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Since 1:30am, September 16, 2001

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{Saturday, March 30, 2002}

"I think it would be a good idea."
- Mahatma Gandhi, when asked what he thought of Western civilization

posted by Jim Somewhen | Link | Guestbook | Add Comment

{Thursday, March 28, 2002}

Terms of service

me: my blog is called objectionable content. i love that name. (sorry. vanity)
her: why that name?

me: honestly? because I was reading the service terms of my hosting contract, and my domain registration, and blogger, and they all said something to the effect of: you will not use our service to host/support/create any objectionable content.
me: so i was like, screw you, who the fuck decides? all of my content will be objectionable.
her: Oh my god. That's funny. You should post that.

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{Wednesday, March 27, 2002}

"There are some words so hard to say that their very existence is questionable."

Song of last night, for sure: "Stay," by Cat Power (thank you Colin for telling me of them)

posted by Jim Somewhen | Link | Guestbook | Add Comment

Check out infoAnarchy's mission statement:

"So we must fight vigorously against any and all attempts to restrict information freedom on the Net and elsewhere. We must work together to develop the tools that are necessary to protect freedom of speech.... we must also make this new future attractive for everyone, with new means to compensate the producers of information."

Their home blog is here.

posted by Jim Somewhen | Link | Guestbook | Add Comment

{Tuesday, March 26, 2002}

The goods from Stephanie
She doesn't have permalinks. This is her second March 26 (today!) entry:

Aren't eyes wonderful? With their little rods and cones and doodads. They are biological solar cells in the retina that convert light to electrical impulses -- impulses that travel along the optic nerve to the brain where images are formed. Without them, we're blind. I can't get over that....so complex, so perfect. So annoyingly hard to stare into without feeling like a fool. Yep..I'm one of those "look away first" gals. Never won a staring contest in my life...oh wait, yeah I did. Cashew, my dog, really sucks at that game too. Apparently, looking away is a way of saying "yes, ok, you're the boss". Man...I guess I'm close to the bottom of the food chain. Surprise Surprise.

Good old Steph.

posted by Jim Somewhen | Link | Guestbook | Add Comment

The Moth is a moveable feast
Today there's a story slam at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. The theme is music. On April 14th there's another, at The Players Club, and the themes are "hitting bottom: stories from the lower depths," and "rock and roll saved my life." The Moth story slams started the year I graduated from college, 1997. George Dawes Greene started them, like this:

He thought back to his days writing in Georgia, when he spent most evenings in overgrown backyards listening to his friends tell amazing stories. In the soft dark, a deep Southern drawl would spin itself around some strange and unhappy woman's life, see in her an unlucky flame who drew others with her heat.

You can learn more about The Moth here. Maybe you'll run into me sometime.

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{Monday, March 25, 2002}

Voices in the wilderness
Three things to admire about Israel are Yesh Gvul, Matzpun, and Seruv. They are not the only things. But look:

(1) "Yesh Gvul ("There is a limit !") is an Israeli peace group that has shouldered the task of supporting soldiers who refuse assignments of a repressive or aggressive nature. The brutal role of the Israel Defence Force (IDF) in subjugating the Palestinian population places numerous servicemen in a grave moral and political dilemma, as they are required to enforce policies they deem illegal and immoral. The army hierarchy demands compliance, but many soldiers, whether conscripts or reservists, find that they cannot in good conscience obey the orders of their superiors."

(2) Matzpun = Hebrew for conscience. "The authors of this appeal are Israeli citizens and Jews of other nationalities whose families have been victims of racism and genocide in past generations, and who feel they cannot remain silent.... After .... relentless military oppression ... in the Israeli-occupied territories, the government of Israel has made daily life even more intolerable for the Palestinians ... We call on the world community to organize and boycott Israeli industrial and agricultural exports and goods, as well as leisure tourism, in the hope that it will have the same positive result that the boycott of South Africa had on Apartheid."


add it to your site

(3) I have been reading more of the refuseniks' statements. This one, by Tal Belo, is almost poetry:
There’s no place like Gaza. With its blue sea and excellent hummus which even if you include a ton of pita bread, cracked olives and French fries won’t cost you more than 10 shekels, you’d even get back some change. Let me tell you about these Gazan olives. First of all, they are the most bitter ones in the entire world. Gaza people say that the olives get their bitterness from life in the Gaza strip. From the pressure of our occupation and the previous one and the one before that. And not only are these olives bitter, they can also drive you crazy with their saltiness. And that is because of the tears of the Gaza women. Tears they shed in the olive groves seep through into the olives.

The women of Gaza were the true heroes. While the men were busy tending to the miseries of life and looking for ways to liberate themselves from this or that occupation, the women were busy taking care of the kids, preparing the food and working in the groves. In the groves they had quality time. All alone there, they cried for their youth and for their dreams; for the sons who were killed or sent to prison, or for the sons who will be killed or will be sent to prison. (more, that you must read)
I don't know what to tell you, except that it becomes haunting. You must read it.
posted by Jim Somewhen | Link | Guestbook | Add Comment

Generous Offer Redux
I've provided links analyzing Israeli PM Ehud Barak's December 2000 offer to the Palestinians at least twice before. While widely perceived as generous, this offer was unacceptable not only in its content but also in the manner in which it was presented (an ultimatum). Israeli peace group Gush Shalom has put together a flash slideshow on Barak's offer, analyzing it simply in terms of the amount of land offered to the Palestinians. It shows in a clear, visual way how far short of equity Barak's proposal fell.
posted by Jim Somewhen | Link | Guestbook | Add Comment

The Lord of the Flies and the Prince of Lies
"I can't stand it anymore," writes Arjan El Fassed. "What are you waiting for? Another Sabra and Shatila? Another Srebrenica, Bosnia, Rwanda, East Timor, Kosovo, Kandahar or New York? Just tell me how many need to get killed, so I know when to start pressing my demands again. Just tell me how many homes must be demolished, so I know when I can stop counting and demand compensation. Just tell me the number of crimes at which I can lay my pen to rest and demand the world to end the impunity."

The reports from Palestine get worse every day and the world does nothing. "No, we just watch, move our eyebrows and carry on. It's Israel. It's the exception. It's the victim, the impossible aggressor, even though statistics, documents, UN reports, ... witnesses say something different."

The world. You people, you fucks. You people who read little green footballs, which I can't even bring myself to link to anymore. All I see there is how the Palestinian is a terrorist. How their society is primitive and violent and therefore they must be dealt with violently. They are animals. They deserve to die. Their pain is not real. We are not killing people when we murder them. That's the message over there; that's what you implicitly support when you say nothing. Where are the people saying 'This is racist. This is evil. These people are human beings just as the Israelis are?' I don't know.

There is no balance. He says "you are an animal," but I say "no, we are both human." Then you outsiders -- you impartial, disinterested observers -- you come in and split the difference. Your version of balance disgusts me.

The IDF is not breaking into your homes. They didn't kill your mother right before your eyes. They didn't stand there and watch as she bled to death in front of you, doing nothing. They didn't beat you, strip you naked, and shoot you in the street. They didn't toy with the severed heads of your dead, and pose for pictures with them, like trophies.

The monsters who defend Israel's occupation want you to believe that this is all OK, even though, from the very beginning of the second intifada, before it was a bloody, violent conflict, the IDF used live ammunition instead of rubber bullets or tear gas. Even though one quarter of the over 1,200 Palestinians killed were children. Even though "of those killed, only 5 percent happened in clashes where any Palestinian present had a weapon." Even though Israel is killing doctors deliberately, after the ambulance teams announce their presence and request (and are granted) clearance from the IDF to save lives.

