Archive for April 2005

Shut off Comments

Comment Spammers were just too much of a pain in the ass – as were the nutjobs.

I think a solution for the former would be to sue the URL owners of the destination within spam. The latter need medication…

Guest Posting At Dean’s World

I haven’t posted anything for the past two weeks because Dean Esmay invited me to post 2 articles a day Mon & Tues over at Dean’s World. Check out the following essays:

Raising Boys – Time For A Change?
Internet Haganah
Magnificent Wastes of Time
Children Are NOT Adults

I haven’t given up on The Razor; I’ve just focused more of my energy on the Dean’s World essays. Why? Because I get read over there.

Also, the arms race between comment spammers and bloggers has escalated. They’ve somehow managed to hack my filter, so I need to clean them up.

Magnificent Wastes of Time

Originally posted at Dean’s World:

I am not a Luddite – quite the opposite really. In my house I have no less than two modern wirelessly networked computers, one of which I built myself. I also have two ancient but working ones, plus an original 1977 Atari 2600 “Heavy Sixer” manufactured in Sunnyvale CA. a couple of PDAs and a PS2. I received my first computer in 1982 – a TI99-4A that taught me Basic, my first computer language. Since then I have taught myself a few more and finally made computers a full-time profession in 1997. I am old school. I have never forgotten DOS and trust it more than Windows, jumping to the command line to do things more often than the younger generation does, if they do such a thing at all (psst! Under XP it’s Run->CMD).

Hopefully this will reassure you when I say that I for the most part computers are a wonderful and expensive waste of time. If you want to boost your productivity by purchasing a computer for anything other than using a database (the best reason to use a computer IMO), then you might want to consider doing something else with your money – like buying a good day planner.

I posit this based on the following:

First, I work mostly with Microsoft products. Some will inevitably say that’s the problem, but in the private sector one doesn’t have much choice. I have used MS Word and Excel for over 12 years and am continually amazed at how much time I have to spend getting my spreadsheets and documents to look right. I spend more time formatting my documents than actually writing them – which defeats the purpose of using these programs. As a result I often find myself composing in Dreamweaver – a web publishing program – because the simple choices afforded by HTML keep me focused on what I’m writing, not how it looks. In fact, that’s where this article originated. Formatting does not make better writing or more accurate spreadsheets – so the output remains the same while the time spent on that output increases.

Second, I spend more time maintaining the programs on my PC than ever. Because of the increasing security threats on the web posed by viruses, spyware, DNS poisoning, and other malware I have to keep not only my OS up to date (XP – which updates itself automatically) but also my anti-spyware and anti-virus programs. PC Magazine recently dedicated a cover story to security, and according to that I’m not even doing enough. New Scientist has an article this week that discusses the threat posed by DNS cache poisoning, so even when I’m doing everything to protect my PC at work, I could still be at risk. If I add this time to that spent on my writing, I’m increasingly less productive. That’s not including the trouble I have with existing programs failing to work after upgrading another program or adding another piece of hardware. I tried to burn the Kid a CD of his favorite songs last night, and I found that I had to send the disk image across the LAN and burn it on the other PC because Nero couldn’t recognize my CD burner anymore. Add yet another thing to my “to-do” list that doesn’t produce essays, business process documentation or The Kid’s music CDs.

Third, I like to think I know a thing or two about computers, but I often run into problems that simply baffle me and resist all attempts at resolution without burning up serious amounts of time. If I can blow three hours on a problem, just imagine how long it would take the average person who doesn’t devote his career to them.

For the past two decades government statisticians have been looking for the productivity boost brought about through technology, but so far they haven’ t found it. When you have bosses spending hours deciding between Arial and Verdana in a Powerpoint presentation (as one of my friends recently mentioned to me) it’s obvious where that productivity has gone: out the Windows.

Children Are Not Adults

Children are not miniature adults.

I begin with this reminder because it is apparent that many in our society have forgotten this fact. Children are incapable of making rational decisions, don’t know what is good for them, and have no concept of delayed gratification as they live in the never-ending “now”. As a parent I struggle with this fact on a daily basis – from explaining what a word means in terms my child understands to making sure he receives the proper nutrition to stay healthy.

For parents, that’s just common sense, right?

In my house, the Cartoon Network vies with Fox News and the Discovery Channel for dominance of the TV. Being a kid at heart, I enjoy cartoons and anime and find that most of the stuff around today is of much higher quality than the Hannah-Barbera stuff I grew up with in the late 1960s and 1970s. Unfortunately the commercials are far worse though. During breaks between cartoons you will see ads in which adults – especially fathers – are portrayed as complete morons, with the kids sassing back with a witty – at least to a kid – remark. You’ll also see an advertisement for a CD of pop songs sung by children. Most pop songs are about love – and the CD mirrors that subject.

