I Am a Genius: listen to my words

I Have the Conch

listen to my words

Archive for the ‘Thought’ Category

I think a lot. Probably more than I should. This section is a repository of observations, philosophic musics, and theological theorizing.

Thoughts Inspired By Our Nation’s 238th Birthday

“America the Beautiful” touches my heart. I love my country. We have done great thibgs, though imperfectly. We are still capable of doing great things.

But I fear we have lost track of those things.

There are a great many things that we fought for in the 18th century. Independence was a side product of correcting the injustice of no representation. The British believed their Parliament did represent everyone in the empire. Americans ruled by Britain did not believe the Parliament could adequately represent them when it did not have people from America and familiar with American wants and needs.

I believe we have made great strides in political representation of all groups. Suffrage has officially been extended to everyone regardless of skin color or gender. Slavery is outlawed.

Yet we are still imperfect. There are still laws designed to exclude, or make it difficult for others to participate, when laws should be designed to expand representation. And socially we have far to go when dealing with people different than ourselves. Black distrusts white, white persecutes brown. The phrase “social justice warrior” is used with derision, as if fighting for justice in any arena is not a noble goal.

I think, however, that the direction of history is currently toward more equality in that regard. We have work to do, but many are doing that work.

But my understanding is that the War for Independence was supposed to be for greater freedom and liberty. That was why the Articles of Confederation dispersed authority and gave so little power to central government. When it failed, and a solution presented that centralized more power but tried to include balances and safeguards to prevent that power from becoming tyrannical, many were still nervous. They would not move forward without explicit guarantees in that solution that individual liberties were inviolate.

The founders did not create our federal government with security as a primary concerns. Indeed, many of those founders had in mind creating a government that could be overthrown, if necessary. Liberty was the overriding concern, with the minimum sacrifices required for stability and effectiveness.

I love those who sacrificed and worked hard to make this nation what it is. They made some mistakes, some of them grave and tragic. But they built for what they believed.

We cannot afford to think that all is well any longer. We cannot think that we are great because we are the USA. The US is not inherently great. The US can only be as great as it stands for the virtues enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

Let me be explicit in what I mean with concrete examples.

It means that very few government secrets are worth prosecuting members of the press. It means that granting press passes should be inclusory — that being a member of the press is not about accreditation — it is about allowing news to flow freely. There is no worthiness standard, and politically based grants of passes is an abomination.

It means even when there is a genuine government secret at stake, a cleared oppositional counsel should be there to represent the reasons why a considered action might be the wrong choice.

It means that getting a job done or achieving a security or enforcement goal has nothing close to the weight that due process and personal privacy hold. Mandatory searches and no fly lists to prohibit air travel are gross violations of the standards we pretend to uphold. These policies give lie to our claims of a free and open society. Especially when we spread those policies to other means of travel and gatherings.

It means that mass tracking and or recording calls, call records, or other communication is not a reasonable practice. It does little to nothing to help criminal or security investigations and certainly violates multiple principles that are supposed to be central to our national ideals.

It means that taking the word of a cop over the word of an accused citizen makes no objective sense and denies the principle of innocent until proven guilty. It means that attempts to thwart accountability, oversight, and regulation of law enforcement and other government representatives is resisting liberty and human dignity. The police, the FBI, and the “intelligence” apparatus must be held responsible when they raid the wrong house, or investigate the wrong person, and should make reparations. Recordings of law enforcement activity should be welcomed by cops, the legal apparatus, and all citizens.

It means that free speech zones are a mockery of the first amendment. It means making an assumption about a person based on ethnicity, color, or religious inclination is a frightening practice that rots our nation. Racial profiling is an evil practice.

It means passing legal judgements based on something someone doesn’t say is exactly the sort of thing we should be protected from. “Taking the fifth” should not and must not imply guilt.

It means that it is a far greater tragedy for an innocent to be deprived of freedom, even temporarily, than for a criminal to go free.

It means that prosecutors should be penalized when they do not share evidence, coerce confessions, deny representation, or otherwise violate due process. We should incentivize carriage of justice by prosecution and not “convictions.” We should compensate public defenders like we do prosecutors, so that the best lawyers find it a viable career choice. It means the primary role of judges needs to be defenders of the rights of the accused, not to get through their cases. And when a judge does not follow procedures, the respect due to his office does not warrant compliance with his orders.

It means the failure to convict the perpetrator of even a heinous crime is a lesser tragedy than to punish someone for a crime that person did not commit. It means we need police who want to protect, not who want to make a bust. It means we need police who worry more about justice and other around them then they do their own safety.

It means that all political representatives, government employees, and civil servants should always remember that the 9th and 10th amendments to the Constitution of the United States not only imply, but outright state that the Constitution does not enumerate all rights that people are entitled too. It means that no where is it written that the rights we claim to hold dear do not apply to non-citizens or extra-nationals.

Remember, the Declaration of Independence claims that the purpose of any government is to secure rights and liberties for it’s people, not to permit certain liberties so long as it doesn’t get in the way of the government trying to get things done. The government is exists to serve the people. It should not be its own entity.

The preamble to the Constitution states that it was established for six purposes: make a better union of the states, establish justice,.insure domestic tranquility, common defense, promote general welfare, and secure blessings of liberty. Two of those apply directly to law enforcement, “Justice” and “Tranquility” (the capitalization is in the original). Justice is first. But thinking that “Tranquility” gives more power to law enforcement only shows that the thinker misunderstands what tranquility is.