How long will Israel's soldiers kill in front of the whole world and then lie about it to our faces? How long will they pretend to make peace while building more settlements and stealing more land? What will it take to make it clear that Ariel Sharon does not want peace?
"Land for peace" has been on offer to Israel for at least two decades and is the basis of the "peace process"--but its importance lies in exposing the fiction that Israel just seeks peace with and recognition from its Arab neighbors. Despite the fact that Israel has recognition from the PLO within its 1948 borders, full peace with Egypt and Jordan, could obtain peace treaties with Syria and Lebanon if it returns their land, and Saudi Arabia holds out the hope of further and broader normalization, Israel has rejected all such initiatives.

What it wants simply is the land of "Judaea, Samaria and Gaza."
Only yesterday, Sharon presented his own "plan for peace" that amounts to this: Israel rejects a return to the 1967 borders. Israel rejects land for peace. Because they do not want peace, they want the land.

Israeli soldiers raid the Hawarjeh home on March 8

Palestinian girl cries while her mother lies dying on the floor

Israel "defending" itself

It has been nearly ten years since Oslo, and there is no peace. I have read, I have heard, I have written enough commentary on the subject -- I have seen such images as to make me turn away -- and yet the foundations of this temple don't split or crack. Still war is made against these people, and still the world is told it is no war at all. I am tired of being called human filth by the people defending the pure evil of occupation, as if there were no difference between attack and defense, resistance and terror.

I will tell you something, there is a difference between the murder of an Israeli civilian in Israel and the killing of an IDF soldier in Palestine. One is a horror and one is resistance to occupation. One shows the face of a bloodthirsty Attila and one the desperate, noble visage of the French resistance fighters in World War II. Some of what the Palestinians have done is ignoble. It is horrible. But when they respond to the horror of Israel's invasion, no distinction is made. When Israel kills their civilians, no distinction is made. Some forms of armed struggle are legitimate. When the target is the soldier of an occupation army, resistance is not murder or terrorism.

I don't know what magic words will make you see the way that I see. These are the best that I could find:
"It is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts. Is this the part of wise men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty? Are we disposed to be of the number of those who, having eyes, see not, and, having ears, hear not, the things which so nearly concern their temporal salvation? For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst, and to provide for it.

I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past. And judging by the past, I wish to know what there has been in the conduct of the Israeli ministry for the last ten years to justify those hopes with which gentlemen have been pleased to solace themselves. Is it that insidious smile with which our petition has been lately received? Trust it not, sir; it will prove a snare to your feet. Suffer not yourselves to be betrayed with a kiss. Ask yourselves how this gracious reception of our petition comports with those warlike preparations which cover our waters and darken our land. Are fleets and armies necessary to a work of love and reconciliation? ... Let us not deceive ourselves, sir. These are the implements of war and subjugation ... I ask gentlemen, sir, what means this martial array, if its purpose be not to force us to submission? Can gentlemen assign any other possible motive for it?


They are meant for us: they can be meant for no other. They are sent over to bind and rivet upon us those chains which the Israeli ministry have been so long forging. And what have we to oppose to them? Shall we try argument? Sir, we have been trying that for the last ten years. Have we anything new to offer upon the subject? Nothing. We have held the subject up in every light of which it is capable; but it has been all in vain. Shall we resort to entreaty and humble supplication? What terms shall we find which have not been already exhausted? Let us not, I beseech you, sir, deceive ourselves. Sir, we have done everything that could be done to avert the storm which is now coming on. We have petitioned; we have remonstrated; we have supplicated; we have prostrated ourselves ... Our petitions have been slighted; our remonstrances have produced additional violence and insult; our supplications have been disregarded; and we have been spurned, with contempt, from the seat of the government! In vain, after these things, may we indulge the fond hope of peace and reconciliation. There is no longer any room for hope. If we wish to be free--if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending--if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained--we must fight! I repeat it, sir, we must fight! An appeal to arms and to the God of hosts is all that is left us!


Besides, sir, we have no election. If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Bethlehem! The war is inevitable--and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come.

It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace-- but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!"
Yes, the words are Patrick Henry's, and he was speaking of a different struggle against an earlier colonial power. I changed Britain to Israel, Boston to Bethlehem, but the bulk is left now as it was then. In his time, they fought over taxes, over a lack of representation in Parliament. People were not being murdered in their homes, and yet the Americans fought. They were called noble by the world.

Yet the truth is I do not believe armed resistance will be ultimately successful -- except insofar as it brings the Israelis to the negotiating table with a genuine understanding that the occupation is too costly to continue. The situation in Israel and Palestine is not analogous to the U.S. and Britain. But the motives of the Palestinians are, as is the justice of their cause. That is my truth.

posted by Jim Somewhen | Link | Guestbook | Add Comment

{Saturday, March 23, 2002}

"Now, now my good man, this is no time for making enemies."
- Voltaire, on his deathbed, when asked by a priest to renounce Satan

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{Friday, March 22, 2002}

The Trouble With Harry
Some popular libertarian sites like The Blue Button and Libertarian Samizdata are cheering Andrea Harris over at FOX News for her attack on former Libertarian presidential candidate Harry Browne. Apparently, Browne wrote an article worthy of opprobrium.

Perry at Samizdata calls Browne a "Barking moonbat" of the "tinfoil hat and black helicopter category." The Blue Button says "So what's Browne trying to do? Convince the whole country that Libertarians are a crazy fringe party?"

Harsh words. I was ready to find real lunatic stuff in Harry's article, and some devastating critique over at FOX News. So I went and took a look.

For your reading pleasure, here is a point counterpoint: A quote from Browne's article first (in white), then the critique from Harris (in green), and then the enlightening commentary from Objectionable Content (in olive).

(1) "Americans are claiming victory because American bombers have devastated Afghanistan, thousands of Afghans have been killed, and the already-impoverished country is now almost completely in ruins."
— American forces have left Afghanistan in ruins (apparently the Soviets, the warlords, and the Taliban had created a fruitful Eden).

— We've killed thousands "of Afghans" (none of who participated in the fighting on the Taliban's and Al Qaeda's side).
The key words in Browne's original article are "already-impoverished." Calling Afghanistan an impoverished country does not suggest to me that Browne thought of it as "a fruitful Eden" as Harris would have us believe. Browne's words seem to indicate that he knew what most of us know: Afghanistan was not in good shape before the U.S. attacks. He goes on to say that our attacks have had a negative effect, i.e. that being bombed is worse than not being bombed. Despite what Harris would have you believe, this is not a crazy stance. It's not the kind of thing that warrants being "put ... in a home."

This is not to say that one can't disagree with Browne's point. One can reasonably argue that many Afghan people are better off without the Taliban than they were with them. But don't forget who some of the likely candidates to replace the Taliban are: the opium-selling, raping and pillaging Northern Alliance, for one. In other words, whether he is right or wrong, Browne's position is defensible. His use of the word "devastated" may be hyperbole -- but it may not be. In a situation where bombs are dropping, where there is war, the presumption that devastation has occurred is not automatically an exaggeration.

Harris' next point is that the Afghans who died deserved to die. The simple question here would be, of the dead, how many were civilian non-combatants, and how many were not? Or, of the dead, how many were native Afghans focused on an internal civil war, and how many were international (Saudi, for example) mercenaries with connections to Al Qaeda?

Yes, someone deserves to pay for September 11. But are we getting the right people? Browne suggests strongly that we aren't. Some of his words that Harris failed to quote: "Osama bin Laden and Omar the Tentmaker are still on the loose."

