Thursday, May 30, 2002

YOU GOTTA BE IN IT TO WIN IT: Jonah Goldberg raps a few knuckleheads for their inability to engage in critical thinking -- comparing their lust for jihad to winning the lottery. Here's an excerpt:
Because so many Muslims believe as a matter of religious truth that a full-blown, all-out, full-tilt boogie for burkas and beheadings kind of war will, by definition, result in the global "rule of Allah," there's a tendency to see war as a solution to any problem you might be facing. It's sort of like seeing global war as a winning lottery ticket that would solve all your problems. In 1964, for instance, Yasser Arafat believed — and announced — that his failed attack on a water pump in Northern Israel would lead to jihad and the ultimate destruction of Israel.

Osama bin Laden, we all know, believed and hoped that the 9/11 attacks would result in a holy war. Meanwhile, his organization and those associated with it are so high on their crack hookahs they think a holy war will result in Islamic dominion over all or most of India, Russia, and China too.

What's my point? Simple: These people are frickin' nuts. If they were allowed to drink booze, I'd say they were talking with their beer muscles. I know it's fun for these loons to imagine a bunch of Dervishes pouring into downtown Cleveland whirling their scimitars as we fat and spoiled Americans drop our Big Macs and run for our lives, but that will never, ever, happen.

Think of the "best case" scenario for these terrorists: The entire Muslim world rises up for a jihad against the United States. This what they wish for, right? Well, this alone qualifies them as idiots.

I'm no Victor Davis Hanson, but it seems to me that even without nuclear weapons, we could probably defeat all 57 members the Islamic Conference of Nations — combined. We'd need to be convinced that our survival was on the line and be thus committed to total war like we were during WWII or the Civil War. But that's sort of implied when you use phrases like "global holy war," and talk about the mass conversion and/or the mass slaughter of Christendom, right?

Oh sure, we might need to reinstate the draft, cut some fat from the next farm bill, load up on a couple of more air wings and de-mothball a few ships, but it's totally doable when you think about it...

Tuesday, May 28, 2002

THANKS and a tip o' the ol' Home Movies hat to Michael Lopez at Higher Ed Intelligence for his thoughtful amplifications of my lengthy essay from last week. Kudos, also, to Charles G. Hill of for his equally fine taste in bloggerature. I was beginning to wonder if anyone reads this page anymore.

(I know I took a couple of weeks off recently -- but sheesh! -- you slow down to recharge your batteries for half a minute in this blog racket. and everyone starts writing you off as a burn-out! Megan, you de-linked me? Fmeh upon thee!)

ROPE-A-DOPE OR WIMPING OUT? Writing for National Review Online, John O'Sullivan reassures the increasingly pensive blogosphere -- singling out Glenn Reynolds and Andrew Sullivan by name -- that there is little reason to fear that Bush has gone wobbly on Iraq, if for no other reason that "he will not be reelected if Saddam Hussein is still ruling in Baghdad in 2004."

Andrew Sullivan, in particular, went into paroxysms of alarm last week, over Bush's remark to the German press that " there is no plan to invade" on his desk. But how could Sullivan have failed to notice how that disclaimer was parsed in so obviously a Clintonesqe manner? NRO's John O'Sullivan spells it out for him: "His remark that he has no plan on the table to invade Iraq is doubtless literally true — it is still being constructed in the Pentagon." Feeling calmer, Andrew?

MYSTERY DODECAHEDRON: Spotted this prop on a Pop-Up Brady Bunch rerun over the weekend, and squealed "My stereo speakers!" Or at least, they would have been my speakers, if I could have afforded a pair of these when I spotted them hanging from the ceiling in a special-interest record store on Eighth Street circa 1978. Their multi-directional sound was exquisite, and the aesthetic sensibility would have been a sublime compliment to the interlocking foam Puzzle Couch that furnished my first apartment, and the Giant Hand chair that I would have loved to add to the ensemble.

