2015/06/28

So many all sorts of things!

This is another of those posts that starts out all meta, noting how long it’s been since I posted last (and in fact meta-meta, since I’m talking about being meta (and in fact…)).

So much has been occurring!  I’m sure there was some stuff longer ago that I could mention that I’m forgetting, but we went to foreign countries!  Which is not a thing we do very often.

First M and I went to “England” for a week (“London”, in particular).  Here is a picture of Buckingham Palace:

Buckingham Palace

and if that doesn’t give you the full flavor of the experience :) M has done a great thorough set of writeups on every day of the whole thing (with perhaps more stress on yarn and fabric, and less stress on random blurry things, than a hypothetical similar series here might have offered).

Then after that, M went back home, and I went to “Dublin”, in “Ireland”, on business.  Here is Ireland (it is green):

Ireland

All I saw was Dublin, mostly the “Silicon Docks” area and the part of downtown in front of Trinity Library, and the 20-minute walk between them.  But it was cool.  I was there entirely by accident on Bloomsday, and saw some people dressed all memorably, although I was not forward enough to take pictures of them.

Another notable fact is that a vast alien mothership has landed in the middle of the city, and apparently there is some mind-control field that prevents anyone but me from seeing it.  Here is a picture (although if the mind-control lasers have gotten to you also, you may just see an ordinary little line of Irish flats):

Giant alien mothership, Dublin

(Not Photoshopped, promise!)  So that was notable.  Various random things:

  • We stayed in a tiny flat off of a garage off a a mews just North of Hyde Park, which was pretty awesome.
  • There was a local pub right on the corner, The Mitre, which was very genuine (in the sense that for instance if you just wander in as an American there’s no clue what you’re actually supposed to do in terms of sitting down, obtaining goods and services, and so on), and (once we figured it out) had good Guinness and Fish-and-Chips, and all like that.
  • We saw All The Things, Big Ben, the Eye (from below, we didn’t go up in it), Westminster Abbey, Trafalgar Square, the Tower, the East End, big famous stores and shopping streets and things whose names I’ve forgotten (see link to M above who covers these things coherently).
  • The Underground is great, if confusing compared to say the NYC Subway.  When you land at Heathrow, they will make it Very Very Easy to buy a ticket into London on the Heathrow Express, which is very convenient and fast, but costs basically infinitely more than the Piccadilly line in the normal underground.
  • The Underground is not great in that figuring out how to pay for things is Incredibly Baffling.  Again the NYC Subway is a model of simplicity here: you get a Metrocard of any kind at all, and you pay either nothing (if you have an unlimited card) or $2.75 to get into the subway system.  And that’s it!  In the Underground you can buy either a ticket or an “Oyster” card, and the “Oyster” card can have a TravelCard “on” it in some logical sense, and there is a deposit associated with the card that you can get back only after the card has expired, and you can get it back from a machine if it’s under a certain amount, and otherwise you have to take it to a hidden office in the London Sewers that is open only alternate Wednesdays in February.  Your Oyster card is charged (or not) both when you enter the system and when you leave; if you don’t have enough money on it to leave, you can still leave, but you can’t enter again until you “top up” the extra amount from when you left.  They have people stationed at every set of payment machines, who attempt to explain to tourists and Londoners alike how much it will probably cost them to do various things, but those people seem only slightly less baffled than the people they are advising.
  • Although you aren’t supposed to take pictures in Westminster Abbey (for reasons I can’t really understand), my phone seems to have accidentally gone off a few times, and I have some pictures of M’s feet standing on various famous names in Poet’s Corner.
  • Lots of other stuff.
  • The last day, when I’d dropped M off at Heathrow and had a couple of hours to get to London City Airport (the London Docklands is a really interesting area!), I went and sat in Hyde Park in one of the folding chairs that are all over the place, and as it was raining lightly (we had great luck with the weather, that was the only rainy bit) I put my umbrella up over me, and just sat there watching people go by for awhile.  That was nice.
  • After awhile of that, there was this very loud noise out in the street of chanting and marching and things, and eventually this roused me and I went up to the street and there were all of these Hare Krishna folks marching and singing and dancing and conveying a big colorful float, and a smaller float with a loudspeaker, and satellite folks going among the people on the sidewalk giving out literature and taking donations.  They were, it seems, going to Trafalgar Square for an annual vegetarian feast and festival.
  • So I ended up with a Hare Krishna book and have read much of it.  It starts out well, with good basic spiritual insights about the world and stuff, but then goes off the rails (as so many do) about how true knowledge can be obtained by chanting certain words, and we should believe specific things because the Vedic Literature says it, and anyone who believes otherwise are Lower Than The Beasts and blah blah blah.  Which was sort of sad.
  • And many many other things.

Outside of us travelling about wildly, other things have happened that you may have heard of from other sources:

  • omg #LoveWins.  What a world!
  • And Tony Scalia has completely jumped the shark; I really ought to write a weblog entry about that.  Ages ago I used to grudgingly admire him for at least being consistent and mostly rational, if from odious underlying assumptions and principles.  Awhile after that I wrote about how I’d become disenchanted, noting that his not even acknowledging the possibility of (rather obvious) alternate views was either oblivious or hypocritical of him.  And now he seems like just a frothing loony.  (And given the “applesauce” and “jiggery-pokery” in his latest, one has to wonder who in the world he hangs out with.)
  • Also ObamaCare is still legal and all, which seems good (I am such a Progressive these days!).
  • The Republicans continue to be the Party of Crazy.  I still think we will probably get a Clinton vs. Bush in 2016, with a close Electoral College and a Democratic popular vote.  But Jeb has been pandering to the loonies more than I would have expected, and I’m not sure what that means.  (Trump!  Christie!  hahaha!)

Other things I would like to write about someday:

  • All of these tabs that I have open on my phone and in Chrome (both to talk about them, and to write them down for myself so I can close some of them!),
  • The Monty Hall Paradox thing, for which I have what I think is a very insightful observation that doesn’t seem to have been made much, that explains why it generates so much strong feeling and all.

But not tonight!  :)  In fact I think I will post this without even a thorough proofread; enjoy the typos!

2015/03/27

Gin and Juice: Summary

Good that old Wikipedia versions never die.

Summary

The song begins with a sound effect of a human urinating, followed by an interlude in which an unknown male is speaking, denouncing one of his associates for either committing maternal-sodomy in the immediate vicinity or for having bad breath, it remains unclear which. The unknown male requests some bubblegum, presumably to remedy the situation.

We are then introduced to the narrator with the nom de plume of Snoop Dogg as he discusses the exigencies of his life; his hometown of Long Beach, California, is very dramatic. He finds the will to create his unique musical style amidst all this drama, and does so daily. He then entreats the listener (affectionately called a “g”) to enjoy his tale in said musical style.

Snoop Dogg’s tale starts at 2 am in his domicile, where a party has been taking place and is able to continue late into the night due to the temporary absence of his mother. Women are copulating in his living room, presumably in a lesbian fashion, and intend to do so until 6 am, when they will depart. Snoop Dogg and his associates decide to join the sapphic women. Ever-prepared, they pull condoms out of their pockets before turning off the lights and shutting the doors behind them.

After making it clear that his regard for the females does not involve love, Snoop Dogg and his associates decide that the use of one ounce of marijuana would be a fitting commemoration of the casual polyamorous scenario. Rather than go into details of what is taking place behind closed doors, he tells the listeners (affectionately called “motherfuckas”) to reminisce of revelry in general, preferably while bouncing.

The said revelry consists of the chorus line and the subject of the song title: cruising down the street, smoking marijuana, and sipping on gin and an unnamed juice. The unnamed juice is likely of citrus origin, though the properties of gin are agreeable to all fruit juices.

It is possible that the previous scene, and the upcoming scenes, are projected memories of the narrators told in the present tense. Mr. Dogg then attempts a palindrome about his constant preoccupation with pecuniary matters.

