Friday, December 22, 2006

978-0-6151-3792-6

That being the ISBN for Finister. Score one—and a few more—for self-imposed deadlines. I'm telling you, all you budding authors, artists and/or whoever tries to 'create' something without externally-imposed deadlines: the only way to get it done is to impose the deadlines yourself and pretend that your life depends on sticking to them—which it might, in a certain sense anyway.

So, here it is. For those interested in the process, as it applies to lulu.com: the ISBN has been typed into the main body of the text and the bar-code added to the cover. The PDFs containing contents and cover were uploaded, I ordered a copy to approve, which will come to me in due course. Once I have the copy in my hot little hands, I'll hopefully will find no more errors of sufficient gravity to stop me from sending my approval, whereupon the book will be loaded into the appropriate databases and eventually appear as published by me on, for example, Amazon.

Anyway, my deadline for Finister was Xmas 2006, and that's apparently what it's going to be. So, allow me to pat myself on the back. I just made the pat official with a close encounter with Mr. Pinot Noir, my favorite buddy from Wineland.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Martial Arts Reflections (2): Tigers Don't Dance

During our training sessions with Sekiguchi Sensei October this year, many of the attendees, including the senior ones, suffered from overload. Everybody was moaning—discreetly, of course—about there being so-o-o-o much to learn, and how could we be expected to remember all this stuff?

Truth is there was a lot. Iaijutsu training—just the 'sword' part, ignoring such issues as tactics, strategy and philosophy—consists of a number of elements that interlink to form the whole of a 'style'. These elements range from the minutiae of drawing and cutting—and minutiae is the operative term here, for we're talking about such tiny details as the exact placement and sequencing of two hands as they reach for the sword—to elaborate sequences of steps and cuts (kata), either along or with two people. All in all, if one went through all the kata in sequence and at an appropriate pace, it amounts to something like 20-30 minutes of sustained performance.

So, yes, there was a lot, though I must confess that I found the plaints by some tiring and unworthy. Besides, at least in my book, it wasn't all that bad. It all depends, as things so often do in life, on sorting out what matters from what doesn't—to separate the invariants, the essentials and principles, from the surrounding complexities.

How to do that? How to detect the essential among the elaborate rituals?

Sensei wasn't much help, if only because he's Japanese and most of us weren't. On the other hand, I think the Japanese have the same issues. To sort out what matters from what doesn't is a 'life skill' that requires either that one has learned it or that one has an instinctive grasp of the matter; something below the level of conscious evaluation, but nonetheless functioning.

Sensei freely mixed advice on minutiae into the teaching of the elaborate forms; spending, I thought, enough time on this or that to make it clear to those who paid attention to such things, that here was something that mattered, while that could be done this way or that, but basically it was more 'style' than 'essence'. I don't know if he does this deliberately, knowing it is what he's doing and planning it that way. If so, I disagree with his teaching method, because most people just don't 'get' it. Cognitive overload doesn't lend itself to cognitive discernment. You got to tell people. This is a fact. I now there are a lot of teaching myths around in the martial arts field, but a lot of them are steeped in the contingencies of culture and history, and they are...well, let me be nice and call them 'ineffectual'. Western...disciples...tend to take on these same methods because of the mummery and mystique adhering to them. Besides, it's impolite to question, even in one's mind, the wisdom of a grandmaster.

It's all a lot of bollocks. Students don't generally 'pick up things along the way'; meaning that it is thought they will pick up the minutiae while having to focus on the complexities of some, essentially arbitrary, dance imposed by the style or the whim of the master—who might change his mind tomorrow and decide that in this particular kata we should now do this part this way, rather than that one; the latter being the way it was done up to the current moment. People lose the essentials in focusing on such trivia. This is true for beginners and advanced practitioners. The dance obscures the essence.

