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Let us keep things short


In northern Idaho children have gone missing after a multiple-homicide last week. They were replaced in the news by a Florida Amber Alert, which was called off after the abducted child in question was found, buried alive. The godmother is a brainless twit:

“She stated that she wanted a pastor to pray with her so she could thank God for saving her life,” Lisa Taylor, the godmother, told CNN. “She’s 8 years old. Isn’t that the most beautiful thing you've ever heard?”

No. It is disturbing. It reminds me of the type of culture in which if a woman is raped (despoiled) it is better to kill her than let her live with the shame. It is a leap, I admit, but the refuge in beauty hinted at by the godmother is disgusting and beyond grotesque. I am willing to accept it to some extent in art. The stupid kid can thank god all she wants; that does not bother me ... she went through something traumatic, and if she wants to thank Santa for bringing her a Christmas Policeman, that is fine ... but for the godmother to think more highly of her goddaughter’s supposed faith than of her safety is perverse.

3 stupid English girls ages 16, 14, 12, who all had babies
Natasha, Jemma and
Jade Williams with children

If that were not bad enough, a bunch of sisters in England remind us why so many adults think kids are stupid: “Sisters give birth at 12, 14, 16.” The girls are stupid—one does not just get pregnant by sitting on a bench or in class, etc. There was no evidence of rape. They had a choice, once pregnant, to have abortions or put the infants up for adoption. Instead they will collect about 600 Pounds a week each in benefits. Good liberal that I am, I am still tempted to throw the lot of them out in the wilderness and let them fend for themselves. The mother, like the godmother above, is a fucking headcase:

Mrs Atkins told the Sunday Mercury: “I don't care what people say about me. I blame the schools—sex education for young girls should be better.”

And where was the parenting? The schools should have done a better job, but that does not excuse Ms. Triple-Grandmother-at-38 from not having performed the necessary sex education. I feel sorry for the infants, who did not ask for any of this insanity; it would perhaps be best if the mothers (all four of them) met with an accident—one likes to think that an orphanage and adopted parents could do better.

O: Please sir, I want some more.
B: What?
O: Please sir, I want some ... more?
B: More?

I would like to get Oliver! on DVD or a similar format someday. I have enjoyed it ever since elementary school, due in part to our sixth grade performance of the musical.

Speaking of midgets, I often mistake midget for dwarf, and then realize I should just resort to the the more appropriate disignation, little person. The LPA (Little People of America) distinguishes the terms as follows:

In everyday talk, however, most people use the term midget to refer to little people in general. The movie Freaks (1932) has its share of little people, basically those that fit the defintion of midgets as provided above.

Somehow I came across the following abstract for a paper:

Dwarfs, midgets, even freaks, are among the terms that have been used to label little people. Feminist theorists have argued that discursive identities of women prevent any meaningful essentialised analysis of their experiences. Similarly, disability researchers have argued against generalising the experiences of disabled individuals. This paper explores the intersection of gender and dwarfism through the narratives of four women who are little people. Findings suggest that the ways women, who are little people, negotiate public spaces are affected by discourses of gender, disability and common conceptions of what is physically normal. Furthermore, these discourses have material implications in the everyday lives of these women. A brief historical overview of dwarfism is followed by narratives that describe experiences in public spaces, perceptions of height related to age and capability, gendered spaces and sexual stereotypes, uncomfortable spaces, violations of personal space and transportation. This paper provides a partial perspective on how discourses of dwarfism are manifest in social spaces and the built environment. Despite these significant commonalities that little people shared with other disabled people, there are socio-spatial experiences that appear to be unique to people with dwarfism.

—Robert Kruse (Department of Geography, Kent State University), “Narrating intersections of gender and dwarfism in everyday spaces” (abstract)
dwarf tossing champion
More dwarf tossing

It is meant seriously, but elements of it are almost cause for laughter: feminist studies does A, disability studies does B, so lets combine them!—there is something very formulaic about it; it could have been produced by the postmodernism generator. Furthermore, it is presented by someone in geography rather than in gender of disability studies, which at first comes across as unexpected, though if one reads it to the end, one concludes that it does address some interesting issues and problems.

