Friday, July 16, 2004

Bastille Day and Chaos Manor

From Jerry Pournelle and Chaos Manor come a pair of good things.

First is his description of the storming of the Bastille. Wednesday was Bastille Day, a very important date for France, analagous to Independence Day for America:
On July 14, 1789, the Paris mob aided by units of the National Guard stormed the Bastille Fortress which stood in what had been the Royal area of France before the Louvre and Tuilleries took over that function. The Bastille was a bit like the Tower of London, a fortress prison under direct control of the Monarchy. It was used to house unusual prisoners, all aristocrats, in rather comfortable durance. The garrison consisted of soldiers invalided out of service and some older soldiers who didn't want to retire; it was considered an honor to be posted there, and the garrison took turns acting as valets to the aristocratic prisoners kept there by Royal order (not convicted by any court).

On July 14, 1789, the prisoner population consisted of four forgers, three madmen, and another. The forgers were aristocrats and were locked away in the Bastille rather than be sentenced by the regular courts. The madmen were kept in the Bastille in preference to the asylums: they were unmanageable at home, and needed to be locked away. The servants/warders were bribed to treat them well. The Bastille was stormed; the garrison was slaughtered to a man, some being stamped to death; their heads were displayed on pikes; and the prisoners were freed. The forgers vanished into the general population. The madmen were sent to the general madhouse. The last person freed was a young man who had challenged the best swordsman in Paris to a duel, and who had been locked up at his father's insistence lest he be killed. This worthy joined the mob and took on the name of Citizen Egalite. He was active in revolutionary politics until Robespierre had him beheaded in The Terror.

The national holidays of the US, Mexico, and France all celebrate rather different events...
I'll also leave you with this link to his thoughts on "Nature vs. nurture" as it relates to imperialism, the Iraq War and our Republic:
Humans are flawed, whether by Original Sin or by imperfect evolution. Good societies do not just happen, and they are seldom if ever built by design. They grow. They have roots, they are maintained by customs and traditions, some of which we do not even understand. One approaches such a society with awe, and tends to its flaws as one would the wounds of a father, tenderly and with care, with a scalpel not an axe.

Edmund Burke expressed this in political terms, and is the intellectual father of modern political conservatism, but the view has its roots in the ancients including Cicero and Aristotle. Plato wrote of his ideal Republic in which the philosophers would be kings and guardians, and build the perfect state in which there was the theory of freedom, but not much in practice: his Republic looks more like Sparta than Athens. Aristotle by contrast studied the constitutions of hundreds of states, and had what conservatives believe is a more realistic view: man has a nature; it is malleable but not infinitely so; and the affairs of men follow patterns.
He points to a writer I wasn't aware of, and about whom I'll have a post later, Vilfredo Pareto.
Thoughts for the Day

Right now I'm reading Michael Shaara's Killer Angels. It's a novelisation of the Battle of Gettysburg, with maps. It was also the basis for the movie Gettysburg, by Ron Maxwell, starring Martin Sheen, Tom Berenger and Jeff Daniels. I enjoyed the movie, for its realistic setting and battle scenes (filmed at Gettysburg National Park) and attention to detail, but also found it just too reverential and hagiographic, covered in a pall that managed to kill a lot of the tensions. Still, having seen the movie first, I wanted to read the novel.

Turns out that a lot of the movie came straight from the novel. Literally; whole speeches, etc. Ah well. Plus, Angels has to introduce a dizzying cast in short order and it's a bit of trouble to keep everyone straight. Still, I'm enjoying the story and will likely read the two sequels next, after I read The DaVinci Code, which my lunch-buddy Amanda is going to loan me.

There were some passages I loved in the movie, and they are present in the novel. Like this:
"This is a different kind of army. If you look at history you'll see men fight for pay, or women, or some other kind of loot. They fight for land, or because a king makes them, or just because they like killing. But we're here for something new. I don't...this hasn't happened much in the history of the world. We're an army going out to set other men free.

