Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Appellete Blog

If you have a fondness for the law in the US, you might like to check out How Appealling, "The Web's first blog devoted to appellate litigation". Very interesting stuff, and a good sense of humour.

Monday, December 30, 2002

Trip Report

I like Philadelphia, and the suburb where I spent most of the past week. I like Janis' family, and I adore S's gun collection, or, I should say, the portion of it I saw. Wow.

I like The City, what I saw of it:

  • Various train terminals (I love traveling by train, so this is a plus)

  • City Hall (from the outside)

  • Reading Terminal Market

  • Devon Seafood Grill (Atlantic salmon, yum)

  • The Curtis Bldg and the Maxfield Parrish/Tiffany "Dream Garden" mosaic inside it

  • The Bishop White House (from the outside)

  • The City Tavern (good food, good beer!)

  • Independence Hall

  • Magna Carta ca 1297, signed by King Edward I. I had no idea parts of the US Constitution were lifted, wording and all, from Magna Carta. Ideas, yes, complete phrases, I didn't know that. That's so darn cool.

  • Statues of various dead white guys that'll be going in the under-construction Constitution Hall: Thomas Fitzsimmons, John Adams, Andrew Jackson, Andrew Hamilton. (Oh, here, cool: bios of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the US Constitution)

  • The Liberty Bell

  • Congress Hall (part of the Independence Hall 'complex', as is much of what I list here, or in its immediate environs)

  • Strawbridge's, a department store

  • Philadelphia Exchange (from the outside)

  • Polish American Center (from the outside)

  • The Center for Judaic Studies (from the outside), which prompted commentary primarily due to the name of the larger building it resides in: General Accident. Oh, wait! We were supposed to put the building over here! Oops.

  • The Bourse (from the outside)

I bought a few maps. Got the City Tavern cookbook from Janis. Good food from everywhere. It was too cold for everyone I was with (skinny, uninsulated people all of them -- just remember they all get to laugh at me when it's hot) so a lot of the outdoors walking was at a cramp-inducing scurry (20 minutes of excruciating pain is not too high a price for pay, though...at least everything loosens up afterwards). Didn't get to gawk at the buildings as much as I would have liked as a result.

One thing I commented on at the time and will comment on here: having a physical context to provide a sense of immediacy and realness to the study of history makes such a big difference I must make the following observation: You can read books about history. And you can stand where the history happened and see it with your own eyes.

If I had a zillion dollars, I would spend a chunk of it sending junior high and high schoolers to Philadelphia for 2 weeks of hands-on history. Of, course, if I had a zillion dollars, I'd be doing quite a few other things as well.

Being such a young nation, the US really falters where history is concerned, in part, I think, because it is so hard to get that real feel from a textbook. If there are few historical centers associated with the birth of my nation, there is next to nothing associated with anyone else's country, be it birth, growing pain, or demise.

I come from the second-youngest state in this Union. (Oh, spiff, the Alaska State Constitution. Neat.) There's a whole lot of nothing as far as history is concerned where I come from. It was a frontier. The land was purchased in 1867, became a US territory in 1912, and a state in 1959. Pennsylvania was one of the founding colonies, its charter was signed in 1681 -- it predates the US itself. There's thousands of miles, a couple centuries and a wealth of experience between those two sentences. It amazes me we're in the same nation.

(oh, and since someone asked:

Eight stars of gold on a field of blue,
Alaska’s flag, may it mean to you,
The blue of the sea, the evening sky,
The mountain lakes and the flowers nearby,
The gold of the early sourdough’s dreams,
The precious gold of the hills and streams,
The brilliant stars in the northern sky,
The "Bear," the "Dipper," and shining high,
The great North Star with its steady light,
O’er land and sea a beacon bright,
Alaska’s flag to Alaskans dear,
The simple flag of a last frontier.

Now you know the Alaska state song.)


Reading portions of the Qu'ran...made an initial report in my book reviews blog.

If that link has aged out, try this instead.

Friday, December 27, 2002

In the City of Brotherly Love

Sidra went to Philadelphia with Janis this year for the winter holiday. And, for some reason, she's taken up talking about herself in the third person. Let's hope it's just a fad.

So far, so fun. More. Later.

Friday, December 20, 2002

Shame, shame, shame


I wake up to NPR in the morning, which, as an aside, makes for some funny dreams sometimes. The morning I woke up hearing that Iranian immigrants -- and others from predominantly Muslim nations -- were being detained upon arrival at INS offices to undergo registration of some sorts (followup to the WTC/Pentagon attacks on 9/11/2001) here in southern California, made me wish I was still dreaming. Alas, no.

The official reason for their detainment? Suspected visa violations. Suspected.

Are terrorists going to step forward and register themselves? Name...place of residence....occupation? Terrorist. Would you spell that, please?

Probably not, kids.

France seems to have a much more realistic response: French Council for the Muslim Religion. Maybe it's time for the US to take a page from that book.


deep resentful sigh

Y'know, in every religion or society there are stone cold wackos.

Assuming that everyone else in that group is an enemy because of the actions of certain extremists -- why, that's just stupid. If I did that, I'd have to believe that all Christians are evil.

Would't I?

More people, in my country, have been killed by Christian extremists of one kind or another than died in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.

  • Salem, Massachusetts -- 20 dead for witchcraft
  • Estimates of the pre-contact Native American population of the Americas, all completely unscientific, range from 15 to 60 million. The Native population of California alone went from 85,000 to 18,000 between 1852 and 1890. "Well, at least they died Christian". I'm so relieved.
  • The trans-Atlantic slave trade -- at least, at least 6 million. Boy, my mind's at ease over the states of their souls, too. Phew.
  • The American South -- By 1918, at least 3,224 people were murdered by lynching, possibly many more.
  • Over 2000 anti-gay assaults were reported in the United States in the year 2000. That's just in one year. How many of them were by self-identified Christians?

That "thou shalt not kill" thing, that doesn't apply to you. Heavens, no. That love your neighbor as yourself thing -- oh, not you. Jesus didn't mean you.

Oh, but Sidra, these cases aren't just about religion. You could argue that some of the examples of larger scope were only condoned by Christians or their dogma. "Only". So, perhaps I'm stretching a bit to make my point. Or maybe not. How many perpetrators of these crimes considered themselves actively Christian? Even good and godly? God-fearin' Bible-thumpers? Extremists acting in the name of their god? How many of the perpetrators believed it was OK with God to do this? How many cited scripture to their victims? Thought it was acceptable to beat, threaten and intimidate?

Say...that sounds like inflicting terror doesn't it?

And of course, it's not just in my country, kids. Why, no! The Christian Bible touts over a million dead in its pages. Scotland killed in the hundreds, thousands and possibly tens of thousands, as witches. Depending on which argument you believe, Hitler was Christian.

So....we should round up all white male Christians over the age of 16 in America and detain them, one way or another.

'Cause they are obviously a dangerous terrorist threat. To me, to you, to everybody.


Thursday, December 19, 2002

Out-Of-Body Cancer Therapy

My god, this is smart.

"For the first time, cancer has been treated by removing an organ from the body, giving it radiotherapy and then re-implanting it. The out-of-body operation allows doctors to administer high doses of radiation to widespread tumours without affecting other organs."

"By explanting the organ, we could give a high and uniform dose to all the liver, which is impossible to obtain inside the body without serious risk to the patient," says Tazio Pinelli, a physicist who coordinated the work together with liver surgeon Aris Zonta.


Thanks to Kim, for the tip!

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

Screeching Halt


James Carville: "Why is it that the attorney general of the United States [John Ashcroft, who can't even win an election when running against dead people -- sidra] gives an interview to a magazine that hails the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, and he says we don't do enough to promote the image of the Confederacy? The current president of the United States goes to South Carolina and refuses to take a stand on the symbol of the Confederate flag flying over the capital. You don't think black people get that?"

That crashing noise was me, going from 150kph to 0 in 3ms.

I'm sorry, they did what? what? What?? Do these people live on the same planet as me?!

It is laughable, laughable, to look someone in the eye and pretend that melanin has anything to do with, well, anything, save their likelihood of getting a sunburn. What is that kind of attitude, if not shiningly, magnificently, STUPID? And you want to promote the image of the socio-political entity that thought this was peachy-keen, not to mention the losing side of a civil war? Say again?

TalkLeft::Ashcroft, Southern Partisan and Those Who Opposed Him
Attorney general nominee refuses to condemn white supremacist magazine 2001.
Ashcroft whistles Dixie

LaRouche Says: Confederate-Sympathizer Ashcroft Cannot Be Confirmed as U.S. Attorney General


On NPR's All Things Considered, The WASPs: Women Pilots of WWII.

"The half-hour documentary begins in the early 1940s when the Army Air Force faced a dilemma: It needed thousands of newly assembled airplanes delivered to military bases, but most of America's pilots were overseas fighting the war. To solve the problem, the government launched an experimental program to train new pilots - the Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASPs. Drawn from more than 25 hours of interviews and archival tape, the documentary The WASPs presents an oral history of the pioneering program and pilots."