Am I saying that kata are useless? By no means, and to the contrary. They have the important function of serving as rituals for the transmission and keeping-alive of a given style. They also, and even more importantly, serve, especially for the beginner, as instruments to teach him or her essential skills—neuromotor skills, familiarity with the instrument that is a sword so that it becomes like an extension of one's body, and observational skills with an emphasis on mapping somebody else's body movements into their own; in other words activating and training their mirror-neuron systems. As such, kata are invaluable. The requirement for having them performed with precision and in a predictable way teaches the student focus and attention on position, movement, sequence and timing. Relating their performance to a narrative which supports the particular actions helps to establish the neural framework for precise execution. Into this framework one can then build correctness of minutiae—sooner, rather than later, because it is a neurobiological and ubiquitously observable fact that it's harder to unlearn an established bad habit, especially if it is minute and likely to exist under the self-critical radar, than not to let it become established to begin with.

Again, I know that some martial arts teachers think differently about this, but the fact is that they are mistaken. This is not a matter of opinion, but of paying attention—or not—of observable scientific fact. I am unapologetic in favoring, in this instance, the mindset of a scientifically-inclined and trained Westerner over that of the traditions of the East.

Th more complex kata invariably require the support of a more complex narrative to support their sequences. The natural consequence of this is that one ends up asking—maybe not aloud—"but what if..." What if the narrated fighting sequence doesn't proceed as told, and the enemy does this instead of that? As a result, complex kata invariably have some 'standard' form, dictated by the style's master(s), with numerous 'variations'. Said 'standard' may well change, with a former 'variation' becoming the 'standard'; and so on. This should make it clear to anybody that it is in the nature of kata that they are essentially arbitrary. What isn't arbitrary though are the minutiae, because they go to the essence of the forms. The simplest of kata therefore invariably reveal a practitioner's true skills and grasp of the essences.

Kata, in other words, should not be 'dance'. There may be some instances where they may be performed with the elegance and smoothness of dance, and indeed there is virtue in this, because it is in this flow that the practitioner's body—as opposed to his sword skills—learns balance, flow, power and again balance, balance, balance; and awareness of this moment and how it flows into the next, all at once. All skills of essence to the iaijutsu practitioner.

But when I say that they should 'not be dance', I really meant something else. Because dance is an aim—either for personal expression, ritual, social connection or performance. Kata should never be that, because the moment they are, they become just that: usually 'performance'; acting something out, as one has to when being graded. Of course, in that instance 'performance' in unavoidable, but what is tested here should be more the skill and stature of the examinee, not the kata itself. A kata screwed up because the one being tested forgot some element of a sequence or maybe the name of the form, but whose essential elements and minutiae were performed with skill and spirit, should be considered a kata performed successfully. A kata is just a framework for study and practice of what really matters. A dance has its own perfection as the ultimate goal. In that sense a kata should never be a dance.

The universe of martial arts often maps onto 'life' in general; in a simplified form—and often in drastically non-obvious ways. Iaijutsu and kata—especially complex ones, which involve a number of moves, all of which are meant to be executed with precision. Some folks are very good at these complex kata. They'll remember all the different variations on the standard and their intricacies; the names; maybe something about their histories; and lots about the narratives that go with them. They're even pretty good at executing them with a fairly good amount of attention to the minutiae—though I've yet to see even Sekiguchi Sensei himself pay full attention to and execute faithfully everything he teaches us when he launches into one of the complex kata whose point is the kata itself and its intricacies, rather than the fundamental simplicities of the essential elements.

'Attention' is a strange and often-mysterious thing; and to be consistently skillful at it takes a lot—and I mean a lot!—of focus, self-discipline and self-observation and constant...well, attention. Attention directed to one thing inevitably diverts attention from another; this is a consequence of the limited cognitive resources available to all of us. This is true throughout the cognitive system—sub-conscious and conscious—but it is especially true of the 'conscious' part of it, because, when you come to think about it, our 'conscious' capacity is amazingly limited.

The practice of 'intellectualism' and many of those pursuits considered expressions of 'culture' and 'civilization' are basically kata-dancing. When all is said and one, the dance is the aim and goal, though there is always a pretense of more purpose and meaning, such as that supplied by the narrative 'explaining' or contextualizing a given kata. For we are the stories we tell ourselves, especially when we forget that they are just stories. Then we get ensnared in a web woven by ourselves and those whose stories we choose to share and believe as being real.