This is free ground. All the way from here to the Pacific Ocean. No man has to bow. No man born to royalty. Here we judge you by what you do, not by what your father was. Here you can be something. Here's a place to build a home. It isn't the land -- there's always more land. It's the idea that we all have value, you and me, we're worth something more than the dirt. I never saw dirt I'd die for, but I'm not asking you to come join us and fight for dirt. What we're all fighting for, in the end, is each other." (Colonel Lawrence Chamberlain, pg. 32-33.)
That first paragraph is striking in this day and age. As is this quote from Napoleon:
The logical end to defensive warfare is surrender.
The movie version had a really PC passage with the film's only black character that read like something put in to mollify critics. It's not in the novel, which has a more complex and realistic exchange, part of which ended up in the film. Here's a passage from that:
Chamberlain said suddenly, "Buster, tell me something. What do you think of Negroes?"

Kilrain brooded.

"There are some who are unpopular," he concluded.

Chamberlain waited.

"Well, if you mean the race, well, I don't really know." He hunched his shoulders. "I have reservations, I will admit. As many a man does. As you well know. This is not a thing to be ashamed of. But the thing is, you cannot judge a race. Any man who judges by the group is a peawit. You take men one at a time, and I've seen a few blacks that earned my respect. A few. Not many, but a few."

Chamberlain said, "To me there was never any difference."

"None at all?"

"None. Of course, I didn't know that many. But those I knew...well, you looked in the eye and there was a
man. There was the divine spark, as my mother used to say. That was all there was to it...all there is to it.


They sat for a long while in silence. Then Kilrain said, softly smiling, "Colonel, you're a lovely man." He shook his head. "I see at last a great difference between us, and yet I admire ye, lad. You're an idealist, praise be."

Kilrain rubbed his nose, brooding. Then he said, "The truth is Colonel, that there's no divine spark, bless you. There's many a man alive no more alive than a dead dog. Believe me, when you've seen them hang each other.... Equality? Christ in Heaven. What I'm fighting for is the right to prove I'm a better man than many. Where have you seen this divine spark in operation, Colonel? Where have you noted this magnificent equality? The Great White Joker in the Sky dooms us all to stupidity or poverty from birth. No two things on earth are equal or have an equal chance, not a leaf nor a tree. There's many a man worse than me, and some better, but I don't think race or country matter a damn. What matters is justice. 'Tis why I'm here. I'll be treated as I deserve, not as my father deserved. I'm Kilrain, and I God damn all gentlemen. I don't know who me father was and I don't give a damn. There's only one aristocracy, and that's right here --" he tapped his white skull with a thick finger -- "And you, Colonel laddie, are a memeber of it and don't even know it. You are damned good at everything I've seen you do, a lovely soldier, an honest man, and you got a good heart on you too, which is rare in clever men. Strange thing, I'm not a clever man meself, but I know it when I run across it. The strange and marvelous thing about you. Colonel darlin', is that you believe in mankind, even preachers, whereas when you've got my great experience of the world you will have learned that good men are rare, much rarer than you think. Ah --" he raised his hands, smiling -- "don't you worry about ministers. The more you kill, the more you do the world a service." He chuckled, rubbing his face. His nose was fat and soft, rippling under his ringers.

Chamberlain said, "What has been done to the black is a terrible thing."

"True. From any point of view. But your freed black will turn out no better than many the white that's fighting to free him. The point is that we have a country where the past cannot keep a good man in chains, and that's the nature of the war. It's the aristocracy I'm after. All that lovely, plumed, stinking chivalry. The people who look at you like a piece of filth, a cockroach, ah." His face twitched to stark bitterness. "I tell you, Colonel, we got to win this war." He brooded. "What will happen, do you think, if we lose? Do you think the country will ever get back together again?"

"Doubt it. Wound is too deep. The differences.... If they win there'll be two countries, like France and Germany in Europe, and the border will be armed. Then there'll be a third country in the West, and that one will be the balance of power."

Kilrain sat moodily munching on a blade of grass. More cannon thumped; the dull sound rolled among the hills. Kilrain said, "They used to have signs on tavern doors: Dogs and Irishmen keep out. You ever see them signs, Colonel?"

Chamberlain nodded.

"They burned a Catholic church up your way not long ago. With some nuns in it."


There was a divine spark." (Colonel Chamberlain and Sergeant Kilrain, p. 186 - 189.)
I'm only half-way through; early afternoon of the second day, as Chamberlain is defending Little Round Top from a flanking Confederate army advance. I find I enjoy the novelistic, less history-study approach of Shaara, though I'm sure now that I'll end up with some Shelby Foote for the details.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Still Twiddling

No, not back to blogging yet. But, I have been playing around with the new main page for Half-Bakered. I'm slowly learning more CSS and trying experiments with it. Nothing fancy, that's for sure, but it's still some fun results. I have nine stylesheets for you to choose from now, including some more new designs like Green Marble, Space Geek and Fall Leaves.

