Monday, November 7, 2011

Rocket Scientists Do Stand-Up Comedy?

Michel forwards funny stuff:

"If I could remember the names of all these particles, I'd be a botanist."
— Albert Einstein

"Torture numbers, and they'll confess to anything."
— Greg Easterbrook

"If your result needs a statistician then you should design a better experiment."
— Ernest Rutherford

"No one should approach the temple of science with the soul of a money changer."
— Thomas Browne (1605-82), English physician and writer

"Should we force science down the throats of those that have no taste for it? Is it our duty to drag them kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century ? I am afraid that it is."— George Porter (1920- ), British chemist

And file these last two under: I guess someone who built both Hitler's guided missiles and America's moon rockets would need a sense of humor, just to live with himself:

"Crash programs fail because they are based on theory that, with nine women pregnant, you can get a baby in a month."
— Wernher von Braun

"We can lick gravity, but sometimes the paperwork is overwhelming."
— Werner von Braun

Friday, October 28, 2011

"Jew" and Google

The recurring issue of what pops up in a google search for the word "Jew" resurfaced on an email list I frequent. The perennial proposal of a petition to, or boycott of, google was broached. I think that's dumb. Here's a version of what I wrote:

The google algorhythms work (at least in part) based on how many unique visitors a site gets, using a specific search term. The magic word here is Jew.

Many of us shy away from “Jew” because, in the past, it’s been used as a derogatory verb, i.e. to jew somebody down from a fairer price. And even as a noun, "Jew," said with a particular Southern, western, or redneck twang, almost a two-syllabled “Jee-oo”, we’ve heard as code for “kike” or “hebe” or what have you.

The solution here is for all the people who are comfortable with the words Jewish and Judaism to get equally comfortable with Jew, and put it in their writing on websites, especially about Jewish substance. I do it in speech, as well. I’m much more likely to say “I am a Jew” than “I am Jewish”, although I use both phrases. But it helps reclaim the word from bigots, especially among our non-bigoted neighbors.

It’s my version of the “Black is Beautiful” linguistic jiu-jitsu that worked such wonderful magic in the 60’s and 70’s.

Try this experiment. Try three google searches. One for Jew, one for Jewish, and one for Judaism. Check out the differences in what appears at the tops of the pages.

Right now (these things change):

Jew: Jew Watch is the #2 result
Jewish: It’s not on the first page of results
Judaism: It’s not on the first page of results.

Petitioning google or threatenng to boycott the search engine, as I've heard suggested, is NOT the answer. Justice Brandies put it best, in opining on the 1st Amendment and virulent speech: “Sunlight is the best disinfectant” See

The cure for bad speech is more speech. See

Outside of “fire in a movie house”, troop movements in war time, and a very, very, very limited exception for actual incitement to violence and what the law calls “fighting words,” restraining speech is a bad idea. Rebutting speech makes more sense, both ethically and as a practical matter.

Nothing kills a bad product faster than good advertising. Everyone tries the thing and never buys it again.- Jerry della Femina

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sometimes, You Have to Go Right to the Top

RE: Ubsubscribe/Update Keep In Touch‏

Dear Superintendant [Redacted]:

I've tried a half dozen times to unsubscribe from a notification service about events at [Redacted Middle School], because my son is now a freshman at [Redacted High School].

Apparently, other parents of 9th graders have had the same problem. The "footer" at the bottom of all of the emails says that one can unsubscribe by calling a number, sending a letter or replying to the email.

In response to unsubscribe requests, a [Redacted Middle School] administrator sent out instructions for how to unsubscribe by logging into an [Redacted County Public Schools] account and changing ones preferences.

The email is "cut-and-pasted" below. I'll continue my narrative beneath it.

> From:
> To:
> Date: Tue, 20 Sep 2011 07:13:11 -0700
> Subject: Ubsubscribe/Update Keep In Touch
> Parents/Guardians:
> We have received a number of requests to remove parents from the Keep In Touch system. The basic Keep In Touch system updates students that are enrolled in a school each year. If your child no longer attends [Redacted], but you are still receiving emails, you may be enrolled in Keep In Touch Plus. Please use the link below to find information about how to update your account. If you are enrolled in Keep In Touch plus, only you can remove yourself from the distribution list.
> This page also includes a number that you may contact, if this removal process did not work for you.
> -----About this E-mail-----
> This e-mail has been sent to you by [REDACTED] MS. To maximize their communication with you, you may be receiving this e-mail in addition to a phone call with the same message. If you wish to discontinue this service, please inform [REDACTED] MS IN PERSON, by US MAIL, by TELEPHONE at (XXX) 867-5309 or REPLY TO THIS E-MAIL.
Instead of following the instructions to log in elsewhere, I again followed the instructions in the footer. That's how the federal law governing "spam" says I'm supposed to be able to unsubscribe. The whole point of the relevant part of the "CAN SPAM Act" is to make unsubscribing easier for the recipient. Its intent is reflected in the footer.

As a public school and public school system, [Redacted MS] and [Redacted County Public Schools] may be exempt from these requirements. I don't know. But if you are bound by them, ignoring them can be a costly business. You might want to consult an expert.

