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Photos and text, unless otherwise noted, Copyright 2003,2004,2005,2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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Consider:

"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"







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Tuesday, 9 March 2004

Topic: World View

Notes from France

Last week I commented on advertisers spraying rosemary scents in the Paris metros to encourage these urbanites to vacation in Arles or Aix or wherever. See the World View item from Wednesday, 3 March 2004 here.

Today we get this:

Anti-Advertising Group Takes Campaign to Paris Metro
Tuesday, March 09, 2004, Rebecca Harrison

The basics are this:
PARIS (Reuters) - With her eyes blackened and her mouth defaced, the leggy blonde pictured eating yogurt on the advertising poster was not looking so hot by the time Robert Johnson had finished with her.

"Advertising makes you aggressive," scrawled 30-year-old Johnson across the poster in Paris's Republique metro station before glancing furtively over his shoulder, tucking his black marker into his pocket and jumping back on the train.

Johnson is not just a bored young delinquent. He and hundreds like him -- they all use the same pseudonym -- are at war with what they call the "tyranny of advertising" and they use paintbrushes, markers and spray cans as their weapons.

The Paris underground system is their main target.

Activists have defaced thousands of the poster ads that line its walls, angering authorities and provoking a one million euro ($1.22 million) lawsuit, in what they say is an unprecedented campaign against the invasion of public space by big business.

Inspired by the Canadian-born author Naomi Klein's "No Logo" -- the anti-globalization bible that adorns the bookshelves of generation X-ers from Seattle to Stockholm -- the metro warriors say they are tired of being force-fed advertising.

"We are not terrorists, we are not vandals, but there is no legal way of fighting back," said 34-year-old Alexandre Baret, one of 62 activists being sued for damages.

"I feel like I've been taken hostage by advertising, and this is the only way I can make my voice heard."
The whole item is long, with lots of detail.

The questions raised are discussed, and Metrobus, a unit of advertising major Publicis that manages the advertising space on Paris's public transport, and metro operator RATP, are determined to smash the movement and are suing the activists for one million euros in damages. The case goes to court March 10th.

Publicis claims that the advertising is in the public interest because it provides state-owned RATP with 65 million euros a year -- enough for 20 new metro carriages or 300 buses.

And about 270 people were arrested. Of those, 62 were charged.

Reuters also reports that philosopher and teacher Vincent Cespedes, who has written several books about the impact of advertising on young people, said an average Parisian is exposed to 2,500 ads a day, and that this feeds greed, alienation and depression.

He says that in France, unlike in other European countries such as Britain, there is no strict code for advertisers, only a watchdog that rarely intervenes.

In France, one quickly discovers, sex is used to sell almost anything from holidays to handbags, prompting campaigns by feminist groups that write graffiti over them there naked boobs and butts one sees on metro walls and street-side billboards all over the place. No wonder they didn't get the American outrage at Janet Jackson.

"Advertising, particularly in France, totally warps the image young people have of women," said Cespedes. "One of my pupils said the other day he reckoned white women were all whores because they'd sleep with you for a yogurt."

Obviously, I need to stock up on yogurt.

___


Over at the Washington Post I see this:

Le Pen Sees His Cause Catching On: French Far-Right Leader's Party Predicted to Fare Well in Regional Ballots
Keith B. Richburg, Washington Post Foreign Service, Monday, March 8, 2004; Page A12
PARIS -- Two years after he shocked the French political establishment with a second-place finish in the country's presidential election, the far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen is once again hoping to embarrass the elite and confound the pundits with a stronger-than-expected showing by his National Front party in regional elections later this month.

"The National Front is going to reach 20 percent nationally," a beaming Le Pen predicted, in the sitting room of his palatial home in the suburban hills of Saint-Cloud, west of Paris.

"Everybody is opposed to the National Front," he said. "Everybody is hostile. But despite that, we continue to grow."
Sigh.

