, was accompanied by soaring numbers of dog-owners in cities. While in the past dog-owners were predominantly retirees, today there are many young couples that have consciously decided to have a dog instead of a baby. These are mainly young professionals who have come to a conclusion (whether right or wrong) that they lack either time or money to have a child. Thus, they invest their emotional surpluses into animals.
    This too:

    Still, both day-to-day experience and the media frequently suggest that the quality of life enjoyed in the United States and Europe is under threat by population growth. Sprawling suburban development is making traffic worse, driving taxes up, and reducing opportunities to enjoy nature. Televised images of developing-world famine, war, and environmental degradation prompt some to wonder, "Why do these people have so many kids?" Immigrants and other people's children wind up competing for jobs, access to health care, parking spaces, favorite fishing holes, hiking paths, and spots at the beach. No wonder that, when asked how long it will take for world population to double, nearly half of all Americans say 20 years or less.

    Yet a closer look at demographic trends shows that the rate of world population growth has fallen by more than 40 percent since the late 1960s. And forecasts by the UN and other organizations show that, even in the absence of major wars or pandemics, the number of human beings on the planet could well start to decline within the lifetime of today's children. Demographers at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis predict that human population will peak (at 9 billion) by 2070 and then start to contract. Long before then, many nations will shrink in absolute size, and the average age of the world's citizens will shoot up dramatically. Moreover, the populations that will age fastest are in the Middle East and other underdeveloped regions. During the remainder of this century, even sub-Saharan Africa will likely grow older than Europe is today.

    . . .

    Some biologists now speculate that modern humans have created an environment in which the "fittest," or most successful, individuals are those who have few, if any, children. As more and more people find themselves living under urban conditions in which children no longer provide economic benefit to their parents, but rather are costly impediments to material success, people who are well adapted to this new environment will tend not to reproduce themselves. And many others who are not so successful will imitate them.

    So where will the children of the future come from? The answer may be from people who are at odds with the modern environment -- either those who don't understand the new rules of the game, which make large families an economic and social liability, or those who, out of religious or chauvinistic conviction, reject the game altogether.

    And to think I used to send money to these people.

    (Hey, they were at Earth Day at my high school. What's an impressionable do-gooding youth to do?)

    Wednesday, January 26, 2005
    11:30 - These enlightened times

    San Francisco is one hell of a beautiful city. I love taking out-of-state visitors there, to walk out on the Golden Gate Bridge, look out across the sparkling bay to the gleaming skyline, to drive up the Marin headlands to where the old WWII anti-naval gun battery was and look down at the grandeur of the landscape and at the neat white grids of the residential parts of the city giving way to the sharp and dramatic spires of the downtown skyscrapers like a seismograph suddenly registering a new temblor.

    However, there's a problem: I can't take visitors much closer than that. Oh, sure, we can hit places like North Beach and Fisherman's Wharf and the Castro; but drive down Market Street? Walk up to Union Square? Head down into the Mission District to see the Metreon and Moscone Center? Go over to the Civic Center for a show in the theater district? Unless you can duck from a Starbucks to a Taco Bell to another Starbucks and repeat the process all the way down the long blocks to your destination, you're going to be literally stepping over so many homeless people that you end up hating yourself for the very excess and frivolity of what you're venturing into the area to do. You feel like a plutocrat just for being able to afford a Subway without arguing with the clerk over the posted food-stamp acceptance policy.

    I think it's worse in San Francisco than most places, too; one thing I noticed about New York, when I was there in October, was that as raw and crowded and under-construction and hurried as everything was, I didn't see a single panhandler from Times Square to Chinatown. The NYC subway system is missing walls and floors and looks like the skeletal remains of some steam-punk Jules Verne dystopia, but it felt way more wholesome than the space-age BART, somehow.

    Chris' Australian family was just here visiting, and while they gushed over how much they loved sightseeing in San Francisco, the first observation they made, and with great shock, was how many "beggars" there were. There's no denying it. And all we could say in its defense was point out that aside from the fact that cities like San Francisco and San Diego are at least warm enough to be homeless in, the state's mental illness treatment policy has been such that everyone who's ever had debilitating drug problems or can only barely fend for himself ends up on the street. After all, you can't "institutionalize" people anymore.

