Saturday, October 12, 2002
It claimed to be from Thoreau, and was about man making himself a slave, or some such - "the greatest danger of man's past was that he would make himself a slave" (or government would, or something) was perhaps the first half. But the second half of the "quote" read something like: the greatest danger of man's future is that he'll make himself a robot (or that government will, or whatever).
But the term "Robot" originates in 1921 in Czech, and 1923 in English. The term "android" was in earlier use, but wasn't what the quote read. Thoreau's dates were 1817-1862. So what's going on?
If anyone sees "Robocop: Meltdown" any time soon, could you copy down the end-quote please, so I can investigate further?
Danny Baker, in the Times sports section, riffs his way to the most diverting real-media article I've seen today. It's about the demise of duelling as a sport, and a duelling society in Georgia, USA, in particular. They foolishly had some contact with the media, and their past-time is being shut down, and, like any truely enjoyable article, it has at its heart a conspiracy theory/improbable link. The crucial grafs are:
"A duelling society in Georgia, in the United States — the last such in the world, it claims — has been outlawed after its members were canvassed for their views on whether Saddam Hussein and George Bush ought to meet mano a mano to decide the impending war’s victor.
Having been thrown to centre stage, it seems the fraternity, far from being the re-enactment and role-playing club claimed, had actually been holding real ten-paces-and-fire duels in local woods for many years under conditions of great secrecy.
Investigations into its history are under way and it has been ordered to disband immediately. The society’s president is quoted as saying: “Now they are digging up all over, despite the fact I have told them that we have never once had a fatality in one of our duels. Death is not the point of duelling.
“The point is to settle any disputes that arise within the membership by this ancient and honourable means. Drawing a small amount of blood is quite enough satisfaction for members. It’s a dangerous pastime, for sure, but so is motor racing.”
Poor old motor racing — dragged into the sporting safety argument again. I must say that, even though inquiries are at an early stage, I find it very hard to believe that a society devoted to duelling would only get a duel on the go if its members fell out over something.
I mean, what did they sit around doing otherwise? Yes, I suppose that they did go through the motions of being insulted at some slight or another for tradition’s sake but I bet they were pretty weak outrages.
Looking at someone all funny, adding an extra sugar to a tea or forgetting birthdays probably sufficed. Once the ritual was satisfied it must have been: “Right lads, there’s only one way to sort this out — to the woods.” And can so reckless a pursuit really have resulted in nothing more than a few minor musket-ball grazes over the years?
Wasn’t Georgia the state in which they discovered huge piles of uncremated bodies lying around in the underbrush a few months back? I don’t suggest they all perished looking for satisfaction or defending the family honour but it might be an idea to look and see if one or two of the corpses are wearing top hats and ruff-fronted silk shirts."
Go read the rest....
Friday, October 11, 2002
It's a breathalyser! It automatically updates your weblog when used!"
Defense Department Typo Results In U.S. Attack On Ira
ARLINGTON, VA—The U.S. Defense Department apologized to Skokie, IL, dentist Ira Nussbaum Tuesday following a bombing campaign aimed at removing the 37-year-old from power. "Apparently, the intelligence source who drafted the attack plan against Iraq failed to strike the 'Q' key hard enough," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said. "The 'Q' was always a little stubborn on that keyboard. Sorry." This marks the first military action taken against Nussbaum since a malfunctioning shift key prompted Ulster Unionists to detonate his Ford Taurus in 1998.
Thursday, October 10, 2002
As mentioned above, this post is not based upon a complete understanding of the situation: it appears that I jumped the gun. Something that appeared sinister had a simple explanation. The story in brief: it had appeared that a news site was editing stories it was reproducing so as to achieve a certain political effect. This was mistaken - it turns out everyone (the Times, Natalie Solent, and the Daily News Digest) comes out of this well. My apologies to the Daily News Digest for the below implications. On general principle of how I feel on-line media should deal with this sort of thing, I've posted the retraction at the top of my site (at the time), and qualified this post.]
Natalie Solent, who kindly describes me as "being the most attentive reader anyone could wish for" for pointing this difficulty out, made the unfortunate lapse of accusing the Times of censoring vital evidence in a court case, giving a one-sided account of events. This was terribly unfair on the Times, and its journalist, whose story was in fact seems slightly fuller than the Torygraph piece she contrasted it to. Like any good blogger (and unlike many a poor newspaper), Natalie has, to her great credit, issued a retraction that leaves clear all that has ensued...