The record store is long gone, put out of business by nearby Tower Records at least ten years ago. And the speakers, I would hazard a guess, are no longer manufactured. But what a kick it would be if they ever turned up on eBay...

(Screen grab thanks to the miracle of TiVo "real-time rewind.")

FIGHTING TO LIVE AS THE TOWERS DIED: Must-read feature article from Sunday's New York Times:
Yes, Stanley Praimnath told the caller from Chicago, he was fine. He had actually evacuated to the lobby of the south tower, but a security guard told him to go back. Now, he was again at his desk at Fuji Bank. "I'm fine," he repeated.

As he would later tell his story, those were his final words before he spotted it.

A gray shape on the horizon. An airplane, flying past the Statue of Liberty. The body of the United Airlines jet grew larger until he could see a red stripe on the fuselage. Then it banked and headed directly toward him.

Another one.

"Lord, you take over!" he remembers yelling, dropping under his metal desk.

At 9:02:54, the nose of the jetliner smashed directly into Mr. Praimnath's floor, about 130 feet from his desk. A fireball ignited. Steel furnishings and aluminum plane parts were torn into white-hot shrapnel. A blast wave hurled computers and desks through windows, and ripped out bundles of arcing electrical cables. Then the south tower seemed to stoop, swinging gradually toward the Hudson River, ferociously testing the steel skeleton before snapping back...

Friday, May 24, 2002

I OFTEN WONDER: Why do so many seemingly-intelligent people play the lottery every day? Have they forgotten that they didn't win anything the day before, or the day before that? After they have failed to win 50 times out of 50, or 100 times out of 100 -- after they utterly fail to break even after 500 games, or 1000 -- how do they manage to convince themselves that the odds will be in their favor tomorrow?

Something monstrously, horribly inevitable is taking shape, just beyond the horizon. Humanity is beginning to look like a historical aberration, hard-wired to produce its own extinction.

Consider how so many people believe in a "junk science" like astrology. No intelligent person can make a credible case for the "science" behind the influence of stars and planets over one's personality or fate, when the gravitational force exerted on me by the pencil two feet away from me is vastly greater than the combined pull of every celestial body in the zodiac.

Yet people persist in believing in astrology, because -- absent critical thinking -- it's pleasantly reassuring to hold something larger than one's self responsible for the lack of control they have over their lives.

As an amusement, astrology is harmless enough. I begrudge no one the thrill of reading a horoscope that seems eerily prescient, while conveniently disregarding all the ones that fizzle.

But when a large percentage of a whole culture clings to debunked mysticisms for guidance and solace, it's a symptom of emotional immaturity, of intellectual rot,. It's an indication that we, as a nation, as a culture, have abdicated our joint responsibility to engage in skeptical inquiry and critical thinking. And that's a very scary portent of things to come.

When a whole culture is willing to buy into any idea that merely sounds credible without thinking it through to its logical conclusion -- well, for starters, that's how we end up electing presidents whose campaign promises are mathematically inconsistent with one another. It shows that we simply don't care about the meanings of words.-- as if words don't actually translate into agendas, policy decisions and laws.

From there, it's a short step down the slippery slope of forfeiting personal liberties without so much as questioning the motives of those who would ask us to do so. But we'll do it anyway, because even a false sense of security feels better than none at all.

Bad enough that such things happen in America despite all of our Constitutional safeguards. But in other countries, in other cultures, where there is no free press and no open debate and no intellectual inquiry -- where most people live in poverty and squalor, and have nothing to look forward to but more poverty and squalor -- it's no surprise that the intellectually lazy go looking for someone else to blame for their problems.

And that's when the lies of Holocaust deniers find an audience.

I do not play the Hitler card frivolously. Nor, obviously, do I mean to suggest moral equivalence of astrology and the Holocaust. But it is the same frivolous abdication of critical thinking that allows both "harmless" astrology believers and genuinely dangerous Holocaust deniers to flourish.

It is the failure of critical thinking that makes frauds like John ("I see dead people") Edward into minor media superstars. It is the failure of critical thinking that gives quarter to suicidal lunatics like Jim Jones and Marshall Applewhite. It is the failure of critical thinking that foments popular movements like those which brought Pol Pot and Arafat and, yes, Hitler to power.

