Sunday, November 02, 2008

[housekeeping] tweaking the template

UPDATE: This page is as it was but the blogroll page has been redone.

The two sidebars together are not meant to be a mistake - I've put them there to see how they go for a few days.

As I usually have pics across the top of a post or on the left, this lends itself to the new format but there've been difficulties with the html. I can't seem to determine sidebar length and so it seems to cut off below a certain point and the text then wraps around. At first I thought this was not so good but it actually shortens the page, so I've left it.

Not being sure how it would look on Windows with IE, I downloaded IE5 for Mac and have looked at the page in Safari, Firefox and IE. Seems to be basically all right.

See how it strikes you.

[haute couture] of a topical yet practical nature

Just flicking through the haute couture, as one is want to do on a post-halloween, pre-election weekend and came up with the headgear to the left here.

An eminently practical number, this would require a voiture with adequate headroom, say a Bentley or similar and would be more suited to a shorter woman, say around 150 cm. A London taxi would do the trick, of course.

For use at the call centre phone or in a business meeting, some form of curtain-tie would be necessary to hold the grassy bits up out of the eyes but the beauty of this hat is that it does not intefere with the ears and thus phone answering would not be impaired.

Note the muted colours and absence of anything actually spectacular or daring in the below neck area. This is French couture down to a T - only one extravagant item at any one time.

Perhaps a floral stoll could be designed though to compliment the number for these chilly days or failing that, a floral wreath or two could be pressed into service.

Yes, I know what you are saying - that outfit is far too "green" and de rigeur. It hardly takes into account the current fashion for all things African and third world. To address these concerns, the number below right has been designed to re-create the "peasant in the fields at harvest time" effect.

Can't you see yourself now, sashaying down the footpath with oomph and elegance, sporting third world, emerging economy chic that grabs everybody’s attention?

Who needs the ultra glamorous layered look, when you are just so politically correct in this tribute to global sustainability?

And just look at those carbon footprints!

If you're one of those unfortunates of a Caucasian complexion, this shouldn't pose insurmountable problems. A week or two of the yellow tanning oil should produce the desired effect but I'd be more concerned with the conversational limitations - a few turns of the head and someone is whacked over the mush something awful, particularly if you are 150 cm tall.

The appropriate response is tailor made: "Are you oppressing me?"

[electoral college] nearly dropped in 1970

Read about the current state by state situation here.

Some people are not aware that on November 4th, the President and Vice-President of the United States are NOT being chosen by the people.

Rather, the people are voting for Electors who will themselves vote for the President and Vice-President on December 15th.

You might like to read about this here or here. What some people may also not be aware of is that the system was nearly abolished in 1969/70:

The closest the nation has ever come to abolishing the Electoral College occurred during the 91st Congress. The presidential election of 1968 had ended with Richard Nixon receiving 301 electoral votes to Hubert Humphrey's 191. Yet, Nixon had only received 511,944 more popular votes than Humphrey, equating to less than 1% of the national total. George Wallace received the remaining 46 electoral votes with only 13.5% of the popular vote.

House Joint Resolution 681 was introduced to amend the Constitution:

On April 29, 1969, the House Judiciary Committee voted favorably, 28–6, to approve the Amendment. On September 30, 1969, President Richard Nixon gave his endorsement for adoption of the proposal, encouraging the Senate to pass its version of the Amendment. In its October 8, 1969 edition, the New York Times reported that the legislatures of 30 states were "either certain or likely to approve a constitutional amendment embodying the direct election plan if it passes its final Congressional test in the Senate." On August 14, 1970, the Senate Judiciary Committee sent its report advocating passage of the Amendment to the full Senate.

Then it was filibusted out. Shame.

[chaucer and luther] of like mind on pardons

Geoffrey Chaucer, of course, wrote the Canterbury Tales and one of his targets was the Pardoner, even though the church did not specifically approve of their excesses:

According to canon law, a pardoner or quaestor of alms did not have the right either to forgive sin or to sell indulgences. Indulgences remitting punishment for sin could only be legitimately granted to persons who confessed their sins to their own parish priests.

