Wednesday, 24th September, 2003

Salon's Since You Asked: "There are no poets left"

There's a time in late youth when the mind is at its fullest power and the passions are intense and green and the imagination is straining to find expression like a sleek, ungainly colt. At such a time, you need to immerse yourself in great works of art and literature. You're struggling to form maxims, to generalize from observations, to give some form to your powerful emotions, but you're working with insufficient material. You need more detailed knowledge. Your experiences and the experiences of your friends are not complex enough or rich enough to give rise to the kind of generalizations you're trying to form. Read William Blake. Read Nietzsche and Schopenhauer. Listen to Wagner and Copland. Go see the abstract expressionists and the pop artists. Watch Godard movies. Train yourself to question your own conclusions. Try to see how making a statement like "It is ridiculous to believe that any sane person would truly care for anyone but themselves" requires you to examine whole bodies of thought from Plato and his ideas about love to medieval courtly love traditions to the Heian Court of Japan and Lady Murasaki to Russian peasants and Celtic druids and Renaissance ideas of beauty and the Romantic tradition to Ayn Rand and her ilk.

The problems you are grappling with are huge; it is not ridiculous for a sane person to truly care about anyone but themselves, nor are our emotions trivialized by the fact that chemicals are involved in their expression. We do care about others. That doesn't make us crazy. Water is a chemical. That doesn't make the ocean trivial. You need to spend years reading and thinking about these things or nothing will make any sense to you. You need to find that world in a grain of sand that Blake was talking about. If you're in school, take a class in logic. Learn to determine the truth or falsehood of an assertion. Take some astronomy. Learn how they figured out that the earth goes around the sun. Take a class in aesthetics. Try to define beauty. Read Faulkner and Nabokov and Wallace Stevens. Read the Beats. Read Stendhal. Read Baudelaire. Read Dostoevski and Tolstoy. Shake yourself up.

You are apparently drawn to such dramatic pronouncements as "Love doesn't exist between two people who have never held a conversation for longer than an hour." I understand what you are talking about, but the truth is much grander still; it is both more complex and more simple: Love can exist anywhere, between any two people, for any length of time. You are simply going to have to do the hard work of studying emotion in its details. Read Freud and Jung. Read the Bible. Read Ezra Pound. Read David Foster Wallace. Read everything you can find. You need to get yourself anchored. You need to be humbled by the abundant genius of the world, and find your place among the geniuses.

- Carl Tennis
from Salon's "Since You Asked"

Salon's Since You Asked: "There are no poets left"
logged by alf at 16:52, Wednesday, 24th September, 2003

Tuesday, 23rd September, 2003

Brains can have wireless upgrades: Scientist

By Lynn Tan, CNETAsia

SINGAPORE--It could well be the ultimate in hands-free adaptors: A researcher claims that in a decade, people will have wireless networks in their heads.

This will enable direct mind-to-mind and mind-to-machine communications, claimed University of Reading cybernetics professor Kevin Warwick, who specializes in artificial intelligence and robotics. He is best known for his work in cybernetics, the study of control systems, especially systems that blend human nerves with electronic networks.

In a talk to students yesterday, he said that he plans to surgically implant a radio chip in his brain in about a decade, when such cybernetics technology becomes available. He is so keen on the idea that he claims the worst part of the process will be removing the device after the experiment.

An augmented brain will get so used to its powers--for example, being able to switch on a light by thought--that it will not be able to cope without the implant, he said.

"It will be such a trauma to remove it, the brain might not live. The implant goes in and stays in," Warwick said.

The brain implant will remain in his brain and will be permanent. In a widely-publicized experiment--some said stunt--a probe that was implanted in 2002 to link Warwick's nervous system to a computer and was removed after a few months.

He said that humans have limited capabilities to understand the world in three dimensions and communicate very slowly through speech, and hopes to use machine intelligence to expand human senses and to communicate through thought.

However, Warwick has yet to find a serious candidate to undergo the brain implant with him due to the possibility of operating-room complications and other life-endangering problems.

