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Mail 172 September 24 - 30, 2001
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September 24, 2001
First, several from Roland Dobbins, who seems to read everything:
The new jingle:
Whatever happens, we have got
The B-52, and they have not.
[Unfortunately we have only about 50 of them, and 100 heavy bombers of any kind in service... JEP]
If it weren't for the anti-SDI sentence, I'd sing, "Hallelujah!".
Your papers, please:
And we are in the best of hands...
Another excellent Dennis Powell piece:
On the subject of "your papers":
Oracle CEO Larry Ellison sees the recent terrorist attack as an opportunity to make a buck (or a few billion) by using his database software to keep track of us, while the British government wants to re-introduce national ID cards.
Ellison Wants National ID Card, Powered By Oracle Posted by michael on Sunday September 23, @06:19PM from the symbol-of-the-beast-is-ORCL dept.
cplater writes: "This article discusses Larry Ellison's call for a U.S. national ID card, and his offer to provide the software for such an initiative." There's an advertising slogan to be proud of: 'Oracle, the Big Database behind Big Brother'. Or 'Oracle, the All-Seeing Eye'. Or 'If it's good enough for Orwell, it's good enough for your company'.
Update: 09/23 23:22 GMT by M: Richard Jones writes "The British Home Secretary is considering compulsory identity cards, despite the fact that such cards would not have made any difference in the recent terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. The British have generally opposed their reintroduction since the wartime system of identity cards was abolished in 1952."
[While most of the Slashdot discussion contained the usual arguments against and for National ID cards, these posts about Social Security Numbers and the INSPASS system are worth noting.
It helps if you change the default sort from "Oldest First" to "Highest Score First" to read these threads.]
Re:National ID is Good, IF DONE PROPERLY... (Score:5, Informative) by EABinGA on Sunday September 23, @08:05PM (#2339204) (User #253382 Info)
"The god damn SSN isn't used properly (my f------ video store demanded I give them my SSN or I could walk out the door w/o a membership"
I'll bet you did not have to show your SS card to the clerk. Few people ever ask to see an SSN card; they believe whatever you say.
If someone absolutely insists on getting your Social Security Number, you may want to give a fake number. There are legal penalties for providing a false number when you expect to gain some benefit from it. For example, a federal court of appeals ruled that using a false SSN to get a Driver's License violates federal law.
Making a 9-digit number up at random is a bad idea, as it may coincide with someone's real number and cause them some amount of grief. It's better to use a number like 078-05-1120, which was printed on "sample" cards inserted in thousands of new wallets sold in the 40's and 50's. It's been used so widely that both the IRS and SSA recognize it immediately as bogus, while most clerks haven't heard of it. There were at least 40 different people in the Selective Service database at one point who gave this number as their SSN. The Social Security Administration recommends that people showing Social Security cards in advertisements use numbers in the range 987-65-4320 through 987-65-4329.
There are several patterns that have never been assigned, and which therefore don't conflict with anyone's real number. They include numbers with any field all zeroes, and numbers with a first digit of 8 or 9.
Follow this link [cpsr.org] to see more details on the structure of SSNs and how they are assigned.
Re:National ID is Good, IF DONE PROPERLY... (Score:1) by astr0boy (email@example.com) on Sunday September 23, @08:34PM (#2339285) (User #265689 Info)
"my f------ video store demanded I give them my SSN or I could walk out the door w/o a membership"
i work in a video store, the reason a ssn is required is: if someone steals a video the cops wont go after or allow prosecution unless there is a ssn or drivers license #. We use ssn's because they are less likely to be fake (it's insane how many fake ids there are).
INSPASS (Score:3, Informative) by Animats (firstname.lastname@example.org) on Sunday September 23, @08:33PM (#2339282) (User #122034 Info | http://www.animats.com)
The US has an official ID card now, called INSPASS [ http://www.ins.usdoj.gov/graphics/howdoi/inspass.htm ]. If you have one, you can go through an automated express lane when entering the US at major airports and some border crossings. Getting one requires going to an INS office, showing a passport, being fingerprinted, photographed, and having a hand geometry scan. The systems at airports currently validate identity with a hand geometry scan only, but that may change as the technology improves.
This is the system most likely to be expanded into a national identity check system. At the very least, we'll probably see that level of physical identification at all INS-controlled entry points.
Re:INSPASS (Score:2) by beanerspace (email@example.com) on Sunday September 23, @11:59PM (#2339789) (User #443710 Info)
Such a system would have not stopped the terrorism of September 11th.
I was on the original INSPASS development team. Even back then, there was always talk about expanding it to a National ID Card.
INSPASS is a voluntary program that expires after a year. Hand Geometry is a "good guy" system. Meaning, I say "Hi, I'm Bob Smith" and it reads a paultry 14 char. signature and says "yup, you are, go on through".
Moreover, the signature is encoded in a machine readable OCRB text type. The same print used on your passport. The big reason, people didn't want "hidden" information on the card.
But as I mentioned earlier, there was always talk about such a card. We prototyped a system back in 1994, which captured a fingerprint and a face. It put the information on a smart card, and printed the face on the card. We took it around to several security (esp. airline security) trade shows. No one was interested. Even when we linked it to printing baggage tags.
But what really killed it was internal fighting with Govt types. At the airport, the system check out the "good guy" against a database run and managed by U.S.Customs. Problem is, Customs is Treasury and INS is DOJustice. Unless Bush stops the petty infighting either by putting them under one roof, or by edict, such a system will be difficult to maintain.
THen there are the Govt types who wanted to "design" the ultimate system or card. No lie, one proposed system captured one's face, finger and hand, then encoded the data on a single card that included OCRB type, a Mag Stripe, a 2d Bar Code, a 1d Bar Code and a smartcard/chip ... oh, with just enough room to squeeze in your face.
Unless such idiocy can be removed from the process, I'm very doubtful such a system will stop any bad guys.
Mr. Heinlein used to say that when a government demands a national identity card, it is time to move on. On the other hand, concern over illegal immigration moves one toward such an ID, and if it is to be done it ought to be done so that it is difficult to fake. We already have passports, Gary having failed in his attempt to issue International Passports (which were in fact honored in India at one time: I used to have one). I have mixed emotions on this entire subject, but then I grew up in a simpler time.
