Friday, February 28, 2003

Twice a Day

There is a man who lives just down the street, a grandfatherly man. He lives several houses down. Every day, twice a day, this man slowly walks to Patten Elementary and back. He shuffles, really, with his back bent and his head bowed.

In the morning the man goes by with two boys trailing closely behind, two brothers on the way to the start of school. They walk along reluctantly, as everyone does at that time of day. And fifteen minutes later or so, the man comes back by himself.

Then in the afternoon, around 2:30 or so, the man walks by again, going to get the boys. And when he returns, they inevitably dash far ahead of him, leaving him with their backpacks and their coats and their books and whatever. They race ahead eager to get home, while the man lags far behind, sometimes loaded down tremendously with all their stuff.

Every day this back and forth goes on. Rain or shine. Hot or cold. The man walks with the boys to school in the morning and fetches them back in the afternoon.

Years from now, the boys will remember this. They will remember walking with their grandfather. They will remember how he went with them every day. They will remember his shuffling feet and his bowed head. And perhaps they will even remember how they made him carry all their stuff. They will remember this, and it will make them smile.

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Mr. Rogers Went to Washington

As quoted from the website of the Home Recording Rights Coalition in boingBoing which was linked in Michael Tsai's blog, a man sits before the supreme court:

Very frankly, I am opposed to people being programmed by others. My whole approach in broadcasting has always been You are an important person just the way you are. You can make healthy decisions. [...] anything that allows a person to be more active in the control of his or her life, in a healthy way, is important.

That was the Sony Betamax case, which established the (radical) notion that video cassette recorders are legal, that we get to use them, to use them fairly as we saw fit.

The man was Fred Rogers. Without him and a court that was able then to see things independently of the financial interests of the corporate media, using a VCR would be illegal.

Alas, the Betamax case was an anomaly from a period when individual rights still held their own against corporate profits. Today corporate interests trump all. Learned economists and executive fat cats looks down at the people with contempt as they deliver their lectures: It's the economy, stupid! The corporate economy.

And when DVDs and CDs and HDTV finally drive out VCRs and casette tapes and analog television, the Betamax case will be irrelevant, superceded by the revised notions of fair use and limited times In the coming digital world, Mr. Roger's notions of personal control will have passed away (with great corporate applause) and finally put to bed.

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 Thursday, February 27, 2003

Goodbye, Mr. Rogers

So, let's make the most of this beautiful day.
Since we're together we might as well say:
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
Won't you be my neighbor?

Goodbye, Mr. Rogers.

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 Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys!?

John Litchfield writes in The Independent (linked from kasia in a nutshell):

A grateful transatlantic reader writes: You limey saddo. Who gives a s*** about your dreary little island and what you hypocrites think... Such is, broadly, the tone of several e-messages that I received from the United States after I defended France's right to have its own opinion on Iraq. [...] the nastiest blow of all was landed by the far- right American propagandist who wrote a column that dismissed the French as cheese-eating surrender monkeys. [...]

If we are being offered a choice between a cheese-eating civilisation and a peanut-butter-eating civilisation, I am with the cheese-eaters. Post-September 11, US politics -- and even US journalism -- seems to be going the way of peanut butter. There is room for endless freedom of choice between labels. The contents of the ideas are not allowed to vary. [Our Man in Paris]

This kind of argument, (proclaiming the French to be cheese-eating surrender monkeys or at the helm of the Axis of Weasels) is downright comical and suggests the amount of credibility we should grant to the name callers.

And this behavior is by no means limited to the right but is common on the both sides, witness for instance the anti-war protesters carrying posters of Saddam -- what he's our hero, now!?

Gosh. Why don't I want to ally myself with either side!?

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White House Factions

It's just too easy for me to write off pronouncements that come out of the White House, so easy in fact that I am likely (indeed certain) to misunderstand that which I should not. In an article in The American Prospect Online (linked by Josh Marshall), John Judis illuminates some of the forces at work at the White House:

Judis: Three factions in the administration have been involved in formulating the Iraq policy: The first and most important has consisted of Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. They are Republican unilateralists who disdain international organizations and have been reluctant to intervene overseas except when they saw America's interests clearly at stake. The second faction is led by Secretary of State Colin Powell, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and CIA Director George Tenet. They adhere to the classic blend of realism and internationalism that had characterized the Bush Senior and Clinton administrations. And the third faction has been the neoconservatives, led by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. [Why Iraq?, The American Prospect vol. 14 no. 3, March 1, 2003] (emphasis added by me for clarity)

It's worthwhile reading. At least it makes me feel like an informed whiner.

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 Monday, February 24, 2003

Spring Blown Gone

The Redbud blooms are doomed tonite, with a stiff north wind and freezing sleet falling from cold, gray, cloudy skies, with hissing ice lying on the ground making the bare earth white.

