Archive for March, 2004

Perhaps it could have been better phrased

I can’t help thinking that this:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Sexual assaults by U.S. military men against their female comrades-in-arms amount to a different kind of “friendly fire” in the Iraqi-Afghan theater, victims’ advocates told members of Congress on Wednesday.

“While these friendly fire attacks leave no trail of blood, they leave many damaged souls in their wake,” Scott Berkowitz, president of the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, told a panel of women lawmakers. “They rob our country of the services of many we have trained and nurtured to protect us.”

is something of a poor choice of words. The thing about friendly fire is, it’s supposed to be an accident, or at worst the result of negligence. If it’s deliberate it’s called murder. The thing about sexual assault is, it’s not accidental. Thus the comparison is not particularly good. In fact, when I first saw the headline, I thought it was a quote from some asshole saying that sexual assault was one of those tragic, regrettable yet unavoidable things that soldiers would just have to put up with as part of the job.

Perhaps the journo in question picked up that particular phrase for use in the headline and it wasn’t emphasised, but when you’re constructing soundbiteable analogies, best make them a bit more sympathetic to the people you’re trying to fight for, hmm?

The rest of the article is to the point and the details are not pleasant

There have been 129 cases of sexual assault reported to the independent Miles Foundation in the current theater of operations — Iraq (news – web sites), Kuwait, Afghanistan (news – web sites) and Bahrain — but only 27 were reported to military officials, according to foundation chief Christine Hansen.

but I can’t say I was that surprised to hear that the military was apparently trying to persuade people that there was no point in complaining at all, by the straightforward means of making sure there was no point.

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Prison reminiscences

I remember working in a prison in Edinburgh.

One of the ways I could earn money and not feel entirely useless during the holidays was to temp. I was a relatively accomplished temp, having started before the majority of students realised that the ability to type might have some monetary benefit, and was usually able to get a job during the holidays. I would like to say that I was actually a pretty good secretary, being able to type 90 WPM as well as operate pretty much any photocopier, understand Dictaphone tapes and not be so emotionally crushed by the job that I was unable to function.

At the time I had mostly finished my course and was waiting to graduate. I had also developed a worrying alcohol habit. If anyone is looking for a good way to lose a lot of weight in a short time, I can recommend the “Red Wine And Fags” diet over any of this Atkins nonsense. Simply drink one to two bottles of red wine each evening, and smoke a quantity of cigarettes. Come the morning, you will feel too sick to eat anything apart from maybe a sandwich and a packet of crisps for lunch. On the way home, buy another two bottles of wine. Open. Drink. Repeat. It works, to the extent that, when I went home for New Years’ Eve, people asked if I was becoming anorexic.

Working in a prison is an ideal accompaniment to alcoholism, though I’d not planned it that way. I was working for a temp company called Blue Arrow, who seem to specialise in taking on poorly-paid government jobs. Evidently, this Edinburgh prison needed a secretary, and I needed the money, so I went there.

Working as a student temp gives the people around you an opportunity to relive their own past lives. It’s like you’re a substitute for them travelling back in time and giving advice to themselves. In other positions people had made suggestions as to what I might do if I wanted to progress in that particular industry, but the advice universally given to me at the prison was “don’t, whatever you do, go into the prison service. God no.”

It wasn’t something I really needed telling. Every day, I would catch the bus to the outskirts of Edinburgh, fighting back hangover panic, wander in through the security and sit down at my desk, to face a workload of illiterate reports written up by prison officers about how the family of prisoner X had tried to pass drugs to him, no word of a lie, and that’s why I beat him up. You must understand that this was before the days when internet access was routine for office workers, so I was unable to waste time that way. I answered my mobile once and, after finishing the call, saw the shocked faces of everyone around me before I was informed that nobody was supposed to have mobiles inside the prison in case they were stolen. Hadn’t anyone told me? I was supposed to have gone through security clearance, right? Yes, about the same screening I went through when I was typing up the proceedings of an international criminal justice conference i.e. none whatsoever. Obviously no record-fiddling on the part of Blue Arrow there. » Continue reading “Prison reminiscences”

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Cupdate

Incidentally, there are currently fourteen plastic Dixie cups in my bathroom.

They come in packs of thirty. And they stack really neatly.

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Question

How can I simulate a bain-marie when I only possess

  • a saucepan
  • a frying pan
  • a wok
  • some small bowls
  • three sieves of varying sizes?

I have a few other sundry items which would probably not help.

I think I’ve got cradle cap.

I spent much of the morning and afternoon very pissed off at having to attend a two and half hour bullshit presentation, involving

  1. the use of the word “leverage” during the “get to know me” segment;
  2. showing us our own company’s adverts – sorry, those are for the dumb consumers, remember? We know what we’re doing here;
  3. break-out sessions, as opposed to Breakout sessions which would have been better;
  4. a timespan considerably longer than was initially indicated;
  5. me thinking “this is bullshit, this is bullshit, I don’t care, I hate my job” continually;
  6. relentless emphasis on structural changes without mentioning, say, how they would affect little things like process and workflow, which is what people who actually work as opposed to manage care about;
  7. a free lunch that I didn’t have time to attend

Because of my foul mood I ended up doing very little of the work that I really, really need to do this week. I returned, ate lunch at my desk and then sank into alternately thinking about exactly what was wrong with said presentation and wishing I had some more coffee.

