Back to April 2002

To Electrolite's front page

Forward to June 2002

Our Admirable Sponsors
May 31, 2002
Argh! Unexpected civic duty! Well, I showed up for my jury duty call, and somewhat to my surprise, actually wound up on a jury—in a criminal case, no less.

So today I’m going in to the office early, just long enough to put out any brushfires and carry home anything I can deal with over the weekend. Then it’s off to Kings County Supreme Court for a meeting between the jury and the judge, at which I gather we’ll be told our schedule. My impression is that we’ll be in court two or three days next week, and one or two days in the following week, although of course these things are never entirely predictable.

Obviously I’m constrained from saying anything about the trial in progress, and obviously it’s going to be like having two full-time jobs for a little while; but I’ll try not to vanish entirely. In particular, I’m going to try to use this weekend to post some things I’ve been meaning to get to, so do check back hereabouts.

[07:14 AM : 2 comments]

May 29, 2002
Face foward, pilgrim We still haven’t managed to see Spider-Man, but it’s a little dizzying to find 1960s Marvel comics and the appeal of Spider-Man so expertly discussed atop the commanding cultural heights of New York Review of Books:
A comic book was like a movie you could hold in your hand, contemplating the action as a series of immobilized moments of tension: in some ways it was better than a movie, because of the scope it offered to expand imaginatively on what the page offered. Even aside from the difficulties of staging the fanciful combats and intergalactic confrontations of the comics (now solved after a fashion by the advent of computerized special effects), it seemed unlikely that any movie could ever capture the way the best comics could feel lightweight and monumental in the same instant, while always remaining the direct handwritten evidence of a human touch. […]

The Amazing Spider-Man was essentially a romance comic disguised as a superhero comic, a secret feminization of the man-of-steel tradition.

It’s a strange kind of fulfillment. And then I woke up.

[09:59 PM : 15 comments]

Net foo, resolved for now We’re back. It appears to have been the same denial-of-service attack that zapped Glenn Reynolds.

[03:48 PM : 0 comments]

Net foo Our host appears to be having nameserver problems. For the duration, the stable way to reach our weblogs will be to go to:


Of course, if you can’t get here in the first place, you can’t get this information; but it’s possible you’re reaching us now because your provider has our DNS info cached, which won’t necessarily continue to be the case. So you might want to temporarily bookmark those alternatives.

In addition, it looks like the style sheet for our comments doesn’t reliably load under the circumstances, so while you can (maybe) read comments, it seems unlikely you can post any. I trust our new hosting outfit will be all over these problems in the very near future.

[11:22 AM : 0 comments]

May 28, 2002
A little history In the multi-blog debate over teenagers and sex, blogger Richard Bennett dropped quite a few jaws this weekend by asking, in Benjamin Domenech’s comment section, “Is Glenn Reynolds in favor of teen sex because he gets a lot of it?”

Did Bennett really mean to suggest that Glenn Reynolds, well-known blogger and dad, is a pedophile? In a later post, Bennett insists he didn’t. But Bennett appears to have a history of, shall we say, leaving people with the distinct impression that they’ve been called something vile. Here’s another instance, from Usenet in 1996, of Bennett not-quite accusing someone else of being a pedophile. Here’s another Bennett message from a little later. Readers can draw their own conclusions.

Google Groups is full of history. A simple browse through “Advanced Group Search” on “” is illuminating all by itself. Those perplexed to find themselves recipients of abuse from Bennett in his latter-day incarnation as a weblog pundit may be consoled to find that, evidently, this behavior is nothing new. Quite the contrary, it appears to be extensively rehearsed.

[08:42 PM : 33 comments]

Can’t sleep, clones will eat me Dave Trowbridge saw the same movie we did:
The dialogue! I feel like I’ve been beaten on the head with a Stupid Stick for 2-1/2 hours. It is an amazing accomplishment, as though the script were created by an act of spontaneous generation, without the intervention of a writer.
But being a skiffy writer himself, Dave has a high-tech fix! Or, more properly, his Significant Other does. (This itself is well within the traditions of the genre.)
Deborah figured out how to enjoy it: pretend it’s opera. We know the plot, have it linked to the visuals and the wonderful music of John Williams. Next time we’ll pop it in the DVD player and select a language we don’t understand. Deborah wants Swedish. I’d like German so I can catch a word or phrase here and there.

Then we’ll be able to enjoy the myth without distraction.

[02:50 PM : 4 comments]

And yet Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like the blogosphere has been slow to notice that reporter Peter Maass, author of the superb Love Thy Neighbor: A Story of War, has a blog.

His most recent entry links to this piece from the Los Angeles Times, an excellent summing up of the odiousness of the recently-passed farm bill—not just its bipartisan hypocrisy, but also the irrevocable damage it does to the lives of millions of people who are trying to play by the rules we claim to be promoting.

“This farm bill, I think it’s fair to say, will put millions of small farmers out of business in Africa,” said Mark Ritchie, president of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy in Minneapolis. “They will have to move to cities and become part of unemployed labor pools.” […]

Nancy Birdsall, president of the Center for Global Development, a Washington think tank, said the farm bill belies the “Horatio Alger” ethic that the U.S. encourages poor countries to embrace.

“We’re undermining our message about what our values are and what has worked in our country to bring about healthy development,” Birdsall said. “We’re creating another round of frustration.” […]

“It’s as though you have crippled economies, and you’re trying to get them back on their feet so they can enter the race,” she said. “And then, just before the race begins, you whack them back from the starting line.”

