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Since I Never Get the Last Word

Tuesday, December 27, 2005
Living or Dying

I have spent most of my life believing it important that a person should discover just what it might be that they believed to be a cause worth dying for. As a child, my religion painted wonderful pictures of the glories of martyrdom and how I should be certain that I was always ready to be a martyr for god. Just about the time I arrived at puberty, I discarded that notion.

I eventually replaced it with the idea of my country being worth dying for. That requires a good deal of thought and, possibly, some explanation. My country is not any given administration or set of senators, congressmen, judges, or president. My country is an ideal, a place dreamed of in a constitution, a place built by a massive number of people over the years who improved it bit by bit until today, when we discover there is still a whole lot of work to be done. The ideal remains constant; the interpretations evolve.

This morning, after reading another rallying cry for martyrs in – of all places - the entertainment section of the news, I find myself wondering at the notion of a willingness to die for a belief. What it would take, I wonder, to get people willing to live for their beliefs? Since every organized religion subscribes to some version of the commandment to "love thy neighbor", would people actually attempting to comply with that order be an improvement over the currentstate of affairs?

Posted by Dan Bieger 2005-12-27 11:08:13

Thursday, December 15, 2005
Second Guessing

For a long time I have believed that it’s just old people that have problems with technology. My partner and I had an unofficial company motto: technology scares us but we laughed that off because we were both over 60. It will surprise no one that I may have been in error.I read in Scientific American where there is a debate of some standing and duration and currently headed for collision/decision over the way we keep time.

For several millennia now, humans have been quite content to track the time of day by the position of the sun in the sky or the lack thereof. When the sun disappeared, we called it night and went on with our lives. Things progressed nicely until some ambitious folk decided to develop civilization. Right away, some bureaucrats wanted to schedule meetings and needed a means to coordinate everybody. They invented the sundial thus causing the vast majority of the human race to pray for rain. Cloud covers are not sundials’ friends.

Finally, in compromise, the workforce negotiated a new clause in their contracts: meetings couldlast only so long. A clever engineer - some folk blame a guy named Ctesibius who lived in the 2d century B.C., but other historians agree he became the fall guy because no one could pronounce his name - invented the water clock which was really good for timing business meetings. Engineers can never leave well enough alone. Pretty soon they produced mechanical clocks and started hanging them in buildings to let all the managers know how late people were getting to work. There was one installed in Milano in 1335 and - as far as employees are concerned - business went down hill from there.

Huygens decided we needed a pendulum clock, the goddess knows why, and then industry revolted. This revolution took some time to accomplish but it happened all the same.Pretty soon we had time clocks for employees to check in and out of the premises. Things just keep getting worse. In 1949, Harold Lyons harnessed the vibration of an ammonia molecule to build an atomic clock.

You would think that things had gone far enough but the digital age had to arrive and now there are devices such as computers and global positioning systems that depend on accurate time or they threaten to malfunction. Remember Y2K? Well, that merely a millenial kind of thing and should be safely ignored these days. But, hold on. It isn't really over. It just happens at a much less catastrophic - sort of - rate.

The problem today is that the stupid earth refuses to rotate in a precise manner. As a matter of fact, it loses a second every damned year and an adjustment needs to be made on New Year’s Day. For the vast majority of people, it’s a don’t care. It takes 60 years to make anynoticeable difference to our clocks at home.In that time, we have bought new clocks at least four times. But, and here comes the bogeyman, for devices like computers and GPSs and such, this period of adjustment is traumatic. Their software accounts for time’s passage with extreme precision and, once installed, that software is not amenable to change.

So, the digitals are screaming for the world to shake off its history and forget about using the earth’s rotation to identify the time of day. The analogs are holding fast to the old ways and telling the digitals to get over it. Ever since Einstein we have known the world is capricious and will not fit into a neat little Newtonian ball. {Newton must have been a bureaucrat at heart despite his propensity for isolation and solitude since he was fond of the clockwork image).

I’m coming out in favor of the analogs. You start messing with time and only bad things can happen. Too much precision is the sign of a prissy mind, anyway. You need a little slop in your designs.

Posted by Dan Bieger 2005-12-15 08:43:52

Tuesday, December 13, 2005
A Layman's Analysis of the Event Horizon

On behalf of a good friend and for personal information as well, I decided to investigate this editor/owner/jack-of-all-trades person. He appears to be a man of several names To accomplish this, I did the usual Internet search and the first name I came up with was William Forsythe Sharpe, professor emeritus of Economics at Stanford University. He won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1990. He also has his very own economic ratio: “a risk-adjusted measure calculated usingstandard deviationand excess return to determine reward per unit of risk. The higher the Sharpe ratio, the better the fund's historical risk-adjusted performance.” I’m fairly certain this is not the person that the Swordsperson must do business with since this Sharpe’s bio states explicitly that he still resides at Stanford University in the U.S. and the Sharpe in question is reputed to reside in Jolly Olde.

Then, I thought it might be a pen name, a nom d' guerre so to speak. Using my superior intellect and a good search engine, I quickly determined that this pen name would indicate that this subject has a desire to be considered an intellectual, this despite the fact he draws comics for a living. Liam is, as most literati are aware, an Irish contraction of William. William comes from the continent and means “I want a helmet and I want it right now.” Put this together with Sharpe and you have “I want a helmet to cover a pointy head” and, everyone knows, that a pointy head is an intellectual. So, the pen name indicates aspirations for literary greatness. Come to think of it, this could point back to Stanford University and should give one and all contemplating doing commerce with EH pause.

