Wednesday 22 November 2000
More on the Election
For the record, and to clear up possible conflicts of interest, I voted for Harry Browne, the Libertarian candidate for president. I think that both major parties are full of shit, and just part of the Permanent Corporate Government that Ralph Nader complains about.
Today, the GOP were out in force, complaining about the Democrats’ continued attempts to get the ballots in Florida recounted. They are bringing out their old complaint that Clinton and Gore are eeevil, and that they (note that they include Clinton in this) are trying to steal the election, etc.
It seems pretty clear to me that the majority of the people in Florida voted for or meant to vote for Al Gore. Some of them were just too dumb to not vote for Pat Buchanan instead, and some of them were too dumb to actually punch their little punchy thing all the way through the ballot.
And so the Democrats are attempting to get those marginal ballots counted, to make sure that all the votes for Gore, even the ones (barely) cast by idiots, are counted.
Bush happens to be in the lead right now, though, and so the Republicans are attempting to keep those ballots from being counted, claiming that attempting to divine the intention of a voter — which Florida law doesn’t require but which it also doesn’t prohibit — is in some way sinister.
Never mind that Texas’ election law — a law that George W. Bush signed — specifies that this is precisely what the election officials are supposed to do in a close recount.
At the moment, though, Bush is still in the lead, which means that he and his henchmen will do anything they can to keep those votes from being counted. ( But mind you, I’m sure that, were the positions reversed, the Dems would be doing the same thing.)
And that’s what’s sick. If they’re confident that they’ve won fairly, they should submit — or even call for — a recount of the entire state, to determine what the people’s decision really was, rather than trying to speed the state into declaring a winner based on incomplete counts.
Posted by tino at 20:09 22.11.00
Friday 17 November 2000
Fairmont Hotel, San Jose First in a series of hotel reviews I hope to do.
The other night, I was walked from my regular home away from home, the Residence Inn in Sunnyvale. They put me up in the Fairmont, in downtown San Jose.
The standard room at the Fairmont goes for $400, and it might be worth it, if you’re into that kind of thing. The room is comfortable, and there’s one of those little guys to put your suit on while you’re not wearing it so it doesn’t get wrinkled. There are telephones everywhere. My room even had a power strip under the desk, so I could actually plug in all my gadgets at once. The fancy hi-tech Marriott on Great America in Santa Clara doesn’t even have that.
There’s a TV in the bathroom, but it only gets broadcast channels. The bathroom has a separate shower and bathtub, a touch I always like. (You can just see part of the shower in the mirror in the picture there.) The soaps are fancy French ones shaped like honeycombs. There are robes with the hotel’s crest on them, and a separate dressing area with a big mirror and a hair dryer.
All in all, the room I stayed in was not as nice as the standard room at The Venetian in Las Vegas, but it was pretty good for Silicon Valley. It’s probably not worth the money, though, if you’re not going to take advantage of all the features of the hotel — there are several restaurants, lounges, a big lobby with sofas, etc.
Also, if you’re not doing your thing in downtown San Jose, traffic getting to and from the hotel at rush hour is, as you’d expect, horrible. I don’t do anything in downtown San Jose, so it’s not really good for me.
The bed was comfortable, though. (An alarming number of hotel beds aren’t. I once stayed in a Motel 6 (or some such place) with, I kid you not, a three-inch-thick pad of foam rubber on top of the mattress. It was only with some effort that I was able to begin moving again in the morning.) While the Fairmont does insist on using those horrible plastic blankets, the kind you’d never, ever use in your own home — at least if you’re the kind of person who stays in $400 hotel rooms at all often — they at least provide two sheets for the thing, so it doesn’t come in contact with your skin (much).
Ultimately, I’ll give the Fairmont, San Jose, three Tinos out of five for having the comfortable bed and the power strip. They get nothing for the bathroom TV because of poor reception, and the location is a wash — it’s great, but unless you’re doing something within walking distance, it’s ultimately a hindrance.
Posted by tino at 20:08 17.11.00
Tuesday 14 November 2000
Any time you see a complaint with ‘on board X’ written up there, you can be sure it’s a doozy. The airlines offer no end of raw material.
I’m somewhere over Ohio at the moment, on my way to San Francisco. I’m actually going to Santa Clara, which is about 40 miles south of SFO. I had originally booked a connecting flight from Dulles to Denver to San Jose, mainly because the Dulles to Denver part is on a Boeing 777, which is a relatively comfortable airplane.
