A Daily Diatribe by a Pompous Git

Who is that fat bastard? A Sturm's Eye View, Guaranteed Free of Harmful, or Potentially Harmful Chemicals -- but Watch Out for the Ideas! Some of them are Contagious! 

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 14 April 2003

A short week coming up because of the upcoming holiday to celebrate nailing Jesus to a stick, and that runs into mid-semester break. So, it might be time to start thinking once more about the long awaited Content Management System (CMS) The Git is assured he needs. While it's now possible to use Movable Type, I have small, though niggling problems with rendering too many websites based on that CMS to feel comfortable. Are those problems all in the CSS, or are they symptomatic of problems in MT that may, or may not be fixed in the future? My son, Thomas, believes that the CMS he is creating for himself with PHP is well worth waiting for. The advantage here is that he should be able to fix problems fairly promptly as they arise. A third alternative is to implement a Wiki. The Git has so far struck no rendering problems and the Wikis he visits appear robust. The upside to Wiki is having Bo Leuf, author of The Wiki Way: Quick Collaboration on the Web as a friend. Unfortunately, The Git has yet to acquire a copy and funds for such frivolities as SWMBO calls them are some months away.

-oOo-

Much rain over the weekend, so the garden is going to rack and ruin. Tomorrow is taken up with the plumber returning to fix the pressure relief pipe and Dennis to help with some work on the cottage. That means Thursday before I can attack the weeds. Bummer!

-oOo-

The Git has chosen the question: "What were the major causes of the American War of Independence? Do you think that this rupture with Britain was inevitable?" for his major history essay. The current reading list includes:

The American Revolution: Two Centuries of Interpretation, E Morgan (ed) 
The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, B Bailyn 
The American Revolution: the Critical Issues, R Berkhofer (ed)

If anyone can point me to other resources they believe would help me, I'd appreciate it. Also, if anyone has a criticism of any of the above list, I'd appreciate hearing them, too.

Thought for the day:

If a thousand men were not to pay their tax bills this year, that would not be a violent and bloody measure, as it would be to pay them, and enable the State to commit violence and shed innocent blood. This is, in fact, the definition of a peaceful revolution, if any such is possible.

Henry David Thoreau

Current Listening:

Robert Fripp -- God Save the Queen


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Tuesday 15 April 2003

One of the great delights of the Internet is discovering things you didn't need to know and in all likelihood didn't even want to know. Nevertheless, since they are prurient and amusing, you read on. In the spirit of that thought, and not coincidentally upping The Git's ratings in the search engines:

Ruthless Reviews Glossary of Porn

CUM GUZZLING SPERM BURPING BITCH- The once in a lifetime act of blowing a hot steamy load down the back of a girl's throat and then proceeding to give her a large cold bottle of your favorite carbonated drink - preferably MILLER HIGH LIFE - then making her guzzle it down. Afterwards all that is necessary is to shake her head vigorously back and forth to create the Cum Guzzling, Sperm Burping effect. Not for the feint of heart.

DONKEY PUNCH- Our favorite. Finishing up anal sex by punching the woman in the back of the head and yelling, "Donkey Punch!"

FLAMING AMAZON- A pyromaniacs delight! To create the Flaming Amazon during coitus, just prior to ejaculation, simply pull out and quickly grab the nearest lighter and set her pubes on fire, then...extinguish the flames with your fire hose full of creamy man foam. For best results I recommend dampening them with kerosene beforehand. Practice beforehand, unless you just don't care.

FLYING CAMEL- A personal favorite. As she is lying on her back and you are slamming methodically into her, carefully move forward and prop yourself (without using your arms) on your dick while it is still inserted into her. You then proceed to flap your arms and let out a long shrieking howl, becoming the flying camel. Strictly an advanced maneuver for the well endowed only, so if you are any more than three pimp points away from Tom Jones or Mandingo, DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME.

[Actually, I recommend you don't try any of these at home! Unless you have a particularly understanding spouse, or expect to die in the next few hours anyway!]

FURVERT - (1) One who delights in imagining himself or herself as a sexualized, cartoon animal. Ferverts are typically, but not always, gay men. Furverts indulge their inclination by dressing in home-made costumes and attending Furvert summer camps. (2)Dick Cheney (what did you think that "undisclosed location" is?)