It’s just plain creepy to hear adolescents singing love songs originally sung by adults. I mean we are not talking girls in their late teens – but ten and eleven year olds pining away.

Similarly I attended The Kid’s school talent contest last week and saw a handful of all-girl acts sing and dance on stage. While the song choices were innocuous for the most part, I raised an eyebrow over way that some of the girls danced and the way they were semi-dressed. In a high school I would have thought that the suggestive dancing and dance costumes would be inappropriate, but we are talking about primary school – girls in the second and third grades.

Have I become a prude – or have some parents completely lost their minds?

It’s hard to say “no”. I struggle with this word myself – especially when facing an adversary like The Kid who is completely reliant upon me to provide him with everything. He will use any and every tactic to make me fulfill each and every whim that passes through his mind. He is a child and must manipulate; I am a parent and must control. This is a constant battle between two powerful forces yet the stakes are high: the raising of a creative, independent, intelligent human being.

Gil Reavil has written a book called ” Smut: A Sex-Industry Insider (and Concerned Father) Says Enough is Enough”. It is excerpted here at NRO. He writes:

“But we also have left unfulfilled our function as guardians of their cultural environment. The boundaries of their world have been repeatedly breached, many times by people interested in making money and dismissive of all other considerations. All too often, our children are exposed to the loud, frenzied, garish spectacle of adult sexuality. They get their faces rubbed in it.”

Consumption lies at the heart of our society – not sexual liberation. The only reason why sex pervades our culture is because it sells. If prayer moved product you could bet that our TVs would be filled chanting monks and bowed heads, but it doesn’t. Britney Spears doesn’t bump and grind on stage for fun – she does it for cold hard cash. Take that away and she would disappear.

Instead of falling into the liberal trap of debating morality, let’s talk about the underlying reason for our society’s obsession with sex: pure commerce. People get rich by appealing to our basest instinct, yet this doesn’t bother Leftists at all. It must be the only means of getting rich that the Left supports.

Republicans and the Right aren’t blameless either. The Right has played into the hands of liberals by falling for the morality-trap, and the laissez-faire pro-business supporters of Republicans must recognize that their “hands off” idealism supports this unique sales tool. As Dean Esmay has often said, corporations are not “natural” – they are contrivances of the state. Republicans need to recognize that corporations are amoral and need to be controlled to a great degree. We wouldn’t allow a company to sell products to Iran, yet we allow thousands of them to pitch products using sex. Both are threats to our national interests.

Raising children has never been easy, but we chose to be parents. We owe it to our children to make sure that we provide for them, protect them and fight for them at all times. While we may tire, we must never, ever surrender.

Raising Boys – Time for A Change?

Originally Posted at Dean’s World

When did medicating boys become popular and why aren’t more people questioning this practice?

I’m the parent of a boy, and I’ve noted that several of his friends are on various meds “to help him focus”, “it’s better for his grades” and “the teacher says he couldn’t sit still in class”. Meanwhile there is debate about ending recess in schools for various reasons, including improving test scores, saving money (teachers are demanding to be paid to supervise recess) and even protection (it’s easier to keep kids away from predators in a building).

I hate to tell those of you who believe in the complete equality of the sexes, but boys are not girls. They are absolute bundles of energy. “Snips, snails and puppy-dog tails” goes the saying and one thing that “puppy-dog tails” never do is sit still. Boys must move. They have evolved for that very purpose, and forcing them to sit in one place for a long period of time isn’t just wrong – it’s unethical and sexual discrimination of the highest order.

I believe that it is time to consider a whole new way of teaching boys. Boys can focus to a degree that is amazing to adults. Just ask one about his Pokemon or Yu-gi-oh strategy and be prepared for a detailed analysis of the game that would make a Pentagon planner feel like a generalist. However they can do so only between periods of activity. Think of it as teaching science, math and English in a gymnasium with lectures punctuated by games of Dodgeball and Hoops. Instead of relegating PE to 40 mins a week (as is the case at my kid’s school) regular classes would be integrated into PE to the point where a separate PE class would be unnecessary.

Medicating boys is the easy solution, but it makes as much sense as pumping girls full of speed and steroids to perform better at sports. No one is calling for that, and if anyone did there would be charges of child abuse levelled – and rightly so. Yet millions of boys are on medication today and people are comfortable with this.

Da’s Memorial Service

Exhaustion isn’t the word for the way I feel now. Death is so complicated that if you’re not careful it will kill you.