The question of who we are really hurting by attacking Afghanistan is a fair one. There are many reasonable arguments in favor of attacking that country (for example, the Taliban did indeed support Al Qaeda and provide them with training camps and a safe harbor. Dismantling that infrastructure will put a crimp in Al Qaeda's ability to conduct terrorism). But there are reasonable arguments on the other side as well (for example, Afghans don't care about the U.S. and aren't hostile to us. Not one of the hijackers of September 11 was from Afghanistan. These people are involved in a civil war and have nothing to do with us. The Taliban were willing to discuss terms for handing over Bin Laden, but the U.S. demanded unconditional surrender).
(2) "Hundreds of millions of people in the Third World already hate the U.S. – for bombing Iraq, for interfering in the Middle East, for keeping troops in a hundred countries, for propping up dictators who support American policies. "
— Millions of Third World people hate us (which is probably at least 80 percent due to the efforts of people like Harry Browne to sympathize with their plight and speak for them, instead of showing their despotic 'governments' a little muscle).
Let's see. Browne says we should stop propping up dictators, Harris says we should stop propping up dictators, and makes it look like she is correcting that crazy Harry Browne.

Browne also mentions those pesky legitimate grievances of the Arab world -- not as justification for terrorism but as explanation for the popular resentment of the U.S. Harris might've challenged some of his points in some way, but she ignores most of them and actually adopts one of them as her own.

People are praising this woman.
(3) "10 years of U.S. bombing Iraq hasn't forced Saddam Hussein to change his policies. Why should it? The bombs make his stubbornness more popular at home.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel says he'll continue to attack the Palestinians until "the other side understands it cannot achieve anything by using terror; [then] it will be easier to start negotiations." But why would terrorists care how many Palestinians die? "
— The Israelis are Bad People for killing those poor, helpless Palestinians (all those suicide bombers are really just victims of Spontaneous Human Combustion — the truth is out there, Scully!).
Harris' argument is that every single Palestinian killed by Israel was a terrorist (over 1,100 since September 2000). Not just the young men who "fit the profile," but also the doctors, the mothers, the children, the babies. All of them. The Arabs are crazy to think otherwise and to protest Israel's actions, and so is Harry Browne. The only good Palestinian is a dead Palestinian.

And how about that X-Files line? Compare Harris' tone to Browne's and then tell me which one represents adult discourse and which is a barking moonbat.
(4) "The truth is that the evil, malicious, brutal thugs rarely have the ability to make any real trouble outside their own neighborhoods. The few exceptions – people like Adolph Hitler or Osama bin Laden – succeed only because they can get the financing, contacts, networking and other resources necessary to spread trouble.

And they can get that support only if large numbers of people have been mistreated. That was the case with the Germans after World War I – who had valuable pieces of Germany torn off and handed to France, Poland or Czechoslovakia; who had all their foreign investments confiscated; who were told to pay astronomical reparations, even though all their valuable assets had been taken from them; who were made to bear the entire guilt for a war they were only one part of.

Hitler could command a very advanced, literate country because of the terrible treatment the Germans suffered after World War I. He promised to avenge the terrible wrongs done to them, and they responded enthusiastically. If he hadn't had that fertile ground to work with, we'd never have heard of him.

Today, Osama bin Laden couldn't get the worldwide support necessary to carry out his evil plans if there weren't hundreds of millions of people who resent American troops stationed in their countries; who are appalled by the American blockade that's starving Iraqis; who don't like American presidents imposing their decisions on their countries.

The difference between relatively harmless thugs and truly dangerous thugs is the real grievances the dangerous ones can play upon. They are still thugs, but they gain the support of honest, peace-loving people who have been pushed to the limit."
He goes on to drag out the Hitler apologetics: If Germany hadn't been treated so badly after WWI, Hitler would never have risen to power, etc. It must be nice to see everything in neat little packages of moral equivalence. It's a great way of giving oneself a free pass for one's own moral failings: If it wasn't the German peoples' fault for being swept away by Nazism, then I don't have to feel so bad for being a coward who secretly admires thugs like Usama bin Laden. After all, doesn't he have a legitimate grievance?

Some of us whose consciences are more annoyingly resistant to such temptations find it difficult to succumb to such weasel behavior.
Browne is telling us something important: men like Hitler and Bin Laden play upon the legitimate grievances of peaceful people for support. He does not say that these grievances justify brutality, but that evil men use them to justify brutality. Therefore, one weapon against evil men is to remove this card from their hands. Take away the legitimate grievances that they rely on, and the thugs will lose their popular support.

For saying this, Harris calls Browne "a coward who secretly admire thugs." She believes the German people, for example, deserve to be blamed for being swept away by Nazism. This may be true. Scholars have written books on both sides of the issue and I say it is a debatable point. Browne's key argument is that the crucial time for German support of Nazism was not after Hitler was well entrenched and the world was in the midst of war, but as he was climbing to power, before the Holocaust and his other crimes. German support for Hitler at this point may not be blameless, but it isn't the obvious moral failing that Harris makes it out to be. And it may have been avoided if the world had acted differently at the end of WWI.

Yet again, one might argue Browne's point, but he offers reasonable claims open to refutation. Harris offers low namecalling and high and mighty moralizations that are completely unjustified ("some of us whose consciences are ... resistant to .. temptations." Please).

That's it, that's the great screed that has saved libertarianism from the danger of Harry Browne.

The motto, boys and girls, is that Browne may not be right, but he isn't crazy. He has some points that are worth debating and arguing. Meeting his points in a spirit of inquiry is the useful (and not to mention civilized) way to behave. Harris didn't, and the Libertarian bloggers, instead of being voices of reason, jumped on her bandwagon. I have respect for some of these people's opinions on other issues, and I hope they recognize their mistake here.
And the real motto, of course, is how this post makes me look better than nearly every person I've mentioned in it. Self-aggrandizing bastard (I need it after that Garcia Marquez snafu).

posted by Jim Somewhen | Link | Guestbook | Add Comment

{Thursday, March 21, 2002}

Seven minutes to midnight
The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists just advanced its Doomsday Clock ahead by two minutes to seven minutes to midnight, signifying an increased likelihood of nuclear war (via the bitter shack of resentment, which has been newly added to Unobjectionable Content above, for good reason, so check it out).
posted by Jim Somewhen | Link | Guestbook | Add Comment

It loses something in the translation
A few months Almost twenty years ago (see comments on this post for shocking revelation of Jim messing up), it seems that Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote a screed against Ariel Sharon and Israel's destruction of the Palestinians Lebanon and the peace process. This was reported in the Arab and Latin American press, but I never heard it here in the U.S.

In fact, I couldn't find anything about it on Google. I tried a variety of search terms without success. How could this be? Had it ever really happened? Marquez is famous. He wrote One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature. If he spoke out so vehemently about a subject of international importance, you could find out about it on the internet. Couldn't you?

Well, after lots of work on Google, I found one document: the text of Marquez' screed, in Spanish. The computer translation into English isn't exactly perfect. And the web site source appears to be some sort of Spanish Palestinian site, not a typical media outlet.

Suspicious about the way a story like this could get buried? I am was.

If anyone can find a better translation, or any mention of this story in prominent international media, please post a comment and let people know.

Update: Really, read the comments. I changed this post in response to them (you can see the strikeouts).
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Don't you love Andy Kashdan? Don't you wish everybody did?
posted by Jim Somewhen | Link | Guestbook | Add Comment

everything you dream of...


IF I MAY SAY SO, I DON'T THINK IT WILL BE everything you dream of. I think it is always something else. With overlap, quite likely. But its the lilly pads. The surface of a pond represents mental possibility, everything you imagine you could attain. The lilly pads are what you can actually attain. From your vantage point as a frog, you can't see very far, so all you can ever do is just hop to a lilly pad that is different from the one you're on, but is one of the ones you can actually get to due to its closeness to your present spot. Hopefully this process will lead you to a lilly pad that is close to the point on the surface of the pond that represents what you consider ideal. If the lilly pad completely overlapped that point, I suppose you'd be perfectly happy. If it didn't overlap completely, but it overlapped some, or was close to the ideal point, then I suppose you'd be pretty happy. But, even if you got close, in this analogy lilly pads are the only part of the pond you can stand on. You can't necessarily jump to that ideal spot. You have to hope that it's covered by a lilly pad.

