Thursday, September 28, 2006

Online stupidity 

First, some news: Earlier this year, I posted that a mysterious new service that was promising to be a revolutionary way to get more hits to your blog was accepting pre-launch registrations; the service was BlogMad, and they DID turn out to be pretty cool... if you want to give it a shot, click the banner in my sidebar with the goofy eyes. Now, the folks that brought us BlogMad are gearing up to launch a new service, "eXlinks," about which they say "Some people are after traffic, some want readers and others are chasing backlinks to boost their rankings on search engines. No matter what your need or want is, eXlinks is going to sort that out for you." They aren't telling us any more than that yet, but if you want to invest 5 seconds to sign up (all they want now is your email addy) and see if it gets you on the ground floor of something good:

Click here to register for the top-secret new blog service!!

With dazzling timing (see my previous post), I've experienced a classic example of a problem with people in authority; this one wasn't related to the concept of keeping order and kicking the right butts, but instead reflected another familiar issue... that those with authority can rarely resist the temptation to misuse it. I found what appeared to be a bug on a site I visit regularly, and followed their procedure to report it, which meant posting about it on their forum; needless to say, the proper response from whichever admin replied to my report would have been either "this is a known issue, and we're working on it" or "we'll check it out and then fix it"... and it's probably also needless to say that what I GOT bore no resemblance to that. Instead, I got a series of brainless posts from an admin who was persistently unable to understand the problem, and who alternated between coming up with reasons for what I'd seen that had no connection to the facts and demanding to know what my ulterior motive was for making the report... I wish I was joking. When she inevitably got personal with me due to my refusal to accept her answers and drop it, I gritted my teeth and with elaborate politeness told her that we needed to cease our discussion, after which I asked again for someone to figure out what was going on. A non-admin jumped in and said that what I'd seen was normal, but so rare that I'd probably never see it again, and then a high-level admin posted, in total contrast, that what I'd seen was the way it ALWAYS was, that he had no explanation for why my own account had always been different, didn't care, the discussion was over and the thread was locked... after which the other admin used her admin powers to add not one but TWO further snippy posts aimed at me that I of course can't reply to, and that the higher-level admin didn't feel it necessary to delete.

Most of the posts I make on that forum lead to someone asking why I don't PAY to get a higher level of functionality on that site; aside from my having no interest in being more involved there, how STUPID would I have to be to PAY these idiots as a reward for their cluelessness and belligerence? I've seen lots of other posts there complaining about various sorts of admin malfeasance, but that isn't preventing plenty of folks from paying... which demonstrates yet another reason that people get away with misconduct-too many of us don't see improper behavior as a reason to reject the misbehavers.

If you're exceptionally observant, you might have noticed that my text is no longer being pushed over by my Webring banner, because the latter is back down at the bottom of the page; I was FINALLY able to put it there because Webring FINALLY closed the frigging tables generated by their code that were pushing my sidebar down. It was pretty stupid of them to have left those tables open, but that's not my complaint; there's none among us who haven't made similar mistakes when working on code, so I've got a little empathy for it. The REAL stupidity, and worse, STUBBORN stupidity, came when I reported the issue and their response was that it must be being caused by the banner of one of the webrings I'm in, even though those banners don't appear on my site and thus would require MAGIC to be affecting my sidebar... and I mean I got SEVERAL emails from tech support going on and on about how it's MY fault for having so many rings, that the # of rings somehow allowed their banners to violate the laws of html and affect a site they weren't even ON, and that they refused to check their code because I had too many rings (HUH?!!), and no one else had reported the issue.

Luckily, other people DID start reporting the issue, on their forum; when I triumphantly wrote to point out that they had no further justification for not fixing their code, their response was that they NEVER checked the forum (which had allegedly been set up to allow members to report problems, how bad does THAT suck?), and that somehow meant that I was still the only person reporting the issue. I asked them to make an exception to their "rule" and read the forum posts about the problem; they REFUSED. I copied and emailed them the posts; they claimed that because it was just forum posts it didn't count as anyone else reporting the issue. I contacted every person who had posted about the problem on the forum and asked them to submit official reports to tech support; I wrote the latter AGAIN, telling them that I knew they'd had other official reports on the issue, and that they were out of excuses to not spend 30 seconds checking for which tables weren't closed in their code... and I never heard from them again, surprise surprise. I wasn't about to give up, but shortly after my final email to them they rolled out a bunch of site changes, and I knew they'd be focusing on that for a while, making it useless to push any other topic, so I resigned myself to waiting a couple of weeks; it did occur to me to try moving their code and see if they'd fixed it in response to the multiple reports, but every time I thought about it it was always during peak traffic hours, and I didn't want a bunch of people seeing my blog looking like a disaster area if the code was still messed up.

Then, suddenly all my webrings were being displayed (apologies to those on dialup who had to wait forever for my page to load during that time), so I knew they were messing with their system; I moved the Webring code back to its original place in the template, "verified" that having all the rings actually ON my site in that spot didn't mess it up, and wrote to tell them that I'd PROVEN that there was nothing in the codes of the rings that caused a sidebar drop, and thus that it HAD to be THEIR code that was at fault... and got a form letter back. Once all the banners stopped being generated on my blog, I took a chance and moved the code back again... and it worked perfectly, which means they fixed it. Had they done so some time ago, and just didn't have the courtesy, or the courage, to TELL me after their previous insistence that it was MY fault, or did it get fixed as part of their days-long efforts to correct whatever had gone amiss and caused all the rings to display? I'm sure I'll never know.

But wait, there's MORE: They DID send me an email... one that, under the faux excited tone and the spin that something GOOD was about to happen, informed me that they're going to stop being a free service for everyone except those few that are only in a handful of rings. This demonstrates the ultimate in online stupidity; their belief that, although there are plenty of webring providers that are still free, people are going to pay for THEIR far-from-perfect service rather than deleting enough webrings and memberships therein to avoid paying, or just moving to another provider, either of which would GUT the service and kill all but the biggest rings. Even those people who'd be willing to pay will hesitate to do so after the mass deletions; I cringe to contemplate what'll be left of the rings I'M in once the dust clears, since most of them are "unknown-related" and therefore on the small side.