I think that many who are gung ho for the military believe that two apply to a strong military and intelligence community: common defense and “securing” the blessings of liberty. Again I would point out that “Blessings of Liberty” is capitalized in the text, but “common defense” is not. And I do not believe that an omnipresent intelligence apparatus “secures” any blessings of liberty. It may “secure” the position of a government, and though evidence indicates contrary, it can be argued that securing the government makes the people secure. But it does not secure any liberty.

We have lost our way as a nation. We do not remember the purposes for which we became a nation or the principles that moved us toward greatness. Unless we stand by those principles again, I cannot see ever achieving greatness. The United States is an newly adult nation who still has much work to do to achieve its goals and dreams. Please remember those dreams. Don’t get distracted into other avenues. Pursue those dreams of equality and liberty. Become a model for the world.

“Liberal” as an insult.

screen shot, because the coward deleted it.

screen shot, because the coward deleted it.

Just to provide context for the last tweet

Take My Wife … for example

For a guy who thinks of himself as a writer I become exceedingly poor with words when it comes to real things.1

At any rate, I always have a difficult time expressing myself, rather than making something up. I have imagination, but not sincerity, maybe.

And so I struggle to tell my wife what she means to me. Frankly, My family would fall apart without her. I would fall apart with out her. I can barely keep track of my own needs let alone the needs of everyone else.2

But that sounds infantile. She’s not my mom. And I don’t think she wants to be remembered as the person who keeps it all together. At least, not just that. I’m sure she doesn’t mind being thought of as capable. But after all, she’s intelligent and beautiful as well.

And I hope by now my fumbling has demonstrated that I wasn’t lying in the first few sentences.

It’s more than her leadership. Her touch is comforting in a way that I find completely inexplicable. I wake in the night, and I can reach out and just touch her back with my fingers, and suddenly I can go back to sleep. It’s more than confirmation that I’m not alone — although it is that in a very existential way. It’s even more than confirmation that we’re extensions of each other. It’s confirmation that things are OK. That things are as they should be, even if they’re not ideal.

Her touch works other times. I mean, it’s fun to hold my three year old and hug my children. But when Kirsti just runs her fingers quickly over my shoulder, there’s connection and calming.

I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to explain what she means to me, what she is to me. Or why. And right now I find that I’m out of ways to try. But she’s central to my life. Marrying her was completing myself.

  1. Maybe I just make up stories, and am less a wordsmith 

  2. I can feed the cat, but he doesn’t even use his litter box, so he requires very little attention to be happy 

Well, At Least We’ve Put a Man on the Moon

There’s a lot of stuff happened in the world last week. And much of it made me mad. I have found that perhaps a lot of people I have to share this all with maybe aren’t interested. So I put it on my blog. Then no one has to listen to it and I can still pretend I’m sharing with someone.

Informed High-Level Officials

Send in the Space Marines

Amazon Reminds Us How It Really Is

We Live in a World Where This is Real

All of this just makes me grateful humanity has been able to put a man on the moon. I mean, that’s pretty much the most awesome thing humanity has ever done. It makes it so I don’t lose every last particle of hope for humanity. And it means that just maybe one day there will be a way to escape.

We Live In A World Where This Is Real

Beware. In this story, which I’ve pulled from the news and is real and true, you will find the foundation for just about every stereotype for certain classes of people. I want to note that I’m not saying that these stereotypes are justified for application to their respective categories, just that there, apparently, is an example of a case where a person fits that stereotype perfectly.

I’m not linking to the stories, but you can find them easily enough by using your Google-fu. Just remember that Kai uses a lot of bad words, so stay away from recordings of interviews with him.

This story is about Kai. Kai is a scraggy-faced, blondie homeless surfer. His accent and mannerisms match those of surfers exactly, dudes, and he has no last name. Just Kai. Kai, “straight out of dog town,” was hitch hiking along in Cali when he was picked up by a person.

The person was a little disturbing. He confessed to having raped a fourteen-year-old in the Caribbean. But then it turns out that this was ok… because this driver was really Jesus so he could do anything he wanted.

So far, we have typical surfer dude being picked up by cliché crazy person.

Crazy driver turns out to take his memes another step too far by noticing a black utility worker and demonstrating how he could do anything he wants by running his truck into the man, pinning him. (He is now cliché racist crazy Jesus pervert.)

People, because most of us have feelings and empathy, rushed to help the injured man, but crazy driver gets out and tries to keep them all away.

And even though he apparently wasn’t bothered enough by the driver being a self-admitted rapist to ask him to pull over, or, for that matter, bothered enough that the driver thought himself Jesus (I guess homeless surfer bums have a higher tolerance for unusual personalities?) Kai decided he had enough and had to intervene when crazy man violently grabbed and held onto one would-be helper.

Kai got out of the car and pulled his hatchet from his bag.

And that pretty much completes our stereotypes. Yes, the hitchhiker was carrying an ax! Kai is not only a cliché surfer bum, he’s a cliché hitchhiker.

Kai pounded the crazy man with the hatchet (“Smash! Smash! Sa-mash!” in his own words), and both driver and crash victim were taken to the hospital with non-life threatening injuries. At least Kai didn’t use the blade of the hatchet, so he’s not a sociopathic homeless hitchhiker — as far as we know, anyway.

Yes, we live in a world where that isn’t just an urban legend.

Amazon Reminds Us How It Really Is

Lest we think Amazon is a scrupulous company, they decided us to keep us on the straight track with that one by acquiring a patent to sell used e-books.

This is another one of those things where I wonder if words should fail me. Unfortunately, I talk far too much for that to ever happen. Used. E-books. As in, electronic books. As in… I’m not even sure how to explain that any further.