Institutionalized worldwide antisemitism. The growing threat of Islamofascism. Add to that, the simmering conflagration between India and Pakistan, which seem to be on the verge of going nuclear at any moment. Civilization is literally on the brink.

A commonly cited definition of insanity is repeating the same activity over and over, expecting to see a different outcome the next time. I look at the people waiting in line to buy their lottery tickets every day, and I can't help but think that we're either a species of idiots with very short memories, or else we're simply insane.

Either way, we don't seem to be capable of collectively learning anything.

Most Americans, I fear, have either failed to learn or already forgotten the true dimensions and consequences of the terrorist attacks. Here in New York City, it's probably a little different, because we have to confront that hole in the skyline every day. But to the extent that people outside of the New York area think about the World Trade Center at all anymore, I'd imagine that most just mutter to themselves, "What a shame ... All those innocent people ... Those amazing buildings .. All that economic chaos ... But darn it all, we've got to get back to normal now, or else the terrorists will have won!"

Well then, if that's going to be our mantra, human civilization may as well pack it in right now.

We "get back to normal" at our extreme peril. Because, historically, "normal" amounts to simply hoping for the best. Normal is buying another lottery ticket tomorrow, as if something different will happen next time. Normal is an undiminished belief in the power of junk science, superstition and prayer. Normal is burying our heads in the sand and trusting that some entity larger than ourselves will handle the hard work, so that we can just get back to living our normal little lives again.

Normal is insane.

Thursday, May 23, 2002

ILL-CHOSEN METAPHOR AWARD - FIRST PRIZE: PARIS (May 23, 2002 6:38 a.m. EDT) - An intense fire destroyed the stately Israeli embassy in Paris early Thursday. Officials doubted it was arson or related to a recent wave of anti-Semitic attacks in France. ... "It was like a pottery oven in there," Fire Capt. Laurent Vibert said afterward.

Wednesday, May 22, 2002

MORAL EQUIVALENCY WATCH: From the same MSNBC news alert:
May 22 — A bomb exploded Wednesday evening in the Tel Aviv suburb of Rishon Letzion, police said. Israel TV reported two people were killed, apparently including the bomber, and other media reports spoke of dozens of casualties. A spokesman for the Israeli Magen David Adom ambulance service said many were injured.

Later in that same article:
Two dozen Palestinian taxis waited Wednesday morning at the main army checkpoint along the north-south road, which was blocked. One passenger, Fatma Abu Maghaseb, 55, said she was trying to visit her daughter, who had given birth the day before. “Can anyone in the world imagine that my daughter and I live in the same town, and only one kilometer separates us, and I cannot get there?” said Abu Maghaseb, dressed in a traditional black robe.

Of course, our hearts and prayers go out to the thousands of inconvenienced Palestinians.

CATS AND CATS, LIVING TOGETHER: That's it. We're officially back to normal. It's all shark attacks and Chandra Levy again. Fabulous.

Monday, May 20, 2002

JIM TREACHER writes: "Since you were nice enough to link to me...Here's a brief note on why my blog is gone."

I've repeatedly tried to post Jim's temporary URL as an embedded link, but at this hour Blogger can't seem to post the link properly either, so I'm reduced to spelling it out. Copy-and paste to your address line:

The gist of it -- which Jim reported in more detail on another site, and I'm afraid I've forgotten where -- is that he'd recently paid good money for an upgrade to Blogger Pro, and instead his Blogger address became inactive. The entirety of his archives may have disappeared along with his account. And, after several days, he's received no help whatsoever from "Ev," the beleagured proprietor of the whole enterprise.

*sigh* While I haven't experienced any catastrophic service failures on that scale, my own activities on this page have been too often stymied by sluggish, unreliable connections to the Blogspot server. Lately, I've ended up deleting a number of pending posts when they'd simply become too dated to upload after a day or two had passed.

