Saturday, May 18, 2002

You've been all over, and it's been all over you : I've mentioned that I only recently started driving again after a long hiatus. And it's not like I drove all that much before, I didn't bother to get a drivers license until I was twenty-two and I only drove for a couple of years before I decided that I'd have enough.

A lot of people believe that one must drive just to get by in today's society. If you live in the boonies that's probably true. But, whatever else can be said about the godforsaken burg I reside in, it is not the boonies and many people get by quite nicely without having a DL or a car. When I was working at least five of my employees (all female, but then, the occasional temp aside, everyone who worked for me was) that I can think of off the top of my head didn't drive and their ages ranged from the early twenties to the mid-sixties. Mind you, the plant I ran was not in what one would call a major city, but, like me, they could get around quite nicely via a combination of bus, train, cab, friend, boyfriend, husband, whatever. Just t'ain't that uncommon.

Myself, I never really thought I'd be driving again, certainly I had no desire to. But then SWVCTM lost most of the use of her left arm, thus couldn't drive, and still needed to be able to get to the hospital on a regular (currently every day) basis for chemo, radiation, and all of the other cancer treatment-type fun. Her father or someone else could take her or she could get there via a bus or cab, but it would have been a massive PITA, expensive, or both. It made a lot more sense for me to see to it, so I am. Mind you, I don't mind doing so, it's just that driving again wasn't something I foresaw as being anytime in my future only a few weeks ago.

Y'all are aware that most of the people on the road right now, right this moment, are certifiable, right?

I'm sure on some level you are, but I have to wonder if most people, those who have been driving pretty much their entire adult lives, are aware of it on any conscious level or if it has just long since become background noise. Given that I've only driven a few weeks in better than a decade, it isn't background noise to me, I'm constantly astounded at how bizarre it all is. How many roads, intersections, on-ramps, and such are like something out of an Escher nightmare. How many drivers act like they haven't had their thorazine shot on time. How it can be a Herculean effort just to ensure that going from Point A to Point B is something less than a suicide mission.

Yesterday involved a lot of driving. First there was getting SWVCTM to the hospital for her daily nuking. After that I took her to her previous place of employment (technically she's still employed there, but on disability, realistically she'll likely never work again) for lunch with a friend of hers - today is her birthday (she went out with her dad today, their birthdays are only a few days apart) and one of her ex-coworkers wanted to take her out. I was invited, of course, but this woman and I only get along so-so, so instead I dropped SWVCTM off and then went to lunch myself - spending most of the time sitting in a Pappa Ginos on the phone to my sister until the cell phone's batteries started complaining. After I picked SWVCTM up from lunch we went shopping - the Maul, grocery store, Walmart, and a half dozen other places I only barely remember. It was nearly midnight when I finally got home and I'd spent most of the day driving around, so it's a subject much on my mind.

Now the first leg of this daily trip to the hospital involves going down what is a major artery in this godforsaken town. It's only a two-lane road and through a residential area besides, but that's what qualifies as major arteries around here. Halfway down this road is a four way stop. Why, given the heavy traffic on this road, they made it a four way stop rather than a light, I'll never know. Especially given that around here the word "stop" is taken as a suggestion that maybe one should slow down just a little and the words "right of way" means that whoever can get their car into the intersection first is automatically right. This makes four way stops, or even a two way, very interesting. Since no one actually follows - or, I suspect, even knows - the rules governing right of way, you end up with everyone either sitting there because they expect everyone else to go and they don't want to get their car crunched, or everyone goes pretty much simultaneously and they sort it out usually based on the relative sizes of the vehicles in question. If everyone actually followed the rules of right of way things would go in a fairly consistent, predictable, and safer manner, but apparently that would be far too simple.

It's not just the rules of right of way that everyone ignores around here, of course, in fact following any of the predictable rules of the road is sternly frowned upon. Immediately past the four way stop is a pair of schools. There is a big sign with a yellow neon light that goes on during the day to tell you that the speed limit for this section of road whilst school is in session is 20mph. Given that I have an aversion both to running over little tykes and to getting ticketed by the constabulary, I tend to obey this sign and go 20mph until I'm past the schools. Unfortunately my fellow travelers down this road take a very dim view of this silly behavior of mine. Most often I'll look in my rear view mirror and see a car or truck so close to my tail that they could give me an exhaust pipe enema without even having to stretch their arms out. Add to that the flashing of headlights and the occasional blow of the annoyed horn, and sometimes I wonder when one of them is going to just decide to drive up and over my poor little vehicle. The sad part is that I don't really think the reason these people are annoyed with me is that I'm being anal about the speed limit in a school zone. I suspect they don't ever actually see the blinking neon yellow light nor, despite the fact that lots and lots of kids are around, have any understanding of the reason why it is that I'm going comparatively slowly.

The next piece of fun in the demolition derby that is my drive to the hospital occurs a little ways past the four way stop when one comes to a stoplight. The trick here is to understand how left turns are handled around here if the lights aren't staggered. As soon as the light turns green you go like a bat outta hell and make your left turn, not worrying about the fact that there is oncoming traffic. If there are people behind you also making a left turn they too will go like a bat outta hell. It becomes a war of wills between those who actually have the right of way and want to go straight, and those who are making a left turn in front of them. A line of people making a left turn, if they time it right (and they usually do, this seeming to be a practised maneuver, I'm not sure there isn't a section on how to do it taught in highschool or something), can actually cut off the people trying to go straight for the entirety of a light cycle. In this war of wills those making the left turn usually win, presumably because they're nuttier.

So you get to a light that you know isn't staggered. You're going straight and in a sane world as soon as the light turned green you would go. But you can't, because you are relatively sane and would prefer not to end up parked halfway inside the car of whatever nutjob is jumping the gun and making a left turn crossing in front of you right off the bat. And you know just about everyone does this, and I mean everyone. The other day I was next to a cop car who was making a left turn and, to my utter amazement, as soon as the light turned green he gunned it and made his left turn thus setting a nice example for all of the other drivers around. The only thing I could figure was that maybe he'd heard over the radio that there was a sale at Dunkin' Donuts and was in a hurry so he wouldn't miss anything. Had the oncoming driver been as nutty as the cop and also gunned it there would have been a cop car sandwich in the middle of the intersection and wouldn't that have led to some interesting explanations? You see, therein lies the problem. Like this cop, many of the people making left turns are insane, but many of the people going straight are just as insane. That leads to more than a few violent meetings of metal in the middle of intersections that occur only because people are terminally stupid.

The next fun part of my little trip is just a couple of hundred yards downhill from the light, it's called a rotary. Now I grew up in Southern California and spent my younger years traveling and living all over the western half of the country. I'd never seen a rotary before I came out here and my first thought upon seeing one was "You're kidding, right?". I mean who in god's name came up with that idea? As far as I can tell, the French did, which begs the question of who in the world thought copying the French road system was a good idea.