RIDE 'EM COWBOY- Having DOGGY STYLE sex with a woman and then issuing a command which causes your friends to jump out of the closet where they have been hiding. The woman should be totally surprised. Similar to a rodeo rider, the goal is to see how long you can "stay on" before getting thrown to the ground, kicked, etc. See also BUCKING BRONCO

Full Story

Thought for the day:

For thirty years I served her Majesty at home and abroad without acknowledgment or reward. Then I publish a pornographic book, and at once earn 10,000 and fame. I begin at last to understand the public and what it wants. 

Sir Richard Burton

Current Listening:

Frank Zappa -- Live at the Fillmore East


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Wednesday 16 April 2003

There The Git was, wondering how the fuck do you explain an explanation from within the system you are using to do the explaining? Or, more to the point, how can a self-referential explanation have any significant meaning? Obviously, other philosophers have been here before, but that way, it seems, lies insanity. Anyway, there are important other things to think about today.

Mrs Git is to go to the hospital for removal of her gall bladder. Hopefully, this means only an overnight stay. We are told that the remover of the the offending organ is the nurses' preferred person for such things and that is a great comfort. In the meantime, that leaves Thomas the Boy Wonder and The Git without transport to return home this evening. More accurately, we can catch the bus to within walking distance of The House of Steel, but the walk that is a doddle for Thomas is a great trial for his aging father. It's a very steep, uphill walk that might take thirty minutes longer than the previous occasion. Hopefully, a passing neighbour will take pity, though that occurs less frequently these days.

It is tempting to remain at home for the day, but that would mean missing out on one of Phil Dowe's entertaining philosophy lectures and the following tutorial with David Middleton.

There is a further task for the day. Last Thursday, The Git telephoned Centrelink, the organisation responsible for paying Thomas his Youth Allowance. This money is intended to defray some of the expenses of his education, but Centrelink informed Thomas that due to insufficient information about his father's income, he was not to receive it! The Git has provided the information and even authorised the Taxation Commissioner to provide full access to his records. The phone call elicited the somewhat surprising information that the reason in Thomas's Centrelink record is that his parents had failed to complete the Family Actual Means Test form. The Git and Mrs Git have filled in that form on at least two occasions and Mrs Git delivered it by hand. Moreover, the form was assessed by the recipient as being satisfactorily completed!

The person The Git was speaking to claimed that the recipient was currently unavailable and would telephone on Tuesday (yesterday). Needless to say, she didn't. During the course of the conversation on Thursday, The Git asked whether it would make more sense to encourage his son to take up a life of crime, rather than pursue his university career without the money required to purchase the books he has needed since mid-February. This so-called "public servant" became quite snooty and said that Centrelink's staff were "required to make obtaining Youth Allowance as difficult as possible". Perhaps she is too stupid to realise that her wages and such things as Youth Allowance come from taxes that the likes of The Git are required to pay. If the Taxation Commissioner hadn't extorted the money from us in the first place, we wouldn't be needing to apply for Youth Allowance. Nor would we need to be contributing to her financial needs!

-oOo-

On a more pleasant note, The Git found the following:

Sir Jonathan 

Sir Jonathan yclept yon knight. 
The House of Steel his castle hight, 
Tasmania, his pastures green, 
Sturmsoft.com, his fair demesne. 
Upon his shield a mermaid plays, 
Presenting She whom he obeys. 
Beneath, upon a scroll is writ: 
"Ephemerides --- Pompous Git!"

(an early birthday present --- ~355 days early)

Why, thank you ^Z! :-)))))

-oOo-

And for those who delight in the undraped female form, Eolake Stobblehouse has sent some more pictures.

Thought for the day:

If you hear that someone is speaking ill of you, instead of trying to defend yourself you should say: He obviously does not know me very well, since there are so many other faults he could have mentioned.

Epictetus

Current Listening:

Dave Bromberg -- Wanted: Dead, or Alive


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Thursday 17 April 2003

Several years ago, a French potential Nobel prize-winner, Jacques Benveniste published a paper in Nature claiming that he had managed to demonstrate  water retained a "memory" of substances that had been homoeopathically diluted. Subsequently, a team of scientists, including the conjuror/sceptic The Amazing Randi, claimed that Benveniste's results were not able to be "replicated". Benveniste claimed that the replication was at fault.

More recently, Professor Madeline Ennis of Queen's University, Belfast Medical School decided to replicate Benveniste's work as she has access to automated cell-counting machinery that would remove the purported source of Benveniste's error. It's all too easy when doing cell counts to make non-random errors. The automatic laser counter ensures that subjective error is eliminated. It's also amazingly fast enabling much larger sample sizes to be counted.

