Archive for July, 2003

why French intellectuals smoke

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2003

Nicotine enhances several cognitive and psychomotor behaviours, and nicotinic antagonists cause impairments in tasks requiring cognitive effort.

If you knock out the nicotine receptors in the brain, you get the following results:
“in the 2-/- mutant, the high-order spatiotemporal organisation of locomotor behaviour, together with conflict resolution and social interaction, is selectively dissociated from low-level, more automatic motor behaviours. Such deficits in executive functions resemble the rigid and asocial behaviour found in some psychopathological disorders such as autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder”.

All this is deeply respectable research, published in PNAS. I shall feel less guilty than ever about smoking when I fish.

a test case

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2003

Robert Fisk seems remarkably ungenerous and pessimistic in his report of the death of Saddam’s sons, which should surely be a cause for general rejoicing. But he thinks it will make things worse. The fear of Saddam’s return will diminish with their death, he believes; but the effect of this will be to increase resistance to the occupation. Until now, the Islamists have feared that Saddam might make a comeback once the Americans leave. If he is dead, they need fear this no longer, and will step up their war.


more silence

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2003

I’m sorry. I have not been posting here. I have been reading Yeats, and working on another blog, which wll contain masses and masses of cuttings, all wonderfully laid out and so on and so forth. But the Mary Warnock profile I did has been picked up by Arts and Letters, which is nice. Nor have I had any comeback on it from furious relatives, victims, and so forth. And soon I will burst back into posting stuff three times a day.

climbing out of the pram

Thursday, July 17th, 2003

This one’s for Felix, currently working in tech support. It’s a conversation with a user that shows something about the way that Americans are inclined to treat the help (what could be more humiliating than the moment when Cordelia says ‘I’m a name tag person’?). Except this time the help bites back.

Not what it used to be

Wednesday, July 16th, 2003

A Miracle, is what Pat Robertson told his audience to pray for, after the Supreme Court legalised liberal sex: “One justice is 83-years-old, another has cancer and another has a heart condition. Would it not be possible for God to put it in the minds of these three judges that the time has come to retire?” It really worries me. If Pat Robertson thinks that getting an 83-year-old judge to retire demands a miracle, he can’t think God’s capable of very much.

Just idealism from now on

Wednesday, July 16th, 2003

This morning the nerdy feeds were full of the good news that AOL has set up a Mozilla Foundation to “safeguard the independence of Mozilla”. At lunchtime I glanced at the Register, and discovered that AOL just shut Netscape, and sacked almost everyone who worked there. That means, of course, almost everyone who did active development work on Mozilla. The one thing that we know about the Mozilla project is that only about ten people can understand it. As an experiment in open source democracy it failed miserably. OK, Firebird is a nice browser now. But who is going to pay for its further development? Mitch Kapor put up $300,000; AOL cut them loose with $2m; others will do something. But that’s not going to pay for real developers out of interest. From now on they’re burning their capital. My back of the envelope guess is that Sun is spending $5m a year (100 full-time developers is the figure we know) on OpenOffice. If they pulled out, who will keep it going? The only answer that I can see is some kind of EU body. But the essential point is that it won’t be kept going by nerds. It won’t be kept going by idealists. Big software projects like this need big pockets behind them. In this instance, people are going for OpenOffice, and Linux, because they know that Microsoft wants to keep up its 80% profit margins on Windows and Office. But if MS were prepared to settle for less grotesque profits, it could almost certainly offer a much better product for perfectly reasonable money.

Napster won’t do this

Wednesday, July 16th, 2003

There are a couple of insurance horror stories doing the rounds at the moment from America. One concerns a programmer friend of Brad Choate’s, whose child has an expensive cancer which will go untreated if his father cannot find a job with medical insurance — Choate is the man responsible for all the pretty smart quotes on this and a million other MT blogs.

The other, I discovered ten days back, is a Texan singer/songwriter named Alejandro Escovedo, who has Hep C, cirrhosis, and no medical insurance. I ordered one of his CDs from Amazon, because I’m a sucker for the stuff that’s now known as Americana. It just came htis morning. I urge you all to save this man’s liver and buy some for your own collections. I’m just listening to a completely wonderful version of “Sway”, for younger readers, a song by the Rolling Stones, a popular singing group, which manages to invest it with all the poisonous melancholy that the lyrics deserve by adding a cello and a violin. I’m not sure that “completely wonderful” and “poisonous melancholy” fit well in the same sentence. But this is impressive stuff. And maybe with a new liver he’ll write some happy songs.

would you find this advice helpful?

Monday, July 14th, 2003

Cary Tennis, Salon’s agony uncle, was responding to a reader (with a four-month-old baby) who wondered whether he should stray with an attractive and flirtatious workmate: “Keep away from her like she’s a vat of dangerous chemicals”. wrote Tennis, which seems helpful enough. I’m not sure about what he goes on to say, though:

“You have to regulate the goings-on of your own mind as well.
Do not under any circumstances imagine her bending forward over your desk, her palms planted on your blotter, her panties around her knees, her skirt up over her waist, her red lips parted and her shining blue eyes looking back at you as you mount her with all the fury of an assistant regional manager of sales for furniture and home appliances (Western region).”

What we were told #2

Saturday, July 12th, 2003

On this day, a year ago, the Daily Telegraph had a leader discussing the popular uprising that President Bush had determined must overthrow Saddam. The paper explains the role of the Iraqi people in the war:


nunc in quadriviis et angiportes

Saturday, July 12th, 2003

An extraordinary piece, mixing gossip and despair, by an Oxford contemporary of Christopher Hitchens, which I found through Electrolite.