You don’t have to harbor the now-endlessly-discredited notion that terrorism is a value-free “consequence” of Third World poverty to suspect that this kind of short-sightedness is, yes, a threat to our national security. Like Jim Henley, I don’t think the growing Indo-Pak crisis is necessarily a direct result of (for instance) our failure to cut Mushareff some slack on textile tariffs. On the other hand, if several million people in South Asia burn to death in radioactive fire, it’s going to be hard not to wonder if a little less concern for North Carolina’s electoral votes might have helped avert it. Likewise, just how many farm-belt Congressional seats, in both parties, are worth grinding down African farmers for another generation? America is a great country, bursting with high ideals, and governed by a bunch of babies. Grow up.

[12:05 PM : 4 comments]

May 24, 2002
The pit A sobering thought from Jim Henley, who rehearses the obvious reasons the US can be expected to be concerned with possible war in South Asia, but then adds:
However. The beginning of wisdom is recognizing that if the worst does happen, and Pakistan and India start a nuclear war, the blame will most properly rest with India and Pakistan. They’ve been at the Kashmir business for 55 years now, and both countries have worked damned hard to get themselves to the point where they can jointly turn the subcontinent into hell on earth. While your respectable commentators and journals give the idea short shrift, the amazing truth is that these dusky foreigners have minds of their own, and interests to match, and may act for reasons wholly unrelated to the clarity of our signals or the strength of our resolve.

Unqualified Offerings suspects US attempts to “solve” the situation may make things worse. How? By removing the local actors’ own sense of final responsibility. If the US shows up in its referee suit, then both sides commence a game of “Let’s see how far we can go before the ref calls foul.” Answer: Too far, easily. Because we don’t really have the power to keep the subcontinent from blowing itself up. We can block their view of an abyss they need to see with absolute clarity.

[05:18 PM : 4 comments]

About as high as a building ought to go Posting will probably be light here over the holiday weekend, since Teresa and I are in Kansas City where I’m one of the guests at a science fiction convention.

Of course, traditionally, announcements of reduced posting are followed by frenzied outbursts of unexpected blogging productivity, so you never know.

We were supposed to go to a Royals game with other con attendees last night, but it was rained out, so we went with Connie Willis to see the new Star Wars movie instead. Let me just say that Attack of the Clones is an intelligent, well-considered, complex, and artful piece of work that keeps being mysteriously interrupted by actual human actors wandering into the screen and speaking terrible lines of dialogue. No, really. David Edelstein remarked in his Slate review that Lucas’s emotional life is in the sets and backdrops and effects. This is in fact an admirable and rather grand thing, if you can keep from gnawing a paw off during the love scenes. (We were good. When the going got tough, Teresa just let her black Stetson drift down over her face; whereas my only lapse was when young Annakin Skywalker bitterly demanded of his crush-object Padme Amidala “Are you suffering, too?” “We are! We are!” I audibly replied…)

But anyway. Those planetary panoramas! Those Paul Lehr starships! Those overwhelming cities! Those impossible, twilit romantic crags! And who knew that Blade Runner was stashed away in the lower levels of Trantor? (Or that Brancusi’s “Bird in Space” was a coffee-table decoration a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away?)

[10:55 AM : 3 comments]

May 22, 2002
Obvious Says Tapped:
The Washington Times, normally a reliable defender of GOP interests, comes out and says what no other paper quite does: Recent vague warnings by Dick Cheney, Robert Mueller, and Don Rumsfeld are politically motivated. (Duh.) “The Bush administration issued a spate of terror alerts in recent days to mute criticism that its national security team sat on intelligence warnings in the weeks before the September 11 attacks,” writes reporter Joseph Curl.
Not quite “no other paper.” The Toronto Globe and Mail’s Doug Saunders writes:
White House officials told reporters that the blunt warnings issued yesterday and Sunday do not reflect a dramatic increase in threatening information but rather a desire to fend off criticism from the Democrats.

Last week, Democrats criticized the Republican administration for its failure to warn Americans about al-Qaeda terrorism in the months before the Sept. 11 attacks.

A senior administration official with knowledge of U.S. intelligence said yesterday that the new warnings, issued by Vice-President Dick Cheney on Sunday and by Mr. Mueller yesterday, are designed to give Americans better notice and to protect President George W. Bush against second-guessing in the event of another attack.

Good to know our elected officials are working hard to protect…the political reputation of George W. Bush. I feel safer already.

Anyway, it’s interesting that the New York Times and the Washington Post can’t bring themselves to note what’s obvious to anyone with half a brain. Tell me again how they’re bastions of the Liberal Media Conspiracy.

[07:41 PM : 2 comments]

All-seeing eyes This AP story currently linked from the front page of the New York Times is weird enough. Evidently authorities have found the remains of some thousands of racing greyhounds on the property of a former racetrack security guard, who was apparently taking money to dispose of the dogs (humanely, he says) for many years. And there’s a pre-existing controversy into which the story fits: critics of the dog-racing industry have long claimed that this sort of thing goes on, a charge denied by the industry itself, quelle surprise.

But that’s not what made my eyebrows arch while I read the story. Rather, it was just a passing detail:

State officials obtained a warrant Tuesday to search 18 acres owned by Rhodes after receiving a tip and looking at satellite images that showed animal bones strewn about the property.
I shouldn’t be surprised, but it’s still spooky to contemplate that “satellite images” can identify bones at all, much less show that they’re “animal bones.” Welcome to the future. Please proceed quietly into the panopticon.