All stolen from Zha
posted by Jim Somewhen | Link | Guestbook | Add Comment

Song of the day: "What's Up?" by Four Non Blondes

Twenty-five years and my life is still
Trying to get up that great big hill of hope
For a destination

posted by Jim Somewhen | Link | Guestbook | Add Comment

Compare album covers. Four Non Blondes and the Be Good Tanyas. The art reflects the music, doesn't it?
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{Tuesday, March 19, 2002}

The difference between a blog and a friend
I have spent hours being uninteresting with my friends. We would bore each other, and even though we didn't exactly enjoy it, there was comfort in that shared presence.

"What do you want to do?"

"What do you want to do?"

That was before Google started indexing human interaction. Now that every conversation is searchable, it's all about my Nielsen rating.

After hanging out with my friend X today, I went home and checked my stats. They were OK, but not great. I got 17 hits. Half were because of the conversation with X. It must be from having mentioned cluster bombs. Everyone's talking about cluster bombs today. They're number 4 on talkdex. I try to talk about whatever other people are talking about, because people check talkdex all the time. They could find me there if I happen to mention what's popular that day.

It's lucky that I was talking to X too, because he's got a big audience, and he's always talking to people -- you know they're checking his Previous Conversations Log to see if he talked to anyone interesting. That's why if X hears the right things when we talk, he might even mention me tomorrow and I could pick up a lot more hits. Some of them could even turn into regulars.

It's been tough lately because I've been too busy to call people every day. You really have to hold regular conversations if you want to keep your hits up. Sometimes I find myself saying the most pointless things. But it's good to be Recently Updated; it keeps you visible. People have expectations. It's better to chatter daily than to go quiet for a week and eventually say something meaningful -- people might not even like the meaningful thing! and then where are you?

I haven't talked about liberty in days. If I don't talk about it soon, I'll lose that demographic. Twenty percent of my friends like me because of my views on liberty. But not just my old views. I have to keep having new ones. People like you to be current.

Listeners are interested in targeted content. Some people just want me to be funny, and they tune out when they hear me talking about game theory. And I lose half the game theory geeks when I get sentimental. They develop a habit: this is where I go to hear about game theory and if you don't deliver a daily dose -- if you intersperse it with talk about The Simpsons, or kissing Ruth, or Palestine -- well, they start to realize how much work it is to get their game theory from you, and they go elsewhere.

That's how LivingPundit and his imitators do it. They focus. They give the audience what they want. It must be weird, walking around, talking politics all day. Having "views" on current events ... well, not that ... but only having views.

I've got a friend like LivingPundit. His name isn't Y, but say it is. Sometimes Y just comes up to me in the mall and starts talking about campaign finance reform. He's gotten good at it, there's always a memorable line in his conversation. It's important to leave hooks that other people might repeat. Or he'll drop names. "Did you hear what RivalPundit said about the melting ice shelf? What RivalPundit leaves out is that in other places, ice was actually added. Globally, there's no net loss of ice, but fear-mongers like RivalPundit and his ilk would have you think we'll all be living in Newfoundland next year, wearing bathing suits in December." You can usually tell a ____Pundit by whether or not they use 'ilk' and '-mongers.'

I asked Y if he felt like he was old because suddenly most people in the mall were high-school and college kids, and we weren't anymore. It makes me feel a little irrelevant sometimes, being in a mall. Y said the problem was our culture's fixation on youth and that malls are just shrines to our twin gods of commerce and newness, and something about how dangerous it is that our society doesn't venerate age, experience, and wisdom. Somewhere in there I think he quoted William F. Buckley and made fun of Fukuyama, or Foucalt, or Michael Sandel.

Mentioning Professor Sandel was a nice touch, since we both took his class back at Harvard. It let Y connect the conversation back to the two of us, without alienating his listeners. It's hard not to alienate your listeners.

There was a cute girl in the Waldenbooks, and Y talked to her about bigamy and the Mormons (this was during the Olympics, so it was topical).

I once asked Y if he found it hard keeping his ratings up and being topical all the time, but he said he didn't engage in meta-discussions about talking. His audience isn't really into meta-discussions.

I told Y that I felt adrift lately; that me and my friends weren't as close as we used to be. It feels like there's some kind of barrier. Y told me that just in the time it had taken me to say that, he'd lost 14 listeners. His audience really isn't into personal narrative.

Talking to Y isn't what it used to be. But I always get a few residual hits from him. People are curious.

Did you hear that MIT is working on a new application? It's called ThoughtDex. I took a look at the beta. Here's what it says: "ThoughtDex is a system built to harness the power of personal thought, amalgamating and organizing personal mental content into one navigable source, moving democratic media to the masses." It's going to be great. I guess.

Did you hear about how Bill said that this new technology is revolutionizing communication?

posted by Jim Somewhen | Link | Guestbook | Add Comment

{Monday, March 18, 2002}

What digital divide?
Though Jesse Jackson dubbed it "classic apartheid," News.com tells anyone who couldn't figure it out for themselves that the digital divide is bunk.

According to a report from the Department of Commerce, more than half the population of the United States is now on-line, including 32% of Hispanics and 40% of blacks. Among lower income households (those earning less than $15,000 per year), internet use was at 25% in 2001; but the clincher is that "between December 1998 and September 2001, Internet use by individuals in the lowest income households ... increased at a 25 percent annual growth rate." In other words, it won't be long until nearly everyone is wired.

Of course, by then, some of us will be wireless, or optical, or transcendental, and the Cassandras will have something new to wail about.
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{Friday, March 15, 2002}

Cities and Thrones and Powers

The Phantom Towers monument I referred to in January has become a reality.

Seeing this photograph fills me with sadness and pride.

New York, you will always be home.
CITIES and Thrones and Powers
Stand in Time's eye,
Almost as long as flowers,
Which daily die:
But, as new buds put forth
To glad new men,
Out of the spent and unconsidered Earth,
The Cities rise again.

This season's Daffodil,
She never hears,
What change, what chance, what chill,
Cut down last year's;
But with bold countenance,
And knowledge small,
Esteems her seven days' continuance
To be perpetual.

So Time that is o'er-kind
To all that be,
Ordains us e'en as blind,
As bold as she:
That in our very death,
And burial sure,
Shadow to shadow, well persuaded, saith,
"See how our works endure!"

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Songs of the day
"Born at the Right Time," by Paul Simon

Never been lonely,
Never been lied to
Never had to scuffle in fear
Nothing denied to
Born at the instant
The church bells chimed
And the whole world whispering
Born at the right time
"The Littlest Birds," by The Be Good Tanyas (official site here)

Well I love you so dearly
I love you so clearly
Wake you up in the mornin' so early
Just to tell you I got the wanderin' blues
I got the wanderin' blues
And i'm gonna quit these ramblin' ways
one of these days

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"Don't let it end like this. Tell them I said something."
- last words of Pancho Villa

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The oldest blog?
Rebecca's article on weblogs (that I mentioned ages ago), weblogs: a history and perspective, notes that "Jesse's page of only weblogs lists the 23 known to be in existence at the beginning of 1999." Jesse calls them "ye olde skool," and that's right, there were only twenty-three as of early '99.

Missing from the list is Juno in the Jungle. I found her here, where you'll also see this humble site listed. Juno is a "very periodic journal of mathematics, philosophy, and talking about New York City (or kvetching about t.v.). Best viewed on Lynx, there are no graphics, links, or comments allowed."

Juno in the Jungle has been around since 1996. As Juno herself says, "I am not really keeping a blog, because I'm not logging anything on the web, I don't link to any other sites in my entries. But, especially, I don't allow anybody to add their own comments to my entries." She then goes on to get really catty about young female bloggers "wrapped up in a narcissistic worship of their vaginas."

