V6 (June)

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Occasional links & observations from
Steve Bogart

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15 June 2001

I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is; I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.
-- Rebecca West, 1913

In freshman Humanities class at Linn-Mar High School, Art Saldaña told us that one of the reasons Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was considered a great orator was his lack of hesitation when he spoke and his avoidance of any noise words like 'uh' or 'umm', even when he was speaking off the cuff. Mr. Saldaña admonished us to always avoid them when speaking in front of people, so I try to pay attention and either slow down my answers if I need time to think, or substitute actual words for noise words if I can.

Ronald Reagan began his answers with "Well..." so often that it became a part of anyone's imitation of him, and it was an effective, short delay that didn't sound inherently stupid and probably helped him refine his answers on the fly.

I bring this up because this morning on NPR they played clips of George W. Bush answering press questions during his tour of Europe, and he regularly stalled in the middle of his sentences and filled in the blanks with 'uh' or 'umm', and it made it appear as though he was flailing around for something that a President would say. Whether or not he is in fact actually as stupid as it makes him sound, someone might... suggest... to him that he would not appear so deficient and haphazard if he could learn to ... simply ... slow down, or just ... hush ... when he doesn't know what the next word will be.

'Uhhh' just does not inspire confidence in his abilities.

I paid the $39 for my copy of Opera 5 yesterday, because:

  • I use it as my primary browser on Windows, and I would like them to stay solvent and continue to improve their software.

  • It's small, it's fast, and as far as I can tell it does what I expect it to do and no more. Unlike Internet Explorer.

  • Paying for it removes the ads from the display and gives me more screen space to view pages in.

  • Opera supports web standards quite well (HTML, CSS, etc.), so properly-written pages look just fine, meaning that:

  • I can successfully do 99% of my surfing with it. Only occasionally does some funky JavaScript fail to work, then I either skip the page entirely (JavaScript Bad!) or, if it's important, switch back to IE.

  • Opera is stuffed with interesting keyboard and mouse shortcuts that can speed up your browsing and improve your control over what you see. My only disappointment is that the space bar doesn't act as a Page Down equivalent.

  • <rant>When I tell Opera to Save a page, by default it saves the page's HTML source code as is. You know, like IE used to. When you Save As... in Internet Explorer for Windows, the default behavior is to save it as a "complete" web page (whatever Microsoft means by that) with "Western European encoding".

    This completely screws up the HTML that was in the page: it reformats the code to have funny line breaks, it uppercases the tags (!), it changes the DOCTYPE declaration (!), it removes quotes from attribute values (!!), and it changes occurences of <td align="center"> to be <td align="middle">, which as far as I can remember was NEVER valid code (!!!!%@#$^!%#!!!). Standards-compliant HTML code gets utterly maimed, by default, when you save a page from within Internet Explorer. To get the old, expected behavior from IE, you have to change its method of saving to "Web page, HTML Only".


  • Back when I used Windows a lot, Opera 3 was a nice, small, fast browser. Opera 5 is still a nice, small, fast browser. I wish to reward quality.

  • I can deduct a portion as a business expense. :)

Of course, you can try and use Opera without paying for it if you don't mind looking at ads. It's worth a try and doesn't even take very long to download if you leave out Java support. They're nearing completion of a Mac version too. (Not to mention the Linux version, the BeOS version...)

Some relatively recent interviews with Aaron Sorkin and Joshua Malina about Sports Night and the reruns on Comedy Central:

  • Sports Night interviews [Comedy Central]
    [Sorkin:] ABC needed to convince people that it wasn't anything to be afraid of ... and so stuck a laugh track on it... and the Comedy Central audience is going to see from that first episode that the laugh track gets dialed down and down and down until at the end of the first season, when I would barely "laugh" the show at all. Maybe three places tops ... And then at the second season, there's no laugh track at all.

    What had you envisioned for the third season? ...
    I had a lot of thoughts at the time, and now they all seem to have turned into "West Wing" ideas, somehow. I think we would have shown a lot more of New York; I think maybe some new characters would have been introduced.

The first chapter of Neil Gaiman's American Gods is available free online (there are some typos, but they're not so bad you can't understand it). It begins well. Caution: rated R.

"Something feels weird," he told Laura. That wasn't the first thing he said to her. The first thing was "I love you," because it's a good thing to say if you can mean it, and Shadow did.

"Changes are coming," said the buffalo without moving its lips. "There are certain decisions that will have to be made."

I always figured this was possible; now someone's actually written some Mac software to do it:

  • "Amazing Slow Downer" [RoniMusic]
    Slows down the speed of music - between -50% and 400% time-stretching without changing the pitch.

Saw it on BookNotes, a fine (and much more frequently-updated) weblog.

This is a disturbing story that hasn't gotten much play yet: Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad took some employees who were claiming they were getting carpal tunnel (not surprising, given their repetitive work) and had them genetically tested without their consent to see if they could blame the employees' symptoms on something congenital (and rare) rather than accept the plausible claim their employees were making.