In another memory, Snoop Dogg has procured a bottle of Seagrams brand gin and is intent on consuming it himself, but his associates have worked up a thirst as well. They present their empty cups for Mr. Dogg to fill, but have not offered any payment for the alcohol. Snoop Dogg is angry at the prospect of sharing his alcoholic beverage without reasonable compensation, as these requests happen all too often. He acknowledges their requests, but reminds them that his needs come first.

Snoop Dogg quickly diffuses the situation by reminding the listener that he is very good at cultivating music that captivates his listeners. He wants to know, “Who listens to the words that I speak?” This is most likely a rhetorical question. We do not learn if he ever does share the Seagrams.

Snoop Dogg leaves the party with his beverage to the middle of the street, presumably because his house party has grown beyond the bounds of his yard. He meets a young lady named Sadie who had previously formed a romantic attachment with one of his associates. He flirts with the young lady, but does not expect physical contact because the weather has remained a sultry 80 degrees Fahrenheit. As she initiates physical contact with his testicles, the heat becomes too much. Snoop tells Sadie to refrain from palpating his scrotum and informs her she should not make further contact with that part of him. He says “at ease”, likely to calm down Sadie, but also in an attempt to relax all involved. Snoop Dogg then runs off to engage in an act of mobbing with his associates (affectionately called the “Dog Pound”) in order to cool off and feel a breeze. He urges all to do the same.

We return to the chorus narration, where Snoop Dogg continues to consume marijuana and gin and juice while cruising in a vehicle. He is still concerned about his financial situation, again stated palindromically.

The narrator then recalls a memory that happened later in the same day, presumably at the house party. His friend, Dr. Dre, pays Snoop Dogg a visit, presenting him with several bottles of Tanqueray brand gin and a very well-endowed joint of marijuana. The marijuana is of a strength colloquially described as lethal, which he cleverly alludes to through a reference to the bubonic plague. The combination of drugs proves too intoxicating for Snoop Dogg, and he is forced to imbibe less vivaciously, but he refuses to stop altogether. Snoop Dre then introduces Snoop Dogg to some women who he has brought from a neighboring city in Los Angeles. Snoop Dogg makes his intent to bed (or cot) the women clear, but warns them beforehand that he does not intend to make them climax nor remain near them after copulation has occurred because he does not love them. Women whom he does not love are referred to as “hoes”, the etymological origin of which is unclear, but is in no way related to the garden tool.

The song ends with a repetition of the chorus one more time, where some spontaneous words are uttered after the title verse (a slang word phonetically spelled BEE-OTCH). Mr Dogg’s mental preoccupation with fiscal matters is restated multiple times, likely in attempt to finally make a palindrome, but never succeeding.

2015/02/24

A priest and a rabbi walk into a stupa…

So I had lunch with my friend the Rabbi the other day (yesterday, actually, how time flies), and she told me this Joke (paraphrased):

A couple of little Jewish kids come home from school, and they are all like, “Daddy, our Catholic friends were talking about this Trinity, and the Father and the Son and the something-or-other else, and what’s up with all that?”.

And the father sighs, and says, “Okay kids, sit down, this is important.”

“We are Jews.

“There is one God, unitary and indivisible,

“and we don’t believe in him!”

I thought this was funny. :) As was her observation that atheism is a major branch of Judaism.

Later on I told this joke to a Catholic from the Midwestern U.S. (to whom no offense at all). The joke, to say the very least, did not resonate.

I guess there aren’t any atheist Catholics? And probably no atheist Christians, even?

(Or Catholic atheists or Christian atheists. Would that be different?)

On the other hand, there are atheist Jews and/or Jewish atheists (the Wikipedia page is currently proposed for deletion, but it’s there, and of course there’s the joke and all).

And there are definitely atheist Buddhists (or Buddhist atheists?). There is reason to think (although I can never find the right sutra) that ol’ Buddha himself was more or less an agnostic (of the “we have more important stuff to think about here on Earth than that” school, like my Mom was).

So there’s that.

Probably I mostly just wanted to write down the joke. :)

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2015/02/06

Warum ich ein Schicksal bin

(That is, “Why I am a Destiny”; it’s the title of one of the sections of Nietzsche’s Ecce Homo; other sections have names like “Why I am so smart”, “Why I write such good books”, and so on. Interesting guy, ol’ Neitzsche.)

The Invisible Masters have been using me a little more blatantly than usual lately. I wrote about the cute older couple with cellphones the other day, and now I have another story this morning.

The doors between cars on Metro North are a test of both brain and brawn. They have four handles, one of which actually unlatches the door so it can be opened, and the other three of which are deadbolts that lock the door closed (which is kinda puzzling to me, because they have handles on both sides of the door, and so can’t be used to actually lock anyone out, but whatevs). And they have very strong hinge-springs.

So a typical person wanting to open a door may turn one of the wrong handles, locking the door, and then maybe try the right handle, but the door is locked so it doesn’t work. And even if they do figure out the right positions of the four handles, they still have to be strong enough to get the door open.

This morning I was on the usual train to work, sitting in my usual seat in my private office at the conductor’s end of the car. It’s a nice seat, with a little extra privacy and space, and inter alia allows one to become well-versed in how the door works, and help people with it now and then.

This young and rather grumpy-looking woman came up to the door this morning, somewhere south of Ossining, and fiddled with the handles and vainly tugged at the door. I reached over and opened the door for her, and she stepped through and struggled vainly with the door to the next car.

“How many stops does this train make?” she asked, stepping back into my office.

“Nothing between Ossining and Grand Central.”

“No, I mean, how many other stops.”

“None; it’s an express.”

Sighing, “I think I’m on the wrong train.”

“You should talk to the conductor, he can… be helpful.” I said, although I figured that meant he could tell her what train to get at Grand Central to get back up to whatever station she was headed for.

“Yeah, but he’s,” she nodded toward the next car, “and that door’s locked.”

So I disentangled from the Internet and extracted myself from my phone, and opened both doors for her, and felt virtuous.

But here is the Schicksal part: not too long later, a bell rang, and the train rolled to a stop at Yonkers. Out the window I saw the woman looking around, and then going through an open door into the train across the platform. And the Express rolled on.

I had no idea they would do that. :)

2015/02/04

I am just an ego with feet

I have to tell this heartwarming story because it reflects well on me (and therefore might make up for a bit of oogling of Beyoncé Knowles’ bosom, and of (hitherto) unspoken thoughts of the general form “we should just freaking nuke [annoying region] and have done with it”), and because it makes me smile, and so might make you smile (and thereby make up for some more oogling and imagined nuking).

When you come up from the S into Grand Central, just past the turnstiles, there is this area which is sometimes interesting, where the Puppy Guy hangs out, and there was this guy selling “How To Pick Up Women On The Subway” books the other week, and so on. So when I come up that way, I tend to look around.

(Not that I don’t look around at other times also. Looking around is good.)

Yesterday on the way home the only obvious unusual thing in that area was this older gentleman talking rather loudly into his cellphone, saying “just past the turnstiles, yeah, no I don’t need to go back in, just look to the left and you’ll see me…”, and I thought okay and continued on.

And a few yards along there was this smallish older woman, cute and slightly hunched forward over her own cellphone not particularly looking around, saying “but I am past the turnstiles, yes, but I don’t see you…”.

So I boldly leaned over slightly and gently turned her toward the abovementioned gentleman, and pointed in his direction with an outstretched arm, and she said “oh!” and started moving in that direction, slowed considerably by the streams of people she had to cut across to reach him.

And I couldn’t resist looking back to make sure it was all working right, and she was about halfway to him, and he had looked up, and was saying into his cellphone, “Oh, there you are!”.

