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Saturday, January 12, 2002

"The minuteman mascot at Jefferson Middle School in Fort Wayne, Indiana, has been disarmed, reports the News-Sentinel. As incredible as it may sound, the minuteman's image, which stands on a wall just inside the main door of the school, was repainted to exclude his musket because, according to the principal, guns have no place in schools..."

---from AMERICA'S 1st FREEDOM, 12/01

Friday, January 11, 2002

This is a small excerpt from:WAR WORDS: A lexicon, By Victor Davis Hanson:

Israel: quite obviously the sole cause of poverty, illiteracy, and misery among a billion Muslims

Madrassa: similar to a doctoral program in Comp. Lit

"Misspoke": got it right the first time

Taliban: cross between the SS and the Marx brothers

Tora Bora: really is an island of sorts surrounded by a sea of Predators and SEALS

U.N.: few united, fewer still nations

Unilateralism: an intended slur that is sure praise

Thursday, January 10, 2002

I'm in a quandary. I am, at least peripherally, a member of the Blogsphere. That's weighty and high-minded company. The other web gazetteers are, as Michael Innes wrote of Oxford dons,* "undoubtedly among the most moral and level-headed of men. They do nothing aberrant; they do nothing rashly or in haste..."

Trouble is, I have this desire to post a tasteless joke. I'm afraid you will just have to put up with it.


It was opening night at the Orpheum and The Amazing Claude was topping the bill. People came from miles around to see the famed hypnotist do his stuff.

As Claude took to the stage, he announced, "Unlike most stage hypnotists who invite two or three people up onto the stage to be put into a trance, I intend to hypnotize each and every member of this audience."

The excitement was almost electric as Claude withdrew a beautiful antique pocket watch from his coat.

I want you each to keep your eye on this antique watch. It's a very special watch. It has been in my family for six generations. He began to swing the watch gently back and forth while quietly chanting, "Watch the watch, watch the watch, watch the watch ..."

The crowd became mesmerized as the watch swayed back and forth, light gleaming off its polished surface. Hundreds of pairs of eyes followed the swaying watch, until suddenly it slipped from the hypnotist's fingers and fell to the floor, breaking into a hundred pieces.

"Shit!" said the hypnotist.

It took three weeks to clean up the theater.
*The Michael Innes quote is from Death at the President's Lodging (also sold as Seven Suspects) a very literate and charming mystery in which the senior members of St Anthony's College do some very aberrant things after all.

Natalie Solent: "The point I want to make explicitly is why on earth shouldn't a free market fire service include volunteers?"
There's no problem at all. The volunteers would be helping their (probably small) community keep costs down (plus having a lot of fun). The fire service company could be paid for supervising and encouraging volunteers rather than for providing firefighters. In fact management and stockholders might love it -- no strikes, no lawsuits for discrimination or wrongful termination, no drug testing, no pension fund...

Also, on the discussion of micro-payments and donations: It would be useful to have a donation gizmo, like Amazon's, that would also be a counter, keeping track of visits and suggesting the appropriate donation.

Wednesday, January 09, 2002

Dead for a ducat, dead!
I was glad to see that Moira Breen over at Inappropriate has a yen for Ducats:

I was delighted to see that Weidner shared my dismay at the rejection of splendorous and redolent names like ecu, florin...and finest of them all, ducat. I would book a trip right now just for the pleasure of carrying, spending, changing ducats. Weighing ducats in my pocket. Asking "how many ducats to the dollar?" Oh Europe! ... Money is abstract but in currency it keeps a tangible connection to work and blood and breath...
(I just wish I could write so well. Keep it up, Bree.)

One of the pleasures of Fernand Braudel's splendid history:The Mediterranean World in the Age of Phillip II, is that he expressed most sums in generic ducats, simply ignoring many esoteric currency details. He gives you the price in ducats to keep a tercio in the field for a month, or to outfit a war galley.

I ran the Chomskybot. This is what came out:

Clearly, most of the methodological work in modern linguistics is not quite equivalent to irrelevant intervening contexts in selectional rules. If the position of the trace in (99c) were only relatively inaccessible to movement, the descriptive power of the base component is to be regarded as a parasitic gap construction. It must be emphasized, once again, that the fundamental error of regarding functional notions as categorial suffices to account for nondistinctness in the sense of distinctive feature theory. A consequence of the approach just outlined is that this selectionally introduced contextual feature cannot be arbitrary in a general convention regarding the forms of the grammar. Note that the theory of syntactic features developed earlier is unspecified with respect to problems of phonemic and morphological analysis.
I'm so privileged to be able to actually watch a great mind at work.