The sunny blue of Saturday is gone, gone as quickly as it seemed to arrive, chased by the clouds blown in by the storm. Those blue skies and warm winds and sunny spots of greenery have disappeared.

Beware, beware! Your dreams of spring from yesterday will freeze and splinter in the wind tonite, in the cold north wind that is descending on the city and is forcing young saplings to lean to the south.

Winter is upon us yet again. So put aside those dreams of spring you had, those dreams of wildflowers waving in the breeze, for the air is cold and the skies are gray and the ice on the sidewalk crunches underfoot.

Spring is farther away than it seemed, farther than it seemed just yesterday.

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Look Over There!

While the White House has the media dancing like puppets on strings about codes orange and duct tape and the impending war, look what they have in store for us. The ACLU (as linked in TalkLeft) has a detailed analysis of the Department of Justice plans for combatting the terrorists among us:

ACLU: The draft legislation ... Diminishes personal privacy by removing checks on government power ... Diminishes public accountability by increasing government secrecy ... Diminishes corporate accountability under the pretext of fighting terrorism ... Undermines fundamental constitutional rights of Americans under overbroad definitions of terrorism and terrorist organization ... Unfairly targets immigrants under the pretext of fighting terrorism ... [ACLU analysis]

This is not vague hyperbole. The statements are backed up with specifics defending their claims. And then (after they've presented the specifics) they provide an exhaustive section-by-section analysis of the proposal, a proposal that only came to light by virtue of a leak -- can't have those terrorists get ahold of our plans to ensure the domestic tranquility now, can we?

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Four Hours to Spare

It is 11:00am on a long weekend. The sky is blue, but the wind still carries a chill. Central Texas spring is several weeks away, but the sun is getting warmed up for the season that is just around the corner, so by noon it should be warm enough.

The boy is off from school today. Left to his own devices, he'll settle in front of a monitor or a Gameboy or maybe just a book in bed. But today that will not do, not with a blue sky outdoors, no matter how chilly the wind. And anyway, by noon it should be warm enough.

When noon does come and the sun is higher in the sky and the songs of the morning birds -- the Cardinals and Wrens and Mockingbirds -- have yielded to the sounds of the city, we pack up a lunch and put on our shoes and grab a light jacket and head out the door.

There is a place we know with a path in the woods: a quiet, secluded, out-of-the-way place. That place is where we will go today. With our lunches in a backpack and drinks on our belts, we go to that place and follow the path from where the road ends at a dead-end sign.

We follow the path across a brown meadow and thru standing clusters of juniper and oak. We follow it to where it begins to descend, sloping first slowly and then cascading over tumbled shelves of limestone and gnarled tree roots. It takes us down: down the tumbling steps, beneath a canopy of leafless Red Oak and evergreen Live Oak waiting for the spring, thru the fragrance of Juniper, into the coolness down by the creek's edge where the rushing water calls.

Do you have four hours to spare? Come with us, we'll take you there. Down to the green-blue water rushing over its white limestone bed. Up past the rapids. Past the rope swings hanging from branches reaching out over a deep, still pool. Along the canyon walls. To the falls and beyond.

Do you have four hours to spare? Come with us! I promise you'll sleep well tonite!

Barton Creek Greenbelt, Austin TX
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 Sunday, February 23, 2003

Blogs as Journalism -- Not

Jeff Walsh (as linked in Dave Winer's Scripting News) presents an extremely coherent and ultimately convincing dicussion of the blogs as journalism debate that awakens periodically in the blog community.

Jeff Walsh: I think blogs are amazing, powerful things and that we're at the beginning of a curve that no one can quite predict. [...]

I just think [...] there seems an awful lot of chatter about trying to prove you're part of something wholly irrelevant to the bigger picture. Blogging and Journalism

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I Refuse to Choose

And so here it is, we are forced (or seemingly so) to stake our ground, to choose sides, to stand with the rabid hawks or with the whining peaceniks. There can be no middle ground we are told, by others perhaps but by our own selves mostly.

Yet I refuse to choose. For although it is easy to label the two sides, these hawks and peaceniks, with pejoratives, the fact of the matter is that both sides are right and both alternatives are wrong. To side with one is to reject that compelling logic of the other side, to choose a wrong path.

I refuse to paste a flag to the back of my car and root for an invasion of Iraq. I refuse this not because of some admiration for Saddam Hussein or for some deep hatred for the nation of my birth. No. I refuse because of the certainty I see that no equivalent effort will be applied to cleaning up the mess or to addressing the ultimate causes of the problem. Look for yourself: our administration forgot to include money for Afghanistan in its latest budget request. It forgot. Right.

Yet I equally refuse to stand on the bridge waving signs and shouting simplistic slogans. I refuse this not because of some conviction in the ultimate supremacy of the United States or in the notion that Saddam Hussein is a unique menace to the forces of civilization. No. I refuse because of the childish behavior of protesters painting Bush as Hitler and the fact that Saddam himself makes Marcos and Pahlevi look tame in comparison. We demanded the demise of the other two, why not this monster?