So that was nice. :)

2015/02/03

A footnote in Kaufmann’s translation of “I and Thou”

I was struck just now to find, tucked away at the end of a footnote discussing the technical details of one of the many tricky bits of translation in Buber’s “I and Thou”, this paragraph from Kaufmann:

The main problem with this kind of writing is that those who take it seriously are led to devote their attention to what might be meant, and the question is rarely asked whether what is meant is true, or what grounds there might be for either believing or disputing it.

It is easy to read this as a sort of jarring Philistinism, as though Kaufmann is wondering wistfully (or grumpily) why Buber has to use all of these coinages and poetic turns of phrase, all of these images and metaphors, rather than laying out his argument clearly, in simple and common words, perhaps as a set of bulleted lists (maybe a PowerPoint deck!), so that one could analyze it logically and decide whether or not it’s likely to be true.

Which seems like a hysterically inappropriate thing to think, given that what Buber is doing here is laying out a particular way of thinking about the nature of reality and each individual’s relationship to God (or equivalent). A deeply personal way of seeing the world, that he invites the reader to consider, and (implicitly) to adopt or not according to taste.

This isn’t really a thing that admits of being true or false, or of being expressed in plain and simple words (or at least of words where “what is meant” is immediately evident without special attention being paid to the question).

For me at least, Buber is saying, “think of the things we do as divided into two kinds: the I-It and the I-You; then think of…”. This is in the imperative, and doesn’t admit of being true or false (or likely or unlikely).

And surely Kaufmann, being the translator of the silly thing, realizes this.

I see only three plausible theories here so far: that Kaufmann is just pulling our leg in this paragraph (which would be wonderful); that there is an entirely different way of understanding Buber under which the paragraph makes more sense (I would be very curious what that way is); and that Kaufmann really does fail to understand the material as anything more than muzzily-expressed truth-claims that, if only more concretely written down, one could study objectively in the lab (this seems both the most obvious, and in some way the least plausible, explanation).

It’s a funny world. :)

2015/02/02

#snow

The snow falls undeterred
Onto freshly-shoveled ground
Ancient Snow with its newborn flakes
Covers everything.

snow

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2015/01/07

The Universal Postal Union as Global Superpower

In random rambles related to yesterday’s post, we have been reading various accounts of various alternate realities, and some of them are really quite endearing.

The ones trying to obtain money by lying to people, of course, not so much.

But some of them appear plausibly much purer than that; here:

…[C]ongress passed several laws anterior to the third day of March 1825, when an act, entitled “An act to reduce into one the several acts establishing and regulating the post office department,” was passed. 3 Story, U. S. 1825.

It is thereby enacted,
1. That there be established, the seat of the government of the United States, a general post office, under the direction of a postmaster general.

We need to take notice where the commas are placed on that last sentence. “That there be established, the seat of the government of the United States, a general post office, under the direction of a postmaster general.” When I set off a clause with commas, I make sure that the sentence makes sense without that clause. Taking out the set-off clause, we read . . . “the seat of the government of the United States under the direction of a postmaster general.”

The creation of the Post office occurs before the creation of the seat of the government, and is placed in authority over the seat of government.

Yes, there should have been an “at” right before “the seat” there, and the writer is clearly living in a fantasy world, but who among us can honestly say that we are not?

And this fantasy world is especially appealing, at least to us bookish nerdy types. The Postmaster General in charge of the government! The placement of commas vital to the proper interpretation of documents and other magical spells!

And behind it all, the Universal Postal Union…

The UPU (Universal Postal Union) in Berne, Switzerland, is an extremely significant organization in today’s world….
The UPU operates under the authority of treaties with every country in the world. It is, as it were, the overlord or overseer over the common interaction of all countries in international commerce.

The smiling blue-uniformed postman, with a satchel instead of a gun, benignly overseeing all interactions between countries. How lovely!

And then, the magical instruments of the Post, those beautiful, alluring, dream-tempting stamps…

Involving the authority of the UPU is automatically invoked by the use of postage stamps. Utilization of stamps includes putting stamps on any documents (for clout purposes, not mailing) we wish to introduce into the system.

Put a stamp on anything, mail it (or even don’t, apparently!) and you’re automatically entitled to free dispute-resolution services of both your national Postmaster, and the mighty UPU itself.

For instance, if you post through the US Post Office and the US Postmaster does not provide you with the remedy you request within twenty-one (21) days, you can take the matter to the UPU.

Now if one were to actually visit the UPU website, and observe for instance the announcement from the Postal Operations Council that the “next POC session (2014.2) will take place from 27 to 31 October 2014″ (i.e. several weeks ago), one might come away with some doubts about the ability of the UPU to come quickly to the aid of global stamp-users.

But that’s why fantasy is so wonderful!

Just by putting a stamp on a thing, and signing across the stamp, we can all become Postmasters ourselves, and thus part of the benign rulership of the world, able to summon our fellow Postmasters into any court, to testify on our behalf about the importance of not interfering with our (properly stamped and signed) documents.

Since autographing the stamp makes you the postmaster of the contract, anyone who interferes is tampering with the mail and engaging in mail fraud. You can then subpoena the postmaster (either of the post office from which the letter was mailed, or the US Postmaster General, or both), and have them explain what the rules are, under deposition or testimony on the witness stand in open court.

And those boring red computer-printed things that the government and corporations use instead of our beloved stamps? They are, as I think we have all long felt in our hearts, just frauds.

In addition, most of the time when you get official communication it has a red-meter postage mark on the envelope rather than a cancelled stamp. This act is mail fraud. If the envelope has a red-meter postage mark on it, they are the ones who have engaged in mail fraud, because there is no cancelled stamp. It is the cancelled stamp that has the power; an un-cancelled stamp has nothing.

There is a lovely truth: an un-cancelled stamp has nothing.

I’m reminded inevitably of Thomas Pynchon and “The Crying of Lot 49″; the central and mysterious role of postal services in his world, the global reach of Thurn und Taxis, the secret rebellion of W.A.S.T.E..

He knew then how much romance there is in words, letters, envelopes, the Post. As do these stalwart tax-avoiders!

Don’t Ever Annoy The Horn

Post-horn, that is…

2015/01/05

That secret and powerful message

It may have been as much as thirteen years since I mentioned my unaccountable interest in Wacko Tax Protesters, but I am happy to see that The Tax Protester FAQ is still there and may even have been updated since 2002.

I was reminded of the Whole Area by a Wonkette piece, How Are The Feminists Keeping Men From Getting Laid Today? (Oh, Wonkette, you are so funny with the funny headlines and all), which refers in passing to one “Peter-Andrew: Nolan (c)”, whose distinctive use of punctuation reminded me of ol’ David-Wynn: Miller, author of such lyrical prose as:

~2 FOR THE EDUCATIONAL-CORRECTIONS OF THESE MODIFYING-COMMUNICATIONS ARE WITH THESE CORRECTION-CLAIMS AGAINST THESE FICTIONAL-ADVERB-VERB-USAGE WITH AN OPERATIONAL-METHODS OF A FICTIONAL-MODIFICATION-PARSE-SYNTAX-GRAMMAR.(8500-YEARS OF THE SYNTAX-GRAMMAR-MODIFICATIONS WITH EVERY LANGUAGE)

Now normally we would not publicly point and/or laugh at such things, because schizophrenia is not a fun condition to have in general, but it seems at least plausible that D-W:M is actually quite sane, since although his new kind of speech does have the power to bring about world peace, since

~39~a FOR THE DUTY OF THESE QUANTUM-MATH-PARSE-SYNTAX-GRAMMAR-COMMUNICATION-CLAIMS IS WITH THE CORRECTIONS OF THE WRONG-WORDS IN THE NOW-TIME WITH THE MISSING-WORDS-HISTORY OF EVERY COMMUNICATION-TRANSLATION-WORLD-WIDE WITH THE CLAIM OF THE COMMUNICATIONS AND LANGUAGE-FRONTWARDS AND BACKWARDS WITH THE TRANSLATIONS BETWEEN THE FOREIGN-LANGUAGES WITH THE CLAIMS OF THE FACTS AND MEANING FOR THE PRICELESS-PEACE BY THE TREATIES BETWEEN EVERY COUNTRY.