For those of you who've never had the pleasure of driving where they use rotaries, it's pretty much what it sounds like. Anywhere from four to a dozen roads and/or highway on- and off-ramps meet at a large circular road that can be one or two ill-defined lanes. Streams of traffic are trying to get onto the rotary whilst other streams of traffic are trying to get off, all simultaneously and all at anywhere from thirty to sixty miles per hour. People on the rotary, of course, have no incentive to go out of their way to let others get on the rotary and technically they have the right of way. People trying to get on the rotary generally handle this by simply barreling on at full speed and praying to whatever god(s) they believe in that they don't hit anything - although sometimes it's less than clear to me whether they care if they hit anything or not. Of course not just barreling on can have its disadvantages too, as one tries, from a full stop, to join a stream of traffic moving at thirty to sixty miles per hour.

Rotaries can be very confusing, even to those who are used to them. In theory everyone goes the same direction - counter clockwise - but in practise that's not always the case. There are few things funner than getting on a rotary at night and seeing a set of headlights coming at you. If you're not familiar with the rotary in question it can be very unclear which exit to take off - that is, of course, assuming you can get over anyway. This sometimes leads to people going round and round the rotary whilst they try and figure it out. Legend has it that there are a few poor souls who have been trapped on rotaries for decades. One even sometimes sees people just stop in the middle of the rotary while they try and puzzle it out - I saw this the other day when some Uncle Fester looking guy just upped and stopped in the middle of things, traffic whizzing about him as he pointed around with a very confused expression on his face. For all I know he may still be there.

Short of reprogramming stoplights so they all turn green simultaneously, I can think of few things that are a more obvious recipe for driving disasters than a rotary.

This particular rotary marks the meeting of three roads and the on- and off-ramps for the connector. The connector is a rather strange piece of road, especially as it's never been entirely clear what it is it's suppose to connect. It's a short chunk of four lane highway that starts at the intersection of two major highways and goes... Nowhere. Only a few miles long, it literally ends just short of the downtown of this godforsaken burg. It's as if they meant for it to go somewhere and simply ran out of parts, money, or both. Very odd, local legend has it that old man Wang - once a businessman of near god-like powers in these parts - had the state put it in because it goes right past the towers of his hubris - and, in fact the particular rotary of which I speak is right in front of what used to be called The Wang Towers. Locals in the know claim that isn't the case, the egg came before the chicken. I tend to believe them as the legend only barely makes any sense.

Whatever the case, after a run of dodge-car halfway around the rotary, you get on the on-ramp for the connector. Now this on-ramp is a steep incline, what sadistic genius thought it was a good idea to try and have people get on a highway by going up a near vertical incline first is a mystery to all and sundry. I mean, normally one does not expect one's car to have to get out pitons, carabineers, and a rock hammer just to climb up a on-ramp, but here it's common. If the on-ramp were any steeper my poor little car would need VTOL capability - something not part of the standard package - just to get up to the highway.

Now it is my considered opinion that entry onto a highway is best done at something approaching highway speeds. Merging with a traffic stream is far easier if huge delta-Vs aren't involved and if one doesn't have to pray that the oncoming vehicles both are capable of and will use a decent deceleration curve whilst you shift wildly, vainly hoping your car's anemic maximum acceleration curve is enough to stop you from being splattered all over the asphalt by a double-trailer eighteen (or however many they have) wheeler who'll go through you like you're not even there and whose driver's speed addled mind no longer comprehends the concept of slowing down.

Did I mention that once you reach the end of this steep incline that's pretty much it? Ready or not, you're on the highway. Apparently a couple of hundred feet of extra lane to allow you time to get up to speed and merge would be far too much to hope for.

If there's no one in front of me none of this is really an issue, my poor little car has enough experience to be able to scale up the cliff face pretty quickly and hit the highway at something remotely approaching the speed of traffic. But if someone is in front of me, fahgetaboutit!

The really fun ones are the trucks, most of which accelerate up an incline about as well as an unmotivated water buffalo on 'ludes. Of course they don't really care, if they hit the highway doing ten miles per hour, so what? They know that if anyone hits them it'll be the other car that losses. They just go ahead and hit the highway as slow as they like, probably laughing at the sound of all the screeching brakes as the other cars slow and try and get the hell outta the way of the water buffalo. Oddly this can even work in your favor if you're shadowing the water buffalo closely enough - it's like the thing has a shield around it and you can sneak within its limits if you're careful. Of course this makes me feel like one of those little birds that picks the bugs off of a water buffalo, but in general my survival instinct overrides my pride.

Unfortunately it's not just big trucks, in fact I seem to be one of the few people in the state that has this obsession about trying to hit the highway at near highway speeds. Most of the other drivers seem wholly unconcerned and if you get behind one of them then god help ya'. A couple of days ago I was stuck behind a big jeep and three quarters of the way up the ramp, just about two seconds from hitting a stream of traffic doing between fifty-five and seventy-five, we were doing maybe twenty-five at most. I turned to SWVCTM and said "Well, at least we know that Jeep is female". I mean, I'd never really thought about vehicles having a sex, but it suddenly seemed so clear. "Why do you say that?" SWVCTM asked in confusion. "Apparently it's got no balls," I replied simply.

When death is staring you in the face, sticking your tongue out is a viable strategy as far as I'm concerned.

Of course the fun doesn't stop once you've gotten to the top of this on-ramp. You see just a hundred or so feet past the end of this on-ramp is an off-ramp to one of the two major highways the connector feeds into and out of. So you hit the highway going maybe twenty-five miles per hour and you want to merge to the right so you can go down the connector a quarter of a mile to another exit. But the traffic coming up behind you is traveling anywhere from a sedate fifty-five to a lunatic seventy-five (or beyond) and they want to merge left so they can take this off-ramp.

They say that possession is nine-tenths of the law. On the road speed is ten-tenths of right of way.

This cross-merging arraignment is, by the way, not simply a matter of how the connector was designed. Bizarrely enough it's a common theme, it's rare to find an on-/off-ramp pair that doesn't involve cross merging. This is, in my considered if relatively inexperienced opinion, well beyond the point of being a design flaw and into the realm of utter lunacy. Who in the hell thought arranging things so that one stream of traffic was trying to slow down and get off a highway would cross paths with another stream of traffic who's trying to speed up and get on a highway was a good idea?

If by some miracle one manages to survive the four way stop of indeterminate right of way, the left turn jumping redlight, the rotary of doom, the on-ramp of too many degrees incline, and the cross-merging traffic of excessive delta-V, the drive actually becomes rather sedate by comparison. But only by comparison. You still have to deal with truckers who think that getting so close they're only half a foot from climbing into your trunk and parking is a polite way of telling you to get the hell out of their way. You still have to deal with the self-absorbed cell-phone-to-the-ear salesjerk whose Lexus comes within an angstrom of clipping off your front bumper when they make a sudden and directional free triple lane change for no apparent reason. You still have the little red sports cars movin' like a bat outta hell and zipping in and out of traffic like this is Mister Toad's Wild Ride. You've still got the hats and blue hairs who get into the middle or left lane and suddenly slow to thirty miles per hour. You've still got the, well, the just about everybody who whenever they pass any kind of disturbance have to slam on the brakes and rubberneck because maybe, just maybe, they'll get to see a body. You've still got all of those drivers who never bothered to get the apparently optional blinking directional system because they apparently believe that signaling might give other drivers an unfair advantage.

