Sunday, December 30, 2007

Bokito Bezerk! Gorilla Goes Gonzo Again!

(photo:mrs. jolanda)

This is certainly the way to sell newspapers.

But was that banner headline and massive spread on the front page of Saturday's edition of De Telegraaf a tad too tabloid?

Bokito escaped from the Rotterdam Zoo in May and mauled a woman who was convinced she had a psychic connection with the ape. She had spent hours staring at him from behind the glass-walled indoor part of his enclosure, which primate experts say the 400-pound gorilla interpreted as provocation.

When a tiger got out and killed a young man in San Francisco last week, De Telegraaf decided it needed to do a follow-up story on Bokito.

The teaser:

"The Gorilla Bokito went crazy again when he saw his victim Yvonne de Horde for the first time after his escape at Rotterdam's "Happy Village Animal Nursery" in May. The woman, from Zoetermeer, has now had two meetings with the silverback since the attack."

The story quoted De Horde's husband describing the first meeting between Yvonne and Bokito.

Bokito "went completely crazy. He ran outside and Yvonne was in a panic, scared to death that he would attack her again. She wanted only one thing, and that was to flee the zoo as fast as possible. She squeezed my hand very hard with her broken fingers, but because of the adrenaline, she didn't even feel the pain."

-Gerrit de Horde, as quoted by De Telegraaf.

According to the story, her psychologist had recommended that she confront her attacker, but "in retrospect it wasn't such a good idea," De Horde said.

The story didn't mention when this all happened, but I think we can safely say it wasn't recently.

Later Saturday, zoo director Ton Dorresteijn confirmed the woman did return to the zoo twice, but gutted the rest of the Telegraaf story.

"It's possible that she caught a glipse of his back, but Bokito definitely hasn't seen her, much less gone crazy," Dorresteijn said, adding that
"This is really a canard, a straight-up monkey business story."

Bokito's quarters were altered after the escape, making it impossible for him to see people in the inside part of his enclosure. They can't make eye contact with him anywhere, and can only see him directly from outside, across a great distance.


De Telegraaf decided to brazen it out in their Sunday edition: they didn't publish any correction. Instead they made a short acknowledgement of Dorresteijn's contradiction and stood by their story. They made the (justifiable) counter-accusation that Dorresteijn had tried to downplay the gravity of Bokito's initial escape back in May.

In addition, they ran a new story repeating their version of events, and asking psychologists what they thought of it all.

"The concept that new confrontation is good for working through a trauma is a false one," said Jeffery Wijnberg, house psychologist for De Telegraaf. "It's a simplistic way of looking and the phenomenon of trauma processing. She went back to (Bokito), but the danger hadn't receded. Her fear that he could escape again and get at her, is definitely not irrational. It can happen. They said it couldn't happen the first time and it did."

(another swipe at Dorresteijn).

He questioned whether it was even necessary for her to 'get over' her trauma.
"Because of Bokito's earlier attack she has developed a strong reflex to stay away from dangerous animals ... it would be a good idea for her to avoid zoos and to develop a new hobby," he said.



Saturday, December 29, 2007

Spiked III - Calling A Cop "Homo" is a Crime in the Netherlands


But not because of hate speech laws. Or even libel laws...

A Dutch appeals court fined a man €200 (US$290) Friday for insulting a policeman by calling him a "homo."
Though not a crime in many countries like the United States, insulting an officer is an offense punishable by a jail sentence of up to three months in the Netherlands.
The legal question was whether "homo," an acceptable term for homosexual in the Dutch language, was meant in this case to be an insult.
The court in Den Bosch overturned a lower court ruling that the word "in principle has no offensive nature and thus by definition isn't appropriate for an insult."
The incident occurred early on New Year's Day 2007 when the defendant came across several officers issuing tickets he felt were unnecessary, and began chanting "ho-mos, ho-mos."
One officer filed charges, saying he felt his "honor and good name" had been slighted.
At an appeals hearing this month, the 19-year-old defendant, who was not identified in the published ruling, explained that he used the term to mean something like "jerks" or "bastards," and didn't believe the officer was truly offended.
However, the appellate court found that explanation undermined the lower court's opinion that the defendant meant "homo" in the sense of "homosexual," which would not be considered an insult.
"The defense misunderstands that the use of a word in a certain context _ for instance during sexual education or in a friendly setting _ actually can have the effect of damaging someone's integrity when it's used as a curse and thus with intent to insult," the court said.
Given the defendant's testimony, "there can be no doubt about the intent to insult."