the main point, or at least the thing he is by far most famous for, is the claim that if you use this ummmm language you don’t have to pay your taxes, or really obey any laws at all that you’d rather not, because after all

~76 FOR THE CONSTRUCTIVE-TREASON OF THE CONTRACT IS WITH THIS CLAIM OF THE DUTY AND AUTHORITY WITH THE SURRENDERING OF THE TRUTH-COMMUNICATIONS-CONTRACT INTO THE FICTION-STATE WITH THE FICTION-FRINGE-FLAG WITH AN OATH AND COMMUNICATION-CLAIMS OF AN OATH IN THE TRUTH, ALSO KNOWN AS THE DUTY BY THE SUPPORTING OF THE U.S.: W.C.-CONTRACT WITH THE CONSTRUCTIVE-TREASON BY THE DEFINITION WITH THE KNOWLEDGE WITH THE VOLITION BY THE DAMAGE: TITLE: 4: U.-S.-C.-S.-~THREE~3 OF THE FLAG OF THE U.S.C. BY THE FORMING OF THE JURISDICTION OF THE FICTION/FOREIGN-STATE-COMMUNICATION WITH THE CONTINUANCE OF THE DAMAGE OF THE CLAIMS AND RAPE OF THE CLAIMANT/ BY THE OFFICERS OF THE COURT.

and so on.

(Oh my just stumbled across his translation of the Lord’s Prayer; should I reconsider my thoughts on his mental condition?)

Anyway, it turns out that this is no longer, or perhaps never was, just a USian thing, but has also infested Canada and other FICTION-STATEs.

Here is an amusing weblog entry on the subject from our neighbors to the North: How Not To Manage a Bankruptcy or Income Tax Case, which led me I think to the text of Meads v. Meads, 2012 ABQB 571 (CanLII) which is a very nice overview of the whole Wacko Tax Protester situation by an actual judge writing actual legal reasons and stuff.

I have not finished reading through that yet.

(One of the scammier scams is the claim that if you get a bill or anything else really, you can just write “Accepted for Value” on it, and sign it, and send it back, and you’re all done. This is clearly stupid, but for some reason web sites like this are out there attempting to get the extremely gullible to pay money to find out exactly how to do it. I wonder how many bills they get back with “Accepted for Value” written across them, and how they feel about that.)

Now on the other hand I can’t be too tough on people who actually think that there are secret legal facts that the legal establishment is conspiring to keep from the common people, because it happens to be the case that there are secret legal facts that the legal establishment is conspiring to keep from the common people.

One of the things what was noted just in passing in something linked from something above was a list of various other wacko pretend-legal groups, and one of them was “the Fully Informed Jury movement” or other words to that effect.

And that drew me up a bit short, because unlike the wackos trying to convince people that if you attach signed postage stamps to your clothing you are effectively royalty (really!), the fully-informed jury folks are trying to convince people of something that is in fact true.

To quote from the article that was linked from whatever it was I found this mentioned in, the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Volume 88, Issue 1, Article 8 (Fall 1997), Populism, Free Speech, and the Rule of Law: The Fully Informed Jury Movement and its Implications, by one Erick J. Haynie:

It has long been recognized that juries have the power to render verdicts inconsistent with the criminal law. Since jury acquittals are never subject to appellate review, a “not guilty” verdict will always be final regardless of the jury’s reasoning or its interpretation of the facts.

Which is to say, when you are on a petit jury and the judge instructs you that you are allowed to determine the facts of the case, but must strictly obey his pronouncements on the law, he is well sort of maybe lying just a bit, because in fact you can acquit for whatever darn reason you want. But the lying is in a good cause!

The great distinction in American jury nullification doctrine, however, is that while juries enjoy an unrestrained power to nullify the law, courts almost universally forbid this power to be explained to juries. The prevailing view among jurisdictions is that affirmative instruction on the ability to nullify would lead to lawlessness in the jury decision-making process.

That’s Haynie again. Isn’t that nice? Can’t trust juries to act reasonably if they knew the truth, so we’ll just conceal it from them. Otherwise it’s the End of Everything!

For a jury that is taught the legal reality that, no matter the facts of the case, an acquittal verdict is unreviewable and a guilty verdict will be given much deference on appeal, will also understand that it has nearly absolute power to determine questions of life, liberty, and property however it pleases. At that point, law is no more.

Welllll… This doesn’t seem all that blindingly obvious to me. (Especially since they can only acquit unreviewably, not convict.) Surely there is a position between “lie to people and keep this fact secret” and “tell them they can just do whatever the heck they want”. More on that below.

Our Haynie considers; what are we to do about this? Action is clearly required, now that people can find stuff out on the internet! And there’s even this Fully Informed Jury Association that is trying to tell people this true thing in an organized way omg!

(Their website does sound a little close-to-the-edge here and there; but imagine the feeling of finding yourself in the middle of a conspiracy-theory scenario that turns out to be true! Brrrr.)

Anyway, Haynie again, clutching his pearls:

Silencing attorneys and refusing nullification instructions, however, is no longer an adequate solution to the nullification problem. With the rise of FIJA, judges are no longer the sole gate keepers of that secret and powerful message. Consequently, as the FIJA movement continues to grow it will become necessary for the jurisdictions to develop new approaches to the nullification problem that are more mindful of juror awareness of jury nullification.

Yes, new approaches, that’s what we need!

Fortunately and amusingly, of the various possible new approaches Haynie considers, all of them, except for making it harder for FIJA types to actually throw information at jury members on courthouse grounds, turn out to be unworkable and/or clearly unconstitutional.

(And at this point I begin to suspect that Haynie is a genius of gentle satire, and he’s actually pointing out that the project of keeping the “secret and powerful message” under wraps is actually doomed.)

His conclusion:

And so time will march on until either FIJA withers into nothingness or the rule of law comes to have “about as much force as the Cheshire Cat’s grin.” True lovers of liberty will fear the latter over the former. Anarchy is no better friend of freedom than an overreaching government.

Quite the doomsday scenario! The assumption here is that if people find out from the evil internet that they are allowed to vote Not Guilty just because they think the law is unjust, say, they will start capriciously acquitting people randomly right and left, and it’s Game Over for law and order.

And if you have that low an opinion of potential jurors, you must be pretty unhappy that we have juries at all! Let alone Grand Juries! Why, those people could do anything!

I think in actual practice there are all sorts of jury instructions that could acknowledge the nullification power without messing anything up. Top of the head:

I’ve just explained to you that you are here to determine the facts of the case, and have a duty to follow my instructions as to the law. There is one exception to this: if the facts of the case and the law are such that the accused did violate the law beyond a reasonable doubt, but that in this instance a guilty verdict would be gravely unjust, so that you in good conscience simply cannot vote to convict, you have a duty to vote to acquit. Be aware that this is an extremely rare situation; District Attorneys work very hard not to bring you such cases, and judges work very hard to make sure that when one slips through, we catch it before it gets to the jury. But just for completeness, I mention this here.

All right, that exception aside, to return to what I said a moment ago…

And yeah I’m sure that that has big holes in it since I Am Not A Lawyer and I only thought about it for like ten minutes, but something like it seems plausible to me.

Better than lying to people and just hoping that they don’t find out the truth and bring about The End of Everything, anyway…

But you still have to pay your taxes!

2014/12/30

Liebe ist ein welthaftes Wirken

Kaufmann translates this, from Buber’s “I and Thou”, as “love is a cosmic force”, but gives us the original in a footnote to see for ourselves.

One thing I like about German and how synthetic it is (in the technical sense that I just learned; I was going to say “agglutinative“, but that turns out to be wrong) is that you can look at the parts of many words, and see how the meaning compares to the sum of those parts.