On the whole other people seem to be as flabbergasted as me. John Scalzi weighed in (twice) on this. But he’s hardly the only one. Here’s another. And another. I can’t see a way that this can ultimately end up an honest way to do business. It practically screams “anti-competitive practice,” and repeats it over and over, like your neighbor’s dog keeping you up all night.

The idea supposedly has parallels to how you loan books from kindle to kindle. While the e-book is “on loan” the owner can’t access it. This process simply takes the license and says you can never use it again. The maximum number of licenses is the number of licenses purchased at full price. Amazon resells that license again and again.

What’s so bad about that? Well, I’ll skip over the trivially easy copying problem (no this isn’t the same as used games – no one is trying to sell a “used” copy of a downloaded game. Used games are purchased on the original physical media). One big problem I see is that there is no mechanism in place to keep Amazon honest. There’s no DRM breakthroughs and no new technology. Amazon has always had an incredibly opaque accounting process. It’s next to impossible to figure out anything with them. They are also pretty unresponsive to any user complaints. I have no confidence that this theoretical maximum number of licenses is going to actually correspond to any first time purchases.

In addition, I think this will destroy any profit the publisher or the author will make. I can get around feeling bad for the publisher, to a certain extent — though it’s pretty clear that, despite the very low quality of the huge majority of self-published books on the Kindle marketplace, Amazon thinks that the contributions publishers make to the development of a book product isn’t worth much (a thought that is very erroneous). Amazon’s goal has long been to eliminate publishers from the process. In some ways that’s liberating, and maybe publishers need to adopt a new model, but Amazon isn’t doing anything to replace the value that publishers — with their editing, proofing, formatting, and art direction — add to a book.

However, I can’t get around how much this is going to hurt authors. Amazon isn’t going to compensate authors at all for these resells. And combined with the lack of accountability, it’s going to hurt those authors. Which, in the long run, is going to hurt readers too. If it’s less lucrative to write books (and remember this applies to self-published as well as industry published books), then less books will be written. The quality will also drop. If Amazon were to exercise this patent, it would be a huge detriment to the production of quality literature.

All in all, this looks to me like another attempt by Amazon to make the price of books cheaper than the market currently settles at. Which makes Amazon more profitable, but hurts every single other person in the process.

Send in the Space Marines

Games Workshop makes a game. Actually, they make several games, one of which is the well-imagines Warhammer Fantasy RPG, which I will never play because of decisions they’ve made about another of their games: Warhammer 40,000.

Warhammer 40k is a table-top miniatures wargame that is set in the far future. The armies include space orks, space elves, and space marines. Games Workshop has a trademark on the term “space marine” as regards to games (a trademark which I think is on iffy foundations). And because of that when they recently started publishing ebooks set in the Warhammer 40k universe, they decided their trademark extends over pretty much any industry and goods throughout all space and time.

They chose to attempt to enforce this trademark recently by sending amazon a DMCA notice about Spots the Space Marine by M.C.A. Hogarth.

Note: I’ve never read this particular book. Or any prose by Hogarth, but I have been reading The Three Jaguars which I have found to be creative and imaginative. But this isn’t about Hogarth’s creative abilities or talent, it’s about her rights.

Amazon, as nearly all third parties do when served a DMCA notice, promptly yanked the Kindle edition of the book from their virtual shelves. This highlights what is troubling about the DMCA, and which would be terrifying about SOPA and PIPA. The third parties act first. The oft-times legitimate person whose content is threatened by such notices have no chance to defend themselves. The third party has no requirements to do any research or questioning about the content-revocation (it really shouldn’t be their burden anyway). And so the person serving the DMCA has an excellent tool to be an intellectual property bully.

And that’s exactly what happened here.

More specific than the tweets to your right, it’s easy to see that “space marines” has appeared in literature for more than eighty years. “Captain Brink and the Space Marines” by Bob Olson, published by Amazing Stories in 1932 is an obvious early example.

So pretty much Games Workshop’s claim about a trademark is a load of crap. Fortunately, the Internet was on Hogarth’s side. There were a rash of Twitter accounts changing their display names to involve the phrase Space Marines. Games Workshop banned a bunch. Famous geek celebrities spoke out on Hogarth’s side, including author John Scalzi and Cory Doctorow. And freedom of speech crusaders Popehat and the Electronic Freedom Foundation helped her get a platform and seek for legal assistance.

After a few days, Amazon restored the book to the store. Which is the solution that I believe they should have done. It was the only honest thing, once they had enough attention. So on the whole this story had a happy ending (assuming Games Workshop doesn’t take it to court. The problem is most stories like this don’t necessarily get that happy ending. Often the victims of intellectual property don’t get a voice. They don’t get famous people repeating their stories.

And sometimes, even when they do, the bully has too much money. If it goes to court, the bully can afford to litigate eternally. They can pay the lawyer, and the victim can’t — even with the hope of getting compensated for the court costs that doesn’t happen for a long time. In the mean time the victim is ruined. There’s a plethora of problems manifest in this case. There’s a need to reform litigation procedures; there’s a need to reform copyright laws to reflect creative needs and encourage innovation.

Fortunately, Amazon decided to do the right thing in this case.

Informed, High-Level Officials

NBC released a memo from the Department of Justice that is supposed to convince (supposedly) rational people that there’s a working justification for the executive branch’s policy of killing it’s own citizens without all that pesky “due process” hippy crap.

I’ll point out that what’s making me angry is not the actions of NBC or their journalists, but the contents of the memo. In case you couldn’t tell.