What interests me most about this story is that insulting an officer is actually a crime. The entire Dutch debate around the murder of Theo van Gogh was predicated around the right to insult being part of the right to freedom of speech.

Secondarily, of course, is the funny politically correct dance that's going on in the courtroom.

In my opinion, the cop and the bigot _ I mean, the defendant _ are both jerks.



Thursday, December 27, 2007

Van der Sloot, Kalpoe Brothers, Holloway and Libel

(photo: billpstudios. View from the Marriott hotel over the beach in Aruba).

****UPDATE 12/29: After some looking around, I realize the information Joran gave DAG is already certainly publicized elsewhere. The question of whether prosecutors can libel suspects is for me still unresolved, but for a complete list of all evidence in the Van der Sloot case and a thoughtful analysis (without all the nonsense), I recommend the following site:

In other words, I wouldn't bother reading this post, but I'm not deleting it for archeological reasons...

Prosecutors closed their investigation into the 2005 disappearance of American teenager Natalee Holloway in Aruba this month without filing any charges. They said the trio of former suspects, Joran van der Sloot and the brothers Deepak and Satish Kalpoe _ the last three people seen with her before she evaporated _ remain "persons of interest" in what is now a cold case.

All say they are innocent of any wrongdoing.

On Christmas Eve, an expansive interview with Van der Sloot was published in the Dutch newspaper "DAG." Although he said he no longer wishes to discuss the case with prosecutors or the U.S. press, DAG's reporter got access presumably because he trusted her: she has written a book about the Holloway case, a book which has Van der Sloot's approval (he wrote the forward to it).

In that interview, he said one thing about prosecutor's evidence that I don't think has quite come out before.

"There was also a new witness: a girlfriend of one of the three suspects. She said that a little more than five hours after the disappearance, she was called by one of the three suspects with the information that 'something bad' happened that he couldn't talk about over the phone. It appeared that didn't concern Van der Sloot but Satish and Deepak. Van der Sloot: 'That wasn't any new evidence against me. It concerned a tapped conversation between Satish and his girlfriend from Suriname, in which he so-called* told her that something bad happened and that Deepak supposedly said the girl was dead'."

-DAG newspaper Dec. 24, 2007.
*[Dutch: 'waarin hij haar zogenaamd vertelt'. 'Zogenaamd' is bad Dutch, it must mean 'supposedly' or 'allegedly' so I use "so-called" to capture the nuance. In addition, I think that by 'tapped,' Van der Sloot must mean that the call was registered by the phone company. There wouldn't have been a tap on Satish's phone 5 hours after the disappearance. It's also clear because if it were actually tapped there would be no question about what was said.]

CNN interviewed Arbua prosecutor Hans Mos, who said the following:

"Other evidence against the three included two new witness statements. In one, a female friend told authorities that one suspect called her about five hours after Holloway was last seen leaving an Oranjestad, Aruba, nightclub with van der Sloot and the Kalpoes.
The female friend said that she could tell during the conversation that something was wrong, Mos said. When she asked about it, the suspect -- whom Mos did not name -- told her that "he didn't want to cause her any trouble, and that what had happened couldn't be discussed over the phone," he said."

-CNN, Dec. 21, 2007.

What's interesting is that Mos deliberately didn't mention which suspect it was on the phone. Why not?