Actually the thing is even more starkly absurd: those who perform kata-dance invariably are the very people who wouldn't dream of actually doing what they are pretending to do. Indeed, they would look upon the notion with the disdain they believe it deserves. They are indeed just pretend-Tigers—must be, because real Tigers don't dance! Real Tigers stop playing pretend-kill when they've grown out of being cubs. Kata-dancers think they're grown up because they're so good at kata-dancing.

In the director's cut of Tears of the Sun, almost at the end, the son of an, recently killed, African ruler and tribal leader tells Monica Belluci's doctor character that “in Africa doctors save one life at a time”. I'm glad that line went back in there, because, like a lot of other necessary story and background, it was nuked in the cinema release version. “One life at a time”: actually it goes deeper than that, because the saving of each life—the very attempt to save a life—must be preceded by a decision.

Can I? Should I? Need I? What will happen to me if I do? What will happen to the one I try to save if I do? What... And so on.

The same goes for kata. Or it should, if kata are to be anything more than dance. Every move, every cut, should be preceded by an instant of true decision. The paradox, if you will, is that, though the form is predetermined, one needs to execute it as if at each decision point it weren't. Awareness of each moment and what is, together with the possibilities of what is inherent in it, and the consequences of what will be if one does this or that.

But it rarely is. It's always the predictable dance, whose qualities are invariably adjudicated by form and per-form-ance; in the minds of spectators and usually by the practitioner him- or herself. There is an element in many of the dances where a pretense of decision-making is an element of the form itself, but it is pretense, just like the whole thing. Make-believe.

If there is a hidden meaning somewhere in what we do at the dojo, something concealed so deeply that we have to dig very deeply to unearth it, so deeply that people rarely persist with digging...can it be anything else but that Tigers don't dance?

The only evidence of this insight has come from folks, who by the standards of those who see martial arts as an expression of 'culture', rather than something more basic, qualify as...well, I think the word 'simple' is as kind as I can manage. I'm not talking about thugs who want to learn to be urban warriors; but folk who see their sword training, 'unrealistic' as it may be, as a tool to train/condition themselves to adopt, and a way to express in some physical discipline, a mind-set that to many nowadays would appear as laughably and embarrassingly archaic. A mind-set they sense, has no point for existence unless it is actually lived on a practical basis day-to-day. These folks might be surprised to hear that they've dug deeper than the kata-dancers, because they'd consider what they are doing and why they are doing it pretty much self-evident and not requiring that much complex thought or 'sophistication'.

The irony is, of course, that those who are in the habit of using complex thought, could easily get to the same place—if only they knew what place that is, or that it indeed exists.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The final version, I think...

Political spam

I've just been spammed by a political group using some tool—with somebody probably making money out of it—to trawl through blogs for some appropriate words that may indicate suitable targets. The request by the spammer—generated automatically, with some blank strings filled in, but general enough to indicate that it's been an automatic response—was for a sympathetic mentioning of a cause, and even a possible insertion of a link to a certain site, which espouses said cause.

I went to the site, which is a blog by an opinionated anonymous politician—or so it is claimed—who is basically just another politard, with opinions devoid of substance. At the same time he's one of those people the world could do without. Actually that goes without saying about all politicians, so maybe this was a statement free of value-added content.

For the record and to all loonies who would like to do the same: I will never advance any political cause in this blog. I have opinions, but if you want to find them, you will have to read between the lines in my novels. I doubt that even my close friends have any notion of where I really 'stand' on political issues. They make inferences, depending, as all people do, on their own biases; but I suspect that they are all quite misguided.

As for political spam...well I wonder if the religious kind will follow close on the heels of this crap. Not that I expect ever to be solicited by religioids—not with my opinions on the subject. Can you see the Church of the Great Cosmic God asking me to put a link to their site on this blog?

....

Time has elapsed. I have now stopped laughing.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Intelligence and Bias

Here's a freely-available book I discovered yesterday. It should be read by anybody interested in perception, intelligence and politics. It's called Psychology of Intelligence Analysis and, of course, it'll get you onto the CIA's watchlist, especially if you're some paranoid dimwit who thinks anybody's actually interested in them and gives a shit about their Marvelous Insignificance. The contents of the book can be downloaded as a PDF—or read on-line, of course—and it's among the most fascinating non-fiction material I've come across for a long time. Indeed, it serves as an elaborate expansion of this blog of mine. However, be warned, it isn't for skimming.

