A Daily Diatribe by a Pompous Git

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A journal of sorts to record Jonathan Sturm's (and others') thoughts and observations on things worth thinking about. Feedback welcome, but be aware that unless you prominently say you want your communication kept private, I may publish it.

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Monday 10 September 2001

An unrelentingly mild and sunny day. The swallows have arrived, the currawongs departed for the mountains. The frogs are croaking, the birds twittering or screeching according to preference. Presumably all are fornicating in celebration of Spring.

The updated VIA 4-in-1 drivers appear to have solved the video artefact problem. The pile of computer software to evaluate is reaching epic proportions as I persist in working on my House of Steel. The replacement 20 GB hard disk languishes on the spares shelf. I think I will order half a gigabyte of PC150 SDRAM to replace the 256 MB of PC133 in my main workstation. Thomas can have one of the 128 MB sticks and the other can go in the spares box. When that arrives, I will install the replacement hard disk and install some of that software.

Or go fishing.

Thought for the day:

This is a fault common to all singers, that among their friends they will never sing when they are asked; unasked, they will never desist.



Tuesday 11 September 2001

Somewhat after midnight today, I was awoken by a phone call from a friend. He was insistent we turn on the TV set. The shock is comparable only for those of us that remember the death of John Kennedy, or the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour.

It seems passing strange to me that only yesterday, the US news services were condemning Australia for daring to wish to control the immigration of people from the presumed heartland of the terrorists that committed this heinous deed. Perhaps now that the US has to live in the Valley of the Shadow of Death as the Israelis do every day, the world may be rid of these monsters. I wish them death and that makes me feel unclean.

Thought for the day:

Victims suggest innocence. And innocence, by the inexorable logic that governs all relational terms, suggests guilt.

Susan Sontag


Wednesday 12 September 2001

No post today.


Thursday 13 September 2001

"The direct use of force is such a poor solution to any problem, it is generally employed only by small children and large nations."

David Friedman

The response of the US to Tuesday's tragedy will, for good or ill, shape the destiny of mankind. Suggested responses run the gamut of "...nuking Afghanistan into a pool of molten glass, fine. But that's not enough. We also need to nuke Iran, Iraq, and Libya into pools of molten glass" to "the only way these things are brought to a halt is by talking".

The US has a problem with adolescent gunmen. To suggest the solution is to kill all adolescents would rightly be considered insane. By the same token, talking to an armed adolescent whose only desire is to kill you is equally insane. He will shoot you!

One current proposed solution to the adolescent gunman problem is to restrict access to guns. We could reduce by some amount a repeat of Tuesday's events by restricting air travel to only those who qualify. That would merely make the terrorists' task more difficult, not impossible and therefore more satisfying when successful. It is painfully obvious that this "solution" is no solution at all.

The real solution to the adolescent gunman problem is preventing adolescents from becoming so angry and disillusioned with life that they see this as their only viable option. For those of us old enough to remember, there was a time when the adolescent gunman problem didn't exist. Clearly, something has changed during our lifetime. My best guess is that something is education. Not the quantity of it, but the quality.

I have several friends who have been involved in education. Some educated their kids at home for the earlier part of their schooling. My friend Lesley Black had no choice; she and her young children were cruising the Pacific Ocean in a yacht. My friend Fran's wife, also a Lesley, chose home schooling because she and Fran wanted to ensure their children learned what they considered appropriate life skills and values. Teachers of these children when they went on to higher education evaluate them as well above average in self-confidence and behaviour.

Another friend, Peter Marmion, is principal of the local primary school. The children from that school are widely acknowledged to be well above average in self-confidence and behaviour. Peter's secrets include encouraging parent participation in the school and the education of their children. Also he has an aversion to standard school textbooks, preferring the children to discover their own favourite sources of information. The children are involved in the day to day running of the school -- answering the telephone for example.

One characteristic of all of these children is that they are self-disciplined. No, their behaviour is not perfect, but by and large their behaviour requires noticeably far less adult intervention than where the children's freedom is restricted by regulations.

America taught us the value of freedom as a method to increase material wealth. But material wealth is merely the substrate on which a satisfying life may be built and America has created a system that is now undermining its own success. Henry Ford discovered the immense wealth that the assembly line could bring to manufacturing motor cars. The mistake is to believe that the same techniques and values apply to the rearing of children. A teacher may have all the qualifications in the world, but they are not parents sharing their values with their children.