The most simple-minded translation of that phrase might be “Love is a worldly work”, which has the same nice consonance of double-ues, but a very different sense, since the English “worldly” has strong connotations that are almost the opposite of Kaufmann’s “cosmic”.

It’s interesting that the translator chose “force” here, rather than the obvious “work” (which would have read a bit awkwardly), or perhaps “act”. Because Buber is talking about love in the context of “those who stand in it and behold in it”, “force” probably makes more sense than “act”, since you can stand in a force (a force field!), but not so much in an act.

$50 FINEBut then I wonder why Buber wrote Wirken rather than say Kraft. And then I am at, or perhaps well beyond, the very end of my competence as a translator. :)

The other day the little daughter, watching me staring into my phone and clicking and swiping without end, commented more or less “you’re taking in so much content; I don’t know if that’s healthy”.

I found myself very much in agreement with that thought, and put the phone away (temporarily) and looked at various stacks of books sitting unread here and there, and picked up “I and Thou”, read the Acknowledgements and Translator’s Key, skipped Kaufmann’s very long Prologue (these things should generally be at the end of a book, in my ever so humble opinion, so that one can encounter the work itself with more or less fresh eyes, and then read the prologue-writer’s thoughts about it afterward, when one has already one’s own ideas to compare them to), and started very slowly into the work (Werk, Wirken, Kunstwerk?) itself.

It’s a very dense book, or feels like it deserves to be treated as such, which means that I have to be careful not to spend so much time on each sentence that I eventually drift off and do other things before I get past the first chapter.

As I tweeted not long after starting (and yeah, I know; somehow Twitter and the Face Book and now even plague have all taken up residence in my ways of relating to the world):

I can’t of course actually empty the cup, and I admit I’m not really trying all that hard to.

Currently, a few more pages in, I’m wondering if Buber will go from talking about the ineffable relating that is I-You (and that he identifies with, or as, love in some sense), to a realization that the duality present even in I-You (because after all there is still I, and You) is at some level an illusion. Because that would be so Buddhist.

There are no sentient beings,
And I vow to save them.

It will be interesting either way; if he does get to some kind of non-duality, I’m sure it will have a flavor all its own. If he doesn’t, it will be interesting to see if he simply stops short of it, actively considers and denies it, or goes off in some other direction entirely.

I’ve been meaning to read this book since college sometime :) and it’s nice to finally get to it.

Solstice was nice, thank you for asking, if a little atypical. All four of us were here together, but instead of the usual Christmas Dinner with ham an’ all, we went out to the local diner.

The story: M smelled gas in the basement, so on I forget maybe the 22nd we had the gas man come and test things, and he found there was a leak somewhere in the kitchen range, and while we were moving the range out from the wall it got caught on something and when we pushed on it a little to get it past the something, the entire glass front of the oven door very enthusiastically shattered into a zillion pieces and fell onto the floor.

That was exciting!

We called the appliance place who sent out a person who determined that the range was old enough to vote, and that no one makes parts for it anymore (either for replacing the door glass or fixing any possible leak).

A new range arrived yesterday and I have baked my first loaves of bread in it, but between the breaking of the old and the installing of the new we could cook only in the microwave and crockpot, and although we considered trying to design a satisfying Solstice dinner around those, in the end we decided the local Diner would be more fun.

And it was very nice.

How do Diners do it, by the way; anyone know? How can you have that enormous a menu of available things, and be able to produce absolutely any of them in a reasonably short span of time? Are they all designed to be producible from some smallish set of ingredients, and you keep those around and ready at all times? Do all of the chefs know how to make all of the things? Are there big recipe books? Or do they look at the menu when the order comes in, figure out what you are probably expecting, and wing it?

2014/12/01

Not sure if that counts…

2014 NaNoWriMo winnerI declared victory on National Novel Generating Month 2014 tonight, it being the end of November; I only got around to a few of the features I’d thought about, but hey, it meets the requirements! I think.

On a whim I also entered it as a National Novel Writing Month novel, although I’m not entirely certain that it counts. Here is the summary page of all my NaNoWriMo novels (I had to enter all but last year’s incomplete attempt from scratch; carrying over data is hard!).

So here is my official Wri/GenMo 2014 novel “Gazanduwo U“, for some reason on Google Drive (I should make it a txt file on davidchess.com as usual, but that requires remembering how), and (more importantly) the very awful source code. Which takes all the mystery (if any) out of it, but there you are.

2014/11/16

Where with white clouds for my pillow, I sleep

A long time ago, and I just remembered it recently for some reason, when I used the Opera browser for awhile, there was this lovely odd thing.

For some reason (and I’m sure that I did it somehow by accident, but I never did figure out how) whenever I had the focus on a text input box (or something like that), it would offer me a default value to fill in, and that default value was:

Where with white clouds for my pillow, I sleep.

And that made me smile every time I saw it.

I kept it as an enigma at the time, and never looked up the phrase, or the part of the Opera documentation that would have told me how it got there.

I still haven’t done the latter :) but it turns out that the phrase is from Cold Mountain. No, not the film, or even the novel; the poems of Han Shan.

I’ve been wanting to go to that Eastern cliff,
To the present–for innumerable years.

So yesterday I came and climbed up through the vines,
But halfway there, I was hampered by mist and wind.

The path was narrow–with my clothes it was hard to advance;
The moss was sticky–my shoes could not go on.

So I stay at the base of this red cinnamon tree,
Where with white clouds for my pillow, I sleep.

I will attempt to resist talking about what it might be “about”. :)

That particular text seems to be poem number 295, in a translation copyright 1990 by one Robert G. Henricks; I found it today on Google Books.

It looks like we know nothing of Han Shan besides what is in the poems; in fact “Han Shan” is likely not his name at all, apparently it is just the words “Cold Mountain”.

I love the thought of the unknown hermit-poet’s words coming down through the long years, and somehow ending up embedded in my Web browser.

2014/11/05

Before I forget

  • As I mentioned, I did that Zen thing the other week, and it was great, and I haven’t gotten around to writing any more about it, but at least I have that unordered list.
  • One additional thing on that: what I asked Ryushin Sensei at dokusan was “Why can’t we see out of each other’s eyes?”. We had some good talking about why that is.
  • I’ve been to Greece! Rhodes, Greece, in particular. That was great also. Here is a Faceface thing where I mention it, and there are a bunch of related pictures (with some narrative, even!) in the Insta-gram (you’ll probably have to scroll down to a greater or lesser amount to encounter them, or you could maybe jump in here say).  We passed through London (England) on the way out and back, also, so I have all them stamps in my passport-thing.
  • Relatedly, I have now been parasailing! It turns out to involve no skill whatever, and to be surprisingly peaceful!
  • Speaking of The Face Book, I have posted various things there!
  • I think I have decided not to do NaNoWriMo this year, but I have just discovered this wonderful thing (and also posted it to Facebook): National Novel Generation Month. Here is my statement of intent; I can definitely write a program to generate a 50,000-word novel sometime this month. What fun!
  • The Twitter is full of wild enigmatic things; one of them (Two Headlines) is done by the same person who thought up NaNoGenMo (and who does all sorts of cool stuff); another, MEDDLING HETERO FOOL aka direlog_ebooks, is just a mystery.
  • The Republican Party won lots of elections yesterday, as I (or my Second Life secret identity) predicted; here’s hoping this results in the obvious progressive victories two years from now.
  • I apparently have a Moto 360 now! It is a sort of a watch! Or a smallish watch-shaped secondary I/O device for one’s phone! I can’t think of anything much that it’s actually useful for, but that’s what I would have said about smartphones not too long ago and now I use mine all the time, so Ya Never Know.
  • And I’m sure lots of all various other stuff that I should try not to forget, but right now I am going to go off and think about automatic novel generators; be good!
2014/09/28

not-yes, not-no: Answers to Common Koans

Koans are puzzles or problems that are presented to students in some branches of Zen, to loosen the mind of concepts and attachments, and hasten enlightenment. Students can spend months or years on a single koan, before the teacher (called sensei, or for teachers who are more senior or are politically connected, roshi) judges the student to have “passed” at a dokusan (face-to-face meeting), and to be ready for the next koan.