In the absence of any charges against the former suspects, would it have been libelous? As a reporter I know that certain speech (during a trial or on the floor of parliament) is absolutely "privileged" and you can repeat it without fear of libel no matter what is said.

But I don't think that a prosecutors' press conferences fall under that category. So Mos probably had to watch his step a little bit _ by his own admission, there wasn't enough evidence to prosecute anybody.

Van der Sloot told DAG he's considering suing Aruban Justice.

In any case Mos did the same thing _ not naming exactly which suspect was intended _ when discussing the other witness statement.

"A second witness statement came from a teacher who said that another one of the suspects exhibited "very peculiar behavior" the day after Holloway's disappearance, including making or receiving a lot of telephone calls, Mos said."


Again, no specificity as to which.
(elisart: aruban cactus)

(photo: elisart)

Now, Van der Sloot may not know it, but by repeating what the prosecutors told him during interrogation, perhaps he was slandering the Kalpoe brothers?

And perhaps DAG opened itself up to libel charges by printing what he said?

And perhaps I'm doing the same by reprinting it here?

I'm not too worried because in all situations, truth is a defense against libel, and as long as the prosecutors/Van der Sloot/Dag have it right about those phone calls, as incriminating as they sound, no problem.

If they got it wrong _ well, I guess nobody can call my raising the point in this context a "reckless disregard for the truth." Van der Sloot is a pretty well-placed source in this story.

The Oracle of Amsterdam says: unless there is an unprompted but credible confession, AND a body is found, the Holloway case will never be resolved.


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A Philosophical Christmas Message from me & Bob


Fare forward, you who think that you are voyaging;
You are not those who saw the harbour
Receding, or those who will disembark.

(T.S. Eliot)

The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew-tree
Are of equal duration.


(sleepy sparrow)

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always—
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

(The end of Little Gidding)



Friday, December 21, 2007

I want to merge my Facebook and my Blog

(photo:will foster)

I want to combine my Facebook page with my blog. Is that so much to ask?

I'd also like to make it have no advertisements, and load a little quicker. For that, I'd be willing to pay a a monthly fee.

And secondarily, I'd like to be able to differentiate between posts for my "inner circle" of friends and family, and people I know and trust, and the rest of the world. I think 95 percent of posts would be for just anybody, because I believe in living as open a life as possible.

But still, sometimes there's news or things on your mind you don't want to share with the wider public.

If anyone out there knows how to achieve without many hours of dicking around with software and coding, please tell me how.

What comes next, may disturb you:


Happy Solstice, Christmas, Chanukah or whatever it is you bow down to.




Thursday, December 20, 2007

't Zandt pyromaniac / We didn't start the fire

(philippe bunge)

I'm usually not a big one for media criticism, because _ well, because of the famous relationship between glass houses & stones.

But today I wanted to make an exception. Here are three headlines from the Dutch news about the arrest of a suspect in 18 arsons in a podunk town up north called "'t Zandt." Nobody has been hurt, by the way, but the hunt for the culprit has been a top ten story in Dutch press for a month now.

Dutchies: Spot the hidden assumption....

105 Teletekst wo 19 dec
Pyromaan van 't Zandt aangehouden

=Pyromaniac from 't Zandt arrested

RTL Nieuws
't Zandt opgelucht na arrestatie pyromaan
='t Zandt relieved after arrest of pyromaniac

And just in case you thought I was a completely uncritical fan of GeenStijl, I have to say I object to their approach:

Is dit de pyromaan uit het 't Zandt?
=Is this the pyromaniac from 't Zandt?

Now, while I am all for naming suspects when they can be identified (and not just using their initials as per Dutch media rules) I am firmly opposed to convicting suspects in the headline!
Maybe this guy will turn out to be guilty _ but it's a little early, folks.

The GeenStijl tack is especially weak because they're trying to dodge responsibility for calling him a 'pyromaniac' by merely phrasing it as a question _ and then then they link to a broadcast in which the suspect is shown, with his full name printed.

