Saturday, December 29, 2007

Texism of the Week

One of our movers today was a delightful southwestern type, very reminiscent of Scoresby in the Golden Compass movie in demeanor and aspect. I really did like the fellow quite a lot even before he enriched my vocabulary.

Anyway, while we were pointing out what was to be moved and what was to stay, I told him that the microwave oven was to be loaded onto the truck.

He nodded and reassuringly echoed "makker vuvven".

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Monday, December 24, 2007

No brainer

Which $400 device do YOU want to see under the tree? The Amazon Kindle or the XO?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Oh Bloody Ell

Hello? Google? Hello?

Sunday, December 09, 2007


NOTE: lots of hits on the dubious quote. I don't know where it came from either.

I am willing to make enemies on the left and right saying I don't believe in the grass roots, I believe in big government, I believe in taxing and spending, I believe that your property is a limited charter from the collective interest, not a god-given right. I believe it's a good idea to interfere with your use of that property only as much as necessary, and no more, but that's a tactical and not a moral belief.

We are the custodians of life and art in the universe. That's more important than your pathetic striving to be top monkey in your little corner of the woods. And that's why the liberal program needs to be revived, not sheepishly and in half measures but proudly and triumphantly. Here's a Daily Kos article:

When you're too busy trying not to lose, you may win elections now and then, but you rarely advance those causes you're supposed to care about. We've reached the point where Republican voters can claim the philosophy of absolute greed.

"I make a great deal of money through my own hard work. I don't want to pay for someone else's child to eat breakfast at school anymore."

[Is that for real? I don't know.]

Get that? She makes not just enough money, but a "great deal of money." How dare anyone take it away for something so frivolous as feeding a poor child? And yet Republicans, through their actions in blurring the lines between church and state, have become the "party of faith." Because they say so. Because they are bold in their actions and snarling in their defense.

We need to be just as adamant. We need to not hide behind any abstraction or evasion. We need to be unafraid to address this voter and say "I am going to take some of your money, and give it to that poor kid, because it's more important -- both to the child and to society -- that he eat, rather than that you have an extra week in Cabo."

Note that we should not pretend that "a program will take your money." Or "the government will take your money." This is a democracy, and we are the government. I will take your money. I will. Some of that money you worked hard for and want to keep. I will give it to a kid who is hungry. If your concern is that poverty should be addressed by individuals, then there's a simple solution: feed him. If there are no poor children needing food, I won't have to take anything for them. If your position is that people would be more generous if only the government would stay out of it, then sorry. I'm not willing to put this child at risk to as part of your experiment. Besides, if that were true, then why were their more hungry kids before we started these programs to give them a little breakfast? If your position is that your being able to keep all your money is more important than a child being fed, then I simply think you're wrong. And sick. You want to keep that money? You better beat me at the polls.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Sweden to Gibraltar Pix

This guy is a very perceptive landscape photographer.

He's biking to South Africa from Sweden. Wishing him luck.

Friday, November 30, 2007


This one's from memory:

"There must be some kind of way out of here" said the joker to the thief. "There is too much confusion. I can't get no relief. Businessmen they drink my wine, plowmen take my earth, and none of them along the line knows what any of it is worth."

"No reason to get excited," the thief, he kindly spoke. "There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke. You and I, we've been through that and this is not our fate, so let us not talk falsely now. The hour is getting late."

All along the watchtower, princes kept their view while all their women came and went, their footservants too. Outside in the cold distance, a wildcat did growl. Two riders were approaching.

The wind began to howl.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Lipstick, Pig

"I ran out of lipstick before I ran out of pig."
- a salesman about quitting his job

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


"Fidelity to truth butters no parsnips."

- Scott Nearing

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Going to the Gym

It feels like such a waste of time to attend to my body and leave my brain bored to tears listening to disco and counting down the minutes until I can get off the stationary bike.

So I had this great idea. A giant keyboard where each of the keys is a fifty pound weight. You'd get your exercise while coding or writing documents. Of course you'd need several versions to exercise various muscle groups.

Then at the end of the day you wouldn't need to waste an hour at the gym trying to stay healthy enough to keep typing.

I go to Lance Armstrong's franchise, which is sort of cool. I try to use the locker closest to his used jersey. Still, maybe we can have a geek franchise of some sort. Say Richard Stallman's 24-hour T-3 House of Pointless Exertions? Do you think RMS would be interested? We'll make millions!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Realpolitik is Hypocrisy

An interesting and intense rant appears on DailyKos. Here's the nub of the argument:

Let me state this clearly, because I failed to do so in an earlier post on a similar subject. Human rights were not created by the US Constitution, or by the International Bill of Human Rights, or by Thomas Paine, or by the Magna Carta. The men who created this nation knew well enough the origin of rights.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

The rights were not granted by treaty or government, they were only recognized. Human rights are innate. Preexisting.