[04:32 PM : 8 comments]

Grab your hat Meanwhile, Charlie Stross points out that the “topic du jour” might look pretty provincial and old-news on just a few minutes’ notice, if Pakistan and India start tossing nuclear weapons—which is by no means out of the question.
Get this: it’s a water war, among nuclear powers with up to 250 atomic weapons between them, and a festering grudge. […] My guess is that if this goes nuclear, it will kill more people than the first world war — possibly more than were killed directly during the second world war. The likely after-effects (famine, drought, and civil unrest) will do for many more.

We’re teetering on the edge of this catastrophe, one so huge it makes 9/11 look like a storm in a tea-cup, and the most frightening thing to behold is how little attention it’s getting in the navel-gazing west.

Up to now, it’s been pretty easy for most of us, so far, to push worry about this into the back of our minds. (At least, for those of us without friends and family in South Asia.) But if it happens, I don’t think many of us are ready for the sheer shock. Are you ready for Calcutta or Bombay to no longer exist? Are you ready for megadeath, even the megadeath of strangers? This week? Have you thought through how it will feel?

[01:27 PM : 4 comments]

Topic du jour I haven’t posted about the dustup over Who Knew What When, And What We Should Do About It, partly because every time I start getting ready to do so, Ted Barlow has said what I was gonna say, and said it better. Over the last several days, he’s also done an admirably measured job of noting and quoting comments from all the various “sides” of this controversy. I’m not linking to any specific post; just go there and read his blog from about May 16 or so. (Of course, as experienced blog readers, you’re used to reading from the bottom to the top.)

Okay, I will quote just one thing, his response to Rep. Porter Goss (R, FL), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, who asserted that “the only thing that this uproar does is give aid and comfort to the enemy.” Observed Barlow:

Is there some scenario in Goss’s pea-brain in which Terrorist A is turning to Terrorist B and saying “Praise Allah! They’re asking for an independent commission to investigate the failure of intelligence agencies to connect the information they had before September 11th! They’re trying to make their system better to improve their chances of preventing future terrorist actions! Victory is ours!”
Elsewhere, Tapped links to these remarks by Sen. John McCain (R, AZ):
An independent inquiry will not impose a serious burden on the administration as it prosecutes our just war against terrorism, any more than a similar inquiry after Pearl Harbor impeded Franklin D. Roosevelt’s prosecution of World War II. Nor should it prevent members of Congress, the press or any American citizen from questioning or criticizing the government’s apparent failures before and after President Bush’s inauguration. All wars and national security failures have occasioned contemporaneous criticism, and the Republic has managed to thrive.

It is irresponsible in a time of war, or any time for that matter, to attack or defend unthinkingly or because partisan identification is one’s supreme interest. But it is not responsible or right to shrink from offering thoughtful criticism when and to whom it is due, and when the consequences of incompletely understanding failures of governance are potentially catastrophic. On the contrary, such timidity is indefensibly irresponsible especially in times of war, so irresponsible that it verges on the unpatriotic.

Uh, right on.

[10:14 AM : 0 comments]

May 21, 2002
Next Famous lefty journalist Eric Alterman now has a blog. I’ll read it, despite his well-documented recent lousy behavior, because I think that forgiveness is a good strategy for making sure your information sources aren’t gradually narrowing. Also because I’ve seen him be a really good political writer.

On the other hand, I note that he’s still doing the superiority dance about how, unlike those self-indulgent bloggers, he’s (drum roll) edited. I dunno, maybe I’m less impressed by editors simply because I am one. Sure, lots of bloggers could benefit from editing. Lots of bloggers, when you get down to it, could benefit from tranquilizer darts. And quite a few bloggers are superb writers without benefit of any editor. As was, I note, Alterman’s hero, I. F. Stone.

[11:00 PM : 0 comments]

Limits of vision Today, I am officially an old person. Which is to say, I now have what used to be called “bifocals” and are now called “progressives.”

Posting will resume as I get used to them. Right now, everything’s awkward.

[12:25 PM : 14 comments]

May 19, 2002
Turning over more rocks This post, from May 14, linked to the appearance on the webpage of the English-language Arab News of a commentary by American neo-Nazi David Duke.

This was widely noted on the web. It also vanished from the Arab News’s site within a day or two. One suspects that the editors of “Saudi Arabia’s First English-Language Daily” hadn’t realized that the former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan was not an ornament to their attempts to reach out to mainstream American opinion.

Never fear, though, for the anti-imperialists of DC Indymedia have ensured that the well-known white supremacist can speak truth to power, right here on their site:

The real reason we have suffered the terrorism of the WTC attack is shockingly simple.

Too many American politicians have treasonously betrayed the American people by blindly supporting the leading terrorist nation on earth: Israel.

Other contributions to global brotherhood available from the fine progressives at DC Indymedia (“Making Connections/Reaching Out”) include this article on the pressing need to make the dinar “the unit of currency for international trade”, helpfully headlined “THE JEWISH BANKERS ARE GOING DOWN!” In case you didn’t, you know, get the point.

To be fair, the latter article is followed by someone’s posting suggesting that the author “shove your well-worn copy of Protocols of the Elders of Zion up your ass. ” Anyway, sure, these “Indymedia” sites have the right to link to and republish whatever they want to, and I gather they have some kind of arcane collective procedure for determining what goes up and what gets pulled. And I’m all for David Duke’s right to say whatever he wants to. I’m also all for my right to think that anyone who volunteers to disseminate this guy’s ravings is dumber than a bag of hammers, and certainly not someone whose opinion I’m going to take seriously on any other subject.