I mean, either I.D. him or don't. This is not the bold GeenStijl we know and love.

(ben morson)

For balance, an English language story that I saw on Google's most popular that made my toenails flip backwards.

(CNN) -- Parents are struggling with what to tell their children after finding out that Britney Spears' younger sister, Jamie Lynn Spears, is pregnant.

Attn: CNN: on behalf of at least some parents, and I'm pretty sure most parents, I'd like to say:

"Wij ons niet herkennen in dit verhal"

That means, this doesn't really apply, since neither me or my kids knew of the existence of someone called Jamie Lynn Spears, nor her pregnancy, until seeing this story.
Now that I know, I'm not really struggling with how to tell my children. I'm perfectly content not to tell them. I suppose that on the off chance they asked me about it, I'd say: Jamie Lynn Spears had sex, and didn't use birth control, or didn't use it correctly.

Any other questions, kids?


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Google's Knols - Etymology - Knowledge, Knollen and Knolls


So, Google is introducing a new kind of thing, which they're calling a "knol" which they're referring to as "unit of knowledge."

The basic idea is that they will encourage people to author what they hope is a definitive version of information about some topic, and attach their name to it.

Google gives the example of an essay defining insomnia, and as a result, people have generally assumed that means this "knol" project will be like an encyclopedia of knowledge.

Everybody is comparing the idea to that of Wikipedia or

But that's not really what Google says about it.

I have two observations about Google "knols." One is short, the other is long.

Since brevity is the soul of wit:

I wonder if anyone at Google is aware of the Dutch word "knol," which means the meaty lump of a root vegetable, as in Rutabaga.

Given the similarity of meaning between the Dutch word and Google's idea for their Knols, it's hard to imagine they didn't know. But that's speculation. In addition to knol, there's also the English word "Knoll," which means "raised mound" _ and is no doubt linked etymologically to the Dutch knol. "Knowledge," as the spelling suggests, has a slightly different derivation...

Now for the longer thought:

The basic idea that Google is putting forth here is that of encouraging "archetype" or "paradigm" pages on individual concepts to emerge _ and of course to compete with other paradigms and let the strongest win out. 'In the free and open contest of ideas, the truth will prevail'*

It's all very Adam Smith / Thomas Kuhn-sian.

The funny thing is, this already happened long before the Internet existed, and happens now that it exists, with or without Google.

It's also odd that, rather than trying to 'organize the world's information', in this case Google is trying to play an active role in drawing the information into existence, or at least getting somebody else to pre-organize it for Google.

I wish I were expert enough in philosophy to name all the thinkers who described the knol phenomenon before, but basically, it's always true in many fields of human endeavor that one early, good expression of an idea _ love it or hate it _ tends to become the locus of debate and attention. Even if it's not perfectly iterated.

Examples are vital to understand what I mean, so think about the phrase "The Politics of Personal Destruction." After Clinton said those words, which describe the phenomenon reasonably well, no other competing phrase will ever occupy that particular thought-space in our minds.

Another example would be the Internet's "Long Tail" effect, described by Chris Anderson.

You could call this an idea, a paradigm (Kuhn, though he was thinking in scientific contexts), or a "meme" (Dawkins).

The establishment of the paradigm is due to some combination of near-primacy and the fact that the first people to think something through are often thinking very clearly.

And maybe because they are forced to coin words or phrases to express a new idea, these terms become irresistibly appealing to those that come after.
Often the paradigm-makers are already authoritative figures in some way when they craft the idea that shapes the debate from then on, but sometimes not.

But knowledge is cumulative, so early ideas _ say those supplied by Socrates _ will always have more gravity than those of Kuhn, just as Shakespeare is always going to be a more commonly referred to poet and playwright than Dylan and Stoppard combined. He just got there first.