The memorial service was held yesterday after only 10 days – a whirlwind of grief and remembrance that ends with even more tears and complete exhaustion. Some quick thoughts:

Da was a kind and gentle man – unless you were a squirrel. You see, Da was a gardener and any home gardener knows how destructive squirrels can be. He tried everything to keep the squirrels away from his tomatoes and peppers, but in the end he resigned himself to finding half-eaten green tomatoes strewn around the yard and on the driveway.

Da kept a loaded air pistol at the ready in the garage. I don’t know if he ever used it, but I wouldn’t hold it against him if he did being a gardener myself.

A squirrel appeared at the door. It stopped and looked inside the funeral home. I watched him and could almost hear it say “He was a worthy opponent”. It stood there for a few moments and disappeared. I didn’t see another squirrel the rest of the day.

Yes, there is honor among even the most die-hard enemies.

One Beautiful Day After Another

The morning starts out in the kitchen with the Wife making waffles for the Kid as I scramble around her putting his lunch together. I hear Wife stifle a sob, then another, and another – so I come up behind her, wrap my arm around her belly and lay my head on her back.

“It’s one beautiful day after another,” she sobs. “He would have loved this.”

Da was a playboy in the literal sense of the word: he loved to play. On days like this he would be outside tending his garden or in the car driving to one of his favorite restaurants in Lancaster County. Although he was 80, Da moved in a way that you could tell that in his mind he was still in his twenties.

As I get older I realize that some old people aren’t really “old”: they are a young person trapped in an old person’s body – and that’s exactly what Da was. Da ignored aging as much as possible; only the failures of his body betrayed his physical age. Had medicine kept his body going, Da would have lived forever as active as any man in his twenties or thirties.

But the body betrayed him one final time, and now he’s gone.

The Kid padded into the kitchen, a concerned look on his face. He came up to the Wife.

“Are you okay?”
“Yes, honey, I’m okay. I’m just making your breakfast.”
“I thought I heard crying.”
“I wasn’t crying,” she lied – I’m not exactly sure why.
The Kid looked at me and my expression told him exactly what I wanted to: Yes son, she’s crying but she will be okay. Don’t push her.

He understood with a nod and took the tray with his breakfast out of the room.

Just one more complex interaction as life continues onward.

Stop Whining and Start Studying!

Forget the makeup and hit the books, jackass…

High School Boy Suspended for Wearing Makeup

Herndon, who is repeating his second year at the school, has worn makeup since he enrolled, according to his mother, Valerie Wallace.

Da’s Obituary

This morning I grabbed a copy of the local newspaper while fueling up on coffee at the local Dunkin Donuts. I opened it up to the obituaries and found this:

Da
Age 80, died Thursday, April 7, 2005.
Da was a retired DuPont chemist, a retired commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve and a WWII veteran.
He is survived by his wife of 58 years, Mother-In-Law; his children Wife, Sister-in-law and Brother-in-law; and his beloved grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at 3 pm on Sunday, April 17, 2005, at the MCCRERY MEMORIAL FUNERAL HOME, 3924 Concord Pike (Rt.202 south of Silverside Road), where friends may call after 2 pm.
In lieu of flowers, please make donations to the American Cancer Society, 92 Reads Way, New Castle, DE, 19720. To send condolences, visit
www.mccreryfuneralhome.com

I showed it to The Kid as he waited for the donut he had ordered. He read it, slid his arm around my waist and leaned his head against my side.

Posts About Da

Here is a list of links that covers the 7 weeks between the discovery of my father-in-law’s (Da’s) cancer through his death and its aftermath. Consider it part eulogy and part therapy with a strong dose of wonder over the life of a humble yet brilliant man.

A Doctor’s Schedule & Death Sentences

Death Is Busy

Death Misses Yet Again

A Quiet Death for a Humble Man

Things Could Always Be Worse

Death’s Aftermath

Visiting the Funeral Home

Da’s Obituary

One Beautiful Day After Another

A Quite Death for a Humble Man – One Year On

Visiting the Funeral Home

I haven’t been to a funeral home in close to 30 years, and I have never been to one as a customer or client. Yesterday the Wife called and said that she needed me to go along with her and her mother to discuss the arrangements for my father-in-law’s memorial service.

The two women we met at the funeral home looked like your average middle-aged suburban housewives who took up a career after the kids went off to college. Neither one of them wore black, and both seemed sincere when they expressed their condolences. The home itself had a single open space divided by a vinyl curtain that partitioned the room into two spaces. My wife commented that there were no windows in either space – something Da wouldn’t like – and one of the funeral directors noted “There aren’t many funeral homes with windows.”

