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Saturday, February 02, 2002

I grump about word misuse, but what really interests me is how words get borrowed or invented or re-treaded to fill needs. We can't talk about things unless they have names. Hopefully short and easy to pronounce. Speech would be awkward if we had to repeatedly say microprocessors instead of chips.

I like the phrase treasure trove. It's actually Law French, and means treasure found. (which belonged to the King.) It's now come to mean something like a heap of treasure, or a complex agglomeration of treasure. Not just a chest of ducats, but something the Smaug would guard. That's good. We needed a way to express that concept.

I just encountered (via More then Zero) a new web gazette, COYOTE AT THE DOG SHOW, by Swen Swenson (Mild-mannered archaeologist by day...) I like the blogs where you feel like you've been invited to sit in the kitchen and drink beer and shoot the breeze. Swen does rather tend to assume you already know what's going on, which makes things a bit confusing. He drives 120 miles to buy groceries but speaks to the blogsphere. (Ha! An example of my last point in the previous post!), eats crawdads, slays critters with home-made atlatls and arrows ... and spends his days creating government paperwork. Love it. (Update: Archives hidden under the link to Geraldo. That takes an orignal mind.)

Somebody said the the Blogsphere is not like the press, because we have no reporters on the ground. Mostly true, but the 'sphere is starting to cover a lot of territory. (My apologies to Bill Quick; he coined the term Blogosphere, but I just can't go for it. I'll stick to Blogsphere)
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An interesting article in OpinionJournal:

GLOBALLIZATION GOES UPSCALE: The new economy brings prosperity from Manila to Morocco.

...Largely unnoticed by the protesters is the fundamental shift that has occurred in globalization. Because a decent education, Microsoft Office, and the Internet are all as useful in Manila as in Minneapolis, the service sector has gone mobile. Poor countries are sewing sneakers. And they are exporting billions of dollars in services, from answering 800 numbers to software coding and Ph.D.-level risk-modeling work...

Services trade has the potential to dwarf previous waves of globalization because services account for 60% to 70% of global gross domestic product...

...Take a close look at a Barbie doll, which in the mid-1990s was selling for about $10 in the U.S. An estimated 35 cents of the $10 paid for the Asian labor to assemble the doll. Most of the debate you've heard--the giant sucking sound, unfair labor conditions and exploitative multinationals, etc.--focuses on those 35 cents. Poor countries have largely been unable to compete for the pricey stuff that goes into the doll--the legal, design, transportation, consulting, marketing, accounting and other services, which together cost about $7, or 20 times the cost of the labor--until now...
I was slightly aware of all this. I already knew that a lot of our software is written in India. He doesn't mention it, but one advantage of services for many countries is freedom from regulation. To try to make and export things can involve you in endless red tape. But many services can flow over phone lines without permissions or tarifs.
...General Electric Corp. hired 6,000 people in India last year, bringing its headcount there to 10,000, to handle accounting, claims processing, customer service and credit evaluation and research for GE around the world. This year it expects to hire roughly 1,000 scientists. The firm is so gung ho on India it posted signs around its GE Capital unit there reading "trespassers will be recruited."
A good thing about this is that more people will be able to have good jobs without migrating. One of the drawbacks of capitalist prosperity is that it is corrosive. It melts things. Old established towns can just die if the jobs go elsewhere and young people move away. Now it may become more common for people to just stay in their little hick towns and work for some company on the other side of the globe.

Perhaps being a rube will become cool. I just had this Sci-Fi vision, set in one of Clifford Simak's small idyllic Wisconsin towns; neighborly and sleepy and old-fashioned. But the people are actually manning the global economy from their home offices, and then just playing at being down-to-earth countryfolk when they are in public. Maybe secretly reading stories by Simak to get their parts down. Scary.

In fact, soon there won't be any countryfolk; not in the sense of people isolated from fashion and change and urban life.
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"When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle." --Edmund Burke

My son has to write sentences with some vocabulary words.

He just wrote: I shot a tiger and pelted it.

Friday, February 01, 2002

John Adams gif

John Adams was a lousy writer. At least when he wrote books and articles. His books are cranky hotch-potches; formless and almost unreadable. He was very combative; he was at his best in the quick give-and-take of argument, and was very successful as a lawyer. But he rarely took the time to organize his (often excellent) ideas into reasoned discourses.

However, unknown to the world, he spent much effort writing in a different style. He owned the best library in North America, and the books he read most often were those whose arguments he hated ! He would fill the margins of those books with comments and refutations. He would tear them apart line by line. Does this sound familiar ?