The U.K.-based researcher first implanted a chip in his arm that transmitted information to a computer in 1998, and claimed to be the world's first true cyborg, or cybernetic organism. This experiment allowed Warwick to be tracked as he moved about the department of cybernetics at the university.

In February 2002, Warwick implanted a probe into his left arm which allowed signals to be transmitted between his nervous system and a computer. The purpose was to investigate the transmission of movement, though or emotion signals from one person to another.

He is currently on an educational tour in Singapore which will end on Sept. 24.

Brains can have wireless upgrades: Scientist
logged by alf at 11:13, Tuesday, 23rd September, 2003

Sunday, 14th September, 2003

from Metaphoric

"Why do people perceive peace as neutral, as zero? Why do we think that there is more energy in tearing something apart than in putting something together?"

Metaphoric blog

from Metaphoric
logged by alf at 00:27, Sunday, 14th September, 2003

Thursday, 11th September, 2003

The Onion: Relations Break Down Between U.S. And Them

WASHINGTON, DC — After decades of antagonism between the two global powers, the U.S. has officially severed relations with Them, Bush administration officials announced Tuesday.

"They have refused to comply with the U.S. time and time again," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said, following failed 11th-hour negotiations Monday night. "It's always unfortunate when diplomacy fails, but we could not back down. We have to be ready to fight back, in the name of freedom, against all of Them at once, if necessary."

Rumsfeld added: "If They're not with us, They're against us."

U.S.-Them relations have been strained for nearly three years, but disagreements came to a head last week, when two of Their leaders opposed a U.S.-drafted U.N. proposal seeking cooperation from Them in important peacekeeping missions.

"We've tried reasoning, but Their agendas are in direct opposition to ours," Vice-President Dick Cheney said. "They stand in stark defiance of stated U.S. policy. We cannot and will not allow Them to dictate global policy."

Many current U.S. policies regarding Them are outlined in a recent State Department report titled "Long Term Organizational And Regulatory Governmental Procedures: U.S. vs. Them." According to the document, the standoff is a result of Their continued economic encroachment, Their ongoing reluctance to allow U.S. military bases on Their lands, and the refusal of many of Them to speak English.

"The U.S. is surrounded on all sides by Them," Rumsfeld said. "Over 90 percent of the planet's land mass is controlled by Them, and the territories immediately south, west, east, and north of the U.S. are all occupied by Them. Until we can correct this risky state of affairs, it is vital that we maintain our military readiness to intervene whenever and wherever They oppose us."

Another key factor in the standoff is U.S. dependence on Them-controlled resources.

"The world's petrochemical supplies are nearly exhausted," National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice said. "If we allow Them to control the only remaining fossil-fuel sources, how are we supposed to get our oil? By buying it from Them?"

"They only think about what's good for Them, but we're concerned with the needs of all Americans," Rice added.

Bush political advisor Karl Rove said that the current situation is unfortunate but inevitable, given Their outdated governmental frameworks.

"Americans enjoy a modern, pluralistic, democratic society," Rove said. "They, on the other hand, have a weird mishmash of contradictory belief systems and agendas. It's really not even worth penetrating the whole mess."

According to military historian Wesley Crandon, problems between the U.S. and Them go back decades.

"They have shown themselves to be dangerously aggressive," Crandon said. "Tensions have come to a head between the U.S. and Them when Them factions attacked the U.S. in the Philippines, Central America, Europe, and Japan."

According to Crandon, many U.S. political analysts hoped Them-led resistance had finally come to an end after the Cold War.

"But now, even former allies have revealed anti-U.S., pro-Them sentiments," Crandon said. "This includes the Them province of France and its lack of support for Operation Them Freedom, and England who—despite having helped the U.S. fight Them in the past—has recently been revealed as un-American by the ongoing Tony Blair investigation."

Experts remain unsure how long the current U.S.-Them rift will last, but President Bush said Tuesday that the U.S. will stand tall.