[10:16 AM : 12 comments]

May 17, 2002
Another myth debunked Too-darn-reasonable libertarian law professor Eugene Volokh (what is it with these law professors, anyway? How did they fill the empty hours before blogging was invented?) points out that “cheeseburgers don’t come from the German city of Cheeseburg.” Uh oh.

[10:35 AM : 0 comments]

And don’t forget the Patent Falangists I’m pretty resistant to using the word “fascism” as an all-purpose synonym for political badness, but Charlie Stross makes a good case for the phrase “copyright fascism”:
  • The key feature of the political system known as Fascism is that the State is more important than the individual — your body does not belong to you, it belongs to the State.
  • The key feature of the ideological system known as Copyright Fascism is that the Rights holder is more important than the consumer — your experiences don’t belong to you, they belong to the Distributor.
You can identify copyright fascists because they’re the guys who say things like “skipping advertising breaks on TV is theft”, and apply emotive words like “piracy” (armed robbery and murder on the high seas) to having an unauthorised copy of a piece of software (shoplifting).

There’s an agenda at work here, folks. Learn to recognize it.

[10:13 AM : 6 comments]

It must be that New York air Nick Denton has been full o’ blogging vim lately, tossing out characteristically compressed, punchy, high-impact paragraphs, little depleted-uranium shells of blogosity. Here’s an excellent example:
Peggy Noonan forgives Bush for the farm bill, and steel tariffs: it’s what he needs to do to maintain political support for the war, she says. Oh, come off it. He’s just caved, and agreed to policies which are bad for the US economy and throw other nations into poverty. He caved. Say it. I respect Bush’s prosecution of the war, and his managerial ability, but people have given Bush the benefit of the doubt for 18 months, for all his life, for that matter. On vision, articulacy, trade, the Saudis, the Middle East, global development. It takes a really smart guy like Andrew Sullivan to justify such dumb actions. Let’s just give him the benefit of the doubt? Bush is the welfare queen of benefit of the doubt; it’s time he fended for himself.

[10:00 AM : 3 comments]

And the engine just gleams Doc Searls is blogging live from the O’Reilly Emerging Technologies Conference. It’s all important, and it’s almost too much to take in. Read this post. Then read the others.

[01:20 AM : 1 comments]

May 15, 2002
The bugs of Mars I love Ken Layne’s stuff, because I’m a pushover for people who are consistently funny and slightly unhinged. But this is is below par. The Glenn Reynolds column he’s linking to is an entirely reasonable overview of the environmental issues entailed in exploring Mars. Layne manages to make it sound like a what-will-those-eco-crazies-think-of-next soundbite, complete with imaginary “lawsuits” that Ken appears to have pulled out of his own ass.

Smart people have been thinking hard about this issue for decades, and trying to talk sense about it despite a news media whose consistent impulse is to yuk it up. Like his friend Matt Welch, Layne is at his best when he impatiently pushes past stale old left-right, red team-blue team gameplaying and says, look, there’s a much more interesting problem over there, so howsabout all the smart people pack up and go play with it instead. Here, on the other hand, he’s taking a complicated, challenging issue we’ll be dealing with some decades from now (if we’re lucky), and jokingly reframing it as a boring controversy from 1979. Okay, whassamatta, ain’t I got no sensa yuma. No, said the penguin, it’s just ice cream.

UPDATE, May 16: Ken responds, hotly setting forth his “Liberal Environmentalist Credentials.” But I wasn’t yanking his chain in defense of “liberal environmentalism.” I was yanking his chain in defense of science. (Remember, we’re entirely serious around here, 23.9345 hours a day. Quant suff!)

[09:34 PM : 2 comments]

May 14, 2002
Of course I know, I know, this is the easiest kind of blogging there is. Fish. Barrel. You know the drill.

But, but, but. Look who’s writing for the Arab News.

[09:51 PM : 8 comments]

May 12, 2002
The ICC revisited Neel Krishnaswami shared some of my doubts about the International Criminal Court:
I’m relieved that the US has withdrawn from the ICC treaty, because it’s as nasty as anything John Ashcroft could have wanted: it does not guarantee a right to a speedy trial, does not have any rules against double jeopardy, permits secret trials, permits the use of anonymous testimony and hearsay evidence, and restricts the rights of cross-examination and of defendants to confront their accusers. It also does not have jury trials, as verdicts are rendered with a majority vote of the judges. But somehow the fact that this is a multilateral institution is supposed to make me hail the ICC as a great advance for the rule of law. Huh?
I wrote back and asked him how much he could source all of that, and he responded with a quantity of solid citations and analysis, all of which you can read by clicking on the “comments” button above this post. Which I recommend you do.

[06:09 PM : 17 comments]

Off on a comment By popular demand, I’ve re-enabled comments. I have a bunch of reservations about the default settings of Movable Type’s comment system, but having gone at it the way I usually go at a complicated computer problem, which is to say banging my head on the monitor until blood flows, I think I’ve fixed some of the stuff that bothered me.

Most importantly, you can now “subscribe” (and, of course, unsubscribe) to comments on a particular post. You can do it even if you never post. Thanks to ScriptyGoddess for this extension to Movable Type, which I’ve modified a bit to suit my own notions of what is and isn’t intuitively obvious.

Also importantly, comment threads no longer become invisible when the post to which they’re attached scrolls off the front page. Posts on my monthly archive pages now contain links to their comment threads, just as the front page does.