Blogger was a great idea in its early days, but it's grown to the point of collapse, underfinanced and understaffed for too long. I continue to cling to Blogger solely for its ease of use -- but If Ev doesn't get his act straightened out soon, Mind Over What Matters will be looking for a new non-Blogspot solution pretty soon, too.

UPDATE: After several days, Jim's Blogspot site seems to be back in business. But for how long ... HOW LONG...???

Friday, May 17, 2002

EAT YOUR PROTEIN PILL: What I always liked about The Future was that I'd get to eat "food pills" instead of fresh vegetables. Lima Beans? Bleccchhh! But serve it in a form that I could wash down with a single gulp of Hawaiian Punch, and maybe I'd actually look forward to eating my beans.

So, now that we're IN the future, and Food Pills are a reality, all I want to know is this: Why hasn't the Pill Splitter been adopted as the primary utensil at every well-set table?

The Brunching Shuttlecocks rate The Future here.

Wednesday, May 15, 2002

UPLOAD A GIF, GO TO JAIL There's a movement to dump the GIF (Graphics Interchange Format) from all websites -- or at least among web cartoonists' sites -- in favor of the lesser-known but arguably more efficient PNG (Portable Network Graphic) format, for both political and practical reasons. How is it that I'm always the last to hear about these things?

Christopher B. Wright, "The Internet's Most Dangerous Cartoonist," makes the case that Unisys -- which owns a critical patent at the core not only of GIFs, but TIFFs and PDFs as well -- could, at any moment, send out the Graphics Cops to start ticketing every two-bit mom-and-pop webmaster, demanding payment of overdue licensing fees.

But even if that farfetched scenario never actually plays out, there's a better reason to start making the switch. Chris explains:
There's another reason to switch to PNGs, though. A reason that's just as important in my opinion, though many of you might disagree. The reason is, simply, that it's better to use and support truly open standards instead of proprietary ones. Companies like Unisys (and Microsoft, for that matter) like to brush such comments aside, accusing the people who make them of being communists, or socialists, or at the very least, radical nutcases, but the truth is that the fewer hoops you have to jump through in order to get something done, the easier it will be to accomplish. That's why the internet has grown faster than CompuServe did, and why America Online, despite being the largest online service there is, is still tiny, tiny, tiny compared the the Internet itself.

While PNGs are well-supported by just about every browser at this late date, they can't be displayed by older releases of Internet Explorer (version 4 and earlier) and Netscape (version 3 and earlier). Does this still matter? My browser stat report shows that a significant 3% of the visistors to Mind Over What Matters still use IE4.x. A total of 37 visitors in the past six months came in through Netscape 3.x, and a whopping 12 of you were using either IE3.x or IE2.x. (Well, that may have been the same two people making six visits apiece. But still ... how can you people see anything with those clunkers? Join the 21st Century already!)


Here's a test: If you see two copies of Roger Dean's classic cover for the classic album Fragile by Yes, the greatest prog-rock band of all time, then your browser is both GIF- and PNG-compatible. If you see only one copy, you're probably viewing the GIF version, but not the PNG. If that's the case, do me a favor and let me know -- leave a message by clicking on comment prompt below, and tell me what browser and operating system you're using. Thanks.

UPDATE: Keyboard wizard Rick Wakeman will be rejoining Yes once again -- his fourth tour of duty with the band in its 33 years of nearly-continuous existence, if memory serves -- for their summer 2002 tour. It's the classic lineup -- Jon, Rick, Steve, Chris and Alan. They'll be playing Radio City in a couple of months. I'm there, man.

Friday, May 10, 2002

Writing for the Jerusalem Post, Barry Rubin observes that a remarkable new development seems to have taken place: The Bush administration is now speaking of Arafat in the past tense. What's more, the CIA(!!!) is apparently planning to take an active hand in reshaping the Palestinian security infrastructure.