Le Pen seems to be making the most of the two issues he sees as vote-winners: corruption among the ruling elite and immigration. He sees the latter as responsible for a host of ills, from rising crime to social tensions highlighted by last week's passage of a law banning Muslim girls' veils from public classrooms.

Le Pen, in the interview, said he opposed the law -- which bans all "ostensible" religious symbols -- because it fails to address what he calls the core problem. "It's not a problem of the veil," he said. "It's a problem of immigration."

"Immigration is out of control," Le Pen said. "We aren't managing the problem."

Well, he's seventy-five. And this former paratrooper says he regularly meets with Frenchmen of North African descent who tell him, "It's crazy to let in everybody."

Yep. We've got Pat Robertson and Lou Dobbs. They get Jean-Marie

___

Then I hop on the net to watch the French news on TF1 - as they stream the 13h00 and 20h00 broadcasts for me. And? "Quelque 900 personnes repr?sentant plus de 2.000 responsables de laboratoires ont sign? leur lettre de d?mission, ? l'issue d'une assembl?e g?n?rale ? l'H?tel de Ville de Paris ..."

Well, if you don't like watching the French television news in streaming video in French, here's the scoop -

See Thousands of French Scientists Revolt
Tuesday, March 09, 2004, Elaine Ganley, Associated Press Writer

Our friend Ric at MetropoleParis says there's always a demonstration of some kind.

This is today's:
PARIS - More than 2,000 French scientists resigned their administrative duties Tuesday to protest funding cuts they say hobble French research and risk pushing the brightest minds to countries where science is a prestige industry.

In solidarity, some 5,000 researchers wearing white lab coats marched through Paris after the scientists voted to resign, while thousands of others held protests in other French cities.

The unprecedented action culminated several months of protests by state-funded researchers over budget cuts, the freezing of funds and a recent decision by the conservative government to eliminate 550 full-time research posts.

"I think the government underestimated our discontent," said Thierry Letellier, of the recently formed group "Let's Save Research."
Demonstrators in white lab coats? Cool. Not much like May of 1968, is it?

Well, Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said Friday that the government was prepared to make available up to three percent of the gross domestic product for research by 2010. He pointed out that is at least $3.7 billion extra between now and the end of the current legislature's term in 2007. Didn't stop the protests. But he also said, "We won't do petty bargaining," in an interview published Tuesday in Lib?ration.

Damn.

Four of France's leading scientists, including two Nobel prize winners, said in a document sent to Le Monde that the entire French research system, with underpaid and under-appreciated employees, needs a "profound revision."

And one Bertrand Monthubert, a researcher in mathematics with CNRS in Toulouse, said budget cuts have forced his unit to cancel some conferences, reviews and visits by colleagues from abroad. And he claimed young researchers change fields or go abroad -- adding that he knows "lots" of young researchers who have moved to other European countries or the United States.

Horrors! We don't want them! We hate the French because they didn't like our war.

Who cares? According to a poll published Tuesday in the daily La Croix, eighty-two percent of the French support the researchers' revolt.

Really.

____

Finally this:

Gloves come off in a very French row over defence of the language
Jon Henley in Paris, The Guardian (UK), Saturday March 6, 2004

Now here's one I like, but I used to teach literature and linguistics.
It is the kind of row the French adore, the kind of row, indeed, that could probably only happen in France: two distinguished defenders of the language of Moli?re slugging it out in the national press over the best way to stem its slow and seemingly inexorable decline.

In the red corner, Bernard Pivot, who for many years hosted France's main literary TV chat show and still presents its hugely popular annual dictation contest, Les Dicos d'Or; in the blue, Maurice Druon, venomous, arch-conservative octogenarian and former secretary general of the illustrious Acad?mie Fran?aise.

"His great misfortune," wrote Mr Pivot of Mr Druon in Le Figaro this week, "is that he would like the French language to be in his image: starched, outdated, reactionary, egotistical, haughty, sinister...Under his pen, French is like a Louis XIV chandelier. How could today's youth want illumination from such an antiquity?"

