Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Quantum 8-Ball: "Ask Again Right Now"

A quote to bear in mind: "A non-running computer produces fewer errors."

I thought this was going to take a while longer. (Notice, though, that the quote says "fewer", not "none". It is a much lesser achievement to create a machine that will instantaneously produce the wrong answer to your question.)

Whining At Tech Support Gets Results

After a not-unreasonable three days, Google have mercifully decided that I am me and should be allowed back into my Gmail account. I now revert to my stock excuses for not reading/answering your email.

This may have just been a simple database screw-up somewhere deep in the heart of Google Labs. On the other hand, I doubt that a simple database screw-up would have trashed my last year's worth of mail, deleted my secondary email address, and changed my name to "Supersonic 31337". So it's hard to be sure.

(Incidentally, my level of computer expertise can be gauged from the fact that I spent about five minutes thinking "31337? Is that in... Ohio?" before being struck from on high by an anvil.)

To summarize: I was 31337 for three days. Now I'm back to not being 31337. Regrettably, I did not take advantage of the fact that my earning potential was probably considerably higher while I was 31337. L8z.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Weekend Begins Inauspiciously

Trouble in computing paradise. One of my Gmail accounts - the main one, the one at the top of the hundred or so CVs bearing my name that are currently being digested by the human resources departments of liberal arts colleges across the globe - has decided that the password I've been blithely entering for the last year or so will no longer be accepted. My other accounts are all fine, so it's not a browser/OS issue. This has the potential to suck on a truly epic scale.

The most likely explanation, as I see it, is that I've undergone some sort of overnight psychotic break, and my demented alter ego has changed the password to this particular account as part of its plan to wreak havoc on my comfortable bourgeois existence. So, if you've received any email from me within the last twelve hours... did I seem different at all? If so, did I seem as though I could be reasoned with?

Friday, February 24, 2006

Lou Dobbs Creams His American-Made Jeans

Still watching the fallout from the ports deal. In the comments below, Brandon observes:
...you've still got wonder what the administration was thinking.
Well, it's a foreign company being bought out by another foreign company. The US administration doesn't have any business thinking anything much on the subject, and, assuming there's no threat to US interests, Congress doesn't have any business screwing around either. Do the security check, and hoist the rubber stamp.

Again, if the deal was to hand over responsibility for port security to a foreign company - any foreign company, not just one run by swarthy people - that would be a Bad Idea. Unless some radical proposition involving the US Coast Guard has been floated within the last few hours, though, it's a Bad Idea that has absolutely, precisely nothing to do with the matter at hand. Take the charmingly naive idea that a change in the parent company of this enormous seven-billion-dollar operation, with its investments spread over four continents, will somehow manifest itself in its local employees; sprinkle it with some good old-fashioned George Bush conspiracy mania, add some sinister Arabs, and the result is: They're giving away the ports! So that they can... uh... so that they can torture people!

This is entirely on-point. Here's an interesting dKos diary, together with the obligatory horrifying comment thread. And as for the argument that the deal should be opposed because it seems wrong "on a gut level" - one promulgated even by sensible people like James Lileks - Virginia Postrel says it best:
All I can say is my gut reaction was, "This is stupid."
I can't wait for opponents of the ports deal to wake up to the next terror in our midst: Arab-run airlines such as Emirates flying planes right into the US - many of them crewed by actual foreigners. It's amazing this has been allowed to go on for so long, really.

Phrases I Cannot Unlearn After Two Days Of Trying

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Looking On The Bright Side, I Just Coined The Term "Art Malikalike"

Always good to see a bit of bipartisan populist xenophobia. Personally, I think it would be a terrible idea to allow non-US governments to control the security of US ports; fortunate, then, that that has nothing to do with what's actually happening. Obviously, it's tragic that the company in question will no longer be owned by a British firm, but we'll muddle through somehow. Presumably, now the company has been bought out by UAE interests, their staff of lovable Cockney barrow boys and chimney sweeps will be deported and replaced by sinister Art Malikalikes. (Well, he's British too, but his character in True Lies wasn't, and I think it's got a ring to it.)