I stood in the open space with rows of chairs neatly placed facing an empty area where the casket would usually rest. An audience facing a casket – as if the stiff were to rise and perform for the crowd, garnering laughs and applause. Da would not have liked that either, so the Wife immediately changed the seating arrangements.

One by one the details of the memorial ceremony were worked out as I stood and imagined the countless corpses that I been laid out in that empty space, the innumerable tears shed on the industrial grade low-pile carpet, boxes of Kleenex neatly placed on the small tables that were spaced along the walls. Da wasn’t a funeral home goer, but this ceremony had to conform to certain expectations, and one of those was that dead people are memorialized in funeral homes.

“These ceremonies are for the living,” the funeral director said. I commented that her job seemed more like a cruise director or wedding planner. “My job is to…” I almost got her to say it but she didn’t. She wanted to say:

Put the “fun” back into “funeral” but she artfully stopped herself from saying that although I knew deep down she wanted to. What followed was a more politically correct explanation of her duties and how much she enjoyed her job.

Well, I suppose it takes all types.

She led us into a room that I can best describe as a gift shop for the dead, a Hallmark Shop for the Goth and the Goth at heart. Laid out below recessed lighting were numerous caskets. Some were open to show their quilted lining. The funeral director explained that Serta – the same maker of beds for the living also made the thin mattresses that cradled the dead for eternity. However I don’t suppose that we will be seeing their “spokesheep” mention that in any of their commercials.

There were urns for the cremated, ranging from a grey slate pressboard box to cloisonné and marble vases. There were pieces of jewelry that held small amounts of cremains (an absolute must for Goths if you ask me, vials of blood being so cliche). There were the corners of coffins bolted to the walls to show their quality and workmanship. Prices ranged from the Sauder or O’Sullivan pressboard type for $175 to $6000 for polished steel hermetically sealed coffins that looked like you could launch them from a photon torpedo tube into space without scratching or denting them or damaging their contents. Pictures of families – all white because I suppose minorities don’t grieve for their dead or don’t die – hung next to the coffins, discussing the qualities of their construction and how they added to the memories of the deceased.

There was also a section of vault models. These models were the perfect size to lay your guinea pig to rest, and as one funeral director showed me, weighed a lot. There was a picture showing the step-by-step process of opening and closing a grave. She pointed out that these heavy concrete vaults were mandated by law to withstand the pressure of the heavy equipment necessary for digging graves today. It seems the heavy backhoes can collapse the coffins under them as they dig a nearby grave. This can cause “insurance problems” for the cemetery, and also cause subsidence and make mowing the grass more difficult.

I never realized that death could be so complicated.

As the Wife continued discussing the details, I examined the coffins, urns and vaults carefully. The expensive coffins were made with high-grade steel and had tough rubber linings around their openings. I noted to one of the funeral directors that if you placed an embalmed body in one of these caskets, sealed it shut, then placed it in one of the heavy concrete vaults and sealed it shut as well, the dead would not decay.

“That’s the point,” she said. “The loved ones don’t want to think of their beloved decaying. They want to think of them laying under ground as they were in life.”

So Grandma is pumped full of toxic chemicals, then sealed in a metal coffin which is then sealed in a concrete vault and buried 6 feet below the surface. This is supposed to make people feel better about their loss?

I found this to be plain creepy. I also couldn’t stop myself from imagining a zombie scenario. Come on. Am I the only one who imagines a “Dawn of the Dead” scene when visiting a cemetery?

Well let me assure you that given modern burial techniques, there is no way a zombie would make it out of the coffin, out of the vault, and through the dirt to the surface. This means that in such an event we would not have any zombies who died during the past 25 years – when the laws mandating heavy concrete vaults took effect.

I mentioned to one of the directors that thousands of years from now people would dig up our dead and think what we did was absolutely crazy in the same way we view the Egyptians for building elaborate tombs for their dead and placing heavily salted remains deep inside them.

I also realized that we were continuing a tradition that stretched backwards to the dawn of time, when our distant ancestors painted the bodies of the dead and laid mementos to rest with them. I wondered if it was possible that what set us truly apart from the animal kingdom, what made us unique from the other primates, was the way we treated our dead.

We learned that Da had been cremated on Sunday and one of the directors would be bringing his ashes to the funeral home today. It was a relief to learn that the body that had betrayed Da was no more than a coffee-can’s worth of grit and ash. Da was now completely free.