I don't mean to distract you though. I'd be interested to hear from anyone who knows of an older on-line journal that's still extant. And you will be interested in Juno's thoughts on the "designated mourner," John Donne, and beauty, all from the same entry:

Jack calls himself "The Designated Mourner", explaining the concept comes from Ancient Rome, that when the Empire (or Republic) destroyed an entire group or culture, there would be an official mourner for those obliterated in acknowledgement for what had gone before (even though they had been the people to destroy them.)


In any case, I think John Donne to be the greatest poet of love, Shakespeare notwithstanding. The difference, to me, is that it seems that Shakespeare is a great observer of people and can represent love in many ways in his sonnets and plays, but Donne is writing from his personal situation, in deep love with his wife and his children.


Well, I want to proclaim my belief that the beautiful people of the world have an obligation to the rest of the world to =be= beautiful ... I believe that those endowed with natural physical beauty of whatever kind need to share it with the world ... Dammit, be beautiful! Smile! Bring light into the lives of those of us used to mediocrity ... This is not to say one will be =only= beautiful, but if one has been graced with such a genetic bounty, there is an obligation to society to let it enjoy God's creation. I myself have been graced with the inclination and ability to learn and integrate many disparate intellectual fields, and I share my knowledge with all who care to know or listen (more)

She said she was willing to share. Go, partake.
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{Thursday, March 14, 2002}

The most famous Afghan girl in the world
Every time I see this picture I'm struck by how beautiful she was. Her eyes and mouth seem to hold a power, an earthly judgement.

After more than 15 years, she's been found (via reenhead and blogdex).

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Reporter: How do you feel about teenagers imitating you with Beatle wigs?
John: They're not imitating us, because we don't wear Beatle wigs.

People, as audiences, thirst for originality. Until they find it. Then, if the genius they embraced continues to grow and evolve, they feel betrayed.

Yet originality is what makes the Beatles or any artist special in the first place. They were worth caring about because they changed the status-quo of music so dramatically. But once they had, they became known for how they changed it, and varying from that pattern made people uncomfortable. Where were the Beatles that people knew? This was true not only of their music, but of their personalities as well.

The tyranny of expectations is the subject of an article about the Beatles in Austin DAZE. In a story called A Hard Day's Night vs. Let it Be, they describe the creation of a straight-jacket of public expectations.

By the time you achieve the kind of stardom that the Beatles achieved, the public isn't buying you for music alone. They've bought a relationship now. They are comfortable with you, they feel they know you. As an artist, you might not know that you were selling a relationship, but if you change, and the customers find that they can't get what they want anymore, you'll learn.

This isn't solely the fault of evil marketers. Friends get mad at each other when they change; couples and families fight; business partners split. Sometimes, people just go their separate ways and find new lives and relationships that fit their changed selves.

But what to do when you were a Beatle, and your relationship was with nearly the entire world?
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It all started with that first creative burst, and clever marketing.

The problem is, you can't market creativity and change as such. A product without consistency can't be sold: the campaigns and slogans would be in a continual state of obsolescence; the target customer set would change; the brand would lose coherence: in short, a marketing nightmare.

You'd think this would make it tough to sell good music (and maybe it does), but Madison Avenue has found a solution: artists, who are appreciated for their art -- for originality and creation -- can never be marketed based on their art. Art isn't marketable. Luckily, as Paul Weber pointed out in his article on propaganda, emotions are. Musicians can be very effectively marketed when the people selling them focus on emotions like lust, pride, and fear.

Take one example that works for both fear and pride. Music is a great way to maintain status: affinity for an artist becomes symbolic of a consumer's membership in a certain in-group. Not "getting it" puts others in an out-group. The music isn't sold to the public based on its artistic qualities, but rather as a means to achieve pride or assuage fear at being outcast.

Of course, knowing the theory doesn't make all marketers equal in their skill, and being well-marketed doesn't prove that a musician is not a real artist.

Just look at the Beatles.
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Apathetic Araby
I am glad that I added Jack's blog to my list of unobjectionable content (check out his recent post on anthrax). While we differ in our politics, his writing reveals him to be an honest, critical, and concerned observer of the human condition. Recently, he pointed to an article that takes the Arab states to task for their failures with regard to Palestine.

Arab states should be ashamed of themselves for their timidity and downright indifference to the plight of Palestinians. Europe has shown more concern for the Palestinians, has voiced more protest at Israel's unconscionable treatment of them, and may have given more money to help the cause of Palestine's subjugated people.

Arab states happily bargain away their support for a helpless and occupied people in exchange for U.S. aid. They agree to support military action in Iraq in exchange for a U.S. promise to send a mediator to Israel and Palestine. Do you compute this? They support an invasion of Iraq -- a war -- in exchange for what? A commitment from the U.S. to push for international monitors? A demand from the U.S. that Israel live up to its own commitments made at Oslo in 1993? U.S. pressure on Israel to withdraw to the 1967 borders?

No, a visit to the region by Anthony Zinni. A man who has visited before and achieved nothing. In exchange for this absolutely useless show, Egypt and other Arab states are giving the U.S. a free hand to attack Iraq.

More money from the U.S. is certainly part of the package. What is not part of the package is any integrity on the part of Arab governments. While their people -- the ones living on the much-discussed "Arab street" -- clamor for justice for Palestinians, the governments sell them out.

The Palestinian Authority itself is no stand-out. Do you believe that the aid money sent to Palestine all finds its way to schools, healthcare, and infrastructure for civil society? Corruption is a fact of life in human civilization, but its bite is so much more painful in a society like Palestine, where so many live at the edge of subsistence. And yet it is prevalent there, and the helpless suffer.

Read Hichem Karoui's view of the situation; send some righteous anger in the direction of Arabia.
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Three for Thursday
Aparna is the name of the girl I went to the prom with, but this isn't her. This girl's blog, information is power, has tidbits worth showing (as did the Aparna from my high school). Here are three:
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{Wednesday, March 13, 2002}

Song of the day: "No Rain," by Blind Melon

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(Ministry of) Love, American Style
Should you be worried about Paul Weber? These are his own words:
During the day, I go about earning a living by managing a small business. The rest of the time, I’m either writing or spending time with my family. In other words, I’m the most dangerous type of revolutionary: the normal-looking guy sitting next to you in the coffee shop, secretly planning the destruction of everything sacred. (more)

So much for "secretly planning." Nonetheless, Paul has written the fantastic Propaganda: Nobody Does It Better Than America for The Texas Mercury. I know you like the title, but hold on for just a little. First, you'll want some words on The Texas Mercury, so that you know what you're getting into.

If there is a place in the Universe where positive ideas and idealistic hope are found, we are at the location farthest from that point. We cheerfully acknowledge our place as men aiming to destroy, and we do not apologize for this. (more)

Paul's article is about American propaganda. He traces its roots to Madison Avenue, and so leaves out some really fertile ground in American propaganda history: the Revolution. The Federalist Papers and Tom Paine's Common Sense are just two of the most well-known examples (the works collected in The Anti-Federalist are lesser-known but worth finding out about). I would be curious to know Paul's take on political rhetoric in those days. He doesn't spare anyone when it comes to this modern world. Here is his deconstruction of Roosevelt and Social Security:
Security is an emotional appeal: no one is against security, are they? Roosevelt backed up his campaign with a masterful appeal to emotions: images of happy, elderly grandparents smiling while hugging their grandchildren, with everything in the world going right because of Social Security. All kinds of government programs were sold on the basis of appealing images and phrases. Roosevelt even appealed to America’s traditional love of freedom, spinning that term by multiplying it into the new Four Freedoms, including Freedom from Want and Freedom from Fear. Well, what heartless human being could possibly be against that? The Four Freedoms were promoted with images of parents tucking their children cozily into bed, and a happy family gathered around a Thanksgiving dinner, obviously free from want. The campaign was also based on that most powerful of all selling emotions: fear. If you don’t support Social Security, the ads suggested, you will live your last years in utter destitution.

