19 December 2005

- This Is Why We Fight -

This via Scriv via Geeky Mom.

A senior at UMass Dartmouth was visited by federal agents two months ago, after he requested a copy of Mao Tse-Tung's tome on Communism called "The Little Red Book."

Don't we all feel just so much safer?

I mean, leaving aside the question of whether Homeland Security has the legal right to monitor such requests, or even if they do have the legal right whether it is ethically proper, I just I don't see how anyone can think that this is a good use of the agency's resources. Sending two agents to interview the student about requesting this book and admitting that that's why you are interviewing him!!????

I guess if I were to put my head into a place of evil paranoia I could see that the agency might want to track such things, even relatively innocuous items like this, in order to build up a database to trigger further investigation (which is what the story says the book did). But, sheesh, you don't go and tell the subject of the investigation that! Otherwise if the news gets out, first of all you look completely paranoid. Second, you look extremely silly. (This book in particular is so similar to those business motivational texts that the old terrorist Ross Perot carries a version of it around in his pocket—or so he said when he ran for President.) Third, you tip the agency's hand to the sorts of things that the agency is monitoring (you have just given actual terrorists an indication of the sorts of things that will trigger further investigation).

Yes, such vigilance makes me feel so much safer.

06 December 2005

- Cat Pictures -

By special request, two pictures of Rupert. (I tried to load them last night but Blogger was being a bugger even before the scheduled maintenance.)



05 December 2005

- Yesterday -

I just got a message out of the blue from someone who'd read my dissertation. Weird. My dissertation is ten years old, so I was more than a little surprised—especially since mine dates from the pre-PDF days. For those of you not up on the ways of the academy, all dissertations completed since 1997 are available from UMI in digital format. If your university has a subscription, you can download them for free. Needless to say, this increases greatly the circulation of dissertations, since you don't have to shell out $40 everytime you want to see if some dissertation has anything worthwhile in it. But it also means that those earlier dissertations may as well have been completed in the paleolithic for all the readership they're going to get today. So what's weird is this: somebody not only had to read my dissertation, they had to order it on the basis of the abstract. What faith!!! And he's not even in my field.

Now I'm having a cordial conversation with the guy over email. The only problem is that he's interested in a part of the dissertation that I haven't thought much about since I wrote it, so I'm having to clear the cobwebs out of that part of the brain and try to recall what exactly it is that I was saying and why I was saying it. Sometimes when I go back and read my dissertation I swear it was written by another author—that is, somebody who isn't me. It's a very strange experience feeling so alienated from that self one used to be.