Son of Devil's Advocate
Business As Usual
This column was in mid-draft when the terrorist attacks of September 11th struck New York and Washington, nay, all of us. I share the outrage and grief. And offer my inadequate condolences. Even those of us who had no immediate family victims are suffering from a long, still uncertain chain of friends-of- colleagues, colleagues-of-friends, at six, more or less, degrees of separation. Or rather "unity."
Of all the counter-productive acts in Mankind's mindless mongerings, Sep 11 surely comes close to Pearl Harbor.
We writers hate events "beyond words" and us satirists are especially challenged.
The scenes of the World Trade Center and Pentagon devastation reminded me of the World War II blitz. I was there! I survived by inches the Nazi attacks on my native Liverpool in the 1940s. But we had a few minutes siren-warning [fnote 1], time to reach a Morrison bomb-shelter or, in my family case, duck under the kitchen table. Yet, we had a general warning, being at a formal "state of war" (we have the signed protocols) with a known enemy, full of Fascist face.
Previous "terrorists" have boldy admitted "responsibility" (often, e.g., in many IRA and Euskara instances, with genuine apologies for inadvertent collateral massacres), but, so far, every well-meaning thug in the Universe is saying "Pas moi."
Before completing this column, I consulted several author- columnist friends. You can guess the angst: whether to disrupt the "normal" flow of discourse?
Some of my cols appear several months after the penning-thereof (e.g., "Postmortem Debunker," C/C++ Users Journal) whilst my SODA ramblings hit you in real-time or better.
General feedback from Bjarne Stroustrup, Bob Toxen, Fred Butzen, et al., was "Nil Illegitimi Carborundum." I.e., "Don't Let the Bastards Ground You Down."
We should remember the patriotic shop signs of WW II, when all around was ge-flattened: Business As Usual
To do otherwise is to solace our cowardly foes.
Come on outback. Debate via taliban.mil (fat chance) whether the Koran sanctions a Jihad against the unarmed. Then we'll discuss the unmentionable excesses of the Crusades.
Meanwhile, back to my trad dead-lined SODA.
fnote 1: At the time I was studying Homer at de Inny (the Liverpool Institute), wherein Odysseus (tie me down, sport) resisted the Sirens yet survived. Lucky sod. We also read Goethe and listened to Wagner -- the very Huns who were trying to kill us. Discuss, as the Examiners demanded.
You Don't Say
There's been volumes written on the concept of tautology. You might even cite this "ongoing debate" as the ultimate, endless example. And, no sooner than you mention "this," but some crazed epistemologist with time on her hands will ask which "this" is this?
The basic tautology (from the Greek root, tauto meaning "same") seems harmless enough. In natural-linguistic discourse, we often repeat ourselves without philosophic phisticuffs. The people we vote in to rule us regularly thank "each and every one." We feel twice blessed, at least, without question.
The few meta-logicians, comme moi, who spend sleepless nights risking our marital status, pondering the deeper meanings of predicates such as "some" and "all," have, alas, little influence on the democratic process.
Thucydides, the Father of "subjective" History and Social Science warned us back circa 400 BCE that the gullible Athenian mob would end the Periclean Golden Age. There was great counter-example to the thesis that only the victors wrote "history." Recall the Peloponnesian Champs League: Athens 1, Sparta 3, after extra time.
See (I insist!), e.g,. Prof. Michael Sugrue: Thucydices and the Dawn of History, Great Authors of the Western Literacy Tradition, Part II: The Literature of Ancient Greece and Rome. The Teaching Company, 1993; 1-800-832-2412, 7405 Alban Station Court, Suite A107, Springfield, VA 22150.
Then there's Prof. Sweet Georgia Nugent (Princeton Univ.) on the same audio set, with donnish giggles over the Oresteia, Oedipus, and the Bacchae.
I think of all my co-elites stuck in the Silcon Valley traffic jams (embouteillage is the slick Frog, implying we are all too pissed to find the bypass) digesting the wider world web on our ancient cassettes.
Note the analogue discontinues:
Some tapes say "End of track N; wind forward to the end then stop and re-insert obversely..."
Others just say "This tape is continued on the other side."