Next I'll be experimenting with absolute positioning and static graphics. More sophisticated stuff and maybe repositioning some of the elements with CSS. Please let me know if any of the templates look particularly wacky in your browser. I've only checked them in Firefox 9.2.

As for the problems with the Atom feed, mentioned by Jemima in comments down below, I have no idea. I just have the standard Blogger link on the page. All I can guess is that, since I use a DIV tag inside the posts (look at the source) to create my titles, instead of the new Title line that Blogger provides, it might be that screwing things up. Sorry. I don't want to change using that for now, as it will be what I'll use to delimit and categorise posts when I finally get around to importing all the old archives into Word Press or whatever.

As always, your thoughts on the redesign over at for the new blog home are welcomed.

Lastly, please consider hitting the PayPal tipjar over on the left there. Yes, Blog*spot is free, but I have a lot of stuff housed over at (like the Kerry Mockery page, the Why We Fight page, the Carol Wallop page, etc.; see the links under Web Empire), which isn't free. Hosting Matters has recently rejiggered their hosting plans to give even better deals (more space and bandwidth for the same price!), but it still costs me money. If you can help, I'll love you long time. Or something like that.

Thanks for stopping by. Y'all come back soon, OK?

Sunday, July 11, 2004

I Would Have Your Thoughts

The story of Roger Easson and his apparent plagiarism of an Internet email for a column he wrote in the local Democratic Party newspaper keeps on rolling on. Since I documented the discovery of the apparent plagiarism, Rep. Kathryn Bowers has come out with a column of her own (in her own language) in another paper that seems to have sprung from what Easson originally "wrote."

Now, there's another development. This past Sunday, David Waters, the Commercial Appeal's religion columnist, wrote his own column about the coming Bush draft! Where he got his idea, I can't say. I may email him and ask, just to see. It's not impossible that he saw the Bowers column in the North Shelby Times, or read Easson's "article," or heard about this idea in Democratic circles somewhere.

It's the seeming one-two-three of progression that caught me eye. From party paper, to small newspaper, to big newspaper. From a party functionary, to the party's local leader, to one of the daily paper's two columnists. I'm almost positive at the connection between the first two, but it's the connection -- if any -- between Bowers and Waters that I wonder at.

And that's my dilemma. This despicable distortion is gaining ground locally. I'll give Waters some credit for not falling headlong and for explaining some truths, but he's still spreading the basic, dishonest meme. That's what bothers me.

So, I ask you. Should I go ahead and contact Christian Brothers University and David Waters? Should I tell them about Easson's apparent plagiarism? Should I contact one of the local television stations and give my work to a reporter? I'm not interested in political spite or "gotcha." This isn't about scoring points or crippling an enemy. This is about stopping a terrible and pernicious misrepresentation in its tracks.

Should I, or is it even worth the bother? I shared this with a local bookseller I know, who was stunned and amused. S/he wants to pass it on to a politician of his/her acquaintance, which I agreed to, though I have no idea what will happen there.

On the one hand, a university professor seems to have been caught plagiarising. On the other, it's only a small article in an obscure place. But then, if someone is willing to be so blatant about something so small, you have to wonder what they'll do for the big, important things. And then there's the way the original story seems to have been metamorphic in spreading, growing and gaining credibility. That distresses me, but is it worth possibly damaging (or ruining!) a professor's career? Or is it precisely the kind of thing that should be exposed, come what will.

As you can see, this is a moral and ethical dilemma for me. I'm just some guy with a website. I shoot off my mouth on a routine, if irregular, basis and I'm sure there's a lot down in the posts below that someone could make a lot of hay of, if they chose. If I push the wrong person I have no defenses against being pushed back, even though I've got my end of the story nailed down, I think. Yeah, I'm saying I'm a bit scared.

What do you think?
A View of the Future?

Been playing around with new blogging systems and a minor redesign of the blog, in anticipation of maybe moving the blog over to the domain. Or maybe not. I'm so slow and indifferent to the whole process, it's sad.

When Blogger "upgraded" to the new interface, I didn't really like it or care for it. I started to investigate Moveable Type, since the Blogcritics site uses that tool. It was a headache to set up, though, so I abandoned that idea.