Our foreign policy a blatant confession that our morals are far less than skin deep, that our obligation to human rights is nothing but talk, and we have no real concerns other than our own power. We will state so, openly and often, under the guise of being realistic, then go back to mouthing the words of democracy and freedom tomorrow.

So long as we base our policy on what's good for us, rather than what best upholds human rights, we are base pretenders to the legacy left to us by those men who signed the Declaration of Independence. So long as we uphold dictators for our own gain, our soldiers, no matter how individually noble or honorable, are bound to an unjust cause. So long as we nod solemnly over the need to deny others their rights under the pretense of securing our own, we are monsters no less than the worst of our enemies.

There's some horrifying commentary by Ted Koppel that kicks off this severe complaint. Follow the link and see if it makes sense to you.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Turkey Day

Why does this make the press in the UK and not in America?

"This annual survey of food pantries and soup kitchens shows that more working families, children, and seniors are being forced to seek emergency food," Joel Berg, the coalition's executive director, said in a statement.

"Given that hunger continued to increase in the city, even when the economy was still strong last year, it is no wonder that now, when the economy is weakening, lines at pantries and kitchens are getting even worse."

Some food outlets said they would not be able to distribute turkey rations for Thanksgiving on Thursday, because their federal supplies of food had been cut by as much as three-quarters.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Thinking About What a Friend Had Said

After the Goldrush
Well, I dreamed I saw the knights
In armor coming,
Saying something about a queen.
There were peasants singing and
Drummers drumming
And the archer split the tree.
There was a fanfare blowing
To the sun
That was floating on the breeze.
Look at mother nature on the run
In the nineteen seventies.
Look at mother nature on the run
In the nineteen seventies.

I was lying in a burned out basement
With the full moon in my eyes.
I was hoping for a replacement
When the sun burst thru the sky.
There was a band playing in my head
And I felt like getting high.
I was thinking about what a
Friend had said
I was hoping it was a lie.
Thinking about what a
Friend had said
I was hoping it was a lie.

Well, I dreamed I saw the silver
Space ships flying
In the yellow haze of the sun,
There were children crying
And colors flying
All around the chosen ones.
All in a dream, all in a dream
The loading had begun.
They were flying mother nature's
Silver seed to a new home in the sun.
Flying mother nature's
Silver seed to a new home.

Neil Young

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Bumper Sticker

seen in Austin:

"I'll bet Jesus would have used his turn signals"

Friday, November 09, 2007

Texas Frittata

My almost-prize-winning recipe:

Texas Fritatta:

You will need a 10" nonstick pan with a glass lid

Frozen commercial breakfast sausage (I use Jimmy Dean brand; reduced fat is fine)
1 medium sweet onion
1 mild hatch chile, roasted and peeled
3 eggs
mexican sour cream (no gelatins or emulsifiers) or creme fraiche
sweet smoky Texan spice "rub" blend (I use "Tears of Joy")


Chop and slowly sautee vegetables until soft, remove from heat


Coarsely mix three eggs and 2 Tbsp runny Mexican sour cream or creme fraiche with spice rub to taste. It is necessary to avoid creams with gelatins etc. for the texture to come out right. Do not blend . Whites, yolks, and cream should be intermingled but not indistingushable.


With a sharp knife, shave slices of breakfast sausage as thinly as possible. Tear slices into roughly 1 inch pieces. Spread non-overlapping across the bottom of the nonstick pan. Meat should cover about half the pan.

On low heat, heat until tops are cooked. Do not flip the sausages!


Pile the cooked chiles and onions evenly over the tops of the sausage. If they are cool, cover and cook until just warm. Leave heat on low. Do not flip the sausages.


Sprinkle a tiny bit of spice blend for color, then pour egg mixture over veggies and meat. Cover.


Wait for egg whites to just barely set. Some sour cream should rise to the top and will remain moist.


If all went well, the sausage should be blackening and almost burnt, and the eggs on the bottom very firmly cooked, and the top of the fritatta very moist and creamy. The goal is to get a range of textures, and a smoky flavor. Fold in half, cut in half and serve with refries and home fried potatoes or toast of your choice. Wear a big hat while serving.

serves two.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

How Life Went Live

From no less than Stanley Fish in the NY Times, an account of someone who has seen the non-dark:

about Antony Flew’s “There Is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind.” Flew, a noted professor of philosophy, announced in 2004 that after decades of writing essays and books from the vantage point of atheism, he now believes in God. “Changed his mind” is not a casual formulation. Flew wouldn’t call what has happened to him a conversion, for that would suggest something unavailable to analysis. His journey, he tells us, is best viewed as “a pilgrimage of reason,” an extension of his life-long habit of “following the argument no matter where it leads.”