In short you've got something just a hair short of six million drivers - not counting out-of-staters - who apparently believe that anything and everything they could possibly do to get themselves to their destination one pico-second faster is a good idea and that safety is a wholly optional concept.

Yesterday, on the way home, as I was approaching the on-ramp to the connector some mental midget came up from behind going about twice my speed and zipped around me, going partially up on the grass by the side of the road to pass me. Not more than five seconds later he had to very nearly lock up his brakes to avoid slamming into the van that was ahead of me and doing a sensible for this ramp forty miles an hour or so. I just stared in stunned silence, downshifting so I wouldn't end up in this guy's tailpipe. I just can't believe anyone could be so stupid, my mind refuses to believe the evidence of my eyes. This cerebral degenerate quite literally risked his life, my life, and that of whoever was in the van ahead all to gain a fifteen foot advantage he wouldn't have had if he'd just stayed behind me.

God, I'd love to give that guy, and all of the nutty drivers out there, a season ending cliffhanger's worth of pointy toed pump up the hiney. Every time I park at home I consider it a minor miracle that I didn't end up kissing the exploding airbag. And the sad part is that there is just no reason for it. For all of the nutty maneuvers the time these people save themselves generally is barely more than a single light cycle - hit one redlight, and, *poof*, all those risks were for naught. It just doesn't make sense to me. I'll gladly get home ten minutes later if it means I substantially increase my chances of getting there in one piece. Apparently a lot of people feel differently, though.

They're insane, I tell ya', flat out bonkers. No wonder I decided to stop driving all those years ago.
Do not adjust your television set : Okay, this will be the last time I do this for a while. Well, at least the last time I do it and bug y'all about it. Anyway, made more tweaks but the only one worth mentioning is that by popular request (hey, around here one reader qualifies as popular request) you are now in control of the text size via your browser's "Text Size" setting. The same setting will also apply to the comment window. So go ahead, change things to gigantotext and enjoy. I'll just sit here with my tiny text and laugh maniacally.

Friday, May 17, 2002

The Parable of the Penguin Gods : I originally wrote this for and posted it to The Captain's excellent discussion group in response to a thread there, but I've decided to post it here as well. Why? Well, because...

What's that? Yes, you, there in the back, what was that you said? Because I'm so enamored with my own mindless blatherings that I want to spread them as far and wide as possible? Well, yes, there is that, but mostly I'm posting it because I'm rather cramped for time and thus won't be doing a lot of writing this morning and there's at least the remote possibility that one or two of my five regular readers might find it amusing. If you're one of the five and don't "get" what this silly thing is about, well have heart as that likely means you haven't been following the various OS wars for the last decade or two and thus are likely a far smarter individual than I.

In any event, on with our story -

The Parable of the Penguin Gods

Once long ago in a land far, far away there existed a Great Religion that worshipped the penguin gods. The believers in this Great Religion were, for the most part, a peaceful people, scholars who engaged in work and debate and had created some wondrous and amazing things. They were happy and content.

But eventually some of the believers in the Great Religion started to notice that there were others who did not believe as they did. The believers in the Great Religion had come to think that theirs was the one true way, that all others were inferior in all ways, and that all should bow down before their penguin gods. Early in their history many had believed that this would happen naturally. After all, it was apparent to any who looked that they had the one true way, people would see this and flock to their temples. Their penguin gods would become powerful and rich beyond all dreams of avarice and even more great works would be done in their name. It was only natural that this should happen, was it not?

In the passing of time it did not happen. Other gods came and went, but some continued on and one particular one grew in power well and far beyond that of the Great Religion. This angered the believers in the Great Religion and they focused that anger upon another land where the Other Religion seemed to reign supreme. They focused their anger especially upon the high priest of that other land, a man of great power and astonishing wealth that some believers of the Great Religion came to say was not a man at all, but instead an evil demon, a great Satan, sent to tempt people from the one true way.

Time had somehow passed the believers in the Great Religion by, but this could not be. Was not their Great Religion superior? Were not their penguin gods supreme above all others? Had they not done great works? Did not the peoples of these other lands understand that they worshipped false gods and gave power to men of great evil? They came to blame this unjust state of affairs on the evil one and his Other Religion.

In response many believers in the Great Religion swore to redouble their efforts and create more great works in their god's names and thus all would see how great their Great Religion was and would come to them in swarms. But it did not come to pass. They gained many converts from the Other Religion, but these were a mere token and only particular types did come. The vast masses who worshiped the Other Religion were somehow not swayed.

Some of those who believed in the Great Religion counseled that it was best to ignore the Other Religion, that it mattered not if others prayed to other gods as long as they knew the truth, as long as they followed the one true way. But these were not listened to in many circles. Many believers in the Great Religion came to believe that it was not enough that they build up their gods, they must tear down the false gods and show them to be things of evil.

Some tried this through scholarship, others tried cajoling the believers in the Other Religion, still others tried to wage great wars - a difficult task as the believers in the Other Religion were little interested in the fight. This went on for what seemed like eons, but to little avail. Few of the believers in the Other Religion were converted. The great Satan still stood, as powerful as ever, and preached his message. No matter what they did, the believers in the Great Religion could not seem to tear down the false gods of the Other Religion.

Some of the believers in the Great Religion grew weary of this and moved on to other things. Some came not to care if the Other Religion remained as it was. Many vowed to continue their futile efforts despite their only tiny successes, swearing that eventually, someday, the Other Religion would cease to be. Few of the believers in the Great Religion could understand why the Other Religion still stood despite all of their efforts. Were not their gods superior in every way? Had they not done many great and wondrous works in their god's names? Could the believers in the Other Religion not see this and realize the errors of their ways? How, how could this be? These thoughts traveled endless circles in their minds, with no answer to be found.

And it came to pass that a believer in the Great Religion and a believer in the Other Religion were traveling upon a road distant from either's land. A great sandstorm came up as if out of nowhere and the two were forced to seek shelter together lest both be lost.

The sandstorm lasted for what seemed like weeks and in the course of time a grudging admiration grew between them.

"Why do you worship this Other Religion?" Asked the believer in the Great Religion as they sat about the fire wondering when the storm would finally pass.

"It serves my needs," the believer in the Other Religion said with a sigh, for he had heard this argument many times before.

"But do you not see that my Great Religion is better?"

"Perhaps," the believer in the Other Religion said, "but it matters not to me."

"How could it matter not?" The believer in the Great Religion demanded.

"As I said, my religion serves my needs. It provides what I ask of it and that is all that I care or concern myself with."

"You should come with me, friend," said the believer in the Great Religion. "Come, learn our ways, and I will show you all of the wondrous things that are possible with my religion, things not even dreamt of in your religion."

"I'm sure that yours is a great religion," said the believer in the Other Religion, "capable of many wondrous things. But your people care greatly for the how of things. Your rituals are quite complicated and in languages I do not understand. I mean no insult, but I've not the time nor energy to learn all of these things and I do not need them. I am a simple man, and my religion serves my needs."

"Your religion is evil," spat the believer in the Great Religion.

"It is neither evil nor good," replied the believer in the Other Religion, "it simply is."

