Tuesday, April 30, 2002

An Accidental Debate on the Nature of Man - As it appears in this column, it's sort of Superman vs. Humpty Dumpty, but the basic debate is on whether human beings are a plague on the universe or not. Rand Simberg, who has the home-column advantage here, comes down on the "not" side, while his email correspondent, "Lori M." comes down on the anti-human side.

I have some sympathies with Lori. We have, again and again, shown that we're more interested in what we can do than in what we ought to do, and as our technology advances, the amount of damage we can do with our mistakes is increasing dramatically. When it comes to anything unprecedented, and serious space travel is, indeed, unprecedented, we need to be very, very careful.

But there are some good arguments for Simberg's side to, a few of which he actually makes. First of all, technology is not just computer chips and genetic engineering, it's also sharpening a stick or wrapping yourself in fur (or weeds) to keep warm. Hell, there's a strong argument to be made that a beaver dam is technology. And humanity is not a mono-culture; it's a complex tapestry of thoughts, feelings, and cultures, with diverse aesthetic and ethical standards. As long as we're talking about science fiction scenarios, what if there's some incredibly war-like race out there that is somehow so touched by our exported Tibetan Buddhism that they give up their ways and reform their society. Historically, human beings have been a force for good as well as for ill.

Unfortunately, Simberg's an engineer, and Lori's...well we don't get to know anything about Lori except her views, but we can safely label her a granola-head (that's one of my friend's nicknames for me, so don't get offended, my fellow hippie freaks). As a result, we get what typically passes for 'comprehensive coverage' these days: two people on opposite sides of an issue screaming at each other until time is up.

Friday, April 26, 2002

What would you do? - When I was in high school, Ice-T came out with a song that made it very clear that he knew his audience was suburban white kids like myself. First of all, it was a rock song, not a rap song. But secondly, the song painted little vignettes of inner city violence, rage, destruction, punctuated with a chorus that consisted of voices crying "Tell us what to do" and Ice-T replying "Fuck you! You'd know what to do if a bullet hit your kid on the way to school or a cop shot your kid in the back yard!"

Oddly enough, this hard-driving, obscenity-laced rant was a call for compassion, for a recognition that gang violence in LA was an "us" problem, not a "them" problem. Now, Kathleen Durkan makes the same plea in the Seattle Times. Read it.

Thursday, April 25, 2002

Havrilesky on The Bachelor - Just when I was starting to feel okay about being divorced and dating again, I had to go and read Heather Havrilesky's article on The Bachelor. The best thing about the story is the headline: "One Ring to Rule Them All." That's not to say the rest of the article isn't hilarious, just that the headline kicks so much ass that the rest of the article is still doing that little half-jog thing trying to keep up.

Here's a taste: "But even as many contestants reveal those flaws that complete the picture of them as princesses -- "See how bruised this pea made my ass?" -- they refuse to disclose aspects of their personalities that could actually give Alex some indication of the mundane qualities and flaws that reflect who they are as human beings."

Now, it's a given that I don't really know shit about dating. I wasn't very good at it the first time I was 'on the market' and I don't have much experience now. But the image I have in my mind is of magnets in a gumball machine, and the whole point of dating is to shake up the machine enough that the magnets get close enough to stick to one another. Let's face it: I'm weird. And to find a woman who's weird in a way that complements my weirdness is, well unlikely. And by unlikely, I don't mean that it's never going to happen, just that it won't happen that often. Of course, down deep, we're all weird in some way or another, so the same thing applies to all of us.

The problem as set out by Mm. Havrilesky and interpreted by me, is that instead of acknowledging to the world our real weirdness, too many of us reach up on a shelf and pull down a store-bought Halloween costume of who we think we ought to be, and then look for somebody wearing a costume that matches our costume. And that's no way to run a railroad.