Also on All Things Considered:

"Author Richard Conniff set out to study wealthy people the way Jane Goodall studied chimpanzees. In his findings, he compares his subjects to members of the animal kingdom -- baboons, reptiles and other beasts. Tuesday [12/17/2002] on All Things Considered, Conniff discusses his book The Natural History of the Rich: A Field Guide. "

Both of these (quite different, yes) sound equally thrilling.

Friday, December 13, 2002

Book Reviews

Being a lazy bum, I'm migrating all of my book reviews from my older site to this one and basically just blogging them. Maybe this way I'll keep up doing them easier. I do *like* writing book reviews...it's just...the time.

Read some if you like.

Wednesday, December 11, 2002

The Thing About Nukes, Is

When you drop them, you're dropping them on yourself. There is nowhere on this planet you can go to escape the effect of a nuclear weapon.

Let that sink in for a minute.

You're dropping them on yourself.

When I was in school, we were introduced to the horrifying yet vaguely elegant concept of Mutually Assured Destruction. They nuke us, we nuke them, everybody dies. The underlying idea expressed, intentionally or not, was that both sides always toss nukes at each other. Both sides.

The thing is, you don't need "The Evil Empire" to nuke the US for the US to feel the effects of a nuclear weapon. All you need is for anyone, anywhere to lob 'the bomb', and everyone, everywhere gets to pay the price.

Contaminated water. Contaminated air. That means contaminated livestock, grain, and soil. Radiation sickness for those close enough -- and cancer for you. Fallout is no respecter of political boundaries.

Doesn't have to be mutual, but it's always assured.

So, let me offer up a dismayed raspberry at defense strategies that involve the phrase "nuke 'em".

Monday, December 09, 2002

This Weekend's Accomplishments

1. Another viewing of Harry Potter. You realize, once LOTR:TT comes out, we're screwed.
2. Amused security guard at mall....check. (Or at least, bemused. See previous littering rant)
3. Sent "The Sacred Wine" off to Realms of Fantasy to join all the other hopefuls on their slushpile.
4. Practiced guitar. Beg pardon, my parent's families are from Tennessee and Kentucky, that's "practiced gi-tar". Thank yew. I bought a guitar and how-to book recently. It's been fun. The brand? "Cheap". Surely you've heard of it.
5. Final edit on "My Daughter, The Martian", my submission to the current quarter's Writers of the Future contest. Need stamps.
6. Tatted Christmas doily for brother's family...check.
7. Got address(es) for fruitcake order...check.
8. Watched 8 episodes of Babylon 5: S1, the new DVD set that came out recently. (Oh, yeah, oh, yeah, bay-bee.)
9. Finished Dicken's Dombey and Son. I have an urge to write a screen adaptation. I'm going to suppress it, at least for a while.
10. Fooled ya. No #10. Oh, wait!! Watched last ten minutes of the film "The Prophecy" and yelled "Good god, that's Viggo Mortensen" at the screen, once I recognized him. Wouldn't have made any sense if I'd done it before, now would it?

Sunday, December 08, 2002

The Straw That Broke The Camel's Back

So, last night, aside from helping Janis buy a copy of "Hard Day's Night", I almost got securitified, under the not-unreasonable-given-the-available-data conclusion that I might be about to get in my car, and drive off drunk. I was not, of course.

[This friends and neighbors, is an example of the start-in-middle writing technique, whereby I pique your interest, and then back up to the beginning of our tale.]

Let me back up. (See? Did you see how that worked? Go over it again if you like. I'll wait. It's no trouble.)

(...Ready? Great.)

It pisses me off to no end when a complete stranger decides to use the bed of my truck as a trash receptacle. Why, you ask?

First, it demonstrates a complete lack of consideration for other people's property. Namely, mine. Second, if you dump your trash in my truck, you have no way of knowing whether I will dispose of it properly, which means you've just littered, and thus demonstrated a complete lack of consideration for the environment as a whole, which is all our property, where "our" means every member of every species on this planet. Amazingly enough, that includes the Litterbugus Ignoramus. (Tell me, just as an aside, what is so damn attractive about shitting where you sleep?)

Now, my reaction is colored somewhat by the fact that my back is killing me and I'm upset about my work, and I can only talk about being upset about my work for SO long before it gets terribly boring for all concerned, including me. I've said what I have to say, endless repetition isn't making me feel any better.

So the opportunity to rant about the lack of consideration for others seemingly prevalent in modern American society by virtue of some asshole dumping a soda can in the bed of my truck was the perfect thing. Thus, I picked up the can in question, and proceeded to rant, more or less to the open air of the parking lot as whole. (Janis, wisely, just got in the goddamn car.)

Mostly done with my rant, which involved the realization that there were no trashcans nearby and I was going to have to

a: put this refuse in the front of the truck (to make sure it doesn't get blown away), and toss it out later;
b: walk back over to one of stores, or the dumpster behind the movie theatre, and throw it away immediately;

I turned back to the open door of my truck, CAN STILL IN HAND, and realized I'd attracted the attention of some chap in a windbreaker walking past. Naturally, being a fucking Good Samaritan myself, I thought he was worried I was having some kind of car trouble, and told him "Don't mind me, I'm just --"

pissed off at a seeming triviality

"About to get in your car and drive drunk?" He supplied.

At this point the clue brick hit. Say, this is a beer can, and that's a security person from the mall. Well, how do you like them apples?

The rest of the story doesn't even proceed as you'd expect. By the time we're at the edge of the parking lot, heading for the dumpster, the conversation shifted abruptly from a discussion of my wishful thinking regarding the consideration of others to the lack of leadership ability evidenced in President Bush's past history, particularly regarding his ability or lack thereof to keep his daughter's (underage) drinking under control.

Hey, how's that for a segue? And it wasn't even mine.

It was, in fact, even fortunate that I was trailed by a mall security officer to the dumpster to throw away this tiny piece of aluminum offal, because the dumpster turned out to be about 8 feet high and...well....I'm not. I'm not exaggerating, my fingertips didn't reach up to the underside of the dumpster cover.

By this point, or hopefully well before, said security officer realized I was quite serious about this not being my can, and hadn't been drinking myself. Now that I was safely labelled as "weird, but only dangerous to litterers", we parted company and I headed back to my truck.

Now, at about this point, this is where you say, "Sidra, isn't that a lot of energy for one little can someone dumped in the bed of your truck? Aren't you overreacting?"

Yes, I am. Happily and deliberately. But not as much as you think.

There is in fact a third statement to make regarding the seemingly trivial act of tossing some small piece of trash in someone's vehicle. It has two parts.

1. You may do it once, as a very rare occasion. But as the owner of the truck, I am treated as a trash can a minimum of 4 times a year, easy. Usually much more.
2. It is in the little things that we define our character, as individuals and as a culture. You say, with such a tiny act, that others do not matter to you, whether they are strangers in a line somewhere, or peoples of neighboring nations who share the same water supply as you. You say to posterity and to the whole world around you, a big fat "Fuck You". How self-centered can you get?

Please, don't answer the question with a demonstration.

Securitified: origin Sidra Vitale, meaning unknown, but related to the realization that you have no clear idea what legal obligations a security officer employed by a mall labors under. And that, for better or worse, said officer's undivided attention has now been directed at you.

Monday, December 02, 2002

The Point

"Then, I must have one, too."

Every once in a while, childhood just reaches up and smacks you. I didn't have much of a childhood. By that, I mean, I remember very little. The reasons are various. Many of the things I do remember are intimately tied to music.

Rehearsing for a recital with the choir director.
Singing in a parade in Waikiki. Yes, Hawaii.
Us running the light board for a rehearsal of La Boheme.
Struggling to pick out the melody to "Time In A Bottle" on the piano in the basement.
Jerry on the bass guitar.
Mannheim Steamroller, Fresh Aire I-IV.
Susan and Scotty, flute and strings, respectively, in the same basement, years before.
Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. The quintessential music of my childhood.
Singing Neil Diamond's "African Trilogy". Elementary, junior and high school choirs, all the matching bands, and 3 different languages. Hot damn.

Not last, and definitely not least, Harry Nilsson's The Point. A cross between animated musical, fairy tale, and something else, I am amazed to find it again, in the La Jolla Tower Records, just lying in wait for me, 3000 miles and many years from that initial joy of singing about "a whale who grew so old, he decomposed..."

Age has not withered my affection. My love for "Think About Your Troubles", "Me and My Arrow", and all the wonderful tracks on this album, will never fade.

How often do you get to sing about whales decomposing?
"Chamber of Secrets" Viewings

4, as of Nov 30, 2002. That number will continue to rise as a cold front moves into the region, causing hail, frogstorms, and attacks by wombats dressed as Christmas elves.

Well. Maybe not the wombats.
Long Weekend

And it was. In a nice way. I have much to say, just not in a blog. Personal-epiphany type stuff (don't you hate those?). So, instead, let's just be endlessly amused over the flack Australia is getting for their PM sounding like Pres. Bush.