"We're Americans and They are not," Bush said. "We will not, under any circumstances, allow some alien, foreign one-of-Them to dictate how we're going to run our, or Their, lives. It's us and Them now, people."

One political expert stressed that, in spite of the ongoing climate of hostility, Americans have little to fear from Them.

"I wouldn't worry," Harvard political analyst Gregory Peters said. "Sure, the U.S. makes Them mad, but since we have unilateral military supremacy, it's not as if They can do anything about it."

The Onion | 9/10/2003

The Onion: Relations Break Down Between U.S. And Them
logged by alf at 12:30, Thursday, 11th September, 2003

Monday, 8th September, 2003

Written word helps wounds heal

It is thought that writing about troubling experiences helps people deal with them.

This could then help the immune system work more effectively, researchers told the British Psychological Society conference in Stoke-on-Trent.

They say their findings offer a cheap and easy to administer way of helping patients heal faster.


In the study, which involved 36 people, half were asked to write about the most upsetting experience they had had, spelling out how they had felt.

The rest of the study participants wrote about trivial things, such as how they spent their free time.

Both groups spent 20 minutes a day for three days writing.

Following the writing exercise, researchers created a small skin puncture on the participants' upper arms.

The wounds were examined two weeks later.

It was found that the group who had written about their emotional experiences had smaller wounds, meaning they had healed more quickly.

Those whose wounds were healing more slowly were found to have higher levels of stress and psychological distress.

'Easy to administer'

Suzanne Scott, from the Unit of Psychology at King's College London, who led the research, told BBC News Online: "These findings have implications for the development of relatively brief and easy interventions that could have beneficial effects on wound healing.

"The theory is that there's a long-term health benefit.

She added: "It's easy to administer because the people don't need to have gone through some awful experience, they just need to write about their most upsetting experience."

Psychologists say stress also influences how people recover from surgery.

They say high stress levels mean people recover more slowly.

Professor John Weinman of King's College London told the BPS conference: "These research findings can help patients and will be important for developing interventions for patients undergoing different types of surgery."

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2003/09/06 23:00:03 GMT

Written word helps wounds heal
logged by alf at 12:27, Monday, 8th September, 2003

Thursday, 4th September, 2003

SALON: Would you like some freedom fries with your crow, Mr. President?

Six months after spitting in the face of the world, the Bush administration is crawling on its belly before the U.N. If the world doesn't rush to help it, the White House has only itself to blame.

By Gary Kamiya

Sept. 4, 2003 | Let me make sure I've got this right. After being insulted, belittled and called irrelevant by the swaggering machos in the Bush administration, the United Nations is now supposed to step forward to supply cannon fodder for America's disastrous Iraq occupation -- while the U.S. continues to run the show?

In other words, the rest of the world is to send its troops to get killed so that a U.S. president it fears and despises can take the credit for an invasion it bitterly opposed.

The rest of the world may be crazy, but it ain't stupid.

The Bush administration's humiliating announcement that it wants the U.N. to bail it out officially confers the title of "debacle" upon the grand Cheney-Rove-Wolfowitz adventure. Not even the world-class chutzpah of this administration can conceal the fact that by turning to the despised world body, it is eating a heaping plate of crow. This spectacle may give Bush-bashers from London to Jakarta a happy jolt of schadenfreude, but it does nothing to help Americans who are stuck with the ugly fallout of the Bush team's ill-conceived, absurdly overoptimistic attempt to redraw the Middle East.

The bitter truth is that everything the administration told us about Iraq has turned out to be false.

The biggest falsehood, of course, concerns the reason we went to war in the first place. President Bush's recent hints that we invaded Iraq to get rid of the evil tyrant Saddam are patently false: The administration's entire prewar argument, until it began to grasp desperately for other explanations on the eve of the invasion, was that Iraq represented an imminent threat to our security. That was, of course, a lie. Iraq never had any connection to al-Qaida (not even the ever-serviceable Tony Blair tried to claim that) and if it had weapons of mass destruction -- which in any case there is no reason to believe it would have used against the U.S. -- none have been found. (In this light, Bush's somewhat peculiar attack on "revisionist historians" appears to have been a Freudian slip.)