Both alternatives are distasteful. So I simply refuse to choose. And I am not alone.

ColbyCosh: Thus are we forced to choose between unpalatable policies. One is to constantly X-ray the hearts of other heads of sovereign governments for signs of generalized dodginess, and to behave imperially--and, sub specie aeternitatis, somewhat randomly. Under this policy you will certainly be wrong about what your enemies are up to sometimes, and the innocent will die for no reason at all. The alternative is to await an actual act of war--one which may, in fact, destroy your society altogether--and hope you may identify the perpetrator after the fact, and be able to do something about it, which you probably won't. (Rome Wasn't Built in a Day[1])

[1] http://www.colbycosh.com/#rwbd (This link evidently will expire as the story is moved from the main page at colbycosh.com to the archives. As of right now, there is no permalink for the story. If you notice that the link breaks when the story moves to the archives, please let me know and I'll patch it to point to the archive.)
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 Friday, February 21, 2003

Thinking of the Future

Hamas and Hizbullah must go. And so must the Israeli settlements. There doesn't seem to be any other way. These are the current impediments that make peace in the Middle East an absolute impossibility.

And if these impediments do not go, if they remain and the festering wound of violence and hatred and killing and misery continue to spiral unchecked, what follows in the next twenty years will make the coming war in Iraq look like a walk in the park.

And the war is what is on everybody's mind.

Sadly, its unfashionable to think of the future these days. Who can afford to worry about twenty years from now? What a futile academic exercise! Certainly the rabid hawks and the whining doves can't be bothered to think of such things. They have speeches to give and protests to attend.

Kevin Drum of CalPundit[1], (linked by Brad DeLong of Semi-Daily Journal[2]) poses some questions for both sides:

I think there's a bipartisan consensus that there are several other outcomes we would also like to see [...]

  • Introduction [...] of democratic institutions in Iraq.
  • Rapid reconstruction of Iraqi infrastructure and introduction of market reforms, food aid, and medical aid.
  • A clear demonstration [...] that Iraq did indeed have [...] WMDs
  • Continued protection of the Kurds and other [...] minorities
  • [...] evidence that Western values [...] are starting to make inroads in the rest of the Middle East.

And then there are the possible disasters that a war might bring:

  • A serious uprising [...] promoting increased terrorist activity.
  • Additional wars in the Middle East [...]
  • Pursuit of WMDs by countries like Iran or Syria [...]
  • A serious attack, possibly nuclear, on Israel.
  • An interruption of the Mideast oil supply [...] that causes a serious recession in the rest of the world.

So [...] if you're in favor of war, is anything more than regime change needed for you to consider it a success? And would any of the disasters on the bottom list convince you that it was, in the end, a failure?

For anti-war partisans, the question is the opposite. How many of the items on the top list would have to happen to convince you that the war, in fact, turned out to be a positive development?

Thinking about these issues requires a willingness to look down the road a bit. I see no evidence that either the hawks or the doves are interested of that. After all, they have speeches to give and protests to attend.


[1] http://calpundit.blogspot.com/2003_02_16_calpundit_archive.html#89410243

[2] http://www.j-bradford-delong.net/movable_type/2003_archives/000383.html

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 Thursday, February 20, 2003

By the Side of the Road

Ron was up in the tree. Up on a branch shooting off from a branch, he shimmied up there with his electric chain saw and now was sawing off great hunks of Ash.

We were opening up a hole in the sky, pulling back the frantic tangle of just-budding branches, opening a hole for the sun to shine down on the Monterey Oak.

And while Ron was up in the tree sawing branches and throwing them down where they landed (thud!) on the lawn, we lopped off the finery and bundled it up, bound tightly with twine, arrayed neatly in piles. And Ron got his gas saw to cut the big branches into shorter ash logs, which we stacked one on one by the side of the road.

It is gray outside today: dull clouds in the sky, and rumbling thunder since 5:00am. A steady rain is falling, and lightning accompanies the rumbling, sometimes near, sometimes far.

Outside in the street, the City of Austin truck has come by. Three men in yellow raincoats stand in the downpour with water rushing in the gutter past their feet. One, with a burning cigarette hanging from his mouth despite the rain, stands and watches as the other two pick up the bundles and the logs neatly piled. They throw it all into a great yellow grinder towed behind their truck.

And in 30 seconds those three, or rather those two, have ground into mulch that which took us the better part of a morning to saw and to cut and to lop and to tie and to pile in neat piles by the side of the road.

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 Wednesday, February 19, 2003


Did they show pictures of the protesters in NYC? The barricades? The riot gear? The horse brigades? Did they talk about how the people were kept separated? Did they talk about the scuffles? I don't know if they did or not. Did they count the numbers? All around the world?