The source of the problem? America's youth education camps public schools.

The role of the government propaganda camps known as public schools cannot be discounted in all this. Schools are not so much centers of learning as they are behavior conditioning camps in which children are taught to be unquestioningly obedient to authority. Since reason and morality are the death of propaganda, schools busy themselves with systematically stunting students’ ability to reason and think in moral terms. Because the government owns the propaganda camps, it’s not surprising that the beneficiary of the propaganda is almost always the government.


When minds are young and pliable—government experts understand this principle—you can fill them with nonsense that is practically impossible to root out. Laughable falsehoods in effect become true because everyone knows them to be true. (more)

I'll be rooting around for more interesting articles in the Mercury. This one is brought to you via reenhead via Liberal Arts Mafia.
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{Monday, March 11, 2002}

In Memory

Image stolen from AccordionGuy
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{Sunday, March 10, 2002}

Why socialists should actually be anarcho-capitalists
Paul Charnetzki IV may be an angry fifteen year old, but that doesn't mean beautiful women shouldn't give him sexual favors. In lieu of which, they may want to read his glib, intelligent, and slightly funny explanation of market anarchy and why it's the best bet for statists and socialists. (via The Blue Button)

And by the way, oooh, check out the parent site: anti-state.com (those crazy anarcho-capitalists, they would go and use .com instead of .org for their web site). That's where I found the unexpected Jesus is an Anarchist. You heard it here second.
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Zionist Heroes

A BBC article makes some salient points about the religious fanatics in the Middle East. That's right, Israeli settlers. Take a look at the map of the West Bank below. The orange area -- almost the entire map -- is what Israel's army controls. That control exists to defend the red area, a few tiny points representing Settler villages (often built on the most fertile land in the region). For those tiny points, for these 200,000 fanatics, millions of Palestinians suffer. Thousands of people die needlessly.

Is it worth it?

Here are some points from the BBC article:

An inquiry by a fact-finding committee into the roots of the latest conflict, under the former US Senator George Mitchell, has recommended that Israel immediately freeze all building in the West Bank and Gaza.


Since the 1993 Oslo peace accords, the number of Jewish settlers has increased 70% - from 125,000 to 200,000 - not counting the 200,000 Israelis living in 11 settler quarters in East Jerusalem, according to official figures.


Settler ideology precludes the possibility of reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians ... for many hardliners, they [settlers] are Zionist heroes. (more)

The number of true heroes increases every day. There are now 320 reserve combat officers and soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces refusing to serve in the occupied territories.

One of these men, Asaf Oron, is among seven whose personal statements are available to read. His words make me want to stand up and take off my hat. They deserve quoting at length:

On February 5, 1985, I got up, left my home, went to the Compulsory Service Center on Rashi Street in Jerusalem, said goodbye to my parents, boarded the rickety old bus going to the Military Absorption Station and turned into a soldier.

Exactly seventeen years later, I find myself in a head to head confrontation with the army, while the public at large is jeering and mocking me from the sidelines. Right wingers see me as a traitor who is dodging the holy war that's just around the corner. The political center shakes a finger at me self-righteously and lectures me about undermining democracy and politicizing the army. And the left? The square, establishment, "moderate" left that only yesterday was courting my vote now turns its back on me as well.


Almost no one asks the main question: why would a regular guy get up one morning in the middle of life, work, the kids and decide he's not playing the game anymore? And how come he is not alone but there are fifty… I beg your pardon, a hundred… beg your pardon again, now almost two hundred regular, run of the mill guys like him who've done the same thing?


This is the way I was when I was drafted. Not enthusiastic, but as if embarking on a sacred mission of courage and sacrifice for the benefit of society. But when, instead of a sacred mission, a 19 year old finds himself performing the sacrilege of violating human beings' dignity and freedom, he doesn't dare ask – even himself – if it's OK or not. He simply acts like everyone else and tries to blend in. As it is, he's got enough problems...

You get used to it in a hurry, and many even learn to like it. Where else can you go out on patrol – that is, walk the streets like a king, harass and humiliate pedestrians to your heart's content, and get into mischief with your buddies – and at the same time feel like a big hero defending your country? The Gaza Exploits became heroic tales, a source of pride...

For a long time, I could not relate to the whole "heroism" thing. But when, as a sergeant, I found myself in charge, something cracked inside me. Without thinking, I turned into the perfect occupation enforcer. I settled accounts with "upstarts" who didn't show enough respect. I tore up the personal documents of men my father's age. I hit, harassed, served as a bad example – all in the city of Kalkilia, barely three miles from grandma and grandpa's home-sweet-home. No. I was no "aberration." I was exactly the norm.

Having completed my compulsory service, I was discharged, and then the first Intifada began (how many more await us?) Ofer, a comrade in arms who remained in the service has become a hero: the hero of the second Giv'ati trial. He commanded a company that dragged a detained Palestinian demonstrator into a dark orange grove and beat him to death. As the verdict stated, Ofer was found to have been the leader in charge of the whole business. He spent two months in jail and was demoted – I think that was the most severe sentence given an Israeli soldier through the entire first Intifada, in which about a thousand Palestinians were killed.


Out of the blue, I was called up for the very first time for reserve duty in the Occupied Territories.... I spent three weeks with a celebrated reconnaissance company ... This is where it became clear to me that the same humane reserve soldier could also be an ugly, wretched macho undergoing a total regression back to his days as a young conscript. Already on the bus ride to the Gaza strip, the soldiers were competing with each other: whose "heroic" tales of murderous beatings during the Intifada were better (in case you missed this point: the beatings were literally murderous: beating to death). Going on patrol duty with these guys once was all that I could take. I went up to the placement officer and requested to be given guard duty only. Placement officers like people like me: most soldiers can't tolerate staying inside the base longer than a couple of hours.


Thus began the nausea and shame routine, a routine that lasted three tours of reserve duty in the Occupied Territories: 1993, 1995, and 1997. The "pale-gray" refusal routine. For several weeks at a time I would turn into a hidden "prisoner of conscience, " guarding an outpost or a godforsaken transmitter on top of some mountain, a recluse. I was ashamed to tell most of my friends why I chose to serve this way. I didn't have the energy to hear them get on my case for being such a "wishy washy" softy. I was also ashamed of myself: This was the easy way out. In short, I was ashamed all over. I did "save my own soul." I was not directly engaged in wrongdoing – only made it possible for others to do so while I kept guard. Why didn't I refuse outright? I don't know. It was partly the pressure to conform, partly the political process that gave us a glimmer of hope that the whole occupation business would be over soon.


Initially, this was a quiet decision, still a little shy, something like "I am just a bit weird, can't go and can't talk about it too much either." But as time went by, as the level of insanity, hatred, and incitement kept rising, as the generals were turning the Israeli Defense Forces into a terror organization, the decision was turning into an outcry: "If you can't see that this is one big crime leading us to the brink of annihilation, then something is terribly wrong with you!"

And then I discovered that I was not alone. Like discovering life on another planet.


Don't you really see what we are doing, why it is that we stepped out of line? Don't you get the difference between a low key, personal refusal and an organized, public one? (and make no mistake about it, the private refusal is the easier choice.) You really don't get it? So let me spell it out for you.... we (as well as some other groups who are even more despised and harassed) are putting our bodies on the line, in the attempt to prevent the next war. The most unnecessary, most idiotic, cruel and immoral war in the history of Israel.
We are the Chinese young man standing in front of the tank. And you? If you are nowhere to be seen, you are probably inside the tank, advising the driver.