They continue to shape the discussion more, by having provided the common nodes that we refer to. The nodes, or knols if you like, are a kind of shorthand summary of an idea that everyone agrees on, which both speeds up our ability to argue about what else we *really* want to talk about _ and traps us in one way of looking at things (Foucault's epistemes) at the same time. These are the technical 'standards' of thought.

What I don't understand is, how does Google hope to actively encourage knols to emerge? Winning ideas come from everywhere, and the rules for establishment are very shaky.

For instance, prominent writers like William Safire will pick up on and popularize many more linguistic trends than you or I _ but many more will be coming out of websites tied into popular discourse like Fark, GeenStijl, the best page in the universe, etc. etc.

How does Google actually expect to accelerate the process _ by favoring some authors in their search results?! Well, here's what they say:

"Google will not serve as an editor in any way, and will not bless any content...Competition of ideas is a good thing...participation in knols will be completely open, and we cannot expect that all of them will be of high quality."

"Our job in Search Quality will be to rank the knols appropriately when they appear in Google search results. We are quite experienced with ranking web pages, and we feel confident that we will be up to the challenge. We are very excited by the potential to substantially increase the dissemination of knowledge."

Note "dissemination" of knowledge, rather than "organization."

They are confident they will be up to the challenge of ranking the knols. Well, that's not entirely reassuring.

Using links as a measure of popularity (the essence of Page Rank) is kind of like using the number of scholarly citations an article receives to judge its importance. There's obviously some truth to that ... but if it were everything, what happens to the Gregor Mendels of the Internet?

If it's done on the seemingly innocent basis of an author's past credibility, it will end up an incredibly powerful way of reinforcing the status quo.

In fact, is any acceleration of the 'knol' forming process even desirable?

Things can also coalesce around bad ideas (fascism) or expressions (Okily-dokily, neighbor!) as well, and then we're stuck with them. At least until something forces a paradigm shift...

Maybe any encouraging or speeding the adoption of knols will only ultimately ensure they are of lower quality?

As Samuel Johnson once said:

"What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure."

I'm not as negative about all this as many of the people I've seen writing about it, because I agree with
a) the basic premise that there is so much information out there it can be very difficult to find what's worthwhile.
b) although anonymity has its place, the Internet and world generally would be a better place if people would be more willing to stand up for what they believe in and put their name behind it.

That's something I know as a journalist.

But I just wonder if Google has thought this all the way through, and considered the law of unintended consequences...I can think of many negative outcomes, some worse than mere failure.

karenwithak has created something of a knol about Rutabaga right here

*Actually, the original quote was "who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?" It's commonly attributed to John Milton, though I bet other people had said or thought the same before him. And was it John Stuart Mill who first set out the basic argument? Anyhow, "Nothing new under the sun," right (Ecclesiastes)?

But I think you'll find that particular thought-meme of a "free and open contest" has evolved and is far more widely quoted in other formulations, such as mine above. Good luck tracing its origins if you ever run into it on the street...

Monday, December 17, 2007

LAAF - Liberation Army Against Freedom (and safe fireworks)


**UPDATE** if you want more of the backstory on these vids, check The Guardian's Christmas Eve story.
They were created by Amsterdam ad firm Selmore.

This is part of the Dutch government's safety campaign for fireworks this year. I must be in some kind of politically correct mode after all the Zwarte Piet stuff because my first reaction was that it's offensive.

On second thought, I realized that it's hilarious. Who does it actually insult? Al-Qaida? Ah, let 'em talk.

The Arabic (apparently) contains safety reminders, including that all fireworks are explosives.

The final gag is the guy starts shooting off his gun in excitement and the other guy tells him, 'yo, man, relax!'

Amen say I to that fair prayer.

The Dutch have a long tradition with fireworks disasters, and a long tradition with surprising safety advertisements.

The one that shocked me most was the year that they did a countdown with people who had lost varying numbers of fingers in fireworks explosions, holding up their maimed hands.


Gruesome, but riveting.