Those who would benefit from it the most, next to intelligence analysts, would be journalists. Not that I think they really care, but they should. After all, this book is about their follies and weaknesses and biases as well. I'm not even going to get started on historians!

Another interesting snippet I came across, with regards to that bane of human thought, called Attributional Bias, which is closely related to Egocentric Bias. The quote comes from Wikipedia and is unreferenced. However, in the light of some of the things from the CIA document above, it makes perfect sense.

There is some evidence that more intelligent and socially apt people are more likely to make errors in attribution.

In other words, and translated into plain English, intelligent and socially apt people are more likely to judge others based on unjustifiable assumptions. It's also known as 'prejudice'. I leave that for those of my readers who consider themselves 'intelligent' to ponder.

Monday, December 11, 2006

What's wrong with the world?

Nothing, actually.

Really. Nothing at all. — And, no, I am not going to reconsider that.

Thing is this: the only way something can be 'wrong' with the world, if there is a 'right' way for it to be. This would have to be something that's over and above the world, like some basic ordering principles that govern it. 'Right' over here. 'Wrong' over there. And somehow there's an assumption that any native of this universe of ours is in a position, and has access to the knowledge required, to tell which is which.

Can you really buy that? Think about it for a while...

Where did all this come from? Well, it was Ed, of course. Where else? Someone once remarked that everything he needed to know about life he learned in Stuckeyville. Sound kinda right to me. Call me simple, but there is more than just some halcyon-hyperborean ideal here. 'Simplicity' is an attribute of 'simpletons'; but it can also be taken to be an essence of sorts, extracted from the complexities of existence. I know that the intellectualigensia generally doesn't believe that this can be done, but that's because they incapable of discerning its existence. The fallacy of reasoning they are falling victim to in thinking like this here is related to the more familiar post hoc ergo propter hoc variety. It's like: "I can see everything. I can't see this, however. Therefore it cannot be visible (or even 'real')." Something along those lines. Someone of a less arrogant disposition would conclude that maybe they can't actually see everything.

Tough call, this one.

The fact that Ed was such an arch-'Amercian' show was probably the main reason why in places like NZ it didn't last long past the novelty stage, and was soon confined to off-peak time-slots and then dropped entirely at the end of Season 3. Added to this is the general wave of US-disdain endemic to NZ at this time in history.

Standing up for the US in New Zealand right now—saying anything good about it at all—is a tough proposition. One will instantly attract at the very least disdain and derogation, or at worst outright and self-righteous ire. A person I talked the other day, told me that she finds it impossible to watch US serials or movies involving anything 'military' or even faintly related to it, in the company of those she considers friends or with whom she happens to associate because of who she is and the circles she moves in. Doing so will attract such a predictable and instant flood of vitriol and smarmy audience reaction that it makes it impossible to even begin to enjoy the film/serial-episode in question.

The person in question is conflicted about this—which I consider a good sign. It means she hasn't bought into the general local zeitgeist; and that's always a positive thing. Nothing worse than believing what a vast majority considers self-evident, just because a majority thinks so. Still, it spoils things. It's hard to watch a cool serial like The Unit or a movie like Tears of the Sun, if it's done in a context and against the backdrop of relentless a media and public-opinion barrage about what bad people US soldiers are; how insensitive, brutal, stupid, arrogant...

The person in question it quite right when she points out that the image of the US is pretty much as low as it can get. For someone who likes the US and Americans it is disheartening to see them judged by standards that, applied to one's own country—and New Zealand is a definite candidate for comparison—would make said one's-own-country look none-too-good itself! But people will see what they want to see, and that's that.

As for me I responded by pointing out to my conversational partner that, if I looked for someone I could trust to stand beside me and mine in a time of need, and I had to pick them at random from somewhere, I'd probably throw the dart at a map of the southern US and at some place where I'd be likely to find some God-fearing gun-toting redneck country-hicks, probably overweight and qualifying—at least to the arrogant urban intellectualigentsia—as intellectually and politically 'simple-minded'. I certainly wouldn't try to find them in the cities of most of Europe, or the US, or Canada, or Australia or New Zealand.