The Denver flight was delayed by four hours, though, so I was rebooked onto a connection through Los Angeles. That didn’t work out, because I was added to the L.A. flight four minutes before departure.
So now I find myself on an Airbus A320 — a 737 with a European accent — for about five hours. Why they fly such ill-suited planes on these routes, I don’t understand. From Washington to San Francisco takes five hours — or more, depending on weather and delays. From Washington to London takes six hours. They would never consider flying a single-aisle plane with bad service (we’ve been in flight for over an hour and I have yet to get a drink)
When I get to SFO, the plan is for me to wait an hour for a United Airlines bus which will take me to the San Jose airport, because it’s to San Jose that I originally bought my ticket. I think I’ll just set out from SFO, skipping SJC all together.
While I was waiting for my rebooked flight, I gave some thought to why people hate air travel so much (or at least why I hate it).
I think it’s because the system of airline classes does not mirror our society. While I was sitting around Dulles waiting for my flight, I noticed that most of the people there, like most people in the USA, were middle-class. That is, they had jobs and skills and enough money to personally make most of the decisions about their life and to keep themselves in comfort. They would shop not at designer boutiques nor at Wal-Mart, but at places like Nordstrom, Nieman-Marcus, Macy’s, Brooks Brothers, etc.
Yet in the airport, as in the airplanes, there is only two levels of accommodation: ‘Luxury’, or crap. Either you have shelled out $5000 for a plane ticket and you are a king, or you have not and are a peasant. It took me fifteen minutes of looking and trudging all over the airport to find a phone jack where I could retrieve my e-mail. There was, of course, nothing to put the computer down on, and no electrical outlet nearby.
In the Executive Lounge, though, there are not only tables near phone jacks, and electrical outlets a-plenty, but wireless high-speed networks that take everything to an even higher level. There’s everything provided for the first-classers, and absolutely nothing for the commoners. It’s as if the only cars on the market were a gold-plated Rolls Royce and a 1972 Oldsmobile Delta 88 with a muffler problem. The best-selling cars in the world are the Ford Taurus and the Honda Accord, but their air-travel equivalent just isn’t available.
Strangely enough, American air travel is stuck in a feudal kind of society. Without business class (which is almost nonexistent on American domestic flights), there’s no middle ground, no opportunity for people to elevate themselves above the basic, rude accommodations of coach without taking out another mortgage.
Most people would not object to paying a bit more for more comfort, respect, and convenience in the whole air-travel area. Paying 300%-500% more is out of the question, though. So it’s impossible to be middle-class in an air-travel context, which is why most people hate air travel so much; they’re forced to operate outside their milieu.
They seem to have stopped the idiotic practice of extorting $5 from passengers on domestic flights for the privilege of listening to the terrible movie on the plane. I expect that most or all of that sum went directly to the movie studios, but it always struck me as nuts that they wanted almost as much money as you would pay in a theater for the chance to watch a (bad) movie, in edited form, with bad sound that’s further destroyed by the cabin noise, on a tiny screen.
Nearly all airplanes have at least four main doors; two at the front and two at the rear. Larger planes, like the 747 and 777, have more. Why, then, are planes nearly always boarded through a single door? Passengers going in, all 30 rows of ‘em; strollers and too-big carry-ons coming back out; gate agents in and out; etc. all through a single door. It’s insane. I hear that Southwest Airlines is building a jetway that will allow them to load both the front and rear doors of a 737 without resorting to stilt-buses or stairs, so that might help. And of course the whole problem would be solved by the application of my modular airplane idea.
Airports built around the time of the introduction of the Boeing 747 originally used stilt-buses to unload people directly from the planes and to shoot them into the terminal; this allowed use of all doors. For some reason, though, this technique is not used very much any more.
As we were boarding this plane, U.S. customs officers were taking up much of the precious space inside the jetway, running back and forth with their sniffer dogs.
Most of the people being sniffed seemed charmed by the dogs, but I was a bit put off.
First of all, what is U.S. customs doing inspecting passengers on a flight that begins and ends within the borders of the U.S.?
Secondly, what was I being searched for? And on what probable cause?
Just another element of the encroaching police state. I suppose I should be thankful that I didn’t look suspicious, or like a dissident; I might have been hauled away.
Posted by tino at 22:50 14.11.00
A ramble with little direction about a culture with little direction.
In any country on Earth other than the United States, George Bush and Al Gore would be members of the same political party. There are so many "undecided" voters this year because there’s no material difference between these two fools.