Tee-hee-hee! In all seriousness, however:

"The horror of terrorism such as the Bali bombing that killed 89 Australians and nearly 100 other people was understood [or, gosh, the WTC attack -- sidra], but countries must act within international law, Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Marti Natalegawa said."
"Fortunately, states cannot willy-nilly flout international law and norms," he told the Australian Associated Press. "We have to work within the system. In the fight against terror, no country can act above the law and norms."

Damn. Straight.

Friday, November 29, 2002

All The Things You Hate About Cloning

Or, I suppose, all the things I hate.

I watched the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie "The Sixth Day" the other day on cable. [Allah bless cable TV.] It was better than I expected, and I'm often a fan of Ahhhhnuld action movies with a little humor, so it wasn't like I had the bar set exceptionally low, here. There were a few moments, though, where I felt less like I was watching an action flick and more like I was watching some poorly articulated propaganda on the subject of human cloning. Propaganda in the quasi-religious "against" column.

Human cloning has existed since, well, ever. Yep. It's not new. Everytime you look at a set of identical twins, you're looking at a clone. One egg. Two people. Identical material. One of these eggs is a clone of the other. Can you tell which? Now, I'm a twin myself, of the "fraternal" variety, which means there were two eggs fertilized at the same time. We're brother and sister and just happened to be born within an hour of each other. Identical twins and other one-egg sourced tuples are clones, physical duplicates that grew to maturity.

Yes, Virginia, identical twin = clone.

This seems to be the thing that trips people up when they think about cloning, especially in this flick. The thing is, they're not really thinking about cloning bodies, they're thinking about making copies of a single human consciousness. That's what the characters in the movie argue about. That's not the same thing as cloning.

So, in this film, AS's character's dog dies, and his wife tries to get him to have the pet replaced via cloning -- copying, more precisely -- to spare their daughter the pain of the animal's loss. He bleats around that he doesn't want some soulless "thing" in his house, and provides the excellent argument that their daughter has to learn about death, and it being a natural part of life and all that.

Now, the magic step here in the movie is the completely-glossed-over ability to copy the animal's consciousness and implant it in a new, cloned body. And that's where the "soulless" bleating comes in. It isn't the copying of the animal's genetic material and growing of a new animal from that material that is a problem, it's the copying of the animal's mind.

If you make a copy of a cell, you haven't done anything more than make a copy of that cell. Using existing methods (dividing a cell in mom's womb), you can divide a fertilized human ovum into two ova, and come up with two separate people roughly nine months later. We know this from experience. Two. Separate. People. If you happen to believe that people have souls, then most likely you believe that identical twins are in possession of one soul each. Not that one twin has a soul and the other doesn't. How is it any different, then, to have the cell-division into 2 or more ova occur in a petrie dish instead of a human womb?

So, if you can sit there and assert that if I have a egg of matching genetic material to myself constructed mechanistically, nurture it in my mother's womb, and let her give birth to a new individual with the same genetic material as me -- birthing my identical twin, umpteen years later -- that this new individual cannot have a soul, than you cannot ooh and aaah over the next set of insane-number-tuplets in Kansas somewhere, and say "don't their souls look so cute!" Because it's the same act, just separated by time. My identical twin, separated by 30 years or born 5 minutes after me, is her own person.

The arguments regarding cloning in "The Sixth Day" are misleading, or more properly, misstated. They're about copying human consciousness, not genetic material. If you can point a machine at my eyes and record everything in my mind, then you've made a copy of me. (In the process, you've also suggested I don't have a soul in the Western sense, that I no longer have a unique, indefinable something, because it's been copied. Oh, and we haven't even touched on the other magic process in this film, the one by which my twin-separated-in-time can develop to physical maturity and not, like every other identical twin, have accumulated her own self-awareness and consciousness.)

Ahhhnuld's character in "The Sixth Day", of course, gets embroiled in a plot and winds up, unbeknownst to him, copied. The copy process involves a clone with a copy of his consciousness, i.e., an exact duplicate of the main character. Who is the "real", and who is the duplicate? It's the fact that there's a duplicate that is a problem, not the fact that a body of the same genetic material exists. I mean, that's just a twin. People have those all the time.

Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Paraphrased Thought For The Day

If you were doing it right, you wouldn't need to worry about size.

paraphrased from memory, courtesy of Ava Chin's "Jook Sing and The Dragon", in Dick For A Day

Wednesday, November 20, 2002

Thought On Iraq

Salman Rushdie has things to say, and say well. Go read it.

This I agree with. This expresses my ambivalence about Iraq, my pro-regime-change stance, my anti-unilateral-US-action stance.

I don't want war, as a rule. War is an atrocity by itself, that turns living, thinking human beings into "others", preparatory to trying to convince you that it's OK to kill them. And yet, violence, well-applied, can also do more good than harm under the right conditions.

I don't want the US to wage war, on Iraq, because of allegations -- allegations -- of terrorist connections. What I want is for the global community to follow through all the way to "force as necessary" to apply its resolutions. What I want, is a US-supported war of liberation in Iraq. Either one of those are reasons that could make me proud of our action.

If we go to war with Iraq, what will it be for? What will be our stated mission? By what meterstick do we measure success or failure? When will we know it's over? As Rushdie points out, war on Iraq is not the same thing as war on al Qaeda, and the whole shift in attention from Afghanistan to Iraq sure does feel like someone changing the subject.

Tuesday, November 19, 2002

Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court of "Review"

So, let me get this straight. The FISC, which "considers surveillance and physical search orders from the Department of Justice and US intelligence agencies", already of questionably broad powers, has itself been circumvented by the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review and John Ashcroft.

In May of this year, the FISC concluded that proposed actions designed to "intensify the use of secret surveillance in the United States", "...are NOT reasonably designed, in light of their purpose and technique, 'consistent with the need of the United States to obtain, produce, or disseminate foreign intelligence information' as defined in §1801(h) and §1821(4) of the [Federal Intelligence Surveillance] Act."

The FISC released declassified material regarding this ruling in August of this year, which specifically includes reference to 75 instances of abuses of surveillance warrants under the Bush and Clinton administrations.

So, just to nutshell it, here, this Court rarely turns down requests for warrants, yet dug in its heels this year against the motion that the Court "rescind all 'wall' procedures in all international terrorism surveillances and searches now pending before the Court, or that has been before the Court at anytime in the past".

They said no. More specifically, they said,

"Under the normal 'wall' procedures, where there were separate intelligence and criminal investigations, or a single counter-espionage investigation with overlapping intelligence and criminal interests, FBI criminal investigators and Department prosecutors were not allowed to review all of the raw FISA intercepts or seized materials lest they become defacto partners in the FISA surveillances and searches. Instead, a screening mechanism, or person, usually the chief legal counsel in a FBI field office, or an assistant U.S. attorney not involved in the overlapping criminal investigation, would review all of the raw intercepts and seized materials and pass on only that information which might be relevant evidence. In unusual cases such as where attorney-client intercepts occurred, Justice Department lawyers in OIPR acted as the 'wall'. In significant cases, involving major complex investigations such as the bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Africa, and the millennium investigations, whem criminal investigations of FISA targets were being conducted concurrently, and prosecution was likely, this Court became the "wall" so that FISA information could not be disseminated to criminal prosecutors without the Court's approval. In some cases where this Court was the "wall," the procedures seemed to have functioned as provided in the Court's orders; however, in an alarming number of instances, there have been troubling results."

So, of course, if the judges you're in front of say something you don't like, well, go get some different ones. Empanel a Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, and let them say "yes" to you. Which is exactly what happened.


Monday, November 18, 2002

Huh. Neat.

Faz sent this my way over the weekend...Beliefnet.com has something called the Belief-O-Matic. That is, hands down, the best name for a religion quiz ever. But, man, it was weird taking it. I mean, for me, so many of the questions just had no relevance. That doesn't mean it wasn't worth taking, just that I wasn't too surprised by the prevalance of Buddhism of one flavor of another at the top of the results list.

An interesting exercise.

Sunday, November 17, 2002

Chamber of Secrets

Janis has already written a review that shares several of my perceptions, I almost hesitated to add anything of my own. But I'll try. I'll also try to not actually spoil, or much.

1. I loved Professor Sprout and the mandrake babies.

2. Quite possibly, and I know this is silly, my favorite part of the movie may have been the 2-cart pileup when Ron and Harry couldn't get to the platform. There was just something so, so perfect about it. The way everything goes flying and attracts Muggle attention. It's just one of those little moments to treasure.

3. Gilderoy Lockhart -- Kenneth, you were perfectly cast and perfectly played. Thank you. And thank you to the costume department! His outfits! In fact, well I've got that a number of its own, farther down.

4. I'm somewhere between Ron and Harry's reactions to spiders, and I just loved Ron's escalation of fear during their traipse through the Forbidden Forest.