Where it led when he was a schoolboy was to the same place Ehrman arrived at after many years of devout Christian practice: “I was regularly arguing with fellow sixth formers that the idea of a God who is both omnipotent and perfectly good is incompatible with the manifest evils and imperfections of the world.” For much of his philosophical career, Flew continued the argument in debates with a distinguished list of philosophers, scientists, theologians and historians. And then, gradually and to his own great surprise, he found that his decades-long “exploration of the Divine ha[d] after all these years turned from denial to discovery.”

What exactly did he discover? That by interrogating atheism with the same rigor he had directed at theism, he could begin to shake the foundations of that dogmatism. He poses to his former fellow atheists the following question: “What would have to occur or have occurred to constitute for you a reason to at least consider the existence of a superior Mind.” He knows that a cornerstone of the atheist creed is an argument that he himself made many times – the sufficiency of the materialist natural world as an explanation of how things work. “I pointed out,” he recalls, that “even the most complex entities in the universe – human beings – are the products of unconscious physical and mechanical forces.”

But it is precisely the word “unconscious” that, in the end, sends Flew in another direction. How, he asks, do merely physical and mechanical forces – forces without mind, without consciousness – give rise to the world of purposes, thoughts and moral projects? “How can a universe of mindless matter produce beings with intrinsic ends [and] self-replication capabilities?” In short (this is the title of a chapter), “How Did Life Go Live?”

Flew does not deny the explanatory power of materialist thought when the question is how are we to understand the physical causes of this or that event or effect. He’s is just contending that what is explained by materialist thought – the intricate workings of nature – itself demands an explanation, and materialist thought cannot supply it. Scientists, he says, “are dealing with the interaction of chemicals, whereas our questions have to do with how something can be intrinsically purpose-driven and how matter can be managed by symbol processing?” These queries, Flew insists, exist on entirely different levels and the knowledge gained from the first can not be used to illuminate the second.

In an appendix to the book, Abraham Varghese makes Flew’s point with the aid of an everyday example: “To suggest that the computer ‘understands’ what it is doing is like saying that a power line can meditate on the question of free will and determinism or that the chemicals in a test tube can apply the principle of non-contradiction in solving a problem, or that a DVD player understands and enjoys the music it plays.”

How did purposive behavior of the kind we engage in all the time – understanding, meditating, enjoying – ever emerge from electrons and chemical elements?

The usual origin-of-life theories, Flew observes, are caught in an infinite regress that can only be stopped by an arbitrary statement of the kind he himself used to make: “ . . . our knowledge of the universe must stop with the big bang, which is to be seen as the ultimate fact.” Or, “The laws of physics are ‘lawless laws’ that arise from the void – end of discussion.” He is now persuaded that such pronouncements beg the crucial question – why is there something rather than nothing? – a question to which he replies with the very proposition he argued against for most of his life: “The only satisfactory explanation for the origin of such ‘end-directed, self-replicating’ life as we see on earth is an infinitely intelligent Mind.”

... Flew assures his readers that he “has had no connection with any of the revealed religions,” and no “personal experience of God or any experience that may be called supernatural or religious.”

Well, I don't see where he gets the "infinite intelligence" part, but the argument for the insufficiency of materialism is compelling. Still, there are people (Daniel Dennett, David Chalmers) who understand the question but nevertheless work very hard to sweep it under a rug somehow.

Sunday, November 04, 2007


What you get when you put "Tobis" into Google Maps. Probably an error. I hope they don't get around to fxing it anytime soon.

Python in MIT Core Curriculum

I guess we have arrived. Catherine Devlin has been banging a python advocacy drum with the fact that Python is now the introductory language in the MIT EECS curriculum. Brad Allen made a digg link.

Go team!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Stolen Geek Art

I sort of like this idea:

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


After, what, a five year hiatus, a third royalty check on the book. And it's actually (barely) into three figures!

I feel like a hundred dollars!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Bizarre statement by Einstein

This merits some thought:

These thoughts did not come in any verbal formulation. I rarely think in words at all. A thought comes, and I may try to express it in words afterward.
Quoted in H Eves Mathematical Circles Adieu (Boston 1977).

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Feet in Dixie; Jesse Winchester Again

Irene and I saw Jesse Winchester at the Cactus Cafe on campus yesterday, where apparently he has been a regular for quite a few years. His voice was a bit shot, but he managed an absolutely great, deeply moving and delightful show.

Jesse opened with a song about Memphis, his home town. It was funny and catchy.

This is not the first time I've seen the man. I saw him when he was a young draft dodger in Montreal. It must have been 1970. SI believe it he was the first musician I ever saw, if you don't count marching bands and a Sly and the Family Stone stadium concert at the Forum.

Somehow someone liberated the locker room at LCC one evening. I rather doubt the then non-coeducational school's administration encouraged us showing up in the evening, out of uniform, with girlfriends (a couple, anyway) to listen to a folksinger, never mind a freaking draft dodger. Who had the chutzpah to sneak Jesse Winchester into our locker room?