"How can you believe that when your priests care only for money?"

"Aye, they do," said the believer in the Other Religion.

"You know this?" Said the believer in the Great Religion in shock.

"Of course I do. I am a simple man, my friend, but not dim. The priests of my religion care deeply for money, but that is not evil."

"How could it not be? Our priests care not for money, they are pure."

"So they claim. But money is not evil, you and I need it to put bread on the table and so do your priests."

"Your priests take your money," said the believer of the Great Religion in sad disgust.

"They cannot. My priests care greatly for money but they cannot take it from me. To get my coin they must give me something I need or want. To that end they work hard to provide things my people will want and need. To that end they provide things that your priests, who have no such motivation, do not. We do not trust our priests as you do yours, but we understand them. As long as they provide me with what I need and want I will be pleased with them. You see mine is not a religion like yours, I do not worship at their temples nor do I care what their rituals might be. I care only that what they provide serves my needs. Most of my people feel this way and because our priests do provide goods that serve our needs they are happy. As long as these priests continue to do so they will have great wealth and power, if there ever comes a time when they do not then they will be gone and their religion with them."

The believer in the Great Religion shook his head, for he understood this not.

Eventually the storm passed and the two men went their separate ways.
A tweaking we will go, a tweaking we will go : : It occurs to me that I should mention that neither my sister nor SWVTCM has anything to do with the template, blogroll, or various other tweaks I habitually make to this 'blog - blame it all on me. 'Tis my cross to bear on that road to Damascus, or something like that anyway.

Also, I've been trying to figure out a way to make it clearer at the beginning of a post which of us it's from. Despite our differing header and writing styles I'm not sure that authorship is always clear, especially as the bulk of the posts are from me. Unfortunately to date none of the solutions I've thought of would be acceptable esthetically. Amusing, when one considers that the template tweaks I've made have caused this 'blog to have ended up about as esthetically pleasing as a florescent green latex skort. But then, what do I know?

Unrelated question - if you cross a skort with a spork does Colonel Sanders appear and offer you three wishes?

The world may never know...

Thursday, May 16, 2002

And the 'blog rolls on (Part XXII, or something like that) : Please welcome acdouglas, Dreaded Purple Master, Feces Flinging Monkey, and Sand in the Gears to the blogroll o' doom.

I also made some other minor changes, mostly having to do with the comments section. YACCS has upgraded their code and made it easier to futz around with how the comments boxes look. Hopefully the "comment on the weather" thingy is self explanatory.
They can't read, write, or do arithmetic, but at least they can manage a blood libel or three : There are no words to describe my disgust at seeing this. Click on the link to see the image. There's nothing particularly gross about it, it's just utterly, completely, and irretrievably disgusting.

This poster, funded by the Associated Students of San Francisco State University, was posted on campus in April2002. This is perhaps the most grotesque and explicit incarnation of the "blood libel" observed in the free world since the Nazi Holocaust. It was generated on the campus of a public university by students, using public money. The poster included the names of the following organizations: Associated Students, GUPS (General Union of Palestinian Students), MSA (Muslim Student Association) and WIA (unidentified).

The poster incorporates the two most common elements to this medieval racist slur. It suggests (1)that Jews ingest the flesh and/or blood of children, and (2)that there are rites associated with the Jewish religion which detail how to perform this cannibalism. Note that this vicious racism is not directed specifically at Israel but at Jews, for it reads, "slaughtered according to Jewish rites".

One expects to see this sort of stuff on MEMRI, translated from the Middle Eastern press, but it's here too.

Is SFSU going to respond to this hatred with anything more than a letter? In fairness to SFSU, they are apparently going to do something about the near riot, but given their own code of conduct I don't see how they can allow this poster to just pass.

(link via Protein Wisdom and Transterrestrial Musings)
A Literary Diversion

I am not a book reviewer – just a book lover – and there are very few things I would unhesitatingly recommend. This morning, I finished John Crowley’s Little, Big, finally back in print after way too many years. I was one of the most wonderful reading experiences I’ve ever had and I wanted it to go on forever.

Partly it’s fantasy with faeries, kobolds, gnomes, gods and goddesses. Also it’s about life in the big city. Partly it’s the tale of a family, how it came together, how it grows and evolves, separates and comes together again, and how it fulfills is obligations and promises. Partly it’s the tale of the Tale. It is full of current and ancient culture, philosophical musings and promptings, love, magic, mystery, music and pursuit. It’s about faith and loyalty, dissipation, knowledge and redemption. It’s about lessons learned and applied. And all of this is wrapped in the richest, most luscious and evocative prose committed to paper since Shakespeare.

This is not easy reading. The vocabulary is extensive, unabashed, uninhibited and uncommon. Bring your dictionary because you will have to look things up. Also, be prepared for the necessity of putting the book down for a while to think over something you have just read. It’s going to happen quite a few times on your journey through this story. However, none of this is even remotely gratuitous. The words – every single one of them in over 500-odd pages are les mots justes – not a single syllable could be changed.

Let me quote (and please forgive the length – there’s no way to leave anything out):

“To look at the Ancient concept through the spectacles of the New concept is to see absurdity: seas that never were, worlds claimed to have fallen to pieces and been created newly, a congeries of unlocatable Trees, Islands, Mountains and Maelstroms. But the Ancients were not fools with a poor sense of direction; it was only not Orbis Terrae that they were looking at. When they spoke of the four corners of the earth, they meant of course no four physical places; they meant four repeated situations of the world, equidstant in time from one another: they meant the solstices and the equinoxes. When they spoke of the seven spheres, they did not mean (until Ptolemy foolishly tried to take their portrait) seven spheres in space; they meant those circles described in time by the motions of the stars. Time, that roomy seven-storey mountain where Dante’s sinners wait for Eternity. When Plato tells of a river girdling the earth, which is somewhere (so the New concept would have it) up in the air and somewhere also in the middle of the earth, he means by that river the same river that Heraclitus could never step in twice. Just as a lamp waved in darkness creates a figure of light in the air, which remains so long as the lamp repeats its motion exactly, so the universe retains its shape by repetition: the universe is Time’s body. And how will we perceive this body, and how operate on it? Not by the means we perceive extension, relation, color, form - the qualities of Space. Not by measurement and exploration. No: but by the means we perceive duration and repetition and change: by Memory.”

I remember when Little, Big was first published because it made such a stir. The reviews were splendid but I also remember that I couldn’t find it anywhere. The one copy I did run across was on someone else’s bookshelf and they weren’t interested in loaning it to me.

So I have been keeping my eye out for it for almost 20 years. This is a magnificent and enormously satisfying read and it was absolutely worth the wait. It will go into that select portion of my library that gets re-read on a periodic basis. I’m not fool enough to think I’ve gotten everything there is to get on this first trip through its pages and I’m already looking forward to going back.
The tyranny of the majority : Six congresscritters have proposed a constitutional amendment that would constitutionally define marriage as being between a man and a woman. They proposed this, no doubt, in order to reverse all of those states that currently allow gay and lesbian marriages and to stop other states from heading in that direction. Except, of course, that there aren't any states that allow gay and lesbian marriages currently, nor does it seem overly likely that any shall anytime soon. Nor does this amendment really stand a snowball's chance in hell of passing the high hurdle set for a constitutional amendment as it's neither a pressing issue nor is there nearly enough agreement on the subject and they very well know that.