5. Polyjuice Potion.

6. Costuming. Harry, having access to money after a fashion now, still dresses pretty dowdy as a Muggle, but it fits better. Quite appropriate. Every knitter I know is dying to do some of the work seen ALL OVER THE PLACE in these movies. Mrs. Weasley's outfit -- the crochet sleeves when we first see her, perfect, the little froth of whatever at her throat when she was in robes, everything she wears and does places her so perfectly as Molly Weasley it is really a joy to see her anytime she's onscreen. (I am overjoyed that we get to see more of all the Weasleys as a rule, as the books go on.)

7. The Howler!! God, I loved it, including the polite aside to Harry and the message to Ginny.

8. Ron and Hermione at the end. Nice foreshadowing.

Some more general remarks:

1. The effects really stayed in the background this time -- not dull, just in the background. I'm kind of subtly amazed by that. See, the first movie [Sorcerer's Stone, or Philosopher's Stone, depending on your locale], just like the first book, spent a lot of time introducing the world to you, through introducing it to Harry. You expect a lot of gee-whiz moments, and rightly so. Now that we've been around a year, it's natural to take things for granted that were stunning and in the front of our minds when we first saw them. However, in movieland, it's very easy for sequels to fall into the "bigger, better, faster" trap. It is a pleasure to find that Secrets did not. Must be the distance from Hollywood. In addition, the CGI work was really natural and seamless. Nothing irritating leapt out at me.

2. Keeping the character's voices while they're transmogrified -- and thus actually played by others -- was absolutely inspired. It really keeps you aware as a viewer that you're still watching Our Heroes. Very, very finely tuned choice on that.

3. As a fan, I want to point out something before people get worked up about it. Two things, actually. One is that actors frequently play ages other than their own, and since Rowling says little on so-n-so suffering growing pains in any particular book or anything, there's no canonical reason Rupert Grint, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Tom Felton, and the rest of the gang can't play these characters all the way through 7 films worth of books, spanning their school years. Shit, Hollywood has us watching people in their mid-20s play high schoolers all the time. So, don't go thinking you have to recast anyone just because they're gotten tall and gangly, or that they'll be 22 by the time they're playing some of age 17. Not a problem. Please. Please don't think you have to changing a winning team on my account. Number two is that it is very difficult for an actor to play the same person for years on end. Movie-making is grueling, and making 7 Harry Potter movies [assuming Rowling does write 7 books, one for each year], however exciting an experience, will also be a harsh one. I hope as many of the original cast as possible keep coming back -- I want the visual continuity of seeing the same people, and I love this group of actors -- but I can't scream my head off if someone were to decide at some point to walk away. For the record, I'm not responding to any rumors of recasting or actors not coming back for something, this is just related to a couple pet peeves I have about American perceptions of actors.

Hm! Guess I had some original remarks to make after all.

Friday, November 15, 2002

How To Shoot Yourself In The Foot

by the US Guvmint:

1. recruit smart people with a capacity for languages
2. train them in Arabic.
3. experience a shortage of Arabic interpreters and translators
4. dismiss the trained Arabic-speaking recruits.

Why fire these people? Because they're gay.

That's a pretty silly reason to fire a translator, don't you think? Does gayness mean your ears don't work, so you can't hear properly? Or that your tongue is unable to form words in English, the "destination language", in this case?

That's like dismissing these people because they have blond hair. Or wear colored contacts. Or are short. And what, I ask you, does that have to do with translating Arabic?

Thanks to Kim, for the tip.
4 a.m.

And the Insomnia Gods have blessed me. Yay. (wags flag listlessly)

Y'know the irritating thing about insomnia? You always feel so cheated. I should be asleep, not lying in bed twiddling my thumbs! All this sleep time, going to waste!

When I was a kid, I always thought it'd be kind of cool -- I'll study Greek at 3 in the morning! Yet, the actual study of Greek never seems to happen. So, now, a proverbial grown-up, I roll out of bed and read, or most recently, plot/write story(ies), or post meaningless entries to my blog.

I know why I have insomnia. I have insomnia because I'm an INTJ and had an important meeting today. That's pretty much it in a nutshell.

Would you like to know what that means? Of course you would. INTJ's are a temperment type rather rare in the US, though found in much higher percentages online, for reasons I'll probably go into in depth later, but, suffice to say, have to do with the distancing nature of the communication itself, and the ability to find communities of like-minded individuals with similar obsessions, modes of communication, and tendency towards obtuse jokes. Just accept it, and read a copy of David Kiersey's Please Understand Me to learn more.

So, I'm an INTJ, uber-rational and uber-rationalizing type, and I had an important meeting today. So, NATURALLY, I will spend the next week -- including all night tonight, apparently -- obsessing over what was said, what I did or did not do well, how I could have done better, what other people might have been thinking, what the overall outcome of the meeting was or was not, why or why not, and basically critiquing my performance up one side and down the other. INTJ's can be characterized by an immense self-confidence in their chosen field of expertise, and no one who knows us realizes how much we agonize over, basically, everything else. Agonize. No, really, I'm not exaggerating. INTJ's are the people who relentlessly rehearse phone calls. No wonder we're attracted to email and blogs and other delayed-message communication, with their capacities for soul-revealing introspection combined with opportunities for endless editing before publication. Not that we're the only type finding that attractive, that's more of an NT trait than one reserved just for INTJ's.

And the fact that I know all this about why I have insomnia doesn't actually help me get to sleep. No, no, it just gives me fodder for a rambling blog. Not quite the desired outcome, though useful at times. It's like knowing you're an alcoholic when you're standing in the corner store getting ready to buy a bottle of Mad Dog 20/20. Knowledge of your own nature doesn't necessarily change your nature. That's a different journey.

Interesting Somebody Else's Sig: Those who say a thing cannot be done should stay out of the way of the person doing it.

Wednesday, November 13, 2002

Oh, All Right

I wasn't going to buy it. I generally prefer theatrical versions of films. A good half of the time, if not more, they are superior to the Director's Ego Cut™. And I go a long, long time (sometimes forever) before viewing "supplementary material". For someone more than passingly interested in the film industry, its history, and the art-n-craft of screenwriting, it's a little odd. But then, I'm a little odd. Some things, I'm just not ready to deconstruct yet.

The review over at Amazon has convinced me.

"...the changes--sometimes whole scenes, sometimes merely a few seconds--make for a richer film. There's more of the spirit of J.R.R. Tolkien, embodied in more songs and a longer opening focusing on Hobbiton. There's more character development, and more background..."

You got me. The magic words. Richer film. More of the original spirit. OK. You got me. Sold, or at leasted "added to Wish List".

But you know what I really want? Really, really, deep down*? I want those Argonath bookends from the Collector's Gift Set. Everytime I watch FOTR, the sheer awe I feel when the Fellowship passes these magnificent statues -- it's chilling. It brings home such a sense of the history of the world Tolkien created, my jaw just drops every damned time.

[*] I mean, aside from absolute power.

Tuesday, November 12, 2002

More Books

*smacks lips*

What's with all the HCI/UI/fluffy stuff, Sid? Well, it was brought home to me again and again when I was still working for OpenSales/Zelerate on OpenMerchant and AllCommerce, that our biggest problems weren't, though some might disagree, the usefulness of our product, but the usability. Oddly enough, I've had this realization on every project I've worked on, for every company, since then. That includes the bookstore gig.

It doesn't matter if you write the coolest piece of software on earth, the alpha and omega, the remote control toaster-GPS locator-Ecommerce website frills, whistles, and bells, if no one is going to USE IT because it doesn't make sense.

And since I, like so many other software developers, particularly dislike my time and effort going to waste, I must remember not just the requirements document (if I'm lucky enough to have one), and all the irritating things the client said in our meetings, but that I am not the user of the product, and I never will be. And, horrifyingly, that I'm working on a product, for users.

Wednesday, November 06, 2002

War on Abstract Concepts

War, by definition, involves a contest or struggle between people and tangibles. You know, stuff.

A contest between nations or states, carried on by force, whether for defence, for revenging insults and redressing wrongs, for the extension of commerce, for the acquisition of territory, for obtaining and establishing the superiority and dominion of one over the other, or for any other purpose; armed conflict of sovereign powers; declared and open hostilities.

How do you actually wage war on drugs? Or terrorism? Or poverty? Who is the enemy? Where are they? Where is their territory, or state? It's too ephemeral. Even a modern, mobile, and highly-trained fighting force like, oh, an army, can't wage war when there's nowhere to wage it and no one to fight.

It's like declaring war on dangling participles. An attractive idea at times, but a logistical nightmare.

Want people to stop dangling participles? You need to convince everyone -- civilians, "combatants", etc., -- that it's a Bad Idea™ to dangle participles.

How do you do that? Probably not by tossing bombs at them. Because, really, you don't know they're going to dangle a participle until they actually do it. And, equally really, duct-taping someone's mouth shut and calling it a "pre-emptive defensive strike" is not going to fly at most cocktail parties.

And that's kind of the problem, you don't know who the poor are, who the terrorists are, who the participle-danglers or drug addicts are, until they've already dropped below the poverty line, or joined a methadone program, or tangled their grammar.

