Archives : April 2003

2003 April 1

Plan B

Damn, I like this. Nick Denton has a compelling proposal for an honourable way out of this terrible war: Partition. Admit that the American war plan was counting on Saddam's regime collapsing "at the first whiff of gunpowder", and that since that isn't happening, we have no desire to destroy Baghdad in order to save it. Instead, just finish securing the Shia and Kurdish areas that have suffered worst under Hussein, declare them both independent of the rump Iraq, and claim victory.

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2003 April 2

Spring has sprung

It must be spring -- the landscapers are out. This morning, there was a guy scraping up leaves along the fence at the bus depot with a snow shovel, and at the hospital they were out with leaf blowers. Also, they had a gizmo I've never seen before -- I can only call it an power broom. Built like a gas-powered weed whacker, but with a big horizontal spinning brush at the business end.

Actually, I also saw the riding-mower version of this implement last winter, buzzing slush off the sidewalks around the Galleria.

I just test well.

9 out of 10 on the Economist's Infrequently Asked Questions quiz. Word.

2003 April 3

Freak of nature

In my freezer, there's an ice cube that grew a stalagmite, like a reverse icicle. I don't know what else to call it -- I've never seen anything like it. I just froze a new tray of ice cubes last night, and one of them has now grown an inch-long spike, canted over 10-15 degrees from the vertical so the tip isn't even above the base. It looks like someone pulled a piece of taffy until it broke, except this is ice.

It's too weird. I can only guess that when it froze, there was only a tiny hole left in the surface, and the interior water got pumped out as the freezing ice expanded. But how it produced a spike an inch tall? I can't imagine this is a repeatable experiment.

I need a digital camera, dammit.

2003 April 6

Spammers are getting surreal

I just received spam for diet pills with the following header:

Subject: if grandmother's house appears to be horribly undulating, then some Bolivian shelves appear to be appearing to be black.
Well, they did get me to read it.

2003 April 7

The Internet, free speech, and al Jazeera

El Reg says what needs to be said:

It can be like this for TV and print media too, but Al Jazeera's satellite TV operations are to a great extent proof against such perils. The signals can't be stopped readily, unless you jam them, ban dishes or get them kicked out of their satellite deals, and you can't readily get to the company for as long as it has tolerant governments prepared to host it. That doesn't amount to complete invulnerability, because political and commercial pressures can still be exerted in order to quieten it down, but the position is a hell of a lot more favourable than is the case for the Internet. Think about the lengths you'd have to go to in order to produce a similar level of invulnerability via the Internet, and you'll maybe conclude that free speech is a lot less free than you thought.
I've been checking out al Jazeera when I can. It's not easy, partly because of the DOS attacks and partly because they wrote their pages using some insane dynamic jscript thing that only works in IE, but I have to agree this "al Jazeera is a running-dog Iraqi lackey" idea is way the hell overblown.

Lay off al Jazeera, already.

update (2:15pm): Hm. Current state of http://english.aljazeera.net/ is that the article bodies don't display in Mozilla, and the page doesn't load at all from Internet Explorer. I don't know why IE can't get to it.

2003 April 8

Reflections on "liberation"

Yes, boys and girls, it's time for another rambling essay attempting to make sense of my feelings about the war. It may or may not go anywhere. It may or may not be worth reading. But writing it all down helps me organize my thoughts, so what the hell.

I've just been watching CNN International (much more tolerable than any of the domestic news channels, including CNN Original), and in particular, a piece touring a Mukhabarat prison/torture facility with a group of Iraqis that included a former prisoner. And dammit, anything that shuts down places like that is a good thing. It was a putrid wound on our collective humanity -- cleanse it, incinerate it, cauterize it with purifying flame.

How can I possibly be against a war that will, at the least, do that? At heart, I suppose really I'm not.

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2003 April 9

Syria?!

Matthew Yglesias is hunting for arguments to deploy for why invading Syria would be a bad idea. He's somehow got the idea that merely having no justification isn't going to stop this administration; can't imagine where he could have got that from.

My suggestion for the administration: What the hell are you doing distracting us with Syria? Pay some attention to North Korea, you irresponsible morons!

Okay, perhaps it could use a bit of prettying up. But as an argument, it carries a certain visceral satisfaction.

The US military may claim to be able to fight more than one war at a time, but there's still a policy-making bottleneck at the top -- we need more Powells, stat! The administration really doesn't have the bandwidth to piss off the Europeans about more than one warmongering adventure at a time.

Ahhh. It feels good to vent.

Stupid Security

Privacy International has announced the winners of the 2003 Stupid Security Contest.