I’m not going to go back and turn commenting “on” for every single old post, but I’ve done so for everything posted since May 1, and when I’ve recovered from today’s exertions, I’ll go back and find all the old posts that actually had comments, and make those comments visible again.

[05:46 PM : 1 comments]

Why, you, I oughtta—! Jim Henley’s longish post this morning about Spiderman (the movie) and Spiderman (the comic book and character) fairly bursts with worthwhile observations, about (among other things) storytelling; why Spiderman is a liberal icon; and the pleasures and and pitfalls of comic-book continuity:
The problem Marvel-Age continuity creates is that, to keep Spiderman in his designated niche for as long as Marvel did, the reversals must reliably come—no matter how powerful Spiderman’s body and how inventive Peter Parker’s mind, things must happen, more or less on schedule, that will keep Peter broke and lonely and Spiderman misunderstood and unappreciated. That kind of stasis requires some….forceful manipulation, gods out of endless dreary machines. After awhile, you start to feel like the creators are jerking Spiderman around; then, that it’s you, the reader, they’re jerking. And you separate yourself from the comic book and character almost as an act of self-respect. Okay, that was me. But maybe it was you too.

The point is that a movie has the freedom to tell the Essential Story one time and be done with it.

That’s just a taste. This is one of those posts that demonstrates what I like best about blogging (and, for that matter, good fanzine writing): a big, engaging, loose-limbed chunk of conversation, not constrained by the requirements of a more formal essay, but no less nourishing for that. And Henley obviously knows in his bones something pertinent to this currently mega-popular movie: how we fall in love with superhero comics, and how they come to break our hearts.

(No, Teresa and I haven’t seen the movie yet, but we certainly will.)

[11:21 AM : 3 comments]

May 11, 2002
Straight outta 1994 I just now received spam inviting me to participate in…wait for it…the Green Card lottery!

What is this? Historical recreationism?

Maybe I’m supposed to forward it to Archimedes Plutonium?

[09:14 PM : 0 comments]

Guns, revisited I remarked that (1) I’m increasingly dubious about the constitutionality, morality, and even simple efficacy of “gun control,” and that (2) it seems to me that the NRA is one of the biggest single obstacles to a sensible discussion of this issue. Holy cow, did that get me a lot of mail. Next up: abortion, Heinlein, cats, and emacs versus vi.

In the process of convincing everyone on the planet of my political unreliability, I did cite PlanetOut’s report of a a panel at an NRA convention at which, allegedly, various pro-gun eminences made loutishly homophobic remarks. I wasn’t the only person in the blogoverse to note this, either. Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit decided to get to the bottom of this story (imagine, actual reporting on a weblog), and in a series of posts of which these two are the culmination, more or less did so. Short version: There are loudmouth dingbats in the NRA; there are also gay pro-gun groups like the Pink Pistols who feel that, on balance, most pro-gun activists are perfectly accepting of them. Sounds like typical subcultural politics to me. Goodness knows people in the science-fiction world, like me, are familiar with the experience of the media coming to our conventions and zeroing in on the borderline schizzes and kids in Spock ears.

Aside from Reynolds’ posts, the other notable blog posts on this were this one from Ted Barlow, and this one from Charles Kuffner. One of Kuffner’s points:

To be fair, Rostcheck, Reynolds, and CastleBravo all recognize that the NRA itself contributes to this image, in no small part by having speakers who, as CastleBravo says, “at best can’t keep their foot out of their mouth and at worst has an anti-gay bias and doesn’t have the sense to keep it to themselves”. None of them, though, really put the finger on what I believe is the leading contributor to this problem and its obvious cure: The NRA’s most visible spokespeople are a bunch of angry white men.

Think about it. Who do you think of when you think of the NRA? Well, there’s Wayne LaPierre, who at this same convention compared the founder of a gun-control group to Osama bin Laden and whose infamous “jack-booted thugs” remark caused Bush Sr. to tear up his NRA membership card. There’s Charlton Heston. There’s…well, I have no idea who else. And that’s my point.

I believe Rostcheck and Reynolds when they say that the NRA is a largely diverse and welcoming organization. So why don’t they act like a smart organization and take advantage of that diversity? I’ve heard of the Second Amendment Sisters. Thanks to Reynolds and Rostcheck, I’ve now heard of The Pink Pistols. I forget who pointed me to Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership. That’s three gun rights advocacy groups whose members would otherwise be associated with the Democratic/pro-gun-control side of things. I’m sure a bit of Googling would find more. Why the NRA doesn’t give these folks a more prominent role in making its public statements is a mystery to me. I’m sorry, but if the public at large thinks that gun owners are mostly right-wing white men, the NRA has no one to blame but itself.

And that’s it from me on guns for now. I’m still working out what I think on the primary issue; the question of how the NRA should conduct itself is for now relegated to the same place as issues of Siberian land management, or the staging of Wagner operas: I’m sure it’s important but I lack the confidence that I know entirely what I’m talking about. (Quick, now move in for the kill.)

[07:53 PM : 5 comments]

No funny title here Okay, Israelis, Palestinians, European antisemitism, etc etc. A couple of long but worthwhile letters of comment. First, from David Moles:
For what it’s worth, I think the—I won’t call it the resurgence, because I think it’s been there all along—the return to respectability, let’s say, of anti-Semitism in Europe over the last few weeks is scary and evil. I wouldn’t dream of blaming it on anybody other than the thugs perpetrating it and the self-satisfied fellow travelers who turn a blind eye. I wish I’d kept in touch with the French Jews I met at Oxford so that I could at least drop them a line to find out if they’re okay and let them know that someone over here cares. And I hope that it doesn’t get, here, to the level of masked gangsters assaulting soccer-playing children, and that if it does, I have the courage to do something about it.