There would be no encapsulation of Da’s failed body away from the living. Instead his body had been turned into chemicals and gasses that now float in the wind and are now riding the Gulf Stream towards Europe. What had been part of his physical body would now rain upon the land of his ancestors in Ireland, helping keep that country green and beautiful. Eventually some of it would drift across the Mediterranean and hang in the clouds above the islands of the Aegean Sea which he loved. Some of it would be taken in by the breaths of Kurdish children playing in northern Iraq. Other parts would continue drifting in the atmosphere until it rained down upon the southern slopes of the Himalayas in a land he walked in as a young Navy ensign 60 years ago.

Da is
a part of life not apart from life.

I think Da would like that very much.

Another Hero Dies…

Here’s another one who recently shuffled off this mortal coil. You want the definition of guts? I nominate the name “Arthur Bywater”. Here is why:


Arthur Bywater, GC
(Filed: 08/04/2005)
Arthur Bywater, who died on Tuesday aged 91, was the only civilian to be awarded the George Cross and the George Medal; he won the GC in 1944 for his outstanding heroism in removing anti-tank mine fuzes from a munitions factory in Lancashire after an explosion.

On February 22 1944, in one of the buildings of the Royal Ordnance Factory at Kirby, in Lancashire, 19 operatives, most of them women, were at work on the last stage of filling anti-tank mine fuzes. Each operative was working on a tray of 25 fuzes, and in the building at the time there were some 12,000 stacked on portable tables, each holding 40 trays, or 1,000 fuzes.

At 8.30 am that morning, one fuze exploded, immediately detonating the whole tray. The girl working on that tray was killed outright and her body disintegrated; two girls standing behind her were partly shielded from the blast by her body, but both were seriously injured, one fatally. The factory was badly damaged: the roof was blown off, electric fittings were dangling precariously; and one of the walls was swaying in the breeze.

The superintendent arrived with Bywater, his factory development officer. It seemed quite likely that the damaged fuzes, and others which could be faulty, might cause an even larger explosion. The high wind at the time, or any vibration, could set off further detonations over an area of half a mile.

Bywater cleared the building so that the maintenance crew could shore up the walls. He then volunteered to take on the dangerous task of removing all the fuzes to a place of safety where they could be dealt with.

Read the entire story. Not only did he do it once, he did it again a few months later. I would have hated to be this guy’s insurance man at the time…

Hat-tip: Argghh!

St. Louis Cardinals to Choose Pope

Death’s Aftermath

Much happens after a person dies – at least for the loved ones left behind. There are the preparations for his memorial, to be held on his birthday on 4/17. Money is an issue. Bit by bit we are excavating Da’s method of filekeeping which, like that of many geniuses, made sense only to him.

Then there’s this:
An appearance to one of his grandchildren in a dream. In it he was young, and his grandson didn’t recognize him at first. Da told him that he was alright and that he didn’t need to worry about him. The grandson hadn’t known that Da was close to death, let alone at the time of the dream, actually dead.

Before you start thinking that I’ve lost my marbles, let me tell you something. 28 years ago there was a string of deaths in my family that ended three years later. In almost every one of those deaths, the dead person appeared to a loved one in a dream and provided some kind of assurance or forgiveness. In some of those cases, the person who had the dream hadn’t known the deceased was actually dead.

Da and I probably would argue about this. He would say that these were dreams reflecting wishful thinking and there was no proof that the dead actually communicated with the living.

I would argue that just because we cannot formulate a test methodology at this time should not mean that we ignore the data. After all, anecdotal evidence is often the first type of evidence theories acquire on the long road to validation.

I’m sure I wouldn’t change his mind, nor he mine.

Things Could Always Be Worse

One thing you realize about worse case scenarios is that when they happen, there is always something worse.

When “Da” – my father-in-law – was laying on his death bed surrounded by his daughters, his wife cuddled next to him, his grandson filling in the doctor about what she had missed of Lost – which was playing on the TV and the poodle running around under his bed, we realized that we were in the worse case scenario we envisioned at the original diagnosis only 7 weeks earlier.

And you know what? We knew that things could be worse. One of the doctors had told the Wife that he could last in “this condition for days”, comatose and struggling to breath in pain.

So whenever you think of the worse case, don’t forget that there is always something worse.

For Da there wasn’t. At 7:17 AM the following morning he breathed his last and a life that had spanned the 20th Century into the 21st, a mind that had formulated numerous patents, was stilled. Silenced.

It was a good Death for a good man.

It also reminds me of the scene in Young Frankenstein when Frankestein and I-gor are digging up a grave and Frankenstein complains:

Igor (Marty Feldman): “It could be worse”
Dr. Frankenstein (Gene Wilder): “How?”
Igor: “It could be raining.”