In other words, it's a sad joke.

I don't get the near hysteria in many social conservative circles towards the concept of gay marriage, I just don't. Aside from theocratic arguments - and since the United States neither is nor should be a theocracy I've zero interest in those - I've yet to hear a decent reason why gays and lesbians shouldn't be able to marry.

If marriage was simply a religious institution that would be one thing. If a particular religion chooses not to bless or recognize a particular union or kind of union, that is well within their rights. If it was simply a social institution, like joining the VFW or something, it would be one thing. But marriage has become a legal institution, heavily controlled and defined by the state. Marriage automatically confers a host of legal rights and responsibilities upon a couple. Legal rights and responsibilities that in some cases are not available any other way, or, if they are, can only be attained in a watered down version at some expense. Denying the availability of those rights and responsibilities to an entire class of individuals is, frankly, unconscionable.

It also conveniently serves a rather circular argument.

It wasn't all that long ago that homosexuality was a DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of mental disorders - the shrinkological bible) entry. Homosexuality was a mental disorder, they knew this because, well, the DSM said so and if you were homosexual they could throw you in the loony bin and subject you to drug therapy, ECT, aversion therapy (basically torture), psychoanalysis, and anything else they wanted whether you agreed or not. Since they could and did do this then obviously you were insane, even though the reason they could do this was that you were by definition (theirs) insane. It made a nice little circular argument and justification all wrapped up in one.

They also studied these homosexuals they tossed in the rubber room, of course, and they found that they were often depressed and maladjusted. Never mind that it was by no means clear that the people they studied were a representative sample of the homosexual population in general, it never seemed to occur to anyone that being thrown in the rubber room against your will and subjected to the predations of shrinkology might be enough to cause anyone to be more than a tad depressed and maladjusted. Add to that the fact that homosexuals were most often rejected by their friends and family, had a hard time finding jobs, and were regularly assaulted, robbed, or murdered with little or no consequence to their tormentors. Not exactly an environment apt to result in a happy and well adjusted individual. They could avoid some of this by remaining "in the closet", though to do so effectively would have meant burying a large segment of who and what they were - not something humans are wired to do without some rather nasty psychological consequences.

The common line from social conservatives is that the removal of homosexuality from the DSM was basically a political move. Frankly that's horsepuckies and shows an astounding lack of understanding of the subject. Over time it was realized that shrinkology had willingly been drawing a causal link where no such link could be said to reasonably exist. That the homosexuals they studied were, as a class, depressed and maladjusted was not proof that homosexuality itself caused depression and maladjustment. To argue that it does leaves out a huge chunk of the sociological feedback loop for nothing save convenience, in fact it has often been used as a justification for the very sociological response.

But that same line of reasoning lives on to this day. One of the biggest arguments against homosexual marriage is the assertion that homosexuals, especially gays (and these arguments almost always seem to come down to gays, lesbians somehow don't count), don't form the same sort of tight bonds heterosexuals do. Well for starters many heterosexuals don't exactly establish tight bonds - had a look at the divorce and out of wedlock birth rates lately? - but the argument that homosexuals don't establish the same sort of tight bonds as heterosexuals so we shouldn't allow them to establish the same sorts of tight bonds as heterosexuals is as absurd on its face as arguing that homosexuality is a mental disorder simply because you have defined it as such.

It is commonly argued that marriage is an institution designed to support and protect the having and raising of children. Since homosexuals can't have children, they shouldn't be allowed to marry. Perhaps that was once the case, but it's an absurd argument in today's world. Is the intention, or even the ability, to have children a precondition of marriage for heterosexual couples? Under this line or reasoning it should be, especially as the fact of the matter is that a fair percentage of heterosexual marriages do not result in children whether by design or because one or the other individual is infertile. Add to that the fact that many homosexuals do indeed have children and how exactly is it that this line of reasoning holds any water?

All of the arguments I've seen against allowing homosexual marriages basically boil down to the theocratic, supporting self-fulfilling prophecies, or "I just don't like them". None of these are operative in our system of government. In a perfect world government would just get its nose out of the marriage business, as it really has no business being there, and all of this would be moot. But that isn't going to happen and anyone who seriously suggested it is going to get their head handed to them on a platter. Absent that, and since government has turned marriage into a set of important rights, there is no justification for excluding a whole class of individuals from enjoying those rights.

Of course they aren't excluded, not in the technical sense. Gays and lesbians can still get married, they just can't marry who they wish - to quote Tina Turner "What's love got to do with it?". That's why the legal arguments surrounding equal protection, really the only serious legal leg homosexual marriage advocates have to stand on, have and likely will continue to fail. The best gays and lesbians can hope for are Vermont-style "separate and unequal" civil unions that in the end may be better than nothing but are largely meaningless and subject to risk of legislative elimination at any time. For better or ill - ill, in my opinion - that's how things are going to be apt to stay for quite some time.

Which begs the question, given that this amendment has a snowball's chance in hell of passing, given DOMA and all of the state level anti-full faith laws that have passed, and given that there is not a single jurisdiction in this country that currently does or is likely in the near future to allow homosexual marriage, why in the world was this abomination even proposed?

Wednesday, May 15, 2002

And this weed is just right : With all the time the government has spent going after weed and weed growers you'd think they would have learned a little about the subject. Apparently not. In one study being carried out in San Mateo County they're not happy with the ganja the government is supplying. Why? Like way too many stems and seeds, dude!

"It's stale, low-potency ditch weed."

Serious bogusity!

The government defended its marijuana, saying it "does not contain sticks and seeds."

Now I ask you, when it comes to decent weed whose opinion are you going to believe, the state coordinator for NORML or the man?

In La Jolla they have the opposite problem.

Two patients enrolled in a medical marijuana trial program in La Jolla have complained that the NIDA-provided pot is too potent.

Didn't know there was such a thing.

Tuesday, May 14, 2002

This is your taxes on drugs : Anti-drug PSAs don't work. No duh? I could have told them that for only a fraction of the US$929 million they've wasted on these things. Their solution to this problem? Why we should spend another US$180 million on these things 'cause this time they'll make 'em work - we promise. Yeah, right.

Most television advertising is an insult to one's intelligence, but PSAs are in a class by themselves. My gerbils look at PSAs and think "And they think we're dumb?". The anti-drug PSAs are often enough to almost make one want to go out and become a crack whore just to piss off the morons who create these things. What in god's name is their point? Drugs are bad, blah-blah-blah. Like, what, we don't know that? Has there ever been anyone about to shoot up heroin, saw an anti-drug PSA and thought "Holy crap, I didn't know this stuff could be bad for me!"?

Education is not the problem here - whether you're talking drugs, AIDs, or whatever. If there is anyone in this country who isn't aware that hard drugs are maybe not the brightest move if you're planning on having a long-term future, it's because they're completely uneducatable. People doing crystal meth are not usually under the illusion that this is health food they're putting in their body ya' know. The only people still arguing that coke is good for you are generally missing their nasal septum which tends to hurt their credibility just a tad.