On a technical subject
It's taken awhile, but it turns out that the best solution to the Creative Labs soundcard lockup problem is to disable the "higher-brain" functions of the Soundcard, that are enabled by the AudioHQ software (I think).
MS has officially recognized that there is a compatibility problem with this soundcard in article Q296838, and the best fix I've discovered is to rename the devldr32.exe file, which will effectively disable the advanced features of the sound card but will prevent your computer from locking up on shutdown. (sigh)
Perhaps this is the kind of the thing that the Driver Certification lab MS has established for Windows XP is supposed to prevent?
-= Scott =-
Which is useful information if you need it.
And from Dan Spisak some good news
It looks like Deep Space 1 was successful in its comet fly-by, pretty amazing considering the whole concept of DS1 as a test bed for unproven technologies in space. More information can be found here:
Nice to know we can still pull things like this off.
And indeed it is good we can still do some things right.
He tells us on another subject:
I was perusing The Inquirer and came across this story there which I think you will find worthwhile to refer to people who still believe that the video of the Palestine people rejoicing after the WTC bombing was recorded 10 years ago:
I think that this issue can be finally settled at least, some closure is better then none I say.
But it is now clear that there was celebration, in Gaza and Nablus as well as Damascus and Daghdad. In Nablus film was confiscated, and the celebrations were broken up by Yasser Arafat's police, while Arafat went off to give blood and express public sorrow. The tapes and films were not returned, but a few got out.
I suppose the real surprise is that there was less of this sort of thing than you might have expected, but 60 Minutes last night had for once a good report on arab views of the matter.
And from Racansky:
I just watched a "Fox Undercover" segment (Fox News Channel, 23 Sept. 2001, 08:20 - 08:30 MDT / 10:20 - 10:30 EDT), where reporter Deborah Sherman was testing the security at an airport.
Most of the tests involved smuggling harmless items through the checkout points to see if the guards would notice them.
However, she also went through a stack of boarding passes that an employee had carelessly left lying around, and entered a restricted area after gaining an employee's door code.
For some reason, I have the feeling that any other citizen would have been arrested for doing the same thing. At the very least, Ms. Sherman should have been charged with theft and trespassing.
Does the First Amendment protect only journalists when they break the law? If so, why?
Believe me -- the last thing I would ever do if I did something illegal would be to tape it for broadcast on television.
-Robert Racansky Denver, CO
SEMI-SARCASM MODE ON
Did Ms. Sherman's cameraman even have a permit to carry that concealed camera?
Even though only it is (probably) only a small percentage of journalists who break the law, their inability to "police their own" requires some form of reasonable, common-sense, journalist control.
Media outlets should be required to get a Federal Journalism License, to ensure that they really are in the business of journalism-for-profit.
News agencies should be required to have their employees submit to an FBI criminal background check every time they broadcast or write a story. Usually, these checks are done within a few minutes, but may sometimes take days.
This would not violate any one's First Amendment rights, since the reporters would still be free to investigate and broadcast their stories. The above reasonable, common-sense proposal would only ensure that they do so in a lawful manner (except in designated "camera free" zones, such as schools, airports, and other government installations, since even law-abiding reporters who have passed an FBI background check may suddenly turn into uncontrollable criminals in these areas).
Just think: If the government had intervened against the right-wing "hate radio" personalities which President Clinton said motivated Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bombing might have been prevented.
Since most reporters are law abiding citizens, they should have nothing to worry about, and embrace these regulations which are good enough for millions of law-abiding people such as myself.
SEMI-SARCASM MODE OFF
To say that I have no love for the mainstream media is an understatement. However, government control of the press is a really, really, really bad idea.
If I have to beg the FBI for permission to exercise my Second Amendment rights, and have information about me put into a government data base, then why should I give a damn if the same thing happens to other people -- especially if many of those people are the same ones who think that controlling _me_ is such a great idea.
When the ACLU will defend the right of child molesters to advocate their illegal activities (http://www.aclu.org/news/2000/n083100a.html), but not my right to talk freely at a gun show about conducting a legal transaction at another time and place, the First Amendment becomes less relevant to myself and millions of law abiding citizens like me.
SEMI-SARCASM MODE ON
If the law is supposed to apply to everybody equally, then Deborah Sherman, Venessa Leggett (see below), Vince DeMetri (see below), David Martin (see below), and countless other members of the Fourth Estate should be rotting in jail.
SEMI-SARCASM MODE OFF
Oh, wait, Ms. Leggett is in jail, because the court decided that she is not a journalist, and therefore not entitled to First Amendment protections.
SARCASM MODE ON
Maybe Michael Moore is right. Maybe the problem with America is that we do not have a "dominant, state controlled media." [Interview on the REM web site. Link has since gone bad: http://www.murmurs.com/news/newsstory/index.asp?newsid=2382 ].
At least government control of the media would keep reporters honest, just as it does everyone else.
SARCASM MODE OFF
R.W. Bradford wrote an article documenting more law breaking by reporters in LIBERTY magazine ("License to Steal" May 1997), available at http://www.libertysoft.com/liberty/features/59bradford.html
See also David Kopel's "Redefining Justice" [NATIONAL REVIEW Online, 27 August 2001] at http://www.nationalreview.com/kopel/kopel082701.shtml This is about Venessa Leggett, a scholar who is currently in prison for refusing to become an FBI informant. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decided that Ms. Leggett is not entitled to the special protection that journalists enjoy before the law; therefore, the government may abuse her.
While the government's treatment of Ms. Leggett is abusive and shameful, it's hard for me to get really upset about it, for the reasons stated above.