And the Palestinian suicide bombings make me hope that there is a hell, and that there’s a special place in it for the people who send teenagers out to kill and die, and the people that sell them the explosives, and the people who design and assemble the explosive belts, and particularly the people who make toy explosive belts for kids. And maybe even for the suicide bombers themselves—I’m having trouble coming around to that one, but I’m working on it.

But when it comes around to what Ariel Sharon’s doing, when it comes to things like the Amos Oz quote in the Rosenbaum article, about “a war for our right to live, a war we will win”, I keep coming back to this scene in Terry Pratchett’s Guards! Guards!: some of the characters are sitting around trying to figure out what to do now that a fire-breathing dragon has just been crowned King of Ankh-Morpork, and one of them says something like: “If I understand it correctly, what the dragon does, basically, is fly around setting fire to things. I’m not sure that anything I’ve heard proposed would actually put a stop to this.”

Ever since the Sharon/Barak election, I’ve heard a lot of rhetoric—broadly accurate rhetoric, I admit—about the continued terrorist attacks on Israel, and how they need to be stopped, and how Israel has a right to do what it takes to stop them.

But I’m not sure that anything I’ve heard proposed—from Sharon, at any rate—would actually put a stop to them.

The most charitable interpretation I can put on Sharon’s policy—as regards his intelligence, anyway—is that he thinks that if he kills enough Palestinians, demolishes enough of the Palestinian infrastructure, and in general stomps on them as much as possible, the survivors will be sufficiently cowed that they’ll no longer support attacks on Israel, for fear of retaliation.

It wouldn’t work on Israelis; I don’t know why anyone would expect it to work on Palestinians.

Another interpretation is that Sharon shares what I think is the quintessential right-wing viewpoint: that there are good people and evil people, and if we kill or lock up all the evil people, there will be no more evil. Personally, I don’t think Sharon’s that stupid, though I wouldn’t say so of a lot of US policymakers—we can see that kind of thinking over here everywhere from the War on Terrorism (or “on Evil”, depending on the speechwriter and the audience) to the War on Drugs.

But the limited version of that second interpretation is what Sharon’s been trying to sell: All we want is Arafat and the “terrorist infrastructure” (by which I hope they mean something different from the Palestinian economic infrastructure) out of the picture, and we’ll go home. (At least I think that’s what Sharon’s claiming his victory conditions are. It’s kind of hard to tell, just as it’s kind of hard to tell when GW thinks we’ll have won the War on Evil.)

I guess where I have trouble with this one is that I don’t think it’ll work. I don’t think there’s a limited supply of terrorists in the occupied territories. I don’t think that Arafat could stop the bombings any time he wanted to, the way Sharon claims he can. Whereas Sharon could stop the Israeli army with a phone call. And that’s why I, at least, have a tendency to strain at Israeli gnats while swallowing Palestinian camels.

One quibble: It’s entirely possible that if Sharon had, at certain points, “stopped the Israeli army with a phone call,” we’d be back to talking about Prime Minister Netanyahu even now. And we very well may yet.

I also suspect it’s a mistake to see the current round of Israeli actions as entirely driven by the ambitions of the military, as if Israel were some banana republic being driven hither and yon by men on horseback.

Meanwhile, on the subject of growing European anti-semitism, Iain J. Coleman takes my call to “please talk me out of this” seriously:

Basically, Nick Denton is right. What used to be a widely-distributed anti-Semitic culture is now the preserve of a few sad wankers with shaven heads and shaven brains. The widespread lack of sympathy for Israel does not arise from anti-Semitism: rather, it comes out of a post-imperialist political discourse, in which colonialism is routinely condemned. True, this discourse has solidified in a section of the left, to the point where the power identified as colonial or imperialist is automatically in the wrong: this knee-jerk reaction leads to the assumption that any US foreign action is wicked, just as it leads to the assumption that any Israeli action is colonial oppression. It’s a lazy and wrong-headed point of view, but not anti-Semitic. Hell, the same people condemned British “imperialism” in Northern Ireland, and supported the “armed struggle” of the IRA.

As for actual, serious anti-Semitism in Europe, of the attacks on Jewish people and places of worship variety, that’s been imported from the Arab world, transmitted along the immigration routes. Its existence does point to a failure in Europe generally, and perhaps in France most of all, to make the positive political case for immigration, and to enable immigrants to become full participants in the national culture. This has had all sorts of bad consequences, not least in creating opportunities for the far right to exploit anti-immigrant sentiment. However, it has also led multiculturally-minded people to err on the side of tolerating the intolerant, of being reluctant to make a big deal out of Arab anti-Semitism because it might seem like attacking a minority.

If it’s not already clear, I think both these attitudes on the Left are wrong. The world is a damn sight more complex than evil imperialists versus oppressed heroes: the US action in Afghanistan between Sept 11 and the fall of the Taliban was justified, effective and praiseworthy, and for all Sharon’s short-sighted brutality we must support Israel against those people who want to destroy it and to exterminate its people. We have to do a better job of dealing honestly with immigration, making the most of its economic and cultural benefits, and should not shy away from attacking neo-nazis of whatever colour or ancestry.

However, it is wrong to conflate Leftist anti-colonialism with Arab anti-Semitism. Wrong, not just because it is factually inaccurate, but because it fatally weakens the pro-Israeli case by making Israel’s supporters seem shrill and paranoid, and because if we fail to connect with the real arguments of the anti-Israelis we lose any chance of persuading them to change their minds.