But for the busy student who cannot afford to spend months or years on some weird riddle, we present answers to a few of the more common koans here as a service.

(Holding out the shippei, the teaching stick.) “What is this? If you say that it is a shippei, you negate its essence; but if you do not, you deny the fact. Now, what is it?”

This is an elementary koan, intended to determine whether the student can move even a step beyond words. The proper response is to reach out and grasp the shippei yourself, and give it a firm shake. The teacher may yank the stick away when you reach for it, but persist! Higher marks will be given the more doggedly you pursue the teacher and the stick around the room, and even out into the zendo if necessary. If running is necessary, be sure to hold your robes high to get maximum speed.

A monk asked Master Joshu, “Has a dog Buddha-nature or not?” Joshu answered, “Mu!” Now show me this Mu!

This koan tests the ability to go beyond words in a way that spontaneously reflects the student’s inner nature. Accordingly, you should spontaneously do whichever of these best reflects your inner nature:

  • Say “No monk, no Joshu, no dog, no Mu” (avoid smugness),
  • Sit silently until the teacher relents and admits you have passed the koan,
  • Scream “Mu!” in a loud harsh voice, while doing that thing with your arms and shoulders that monsters always do in anime,
  • Strike the teacher in the face (always satisfying, and applicable to nearly any koan, but do not use it more than once),
  • Flash your boobs (most commonly used by female students, but if you are a male student and it reflects your inner nature, spontaneously go for it).

“Why did Bodhidharma come from India to China?”

The proper answer to this koan depends upon the season.

  • Spring: “The sun shines, and buds appear.”
  • Summer: “Water flows cool in the night.”
  • Autumn: “The wind blows, and leaves rustle.”
  • Winter: “Damn, it’s cold in the zendo; I’m freezing my ass off!” (note that if it is winter and you are not freezing your ass off in the zendo, it is not a real zendo, but some Disneyfied version, and you will pass the koans regardless of your answers, because they want good reviews on Yelp).

“Find your original face, before your parents were born.”

This is a very difficult koan; accordingly you should fail to pass it for at least a month (or at any rate at least a week), or Roshi will be suspicious. After several dokusans at which you admit you have not yet found your original face, you should either burst into spontaneous open-hearted laughter (best with the “jolly” or “nurturing” teacher), or suddenly strike the teacher in the face (or, if you have used that answer previously, strike yourself in the face).

Some teachers will pretend that the student has not passed the koan even when the correct answer has been given once; in this case give the same answer again at the next dokusan, and the teacher will pass you this time, thus appearing especially enigmatic.

Wuzu Fayan said, “It is like an Ox that passes through a latticed window. Its head, horns, and four legs all pass through. So, why can’t its tail also pass through?”

There is no correct answer to this koan; it has been assigned to you because your teacher hates you.

Next week: “Spirit in the Stillness: Tips on flirting during Sesshin”.

This is of course satire, poking fun at the idea that koans have straightforward answers; it is not intended to poke fun at Buddhist teachers or students or anything. Not that there’d be anything wrong with that. In a nice way. But anyway, the reader is advised not to try using any of these on actual Zen teachers; results are unlikely to be pleasant.

I’ve never done koan practice of any kind, and have a hard time imagining what it’s actually like. Presumably rather than looking for any particular answer, the teacher looks for something in the face-to-face interaction that shows that the student has achieved some particular level of insight from working on the problem. But I dunno! The silly paragraphs above just popped into my head while doing normal ol’ zazen last weekend; they sounded funnier while revolving in my head when I should have been just letting them go, but here they are anyway.

:)

2014/09/21

A thing I did!

So I have been offline since last Thursday sometime (I know, unthinkable, right?) and didn’t know whether Scotland was independent or the Stock Market had crashed or zombies taken over New York City or anything until I walked in the door coming back home not too long ago and M told me (well, she didn’t mention the zombie thing, but I assume she would have, right?).

Mt. Tremper that way

The reason that I was offline is that I was up in the wilds of North-of-Here New York State, at Zen Mountain Monastery in Mt. Tremper, where a mere eight years ago I did their Introduction to Zen Training Weekend (not the particular one linked to there).

I’ve been sort of vaguely considering doing a weekend-of-sesshin up there ever since, but never quite dared (sesshin sounds scary!). Then this year I noticed this new Basic Space Meditation Intensive, which is a sort of natural variation on sesshin weekend, and is new, so everyone would be doing it for the first time, and it has a nice name (“Basic Space”, although I keep writing “Open Sky” instead; same thing really), and it’s right before my birthday so obviously I signed up.

Zen Mountain Monastery, meditation hall

There is the Meditation Hall, behind some trees, taken actually from the parking lot as I was on the way out (the cellphone had to stay in the car the entire time of the retreat, natch). That is where I spent most of the time, up in the dorm room (the same one as eight years ago, in fact, and in basically the same part of the room, although they’ve rearranged the beds), and down in the zendo and the lounge and the dining hall and kitchen, and also in the nice circular-stairs area where you can see some people sitting on the right side of the picture under the trees.

I ate most of my meals out there on the circular stairs, because the weather was delicious the entire time, and it was good to be outside.

Not including, of course, the meals eaten in the zendo: that’s right, I have now done oroyoki: the famous formal Zen meal with the little bowls and the special knots in the cloth and the chanting and the putting of the spoon in the right place at the right time and the bowing to servers and all!

It was great. :) Everything was great, actually, including my early-on “dark night of the soul” moment when I was tense and miserable and my legs were in terrible pain and I was sweating and sure I was going to fail utterly.

I want to write about it all before it all escapes me, but I’m also (despite a couple-hour nap after getting home) really really sleepy, so I think I will just do this one overview post with the pictures in it, and maybe leave myself an unordered list of other things I might want to write about later in more detail, like say:

  • oroyoki,
  • Silly things I thought of,
  • Ceremonies and chants and stuff,
  • How I always end up washing bathrooms,
  • Also weeding,
  • Dokusan with Ryushin Sensei,
  • Footprints of the Ox,
  • Walking very slowly for an hour,
  • How marvelous everyone was,
  • Falling thump on one’s bottom in the zendo,
  • Buddhism and the Map and the Territory,
  • Moss the Cat

So I might include some of those in some more other postings later.

Meanwhile, here is the sign leaving, for the drive back!

Exit

(Not the best-quality picture ever, I fear; try to ignore the weird fingers lower right. The big sign says “Zen Mountain Monastery / Doshinji”; I keep meaning to look up that Doshinji, maybe I will do that…)

2014/09/15

We were sad today

Today we were coming out of work, riding in and driving taxis, going in and out of the coffee shop, up and down the stairs, at the corner of 8th Avenue and 15th Street. And we had stopped pushing the shopping cart into the intersection, a little bit onto the street, and we were down on our knees, crying, our tears on the pavement, crying out in a language that might have been Spanish, or Portuguese, or even French or Vietnamese.

We stopped to ask if we could help, a small young woman with a skateboard, a large hobbit-like man with a backpack, a dark-skinned white-haired man in shorts. But we were too sad, a thin brown-skinned man, not young or old, with white earbuds in our ears and everything we owned in the shopping cart (in a few plastic grocery bags and a broken suitcase), and we just cried out more, and beat our fists on the sidewalk.