When it comes to hard drugs the problem is that about two thirds of these people know these things are dangerous but they don't think bad things will happen to them. Oh sure, heroin can be addictive, but it won't happen to me! See, if you only do it for three days than it won't be addictive. Think I'm joking? I heard that very line from an ex-addict, just before he got addicted again. And landed in jail... Again. After a few B&Es. Again, of course. See, even when something bad does happen, they still manage to convince themselves that next time it'll be different. And round 'n round they go until something happens - usually something pretty nasty - that makes them wake up and smell the coffee. Or until they end up dead, whichever comes first.

The other third knows these things are dangerous and doesn't give a flying crap. Usually because they don't give a flying crap about themselves. Often because on some level they're committing slow suicide and usually drugs are just one of the ways they're doing it.

As a former member of the latter third who spent time around both types, I'll tell you right now that PSAs are not going to reach either type - at best they're a meaningless gesture, at worst they're a pathetic joke. But, of course, most of the PSAs aren't aimed at current drug users, they're aimed at kids - try and stop 'em before they start. The problem doesn't change however, it's not a matter of lack of education on the matter, it's that no PSA could possibly address either psychology even though its roots are there. No PSA is going to convince an arrogant sixteen year old that he's not virtually invincible, that bad things don't just happen to other people. No PSA is going to give a lost fourteen year old the self-esteem necessary for her to give a crap what happens to her if she otherwise lacks it.

I've occasionally worked with kids in their teens and early twenties (okay, so technically they're not "kids", but you know what I mean) regarding a rather rare and complicated problem upon which I have some expertise and experience. One of the things that struck me the first few times was the realization that you couldn't tell them jack. Well, no duh, when I was eighteen no one could tell me jack either. Lots of people tried and sometimes I even knew they were right, but I didn't listen, couldn't listen, or whatever.

There's a rule in good fiction writing - Show, don't tell - and it applies here. You can show someone the various paths they can take, you can show them some of the experiences you had, but you can't tell them what way to go and you can't tell them what experiences they'll have. It just don't work that way.

The PSAs, not to mention most of the various "education" efforts, are attempts to tell, not show.
Yeah, what he said : Sand In The Gears tosses some sand Bill Clinton's way -

I used to think, believing in a just God, that he would be the first ex-President to die from a venereal disease. Now I am beginning to suspect that he will be the first person to die from his own verbal crapulence, as every synapse instinctively devotes itself to flattering or defending its master, so that none are left to remind the lungs to breath, or the oozing heart, overinflated with self-infatuation, to beat. For eight long years we were afflicted with his logorrhea, and now it continues, though at mercifully diminished levels. The topic, as always, is himself. The method, as always, is half-truth easily exposed, as is the fact that he is at best half a man, and a poor half at that.

Definitely a must read.

Between Clinton showing up just about everywhere to tell us, yet again, what a good job he did and how he was aboutthisclose to ending terrorism forever (damn 22nd amendment!) and Jimmy "Hear No Evil, See No Evil, There Is No Evil" Carter apparently thinking it's his duty to kiss Castro's hiney (by the way, Jimmy, are they going to show you the prisons they stuff anyone they think is gay into while you're there?), what is it with ex-presidents these days?

I think I'm with Cut On The Bias on this one -

[...] Old Presidents need to have their traveling priviledges revoked unless specifically asked to go somewhere.
The lowest bidder : NASA admits that they have people trawling web auction sites looking for old equipment to buy and strip for parts to maintain their old equipment.

Now this isn't quite as odd as it sounds. I used to do the same thing, searching around for old scrap PDP 11/04s to keep the ones I had running. I mean, it's not like anyone makes core memory anymore and have you tried to find eight inch disk drives lately? Trolling equipment auctions for antique - which can sometimes mean anything over a few years old - parts is a time honored tradition.

Or, at least, it is for little gedunk semiconductor houses like the one I ran. I had a budget of a few mil a year, doesn't NASA have a budget in the billions? What in god's name is NASA running that still has an 8086 in it? And didn't they stockpile the silly things? I had like a fifty year supply of 7400 series TTL ICs I stockpiled because they were getting to be harder and harder to find. If I had an Op Amp blow I'd buy fifty of the silly things because if it went once it was almost certainly going to go again and it was tons better, and cheaper, to have too many than to not have one when you needed it.

Ah well, I wonder if anyone at NASA is interested in buying a slightly used Russian space shuttle? Talk about yer spare parts...

Monday, May 13, 2002

Wile E. Coyote, Super Genius : A nineteen year old man... Eh, let's be honest, boy, was in court facing charges for drug possession, fleeing a traffic stop, and biting an officer.

Biting an officer? What does he think he is, a boxer?

Anyway, said late adolescent twip apparently thought it was a good idea to bring his latest stash of crack and MJ with him to court. When approached by officers who wanted to serve him a warrant on an unrelated matter, he panicked, fought the cops, and then admitted he had the "blow" on him.

The police chief's comment?

"If they were geniuses, they wouldn't be in court for criminal possession of drugs."

True enough, but then there's stupid and there's so dumb you have to wonder if their body is running off of random electrical impulses. I mean, how flatline do you have to be to not realize that maybe walking into court to face drug charges with a pocket full of illegal drugs is maybe not the hottest idea that ever crossed your pea brain?
Like watching a train wreck : What in god's name is up with the no-Palestinian-state Likud vote? Why not just hand Arafat a few dozen tanks and a few thousand rounds of ammo? Politically, at least outside of Israel, it would have been a smarter move.

Trying to establish a Palestinian state before there's peace would probably be suicidal for the Israelis. Realistically even if the PA got started on actually fixing things tomorrow it might be quite a long while before any halfway trustworthy Palestinian state might be possible. But saying that openly might not be the brightest of moves, saying "No Palestine!" is certainly not. What in the hell were they thinking?

The sad part is that looking at things from a few thousand miles away with only what I can find in various news outlets, it looks like a schoolyard political catfight. All well and good, we have plenty of those here, but didn't it occur to anyone that maybe this wasn't the greatest time to be having a urinating contest over this subject? Didn't it occur to anyone that this was going to look like proof of Israeli intractability? That this was only going to improve Arafat's hand on the world stage?

Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Tal G had this to say (no direct link, scroll down) -

[...] When Netanyahu was in power, Ariel Sharon was his critic from the right. Now that Sharon is in power the roles have been reversed.

Sharon has been more effective that Netanyahu was - primarily due to traditional political virtues that enabled him to maintain a governing coalition and conduct an effective military campaign. Netanyahu is more youthful, suave, and American-style. This makes him a much better spokeman of course, but it hasn't shown him to be a better leader. In his first go-round he exhibited a tendency towards selfish political calculations that lost him most of his allies. The news from the Likud central committee sounds to me like more of the same.

Gah, just what they need.


Hopefully, in the perversity that is the world of politics, this may actually turn out to help Sharon.

Just to make things even funner, it looks like Arafat is losing more than a little support in the "Palestinian Street". That might actually be a good thing, except it seems the support is going instead to people even nuttier than he.