The world-peace-through-fuzzy-leftist-thinking that drives today's warbloggers into a frenzy started back in John Adams' time. His was the age of the Philosophes; utopians who wanted to sweep away corrupt old institutions, thereby achieving a perfect society. What they got was the French Revolution, and Napoleon. (And Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot...) The thinking-style of the philosphes is still popular today, despite having killed hundreds of millions of people and failing utterly to achieve anything that could be labeled perfection.

Adams lived for two decades after his presidency. He spent much of his time in his library, reading and furiously arguing in the form of marginal comments in his books (I have a whole book of those scribbles: John Adams and the Prophets of Progress, by Zoltan Haraszti). A favorite target was Mary Wollstonecraft's history of the French Revolution:

M.W.: the improvement of morals which would necessarily follow, the evils which the old system produced would vanish before gradual amendments...
J.A.: Morals hitherto have been depraved rather than improved, and there is cause to fear will grow worse and worse.

M.W.: Reason was tracing out for France the road which leads to virtue, glory and happiness...
J.A.: Madness was tracing the road to vice, infamy, and misery.

M.W.: In the Middle Ages nothing was founded on Philosophical principals...
J.A.: Now everything is, and we see the effect in France.

M.W.: But such patriotism is of slow growth, requiring to be fostered by virtuous emulation...
J.A.: Emulation in prolifigacy, hypocrisy and villainy there will be. Emulation in virtue can only be where virtue is respected.
You get the idea. He was almost as good as Natalie or Moira, and twice as prolific.

Poor Adams was born too soon. If he were around today he would be signing up for Blogger Pro and giving the Prof some stiff competition.
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Thank you DR DAWSON for the look at the center of our Galaxy. Superb. (I gather from the caption that the image is infra-red. The center can't be seen in the visible wavelengths due to interstellar dust clouds, so we never ever get to see it directly.

PS: Get well soon...
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"For 2003, the president will seek what he characterized as the largest increase in defense spending since the 1980s. It's a great deal of money [$48 billion]. It's the taxpayers' money. It is not the government's money, it is the taxes that are paid by people who work in Chicago and Dallas and Portland and Seattle. They're hard-earned dollars. But compared with the costs in dollars, if one thinks about the cost in dollars and lives of a conflict, there's no question but that investment before the fact is much cheaper..." -- Donald Rumsfeld, speaking before the National Defense University, 1/31/02

Thursday, January 31, 2002

Message seen recently...

You are now a Blogger Pro subscriber. May you use your new powers for good and not evil.
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... Some governments will be timid in the face of terror. And make no mistake about it: If they do not act, America will.-- George W Bush, State of the Union Address

I will venture a PREDICTION.

Just as in mass shootings, terrorists like soft targets. Even if they are expecting to die in the attack, they go for pizza parlors and children's parties.

I predict that as we get tougher, terrorists are going to discover that Canada, France, Italy, Germany are very much in need of attack. The Geat Satan: Sweden!
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"We would be doing a great disservice to all nations to blur the distinction between combatants and stateless terrorists." --Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld

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"Strait is the gate and narrow is the way that leads to liberty, and few nations, if any, have found it." -- John Adams

Wednesday, January 30, 2002

An interesting thought on The State of the Union, by Richard Bennett

What impressed me the most about this address was the contrast to Bush 41, who wasn't even in the audience. The themes the president stressed were in many ways right out of his father's playbook - low taxes, self-sacrifice, military power, coalition-building, and a restoral of common decency. But when 41 talked about these things, he over-coated them with saccharin and made himself look weak and ineffectual: the "1000 points of light" is a nice coinage, and it sounds good on the lips of a Peggy Noonan, but it's over the top when a male president uses it to evoke the spirit of volunteerism...

... so I'll leave it with the general impression that the President is salvaging the decent side of masculinity, something that hasn't been the style since Reagan.

He's strong, and getting stronger. I'm impressed.

Megan informs us that she's 6'2" tall. Coming from that very neighborhood myself, I can only say, You're normal; everyone else is peculiar. (Let me guess: When the car seat is adjusted for your legs, you are holding the steering wheel with your fingertips...
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Good speech last night. A considerable amount more big-government galumpfh than I would prefer, but then, he's already got my vote. (My suggestion was that Bush should promise to catch all the Islami-wackos and offer up their still-beating hearts as a sacrifice to the Sun God. This was edited out, because it was thought to be too hawkish, and wouldn't appeal to suburban women. )
...Most of the nineteen men who hijacked planes on Sept. 11 were trained in Afghanistan's camps... True, and most of them were from that friendly allied nation, Saudi Arabia.