Jesse wowed us back then. I'm pretty sure he had one or the other or both of "Yankee Lady" or "Tennessee Waltz" already. Mostly I remember us swaying and singing along and having the kind of fine old dixie hootenanny time that young upstanding Canadian boys are not expected to have.

Jesse wowed us last night as well. We had a fine old time, but Texans, whatever our flaws, find clapping and hollering perfectly natural. A great time was had by all, but it was a special event for me. I cornered Jesse after the show, but he didn't remember the earlier event, though it must have been one of his very first gigs ever.

Who organized the locker room show? And how? I suspect it was my classmate Danny Feist, who I'm shocked to discover has passed on.

Anyway I was deeply moved both times, but I still have something of a mystery on my hands. Maybe one of my other classmates will clue me in on the mysterious locker room performance someday.

Jesse closed with what he called a Montreal song. It was melancholy and haunting.

It's the Oil, "Stupid"

Samadhisoft points to Jim Holt's cogent argument that Iraq is about oil, period.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Bureaucratic Reincarnation

From the NYTimes:
China’s State Administration of Religious Affairs announced Order No. 5, a law covering “the management measures for the reincarnation of living Buddhas in Tibetan Buddhism.” This “important move to institutionalize management on reincarnation” basically prohibits Buddhist monks from returning from the dead without government permission: no one outside China can influence the reincarnation process; only monasteries in China can apply for permission.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Friday, October 05, 2007

Airline Mag: Green Edition

Hi, y'all, from beautiful Montreal (that's in Southern Canada, you understand), where it is unseasonably warm and sunny today. The trees seem a bit paler and less spectacular than usual this autumn, too... hmm....

I'm a bit out of the loop this week, what with the excitement of launching Correlations (come on over and give me some grief...) and visiting with family. So my main report for this week is that there's so much global warming in the press right now (I don't usually look at newsstands except when I'm stuck in an airport) that my head spins. I may have more to say soon, but for now I'll report that even the American Airlines in-flight magazine is featuring a green issue and an article about green guilt.

It was interesting how the author (Mark Henricks, a fellow Austinite feller) went on about light bulbs and such (not to mention bamboo flooring and recycled plastic bathmats) and nevertheless managed to shrug off the environmental impact of aviation with an unchallenged quote.
But air travel probably gets more attention than it deserves, says Arnold. While flying does have an impact, especially with regard to carbon emissions, it does not have nearly the negative effect that other carbon contributors do. For instance, he considers coal-fi red electricity-generating plants a much more serious problem. “Aviation is a minor part,” Arnold says. “For certain travelers, it’s an issue, but globally, it’s only about 2 percent of the problem.”
Right, but, um, aren't those 'certain travelers' the ones who use airplanes?

In fact, George Monbiot has pointed out that aviation is the only part of modern life where no non-GHG intensive substitute was foreseeable. I can't find that right now but a typical anti-aviation rant of his is here. It's not easy to shoot this down, unfortunately. I much prefer to drive or Amtrak even as far as Chicago, but Montreal-Austin is quite a shlep and I see no escape from making this particular type of journey twice a year anytime soon.

So it was weird reading an article actually entitled "green guilt" on an in flight magazine on an airplane, which pretty much told me to feel guilty about bathmats and not about flying.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

What Channel?

I guess the use case of someone knowing your network affiliation and home town but not your actual frequency is considered rare.

Go to and try to figure out what channel to tune to. Imagine, say, you have been scrounging around for an extension cord to plug in your little TV which you haven't turned on since you moved in six months ago. Say you have some affiliation with a program coming on in two minutes.

I guess this isn't a common use case, but it bit me.

Getting from "PBS Austin" to was easy. Getting from there to "channel 18" took some doing. I suspect that info is nowhere on the KLRU website.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

No Such Thing as American Conservatism

In defense of the idea that there is nobody reasonably considered conservative in America, consider this.

The very picture of a Tory, isn't she? UPDATE: Bah, broken link. Never trust a newspaper.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Homesickness cure

Any time I feel like turning my back on these rednecked fools and retreating to good old civilized Canada, I should remind myself what Canada is actually like. The picture is the intersection of Rue Cavendish and Blvd. Cote St. Luc in my beautiful home town of Cote St. Luc Quebec, on the rare occasion that there is no ice or snow about.

In spite of all humans can achieve in making a place inspiring and beautiful, usually they don't. I'll take Burnet Road in Austin over this any day, though it pains me to say it.

Miles and Miles

Jacksonville Beach FL to Orange TX: 783 miles

Orange TX to El Paso TX: 856 miles

El Paso TX to San Diego CA: 725 miles

Also, though,

Cornwall ON to Kenora ON: 1280 miles

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Megalopolitan Confusion

It's nice to have Paul Krugman visible on the web, but today he reminds us how little coastal people understand the rest of the country.