Despite canon law, the practice did become corrupt:

As early as 1212 the Church acknowledged the corrupt practices of many pardoners. Church officials created numerous bulls recommending that the practice of pardoners be restricted: that they not be allowed to preach but only to read their letters.

Chaucer wasn't the only one to criticize pardons:

When the preaching friar in Piers the Plowman wishes to scorn the Augustinians, his worst accusation is that they lived by the "pur pardoners craft."

... but he was maybe the first to publicize it in a populist manner for the time:

By this gaude have I wonne, yeer by yeer,
An hundred mark sith I was pardoner.
I stonde lik a clerk in my pulpet,
And whan the lewed peple is down yset,
I preche so as ye han herd bifore,
And telle an hundred false japes more.

Martin Luther, despite the views of some revisionist historians, probably nailed his 95 theses to the Wittenburg church in 1517 and the idea really began to take hold:

75. To think the papal pardons so great that they could absolve a man even if he had committed an impossible sin and violated the Mother of God -- this is madness.

76. We say, on the contrary, that the papal pardons are not able to remove the very least of venial sins, so far as its guilt is concerned.

77. It is said that even St. Peter, if he were now Pope, could not bestow greater graces; this is blasphemy against St. Peter and against the pope.

78. We say, on the contrary, that even the present pope, and any pope at all, has greater graces at his disposal; to wit, the Gospel, powers, gifts of healing, etc., as it is written in I. Corinthians xii.

The threat to the Catholic church is in the idea that no one but G-d can forgive and extrapolated, that means that the Pope can aid, teach and point people in the right direction, intercede with G-d, possibly even heal ... but he can't actually forgive, nor can those he sends out to do so. This is contained in Mark 2:7:

Why doth this man thus speak blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God only?

Jesus, of course, argued that He had the authority to do that and the miracles he performed [and I have no doubt something happened, otherwise those huge crowds would not have followed Him] were material manifestations of that ability.

This is dangerous stuff, as anyone with a grasp of pyrotechnics, chemistry and the skill to speak authoritatively in pseudo-biblical language, such as Maitreya in Nairobi, [although some argue that he is something altogether different], can put on a spectacle to show he is the messiah.

Where the false messiahs fall down is that after the spectacle, there is nothing sustaining to go on with and none of the displays contain evidence of actual healing which stands the test of time. What follows is a lot of gobbledegook in blue and yellow watercolours and somewhere along the line, money comes into it. Share International is a front organization for this stuff.

What is interesting with many of these "messiahs" is how they try to ape the image of Jesus Christ in the popular imagination. Why not come as a Martian, for example? Why not as Mohammed? Why not the Buddha?

[all souls day] unique day of unity

Which day can unite Catholics, Protestants and Pagans? All Souls Day, of course:

It is a Roman Catholic day of remembrance for friends and loved ones who have left for their heavenly abode. All Soul's Day has its roots in the ancient Pagan Festival of the Dead, based on the pagan belief that the souls of the dead would return for a meal with the family.

Catholics believe that those who die are not immediately eligible for the Beatific vision (the reality and goodness of G-d and heaven) and need to be purged of their sins. This purification of the elect [is called] "purgatory," maintain[ing] that:

(a) there will be a purification of the believers prior to entering heaven and,
(b) the prayers and masses of the faithful benefit those in the state of purification.

Another site says:

It is practically universal folk belief that the souls in Purgatory are allowed to return to earth on All Souls Day. In Austria, they are said to wander the forests, praying for release. In Poland, they are said to visit their parish churches at midnight, where a light can be seen because of their presence. Afterward, they visit their families, and to make them welcome, a door or window is left open. In many places, a place is set for the dead at supper, or food is otherwise left out for them.

I'm not a Roman Catholic and yet the notion of Purgatory is a compelling one. The idea of being able to expiate the wrongdoing we might have been too stubborn to concede during our life, the idea of that "final chance" is one many of us would surely endorse.