So, too bad. There are people on this earth who don't have the same point of view as you. It happens. So, unless you're at a cocktail party and a fellow guest announces they're going to dangle a participle, in which case you may be justified in notifying them that they're violating international treaties and you're going to toss your drink in their face should they proceed, you may just have to live with the fact that, somewhere, out there, are people with no regard for the English language. Sad, but true.

All you can do is try to educate everyone around you as to the beauty, compassion, loyalty, trustworthiness, and inherent goodness of Not Dangling Participles. A longer, more arduous task, but one worth pursuing.

Rant At Non-Voting Americans

Non-citizens, if you enjoy watching me froth, read on. Otherwise, you might want to just wander away.

Dear Apathetic Non-Voting American Slob,

You didn't vote, did you? You thought your vote wouldn't matter, wouldn't make a difference, you couldn't be troubled to read up on the proposed law(s)/candidates, you slept in and didn't want to miss work, the dog ate your ballot pamphlet --

Whine, whine, whine. Give it a rest. You want to know what's wrong with this nation? I'll tell you. You not voting. That's what's wrong.

America is a participatory democracy. That means "government BY the people". Your vote matters because it's your vote. Patriots marched, agitated, and people have died for that vote. That one. RIght there, the one in your grubby little paw. The one you threw away.

And you're telling me you don't care? Can't be bothered to haul your pimply ass off the sofa for 20 minutes to go to the polling station? Can't be bothered to actually, like, read anything about, y'know, issues and stuff? Can't spare a single godamned brain cell for actual thought because you're too busy watching Access Hollywood?

Oh, but Sidra, there's no one to vote for that I like --

Welcome to the club. Vote anyway. Vote for deadlock. Vote for the lesser of evils, if that's all you see. Don't let a tiny segment of the population run away with your country. It's YOUR country, but if you don't act to claim it, it'll just slip through your fingers. When you don't participate, the nation ceases to exist.

So fucking vote. And if you can't be bothered, don't go calling yourself an American.

Friday, November 01, 2002

Sidra's Book Report

Recently (re)read:

AND just finished before packing my bag to get on a flight, The Small House at Allington, which I enjoyed greatly -- and was very pleased to find that The Last Chronicle of Barset revisits, at least somewhat, two characters whose loose ends were not completely tied at the end of Allington.

Back to Dickens, though, first. I love books. Books, books, books, be they large or quite dinky! How can you not love books? They're a cheap way to travel the world, and the only way to travel through time. What's not to love?

As if you care. But, it's my blog, so I get to pretend you do! Wheee!

The writing one of my own is coming along well, thanks for asking. Though the travel and the being sick has put a crimp in my style, I expect to recoup shortly.

Tuesday, October 29, 2002

Great Hiatus Excuse

I went to Tennessee for 6 days and stayed in a hotel with limited business facilities, and didn't pack my laptop anyway.

I met many relatives and learned quite a few things about them:

1. There's a lot of churchgoing in "midstate" Tennessee, i.e., Dickson and Hickman Counties.
2. Stick around for more than 20 minutes and you'll get offered food, wherever you go.
3. Both counties, and specifically both families on my mother's side (Harrington and Hutchison/Hutchinson/Hutcherson) are a hotbed of Dupuytren's Contracture and/or "Trigger Finger" (stenosing tenosynovitis). Anyone interested in surveying hereditary aspects of either one should start in Hickman and Dickson Counties, Tennessee and pin these people down. I kid you not.
4. There are a heck of a lot of moonshiners in my family tree.

Tuesday, October 22, 2002


Tell me this is a joke. This is a joke, right? My joke-o-meter must be off. This is a joke, right? Right?

Two Towers Protest. Because Tolkien's title isn't sensitive to the delicate feelings of a post-9/11 American audience.


Funny, Hollywood doesn't normally go around changing film titles when a car bomb exploads in Bali, or Israel, or Ireland. Which leads, regardless of the joke (or not) stature of the preceding, to this question: What makes the US's pain so damn special?

Monday, October 21, 2002

Me and Maps

I'm a nut for maps. Don't ask why, although, I think I get why, now, after all these years. Wanna hear it? Being as you're my captive audience I'll just nod your head for you..."Oh, goody, you do? That's so sweet." Here goes. I love maps because they do two things that are integral to how I deal with the world:

1. They provide [literally!] a birds-eye view of a set of information.
2. They do it all in a little-itty-bitty package! So compact, so neat, so tidy! Just metric OODLES of information waiting for my fingers to come a-questing way-o.

And I, personally, am all about expressing the highest layer of understanding in the minimum number of bytes. Perfect match.

So, Faz puts up a link to these map collections at the Library of Congress, and I just about died. Seriously, tunnel vision, white light, Edgar Cayce yelling "the water's fine", I kid you not.

So, wondering what to give the El Sid as a gift? Wonder no more! Maps! Topo maps! Reproductions of antique maps! Street maps! Tube maps! Surficial Geology of Alaska maps (oh, wait, got one of those already)...Karta Ledovitago moria i Vostochnago okeana, from 1844, which includes the Russian Far East and Alaska, Diego Gutierrez's 1562 Map of America, Rio Colorado of the West..., drawn by F.W. von Egloffstein, 1858... Maps, maps, be they large or quite dinky!

Excuse me, I need to go lie down.

Wednesday, October 16, 2002

You're Joking. You're Not Joking


"The TSA was created in response to the terrorist attacks. Congress set a Nov. 19 deadline for the agency to hire, train and deploy screeners to replace those working for private security firms."

"Federal screeners are now working at 160 of the nation's 429 commercial airports, the TSA said. Some of the 160 airports have federal screeners at all checkpoints and some have them only in some terminals."

"The federal screeners are [magically - sidra] supposed to be more attentive than the private screeners, Stempler said, and the remaining private screeners probably are doing better work because they hope to get better-paying jobs as federal screeners."

How condescending can you get? Oh, yeah, private screeners have a goal to work toward now. Now they have motivation. So, they'll work "better" and no more bomb-carrying idiots will get on a plane. All because they have a god-damn goal. Wups, I'd better re-check that bag, the scout from the Feds is supposed to be in the terminal today! Gotta look good, this could be my big break into the majors!

Give me air. Not that these people should want to a good job because they have, like, a work ethic, y'know?
The Right Words

"Their names we cannot list,
so many they are that lie
under the eternal guard of granite.

But know you who hear this,
No one is forgotten,
Nothing is forgotten."

-- Olga Berggolts

SINGAPORE: Three Singapore-based expatriates dead and five missing.
AUSTRALIA: Thirty dead, 113 with serious injuries and at least 160 missing.
BRITAIN: Nine dead, eight yet to be identified and 13 missing.
INDONESIA: Nine dead, 195 wounded.
BRAZIL: Two missing.
CANADA: Three wounded, one missing.
CHINA: One injured.
DENMARK: Two hurt, three missing.
ECUADOR: One dead.
FRANCE: Seven hurt, three seriously, and four missing.
GERMANY: One dead, 10 wounded and seven are missing.
GREECE: One hurt and one missing.
HONGKONG: Two British members of a Hong Kong rugby team killed, seven other team members missing.
ITALY: Six hurt.
JAPAN: Nine injured and several missing.
THE NETHERLANDS: One dead, two hurt and four missing.
NEW ZEALAND: One dead.
PORTUGAL: One missing, two hurt.
SOUTH AFRICA: One hurt, 19 missing.
SOUTH KOREA: Two missing.
SWEDEN: Three hurt, 10 missing.
SWITZERLAND: One dead, five hurt, two critically.
TAIWAN: Four missing.
UNITED STATES: Two killed, four hurt and five missing.

Friday, October 11, 2002

Novel Writing Month

I've decided not to sign up. Wait! Only because I wanted to start the novel early. I'm still aiming for a Nov 30 end date, but, since I started early I can't officially be in the contest. I'm OK with that.

But Sidra! It's only 2 weeks! You've been sitting on the novel outline since the end of August. Why crumble now?

Simple. A novelette I haven't mentioned before is done with the Nth draft -- maybe one more pass before I send it off for this quarter's Writer's of the Future contest. And it's the real reason I haven't been straining my tether on the novel. I've been knee-deep in a different genre.

I can write more than one short story "at once", sort of, but major revising on a novelette, and major new work on something four times its length? When I've never done anything as long as these before? No thanks.

But, it's now time for My First Novel™, or more properly, My First Novel With An Outline And More Than A Snowball's Chance Of Finishing™. MFN™ is probably an easier acronym to remember, though.
Things That Make Me Twitch

In a good way.