Here, Krugman gets something right, but finds his conclusion somehow astonishing and counterintuitive in spite of the fact that it is completely obvious to anyone who spends time in, you know, America.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Great Greenspan

according to someone who isn't all that impressed

Personally I have never been all that impressed with the idea of a one dimensional control of the whole system, which I think is pretty much all the Fed Chairman gets, besides a podium. The whole position seems far less potent than is usually made out.

So, while it doesn't make it any easier to take, I don't think this blithering is especially Greenspan's fault. The lemmings in front of the pack are, at best, not less confused than the rest of us.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Not Everything In Texas

is all that wonderful.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Biosintegrumology Today

Let me be the first to admit that I think about comic books a lot, perhaps too much, and that I find Hunter Thompson at least slightly interesting though a pale shadow of Kerouac to be sure. I'm, um, neutral about, uh, biosintegrumology at present. Still, curricula like this cause me to wonder about the whole concept of education.

By the way, is there some way I can resign from being a baby boomer...?


Yay! Maureen Dowd is out from behind the NYT firewall with a doozy. I missed ya, Mo.

XP zealotry backfiring

An article, interesting on many levels, about being a protagonist for extreme programming.

Monday, September 17, 2007

One great thing about getting older

You start to know what most of those weird items on the pharmacy shelves are for...

Saturday, September 15, 2007

NYT Editorial: "No Exit, No Strategy"

Shamelessly copied verbatim; please don't link, but I obviously can't criticize you if you make your own shameless copy. As I write the article can be found here and emailed directly from the Times server. They tend to age things behind their payment firewall as a source of income, though, so this is for future reference.
New York Times Editorial Published: September 14, 2007

No Exit, No Strategy

This was the week in which Americans hoped they would get straight talk and clear thinking on Iraq. What they got was two exhausting days of Congressional testimony by the American military commander, hours of news conferences and interviews, clouds of cut-to-order statistics and a speech from the Oval Office — and none of it either straight or clear.

The White House insisted that President Bush had consulted intensively with his generals and adapted to changing circumstances. But no amount of smoke could obscure the truth: Mr. Bush has no strategy to end his disastrous war and no strategy for containing the chaos he unleashed.

Last night’s speech could have been given any day in the last four years — and was delivered a half-dozen times already. Despite Mr. Bush’s claim that he was offering a way for all Americans to “come together” on Iraq, he offered the same divisive policies — repackaged this time with the Orwellian slogan “return on success.”

Mr. Bush’s claim that things were going so well in Iraq that he could “accept” his generals’ recommendation for a “drawdown” of forces was a carnival barker’s come-on. The Army cannot sustain the 30,000 extra troops Mr. Bush sent to Iraq beyond mid-2008 without serious damage to its fighting ability. From the start, the president said that the increase would be temporary. That’s why he called it a “surge.”

Before he spoke, Iraq’s brutal reality had debunked the claims of political and military success made by Gen. David Petraeus, the top American commander in Iraq, and Ryan Crocker, the ambassador in Baghdad. First, The Times reported that the only sliver of political progress — a tortuous compromise on sharing oil revenues — was evaporating. Then came news of the assassination of the Anbar tribal leader whose decision to fight alongside the Americans was cited by Mr. Bush as proof that the war’s tide was turning — even though it had nothing to do with the increase in forces.

Mr. Bush’s claims last night about how well the war is going are believable only if you use Pentagon numbers so obviously cooked that they call to mind the way Americans were duped into first supporting this war.

There will be a lot said in coming days about Mr. Bush’s “new strategy,” just as there was after each of his previous major addresses on the war. If there was a new strategy, it would be easy to recognize. Mr. Bush would drop the meaningless talk of victory and stop trying to sell Americans the fiction that the war keeps them safe from terrorism. (To his credit, General Petraeus declined to adopt that bit of propaganda.) Instead, Mr. Bush would do what the vast majority of Americans want — plan an orderly withdrawal while doing what he can to mitigate the consequences of the war.

Mr. Bush was right when he said last night that the aftermath of withdrawal would be bloody and frightening, but that is a product of his invasion and his gross mismanagement of the aftermath. Mr. Bush’s endless insistence on staying the course will only make Iraq more bloody and frightening.

If Mr. Bush had a new strategy, he would have talked to the American people last night about what he would do to draw Iraq’s neighbors into a solution. Last January, when he announced the troop increase, Mr. Bush promised to “use America’s full diplomatic resources to rally support for Iraq from nations throughout the Middle East.” The world is still waiting.

A strategy for ending the war would include real efforts to hold Iraq’s government to verifiable measures of political conciliation — and make clear to Iraq’s leaders that they cannot count on America’s indefinite and unquestioning protection.

A real shift in strategy would have included an effort to deal with the massive problem of refugees. Nine months after the surge began, ever more Iraqis are being driven from their homes — and Mr. Bush never even mentioned them last night.