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{Saturday, March 09, 2002}

The Empire Strikes
"The Palestinians must first be hit hard. Only after they are beaten will we be able to hold talks."
Ariel Sharon
4 March 2002

American F-16 jet fighters and Apache helicopter gunships have helped the Israeli Defense Force kill 40 Palestinians between Tuesday and Friday in the largest military incursion since the Al Aqsa intifada began in September 2000. The BBC gives a chronology of the carnage that doesn't serve to bring home the terror that the Palestinian people must be living under.

A Palestinian boy being
prepared for negotiations.

Including the prior weekend serves only to worsen the picture. According to an article in my local paper, "Friday saw the highest one-day death toll to date - and it capped the bloodiest week since September 2000, with 111 Palestinians and 36 Israelis killed in the past seven days." Among the dead are a nine year-old boy and a mother who was killed with her three children when missiles were launched into their house.

First, we kill all the doctors
Israel has covered itself in glory by instituting a policy of targeting ambulances and medical workers. The killing is so blatant that the International Committee of the Red Cross had to issue a press release appealing for the protection of medical staff. Human Rights Watch puts it bluntly: Israel: Cease Attacking Medical Personnel.

And still, the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS), the people who are risking their lives and getting murdered by Israel's soldiers, have pledged to keep on providing medical care to all in need. To call attention to the situation, they released a statement about Israel's policy of killing medical workers.

"Since the onset of the Intifada," they say, "3 PRCS ambulance staff have been killed, over 130 injured, and 71 ambulances attacked by the army. And in the same time frame PRCS has responded to treat 43 Israeli soldiers and civilians throughout the West Bank."

Ambulance in which Dr. Khalil Suleiman of the PRCS was killed

Read that paragraph again and ask yourself who the real monsters are.

Arafat was interviewed on Fox News this evening. He told a story about an Israeli government official who saw television coverage of IDF tanks crushing two Palestinian ambulances. This official secured two ambulances within Israel and attempted to bring them into the Occupied Territories in order to help the dieing. The IDF confiscated the ambulances and turned him away.

Inaction is Complicity
How long will the world allow this to continue? Inaction is Complicity -- that is the statement of Amnesty International. Their terrible reminders threaten to ring hollow because they so often go unheeded. But pause; heed:

"The number of Palestinians killed since the beginning of the current intifada in September 2000 has now reached more than 1000. The great majority of those killed, who include more than 200 children, were killed unlawfully when no lives were in danger. More than 600 houses have been demolished. In an act of collective punishment villages and towns in the West Bank are consistently sealed off by barriers manned by soldiers or made of earth, concrete blocks or trenches. At the same time at least 300 Israelis have been killed, including at least 200 civilians, among them over 50 children."


"No country should stand on the sidelines. Palestinian and Israeli children are slaughtered, ambulances carrying wounded Palestinians shot at, Palestinians homes are demolished and their towns and villages sealed off. Remaining silent amounts to condoning the escalation of killings, violence and retaliation."

"Now is the time to act."

An international peacekeeping force may be too much to ask for. Genuine American action for peace seems like a pipe-dream. But know that your tax dollars are paying for the subjugation and murder of innocent people. Know that you are supporting something out of a bad novel: tanks rolling into towns and killing children, jackbooted thugs tearing down people's houses and destroying everything they own, dead-souled soldiers murdering doctors for sport.

Three cheers for "the only democracy in the Middle East."

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{Friday, March 08, 2002}

It doesn't get any liberty-er than this
That's right, FEE and Laissez Faire Books are having a party in Vegas this May. We're talking about a chance to:
  • Meet your favorite laissez faire authors.
  • Listen to stimulating speakers on topics ranging from economics, history and politics to health, music and literature.
  • Discuss & debate new ideas with new friends.
I know, I can barely contain myself either. Here's the lowdown. Who's giving the keynote? ... Ben Stein, of Win Ben Stein's Money and Ferris Beuller's Day Off.

Actual snippet from the web site: "This is the meeting we've all been waiting for!" --John Galt

Libertarians: we may not be cool, but we're so rich it doesn't matter. ;)

**Note: yes, I am actually thinking of going.

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Song of the day: "Hell," by the Squirrel Nut Zippers

People listen attentively
I mean about future calamity
I used to think the idea was obsolete
Until I heard the old man stomping his feet.

In the afterlife,
You could be headed for the serious strife.
Now you make the scene all day
But tomorrow there'll be Hell to pay.

Now the D and the A and the M and the N
And the A and the T and the I-O-N
Loose your face
Loose your name
And get fitted for a suit of flames.

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Chilling Effects
Brown-eyed girl reported on the wonderful Chilling Effects Clearinghouse back on February 25th (she should outfit her blog with some permalinks!). Here's her post, verbatim, and in her colors:

A joint project of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Harvard, Stanford, Berkeley, and University of San Francisco law school clinics, Chilling Effects Clearinghouse project and website seek to "empower Internet users with detailed information about their legal rights in response to cease-and-desist letters designed to restrict their online activities."

According to The Filter, an online newsletter published by the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School, "The Chilling Effects project works by publishing cease-and-desist letters received by Internet users and providing detailed information about the relevant law. For example, if an Internet user receives a letter demanding that she remove a synopsis of a "Star Trek" episode from her website, members of the Chilling Effects team would post the letter online, embedding it with links to information about basic copyright protections, the rules governing synopses, and the fair use doctrine."

What a terrific idea. I've seen many individual sites that display cease-and-desist letters, and it's important that we will now have a central place to deposit them. The project will also give many law students excellent experience in intellectual property matters.

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The Electronic Intifada has a new splash page

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Massively parallel computing
Doctors and scientists have been warning for some time that antibiotic resistance is one of the major public health threats of the 20th century. It may be alarmist to say that we're in danger of a microbial apocalypse, but on the other hand, most of us are either still alive or have family members who are still alive because an antibiotic conquered an infectious disease that otherwise would have killed the individual. So what happens if the bacteria get the upper hand again? Lifespans go back to what they were before antibiotics were discovered?

People are scrambling to make sure we don't find out. The latest weapon? Brains of course, in the form of massively parallel computers. Recently, British scientists used SETI@Home-style parallelism to fight the anthrax bacterium. "The project was completed with unprecedented speed," c|net reports.

Scientists using the power of more than a million home computers, all linked together and cranking along as one, have come up with thousands of possible compounds that could be developed as a cure for anthrax, researchers said Friday.


"In only 24 days we could test 3.5 billion molecules," said Graham Richards, a chemistry professor at Britain's Oxford University who helped organize the project.... Using traditional methods, he said, the project would have taken years. (more)

[ Home PCs speed anthrax cure project | c|net ]

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{Thursday, March 07, 2002}

Song of 11:46 PM: "America," by Simon & Garfunkle

Let us be lovers,
We'll marry
our fortunes

Night-time brings an absence with it, and I'm dissatisfied. Something is missing.

It's late. Something is missing . . .


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Is that a budget deficit in your pocket?
In praise of Fortune, their new columnist Rob Norton is off to a great start with his "Not So Fast" column. His first piece for the magazine puts the budget deficit into perspective. While I'm not sure that deficits are "a good thing," as Norton claims, his other point is spot on.

Should we be worried about this year's deficit, or the likelihood that the budget will be in deficit for another year or two? The answer is no.

During recessions the U.S. budget typically goes into deficit as incomes and tax revenues fall and government expenditures rise. Most economists think that's a good thing. To increase taxes or cut spending to balance the budget would further weaken the economy, either prolonging the recession or slowing the recovery. The kinds of budget deficits we're talking about now--$100 billion, these days less than 1% of GDP--are simply not worrisome from an economic perspective. (If you make $85,000 per year and something happens that causes you to borrow $850, do you panic?) Or think of it this way: The year after the last recession, the budget deficit rose to $290 billion--4.6% of GDP.