Racansky Robert wrote:
> Do CBS reporters think they're above the law? And if so, why? > > CBS reporter Vince DeMetri claimed to be an agent from the Bureau of > Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF) to gain access to the World Trade > Center [full story below]. > > Los Angeles Sheriff's deputies and the BATF tried to arrest James Beck in > Santa Clarita, CA, last month for impersonating a federal officer. This > led to a shootout, a dead deputy, and Beck's house being burned. (The > BATF was involved because Beck was also suspected of illegally > possessing firearms as a convicted felon). > > In 1989, on a program about "assault weapons," CBS reporter David Martin > broadcast his illegal conversion of a semi-automatic rifle to a > full-automatic rifle ["48 Hours". March 16, 1989]. CBS received a letter > of reprimand from the BATF [REASON magazine. November 1995. > http://reason.com/9511/GUNSfeat.html]. When David Koresh was suspected of > illegally converting firearms to machine guns, the BATF sent 76 agents > armed with machine guns and helicopters to arrest him. > > And don't even get me started about those "Press Vehicle Only" parking > spots... > > http://www.newsmax.com/showinsidecover.shtml?a=2001/9/15/215548 > > Saturday, Sept. 15, 2001 10:51 p.m. EDT > CBS TV Reporter Arrested at Disaster Site > >
I have mixed emotions here, but one of the oldest principles of English Common Law (and Roman Law for that matter) involves mens rea, guilty intent. Motives are important, and not only can but should be taken into account by juries, and therefore by prosecutors. I think the court and jury system, while far from perfect, is one reasonable way to protect this kind of right: and I do think that the right of journalists to test a government protection system is important to us all. Perhaps I am wrong here, but I think intent is important; and in the case of a 'fake" journalist having clearly inappropriate intentions, again I think the jury system may be applicable.
Hi Dr. P -
After I'd quit searching, I stumbled across the lyrics at http://www.acronet.net/%7Erobokopp/scottish/lykewake.htm
He refers to the old drinking song that Poul Anderson, Gordy Dickson, and I used to sing at conventions. This is the complete words, and thanks.
Regarding the IRA and extradition:
Re: comments on US not extraditing provos, I think that's a reference to the Joe Doherty case, where a convicted provo spent 8 years being held on immigration violations before the extradition court battle was settled. Some politicians were opposing his return to the UK.
I don't have a good link on the case, but this bit of Provo propaganda seems to have most of the facts: http://liamhughes.home.mindspring.com/doc.html
Note that the person in question was being held in jail.
|This week:||Tuesday, September
This aye night...
FYI, this dirge was used by Benjamin Britten in his composition "Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings". The recorded version with the horn player Barry Tuckwell is particularly terrifying.
Regards, Robert Mitchell
Thank you. I was not really aware of its origins: it was a song I learned from Poul and Gordy a long time ago.
You wrote in your view page:
"I have a Linux box with a Green Screen: Linette, and new and hardware stable Linux box with Red Hat, has a green screen with patterns on it and nothing I can do will get it to respond. When I went to best last night it had a Gnome desktop on it. I guess I will have to pull the plug... "
I have seen a Linux desktop PC crash because of a bad screen saver on top of a still flaky X11. Don't ask me how. In theory, this is not supposed to happen.
However, if this is the cause, the remedy is simple. In your Gnome menu, go to "Programs->Settings->Desktop->Screensaver", and either deactivate it or choose a proven screensaver. I use the "xroger" saver (red X and skull on black) and the "xmatrix" saver. They have been running for weeks on the console of a machine that I mostly access through remote login. Never crashed. That machine used to run a random screen saver and regularly died until I changed this.
This is an utter bug in the XFree86 version delivered with RedHat 7.1. This might be a shock for Linux penguinistas, but Windows isn't monopolizing bugs.
September 26, 2001
I don't consider the following to be good news.
>From _Aviation Week & Space Technology_ September 24, 2001, pg 25, "Washington Outlook" section, item entitled "Space Fallout."
"Now, with the government confronting the huge cost of the terror attacks and an economy slinking toward recession, space spending is moving from the back burner to completely off the stove -- even for crown jewels like human spaceflight and the Mars exploration."
Also, in the August 20, 2001 issue of the same magazine, starting on page 58 is a series of articles on the nuclear weapons industry/stockpiles. Basically our weapons are getting older and we're not testing or building new ones; our weapons engineers are getting older and younger people don't want to go to work there for a variety of reasons. Bottom line -- we're heading, will he-nill he, for unilateral nuclear disarmament.
<sigh - twice>
ps: If you have a subscription to AW&ST, please let me know and I'll stop bugging you with stuff you've already read. SJD
I no longer have a subscription to AW&ST, and I think you and other readers for sending me relevant material. I don't have time to read even all the digests I get much less the whole book: as I get older I seem to be spread thinner while less able to read quickly. Beats the alternatives I guess. I always was one of those guys who knew less and less about more and more and I suppose eventually I will know nothing about everything (as opposed to the opposite where you end up knowing everything about nothing at all).
It is definitely NOT good news. The US needs a strategy of technology. Part of that strategy should be GREAT emphasis on space assets, which means developing low cost ROUTINE access to space (we'll be hearing me say that a lot in future). Of course if we have routine low cost access we can build a Moon Colony and Mars Mission on weekends and third shifts.
If we develop solar power satellites we solve a lot of problems including some of the poverty and information deprivation conditions in the less developed world...
> For the next few hours I will accepting suggestions for names for the new Athlon box whose primary mission will be to process communications through the new satellite system we're installing.
The obvious answer is "mercury" as the messenger of the gods. Also, if you're looking to install a local SMTP server (outbound mail), you could do a lot worse than David Harris's Mercury. It runs under Windows, seems secure to me, and is free. It will eliminate your hassles with the SMTP servers at Earthlink, and allow you to control your outbound mail locally, use mailing/distribution lists, and so on.
I'm using Mercury right now running on my NT4 Workstation gateway box to provide local SMTP functions, and I'm very pleased with it. It takes about three minutes to set up, and once you've done that you're no longer at the mercy of Earthlink.
P.S. make damned sure you have a good heatsink/fan on that Athlon and that it's firmly attached. Athlons have a nasty habit of going up in flames (literally) if the heatsink falls off, which happens more often than you might think...
Thank you for all suggestions. I will try the Mercury software, and that certainly would be an appropriate name. Greg French suggested Hermes, which would be the Greek name for the same chap, and Greg Brewer suggested Sputnik which has a certain appropriateness... Several Star Trek fans have suggested Uhura. One or another of those will do...
Dr. Pournelle, I don't know if you're ready for humor about the attacks yet, or if the onion is your type of humor, but they have the latest issue up at www.theonion.com . With such gems as "Hijackers Surprised To Find Selves In Hell", among other things.
As for me, I needed the laugh. Last night I saw two friends for the first time since the attacks. One is in the Navy and works in the Pentagon. She lost some friends. The other is in the Old Guard and is on clean up detail. Cleaning up the body parts (there are no intact bodies) scattered about. He didn't expect to be doing *that* when he enlisted in the infantry. Certainly not for 14 straight days. The onsite chaplain is getting lots of business.