  • Genetic Testing -- June 7, 2001 [PBS NewsHour]
    Although Nelson reported the condition to BNSF as a work-related injury, the railroad didn't pass along the report to the government, as required by law. In fact, of roughly 125 such reports of work-related carpal tunnel syndrome that the company says it received since March, 2000, none were reported to the government.

    TERRY NELSON: They took seven vials of blood.   SUSAN DENTZER: Did they tell you why?   TN: No.   SD: Did you ask?   TN: No. It was part of the physical -- well, I thought it was kind of bizarre that they had taken much blood, but that's... I didn't... Didn't know.

    DR. FRANCIS COLLINS [head of human genome research at the National Institutes of Health]: From what we do know, it would seem very unusual indeed to have somebody with this genetic disorder presenting for the first time in sort of middle life with carpal tunnel syndrome as their only manifestation. Clearly this is a test that should never have been applied in this circumstance.

A company has the right to try and determine whether an employee's injuries are actually work-related, but fishing for an unlikely genetic cause (1 in 20,000!) without even informing the employees that's what you're doing is way over the line, especially given that everyone has some sort of genetic defect to find if you look hard enough. Repeat after me: Informed Consent. Informed Consent. Informed Consent.

Thanks to Fred at Metascene for the pointer to MetaCritic, a site that gathers reviews and ratings of movies, music and more in one place and aggregates them to show the basic consensus of the critical community about a piece of art. Somebody has to do it, and Rotten Tomatoes does an okay job, but this is better: MetaCritic handles more than just movies, it has a more attractive design, and its URLs are human-readable and sensible (e.g.

The Wall Street Journal has a habit of hiding away articles that I want to point to. They password-protect most of their reporting, which is fine, but most of their opinion pieces are freely available at The ones I wish to call out and rebut, however, have been consistently password-protected themselves (and so not publicly available). Bother.

Anyhow, they had an op-ed Monday called "Where are the Death Penalty Critics Today?" by Walter Berns, who said that the Oklahoma Bomber case "fail[ed] to provoke the usual outcries against the death penalty, or sympathy for the defendant" and used that as a springboard from which to argue that death penalty opponents lack integrity and that critics' silence endorses the death penalty as good and just.

It may be that the most popular anti-death-penalty arguments don't apply (poor defense counsel, bias against minorities), but really, what channel has he been watching? Has he only been reading the Journal and National Review? There have been anti-death-penalty advocates everywhere I look: on CNN, the PBS NewsHour, even on Fox News, not to mention on op-ed pages all over the country.

Liar. If you want me to listen to your argument, don't have the first thing you say be complete and obvious bullshit.

Speaking of which, some more recent examples of anti-death-penalty talk:

  • McVeigh: Killed in Vain by Richard Cohen [Washington Post]
    He was a romantic, as cold and inexplicable as Hitler -- another dreamer. He went into the execution chamber with a head full of childish notions, singing soaring Wagnerian tunes he did not know, and we never let him down. We stooped to his level. ... Only for McVeigh was his execution appropriate. For the rest of us ... life without parole would have done just fine.
  • What the execution did to us by Ellen Goodman [Boston Globe]
    On the day before the execution, there was a front-page photo of a woman carrying a sign that read: "Don't Kill for Me!" At first I was confused. Was this young mother an Oklahoma City survivor? No, she was just a citizen protesting the fact that the first federal execution in four decades was officially committed of, by and for the people - even her.

    Yet those closest to the death penalty may become the most ambivalent. Even the families of victims. By his own count, Bud Welch, the bereaved father who came slowly to oppose the death penalty, says that fewer than half the families wanted McVeigh to be executed. Of the 1,000 family members invited to watch the execution on closed-circuit TV, only 232 came. Their reactions ranged from "relief" to "it was too easy" to "it isn't going to bring back my nephew."

    For my own part, I wish that Timothy McVeigh had grown old and ignored in prison. There was no way to give him what he deserved. Not even death matched his crime.

Killing McVeigh granted him a long time in the spotlight where he could further spout his views. He expected to die; it's what his own moral code would have demanded. Why did we cooperate?

An interesting hypothesis from E.J. Dionne:

  • A U.S.-European Convergence [Washington Post]
    Think of British Prime Minister Tony Blair as Bill Clinton without the scandals. Then think of Blair's landslide reelection last week as a sign of what might have been in the United States last year absent Clinton's mistakes, Al Gore's campaign miscues and a certain U.S. Supreme Court decision.

    We and our friends in the European democracies aren't all that far apart on basic issues. The difference is that our president decided to pretend he had an electoral mandate for a much more conservative program than the voters wanted. The political gap is thus at least as much between Bush and the American electorate as it is between the United States and Europe.

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Last modified on 1/25/01; 10:44:43 AM Eastern 
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