It's not that hard to make $ from a previously-free site, or even to GRADUALLY change things from totally-free to mostly-paid; it's been done, and they didn't need to do anything fancy to accomplish it, just show some common sense... so why do the owners of so many online services lose their MINDS when the time comes to start earning some $?

And why is it that the sites that intend to switch to paid always preface it with the WORST technical performance and customer service imaginable? They all use the same manual for how to NOT provide proper service, too: First, they send an elaborate form email with a bunch of info (or links thereto) that's unrelated to your issue but that they claim will probably fix it; at the bottom, it'll say that they won't respond unless you write AGAIN, which means you have to re-describe your dilemma and often, at their insistence, track down a bunch of irrelevant information about your account and computer, which sets you up for their next ploy... blaming your computer, operating system, browser, account or you personally for the problem-ANYTHING but admitting that their system is at fault, even though IT ALWAYS IS. Back in the days when I was heavily involved with clubs/groups, I learned the hard way to say in every bug report that I'd restarted my browser, restarted my computer, emptied my cache and deleted all my cookies but was still having the same trouble; this would save me any # of emails, and hours, or even DAYS, of delay... and also resulted in many tech support replies that were an amusing mixture of flustered and cranky from reps that didn't quite know how to handle not being able to play their usual games before having to do their JOB and figure out what was messed up with their server. I dislike having to be dishonest (it'll be a cold day in Hell before I'll delete all my cookies and have to re-login to, request account info from, or re-register on a thousand different sites), but these folks can be told that half a dozen computers are having the exact same problem with their site, and ONLY their site, and will STILL claim that it's your computers that are at fault, not theirs, so what choice is there?

Is there a certain unpleasant kind of person that's drawn to forum administration and tech support, or does doing those jobs exert a corrosive effect on the brain?

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The problem with authorities 

In my post of 9-16-06, I discussed how people in authority are assumed to be trying to make their charges play nice but in fact usually aren't; this might have made you wonder what's WRONG with them that they're unwilling or unable to perform the simple task of maintaining order such that innocents are protected and wrongdoers are penalized. Here's the answer in a nutshell:

Managing people correctly requires enforcing behavioral standards on everyone all the time; it's rare for anyone to have to prove that they can do that before being allowed to HAVE authority, so naturally most of them CAN'T (or won't) do it.

Think about it: Authority at work is usually in the hands of the owner, relatives and friends who work for them, those who kiss butt, those with seniority, those who've excelled at something unrelated to managing, such as sales, or, conversely, those who are totally incompetent but for various reasons aren't being fired, and those who are non-threatening to the next-higher level of management. Authority at school is given to teachers, who just have to be able to get a certificate to get the job, and the principal, who usually gets that position by a combination of seniority and butt-kissing of the school board. Authority in the family is based on age. Authority in social clubs and committees is based on who started them or who got voted in, aka popularity. Authority in online gathering places is based on who's paying the bills, who the payers like enough to give admin/mod powers to, or who clicked the "create a group/forum/blog" link on the sites that offer those things for free. NONE of these avenues to authority takes managerial ability into account in any way, so it shouldn't surprise us that the beneficiaries of these avenues often can't manage their way out of wet paper bags.

But, there's nothing difficult or tricky about making sure that everyone's following the rules of polite society, so can't any random person who's given the mantle of management do what's necessary? Sure, most people can; the problem is that they generally DON'T, because:

1) They're stupid: Parents and other adult family members who hold authority over innocent children represent the full spectrum of human intellect, which means that a sizable chunk of them will be of below average intelligence. And have you read the reports on how many American teachers aren't even literate? How bright is your boss compared to the average person in your office? How many forum/group/chatroom admins have you seen with 3rd-grade spelling levels? Have you noticed that a person's popularity (and thus their likelihood of being chosen for or voted into a leadership position) tends to be inversely proportionate to their intelligence? To be an effective leader, a person needs to be a little bit smarter than the ones they're leading (to avoid being tricked by the wrongdoers amongst them), so being LESS intelligent is a definite handicap... and, more to the point, can lead to them not even TRYING to show leadership so that they don't look like an idiot.

2) They're lazy: Monitoring everything that goes on takes a great deal of time and effort; taking action (when there's a problem that they can't ignore) does too, and taking the CORRECT action unfortunately tends to take more than INcorrect ones do... and, since things run pretty smoothly most of the time withOUT the effort being made, authorities become convinced that it's ok to let everyone fend for themselves, even under circumstances where an explicit part of their duty is to monitor and protect, such as at school.

3) They're cowardly: An authority holds all the cards, and so should approach wrongdoers with confidence, but many authorities feel FEAR instead; they're afraid that they won't be able to say the right thing in the properly authoritative way, or that their audience will respond with laughter, arguments or refusal to comply rather than with intimidation and repentance, or that if their having made an issue of misbehavior doesn't change anything they'll lose everyone's respect. As a result, they bend over backwards to avoid confronting, much less punishing, anyone, so that their authority is never questioned, and their illusion of control never shattered.

4) They have no common sense: Some folks spurn the correct way to handle wrongdoing (which is to kick the butt of the wrongdoer(s) and ONLY the wrongdoer(s)), and choose instead to make announcements, hold meetings, create new rules to which no penalties are attached, and similar nonsense that they somehow expect to make the wrongdoer(s) alter their behavior... despite NEVER having seen such strategies actually work. They totally fail to grasp that people do evil because they ENJOY it, and the only way to stop them is to make the consequences for such behavior too UNenjoyable for them to continue.

5) They base their judgment on who they like rather than who's in the right: It's human nature to shade one's judgment in favor of those we know and like best, but it's foolish in general (people do NOT become saintlier the closer they are to YOU), and dead wrong when you're responsible for the welfare of others. Anyone who's incapable of objective judgment and fair disciplining doesn't qualify to be in authority... but it doesn't stop them from HAVING authority, sadly.

6) They want to be popular rather than to govern properly: People whine about rules being imposed or freedom of action being curtailed, no matter how reasonable or necessary it is, and resent anyone with power over them if that power is ever used; while realistically anyone in authority should resign themselves to learning firsthand what the phrase "it's lonely at the top" means, and to mistrusting anyone who tries to be too chummy as a probable brown-noser, they all too often want everyone to like them, which means that they have to be as UNauthoritative as possible.