Daniel Drezner talks sense in the meantime.

UPDATE: The Drezner comment thread is pretty horrifying, though. My favorite one begins:
There is no American company that can manage a port? Smells like an Abramoff type of deal.
That's right. We must act now before this company falls into the hands of foreigners, instead of the British! To judge by the handle "save_the_rustbelt", though, this commenter is quite accustomed to arriving late to political issues.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

On Pedagogy

Michael Berube makes me snarf my coffee:
At the end of the semester, they leave my classroom and plaster the campus with posters reading “Meat is Murder” and “Bush is Hitler.” Two years ago, one enterprising student came up with a “Meat is Hitler” poster. I have recommended that student to some of the nation’s top graduate schools.

Monday, February 20, 2006

WaPo Columnist Haunted By Innumerate 12th-Grader

Oh, bite me, Richard Cohen.
Most of math can now be done by a computer or a calculator. On the other hand, no computer can write a column or even a thank-you note...
Sounds like he's lobbying for a raise, no?
There are those of you, and [symbolic victim of American education system] you are one, who know what it is like to stare at an algebra problem until you have eyeballed a hole in the page and not understand a thing you're seeing.
Italics his, and blood-curdling they certainly are. Not understanding something? My god, the horror!

I would venture to say that I use algebra (albeit not in the sense that Cohen means it) on a daily basis, and I'd also venture to say that I spend a large part of those days squarely in that state of hopeless incomprehension that Cohen regards as "like being summoned to [his] own execution." Cohen is absolutely right that his sacrifical math student can live a happy and productive life without ever having to solve simultaneous equations. On the other hand, it does not occur to him that teaching students to deal with notions that are abstract and difficult to understand might have value outside an algebra textbook - a broader value that he is apparently willing to grant to the high school history syllabus. After all, without a little measured humility (and few things are more humbling than mathematics) you might well end up, as a professional writer, confusing the ability to reason with the knowledge of specific facts (such as the location of deserts) and making cringe-inducing statements such as:
Writing is the highest form of reasoning. This is a fact. Algebra is not.
While this may indeed be true, Richard Cohen himself gives us no reason whatsoever to believe it.

Well, What Else Are You Supposed To Defend?

After taking her to task for having the temerity to disagree with Maureen Dowd, James Wolcott (presumably) inadvertently accuses Mary Matalin of "defending the defensible."

UPDATE: Edited. (At least a day later and with no strike tags, for what that's worth.)

If We'd Only Stopped Him At Garden State, There'd Be No The Ring Of Brightest Angels Around Heaven.

Finally, someone is willing to stand up to the scourge of Rick Moody. The state of Arizona is mulling over a bill that would entitle students at the state's public institutions of higher education the option to opt out of any coursework requirement that they find personally offensive, on the grounds that someone or other was displeased by The Ice Storm. There would presumably be some other consequences, but what the hell?

Personally, I'm not a fan of Rick Moody either, but I usually limit myself to disdainful sniffs and sayings along the lines of "Get a job, Rick Moody," rather than this sort of dedicated legislative action.

Friday, February 17, 2006

"No Iranian Will Beat Us On Our Home Turf!"

This is superb. (Not to go on and on about this, but "cartoons" are about the level of political complexity I'm comfortable with today.)

In Reality, Only A Quarter Of The Day Has Been Wasted

None of the following is intended to go against the spirit of sunny exuberance I was going for in the previous post. Indeed, I am so excited to be back in Australia that I apparently can no longer sleep. In contrast to my usual slothful ways, I launch myself out of bed at six AM on the dot with the feeling that half the day has already been wasted, despite having only dozed off three hours beforehand. Jetlag is not my favorite thing in the world, and - being ruled by my desire for sleep at the best of times - I'm incredibly bad at dealing with it. Five hours of lucid awareness in the middle of the night is not an appropriate trade-off for the same length of time measured in helpless, drooling afternoon power-naps in my office. ("For I have seen the mornings, evenings, afternoons... I have measured out my life with helpless, drooling power-naps...")