But Mr Pivot, fulminated Mr Druon, was merely "an organiser of literary circuses, a presumptuous showman, a parader of dancing bears" who had promoted himself "the nation's chief primary school teacher" and committed the unpardonable sin of "stuffing his most recent dictation with slang".
Wow! Good stuff!

Well, you can read everywhere about how English, the language, is really dominating the world. Will French survive?

Henley points out that 1986, according to EU figures, 58% of European commission documents were originally published in French, compared with just 30% last year. As for European council documents, only 28% were written in French last year, against 59% in English - whereas the two languages were level as recently as 1997, at about 42% each. The new mainly eastern European entrants joining this year, most of whose diplomats prefer English, will inevitably entail a further drastic reduction in the use French.

Note this:
"What's at stake is the survival of our culture. It's a matter of life or death," Jacques Viot of the Alliance Fran?aise, which promotes French abroad, warned recently. For H?l?ne Carr?re d'Encausse, Mr Druon's boss at the Acad?mie, "the defence of our language must be the major national cause of the new century".

For Mr Druon, a leading figure in the conservative camp, rigour and discipline are the answer. Blaming teachers, television, advertisers, the government, America and Mr Pivot for the decline, he wrote in a full-page article in Le Figaro last week that "a huge effort by the entire French nation" was required.

Politicians must make the protection of the language a plank of their electoral campaigns, Mr Druon wrote. Local and regional defence committees must be formed. Lax teaching methods must be overhauled, incompetent newspaper subeditors sacked, a television language watchdog formed, Anglicisms mercilessly rooted out and destroyed.

"The French no longer respect their language," said Mr Druon, "because they are no longer proud of themselves or of their country. They no longer love themselves, and, no longer loving themselves, they no longer love what was the instrument of their glory - their language."
The sky is falling! The sky is falling!

Yeah, and on the other side you have Pivot saying, "a language must continually evolve, open itself up, enrich itself." That's the way it is. His idea? Don't worry Anglicisms, neologisms and slang. Go with the flow and "encourage newcomers, welcome daring inventions."

Otherwise? Rejecting and despising them will only mean that French comes to resemble this Druon fellow - "immobile, muffled, mothballed and sclerotic."

Ouch.

I love a good fight. I think I need to go back and read Samuel Johnson on why English doesn't need any "academy" to keep things pure.

Posted by Alan at 18:03 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
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Topic: The Law

International Women's Day, HIPPA, and guns...

Yesterday was International Women's Day -- marked by women's groups around the world. It was, of course, commemorated at the United Nations and is designated in many countries as a national holiday. Not here.

Patt Morrison writing in the Los Angeles Times gives us a hint why.

See Ashcroft Gunning for Peek at Private Medical Records
Patt Morrison, The Los Angeles Times, March 9, 2004

Morrison simply notes a difference in how we handle gun laws, where the buyer's privacy is of critical importance, and how we handle one of the other big moral issues. Here's her opening.
Wrap your mind around this one.

It's the law now: If you buy a gun on, say, Monday morning, then by the time you've had breakfast on Tuesday, the record of that sale will be in the shredder -- gone.

Don't thank me -- thank John Ashcroft, your attorney general.

The man is an absolute guard dog when it comes to sticking up for the privacy of gun owners. He wouldn't even let his FBI agents use the agency's own database to find out whether any of the 1,200 people it detained after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks had bought any guns lately. They might be arrested, they might be jailed until the crack of doom without seeing a lawyer or a loved one -- but we'll never know whether they bought a gun.

Now Ashcroft, the man who won't let the sun go down on gun-buying records, has sent out process servers to go knocking on the doors of six of the nation's Planned Parenthood offices -- one of them in Los Angeles and another in San Diego -- with subpoenas demanding those most private of records: medical data on thousands of patients, because he's being sued over a new law making so-called partial birth abortion a federal crime.
Yeah, well, as someone who has been involved in hospital systems work, I can tell you we were told we had to take HIPAA (The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) really seriously. The patient owns the records. No one can be given the possibility of accessing them without the patient's permission, ever.