7) They're amateurs: I mean that in 2 senses: First, that, although managing well takes knowledge, skill and experience, most authorities have received no training to give them these things. Second, that wrongdoers have spent WAY more time doing wrong, planning it, reviewing past episodes, and learning about the wrongdoings of others than any authority outside of the criminal justice system has spent DEALING with wrongdoing; this makes wrongdoers, even fairly young kids, pros, and the authorities amateurs who can easily be out-maneuvered.

8) They're weak-minded: They shouldn't be influenced by brown-nosing, or by people saying "Don't penalize John, we like him," or, worse, "Don't stick up for John, we DON'T like him"... but they ARE.

9) They're evil: Evil people seek out authority, and are unusually skillful at getting it... and needless to say, nothing is further from their thoughts than governing properly.

10) Did I mention that they're STUPID? They see a known wrongdoer attacking a model citizen, a group attacking one person, a big kid pounding a little kid, or any other situation where it's wildly obvious who's in the wrong and who's the victim, and claim that they can't TELL who started it... or, worse, that it doesn't MATTER, GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR... and end up punishing no one, everyone, or just the VICTIM far more often than reserving the butt-kicking for the wrongdoer(s).

The amazing part isn't all the ways that authorities fail to fulfill their responsibilities, it's that, given all the wrongheadedness that gets in the way, anyone ever overcomes it and does the job RIGHT; looking back over my entire life, I find that I can count the # of authorities I've encountered, online as well as off, that were able to consistently enforce proper behavior among their charges on the fingers of one hand. I'm not talking about forging the group into a smoothly operating machine all the parts of which get along, which takes a deep understanding of human nature and b@lls/ovaries of steel, but just keeping an eye on things, stopping bad behavior as soon as it starts, and applying discipline to those responsible that's sufficient to discourage them from ever doing it again; how pitiful is it that hardly anyone can manage to do these few simple things?

All I can figure is that there must have been some sort of survival benefit in our tribal days to not making any real effort to deter evil behavior that caused us to be biologically programmed to act that way; I can't see what that benefit could have been, but I'll keep working on it...

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

God was in the shower 

I know that title sounds sorta freaky, but it's an actual description of part of a dream I had; if you're Christian, and sensitive about what kinds of references are made to your deity, you might want to skip this post... I mean no disrespect to any religion or religious figure, but I'm unwilling to censor the portrayal of what must be my weirdest religion-related dream ever.

For the benefit of new readers, let me point out that I'm agnostic; I've seen neither proof that God exists nor proof that He DOESN'T... but since so many believe in Him, including some of the people I love and respect the most, I give Him the benefit of the doubt, and include Christianity in my spiritual studies. Presumably as a result of this, I periodically have a dream in which either Jesus or God makes an appearance; it's almost always the former, so when the Big Guy shows up I give it extra thought. Unfortunately, I've forgotten alot of this one, but there's enough left to be intriguing:

I was standing in the back of a lecture hall; I was vaguely aware of people in most of the seats, but the only person I really saw was the one teaching the class... and my 1st thought was, "That's God." He was tall and thin, with an odd, and oddly familiar, spherical mass of chestnut curls, and a beard that clearly hadn't been groomed in a while (he needed to shave the areas of His face that weren't meant to be part of the beard); He was wearing jeans and a flannel shirt that was bright red check or plaid... I'm not sure which, but I'm positive it was just red and black, with none of the yellow or white that are typically part of red plaid.

I don't remember what He was saying, what if anything was written on the board behind Him, or even what subject He might have been teaching; you can imagine how desperately I wish otherwise, since this would've probably been stuff that my subconscious deemed very important to tell me about.

At some point, He spoke to me; the students hadn't left, so I think class was still in session, although it's possible that it had just ended and no one had collected their stuff and gotten up yet... I'm pretty sure He stopped His lecture to address me, but I might just have gotten that idea because of what happened later. Much to my dismay, I can't recollect what He SAID; I DO recollect that I felt no sense of wonder, or fear, or bewilderment at why God would single ME out for special attention, when I wasn't in His class and so technically didn't even belong there.

The next thing I recall was that I was alone with Him... somewhere. There was a bathroom with a shower attached to the room we were in, so it was either His bedroom, a hotel room, or maybe it was His office (if you're God, I'm guessing that a full bathroom wouldn't be too much to expect as part of your office accoutrements); no, I did NOT feel like there was anything sexual in the offing... He's not one of the Greek gods, after all (although if He'd turned into a swan I'd have gotten nervous whether or not He started calling me "Leda"... do they still teach that myth?). He was talking non-stop; about what, I can't remember, sigh. Then, He started taking His clothes off; I politely turned my back, and heard the shower starting to run... I guess God is so busy that He has to have talks with people whenever He can. He came around me to get something (I didn't see what-clean clothes would be my guess), and before I could avert my eyes I got an eyeful; I was startled, and wondered to myself why God would choose a male form with such a small endowment... then again, what has He got to prove?

Then, while He was in the shower, came the only part of what He said that I recall; He was going to make a major alteration to everything in the universe (I don't know what, or why), and He was offering me the opportunity to remain unchanged, and to keep my memory intact, which meant I'd know that a change had been made and what things used to be like... and I'd be the only one who did. I accepted the offer.

The next thing I recollect is that I was in what I somehow knew was a museum gift shop; I was having trouble breathing, which, as I hung onto a nearby shelf and tried to get more air into my lungs, I attributed to my body not being used to the new version of reality yet... although it was probably actually a reflection of my still being congested and being too deeply asleep to switch to mouth-breathing right away when my sinuses started closing up. There were several people with me that I couldn't quite see, but 2 of whose voices I recognized, my husband and my most deeply religious friend; I told them I just needed to catch my breath, while wishing I could tell them the truth without sounding crazy.

And that's all I remember.