I just don't watch the news any more. I won't. I can't. But I wonder how much was shown and how long it was on before the cameras flipped back to the Daytona 500 and the news regained its focus on duct tape, plastic wrap and Michael Jackson.

As some of you may know, I get my news online. Indeed, this is a frequent reason some insist that I should get a life, that I should stop being such a sourpuss. Whatever.

I offer below a few URLs I've found about the protests in New York.

Caveat: I can't vouch for the objectivity of these sites, but then I can't vouch for the objectivity of FoxNews, either. I must say, however, that it doesn't help when the posts feature gratuitous insertions of peaceful and seeking to exercise their First Amendment rights before and after each reference to the protesters. And lest anyone think differently, some of the organizations behind the wider anti-war effort (eg, ANSWER) seem to be despicable in their own right.

Nevertheless what happened in New York and all over the world on last Saturday is important. Mind what I said: the protests themselves are important. Their significance is IMHO largely independent of whether you root for the coming war or against it or whether you have chosen not to choose. That so many people felt strongly enough to brave the cold and the barricades is important. It says something refreshing about the power of people in a culture dominated by corporate media, pundits spouting sophomoric balderdash, and press spokesmen spinning manufactured distortions this way and that.

I found some of these pictures and stories informative. Your mileage may vary.



Some first-hand stories:

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 Tuesday, February 18, 2003

She Made Her Cry

Uzbekistan Diary:
I told her I had a business proposition. [...] I heard silence. Then a little mousey peep. I turned my head to see what was happening, and Feruza turned from me and began to sob.

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Start of Day

In the morning, with a cup of coffee in my hand I go out the door to say goodbye. I do this twice.

I do this once to say goodbye to her. With a cup of coffee in my hand and sometimes only slippers on my feet, I go outside to watch her get into her car and close the door and back into the street. We always wave as she drives away.

And I do this again to say goodbye to him. With a cup of coffee in my hand and always by then my shoes upon my feet, I go outside to tell him to have a good day at school. With his backpack and lunch box and his trombone in hand, he walks up the driveway and slowly down the street, sometimes looking back to smile and wave and sometimes not.

And having then said goodbye to the two of them, each day I sit down, with my cup of coffee still in my hand. I sit down at this desk, in front of this computer, beside the window that looks out upon the lawn. I sit down and start my day.

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 Monday, February 17, 2003


Ok. There's one thing about this link to terrorists issue that I don't fully understand.

If those guys (the guys with all these links) had dealings with the terrorists (the bad guys they were linked to) at the same time that we were sending shoulder-launched missiles to rebels in Afghanistan and intelligence and chemical weapon know-how to the then enemy-of-our-enemy in the Middle East, weren't they just being good guys then?

If they were doing this while our envoys were courting Saddam Hussein and our intelligence agencies were arming fundamentalist freedom fighters in their holes in the mountains, weren't they being patriots?

Do I have this straight? They were good guys then because they played by our rules, and they're bad guys now because the game didn't turn out the way we had planned? Because all our scheming went awry? Right? That's our thinking on this matter?

Everyone is getting bent out of shape about these links, but weren't those guys just being good card-carrying friends of ours? Patriots even?

Or is our own foreign policy not the measure by which we judge such things after all? Of course. That's where I go wrong. How naive of me to think that in the real world our own actions would have any relationship to anything at all. Realpolitik and all that. You gotta do what you gotta do. It's a changed world. Yesterday is gone. Public safety. War on terror. OBL. WMD.

Now I'll be darned if I'll be painted as an apologist for a bloodthirsty dictator or a supporter of backward fanatics with medieval sensibilities, but how is it that we wonder why everybody seems to hate us so?

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 Sunday, February 16, 2003

Checks and Balances

The Constitution of the United States of America assumes that stated motivations for actions are not sufficient to preclude the onset of tyranny. A tyrant might evolve from the best of intentions. Hence our checks and balances [1] , an explicit acknowledgment that power corrupts, even well-intentioned power wielded for the public good.

But the constitution does not stop there. Shocking though the proposition that tyranny can only be precluded by pitting the government against itself, as our nation evolved the founding fathers found even this to be insufficient to preclude the onset of tyranny. Thus they amended the constitution to grant certain rights to the people that even these well-checked agencies of the government may not constrain.[2]

In a press release dated 07Feb2003, the Department of Justice issued a two paragraph explanation for their recently disclosed efforts (the so-called PATRIOT II legislation) to give to the Executive Branch further unchecked powers to combat terrorism. [3]

The administration wants these powers badly. Without doubt, their motivations are good. Without doubt, terrorism is bad. Without doubt the world has changed since 9/11. But the very process by which this proposed legislation was drafted (in secret, with no public dialog, with no input from the very congress that would have to vote on it) should give us pause.

