Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Bible Study: John 1:1. The Bible Is Not the Word of God

This item has been moved to another blog.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Review: Kodak C653 Digital Camera

I like this little camera. And it is little. Its thickness is comparable to a thick wallet, but it is a bit shorter and narrower than a wallet would be. Its manual says it came with 256MB of internal RAM, which I didn’t see on the specifications pages I reviewed. I thought it had only 32MB. So I may not have needed to spend the extra $20 for an optional 1GB SD Memory card. The LCD is large but exposed; there is no way to protect it except to buy a case (and make sure there is no sand or anything inside it. If space is not an issue, the ideal might be a soft case or sleeve inside a harder protective case. Pictures seem to be averaging around 850KB on the 3.1 megapixel setting, and 1.5MB on the 6.1mp setting. It takes more than 12 seconds, from the time I push the button to take a picture, until the digital viewfinder comes back to life and is ready to show me another scene. (It’s much faster if you use the flash.) But you can take other pictures in the meantime, while the LCD is frozen or black; and if you need to see roughly what you're shooting during that time, they do include a tiny optical viewfinder. To test that, I pressed the button about 30 times in a 10-second period. From those 30 presses, I got seven 6.1mp photos. The video is really choppy. They should have allowed for more frames per second. Like any video – actually, more so in this case – if you wheel it around and point at lots of different things, it will make you seasick on playback. It saves video in .MOV format. The accompanying software is irritating. It lacks options, and it does things I don’t want it to do. Example: so far, I haven’t figured out how to tell it to erase photos from the camera, other than to reformat the memory card. The manual describes a View switch that doesn’t seem to exist on my model. (This may be the explanation for the memory misunderstanding too; Kodak’s webpage does say the C653 has only 32MB RAM, so maybe the more expensive cameras get the greater amount of internal memory.) They seem to have defeated the option of viewing the contents of the device’s memory using Windows Explorer, when the camera is cabled to the computer using the convenient (apparently proprietary) supplied sub-mini-USB cable – so I can’t just go into Windows Explorer and empty out the camera’s contents that way. Their irritating EasyShare software pops up every time I connect the camera to the computer; there doesn’t seem to be a way to stop that; and I can’t even use that software to delete photos. I strongly recommend they build in an Advanced mode so that people can actually use their software. Battery drain means more expense. Regular alkaline batteries will power the camera, but it looks like you can expect to waste a lot of them. A pair of freshly charged, previously used NiMH Ray-O-Vac AAs (1600 mAh) gave me only seven flash photos before dying. Ultimately, I broke down and spent another $10 on a pair of 2500 mAh batteries on sale; but that meant I would be dependent on that pair. So far, I have recharged them weekly and that has been good enough. I used the camera to shoot some video. It acted like it was continuing to record for more than 15 minutes before the camera shut off due to dead batteries. It ultimately turned out that the camera would use up the batteries in just a few minutes; the video indicator was incorrectly conveying the impression that recording was continuing when it wasn't. Unfortunately, the camera didn’t save my video file in usable format. I couldn’t view it in QuickTime, Windows Media Player, or IrfanView. The best I got was that WMP played the audio. So don’t let your batteries die, I guess. Kodak’s own EasyShare software played it, but it would not save it in any format other than .MOV. So I saved it to another MOV file; but to do that, EasyShare played the whole thing again. In other words, it took 15 minutes to make a copy of the downloaded MOV. When it was done, I did find that the copy was playable in QuickTime and IrfanView. I was still getting nothing but the audio portion in WMP. Anyway, it seems that I won’t be using up the full capacity of 30:11 of video that the LCD reports – not unless I buy more expensive batteries and/or an optional power adapter and shoot while that’s plugged into the wall. Once the batteries are dead, you have to replace them before you can download your shots; the device does not seem to draw power from the USB connection. The camera is slow downloading video. I didn’t time it, but I think those 15 minutes of video took something like 10 minutes to download. Definitely not USB 2.0! The file size for that video was 486MB, so it consumes memory at a rate of about 31.5MB per minute when shooting video. I like the camera. I didn't expect it to be a video camera. It has some rough edges, but it does what I wanted. The software is the real weak point.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Buying a Slave for Myself

I'm a white guy. It's not something I'm proud of, or ashamed of. That would be like being proud or ashamed that you have an ear. It was just part of the introductory offer I got when I started out.

As a white guy, of course, I've always heard a lot about slavery. You hear nowadays that it is actually making a comeback in some places. I have never personally had any involvement with it, but eventually my curiosity got the better of me. So I have made arrangements with a guy to get myself a young black female. I'm not sure where she's from. He gave me some background information. It sounded exotic. Evidently her breed comes from somewhere abroad -- not sure where.

I know, some people are going to be angry with me for even mentioning the possibility of slavery, much less getting involved with it. But I say, look at it this way. I give her a home; I pay a small fortune to feed her, shelter her, take care of her, and help her get a good start in life here; and I help her get away from a place where, from what the guy tells me, she was truly miserable. She's not getting such a bad deal.

And what am I getting? The main thing is companionship. I live alone. It would be nice to have someone to talk to and go for walks with. I don't really need much help, although there are a few minor chores around the house she may be able to assist with. She can keep an eye on things and maybe give me more of a feeling that my house is a home. Really, the biggest benefit for me is to have a chance to help another living creature to enjoy some of the benefits that I have been fortunate enough to enjoy in my own life.

"Companionship" may not sound very convincing to some people. But now that I'm paying attention to the subject, I have begun to introduce myself to other guys who have their own slaves. They look proud, and sometimes the slaves do too. I think it's really a matter of, you know, you take care of them, they'll take care of you.

There's always the chance she may run away at some moment when I'm not looking. I don't believe in keeping your slaves tied up, though, so that's just a chance I'll have to take. I've heard that, sometimes, even after they do run away, they quickly discover that life out there ain't so easy, and they come back home after a day or two. The trick, I think, is just to take care of them and make them happy, and then they're likely to stay put.

So anyway, the deal is all set. She's going to come home with me tomorrow evening. I've already got some food and other things for her, and I've set up a place where she sleep. If she wants to sleep in my bed, I may let her; but if she keeps me awake, she'll have to go to the other room. We'll go for some walks, and I'll begin training her on how I want her to behave. Then, on Tuesday, I'll be taking her to the vet for some shots, and we'll be a happy twosome.

