Archive for May, 2004

One Life to Lose

Monday, May 31st, 2004

On this Memorial Day, Mark Steyn recalls a time when Americans had a sense of proportion. James Lileks always recalls a time when our food was frightening. Gary North recalls a time when Americans hoped to retire in comfort.

I’m two hundred years too young to recall when a man could regret that he had but one life to lose for his country, but I think that when the citizens stop feeling that way the nation is doomed. It’s not necessarily a biological dead end, but it is a political one. I have the feeling tha one of these days I’ll go to sleep in the tattered but recognizable shreds of a latter-day Roman Empire, but I’ll wake up in the Dark Ages.

The God Box, Analog

Sunday, May 30th, 2004

I’ve been reading too much fantasy lately, and after a few trilogies the religions all tend to run together. I suppose that’s only to be expected when the novels are all set on the same feudal island/peninsula with the same pseudo-Oriental neighbors, but I keep hoping for more than just n gods who are actually one god (where n ranges from 4 to 7) from the religions.

The God Box by Barry B. Longyear is kind enough not to number its deities so precisely. It also achieves what LMB has been trying to do with her fantasy - brings its gods to life and makes true believers out of damaged characters. Like Bujold, Longyear started out as a science fiction writer; The God Box was his first fantasy novel. In it, Our Hero, an unsuspecting carpet salesman, inherits a mysterious box that answers prayers. Like the gods themselves, though, the box answers in its own inscrutable way.

Our Hero soon finds himself on a Quest foretold in ancient scriptures, in which he meets bird people, skunk people, fish people, gods and giants. The biggest sign of the author’s sci-fi background is the god box’s ability to show Our Hero alternate timelines. That sort of reset button can undermine the seriousness of a story (as all Trek fans know), but despite the deep themes of prayer and trust this isn’t a serious novel. It’s short and fun, yet a far better combination of religion and fantasy than many doorstops I’ve seen.

The June Analog also has a couple of stories that stray into religious territory without quite convincing. “Time Ablaze” by Michael A. Burstein is the cover story, in which a time traveller goes back to the Lutheran community of turn-of-the-century NYC. As an adventure it works well, but I never quite got the feeling that Our Hero was dealing with a world that has since disappeared.

“Greetings from Kudesh” by J.T. Sharrah was equally effective as a story, and similarly problematic in its view into the mind of Our Heroine, the first Christian missionary to visit an alien planet. She comes off like the first interstellar Deist, which might have been interesting had that been the author’s intent. There are things a Deist might do to promulgate his religion that a Christian probably shouldn’t, and Our Heroine does one of them without any theological consideration of the problem.

It’s the differences between Christianity and Deism, between pantheism and monotheism, that make them the religions they are. I suppose if sf writers can’t make me believe their characters are real live practitioners of actual religions, then fantasy writers don’t have much of a chance of making up convincing new religions. Even The God Box was about faith qua faith, rather than a particular religion. Yet we owe our oldest stories to pantheons full of overactive imaginations - you’d think fantasy writers would get in on the act.

Felo de se

Saturday, May 29th, 2004

Health care link of the day: Chest Pain by Mark Steyn

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals was wrong to rule against Ashcroft in his attempt to stop Oregon doctors from prescribing controlled substances in order to kill people. (See the full story at Wired or Reuters.) The federal government has the power under the Controlled Substances Act to regulate (wait for it) controlled substances. This isn’t a grey area like medical marijuana in which the perceived medical need for a drug conflicts with society’s perceived need to keep that drug out of the wrong hands - killing people with barbituates is not a medical use at all. As long as there’s a Controlled Substances Act the feds are well within their rights to (do I hear an echo in here?) control substances.

Should there be a CSA in the first place? Probably not - at this point it seems to be doing more harm than good. In some countries you can go to a pharmacist and get any drug you want, and that seems to work out OK for them. So if the 9th Circuit had struck down the CSA altogether because it was interfering with the natural right of Oregonians to kill one another, I wouldn’t have complained. I’m all for striking down federal laws when they infringe on states’ rights. I’m assuming, for the sake of argument, that Oregonians killing other Oregonians is not a violation of the Constitution itself - though of course Oregonians crossing state lines to kill, say, Idahoans would be a federal issue.

But since there is a CSA, the good people of Oregon should obey it like the rest of us. The CSA need pose no problems for their assisted-suicide laws - barbituates are far from the only method of killing your fellow Oregonian. Obviously these people need to read more murder myteries, or at least more history. Socrates did the dirty deed without a prescription, and Roman ladies had a graceful way with a scalpel that anyone can imitate, regardless of age, health, or medical degree. The Conquistadores wiped out a continent with common household germs. More humane modern methods include the guillotine, the electric chair, and starving the patient to death. A creative physician has a million ways to kill without violating the CSA.