Wednesday, April 24, 2002

Diary of a Mad Manager: Leadership Secrets of Ozzy Osbourne - It's not a real book, but, oh, it should be.
What's Wrong with Arundhati Roy? - The God of Small Things was a great book. But good writers, possibly because of their vivid imaginations, tend to have somewhat ludicrous politics. So I've pretty much ignored Arundhati Roy's post-9/11 pronouncements on the evils of America except to note that they're out there, they're ridiculous, and that they're getting more attention than they deserve. I heard she spent a night in jail for badmouthing the Indian Supreme Court, and I thought maybe she was a little more informed when it came to her own country, and that it certainly was a shame that a judge could throw you in jail just for saying bad things about them. But it can happen here, too. (Next time you're in a courtroom, stand up and call the judge a cocksucker, then see what happens. You might just get kicked out, but you could very well end up in jail.) Now, Amrit Dhillon has come along to puncture the balloon.

What's really interesting is that Dhillon and Roy seem to agree with one another on many of the issues, but Roy's take on things is so grotesquely oversimplified and her manner so self-inflating that she's hurting the credibility of the movement she claims to be supporting. Let's call it the Michael Moore phenomenon. Or Rush Limbaugh, if you prefer.

Monday, April 22, 2002

OK, here's the dilemma: How much of my personal life do I put up on the web? I do a lot of reading and thinking about stuff that other people might be interested in, but very often what really has a hold on my brain is the twisted soap opera that is my life. Should I write about that? (Don't worry, guys, I won't write about what we did last weekend. This is all I'll say: Friends are the people you call to help you move. Real friends are the people you call to help you move a body.) I've talked a tiny bit about my divorce, mainly because it was Valentine's Day, when everyone's relationship status becomes pseudo-public. What about when I'm just having a really bad day, or a really good day?

Ah, but this is the Internet, and words can last a long time. I'll make you a deal. For the most part, I'll write about my thorny personal problems in my private journal, which nobody but me gets to read. In fact, since it's handwritten, there are only about 4 people on the planet who can read it. And every once in a while, I'll post an update here.

So, consider this your update: I'm mostly doing good. Getting divorced sucks, and when you've spent 8 years sharing your home with someone who is your confidant, lover and best friend, then suddenly you live alone, it takes a while to adjust. I'm one of those guys with an addiction to female energy, but luckily I have a few women in my life who are kind enough to endure my company and/or my emails, and I don't know how I'd get by without them. Hopefully I won't have to. I also have some phenomenal friends who have always been and continue to be wonderful support. Sometimes you forget the rope is there, but you're glad to have it when you fall.

Here's one tiny fragment of wisdom: When you've put all your energy into one thing, labelling that one thing as the most important thing in your life, and that one thing falls apart, but you don't fall apart with it, it can be very liberating.
Matt Welch on Nader's New Book - This is the way it is: If you're going to base your whole public persona on the idea that you're speaking the truth that the 'power elite' are afraid of, then you have to actually speak the truth, otherwise you look like a hypocrite and an asshole. It's a really simple idea. Why do so many people in the left wing seem to have a problem with it? People like Nader and Michael Moore are the loudest voices on the left-wing right now, and about 50% of what they say is really important, worthwhile criticism of a culture desperate for credible critics. And the other 50% is near-total bullshit, which thoroughly discredits the 50% that isn't. Left wing "Truth Tellers" that bend the facts to fit their beliefs do more harm to the left-wing than a thousand Rush Limbaughs.
Should Arafat have said "yes" in 2000? - The current conventional wisdom is that Israel made an incredibly generous offer back in 2000, and that Arafat's rejecting it proves that he would rather continue to be a revolutionary than take on the challenges of establishing a real nation. In this article, Robert Wright points out that, while it was certainly the most generous offer Israel had ever made, it fell short of Palestine's demands in a number of significant places.

Now, as far as I'm concerned, that's what a negotiation is all about. You make an offer, I make an offer, gradually we come toward an arrangement that makes neither of us entirely happy. But Wright's analysis shows the 2000 offer to be one in which the Palestinians give up more than the Israelis. The most interesting bit of minutiae (for me) is that Israel would have maintained control of a road running east to west across the West Bank, with the Israeli government having the right to stop cross traffic at any time, effectively cutting the West Bank in half, and controlling the traffic from north to south. Combine that with Palestine having no control over their own air space, and suddenly the offer begins to seem less generous, and more like an offer designed to look good in the papers, but containing several sneakily unacceptable provisions.