The memo is probably longer than most want to read. The summary is that, basically, if an “informed, high-level” official decides that an individual poses an “imminent” threat of violence, and that it’s “infeasible,” and that “the operation would be carried out in a manner consistent with applicable law of war principles,” then the president is allowed to obliterate that individual, along with anyone or anything in the vicinity. As The Onion puts it: “It’s important for the government to be able to murder me and any of my friends or family members whenever they please for reputed national security reasons.”

There’s so many problems with this. While the memo says this is about “senior” operators in al-Qa’ida, being a leader in that organization is not listed as a requirement. Nor, in fact, is being in al-Qa’ida at all. For that matter, neither is being a terrorist, or even a criminal, or even a suspect of having committed a crime. While we’re pointing out what’s not in the memo, it’s worth noting that the memo says this is about citizens in foreign territory, that isn’t listed as a requirement either.

This memo also fails to define “high-level” or “informed.” I guarantee that they play fast and loose with that.

What makes me so sure? Maybe you think I’m picking nits. Let me encourage you to rethink that perception. Why? The next part is a huge focus of the memo. So let me step back and approach this logically.

The memo says this person needs to pose an “imminent” threat. Naturally, as human beings who are at least semi-fluent in a language, we make assumptions that words mean something. Or at least that words signify something that means something. In this particular instance, we can make the assumption that “imminent” means “close at hand” or “happening in the very near future” or “not long now.”

Except, we can’t assume that.

This memo says we need to take a “broader” approach to what “imminent” means. Near as I can tell, the only thing the memo actually says is that “imminent” means… nothing. In stead of “near” future it means “some time” in the future, maybe. It spends pages talking about how there’s all kinds of non-specific modifiers to the immediacy required for a threat to be “imminent.”

I want to be speechless because of this. Unfortunately there’s too much presidential precedent. George W. Bush had no idea that the English language was used in the U.S. and instead spoke a mash of almost English words along with whatever sounds random neurons firing in his brain came up with. Half of me thinks he was an idiot for this. But considering how successful he was at gathering unprecedented power to his office in spite of hundreds of years of Constitutional freedoms, the other half of me thinks this was a calculated ploy to make us all think he was an idiot and therefore non-threatening. But Bush’s unrestrained molestation of the English language isn’t all I think of. His predecessor questioned the meaning of the word “is” with a straight face in a court of law — and even used the word in his question about it.

Sorry, Chomsky, American politics doesn’t care about any of your work. We’re just going to go ahead and go with words don’t signify anything at all, even if they used to.

Likewise with “infeasible.” The document takes less time stripping this word to nothing, but it does come up with a conclusion that “infeasible” means “not super easy.” I’m going to start using this word when my wife asks me to take out the trash, since I know have legal precedent to get out of doing something because I don’t want to make the best effort so I can’t be bothered.

As for being consistent with established laws of war, well, that almost makes me giggle. Because as a nation, we have a pretty terrible track record on this.

The memo is also careful to say that such an attack doesn’t contradict illegal search and seizure or due process because, reasons. Actually, that’s not accurate. It leaves out the “because, reasons” part. It doesn’t even pretend there’s a “because” involved with this. It doesn’t violate due process because we decided so.

So, given this, my understanding of what the DoJ thinks of this whole killing U.S. citizens is this:

If an executive-level official in specific parts of the executive branch, say, Secretary of State, or Defense, or even Education, maybe? Heck, we might as well even accept the word of Bob down in shipping for HUD – he’s been learning English for at least three weeks now. Anyway, if some guy says another dude is going to try to kill people in the U.S. soon, or maybe damage something, or possibly scuff his shoes on a monument, or else he’s going to eventually, or he talked about it once, or maybe he looked like he was going to do it, or else the guy is bored and just wants to blow someone up for kicks. If the guy says that about the dude, and it’s not possible, or practical, or I just got up to get a beer from the fridge and organizing a mission to capture the dude is just too difficult and I can’t be bothered. If the guy says that about the dude, and it’s hard to catch the dude, and we give a passing nod to the idea that the international community generally frowns on the indiscriminate killing of… anyone — well then we can blow him up along with the whole city he’s in.

Or to reduce it to it’s simplest verbage, the legal conditions for killing a U.S. citizen boil down to “Kinda feel like blowing a dude up.”

If you don’t trust me to analyze this (and who would?), you can see some commentary by persons with more expert legal expertise.

Archie Double-Sized… er… Double-Standard!

My wife recently acquired a paper sack full of old Archie comics. The kids are reading them constantly.

Yesterday I noticed this cover.

Archie's Jokes #471, August 1978

Oh, Veronica, you slut.

Which is what they were thinking way back in 1978.

But wait a minute!

Isn’t this the same Archie who not only is known to date both Veronica and Betty (who is also pictured, listening to Archie talk about kissing Ronnie), but who is constantly trying to kiss any girl he sees?

Archie you stud!


Veronica kisses six boys in a week and that’s shameful. Archie does the same, and he’s a hero.


The real reaction should be “Archie, you poor hypocritical misogynist.”

See, the picture isn’t funny if Archie doesn’t assume he’s the only one Ronnie’s been kissing. He expects complete fidelity from the girls he’s playing against each other.

Archie comics, from what I can tell, is much more enlightened these days. We really shouldn’t hold a cover from more than thirty years ago against them. I just thought it was an interesting thing to note.

The New White Man’s Burden

My wife was recently diagnosed with cancer.

My reaction is usually one of calm serenity. It’s a major issue, but it’s a resolvable one and we’ve no reason to expect long term problems from this.

But “cancer,” also known as “the c-word” is a scary word on its own. And every once in a while I have a little freak out about it until I can get my brain to move on to something else.

