Saturday, October 27, 2001


Wrote Milton, "Truth is strong next to the Almighty." ... "Though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play upon the earth, so truth be in the field, we do injuriously, by licensing and prohibiting, to misdoubt her strength. Let her and falsehood grapple, whoever knew truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter?"

This became known as the "self-righting principle" -- the notion that, in the end, truth will win out.

Look it up ... Use it ...Wear it out!


Josh Talking Points Marshall -- whose website should definitely be rechristened "Anthrax Central" now -- brings to our attention a splendidly elegant demonstration of common sense by CNN Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, which aired a couple days ago.

All very well and good -- but surely, anyone with (a) a brain in their head, and (b) who has ever sent a greeting card or thank-you note to Aunt Clara, had already solved the mystery without Dr. Gupta's help: The traces of anthrax that have contaminated the country's mail sorting facilities have obviously leaked through the ungummed, unsealed corner edges of a very few envelope flaps. (If spores also leaked through the actual porous paper from which the envelopes were constructed, it was just a bonus!)

But leave it to overnight paranoia-king Art Bell to intuit this far-fetched explanation: The CIA, according to Bell's source -- i.e., the fevered imagination of some anonymous caller -- has developed a means to use the gummy backing of ordinary postage stamps to act as a medium for growing Anthrax spore cultures. No envelopes are even necessary! Wanna wreck a little havoc? Just moisten one of those specially-prepared stamps -- presumably with a damp sponge rather than your toungue -- and mail a hundred blank post cards to an undeliverable false destination, with no return address. Then sit back and watch the fun!

Unlikely, you say? Look at it this way: When zebras hear hoofbeats, do you imagine they're thinking horses?


On The Practice, it's Jimmy the Grunt. On NYPD Blue, it's the soft-spoken, stuttering Medavoy. The picked-on, exploited guy who's just as good, just as smart -- maybe a little smarter -- than everyone else. If only he were given the chance to prove himself more often. Instead, his co-workers depend on him for comic relief. He's the brunt of eveyone else's jokes. The outsider among outsiders. All he wants is a little respect. But failing that, he's still there, 24/7, just doing the job he was hired to do.

On the Cartoon Network's crown jewel Home Movies, it's the unselfconscious, book-smart Jason. Jason -- is me. That is, I might as well be him. And if we were doing a poll about the coolest dude on Cartoon Network, I'd be stuffing the ballot box day and night to help li'l Jason win. But unfortunately, the Unofficial Cartoon Network Adult Swim home page is running a poll on the coolest member of the Aqua Teen Hunger Force instead.

Okay, in that case -- It's Meatwad. Master Shake's shy, innocent, tagalong buddy Meatwad. Yes -- I am -- Meatwad. And thanks to a little source code cut-and-paste wizardry -- okay, thievery! -- you can vote in the Unoffcial Adult Swim poll right here, without even visiting that other site. (But please do visit that other site! Just don't forget to hit your Back button and finish reading Mind Over What Matters afterward.)

Friday, October 26, 2001


I'm telling you -- Is this guy clairvoyant, or what? Last night, as reported in this space -- see below -- overnight paranoia-king Art Bell fretted "Have you noticed that the Internet is much slower than usual lately? Could it be ... because the Government has already begun its campaign of massive e-mail tapping?

Barely 12 hours later - corroboration from an unimpeachable second source: Fox News!

WASHINGTON — The Federal Bureau of Investigation is seeking to broaden considerably its ability to tap into Internet traffic in its quest to root out terrorists, going beyond even the new measures afforded in anti-terror legislation signed by President Bush Friday...

Yeah. Seeking. That's code for backdating the Presidential Finding, right?


Starting today, let's start calling them what they really are: Anthrax-like symptoms. Okay?


Who's the most popular Friend this year?
It's official...

Joey! By a slim margin ... but of course ... who can resist that winning smile?

Sorry Phoeb, but your five-year streak is over. Whaddya expect for a gal who's pushin' 40 and is still trying to play 31 and clueless? Retire gracefully.


This morning's mail brings this personal follow-up from Barry Karr:
What an excellent way to start the day - seeing that they have put the show on hold. It is just wondeful to see that they caught the flak they deserved. Thanks!