The more attention I pay to the middle east, the more depressing and bewildering it all becomes. Maybe it's just because I'm used to living somewhere where people fairly rarely get shot or blown up, but I can't help but think that if I did live somewhere like that, it would be worth some pretty significant sacrifices in order to stop the violence. Here's my proposal: We set aside some land in North Dakota, or Idaho, or even southern Missouri, and everybody in Israel and Palestine who's sick of the death and the violence can come live here for ten years. We'll create three areas: Israeli, Palestinian, and mixed. People get to choose what kind of people they live with. It's a one-time offer. And everybody who decides to stay behind can kill each other to their hearts' content, and we don't have to feel as bad about it, because we'll know they've chosen to do it. Hopefully, when the ten years are up, all the people who prefer violence will have killed each other off, and the gene pool will be the better for it.

Friday, April 19, 2002

A Personal Note on the War on Drugs

You've heard the old joke: "A conservative is a liberal who's been mugged." Well, there's a corollary, that a liberal is a conservative who's been arrested. Well, last week, a friend of mine's house got raided. She was the only one home, waiting for friends to pick her up before going out. She hears a car pulling up, puts on her coat and opens the door to go, and instead of her friends, there are men with guns on her porch. "Going somewhere, ma'am?"

Basically, they'd been told that someone was dealing cocaine out of the house, and so in they rush, scaring the hell out of my friend, trashing her house, and making her look like a crook in front of her neighbors. To be fair to the cops, they did find her roommate's two-year old bag of pot (containing a little less than an eighth of an ounce) and a pipe. So he got a ride in a black and white, a misdemeanor charge, and a $700 legal bill. Why did they even bother, you might ask. Well, in the words of the officer in charge of the bust, "I don't want to have come all the way out her for nothing!"

But the award for Quote of the Night is most definitely awarded for "95% of rumors are true, ma'am," again from the officer in charge. So, apparently, they're giving out search warrants based on rumors now. Goody. Well, I feel safe.
For Those of You Who Think Michael Moore is the Only One Full of Shit:
Just got this in email this morning:

>An interesting tidbit...... Terrorist pilot Mohammed Atta blew up a bus in
>Israel in 1986. The Israelis captured, tried and imprisoned him. As part of
>the Oslo agreement with the Palestinians in 1993, Israel had to agree to
>release so-called "political prisoners." However, the Israelis would not
>release any with "blood on their hands." The American President at the time,
>Bill Clinton, and his Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, "insisted" that
>all prisoners be released. Thus Mr. Atta was freed and eventually "thanked
>the US" by flying an airplane into Tower One of the World Trade Center. This
>was reported by many of the American TV networks at the time that the
>terrorists were first identified. It was censored in the US from all later
>reports. Please pass this on to anyone you think would appreciate reading it.
>And to think Clinton will get millions for his book of memories???? I WONDER

For the actual truth, go to these sites:
http://www.snopes2.com/rumors/atta.htm and

Apparently the original version of the story blamed Reagan, but the timeline didn't fit, and, I'd imagine, that stuck in somebody's craw, so they changed the names from Reagan and Schultz to Clinton and Christopher. But it's still false. These were two different people with the same name; the US extradited the bus-bomber to Israel to stand trial, and if that Atta was released (it's hard to tell for sure, due to conflicting reports), then he was released by the Israeli Supreme Court, due to irregularlities in the extradition process.

You've gotta love urban legends, huh?

Wednesday, April 17, 2002

I recently made the assertion to a friend that the insane proliferation of unnecessary zippers was the fault of the government. She asked why, and this is my reponse. It's since been pointed out to me that several of the facts are blatantly wrong (particularly my timeline). To this, I say, "What kind of conspiracy theorist would I be if I let mere facts dissuade me?"

You obviously haven't spent much time online if you don't know about how tied in with the defense industry the fashion industry is.

The first large-scale use of the zipper was on flight suits during the second world war, after a study found that 90% of downed pilots were shot while trying to undo the buttons of their flight suits. In addition, they found that zippers increased their response times to alerts. A 75 seconds may not seem like long, but some scholars attribute that slight edge to our winning in the Pacific theater.