If Mr. Bush were serious about ending the war, rather than threatening Iran and Syria, he would make a serious effort to persuade them that they too have a lot to lose from a disintegrating Iraq. And he would enlist the help of the leaders of Britain, France and Germany for serious negotiations. Then, perhaps, Mr. Bush’s promise from January to stanch the flow of men and weapons into Iraq from Iran and Syria would not have sounded so hollow.

Once again, it is clear that Mr. Bush refuses to recognize the truth of his failure in Iraq and envisions a military commitment that has no end. Congress must use its powers to expose the truth and demand a real change in strategy. Democratic leaders, forever parsing polls, are backing away from proposals to impose a deadline for withdrawal and tinkering with small ideas that mostly sound like ways to enable the president’s strategy of delay.

The presidential candidates, as well, have a duty to take Iraq head-on. Some Democrats have started to talk in some detail about how they would end the war, but the burden is not just on the war critics. Republicans like Rudolph Giuliani and John McCain, who love to proclaim their support for the president and hide behind the troops, need to explain their vision as well. What do they think would constitute victory in Iraq, and how, precisely, do they intend to achieve it?

After all, it seems the burden of ending the war will fall to the next president. Mr. Bush was clear last night — as he was when he addressed the nation in January, September of last year, the December before that and in April 2004 — that his only real plan is to confuse enough Americans and cow enough members of Congress to let him muddle along and saddle his successor with this war that should never have been started.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Land of the Brand

Every student in the class was to pick a different US state. My best friend Tommy (who really ought to drop me a line one of these days) as I recall was stuck with Indiana, having relatives in judaeo-hungarian Hoosierdom as I recollect. Kids were fighting tooth and nail over New York and California. Somehow I was the only kid to whom it occurred to pick Texas.

What a great decision! Send a Texas bureaucrat a letter saying "I'm a Canadian sixth grader doing a project on a US state, and I picked Texas" and you'll get a twenty pound package of brochures and stuff. They must have gone all around Austin pickin stuff up for me.

I easily had the best project in the class.

I recall the part where I did something on each of the ten biggest cities in Texas. This may have somehting to do with my peculiar inclination to visit Wichita Falls, which came in tenth at the time. It's probably fiftieth now, but that always makes for good pictures...

Anyway, I've been in Texas for six months, and this event had completely slipped my mind. But I was a Texas fanatic once before in my life, long before I learned that you have to peel a tamale. I guess I spent several weeks totally obsessed with Texas, land of the brand.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

River Bend is Alive!

and asking good questions...
The first minutes after passing the border were overwhelming. Overwhelming relief and overwhelming sadness… How is it that only a stretch of several kilometers and maybe twenty minutes, so firmly segregates life from death?

How is it that a border no one can see or touch stands between car bombs, militias, death squads and… peace, safety? It’s difficult to believe- even now. I sit here and write this and wonder why I can’t hear the explosions.

I wonder at how the windows don’t rattle as the planes pass overhead. I’m trying to rid myself of the expectation that armed people in black will break through the door and into our lives. I’m trying to let my eyes grow accustomed to streets free of road blocks, hummers and pictures of Muqtada and the rest…

How is it that all of this lies a short car ride away?

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Not the New York Times

Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'.

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won't come again
And don't speak too soon
For the wheel's still in spin
And there's no tellin' who
That it's namin'.
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin'.

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don't stand in the doorway
Don't block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There's a battle outside
And it is ragin'.
It'll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin'.

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don't criticize
What you can't understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin'.
Please get out of the new one
If you can't lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin'.

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin'.
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin'.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

I am a Finalist!

Out of dozens of entries I am one of five finalists in the Central Market Hatch Green Chile cookoff.

First prize is a year's supply of Hatch Chiles! (Also $500)

My dish is the Free Totta (or the Texas Frittata). Recipe to follow. Wish me luck. Show up in person at the Central Market on Lamar, Sunday at 5 PM to cheer me on.

Update: Several of the judges went out of their way to compliment me, but the gazpacho guy won narrowly. Also Irene forgot her hat and I forgot my pan, so not a big win for the home team.
It was sort of fun though, and I will be prominently featured in the cookbook.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Everybody knows

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
Thats how it goes
Everybody knows

Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows that the captain lied
Everybody got this broken feeling
Like their father or their dog just died

Everybody talking to their pockets
Everybody wants a box of chocolates
And a long stem rose
Everybody knows

Leonard Cohen

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Metaphysical Limerick

Ego, the self, is a necessary precursor for functioning in the world, but detatchment from the ego is required to preserve the world.

A major flaw of democracy is that, like in all power structures other than, occasionally, inherited monarchy, the people with the most influence are always the most ambitious and hence generally the most ego-intoxicated.

Ego, though, is an adolescent characteristic, useful for competition, genetic, cultural, economic, political. Adolescent thought is necessary but insufficient. Adult thought, altruism, is about protecting the whole gene pool, not just your own personal flourishes.