Protestants say that the very moment of forgiveness through faith obviates the need for a Purgatory and they might have a point. I don't know. I just know that this day is a day for remembering departed family and friends, a day when you might, just possibly might, be able to intercede for them.

I'm certainly going to and this is what I meant by it being a day which can unite all faiths and non-faith as well. Think of it as a possibility. Think of your grandparents and anyone else close who has departed.

Your thoughts might have no effect at all if there is no creation, no G-d. But what if you let the chance go by and what if it did eventually turn out to be so? Could you forgive yourself?

So I'd urge everyone today to spare a thought for the souls departed. Remember, if you miss this day today, don't worry. It might just be efficacious tomorrow as well:

When NOV-2 is a Sunday, as it was for the year 2003, the celebration is held on the following Monday.

[presidential election] state by state guide and candidates

Clicking on the map above will take you to an interactive map on the election site and is the most comprehensive and succinct guide I've seen on the net so far. When you are in there, hover your cursor over the state and it will do the rest.

Karl Denninger, through whom I found this map, says:

The count for McCain (all red-shaded states) is 185. To win he must flip all of the blue-bordered and light blue states. If he misses any of them - any - he loses. Flipping all of them gets McCain 274 EVs, but the lowest-count state in the game here is worth 5 EVs (Nevada), which means there are no losses that can be sustained. Further, if he loses just one of the "barely republican" states other than Montana or North Dakota, nothing else matters.

The game is over John. While technically this race is winnable, were I a bookmaker I'd give you 20:1 odds against.

For a complete rundown of the candidates, you can't go past Wiki.

Karl Denninger is an astute American economist and all indicators are that he is right. However, there are so many unknowns, such as the anti-black factor, for example. Who is going to publicly say he won't vote for Obama because of race but what he does in the ballot booth is between the voter and that bit of paper.

People might also vote for John McCain for Sarah Palin - I imagine she'll soak up a lot of the women's votes, which are unrepresented really. There might also be a last minute gut reaction to Obama's inexperience, the too-slick way he's been railroaded through, slickness being an out of fashion idea just now in the light of Wall Street and the mortgage crisis.

I really feel that this one is down to the wire. I could well have egg on my face Wednesday morning after an Obama landslide and so I'll issue a pre-emptive apology now.

The two party system

Political commentators have long had concerns about the system:

Although the system has declined into a two-party system, the Constitution does not mandate a two-party system, nor does it limit political parties. In fact, it doesn't say anything about political parties at all. During the ratification, the Federalists and Republicans did debate and argue, but these two "parties" were not opposition parties, nor were they to truly develop into such until 1814.

James Madison, in Federalist Paper #10 argues against "factions," claiming that to ensure a fair democratic process such factions (politically parties) should be limited. Of course the anti-federalist's Clay reacted vehemently in Federalist Paper #11, claiming that limiting the liberty of citizens to form political factions violated the sprit of democracy, a point that Madison had already conceded.

The current dysfunctional, partisan, two-party system essentially creates an "either or fallacy" [and] has little to do with the Constitution, and everything to do with ideologues. Until a serious third party develops, the current false dilemma will be perpetuated, and the win-at-any-costs mantra will remain the common political strategy.

... and:

Most third parties also recommend taking back the public airways and granting media supported access to the public by all qualifying parties during an election cycle. That is the goal; giving the American people real choices at the voting booth. A government that is made up of multiple parties will diminish the concentration of power in the hands of a few political bosses over all the diverse people of this great land.

In the view of this blog, there is no true democracy any more in America, no real debate immediately prior to the ballot box - it's been a three card trick foisted on the voters for many generations. Americans need to get back to their constitution, the only document separating them from third world countries, politically. It is a fabulous document, for all its flaws and it is one which Americans will need to cling to tightly in the coming troubles, 2009-12.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

[bird of prey] richard griffiths and early computers

My first computer was bought sometime around 1984 - it was a Macintosh 512KED, with 0.5Mb RAM. I only mention it because that was about the year when PCs really took off and the paranoia set in about big time hacking and embezzlement. Various films and mini-series came out around the theme of the less than scrupulous computer whiz.