Gruesome, 1994 Ad (not for the faint of heart):

The slogan "je bent een rund, als je met vuurwerk stunt," became a classic. How to translate?

"Only dicks try firework tricks."

This ad from 1999 has an unexpected punchline:

"Gentlemen, never carry fireworks in your pocket."

The ads all target young men, who are the ones most frequently hurt by fireworks.

What is it with "Young Men And Fire."? (The title of a stunning book by Norman Maclean, by the way).

My son is not even two years old, and he's fascinated by candles. Worse, he already got into a pack of matches and lit one. Monkey see, monkey do.


Saturday, December 15, 2007

Bike Accident Deaths in Amsterdam. And Murders.

((note: New post on this topic in April 2008.))

I've been wanting to do this for so long _ years actually _ and today I actually took 15 minutes and did it.

Ever wonder how many people die in bicycle accidents in bike-lovin' Amsterdam, or the Netherlands generally?

Answer: fewer than you might think.

Nationally there were 180 bike deaths in 2004, 181 in 2005 and 216 in 2006.
In Amsterdam there were a total of 19 bike deaths in that entire three-year period, so slightly more than 6 per year.

For some damn reason the city doesn't break it out individually by year (a privacy thing?).

I also found an official city publication that put the number (somewhat optimistically in the light of my data) at 5 per year and around 300 injured.

(.m for matthijs)

Anyhow, from here on out this post is all about perspective. There are roughly 16 million people in the Netherlands, and 750,000 in Amsterdam.

There are slightly more than 1 bikes per person nationally and slightly fewer than 1 per person average in the city.

On average, half of Amsterdam's population rides a bike at some point every day.

The Dutch have the safest overall traffic record in Europe, and around 800 or so die in accidents each year (including the people killed on bikes). So you could say that roughly a fourth of all traffic deaths in the Netherlands are bike deaths.

In Amsterdam it's slightly worse: there were 19 traffic deaths (of all kinds including bikes) in 2004, and 20 each in 2005 and 2006.

That puts around a third of traffic deaths in Amsterdam as bike deaths.
More perspective: a little MORE than a third was pedestrian traffic deaths, so don't think you would be better off walking. Fatal car accidents were a little less than a third and scooter deaths (amazingly!) were a rounding error.

(stefano m)

Conservatively estimated, you have a 1 in 500,000 chance of getting hurt in an accident when you step on a bike in Amsterdam, and 1 in 20 million chance of dying.

More perspective: let's talk about getting killed on a bike versus being murdered.

(Theo van Gogh had the incredible misfortune to be murdered while riding his bicycle. What are the odds of that? But, he turned out totally justified in not "quitting smoking" until he did it the hard way).

There were 20 murders in Amsterdam in 2004 (including one that was big international news), 32 in 2005, and 16 in 2006. So, say roughly 20 a year _ about the same as the total number of traffic deaths (including cars).

Conclusion 1: you are more than twice as likely to be murdered in Amsterdam than killed while riding your bike.

But is getting murdered in Amsterdam a likely thing, then? Well, it depends on what you compare it to.

Amsterdam is the most dangerous crime city in the Netherlands (along with Rotterdam) _ somewhere around 4 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants annually.

In the United States AS A WHOLE, however, that figure is 5.6 murders per 100,000. Don't ask about U.S. cities, it gets ugly quick.
The Dutch national average, for reference, is around 1.3 murders per 100,000.

Conclusion 2: you are more likely to be murdered while living in the United States than while in the Netherlands, and a fortiori, certainly more likely to be murdered while living in the United States than to die while biking in Amsterdam.


Now, you may be wondering how to avoid dying at all, while either living or biking in the Netherlands. I have one tip in each category.

Murder: Don't have anything to do with drug dealers. Almost half of Amsterdam's murders are gangland killings related to drugs. Most of the rest are family affairs.

Biking: Watch out for trucks turning right. In 2006 four of the six (6.33333333) people who died in Amsterdam bike accidents were killed by trucks turning right.