1. The Rosetta Project: http://www.rosettaproject.org:8080/live/ "a broad online survey and near permanent physical archive of 1,000 of the approximately 7,000 languages on the planet. "
2. The All-Species Foundation http://www.all-species.org/ "a non-profit organization dedicated to the complete inventory of all species of life on Earth within the next 25 years"
3. Project Gutenberg http://www.gutenberg.org "...to make information, books and other materials available to the general public in forms a vast majority of the computers, programs and people can easily read, use, quote, and search"

Tuesday, October 08, 2002


A very interesting review about an even more interesting-looking book landed in my lap this morning. Thanks, Kim! A Mind at a Time tackles why we have trouble learning, some times for all of us, lots of times for some of us.

One thing leapt out at me from the review (keep in mind I'm reading a review, not the book, at this moment), that I want to tease out:
"Instead of having children adapt to school, Levine urges schools to make accommodations for the rich variety of minds they face. Schools, he says, should reduce the amount of memorization required (many, many children have memory difficulties), not insist on speed at the expense of thoughtfulness, allow students multiple options for evaluation (not just traditional tests) and recognize that treating kids fairly does not mean treating them all the same way."

Which I agree with completely, by the way, while acknowledging the sheer impossibility of complete per-student customization of the teaching and learning experience. I do think a happy medium, better than the one we have, can be achieved.

What struck me was the parenthetical remark that many children have memory difficulties. We do? Did I? I have no idea, and of course from this it's not clear exactly what "memory difficulties" means, in the context of this book's discussion.

There's really no way to try to assess this, but...have we always been this way? Or might there be an organic element at play, causing it? Like...oh, chemicals in the water, too much TV, not enough nurturing between the ages of 2 and 2.175 years, alien abductions, government mind control, etc., etc.... You know the drill.

Just a thought.

Monday, October 07, 2002


Navigating the Ethics of Globalization, with, as a bonus, interesting parallels between Austro-Hungary's behaviour prior to WWI, and the US's response to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Very, very interesting.

"There is a strong ethical case for saying that it is wrong for leaders to give absolute priority to the interests of their own citizens. The value of the life of an innocent human being does not vary according to nationality. But, it might be said, the abstract ethical idea that all humans are entitled to equal consideration cannot govern the duties of a political leader. Just as parents are expected to provide for the interests of their own children, rather than for the interests of strangers, so too in accepting the office of president of the United States, President Bush has taken on a specific role that makes it his duty to protect and further the interests of Americans. Other countries have their leaders, with similar roles in respect to the interests of their fellow citizens."
"We have lived with the idea of sovereign states for so long that they have come to be part of the background not only of diplomacy and public policy but also of ethics. Implicit in the term "globalization" rather than the older "internationalization" is the idea that we are moving beyond the era of growing ties between nations and are beginning to contemplate something beyond the existing conception of the nation-state. But this change needs to be reflected in all levels of our thought, and especially in our thinking about ethics."

Carefully considered and well-written.

thanks for the tip, SC!

Thursday, October 03, 2002


I've never been to the opera. I like listening to it. Now that I live in Southern California again, close to opera buff Janis, we...are...going...to...The Opera™. (Having a Kirk-pause moment it seems. *clears throat* There, it's passed.)

Anywhoo, at some point later this year, actually February of the next, we will see Fidelio (Beethoven), Otello (Verdi), and Therese Raquin (Tobias Picker), at the San Diego Opera. Cool, huh?

Not all at once. Sheesh, don't look so worried.

Why, we'll be just like yogurt! Cultured and everything!


T&M: Thanks for the birthday present!

Wednesday, October 02, 2002

Clinton, Britain, and Iraq

From the Scotsman, Oct 3 2002:

Bill Clinton gave his full and unequivocal backing to Tony Blair on Iraq yesterday, declaring that the Prime Minister was the only man who could unite the world against Saddam Hussein....

Mr Clinton appeared to give his reluctant backing to military action as a last resort, but stressed the UN had to be given the chance to secure the return of its weapons inspectors to Iraq first....

He also said he wanted to see "regime change" in Baghdad, but that this should come about in "non-military ways"....

Mr Clinton argued the first priority should be to defeat al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, something he claimed should have been completed before the focus was turned on Iraq....

Mr Clinton admitted the US did not do enough to support international organisations. In a blunt warning to Mr Bush, he said: "You can't have an integrated world and have your say all the time. America can't dominate and run the world in that direction."

Gosh. That just sounds so...so...so darn sensible. You go, Bill.

Monday, September 30, 2002

Zope is Zope

Today I installed Squishdot on a 2.5x implementation of Zope. This product took more time to download [and downloading took approximately .0001 seconds] than it did to get it up and running. [Bear in mind that Zope was a previous install and I knew it already worked.] Squishdot's a slashdot-similar weblog tool, hence the name.

I'm genuinely impressed. By contrast, I was looking at the install of WebGUI we have to toy with, here [I have lots to toy with, here], and being vaguely dissatisfied with the User Content Submission System, so I modified that code to produce something more weblog-gy about 2 weeks ago. I keep detailed docs on what I do, and a work-blog is a reasonable format, thus this had immediate use for me. It's all in case I get hit by a bus tomorrow. No need to summon me in a seance just to ask what the status of my last projects were.

Either interface and back-end is fine for someone like Sidra At Work(tm) -- a simple work log, no threading, no discussions, basically no bells, whistles, or ding-a-lings (patent pending), so it's not like the up-and-running time makes a big difference. It's my job.

But the ease of gearing up Squishdot is certainly a plus when we're looking at interfaces [the average poster and a blog/project's manager] for use outside the MIS department.

Friday, September 27, 2002

Happy Birthday, Good Twin!

From the Evil(tm) one.

[Being a twin means learning the "you cut, I choose" strategy for sharing very early on in life. Not a bad thing, IMO.]
Harry Potter Letter Campaign

I've just been informed of a letter-writing campaign to promote the casting of Jason Carter (imdb() ref) as Sirius Black in the upcoming third Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. For those non-HP-book-readers, one thing of relevance to you is that SB does appear in later books as well.

For more information, visit the campaign itself.
Why is This a Big Deal?

From Reuters
A divided Senate will begin a fifth week of debate on Monday on legislation to create the department, as Democratic and Republican negotiators try to strike a compromise on a dispute over labor protections for the 170,000 workers that would fall under the massive proposed agency.

"I'm for workers rights ... but in the name of national security this administration, future administrations, need flexibility to put people in the right place at the right time in order to protect America from an enemy which still wants to hurt us," Bush told political donors in Denver.

Okay. What is the big deal? I mean, what is so special about the Department of Homeland Security [I mean, aside from the facist name, initial legislation creating it passing at warp speed with little to no oversight, and general Bad Idea-ness(tm), IMO] that the anticipated 170,000 workers to be employed there should be denied certain labor protections already enjoyed by other government employees?

The implication in Bush's remarks is that the Homeland Security Dept is the only government agency with a chance of "protecting America".

What is this, the Army? Because if it is, let's be up front about it.

More News Bang for Your Buck

I am in love with Google's new Google:News service. This is fabulous. Go on, show me headlines from around the world, culled automatically from 4,000 different sources. I dare ya.

Gimme, gimme, gimme.

It's still in beta, but this is definitely a winner.

Thursday, September 26, 2002

Ecstatic Parkinsonism

The recreational drug Ecstasy may trigger Parkinson's.

Ew. Ew. Ew. Double-ew.

Wednesday, September 25, 2002

Solar-Powered Surgery

Oh, now this is just darn cool.

SOLAR SURGERY. Even some large hospitals find laser surgery too expensive. So physicists at the Blaustein Institute for Desert Research in Israel resort to nature. They collect and focus sunlight, and then transport it in an optical fiber to a surgery theater where it can be brought to bear on tissue (figures at http://www.aip.org/mgr/png/2002/163.htm). In general, the advantage of using laser light for surgery is not its coherence but high power density at adequate power levels. In this regard the solar unit can match typical surgical lasers in terms of power (8 watts) and power density (10 watts/mm^2). Jeffrey Gordon (jeff@menix.bgu.ac.il, 972-8-659-6923) and his colleagues report that tests on chicken breasts and chicken livers have been successful and that the next step will be to perform surgery on live mice with the solar optical fiber system. The goal for the project is to deliver cheap sunlight for killing human cancers with minimally invasive procedures. (Gordon et al., Applied Physics Letters, 30September 2002; homepage, www.bgu.ac.il/BIDR/research/staff/gordon.html)

PHYSICS NEWS UPDATE The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Physics News Number 606 September 25, 2002 by Phillip F. Schewe, Ben Stein, and James Riordon

Tuesday, September 24, 2002

Read A Book!

Hot damn, it's banned books week! How could I have forgotten! Time to read a banned book. Of course, it's always a good time to read a banned book.

How about some Harry Potter? Or Flowers for Algernon? Or James and the Giant Peach? Or The Adventures of Tom Sawyer? The Handmaid's Tale, perhaps?

Get to the library, there's books to read. This week, every week.

Monday, September 23, 2002

Being Human

You see it on TV all the time, in films, on the news, everywhere. When disaster strikes, we all pull together as a community. Hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes. Famine relief. Whenever there's an event no one could have anticipated.

We have to help. We're a helping species. We build communities, and those communities are vital to us -- to our survival as individuals, to our survival as a species. It's part of what makes us human, this desperate need to help.