What do I make of all that? God as a teacher is logical enough, especially if you consider Him as also being Jesus as the Catholics do. His being intellectual but unkempt and badly dressed makes him resemble a geek; the friend who's non-coincidentally present at the end of the dream always says that God appears to each nation, each culture, each PERSON in whatever form is easiest for them to accept... and I'M a geek, so how else would He appear to me? His hairstyle was familiar because I just saw a man with exactly that same 'do (and untamed facial hair) on TV... on "Extreme Makeover." (The guy's name was Arik, which, in an interesting twist, means "sacred ruler" or "ruler of all" depending on which site you believe.) I surmise that it's ME that the makeover concept is meant to apply to, rather than it meaning that God needs a shave and a haircut, and that it's a spiritual makeover that's symbolized, not that God thinks I need to wear flannel... and if there IS a God, it's safe to assume that He wants me to alter my belief system to include Him, so no mystery there.

The classroom where I was standing in the aisle but didn't belong; that'd be a symbol Christianity, of course.

The whole bit of being alone with God in what was probably a bedroom, and the nudity/shower thing, gives me the feeling of having been behind the scenes, and the phrase "the naked truth" keeps popping up in my head; yeah, it's trite, but dream symbolism often is. I can't imagine that my subconscious was trying to suggest that God might have been hoping to jump my bones, and after all my years of marriage I'm well beyond being an appropriate vessel for immaculate conception; all I can figure is that the "private stuff" is suggestive of intimacy, which we DID have in the sense that He was sharing a secret with me and was offering me the, er, bare facts about His plans for the universe... but why ME?

My aforementioned religious friend tells me that I'm special to God, in that He has endowed me with the ability to figure out how He's set things up (aka karma, which she sees as having been created by God as a tool to carry out His will), and that He's attempting to guide me via my spiritual quest to the point where I can perceive and embrace Him; because of the free will deal, He can't "force himself on me" to make me believe (does that tie into Him being naked and alone with me in the dream with no hint of sex in the air? hmmmmmmmmmmm), but if I can analyze my way into believing in Him then He'll have won a great victory... yeah, it sounds ridiculous to ME, too, but she's one of those folks who claims to have a close personal relationship with God, and I accept that she's got a grip on SOMETHING powerful after all the years I've observed her, although there's no evidence that it's a deity rather than an instinctive ability to manipulate the forces of karma... Anyways, she and my other Christian friends assure me that these "religious" dreams, which most BELIEVERS don't even have much less "heathens," are indicative of either God trying to persuade me or my subconscious mind signaling me about the truth that I know deep down; naturally, I resist these ideas, but have no logical explanation for why I periodically dream about a deity I don't believe in and generally don't give much thought to.

What's the change God was going to make to the universe? What kind of change could possibly affect everyone EXCEPT me? I can't think of anything... BUT, my PERCEPTION could change radically and cause me to SEE everything in a different way-is this another "spiritual makeover" symbol?

And, ending up in the museum gift shop... where you go AFTER you went through the museum and saw and learned stuff... ANOTHER symbol of some sort of spiritual breakthrough?

Ok, sure, great... so where's my big epiphany? Or even a small one? Well, I guess if I discovered that there really is a God it'd have to be a BIG epiphany... and it'd mess me up some, but at least I'd KNOW, and it'd save me a great deal of time and effort. If He's out there, can't He give me a better sign than these weird dreams?

I'm keeping an eye on the bushes in my front yard; I haven't seen so much as a wisp of smoke yet, but time will tell.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

What evil people know that you don't 

It sure was exciting when Blogger went down late last night, wasn't it? For those of you who missed it, and contrary to what Blogger's claiming, almost the entire site was down for over an hour just that I verified personally; not only could I not get any Blogger blog to load, some of the Blogger help and info pages wouldn't load either... but I could still access my blog management pages, go figure. Based on how many fewer hits I got from then to when I got up compared to the usual, I'm guessing my blog was unavailable for about 5 hours; if you caught that and have come back and tried again, thanks for your patience.

Anyways: I saw the movie "Cry Wolf"


which incidentally is worth a look-see if you don't mind a little gore. There's a scene where the hero has gotten into a car and been attacked by what he thinks is the killer; they spill out of the car, the hero's dodging knife thrusts and trying to escape, and suddenly the police are there... which tells you right away that something's going on, because cops would NEVER show up when someone was actually being attacked. It turns out that "the killer" was one of the hero's classmates wearing a costume (with a mask, of course), and a bunch of padding to make her look like a man; she'd thought that it'd be fun to scare him. Now, using your knowledge of American culture and the psychology thereof, or just your memories from childhood... what do you think was the response of the headmistress to this "joke" gone wrong?

If you thought, "The girl got in trouble and the boy got sympathy"... you have NOT been paying attention.

If you thought, "BOTH kids got in trouble"... sadly, you're correct. Since a game the kids and their friends were playing inspired the "joke," the headmistress also felt it necessary to penalize the whole group; if your thought when you read THAT was that their friends would blame BOTH kids for this... bonus points.

What kills me about the idea of giving the victim equal blame and punishment as the wrongdoer, or ANY blame or punishment for that matter, is, as I've said before, that in our legal system, with which we're all familiar, the victim is NOT seen as having committed any crime, not even if they've done violent acts in self-defense that would've been seen as criminal under other circumstances; what goes through the minds of parents, teachers, and, closer to home, the admins and mods of forums, chatrooms etc, that causes them to decide that the exact opposite is true? And sometimes it really is the EXACT opposite, in that ONLY the victim is blamed and penalized, while the wrongdoer not only gets off scot free but gets to have the added thrill of seeing their victim further victimized; I'd give a great deal to know what the malign magic was that not only made so many authorities internalize these sick, backwards beliefs, but made everyone else decide that this should be accepted rather than protested and fought against whenever it occurs.

We're so used to things being handled this way that we're mostly not even consciously aware of it... but evil types are VERY aware of it, as evidenced by the fearlessness with which they pursue their ugly goals, secure in the knowledge that they won't suffer for it. Once we're old enough to understand right and wrong, normal people choose to do right the vast majority of the time; a few do so for noble reasons, or because they're naturally virtuous, but most of us do it out of fear of punishment and/or condemnation. Evil people, by contrast, choose to do WRONG, for gain or, more chillingly, for the joy of hurting others; they do it because they understand, by instinct, via superior perceptions, or because they all read the same frigging book, these grim truths about how things really work:

1) In any structured grouping of people (work, school, family, forum), someone in authority is assumed to be keeping an eye on things, looking out for problems; that's rarely the case, however. Yes, there ARE people with authority, it's just that they're NOT monitoring the social (mis)behavior of their "underlings."