Much to her surprise, one might almost say annoyance, Ennis's results confirmed Benveniste's. Homoeopathic solutions where the dilution is great enough to eliminate any likelihood of the original substance being present were confirmed to be biologically active. Once more, The Amazing Randi was called to the rescue with his offer of one million dollars if Ennis's claim could be substantiated. The whole debacle was aired as a BBC Horizon television show.

It almost goes without saying that Randi and his team debunked the results claiming a Great Victory for Science (aka destroying the reputation of a scientist).

The show was broadcast on Australia by the Quantum team who more frequently produce their own science broadcasts. Mysteriously, the presenter, herself a scientist, failed to mention several disturbing aspects of both debunkings. The first is the involvement of the substantial amount of money offered by Randi if he failed to debunk the results. In both "replications", there were controls and the test tube labels were replaced with codes known only to one person to prevent any bias towards the test tubes containing the homoeopathic water. Nobody seems to have noticed that the labelling was a source for tampering. Would an impoverished scientist accept, let's say, a quarter of a million dollars to create a bogus list for the labels? Would Randi rather pay that amount than a million dollars? Perhaps The Git is too cynical. 

There's a further problem from The Git's point of view. In both original trials, there were thousands of samples. In Ennis's trial, many thousands. The Git has no idea how many in the Benveniste "replication", but noticed that in the replication of Ennis's work, a mere forty samples were used. (To make the bogus relabelling easier?) Try tossing a coin forty times and note the result. Toss the same coin several thousand times. Do you think that the percentage of heads will be the same in each instance?

There are some excellent examples of manipulating sample sizes to obtain results that favour a particular point of view in Bjrn Lomborg's The Skeptical Environmentalist. It's a favourite trick of pseudo-scientists, possibly conjurers, too.

A further thought is that maybe Randi wouldn't even need to pony up the bribe. With the amount of money being made from conventional drugs, the drug companies have the most to lose if people realised they could get by with much cheaper effective medicines.

Thought for the day:

The thorough skeptic is a dogmatist. He enjoys the delusion of complete futility.

Alfred North Whitehead

Current Listening:

Grace Slick -- Welcome to the Wrecking Ball


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Friday 18 April 2003

In the December 1997 issue of The Atlantic, Robert D. Kaplan asked: Was Democracy Just a Moment?

In the fourth century A.D. Christianity's conquest of Europe and the Mediterranean world gave rise to the belief that a peaceful era in world politics was at hand, now that a consensus had formed around an ideology that stressed the sanctity of the individual. But Christianity was, of course, not static. It kept evolving, into rites, sects, and "heresies" that were in turn influenced by the geography and cultures of the places where it took root. Meanwhile, the church founded by Saint Peter became a ritualistic and hierarchical organization guilty of long periods of violence and bigotry. This is to say nothing of the evils perpetrated by the Orthodox churches in the East. Christianity made the world not more peaceful or, in practice, more moral but only more complex. Democracy, which is now overtaking the world as Christianity once did, may do the same.

The collapse of communism from internal stresses says nothing about the long-term viability of Western democracy. Marxism's natural death in Eastern Europe is no guarantee that subtler tyrannies do not await us, here and abroad. History has demonstrated that there is no final triumph of reason, whether it goes by the name of Christianity, the Enlightenment, or, now, democracy. To think that democracy as we know it will triumph -- or is even here to stay -- is itself a form of determinism, driven by our own ethnocentricity. Indeed, those who quote Alexis de Tocqueville in support of democracy's inevitability should pay heed to his observation that Americans, because of their (comparative) equality, exaggerate "the scope of human perfectibility." Despotism, Tocqueville went on, "is more particularly to be feared in democratic ages," because it thrives on the obsession with self and one's own security which equality fosters.

I submit that the democracy we are encouraging in many poor parts of the world is an integral part of a transformation toward new forms of authoritarianism; that democracy in the United States is at greater risk than ever before, and from obscure sources; and that many future regimes, ours especially, could resemble the oligarchies of ancient Athens and Sparta more than they do the current government in Washington. History teaches that it is exactly at such prosperous times as these that we need to maintain a sense of the tragic, however unnecessary it may seem. The Greek historian Polybius, of the second century B.C., interpreted what we consider the Golden Age of Athens as the beginning of its decline. To Thucydides, the very security and satisfactory life that the Athenians enjoyed under Pericles blinded them to the bleak forces of human nature that were gradually to be their undoing in the Peloponnesian War.