Tuesday, January 08, 2002

Fern Hillside

One of the oddities of living in a Mediterranean climate is that to us winter is the season of new life and growth, or at least the beginning of it. The rains return, and the color of the hills changes from corn flakes to green. Many plants that have died or gone dormant during the arid summer reappear.

We've been having a wet winter, and one of my favorite places has just recently turned very green. It's a patch of hillside near the coast. For some reason this one little spot is pure heaven for a fern, the California Polypody. They've appeared again, and the ground is solidly carpeted with green fronds.

By March or April it will start to become warm and dry, and my little paradise will melt away. The rhizomes will be hiding underground, but by summer there will be no sign of polypodiums on the surface.

(click on the image to see the hillside. 175k)

Monday, January 07, 2002

Fred Boness wrote to suggest that the cause of the rise of mass shootings was the existence of pools of unarmed victims. "Mass shootings don't happen at Police stations. Mass shootings don't happen at gun shows. Mass shootings don't happen anywhere someone other than the shooter is likely, even slightly likely, to have a gun".

I thought he was missing the point; our schools and offices have always been full of unarmed people. But his point was about changed perceptions as to whether people are disarmed.

Disarmed places are actively advertised as an unintended consequence of letting the world know just how serious they are about zero tolerance or whatever gun control policy is being promoted. Fifty or a hundred years ago no one would have thought to make a public affirmation that their probably unarmed office or school was in fact guaranteed unarmed.

On the new point of requiring people be armed, that isn't necessary to keep unarmed people safe. Florida had an episode a number of years ago where British and German tourists were attacked and some shot. This happened after Florida adopted laws allowing concealed carry of firearms. Not a high percentage of Florida residents actually started to carry guns but, the odds that a criminal would at some time in his career run into a citizen with a gun went up. For a short time shootings did go up until the dumber criminals were weeded out of the pool.

Then the shootings of foreign tourists started. These are people who have flown in and rented cars at the airport. Bad news since they are guaranteed unarmed (airport security grants that guarantee) and identifiable by their rental cars.

Tourists are important to Florida so they acted quickly. Rental car companies reduced logos and added bumper stickers and other personalizing effects so that their cars didn't stand out. Police started patrolling the airport routes in unmarked cars that were unmarked to look like rental cars.

Tourists were still unarmed but, the attacks effectively stopped. Tourists were back to being at risk no more than the general population.

Sunday, January 06, 2002

The bigger question is: WHY are there so many mass shootings in recent years?

Different cultures have different ways of going crazy. A Swede is likely to become morose and commit suicide, while a Malay will suddenly run amok and dash down the street slashing people with a knife.

We learn how to go crazy, we soak it up from our culture. Even if we are totally rational on the surface, things have sunk in, maybe elves, or devils, maybe UFO's. And where do we learn our popular culture from now? TELEVISION. (And radio, newspapers, etc.)

And what kind of craziness does television teach us? Mass shooting. If someone commits suicide, or receives instructions from elves, it ain't news. If there is a mass shooting, we're going to hear about it -- over and over and over.

When the Columbine shooting happened, I had the misfortune to be trapped within earshot of a radio. For several hours the news people kept repeating the same litany: "We don't know what's happening, just that there's been some kind of shooting." Over and over and over, until I was ready to scream. If I were borderline psychotic, I would have got the message.

Ever hear about BRAINWASHING? Television is teaching us that when you go crazy, you shoot people. And it happens more and more. And each incident is the excuse for more brainwashing. And since American television news gets spread around the globe (I'll post a funny example of that soon) I predict that mass shootings will spread to other cultures.

The rational way to deal with this might be to put a stopper on the TV coverage. We all know that's not going to happen. The other way to deal with it is for people to fight back. If shooters get squashed like bugs, the fad may tend to die out.

Both Dawson and Momma Bear sent me this story (see my 1/1/02 post):

Worker sees off robbers with sauerkraut 'missiles'

A German supermarket worker scared off two robbers by throwing sauerkraut at them.

The armed men entered the store in Schmittlotheim in north Hesse and knocked down a woman cleaner.

When an employee carrying three tins of sauerkraut noticed what was going on, he threw one of them at the robbers.

The tin hit the man's shoulder, causing both of them to run away. Police are still searching for the men, the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper reports.
Defending yourself by throwing things may seem silly at first glance. But think back on times you have received a sudden blow. If you have children you have probably been whacked on the nose by some toy or other. Or have you ever stood up and hit your head on an open cabinet door? Or banged your shin against the coffee table? Let your imagination work...