2) Wrongdoings are therefore unlikely to be noticed by the authority.

3) Victims and witnesses tend to not report wrongdoings to the authority; the counterproductive and stupid childhood admonition to not be a tattletale affects people all their lives.

4) The authority rarely investigates the few reports they get, unless the wrongdoing is still in progress and is serious in nature.

5) When the authority DOES check out a report, if the wrongdoing stops when they show up they'll likely consider the matter handled and leave without taking action.

6) If they DO take action, it's likely to just be to say something like "Settle down, everyone."

7) If they choose instead to mete out censure or punishment, it's entirely possible that they'll single out the VICTIM to receive it, no matter how clear it is that they ARE the victim... especially if there are multiple wrongdoers involved, no matter how blatant their attacks have been (this is one of the reasons why evil types are often found acting in groups).

8) It's also possible that they'll censure/punish EVERYONE involved (although this is VERY unlikely if there are multiple wrongdoers, because authorities are usually unwilling to penalize an entire group); the outrage and betrayal of the victim at this unexpected blow from the one they foolishly anticipated help and vindication from, combined with their original suffering, more than compensates the wrongdoer for being disciplined themselves.

9) By far the least likely outcome is that the wrongdoer, and ONLY the wrongdoer, will be singled out for unfavorable attention; this will probably consist of nothing more than a few scolding comments, which, although dismaying to normal folks, will roll off an evil person like the proverbial water off the equally proverbial duck's back.

10) If it looks like the authority is mad enough to do more than talk, the wrongdoer, who's never panicked like a decent person is at the thought of getting in trouble, will usually come out with a melodramatic apology, often peppered with lavish praise for the authority and the institution they represent; you'd think that this ridiculous speech would only increase the authority's ire, but, astonishingly, it generally works.

11) Once in a blue moon, the wrongdoer WILL be penalized; said penalty will almost never be severe enough to counteract the fun of doing the evil deed, and even if it IS the overall fun to punishment ratio remains way too high for getting the occasional butt-kicking to discourage them from misbehaving.

12) The authority SHOULD form a permanent bad opinion of the wrongdoer after having seen them in action; they don't, though, as a rule, and thus there are no long-term ill effects for the wrongdoer even when their misbehavior has resulted in punishment.

13) The witnesses to a wrongdoing will also demonstrate this inability to grasp the importance of branding a person who does evil as an evil person; without the authority's need to keep track of the big picture, they tend to not even REMEMBER the wrongdoings.

14) Sadly, they DO tend to remember the VICTIMS of wrongdoing, and to look down on them forever more; this makes repeat abuse of a victim easier, because it removes what little chance there ever was of anyone speaking up for them.

15) The authorities have the same memory and opinion of the victims; it erodes, or even eliminates, the protection they're theoretically supposed to be providing them... which virtually gives the evil ones official permission to re-abuse their past victims with no fear of reprisals.

Given all that, can you see why evil types don't hesitate to mistreat others just because they're at work or on a forum or anywhere else where there's supposed to be people in authority? On a less sinister note, this is also why they feel free to break the rules and generally behave badly; it's fun for them, and there's no real downside to it.

What can YOU do about this? If you're in authority somewhere, look long and hard at how you handle interpersonal problems, and if you're MIShandling them, CHANGE. If you're a victim of mishandling, SAY SO; it won't always get you anywhere, but it's at least the 1st step towards making the authorities re-think their policies. If you witness mishandling, SPEAK UP, and encourage others to do so; you can't call yourself a good person, or keep your karma clean, unless you intervene every time you see someone being treated unfairly (it goes without saying that if you witnessed the wrongdoing itself you should have spoken up about THAT, too).

Can you imagine how different things would be if we DIDN'T bend over backwards to aid and abet evil people in their abuse of innocents?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Here's why no progress gets made in proving the existence of "the unknown" 

My husband and I enjoy watching "Mythbusters," which is just what it sounds like; a team of maniacs with specialized skills trying to disprove urban myths (and almost always succeeding)


A few days ago, I saw the "Deadly Straw" episode


the secondary myth of which dealt with the experiments by Cleve Backster


"a polygraph scientist best known for his controversial experiments with biocommunication in plant and animal cells using a polygraph machine in the 1960s which led to his theory of 'primary perception.'" One of the things Backster demonstrated was that plants can show a clear response from being thought about; this concept seemed too silly for the Mythbusters to even bother with, and the attitude of the members of the team showed that they felt the same way... until their results mimicked Backster's. I was originally expecting the segment to consist of them rolling their eyes as they went through the motions of testing the "myth," showing that it was entirely baseless; instead, they got steadily more stunned, uncomfortable and spooked as the plant they were testing showed inarguable reactions to being "thought at" threateningly (none of them are actors, just FYI). They were looking downright panicky as they tried to figure out what was happening; imagine their relief when it occurred to them that perhaps their movements or talking was somehow causing the plant to have reactions that were inexplicably timed coincidentally with the "thought projection." They put the plant in an isolation chamber (and I mean a big solid metal thing, not a cardboard box) and tried again; the % of times the plant reacted DID drop, from 33% to 28%, but despite the increased distance from the "thinker" and the intervening metal it still appeared to be perceiving the thoughts.

What did they do next? What they SHOULD have done would have been to try to figure out what was going on; what they actually did was to do a quick changeover to some of Backster's more extreme experiments (torturing yogurt cultures and similar nonsense), and, when those didn't produce any results, they announced that this somehow meant that the reactions they'd gotten from the plant had in some magical way been "disproved" and thus could be ignored.