  • Most Egregiously Stupid: The Australian Government
  • Most Inexplicably Stupid: Philadelphia Int'l Airport
  • Most Annoyingly Stupid: T-Mobile (UK)
  • Most Flagrantly Intrusive: Delta Terminal at JFK Int'l Airport
  • Most Stupidly Counter Productive: San Francisco General Hospital
  • Dishonourable Mention: The New Yorker Hotel

2003 April 12

Modern Drunkard

I laughed and laughed and laughed.

Modern Drunkard's Clash of the Tightest, Burton vs Bukowski / Faulkner vs Bogart. Also, "The Art of Staggering":

First you have to get really hammered. I canít emphasize how important this is. A good stagger is the product of a much-too-fucked-up-to-consider-the-consequences attitude that comes from the heart ó by way of a well-disconnected medulla.

2003 April 15

Weirdly compelling

You may have known that, in possibly the most shameful performance in the history of Celebrities Who Thought They Could Sing, William Shatner covered "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", but did you know that "Norwegian Wood" could be sung to the tune of the theme from Mission Impossible? Me neither.

April Winchell enlightened me.

2003 April 16

Spring Training

Decent weather has arrived, so I no longer have an excuse not to get off my ass and start doing some preparation.

Today's ride:

Date Route Dist Time Avg Spd Year Total
2003/04/16 bike path to Trader Joe's and back 13.5 km 41 min 20 km/h
That was 22 min out and 19 min back. It's a gentle climb to Arlington Heights, but apparently enough to make a difference. I felt it embarrassingly clearly -- had to drop out of 7th for a while, even.

Status: not pathetic. I passed half a dozen other bikers; only got passed once. Soon I shall be studly like David and Molly.

Updated (4:50 pm): Put my numbers in a table, because it looks more athletic.

Doing imperialism right

The Economist has a good article on rebuilding Iraq. The central point is this:

The overriding lesson from past efforts is that economic and political reconstruction are tightly linked. One cannot happen without the other. Beyond that, two further lessons emerge. First, how aid is used matters at least as much as how much aid there is. The Marshall-plan aid after the second world war, for example, was actually quite a small proportion of European GDP at the time. Second, although handing over to local government must be an explicit goal of nation-building, power should be transferred only as quickly as local institutions can exercise it properly -- no matter how keenly the occupiers feel that they must not appear to be imperialist. [+]
In other words, every political factor that militates against staying sadly makes it more likely the job will be done half-assed.

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2003 April 17

Technological solutions to industrial problems

If this is even half as good as it sounds, it's the best environmental news I've heard all year.

Pardon me, says a reporter, shivering in the frigid dawn, but that sounds too good to be true.

"Everybody says that," says Appel. He is a tall, affable entrepreneur who has assembled a team of scientists, former government leaders, and deep-pocketed investors to develop and sell what he calls the thermal depolymerization process, or TDP. The process is designed to handle almost any waste product imaginable, including turkey offal, tires, plastic bottles, harbor-dredged muck, old computers, municipal garbage, cornstalks, paper-pulp effluent, infectious medical waste, oil-refinery residues, even biological weapons such as anthrax spores. According to Appel, waste goes in one end and comes out the other as three products, all valuable and environmentally benign: high-quality oil, clean-burning gas, and purified minerals that can be used as fuels, fertilizers, or specialty chemicals for manufacturing. [+]

I was struck by the claim they can even deal with with chlorine compounds -- well, they claim they can extract the chlorine from PVC into hydrochloric acid, anyway, which is notable. If they can do PCBs as well, we may have a winner on that score alone -- my understanding is that chlorine compounds usually require expensive special handling to avoid creating dioxin stew.

"The Quiet American"

Possibly the best translation of a novel to the screen I have ever seen, falling only just short of note-perfect.

I read this book when I was in Vietnam, well, almost a year and a half ago now -- time goes by so fast. It's the strangest thing: Hanoi is drowning in pirate copies of this book. Hustlers on the street come up to you and try to sell you copies: "Postcard? Silk? Quiet American?" This is essentially all the English they know.

After the third time I was offered it, I had to buy a copy, just to see.

The story feels ripped from yesterday's headlines, almost too much so -- after all the exhausting arguments we've been through in the last year, I had to remind myself that it really was written in 1955. (The Vietnam War as we know it -- the Second Indochina War -- hadn't even started yet.) Alden Pyle is the quiet American -- naive, earnest, well-meaning, and so convinced of the necessity of his actions that he can't see anybody as anything but what he needs them to be. His foil, Thomas Fowler, is the cynical old English journalist -- detached, wise, but selfish and dissipated. The core of the movie, it seems to me, is about the choices you make in life, or try to avoid: "Sooner or later, Mr Fowler, one has to take sides, if one is to remain human."

See this movie. Or read the book: The Quiet American, Graham Greene -- that would be okay, too, and it's very short.