Kit Case firstname.lastname@example.org
Yes I saw that Onion piece about hijackers in Hell. Very good indeed.
Let this stand for about half a dozen similar letters I have received:
As a programmer, I found your generalizations about programmers quite infuriating. Especially since you didn't acknowledge that they *were* generalizations until you were six sentences into your tirade. I was upset enough to start making sarcastic comments about Niven, and he's done nothing to me but entertain me. (Spider Robinson comments that Niven isn't as accessible as some SF writers in _The_Best_of_All_Possible_Worlds_)
I am the lead programmer at my company, and I care deeply about customer satisfaction. Our company uses custom software to provide web-based services, and I am the one at our company who reads Jakob Nielsen. Who considers tech-support calls a valuable resource to improve our software.
It may not be completely clear, but elegance, hacks, kludges, and clever solutions all directly contribute to the satisfaction of all customers. Elegant solutions are easier to maintain than ugly solutions, so they improve the speed of programming. Clever solutions and hacks can speed things up even more, but run the risk of slowing future development by detracting from elegance. And kludges allow customer problems to be solved very quickly, making the company more responsive to customer needs. While their specifics may be technical or abstract, their value to customers is quite real.
Yes, programmers would like recognition for their elegant and clever solutions. And some no doubt fit your stereotypes to a "T". But one might hope for a little more sensitivity in describing them. If not out of courtesy, then because many of them are your fans. In fact, the phrases "Real Soon Now" and "Juggling Eggs" are attributed to you and Niven in The Jargon File: http://www.tuxedo.org/~esr/jargon/html/index.html
-- Aaron Bentley abentley.dyndns.org
Well to begin with, I thought it pretty clear I was dealing in broad generalizations.
But what I said wasn't meant to be offensive, any more than saying that professionals work to their own standards, not what the public expects. That is, of course, a much older usage of "professional" than the modern one: it implied that the learned professions consisted of people who adhered to certain standards and weren't just in it for the money. Now we say "professional" to apply to anyone who does a job and is paid for it, and there are professional everythings.
Let's repeat here what I said. The context is Microsoft .NET.:
Microsoft faces that conflict all the time: measures that look good to corporate management are abhorrent to the brainy people who create the code that Microsoft sells - and selling code is the core of the Microsoft business. Without new code to sell they have very little going for them. Bill Gates knows this, or used to.
Code is created by very bright and very arrogant people who have minimal contact with their customers or for that matter the world in general. Customer satisfaction isn't at the top of a real programmer's list of goals; at least customer satisfaction per se isn't. Programmers strive for a kind of elegance which if they can achieve it - often they can't - will automatically generate satisfaction in the customers who can appreciate what they have done. Other customers don't really matter. It's not that customer satisfaction isn't important, it's that the standard customer doesn't understand the difficulties, or why things have to be done a certain way, and won't appreciate clever solutions, hacks, and kludges. The bottom line is that most programmers write for other programmers.
Larry Niven says that writers who write for other writers should write letters. There are programmers who understand that, but most don't. The Microsoft corporate culture is old school.
But that's the old Microsoft. The new Microsoft.NET is going to have to learn how to achieve a different kind of customer satisfaction. How they'll manage that and still keep the loyalty of all those programmers isn't at all clear to me, and I don't think it is clear to Microsoft.
But at least they will be able to address the problem without having to spend all their time playing legal games with Department of Justice.
On re-reading this it is clear that I said either too much or too little. It is a generalization and intended to be succinct. It can be taken the wrong way, and apparently was. But if you substitute "physician" or "lawyer" for programmer, or even "engineer", you will see what I was trying to get at. Professionals almost always have to work to satisfy other professionals: who else has any competence to judge their work? This often creates problems, since the consumer often wants something that can't be delivered, or can't be delivered on time and in budget at the price the consumer wants to pay.
And I think Mr. Bentley's letter is a nearly perfect example of what I was trying to get at. It seems to assume I don't appreciate the value of such work, which is not true.
The dilemma of how to organize a company that delivers services most of its customers do not and cannot understand is one that hasn't really been solved anywhere; and anyone who works with programmers -- and I have -- or does any programming -- and I have -- will understand how easy it is to assume your user will realize why things cannot be done the way the user wants them to. Since the normal human tendency is to seek self-validation from SOMEONE, to whom do you turn then? And the clear answer is, to others in your profession.
Writers in general have no choice but to keep the consumers happy: otherwise we will starve, which is the point of Niven's remark. As to his being less accessible than some, Niven doesn't try to write for a mass audience. Writers who write for other writers should write letters: but while we have to endure critics, and sometimes learn something from them, we don't write for critics. Unlike programmers, we don't really have peer groups, as witness that few writers much care what professors of creative writing think of their works. Like everyone I know of we prefer that people like what we do, but editors and the general public -- and editors are only trying to determine what the public will like -- are our only validation group.
Programming, like the learned professions, has different standards, and I can't think how often I have heard programmers concede that some particular bit of work is liked by the public but it is really inelegant and a kludge and not good code -- I think I have heard one or two say that about some of the most popular software ever written...
In any event: my apologies if I infuriated anyone, but I think my problem was I didn't say enough, not that what I said wasn't true.
I thought of putting up my crow eating image, but I have decided on reflection it isn't quite warranted.
"I thought of putting up my crow eating image, but I have decided on reflection it isn't quite warranted."
You just didn't want to go through the effort of setting up the ALT tag, really. Right? (grin)
Greg Goss ( mailto:email@example.com )
Now for something different: viruses and ecology, from Greg Cochran. This may spark a discussion that warrants its own page. This was posted in a private discussion forum and appears here with permission.
There is a parasitic protozoan named Toxoplasma gondii, cousin to malaria, that infects cats and rats. It does little harm to the cats - just grows in the intestines and produces a hardy spore form that is excreted and can live a very long time. In rats, toxoplasma causes more trouble - it encysts in a number of organs, including the brain and eyes. Toxoplasma reproduces asexually in rats and sexually in cats, so cats are a key part of its life cycle.
Rats pick it up, ultimately, from cat feces. How does it get from rats into cats? Simple - the cats eat the rats.