There isn't any other type of experiment in which the results of a different experiment, even a related one, would be accepted as having cancelled out its results, but everyone's so anxious about being seen as a kook if they stand by any evidence that the unknown exists that they'll do ANYTHING to discredit it. I'm not saying that there couldn't be some non-mysterious explanation (although *I* can't think of anything that could cause the plant's responses to be timed to match the thought-projection unless some member of the crew was playing a high-tech joke), I'm saying that you have to either figure out what's causing an effect or ADMIT that something inexplicable is going on... you can't just sweep it under the rug with a lame excuse.

I did some research on Backster's experiments and found that he was accused of not using proper controls, and that when his experiments were conducted by others using said controls they got no results; they claimed that random fluctuations in humidity and such could cause RANDOM reactions from a plant that might occasionally seem to coincide with an attempted stimulus. I'm sure that's true... but why, then, did the Mythbuster's plant react ONLY when being thought at, and NOT at any other time, even when it was in an isolation unit? That's NOT random, and makes it hard to discount Backster's findings; frankly, I'm more dubious about how the refuters carried out THEIR experiments than I am about his at this point.

Why haven't any scientists asked to work with Backster to figure out how he gets the results he does, or invited him to do his experiments in their labs under tightly controlled conditions, even with the intention of DISproving his claims in an unequivocal way? If you figure they can't be expected to bother with what he's done because he's not a real scientist, then ask yourself; why aren't they trying to replicate the experiments of legendary Bengali physicist Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose


who is "considered a pioneer in the field of biophysics," which showed that music made plants grow faster, and that they "feel pain, understand affection etc"?

Why do you think?

Here's an even more dismaying example of how experimental results that point to the existence of the unknown get dismissed out of hand:


"Many people have experienced the phenomenon of receiving a telephone call from someone shortly after thinking about them -- now a scientist says he has proof of what he calls telephone telepathy.

Rupert Sheldrake, whose research is funded by the respected Trinity College, Cambridge, said on Tuesday he had conducted experiments that proved that such precognition existed for telephone calls and even e-mails.

Each person in the trials was asked to give researchers names and phone numbers of four relatives or friends. These were then called at random and told to ring the subject who had to identify the caller before answering the phone.

'The hit rate was 45 percent, well above the 25 percent you would have expected,' he told the annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. 'The odds against this being a chance effect are 1,000 billion to one.'

He said he found the same result with people being asked to name one of four people sending them an e-mail before it had landed.

However, his sample was small on both trials -- just 63 people for the controlled telephone experiment and 50 for the e-mail -- and only four subjects were actually filmed in the phone study and five in the email, prompting some skepticism.

Undeterred, Sheldrake -- who believes in the interconnectedness of all minds within a social grouping -- said that he was extending his experiments to see if the phenomenon also worked for mobile phone text messages."

A scientist with the backing of a well-known college did experiments whose results are VERY clear-cut in what they indicate about there being perceptions that are "extra-sensory," and all his peers could come up with is sniping about his sample size and who was filmed? You know how many people you need in a sample to prove that an ability exists? ONE. In an experiment like these, if ONE person can consistently out-perform chance by a statistically-significant amount, that demonstrates that information is getting into their brain by some method currently unknown to science. There doesn't need to be any film of it either, any more than there has to be for other kinds of experiments; a scientist's results are NOT typically backed up with video of the trials, as their word is accepted that they did what they said they did... it's not like Sheldrake claimed that people were flapping their arms and flying, or anything else where you'd need to film what was happening because the exact physical actions being taken were important.

If, as it appears, this is valid experimental proof of the existence of the unknown, it'd be the biggest discovery since the atom; why isn't it front-page news? Why aren't we hearing about studies being set up to try to duplicate Sheldrake's work, as is typical when someone gets results that break totally new ground? Why isn't every scientist in the world demanding that the energy that carried information to the test subjects about their callers/emailers be detected and analyzed?

Why do you think?

Is it possible that some sort of fakery was involved with these experiments? Yes, of course, it always is; it DOES happen occasionally, even in the hardest-core areas of science. They're not suggesting that, though, or that Sheldrake misinterpreted his data, but are just making objections that don't make sense, and that he's unlikely to have, or be able to get, the funds to overcome; if YOU were a scientist in this field, or a potential financial backer, how would you feel about getting involved with this sort of thing after seeing that even the most glaringly obvious results are pooh-pooh-ed and dismissed?

And that, dear friends, is why no progress gets made in proving the existence of "the unknown."

If you're still reading this, you're either a regular or a glutton for punishment, lol, and in either case you might be interested in the current state of my health: I'm still almost as sick as I was when I last posted, with one VERY important exception; the chest pains are gone, which means I don't have pneumonia... it was probably some lesser sort of infection, or maybe some weird anxiety thing. My main concern now is stopping my normal progression of symptoms when I have a cold or flu, which leads to me having savage coughing fits dozens of times a day for WEEKS; luckily, I've discovered a way to stop a fit before it gets fully launched... I spray the back of my throat with Chloraseptic, and that seems to short-circuit the fit and thus stop the coughing. If you're a hard-core cougher yourself, you might want to give it a try; just keep in mind that this is NOT the way Chloraseptic is approved to be used, so if you get any sort of weird reaction stop using it, PLEASE.

And finally; we're still waiting to hear back about a contractor to fix the hole my husband put in the ceiling... but before we can hire anyone, we've GOT to get the rats out of the attic-no one will work in an attic full of rats, nor should they be expected to. My husband's about to climb up there and try to deploy the glue traps again; let's hope he doesn't wreck the ENTIRE house this time...

Friday, September 08, 2006


No, I don't mean sexually... well, maybe I am, but it's not that kinda blog. ;-)

Monday night I had a little bit of throat irritation, which I wrote off at 1st as being due to my mucous membranes having gotten so dried out from all the antihistamines I've been taking to combat my current plague of stress-induced hives... but a few hours later, my throat felt like it was full of razor blades, and I knew I was in trouble.

It's typical for my colds and flus to start out with a sore throat, but this was so bad that even drowning it in Chloraseptic didn't do more than reduce it slightly; I literally had to get out the Orajel and a Q-tip and swab the back of my throat with it (gagging many times, which felt just lovely)... this halfway numbed it, but left my mouth tasting like I'd sucked on a stack of pennies.