I guess that excludes the government.

Morrison does point out that women go to Planned Parenthood clinics for lots of reasons: for birth control, for prenatal checkups, for treating sexually transmitted diseases -- which she claims is ninety percent of the visits -- and for abortions.

And when Morrison went to Planned Parenthood's offices Monday, International Women's Day, she found that these subpoenas not only demand records of late-term abortions -- which Planned Parenthood doesn't perform anyway -- but "the language is so vague and broad that it could sweep up files on virtually any abortion of a pregnancy of more than fourteen weeks"

Of course the Justice Department says they will black out any patient identifiers. But Morrison points out that what's not blacked out would be the doctors' names.

I suppose that makes them better targets for the anti-abortion guys with rifles attempting to bring justice to the world. Mass murder must be stopped? Yeah, some of them have that idea, and some doctors are dead. The usual defense is that the shooter was making a necessary intervention to stop a capital crime, or multiple capital crimes. And to be fair, not court has let any of the shooters off based on that logic.

But Ashcroft's inquiry is having the effect on suspects he really intended - it is scaring women away from clinics. Morrison reports that at Planned Parenthood of Los Angeles, patients have already called asking, "Should I use a false name?" In San Diego, patients have wondered whether they should take their records home.

It goes like this:
Diane Delille is San Diego's director of clinic training, and she took one call herself. The woman was scheduling an abortion and said, "I'm hearing things on the news [about confidentiality]; I'm reading things in the paper. I'm really terrified about coming to Planned Parenthood."

None of the Planned Parenthood offices even considered handing over any records. Last week, a San Francisco federal judge backed them up, saying flatly that the subpoenas violate patients' privacy, full stop.

The way San Diego's Planned Parenthood director Mark Salo sees it, "There's a variety of opinion about abortion, but not a variety of opinion about whether medical records should be private. This should be alarming to Americans who take the right to privacy seriously, whatever their views on abortion."
Well, buyers of guns get privacy. Women? That's different.

Morrison does refer to White House press release dated April 14, 2001. In it George Bush says that HIPAA protects "the right of every American to have confidence that his or her personal medical records will remain private.... Improving our healthcare system while protecting the confidentiality of patient records will continue to be an important goal of my administration."

Yeah, and in defense of the subpoenas for the records of any woman who has had an abortion at these clinics Ashcroft's Justice Department argued - that "federal common law does not recognize a physician-patient privilege," and, in another matter, "individuals no longer possess a reasonable expectation that their histories will remain completely confidential."

Well, the Ninth Circuit Court out here didn't agree with the administration. No wonder Bush and Ashcroft hate the courts so very much.

But here's a thought...

If the Justice Department thought this all along, what were my systems analysts doing working on firewalls and data scrubbing algorithms and data transfer protocols? Someone should have told us no one had a reasonable expectation, any longer, that personal medical records could be kept private, really. We all could have gone out and had a beer.

Posted by Alan at 16:03 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 9 March 2004 16:09 PST home

Monday, 8 March 2004

Topic: Science

DEEP THOUGHTS: God in the Spreadsheet

Kevin Drum over at CalPundit.com led me to this.

Odds on that God exists, says scientist
Stewart Maclean, Catherine Bolsover and Polly Curtis, The Guardian (UK), Monday March 8, 2004

Yeah, on this site I linked to a lot of things and made fun of Mel Gibson's movie quite a bit. But now it seems the odds are I will roast in hell for it. Mel gets to heaven, probably, and I don't. Why?
A scientist has calculated that there is a 67% chance that God exists.

Dr Stephen Unwin has used a 200-year-old formula to calculate the probability of the existence of an omnipotent being. Bayes' Theory is usually used to work out the likelihood of events, such as nuclear power failure, by balancing the various factors that could affect a situation.

The Manchester University graduate, who now works as a risk assessor in Ohio, said the theory starts from the assumption that God has a 50/50 chance of existing, and then factors in the evidence both for and against the notion of a higher being.
Ohio? Really?