We used to think that it just sat quietly in the rat's brain. Nope. Normal, uninfected rats fear the odor of cat urine and never return to a place with that odor. "When researchers test anti-anxiety drugs on rats, they use a whiff of cat urine to make them panic" says Carl Zimmer in _Parasite Rex_. Infected rats are not made anxious by this smell and some were even fascinated by it, coming back again and again to visit the place with the smell of cat urine.
It makes sense - those protozoa that increase the chance of their rat host ending up in a cat stomach do better. Natural selection has favored this for tens of millions of years, and there is every reason to suspect that it works on a lot more animals than just rats. Toxoplasma is everywhere and infects a very wide range of animals - it exists in big cats like lions, not just tabbies, in wildebeest, not just rats - and its role in confusing or hypnotizing prey may be important in explaining the long-term evolutionary success of cats. For all I know, cats couldn't make a living without toxoplasma.
Toxoplasma infects people. Lots of people, something a third of the people on Earth ( 80% of the French. Much is now explained) . Few of us are eaten by cats, but toxoplasma is probably adapted to confusing a wide range of hosts and even if people infected with toxoplasma aren't jumping into the Coliseum nowadays, it may well be a bad thing to have in your brain.
And speaking of cats, why do people like them? They're not very affectionate, have never been as useful as dogs - why do people keep cats? Well, I've been wondering if something is making certain people like cats... When you hear about those old ladies with 87 cats, don't you wonder? Sure, they seem to be foolish, but what _kind_ of fool are they?
Anyhow; suppose this is true. Suppose that people keep cats because they're slaves of a dirty little microorganism.. Is this one of those personal choices that libertarians wouldn't want to interfere with? Does a mind damaged by a germ, to a real extent, _controlled_ by a germ, have the usual right to autonomy? Does the germ have rights? What if this affected a lot of people - would that make a difference?
Toxoplasma might achieve this confusion by manufacturing some kind of neurotransmitter analog. If someone tries a man-made neutrotransmitter analog, it'll screw up his brain also. It might cause him to avoid further doses of that shit like the plague, but sometimes it might push buttons that make him want more. His judgment is a not a standard human one - his head is full of funny chemicals - no more than the cat-addled old lady has a normal human judgment. But it's the only one kind they have - unless we cure them - and we wouldn't want to do that, would we? That'd be interfering with their autonomy.
This raises a number of profound questions. It's also a fascinating insight into an ecology we don't precisely understand. To the protozoan, rats and cats only exist to make more toxoplasma; they are walking toxoplasma factories. What germs think of us that way?
Dear Dr. Pournelle,
I am sure someone(s) must have asked you this many times before, if so I do apologize for its trivial nature.
I am currently rereading "Mote" (again!!) read "the Reflex" just prior to starting, and the idea of the "prison camp scene" as it's called with its references in the book are driving me crazy. Has the that chapter ever been published anywhere??
I feel almost silly that my email doesn't touch on any of the other more interesting and serious topics that I have read on your page before, but this is what is currently is on my mind. Actually what is REALLY drivng me NUTS is there is a vague recollection of reading (or listening to?) something that might have been that scene several years back-(possibly at LASFS??). I was a LASFS member and would hang out at the clubhouse every now and then and actually met you (and Larry) there too. Sadly, my retail work schedule prevented me from attending too often though, as it still prevents me from doing other things like going to cons as often as I would like. (Retail means evening and weekend work).
Thank You very much for indulging me, and my best wishes to you and Mr. Niven.
Eric Gali Glendale, CA
I believe either Niven or I read that scene at a LASFS meeting as a program item one night, years and years ago. I have no idea where it is now; I am not sure I even have a copy. MOTE was done on Selectric Typewriters, the last book I did before computers. Part of it was later typed in as computer files, but not the "lost scenes" cut by either our editors or at Mr. Heinlein's suggestion.
Eric Gali Glendale was asking about a lost scene from "Mote". The "lost preface" set at the start of the civil war is not the scene that he is asking about, but it should be mentioned as background to this topic. I still have that copy of Galaxy somewhere in a box. There is an issue of Galaxy with a (Freas?) cover showing a not-too-accurate rendition of the flagship (MacArthur?). It features the lost preface as a stand-alone novelette, and the "step farther out" goes into the science of Mote. If we're talking about lost segments of Mote, then these two should probably be mentioned.
Greg Goss ( mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org )
And now for something else. (Note: my son Phillip is NOT on the USS Winston S Churchill; this is a forwarded letter):
Note the following email from son on the USS Winston S Churchill to father with attached photos...
Subject: FW: Allies at sea
To All: Forwarded by a retired officer (Army, but nobody's perfect) who works around here who's kid serves aboard USS Winston S Churchill. Thought y'all might get something worthwhile from it. WPC
Dear Dad, Well, we are still out at sea, with little direction as to what our next priority is. The remainder of our port visits, which were to be centered around max liberty and goodwill to the United Kingdom, have all but been cancelled.
We have spent every day since the attacks going back and forth within imaginary boxes drawn in the ocean, standing high-security watches, and trying to make the best of our time. It hasn't been that fun I must confess, and to be even more honest, a lot of people are frustrated at the fact that they either can't be home, or we don't have more direction right now.
We have seen the articles and the photographs, and they are sickening. Being isolated as we are, I don't think we appreciate the full scope of what is happening back home, but we are definitely feeling the effects. About two hours ago the junior officers were called to the bridge to conduct Shiphandling drills. We were about to do a man overboard when we got a call from the LUTJENS(D185), a German warship that was moored ahead of us on the pier in Plymouth, England.
While in port, the WINSTON S CHURCHILL and the LUTJENS got together for a sports day/cookout on our fantail, and we made some pretty good friends. Now at sea they called over on bridge-to-bridge, requesting to pass us close up on our port side, to say goodbye. We prepared to render them honors on the bridgewing, and the Captain told the crew to come topside to wish them farewell.
As they were making their approach, our Conning Officer announced through her binoculars that they were flying an American flag. As they came even closer, we saw that it was flying at half-mast. The bridgewing was crowded with people as the Boatswain's Mate blew two whistles- Attention to Port- the ship came up alongside and we saw that the entire crew of the German ship were manning the rails, in their dress blues. They had made up a sign that was displayed on the side that read "We Stand By You".
Needless to say there was not a dry eye on the bridge as they stayed alongside us for a few minutes and we cut our salutes. It was probably the most powerful thing I have seen in my entire life and more than a few of us fought to retain our composure.