Here's the text of his general announcement to the CSICOP ListServ:
Since I wrote to the list yesterday it seems a hailstorm of protest has erupted around the then plans for Studios USA's 'Crossing Over with John Edward' to attempt to communicate with victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in several episodes planned for the November sweeps.

I have received well over 100 e-mails from equally upset people - many with copies of letters they had written to Studio USA and the Sci-Fi Channel. It seems the story also outraged quite a number of others as well, for this morning news has been received that they will not be going ahead with the program.

By then, Studios USA publicists were being swamped with calls from reporters. And, according to one source, the company also started hearing from some station execs that carry the show ("What the [expletive] are you thinking of?!" is how one station suit said he planned to put it).

Not long after, a spokeswoman for "Crossing Over" called The TV Column to say Rosenberg "is now saying the show isn't put together" and he's "not sure when" the segments will air; it may be "later this year or next year."

A few hours later, the whole thing was scrubbed.

To all of you who wrote to us, to the Networks, and made your opinions felt on this we thank you - you were certainly part of the groundswell that helped put a stake in this black heart.

The formula is simple:
+ Skeptical Inquiry
+ Critical Scrutiny
+ Rational Discourse
x Many Voices
= The Good Guys Win!

E-mail the John Edward show
E-mail the Sci-Fi Channel


Overnight radio paranoia-king Art Bell reports: "Have you noticed that the Internet is much slower than usual lately? Could it be ... because the Government has already begun its campaign of massive e-mail tapping?

Yipe! Come to think of it, I did experience a couple of instances of packet-lag today. That's certainly never happened before ...!

Thursday, October 25, 2001


My correspondent Jeff W. reports
When asked how I intend to dress for Halloween in the office, I said, "I'm going to put on a suit and tie and wear a Cantor Fitzgerald ID tag."


Never mind. Cooler heads prevailed:
The one thing John Edward definitely crossed over was the line and the 'psychic' has shelved plans for a series of Crossing Over With John Edward episodes focusing on people killed in the Sept. 11 attacks.

Studios USA Domestic Television said Thursday that it is retreating from the plan to air the segment on broadcast syndication and cable’s Sci Fi Channel.

Citing 'a reaction that none of us expected,' the company's president, Steve Rosenberg, said that while some segments for the shows have already been taped, they will not be broadcast.

I just have one question: Why does Matt Drudge keep posting Barry Diller's mug above these 800-point headlines about the Edward show? Are we to believe that Diller himself came up with the idea and personally attempted to foist it on the saintly, sensitive John Edward against his better judgment? I don't have to be a regular devoted viewer - I don't have to ever have seen the show - to know that Edward himself routinely perpetrates a grotesque intellectual dishonesty upon the public, exploting the most vulnerable in the pursuit of personal profit. He hardly needs help from Diller to work that angle.

Or does he? James Randi recently observed:
I'm told — by very good authority — that the ratings on the new John Edward TV show are not as high as expected, and that we just might expect that it will be pulled. ...The recent WTC tragedy seems to have alerted TV producers to the obvious fact that the presentation of superstitious prattle shows little respect for those among us who are grieving. It seems very sad that they could not have recognized this fact long ago....

If only ... if only ...


What - is that wascally Taliban at it again? Nope. Just John Edward, doing his "Crossing Over thang. From the press release:
Studios USA’s 'Crossing Over with John Edward' will attempt to communicate with victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in several episodes planned for the November sweeps for the syndicated and, perhaps, cable runs of the show.

Steve Rosenberg, the studio’s domestic syndication president, anticipating concerns by viewers, says the shows 'will be done tastefully…and won't be exploitative,'

Within minutes after the story broke wide-open on Matt Drudge, I received this announcement from Barry Karr, the moderator for the Skeptical Inquirer ListServ:
Subject: Re: Words Fail Me!
"...This is one of the most disgusting events, shows, stories I've read about in a long time. David Bloomberg said it best: "What a pack of parasites..."
Barry Karr

I would like to throw this out to the list: What should a morally outraged skeptic do?