* * * * *

I got the idea to write those words today, while I was in the park. I saw someone with a dog, and I felt that I'd like to have a dog again. My ex-dog was an older guy, and he cost my ex-wife and me a fair amount in veterinarian bills. I thought to myself, now, isn't it odd that we would spend that money on a dog, instead of spending it on a human being? So I was just wondering, what would it take for a human to be as appealing as a dog, for purposes of receiving these funds that dog-owners spend? Not that nobody should have dogs. Our dog was a very honorable creature. Dogs deserve to exist too. But it does seem imbalanced, that we would keep millions of dogs alive while people die. Just giving the money to charity is not the answer. That's not a comparison of apples to apples. The charity swallows your money, probably does something good with it, but it's not part of your daily life. You don't get steady, repeated gratification from it. The dog -- or, I suppose, an actual human slave for that matter -- now, there's an investment that does provide some gratification. The dog and the slave are comparable in terms of control, too: either way, you don't have the guff and backtalk that you get from a spouse or an adopted child or some other kind of expensive person that you might invite into your home. Not to mention that, if times get tight or you just get tired of the arrangement, you can unload a dog or a slave. Or a spouse too, I guess, but not as easily. Obviously, human slavery is constitutionally prohibited in the United States. So we don't call it slavery when workers live in a company town that they can't afford to get out of, or when their employers pay them less than a living wage, or when debts or social traditions prevent them (because of their family's reputation in their town, or because of their intellectual level, or for myriad other reasons) from ever rising to a point where they are out from under someone's thumb. We certainly didn't call it slavery when the Union Army walked into Mississippi in 1865 and told those people, "OK, you're free now -- have a nice life!" That, we have been taught, was liberation. But as we are now reminded in Iraq, sometimes liberation is not quite that simple. Making it a reality may actually require a very long-term commitment. I can't help wondering whether a less ideological, more factual education about such subjects would have facilitated wiser American decisions in places like Vietnam. We grew up with oversimplified, black-and-white concepts of slavery, tyranny, and freedom. What we learned was that, if someone owns you in a legal arrangement, that's slavery. Otherwise, you're free. But whether you're on a plantation, in a concentration camp, coping with an arranged marriage, or working on an assembly line, you may come to discover that slavery has many shades of grey (indeed, many shades of white and black). One difference between a household slave and a slave located at the other end of the paycheck is that, with the household slave, you might be exposed to them on a daily basis. You will probably observe things about them as people, and likewise in return. The guy who runs a drill press, by contrast, is often just a part of the machine; the owner need never even meet him. He could live; he could die; it is of no concern. So it would be an outrage for me to own a person like I would own a dog. It would be, moreover, an *illegal* outrage, not like the kind of outrage where someone's boss owns them in a way that's different from (and perhaps worse than) the way in which he owns a dog. At any rate, if I want to help a desperate person like I would help a dog, in a way that gives me face-to-face encouragement every day, it seems I must go to work for a charity on some other continent. And right now, I don't believe I can do that. Certainly America's millions of dog-owners aren't about to do it. I suspect, therefore, that there is probably a lawyer, somewhere in the U.S., who could make a persuasive argument that legalized slavery would provide the best response to the real-life circumstances of that desperate person and me. I would like to hear that argument. I would also like to hear the rebuttal, especially if it contended that the form of "slavery" prohibited by the Constitution extends to any exercise of coercive power over another human being. That, to me, would be an interesting debate.

Review: AvaFind

I have used the free download of AvaFind for several years. It is one of the most useful and trouble-free programs I have ever used. Its purpose is very simple: it finds files on my computer. But it does so very easily and accurately. I hit Shift-Esc from anywhere, and its window pops up. I type in the name of the file I am looking for, and it finds it. I double-click on the file’s name, and it opens. Very easy!

The search feature allows me to use multiple wildcards. For example, a search for “simon*bridge*water” brings up the file that I have named “Simon & Garfunkel–Bridge Over Troubled Water.mp3.” The relevant webpage describes other advanced and wildcard search options.

The search engine does not search for file contents. For instance, a search for “Uncle Henry” will not bring up the file named “Letter to Aunt Sally.doc” in which the words “Uncle Henry” appear; that search will bring up only those files that have “Uncle Henry” in their filename. Thus, this search will not find files that Google Desktop would find.

One advantage of this approach is that AvaFind is updated much more quickly than Google Desktop (GD). If I have moved a bunch of files and now want to delete the empty folder, GD will not let me; it will have locked the folder until it can finish moving. GD is constantly improving, unlike AvaFind, which has not been updated since 2003. But GD still imposes a burden on my computer, as it does its searching, whereas I never notice any slowdowns from AvaFind as it indexes my files. Both programs’ indexes sometimes require a manual instruction compelling them to re-index the drive, but AvaFind’s simpler re-indexing is done within minutes, not hours. Usually, the filename contains the information I am searching for, so I rarely need GD; and AvaFind is much faster to call up and use, so I always prefer it over GD.

AvaFind allows me to block folders that I do not want to search. That can include program directories as well as folders in which, for some reason, I have temporarily stored backups or duplicates of the files that I want to use and update. The professional version of AvaFind ($39.95) lets you perform various Windows Explorer functions on the files you find. I just bought my professional subscription, after years of thinking that I should pay them something but being unwilling to pay so much. I once sent them an e-mail suggesting that they lower the price, because I did not think that I or other users would be prepared to spend so much for a single-purpose utility, but I never got a reply.

The freeware version of AvaFind is powerful and has been incredibly useful for me, right on up through Windows XP, my current operating system, and I highly recommend it. I also think the pro version will be worth my money.

Postscript: the Pro version does add some features and makes life easier. It would have paid for itself by now; I should have bought it a long time ago, despite its high price tag ($39.95 for a file-finding utility, unless you make what I consider the mistake of going for the $19.95 annual approach).

Review: Canon imageCLASS MF5770 Multifunction Printer/Scanner/Fax

I'll start with an excerpt from writeup I recently prepared to sell my MF5730, which I have recently replaced with an MF5770. I have used the MF5770 for only a week or so. It is virtually identical to the 5730 (and, I assume, to others in the MF5700 series); the main difference is that the 5770 has a fax capability.