Making his first trip in six months, Yasser Arafat on Monday toured West Bank cities battered by the Israeli military, but drew relatively small crowds in a sign of growing dissatisfaction with the Palestinian leadership.

Arafat skipped his most widely anticipated stop - the devastated Jenin refugee camp - pulling back at the last moment when aides feared he would be heckled in the stronghold for Islamic militants.


"I'm very angry and very disappointed because Arafat did not visit the camp," said 43-year-old Mohammed Abu Ghalyoun. "He didn't talk to normal people, he didn't want to meet the people who lost their sons.... If he isn't interested in us, we are not interested in him."


Arafat's trip to Jenin was also marred by a gunfight between two members of his Fatah movement. After an argument, one shot the other in the leg, sending the crowd fleeing in panic.

It gets worse -

Later in Ramallah, five masked assailants attacked Parliamentary Affairs Minister and Arafat confidante Hassan Asfour at the entrance to his home. Palestinian security sources claimed that the attack was carried out by Tanzim militants angered by recent statements made by Asfour which they felt were critical of jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti.

Asfour was in stable condition last night.

In the Jenin camp, many people said their main allegiance is not to Arafat but to militants such as Mahmoud Tawalbe, head of the local military wing of the Islamic Jihad movement, who was killed in fierce fighting with IDF troops.

Atef Abu Rub, a Fatah member from Jenin, claimed the camp visit was cancelled because “the chairman’s bodyguards saw dozens of the Islamic Jihad members chanting ‘Tawalbe, Tawalbe.’”

“Islamic Jihad spent a lot of money on their supporters in the camp, and neither Islamic Jihad nor Hamas leaders in the area appeared on the scene to receive Arafat,” Rub added.

“Our leader is Mahmoud Tawalbe, not Arafat,” said Abdul-Karim Sa’adi, 17, standing on a huge pile of rubble and twisted metal at the heart of the refugee camp.

Rejecting Arafat’s call on militant groups to stop attacks against Israeli civilians, Sa’adi said: “We approve of [Arafat’s] policies in general, but not his decision to put pressure on us to stop operating in Israel.”

Others are frustrated at what they called an absence of reform in the PA, and said Arafat stayed away for fear the people would turn against him.

“People are disappointed that there has been no reform to make our life better. There should be radical reforms here,” said Mohammed Awad Jamal, 24, pouring coffee in his busy roadside cafe.

“Arafat is afraid the people will be furious with him. Until now he has carried out no reforms,” said a 30-year-old man after waiting in the heat to see the Palestinian leader. He declined to give his name.

So the Israelis seem to rather stupidly, to put it mildly, be intent on eating their own politically and the Palestinians, never a source of calm and reasoned discourse, seem primed to eat their own very nearly literally.

To paraphrase Howard Jones - Things can only get better... 'Cause it's hard to imagine how they could get much worse.

Of course every time I say that they do get worse.

Thinking About My Dad

My father will be 79 on Friday. He has never been sick a day in his life and still works a 40 hour week. He likes it that way – it gives him enough money to be comfortable, to pursue two or three of his beloved cruises a year and helps him continue to feel useful.

He has always been a fairly stoic individual, emotionally inexpressive, dealing with whatever life hands him and moving on. And life has handed him some pretty bitter pills. In 1969, his only other child, my brother, died at the age of 13 when he was hit by a truck. He tended his own mother’s failing years with kindness and devotion while his siblings…allowed him to bear the brunt of the burden and his mother, not satisfied with the attention of the son who was there, criticized and manipulated (or tried to) and insisted that he was the least of her children No, it wasn’t dementia – it was just my grandmother. In 1989, my mother (61 years) passed on, dying from lung and bone cancer.

The worst part of this whole issue with my own cancer was having to tell my father that I too am dying and that, in all probability, he is going to outlive the last member of his own family. I can think of no more horrible news than that.

We were at complete loggerheads through my teenaged years, not an uncommon situation, I know. I thought I had all the answers and was totally unwilling to give him credit for what he knew, had learned and had worked for. A typical teenage snot, in other words. When I moved in with a man I wasn’t married to (though we later did marry – and divorce) he severed all communication with me and we did not speak again until my mother’s cancer was diagnosed.

After my mother passed on, we began the slow process of getting to know one another as adults. It has been enlightening and, in many ways, lots of fun. I had never realized (though I believe my mother did) how much alike he and I tend to be. Facts can be cantankerous critters; it is in some of our less pleasing aspects that we most resemble each other. We tend to be overly sensitive, somewhat hidebound and stubborn beyond reason. But we share a vast intellectual curiosity, delight in a good joke and a love and fascination with music, mathematics, science and good food. These things, along with a tacit agreement to avoid subjects we can never agree on, have given us a basis for relating to each other over the last 13 years and I am deeply grateful to have had the opportunity to do so.

His attitude is not as stoic as it has been. He seems frailer and more agitated. He handles me, to my extreme dismay, with kid gloves. He went on a cruise a few weeks back that I’m sure he would have cancelled had I not made it abundantly clear that would have made me very angry. I e-mailed him every day to let him know what was going on, to send jokes, and to tease him about his onboard diet of beef and bacon. In the middle of the trip, he called me from Brazil – an unprecedented expense – just to chat for a few minutes.

I know he wonders what in the world this is all about. It isn’t natural for a man to survive his children. But I also sense guilt there – because he is healthy and I am not. This isn’t the usual so-called “survivor’s guilt”. It has more to do with an unshakable belief that he didn’t pass along the right genes and that because of that I have poor eyesight and a somewhat limited future.

I can tell him – and have – that he bears no responsibility for my current situation. It is not his fault in any way, shape or form that I have cancer. I can assure him that while things are terminal, they are not immediately so and may not be for some time. I can tell him how much I love him (which would embarrass the stuffing out of him) and how much I have enjoyed getting together with him and getting to know him over the last decade or so and that finally, I understand that he was the best father he could be. He always did his level best and, whether I agreed with his actions and decisions or not, I appreciate the effort and the time he put into my raising, education and well-being.

In the best of all possible worlds, I wish him to understand that while I would like to have been granted a more normal life-span, (I know my mother felt cheated when her terminal status was discovered) I don’t feel personally persecuted. It’s trite but true: None of us gets out of this alive and I have been given more time than many. I have had a good life – the last ten years have been especially joyous and rewarding having been spent with a partner of the heart who’s only demand of me has ever been that I be the best “me” I could be (something my marriage never approached or, sadly, even aspired to). I learned a new craft and succeeded in obtaining a job that was not only reasonably lucrative (comparatively) but which made me glad to get out of bed in the morning to see what problems I could solve today! Those two things make me feel blessed beyond belief and I do not prepare to leave them without sadness and reluctance. But I also know how many people never have the joy of either one.

I would like him to understand that I don’t feel things have been truncated and that I have had a rich and fulfilling life. That I am happy with the part he’s played in it and that I want him to try to relax and enjoy both the time we have left and the time that will come after for him.

I can tell him all these things – but I can’t get him to hear them. It never gets beyond the panic in his eyes.