....

Because both a middle class and civil institutions are required for successful democracy, democratic Russia, which inherited neither from the Soviet regime, remains violent, unstable, and miserably poor despite its 99 percent literacy rate. Under its authoritarian system China has dramatically improved the quality of life for hundreds of millions of its people. My point, hard as it may be for Americans to accept, is that Russia may be failing in part because it is a democracy and China may be succeeding in part because it is not. Having traveled through much of western China, where Muslim Turkic Uighurs (who despise the Chinese) often predominate, I find it hard to imagine a truly democratic China without at least a partial breakup of the country. Such a breakup would lead to chaos in western China, because the Uighurs are poorer and less educated than most Chinese and have a terrible historical record of governing themselves. Had the student demonstrations in 1989 in Tiananmen Square led to democracy, would the astoundingly high economic growth rates of the 1990s still obtain? I am not certain, because democracy in China would have ignited turmoil not just in the Muslim west of the country but elsewhere, too; order would have decreased but corruption would not have. The social and economic breakdowns under democratic rule in Albania and Bulgaria, where the tradition of pre-communist bourgeois life is weak or nonexistent (as in China), contrasted with more-successful democratic venues like Hungary and the Czech Republic, which have had well-established bourgeoisie, constitute further proof that our belief in democracy regardless of local conditions amounts to cultural hubris.

....

The lesson to draw is not that dictatorship is good and democracy bad but that democracy emerges successfully only as a capstone to other social and economic achievements. In his "Author's Introduction" to Democracy in America, Tocqueville showed how democracy evolved in the West not through the kind of moral fiat we are trying to impose throughout the world but as an organic outgrowth of development. European society had reached a level of complexity and sophistication at which the aristocracy, so as not to overburden itself, had to confer a measure of equality upon other citizens and allocate some responsibility to them: a structured division of the population into peacefully competing interest groups was necessary if both tyranny and anarchy were to be averted.

....

The Eastern European countries liberated in 1989 already had, in varying degrees, the historical and social preconditions for both democracy and advanced industrial life: bourgeois traditions, exposure to the Western Enlightenment, high literacy rates, low birth rates, and so on. The post-Cold War effort to bring democracy to those countries has been reasonable. What is less reasonable is to put a gun to the head of the peoples of the developing world and say, in effect, "Behave as if you had experienced the Western Enlightenment to the degree that Poland and the Czech Republic did. Behave as if 95 percent of your population were literate. Behave as if you had no bloody ethnic or regional disputes."

States have never been formed by elections. Geography, settlement patterns, the rise of literate bourgeoisie, and, tragically, ethnic cleansing have formed states. Greece, for instance, is a stable democracy partly because earlier in the century it carried out a relatively benign form of ethnic cleansing -- in the form of refugee transfers -- which created a monoethnic society. Nonetheless, it took several decades of economic development for Greece finally to put its coups behind it. Democracy often weakens states by necessitating ineffectual compromises and fragile coalition governments in societies where bureaucratic institutions never functioned well to begin with. Because democracy neither forms states nor strengthens them initially, multi-party systems are best suited to nations that already have efficient bureaucracies and a middle class that pays income tax, and where primary issues such as borders and power-sharing have already been resolved, leaving politicians free to bicker about the budget and other secondary matters.

....

Of the world's hundred largest economies, fifty-one are not countries but corporations. While the 200 largest corporations employ less than three fourths of one percent of the world's work force, they account for 28 percent of world economic activity. The 500 largest corporations account for 70 percent of world trade. Corporations are like the feudal domains that evolved into nation-states; they are nothing less than the vanguard of a new Darwinian organization of politics. Because they are in the forefront of real globalization while the overwhelming majority of the world's inhabitants are still rooted in local terrain, corporations will be free for a few decades to leave behind the social and environmental wreckage they create -- abruptly closing a factory here in order to open an unsafe facility with a cheaper work force there. Ultimately, as technological innovations continue to accelerate and the world's middle classes come closer together, corporations may well become more responsible to the cohering global community and less amoral in the course of their evolution toward new political and cultural forms.

....

Of course, the influence that corporations wield over government and the economy is so vast and obvious that the point needs no elaboration. But there are other, more covert forms of emerging corporate power.