There’s a lot to that, but one person’s “shrill and paranoid”, needless to say, is another’s “upset and anxious.” Ron Rosenbaum, in his latest New York Observer column, has a lot to say about this sort of thing. When large numbers of people are spouting exterminationist rhetoric, paying attention—even getting alarmed—is not “turning to hatred,” as Amy Wilentz’s odious New York magazine piece had it, nor is it being “paranoid.” When large numbers of people are talking about their desire to brutalize, exile, and kill you and yours, and significant numbers have started to actually do it, it isn’t “paranoid” to be afraid, or “shrill” to loudly express alarm. Particularly when the last time your relatives ignored this sort of talk, just a couple of generations ago, they mostly wound up dead.

I also think that Iain, despite plentiful good will, is oversimplifying when he says true European antisemitism is mostly “the preserve of a few sad wankers with shaven heads and shaven brains.” It’s not just a few skinheads or leftover brownshirts. I’ve heard it in the casual comments of nice liberal-minded Oxbridge-educated London publishing colleagues, which is why I found the now-famous story of the ambassador at the dinner party entirely believable. And of course it’s deeply rooted in the right wing of the Church, as Catholic writers like Garry Wills and James Carroll have tirelessly shown. While we’re calling for perspective, let’s look at the historical perspective: educated Europeans were happily killing Jews by the hundredweight a lot more recently than us dumb American cowboys were killing Indians and enslaving blacks.

Certainly, when we fret about European antisemitism, we’re “conflating” alarming trends among disparate subgrounds. Then again, many of Europe’s previous outbreaks of serious Jew-bashing happened because suddenly two or more disparate subgroups suddenly realized there was advantage to be gained from jointly sponsoring a pogrom or two. Sometimes, as in Limerick in 1904, beating the crap out of the local Jews was a community-building exercise, serving to bring together previously-feuding groups, like churchmen and merchants. Is it so hard, then, to imagine these groups, for all their differences—skinhead yobs, bored Muslim kids, dingbat lefty “anti-colonialists”—managing to get together and doing a little “conflating” on their own? It is not hard to imagine. Europeans have been coming up with new reasons to kill Jews for over a thousand years. It’s a nice thing that doing so has been socially unacceptable for a few decades, but I don’t think Israeli and American Jews and their friends are out of line, or “shrill and paranoid,” for worrying.

[06:28 PM : 0 comments]

Michaelson, Morley, marshmallows Measure the speed of light with a microwave oven, a microwave-safe casserole dish, a bag of marshmallows, and a ruler. Yes, it works. (Via Jerry Kindall.)

[04:24 PM : 1 comments]

Secret engines Ulrika O’Brien sent a pointer to a particular post on a blog I hadn’t seen before, Bill Allison’s Ideofact. Wrote Ulrika: “This post took the top of my head off in a way that hasn’t happened in a while. Totally reorganized my thoughts about the jostlings of cultural ascendancy between Christendom and the Islamic Middle East, while suggesting something fundamental about the origins of the Enlightenment that I had never thought of or seen mentioned before, all while talking about technology.” She’s right. I haven’t had time to browse the rest of Ideofact, but this post is worth your time.

[04:21 PM : 3 comments]

This ain’t no Mudd Club I keep bookmarking things and not getting around to blogging them. On the other hand, I got a lot done at work this week. Perhaps there’s a connection.

Chris Bertram of Junius recommends this Financial Times article on the complete absence of democracy in the Arab world, the domination of their polities by intelligence services, their long-term crisis of political legitimacy, and exactly how all this combines to nourish terrorism:

America’s Arab friends have managed to convince successive administrations in Washington that political liberalisation, much less democracy, is too risky. Only the Islamists would benefit and their agenda is “one man, one vote, one time”. Arab leaders and officials earnestly tell you that: “This is not Germany” (in Egypt); “We are not in Norway” (in Bahrain); “This is not Switzerland” (in Syria); “We are not talking about Scandinavia” (in Saudi Arabia); and “You are not dealing with Sweden, you know” (in Egypt again).

Let us first build the middle class, they say, and then we’ll have some liberals to liberalise with.

The argument is spurious. From Algiers to Cairo, the reality is that Arab rulers get endorsement for strategies of repression that lay waste to the entire political spectrum. Real liberals mostly get jailed. The middle class gets devastated or emigrates and some of its sons, as we have seen, fly airliners into buildings to immolate civilians.

Since September 11, Egypt, Algeria, Syria, et al, have been telling western leaders: that “If only you they had seen the light, and cracked down hard like a good Arab despot.” Syria, for instance, believes the way it dealt with a 1982 insurgency by the Muslim Brotherhood razing the city of Hama at a cost of some about 20,000 lives is the work of pioneers in the “war against terror”.

What the Arab regimes have in fact pioneered, however, is a scorched-earth strategy that has been a political gift to the fundamentalists. Blanket repression of the mainstream has given force to the violent tributaries.

There’s lots more. This is a chewy, substantial piece that does an excellent job of knitting together disparate details.

[04:15 PM : 0 comments]

May 10, 2002
Style matters Agree or disagree with Michael Kinsley, no other pundit currently working could have written this opening paragraph:
“There is a broad feeling among Indonesian elites,” writes Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, in a phrase so humbling to a fellow columnist that I could barely finish reading the sentence. It is not essential, though, to have stuck a thermometer into a single, narrow Indonesian elite in order to comprehend Friedman’s point and even (if this is not presumptuous) to agree with it. The point is that if anti-terrorism is the value America promotes and rewards beyond all others in the world, then our formerly highest value97democracy97gets short shrift. We shower affection on a cooperative military strongman in Pakistan while sparing little for a nascent democracy like Indonesia, with its magnificent profusion of elites.
That last phrase is a murmured, apposite aside worthy of Patrick O’Brian.