We pull together as human beings, as members of the same species, and cultural, gender, even religious differences cease to matter. Because the disaster is so large in scope, that nothing else makes a difference in the face of it, except for us standing together, helping one another, for the simple fact that we are human beings, and here is a fellow human in need.

Homeless because of an earthquake. Lost because of a tornado. Wounded by extremists who have walked away from what it means to be human, who are so outside our understanding of the world, they and their actions are literally inconceivable.

It drives us crazy when we can't help, or when we don't know what to do. And those are the times we must be most careful. Do I swear eternal vengeance on terrorists? Do I give 3 billion US in aid to the Red Cross (ok, that seems like a no-brainer)? Do I invade another country? What to do, what to do...

What to do, is, think compassionately, remembering that you are a human being, think heal, not hurt. Think, before all else, do no harm. Think with care.

What to do, today, right now? Pull off the road when you see a stranded motorist, see if you can help. Buy jumper cables and keep them under your passenger seat. Give a bum your french fries and bottled water, he needs them more than you do. Smile. Make a stranger laugh. Donate blood every 2 months.

It's not hard to be helpful, and it's easier every time you do it.

Thursday, September 19, 2002

Lunar Objectives/Objections

Dennis Laurie, CEO of San Diego-based TransOrbital and Dr. Jim Arnold, Professor emeritus of Chemistry at USCD and a Co-Founder of the California Space Institute were guests on KPBS's These Days this morning [09.19.2002]

I only caught the latter half of the program, which means I missed all the juicy fact-filled setup at the top of the hour, and had to settle for the idiotic questions of a call-in talk show instead. I hate call-in talk shows. (No one ever calls in and asks questions. There were two questions the half-hour I listened. There were more than two callers.) I only forced myself to listen because I'm obsessed with the idea of commercial space exploration.

One final query from host Tom Fudge resulted in Laurie discussing TransOrbitals "seconday objectives", business objectives that are actually going to make them money in the long-term. His response was the most practical thing I've ever heard. Data storage, backups and archiving.

The lunar environment as physical host for failover and backup servers is an excellent idea. There are only two threats to something mechanical on the moon: temperature, and impact damage. The moon is dead: there's no earthquake-inducing tectonic movement, volcanoes, mudslides, lightning strikes, tornadoes -- any of those irritating little things that make seamless data management so touch-and-go for extremely large organizations, like, say, telecommunications providers.

Practical, practical, practical. I love it.

Wednesday, September 18, 2002

Don't Tell Me What You Know, Tell Me What You Know I Want To Hear

Caught this at Medley yesterday, of course:

HHS Seeks Science Advice to Match Bush Views

The Bush administration has begun a broad restructuring of the scientific advisory committees that guide federal policy in areas such as patients' rights and public health, eliminating some committees that were coming to conclusions at odds with the president's views and in other cases replacing members with handpicked choices.

One of the things an HHS spokesman remarked on in the article linked above is that this degree of change is not necessarily out of the ordinary, saying they, "don't think there is anything going on here that has not gone on with each and every administration since George Washington."

You know what? I don't care if every leader throughout history does it, has done and wants to keep on doing it. That's bad science, for one, and bad management for another. You're responsible for a nation? You surround yourself with the best people you can find. And then pray they give you a piece of their mind. It's what they're for.

"Hey, boss, this dam idea is a no-go."
"But I like the dam."
"Well, I know you like it, boss, but look at these numbers."
"I don't want numbers, I want my dam."
"Boss, the only way for the numbers to work is if the specific gravity of water changes."
"Can't we change it?"
"No, and we'd all die if we did, so that's a good thing."
(thinking about re-election) "Well, okay, no dam, I guess."
"Sure, Boss. Now, about this highway infrastructure..."

Tuesday, September 17, 2002

Resounding Silence

I have nothing to say. Oddly enough. Wait! Wait! I've got something...did you notice that in the mid-to-late '90's there was a plethora of adaptations of classic plays or novels targeting the youth market? (Well, maybe not plethora...)

Cruel Intentions, Clueless, 10 Things I Hate About You. None of the marketing I saw played up the facts that these were ultra-hip versions of Les Liaisons dangereuses, Emma, and The Taming of the Shrew. Not that the period adaptations got short shrift in the past decade, I'm happy to report.

Of course, critics noticed.

I just think it's neat, though I have the occasional mind-boggle over the difference in experience between watching these as 'simply' films versus as adaptations of a story I already know.

I have to ask this question: is it assumed that the younger generation, which I am, gladly/sadly, no longer a part of, won't be interested in quote, period films, endquote? Or was it just a fad? Is it the costumes? The scary History(tm)?

Show *me* an ad with someone in pre-revolutionary France costume and I'm going to say to myself Ooooo! sex, subtly worked revenge, dire plots, honor, duty, duels, manipulation, and great hats. I am so there. But what about "these kids today", huh? Is the assumption that they won't have that burst of recognition, and thus won't want to see something like Dangerous Liaisons or Valmont, unless it gets remade in their image? (Not that I'm panning Cruel Intentions, I loved it, although I could've cut the very very very end.)

Hell, either way, who's up for Wuthering Heights, 2002?

Thursday, September 12, 2002

Time for Some Country Music

Oh, whatever, I just needed a good title.

So, I get this spam email today asking if I'm "Tired of looking for love in all the wrong places?",

and I thought -- what if I wrote back and said "no"?

I'm not tired of looking for love in all the wrong places. For all I know, love really is wedged in between the sofa cushions, along with a beer bottle cap, 67 cents, a packet of hot sauce, and a sock. So, hell, yeah, I'll take a chance and look. And who is to say what the wrong places are, anyway?

Being as it's my blog, I guess I am.

Some Wrong Places To Look For Love:

  • Low Earth Orbit.
  • 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea.
  • A POW camp, during any war or "police action".
  • In the middle of a neutrino detector.
  • In an Active Volcano.
  • In the utility closet at the Rose Bowl.
  • Dangling from a bunjee cord off the Empire State Building, about 7 floors down. On the right.
  • In the general vicinity of Hastings, 1066 A.D.
  • In the southeast corner of the dumpster at 5th and Main. Under the rotten coleslaw.
  • In the air conditioning ducts at your building.
  • Underneath the last roll of toilet paper.
  • Tucked in the freezer, wrapped in butcher's paper, labelled "Moose - 1998".
  • At the top of the CN Tower in the middle of the night.
  • At the bottom of a 50-gallon drum of toxic waste.

Of course, having not looked in all these places myself, I could be wrong.

Wednesday, September 11, 2002

Turbulence Ho!

From the American Institute of Physics News No. 603.

HOW JUPITER GOT ITS STRIPES. A new study of turbulence in the atmosphere around a rotating sphere is helping to explain the dramatic stripes on Jupiter, Saturn, and the other giant planets. On Earth, turbulence caused by solar heating and friction with the ground disrupts atmospheric flows and dissipates the energy provided by the sun that might otherwise lead to the formation of circulating, global cloud bands. In the thin atmospheres of gas giants, however, energy dissipation is small, and some of the sun's energy is gradually collected in stable, global jets that trap clouds and form planetary stripes.

Researchers at the University of South Florida and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (Israel) have now developed a model that shows how planetary rotation and nearly two-dimensional atmospheric turbulence may combine to create large scale structures. Scientists have long suspected that the interaction between planetary rotation and large-scale turbulence governs the banded circulations on giant planets. The new research has quantified the phenomenon, leading to an equation that characterizes the distribution of energy among different scales of motion, and to simple formulae that describe basic energetic features of giant planets' circulations. The model helps explain the paradoxical observation that the outer planets have stronger atmospheric flows, even though the energy provided by the sun to maintain such flows decreases with increasing distance from the sun. The researchers (B. Galperin) have found that the atmospheres of distant planets dissipate even less energy than their warmer sisters. Although the outer planets receive less energy from the sun, they keep more of the energy they receive. As a result, the model shows why Neptune has the strongest atmospheric circulation of all the gas giants even though it is the farthest of the bunch from the sun. (S. Sukoriansky, B. Galperin, N. Dikovskaya, Physical Review Letters, 16 September 2002)

Monday, September 09, 2002

Lathe of Heaven

Watched the new A&E production of "Lathe of Heaven", with Lukas Haas, James Caan, Lisa Bonet, and Sheila McCarthy last night. It was good. There were decisions made to cut some material out [and try to compress one role into another] that I understand, if not completely agree with.

On the one hand, it was a good movie. On the other, it was not the most faithful adaptation it could have been. I'm not even sure a really faithful adaptation could even be made. But, hey, Peter Jackson's use of flashbacks made FOTR a hell of a lot better than a more rigid adaptation might have.

I wouldn't mind trying, though. "Lathe" is an amazing idea and an amazing book and I'm thrilled to see another film version. I think if I hadn' t read the book REALLY RECENTLY I would have had my mind blown clear off its pilings.