I’ve repeated “it’s not serious” or something like that over and over (and sometimes I even believe it) to kind of control others’ reactions to the news. I don’t want massive doses of sympathy. It’s not serious. We expect that they’ll take the offending thyroid out and she’ll be good (you know, other than adjusting to the medication). As cancers go, this one is pretty low key and easily curable. No chemo or anything like that.

So after, and sometimes while, freaking out I have this immense guilt.

The original White Man’s Burden was the moral imperative to spread culture to all those benighted people who had the misfortune of living somewhere other than Europe. It was well intentioned, but lets be honest, a lot of that European influence was not for the better. And it had the nasty problem of looking at any non-European as inherently inferior.

The New White Man’s Burden is where inconvenient, even bad things happen, but you feel guilty for freaking about it because it could be so much worse.

“We’re not in a third world country with no medical help and she doesn’t have a debilitating incurable cancer, so I should feel blessed instead of freaking out.”

Part of the problem is my Mormon Conscience (which is a lot like a Catholic Conscience except it can have more than one wife). I’ve had it beaten into me that I should be grateful all the time (and I should) and that excludes being nervous or concerned or sad about bad things (but it doesn’t — I just can’t get my reptile brain to believe it.

The real danger of the problem is less psychological and more sociological. It puts me in a situation where I’m in danger of feeling superior, and that “superiority” means I’m not allowed to feel human.

I don’t like this expression “First World problems.” It is false and it is condescending. Yes, Nigerians struggle with floods or infant mortality. But these same Nigerians also deal with mundane and seemingly luxurious hassles. Connectivity issues on your BlackBerry, cost of car repair, how to sync your iPad, what brand of noodles to buy: Third World problems. All the silly stuff of life doesn’t disappear just because you’re black and live in a poorer country. People in the richer nations need a more robust sense of the lives being lived in the darker nations. Here’s a First World problem: the inability to see that others are as fully complex and as keen on technology and pleasure as you are.

Teju Cole, quoted in What’s Wrong with #FirstWorldProblems

Read the linked article. It’s enlightening.

On the one hand, count your blessings. Be aware that you have it better off than many by the simple fact that you own two pairs of shoes and know where your next meal is coming from.

On the other hand, that doesn’t mean you’re better than those people, just your circumstances, a lot of which was just luck on your part. And guess what? Those problems you have are shared by other people.

Life on Easy Mode

How does this stand with John Scalzi’s thoughts on Straight White Male’s being on life’s easy mode? Well, I pretty much agree with Scalzi. No one has ever assumed I was dangerous or part of a gang. Partially because I’m not very fit but also because I’m a pale boy. In short, my conception of “New White Man’s Burden” has nothing to do with it.

Yeah, it’s easier here because I have access to modern medicine and insurance. But that doesn’t mean it can’t still scare the crap out of me. It just means I won’t win a “mine’s bigger/worse/scarier” pissing match with someone who doesn’t have access to those things. It means I should have hope, but having hope doesn’t mean that nothing bad is happening (nor does it mean that I believe nothing bad CAN happen).

In the end, it’s OK for me to have a little freak out. It doesn’t mean I think I’m in the worst of all possible scenarios. It doesn’t mean I believe I’m in a life-destroying situation.

It just means I’m worried and have to reign the more primitive parts of my imagination in.

Table of Contents in WORD

OK, I feel kind of stupid putting this in here because… Word? Really? Yeah, i should probably be using Open Office. But when MS Office is provided by my employer, I get lazy. Also, this ties in with people who are documenting their software too, which isn’t always a separate technical writer. A lot of programmers (usually badly) document too.

Anyway, let me give some background.

The Problem

I’ve worked as a technical writer for over a decade. As a technical writer, you often have to create complex, multi-level, numbered headings, something like this:

A Multi-level outline example

What’s really messed up about this is that most of the time, you have to do all the numbering yourself. Add a new level 1 heading? Guess what, you get to manually renumber every single frigging heading after that point. EVERY. ONE.

Why is this? Because Word only creates a table of contents based on the heading styles. So while you have this perfectly good outline numbering system, including the 1, 1.1, 1.1.1 system popular in technical writing circles, you can’t auto generate a TOC out of that.


I thought for certain that this couldn’t be the case. I mean, I can’t be the first person who wanted Word to handle all the heading numbering for me and then create a TOC from that. So I Googled it. And was discouraged.

Ok, I admit I didn’t search past the first page of most of my search queries. But when “Create table of contents from numbered list in Microsoft Word” is giving me results for creating numbered lists OR creating a table of contents without even mentioning the other, it feels like a huge waste of time to keep looking.

(I also got a hit for building a TOC from a numbered list in InDesign… but that wasn’t helpful either, you see.)

So I played with it some more. And I have our solution.

The Solution Preface: SKILLZ J00 NEED

You need to know how to set up your outline list. Headers, by default, are left aligned. Outline levels, by default, are indented according to their level. Common practice, since it uses heading styles, is to have all the section names left aligned. You’ll need to modify the outline definitions to ditch the indents if you want to have consistent visual style. I’m not going to spend the time here to explain that. It’s a much easier topic to find information on.

The other thing you need to know how to do is define quick styles. Strictly speaking, this isn’t absolutely necessary, but really, it’s not an advanced topic and it makes a lot of things MUCH easier. I’m also not explaining that here. It’s also easy to learn or find information on Google for.

The Solution Part I: Add Text

Use the outline system to make your document. It will save you ages of time. You probably already do this, but if you don’t, make sure you’ve got defined quick styles for each level you’re using. If you don’t, you’ll have to add the step of selecting all similarly formatted text, and that’s not as reliable if you made one mistake somewhere. Using the quick styles is a better way to make sure you have a uniform styling system anyway, so you should be doing it.

