Busy, busy, busy

Five days without a blog entry… unthinkable! But I’ve actually been very busy, catching up with my reading for the Philosophy of Mind course I’m taking this semester at Tufts.
Now you have to understand that the last time I was in school was back in 1977, when I was at the University of Newcastle-on-Tyne in England. 28 years on and 3,500 miles away, things are a little different! This class meets twice a week, on Mondays and Wednesdays. Before each session, we go through a selection of readings on the topic for the day and submit our comments (which are assessed as part of the grading). We post the comments by 9pm the day before the class to an on-line Blackboard discussion board, where we can (and do!) all read and comment on each others’ submissions. And finally a streaming video of each class is posted to the Blackboard about a week after the class.
One thing that I’ve been worried about is how occasional business travel might disrupt class work. It looks as if the web-based tools will definitely help. I can see it now: reading the next selections at FL350 BOS-SFO, comments and dialogue via Blackboard from the Holiday Inn in Palo Alto…. Not ideal, but feasible. We’ll see.

Feeling fated…

This semester I’m going back to school. I’ve signed up to take Dan Dennett’s Philosophy of Mind course at Tufts, and the first classes are this week. I knew that it was going to be a challenge to fit classes and work into my schedule; I hadn’t counted on the weather.
The first class was scheduled for Monday, but with the blizzard last weekend everything (including Tufts) was closed. So the next session was this afternoon, Wednesday, 4:00-5:15. Coincidentally, we’re having another winter storm today. We’ve only had about 7 inches so far, but after the blizzard that felt like nothing. (Note the overconfident attitude.) So after finishing up a work (phone) meeting, I set out to drive the 12 miles from Brookline to Medford.
It was a nightmare. Even a major artery like Route 9 was deep in slush. Every time I touched the brakes I felt the ABS chattering to try and get a grip on something, anything. I’d only gone a couple of miles, and it looked like I would be lucky to average 10 MPH.
And then I cautiously stopped at a red light at the bottom of a hill, and looked in my mirror, transfixed, as a car slid down the hill towards me, obviously out of control. Somehow the driver managed to scrub off some speed by steering into the snowbank at the side of the road, and stopped inches behind me.
I pulled off onto a side street, called Tufts to explain that I wouldn’t be at class, and then drove home very carefully. It’s important to keep your priorities straight.

A brilliant "what if" from Juan Cole

Imagine if Bush was blessed with a modicum of foresight, and had told the truth about a war against Iraq back in 2002. In The Speech Bush Should have Given, Juan Cole describes what such a speech might have said – about the costs in dollars and lives, about the geopolitical issues, about the reasons. Money (ouch!) quote: “A war against Iraq will be expensive. It will cost you, the taxpayer, about $300 billion over five years. I know Wolfowitz is telling you Iraq’s oil revenues will pay for it all, but that’s ridiculous. Iraq only pumps about $10 billion a year worth of oil, and it’s going to need that just to run the new government we’re putting in. No, we’re going to have to pay for it, ourselves. I’m going to ask you for $25 billion, then $80 billion, then another $80 billion. And so on. I’m going to be back to you for money more often than that unemployed relative that you don’t like. The cost of the war is going to drive up my already massive budget deficits from about $370 billion to more like $450 billion a year. Just so you understand, I’m going to cut taxes on rich people at the same time that I fight this war. Then I’m going to borrow the money to fight it, and to pay for much of what the government does. And you and your children will be paying off that debt for decades.”

Dial 999 (or 911), then hop in the shower

I know that multiply-resistant pathogens are a significant risk in hospitals, but even so, this BBC story seems to go a bit far: “Patients should bring their own medical wipes and scrub up before coming to hospital to cut MRSA, say advisors. They should ask relatives to launder their clothes and make sure their visitors have washed themselves properly before entering the ward. The Patients Association’s 10-point code also advises patients to collect their own rubbish.”

I can see it now: “Dearie me – it looks like you’re having a heart attack. Why don’t you pop upstairs and have a quick shower, while I wash my hands, call an ambulance, and pack a few bin liners.”

Colour-blind, gender-blind

James Wolcott describes: “watching Senator Joe Lieberman […] drone his support for the nomination of Condi Rice as Secretary of Clueless, arguing that we should celebrate the breakthrough confirmation of an African-American woman for such a powerful post, even though her being African-American and a woman were irrelevant to her qualifications. Then why bring it up? I suppose it’s progress of a sort when a duplicitous incompetent can be promoted regardless of race or gender […] but it ought to make for a muted celebration.” Indeed.