Helmets, lights? If it makes you feel better, but not really worth your time.

Finally, a short note for "the researcher who shall come after me."

The trick to finding the traffic death numbers is to search on "verkeersdoden." It took me a while to figure that out.

Friday, December 14, 2007

My Unified Theory of Chess & How To Enjoy Playing It


I've been playing some Chess on Facebook lately, for the first time in years, and it's inspired me to chuck these pearls out to anybody reading.

My rules are simple, but effective. Follow them, and you will have fun playing chess, and so will the person you're playing against, unless he is an asshole. In that case, only you will have fun.


Or unless "he" is a girl, in which case you're probably living in an alternate universe because I have personally met a grand total of one girl in my entire life who actually enjoyed playing chess. And that was because her father taught her, so it was probably some strange Elektra Complex thing.

I don't dig too deeply into the whole "why girls don't like chess" thing. It's just a fact of life.


So, here are the rules, simple in appearance, only slightly more complex in conceit.

1) If you are playing somebody you think is worse than you, do something risky and crazy as soon as an opportunity presents itself.

2) If you are playing somebody you think is better than you, make things as complicated as possible before either side takes many pieces. Then launch a nutzo ballistic assault with some half-baked and improbable plot for regicide in mind.

3) If you are playing somebody you think is equal to you, or who you have no idea how good they are, then attempt to play a perfect game, meaning, a game where you make no mistakes.

4) Violate any of the rules, if the need arises.

That's it. Like Billy Dee Williams says, "Works every time."



1) If you're playing somebody worse than you, doing something risky and crazy will usually mean that you will wind up losing a valuable piece and getting your game is in trouble. So then you can pull out all the stops and play as creatively and hardcore as you want to try to make a comeback. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. Losing is good for your opponent's ego, and you can always console your own with the knowledge that you would have won if you'd played a careful, boring game.

But just as often you'll make that comeback, because when the prospect of losing to an inferior player looms large, suddenly your ego kicks in and you start playing like Kasparov. Or, because your opponent is not that good, he'll make some simple mistake. Often you end up deciding again and again whether to kill that next rook they leave hanging or whatever.

One chance in 10 your crazy initially attack will actually go down more or less as planned. Then you look and feel like a genius, and maybe you learned something for future reference.


2) Making things as complicated as possible levels the playing field. Some bastard that reads books about chess, and practices all the time, is going to beat you nine times out of 10 any way, and 10 out of 10 times if you just trade pieces and he ends up with a one-pawn or positional advantage or something.
So you might as well create a pressure cooker that opens up possibilities for brilliance and/or the unexpected to emerge during a total slaughterhouse. Usually you're still going to lose anyway, but at least you'll see something interesting, and sometimes you get a glorious victory against your superior.
If nothing else, you may make him sweat. My favorite game of my life was against some guy who was bragging about the tournament he was going to play in, how he was going to explain to me how he would beat me while he was beating me, blah blah blah. I lost, sure enough, but not before throwing him totally off his game plan, chasing his king across three quarters of the board like a running dog and nearly pinning him down. I knew I never really had him, but I could see he wasn't sure for abouot 10 minutes or so, and all his talk dried up _ golden.

3) The real point of 3) is to wait until the game resolves into 1) or 2). Usually you'll wind up figuring out you're in situation 2). That's because good players often lie about not being good out of modesty or (worst scenario) in order to trick people into playing them so they can win. Sometimes it will be situation 1) though, and then you just act accordingly.
The only boring game of chess possible is one that continues in 3) mode all the way to the end. It's only happened to me maybe thrice since developing this theory.
(tito slack)
They play "giant" chess every day on Amsterdam's Max Euweplein.

4)A wise young man once told me the following about chess. He said it was a Spanish saying:

"Chess: too much for a hobby, not enough for a job."

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Ayaan Hirsi Ali protection fund stalls


Things aren't going that well for Ayaan Hirsi Ali in the United States, it appears.