* * * * *
Re: the Canon imageCLASS® MF5730 Laser Multifunction Printer - Copier - Scanner. The CNET editor says, “Any small office shopping for a no-nonsense laser multifunction should count this model among its top picks.” (See their video on it.) The Consumer Guide expert review gives it 3 out of 5 (average), but they also gave it a Best Buy award, and the reviewer’s only complaints were that it is only for Windows computers and it doesn’t have a fax feature. I have used this model primarily for scanning. I have used a half-dozen scanners over the past ten years. This one probably has the most reliable paper handling of any of them. Scan quality depends on your settings and so forth; you do have the option of making very good scans. Overall, this has been a reliable and good-quality performer.
* * * * *
Since writing that note, I have come up with a number of things I would add to it, as follows: 1. There is no on-off switch on either model. According to Canon, "The scan lamp for the MF5730 [and also the MF5770] will stay on constantly, even in the Energy Saver mode. This is normal operation. The reason for this is to reduce the warm up period on the first copy or scan after coming out of Energy Saver mode. The scanner has been designed to operate in this manner and should not adversely affect the life of the lamp." This seems like a design flaw to me. It uses electricity unnecessarily. Also, as I have discovered, when you turn out the lights and leave, your scanner may be the brightest light in the room -- which means that, if there is a moth in the room, you will find pieces of it sticking to your scans and smeared across your scanning lamp when you come in the next day and insert some papers for scanning. Or, if you happen to be using the scanner in your home office, you will now have a nightlight which may brighten your room more than you would have preferred. 2. Speaking of design flaws, they should have hired a designer for the shape of the machine. It is big. They have done a good job of driving the size upwards in a tapered way that reduces the footprint. But it is still big. Also, the "natural bridge" design, in which the printer shoots paper out from the machine's midsection, is one that had great potential. Somehow, though, it turned out ugly. While we're on the subject of design, I would also suggest changing the paper tray concept. It sticks out the back, at the bottom. It seems like it is just begging to get broken, the first time someone puts it down on an uneven surface. The paper tray, like a few other parts, unfortunately departs from the machine's overall solid feel: it feels flimsy and cheap. So does the alternate sheet feeder, which easily loses its grip on pages, resulting in a real or imaginary paper jam. Meanwhile, the printer's output paper tray holds just a few printed sheets, before pages start spilling out. Something similar happens with the scanner's output tray, if one outcoming sheet happens to snag one that's already in the tray. Also, for some reason the scanner's paper feeder does not self-clear when you restart the machine; there will be times when you will have to tug pages out manually (and it's not easy). 3. They neglected some important details. I was dismayed at the poor quality of their documentation on scanning. I wished they had provide calibration marks along the sides of the platen, so I could tell how big your documents were and could adjust my settings accordingly. I was also very disappointed that there is no possibility of scanning above 300 DPI. This is a real step backwards; I think every scanner I have used in the past ten years has been superior in that regard. On the positive side, they include a starter cartridge that prints 2500 copies. Printing quality is good; so is scanning quality, though I have to use weird settings (Brightness -20, Contrast +13) to achieve it. You don't get that sharp, high-pitched whistle, from this scanner, that you will get from some others. Tech support is very responsive and, in my limited experience, is adequately knowledgable, at least if you reach them over the phone. In sum, as you can tell, I appreciate the MF5700 series and I expect to be using my new MF5770 for years to come.

Windows XP Boots But Won't Run Programs

A new hassle on the seemingly endless road to getting a working XP system! I replaced the motherboard. The new one was a Gigabyte GA-M61P-S3. It was a technological step backwards from the MSI mobo I had installed previously, but it seemed much more stable for practical purposes. But it seemed that I would still have to deal with some new issues in the hardware and/or software of the revised system. One such problem: WinXP would boot up and run programs in Safe Mode, and it would also boot up in Normal Mode, but it would not actually run programs in Normal Mode. It was not even completing its bootup sequence: programs in the Startup folder were not running. I assumed the problem was that I had installed some program or driver that was not running right. But which one? I had installed a boatload of programs after installing the new motherboard. That is, I had had to reinstall WinXP and all programs from scratch. I hadn't installed them one or two at a time; I had installed them by the dozens, in one fell swoop. So I really had no idea which one might have been responsible. It seemed that the problem must be related to startup. So I rebooted into Safe Mode and temporarily renamed the C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Start Menu\Programs\Startup folder to "Holding" instead. But that didn't solve the problem, so when I was next back in Safe Mode, I renamed it back to Normal Startup. While in Safe Mode, I ran Start > Run > MSCONFIG and, on the General tab, I selected Diagnostic Startup. The system rebooted and went into Normal Mode without a problem. I checked MSCONFIG again. It had reverted to the Normal Mode setting after doing its one-time diagnostic startup. So I tried rebooting again. This time, Normal Mode ran OK. It seemed that one bootup in Diagnostic Startup may have been enough to reset whatever was the problem.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Inflation Theory

Along with its pains, inflation can help a person get out of debt. Think about it. You borrow $10,000. You're earning $10,000 a month. It will take you a month's gross earnings to pay off your debt. Now suppose you get wage inflation. Your income goes to $20,000 a month. Now it will take only a half-month's gross earnings to pay off your debt. The debts that the U.S. owes to the rest of the world tend to be priced in dollars. The dollar has been dropping for some time. My theory is that this is intentional. I don't really know how Dick Cheney thinks, or how much influence he has on White House economic policy. But my seat-of-the-pants guess is that he remembers that little inflation lesson from the 1970s. I wouldn't be surprised if he was among those who believed Japan was manipulating the exchange rate to keep the yen artificially low in the 1980s, when Japan was overtaking one U.S. industry after another. Once he got into power in 2000 -- or especially, I think, once China began rising in a really noticeable way early this decade -- there was some willingness if not outright determination to dial the dollar down. If the Chinese were going to cheat by manipulating their currency's value, which they have plainly done, the U.S. would play the same game. In this theory, the White House responded like anyone who thinks they are getting a free ride. Debt became less of a worry because, what the hell, we were eventually going to inflate our way out of debt anyway. Sure, we would owe the rest of the world trillions. But trillions of dollars would be less of a big deal as the dollar's value tanked. So while it was not possible to let everyone in on the secret, it was possible not to be too worried by debts that seem large enough to sink the republic. My reading on Fed chairman Bernanke, in this light, is that he's not a determined inflation-fighter. For him, growth comes first. They say he's a scholar of the Depression. I haven't read his works. But judging from his willingness to cut rates to fight recession despite some inflation uncertainties, I think he will take risks with inflation that a Paul Volcker would not have considered prudent. I don't want to say that Bernanke shares the hypothesized desire to inflate the dollar. But it is possible that his response to stagflation will surprise us.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Speculation on Home Prices