When it comes to other movies with little people, in addition to Freaks there is the amusing Living in Oblivion (with Steve Buscemi, James LeGros, and a dwarf in blue [Tito]). Peter Dinklage (Tito from Living in Oblivion) recently made a name for himself in The Station Agent (2003), which I have not yet seen, but which I have sitting around somewhere. After that, however, he was in Elf and took on several projects with titles referring to his height: Little Fugitive, Mendel’s Dwarf, and The Dwarf.

If we leave out Peter Dinklage, we still have characters in Bad Santa (a surprisingly funny movie), Willow (a whole f**king village of them), and Return of the Jedi and the related mid-80s Ewok movies with all their mini-wookies.

Mike and I will see Revenge of the Sith on Wednesday, assuming that all goes well, so I can either rant about the movie or sing its praises then. I want to see it, but I find it hard to get excited about it ... or even interested in it. The new Batman film or ether of Tim Burton’s upcoming films ... those I can show some interest in.

Now for a brief HTML digression, to be expanded upon at a later date. The following is rather non-technical in nature and sacrifices absolute accuracy for simplicity. I will also proceed in a top-down manner.

HTML provides a means for marking up text, that is to say, it provides a limited set of codes that act as a meta-language to describe what certain elements of a text are and how they should look. It was decided, quite rightly, I feel, that the how should follow the what, which is to say, a separation of form and content should be enforced as much as possible. This follows somewhat by the fact that while semantics supposedly do not change depending on the implementation of the medium (web browsers, in particular), presentation will.

Early versions of HTML mixed form and content quite freely. The main content elements are paragraphs, several forms of lists, headings, tables, as well as images and hyperlinks, whereas in the past form/format elements included bold, italic, and underline tags, as well as a more generic font tag. It was unclear early on whether paragraph tags were containers or dividers. Horizontal rules and line-breaks were clearly dividers, but headers, tables, and lists were clearly containers (though list items were not always treated as containers by many developers & designers)—containers needed an end-tag; dividers did not. To standardize the syntax and provide for a more consistent separation of form and content we now recognize the following, as of HTML 4.0 Strict:

XHTML is an transitional step between HTML and XML. When dealing with XHTML we must close all tags, but non-container tags, such as images, line breaks, and horizontal rules have no closing tag, so a closing marker is added to the end of the tag. Thus, <br> becomes <br />, for example. In XHTML all tags must be lowercase, whereas in HTML case did not matter.

Most of these changes, from earlier versions to HTML and from HTML 4.0 Strict to XHTML are rather superficial and simple to adopt/adapt, as long as one was writing sensible, syntactically correct and semantically clear HTML in the first place.

The other day, however, I first discovered that blockquotes had been deprecated. The question was: how to re-implement the blockquote? Since such quoted blocks of text would not be normal paragraphs, it followed that they should be a special type of DIV. DIVs are generic and only serve to mark blocks/divisions/sections of the page/document—without further refinement they are both stylistically and semantically empty. Thus almost all DIVs are accompanied either by a style or class declaration. This merits a shift in focus to CSS, or Cascading Style Sheets.

CSS can be implemented in three locations:

  1. in a tag
  2. in a document at the beginning
  3. in an external stylesheet

These styles are cascading and have an order of inheritence. Styles declared in a tag override those declared earlier in a document, which in turn override those in an external stylesheet. There is no ambiguity.

Furthermore CSS styles can be implemented in three levels of generality:

  1. a general definition for a tag (or even for the document), such as for all paragraphs, all images, all level 1 headers, etc.
  2. in a class defined in a stylesheet (in the document or external) that specifies a particular type/subset of a tag, such as a special class called “center” that is used to center blocks of text (paragraphs or DIVs, for example)
  3. as a style specific to a particular instance of a tag, and declared there in the tag

I never employ stylesheet definitions at the beginning of a document; I use an external stylesheet as well as occasional style declarations in tags. The former is generally preferable because it is the most general, for it allows one to abstract as much style/form information as possible, and makes it easy to change the layout of a whole site by merely adjusting the CSS file. While style declarations in tags do serve to separate form and content by reserving the tags for content and implementing form by way of styles, this does not provide abstraction.