By many measures, quality of life for most inhabitants of the Western democracies peaked decades ago. That a higher quality of life was once attained must by the inexorable laws of logic mean that it may once more be attainable, if not exceeded. I would suggest that this should be our highest priority.

Just as the adolescents of Western democracies are being driven to insane behaviour through mismanagement and misunderstanding, so too are the adolescent countries of the world. Many of their inhabitants do not need bombing back to the Stone Age; they are already there! They are on the outside looking in and lacking sufficient education as to what has caused them to remain in the Stone Age, react with pain and anger.

The long term solution to the problems that beset the planet is not more restrictions on freedom, but less. The Framers of the US Constitution and Bill of Rights got it right. And they got it right because it was based on what Stephen Covey calls The Character Ethic: "The character ethic, which I believe to be the foundation of success, teaches that there are basic principles of effective living, and that people can only experience true success and enduring happiness as they learn and integrate these principles into their basic character."

The world cannot become a better place to live unless the principles the Framers and Stephen Covey enumerated are spread as widely as possible. Weapons will not produce anything other than grudging compliance and a desire to subvert the system that maintains a significant proportion of the world's inhabitants in what can only be described as slavery. Talking alone will not suffice. How many talks between Israel and Arafat have there been? The British and the Irish?

While the Western democracies continue to deny the principles that brought them to ascendancy, the problems that beset us all will continue to worsen.

Thought for the day:

The progress of freedom depends more upon the maintenance of peace, the spread of commerce, and the diffusion of education, than upon the labours of cabinets and foreign offices.

Richard Cobden


Friday 14 September 2001

From Kelly Brown a proposal:

First, let me say I am not a politician, nor an economist, nor any thing other than an American. I am as stunned, shocked, angry, hurt, fearful, and downright confused by the recent attacks on America. I have listened to the radio, checked every website, watched scores of TV channels, read email, and discussed these events for the past 36 hours with friends, family, loved ones, and people I have never even met. I have heard thousands of things said, about what we should and shouldn't do. I have heard experts state this is a time for calm. I have heard individuals espouse outright nuclear warfare on just about everyone who could even remotely be related to this event. I have heard just about every other opinion in between. I have heard the government issue rousing and confidence-inspiring statements. I have seen numerous pleas for patriotism, brotherly love, blood drives, tolerance, intolerance, and almost every other potential response out there.

What I have not heard, and I will grant you it is still very early after the attacks (going on 34 hours), is a simple and sensible proposal for going forward.

84% of Americans surveyed by CNN on 9/12, viewed the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon as acts of war. A further 84% approved of attacking so called 'safe harbor' nations...those countries and/or regimes who allow known or suspected terrorists to live safely within their borders, knowing full well that the court of 'world opinion' would surely convict America of criminal intent should we unleash our not inconsiderable war capacity against them.

So, most of us (a majority in the US system) agree that we want justice (or vengeance, or plain revenge), yet most of us also want to make sure that we strike with precision, and minimize the amount of collateral damage, to ensure that we don't 'lower ourselves to the level of these criminals.' Yet, we do not yet have any reasonable recourse, as this event is something altogether unknown in our history. Pearl Harbor was a military attack, on a military installation, during times of war. Even though the U.S. was not officially involved in that war on December 7, 1941, it was a known quantity that we either soon would be, or at the very least we would have been supporting those who opposed the Axis powers. This attack on America was an attack on civilians. It was an attack on our Symbols. It was an attack designed not to do any long term economic or ideological harm, it was designed to instill terror in American citizens. The loss of life and the vast human suffering was dismissed as irrelevant to the cause of those responsible. It was motivated by a difference of social, economic, religious, moral, and cultural differences so vast as to defy description.

So, in the interest of recompense, justice, vengeance, recovery, growth, and constructive ideology, I propose the following.

I propose an immediate and total suspension of all foreign aid, of any type, currently being provided by the United States of America, to all other foreign nations.

I further propose that that foreign aid can only be reinstated by formal and mutual declarations of consent and treaty between the petitioning country and the United States of America.

That treaty will and must consist of the following items:

The petitioning country agrees, without condition and in perpetuity, that they do not now, nor will they in the future, provide safe harbor to any known, or those with reasonable suspicion of being, terrorists.