How could a well-respected member of the blogosphere make such an error? Prompted by someone's recollection of the story in the print version of the Times, Natalie went hunting out her sources. She'd linked to the story from a news digest, assuming that a story with the same title, topic, and author, and the by-line "The Times" would be a reprint of, well, the article in the Times. Let's allow Natalie to continue the tale:
"When I first read about this story on the Libertarian Alliance Forum, I did a Google search for the names involved. I found the story as I first printed it, word for word, at a site called the Daily News Digest. It's given the byline "Simon de Bruxelles - The Times." So I thought, not unaturally, that that was what it said in the story by Simon de Bruxelles in the Times. Only it's not. Isn't that weird? Some unknown hand has edited out all the aspects that make Mr Hudaid [the victim] look bad and mitigate Mr Scott's admittedly unruly behaviour [for which he has been convicted].
I should have checked. Of course I should. It wouldn't have been hard to do. I usually do click the link, but for some reason this time I didn't. If you'd asked me five minutes later where I'd seen the story, I'd have blithely said, "Why, in the Times, of course." I'm very sorry I didn't check, only I do offer as a mitigating factor that the Daily News Digest did make it easy for me to make that particular mistake, if you know what I mean.
How do the two compare? Mr Bruxelles' version of the story begins:
"A MAN who had an argument in the street with a supporter of Osama bin Laden became the first person to be convicted under new laws on religious hatred yesterday.
Magistrates in Exeter were told that Alistair Scott, 33, was arrested after an argument with his Arab-born neighbour, Muhammad Hudaib, who was said to have shouted that bin Laden was great, September 11 was a great day, all Americans deserved to die and called him a “Zionist pigf****r”. "
Compare that to the Daily News Digest version - still credited, remember, to Simon de Bruxelles and The Times:
"A FORMER teacher who verbally attacked three Muslims has become the first person to be convicted under new laws that outlaw religious hatred.
Alistair Scott, 33, accosted the strangers in the street and began arguing about the involvement of Islam in the September 11 attacks in the US. "
So who are these Digest guys? The website describes itself thus:
"The Daily News Digest reviews the main electronic news media for items relating to British Muslims at home and abroad, Britain’s ethnic minorities, and stories which have a bearing on the image of Islam in general in the media. FAIR is not affiliated to any political or religious organisation, and does not necessarily endorse the views reflected in the items reproduced in the Daily News Digest. "
I can't help thinking that their readers would get a more accurate perception of the image of Islam in the media if the stories found there were left as the Digest found them, or clearly marked as edited - and not just edited for brevity, either."
Natalie has e-mailed the site querying their policy - updates will hopefully appear at her site. But a fascinating tale of a) the distortions that googling for a story can throw up, and b) how biased reporting by pressure groups can be.
Wednesday, October 09, 2002
News off TV
Another economic indicator: Shanghai is encouraging local sales agents to create relationships with regional suppliers from less developed areas and minority areas. There are far from industry, and so produce has less chance of pollution/contamination. Therefore they can create a market for “green” foods. These don’t seem to be organic year, but are definitely the sort of premier food that has become popular in the West with wealth.
(Yet another – Steinway and Sons has a store in Beijing)
The style of central planning (with Chinese characteristics): Shanghai has a tourism problem. It lacks an appropriate “local” souvenir [for local people] to sell to tourists. So they’re holding a competition to pick a souvenir, and then building a department store to sell all the ideas they come up with.
A worrying mention – there was a 4.8 quake about 30 miles from my home last night.
[no damage done, it turned out]
The Forbidden City was built with 500,000 men from 1406-1420, in an already developed city. It’s staggering in scale. It took 2 hours basically to walk from South to North, glancing at stuff. The scale, the terrible majesty, explains a lot about Chinese history.
If there’s residual veneration in the process, that is as deeply disturbing as the continued Maoist guerrilla movement in Nepal. Except they probably won’t get the chance to kill staggering numbers of their own people (as opposed to merely large numbers in the civil war). Mao actually did it. Sadly, I couldn’t quite drag myself away without a photo under his portrait on Tiananmen Gate, I I escaped without being tempted by musical Mao cigarette lighters.