And what does this Brit in Ohio use to work out his assessment?
Factors that were considered included recognition of goodness, which Dr Unwin said makes the existence of God more likely, countered by things like the existence of natural evil - including earthquakes and cancer.
Wait a minute, Steve! "Goodness" makes the existence of God more likely?

Let's think about that. Remember the Crusades? Remember the Inquisition? Remember the Thirty Years War? Yeah, well, looking at it the other way, smiting the godless, torturing people and mass slaughters may be a form of goodness to some. I suppose that depends on your perspective. Making sure "bad folks" die in excrutiating pain has, as a very good thing, many adherents.

Goodness is, though, a slippery term. Ask Martha "It's a good thing" Stewart. Hell, some people (like me) think anchovies are "good."

I remember when first encountering Dickens or Shakespeare my English students would whine, "But that's boring." And I would then patiently explain that they were bored, which wasn't at all the same thing as Macbeth or Great Expectations being intrinsically and inherently boring, or not. No written work was boring as such. There was no such inherent quality. But there was one's reaction - "This bores me" - that is quite valid. Of course.

I suspect this Unwin fellow is confusing reaction to something with its inherent qualities. Perhaps he should read "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" where Robert Pirsig chats about such things, bringing in the Pheadrus dialogs of Plato.

That seems unlikely. This fellow would have us use Excel spreadsheets.
The unusual workings - which even take into account the existence of miracles - are set out in his new book, which includes a spreadsheet of the data used so that anyone can make the calculation themselves should they doubt its validity. The book, The Probability of God: A simple calculation that proves the ultimate truth, will be published later this month.
Why am I reminded of Douglas Adams and the question at the core of A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy where, of course, the answer the meaning of everything turns out to be... forty-two?

Unwin says he's interested in bridging the gap between science and religion. And he argues that rather than being a theological issue, the question of God's existence is simply a matter of statistics.
"On arriving in America I was exposed to certain religious outlooks that were somewhat of an assault upon my sensibilities - outlooks in which religion actually competes with science as an explanation of the world," he said.

"While I could not be sure, having slept through most of the cathedral services I had attended during secondary school, this did not seem like the version of faith I had remembered. In many ways, this project was for me a journey home - a reconciliation of my faith and education."
Yeah, well, Unwin, we all have our issues.

So the probability that God exists is sixty-six percent, and Unwin maintains that he is personally around ninety-five percent certain that God exists. Good for him.

Two in three chances God is out there. For this guy a nineteen in twenty chance.

Fine. Suppose we grant this, even without downloading the spreadsheet Unwin has devised.

Does this not then beg the question, if there is a God, probably, what is God doing these days? What is this business with war and death and all the rest? God's messing with us? He, or she, or it has an odd sense of humor or Mel Gibson understands fully? Perhaps so.

Posted by Alan at 16:01 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
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Topic: Photos

White Stuff

This is what they call, out here in Hollywood, a money shot.

No it isn't. Some of you actually know what a "money shot" is. But let that pass.

Lunaria (annua: Lunaria biennis - biennial), sometimes known as "Money Plant" - and in Old England and the remote hollows of Appalachia known as "Honesty." In my kitchen window on a cloudless, ninety-degree afternoon. The Santa Ana winds have kicked up and the humidity has dropped to nearly zero. The cat is upset as every time her nose touches something there a spark and she jumps back. She glares at me like it's my fault. Oh well.



Posted by Alan at 13:44 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 8 March 2004 19:56 PST home

Sunday, 7 March 2004


New issue of JUST ABOVE SUNSET MAGAZINE now online!

No blogging today.

Sunday is the day I do final assembly and post the week's new issue of this: Just Above Sunset Magazine.

Commentary here will resume tomorrow. And I will, tomorrow, also restore the links on the left side of this page....

Check it out.







Drop me a line if you can't get there. I just changed hosting services, so there will be some bumps now and then as the DNS settings get aligned....

Posted by Alan at 21:45 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
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