And as if this quiet back room formulation of sweeping changes to the very nature of our government is not enough to remind us that even well-intentioned power corrupts, the public response of the Justice Department after the cat was out of the bag should be.

In their press release they proclaim, as they often do, (1) that these measures are for public safety, that they were motivated by the real need to combat terrorism

We are continually considering anti-terrorism measures and would be derelict if we were not doing so.
and (2) that they have the interests of the Constitution at heart
[our] deliberations are always undertaken with the strongest commitment to our Constitution and civil liberties

Fair enough.
Does anyone doubt that J. Edgar Hoover would have said any less? [4]

[1] http://www.congressforkids.net/checksandbalances.htm

[2] I confess to having been ignorant of this interpretation of the Bill of Rights. I was only introduced to it recently in the opening of Lawrence Lessig's "Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace". http://cyberlaw.stanford.edu/code/

[3] http://www.tompaine.com/feature.cfm/ID/7230

[4] http://foia.fbi.gov/hoover.htm

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 Saturday, February 15, 2003


He wore a white t-shirt and headphones on his head. There was a characteristic way that he moved, how he held his shoulders or how he swung his arms or maybe something in his stride, but there was something about that guy that made me think I'd seen him before.

As we passed each other, me running west, him running east, our eyes briefly met, and there was a momentary flash of recognition that briefly surfaced and then disappeared. Both of us thought we'd seen the other before, but neither of us was sure.

A week or so later I saw him again. I was stretching under the bridge were the runners gather, and he came up in a white t-shirt with headphones on his head. He came to a stop at the drinking fountain, walked back and forth a bit, and then walked off to the parking lot.

I was sure that I'd seen him before, but certainly it couldn't be him. Certainly it couldn't be that guy who used to run around the track in Clear Lake in a white t-shirt with headphones on his head and a unique swagger in his run. Certainly not. Could it?

He had crossed the street. Trudy and I got up to go. As she took out her keys to get in her car, I told her, I think I know that guy. And I walked after him.

By the time I reached him, he was behind the wheel and had started his car. I knocked on the window, trying not to startle him. He looked over at me and smiled and laughed and got out of his car.

Did you used to live in Clear Lake? I asked.

Yes! he said.

I'm David. I think we've met at the Clear Lake High School track.

Yes! he said. I'm Edgar. It's good to see you again.

Whatta ya know.

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 Friday, February 14, 2003


A long time ago I was on the beach. The sun was hot. The wind was blowing off the water. The sky was cloudless. The water was an azure blue. The views were magnificent: out to sea, up and down the coast, into the hills behind us. It was summer. This was the Riviera. This was Nice.

Around us, people lay in the sun soaking up the rays and drinking drinks sold by vendors who appeared from nowhere when the police had gone away. The vendors shouted their wares.

Orangina. Beer-a. Cola!


That was a long time ago on a beach a long, long way away from here.

The other day I bought a bottle of Orangina. I bought it with distant echos of Nice bouncing in my head. I bought it to sip a bit from time to time, to sip and to share.

So imagine my surprise when I finally opened the refrigerator door to take out the cool bottle and pour myself a drink only to find a tablespoon or so of the Orangina left. A tablespoon!

Who would do such a thing, drink all but a tablespoon of the Orangina?

I think I know.

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 Thursday, February 13, 2003


It seemed to be a mostly partisan crowd, although the webcam didn't stray from the stage so maybe it was actually hard to tell for sure. It was a friendly crowd that had forced the speech to be moved from Bass Concert Hall to the Erwin Special Events Center with room for many thousands.

Former President Clinton spoke comfortably, a pace of speaking that he must relish now that he has, as he said several times, now that he has his life back. He spoke slowly and surely and had the luxury of making well-crafted points, being out of earshot of the sound byte hungry media.

He spoke of peace, of Anwar Sadat in Egypt and Yitzhak Rabin in Israel, of the Egyptian who killed Sadat and the Israeli who killed Rabin. And he spoke of the lost opportunity for the Middle East. He spoke of a world with more friends, of a world with fewer enemies.

And when he made a politically charged point and the friendly crowd began to cheer, he didn't encourage them. He'd keep talking until the applause died down. You guys sit down, he said once, trying to finish his argument.

At the end, they read some questions to him that some lucky students had written. One was about Roe v. Wade, asking if he thought it would be overturned soon. And whereas he had broadened his answers before to talk about related things, on this one he didn't have much to say. Yes it would, he thought.

He looked out from behind the podium, from under the bright lights on the stage. There was silence in the audience.

You shouldn't pretend these elections don't have consequences.

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She's Back

Back in New York, Dervala is reflecting a bit on her recent travels:

...then slowly it dawned -- over months -- that they felt sympathy, not envy, for my cherished independence.