In fact, there’s no reason to involve a physician at all. Assisted suicide is a contradiction in terms - it’s not suicide unless you do it without assistance. If Oregonians want to legalize suicide, they should just go ahead and do it. None of the rest of us will complain that there are fewer Oregonians as a result, I promise. Suicide is an unprosecutable crime, anyway. Now I admit that it might take a little forethought and reading to find a painless method of offing oneself, but since the idea of euthanasia is to put terminally-ill people out of their unbearable pain, really they only need to find a method at or beneath their current level of pain.

The right to kill yourself is an inalienable right in that you’re the only one who can exercise it, and - mankind being as frail as we are - no one can stop you. Unless you’re incarcerated, it’s relatively simple to do yourself in. (Residing in a hospital full of sharp scalpels and federally controlled substances doesn’t count as incarceration.) So this business about assisting suicides is nonsense - that’s just killing people. Needing an accomplice to commit suicide is a sure sign you’re not serious about the death thing. Being an accomplice to someone else’s death is killing (though not necessarily murder), and it’s wrong if you’re a physician. Physicians should do no harm.

But the formerly good people of Oregon are still welcome to go around killing one another if they want, so long as they don’t involve physicians. I recommend a new profession to handle the situation, one analogous to Nurse Practitioners: Death Practitioners. Since there isn’t enough euthanasia business to support my DP’s (yet), I think they should have a sideline doing abortions. Abortion isn’t a complicated procedure - back in the 70’s women used to vacuum each other’s uteri for fun - and there’s no reason for physicians to be doing it. If a complication results of course a doctor should be called in, but physicians should do no harm.

In short, if you want someone killed - yourself, your terminally ill relative, or your fetus - you should kill them yourself. Don’t look to the medical profession to sanitize your acts…or your laws.

Mozart Was a Red

Friday, May 28th, 2004

Pics of the day: Mike Hollihan’s Kerry Mockery collection. (I especially liked “Positions may change without notice” and “Our Modern Janus.”)
Lit of the day: those of the opposite ideological persuasion may prefer The Bushiad and the Idyossey - political humor in blank verse.

I found Mozart Was a Red: A Morality Play in One Act by Murray N. Rothbard at and was duly amused. Even if you’re not familiar with the cult of Ayn Rand’s personality, this one-act play is fun in a general cult-of-personality way.

I’ve also been reading Bare-Faced Messiah by Russell Miller, a very unauthorized biography of L. Ron Hubbard. Two of the sites where I was reading it are 404 at the moment (Operation Clambake and, whether because of legal action by the Scientologists or simple server problems remains to be seen. (Scientologists go to more extraordinary lengths to keep the mythos of their founding personality alive than Objectivists do.) You can find a copy of BFM at It’s long (I’m still not done) but enthralling - truth really is stranger than fiction.

[Spam in a can.]

Trickle-Down Marriage

Thursday, May 27th, 2004

Classical Values is an interesting blog that explains the sudden rise in support for gay marriage as a sort of Libertarian trickle-down effect. That is, the heterosexual majority isn’t concerned about equal rights for homosexuals per se, but in greater tolerance in general, which will somehow translate into greater tolerance for themselves as well.

It’s interesting, but I don’t think it’s the real story. He cites two other possibilities - that the majority loves homosexuals, or they hate the conservatives who object to homosexuality. If hatred of the Religious Right were behind the opinion polls, I think there would have been more of a flap over the partial birth abortion bill. Only one possibility is left: love of homosexuals.

I don’t know where it comes from, or how long it will last, but that seems to be the underlying explanation of the blogosphere’s affair with gay marriage. I see sympathy for gay marriage as analogous to sympathy for the AIDS cause. I’m fascinated by the latter to this day - that a sexually-transmitted disease that’s nothing more than the syphilis epidemic of our day was perceived not as a self-inflicted, preventable disease but as a tragedy on the order of juvenile leukemia is just boggling - unless people are fond of the victims. (If you think people care about the African victims of AIDS, take a look at the Malaria Clock. Malaria is preventable and treatable, yet the carnage goes on unnoted.)

Why the love? It’s probably an American thing - we tend to like our neighbors no matter how odd they are, whereas in certain other countries going against the flow is sufficient grounds for a lynching.

[This entry brought to you by spam in a can.]

Hypnapompic Hallucinations

Wednesday, May 26th, 2004

Wired link of the day: Arise, Mickey, and walk!

Speaking of paralysis, I was reading about sleep paralysis somewhere lately and when I mentioned it, people seemed to think that my hypnapompic hallucinations were weird - and this is the blog category for weird. Sleep paralysis is what keeps those of us who don’t thrash around when we’re asleep immobile. If you happen to become or remain partly conscious while you’re paralyzed, things can get weird. For one thing, you’re paralyzed, and any attempt to move may result in a sense of astral projection - but real problem is that people tend to sense a presence in the room. Hence you get succubi, incubi, old hags sitting on your chest, aliens experimenting on you and the like. Because you’re conscious, it all seems very, very real, though technically it’s classed as a hypnagogic (when falling asleep) or hypnapompic (when waking up) hallucination.