The petitioning country further agrees that should they become aware of anyone within their jurisdiction who is known to be, or those with reasonable suspicion of being, terrorists, they shall provide any and all immediate and reasonable assistance for those person(s) to be extradited to the United States, to stand trial for any and all suspected terrorist activity.

Any country, nation, or region who accepts these terms shall be granted the right to reasonable foreign aid, as determined by the Federal Government of The United States.

Any country granted the right to receive foreign aid from the United States of America also warrants that they will comply with all proper and reasonable requests for assistance and information in the location and detention of known or suspected terrorists.

Any country granted the right to receive foreign aid from the United States of America shall further warrant that they will not provide, nor traffic with, nor provide aid to any third country that is known to have either failed to comply with, or is currently in violation of, the terms of the right to foreign aid from the United States of America.

Any country who knowingly violates the terms granting them right to foreign aid, after having been granted such rights, shall be considered in collusion with said terrorists.

Any country that is known to provide safe harbor, or collude with, or provide aid to, any known or suspected terrorist, shall be considered to have committed an act of war against the United States, and as such, shall be subject to the full scope of recourse available to the United States, at the Federal governments discretion, including full military intervention.

Any country that knowingly, willfully, and/or openly refutes these terms shall be considered a hostile nation, shall be declared ineligible for foreign aid from the United States of America and all countries granted such rights, and shall be subject to extreme sanctions until compliance with these terms has been satisfied.

That is my proposal.

You, as a reader, now have two options. On one hand, you may agree with me. If so, please forward this to those who may not have received it. I have already forwarded it to several news outlets, both online and in print, I have forwarded it to my congressman, and to George W. Bush's email address at president@whitehouse.gov.

If, on the other hand, you disagree with this, then I apologize for wasting your time. This was an opinion, expressed solely for the purpose of trying to provide a constructive solution to the current situation in the United States.

Regardless of how you feel, please take the time to think about it. If you choose to forward this, please make sure to keep the print format legible. If you choose not to, simply delete it. In order to keep this from becoming yet another 'chain email', I ask that anyone who does forward it to do so carefully. Select your audience. Send it to your congressman, send it to your friends, but don't send to some massive, anonymous mailing list.

To further avoid the 'faceless' nature of this email, I am adding my name and email address at the end. If you do forward it, I ask that you keep those details in the email. I shall do my best to respond to valid, thoughtful replies, but I shall respond from a different address. The account below is an account which I only read from, and never reply with.


Kelly Brown mailto: kelnsue@ix.netcom.com

Thanks for letting me share those thoughts with my readers Kelly.

From John Vogt:

Jon, I agree with you that education is needed. But, when your parents have so much hate that they can send you out to do mayhem, what hope is there for education? ben Laden is a well educated man. Still, he has a religious prodigious. He hates the "secular" society of the US. 

I don't know the answer to this problem. Redistributing the wealth is not the answer. We have tried that (welfare) and it doesn't work. There are a generation of children here in the States who are paying for that mistake. Jon, I just don't know. My experience says that setting up a village as you describe will not produce the outcome you think will happen. I do know that the "state sponsored" type of terrorism need to be stopped. I don't just mean here. I mean Northern Ireland. I mean the Middle East. I mean Asia. All of it. 

Oh, by the way, my oldest son probability will be going to New York on Sunday. He is a Combat Engineer, trained to do clearance work. I do not want my son to see the carnage, with an expecting wife at home, but I am proud that he will serve. We will see what time will bring, 

John Vogt John@idlemusings.com www.idlemusings.com

Some things take a long time. I do know that any attempt to exterminate a large population won't work, rather it will make things worse. I agree that welfare is a non-solution. Perhaps Jerry Pournelle is correct -- Imperial America will bring the world under its dominion. Maybe only that circumstance will lead to a world republic. I have as usual far more questions than answers. What I do know is that we can take heart from history. We once were barbarians too.

The wealth we need to distribute is emotional and intellectual. Handing out fish is clearly different to learning how to fish, or being taught that stealing the enemy's fish is OK. Beating someone to death for stealing your fish will stop that person from ever stealing your fish again, but will certainly make fish-stealers more careful in the future. How we make learning to fish preferable to stealing them, I have no clue other than the fact my upbringing was different from that of fish-stealers.