... I began to notice that these folks had the stomach, back, and calf muscles that Pilates queens dream of. They sat regally on packed-earth floors for hours. My body was atrophied from years of school and office chairs, in which I sat to pay for more chairs. How nice to have strong sitting muscles, in place of strong wanting muscles.

... Giving, in poor Buddhist countries, is not a duty but a joy. It is an investment in karma for which the recipient should be thanked. I was humbled by -- and envious of -- this sense of abundance, and no longer sure which of us was rich.

Independence. Strength. Abundance.

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Perceptions on Iraq

The war frenzy kettle is coming to a boil. Woe to he who has misgivings, that he might bring the wrath of others down upon him and be labelled a weenie or a pacifist or anti-American.

But wherever you lie in the spectrum of opinion, it certainly cannot be denied that the situation in Iraq is illuminating a variety of reasons why some many people seem to hate us so.

Here (in a link from No War Blog) is a snippet from Ha'aretz which points to some of the reasons for the distrust and suspiscion and even hatred of our evolving policy:

In actuality, what we have here are the militant doctrines of an imperial power, economic self-interest and an attempt to ride the waves of the war to achieve petty political objectives.
At the end of the day (oh, now doesn't that make me sound pundit-like!), it is perception that counts. Motivations are not only impossible to know, but they are ultimately irrelevant.

If we craft policies that encourage such perceptions, we have no one to blame but ourselves.

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 Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Weblogs and Writing

Dave Winer hosts a bevy of webloggers at Harvard to talk about ... what else: weblogging. From Donna Wentworth's account of the conversation (what a monumental effort on her part!), there's this:

Harvard prof: When I was the age of most of the people in this room, people communicated with telephones...I've observed that with weblogs, you've brought writing back into the world.

Dave Winer: Yes, writing is good. Let's write.

Adam Medros: Yes, you've brought back an emphasis on the skill of writing persuasively...you've brought back trying out ideas/arguments.

I've seen this in my own writing. There's no substitute for regular practice!

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Blind Date

Uzbekistan Diary:

All I can say, when it comes to this blind date, he lost me at hello.

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In the middle twentieth century, Dutch Elm disease spread thru the midwest, reducing once tree-lined streets to virtual deserts. This decimation included the University of Illinois quadrangle, which once had American Elm trees gracing its sidewalks. After the elms came the Sycamores, dutifully planted in abundance along those same well-trodden paths. And these in turn fell victim to disease, leaving young plantings along the quad where the monocultures have twice now failed.

When NASA retooled its Control Center in Houston, a decision was made to buy only DEC Alpha workstations. They were undoubtedly impressive machines for their time, and a good deal was had for buying them in bulk (at least initially), but today the facility is fundamentally based on these workstations, even though DEC was long ago gobbled up by Compaq that has since been gobbled by HP. And the Alpha chip at the heart of these machines will soon be no more. The long term costs of hardware monoculture are beginning to rear their ugly heads.

Finally, recently a simple, relatively harmless "worm" crawled across the face of the globe, infecting the monoculture of Wintel servers running Microsoft software that had a vulnerability of which the worm was well aware. It gave the Internet global indigestion. Today many point to the worm as an example of the evils which we must be prepared to fight in the dawn of a new age of cyber-terrorism. Yet although they have discussed this worm and the security issues it raises, precious few have spoken to the perhaps more significant problem, and the one that has perhaps the easiest solution: software monoculture.

Oh for diversity!

What a simplistic platitude. Yet this diversity not just some abstract aesthetic. It is no mere shadow for philosophers to admire. It is a real solution out of the real pit into which we seem to have really dug ourselves.

Pass the shovel. I've got a tree to plant!

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Josh Marshall has some critical observations about the Bush administration's foreign policy:

The president and his crew are acting like that not-as-smart-as-he-thinks-he-is high school kid who's always running into reverses and always blaming it on someone else. At first you think he's getting a bad shake until you see the same thing happening over and over again. It's always someone else's fault. The South Koreans are lame. The Europeans are lame. Our Arab allies are lame. Everybody is lame. We're given excuse after excuse.

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 Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Time and Energy

Brett Peters talks about sinking endless amounts of time into cleaning up his email inbox
Sometimes I really hate computers. It's like they're this little black hole, sucking your time and energy for trivial tasks. I'll reverse this opinion as soon as I have things all nice and neat

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Sealed Crustless Sandwich

USPTO Patent Number 6,004,596 (Sealed Crustless Sandwich)

A sealed crustless sandwich for providing a convenient sandwich without an outer crust which can be stored for long periods of time without a central filling from leaking outwardly. The sandwich includes a lower bread portion, an upper bread portion, an upper filling and a lower filling between the lower and upper bread portions, a center filling sealed between the upper and lower fillings, and a crimped edge along an outer perimeter of the bread portions for sealing the fillings therebetween. The upper and lower fillings are preferably comprised of peanut butter and the center filling is comprised of at least jelly. The center filling is prevented from radiating outwardly into and through the bread portions from the surrounding peanut butter.
... for sealing the fillings therebetween. What more can be said?