Here are some sleep paralysis links:

I don’t usually hallucinate anything - I just can’t move. It tends to happen when I take a nap in the middle of the day…which I may be doing now, since this entry is spam in a can.


Tuesday, May 25th, 2004

This spam in a can blog entry was brought to you by WordPress and the Edit Timestamp checkbox.

I’ve converted Eric Costello’s old technicolor Blogger template to WordPress. Back in the days of MovableType I’d converted it to MT, which was much more of a headache. This switch was relatively painless. See the demo! Download the two required files: colorpress.css and colorpress.js. The instructions are simple and can be found at the top of either file.

As you can see, I’m not actually doing the trippy technicolor thing myself, but I converted it because I do want to incorporate a similar effect into the blog at some point. As I write this, it’s late, late at night, but if all goes well this blog entry will become visible tomorrow morning. Future canned blogging will also be labelled “spam in a can” because I like the way it sounds.


Monday, May 24th, 2004

Mac security hole site of the day: another fine hole recap from Daring Fireball

The power was out for five hours today, but you know, it could have been worse. (Thanks to MacNetJournal for the link.) The next date of disempowering has not been scheduled - blog services could fail at any time. In the last third-world country I called home, the power would go out whenever the wind blew. There’s a thunderstorm passing through at this very mo–

Neither Snow nor Rain nor Jamaica Plain

Sunday, May 23rd, 2004

So many links have piled up on my Third World Watch here in Boston that I’m not sure how I’ll get through them all.

The road to May perdition all started when the Boston Globe published explicit pornography as news. World Net Daily found the Internet pron source of the alleged photos of GI’s raping Arab prisoners. The Globe had to apologize, though no heads rolled and they didn’t admit the real source of the images. Ironically, the Boston Herald rejected the photos as unsubstantiated and highly suspicious. (For those of you playing the home game, that’s like the New York Times falling for a scam that the New York Post sees right through.)

After all that the onset of gay marriage, complete with an ongoing flap between the governor and certain cities over marrying non-Massachusetts residents, was a drop in the bucket.

Then there was the title scandal, in which a couple of letter carriers stopped delivering mail to a JP housing project for fear of their lives. Service has been restored - much more quickly, the article mentions, than in Fall River where part of the city was cut off for weeks for similar reasons.

Now I hear that I may get carded for taking the T. My civil liberty to travel more slowly by streetcar than on foot without ID is about to be infringed. I can hear the conversation now:

“What do you mean, you’re going to South Station? You’re on a bus bound for Cambridge.”

“Really, officer, it’s the fastest way. The Green Line is no way to get downtown. If I catch the Red Line in Harvard Square–”

“I’m going to need to see some ID, ma’am.”

“Will my Shaw’s card do?” I wave the little keychain tag at the officer’s high-tech terrorist detection system.

“No. Can I see your license?”

“I tried to renew it, but the line at the DMV was three days long and then they asked for my social security card which I lost back in ‘93…”

“Mass liquor ID?”

“The line at the DMV was three days long–”


“Do I need one to visit Cambridge?”

The officer sighs and moves on, before I get the chance to offer him my CVS Extra Value card.

And last but not least, the reason why I had to Boston-blog today: the power goes out tomorrow for three weeks. Initial warnings of this upcoming event came by automatic dialer and were phrased in terms of two half-hour outtages one weekend morning - I had to listen to the voicemail several times through before I figured out they meant the electricity (rather than phone, gas, water, or sewage). Since then, much scarier warnings have been posted all over the building. I admit, they don’t explicitly predict 3 weeks without electricity, but they’re phrased in such a way that if the power does go out for the entire 3 weeks, they can say we were warned.

It’s not the hardship it sounds, because we’re not allowed to have air conditioners anyway. If thing go awry, as they so oft do here in the third world, I may have to eat half a gallon of ice cream in one sitting - a hardship for which I’m well-prepared.

Fortunately, with WordPress I can blog ahead of time and it will publish my entries on its own. You may not even notice the interruption of blogging services.

Android Still Paranoid

Saturday, May 22nd, 2004

Birthday of the day: Jerie - keep on shippin’!

According to the maker of Paranoid Android, the latest security update from Apple (2004-05-24) fixes Help but hasn’t fixed everything. Nevertheless, I was unable to get his sample malware to hack my mac. See his whitepaper on the hole for the examples.

Now that help: is fixed, I think I’ll disable afp:, ftp:, gopher:, disk:, and disks: with RCDefaultApp until I hear more definite info on the subject of protocol registration. I usually ftp from the command line and never use the other protocols. [Update:] I was wondering about telnet: and DaringFireball confirms that it’s a problem, but ssh: isn’t.

I’m sorry this mac problem has distracted me once again from my next Boston in the Third World post. I have to post my growing collection of links tomorrow, because… well, I’ll explain then.