Her business manager told Dutch radio today that in the two weeks since the fund for her protection (and that of other critics of Islam living under death threats), was set up, it has received $120,000 worth of donations.

That's enough for one month of private protection in the U.S.

On the one hand, that means, she's collecting money faster than she needs it. On the other hand, probably the bulk of the money that's going to be given has already been given and this means she'll be forced to return to the Netherlands soon.

The business manager, Peter Voortman, said most of the money came from "people who were cleaning out their piggy bank," and several American and Canadian philanthropists. Only a few small donations came from Dutch people.

The other thing that Voortman said was that she's busy writing a children's book "about a Muslim boy and a Jewish girl."

I wonder what the plot will be?

My earlier long post on the Hirsi Ali protection affair.

(source unknown; found on

More professional opinions after the "more"

(another picture of unknown origin, on Google images).

Christopher Hitchens on the affair.
Salman Rushdie on the affair.

A contrary view of AHA, by Hesham Hassaballa.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Shell and Pond Scum

(photo of photogenic-but-serious lab worker brought to you by Shell's press department).

Shell Oil said today it would begin growing algae in Hawaii to test its potential for producing vegetable oil usable as biodiesel.

"Shell is Europe's largest oil company, posting $6.92 billion in net profit in the third quarter. A Shell spokeswoman in London declined to say how much money the investment represented.
"This is a 2.5 hectare (6 acre) demonstration project, and it will take up to two years to complete," Shell spokeswoman Olga Gorodilina said of the project. Whether it proceeds further "will depend on the results," she said.

Well, those two years will fly by, and then we'll see.

I'd love to provide a breakdown on how much Shell spends on investment in renewable energy research & production annually, and how much on oil exploration & production. Unfortunately, as of last quarter they moved their electricity-generating (wind) projects under the rubric of "Energy" on their financial reports, and biofuels will presumably be included with "Production."

For competitive reasons, they can't release numbers for individual projects. You understand. Maybe they'll throw us a bone in their annual report (or annual sustainability report).

I won't rehash through the whole "let Shell be the shark it is" vs. "something is better than nothing so Greenwashing isn't all bad" arguments here. They're already here.

Suffice it to say I'm a "something is better than nothing" kind of guy, within limits.

(photo of serious scientist doing serious testing on new light source for growing alga spores. Note white lab coat proves he is authentic)

So, is it coincidence that Shell made this announcement during the U.N. climate change conference?

(the bleak-looking growsite).


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Bad Medicine & Bad English

I found this pharmacy while walking around in The Hague recently.

Kind of an inside joke, I guess.

Also, just for fun, this quality clothing store:

They named their store Zilch. Inconceivable!

"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means"

-Inigo Montoya, "The Princess Bride."


Sunday, December 9, 2007

Why Do Bad Things Happen To Good Computers?

(photo: 3pom)

This is a question that has plagued ethicists since the beginning of time, or at least since 1982.

Even computers that run Dog's chosen operating system, Linux, may crash from time to time.

I put my Windows desktop to sleep properly on Saturday _ it was a totally normal night _ and in the morning I couldn't wake it up.

(eleventh earl of mar)

I usually buy the cheapest computer I can find, but this one was two or three steps up from the bottom of the line, when it was new. And now *poof*, up in smoke, just a few weeks after its warranty expired.

Why did this have to happen to it? This Fujitsu-Siemens with a Pentium D never made an incorrect calculation in its entire life! At least not that I know of.

And I never even got a chance to, you know, tell it I felt indifferent towards it. Or to back up my files and say goodbye.

I relied on it for stuff. I had some good times using it, and it _ it was there too, cooling fan humming gently in the background.

When there is no rational explanation for why a computer dies, it makes you wonder: why does an omniscientific Dog allow things that defy science to happen? Does Dog even exist?

Credo Quia Absurdum.

(mel b)

Anyhow, I guess I have to go outside and play now.