We flagged down a police car, and we pulled over to the curb and got out, and came over and said “get up, get up!”. And we finally looked up from the ground, and saw us standing there with our uniform and our nightstick and gun, and we stood up unsteadily. “Get up,” we said again, and then we said something that might have been “Go home” in very bad Spanish. And we rolled our eyes and looked angry, tears on our cheeks, and we beat our hands on the crossbar of our shopping cart, and pushed it across the intersection and with a furious energy off down the avenue.

And we looked at each other and said “hard day” and shook our heads, we went back to our police car, we walked on down the street, hitching our backpacks up on our backs, carrying our skateboard down into the subway, poking in the patches of earth around the trees for spare change or deposit cans, feeling the air. And we made our way home.

And we hope that whatever was wrong, we can be less sad soon.

2014/08/25

Fifteen years!

Wow, you’d think something would have changed after a week away; flying cars, or aliens walking around Manhattan, or at least a new subway line or something, but NO, everything is pretty much just the same!

Weird.

Extremely attentive and/or precognitive readers will suspect rightly that we were away for a week because we were in Maine; the first time that happened was in 1999, and this is 2014, so it’s been fifteen years!

And since that first Maine trip was when I started writing a weblog, and this is in some sense the same weblog as that, this is the fifteenth anniversary of the weblog!

Woot!

Here is a picture of Maine:

Renewal

Isn’t that gorgeous? Along with M’s sister’s family, and their father and stepmother, we rented a house on top of Dodge Mountain, overlooking Rockland and the bay and points East, with a lovely deck, and chairs to sit in, and tables to put your book and your wineglass on, and beds to sleep in, and all.

It was great.

I did a lot of reading, as usual. That book there is “Karma and Rebirth” by Christmas (sic) Humphries. I wrote it up for GoodReads (hope that link works for not-me people).

(I will resist the obvious temptation to produce lots of weblog content by pasting in all various book reviews I have written instead of just linking to them!)

I read that because I happened across it in some used book store (perhaps Hello Hello Books?), shortly after watching Hemant Mehta’s rather offputting “Can Atheists be Buddhists“, and it seemed like a nice synchronicity.

The Mehta piece is offputting for a few reasons:

  • His conclusion is basically “no”, and I’m sort of both of those things, so yeah.
  • The reason his conclusion is basically “no” is that, he says, although Buddhists don’t believe in a deity, they do believe some stuff (specifically Karma and Rebirth) that Isn’t Scientific, and therefore atheists won’t believe it.
  • This implies that for Mehta “atheist” doesn’t just mean “doesn’t believe in God” for some value of “God”, it means “only believes stuff that is Scientific”, and that seems like just sloppy thinking or sloppy word-usage or something,
  • His conclusion that Karma and Rebirth are Not Scientific seems very offhand and not particularly well thought out; as for that matter is his assumption that all Buddhists believe in either or both of them in any form.

Some day I will have to write a post on Buddhism and Scientificness and Karma and Rebirth and all, and why atheists can in fact be Buddhists, and vice-versa, at least when they are me. Not today, though. :)

Another book, that I’m sure I bought in Hello Hello Books (which is a great bookstore, by the way), and then I read and enjoyed very much, is Doris Grumbach’s “The Pleasure of Their Company”, which I also wrote up for GoodReads. It was good.

I do love lying about in Maine, feeling the wind and reading books and thinking about things.

Also I went out on a boat! And held a lobster!

Here is a picture from on the boat, with the notable deck hand Dana holding the lobster in question:

Dana with the lobster

and here is the lobster, with parts of my hand holding it:

Lobster

and a little girl looking dubious in the background.

We did many other things in Maine! I took three of the four kids to the beach one day, but the sun was behind clouds and the sand was too wet and rocky and the waves too small and they got cold, so we didn’t stay very long.

Here are some rocks!

Rocks

They do look coldish.

We went into Rockland a couple of times (although sadly we were not in town for this

Internet Cats

which I bet would have been noteworthy), and into Camden a couple of times (here is a classy black-and-white shot of some water in Camden:

Water in Camden

just because we are posting lots of pictures; more and/or different ones can as usual be found on the Insta-Gram).

Reading back through some of the various Maine and post-Maine postings in the weblog over the years, I see lots of variety in terms of thoughtfulness, randomness, introspection, and so on. I did feel introspective, in a good way, and renewed, in a good way, by it all this year, but in writing about it I’m mostly just writing random things, I think. :)

Maybe largely because I didn’t feel like writing about it at all while I was there (too busy doing it?), and now am writing about it retrospectively, having been home for a couple of days and back to work one day, so somewhat back in the quotidian mindset. Or something?

Here is another picture :) this one of ol’ Red’s Eats (where we didn’t eat this year) as randomly enhanced in its usual drive-by way by Google Plus:

Red's Eats

Kinda neat, I thought.

What else? I read some other books, acquired some other books, sat zazen a bit, had some thoughts, drank some wine, ate some lobster and some blueberry pie, enjoyed some sun and wind.

And I’m not unhappy to be home. :)

About all one could ask for, really!

2014/08/10

Four humbugs

It is all too easy and fun to point out widespread notions that are wrong. Because I’ve seen a bunch lately, and it’s easy, and at the risk of being smug, here are four.

thumb downImpossible space drive is impossible.

Headlines like “NASA validates ‘impossible’ space drive and Fuel-Less Space Drive May Actually Work, Says NASA and so on and so on are silly and even irresponsible.

What actually happened is that a single small “let’s try out some weird stuff” lab at NASA (and I’m glad NASA has those, really) published a paper saying:

They tried out some mad scientist’s law-defying reactionless thruster, and they detected a tiny itty-bitty nearly-indetectable amount of thrust.

As a control case, they tried out a variant that shouldn’t have produced any thrust. In that case, they also detected a tiny itty-bitty nearly-indetectable amount of thrust.

The proper conclusion would be that there is probably an additional source of noise in their setup that they hadn’t accounted for.

Instead they concluded that both the experimental and the control setup were actually producing thrust, and that they are “potentially demonstrating an interaction with the quantum vacuum virtual plasma [sic]”.

Which is just silly, per this G+ posting by an actual physicist, and various similar things.

For the other side of the issue, see Wired.co.uk’s doubling-down Q&A. But I would still bet many donuts against there being any real effect here.

Brain-like supercomputer chip super how, exactly?

IBM Builds A Scalable Computer Chip Inspired By The Human Brain“, “IBM’s new brain-mimicking chip could power the Internet of Things“, “IBM reveals next-gen chip that delivers Supercomputer speed“, etc, etc, etc.

Chief among the things that make me skeptical about how important this is, is that none of the articles that I’ve read give an actual example of anything useful that this chip does any better than existing technologies.

You’d think that’d be kind of important, eh?

Apparently there was a demonstration showing that it can do pattern recognition; but so can an Intel Pentium. It’s also touted as being very low-power, but again it’s not clear to what extent it’s low-power when doing some specific useful task that some conventional technology takes more power to do.

I like this quote:

While other chips are measured in FLOPs, or floating point operations per second, IBM measures the chip in SOPs, or synaptic operations per second.

“This chip is capable of 46 billion SOPs per watt,” Modha said. “It’s a supercomputer the size of a postage stamp, the weight of a feather, and the power consumption of a hearing-aid battery.”

Amazing, eh? If only we knew what a SOP is actually good for…

Hey, my right little toe is capable of 456 trillion quantum vacuum flux plasma operations per second (QVPFOPS) (which I just made up) per watt! It’s a supercomputer! In a little toe! Buy my stock!

(Disclaimer: I used to work for IBM, and they laid off at least one friend who was doing interesting work in actual brain-inspired computing, which I have to admit has not increased my confidence in how serious they are about it. Also I now work for Google, which is sometimes mentioned in the press as experimenting with the “D-Wave” devices, which I suspect are also wildly over-hyped.)

Numbers about “sex trafficking” are just made up.

On the Twitters I follow a number of libertarian posters (with whom I sometimes agree despite no longer identifying as libertarian myself), and lately there’ve been lots of postings about the various societal approaches to sex work.