    All of which is by way of preamble to this post by Glenn Reynolds, whose wife made a documentary on this very subject, and who has some things to say—and some posted reader feedback in support of it—regarding the "de-institutionalization" movement. And it itself springs from this observation by Jeff Jarvis:

    And the real issue isn't homelessness. It's insanity. The laws in this country make it impossible to commit and help even the obviously and often the dangerously insane.

    I say that One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is as much at fault as any politician, for it made the institution frightening and the people who run it bad guys.

    Read Jarvis' whole post; his perspective is from the New York end of things, and he notes some reasons why the atmosphere there is different from here in the City by the Bay.

    I'm not sure what political tradition is consistent with wanting to give a fair shake to institutional practices that probably served us better in the past than we like to let on nowadays, even ones that cost state taxpayers large amounts of money. But you know, I don't care. It isn't "compassionate" to allow people to be on the streets out of some perverse knowledge that "at least they're not being locked up", or a twisted and practiced revulsion at the idea of wanting to "clean up" downtown and make it "safe" for our bourgeois pursuits. It isn't "principled" to demand that the homeless make their own way in the world, when the vast majority of them aren't equipped to do so if they wanted to. This is not just a function of the system. It's an outlier to the system, something that the system needs to take explicitly into account when figuring out what is in our interest as a society.

    I'd like to be able to walk down Market Street with friends from out of town with the same devil-may-care attitude that lets people crane their necks upward in Times Square, unconcerned with where their feet are going. This isn't because I want the helpless shuffled off to where they're out of sight, out of mind; I know that being tripped over is a lot worse than being the one doing the tripping, and just about anything has to be better. For everyone.

    Monday, January 24, 2005
    23:28 - [respek]

    As if there yet remained any doubt as to the coolness of Adult Swim, tonight they devoted their bumps to Johnny Carson tributes, such as this one:

    Johnny Carson died.

    We used to watch him when we were little.

    It was hard staying up that late, but when we did, we were happy.

    Even though we didn't know why.

    And though we didn't know it at the time,

    He shaped our lives.

    Thank you & Goodnight.

    Johnny Carson


    We're sure "The Tonight Show" will air plenty of
    Johnny Carson clips this evening.

    But "The Tonight Show" hasn't been "The Tonight Show" since
    Johnny retired.

    The REAL "Tonight Show" is "The Late Show".

    Hosted by a fellow named David Letterman.

    The ideas and opinions expressed in this bump complely reflect those
    of [adult swim]... and you, the viewers.

    No music; just silence. Very classy.

    Oh, and later they plugged their Downloads page, full of wallpapers and MP3s of the theme songs from all their shows. Damn, this network rules.

    15:46 - Segway II


    Dean Kamen's at it again.

    What I’m staring at on the lawn is the outcome of this process of innovation: a Segway with four wheels. Seems like a pretty natural product-line extension. Field is the first to acknowledge that the Centaur has a tremendous amount of HT DNA—the entire base, stuffed with tilt sensors and gyroscopes that allow it to balance, is an HT. But, he adds, it was hardly as simple as adding two more wheels. The steering, for example, is part mechanical, part drive-by-wire. Two sensors in the steering column calculate speed (from the throttle) and angle of turn (from the handlebar) and send the data to computers in the base. Integrating that information with readings from the tilt sensors and gyros, control boards adjust the speed of the independent rear wheel motors 100 times a second to keep the machine upright.

    Who'd buy one, though? Park rangers? We all know the tremendous impact they've had in making and breaking the pic-a-nic basket and blunderbuss industries in the past...

    14:07 - Beware low-flying pigs

    Do my eyes deceive me?

    ...Or has Aaron McGruder actually produced a sane comic strip? And one that's actually quite funny and incisive, at that?