Rational self-interest does not suffice unless you take a very broad view of what the self actually means.

These thoughts were initiated by a philosophy limerick:
At t, I will be a nonentity
With plans and desires that
went to t.
Though I won’t survive,

It’s fine if I strive

For future goods. Who needs identity?

Monday, August 13, 2007

Forty Years Ago Today

In the summer of 1967, just shy of my 13th birthday, I had the historically rare privilege of being a nerdy adolescent with a season's pass to a world's fair which we called Expo '67. I saw holograms and monorails and the "Cyclotron" and all manner of futuristic optimism.

Barely a year year later, with most of my cohort of North Americans, in the light of some very peculiar events in Chicago, I had lost my futuristic optimism. In its place I developed a rather intense distrust for authority, personified to a large extent by Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley and US President Lyndon Johnson.

It was with some astonishment, then, that I recently found myself, as a Chicagoan, increasingly a supporter of Daley's son Richard M. Both the similarities and the differences between father and son are endlessly fascinating.

I'm even more astonished to find myself a Texan and an admirer or Lyndon Johnson!

I increasingly view LBJ as a tragic figure, a great man whose legacy was tarnished by a tragic and misguided war. (I heartily recommend renting Erroll Morris's film Fog of War for some insight into how this happened. The cold erroneous calculations of Robert McNamara clearly are still resonating today.)

In the Daleys and the Johnsons and the Kennedys, we can't entirely ignore a ruthless and vindictive urge to power. Nevertheless, in each of them, we see people motivated by higher goals than their own, as they perceived them. This sort of courage is hard to envision today except among marginalized people.

The quote I have just put at the header of the blog is an emblem of my reconsideration of Johnson and the liberal philosophy of the 1960s that was so thoroughly incinerated by the tragedy of Viet Nam. In the present disaster as we recapitulate the tragedy of Viet Nam as a tragic farce, it is worth comparing the ways in which the Kennedys and Johnsons sought to motivate the society, and comparing them with the delirious nonsense we are offered today.
We have the power to shape the civilization we want.
We should not let ourselves be advertised and bullied into a shabby materialistic cowering.

The world needs bravery and heroism, least of all from foolish boys tricked into lobbing explosives at each other, but rather from all of us, adults with position and wealth to lose and a soul to regain.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Dresden Codac


Saturday, August 11, 2007

Sunday, August 05, 2007


What would motivate someone to send me an email like this, following up on a conversation about technical books in which I and others mentioned the widely revered book on the C language by Kernighan and Ritchie?

I quote the message in its entirety.
Helo Friend
K & R Book sucks
it is bad
I mean, what??? Am I expected to respond "no, you suck"??? How can someone with the wit to know what K&R is have so little sense as to mail something like this??? I hope this is an outlier, but judging by some of my experiences teaching at Loyola, we are producing a generation of young adults that is salted by people with very little sense of what the world is or how to act in it.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Great Discussion

I had lunch with David Chalmers once, though he probably doesn't remember it.

Here's a nice blogginheads episode with him and some other guy.

No matter how interesting he or Dennet or their ilk gets, though, the problem is still insoluble. There is an irreducible soul. At least these guys are cognisant of the question, but the shorter Chalmers amounts to: there must be answer, else I would be unemployed.

Monday, June 25, 2007

HAL9000 versus animated vegetables

I know that voice!


I dreamed last night that I had a personal consultation with Ram Dass. He seemed to understand and empathize with everything I was saying, about the confusion with right livelihood and the frustration with not being able to find a religious community I could tolerate.

Then, he finally offerred his advice. Ram Dass suggested I apply for a software sales position with Sun Microsystems. Then I woke up.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Hasn't the Times Done Enough Damage?

The New York Times apparently has it in for the only reasonable candidate for President. These are the fine folks who brought you the special "Saddam's WMD", as you may recall. Thanks again, guys.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

My Introduction to Swing

All this talk about retiring the Kellogg's mascots reminds me of this amazing performance

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Odd Thing About Texas

Despite all the damage that man has done to the world, and incidentally to the reputation of Texas and its politics, in some ways Texas is still a healthier democracy than I am used to seeing elsewhere in the US and Canada. Consider this from the Waco Tribune-Herald (June 4), a quote from state rep Jim Dunnam, D-Waco:

Craziest moment [of the legislative session]: Sen. Robert Deuell R-Greenville and I starting a band this session called the Bad Precedents. We ended up having about 30 members of the legislature sit in with us in various performances.

Of course this doesn't necessarily make for good policy,but it shows a shred of sanity you don't much see elsewhere.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Paris Hilton for President!

Here's why. Some of the best writing I've read in a while, in defense of the proposition that Paris Hilton should be elected president.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Speakeasy [Updated]

Update: Amazingly, Speakeasy responded to my complaint before I got around to making it.