All well and good. But after the war ended, defense contractors had a surplus of zippers and zipper manufacturing equipment, and no real demand. It started with jackets, but with slightly retooled equipment, these contractors found that they could shrink their products significant, switch to the much cheaper plastic, and get into the lucrative women's clothing industry.

A side benefit of the cheaper materials was that the zippers wore out faster and malfunctioned more often, necessitating frequent replacement (this was, after all, the era of planned obsolesence).

Eventually, demand stalled again. Sure, there are new trends, but the moneyed interests found women's fashion, while lucrative, to be ultimately too fickle for their tastes. They wanted a steady market, once where the consumers were slightly less vulnerable to trends, but still easy enough to lure into new, unnecessary purchases. So they went to the outdoor clothing industry.

At first the people at Northface, REI, etc. were reluctant. After all, they were mostly pot-smoking tree huggers, not particularly comfortable with defense contractors. But even pot-smoking tree huggers have families, and families are vulnerable.

And so it began. Zip off hoods. Shells. Sleeping bag liners. Pit zips. Pockets on your arm. Side vents on running pants. Sneakers with pockets. Jackets were no longer just things you wore, they became multi-part suites of clothing, to be bought as a set, or individually.

But demand still wasn't what it could be, so the corporatations went to their contacts in the government, which embarked on a multi-pronged attack on the problem. The first part was a defense action: under no circumstances was any action to be taken for the prevention or amelioration of global warming. CO2 emissions were not to go down. If possible, they should go up. Diesel engines started making a comeback. But at the same time, there needed to be more places to play, so the government set off large amounts of land for, in essence, public playgrounds. Then they started pushing their people in the media to build up extreme sports, the kinds of things that get you really hot and sweaty, but you do them out in the cold, creating demand for adaptable clothing.

Finally, and most impressively, they built a huge pipeline out to the middle of the Pacific Ocean and started pumping warm water out there, creating El Nino and fucking up weather across the planet so that you would never be able to tell in the morning whether it was going to be hot or cold in the afternoon, so you'd need gear that could change with the weather.

And you ask me why I blame the government. Jeez. What naivete!

Oh, and my jacket doesn't really have 14 zippers. Just three, with no pit zips. But it does have ten pockets. I've never been able to fill them all, but my theory is that having lots of pockets makes you feel organized when you're getting ready to go, but when you actually go to look for something, you either look like my grandfather did when he'd lose his glasses, patting himself all over in the hopes that he'd get find them, or you look like that one guy from the Harlem Globetrotters cartoon that could pull a freaking car out of his afro.

I always wondered if his neck hurt.
Wendy Lesser on Rereading - I'm conflicted on this article, which is why I'm writing about it. On the one hand, it's well written, and it's a nice exploration of the way a book changes for us as we ourselves change. But am I the only one to find the core idea to be pretty obvious? Here's the deal: when we read a book, our reaction is not, strictly speaking, to the book itself, but to our experience of the book, and that experience is affected by many factors, from the physical and psychological context (sitting in our living room, versus waiting in an airport, versus waiting to see the oncologist) to our own life experiences. It's a nice article, a diverting read, and if you've never really thought about the difference between the novel and your experience of the novel, then this could be a nice introduction. But I have to wonder if anyone's really surprised to find that Henry James reads differently at 40 than it does at 20 or even 25.

Friday, April 12, 2002

Women Date Down Day - Stanley Kurtz of the National Review actually has a good idea: a day when women ask out men who make less than they do. I'm not touting this idea because I need dates. Well, not just because of that. I'm touting it because I think it's a good start. What we really need is a holiday on which we date at least one person that we wouldn't normally date, for whatever reason. Of course, I should caution you that this one good idea is buried in a juvenile diatribe about Take Our Daughters to Work Day.

Honestly, I don't know what you think of Take Our Daughters to Work Day, and it's not relevant. Personally, I do think Take Our Children to Work Day is better than keeping it just for daughters. But Kurtz's critique is based on the typical Straw Feminist that conservative columnists love to pull out of the closet for such an occasion. On the other hand, he does seem to have a sense of humor about being a conservative columnist, so at least he's better than George Will.