But even if you're exempt, sending out instructions that contradict themselves is a dumb thing to do. (So is failing to proofread the subject heading of a mass email, especially one that's bound to be unwelcome in the first place.)

My latest effort to unsubscribe --- the way the footer indicated that I could --- earned me a phone call from someone at [Redacted], to explain that the instructions in the body of the note were the only way to unsubscribe. I explained the things I've explained in the last three paragraphs.

My explanation was unwelcome. The caller reiterated that the instructions in the body of the text offered the only way to unsubscribe from the unwanted, and unwonted, emails. When pressed about the footer, the caller told me he could not control the footer and when I asked that he contact someone who could, he indicated that he couldn't get the footer changed. He insisted that the body of the text was the only salient information, and expressed some impatience with my unwillingness to accept this.

He also didn't take kindly to my suggestion about proofreading subject fields.

Perhaps if you "...please inform [REDACTED] MS IN PERSON, by US MAIL, by TELEPHONE at (703) 867-5309 or [by] E-MAIL" you will have more luck than I did in having me unsubscribed from the [Redacted] list.

Would you please try?

I'd prefer not to have to visit an [Redacted County Public Schools] website, retrieve a password I've long since forgotten, and unsubscribe in a manner that's

more inconvenient than replying to an email with an "unsubscribe" request,
unreasonable to request, and
quite possibly illegal for [Redacted MS] or [Redacted County Public Schools] to require.

In the meantime, if more continue to arrive, I won't respond with an "unsubscribe" request. Nor an "ubsubscribe" one.

I'll just mark it as junk.

If you choose to make the effort to change the practices I've complained of above, I wish you good luck.

If not, I wish you good luck anyway. You've got an awfully hard job. Although I imagine school personnel are less inclined to treat you as if you're an intransigent adolescent than they are to treat me as if I'm one.

Best regards,


David Itkin
Postscript: A very nice assistant superintendant called me a few hours later. I won't be getting any more emails from that [Redacted profane adjective], [Redacted gerund referring to reproduction] middle school any more.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Defense of Marriage?

Some have religious or philosphical objectuions to homosexual acts. I get that. I think they're profoundly wrong, but I get it.

However, I'm thoroughly flummoxed by how recognizing equal civil rights for homosexuals, including the right to marry, threatens heterosexual marriages. Are heterosexual marriages so weak that spouses will leave their heterosexual marriages in droves if they have the legal option to marry someone of their own gender? It seems unlikely.

"God hates fags" is not an answer. Not even for well-taught, fundamentalist Christians. They're taught that we're all sinners and must all hate the sin but love the sinner. In my view, "God hates fags" profanes G-d's holy name.

Arguments that claim homosexual marriage is at the top of a slippery slope leading to incest, pederasty and buggery are so silly, they merit little refutation beyond this:

The comparison is demogoguery --- simply a contemptible appeal to mindless bigotry.

So, could someone thoughtful person who believes opposition to homosexual marriage somehow "defends" marriage please explain.

It's a limited question. I'm not looking for an explanation of why some think homosexual marriage is wrong. As I said, I get why some believe that. I'm looking for an explanation of how that opposition "defends marriage."

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Solving a FaceBook Dilemma

OK, here's the thing. My mom was a beloved kindergarten teacher. I've accepted friend requests from guys I grew up with who I know weren't my friends. Because I knew my mom had taught them, and I guessed they wanted to send her regards/find out what became of her/see if she was still alive/thank her or what-have-you.

So far, my guess has always been right and I've been pleased to be able to facilitate the contact. My mom deserves every bit of the high regard her former students hold her in. The connections I've served as middleman for have been well worth the cognitive dissonance of "friending" guys who weren't my friends. These folks have gone out of their way to do a good thing. Maybe they've even grown. Maybe I have.

But a man's gotta draw a line somewhere. Mine is drawn at the joker who ruthlessly bullied me for most of my adolescence. Whose camp counsellors called him and his running buddy "Obnoxious and Violence."

Obnoxious has spent the better part of thirty years apologizing to people he hurt as a kid. We managed to work out an uneasy peace by our senior year and actually enjoyed one another's company at our 10th high school reunion. (It didn't hurt that he'd lost most of his hair by then and I hadn't. If someone wants to tell him I'm finally catching up on that score, be my guest.)

But Violence is a horse of a whole 'nother color. Or at least the southern portion of the horse. I've always taken great comfort in the fact that there was a whole continent and a whole ocean between us. I have no reason to think that, were we in the same zip code, both approaching fifty, the ass would still be sneaking up behind me and kicking the back of my knees out from under me.

I'm no pshrink, but I'd bet the ranch he was a sociopath then and I'm confident that level dysfunction doesn't magically disappear. Mothers of the Orient: lock up your daughters. Farmers of the Orient: play it safe, lock up your sheep.

So imagine my surprise when he turned up with a joke on a recent FB thread of mine. A joke that, for all the world to see, seemed to suggest we were old pals. At the time, I responded in kind, trying to be mature. Trying to let bygones be bygones.

I can't. Several wise friends have urged me to just let go of it. But I just can't.

So would someone who recognizes the story please let him know that if I ever saw him on fire, I wouldn't cross the street to piss on him. I'd do it myself, but I've just blocked his ass.

Call me petty, but I feel a lot better.