After a lousy night's sleep, punctuated at regular intervals by my waking up from dreams that I had a wire hanger jammed in my throat to find that the pain was real, I called my mother's house to break the bad news; Tuesday was my last chance to see my aunt and uncle before they left, most likely to not return for years, but because they were going to be at a wedding in a few days I couldn't risk infecting them, and, worse, my mother's due to start radiation soon and can't be exposed to any germs... we had to cancel our special plans, and I had to say goodbye to them over the phone, which made me feel like a worm even though there was no way around it.

Tuesday night I had my 1st fever, and the congestion descended on me; I conquered most of it with decongestants and nose spray, but thanks to the post-nasal drip and the continued sore throat I didn't sleep more than 20 consecutive minutes all night long. Wednesday was scary; I had several more fevers, the congestion kept building and building until I felt like my head was going to explode, and I had drilling pains in my temples... I'm legendary for getting horrible colds and flus, but I've NEVER had congestion get PAINFUL like that. The REALLY scary thing is that I'm also getting near-constant chest pain, which varies from mildly annoying to where I'm doubled over pressing desperately on my breastbone; this is NOT a common flu symptom... it's a warning sign of pneumonia.

If you're thinking that I should be beating feet to the nearest doctor, you're right; however, given my intense fear of doctors, which is so severe that I haven't been to see one since I was 14, I just can't bring myself to do it. On the + side, I've done some research, and I know that if I start getting short of breath, or my lips and nail beds get pale, or if I blow my nose and see blood, it's time to go to the emergency room; my husband has been told to keep checking on me and see if I've gotten groggy or unresponsive, and I'm updating him regularly about my symptoms (to which I've added body aches, raw skin, plugged ears and incipient laryngitis, although the head pain has gone away, thank goodness), so... we'll see how it goes.

The next thing I'd planned to write about was how rats have gotten into the attic, and my husband is up there right now, heroically risking being bitten to put glue traps over where the bed is because the rats have naturally chosen that spot to scratch around all night and keep waking me up (HE could sleep through rats running CHAINSAWS, but he took my word for it); as I was working on the last paragraph, I heard a THUNK in the attic, and was bracing myself for the report on what he'd wrecked up there... sadly, it turns out that he's managed to add a new one to his tally of all-time worst disasters. The beam he'd been standing on BROKE, and he fell, putting a leg completely through the ceiling... right over the head of the bed, which as a result was covered in plaster dust and FIBERGLASS (of course, my most expensive sheets and blanket were on there, sigh). I have to keep telling myself that it could easily have been much worse, that he could have fallen completely through and taken a far greater area of ceiling with him, or broken his ankle or leg if he'd fallen the wrong way with his leg through the hole, or hit the big beam at the edge of the hole with his back, neck or head... because this on top of being sicker than I've been in years, and still covered in hives, has got me hanging by a thread.

When I saw the damage, and the MESS... words fail me. My husband was trying to get me to leave the room to keep me from breathing in fiberglass, but rats wouldn't have a problem with jumping a few feet down to a bed, so I held my ground (although as far from the piles of insulation as possible) until he got up there with some boards and covered the hole. Then, I retreated to the family room while he went back into the bedroom (with a mask on to protect his lungs) and got to work; he had to cut down the hanging flaps of ceiling, gather up the fluffy pink chunks from the bed and floor, vacuum everything over and over and OVER, strip the bed, take the affected bedding outside and shake it out, open the window and run the fan to clear the air, and then go clean himself up.

We're going to have to hire a ceiling contractor to fix the beam and the ceiling; it won't be cheap. We might have to have the bedding, and the clothes my husband was wearing, professionally cleaned; at the very least, we need some professional advice before we try to wash any of it... and there's a non-trivial chance that that expensive blanket will be uncleanable. We barely have paths wide enough to walk through the rooms of our tightly-packed home, but we're going to have to figure out how to move a king-sized bed and piles of stuff into another part of the house, out of the way of the forthcoming workman... and my husband will have to move half a ton of boxes and such so that the workman can access the hole from the attic side.

What are the chances that the patched hole can be blended in with the rest of the ceiling?

How long before someone will be available to do the work?

What about the fiberglass in the carpet that the vacuum couldn't dislodge? Will it sink down to the padding or be picked up by our feet and get distributed all over the house... including in the bed on all our other sheets?

AAAAAAAAAARRRRRRGGGGGHHHHHH!! I've killed EIGHT ants in the past few minutes, right around where I'm sitting on the floor with my laptop... and 2 of them were ON ME. I looked for a trail on the rug, but I can't find where they're coming from; chances are that they've been dropping down from the lighting fixture overhead, as vermin all too often do... they were probably in the attic and got chased off by the commotion. Between the hives, the thought of fiberglass particles, and now these ants, I've got itching on every inch of skin like you just wouldn't believe... my congestion is better tonight, but I'm guessing I won't be SLEEPING any better.

When I told my husband about the ants, he said, "What's next, locusts and frogs?" I don't know whether to laugh or cry...

My previous level of stress was sufficient to give me hives and a killer flu; what ELSE can happen to my beleaguered body, will flames start shooting out of my eyeballs? (My husband hopes NOT-he doesn't have asbestos undies.) I seem to be coping so far, perhaps because I'm too drained for my immune system to concoct any further surprises; cross your fingers that I DON'T have pneumonia, and that the ceiling repairs will cost less than a CAR... and that the contractor isn't a crook, which is probably the least likely of the 3.

Oh man, I REALLY need for this weekend to be calm, with nothing new breaking or crawling around my home...

Monday, September 04, 2006

Odds and ends 

While I was organizing my bookmarks today, I came across the URL for a forum post about the band that my final boyfriend before my husband was in (don't be impressed, it was a local band), and followed an impulse to see if there was anything new there. There was; the bass player for that band, who I'd had a very brief involvement with before my ex-bf made his move, DIED a year ago. Someone I saw naked is DEAD. It's been freaking me out all day; not just because of the sexual angle, but because he was my age, and, although he hadn't been any more than a casual drinker when I knew him, he died of liver disease... how did THAT happen? Did his life take a big turn for the worse, driving him to drink, or did he just turn out to be one of the unlucky ones whose livers fall apart apropos of nothing?