For someone who is pretty much on the warpath with all things having to do with God and religion, as I am—for someone who does a fair amount of thinking about things that appear at best obscure to most people—this may sound like a strange choice which makes no sense. I'm going to leave the 'sense' for the next blog and the context of more reflections on martial arts; which, in this instance, provide an interesting context for explaining this. Suffice it to say here that, yes, to me it makes perfect sense indeed.

Back to Ed and America and what makes it quintessentially an American show. There are two themes underlying the story: 1) the Ed-and-Carol thing and 2) the returning-home theme.

(1) needs little explanation, and certainly doesn't make the show 'American'; but...

(2) ...'Stuckeyville' is a town that could only exist in America. There is no other place in the world where this kind of context could exist. That's because no other country on Earth is like America; configured by historical contingency as it is. Americans on the whole have a... sentimentality...that a lot of other nations would consider outright embarrassing. Americans, however, tend to embrace it—and this is their strength and their weakness at the same time.

Ed on the whole spent a lot of time telling stories about those strengths and weaknesses. And the bottom line, it seems to me that was little speech by Tom Cavanagh at the wedding of 'Ed' and 'Carol', in which he said what I quoted in a previous blog, about "what is and what should be".

This will stick with me. I know this for certain. It'll stick because it's so simple and so basic and so true. And in an oblique kind of way it could help us to understand about and navigate through this messy complexity of living and understand why "What's wrong with the world?" is such a terribly...wrong...question to ask.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Martial Arts Reflections (1): Samurai Do Smile

The facial expressions and miens of people performing iaijutsu kata correlate almost completely with the manner in which the kata themselves are executed.

This statement probably comes as no surprise, though it isn't something that one might have thought about at length. What may not be as obvious is the dependency of the performance on the facial expression. In other words, it isn't mere 'correlation' but 'causation'. This latter observation should not come as a surprise to those working in 'human cognition', but it's something ordinary folks tend to ignore. That it should also be ignored by the students of martial arts—who in general are a humorless lot, unfortunately—is a pity; for it screws up the quality and general performance of the kata, and basically everything else they do in the dojo. Of course, the whole matter transfers to life in general, and this is the general subtext here; so keep reading between the lines, even though we're talking about martial arts.

The lack of a sense of humor usually comes with an overinflated sense of the importance of what one is doing—either in terms of oneself or in a messianic sense. The first may degrade into egocentric monomania; the latter into monomania inflicted on the world at large. It's monomania either way. One of the disturbing things I observed during the recent training week with the visiting headmaster from Japan is the ponderous seriousness displayed by virtually all of the students, all of the time; senseis included. The response to moments of plain humor and funniness was always carefully hidden. I cannot recall a single instance of open laughter during the training sessions—excepting yours truly, who has a different view of these things.

This response is, I suppose, caused by either or both of two main factors: 1) that people think it might be disrespectful in some way, and 2) that they might miss something important and/or weighty if they actually laughed at something.

Thing is, they have a point. You've got to know when something actually is funny, and will be understood as being funny without likely offense. If you don't...well, 'painful embarrassment' is the baseline term here; with worse likely. You also need to continue to be alert, because there is 'training' even in the funny instances. When sensei took the piss out of me for my performance of a very fundamental kata (Shoden: Ippon-me Mae) he was trying to make several points with his exaggerations. The points weren't lost on me, and I would like to think that despite my merriment at the piss-take I took them on board. Thing is, now that he's gone, it's also become clear to me that the vast majority of those who stood by and suppressed their laughter—not motivated, I very much suspect, by a desire to refrain from hurting my delicate sensibilities or feelings, but for the reasons given above—actually haven't taken aboard, and actually plain forgotten, as if these things had never been said or demonstrated, the points sensei was trying to make. If they do remember them, I see little evidence of it, as old habits soon took root again, as they tend to. More about that in another blog.

Life is an irony factory.