Specifically, they found this blog entry, apologized profusely, and informed me that they owe me 93 dollars! I never even placed the call!

I like them again. It really is a shame I had to fall back to cable in Austin.

Apparently they seem to think I'm just too far from the switch or something, though that really doesn't explain the intermittency of the problems I was having.

The resolution of this particular billing SNAFU is impressive. I hope it sticks; I've had fiascos with both AT&T and SBC go on for many months, but I've never had them seeking me out.


I liked them a lot in Chicago.

After weeks of fussing they completely failed to get me set in in Austin, so I cancelled. They refunded and swore they would not keep billing me.

Guess what? They are still billing me.

I have had enough exasperating runarounds with incompetent billing offices at phone companies that I intend to keep a log. Speakeasy never disappointed me in the past, but they sure as hell are disappointing me now. Stay tuned.


Montreal exactly

Beauty and blemishes alike, captured with an artist's eye and technical grace.

(101 pix; starts out with mostly downtown shots but lots of good neighborhood pix if you stay with it.)


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

GMail disaster - false alarm

Never mind! Our error! Google did nothing wrong!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Only In It for the Free Lunches

Lunch at Kona, dinner at Asti today. Life's rough...

Monday, May 07, 2007

Engineers vs economists

Article moved here.

How engineers think

See minutes 4 through 7; compare with how economists think...

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Blue light, rain

looking for familiar faces in an empty windowpane

listening for the secret searching for the sound
but i could only hear the preacher and the baying of his hounds

willow sky i walk and wonder why
they say love your brother but you will catch it if you try

roll you down the line boy drop you for a loss
ride you out on a cold rail and nail you to a cross

november and more as i wait for the score
they're telling me forgiveness is the key to every door

a slow winter day a night like forever
sink like a stone float like a feather

- Robert Peterson, 1974, Ice Nine Music

Friday, May 04, 2007

not a shred

In my weekly reminder from Robert Park that I have wasted another week of my sorry life, typically filled with sad but interesting news on the frontier between science and politics, I see the following:

Last month’s 5-4 decision upholding a ban on partial birth abortion
ensured that the composition of the court will be an issue in the coming
election. The awkward fact is that all five justices in the majority are
Catholic. Stem cell research draws similar religious opposition from the
Catholic Church and fundamentalists. It’s based on the magical belief
that a soul is assigned to the zygote at conception. The zygote is
certainly alive, with its own unique DNA, but that’s true of a bacterium.
Based on a Genesis passage in which God breathes life into Adam, Jews and
liberal Christians usually argue that the soul arrives when the newborn
draws its first breath. However, there is not shred of evidence that
a “soul” even exists, and it certainly has no place in science or law.

So I'm in total agreement with all of it, except for the one howler. Can you spot it?

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

In a nutshell

"Economists describe the properties of the broken controller."

This is an important observation which I will explain on "in it" some day. Maybe there's even a paper somewhere, but God only knows where.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

iGoogle bug

I had tabs set up on my Google home page. They went away. I had Austin specific data. It went away.

Suddenly I have the layout I was using several months ago in Chicago. All widgets added in the last few months are gone. I contacted my acquaintance at Google and filed a bug report, but I thought I'd blog it as well and see if anyone else had a similar experience.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Vanity Tag Seen on the Mo Pac


Thursday, April 19, 2007

Dinner in Montreal

Traveling from Texas to Quebec as I sometimes do spans perhaps the greatest culture gap in North America.

Texas Texes with ease and confidence, if perhaps you can't call it grace.

Non-French Quebec flounders helplessly. Consider the dinner buffet at the Airport Holiday Inn in Montreal. (Ville St Laurent for the fussy; it's on Cote de Liesse.)

Excellent sopressata and cheap cheddar. Melba toast, crackers and buns. Salade Nicoise and olives. Lettuce. Some shredded root vegetable in a sour dressing that looks very much like fettucini alfredo, in order to cruelly disappoint you. Egg rolls with optional chinese mustard and a sweet sauce that seems to be stretched with gravy. Chicken and vegetable stir fry (tolerable). Steamed bok choy. Tortellini in tomato sauce (I don't know what the filling was; I didn't try them.) No rice for the Chinese dishes, but ample supply of coarse cut french fries. Apple strudel (not oversweet like American desserts and much better than the rest of it).

That wasn't a sampling, that was the whole buffet. And there is Canadian food and Canadian culture in a nutshell. My home and native land!

The rates are good and the rooms are clean, but I do not recommend this hotel for the cuisine.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

R vs D

Thanks to Fermi Paradox for this link:

R and D redecorate the house

Monday, March 26, 2007

Youth wasted on the young?

Well, maybe.

But retirement is definitely wasted on the old.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Mashups for Boomers

Want to know why mashups are interesting? Want to know how intellectual property stymies creativity? Watch this