(Via Jon, who manages to be amused by it – no small achievement.)

On being a True Believer…

James Lileks, on how owning the latest gear from Apple makes you… well, better: cool, more hip, just a superior kind of human being. But as he admits “On the other hand, I must be honest. Those of us who are true Apple devotees will buy almost anything they make. We know it, and we don’t care. If they came out with an iPod RiceGrain that was implanted under your skin and played six notes, I’d buy it.”

But what if the shoe were on the other foot?

Marty Lederman has once again taken aim at Heather MacDonald, self-appointed apologist for administation policy about Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. In a recent item in Balkinization, he writes “Let’s be very clear about this: The DoD General Counsel (who’s recently been renominated for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit) concluded that threats of killing a detainee’s family members, and waterboarding, and forced nudity, and the use of dogs to induce stress, etc., not only did not violate the UCMJ, but are ‘humane’! There is no indication in the public record that Secretary Rumsfeld or any other high-level DoD official ever contradicted or overruled these legal conclusions — and every indication that Rumsfeld agreed with them.”

And while it’s a point that has been made before, let me repeat: would Ms. MacDonald regard such policies as “humane” and “legal” if they were applied to captured US troops by another power – North Vietnam, say, or perhaps Iran? (Arguing for a difference between regular troops and “terrorists” won’t wash – most of the prisoners in Abu Ghraib had not been legally classified, and the presumption should have been that they were therefore covered by Geneva.) Such an acknowledgement is unlikely to be forthcoming any time soon….

(Via Sully.)

Rant: PO'd at stupid US cellphone companies

For the last year or two, I’ve been using a Nokia 3650 cell phone. It’s quite a nice unit – BlueTooth, a decent screen, Java, a few cool apps (including remote control of my PowerBook), a basic camera, international roaming via GSM – but it’s getting a little long in the tooth. Recently it’s taken to powering off spontaneously, which is a little tedious. So it’s time to look for a new phone.

There are lots of really cool phones out there these days.

  • 3G phones like Motorola’s gorgeous A1000
  • the latest version of Nokia’s intriguing Communicator, the 9500
  • Sony Ericsson’s cool S700 and amazing P910i
  • The “Imate” family, such as O2’s XDA IIs and XDA II mini (sold under various other names)
  • the Treo 650, where palmOne finally got it (mostly) right
  • even HP, with their iPaq 6315 – like the Imate, this include WiFi

I’m sure I’ve missed some. But they all have one thing in common: none of them are available from my phone company. I’m with AT&T Wireless, now merged with Cingular, which makes it unquestionably the biggest GSM provider in the USA. And what do they have for phones? Crap. Or, rather, vanilla, with a few teasers like the Motorola V3 RAZR. I suppose I could switch to T-Mobile, just to get the Treo 650, but the odds are that next time I’m in the market it will be their turn to be behind. Do I really have to buy an unlocked phone? (I know: I’m cheap. But why not?) Don’t the US providers want my business? Do they really think that Blackberry has sewn up the high end market? (It hasn’t.) Or do they only care about the 12-25 year old market? (Dumb.)

What’s wrong with the US market? Why are all the exciting wireless innovations happening in Japan and Europe? And how much would an unlocked O2 XDA IIs cost me….?

(I didn’t bother to take the time to hyperlink all of those phones and companies. You know where to find them. One of my favorite sites for drooling over unattainable gadgetry is Mobile Phones UK. Please wipe the saliva off your keyboard afterwards.)

A few more storm-related pictures

After the snow finally abated, I went out to clear off my car before our ploughing service arrived. (Yes, we have a two-car garage, but my – presently non-running – Miata occupies my space, so my Cougar lives outside.) Opening the door revealed a nice drift to be dug out. The wind had been so fierce that some of the driveway was clear of snow, while other parts had drifts sculpted into sand-dune-like shapes. Fortunately, the town had done a decent job of ploughing the streets around here.
BlizzardBackdoor.jpg BlizzardCarBefore.jpg BlizzardCarAfter.jpg BlizzardDriveway.jpg BlizzardStreet.jpg
A little storm-related item: Boston.com just reported that the retired Boston Globe columnist David Nyhan died today, while shovelling snow. He was 64, and had left the paper (taken the package) at the time of the New York Times takeover. I always enjoyed his irreverence, especially his ability to get under the skin of Boston’s powerful religious lobbies.