There is some suggestion here—and I shall have to do some investigating of this when I get a break between getting books published and life in general—that there may be a link between the state of mind occasioned by merriment and the ability to learn/remember things. There is research suggesting that indeed, memory and what is memorized and how and how much it persists, correlates with the emotional state of the person experiencing an event. There are lots of explanations why this should be so, and I think we can take this as a given. A person in a 'merry' mental disposition learns better than a sad one or one whose emotions are dulled by indifference. Interesting thought. Doesn't say much for the way in which our institutions 'teach' people, does it?

Back to Samurai. When you see pictures of these guys, they're pretty much like don't-you-dare-smile. But, I suppose, it's usually that way—and was more so maybe when every bit of photography was a serious and ponderous business; and none of this 'snapshot' stuff! Assumptions about what they did when pictures weren't being taken, are probably lost in the mists of history forever. Maybe they took themselves too seriously as well. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe they didn't smile all that much. Maybe that's partially why, ultimately, they became extinct—and now only live on as memories and in the shape of de-clawed Tigers, made to dance and perform like circus bears. Which will be the subject of the next blog on related issues; and especially on the purpose of martial arts training and the vexed topic of 'why kata?'—or not.

-----

In other comments on life as represented in stories:

Finished watching Ed, Season 4; downloaded from your trusty P2P networks. All's well that has a nice last episode, as Ed did. And there was a nice touch of scripting, and a thoughtful one. It pretty much expresses the way I feel about life—only replace the 'what should be' with 'what we'd like things to be like'.

"I've always believed that life is divided into two parts: what is and what should be. And that, with a lot of effort, some hard work, and maybe a little luck, there are moments in your life when the two parts touch. When what is and what should be are the same."

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Getting closer

As usual, in terms of real time spent behind the computer—as opposed to just thinking about things—there's more work in the change from the last version to this one, than in the creation of the previous one. It may not be readily apparent that this is so, but it's a fact.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Finister cover: the image in context

Just to refresh the memories of those who came in late—like a buddy of mine, whom I happened to run into after some months of not seeing him, and who expressed complete ignorance about the existence of and subsequent disinterest at reading this blog.

What are friends for, huh?

Anyway, here's the image from the previous blog in the cover context.

Now, the question is—or may be for those who have followed cover-design related blogs of mine like this one: where in the scheme of the covers displayed in that blog does this one fit in?

Got to admit, I've cheated severely. This thing is a mix of photos, Poser figures and props and some hand-drawing. By the time I'm done—and I have some way to go yet, hopefully it will appear like all the components were done the same way; whatever 'way' that may appear as.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Finister Cover progress

For those interested, here's the current in-development picture. Getting close...

As a memory refresher, here's what I had in mind some time ago...

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Tarting up the transvestite




One Dan Mason is attributed with writing this bit of wisdom that has sustained me through many hours spent wasted sitting in front of PCs.

"Windows is like Macintosh in the same way that a transvestite is like a real woman. It's 95% the same, and actually what some people would prefer, but not really the same for those who care about small differences."

It's quite possibly the most intelligent thing said about the Mac-PC 'difference'—and, you've got to admit, the clip above, stolen from Apple (but I don't think they'll mind a bit), is like a video-version of Mason's dictum.

I'm writing about this because a few days ago, Radio New Zealand, in its 'business' news section, shortly before the 7 a.m. bulletin, gave the NZ manager of Microsoft a full five minutes to rant on about how NZers are not any more up there adopting 'new technology' and innovation. Indeed, this female executive—whose tone of voice and everything else reminded me of the equally strident and outright unpleasant NZ Telecom CEO—berated the listeners for said reluctance to 'innovate'. Translation: rush to buy whatever Nanoquish—pardon: 'Microsoft'—are trying to flog to the unsuspecting public as 'innovation'.

The occasion for letting this harridan come on and do the 5 minute infomercial was, of course, the launch of Vista in NZ. Now, I have seen and played with Vista—no! not like that, you pervert!—and, like everything Microsoft, it isn't 'innovation' but 'tarting up'. The transvestite got trendier clothes and makeup, but underneath its still the hairy ass of Windows 'NT', sagging, wrinkled, aging and as insecure as the Rhythm Method. The garments try to conceal the deficiencies, and you can't possibly ever even see—let along cop a feel of—the genitalia and any secondary sexual characteristics (unless you're a programmer, of course, and even they, I hear, aren't happy with what they're getting their hands on!), because there are so many layers of mismatched chastity belts that it looks like this cretin was pregnant with a mutant Alien, and now they've added the mother of all push-up bras, whose sole purpose is to make this thing's saggy man-breasts look like... ahh, no comment.