    I guess stuff like this is hard for even the Moore types of the world to ignore... or to convince themselves forever that in a battle between American values and anything, America must always be wrong.

    Perhaps a sign of good things to come? I know I'm not holding my breath...

    Friday, January 21, 2005
    16:16 - What a difference half a century makes

    Aha! So this is the new angle: World War II as the Paragon of All Honorable Wars!

    Of course. Obviously. Everybody knows nothing bad ever was done by American soldiers during WWII. The Nazis were just as lawless as the Islamists; they weren't a modern society that had been hijacked by extremists that kept their people blind to their leaders' atrocities or anything. But we can rest assured that the Americans tiptoed around sleeping families of field mice on their way to taking out main battle tanks, killed no Nazi without being fired upon first, and certainly never resorted to such barbarities as depriving prisoners of sleep or telling them they were ugly and their Führer dressed them funny.

    Or could it be, maybe, that back then we understood that war was a bad, dirty, ugly thing, that required many sacrifices of conscience on both sides—and that restraint, while a thing we strive for on the battlefield, is a luxury we sometimes cannot afford? Maybe the reason why we're able to think of WWII as the peak of American honorability is that the media of the time whitewashed it—a concept so horrifying to today's media that they've committed to doing the exact opposite?

    Surely neither is ideal.... because fifty years hence, either is going to give us a pretty darned twisted view back over our shoulders.

    09:30 - Oh... my... God...

    If it isn't a spoof of some kind, or a "viral marketing" thing (like the SportKa ads), this VW Polo ad has to be high in the running for Best Ad Evar.

    Yeesh! How does something like this get made? One would think it would be even harder in Europe than here to do stuff like this... but then, something tells me that the European advertising industry, and particularly the British one, sort of operates apart from the system, and the normal laws of physics don't apply to them.

    Check out this campaign slyly by IKEA in England... be sure to check out the commercials. Why can't we have stuff like this?

    ...Well, okay, we have Jack in the Box, so I'm not complaining. Okay, yes I am, because Jack doesn't put his ads online. Damn him. Maybe only because there are so many great ones by now?

    They should release a DVD.

    Via JMH.

    UPDATE: I'm informed by a British friend that this ad was produced under contract for VW, but was rejected (gasp!) and never broadcast.

    Too bad. (I wonder if it was the same agency that did the SportKa spots.) I was all set to be forever in awe of the British advertising agency as one of those cultural treasures that must at all costs be preserved for posterity.

    Thursday, January 20, 2005
    18:27 - Tnurnb

    Kris handed me this chopstick wrapper he'd picked up at lunch. I was going to scan it (Janet!), but I had the nagging feeling that I'd seen this particular piece of quintessential Engrish somewhere before...

    Lo and behold, Google knows all!

    (In fact, there are so many hits for scans and transcriptions of this wrapper that it must be an extremely widely-sold brand. I may, in fact, have seen it in a Bill Bryson book. But in any case, Kris' wrapper has much better typeset text, but all the misspellings are faithfully preserved—and while some of the scans show the word on the back as "thurnb", on the one I have in front of me it's clearly "tnurnb". Now that's a word that needs more widespread usage.)

    I find it especially interesting in this case because it was clearly transcribed into text by someone who not only didn't know English, but whose only familiarity with the Roman alphabet consists of hunting and pecking on the keyboard for matching shapes.

    Welcome to Chinese Restaurant!

    17:24 - Eat some chips for freedom

    So how long before they ban eating junk food in public places, indoors, or in sight of young impressionable children?

    The European Union has warned the food industry it has a year to stop advertising junk food to children and improve its product labeling, or it may face legislation, the Financial Times reported in its online edition.

    Markos Kyprianou, EU health and consumer affairs commissioner, told the newspaper that urgent action was needed to tackle a growing obesity problem in Europe, particularly among the young.

    Kyprianou said self-regulation in the food industry was preferred, but he warned that the European commission would legislate if progress proved disappointing.

    "The signs from the industry are very encouraging, very positive," Kyprianou said.

    "But if this doesn't produce satisfactory results, we will proceed to legislation."