If you grew up in the late 20th Century Heartland of America, you might well have come to believe that seances were as common - and as eminently sensible - as Tupperware parties. Nearly every denizen of TubeWorld attempted to contact the dead if their show was successful enough to stay on the air for any length of time. (Odd that I don't recall ever being invited to a seance in real life.)

Those who mock "Crossing Over" should keep it in perspective, which includes the following:
My Favorite Martian
1/12/64 "Poor Little Rich Cat"
W & D: James Komack
Martin reads about a cat inheriting a fortune and he wants Tim to use the
newspaper to correct this injustice.
(Bernie Kopell, Dub Taylor, Moyna Macgill)

I Love Lucy
11/26/51: "The Seance"
I Love Lucy Episode 7 - Filmed 10/19/51
Story: Lucy and Ethel have taken up the art of the Ouija Board.
Guests: Jay Novello (Mr. Merriweather)
Based on My Favorite Husband #24 & #88 ("Numerology")
There's a wav from this here.

Hot Metal
"The Modern Promethius"
gs: Jack Watling [ PM MacNamara ], Aubrey Morris [ Nikita Kruschev ], Yvonne D'Alpra [ Mrs Tape ], Helen Atkinson-Wood [ Television Interviewer ], Eliza Buckingham [ Mrs MacNamara ], Michael Chesden [ Waiter ], Nicholas Geake [Television Announcer ], Julia Gilbert [ Assistant Stage Manager ]
The Crucible launches an all-out campaign supporting a return to capital punishment by interviewing murder victims through a seance and interviewing the brother of a state executioner who hanged himself. Spam discovers the man identified as Khrushchev is a fake, and the fellow dies during a live televsion interview.
b: 23 Feb 86

[Thanks to Tele-Tobias of TubeWorld for the references.]


The published winter season calendar for Carnegie Hall does not appear to have a PDQ Bach concert on the schedule. Nor does he appear to have relocated to either Town Hall or Lincoln Center this year.

Everything Schickele-related on the web is also grossly out of date. His publisher (Theodore Presser) has no information about the Professor's schedule after May of this year, and the Schickele Mix pages for PRI have not been updated since they were created five years ago. (Still "optimized" for Netscape Version 2!)

Last year's PDQ Bach concert struck me as surprisingly off-kilter. The Professor was so alarmingly, genuinely "late" to the performance that the timing of his signature gag wasn't funny. The performances seemed lackluster and underrehearsed.

I wonder if he just came to realize that his heart wasn't in it anymore, and it was time to call it a day?


Isn't KausFiles' descriptive text under the link for Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo due for a change? Granted, "Chandra Central" has the advantage of being quaintly nostalgic, but judging from today's fresh postings, "Anthrax Central" would be more accurate...

[Update:] Apparently, Mickey Kaus agrees. In this morning's mail:
i was thinking that myself. thanks for the prodding. cheers


My Blog title is taken from the 1992 book “Accidental Empires” by the pseudonymous Robert X. Cringely – that is, the original "proper" Cringely, not the phony who later appropriated the disputed nom de plume in a bitter custody battle with InfoWorld magazine, which still claims it as their intellectual property.

The “real” Cringely -- in describing the limitations of early low-resolution laser printers -- relates the story of how the computer pioneer Donald Knuth invented a new kind of algorithm to describe the beautiful curves and shapes of typographical letterforms. When Knuth saw his typefaces printed on a low-resolution laser printer for the first time, he apparently didn't perceive that the “jaggies” spoiled the quality of the images. He was looking “far beyond the actual letters and words to the mathematical concepts that underlay them. Had a good enough laser printer been available, the printing would have been beautiful, so that's what Knuth saw.”

The art of “mind over what matters” is one which comes to me with considerable difficulty. I selected that title as a reminder that, sometimes, to keep my priorities in their proper perspective, I have to really discipline myself – hunker down and put my mind to it – to accomplish the things that really matter.

Meanwhile, Cringely effortlessly spews out a few hundred words about Microsoft and Windows XP in this morning's New York Times Op Ed: Windows of Opportunity

Here's an archive of Cringely's recent, lengthier columns for PBS.