Then, when MT announced their new pricing and product setup, that pretty much clinched it. Even though they've since moderated their initial program, it's still not appealing to move over to a system that may strand me with an old, abandoned product if I can't afford to start paying for it.

So, I looked into WordPress. That is one elegant and straight-forward blogging system. It set up on my domain host easily enough. But then I got into tweaking it to fit my needs on the domain and ran into trouble. Documentation is scarce and occasionally confusing. There's plenty of help on the support forums, but it's hit-and-miss; if you don't get the right answer right away, if you have to ask follow-up questions, you are out of luck. The crowd has moved on.

And then! Yes, there's more. My password stopped working, and I was locked out. Turns out that this is also a common problem, but not one addressed in a product fix yet. Being Open Source, who knows how long it'll be until that's repaired. I went into the Support Forums again and found a whole lot of answers, which are largely unclear and confusing. I'm still locked out for now.


It also meant learning PHP so I could tweak the index.php file, which was pretty daunting. I'm growing tired of learning new languages just to work with programs that are supposed to make my life easier! WordPress is without question a beautiful and subtle way to design a blog; ultimately, I'll end up there I'm sure. But it's more headache than I really want. Blogger is clunky, with too many click-throughs, both too many features and not the features I want, but I can work it well enough to get the job done. So, I'm still here and not really motivated to move along.

Sigh, again....

I had hoped to be able to do this blog's present design (with three columns, which is pretty much necessary for a link-heavy site like this, in my thinking) in WordPress with just CSS, which would be nice in terms of making easy changes to the underlying structure. But doing that (CSS only in WordPress) turns out to be a quest that many have made with mixed results. Most of them require tweakage on my part. Plus, learning about PHP, so I can adjust the index.php file to display how I want.

Plus, it looks like I'll have to hand-enter every single link myself, instead of doing some kind of bulk import! Shit on that.

So, I just reworked the present Blogspot design to be CSS-based, with the underlying index.html file being (mostly) pure structure and data. It's coming along nicely, too. I spent a couple of days experimenting and tweaking, since I sorta know HTML and CSS, and came up with something that's simpler to update when I need to. Not completely elegant, nor have I checked for validity, but it's coming along.

You can view the early beta version here. The URL is simple, which I wanted. I still opted to use tables for the underlying structure, but it's a simple, three-column table now. The outer columns are fixed-width, leaving the center (posting) column to expand with different resolutions and screen sizes. The design still feels cluttered, but maybe a bit less so now. Your comments are welcome.

I have alternate stylesheets now. Those of you who don't like white text on a black background (because you want to destroy your eyesight, I guess) now have a simple, "proper," stylesheet for yourself. Or, you can just look at the basic HTML structure (no formatting at all!). I think this can be adapted, minus the few graphics on the page, for PDA display, etc. We'll see. Once I move to, then I can use cookies to set the stylesheet preference for individual users! Whee!!

And, just for fun, I did a version with Hot Pink! on a black background. It's an eye-hurter, but I ended up with it by accident during some experimentation and decided to leave it available. Have a laugh. If you have any suggestions for other color combinations or layouts, give me your ideas and we'll see what happens. I'd like to try something else with black text / white type, but with narrow-border boxes around the categories labels and a narrow line down the inside margin alongside the links. Variable adjustment, drop-down lists for categories instead of loooooong lists?

I'll still likely go to WordPress, just for the extra features it offers, especially categories and search, and the CSS elegance. But it's been a headache since installation completed, when I wanted to customise it, then with the lockout, so that's on the backburner now.

Anyway, go to Half-Bakered's future home and look around. Play with the alternate stylesheets. Like I said, suggestions and opinions are welcomed.
Gmail For The Troops

As y'all know, I signed up for Gmail, thanks to Blogger. My addy is I got some free invites as well.

One of the invites I gave directly to a soldier I know who is going to Iraq in the Fall. Three more I donated to Gmail4Troops, which will be spread out to three other soldiers. Gmail is perfect for troops for a couple of reasons. First, it's web-based. Soldiers can access their accounts from any computer anywhere in the world that's hooked up to the Internet. Second, it comes with one gigabyte of memory. That's great for storing pictures and even short movies, or lots and lots of mail. If you have some Gmail invites laying around, please think about donating to this great cause.

The last two invites are available. Take me out to lunch, do me a nice, or offer something I might like and I'll give it to you. First come, first served, if I like your offer.