It was a beautiful day outside today. We are no longer at liberty to divulge over unsecure e-mail our location, but we could not have asked for a finer day at sea. The German Navy did an incredible thing for this crew, and it has truly been the highest point in the days since the attacks.
It's amazing to think that only a half-century ago things were quite different, and to see the unity that is being demonstrated throughout Europe and the world makes us all feel proud to be out here doing our job. After the ship pulled away and we prepared to begin our man overboard drills the Officer of the Deck turned to me and said "I'm staying Navy."
I'll write you when I know more about when I'll be home, but for now, this is probably the best news that I could send you. Love you guys.
Kind of gets to you, doesn't it?
As a (very) former programmer, I agree with your comments--it takes one to judge one. Non-programmers just don't get it.
I became a former programmer when a fellow student came into the computer lab the night before an assignment (on which I had worked for three weeks) was due, borrowed my copy of the assignment, wrote the code in maybe 20 minutes, debugged it, printed a clean copy, and left, inside an hour. When we both got the same score, I knew that I wouldn't be making my living writing code.
I have often wondered if full-time hard-core programmers are a different species. Now I am given to wonder what virus inhabits their brains.
As to Mr. Niven's "accessibility" I recall that Spider Robinson once wrote, "The average reader would bounce off a lot of Niven stories, I think." Neither you nor Mr. Niven write for the slow of brain, obviously, but I think that Spider was right--some people of relatively high intelligence just don't grasp the wonders and marvels that we see in the Smoke Ring, or Destiny, or Avalon. Maybe the right virus never infected them.
The virus hypothesis means that nanodevices that aid the immune system will need to be very carefully regulated, if they are ever invented. Kill the wrong virus, and --bingo-- you aren't quite you anymore.
And pieces like that (frequently your own) are the reader's reward for this website. The Aha! factor--all the insights and possibilities--that's what makes this place special. You once wrote that science fiction readers are the Advanced Planning Department for the human race. I think an incredible number of really bright members of that department make fairly regular contributions here.
Thanks again for all the work on this site. I do appreciate all of it.
Mark Thompson email@example.com
Well, I don't suspect a virus. Although Niven is crazy enough that...
Thanks for the kind words.
------------------ Terrorists are under attack even before a shot is fired
Source: The Telegraph (U.K,) Published: September 28, 2001 Author: John Keegan
THERE is a danger that America's worldwide war on terrorism risks declining into a phoney war, as the Second World War did in its early months, and for the same reason, lack of action.
Many in the West have already expressed a lack of support for the Americans' campaign. Even some fervent supporters may begin to lose heart if the president and his team are not seen to achieve concrete results soon.
It is worth reviewing what positive effects of the mobilisation of the anti-terrorist coalition can be claimed so far.
[I had posted the entire piece, but now I don't have to]:
Here's a URL for the Keegan article you posted, just in case no one else has already forwarded it to you.
-- Robert Brown www.godofwar.com "Most computer problems can be solved by a suitable charge of high explosive."
Go read the rest of it. It's worth it.
I will replace this with the appropriate URL when I get it. I leave off the name of the sender. "Neo-con" means "neo conservative", an appellation used in self description by Norman Podhoretz (formerly of Commentary) and the editors of The Weekly Standard.
I am told this appeared in USA Today. Could it be any clearer that the neo-cons want the US to accomplish Israel's foreign policy goals?
Whose war is this?
By Patrick J. Buchanan
In his resolve to hunt down and kill the Osama bin Laden terrorists he says committed the Sept. 11 massacres, President Bush has behind him a nation
more unified than it has been since Pearl Harbor. But now Bush has been put on notice that this war cannot end with the head of bin Laden and the overthrow of the Taliban.
The shot across Bush's bow came in an "Open Letter" co-signed by 41 foreign-policy scholars, including William Bennett, Jeane Kirkpatrick, the publisher of The Weekly Standard and the editor in chief of The New Republic - essentially, the entire neoconservative establishment.
What must Bush do to retain their support? Target Hezbollah for destruction and retaliate against Syria and Iran if they refuse to cut all ties to Hezbollah and move militarily to overthrow Iraq's Saddam Hussein. Failure to attack Iraq, the neocons warn Bush, "will constitute an early and perhaps decisive surrender in the war on international terrorism."
"Our purpose in writing is to assure you of our support as you do what must be done to lead the nation to victory in this fight," the letter ends.
Implied is a threat to end support if Bush does not widen the war to include all of Israel's enemies, or if he pursues the U.S.-Arab-Muslim coalition of Secretary of State Colin Powell. <snip >
I do not post this as approval; but Buchanan is the only commentator asking whether our goal is republic or empire.
If it is to be empire, we will need loyal client states. The best policies for an Imperial America are not the same as the best for a republic. An Empire MUST be feared. Which means we must do some serious bombing, at least on the levels we directed against Belgrade, which means as least that many civilian casualties.
We also need to choose our allies and client states carefully.
This read to me as if it should say
"This kind of code is created by ..."
Based on the description you gave and the description given of by Aaron Bentley of the programming that he does, its as if you were characterizing heart surgeons, but said "medical doctor", and a pediatrician wrote in to say, "I'm nothing like that and neither are any of the good pediatricians that I know".
Or like the difference between an import house and a retailer.
"Our company uses custom software to provide web-based services" makes it fairly clear, at least to me, that if they behaved in the way you persuasively characterized "old school" Microsoft programmers, they would run a serious risk of going down in flames.
Bruce McFarling, Shortland, NSW firstname.lastname@example.org
September 29, 2001
> Buchanan is the only commentator asking whether our goal is republic or empire
Well, the only commentator who gets regularly published in the papers anyhow.
Thought you'd like this essay, which also addresses the question: http://reason.com/hod/jw092101.html
The author does a pretty good job of outlining the possible responses, in order of increasing violence. He also gives them cute and memorable names that might come in handy:
1. The Gandhi option (pacifist, turn-the-other-cheek, do-nothing.) 2. The Kojak option (pure law-enforcement approach, essentially the same as was done for past attacks.) 3. The Bronson option (vigilantist--possibly private-sector--apprach involving limited force but without all the procedural hoops of Kojak.) 4. The Bugs Bunny option (alluding to Bugs' penchant for responding to slights with the matter-of-fact declaration, "Of course, you realize, this means war." Essentially the current approach if we stop after smacking the current crop of perpetrators. The Republican war option.) 5. The Caesar option (unlimited war leading to empire.) 6. The Dr. Strangelove option (same as Caesar but with nukes.)