The real estate news is bad. Some are now saying it will be 2009, at the earliest, before property values recover. Apparently the tax base for cities is eroding because of the decline in home values and the rise in foreclosures. An ordinary house is an expensive thing. Not just in terms of what it costs, but also in terms of what we take for granted about it. In that regard, four basics are lately coming into question: financing, transportation, public services, and water. On the financial front, house prices have risen because we have had money, and have been willing to spend that money on our homes. We have had money, in the earlier years, because America was a rich country and getting richer and, in the later years, because foreign investors could make money by lending their money here. That second tenet is now failing because the value of the dollar has been falling. They say that a foreign investor -- an Asian investor, say -- who invested in the stock market in 2000 has lost money, despite the Dow's rise, because the dollars in which stocks are priced have lost so much value. The dollar fall has not stopped; indeed, it may have a ways to go. Thus, foreigners are increasingly looking to invest elsewhere. Transportation becomes an issue when people cannot afford to get to the place in question. As long as the money is there, the government can keep building highways, people can keep buying cars, and cars can keep burning gas. This piece of the puzzle is still in place. But gas is becoming more expensive as it becomes rarer for us (you don't find much oil in the Quaker State anymore). Hopefully the experts will develop vehicles that run on alternate fuels -- hopefully other than biofuels, which entail the questionable water- and (for some countries) starvation-intensive prospect of, basically, burning food. But it still costs money to build highways, and rising numbers of people still have to jostle for space on increasingly congested roads. In the long term, we would have been further ahead if we invested in mass transit. But the point here is that there are limits to urban sprawl. One, long known, is that people won't drive five hours each way to work. But another, less familiar, is that suburbs may not keep expanding outwards forever. At some point, there may be a frontier where you are essentially gentrifying -- where you are buying a piece of land that, in the past, was not used for purposes of housing your kind of people, and you are betting that it will be continue to be used for that purpose in the future. And some of those people on the fringe, in some places, may have bet wrong. The ability to build highways goes along with the ability to provide public services generally. Again, as long as the money is there, there is no problem. But cities are running into difficulty now. Their tax bases are taking a hit because of the drop in house prices and the rising number of foreclosures. Empty houses don't generate tax revenues, in which case cities can't provide everything we have gotten used to. With fewer people paying property taxes, and those taxes not rising at the expected rates, cities will have to increase fees and taxes if they are to keep providing the services we expect. For each additional $50 per month of property taxes and other service fees, there will be some people who are priced out of the housing market. So the drop in the tax base may have its own self-perpetuating dynamic to some extent: as fewer pay, costs rise, so even fewer can afford to pay. Among those public services, water is particularly worrisome. There is not enough of it, and there will be less. Even if the cities could continue to afford to supply the same levels of services, there have to be the resources for them to supply -- the water, in particular, but to an increasing extent the electricity as well, particularly during peak periods. There is no long-term plan in place, at present, for resolving the nation's (never mind the world's) shortages of water, electricity, or, for that matter, food. We have largely squandered the opportunities we have had to take leadership in such matters during the past two generations. It will be harder for us to do so in the future. China will run into extreme problems along these lines before we do, but we will have those problems too; and to the extent that China owns us, there may be some very interesting deals made in the future. Most likely wars will be fought for such things, and they will not always be wars involving uniformed armies. If you are a homeowner, you are valuable to the wealthy people only as long as you continue to be a vehicle for production of wealth. The system on which you have been that sort of vehicle is now undergoing extensive modification. Your house is becoming a less reliable way of creating transactions in which realtors, lawyers, bankers, et al. become wealthy, and that means that your own value is declining: you are no longer capable of serving as a conduit for the generation of wealth through the automatic operation of a system of rising house prices. If you are to continue to have value in this system, you must achieve it by having stable, good-paying employment and an ongoing ability to make your house payments. Of course, you may still be vulnerable to a decline in your home's value, to the point that some people will be working to make payments on a combination of mortgage and home equity loan that puts them under water. In other words, some will ask themselves why they are struggling to keep a house that's worth less than they owe on it. Regardless of your own stability, your operative assumptions will continue to mutate as your neighbors ask themselves questions of this sort. The time to buy is when nobody wants the thing you are buying -- assuming, of course, that they will want it later. The time to sell is when everyone wants the thing you are selling -- assuming that you won't then have to turn around and buy it back at a higher price later. When *everyone* was buying a house, when it was *obvious* that everyone should buy a house -- that was the time to sell. People will be buying shelter again in the future. It is not yet clear what form of shelter will be most attractive. Resource questions will likely influence this issue.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

My Publications: People's Republic of Plato

I started college in 1973, as a pre-ministerial student in a conservative branch of Lutheranism, at Concordia Lutheran Junior College in Ann Arbor, MI. I took a lot of extra courses and basically didn't have another full year's worth of schoolwork to do for my Associate's degree, which was all Concordia offered at that time; so in 1974 I transferred to Indiana University. There, I experienced a crisis of faith, because my continuing biblical studies exposed me to the reality that people at a state university often talk about the New Testament in terms that were very different from those with which I was familiar. I was not certain whether I could and should continue in a ministerial line of study, so I dropped out of I.U. and moved to Los Angeles, where I spent several years living with or near my brother and sister, both of whom had moved out there from Indiana within the past few years. The following year, I began taking courses at California State University, Long Beach. There, I continued the study of classical Greek, which I had begun at Concordia and had continued at Indiana, and I also gained more of an understanding of ancient Greek philosophers.

In those classics studies, and also in my subsequent political science study at Columbia College in New York, I got the impression that Plato and Aristotle had formed a lot of the basic ideas, and had posed many of the root questions, that have been intriguing thinkers ever since. I had dreams of becoming thoroughly educated in the classics, beginning with Plato.

Unfortunately, my legal education and practice took me far away from that earlier, learning-oriented mindset. For a number of years, my hope of becoming at least somewhat knowledgeable about the classics was on hold, while I pursued the much more day-to-day life of a lawyer and a New Yorker. While living in Maine in 1996, however, I took several weeks and devoted myself to the task of writing a restatement, as I called it -- a paraphrasing, if you prefer -- of Plato's Republic.

That was undeniably a learning experience. I became familiar with the text to a much greater extent than had been possible in the rushed reading we gave it in my undergraduate classics (or was it political theory?) course at Columbia College. I felt that I had also provided a real service, insofar as my restatement made The Republic much easier to understand than most translations did. A translator was required to stick with the words of the Greek text; I had the freedom to take another sentence or two, when necessary, to clarify a concept. I was not working from the Greek, and it seemed to me that I did not need to. I was not seeking scholarly precision; I was just trying to communicate the basic ideas to new readers of the classic work.

Publishers were generally not interested in the resulting manuscript. One was, but the editor had his own ideas about what Plato was trying to say. Part of me said that I should do it his way and get a publication out of it, but I think the better part of me said that it made more sense to just post it online for free. My experience with Take the Bar had taught me that it could take twice as long to edit and publish a book as it took to write it. I was under no illusions about making money or gaining fame from a restatement of The Republic. Mostly, I just wanted to learn, and to share what I had learned.

I sent out some e-mails to promote the book to people (mostly professors) with an evident interest in The Republic. Some of them took note. For a while, there were a number of sites with links that pointed to my Republic webpage. There are now only a few left. No doubt that would change if I promoted it again. But where a book of this sort needs to be promoted is not to college professors, who I think will generally want their students to read highly accurate (and sometimes hard-to-understand) translations. This is more for students, and I don't presently know of websites (other than something on the Cliff's Notes level) that try to connect students with in-between materials of this type. They're surely out there, but I don't have time to search for them now.

Anyway, my original People's Republic of Plato webpage is still there. The site includes a slightly cleaned-up version of the well-known Jowett translation, in which I discovered some a few problems, and to which I added cross-references and other minor improvements. Please feel free to refer it to college students or others who are interested in a fresh, relatively simple interpretation of what Plato was trying to say.

My Publications: Take the Bar and Beat Me

I attended Columbia Law School from 1979 to 1982. After graduating, I went to work in a firm on Wall Street. I was mostly doing corporate and securities work. In 1989, after other experiences in law firms, I left New York and moved to Colorado. There, I devoted some months to the writing of a book about the law. I had many things to say, and many questions to ask, but in this first volume I focused on the decision to become an attorney, and the process of doing so.