Rubin notes that Bush's policy change came about, not coincidentally, in the aftermath of his Crawford tete-a-tete with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah. This raises some interesting questions:
"So [is Bush] saying that the Arab leaders are going to demand Arafat reform or else? Or [will Bush] go to Palestinian leaders and say that we will give you lots of money if you get rid of Arafat? ... Have the Saudis volunteered to get the Arab world to dump Arafat? ... Either this is going to develop into the most creative and courageous initiative the region has seen in a long time or American policy makers have become shockingly disoriented."
Curiouser and curiouser...! The rope-a-dope theory is starting to look more promising again.

Thursday, May 09, 2002

EMOTICON BOMBER FOILED: "[Luke] Helder told authorities he was planting pipe bombs in a pattern to show a happy face during his spree."

The question is, what should we rush to ban, to prevent anyone from being inspired to commit such a dastardly deed in the future? Should we, as a nation, rise up and demand that AOL Messenger disable its emoticon feature? Or should 20th Century Fox immediately recall all 3.5 million home video copies of Fight Club, which I'll go out on a limb and guess was Helder's favorite movie of all time?

Mischief. Mayhem. Soap. ;-)

NOT A DREAM, not a hoax, not an imaginary story ... or any other sort of cop-out:

Well, we'll see...

Wednesday, May 08, 2002

FLAGGING INTEREST: The new flag under consideration for use by the European Union, designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, is being nicknamed the "barcode flag" for obvious reasons -- although, personally, I think it looks more like the little raggedy carpet they gave me in Kindergarten to lie down on for my afternoon nap:

What's wrong with this picture?

I am a self-employed graphic artist by trade. Part of my job description is to satisfy the demands of the client. The other 90% of the job is to ignore the client's demands and steer them away from imposing ill-considered, whimsical design decisions that will, in the long run, cause them more grief than satisfaction.

Did the EU Flag Committee get their money's worth? Ummm ... well, they sure got a lot of colors. But herein lies the problem:

There's a reason why corporate identity materials are usually limited to one or two spot colors. It's this: Printed stationery and business cards can be produced quite handsomely and economically on a 2-color duplicator-class printing press. Whereas, full-spectrum process color requires a large 4-color press, which automatically elevates your printing budget for every single printed piece -- every envelope that's torn open and discarded upon receipt -- every lousy personalized memo pad -- into the stratosphere.

(The minute you see a company or organization adopt a logo design element that requires process color reproduction, you can infer that their directors are more concerned with impressing one another with their design sensibilities than in controlling expenses and preserving shareholder value.)

Admittedly, I've never designed or manufactured a flag, but the economics are surely similar to that of any other corporate identity concept. Imagine the logistics of purchasing dyes, threads and fabrics in 45 different colors -- and certifiying that each is an accurate match for the required color specifications! -- as opposed to only two or three.

If Koolhaas simply gave the EU what they said they wanted, then he's a hack. A professional would have guided them toward a more economical design. But if the "barcode" design concept is fundamentally Koolhaas' own, he is guilty of gross professional negligence for allowing it to see the light of day.

I have no doubt that the EU Flag Committee feels they got their money's worth. (I mean -- gosh, look at all the pretty colors!) But when they eventually figure out that they've made a mistake -- and they will, just as soon as they start seeing some manufacturers' invoices -- they might want to consider solicting competitive bids for the next flag.

H.D. Miller of Travelling Shoes has some other practical concerns as well:
My advice to the European Union is don't be too hasty in accepting this new design. A few years down the road you might find yourselves regretting the barcode, with all of the anti-individualistic connotations that implies. You might find yourselves longing for something a little simpler, a little easier for school children to draw.

(Note to prospective flag clients: You like complexity for its own sake? You like pretty colors? I like money! Here's a few of my own alternate design comps, gratis.)



UPDATE (from BBC News): "Already unfavourably compared to wallpaper, the TV test card and deckchair fabric, the stripe design is only one of the proposals submitted by the Dutch 'brainstormer'." [So why is this one particular proposal getting all the press? -Ed.]

UPDATE: Grasshoppa proposes his own alternative flag design. Who says irony is dead?