Having divined this information from the digital tea leaves, it occurs to me that my next submission to his publication will be under the pen name Blunt Mail. I think the subtle reference to his own nom d’ plume will work wonders in the acceptance arena. He’ll be latching onto my stuff and never know why.

Posted by Dan Bieger 2005-12-13 10:55:18

Monday, December 12, 2005
A Scorecard for Talking Heads

Yesterday I watched U.S. football all day long. With our cable setup I was able to track roughly 9 games going back and forth by way of the remote control. The first thing I noticed was how often the commercials were running simultaneously on four different channels. I suppose when a 60 minute game runs three hours, it is statistically more probable you will reach a given channel when a commercial is running but it is certainly annoying.

The more important thing I noticed is how often the Talking Heads were wrong. All the major sports shows and experts managed to mis-pick a startling number of games. I have been hearing for weeks how San Diego is a top contender, as high as the third best team in the league, this despite their record. Yesterday, they lost again – at home - to lowly Miami who has been coming on strong. Not one expert picked Miami to win the game. Most experts believed Carolina would defeat Tampa Bay. No one thought Philadelphia would be in the game with the Giants, much less send it to overtime. And Cleveland was not supposed to be on the same field as the media darling Cincinnati Bengals but that game went down to the last minute. Chicago’s defense was supposed to keep them in the game but from the opening drive on, Pittsburgh pretty much ignored that defense. Not one turnover for Pittsburgh. Drew Bledsoe was supposedly washed up for the season and Dallas could not score enough points to beat Kansas City.

The first thing I am willing to agree with is that’s why they play they the games. If the outcome was as certain as the experts think, there’d be no need to play the games.

But here’s the point of this whole complaint. What if we held the Talking Heads accountable? What if they were allowed to make their prognostications only if they maintained a high percentage of accuracy? If they lost their jobs by falling below a 70% accuracy level, would they be less inclined to bluster? I would love to see a show put together where all the “expert analysis” was reviewed with each sagely comment played back and checked for accuracy.

What if the news shows and the political commentators were held to the same criteria? What if the newspaper columnists had to stick to facts? How often would the producers and anchors and editors and reporters be put out to pasture?

Posted by Dan Bieger 2005-12-12 07:54:02

Friday, December 9, 2005
The Afterglow

On this day back in 1854, The Examiner printed Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem "The Charge of the Light Brigade," wherein he commemorated the courage of 600 British soldiers charging a heavily defended position during the Battle of Balaklava, in the Crimea, just six weeks earlier. Poet laureates write those kinds of things and they stir men’s souls and have everyone cheering and toasting their mates over a good mug of ale.

I have no problem with soldiers receiving their due. What I have a problem in this day and age is the same thing Rudyard had in 1891. There is much talk these days of supporting our troops and I gainsay not a syllable. Old men send young men to war. Those old men are long gone when the young take their place. I just hope the ones who come next do a better job of remembering than my generation has done. The current budgetary headlines are not encouraging. I don't think the world needs another Kipling to write another version of:


There were thirty million English who talked of England’s might,

There were twenty broken troopers who lacked a bed for the night.

They had neither food nor money, they had neither service nor trade,

They were only worthless soldiers, the last of the Light Brigade.

They felt that life life was fleeting; they knew not that art was long,

They thought they were dying of famine, they lived in deathless song.

They asked for alittle money to keep the wolf from the door;

And the thirty million English sent twenty pounds and four.

They laid their heads together that were scarred and lined and grey;

Keen were the Russian sabers, but want was keener than they;

And an old Troop-Sergeant muttered: “Let us go the man who writes

The things on Balaclava the kiddies at school recites.”

They went without bands or colours, a regiment ten-file strong,

To look for the Master-singer who had crowned them all in his song;

And waiting his servant’s order, by the garden gate they stayed,

A desolate little cluster, the last of the Light Brigade.

They strove to stand to attention, to straighten the toil-bowed back;

They drilled on an empty stomach, the loose-knit files fell slack;

With stooping of weary shoulders, in garments tattered and frayed,

They shambled into his presence, the last of the Light Brigade.

The old Troop-Sergeant was spokesman, and “Beggin’ your pardon,” he said;

“You wrote of the Light Brigade, sir. Here’s all that isn’t dead.

And it’s all come true what you wrote, sir, regardin’ the mouth of hell;

For we’re all of us nigh to the workhouse, an’ we thought we’d call and tell.

“No, thank you, we don’t want food, sir; but couldn’t you take an’ write

A sort of ‘to be continued’ and ‘see next page’ o’ the fight?

We think someone has blundered, an’ couldn’t you tell “em how?

You wrote we were heroes once, sir. Please write we are starving now.”

The poor little army departed, limping and lean and forlorn.

And the heart of the Master-singer grew hot with “the scorn of scorn.”

And he wrote for them wonderful verses that swept the land like flame,

Till the fatted souls of the English were scourged with the thing called Shame.

O thirty million English that babble of England’s might,

Behold there are twenty heroes who lack their food tonight;

And children’s children are lisping to “honour the charge they made—“

And we leave to the streets and the workhouse the charge of the Light Brigade.”

Posted by Dan Bieger 2005-12-09 08:43:29

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