In 1991, Career Press published Take the Bar and Beat Me: An Irreverent Look at Law School and Career Choices for Prelaws, Law Students, Advanced Paralegals - And the People Who Once Loved Them. It sold out its first printing of 5,000 copies, but the publisher didn't feel it was selling fast enough, so there was no second printing. Rights reverted to me, and for some years John Richardson posted a copy of the text, with my permission, on his law school prep webpage. At the moment, the text is available online only through the WayBackMachine.

My Publications: Bureaucrat: Service with a Smile

In the early 1990s, I was employed with a federal agency. It taught me about bureaucracy. I kept copious notes; and after I departed, I processed the experience. I was interested in writing another book vaguely like Take the Bar, but I wanted to talk about a subject that would interest more people. So this time around there would be no footnotes or extensive research; it would be more like a novel, but it would give me (and any interested readers) a chance to work through what, exactly, was happening to us in our working lives.

So in the mid-1990s I wrote Bureaucrat: Service with a Smile. It does accurately reflect what life was like, for those of us who were working in some branches of the Resolution Trust Corporation (RTC). The RTC is gone now; it dissolved along with the conclusion of the savings & loan (S&L) crisis and bailout that led to its creation in the late 1980s. I promoted the manuscript to a number of publishers but found no takers. I finally put it on a webpage in 1999 and essentially forgot about it. I was wondering if it was still there, so today I looked and, yeah, it is. I have just re-read a few pages of it, and, you know, I still think it was a fun book.

My Publications: Inside the Mind of a Judge

In 1999, I wrote and posted, online, a book I called Inside the Mind of a Judge: An Interpretation of Posner’s Problems of Jurisprudence. This book arose from what you might call my continuing legal education, as I became more exposed to the corruption and bankruptcy of the American legal system. Not that the system doesn't work well, for those fortunate enough to have lots of money or just the right circumstances to win big. For them, it's a great system.

Well, actually, in my experience rich people aren't terribly impressed with the American legal system either, but at least it generally tends not to destroy their lives. You can't say the same for those who lack the money for proper legal representation, and whose cases won't make their lawyers rich. People in that condition -- by which I mean to refer to the vast majority of Americans -- are entirely too much at risk of having their savings taken, or being thrown into debt, or being thrown into prison, by judges who are essentially out of touch with the real world.

In Problems of Jurisprudence, I found that Richard Posner, a prominent federal judge and an undeniably intelligent man, had presented himself and the courts as being, in some ways, a threat to society. That was not his intent; but when I went through his words carefully and pointed out their implications in my restatement, that is the picture that emerged. It goes without saying that, if time permitted, I would revise my restatement. Even in its present state, however, the problems of Posner's jurisprudence emerge pretty clearly.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Installed New Motherboard; Don't Want to Reinstall WinXP

I installed a new motherboard. I did not want to have to reinstall Windows XP, because that would mean reinstalling and reconfiguring all of the many pieces of software (including tweaks, Firefox extensions, etc.) that I had installed. I was looking for a shortcut. Unfortunately, WinXP would not boot with the new motherboard. At best, with much tinkering, I got it to go into Safe Mode; but even that died after a while: when I tried going into Safe Mode after that, I got an error message reading, "Windows XP Setup cannot run under Safemode. Setup will restart now." So then I found a very step-by-step webpage where there were instructions that seemed to offer a workaround. The instructions were kind of screwed up, though. They said there had been some problems with their HTML. Maybe they'll have it fixed by the time you read this. But at this writing, to make the instructions work, I had to do some translation. *** At this point, we undertake an optional detour. It has to do with the entry of DOS-style commands in Recovery Console. If you need that, great -- read this section. But this approach did not solve the problem. So if you're looking to continue with the main topic, skip to the *** END OF DOS DETOUR *** marker below. The first step was to boot from the WinXP CD, go into Recovery Console, enter the Administrator's password, and then enter some commands. The basic idea behind these commands was to make a backup of existing system files in a temporary folder, and then replace them with default, original WinXP system files. The files in question were as follows: copy c:\windows\system32\config\system copy c:\windows\system32\config\software copy c:\windows\system32\config\sam copy c:\windows\system32\config\security copy c:\windows\system32\config\default Those may look like folder names, but those were the actual system files in question. There were no extensions. I didn't feel like making a directory and making backups of these files, so I skipped this step. Most people would probably not want to do that, but I had just restored my whole C drive from a Drive Image backup, and I could use Image Explorer to go back into that image and extract these files if I needed them. If they were indeed corrupt, I wouldn't want to save them; and if they weren't, I didn't have another plan where I would need them anyway. Also, if I wanted another copy of them, I could copy them over on a CD if necessary. (The SOFTWARE file, at 8MB, was too big for a floppy.) The CD drive was accessible from within Recovery Console as drive E. I found it by typing D: and hitting Enter, followed by DIR to show me a directory listing of D. That turned out to be another partition on my hard drive, so I tried again with E. That directory listing looked like the CD, but I typed CD DOCS (since DOCS was one of the folders that showed up in the DIR for drive E) and watched my CD drive light up, which told me I was in the right place. Anyway, back at drive C, if I had wanted to make a backup of the files in question, I would have used the MD and CD combination. MD is short for Make Directory, and CD is short for Change Directory. You only have to make a directory once, and change to it once. Your DOS prompt will show you where you are after that. So here are the commands I would have entered to make the first backup copy:

md c:\windows\tmp
copy c:\windows\system32\config\system c:\windows\tmp\system.bak
You'd best be sure not to neglect that space before the last C:\. Anyway, those two commands would give you a copy of the SYSTEM file, which you would have copied as SYSTEM.BAK, in your newly created TMP folder. (I'm using capital letters for clarity. DOS is not case-specific. This isn't exactly DOS, but it's close enough for these purposes.) Since I didn't bother making those backups, I proceeded instead to the heart of the matter. The concept here is to copy fresh versions of some WinXP system files to your c:\windows\system32\config folder. Those files, listed above, come from your c:\windows\repair folder. If Recovery Console allowed for batch files, I could have done this all in one simple command (after copying these lines into Notepad to create the batch file). If I could have gotten into Safe Mode, I could have copied these files over all at once from my other computer. If I had thought of putting them on a USB flash drive, and had plugged it in before booting the WinXP CD, maybe that drive would have been recognized and I could have just copied them from there. Another possibility: Bart PE might recognize USB flash drives, so if I had wanted to go to the trouble of bailing out of Recovery Console and booting Bart PE, that might have been an option. Booting Linux was not an option, because at this point I didn't know of any live Linux CDs that would recognize and copy files to an NTFS drive, which is what my WinXP program partition was. Judging from the files shown in the REPAIR folder on my other computer, the idea was to copy each non-extension file (e.g., SAM, but not CONFIG.NT) from the REPAIR folder to the CONFIG folder. The instructions on the webpage mentioned earlier called for typing in the full pathname (e.g., copy c:\windows\system32\config\system c:\windows\tmp\system.bak) for each file, but I found it easier to CD to one of the folders (another word for "directory") and use a shorter command. So with all that background information, here's what I actually typed, choosing what seemed like the simplest route. I was starting at the C:\WINDOWS prompt because that's where Recovery Console started me. From there, I typed the following: CD SYSTEM32\CONFIG [This put me in the CONFIG folder.] COPY \WINDOWS\REPAIR\DEFAULT [This copied the DEFAULT file from the repair folder to my present location. For more information on COPY or any other Recovery Console command, request HELP by typing the command followed by /?. For example, COPY /? would give information on the COPY command.] COPY \WINDOWS\REPAIR\SYSTEM COPY \WINDOWS\REPAIR\SOFTWARE COPY \WINDOWS\REPAIR\SAM COPY \WINDOWS\REPAIR\SECURITY X So now I had all five replacement files from the REPAIR folder in the CONFIG folder. I didn't take the intermediate step of deleting the presumably corrupted versions of those files from the CONFIG folder before copying. I just used COPY, and answered Yes when it asked me, each time, if I wanted to overwrite the existing file in the CONFIG folder. Note that the Up arrow, in Recovery Console, would repeat the previous command. So it was easy to type those five commands; I just had to type the first one, and then I could repeat it by using the Up arrow, using Backspace to delete the filename, and then typing in the name of the next file. I verified that I had correctly copied each file by doing a DIR listing and checking the dates of the five files I had just copied. They were much earlier than most of the other files in the CONFIG folder. Then I typed EXIT and rebooted from the WinXP CD again. This time, according to the instructions on that guy's webpage, I was supposed to be able to boot right into WinXP, where I would have to take additional steps. I doubted it would work. But I tried. After typing EXIT, while the system was rebooting, I removed the WinXP CD from the CD drive and watched and waited. It didn't work. The system went to exactly the same point and then, once again, shortly after showing me the WinXP bootup logo, it flashed a BSOD (blue screen of death) and rebooted. *** END OF DOS DETOUR *** Next time around, I kept hitting F8 while it was going through the introductory stages of booting up. This gave me the menu of options, including Safe Mode. I selected "Disable automatic restart on system failure." That way, the sucker would freeze at the BSOD, giving me a chance to read it and see what it said. Sometimes BSODs would name a specific problematic driver. But that wasn't the case here. I just got the generic one:
A problem has been detected and Windows has been shut down to prevent damage to your computer. If this is the first time you've seen this Stop error screen, restart your computer. If this screen appears again ...
So I hit the computer's reset button and rebooted. This time, I used F8 to get into Safe Mode. I had just restored the system backup that I had saved in a drive image, so at this point I wasn't yet getting the "Windows XP setup cannot run under Safemode" error mentioned above. Instead, the system proceeded to recognize and "install" various pieces of hardware. In the previous go-round, I had decided to hit Cancel for each hardware wizard that came up. My idea was to let the system detect and install as much hardware as possible automatically. In the previous try, I had already followed the advice of disconnecting as much hardware as possible, just in case there was a conflict between the motherboard and some piece of equipment. I also ran Memtest86+ for a while; it found no errors. This time, I came across another webpage that made me think I should try a different approach. I didn't keep the link for this writing, but the advice was to begin with a Repair Install. The instructions were as follows:
Changing the motherboard (or the entire system) under your Windows XP installation will stop it working until the system files are repaired and updated. To do this, you should perform a Repair Install. The repair install process reinstalls all Windows system files while leaving directories, settings and user data intact. This should fix any corrupted files that are causing BSODs and crash issues. To perform a repair install: 1. Boot from the Windows XP installation CD 2. Choose the 'press enter to set up Windows XP now' option 3. Press F8 to skip through the EULA 4. Now press R to begin a repair installation Your system will go through the entire XP install process, but will not attempt to replace any of your existing data. It will simply reinstall the system files and redetect all hardware. Once the process has completed, your computer will reboot.
So I rebooted from the WinXP CD and did as I was told. As instructed, I pressed R to repair my designated Windows installation. In a previous go-round, I had learned the hard way that the other option would completely reinstall Windows. Some of my previously installed programs would still work, but many would not. That was a last-chance possible approach, but I was not too excited about it. The process ran; the system rebooted; and once again I got the same BSOD and reboot. So this time I tried something a little different. When the WinXP CD was loading, I noticed this message:
Press F2 to run Automated System Recover (ASR) ...
So this time I pressed F2. But that was no answer: it gave me a screen reading, "Please insert the disk labeled: Winodws Automated System Recovery Disk into the floppy drive." I didn't have a disk of that nature. So that was a dead-end. I tried booting back into Safe Mode. Now I got that error message again, "Windows XP Setup cannot run under Safemode." This time, I thought I might try using the command-line options in Recovery Console. I was a little discouraged because I had just come across a webpage where the guy said you could spend days trying to get a WinXP installation from one machine (or, in this case, from one motherboard) to work on another. In Recovery Console, I typed HELP to see the list of possible commands. From that list, based on previous experience and on comments I'd seen on various webpages in this day's research, I felt that the ones to investigate were BOOTCFG, CHKDSK, FIXBOOT, and FIXMBR. After further HELP inquiries for each of those (e.g., BOOTCFG /?), I decided to start with BOOTCFG /REBUILD. That was a mistake. I managed to create another boot entry, discovering at that point that there was no option to delete it. I hoped some such option would materialize once I was back in Windows, if I ever got there. Next, I ran CHKDSK /R. That, at least, was informative. It said, "The volume appears to contain one or more unrecoverable problems." I doubted that those problems had existed in the drive image that I had just restored, since I had restored drive images many times and had never seen this particular error message before. I figured the problems had probably originated when I had run the Repair Install. To complete this exploration of Recovery Console, I looked at HELP for FIXBOOT and FIXMBR. I went ahead and ran FIXMBR, typed Exit, and rebooted. It crashed at the usual place when attempting to install WinXP in Normal Mode. In Safe Mode, I got the usual "WinXP can't run under Safemode" message. I found a webpage where they said C:\WINDOWS\SYSTEM32\DRIVERS\IPVNMON.SYS might be responsible for that message. But I didn't have a file by that name on my system. Another webpage made me think that IPVNMON.SYS should be suspected only where the BSOD is naming that file specifically. At this point, it seemed that the "fresh install" option was the only alternative to a full reinstallation of Windows XP. To get there, I took the same first couple of steps as with the Repair Install, above:
1. Boot from the Windows XP installation CD 2. Choose the 'press enter to set up Windows XP now' option
But after that, this time I chose the other option: "To continue installing a fresh copy of Windows XP without repairing, press ESC." I pointed the installer toward drive C and told it to go ahead and install on top of the existing WinXP installation: "Leave the current file system intact (no changes)" and use the existing Windows folder. After maybe five minutes, the system rebooted and started me down that long road of Windows reinstallation. A half-hour later, having shot the better part of a day on the efforts described above, I was looking at a "new" Windows installation. The first question was, how bad was the damage to my previous drive C setup? I mean, the fresh installation had apparently dealt only with the C:\Windows folder, including the registry. I wanted an inventory of which programs were still operational and which would now have to be reinstalled. To conduct that inventory, I decided to look at the Start Menu found in C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Start Menu\Programs. I figured that, if a program's icon was still good, that meant it was finding its target executable (usually an EXE file) somewhere; but if the icon had reverted to that plain white rectangle with the blue border, that meant the connection had been destroyed. The first thing I saw was that my original Start Menu was gone. I did have backup copy of my extensively customized Start Menu, however. I was pleasantly surprised. Most of the links still worked. The primary exceptions were the Microsoft, Google, Corel, and Adobe products, which it seemed I would have to reinstall, along with QuickTime, and about ten utilities. There would also be the issue that some programs were no longer installed to run on startup, but I felt those would be manageable. All in all, it looked like a decent outcome. After the hassle of reinstalling and configuring Windows and Microsoft Office programs and updates, along with the others just mentioned, it appeared that I would be up and running with my new motherboard. Of course, this whole process was premised on the assumption that, once I did the installations, I would have a stable system. The system seemed to be stable so far, in this first hour or so of fiddling around with it. I proceeded to install my wireless connection and activate Windows. Perhaps because of the reinstallation I had tried previously, I had to call Microsoft to activate. Then I began downloading and installing Windows updates. While that was underway, I began testing my other programs. It was a blow to discover that the Firefox extensions and configuration would all have to be reinstalled. As I looked further, the same appeared true for many other programs. The links on my backup copy of the Start Menu had found their targets, all right; but without the registry modifications that had been made during the initial installation, the linked programs would not actually run. There were no two ways about it: I gained little if anything from using this semi-fresh install, and I risked the downside of having many small and large problems, down the line, if this was anything like an upgrade installation -- which, as I had learned years earlier and had seen mentioned repeatedly on webpages since, was not the recommended way to go. I felt there was no choice but to abandon this attempt and return to a "real," full installation from scratch. But when I inserted the WinXP CD and started down the installation path, I was reminded that there was no "fresher" way of doing an installation. I could have wiped off the C drive and really started from scratch, but now I had second thoughts about doing all that. Maybe I really had nothing to lose from continuing in the present vein. So I decided to go ahead and try it out as it was. Maybe it would still save me an hour or two. Maybe there would be no feared complications. Well, about three hours later, I had my answer on that. I tried to install Symantec AntiVirus. It wouldn't install. Instead, it gave me an error message, "The System Administrator Has Set Policies to Prevent This Installation." I looked online for an explanation. Nobody seemed to have one. One person said s/he had solved the problem by manually deleting all registry references to Symantec Antivirus. I tried that. It didn't solve the problem. Microsoft had a tech support document on it, but they said it was just a workaround that might reduce my system's defenses against viruses. I used System Restore, in repeated tries, working my way back toward the start of my efforts to install and configure programs, and eventually I decided that the problem must be that there were still some lingering Symantec files or settings, somewhere on the drive; and if this could happen to their program, it could happen to others as well. So I finally did bite the bullet, wipe the disk and start a completely new WinXP installation -- which, of course, would have been half-done by this point, if I had just gone directly to that undesirable solution.