When you’re done, open the Style Bar.

Hover over your list 1 style. You see how you get the drop down carrot? Open the drop down and select All instances of the list 1 style.

Then open the References tab on your ribbon.

The first box in that tab is the Table of Contents tab. Click the Add Text button. Almost certainly the check mark will be next to “Do Not Show in Table of Contents.” This is evil. Click Level 1.

Repeat this process with list level 2 styles. Select them all, then from that Add Text button choose Level 2.

Repeat for as many levels as you’re going to use.

Then go generate your Table of Contents.

It’s worth mentioning that this method doesn’t have to be used with list styles, that’s just seems what’s most natural. You can manually insert these fields pretty much anywhere you want.

It’s also worth mentioning that using “Add text” for the same spot twice has no effect. You will still only have one entry for that spot in your table of contents. So if you make your table of contents and then have to do another draft that changes the outline structure, you can still use the same process and not worry that your TOC will be fubar.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that this changes how you create with internal linking. Sure, you can use the table of contents to link to other places, but if you want to link within the document using this method, you need to use Cross-references. Word DOES create a hidden bookmark for each of these locations, but they don’t show up in the Hyperlink dialog.

So, if like me and most people I’ve worked with and you use Hyperlinks for your internal linking, it’s time for a new process.

The Solution Part II: Cross-Referencing

Place your cursor at the point you want to create the link.

On the Insert tab of the Ribbon, click Cross-reference.

You get a lot of things you can use as the reference target. For this system, from the Reference type drop down, choose “Numbered Item” (after all, that’s how you created your structure, right?). Make sure “insert as hyperlink” is checked, and choose an option from the “Insert reference to:” drop down. I personally like to use Paragraph text. Unfortunately, there isn’t an option for both the number and the text. Which is pretty stupid. But then again, this is an article about a work around because of a system that’s pretty stupid, so we shouldn’t be surprised by this.

The Cross-reference dialog in Word

Then select your desired numbered item and click Insert. Your Cross-reference text has appeared! Close your dialog and test the results by holding down CTRL and clicking the new text. The document should navigate to the point you designated.

The first big limitation to this method is what I mentioned above: it doesn’t give you the choice for Paragraph Number and Paragraph Text combined. You can over come this by inserting the number then the text. From a document end user point of view, the effect is the same.

The other big limitation to this method is the formatting. As in, there is none. It looks like the rest of the text. I have a habit of clicking things anyway, because I want to believe, despite evidence to the contrary, that things will work the way that they really should. But most people aren’t like me. If there’s no visual clue, they’re not going to bother trying to click it. Therefore, I recommend manually changing the color or underlining or both. It’s kind of a pain, but I think it’s less of a pain than tracking the numbers for headings yourself, especially if you have a “Cross-reference” quick style set up.


I am aware that this may appear to be complex. It’s a very quick process though. The outline itself only takes half a minute for the whole document. As compared to minutes that would be taken on even a relatively small document, and the enormous amount of time spent fixing the numbering when a new section is added to your document.

Part 2 of the solution is probably slightly more complicated if your practice has previously been to use hyperlinks.. Adding a hyperlink makes a format change for you and you can add it to existing text. Whereas a cross-reference adds new text and does no formatting. However, once you’re used to it, I believe this will save time, or at least be insignificantly longer. After all, you never have to type the words for the target. So if you use [Paragraph number][Paragraph text] as your target, you have 2 clicks extra to get the text in. And a third click if you have your quick style in place. That’s not hard. Factored in with the efficiency of using a list instead of headings, this system comes out as a win.

look! He has his tongue all funny!

Ranaan Katz did a funny tongue thing

This, apparently, is defamation?

Ranaan Katz is the owner of the Miami Heat, a basketball team. Which means, honestly, I couldn’t care any more about him than I do about the contents of my cat’s litter box.

Until the cat poop started threatening first amendment rights.

Wait, I got that wrong. Mr. Katz did the threatening. Honestly, now, he’s a bigger problem than my cat’s fecal matter.

Mr. Katz, in addition to being a basketball team owner, is also extremely sensitive. Someone snapped a picture of his tongue all funny. Yeah, it’s kinda chuckle worthy, but not worth the time tweeting to my friends. Except that when the picture was used as an illustration for a blog post critical of him, he accused the blog of being “defamatory” and asked the courts to shut down the blog. Not suppress the picture (which would be bad enough), but to shut down the blog. And not just shut it down, but to shut it down in a preliminary injunction. For those of you who don’t speak Legalese (like me), that means he wanted the blog shut down before the lawsuit even went to real trial.

Over-react much?

Katz’s position is essentially that anyone who is mean should be legally required to shut up. Also, he has money, so he can afford to sue.

I try not to use the only words that come to mind when I try to describe how I feel about this individual.

The purpose of this post is two-fold. 1) Spread the picture. Because it’s NOT defamation and if it’s so embarrassing that Mr. Katz forgets what country he lives in then he needs to be reminded. Streisand effect, baby. Now that he’s tried to shut people up, it’s time to shout him down. If he’d not said anything, neither would have I. In fact, I may have even been critical (not heavily, and probably not enough to blog about it) of the original poster for being petty enough to choose that picture. But now that Mr. Katz brought the court in, he’s the enemy. So I’ll happily spread it.

Purpose 2 is to make people aware that this thing goes on. It’s not just Charles Carreon’s delusional lawsuit against The Oatmeal. It’s not just Brett Kimberlin, convicted terrorist, using lawfare to silence political opponents. This is a direct attack against civil liberties in the United States, and it should be opposed in any ethical manner available (which, btw, excludes harassment). Now, go spread the word.