If this is a Chinese language film, this is because, though there is a standard written script, the dialects verge on the mutually incomprehensible. A Beijing guide suggested he could only understand 10-20% of a Cantonese conversation. The converse may not be quite true, as the government has attempted to impose Mandarin language teaching nation-wide. Nonetheless, the barriers to internal communication are amazing. The standard anecdote is of two doctors, educated men, who operated together during the war and had to communicate in English.
It definitely makes things even trickier for tourists: local’s (requested) correction of my pronunciation of “thank you” varied wildly as I travelled. Eventually, I settled on “che-chez”, but not with the hard Guevara “Che”. The books transliterate it as “sei-sei” with the first syllable falling in tone. I’d stick with “che-chez” if you’re there: it’s right in part of the Yangtze, and accepted in Beijing.
End China Blog. Location – Birmingham. Local time, midnight. Personal time, unsure. Hours since proper sleep, 48?
Tuesday, October 08, 2002
Massive “liberalisation” of natural resources is taking place in the flood zone. Hills are clear-cut to the 135m mark, the point where water will reach when the dam begins flooding (it will reach 175m when the project is complete). Why drown the trees when you can use them now? On the North side of the Yangtze on the approach to the dam, there will be an awful lot of submerged hills or new islands – the reservoir will be pretty wide here.
[context – today’s travel involved going from Yichang, the end of our cruise, back to Beijing]
The expansion of the museum to show all 5000 items, as opposed to just 3000 at present, was the justification for the “quality” part of the museum store. “Genuine” “antiques”, certified by the government for provenance and with permission for export, were on sale to fund the building work. The difference in quality was remarkable, and prices were, for once, pretty fixed, set in USD, and high. A jade bowl was $200 vs $6.50 for four green bowls the previous day. The difference in quality was pretty obvious.
It was suggested to me I couldn’t get a 1 ft sword in my carry-on luggage, try as I might.
Ginger’s arguments were:
1) Nukes are no concern as China is a nuclear power, and can intercept (? : “stop”, she said) them before they reach their territory/their target (unclear)
2) They can empty the dam (39 cubic km of water!) in 3 days (approx 5 times normal flow, I think), if they want to. (How that helps against a nuke strike, I don’t know – I think it doubles the natural maximum flood to do so that fast, though it’s hard to interpolate the data off the graphs).
3) A September 11th attack would fail because the mountains are 2000m high (actually 1000-1500m above sea-level, less the 65-175m of water depth (pre/post flood depths). Hence the planes would be destroyed/couldn’t do this. Saying this as we pass down a mile wide valley seemed particularly foolish….
[I’ve since heard similar about the Hoover dam, which was likewise built with cooling pipes inside the concrete]
(One of the McDonalds is in the old, English-style train station. It’s now filled with banks, shops, and internet cafes – perhaps the most apt metaphor for China’s restricted net is the internet railroad…).
McDonalds and KFC both have 60 stores in Beijing, with plans to expand to 200 each by the end of 2003. The theory goes, if every Beijing resident went only once, it would take 10 years for the stores to run out of customers and have to close…
We were meant to return to the “top right” corner by 10.10pm. At 10, we were in the “middle left” by Mao’s tomb. We had time to make it back, but as we headed off, a soldier came up and said “Tiananmen Square”. He didn’t seem to have anything else to say (some others thrown out of the square got soldiers with more detailed instructions for dealing with Westerners). However, he was very intent on us leaving the square by the most direct route. In the end, we had to walk away from the main square before being able to double back.
[OK, so it’s nothing too dramatic as a tale. But it’s still an anecdote, until I tell it…]
[The Scots have little on the Chinese in this regard - with wealth may come nasty health issues]
End China Blog, Day 6 – dateline Beijing.
Monday, October 07, 2002
And I’ve been reduced to using mini pads of paper from hotels. Why no paper?
An official 1.2m (and possible 2m (the Economist) will be moved. An article in the Economist a fellow traveller had on them put a slightly new spin on the tale told by the guide at Feng du. Yes, you can get what you had before, but no larger than the old “cramped apartments” without cash. The guide implied you got the same number of rooms, but these were improved and the rooms were cheap to “add” to your abode.