Supporting Our Troops in Iraq

When George Bush et al. were first talking about sending American troops to Iraq, my reaction was that there did seem to be good reason for it, but that I couldn't endorse it without an opportunity to go to Washington and ask my own questions of the President, Donald Rumsfeld, and others who supported that approach. I realized, of course, that there would be no invitation for me to do so. With earnest effort, I might have gotten to the point of obtaining an interview with an undersecretary of something or other. That would not have been sufficient; I would have wanted to go right to the source. Even then, as we have since learned, I probably wouldn't have received accurate information. It took years for reporters to uncover the gap between the claims and the reality -- to prove, in the end, that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, nor even good grounds for suspecting their existence. If the sources were not being honest with the reporters, they were not likely to be honest with me either; and if they had been honest with the reporters, there would have been no need for me to undertake any such factfinding trip. This brings us to the next phase, where we find ourselves with an eighth of a million American troops in Iraq, three thousand of whom have come home in coffins, and tens of thousands who have suffered significant, in many cases lifelong physical, mental, and emotional damage, for which we (and they!) will be paying for generations. Speaking of paying, there are the long-term cost estimates which, everything included, run at least into the hundreds of billions of dollars. It really would have been cheaper to be honest with the reporters. Those soldiers are not just sitting there and dying. They are killing Iraqis. That includes intentionally killing bad guys and people who got confused with the bad guys. It also includes unintentionally killing innocent civilians. Worst, it includes intentionally murdering innocents, not only in the heat of battle but also, in extreme cases, in random criminal acts. The people doing these various forms of killing include American soldiers but also, separately from the foregoing counts, they include mercenaries who work for private security firms who are under contract with the U.S. government. The killing makes for bad feelings. These gut-level bad feelings, born of onsite circumstances, join the global chorus of offsite bad feelings that have been years in the making. That chorus first began to tune up when President Bush abused the outstanding international support for America that arose in the days after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Somehow, a can't-lose situation of international support has turned into a can't-win situation of international abandonment: few nations of the 1991 Kuwait War coalition rejoined us this time, and most of those who did have lately been disentangling their soldiers from Iraq and flying them back home. We have offended a lot of people, in a lot of nations. That, too, has had a price. China has been grateful, I am sure, for the opportunity to extend a hand of friendship to those, around the world, whom we have alienated. Because we have been distracted and drained in Iraq, Iran and North Korea have had latitude to work toward acquisition and expansion of nuclear weapons programs. The nearly won struggle in Afghanistan looks a lot closer to being nearly lost. Concepts of democracy, justice, and personal freedom, espoused by the United States, appear insincere: these were not the principles that guided our nation's treatment of prisoners of war, or even of its own citizens, during these years of fear. Not to mention that few nations in transition are likely to think well of democracy after seeing the chaos we have wrought in democracy's name in Iraq. If there was any doubt about America previously, in the minds of potential future terrorists, we have done our best to dispel it and to paint them, and their cause, as the more noble. That was the second phase. My factfinding services, and those of the world's journalists, were not wanted, or for whatever reason were not successful in preventing the United States from making a damned fool of itself, and worse. The bad news is still unfolding. There are whole dimensions of it that I have not even mentioned, and there will probably be more new dimensions of it before we are done. But there is more to the story than bad news. As we go forward, there is also some good news, and it presently appears the ratio of good to bad may be improving. In the third phase, the phoenix emerges from the ashes. We discover that even the collapse of empires does leave a few pieces of usable plumbing in the rubble. With our hundreds of billions, we might have just made everyone in Iraq a millionaire; but as second-best, not even the destructive workings of chaos can completely obliterate the random chance of something good happening, every now and then; and what begins to appear in Iraq is that things are actually going quite a bit better than random chaos would dictate. What we see, most recently, is that some opinions in Iraq have changed. They all wanted us to leave, just not yet; and now it looks like the "not yet" part is going to be stretched out a bit. The American military seems to be behaving a lot more pragmatically under General Petraeus. Instead of blowing the hell out of everyone, there appears to be a premium on treating the Iraqis as actual people. I overstate the previous error, of course, but the news coming back was so bad, for so long, as to make obliteration seem like the erstwhile marching orders. Now, though, it appears that, in increasing numbers of sects and neighborhoods, the Iraqi people are well past the Saddam era and are even moving past the Death to Americans era. They get up in the morning; they go through their day; they have to think about how they might improve their lives; and for this purpose the Americans have a certain potential value. So there are collaborations and cooperations between us and them. It begins to sink in, this contrast between, say, a Nebraskan soccer mom and a jihadist who will behead you for misbehaving. All things being equal, the average Iraqi householder might incline, over time, to wish to see more of the former and less of the latter. The dust settles, the crappy nature of life stabilizes into an awful new form, and then people ask themselves, What next? What's next is that there will be a future, for Iraq and also for us. For Iraq, the future may come by way of a civil war, a war between Kurds and Turks, and an ultimate humiliating Vietnamlike departure flight by Americans who flee to escape the tides of warfare. Or it may come by way of gradual deescalation, capture and trial of criminal elements, in their forces and ours, and countless other small efforts to make things a bit better. For us, there will be costs and consequences of all the bad news, as mentioned above. But in the phoenix phase, one piece of good news is that the American military will be -- has been -- permanently changed and brought into the 21st century. Future defense budgets will surely be drawn up with a much sharper awareness that preparing for a war against a Soviet Union does not begin to address the situations in which the U.S. Army might find itself. Depending on how it turns out for us, the post-Iraq climate stateside may recoil for years to come -- Vietnamlike, again -- against any possibility of sending significant numbers of troops abroad. But Vietnam ultimately may not provide the guiding analogy. At some point, the ridiculous George Bush will be gone and will be heard from no more. Memories will fade in light of new events. If this war differs from Vietnam -- if, for example, it tapers off gradually and with some sense of pride and achievement -- then the idea of being an American soldier in a foreign country may be accepted, honored, and supported. We might even become one of those nations that gladly sends thousands of soldiers to participate in United Nations peacekeeping efforts in Sudan, for instance, or in the Congo, where God knows they are needed. If some sense of honor emerges from this whole military undertaking, as measured ten or more years from now, then conceivably our warrior culture could ennoble itself by effecting an exact opposite of the Bush Administration's go-it-alone mentality: we might finally become more a part of the world, and be more welcomed into it. The Chinese, who have capitalized mightily upon the opportunity we have provided to them, might yet emerge as the possessors of an environmentally destroyed, obscenely overpopulated, and persistently oppressive concept of society. They, too, will have their experiences of military hubris, humiliation, and global condemnation. Depending in part upon our learning from Iraq, the judgment of the first half of the 21st century may yet continue to favor the U.S. as a destination of choice. Now that we have been in the basement, let us not underestimate the positive directions in which tomorrow's America, cleaning its own house, can build something good out of devastation.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Grey Poupon, Kraft, Tobacco, Beer, and Boycotts