If you want more details, there are people better at describing the legal side of it. Like this one where Popehat unfavorably compares Ranaan Katz to caricature personality George Costanza or this one where Carlos Miller describes more detail about related information.


So there’s this: America’s English-Style Legal System Evolved to Conceal Truth, Not Reveal It. Apparently, illustrating a discussion of the US justice system is done by showing a bunch of English judges standing around. I felt that was kind of a cheap shot, but you know, it actually kind of works as the point of the whole article.

The article and the comments go something like this:
Mr. Whitton: US justice system sucks. Because of Reasons
Commentors: your “reasons” are more of a bunch of quasi-factual historical observations of varying accuracy.
Mr. Whitton (in the comments): REASONS! Also, something irrelevant but also “historical.”
Commentors: OK, well, you do have a few numbers. No sources for them, though. Also, many of the numbers seem to be impossible to actually determine.
Mr. Whitton: …
Commentors: Well?
Mr. Whitton: Another historical thing! And a book! Which I wrote and you should read because why the heck am I writing this if you’re not going to read my books?! Also, You’re a sophist! And a rationalizer! Also, I apparently don’t know what either of those mean!
Commentors: OK, we’ll just be over here.

Basically, there’s no connection between the “historical basis” Whitton creates and the conclusions he… well, he doesn’t really draw them so much as invent them whole cloth. It’s pretty clear he started with a peevish opinion, then decided he had better have something that looked researched if he was going to state it. So he took some history, some of which may have been invented? And then … put them together.

Now Kiss

There’s not really anywhere else to go after that.

A Few Reasons My Current Workplace Is Superior In Every Way To My Previous Employment

  • I got a chair that doesn’t give me knee or back problems on my first day. I didn’t have to wait two years.
  • I got a computer and could start working on day one. I didn’t have to wait a week.
  • I get cell phone reception in the bathroom.
  • Free. Dr. Pepper.
  • My supervisor understands what I’m talking about when I talk about the work I was assigned to do.
  • No pit of existential despair weighing heavily in my gut.
  • Proper lighting and visible windows.
  • It doesn’t take three months to get software.
  • I’m encouraged to communicate in efficient ways with my peers and those who can help me through problems.
  • My boss isn’t bi-polar. OR trying to brute force his way into being in charge. Related: He doesn’t act like he deserves unearned respect.
  • I can use current technologies that will keep me relevant instead of designing for Internet Explorer 7.

And that’s just on the first day. How awesome is that?

Should Not Exist

The TSA, that is.

Of course we’ve already covered that. Or, if we haven’t, we should have.

But seriously, I can’t think of any legitimate, rational reason that the TSA should continue to function and use up taxpayer money.

The screenings have stopped exactly zero terrorist plots, and anything they’ve managed to catch would have been caught by pre-September 11 screening methods.

But yes, I’m writing this as I’m outraged by their behavior regarding a four-year old. I’m going to quote the first-hand account, because it’s key to my point. Read it please.

My two young children, aged four and six, were particularly excited their Grandmother was catching the same flight out of Wichita. Since she lives in California, and we live in Montana, they’ve never had a chance to fly with her. Tired and eager to return home, we began passing through security. My children and I went through without an incident. My Mother, however, had triggered the alarm. She was asked to go through the scanners again, and when the source of the alarm could not be identified she was told to sit aside and await a pat-down. All of this was perfectly routine.

When my Four-year-old daughter noticed her Grandmother, she excitedly ran over to give her a hug, as children often do. They made very brief contact, no longer than a few seconds. The Transportation Security Officers(TSO) who were present responded to this very simple action in the worst way imaginable.

First, a TSO began yelling at my child, and demanded she too must sit down and await a full body pat-down. I was prevented from coming any closer, explaining the situation to her, or consoling her in any way. My daughter, who was dressed in tight leggings, a short sleeve shirt and mary jane shoes, had no pockets, no jacket and nothing in her hands. The TSO refused to let my daughter pass through the scanners once more, to see if she too would set off the alarm. It was implied, several times, that my Mother, in their brief two-second embrace, had passed a handgun to my daughter.

My child, who was obviously terrified, had no idea what was going on, and the TSOs involved still made no attempt to explain it to her. When they spoke to her, it was devoid of any sort of compassion, kindness or respect. They told her she had to come to them, alone, and spread her arms and legs. She screamed, “No! I don’t want to!” then did what any frightened young child might, she ran the opposite direction.

That is when a TSO told me they would shut down the entire airport, cancel all flights, if my daughter was not restrained. It was then they declared my daughter a “high-security-threat”.

Two TSOs were following her and again I was told to have no contact with my child. At this point, I was beyond upset, I disregarded what the TSO had said to me, and I ran to my daughter. I picked her up. I hugged her. I tried to comfort her.

The TSOs were not pleased.

I was forced to set my child down, they brought her into a side room to administer a pat-down, I followed. My sweet four-year-old child was shaking and crying uncontrollably, she did not want to stand still and let strangers touch her. My heart was breaking. I will never forget the look of pure terror on her face. A TSO began repeating that in the past she had “seen a gun in a teddy bear.” The TSO seemed utterly convinced my child was concealing a weapon, as if there was no question about it. Worse still, she was treating my daughter like she understood how dangerous this was, as if my daughter was not only a tool in a terrorist plot, but actually in on it. The TSO loomed over my daughter, with an angry grimace on her face, and ordered her to stop crying. When my scared child could not do so, two TSOs called for backup saying “The suspect is not cooperating.” The suspect, of course, being a frightened child. They treated my daughter no better than if she had been a terrorist.