To make all this even more impressive, it turns out that twenty hours on a plane exposes you to all sorts of interesting microorganisms. Having survived a month of northern-hemisphere winter, I am now staggering around in the bright sunshine coughing, hacking, and sneezing so hard that mucus flies out of my ears. The smallest interaction in a coffee shop or bar is constantly at risk of turning into an out-take from Ghostbusters 2. This week, it has to be said, I am not exactly in championship form.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Hello Clouds, Hello Sky, Hello Thing Living In Crisper

Back, at long last, to the inner west. As far as circumnavigations of the globe go, that was not much of an accomplishment: I did the second half in one giant leap, with an hour's layover in Singapore. It was a good trip, though. I may not be able to drink like I could when I was in grad school, but neither can anyone else.

Anyway, I may be fiddling while my career prospects burn, but a little relaxation is in order. Because I have a pathological aversion to checking luggage, I did all this traveling with a single shoulder-bag, and I need to reacquaint myself with worldly goods that do not require me to endlessly be carrying them to places. It's a banal but especially wonderful feeling to still have an apartment to come back to, squalid though I have made it: the dusty heaps of boxes, the homey pyramids of Toohey's bottles, the friendly waving tendrils of something I apparently left in the fridge.

It's good to be back. Who knows, I may even update this pointless thing a bit more frequently. Oh, and the survey that found me and my po-faced, unusually-shaped neighbors to be the most miserable people in Australia was, needless to say, conducted in my absence.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

On "Turning Cartoonists Into Non-Persons"

I wrote that last header without checking: in fact, Rall has already been paged:
Why are so many right-wing newspapers like France Soir and right-wing blogs up in arms over this act of censorship? Because it's a chance to attack Muslims!
Dude, the cartoonists in question are in hiding because people are threatening to kill them. Thousands of people are marching in the streets waving placards that say "BUTCHER THOSE WHO MOCK ISLAM". It's not (yet) a censorship issue, because editors choosing not to run cartoons is not, in fact, censorship. What this is is large-scale violent intimidation, which is arguably even worse. You don't have to have a problem with Muslims qua Muslims to find this slightly disturbing, surely?
Where were these advocates for free speech when I was dropped by newspapers like the New York Times because of my anti-Bush politics?
Ted, honestly, it's not quite the same thing. You know, this is why I love the guy: every so often you get a definite indication that he's viewing the world through lenses of an entirely different type. The real villains of the piece here, for instance, are the people who aren't getting the names of the cartoonists out there enough (although the twelve cartoonists are conflated by Rall into a single, presumably really terrified Dane):
It's gross that word guys are so determined to turn cartoonists into non-persons. At least this guy might get a little PR out of this mess.
Yes, especially if their irate public finds them and kills them. For Christ's sake.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Paging Ted Rall: Your Colleagues Need You

Third consecutive post saying nothing more than "Still alive. In different country." It may not be particularly interesting, but it's true. I am still alive, and I am in a country where thousands of people are marching in the streets threatening violence over a series of twelve political cartoons. At first I assumed the cartoons would have to be particularly bad in order to provoke this sort of reaction, but some of them were actually quite funny. Maybe that was the problem.

Thousands of people on the streets, and no British newspaper has even printed the fucking things. A French publication took the ballsy move of publishing the offending scribbles along with a big headline affirming their right to make fun of whichever sacred symbol they chose. The ballsiness of this move was, however, slightly undercut by the paper's owner, who promptly fired the managing editor and distanced himself from the whole affair, citing reasons of mortality.

First they came for the political cartoonists - twelve very frightened Danes, in this case - and I said nothing, because I can't stand political cartoonists. And yet it seems wrong, somehow, to hack them up with machetes without first holding a trial of some sort. How would we know that the people being torn apart by a raving mob were actually political cartoonists?