Monday, April 08, 2002

Review of Illusionaire's Musings - Some blogs are big, some are small. Some talk about peace in the Middle East, the world of business, software, entertainment, or whatever. And some are a peek in your neighbor's window, and more, into her head. Such a blog is Illusionaire's Musings. I don't want you to take that as perjorative, however. Illusionaire's a skilled writer, simply and clearly narrating what appears, to the casual browser, at least, to be a nice, simple life. The beauty of the written word is that it let's us take little rides in other people's heads, and the beauty of Illusionaire's Musings is in the beautiful surprises that come from a fresh look at someone we thought we already knew.
Oh, and the bathroom remodel looks great.

Thursday, April 04, 2002

Finally, a mideast peace proposal that might actually work: move Israel to Baja, California. Sure, it's got it's problems, but it's better than anything else I've heard lately.

Wednesday, April 03, 2002

Rob Walker's got a brilliant (and funny) article in Slate today. Really. Go read it. Any attempt I make to describe it will just ruin it for you, so you'll just have to trust me.

Oh, and two election-related notes: First of all, the deposit law has been repealed, and now we'll get to see whose propaganda was right. Will grocery prices go down? Will litter go up? My best guess is that litter will get a little bit worse, and grocery prices will stay the same, but no matter what happens, I don't get to complain. Why not? Because I got busy and stupidly forgot to vote. After all my posturing, I forgot to vote.

As soon as I realized what I'd done, I sent myself to my room without supper.

Tuesday, April 02, 2002

Hey! It's election day here in Missouri, so go vote. If you live here. And if you're one of those "no matter who you vote for, the goverment gets elected" kind of people, then go vote anyway, it's about damn time you grew up. Naturally, if you don't live in Missouri, and it's not election day wherever you are, then it's okay, you don't have to vote today. I absolve you.

The big issues here in Columbia are school board elections (no brainer: 4 guys running for 3 slots, and one of the 4 guys is running on a platform of giving less money to the schools), a bond issue to build new schools, and a drive to repeal the bottle deposit ordinance.

Here's the basics on the bottle deposit: Columbia has the only municipal bottle deposit law in the country (it also covers cans), although several states have them. And every 5-10 years, there's a drive to repeal it. The anti-deposit law folks have a lot of arguments, some good, some ridiculous, but what they basically boil down to is that the deposit law costs businesses money, and it's a pain in the ass. Here's my argument for the deposit law: Every summer, I go up to Michigan, a deposit law state, and I can walk for 6 miles along the beach up there without seeing a single can or a bottle. When I go canoeing on the Current river, in southern Missouri, where there is no deposit on cans or bottles, in six miles I can fill up a trash bag or two.

On the other hand, I mostly drink water, juice or tea at home, and I brew my own beer (and reuse the bottles) so I really don't get to experience the pain in the ass parts of the deposit law. At my rate of consumption, I get enough cans and bottle to be worth the trouble about once every 4 months or so, at which point I bag up the whole bunch and give them to a homeless guy who's more than willing to sort cans and bottles for a nickel each. But if you drink a lot of Coke, and you think it's more trouble than it's worth, than vote to repeal it, and we'll see who wins.

Would it be totally geeky of me to admit that I get off on democracy?

Monday, April 01, 2002

Good lord, has it been a month and a half? Well, hopefully my server problems are more or less over, and I can get back to posting on a regular basis.

Anyway, happy Fool's Day. I know everybody likes to pull pranks today and all that, but I like to think of this as a day to celebrate the Fool in all of us. This country exists because a bunch of fools decided to go to war with the British Empire. My job exists because a series of fools tried to do new things with technology. My family exists because one fool after another wanted to see what was over the next hill, and because of people foolish enough to believe in and trust in love.

Wisdom, knowledge and experience all have well-earned places in our pantheon of virtues, but, just for today, let's celebrate foolishness, and all that we've gained because of it.

Oh, and check this out. I don't know if it will stay up past today, but I certainly hope it does.