They’re both in favor of law and order, they both support the War on Some Drugs and capital punishment, they’re both in favor of "reforming" and protecting Social Security and Medicare, they both think that children ought to be protected from the world at all costs, they both believe that anti-smoking programs are an important way for the government to spend its time and our money, they have essentially identical views on religion, war, peace, and "character", they both support protectionist immigration policies. At least, they have the same views and think the same things to the extent that they have views and think things at all. Mostly, they just tell us what they think we want to hear, according to the most recent poll.
And this, we are told, is our choice for president this time round. The slightly more "conservative" police-state stooge, or the slightly more "liberal" police-state stooge.
Me, I’ll be voting for Harry Browne, of the Libertarian Party. I think that Browne himself is a bit of a nut, and I think that a lot of the LP’s platform, while politically sound, would be almost impossible to put into action in anything less than fifty years (like the abolition of most of the federal government and the elimination of the income tax), but at least there is a philosophy behind the Libertarian Party, and it’s a decidedly modest one.
My views, it seems, are not those of the majority, though. Polls regularly indicate that the average American believes that our children need to be protected from everything that comes down the pike (and then that we need to be protected from them when they become "super-predators" as soon as they hit puberty), that "Drugs" is what’s wrong with our society, and that they feel safer with more cops around. They also seem to be in favor of gun-control, neatly ignoring the fact that someone intent on committing a criminal act isn’t going to particularly care whether the gun he’s carrying is legal or not.
I am worried about the state of the USA, mainly because we as a people seem to be afraid all the time now. Politicians are afraid of having an opinion, lest it alienate someone. Women are afraid of men. Parents are afraid lest their children will see certain parts of the human body, and everyone, it seems, is afraid of teenagers generally.
And people who are afraid generally turn to authority. The nation that Jefferson and Madison crafted is becoming more and more of a police state every day, and I don’t see either of the two major-party candidates for president concerned about this. They think it’s a good thing that we’ve now got random checkpoints along the roads to check for miscreants and drunks. They think it’s a good thing that kids in some schools have to carry mesh bags, so they can’t conceal anything in them. They think it’s a good thing that (fill in your own anti-democratic horror here).
I keep waiting for the backlash, for the rebellion of people who pride themselves on their freedom against a society in which you’ve got to show your ID to buy a drink or get into certain movies, against a society where we’ve got police checkpoints on the roads. I keep waiting for people to question why we spent billions of dollars to win the cold war for the forces of liberty, only to rapidly turn our own country into a police state.
I’m encouraged every so often by someone like Gary Johnson, the Republican governor of New Mexico, who has spoken out against the drug war. But these encouragements are all too few and far between. The majority are still afraid of everyone and everything, and regularly assenting to new laws, new cops, and new prisons to protect us from the drug/Internet/teenager/sex bogeyman.
No good will come of any of this. No nation prospers under authoritarian government, even an ostensibly democratic one. Police states always degenerate into fighting in the streets.
Did I call it, or what? As I write this, CNN is reporting that the difference in the popular vote between Bush and Gore is about 222,000 people, or less than 1%. My suspicion is that this is actually within the margin of error for the election, so there’s effectively no preference.
Ever watch foreign TV ads? In the USA, Fox regularly puts on prime-time shows that consist of nothing but TV advertisements from other countries.
Think about it: they can use television ads from other countries as bait to get viewers for the American TV ads that pay the bills. And since they haven’t stopped making new versions of the show, I’d say that it has to work.
It works because advertisements in most countries are designed to engage the viewer, to draw him in, and to get him to identify with the product being advertised. The advertisement seeks the advertisee’s agreement.
Advertisements in the USA, on the other hand, seek above all else to avoid disagreement. If an ad makes 90% of the audience laugh and have a favorable impression of the product, and offends the other 10%, the ad will never see the light of day.
I suspect that this is at least in part caused by the fact that there’s much more at stake in a market the size of the USA; putting a product in the market here means putting it within reach of almost 300 million people, and everything from manufacturing to distribution to advertising involves a lot more money and risk.
And so it is with our politics.
The Republicrats have so much at stake, and have to appeal to so many people, that to hold any serious opinions, to take a serious position on anything (other than those positions endorsed by the Permanent Corporate Government, see also my campaign finance screed) is too much of a risk.
And, as Mark Twain is so famously supposed to have said, ‘If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.’
So I applaud my fellow Americans for not favoring either one of those stooges over the other. I hope that the current election mess will result in the mainstream culture realizing that being able to disagree with someone at least shows that he’s capable of conscious thought.