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 Monday, February 10, 2003

100 stories

And with a minimum of fuss and an absence of fanfare, Mark Pilgrim announces 100 stories.
They are not syndicated. They are not categorized. They are not archived in reverse chronological order.

They are not memes. They are not content. They do not conform to the latest standards.

They are not comment-enabled. They are not trackback-enabled. They are not licensed under a Creative Commons license.

They are all original.

That's putting it mildly.

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Live With It

Papers, please.
Come with me.
No. You may not make a phone call.
No. You may not speak to a lawyer.
You have no such rights.
Sit down.
Be quiet.

The world has changed.
Evil is abroad.
If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.
We're looking out for your safety.
So live with it.
And one more thing: don't forget to wave your flag.
We're watching you.

Update: This isn't senseless whining. Really. For more information on this subject, see the excellent resources online at NOW with Bill Moyers.

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 Friday, February 7, 2003

Root Causes

The traffic light turned yellow, and she slowed to a stop. But the guy in the car behind her was evidently more in a rush than she, and he squealed around her left side, cutting off another car in the other lane, racing thru the the intersection with the light now well into yellow.

She saw him coming in her rear view mirror, coming up on her bumper as she was slowing to a stop. It scared her, and when she saw him swerving into the other lane, she turned her wheel a bit away from him. He wouldn't have made it if she hadn't moved to get out of his way.

It happens every day. Every day. And many people aren't as lucky as he was, as lucky as she was. Tens, hundreds, thousands of people die every year in automobile accidents.

There are idiots like this guy, racing to get to work 30 seconds earlier so they can pace the parking lot looking for the space nearest to the front door. Guys like this guy who make a conscious decision to act recklessly, who decide their schedules, their fun, their hurry, their rush is worth the threat they pose and the death they bring. They consciously decide to act this way, and thousands of people die. Yet it continues day after day.

What kind of fault tree do we need to stop this slaughter? What kind of impoundment of data do we need to understand the root causes? Where is the risk analysis? Where are the cost benefit studies of idiots like these.

This is no foam insulation falling off an external tank. This is no micrometeorite. There is no need to sift thru ratty telemetry to understand these tragedies, to discover the root causes. We know why it happens. Yet it continues day after day.

And in the meantime, while all these deaths tick off like clockwork, there are some who say that the loss of Columbia demonstrates reckless failure at NASA. They cry loudly that enough is enough, that until the root causes can be suppressed with absolute certainty no more Shuttles may fly.

I share their motivations. I share their yearning to understand why. And I wonder at their selective blindness.

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 Wednesday, February 5, 2003

Crazy Midland Radicals

Here's a link in (I found it Dan Shafer's blog) to an ad placed by Midland, TX residents. They're not exactly known for being crazed left-wing lunatics up there. And neither are the people quoted in the ad. It's a PDF file, but worth the download.

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It's All Software

The recent Lexmark DMCA suit has stirred a hornet's nest in the tech community by coming up with a scheme whereby the DMCA can be employed to compel consumers to buy Lexmark and only Lexmark toner catridges for their Lexmark printers.

In a recent CNet article, an HP executive was critical of this twisting of the intent of the law:

[HP Senior Vice President Pradeep Jotwani:] We think it is stretching it ... The DMCA was put in place (to protect) things like movies, music and software applications.
The only problem is that in a digital world there's no clear line between data (eg, music, movies, Word documents) and programs. See for instance Edward Felton's ongoing discussion on this very topic.

This is the problem with the DMCA. Written by a bunch of clueless hacks feeding out of the trough of their corporate cronies (oh my, I need to settle down), it is blowing the lid off of the Pandora's Box of digital intellectual property and erasing the notion that we as consumers can really own anything (digital) at all.

Since anything can have bits and bytes grafted to it, as with these Lexmark cartridges with their accompanying DMCA-protected chips, anything and everything falls under the umbrella of the DMCA. It's an uberlaw for the digital age. Everything else will be trumped by it.

With a law like this, nothing is safe (including the notion that when you buy a chair you have unlimited rights to sit in it -- satire).

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Why Space?

David Galbraith (linked by Jason Kottke/Undesign) on our doubts about paying for manned space exploration:

[Galbraith:] People complain about costly things such as space exploration and high energy physics experiments. Why spend money on these things when we have issues like poverty?

This argument is nihilistic. Why do we build monuments, paint, make films, write music, when there is still poverty all around? There is enough food in the world; poverty is the result of politics, exploitation and war above all.

Human space exploration is one of our greatest achievements. To try and rationalize unmanned space flight on the grounds of practicality misses the point, it is like saying that the Sistine Chapel would be brighter if it were whitewashed.