    Good thing they won't be around long. Whether because of economic collapse or enraged revolution, though, remains to be seen.

    Via Kris, who arrived munching on a bag of Fritos in solidarity with our European brethren so diligently forging their own chains.

    Monday, January 17, 2005
    13:18 - I call it the Happy Helmet

    There's an ad for the newly-running show on Spike TV, "Untold: The Greatest Sports Stories Never Told", that features Terry Bradshaw standing in what looks like a gymnasium-sized courtroom, or at least some venue where he's holding forth to a large assembled group; he spreads his arms expansively and strides about, chin jutting, and demands of the unseen crowd: "I thought this was supposed to be so great. How come I'm not happy?"

    All I could do, watching this little excerpt and not even knowing what context it was from, was curl my lip in disgust. What, it's MY responsibility to make you happy? To bring about the fulfillment you expected out of sports retirement? It's YOUR job to be happy, bucko. Maybe you should learn from people who are somehow happy WITHOUT being big sports heroes on prime-time TV, huh?

    This has been sitting in my brain and bugging me for a while. What does it say about our society, to have such expectations of an entitlement to happiness—rather than to its pursuit? Is this just Bradshaw's own personality (every time I've ever seen him in an interview, it's shown him invoking some self-aggrandizing anecdote or other)? I've never watched the show he appeared in, so I don't know what the context was; but could this just be a microcosmic illustration of how we've come to view life—as a series of prizes to be won, or more accurately, to be awarded us?

    Theodore Dalrymple, author of the now-famous "Barbarians at the Gates" article and many others along similar lines, now has a critique of the British welfare state that tackles this very point:

    A single case can be illuminating, especially when it is statistically banal—in other words, not at all exceptional. Yesterday, for example, a 21-year-old woman consulted me, claiming to be depressed. She had swallowed an overdose of her antidepressants and then called an ambulance.

    There is something to be said here about the word "depression," which has almost entirely eliminated the word and even the concept of unhappiness from modern life. Of the thousands of patients I have seen, only two or three have ever claimed to be unhappy: all the rest have said that they were depressed. This semantic shift is deeply significant, for it implies that dissatisfaction with life is itself pathological, a medical condition, which it is the responsibility of the doctor to alleviate by medical means. Everyone has a right to health; depression is unhealthy; therefore everyone has a right to be happy (the opposite of being depressed). This idea in turn implies that one's state of mind, or one's mood, is or should be independent of the way that one lives one's life, a belief that must deprive human existence of all meaning, radically disconnecting reward from conduct.

    A ridiculous pas de deux between doctor and patient ensues: the patient pretends to be ill, and the doctor pretends to cure him. In the process, the patient is willfully blinded to the conduct that inevitably causes his misery in the first place. I have therefore come to see that one of the most important tasks of the doctor today is the disavowal of his own power and responsibility. The patient's notion that he is ill stands in the way of his understanding of the situation, without which moral change cannot take place. The doctor who pretends to treat is an obstacle to this change, blinding rather than enlightening.

    I've known an awful lot of people who describe themselves as "depressed", but—as in the article—precious few who would call themselves "unhappy". When one is depressed, I guess, it's a case of being acted on by an external depressing force, not a state of mind arising from within; whatever that external force is, it has to be removed or exorcised, so one's rightful happiness can be restored, and life can be "so great" after all.

    Of course this implies a "right" to good mental and physical health, and thus raises universal health care to the level of a "civil right" that must be guaranteed by the state. But Dalrymple's piece is a critique of this very mental path, the seductive call of what seems at the time to be the Right Thing, the way of overt compassion and mercy and pity made policy, which in the long run merely creates more of the same original problem while trying to treat the superficial symptoms that appear at any given time.

    It's also about evil. He believes in it. The evidence, admittedly, is pretty overwhelming; but what's alarming isn't so much its continuing existence, but its existence in a world that is so determined to deny any knowledge of it. That kind of thing never ends well.