Posted by tino at 22:38 14.11.00
Not a complaint, exactly, but more of a reflection on how information technology has changed our lives. Or my life. I don’t presume to be an expert on your life.
I used to go to the library, a lot. The public library as well as the university library, because there are different kinds of information in each one.
The public library’s main asset was the collection of fairly expensive or esoteric (or both) information on offer. The Criss-Cross guide, the out-of-town phone books, the Federal Register, etc.
I hardly ever go to the library any more; there’s a lot more information available to me now sitting at my desk at home.
If you look at my complaints on the U.S. sugar support program, or the rate of representation of the U.S. Congress, or gun control, you’ll note that there are a lot of authoritative-looking figures in there.
I got these figure off of web sites, of course. The spreadsheets and various calculations that I used to twist them around to my way of thinking took quite a bit of time to cook up (I manage to prove that Canada is more violent than the United States, for instance), but the figures themselves I was able to get in less time than it would take me to find my keys preparatory to driving to the library.
But there’s some information that used to be easy to find at the library that’s now difficult or impossible to find online (or at all).
The problem is that the library used to buy what were effectively databases, in the form of huge books or sets of books, for thousands of dollars a year. Those resources were then available for free to anyone who could put themselves physically inside the library.
Now, though, those huge databases are published online or on CD-ROM, and the publishers have decided to wring as much money as possible out of their information. In most cases, it’s not available at all any more unless you’re personally willing to shell out a large amount of money. Some of them are available in their electronic form in libraries, but they’re always meant to be run on PCs, which never work right in a library environment — especially after they’re loaded down with all the censorware that libraries use now.
And that means that certain troves of information are effectively off-limits to the public now; without spending large amounts of money or making a special trip to the library (a special trip because 99% of your research can be done more effectively from your desk at home), you can’t get a short, well-written précis of the history of some obscure practice from the Encyclopaedia Brittanica, or look up a word’s etymology in the Oxford English Dictionary.
(The particular problem of the OED doesn’t apply to me, since I got fed up and bought one. The EB you can’t buy any more; it’s only available on CD-ROM, DVD, and online. The content is all the same, but the system for searching and navigating the content is absolutely appalling and close to useless.)
A lot of these resources are priced the way they are because they’re not meant to be owned by individuals. You don’t want to use the OED as your primary dictionary; it’s too cumbersome. This is why the good people at Oxford University Press produce their $40 Oxford Concise dictionary as well as the $1000 OED. You use the $40 most of the time, and only resort to the OED for really obscure and specialized information. You and a few thousand other people pay taxes in part to support a library that makes the OED available for your use when you need it.
The Oxford University Press produce an on-line version of the dictionary. It costs $550 per year for a single license. What amounts to their site-license pricing starts at $795 (I assume also per year).
Ideally, library cards should become smartcards. You’d be able to stick your card into your computer, and gain access to all the resources that your library has subscribed to. Your library could pay their $1000 (the price of a printed version of the dictionary, which you get to keep forever and give to your heirs), and everyone who could prove that they were legitimate members of that library could access the OED (and everything else the library subscribed to) online, from home. The library could move into a smaller building, and use the savings to subscribe to yet more on-line resources.
I don’t see that happening any time soon, though.
The moral of the story, I suppose, is that the information revolution has resulted in less information actually being available in some cases, and that we should watch out for new technology that’s actually a step backward.
Posted by tino at 22:05 14.11.00
All of the interior pictures here are really horrible. It’s impossible to take decent pictures of a residential interior without a serious wide-angle lens, and my digital camera does not have interchangeable lenses.
The exterior of the house. Note the clean horizontal lines and the exposed structural concrete, characteristic of the International style.
View of the living room from the outside, at night.
The living room, seen from the inside. The room looks pretty cluttered and messy in this photo. There’s actually more space here than the picture would lead you to believe.
The living room, from the other side of the room. The open door at left leads to a bathroom.
The kitchen, as seen from the living room. Nicole can be seen at the sink, undoubtedly tidying up.
The living room, as seen from the kitchen. The strange coloring at the intersection of the wall and ceiling is, I think, a reflection off the glass top of the table. It’s difficult to light this room, both for photos and for normal use.
Nicole’s office. My office is in fact much less interesting, at least in a photo.
You can see more information about Hickory Cluster here. There used to be a better page available, but that seems to have disappeared recently.
Posted by tino at 17:37 14.11.00