My best wishes for your son. I, too am proud of mine. I am sure that he will make his positive mark on our society in the fullness of time. He was brought up to do that, by myself, my wife and our friend the school principle, Peter Marmion, made sure he would have the best chance of that.

ben Laden may have been educated in the West, but it's the first 7 years that count and I suspect that he was well inculcated with the spirit of vengeance during those years. A generation of Germans was taught that the source of all evil was the Jews and they slaughtered several million. Despite what they did to my father and my father's family, I do not fear them. My father taught me that.

Thought for the day:

A test of what is real is that it is hard and rough. Joys are found in it, not pleasure. What is pleasant belongs to dreams.

Simone Weil


Saturday 15 September 2001

"Coward: a reprehensible faint-hearted person: one without courage"

Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary

I am heartily sick of hearing the epithet "coward" applied to the terrorists who attacked the WTC and Pentagon this week. Evil curmudgeons maybe, but anyone who devotes their life to a goal that involves their certain death as the price of success is not a coward! Please note that I am as angry/frightened/distressed... as anyone. But let's be accurate.

Another irritation is the posting of millions of dollars in rewards for the capture of the presumed perpetrator, bin Laden. If the followers of the leader in The Holy War against the US are willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice in its pursuit, what makes these idiots think they will give it all up for money? The implication here is that the average American would sell his or her soul for five or ten million bucks. No, I don't for one moment believe that this is the price the average American would demand for betraying their beliefs.

Found in my Inbox:

I've been hearing a lot of talk about "bombing Afghanistan back to the Stone Age." Ronn Owens, on KGO Talk Radio today, allowed that this would mean killing innocent people, people who had nothing to do with this atrocity, but "we're at war, we have to accept collateral damage. What else can we do?" Minutes later I heard some TV pundit discussing whether we "have the belly to do what must be done."

And I thought about the issues being raised especially hard because I am from Afghanistan, and even though I've lived here for 35 years I've never lost track of what's going on there. So I want to tell anyone who will listen how it all looks from where I'm standing.

I speak as one who hates the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden. There is no doubt in my mind that these people were responsible for the atrocity in New York. I agree that something must be done about those monsters. But the Taliban and Ben Laden are not Afghanistan. They're not even the government of Afghanistan. The Taliban are a cult of ignorant psychotics who took over Afghanistan in 1997. Bin Laden is a political criminal with a plan. When you think Taliban, think Nazis. When you think Bin Laden, think Hitler. And when you think "the people of Afghanistan" think "the Jews in the concentration camps." It's not only that the Afghan people had nothing to do with this atrocity. They were the first victims of the perpetrators. They would exult if someone would come in there, take out the Taliban and clear out the rats nest of international thugs holed up in their country.

Some say, why don't the Afghans rise up and overthrow the Taliban? The answer is, they're starved, exhausted, hurt, incapacitated, suffering. A few years ago, the United Nations estimated that there are 500,000 disabled orphans in Afghanistan--a country with no economy, no food. There are millions of widows. And the Taliban has been burying these widows alive in mass graves. The soil is littered with land mines, the farms were all destroyed by the Soviets. These are a few of the reasons why the Afghan people have not overthrown the Taliban.

We come now to the question of bombing Afghanistan back to the Stone Age. Trouble is, that's been done. The Soviets took care of it already. Make the Afghans suffer? They're already suffering. Level their houses? Done. Turn their schools into piles of rubble? Done. Eradicate their hospitals? Done. Destroy their infrastructure? Cut them off from medicine and health care? Too late. Someone already did all that.

New bombs would only stir the rubble of earlier bombs. Would they at least get the Taliban? Not likely. In today's Afghanistan, only the Taliban eat, only they have the means to move around. They'd slip away and hide. Maybe the bombs would get some of those disabled orphans, they don't move too fast, they don't even have wheelchairs. But flying over Kabul and dropping bombs wouldn't really be a strike against the criminals who did this horrific thing. Actually it would only be making common cause with the Taliban--by raping once again the people they've been raping all this time.