Anyhow, thought you'd like to see it.
David G.D. Hecht
I did indeed. Quite well done. I need to write a major essay on this myself. I like his analytical approach.
Note that his "Bugs Bunny" option is pretty close to what I have been saying here. The important thing is that we have a scenario that can END. Perpetual war for perpetual peace is a horrible option. I would rather have another WTC disaster every generation than that.
From Joel Rosenberg, frequent contributor to my There Will Be War series:
Far be it from me to agree with Buchanan -- and I don't -- but he is right in at least coming close to asking the Republic vs. Empire question, although more eliptically than is his usual wont, and (predictably) blaming Israel and its supporters once more, just as he very explicitly did in the runup to the rescue of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, a decade ago, apparently feeling (although he never did quite come out and say so, as far as I know), that the US could either deal with a Saddam in control in Kuwait and with Saudi Arabia ripe for the plucking (and with something like a fifth of its population basically rightless non-Saudi nationals, with little love for their employers, by and large) -- even Saddam with nuclear weapons, which was then and may still be a short way away -- and/or quickly manage some sort of way to avoid needing oil coming out of the Arabian gulf.
But Republic or Empire, if we are going to be involved in the world in a way in which will enrage even a small number of people who see some advantage to be gained by, just to take an obvious example, ramming airplanes into skyscrapers, we have to deal with some of the implications of that. (Republic or Empire -- are we going to stop propping up the Saudi regime that bin Laden and Saddam are feuding with?)
Buchanan dismisses all of the implications with a wave of his hand. Joseph Farah, to take an example, doesn't. See http://www.worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=24697 and other recent columns.
Or see Netanyahu's testimony before Congress, which Farah links to at http://www.worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=24688 . Netanyahu is not unbiased, but do note the argument he constructs.
Empire or Republic, if we're not going to take a shot at irreversible autarky (and how we would do that I don't know, but if it isn't irreversible, the problems remain), I believe that one of the implications must include that we must be feared.
How much damage need be inflicted, and on whom, to inculcate that fear in sufficient people and governments is an interesting issue.
---------------------------- There's a widow in sleepy Chester Who weeps for her only son; There's a grave on the Pabeng River, A grave that the Burmans shun; And there's Subadar Prag Tewarri Who tells how the work was done. -- Rudyard Kipling, "The Grave of the Hundred Head."
I keep coming back to my Memorials: create a central park sized desolation in a major city in every country that we know supported, or rejoiced over, the WTC. Create it with soldiers and bulldozers so there is minimum loss of life but maximum weeping and wailing, and yes, gnashing of teeth. THEN put SSPS receivers on that desolation and give about 800 megawatts of power. Stick and carrot.
Imagine if you will that during the 500 year rule of the hated Turks in that region that someone had managed to blow up the Palace and kill three hundred of the Sultan's wives. Every Arab would be cringing in terror because they would know they were going to die. If someone had proposed blowing up the palace in Istanbul his neighbors would have pounded him to a pulp.
I want it to be in the interest of a great many people in the Middle East to pound down anyone proposing another attack on the United States. Hate us, yes; but be afraid. Be very afraid.
We can then apply carrots, but you hand out the carrots from behind rough men with swords and shields.
Fuel cells are just about to become practical. How long until they are ubiquitous?
-- Steve R. Hastings "Vita est" email@example.com http://www.blarg.net/~steveha
Fuel cells are a good technology but they are a storage, not a generation, technology. There are no hydrogen wells. Combined with Solar Power Satellites or nuclear fission generators they are the means by which we substitute electrical power for fossil fuels including oil.
With enough electricity we can tell the Arabs to drink their oil. We should have that choice.
The problem is that converting to an electrical economy will be a big economic change and the owners of the oil businesses are not likely to welcome it. It will take about $100 billion to develop and deploy Space Solar Power Satellites (SSPS). Part of that is the construction of a fleet of heavy lift reusable space ships. With low cost access to space all kinds of things become feasible including space based air and missile defenses, Thor, and the ability to deliver cheap power to places like Kabul.
Fuel cell technology makes SSPS economically feasible. But the displacement of existing businesses will be tremendous, ranging from oil drilling to filling stations. Note that we will always need oil; but with SSPS in place we won't depend on foreign oil.
I read with interest your comments about remelding the Air Force back into the Army. Provocative, perhaps - but not incorrect. Any major power that gets rid of its Air Force will gain titantic strength.
The reason for this is that independent air forces tend to be overpriced, arrogant, and ineffective.
Buying an air force would be expensive in any event. Combat airplanes are never cheap. However, anyone who has worked with the USAF has noted that it is terribly overstaffed. In joint programs (and I spent five years working in the RQ-4 Global Hawk program office), the usual ratio is three to five USAF personnel for every Army or Navy person involved. The simple fact is that air forces have an inherently low tooth-to-tail ratio because the maintenance troops don't fly combat missions. This makes air forces particularly vulnerable to the burecratic disease of rating managers by the number of subordinates they control - and leads to expensive bloating.
Arrogance is another serious problem. The USAF tends to be the most dogmatic and the most deferential of all the services. For example, an analysis of air-to-air combat during the Vietnam War showed that the Air Force refused to update training and abandon the obsolete fingertip formation - because it would make the USAF's higher management admit a mistake. The Navy, on the other hand, started with better tactics - and took the lessons of the mid-1960s to heart, permitting a wholesale slaughter of enemy aircraft in the early 1970s. (It shows in debriefs, too. Navy flight debriefs are free-for-all, while USAF briefings are often run on a basis of not criticizing O-6's and above)
All this would be tolerable if air forces could deliver. But they can't. Ever since World War I, the advocates of independent air forces have sold the idea with the notion that wars can be won by bombing alone. The only problem is that ninety years of air warfare don't bear this contention out. Breaking the will of the public by bombing has failed completely, while destruction of the enemy industrial base is less and less practical given the long-lead nature of modern weapons systems and the fast pace of modern warfare.
Worst of all, expensive, arrogant, and ineffective air forces seriously damage other components that ARE effective. It's worth noting that during World War II, aircraft carriers were the sine qua non of seapower - and that the only nations with worthwhile carrier fleets were those nations that did NOT have an independent air force. And to this day, the measure of a nation's ability to project power overseas - and hence their power as a player in world politics - is measured in carrier-borne aircraft.