One was from 1982, when the excellent BBC serial in four parts, Bird of Prey, hit the small screen, starring Richard Griffiths and Carole Nimmons.

It was made into two series, each of four episodes, each series different to the other but including the same nucleus. Basically, Griffiths plays a computer operator who files a report which leads to complications and then to threats and frame-ups. Gradually, it emerges that there is widespread collusion going on with the EEC, Britain and criminal elements, attempting to corrupt and utilize the emerging technology.

Dated in many ways, especially in the technology and sets, it was nevertheless a gripping thriller with a nice twist at the end. If you can get the DVD, it could be worth it.

The Consultant [June, 1983] starring Hywel Bennett, was another serial tapping into the fear of what could happen to the computer world when clever hackers broke into it. Bennett and partner Jonathan Morris, also very strong as the computer whiz kid who tumbles to Bennett's game and wants in, are a backroom consultancy firm who decide to tender for a major bank job which sees Bennett commuting between London and Manchester.

It shows naive bank directors [in the database field], la less naive and therefore unscrupulous payrolled computer whiz who has a little embezzlement scheme going on within the bank and a savvy bank security chief who is not at all sure about Bennett being given free rein to test the system's defences. It was said in 2000:

In the 1970s and 1980s, the hacker was either a friendless loner or a super-cynical computer expert as played by Hywel Bennett in The Consultant. Today the hacker could be anybody. In fact, as the anti-fraud section of computer group Unisys warned last October, today's computer fraudster most closely fits the profile of someone a big computer company would most like to hire.

Bennett played the former type but when he realized the size of the stakes and that he was about to be sprung, stooped to murder - first one, then another, in a rivetting piece of tele-suspense.

As the IMDb reviewer said:
"I don't know if anyone will ever have a chance to see this again, but if you find it is showing on some obscure channel, it's worth the investment of time and attention."

[obama] in october, 2006, he was unsure

Ellee Seymour has written:

I believe I was the first political blogger in the UK to write about Barack Obama back in January 2007.

Sorry, Ellee, how about this one from October 23rd, 2006, which quotes Obama:

He told NBC's Meet the Press: I am still at the point where I have not made a decision to - to pursue higher office but it is true that I have thought about it over the last several months.

[statistics can lie] though the problem remains

The news was reported that:

[N]ew research shows that 40 percent of women report sexual problems, but only 12 percent are distressed about it.

Quite apart from these figures being highly suspect due to the research being conducted by a firm which markets products for women's sexual dysfucntion, I'm convinced that the majority of problems, such as they are, are caused by:

a. the unrealistic expectations on women imposed by society, advertising, journals and other media and peer pressure through discussion of this guff;

b. the onslaught of feminism which does create a "don't-you-oppress-me", "women-can-go-it-alone" mentality;

c. the natural desire of women to have everything perfect, "just so" and the way men are failing to live up to this ideal in today's society;

d. the phenomenon whereby the more women insist on their rights, the worse becomes the attitude, particularly of young men, towards them. As men are disempowered, so the dislike of women increases, manifesting itself in cavalier attitudes and refusal to "understand".

Women need to step back and think through what they're really trying to achieve, to work in with men in a complementary rather than confrontational or snide way. Then and only then can the decades of immense damage to inter-gender relations be reversed and healed. Otherwise, the current misandry and misogyny can only produce one bitter result.

One good start would be for the new generation of girls to learn the word "no".

[small business] the key to a resurgence

On the Tory initiatives for small-business relief, reactions included:

“It’s a good report and some very good ideas,” David Frost, director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said, “My plea would be that when some firm ideas come out of this, please make them long term and make them stick.”

Indeed. Restructuring the corporate environment to support small and medium business, the granting of tax breaks and start-up loans, the reining in of monopolies which threaten to snuff out competition in any given sector - these are the things the society should be supporting.

The other, social aspects will flow from that.