I don't think of this guy often, but when I do it's with appreciation of his, er, areas of anatomical superiority... and from now on, when that happens, it'll be immediately followed by the memory that he's dead... how CREEPY is that?

A few hours later, I heard my husband cursing loudly and repeatedly in his study; he's usually a 1-curse-per-disaster type, so my blood virtually froze in my veins as I contemplated what he'd forgotten or destroyed THIS time that was causing such an atypical furor. It turned out that his explosive dismay was because he'd read that one of our heroes died today; Australian hunk, wildlife warrior, and hyper-caffeinated madman Steve Irwin (aka "The Crocodile Hunter").


Irwin was always getting up close and personal with large, dangerous creatures, but had shown himself so adept at dodging the endless attacks aimed at him that we thought he'd be at it until he retired; realistically, I guess we can't be too surprised that one of these enraged critters finally got him, but, heartbreakingly, it wasn't a shark, poisonous snake or croc that did him in, but a STINGRAY... there's something just plain indecent about him having been killed by a creature that's virtually never deadly after surviving so many that ARE. According to this article


"Attacks on humans are a rarity - only one other person is known to have died in Australia from a stingray attack, at St Kilda, Melbourne in 1945."

His death is tragic, both for the usual reasons and because of all the educating, preserving, and passing on of passion for animals that he won't be able to do. RIP Steve; the Omni household will mourn you for a long time.

I'd left you hanging about several things, and I've belatedly remembered that I need to post updates, so here they are:

My mother still hasn't gone back to work; she's due to give it a try on Friday. Once they decide she's fully recovered from the surgery, they'll start with the radiation; for now, she's doing about as well as can be expected.

My aunt and uncle are leaving on Thursday; after the frenzy we went into trying to get the house cleaned up enough for them to visit, they never even came over here once (because my mother ending up being home every day rather than returning to work after 2 weeks as they originally thought she could)... which is just as well, as after the original surge of progress my husband refused to invest any further time in the project, or even to not make a mess out of what we'd already managed to tidy up. Despite my best efforts to hold back the deluge of dirt and disorder he creates wherever he goes, the only difference between the house now and before we worked on it is that the filthy carpet got Rug Doctor-ed... and since he never wipes his feet, the high-traffic areas are already looking dingy, sigh.

Speaking of the Rug Doctor, we made a bizarre discovery: Normally, we pre-treat with Spray 'n' Wash (it's far cheaper than the pre-treater they sell where you rent the machine, and does a better job), but we had a bottle of their new product, "Dual Power"


which has their regular formula on 1 side and Oxy on the other, and my husband, ever the tinkerer, wanted to give it a go; since it shoots a stream rather than being sprayable, he had to work it around with his feet to spread it throughout the carpet... and this agitation led to the carpet getting far cleaner than usual per pass, such that it was almost totally clean after several passes even though it looked like a mud puddle in the beginning. I know it sounds a little crazy to be rubbing cleaner into the rug with bare feet, but it WORKS; give it a try if your carpet's beyond the reach of normal cleaning.

The jury duty news is good; yes, I spent a week with my heart in my throat, not knowing which day, if any, my whole life would have to be put on hold at a moment's notice... BUT, I didn't ever have to go in. WHEW!!

The computer news is mixed: The good news is that my laptop's getting close to being totally squared away, and my husband's nearly done sorting through the 5000 files that he recovered from my wiped hard drive (see my post of 8-27-06), so I'll have the ones that were downloads rather than from cache back in my possession soon. The BAD news is that he wasn't giving me the full story when he told me that he'd recovered 5000 files; what he ACTUALLY recovered was 5000 GIFS... and TWENTY thousand jpgs, which he's ALSO going to have to sort through to find the tiny % that was stuff I'd saved, much to his chagrin (he'd convinced himself that I'd NEVER downloaded any jpgs, and thus that he could ignore them). He sure wishes now that he'd backed up my laptop before taking it in to be fixed, that he hadn't brushed off my concerns about the safety of my files, and that, when he was asked by the repair place if there were any un-backed-up files on the machine, he hadn't said "no" when he knew otherwise; he's got lots more hours of work ahead of him during which he can contemplate the wisdom of classifying my concerns about my computer as examples of "hysterical female" behavior, and of refusing to do a few minutes of work to prevent a disaster that'll take WEEKS to fully fix.

The bursitis news is good; it turned out to be just a brief flare-up, rather than 2 months of agony and the arm being useless until after the new year. Sadly, due to all the stress I've broken out in a lineup of big hives along the middle of the other arm; it doesn't affect my ability to use it, but it looks like I've got some exotic skin disease... and they ITCH.

A couple more things before I stagger off to bed:

It's usually easy to tell if a blog is written by someone who's using English as their 2nd language; their English is much better than that of the average American. I've noticed, though, that there's 1 word that non-native speakers often misuse; they say "stuffs" instead of "stuff." As a noun, "stuff" refers to multiple things and has no plural, but because the VERB "stuff" CAN have an "s" on the end the spellcheckers don't catch it when "stuffs" is used as a noun; it's one of the few ways to tell a non-native speaker from a native speaker with better than usual ability to use the language.

And I'll leave you with this jaw-dropper:

"An Indian businessman born with two penises wants one of them removed surgically as he wants to marry and lead a normal sexual life, a newspaper report said on Saturday.

The 24-year-old man from the northern state of Uttar Pradesh admitted himself to a New Delhi hospital this week with an extremely rare medical condition called penile duplication or diphallus, the Times of India said.

'Two fully functional penes is unheard of even in medical literature. In the more common form of diphallus, one organ is rudimentary,' the newspaper quoted a surgeon as saying."


Can you imagine what an AMERICAN man with 2 penises would do? Take out ads, put up billboards, and hire skywriters to spread the news that he's TWICE the man the average guy is, most likely. He'd have representatives from the porn industry knocking at his door night and day, pleading with him to use his assets on film; if he agreed, even people who'd never bought or rented a porn flick before would be paying top dollar to see whether both penises could be used at once, and to indulge their prurient interest in any sort of abnormality... heck, even an old married lady like me, who's done more than enough penis viewing for one lifetime, would probably be willing to part with a few bucks to take a peek at them. ;-)

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