How did I miss hearing about this months ago? The full story is here


My correspondent, Andy, alerts me:

There are things going on in space and on the Earth that you are going to have some trouble dealing with ... The Sun is about 30% brighter than it was eight years ago. YEP! Have you heard about this??? Nope...that's why we call it the lamestream "news" media. That 30% figure is my own based on Solar cell readings. Of course, if one is observant, one should have noticed that SOMETHING is wrong with the Sun as compared to several years ago. For one thing you could glance at the Sun and even see a yellow ring around it. No more. You can't even glance at it now. It's WAY too bright. If THAT is not a cosmic change, then what would be???

My first instinct is to tell my old buddy Andy to get a grip. These days, we've got bigger things to worry about than the Sun blowing up.

But --

Let's assume, for a moment, that Andy's measurements are accurate. In that case, they should be replicable. Any amateur astronomer should be able observe the same phenomenon and obtain the same results. So never mind whether the media has covered the story. If any of what Andy says is true, surely some among the many thousands of people who fancy themselves amateur astronomers must be discussing this finding amongst themselves.

How about it? Are there some some credible astronomer-hobbyists out there who can corroborate his findings?

Note to the Usual Internet Cranks: I am not interested in reading newsgroup discussions conducted under the security of untraceable aliases, or an insular set of websites maintained by like-minded individuals who simply prop up one another with self-referential links. What I would like to do is to contact someone with a real, verifiable name, street address and phone number, who would be willing to sit for a ten- or fifteen-minute interview for full attribution, and explain the methods by which they came to replicate Andy's findings independently.

While the lamestream news media is snoozing, Mind Over What Matters stands ready to break the story wide-open! All we need is that pesky "second source" for verification.

Someone? Anyone? Contact me here

Tuesday, October 23, 2001


So we are reminded by Michael Crowley of The New Republic, who offers a far milder rebuke of House Speaker Dennis Hastert and House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt -- for bolting at the first sign of spores on Capitol Hill -- than did the New York Post, with its headline "WIMPS: THE LEADERS WHO RAN AWAY FROM ANTHRAX."

Crowley observes:

Hastert in particular made a fool of himself by flatly stating that "this stuff has gotten into the ventilation system, it's going through the tunnels." But he also made the incredibly reckless observation that he is "not somebody who's qualified in the areas of communicable diseases or contagious diseases"-- clearly, since anthrax is not a contagious disease and the distinction is enormously important for keeping the public calm and informed about the proper threat.

But a little later, in offering up a half-hearted defense of Hastert's instincts, Crowley observes further:

At a briefing yesterday, police and Pentagon officials told members of Congress that the anthrax does appear to have spread beyond the Hart building. A worker based in the Capitol who never entered Daschle's Hart office has tested positive for exposure to anthrax. This person did hug staffers in the affected office, the aide said, speculating that he or she could have trailed spores into the Capitol itself. This, says the aide, is clear evidence in support of the decision to evacuate House: "It turns out we were right."

Certainly, the business of legislating away our civil rights in the name of anti-terrorism can wait a few days. And it's unrealistic to expect anyone -- Postal sorters, Tom Brokaw's assistants, and elected representatives alike -- to knowingly expose themselves to a potentially lethal environmental contaminant as a condition of continued employment. Though this "pinprick assault" has (so far) proven to be eminently survivable -- now that we know what we're up against -- this assurance is of little comfort when you're the canary being carried into the mine shaft. (Besides, Hastert, Gephardt et al have much more serious failings to answer for than a show of bipartisanship in the pursuit of self-preservation.)

But Crowley also glosses over an important distinction -- of which the public needs to hear some straight talk from those who are qualified in the areas of communicable diseases or contagious diseases. Technically, yes, anthrax is not contagious -- in that I understand that I needn't worry about contracting it from Tom Brokaw's assistant if she wanders into my office this morning and exhales indiscriminately in my direction. But what, then, is the importance difference between "contagious" in the strictest, medical sense, and in the sense that a person who handled contaminated mail "could have trailed spores"? Either way, those who come into contact would be at some nominally increased risk -- wouldn't they?

Don't look at me. I certainly don't know -- and all I'm seeing is wild speculation. As Crowley says, "A few anthrax spores tracked into the Capitol doesn't necessarily make it a deadly environment" -- but I don't see him volunteering to test that theory on himself, either.