However, the Bush administration has succeeded in making its fears come true: Iraq now does harbor enemies who represent an imminent threat to the lives of the 140,000 American servicemen who are hunkered down there. By removing Saddam's dictatorial regime, the U.S. turned a nation that borders Saudi Arabia, Iran, Jordan and Syria into a lawless, anarchic swamp, open to every jihadi and America-hater who wants to blow up the Yankee infidels who invaded a sovereign Arab state. A G.I. dies almost every day, and 10 more are wounded, and there is no end in sight, and the reasons why are beginning to seem even murkier than the reasons we were in Vietnam.

The Bush administration is probably hoping that the American people won't notice that the invasion created the very problem it was supposed to solve. After all, half of all Americans believe that Iraq was behind 9/11 -- the result of months of the administration's repetitive, hypnotic demonizing of Saddam and total silence about the embarrassingly uncaught Osama bin Laden. Why not go for an even bigger lie and claim that the Iraq nightmare shows that the invasion was needed because now we see just how evil those terrorist ragheads really are?

Perpetual war for perpetual reelection: According to this master strategy, even a losing "war on terror" is a winning hand for Bush, because it makes the world a scarier place and when people are scared they vote for the tough guys. Even if the tough guys don't know what they're doing.

The administration, which in its supreme arrogance regarded postwar planning as beneath it (that's for sissy nation-builders), never acknowledged or even considered that the war and occupation could be messy, long and ruinously expensive -- and it silenced those who tried to warn that it was living in a fool's paradise. When straight-shooting Gen. Eric Shinseki, the Army chief of staff, warned that "several hundred thousand soldiers" would be needed to pacify Iraq, the insufferably smug Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld squashed the now-departed officer like a bug: "Any idea that it's several hundred thousand over any sustained period is simply not the case."

Sober contingency analysis could not be allowed to derail the administration's carefully timed new product rollout. The misgivings and warnings of professionals could not be allowed to spoil the grand visions of inspired amateurs embarked on a grand crusade.

Bush said the U.N. must sanction his war on Iraq or "become irrelevant." It did not. Yet today he is crawling on his belly to the supposedly irrelevant U.N., begging it to bail him out of the quagmire he created.

The administration said that America was so omnipotent that it could afford to spit in the face of the rest of the world. Indeed, for the ideologues who run the Bush show, flouting our solo might almost seemed to be a sign of God's special favor. Now, having burned our bridges to all of our allies except Britain, the America über alles crowd is reduced to sputtering in rage as the rest of the world -- surprise! -- declines to rush forward with open checkbooks.

Had the U.S. worked with the U.N. to deal with Iraq, as Bush's considerably more world-wise father did in 1991, we would not be facing this problem. The community of nations would have regarded Iraq as its shared responsibility and stepped forward. But by alienating the world -- and squandering the unparalleled goodwill created by 9/11 -- the Bush administration created a powerful disincentive to even those nations that understand the vital necessity of rebuilding Iraq. The unpleasant truth is that for much of the world, helping this shattered nation, even if understood to be a worthy and necessary goal, now equals lending aid and comfort to an American regime that is perceived as blustering, simplistic, addicted to violence, self-righteous, and dangerously out of control.

In a nobler world, France and Turkey and Germany and Russia would forget all those nasty things that Bush officials (and their mouthpieces in the Murdoch media empire) said about them and send tens of thousands of troops to bail us out. But the real world does not work that way. The "axis of weasels" is now enjoying every minute of it while the Bush regime squirms.

By insisting that any U.N. forces be placed under U.S. control, the Bush administration is trying to save what little face it has left, but also making it that much harder to enlist the help of other nations. Moreover, no one at the United Nations is likely to have forgotten that the bombing that blew up the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad could never have been carried out except in the power vacuum that followed the ouster of Saddam. Had the Bush administration not poured contempt upon the U.N., that fact might not have led to acrimony and finger-pointing -- after all, it is unreasonable to blame the U.S. for that vile deed. But the Bush team is reaping what it has sowed.