It is possible the townsfolk can mostly afford a little bigger place, but the country areas have little or no savings and have little chance of expansion. The buildings mostly look like Spanish hotels, but so did the old ones. Arguably, for the cities relocated “laterally”, the vices of the new accommodation are the vices of the old. The defects of the centrally planned economy are repeated, but not exacerbated. For farmers losing their land on tributary valleys, things will be tougher: they will have to move a long, long way if they are to remain farmers…
The boats owned by the captains, the villagers trading: the free market offering the right thing for the tourists, giving them a “real” river experience, taking them down-river to places where you have to crane your neck vertically. Though buying opportunities were thrown in, it seemed to be the best use of a beautiful valley, and an opportunity for income for villages with little else going for them.
1) Chinese paint the inside of crystal snuff bottles with pictures of this and that.
2) This is done with thin knitting needles with the ends bent perpendicularly to make a painting point.
3) You can snort snuff from within, but liquid must be in an inner bottle as the paint is water based.
4) There are only 100 artists in China skilled in the art.
5) The largest piece (ever?) done in China is about one foot, by half a foot, by a third of a foot, and is on the former White Empress, the Isabella 5. It is made from an army surplus crystal container.
7) That’s it.
Similarly, a guidebook from Feng du spoke of Qin Hui and his family suffering dreadful tortures in Hell as a result of his actions as prime minister which made him “the most evil man in Chinese history”. No-one seems to know who he is, and no more detail is provided. I feel compelled to know more, but can’t find anything out.
[The link above obviously doesn't give the full story. It's bad, but "the most evil"? Basically, it says:
" Qin Hui (1090-1155) when he [plotted] with his wife the murder of Yue Fei, a young general in command of an army fighting northern invaders. ...
A native of Nanjing, Qin once served as a ranking official of the Northern Song. When the Jins from the north overthew the Song, he turned his coat. Fawning upon the commander of the Jin army, he became his advisor. During the confrontation between the Jin and the southern Song, he was sent back to the Song court to be a planted agent. The Song emperor,who seekedto pacify the enemy, appointed Qin prime MINISTER. From then on, Qin tried by hook or by crook to check Yue Fei's resistance against the Jin invasion. He was indeed out to remove Yue ,a thorn in his flesh. Yue's army was advancing toward the final virtory when Qin asked the emperor to order Yue to withdraw his army. No sooner was Yue back in in Hangzhou than he instigated the emperor to kick Yue upstairs. Not long afterwards, Yue was jailed and killed on the charge of some "probable crime."
Though Qin Hui died eight hudred years ago, people today still hate him intensively. The iron figures of him and his three accomplices, first cast some hundred years ago, will kneel in frong of Yue Fei's tomb and be spat on and cursed forever"]
But, for example, on Sunday night, we tried to buy wine at dinner, and it took 20 minutes to get bottles brought to the table. The white was badly corked, the red just about tolerable. After, in the bar, the barman tried to open wine without removing the foil first (it’s as hard as you’d imagine), and again the cork was dry. The problems of storing wine upright were duly explained to a staff member with good English.
Today, all bottles in the bar are on their side, and at lunch staff dashed to offer wine by the glass. Cultural differences on the White Empress overcome: profits to follow.
End China Blog Day 5 - Messing about on the river
Sunday, October 06, 2002
"As ever, the Brits were well represented. Statistician and ecologist Charles Paxton, from the University of St Andrews, took the biology IgNobel.
He and colleagues had a paper on the courtship behaviour of ostriches published in the journal British Poultry Science.
The research showed why the birds got excited when humans came near their pens.
"The ostriches were more interested in humans than they were in each other," Charles Paxton told the BBC. "The ostriches fancied the humans."
The scientist said his team were delighted with their prize. "We are all very proud," he said.
Interdisciplinary Research: Karl Kruszelnicki, of the University of Sydney, for performing a comprehensive survey of human belly button lint - who gets it, when, what colour, and how much.
Chemistry went to the Illinois researcher who gathered many elements of the periodic table, and then built a four-legged table on the theme of the periodic table.
Mathematics: Two Indian scientists came up with a new method for estimating the surface area of elephants.
Literature: Two US researchers wrote a colourful report on The Effects Of Pre-Existing Inappropriate Highlighting On Reading Comprehension.