Now for some examples:

If I wanted to make a particular paragraph center-aligned, I might write the following

	<p style="text-align: center">

If I wanted paragraphs in general to be justified and black, I might define paragraphs as follows in my CSS file:

P {
	text-align : justify ;	 
	font-family : Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif ;	
	color : black ;
	background-color : white ;

Note that a colon separates the attribute from its value, and all values are concluded with a semi-colon. Curly braces enclose the style definition. Other than that white space or formatting is not important: I might instead write: p { text-align : justify ; font-family : Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif ; color : black ; background-color : white ; }. If I used my style declaration (earlier) for a centered paragraph, the centered paragraph would still be Arial, Helvetica, or sans-serif (depending on what was available), black, and with a white background. Only the text-alignment would be changed from the general definition.

Perhaps I wanted to create a special class for blockquotes. I might define it as follows:

.blockquote {	 
	font-family : Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif ; 
	color : #7c5b28 ;
	background-color : white ;
	margin-left : 5em ;

The period before the class name indicates that it is a class and not a tag called blockquote (which no longer exists in the standard!). I gave it the same font-family as my paragraph, but changed the color. I also gave it a left-margin (indent) of 5em, which is rather wide. Whenever I want a blockquote, I now only have to use the tag:

	<div class="blockquote">[text]</div>

If I ever decide that a 3em indent/margin is preferable, or that dark grey makes a better font color, I only need to change the class definition in the CSS file.

Class names are arbitrary: I could name my classes cup, watch, laptop, viola, and poodle if I wished, though it is recommended that they be given semantically meaningful names. blockquote is better than indentedtext, for what if in the future your blockquotes are no longer indented but merely a smaller font or a different color?

The various attributes that one can apply to specific tags or classes is not arbitary, and not all attributes can be applied to all tags. Syntactically correct but semantically meaningless application of proper CSS attributes to the wrong tags will generally be ignored by the browser. Below are some of the more common and useful attributes:

It is considered a good idea to define background color along with color. I have not played extensively with the types of borders one can use. I use left and right floating images and DIVs for left and right sidebars in articles, as well as for allowing text in paragraphs to flow (float) around a given image. The above-mentioned CSS attributes should be supported by most major browsers and are quite standard. There is no guarantee that all browsers will implement them identically, however. Most of the font attributes are well-supported, as are the color attributes, in general, though I have found support for width as well as margins problematic in some browsers.

The text-align attribute does not work well on many non-text elements. Thus, it is applied to paragraphs and such, but usually does not work on images. However, an image enclosed within a DIV that uses text-align: center will be centered. This tends to fail with tables, but there is a nifty and completely legitimate way to center tables. Set both the margin-left and margin-right to auto; the left and right margins will be equal and will fill up the space not used by the table, resulting in a table that is center-aligned. There are other CSS attributes that I did not mention; the ones mentioned are the ones that I tend to use.

Since I recommend against using too many style attributes instead suggest classes, how should one go about doing so? The simple solution is to include a link tag in the head of the document that points to the CSS file. The one for my site appears as follows:

	<link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" href="/global.css">

A link tag points to an external file. the rel attribute tells that it is a style sheet. The type attribute indicates that it is text, and the href provides the location. In HTML 4.0 Strict a trailing slash (/) to close the tag is not allowed; in XHTML it is required.

By choosing sensible defaults for the standard tags (paragraphs, lists, images, as well as the body tag itself) one can avoid the need to use too many style or class declarations in the document itself. Any time that you use a style, consider whether you might reuse that style elsewhere in the document or in other documents; if so, you likely want to turn it into a class instead.

To conclude:

—May 23 2005