...I will not wait on events while dangers gather. I will not stand by as peril draws closer and closer... Perfect. Do it.

Back during the campaign, both candidates were aiming their messages at suburban women. I didn't see the point then, but look what's happened. Polls show women now more hawkish than men. Bush and Gore must both have known there was the potential for a swing there.

A word-peeve: Tom Shales on Laura Bush: ...She has been less the reclusive shy-boots some thought she would be... I think the old phrase is 'Sly-boots,' and it doesn't fit here at all.
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Take a look at Dawson's beautiful new look. I'm impressed. And click on the Sekimori button -- that's the gal who did it. She has a weblog called Blogatelle -- good name for a web gazette !

Tuesday, January 29, 2002

Other webloggers have been posting pix of themselves, so why not me?

When you read books on do-it-yourself home repairs, you see tidy people calmly dismantling things. replacing broken parts. and putting them back together.

Lordy what a pack of lies. We all know that. Honest books would portray filthy mortals, their clothes limp with sweat, their fingers bleeding, close to tears as their strenuous efforts only make things worse.

I spent Monday morning working under the kitchen sink. Take the drain apart because it's plugged up. Gross. The P-trap is rusty and when I tighten it back up, it breaks. When I just touch the angle-stops, they start to leak. I make a useless trip to Home Depot -- they don't carry that type of trap; but Chu’s Plumbing Supply comes through for me, plus has new gaskets for the angle-stops. (I take back all those things I said about Chinese drivers.) Then, when everything’s back together and I turn on the water, the J-bend pipe to the garbage disposal reveals a pin-hole leak ! I've already wasted the whole morning, I'm not gonna do any more. I wrap it with tape, to be dealt with it some other day.

Those books all lie, all except some by Peter Hemp. If you see a book by him, buy it ! He wrote one (now out-of-print) on fixing your plumbing called The Straight Poop!
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A storm has passed over, and left behind a day of astonishing clarity. This evening I saw something I've never seen before. San Francisco has some small islands off the coast called the Farallons. They are usually invisible in the sea haze. A clear day can be defined as one where you can see the Farallons. Tonight I not only saw them crisply defined against the last of the daylight, but actually observed a lighthouse blinking out there.
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Natalie Solent mentions being saddened and disturbed by my post on Patrick O'Brian. O'Brian's hidden past has long been a topic at the Patrick O'Brian Discussion Forum. I will quote a recent post by one Rowen :

I don't think we have any way of knowing whether or not O'Brian was the scrub King, and now Myers, imply.  I find it interesting that whenever this topic comes up it is usually other MEN who are ready to believe the worst of O'Brian and condemn him, while WOMEN, who it would seem would logically be the most offended, tend to say, 'Now wait - there are two sides to divorces and bitterness is not the same as truth."  

Is this because men would rather believe that another man would behave honourably, and so savage O'Brian for disabusing us of that notion, or because men think, "There but for the grace of God go I; I'd have left that situation in a minute!" and find it easy to believe O'Brian did as well?

Let me be clear:  I'm NOT defending desertion.  I'm simply pointing out that we really DON'T have anyway of knowing if O'Brian actually left the child and mother, or if she threw him out, or if it was a mutual decision, or anything else about the situation.  Testimony from an embittered son who was raised by an embittered ex-wife isn't very credible. Given O'Brian's silence about almost everything, his silence here isn't an admission of guilt.

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We haven't heard much from Dawson lately. He's a deep old file...Maybe he's taking a well-earned winter rest ... maybe not .... bet he's up to something...

Monday, January 28, 2002

Charlene bids me add a word-grump of hers. She hears it in depositions a lot: treating with, as in I've been treating with that doctor for six months. However, it seems to be used by the simpler folk, for whom Doctor means chiropractor. Remedial action would probably be useless.

Moira, that meritorious woman, is now soliciting entries for the Reverse Newspeak Dictionary...She starts with smarmy, and I sent her kitsch. I'm sure anyone bright enough to be crawling across the 'sphere will not need me to explain about words turning mushy and losing their precise meanings.