Katie Roiphe in Slate has an interesting commentary on what "The Quiet American" shows about how anti-Americanism has changed over the years.

2003 April 18

You have to see this

Dammit, I'm just copying from MetaFilter, but this is simply genius. If you don't watch Enough Television, you have to see this. Art. There's no other word for it.

[And it's real.]

2003 April 19

The blaggard rebels seemed to be winning

I had no idea what day it was today until I ran into the musket fire outside of Lexington.

That made me suspicious. But I didn't know for sure until I got to the Old North Bridge in Minuteman Park near Concord. I also hadn't known, until I started reading the interpretive signs, that that was the actual site of the "shot heard 'round the world", on April 19, 1775. Too cool.

The reason I was there is just that I decided to try a more ambitious bike ride today -- the sun was out, even if the air was still a bit chilly, and I had nothing particular that needed doing. Concord happened to be about the right distance away -- I could ride out the Minuteman Bikeway to the end, then follow an abandoned rail line right to the Old North Bridge. So I did, and the rest, I suppose, is just a lesson in fortune favouring those who get off their butt. I was originally planning to come home via Walden Pond and Lincoln, but with things falling as they were, I couldn't pass by Battle Road Park.

(For someone who spent the day "off his butt", mine now aches abominably. No justice.)

Today's ride is, I believe, the longest I've ever done:

Date Route Dist Time Avg Spd Year Total
2003/04/19 Bedford Depot -- Concord -- Battle Road 49 km 204 min 14.5 km/h
For reference, the disused rail line between Bedford and Concord is a good ride, if you've got fat tires. I crunched through leaves, ploughed through a bit of mud, and met only two bikers and a horse-drawn carriage in the whole distance.

status: Ouch. If I'd been trying to do the Provincetown ride, I'd have to get up and do that distance again right now, then again almost twice more tomorrow. It doesn't bear thinking about.

2003 April 21

Now that that thing in Iraq is over, the wars are really rolling

I've really been getting into the Stanley Cup playoffs -- haven't watched them in ages, but man, this year I'm sucked in. Hockey doesn't get much better than this -- it's only the first round, but it's been one great, tight, fast game after another. The only team that went out in four straight was Detroit, the defending Cup champions. The eighth-seed Oilers took two games from this year's favourites Stars, and were a heartbeat from taking three. Already I think there've been nine overtime games, six of which went to double overtime, three of which went to triple overtime. (That's one thing the NHL has all over international rules -- teams get to play until somebody wins, dammit, no matter how long it takes.)

Incredibly, three series are going to seven games, all to be played tomorrow night. Both Vancouver and Minnesota have come back from being down 3-1, while Toronto and Philadelphia have fought a punishing back-and-forth series, playing three of those multi-overtime games by themselves.

I have to watch tomorrow night -- I have very high hopes for some sudden-golf overtime. If anyone wants to join me, say hi.

2003 April 23

Abbreviated ride

Gah. Too cold this morning to be out without gloves.

Today's ride:

Date Route Dist Time Avg Spd Year Total
2003/04/23 Arlington Centre 8 km 22 min 22 km/h 79 km

Turkmenistan, not Uzbekistan

The Muslim world map game: can you make a clean run? Joe Bob says check it out.

2003 April 27

Because it's there

Some random NHL trivia. I got curious about the distribution of Stanley Cup winners, and might as well write down what I worked out.

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I could've had a free banana

Today I learned that if you ride down the Charles River path on a Sunday, you will spend your time dodging joggers, baby carriages and, if it's April 27th, March-of-Dimers. Also, from MIT in, the path should not be advertised as a bike path, being in many places barely wide enough to be a sidewalk. West of Harvard it's better, but still kind of crowded.

Date Route Dist Time Avg Spd Year Total
2003/04/27 Charles River -- Museum of Science -- Watertown Centre 35.8 km 134 min 16 km/h 115 km
Over 100 km for the year earns me my first prize: a proper cyclometer.

2003 April 30

Beautiful day

I felt stronger today, but you couldn't tell it from my time. I blame it on the wind -- it is, of course, simple physics that a headwind will hurt you more than the opposite tailwind helps. :-/ My uphill, tailwind time was a minute better than last time, and my downhill, headwind, heavy-grocery-carrying time was a minute worse.

Date Route Dist Time Avg Spd Year Total
2003/04/27 Trader Joe's 13.5 km 41 min 20 km/h 129 km

Twain in vain

I was poking through my archives, and found an item in old mail that, shock of shocks, is unknown to Google. A friend of a friend (David Sims via Tim Collins) transcribed it from the posthumous Autobiography of Mark Twain, ed. Charles Neider. I believe it's public domain, so it seems to me it should be shared.

A happy little illustration of how life is meant to be lived. Enjoy.

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