It was an awful sight.

A third TSO arrived to the scene, and showed no more respect than the first two had given. All three were barking orders at my daughter, telling her to stand still and cease crying. When she did not stop crying on command, they demanded we leave the airport. They claimed they could not safely check my daughter for dangerous items if she was in tears. I will admit, I lost my temper.

Finally, a manager intervened. He determined that my child could, in fact, be cleared through security while crying. I was permitted to hold her while the TSO checked her body. When they found nothing hidden on my daughter, they were forced to let us go, but not until after they had examined my ID and boarding passes for a lengthy amount of time. When we arrived at our gate, I noticed that the TSOs had followed us through the airport. I was told something was wrong with my boarding pass and I would have to show it to them again. Upon seeing the TSO, my daughter was thrown into hysterics. Eventually, we were able to board our flight.

My daughter is very shaken up about this, and has been waking up with nightmares.
What should have been a very minor, routine security check was turned into a horrific ordeal. All of this could easily have been prevented if the TSO involved had used a little bit of compassion and a smidgen of common sense. There is no reason for any child to go through this, and while I completely understand the necessity of tight airport security, I fail to see how harassing a small child will provide safety for anyone.
Michelle Brademeyer

And then the TSA has this which I suppose sort of qualifies as a response:

I’ve seen some headlines stating that TSA Officers accused a 4-year-old child of having a firearm. This wasn’t the case, and I wanted to take a few moments to explain what happened.

TSA has long had a security procedure where if somebody has contact with a person who is undergoing additional screening, they must also undergo additional screening. Why you might ask? You’ve probably heard the old saying that the hand can be faster than eye? Well… that’s the reasoning behind this procedure. There’s always the chance that a prohibited item could be traded off during contact. I’m sure you’ve watched the scene play out in more than one movie where two people collide or shake hands and an item is traded off? Same thing…

We did recently roll out new procedures that reduce the need for pat-downs of children. These new screening procedures include permitting multiple passes through the metal detector and advanced imaging technology to clear any alarms as well as the greater use of explosives trace detection. These changes in protocol will ultimately reduce – though not eliminate – pat-downs of children. But… this is one of those examples where a pat-down of a child was necessary.

It was explained to the family why the pat-down was needed and at no time did our Officers suggest the child was carrying a firearm. We’ve reviewed the incident and determined that our officers followed proper current screening procedures.
Bob Burns, TSA Blog Team

Apparently, the TSA is trying to stop Danny Ocean and his crew from escaping with the loot they heisted from that sleazy casino owner. Guys, “you’ve seen in movies” is a terrible, terrible argument. You know what else I’ve seen in movies? Time Travel. Space slugs that eat space ships capable of faster-than-light travel. Dragons. I believe the chances of any of those things somehow threatening US citizens is so remarkably close to zero that it is zero.

But that’s more a criticism of the structure of their argument. Not the point.

Mr. Burns is adamant that no TSO ever suggested the four-year-old of holding a handgun. That, apparently, is what they feel they need to quibble about.

But if you need to, re-read Ms. Brademeyer’s narrative. She says they implied it. Who am I going to believe here? A mother who is not allowed to be with her child but gets to watch as they grope the four-year-old? Or the civil rights violating agency with a history of poor judgement, even poorer action, and the lack of ability to even justify their own terrible existence? Perhaps they’re both suspect in terms of believability. But I’m going to go with the first-hand report rather than the guy with the job to make an oppressive government organization look a little less terrible.

Other than that, the TSA doesn’t dispute a single fact that Ms. Brademeyer puts forth.

Ok, here’s the thing about first-person accounts. They’re great for historians because they put a lot of context into contemporary events. However, they are almost certainly always embellished, if not exaggerated. Eye witness accounts are almost always faulty. Still the subjective view is valuable, because it clearly illustrates the effect the TSA has on the American people.

But even if we tone down Ms. Brademeyer’s story, we’re still left with TSOs who separated her from her child, did nothing to help console a distraught child and prohibited the child’s mother from the same, and refused to re-scan the child, opting for a pat down.

Oh hey. What’s this that I found on the TSA’s Website?

Security officers will approach children gently and treat them with respect. If a child becomes uncomfortable or upset, security officers will consult parents about the best way to relieve the child’s concern.

and from the same page:

TSA has enacted risk-based checkpoint screening procedures for passengers 12 and under that include: … Allowing multiple passes through the walk through metal detector and advanced imaging technology to clear any alarms on children.

Again, the TSA doesn’t dispute any of the essential, or even most of the ancillary, facts of Ms. Brademeyer’s story. Which states that everything I just quoted from the TSA website was blatantly violated. However, the TSA does claim that they checked on it, and it’s ok because they “determined that our officers followed proper current screening procedures.” Really! Big Charlie who dates the cousin of one of the TSOs told me so.

I’m calling a lie on that one.

You may have noticed that I used the word “terrible” a lot. That’s intentional. The TSA has caused more terror in the hearts of Americans and other innocent air passengers than Bin Ladin ever did or ever could. Bin Ladin never scared me. Angry beyond reason at times. But never terror. My own government? Especially the TSA? Yeah, they terrify me CONSTANTLY.

Update 2012-04-27 13:34
It should surprise no one that my comment on this entry on the TSA Blog was never approved. The comment was an abbreviated form of the ideas expressed in this blog entry. Note, however, that they couldn’t very well pretend that no one said anything. Of 156 comments at this moment, only one expressed any support for the TSA, and it didn’t expend any effort justifying this particular adventure the TSA led us on.