Since all of this is still relatively new knowledge, perhaps time will help him find a way to make peace with all this. He is an intelligent man but emotional issues are, and have always been, very difficult for him. So I am trying to think about ways in which I might be able to help him through the next couple of years.

If those of you who might be reading this have any suggestions, I would deeply appreciate hearing your thoughts.
Welcome to the Napster Generation : The Professor has a column up at TCS discussing, among other things, patent and copyright law. Now I don't particularly mean to discuss Professor Reynolds' column per se, but it did get me thinking about something that's been bugging me for a while.

As a sometimes author I feel very proprietary towards my work. There are works I've created that I'm extremely proud of, others I wish I'd never let see the light of day, some that I really don't care that much about one way or the other. But whichever category a work falls into in my personal ranking, they are all my work. This is something I take very seriously, and I think I've every right to. Some of my works are the result of months of work and all of them are the result of my time, effort, and whatever modicum of skill I can bring to bear. Writing good fiction - and I like to flatter myself in believing that some of my work is actually good fiction - is an incredibly draining experience, much more goes into it than most people realize as from the outside it all seems so simple, so easy. It is neither simple nor easy, at least for me. I can churn out paragraphs of opinion for my 'blog 'til doomsday, that's nothing, but writing good fiction takes a lot out of me.

So I feel very proprietary towards my work. It is mine, my property - until and unless I decide to sell it in whole or part to someone else. I don't really view this IP (Intellectual Property) I create as being any different from what the results would have been had I spent my time creating a table rather than writing a story. Both involve time, effort, skill, and materials to create a finished product.

But the product of my labors when I sit down to write is not a physical thing in the same sense that a table would be. My story is made up of words typed on digital paper, it is a set of unique characters and ideas rather than physically shaped and polished wood. Rightly or wrongly, society treats it differently than it would a physical product like a table, there is a kind of "statute of limitations" set on my ownership that is called copyright.

Whatever my feelings on the concept of copyright itself, understand that it's not my intention to argue against it here. To do so would be a pointless exercise and I am not generally given to engaging in pointless exercises - at least not usually. But what confuses me is the attitude of many avowed libertarians (mind you, I am again not speaking directly to Professor Reynolds' piece here, nor saying that he is a libertarian, though he clearly has leanings in that direction) towards the concept of copyright.

It is no grand secret that many of the inhabitants of Blogtopia are libertarians, whether of the small- or big-L variety - indeed, I consider myself a small-l libertarian (mind you, that does not necessarily extend to the other two women who post here, I leave it to my sister and SWVCTM to declare their political beliefs if they wish). It seems, at least from my reading, that many or even most libertarian bloggers have a rather negative view of copyright issues. A belief that copyrights are something that should be minimized at best, and perhaps are not even justifiable at worst.

I view my works as my property unless and until I sell my rights to them in whole or part. The law agrees, for the next X (depending on the age of the work in question) years they are mine or the property of whomever I sell them to. After that point they will be taken from me (or my heirs, or whomever I've sold them to) for... For what? For the betterment of society?

How does that square with libertarian ideals? At its base that is what I find confusing. It seems from what I read that many libertarians square it with their property beliefs quite nicely, but I can't figure out how exactly they do so and I've not seen their full argument stated.

In his article Professor Reynolds take a strict constructionist tact, which is certainly a perfectly defensible and internally consistent position - whether or not I agree with his interpretation and analysis being irrelevant. Others - notably The Captain, who most assuredly does not claim to be a libertarian - take a strictly utilitarian tact. But however defensible these two positions, neither seems overly consistent with libertarian thought on property rights as I understand things.

I've long argued that, whether I like it or not, copyright is rapidly becoming a dead concept anyway. In essence the only thing that kept it alive was that it was more expensive (or difficult to impossible) to make a decent copy of something than it was to go out and buy one. For more and more media that is no longer the case and that trend will only accelerate. I can buy a CD blank for pennies, throw it in my CDRW drive, and in a few minutes have an identical copy of any CD I can borrow from a friend, library, or what have you. With only a small amount of searching I can find any number of copyrighted books online that are downloadable for free and put them on my Visor. One can download movies - including ones that haven't even been released yet - if one cares to and has a fat enough pipe and/or enough time. Clearly neither ethics nor the law was what was stopping people from violating copyrights en masse - if they were, KaZaA wouldn't be one of the most popular downloads on the 'net - it was simply a matter of technology. As the technology to make perfect or nearly perfect copies of copyrighted material has gotten to be fast, cheap, and easy, people have started doing so with abandon.

Given that, I'll grant that the discussion is something of a moot point, but it still makes me curious. To use just one of many examples, when I see a well known libertarian blogger arguing that extending copyrights is wrong because most owners earn all the money they will in the first few years, I wonder how that tracks with libertarian property theory. Why it is that extending ownership is a bad thing? Isn't the near sanctity of property ownership one of the basic tenets of libertarianism? To me it just doesn't track very well. Taking property from the owner as early as possible for the theoretical good of society does not jive very well with my understanding of libertarian attitudes towards property, there seems an inherent conflict in there to me. Arguments about whether or not the average author is apt to earn any money beyond that point seem moot unless one cares to extend the concept of an "acceptable return on investment" to other spheres - something I would hope most libertarians would argue against. The "why should Disney continue to make money off of Mickey Mouse for this long" argument strikes me as even weaker - they created it, it's their property, that's why.

So I'm curious as to how people reconcile these elements against their own beliefs and to that end I solicit any explanations anyone cares to e-mail me or leave in the comments section.
98% of all divorces are caused by marriage : The notion that money is the root cause of many, if not most, divorces has been conventional wisdom for quite a while now. Only it turns out there's not really much in the way of evidence to back that up.

I've always wondered about this. Clearly money problems, whether it's a lack thereof or disagreements about how it should be spent/saved/whatever, could be a stress factor in a lot of relationships, but a cause of divorce? Doesn't seem likely unless the relationship was extremely weak to begin with.
I can't drive 55! : Ever wondered what mechanics are doing with your car when you leave it for service? Well one Manchester, UK man found out.

Two days after he'd had a tracking/security system installed in his car he took it in for service. It seems this particular system, a TrakM8, can be set to send SMS messages to its owner's cell phone to tell the owner where the car is and if it's exceeding the speed limit. Whilst his car was supposedly in the shop being fixed it was sending him messages telling him that it was really speeding through the streets of Manchester. I'm sure an awful lot of people suspect this sort of thing goes on, but this man had proof.

Wouldn't you have loved to have been a fly on the wall when the manager of the garage started getting irate phone calls from someone who could prove they were abusing his car? Now if only they could stick a machine into a car that would tell those of us who know zip about these sorts of things if the mechanic is screwing us over when he says that the thing-a-ma-bob needs to be replaced for US$1,250.

Mechanic - "Your hazelmutzus needs to be replaced, gonna be a big job."

Car owner - "What is a hazelmutzus?"

Mechanic - "It's this thing, right over..." (I love how they always try and show you these things, like that means squat if you don't even know what it is.)

Car - "He's lying, don't believe him! My hazelmutzus is just fine, dammit!"