A favorite word annoyance of mine is a bit of mushiness that began, alas, about 300 years ago, and is probably now too well-established to correct. When English colonists first came to North America, their commerce was necessarily primitive. The same cabin might be both storehouse and retail shop (and often home and barn and tavern too). So people got muddled on the words shop, referring to a retailer; and store, which meant the warehouse of a wholesaler. Likewise, since most of what was sold had to be imported, people confused merchant, which meant someone in international trade, with shopkeeper. Now in the US we say things like the merchants in the little stores on Main Street...And a company like Costco is called a warehouse store! There are many ways America has enriched the English tongue, in this case we blurred it

If I were a software developer, I'd consider writing an Inappropriate Word-Use-Checker; a sort of spell-checker for all the word-peeves of literate people like us. If you typed flaunt, a very discreet note would appear reminding you of the difference between flaunt and flout... and if you wrote rocket science, a sharp rap on the knuckles from Rand would appear.

I glanced at EVHEAD, the weblog of Ev, (Evan Williams) Mr Blogger himself, and found this this post, which I shall steal and post here in its perfect entirety:

"How long can you keep capers in your fridge before they go bad?"

"Oh, forever."

"Two-to-three years?"

"Oh, god no."
I'm going to get that new BloggerPro, as soon as I can pry the Paypal password from Charlene!

I just ran across this letter by Abigail Adams to John Adams (who was in Philadelphia with the Continental Congress), July 21, 1776. [ I should save it 'till July, but in Internet Time that's years away. Anyway, this is my little web gazette, I'll post whatever I like!]

Last Thursday after hearing a very Good Sermon I went with the multitude into King's Street to hear the proclamation for independence read and proclaimed. Some Field pieces with the Train were brought there, the troops appeared under Arms and all the inhabitants assembled there (the small pox prevented many thousands from the country). When Col. Crafts read from the Belcona [balcony] of the State House the Proclamation, great attention was paid to every word. As soon as he ended, the cry from the Belcona, was God Save our American States and then 3 cheers which rended the air, the Bells rang, the privateers fired, the forts and Batteries, the cannon were discharged, the platoons followed and every face appeard joyful. Mr Bowdoin then gave a Sentiment, Stability and perpetuity to American independence. After dinner the kings arms were taken down from the State House and every vestige of him from every place in which it appeard and burnt in King Street. Thus ends royall Authority in this State, and all the people shall say Amen.
That Proclamation was later a matter of painfullest irony for John Adams. He had led the long and difficult efforts towards independence. Congress wanted to tidy up the loose ends of several years of hard work with a forthright public proclamation. SO, they picked a young fellow who had a knack for the right phrase, and hadn't done much work for the cause yet. His name was Thomas Jefferson. Alas, the document he drafted was The Declaration of Independence, and it came to symbolize the entire movement. In the simplifying lens of history, Jefferson got most of the credit for the work Adams and others had done.

Sunday, January 27, 2002

Image: Carpetbaggers, by Wyeth
It's time to cease carping and criticising the ENRON Corporation. It's not fair. A company tries to do innovative and exciting things; and when they run into a wee spot of trouble, the whole world treats them with contempt.

My friends at ENRON are warmhearted, unstinting folks. They are generous to a fault, always willing to open their purse-strings for a good cause, such as that ardent pursuit of truth and justice which characterizes the blogsphere. They've never treated me with anything but open-handedness.

So I say, Let's stop picking on Enron!

(The picture is actually The Carpetbaggers by NC Wyeth) Click for a larger view.

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I love the novels of Patrick O'Brian. They are beautifully written; adventure stories that can stand as literature. I feel like his heroes, Jack Aubrey and Steven Maturin, are old friends. I've followed their crushing defeats and blissful triumphs through 20 books.

I knew a little about O'Brian himself, that he had concealed his past and created a new name and history. But I was deeply touched by this Article, by Kevin Myers, which has some of the details:

...We all have guilty secrets, but few are as terrible as Patrick O'Brian's. As a young Englishman called Richard Patrick Russ, he abandoned his first wife, Elizabeth, and their two children, one of whom was dying from spina bifida.

The rest of his life was spent escaping that abominable act of betrayal; and though he found lifelong love and happiness with Mary Tolstoy, fear that the truth might one day out pursued him endlessly, even after he transformed himself into Patrick O'Brian, Irishman.

He protected his dreadful secret with a savage and awesome irascibility. I knew him moderately well; and for the most part he was a man of infinite charm and wit. But I once triggered off his protective furies by inquiring too closely into his childhood. It was a truly terrifying experience, though not an entirely uneducational one; for now I know how Hitler's courtiers felt when he fell into one of his rages...