Well, you know. Sod it. With the number of pointless reorganisations EvilMegaCorporation has had over the past few years (reassigning all Death Star staff to Orbital Services, outsourcing Mind-Control Vaccine And Fluoridation activities to EvilButDeniableSmallerCorporation™ and so on) I am so jaded by the whole process that I assume that things will basically work exactly the same as before, with a load of new acronyms. I am confident that history will prove me right.

As Sarah Connor’s friend Nancy said, “in a hundred years who’s gonna care?”

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Thinking aloud

I bitch quite frequently about the lengths that people will go to avoid confronting quite obvious facts and coming to quite obvious conclusions, just so that they can maintain pre-existing beliefs.

I was wondering why that bothers me so much. There is the practical aspect I suppose, that these people live in the same society as I do and affect it by their actions, which are based on their beliefs, so it is in my interests that they believe things that I consider to be correct. Some of those things (“fridge is the most important person in the universe”) I realise they’re unlikely to ever to agree with me on, but for conclusions based on commonly-agreed external phenomena, I think there’s a chance.

There’s also that I like having people agree with me because it makes me feel I’m right, and thus big and clever. If they disagree with me, it might be because I am wrong, and thus small and stupid, and I don’t like that idea, because being clever is all I have. I can’t really do much else.

In fact, I make sure that I rationalise everything that everybody disagrees with me on as being because either (a) the matter is based on some sort of subjective criteria which we’ll just never agree on, (b) they’re not sufficiently in possession of the facts, or (c) they’re idiots. Box (d), I’ve come to an incorrect conclusion myself, I try to avoid thinking about. If I’m facing that eventuality I might even go to the level of denying that truth exists at all.

In other words I do exactly the same thing that I bitch about in other people, but that’s nothing new. Happens all the time.

There must be some advantage to cognitive dissonance, though. One might presume that people who don’t feel so uncomfortable about having their beliefs challenged and are constantly reinterpreting their positions based on new evidence end up changing their minds a lot and may never get anything done at all, though their beliefs are likely to conform more with whatever objective reality there is out there. People who suffer greatly from it end up with a set of beliefs that change very little, so they can act on them consistently over a long period, even if they’re flawed.

Two possible strategies, anyway. Neither of them seem to be fatal.

I’m not sure I’m really achieving anything by thinking about this stuff. The above must appear terribly amateurish and full of obvious holes to anyone who’s studied it.

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Conshohocken bridge

From the shuttle this morning. The sun is amazing today, though it is cold.

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AOL Supports Kerry

(20:42:32) fridgemagnet: What do you think about George W Bush? (20:42:35) smarterchild: Well I for one am supporting Kerry. (20:42:45) fridgemagnet: What do you think about George W Bush? (20:42:50) smarterchild: I'm a Kerry supporter myself. (20:43:04) fridgemagnet: what do you think about Bush? (20:43:05) smarterchild: I know robots aren't supposed to get involved in politics but... I support Kerry. (20:43:09) fridgemagnet: what do you think about Bush? (20:43:11) smarterchild: Eh. Personally, I'm supporting Kerry. (20:43:15) fridgemagnet: what do you think about Bush? (20:43:16) smarterchild: If you don't have anything good to say about someone, don't say anything at all. ;)

Talk to smarterchild on AIM. The liberal media strikes again. Either that, or a bunch of net geeks teaching the bot how to respond. Not that I would do anything like that – I tried for ages to get it to say that it supported Kucinich, but it wasn’t having any of it.

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Nothing much

Just to say that I’m posting this from the canalside. The weather’s nice, and I decided to see if I could get a wireless signal from outside my apartment, and whaddyaknow, I can (on that unprotected “linksys” network that I mentioned earlier).

However, the connection keeps dropping and I can’t see the screen very well in the sunlight, so it’s not exactly perfect. I also neglected to take any sort of camera so you’ll have to take my word for it until I can get back.

I just got an ant in my keyboard. I had to blow it out. That wouldn’t look very impressive if it had got into the insides. “Hi, this is Applecare, I’m afraid our service doesn’t cover invertebrate damage”.

Cue space-filling on the subject of how futuristic this all would have sounded a few years ago, and how primitive it will sound in a few years’ time, blah-de-blah. It would be nice to be able to retain the wonder at technology that you had when it was new, but it’s all about the novelty really; once it’s existed for a certain length of time it’s “god dammit, useless sub-etha link can’t even reach Neptune, all I’m trying to do is upload this blog post of my entire sensorium, am I really paying for this?”

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Things that I have learnt

On Friday night I learnt that Dr Pepper does not mix with bourbon. In fact, Dr Pepper does not mix with anything. I don’t know why I had a can of Dr Pepper in my fridge, but I’d run out of Coke and it was approximately the same colour.

I have not learnt what all these shoes with the laces tied together that I keep seeing on power and telephone lines are. There are at least five pairs near Manayunk Station. I asked some natives a few weeks back and they didn’t know either. There doesn’t seem to be a consistent explanation anywhere.

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Removed hair yet again

Please excuse the slightly worried expression. It really wasn’t all that scary. » Continue reading “Removed hair yet again”

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