This post started with the following message, which I attempted to post in the General Discussions forum on the Kraft Foods webpage: * * * * * Grey Poupon -- The Nozzle Is Huge -- You're Drowning Me! Well, I started with the simple desire to send Kraft a brief e-mail, asking them to make the hole smaller on their Grey Poupon mustard squeeze bottles. It really glops on the mustard, much more so than has been the case with other brands' squeeze bottles in my experience, and I don't appreciate what seems to be an effort to get me to use as much mustard as possible. I'm actually able to make that decision for myself, and often I will do so without having to dig a giant glob of excessive mustard out of my sandwich. It's a little late, and I'm tired. I really only had the simple ambition to convey that idea to Kraft. But now I've spent ten minutes clicking on various links, attempting to log in, discovering that I had apparently registered at their site sometime in the distant past, going to my e-mail account to retrieve the login information, etc. And then, after all that trouble, it was irksome to find that they still were not interested in what I might want to tell them. When I clicked on the "Contact Us" link, there was not really any means of contacting Kraft; there was just a knowledgebase with FAQs that did not address the topic about which I intended to write. The Kraft website on which I am attempting to post this message looks pretty snazzy, and I hope it provides lots of benefit to a variety of users. But there still needs to be a way to convey a grievance, whether justified or not, directly to Kraft Foods, without having to post it on a discussion board and bother lots of other people with something that may or may not matter to anyone other than me. That basic courtesy, anyway, is what I generally encounter at other companies' websites. Even if they say they cannot take the time to respond personally to each message, that's fine; a mere "Feedback" link would have been sufficient for this purpose. That was going to be all I was going to say in this message. But now that I have attempted to post it, I have received an automated reply stating, "Your post can not be published because it contains content that violates community standards." When I click on the link contained in that reply, I see a list of standards, none of which have been violated here. I am attempting to post on the "General Discussions" forum, so I don't believe the content is off-topic. So it seems I have been inveigled into wasting yet another ten minutes on this foolish website. I thought that a message board was a place where you post messages, and in good-faith reliance on that general concept, I did take the time to write up these views. But OK. That's not going to work. So instead I will have to look for other places where I can post this message. No problem! I'm sure I can find something ... A quick search tells me that there are some people out there who are boycotting Kraft because they, purveyors of wholesome foods, also happen to enjoy owning Philip Morris, marketer of cigarettes that kill thousands. That's probably why they've instituted a gag on communications from consumers -- they just don't want to hear it. It is a corporate mentality. They want to be left alone to sell cigarettes to kids, and we should respect that. Except that I will ultimately find someplace to post this message; and now that I am attuned to the Philip Morris thing, I will certainly try to buy other brands of cheese and generally avoid Kraft products for a while -- perhaps until the next time I try to contact them about something. Now that I am a little more motivated, I am looking to see what else Kraft and/or Philip Morris (now known as Altria, I think) own. A webpage dating from 2001 tells me that, as of that time, they owned Breyer's Yogurt, Cranberry Almond Crunch cereal, Miller beer, Cool Whip, and a number of other products that I have sometimes purchased. It seems that I will have to pay more attention, henceforth, to who owns what. I will probably still buy some Kraft products sometimes; but if there's a reasonable alternative, I do think it would be appropriate for me to lean toward a competing product. * * * * * After all this trouble, when I went back and did some more poking around Kraft's website, I found a page where they will let you e-mail them after all. It's not actually e-mail: it's one of those "send us a message" pages where they require you to provide all kinds of personal information before they will listen to you. It's not appropriate for this purpose, and in any case I really don't know why they didn't include that link on their Contact Us webpage. I'm done with Kraft Foods for tonight, but I do appreciate the heads-up regarding Philip Morris, and I intend to see if I can't be just as happy with less exposure to Kraft products.