By all means, see this one -- especially if you've never read the book. Then, go read the book.

Friday, September 06, 2002

Vacation Bible School

More properly, The Vacation Bible School Fiasco. I say "fiasco" because I'm sure it was for the people running the school.

I try to picture the experience from their perspective. Two heathen children [twins! which has got to be a sin, somehow] of around, oh, age 10ish, show up one summer who have -- really -- NO CLUE WHATSOEVER about this Christianity stuff. No, really. Really. It's difficult to picture in America but squint hard and bear with me. No. Clue.

Not having any idea what we were getting into at the time, when Matt asked us if we wanted to go, we shrugged and said, "Sure".

So, heathen godless children, who've never seen the inside of Sunday School in their entire heathen godless little lives, much less know what Sunday School is, show up at this place for "vacation bible school".
We're going to pray to Jesus, now. Bow your heads.
Come again?
Jesus Christ, our lord and savior.
Jesus Christ? Wait, you mean, that guy my stepdad yells at when he hits his thumb with a hammer?

And we're going to what, pray to him? What's that?
Well, you ask him for stuff.

Does he have stuff? Why would he have stuff? He's dead. And this is a dead guy from 2000 years ago -- it's not like they had TVs back then.

You people are engaged in a bunch of seemingly useless acts.

Every time someone opened their mouths it was to inform us heathen godless children of some new, frankly incomprehensible, fact, that apparently made perfect sense to them. Being moderately bright children growing up in not the full-tilt boonies, but out in the woods -- we knew from experience that dead stuff doesn't come back to life. It stays dead, decomposes, and there's a gross smell. So, this coming back after three days business, oh, that just reeks of some "zombie" episode from The Twilight Zone. Pun intended.

What I remember about the experience best is the sense of utter and total confusion about the whole thing. There's this big old guy with a long white beard who lives up in the clouds -- well, where does he go when it's not cloudy, then? And then this dead guy stapled to some big sticks who died for my "sin" things. Bad stuff, only I haven't done the bad stuff yet, and it's not at all clear why he should get punished for my bad stuff.

This makes no sense.

And could someone please explain why I'm cutting fish out of construction paper? For children who've internalized the ideas of conservation of mass and energy at a tender age -- the tales of loaves and fishes sound like sheer fantasy. Or science fiction. I mean this is the point at which I'm liable to open my heathen godless little mouth and say "you people are making this up, aren't you"?

Pretty much the only thing I recall us being good at was memorizing bits of this Bible thing -- although I do recall being concerned that since I didn't understand everything we were being told to parrot, I might accidentally say something not entirely true. And I may not get this sin business, but lying? That's wrong.

Thursday, September 05, 2002

the Beginning of the Future is Here

The first commercial lunar mission has been approved and is scheduled for launch in 2003. Trailblazer is a basic probe intended to capture biblical proportions of video up close and personal, during a lunar surface atlas survey. Trailblazer is on a one-way trip, after completing its mission -- which will include some even-more-detailed video of specific areas [Apollo landing sites and polar regions] -- will crash in a selected location and end it's glorious! wonderful! future-affirming! little life.

I am almost speechless. I've been waiting for the first commercial venture -- the first indication that outer space -- not just low-earth orbit -- can be business. Because that's what'll get humans off the planet. Not government space races. I'm so thrilled by this I can't actually type without fumbling.

I also have the distinct impression I attended a conference in LA with Karsten B. and saw a presentation from these people. I'm probably wrong.

More on the company, Transorbital: http://www.transorbital.net/index.html

Wednesday, September 04, 2002

Science Fiction as Romance

There. That ought to raise an eyebrow.

An intriguing article by Debra Doyle posits that SF novels fall in the category of "romance", a term guaranteed to make SF-girl-cootie-fearing readers run screaming from their dark glowing computer screens, into the night.

Heh. Heh. Heh.

Fear not, Doyle simply [simply? simply!] brings up the dictionary definition of romance as involving heroic, adventurous or mysterious adventures in remote times and places, a definition that fits SF quite well once you think about it.

The bulk of her remarks address realism, and in SF, the two primary areas where one can strive for it -- physical realism [where "hard SF" shines] and psychological realism [where, to put it midly, "hard SF" can often fail to shine]. Great stories -- SF and otherwise -- can exist where either one or both of these are not met...the decision to not strive for physical or psychological realism is as valid an artistic decision as to strive for such. That's not her point.

What Doyle notes is that two ideologies are butting heads in an effort to look for methods of improving SF as a genre. One is a push to be more like "modern realistic prose fiction", and the other to recognize that SF is "romance", and to model that form. That's not the same thing as sprinkling sex croutons all over one's fiction, because romance, remember, in this context is not sex or personal relationships per se, it's the heroics, adventure, and mystery, in a different time and place. The whole point of an sf or fantasy story is to ask what-if?

What if we colonized Mars?

What if it was a gazillion years in the future and the sun was going out?

What if a girl followed a white rabbit down a hole?

To deliberately and consciously seek out/create a remote time and place to set adventures in. That's unrealism at its very core, none of which absolves an author from keeping their let's-pretend world from being internally consistent -- it seems counterintuitive, but in order to get a reader to believe in your off-kilter world, you must answer the other side of the what-if, and then ask and answer again.

I think Doyle has hit the nail squarely -- SF is romance. We don't read it to see Joe Blow, CPA, walk to work in the morning looking at his loafers, thinking about his upcoming divorce...unless of course it's 2173 and he gets hit by a bus on the way to work and has his brain transplanted into the body of a surgically modified dog with a larynx and oppposable thumbs and then has to steal a spaceship with the help of his soon-to-be-ex so he can get away from the HMO before they repossess the dog's spine because a now-dead genetics researcher hid a new form of life in an inactive viral shell in the dog's spinal cord somewhere, only now the "inactive" virus got turned on after exposure to some nasty solar radiation during the escape and so Joe the Dog is fighting to keep control over his body from the new "intelligence" trying to spread through it.

That, friends, is an adventure in a remote time and place.

I might just have to write that story, too.

Sunday, September 01, 2002

Now Appearing: "A Footfall of Cats"

Peridot Books Vol XVI is out and includes a fantasy, "A Footfall of Cats", by yours truly. This is my first [of many, one hopes] fiction sale.

Friday, August 30, 2002

New Look

Oh, because I felt like it. Images from NASA, by way of Kokogiak Media's "300 Miles" collection. Just the blog at the moment, so if you go surfing my oracularities or some such, you'll see the usual black on white format. Timeless, yet cheesy.

Ming At Lunch

So, Janis and I had a terrible time going to lunch today. The place we normally go to was PACKED, as in spilling-out-the-door packed. So, we started for a different place, then realized we were close to another different place, and headed there. And never got there. Construction, traffic, all conspired against us. Finally, we opted for yet another dining location, i.e., the first non-fast-food joint we saw. This wound up making for a very irritating experience, but there were two items in the plus column:

1. Good sushi.

2. A "Ming's Upholstry" van.

I kid you not. So, I spot this van, and I swear, the words just TRIPPED out of my mouth:

"Well, that's a bit of a step down from Emperor of the Universe, isn't it?"

Which led, in swift succession, to...

"The only one that's merciless at Ming's is you! Make me an offer I won't refuse!"

"You don't have to be Flash Gordon to get a good deal at Ming's!"

"We're mercilessly slashing prices at Ming's Upholstry!"

So, y'know, all in all, lunch sort of evened itself out.


From my latest AIP Physics News Update (#602):

A NEW KIND OF OCEAN WAVE HAS BEEN DISCOVERED by geophysicists in the US and Mexico (Rhett Butler, IRIS Consortium, rhett@iris.edu and Cinna Lomnitz, UNAM, cinna@prodigy.net.mx). At the Hawaii-2 Observatory, an unmanned research laboratory sitting on the seafloor between Hawaii and California, ocean waves of many varieties are observed. Some are acoustic waves, underwater cousins of sound waves in the air, and consisting of pressure waves that alternately expand and compress water as they propagate through the ocean at the speed of sound in water. Others are Rayleigh waves, seismic waves that propagates near the surface of the earth. Triggered by earthquakes, Rayleigh waves propagate as horizontal and vertical motions in the sediments and underlying crust. Researchers have now detected a new kind of wave created by seismic events. For example, a 6.2-magnitude earthquake 10 km below the Pacific Ocean in June 2000. The newly discovered wave, the researchers have concluded, is a "coupled" acoustic and Rayleigh wave that swaps energy above and below the seafloor. Propagating at the sound velocity of water, the wave both induces horizontal and vertical motions in the seafloor sediments and creates regions of expansion and compression in the water. This coupled wave, the researchers found, carries more energy than conventional deep-Earth waves observed at the Hawaii-2 Observatory. (Butler and Lomnitz, Geophysical Research Letters, 24 May 2002)

How intriguing. I didn't even know there was a Hawaii-2 Observatory.

For some interesting stuff on different types of waves [and some spiffy animations], check out Dan Russell's Wave Motion web page.