I could push this analogy further, but, let's face it, like the Apple Ads, it would be just more cheap shots, taken at a company that seems incapable of distinguishing between 'innovation' and 'tarting up'. Microsoft have always been that way, of course. It is a testimony to the inanity and cruelty of market contingency—and another testimony to the power of salesmanship over substance and quality. And if anyone cares to ask why there are so many PCs, and how could so many people possibly be so wrong... Well, look at it this way: there are many more rats than people, too. And billions believe in God or gods, and... Ahh, never mind—I rest my case.

The thing is, Dan Mason is right. Try to put your finger on it and go through 'feature' lists of just about any kind, and really, you wonder what all the fuss is about. Big difference? Not! At least not obviously so—although just looking at the interface on the screen gives you a hint of what it means to be 'subtle', as opposed to in-your-face-garish. Otherwise though it looks like a lot of similar features, implemented in similar ways. But spend extended times of your life in front of a screen and, for someone like me—who's lost all patience with things that don't 'work' as I expect them to, or which make life any more difficult than it absolutely has to be—give me a Mac any day. Please! A transvestite is... well, a transvestite. Spend some time with him and the difference should become clear, even to the perceptually stunted.

And here's another thought, and this one's more serious.

A lot of people smoke. People have sued tobacco companies for deception, wrongful deaths and all sorts of evil things. Everywhere in the world tobacco companies suffer and end up paying out.

Of course, smoking is essentially a voluntary activity. Nobody's going to fire you from your job for not smoking. But try to tell someone that you find PCs objectionable... If I tried that, I'd be out on my ass tomorrow, unemployed in Greenland.

However, people also sue car companies for wrongful deaths and injuries. Car's aren't quite as 'optional' as 'smokes'. Imagine life without them! (I'm not talking 'ideal world' here, but 'reality', all right?)

Computers are pretty much in the same ballpark as cars nowadays; maybe even less optional. So I ask, because one should ask, just exactly how many people have been injured or killed—either as a direct result of interacting with, or through indirect but definite and traceable pathways of causation—by the use of Microsoft's operating systems? How many have—and again I am not joking—have committed suicide or fallen into depression as a result of having had to interact with that abomination known as 'Windows®™'?

Isn't it time for people to start treating Microsoft the way they treat tobacco companies? Computers used to be 'optional'; but not anymore. They have become integral and practically indispensable parts of our lives. And the providers of software, and especially of operating systems, which are the backbone of a computer's interaction with the user, aren't really providers of the 'optional' anymore. They have been pushed into positions of having a public responsibility. They may not like to have it put that way, but they love the fact that they are de facto in that position—and that goes for Microsoft above all others.

Therefore they should be held to account for what they produce; held to account over and above the kind of 'account' that comes with people making purchase decisions.

Should they not?

And to end, an optimistic note.

I am glad that Apple is in the position of the underdog. As Microsoft has demonstrated again and again, being in what amounts to a monopoly position, stifles innovation and creativity, and creates 'appearance over substance' situations. Apple cannot afford such complacency. They are big—huge, in fact—but dwarves compared to Nanosquish. They need to be innovative. They need to be in a position of creativity—even though the galling reality of Microsoft's rip-offs of ideas will be with them forever. Still, isn't it better to be in that position? Where can Microsoft go, except for into ├╝ber-bloat-land? Even Bill Gates, who rode cynically on that wave of fake 'innovation' and his salesmen talents, now seems to have had enough of it and passes himself off as an altruist. Does anybody really believe that whatever he does to help anybody is going to compensate for the misery his company's products have inflicted on the world?

Some have called the Apple ads 'mean spirited', 'arrogant'; maybe even 'supercilious'. Well, way I see it, that's cool and as it should be. It's the innate 'arrogance' of a woman who knows she's a woman and not some cross-dresser. The arrogance of substance over knockoff.

This blog, like most of mine, was written on an iBook G4—now outdated, but still terminally cool and likeable.