The number of residential communities with defended perimeters that have been built by corporations went from 1,000 in the early 1960s to more than 80,000 by the mid-1980s, with continued dramatic increases in the 1990s. ("Gated communities" are not an American invention. They are an import from Latin America, where deep social divisions in places like Rio de Janeiro and Mexico City make them necessary for the middle class.) Then there are malls, with their own rules and security forces, as opposed to public streets; private health clubs as opposed to public playgrounds; incorporated suburbs with strict zoning; and other mundane aspects of daily existence in which -- perhaps without realizing it, because the changes have been so gradual -- we opt out of the public sphere and the "social contract" for the sake of a protected setting. Dennis Judd, an urban-affairs expert at the University of Missouri at St. Louis, told me recently, "It's nonsense to think that Americans are individualists. Deep down we are a nation of herd animals: micelike conformists who will lay at our doorstep many of our rights if someone tells us that we won't have to worry about crime and our property values are secure. We have always put up with restrictions inside a corporation which we would never put up with in the public sphere. But what many do not realize is that life within some sort of corporation is what the future will increasingly be about."

....

"The government of man will be replaced by the administration of things," the Enlightenment French philosopher Henri de Saint-Simon prophesied. We should worry that experts will channel our very instincts and thereby control them to some extent. For example, while the government fights drug abuse, often with pathetic results, pharmaceutical corporations have worked through the government and political parties to receive sanction for drugs such as stimulants and anti-depressants, whose consciousness-altering effects, it could be argued, are as great as those of outlawed drugs.

The more appliances that middle-class existence requires, the more influence their producers have over the texture of our lives. Of course, the computer in some ways enhances the power of the individual, but it also depletes our individuality. A degree of space and isolation is required for a healthy sense of self, which may be threatened by the constant stream of other people's opinions on computer networks.

....

Precisely because the technological future in North America will provide so much market and individual freedom, this productive anarchy will require the supervision of tyrannies -- or else there will be no justice for anyone...

And that brings us to a sober realization. If democracy, the crowning political achievement of the West, is gradually being transfigured, in part because of technology, then the West will suffer the same fate as earlier civilizations. Just as Rome believed it was giving final expression to the republican ideal of the Greeks, and just as medieval Kings believed they were giving final expression to the Roman ideal, we believe, as the early Christians did, that we are bringing freedom and a better life to the rest of humankind.

Full Story

Despite the length of the excerpt above, it is but a small fraction of the original article. A timely read for those with the intellect to think beyond what we are told by most political commentators. The Git found little to disagree with in this excellent, wide-ranging piece.

Thought for the day:

A government that is big enough to give you all you want is big enough to take it all away.

Barry Goldwater

Current Listening:

John Cale -- Fear


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Saturday 19 April 2003

Dave Magda writes:

Hello,

In your Wednesday, 16 April 2003 journal entry, you wrote:

> There The Git was, wondering how the fuck do you explain an > explanation from within the system you are using to do the > explaining? Or, more to the point, how can a self-referential > explanation have any significant meaning? Obviously, other > philosophers have been here before, but that way, it seems, lies > insanity.

I don't believe you can. This is part of Godel's Incompleteness Theorem [1]:

In 1931, the Czech-born mathematician Kurt Godel demonstrated that within any given branch of mathematics, there would always be some propositions that couldn't be proven either true or false using the rules and axioms ... of that mathematical branch itself. [...] The implication is that all logical system of any complexity are, by definition, incomplete; each of them contains, at any given time, more true statements than it can possibly prove according to its own defining set of rules.

And from the same site (very bottom):

Godel showed that provability is a weaker notion than truth, no matter what axiom system is involved ...

Huge philosophical implications in this: "Something can be true but unprovable."

I would hope that learning (and understanding!) this theorem would be required for any scientist/empiricist/logician in training.

[1] http://www.miskatonic.org/godel.html

Thanks Dave, I remembered Gdel after posting that piece. Your conclusion is entirely correct, but The Git is after getting a comprehensive education in philosophy and logic. That entails pretty much "forgetting" the disparate pieces of philosophy he has learned in order to think in the shoes of Ren Descartes, George Berkeley and David Hume (so far). Some of my fellow students are very dismissive of these philosophers, not realising the extent to which our philosophies are a product of our cultural/historical milieu. No doubt, by the time The Git gains his degree, his philosophical education will be comprehensive, though by no means complete.

Thought for the day:

It requires a very unusual mind to understand the analysis of the obvious.

Alfred North Whitehead

Current Listening:

Paul Simon -- Still Crazy After All These Years


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