    UPDATE: On the other hand, this fisking by Tim Blair of a D.C. columnist wandering in bewilderment through Red-State America and hearing the impossibly sensible warm tales of life in the land of responsibility—and concluding, of course, that such a thing can only exist in association with intense racism and bigotry—is worth reading too. I sure hope that this reassurance that the journalist musingly gives himself makes his city life seem less, well, unhappy.

    Monday, January 10, 2005
    21:10 - The damnedest things make us stupid these days

    So apparently, judging by Presidential write-in nominee Jon Stewart's searing sarcasm on the Daily Show bumps on Comedy Central, the latest thing we get to make fun of Bush for is that he's trying to fund programs that promote, of all things, abstinence as a way to curb sexual disease and pregnancy among high school kids. "President Bush has got a real hard-on for abstinence..." The idiot.

    Now, I don't normally think of myself as one of those guys who grew up too fast, or has become prematurely aged in mind and body. But when, precisely, did it become a bad thing, worthy of jeers, to suggest that maybe we should encourage kids not to have sex? When did that become such an unreasonable, paleontological suggestion?

    From the tone of the discourse, it's starting to sound as though the moral high ground is claimed by those who promote promiscuity with protection, followed by those who promote plain old promiscuity... then, and only then, does the dreaded "A" word start to become grudgingly acceptable as an admissible alternative. Why, these statistics right here say that 64% of all high school seniors have had sex... if your kid hasn't, by golly, encourage him! Is that the message I'm supposed to get? Because that's what I'm hearing.

    Why do I get the feeling that the only reason people are acting like this, in any case, is that it's another way to gleefully oppose that old crusty authoritarian Bush? It's like, all he'd have to do if he wanted to lower crime would be to go on TV and ask people to commit more crimes. People would do the opposite just out of spite.

    Friday, January 7, 2005
    12:50 - Eso es como es en el Norte

    Wow. Is this The Onion or something?

    I guess the argument in favor of this would go something like, "Well, they're going to do it anyway, so we might as well make it as safe as possible."

    Which has its merits. But... I mean, come on.

    Wednesday, January 5, 2005
    15:34 - Free Mansion

    Who wants to help Steve Jobs move his mansion? Whoever does gets it for free.

    THE billionaire co-founder of the computer giant Apple is offering one of his homes for free to anyone who can afford to dismantle the 35-room mansion and remove it from his San Francisco estate.

    When Steve Jobs bought the sprawling house two decades ago, he planned to tear down the building he describes as "an abomination" and to redevelop the land, but he had not reckoned on the strength of feeling among conservationists, who lobbied to save the 17,000sq ft red tile and stucco mansion, arguing it should be protected as a listed building.

    The computer mogul finally struck a deal with planning officials, who ruled he could demolish the building, but only if he first tried to entice someone to relocate it.

    . . .

    Of the house’s original owner, Mr Jobs said: "He was a very wealthy man. Unfortunately, he didn’t have very good taste."

    Pictures are here. As is so often the case with Jobs and taste, he has a point.

    What're you waiting for?

    11:39 - I'm gonna be over here

    Dean Esmay has hurled himself bodily into a massive and academically rigorous attempt to publicize and reinvigorate a skeptical debate over the causal link between HIV and AIDS.

    He's about nine long, long posts into it, involving detailed historical documentation, interviews with scientists in the field who have been excommunicated and then returned to honor over their dissenting views, lots of hard and interesting questions, and tons of bibliographic reference. (He's helpfully using a "Related Posts" tracking system now, which is ideal for this kind of thing.) Also the commenters are adding a lot to the discussion.

    I have no idea what to think about the whole thing, other than that this is one brave guy. It'll be fascinating to see where it all leads.

    Tuesday, January 4, 2005
    13:18 - But who's counting?

    Country-by-country breakdown of per-capita donations through Amazon.

    Pretty devastating. I don't care, personally; it'd be nice if we could put aside such pettiness. But if people are still interested in saying Americans are stingy or greedy or selfish and it's all because of our low taxes and not having socialism, they can cram it.

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    © Brian Tiemann