So what else is there? What can be done, then? Let me now speak with true fear and trembling. The only way to get Bin Laden is to go in there with ground troops. When people speak of "having the belly to do what needs to be done" they're thinking in terms of having the belly to kill as many as needed. Having the belly to overcome any moral qualms about killing innocent people. Let's pull our heads out of the sand. What's actually on the table is Americans dying. And not just because some Americans would die fighting their way through Afghanistan to Bin Laden's hideout.

It's much bigger than that folks. Because to get any troops to Afghanistan, we'd have to go through Pakistan. Would they let us? Not likely. The conquest of Pakistan would have to be first. Will other Muslim nations just stand by? You see where I'm going. We're flirting with a world war between Islam and the West.

And guess what: that's Bin Laden's program. That's exactly what he wants. That's why he did this. Read his speeches and statements. It's all right there. He really believes Islam would beat the west. It might seem ridiculous, but he figures if he can polarize the world into Islam and the West, he's got a billion soldiers. If the west wreaks a holocaust in those lands, that's a billion people with nothing left to lose, that's even better from Bin Laden's point of view. He's probably wrong, in the end the west would win, whatever that would mean, but the war would last for years and millions would die, not just theirs but ours. Who has the belly for that? Bin Laden does. Anyone else?

Tamim Ansary

And for me that about sums it up.


There's an update on The House of Steel including new pictures.

Thought for the day:

A man of courage is also full of faith.



Sunday 16 September 2001

I wasn't very well today -- call it a virus, cold, run-down or whatever. So I spent a day mostly in bed. Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I dozed and recalled some of my favourite Sufi stories.


A man being followed by a hungry tiger, turned in desperation to face it, and cried: "Why don't you leave me alone?" The tiger answered: "Why don't you stop being so appetising?"


A man and a nail had a conversation. 

The nail said: "I have often wondered during my years sticking here in this panel, what my fate is to be." 

The man said: "Latent in your situation may be a tearing out with pliers, a burning of wood, the rotting of the plank -- so many things." 

Said the nail: "I should have known better than to ask such foolish questions! Nobody can foresee the future, let alone a variety of them, all so unlikely." 

So the nail waited, until someone else came along, someone who would talk intelligently, and not threaten him. So do we really want to know our fate, or even our present situation?


"I can't solve my problem ... what must I do to get what I want?" asked the frog.

"It seems to me that you are getting exactly what you want, and that you are solving your problem at every instant," replied the toad.

The toad explained, "You have a very strong need to have an insoluble problem. So you see, you are in fact very good at solving your problems."

The frog opened its mouth ... but for some reason it had lost the power of speech.


A group of travellers came to a tall mountain at the top of which they were told was hidden unparalleled riches. Anxious to reach such riches they sought for a path way by which to climb the mountain. They soon discover that there were many pathways. At the foot of each pathway they came across locals who all confirmed that this particular pathway was the best, and indeed only, pathway to bring the traveller to the top of the mountain.

They became a little confused which group of locals was right? One or two more adventurous and bolder spirits took the nearest pathway and travelled a little way up. Reaching a plateau they heard the call of someone at the top of mountain. The call was a little faint, but could be heard - they hurried back to the rest of the party to convey the message they had heard. On reaching their comrades they were pleased to be able to tell them that it was all right, they need not be concerned, the message was that 'all the paths lead to the top of the mountain'.

The party of travellers were overjoyed and, rejoicing, they went round the mountain telling all the various groups of locals at the foot of each path that, whilst they were right that their particular path did lead up the mountain, the same was true for all the other paths. Of course they got a mixed reception. Some embraced this and some rejected it. The group continued to travel round the mountain rejoicing in their knowledge that all paths lead to the top of the mountain. Of course, O perceptive reader, you will have noticed something which escaped their attention. That, despite this knowledge, none of the party ever actually went all the way up the mountain.

The fact is that those who had returned from their plateau with the message had not realized that in the difficult conditions in which they had heard the message a part of it had not been heard - perhaps it was due to the howling of the wind, who can tell. What had actually been said by the one calling from the mountain was --



Nasrudin wanted to play the guitar, and went to see a teacher, inquiring about cost. "Twenty dollars for the first lesson, ten dollars for the subsequent ones," said the teacher. "Excellent," said Nasrudin, "I'll start with the second lesson."


Of course I am not a Sufi, or any other kind of Muslim.

Thought for the day:

A civilization is destroyed only when its gods are destroyed.

E M Cioran


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Jonathan Sturm 2001

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