Peace: A Japanese team got the prize for promoting peace and harmony between the species by inventing Bow-Lingual, a device that translates a dog's barks into Japanese.
Hygiene: Eduardo Segura, from Spain, won his IgNobel for inventing a washing machine for cats and dogs.
Economics: Twenty-eight companies shared this prize for "adapting the mathematical concept of imaginary numbers for use in the business world".
Medicine: Chris McManus, of University College London, was able to show that ancient sculptures of men wrongly had a larger left testicle (in nature, the reverse is true, apparently!)
The physics IgNobel went to Arnd Leike, of the University of Munich, who was able to show that beer froth obeys the mathematical Law of Exponential Decay.
"He and a Nobel Laureate went out for a beer in Harvard Square before the ceremony to try to replicate the results," Mark Abrahams said."
More details are at the Ig Nobel home page
If it is terrorism, it looks as though the "sophisticated" approach of the French hasn't brought them too many benefits. A tanker carrying oil from the Gulf might carry 78,000 metric tons of oil (I don't know how typical that amount is). The price of Brent crudel in 2002 is apparently $175.70 per metric ton. So the price of the oil alone is the best part of $14m.
We’re 400 miles away, and I’ve already become amused by the repeated references to the “Great” Three Gorges dam project in our morning briefing. It culminated with the host referring to it as “the greatest project in over 5000 years of history”. Just after seeing the Wall and the warriors, this seemed doubtful (though I may change my mind when I see it). The daunting opinion of another guest as to a) the strategic liability of the dam even to ordinary weapons and b) the possible implications of the dam failing were very disturbing.
[I'll have lots to say about the dam in days to come. Here's a summary of arguments for and against, tilted to the anti side. The slant is surprising, as it comes from a site called ChinaOnline.com. Except that it's address is China Online Inc., 900 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 2800, Chicago, IL 60611, USA...]
[These/a> links have pictures of housing higher up the banks]
It’s a fascinating place, with standard issue trials, judgement, and release to heaven or Dante-style torture in hell. The merchant who altered his measures was down to be weighed by his balls for eternity, and the adulterer/cheat to be cut in two (one half for each woman?). Neato.
You got grabbed by appropriate ghosts if you committed various sins such as lust, etc. The drunken ghost seemed aimed at me. The guard said the “intellectual ghost” was for Bill Gates, and the “lecherous ghost” for Bill Clinton. Looks like suckers called Bill can’t get an even break in China.
[This sequence of photos shows some of the ghosts. The "intellectual" and "lecherous" ghosts are missing, sadly. I don't know what the first one you see is. This is the "cheeky" ghost, who's far more innocent than the picture looks - he's a prankster of sorts. The one after that is "Jezebel" ghost. I can't place the others.
Below's a picture of one of the tortures, though I'm not sure exactly what this is for
What you got depended upon what you had, plus what extra you would pay. The deal doesn’t look that shabby if you do indeed get at least an equivalent apartment. The main problem may be some lost tourist money, and having to cross the river each day to get to work. Otherwise, for these people, the dam doesn’t look to be too much of a bad thing.
(Addendum – AIRPORTS don’t sell paper, though they do have Chinese translations of business books. Mintzberg’s “The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning” stood out for me, but they also have collections of the thinking of business leaders, etc. Oddly, titles are in English as well as Chinese. As in Japan, it may be becoming “cool” (as well as denoting foreign “expertise” – there's perhaps a belief in authority (as I understand there was in Meji Japan) that foreign knowledge can be imported to native purposes without structural change).
Presumably it’ll only work if the Yangtze becomes less cloudy. Standardly, hitting standing water causes running water to shed silt. Particles are carried in suspension in virtue of (mainly) the speed of the water. Experiments today suggested surface flow in the Yangtze is at least 2 m/s (7 km/h) in normal conditions. IIRC, flow beneath the surface would be faster.
Hitting a lake slows water, causing it to shed particles (in oceans you get a delta, as in some lakes). But the river will run still, as the water will be flowing in a regulated way to generate power. So, if it flows there will be turbulence, preventing submarine viewing – and it can’t not flow. The solution may be to do with the depth of the lake, but it seems like a pipedream.
End China Blog, Day 4 - On the Yangtze