I tend to think that the more libertarian “arrangements between consenting adults should be regulated only to the extent that there is force or fraud involved” arguments are more convincing than the more prohibitionist “things we wish people wouldn’t do should be outlawed and thereby driven underground where they can be run by criminals who do force and fraud for a living” arguments. (As you might perhaps be able to tell by how I have worded my descriptions of them.)

Recently there was this interesting “In Defense of Johns” piece on Time.com, and this also interesting “Actually, you should be ashamed” rebuttal.

One very striking statement in the latter is this:

U.S. State Department estimates that 80% of the 600,000-800,000 people trafficked across international borders every year are trafficked for sex.

which is a really striking number. Half a million people a year kidnapped and taken to other countries and forced into sex work? That’s horrible!

It’s also completely made up, and almost certainly false.

Here’s a paper on the general subject that includes considerable analysis of these numbers, how wildly they vary from source to source, and how little actual fact there is behind any of them. One salient Justice Department quote:

Most importantly, the government must address the incongruity between the estimated number of victims trafficked into the United States—between 14,500 and 17,500 [annually]—and the number of victims found—only 611 in the last four years… The stark difference between the two figures means that U.S. government efforts are still not enough. In addition, the estimate should be evaluated to assure that it is accurate and reflects the number of actual victims.

Between “we’ve found only one-tenth of one percent of the victims” and “the estimates people have pulled out of their hats to get funding are wildly inflated”, I know where I’d put my money.

There are people forced into sex work, and that’s a terrible crime that we ought to find and punish and disincent. But we need to do that by getting all of the truth that we can, not by artificially inflating numbers (or just outright lying) to get more than our fair share of funds, or by conflating a voluntary activity that we don’t like with actual coercion, or by otherwise acting in bad faith.

Sergeant STAR is not AI.

Okay, this one is a bit of a last-minute addition because it was on On The Media this morning, and it fits with our occasional theme of how bad “chatbots” are.

Basically the U.S. Army has this chatbot that answers questions from potential recruits (and anyone else) about being in the Army and all. The EFF got curious about it and filed a FOIA request which was (after some adventures) more or less answered. Details (and some rather confused distracting speculation about different kinds of bots and privacy threats and things) are on the EFF site.

The Executive Summary is that Sgt STAR is basically an FAQ, with something like 288 pages of Q&A’s, and some kind of heuristic matcher that tries to match each incoming question to one that it knows the answer to, and displays that answer. No big deal, really.

And then (the actually useful part) there are some humans who constantly review the log of questions and update the answers to better match what people are asking, and how reality is changing.

The reason the good Sgt qualifies for a Humbug list is that people (including the bot himself) are constantly referring to it as “intelligent” and “AI” and stuff like that.

You Asked: Are you alive?

SGT STAR: I am a dynamic, intelligent self-service virtual guide…

No, no Sarge, I’m afraid you aren’t.

You’re a well-designed and well-maintained lookup table.

And that’s not what intelligence is.

2014/08/04

Eventual thread convergence

Speaking of the really bad science in teevee shows like Numb3rs, and speaking a long time ago about that really annoying book that Stephen Wolfram wrote, we are extremely amused to read that:

Wolfram Research served as the mathematical consultant for the CBS television series Numb3rs, a show about the mathematical aspects of crime-solving.

Wahahaha.

No further comment required.

2014/07/29

Sulsul!

The Sims 2First the Urgent Thing! If you are a (Windows-using) Sims 2 fan and you don’t have absolutely all of the expansion packs, you can install EA’s “Origin” client and go to “My Account” or whatever and then “Redeem Code” or whatever, and enter (holding your nose) “I-LOVE-THE-SIMS” to get the Sims 2 Ultimate Whatever added to your list of downloadable things, and then you can download it.

Free! But This Month Only! Which is almost over!

Thanks to the reader who posted this information over on the About page, which we’d sort of forgotten we had. It sounds like some kind of scam, but apparently it is For Real, as evidenced by an official EA page saying it and all.

Some less-than-wonderful things:

  • Nothing for the Mac (all the Mac Sims 2 stuff was done by Aspyr, and doesn’t seem to be under any active curation),
  • EA are doing this because they are basically withdrawing and unsupporting all Sims 2 stuff, because they want to chug heartlessly ahead with Sims 3 and Sims 4, the meanies; and
  • The version of the Sims 2 Ultimate Whatever that you can get for free comes with the SecuRom DRM, installed also for free. This does not actually bother me much, but I can imagine it bothering other persons.

But anyway! Go and get it right now! If you want to!

It is likely that the person who posted the news to us found us in the first place because of our ancient obsession with Sims 2 storytelling, which apparently occupied lots of our time in like 2005 and 2006.

Having now gotten All of the Sims 2 Expansion Packs, and them having installed correctly onto the laptop here, I thought I would actually find the old Neighborhood One save files, and see if they would actually work.

It turned out that there was something very promising-looking already right here on the laptop, probably copied over from the previous laptop or something. I made yet another copy, from the Sims 2 directory into the Sims 2 Ultimate Whatever directory, and fired up the game, and there was Neighborhood One! As of some time or other in the past, anyway (see below).

Neighborhood One

(Click through for a description of the neighborhood per the image.)

I zoomed around the overhead view, and loaded up the Test House in Build Mode just to make sure that worked. Then I actually went into Joan and Peran‘s house, remembering vaguely that since there’s just the two of them, it might be a simple family to run for a bit to make sure it actually works.

I’d forgotten Joan is pregnant!

And then I very very vaguely remembered seeing Joan deliver a baby in that house, which if true would mean that there’s a more recent copy of the neighborhood save files somewhere. Yow! I might accidentally fork reality!

Places where such a newer old copy of Neighborhood One might be would include:

  • The hard-drive from the prior laptop, which can’t be powered up while in the prior laptop anymore (the prior laptop having a broken power-thing), but which is readable via a clever SATA-to-USB device. It turns out not to have anything that looks like the Neighborhood One save files on it, though, that I could find.
  • The old desktop computer in the playroom. It hasn’t worked for some time, and when the hard drive is removed and hooked up to the SATA-to-USB device, it doesn’t come to life. If Dad were around he could probably talk me through opening up the hard drive case and carefully giving the platter a little spin and then closing it up again; which he always said would fix at least half of all broken hard drives. I suppose I might find a YouTube video or something showing how to do that someday, but not today!
  • An old Seagate Free Agent external USB drive that we “backed up” some of the stuff on that old computer onto. When wired up, it just makes an unpromising ticking noise, and doesn’t present any data either. Someday maybe I will take that out of its case, attach it to the SATA-to-USB device, etc. But not today…
  • This 3TB Western Digital “MyCloud” (gag what a name) that I had entirely forgotten we had on the network here, and which contains a backup of tons of stuff that was on the old playroom machine, including a “The Sims 2″ directory, but unfortunately the directory is empty, boo.

So that didn’t work out. Maybe this copy of the save files is in fact the most recent. Or not!

Not sure yet what I’m going to do about it; so far I’ve just been playing an EA-supplied character (Julien Cooke) in an EA-supplied neighborhood (ummm something Green something or something) to work on my Sims 2 skills a little. I don’t want to actually run this Neighborhood One yet until I’m satisfied that I won’t find a newer one sometime and be all disturbed by the forking (which one would be Canon???).

But one thing I could do without danger of reality forks is to post a few of the stories that are sitting in the save files as pictures, but that have never been posted! Joan and Peran moving out of Rooms to Let, for instance, and into this very fancy house that I built them:

Joan and Peran's House -- the Library

It is a very dreamy house (the upstairs is like solid library ooohhh), and it looks to me like the story of their moving out and into it (and Joan becoming pregnant) has never been told.

So I might do that!

But probably don’t hold your breath. :)

Just in case…

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