Others admit the possibilty that your system has auto-reverse.
Regardless, we elites crawl on imbibing all-known wisdoms.
We really know the narrow difference 'twixt tautology and oxymoron.
I appeal, in vain, for the Athenian Sophist tradition. The idea that rhetoric can provide well-formed formulae both pro-con sans sparagmos and omophagia.
OK: I'm sure I'll get queries:
Sparagmos is simply "tearing a living animal limb from limb."
Omophagia is simply "ingesting the raw animal bits."
Bill Gates assures me that He is not related to the House of Atreus.
Nowever, I am a devout Philoctetan. My corns are killing me but I retain the magic Bow.
15 Long Years Ago
The Devil's Advocate, Stan Kelley-Bootle, Unix Review, October 1986
Birth and Compilation and Death
The CCG (Computer Columnists' Guild) has threatened me with expulsion and warned me as to my future conduct. Apparently my essays, observing as they do the three (count 'em) classical unities (more!), are blatantly Baconian, inordinately Montaignesque and excessively Hazlittian. They completely fail to meet the Guild's rigid standards for columnarity, as prescribed in the CCG Bible, "Writing Gooder Columns." Rather than risk losing the perquisites of Guild membership (the discounted tickets for Dvorak's conference addresses, and the half-priced, signed portraits of Pournelle are particularly valued), I am resolved to get in line and forsake my belletrist pretensions.
My final fling, my last dalliance with literacy, is this month's title, which I dedicate to my Editor, Mark (Full-screen) Compton. Mark has managed to get us (the Bourne and Kelly-Bootle clans) tickets for the musical "Cats," no mean feat in this Unix-crazed town. You might have thought that people get enough file concatenation at work, but apparently not. Everyone is flocking to see how it is done on-stage and with music to boot! Steve Bourne is particularly anxious to see the shape of their prompt; getting this wrong may ruin his evening.
By the way, the connection between "Cats" and the title of my column is...tease, tease...obvious, surely? Anyroad, a prize beyond valuation is offered to the reader with the cleverest explanation. Mark your letters "UNIX Review: T. S. Eliot Competition." The results will appear in my November 1986 piece (D.V.; fat chance) The contest is null where void and non-void where non-null.
This month, patient and adoring reader, as I struggle to meet the Guild's demands, expect the sharp rattle of disjointed bullets. I refer, of course, to the typographical bullet, a large black dot "so placed in printed matter as to call attention to a particular passage." (Webster's Third NID). By metonymy, the bullet becomes the actual passage itself, whence the Hebrew plural, bulletim, and further whence, by way of the Brother Grimms's fabled mutation of consonants, we reach the modern bulletin. Wait a moment, I hear the Guild Enforcers breaking down my door.
You can scan my bulletim in any sequence, or none, as Backus used to say to Naur. Those of you more concerned with form than content can simply read my first self-defining bullet, then EXIT to greener pastures.
"The Great Code" by Northrop Frye (Harvest/HBJ Books,1982) "The Bourne Supremacy" by Robert Ludlum (Random House,1986)
Liverpool-born Stan Kelly-Bootle has been exposed to computing, on and off and vice-versa, since 1953 when, after graduating in Pure Mathematics at Cambridge University, he switched to impure post-grad work on the wondrous EDSAC I. After some trenching with IBM and Univac in the 1960s and 70s, Stan opted for self-employment as a consultant, writer, folk-song revivalist, after-dinner entertainer, and cunning linguist.
His monthly DA ("Devil's Advocate") column ran and ran in UNIX Review (aka Performance Computing) from 1984 until January 2000 (a date that will live in infamy) but lives on as SODA ("Son of DA") via www.sarcheck.com the homepage devoted to UNIX performance.
The latest of his umpteen books are "The Computer Contradictionary" (MIT Press) and "UNIX Complete" (Sybex). More on his biblio- and disco-graphy can be found on http://www.feniks.com/skb/ soon due for its millennial update.
Stan welcomes reader reaction: email@example.com
The URL of this page may change in the future. Please bookmark the home page instead of this one.
Portions © copyright Stan Kelly-Bootle 2001.