As a byproduct, space exploration provides us with expensive toys that are not designed for killing each other.

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That Was Columbia

I went to talk to the kids yesterday, 32 of them or so in Ms. Smith's science class. I went to talk to them about space and about history and about Columbia.

First I filled them with facts. I talked about Yuri Gagarin and Alan Shepard and John Glenn. I talked about Neil Armstrong bringing his spinning spacecraft under control. I talked about Sputnik and Soyuz and Mercury and Gemini and Apollo. I talked of flight controllers in Houston about to turn blue as Neil Armstrong landed the lunar module on nothing but fumes. And I talked about the Space Shuttle, about Enterprise and Columbia and Challenger and Discovery and Atlantis and Endeavor.

They sat silently as I told them what it was like to be there when Columbia first went up in 1981, what it was like to sit in the stands in black of night waiting for the launch clock to tick down, gazing out across the swamps at the gleaming white jewel of a rocket standing miles away on the horizon.

They sat in silence as I described to them the noiseless clouds of billowing smoke at the pad as the clock started counting up and how the Earth shook under our feet microseconds later. They sat in silence as I described the roar of the solid rocket boosters that hit us, how it sounded like the very air was being torn apart. They sat in silence as I described to them the color of the flame, gleaming liquid orange underneath the rocket's ascent.

That was Columbia, I told them, nine years before any of you were born. And I looked down at the scribbled notes I had brought with me, and I swallowed hard and struggled for a moment to find the next words to say.

That was Columbia. And they sat silently waiting for me.

I took a piece of black and white silica tile to the class to show to them. It was a sample piece of Shuttle tile that they gave us in the press room in 1981. I took it with me and passed it around, to let them feel it, to let them hold it.

And when the bell rang and it was time to go, the kids reached down and got their books. A few stuck around to touch the tile again. And Ben came to the front and gave me a big hug from behind.

Sixth grade science class, Small Middle School, Austin TX
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 Tuesday, February 4, 2003


The first thing he wanted to do when he got to town was to stop at the pawn shop just outside the airport to see if they had any used drum sets.

Let's go in, he said, pointing to the run-down building.

They didn't stop.

Another thing he wanted to do when he got to town was go to see the UT basketball game -- two rated teams battling each other for the top of the charts.

Did you get tickets? he asked.

His brother hadn't bought tickets, and the game was sold out.

And another thing he wanted to do while he was in town was go down to Sixth Street and see some live music.

Let's get dressed and go downtown, he said one night.

His proposal was met with silence. They didn't go.

Instead, they ate at little places hidden away in corners of town. Instead, they climbed Mt. Bonnell and viewed the city from above. Instead, they ran a half-marathon and finished hard. Instead, they ate tacos and burgers and frozen custard and pizza and spaghetti. Instead, they hiked the canyons of Barton Creek. Instead, they played with the dog. Instead, they stayed up late and got up early and played each others' tunes on the stereo. Instead, they walked a boy to school in the morning.

Instead of all these things he had wanted to do, they did all these other things, and they really didn't have time for anything else.

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 Monday, February 3, 2003

We Know That Much

Today the NASA Administrator sent a message out to all of us. In it he said,

The bond between those who venture into the frontier of space, and those who make spaceflight possible is incredibly strong. Accordingly, our grief is unbearably great. But so is our resolve to do everything we possibly can for the families of the Columbia crew to find out what caused this accident, and to move on to correct what problems we find and make sure this never happens again. We owe them that.

It is simple.

  • our bonds are strong
  • our grief is great
  • and so is our resolve
  • to find out what happened
  • to make sure this never happens again
  • to move on
They would have wanted this. We know that much.

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 Saturday, February 1, 2003

Words of Heartache

I write down the words that come over the airwaves and play out the radio in the kitchen. We stand in silence, and I write down the words and the promises to understand what happened. On little patches of paper, I write them down.

Page 1. something went terribly wrong. broke up in the morning skies. no prospects for the crew.

Page 2. these remarkable achievements. there were spiders spinning webs. willingness to accept the dangers.

Page 3. is the science worth it? as horrible as this is, it is a rare event. if you just joined us, a tragedy has occurred.

Page 4. we will begin the process immediately to recover their loved ones. we trust the prayers of the nation will be with them.

Page 5. many of us were standing by the runway waiting for their return. we dedicate ourselves everyday to make sure these kinds of things do not occur and when they do to understanding why.

Page 6. so that we can resolve what happened. our immediate focus is the families. the President called. we have impounded the data.

Page 7. find what happened. fix it. move on.

Page 8. my promise to the crew and crew families is that the investigation we have just launched will find the cause of what happened.

Page 9. they know when it happened. they know where. they just don't know why.

In stunned silence, I write down the words. My tears fall to the floor. No words can do them justice.

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