So we're left with a question - what to do?
Personally, I tend to agree with your contention that we should return to the organization that won World War II - a War department to run the Army and Army Air Force, and a Navy department to run the Navy and Marine Corps. Such a move would put the land-based air arm under great pressure to be more efficient with men and money, and would compel a far greater attention to being part of a national war effort, instead of trying to win a war on their own.
Not that we will. Bureaucrats and politicians hate admitting they were wrong. About the only way to straighten this mess out is to lose a war. Which I would rather not do.
Michael L. McDaniel
I like most USAF people I know, but as an institution USAF is a failure. You can't let pilots who won't pay attention to strategy be in charge of a whole Service equal to all the others.
It was formed so that we would pay attention to air warfare strategy. We don't have one, and USAF has forgotten what it once knew about the subject. It doesn't even have a decent air superiority strategy any longer and it doesn't buy the tools. It won't do the mega-missions it is charged with. Now what?
Dr. Pournelle, "Abolish the silly thing as a bad experiment and go back to War and Navy."
I agree. Two points: 1. You can bomb the hell out of a place, but it isn't really secure until you stand a grunt on it. 2. We spent, what? Billions? bombing Milosovic's plywood tank mock-ups. Had we infantry on the ground, we'd have turned them into shanty home for the refugees instead. And far cheaper, too.
Right now, USAF space command isn't too bad an idea, but the Zoomies need to recall their roots- air power was developed to support the troops on the ground. See point #1 above. This the Navy hasn't yet forgotten.
Of course, this you know already. But the message needs to get through to the USAF Top Brass.
George Laiacona III <firstname.lastname@example.org> ICQ 37042478/ 28885038 "The pen may be mightier than the sword, but I fear the sword more." -Fredor, Lord of the Inner Sea
"The first assertion is not true, and neither is the second: in the insect world there are astonishing instances of "mind control", with insects exposing themselves to certain death by predators if and only if they are infected. "
Yes. A truly frightening example is a parasitized caterpillar which featured in a rather beautiful Oxford films documentary for the BBC. Infected grubs are 'steered' from the underside of leaves to the top, where birds snap them up, and so the life cycle continues. To my dying day I'll remember the close-up of an eye of one of these grubs, swirling with parasites like something out of a bad science-fiction movie.
For toxoplasmas to modify human behaviour is an interesting variant on this idea, and may be even testable - I bet they leave some kind of biochemical fingerprint. And we don't have to leave it there. Prions are even smaller, they modify brain function (Alzheimer's), and who knows? maybe there is a prion which encourages the consumption of low grade beef products. Your yen for a hot dog or hamburger could be powered by wrinkly proteins eating away at your brain... Parasitizing happens at all scales of life.
Mind you, there's no real need to invoke mind-bending toxoplasmas to account for old women with thirty-seven cats, or a hundred and one dalmations; nor old men who fill their houses with (inanimate) junk to the point that the local city council has to evict them, then raze the section. For now I reckon Occam's razor applies - generally, quirks of behaviour can be ascribed to a personal trauma earlier in life. My wife can rattle off several examples and I guess Ed Hume can do the same.
-- Terry Cole BA/BSc/BE/BA(hons) (email@example.com) System Administrator, Dept. of Maths. & Stats., Otago Uni. PO Box 56, Dunedin, NZ.
What is really creepy are parasites that not only cause prey animals to change their behavior to increase their chances of being eaten by the parasite's next vector, but actually change the appearance of the prey animal to enhance its chances of being spotted.
And a snail, which I could not find a good reference for, where the parasite migrates to the ends of the snail's eyestalks, and swells them up into huge, colored, pulsating "headlights" to attract the attention of birds. I saw a film of this once, and it was very weird.
Then there's this:
Was walking back from the sandwich shop when I suddenly flashed on this:
Millions of years ago. Enter a parasite, now long extinct, infecting the brains of apes that are living comfortably in the trees, eating fruit. They develop a sudden dissatisfaction with their lazy lives, and are compelled to wander out into the plains, looking for something. They have no idea what. They are easy prey for the lions that are the next vector. Well, most of them are easy prey. A few get lucky, or get a little smarter. They pick up a sharp stick, go on into the plains and survive.
And that strange, sourceless, endless dissatisfaction with their status quo was still there...
P.S. The first person who suggests the apes picked up the parasite by eating an apple, gets a punch in the eye.
Fascinating. Once one starts on this kind of thinking...
Jerry: Have you been watching ENRON? They are very near to divesting themselves of all physical assets. All the other majors are busily relabeling themselves as Energy companies with large electricity generation and transmission capabilities. I expect to see the Energy companies in the forefront of such a move. It doesn't make sense for them to invest in assets that are subject to seizure or destruction....
Also, what if Ousama lands back in the Peninsula and is received with palm fronds and calls of Mahdi? I would be shocked if security departments within the major oil companies are not at present nervously trying to quantify the magnitude of this risk. "Adios, petrolito lindo!" You have probably read stories of King Saud's departure for Switzerland, no?
Do we have a contingency plan for such a disruption?
Bottom line, you may be pleasantly surprised at the level of support now, and in the near future, for ideas like SSPS, standardized nuclear plants, etc.
Also, in case you have not run into this, I fervently commend you to read Hernando de Soto's (really his name, Peruvian economist) treatise titled "The Mistery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else." I find that the simplicity of his devastating and factual analysis filled with possiblities for remedies.
Be of good cheer, the fight is hard, but not new, and our prospects for complete victory are excellent
Glenn Cordua Houston
Hurrah. No, I have not been watching. I shall, now.
And from Ed Hume on Keegan:
The closing paragraph in the John Keegan article http://www.portal.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2001/09/28/wcom28.xml
you referenced reminded me of something. Keegan said
America's refusal to make clear its operational intentions . . . has an unrecognised advantage. . . . It creates a sense of insecurity in states which are involved in the terrorist web. . . . Its current passivity should not be mistaken for weakness but as the masterly inactivity of a great power, provoked but not shaken, while it prepares a terrible reckoning.
This reminded me of something in the Dao De Jing (Tao The Ching):
The wise ones get things done without taking action
As promised, I took the day off.