[ "NOT SO FAST: Don't Fear the Big Bad Deficit," by Rob Norton | Fortune ]
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Go out there and win one for the Gipper
Geoffrey Colvin's "Value Driven" column in Fortune has long been one of the best in the magazine. His most recent piece challenges managers to throw out the sports metaphors and consider what it would mean to actually run a business like a championship athletic team. Colvin identifies a few tried and true athletic principles that most companies are just too shy to live by:

1. Teams have stars
Over the past several years surely the best team in sports--meaning a group of players who have worked together to achieve extraordinary success at the highest level--is the New York Yankees. They've won four of the past six World Series. The highest-paid Yankee last year was shortstop Derek Jeter, who got $12.6 million. The lowest-paid Yankee was also a shortstop, D'Angelo Jimenez, who got $200,000. Two guys on the same team with the same job. Most corporate managers would have a cow if you suggested that they pay one of those guys 63% more than the other. But the Yankees didn't pay Jeter 63% more. They paid him 63 times more.

Somehow the Yankee dugout is not a snake pit of resentment--quite the contrary. The truth is that every team has stars, and everyone on the team knows who they are. A lot of corporate teams try to suppress that reality. Winning athletic teams embrace it.

2. Winners don't carry losers
Maybe you remember when Jacques Nasser, as Ford's CEO, tried to install a performance ranking system for executives. Every manager would have to be rated A, B, or C, with at least 5% required to be in the C category. Not exactly radical, you might think, but it was radical at Ford, where the organization rose up and smote Nasser for his cruel, arbitrary, cold, heartless proposal.

What's amazing is how people who are outraged by Nasser-like suggestions respond quite differently to the performance of ballplayers. If an outfielder can't catch a cold and is batting .125, the fans want him out--now. He's a really good guy who had a great season in '91? Wonderful, but any manager who kept playing him on that basis would need police protection.

Only 750 players are on the playing rosters of Major League Baseball, yet every off-season the teams make hundreds of player transactions. Most of them involve teams re-signing players to one-year contracts (only megastars get seven-year deals). Do you have to re-sign with your employer every year? How about the people who work for you? On champion teams, most players have to.

3. The 98th percentile isn't good enough
At the winter Olympics the difference between gold medal and no medal was often less than 2%. Against truly global competition, a lot of stunningly good performers were just not good enough. In the men's 10,000-meter speed skating, the difference between a gold medal and no medal was 1.9%. In the women's giant slalom it was 1.1%; in the four-man bobsled, 0.2%.

A lot of managers claim their companies will "bring home the gold" this year. Terrific, but remember that many excellent competitors went to Salt Lake City and were 98% or 99% as good as the best--and brought home nothing. By all means try to bring home the gold, but don't delude yourself about how hard it is.

[ "VALUE DRIVEN: Think You Can Bobsled? Ha!" by Geoffrey Colvin | Fortune ]
posted by Jim Somewhen | Link | Guestbook | Add Comment

{Wednesday, March 06, 2002}

Song of the day: "Me in Honey," by R.E.M.
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I found her, but I can share

I'm not sure what to say except I think I'm in love, in the way that you can be in love with a girl who is probably not right for you, and seems to be living with a boy named Justin, and you've never met. Which is to say, a perfectly limited love. She writes. I read.

Some things make you desire; not desire them necessarily -- it's not "I must have this," that you think to yourself (though you could think it), but "I want to have." Period. Do you see? They remind you of desire. They put you in the mood to trade bits of yourself for bits of someone else.

I will go, later, dressed in the mood she's put me in, and another girl and I will inhabit each other. The other girl knows it was the mood that brought me to her, but she doesn't know the source of the mood -- only that she is its object, now.

This post, this writing experiment, is bound (likely, but not certain) to fail.

Ruthie writes. I read. She leaves the good stuff for me -- just littered there in disorder -- strewn about like pieces for a Curious George puzzle mixed with pieces for a Babar puzzle mixed with pieces for an American Gothic puzzle mixed with pieces for a puzzle that forms the full text of The Crying of Lot 49. I find them, the right ones.

I find them, but I can share.


"The thing is", she said, flipping her hair, "why would anyone want to be a part of an industry where they wouldn't want to sleep themselves to the top?"


Ruthie wrote, "Sex being a side effect of finding someone healthy, attractive, compelling, mysterious and an industry shaping one's life, it makes sense that you would find all the 'top' people in your industry very sexy in the way that you think sexy is. Or else it might be the wrong industry." And I cheated, because this side of the page is supposed to be me, not more of her.


I have always loved Richard Stallman, and for years and years now, we've been travelling across the globe, having the same conversation at dinner each night, but in a different country. It goes, "Free software means free as in freedom, not free as in price". I felt like a lusty revolutionary.


What is Richard talking about? Does she really know him? So Linux is proof that an open, collaborative process of software creation can work? The difficulty isn't in making the software, but in extracting money in exchange for the software's value, and apportioning that money back to the original contributors in some fair way.

Isn't it? Is it possible that money needn't be part of the picture at all? I don't see how. Programmers need to eat too.


She says, it's not that I get pleasure out of such a show, but rather that I am unabashed at my humanness. To hide, even the specifics, is a kind of ultimate arrogance. The grand delusion that one is different, that one has an identity. Engage in this falsehood and you end up becoming your identity. Always thinking of the right code to wrap every expression in so it will only seem to vaguely come from your life. It saves you, and your life, all responsibility from the implications of your ideas. They'll hover in that pretentious area where words function only as a code: sorting out the worthy, the educated, from the ignorant.


I have been thinking about this for a long time in relation to my blog. Journalists and other professional writers abstract themselves from their writing. Political commentary often needs to be this abstract in order to have any rhetorical value -- in order to be convincing.

Can I debate you about Palestine if I also mention that I like how my girl kisses me? Can I be authoritative on weighty moral issues when quotations from The Tick find their way into my writing? How seriously do you take my views on liberty when you also know that my Robot Test says the robot I most resemble is Roy Batty from Blade Runner?

What if I want to make fun of you? Isn't it easier to do when I check my humanness at the door? Those specifics that make me me also make me vulnerable, and I'd rather not give you the ammunition, because I'm about to tell everyone what a tool you are, and how you just don't get it.

Well all of that is true, and so most writers trying to convince other people of something tend to leave themselves out of the picture. But this blog is about expressing as much as it is about convincing. I told you, it's about trading bits of yourself in hopes that you will get something back.


He says, "Sometimes your weblog is tedious to read and I just skip over it." "Oh," I say, "What parts?" "Those long blocks of text, like when you were talking about the movies. It's like you are babbling. You are lacking boundaries, transitions."

Now I'm terrified, because what he is talking about is the main narrative technique I use in my novels. That is, I speak of a personal incident, usually a problem, and abstract it until it is only an idea. Then I tell the story of another character, seemingly unrelated, but a development of the original idea. Then I attempt to pull back farther, talking about the original idea in terms of history or politics, and to sum it up, swoop back into the initial personal problem which now appears tragic, or comic, after being shown out of scale.

He says "Oh. Well, that doesn't come across."


What if the medium you are best suited for doesn't exist? You are the best novel writer who will ever live, but you are born in the year 9,000 B.C. and there are no novels.

You do your best, you tell stories perhaps. But the oral tradition and literature aren't the same. You don't have a good speaking voice, your timing is off, your stories are too long to be faithfully preserved without writing or properly understood without reading.

Maybe you would feel frustrated, inadequate, worthless. But how little you know.

You are the greatest novelist of all time.


**Note: the entry used to be something dramatically different, a movie-review of 42 Up. But it was mostly boring. And now you'll never know.


Which is to say, Ruthie. Ruthie's Double.

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