To be sure, some kind of deal may yet be worked out. But if the terms of that deal are more niggardly than the Bush administration would like, if much of the world stands on the sidelines and watches the bully twist in Iraq's deadly breeze, it will have only itself to blame.

Gary Kamiya is Salon's executive editor.

SALON: Would you like some freedom fries with your crow, Mr. President?
logged by alf at 11:36, Thursday, 4th September, 2003

Wednesday, 3rd September, 2003

Doing the China dance : Why Asian Govts don't like Microsoft

By John Lui, CNETAsia
Wednesday, September 3 2003 8:33 AM

Poor Microsoft

It's a cliché to say that the Asia-Pacific region is an area bound by geography, but in everything else, the countries could well be separated by oceans.

But if you've been reading this site, you may get the impression that there's one thing they agree on in China, India, Korea and Malaysia. They don't have a lot of love for the giant from Redmond.

The source of the feelings, which range from a baleful tolerance to veiled hostility, may seem obvious: Microsoft is big and bullying. It can charge what it wants and we'll pay it. To add insult to injury, users are pitched onto an endless treadmill of bug fixes and security patches.

But this list of complaints doesn't really hold water at the government level. In fact, the Microsoft system is actually an eerie mirror of democracy in Asia: Incumbents accumulate, newcomers disintegrate.

So it would seem that Microsoft and Asian governments would fit like two happy peas in a happy pod. Bureaucrats get to work with--and milk--one fat organization, rather than fuss with a bunch of small ones.

So what are we to make all the anti-Microsoft rumblings across Asia?

Reason number one: Asian governments are jealous governments.

In Malaysia, the government of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed prides itself on being maverick. Judging from the tone of official press reports, it's also sick and tired of being blamed for fostering regional software piracy. By needling Microsoft through official support of open source software and threatening to clamp price controls on imported software, officials send out a message: Don't get uppity.

And when officials toss a rival into the mix--Linux, or MySQL, or WPS Office for example--even big dogs like Microsoft come to heel. Linux: It's so good, if it didn't exist, Asian governments would have had to invent it. In fact, it's so good, they're re-inventing it.

Reason number two: Foreign firms are a ticket to ride--at a price.

China may look like a manufacturing powerhouse. What you don't see is that Sony, Pioneer and Samsung and their shareholders take in most of the profit. Chinese brands have to sell on price, so their margins are lower.

To make it worse, the MPEG folks get their cut from every DVD player, Qualcomm takes a bite out of each CDMA2000 phone sold, and so on.

Microsoft, like every foreign firm with a lock on intellectual property, is a Janus-faced force that helps China go global, but wants to get paid for doing so.

Reason number three: Nobody is indispensable.

Fact: Tech R&D departments don't hire a lot of people. Software development houses, even huge ones, can't soak up labor the way a steel mill or shipyard can. Oracle and Microsoft can set up all the centers that they want, but they won't make much of a dent in the unemployment rolls.

IBM, Sun, Oracle and Microsoft are far from being an indispensable source of jobs in India and China.

U.S.-based firms have to perform delicate choreography in Asia. Governments here know foreign firms, like rich tourists, will suffer being shaken down, roughed up and worked over as long as there's going to be a payoff. At the same time, officials can't be too bullying--they can't afford to drive the foreigners away completely.

Despite all the barking from grumpy governments, firms like Microsoft know that the bites, if they come, will be in the distant future, after domestic software is good enough to offer an alternative. Until then, strike up the band--it's time to dance.

Doing the China dance : Why Asian Govts don't like Microsoft
logged by alf at 11:01, Wednesday, 3rd September, 2003

Tuesday, 2nd September, 2003

Referral to a Verbosity blog posting/column in the Dartmouth Observer

Referral to a Verbosity blog posting/column in the Dartmouth Observer
logged by alf at 17:57, Tuesday, 2nd September, 2003