More tomorrow, on guns, anti-Semitism, and other bloggerish red meat.

[12:18 AM : 0 comments]

May 07, 2002
More sparks Here’s Gary J. Bass in the New Republic, with a piece that argues against our withdrawal from the International Criminal court, and does so on the specifics:
[O]pposition to the ICC revolves in part around fear of renegade politically minded prosecutions […] Slobodan Milosevic, for example, set up his own bogus war crimes trials for NATO’s leadership after the Kosovo war—a war in which NATO worked hard to choose and hit legitimate military targets, while Milosevic did his best to hit Kosovar Albanian civilians.

But the ICC is built with safeguards to prevent these kinds of farcical prosecutions; most importantly, it can only prosecute if a national prosecution has already proven to be a joke or a flop. So any American soldier accused of war crimes charges would, if America were part of the ICC, almost certainly just wind up facing an American court martial, just as he or she would without the ICC. Taking the sober and responsible jurisprudence of the United Nations’ ex-Yugoslavia and Rwanda tribunals as a model for the ICC, one would hardly expect trouble for American soldiers.

Despite my post previous to this one, I don’t actually have a firm position on this issue—as opposed to some opinions about what does and doesn’t constitute a good argument. Bass’s conclusion strikes me as a good argument:
[T]he ICC debate has been a resounding example of framing an issue the wrong way. Rather than pointing out that America tries to put itself on the side of human rights, and that the American military goes to great pains to fight its wars in a just manner, the Bush White House has once again opened itself up to accusations that it is simply allergic to multilateralism (ABM Treaty, Kyoto Protocol, land mines treaty, child soldiers treaty, etc.). Rather than pointing to Milosevic’s trial in the Hague—a man on trial for genocide against Muslims, in the dock in large part because of American power—as proof of how American power can help the Muslim world, the Bushies are fleeing from it. Instead of having the debate about the ICC be focused on the dictatorships that commit war crimes and crimes against humanity, the Bushies have changed the subject to America.

[12:13 PM : 0 comments]

Court and spark The often-sensible Bill Altreuter of Outside Counsel sums up what seems to me the core of many people’s alarm over the US’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court treaty:
The decision to pull away, and the mindset that says that the loss of sovereignties is bad is, I think, a mindset that says that because institutions are fallible, we should shun institutions. To the extent conflicts can be resolved without recourse to institutions, they should be, but any court is better than war, or warlike actions.
Is “any court” really “better than war, or warlike actions”? Hardly. Throughout history, courts have often been instruments of precisely the kinds of tyrannies against which war is justifiable. Whether or not the decision to withdraw from this court is correct, the question turns on the specifics, not on hypothetical virtues automatically accruing to any institution that calls itself a “court.” And talking about “mindsets”, rather than engaging those specifics, serves primarily to impute bad faith to those who disagree.

I’m all for building institutions. I’m not even convinced that the International Criminal Court is a bad one. But I don’t think a broad appeal to a supposed general virtue of “institutions” amounts to a compelling argument. And I’m certainly no longer inclined to give a pass to anything that paints itself light blue and calls itself “international.” We don’t have anything like broadly agreed-upon “international” standards of what constitutes evidence or proof, much less proportionate justice. Despite the many flaws of our system (not forgetting the death penalty and our disgracefully uneven application of it), I think many aspects of our system are simply better than “justice” as practiced in much of the world. (In other words, I think some things are better than other things— and it’s a source of continued wonder to me that this should now be widely regarded as an illiberal position, rather than a core principle of liberalism.)

If an international criminal jurisprudence is being developed, we should participate, so that our experience with institutions that value due process and transparency becomes incorporated into the new institution.
That’s a better argument, but it only goes so far. I’d like to think that our participation would lead to a general betterment, but what seems more likely is that we’d wind up quietly splitting critical moral differences with the governments of such high-minded places as Syria and Burma.

[11:35 AM : 0 comments]

And after that, we’ll settle Luxembourg’s hash Virginia Postrel makes a radical observation:
Am I the only person who wants to know who likely killed Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn before drawing conclusions about the ramifications of his assassination? What if it was some nut who thought killing someone famous would impress his favorite actress? Assassinations are always politically traumatic, but they don’t always have deeper meaning. And even when political crime is politically motivated, the motives people expect are often not the ones at work.
Fair enough. But Postrel then goes on to undermine the entire basis of blogging:
Sometimes the best policy is to withhold comment until more facts are in97or at least to base the commentary on what’s known, not what’s interesting to imagine. Of course, that may presume that you’d rather be right than read.
I ask you, where would the Blogosphere be if we followed this, this, this stasist advice? If we were to “withhold comment until more facts are in”? Bloggers, to your stations! Defend your right to shoot off your mouth! On to Belgium!

[08:40 AM : 0 comments]

Revisiting typo{graphy | logy} Jim Macdonald, not a man given to restrained opinions where the contemporary cinema is concerned, opines:
The thing that got me moving out of the movie in Chocolat (amid all the other Red Mikish things), was the point where we saw the young priest singing an Elvis tune behind the church.

Didn’t they realize that the cross he was standing beside marked the very spot where the Second Crusade was preached?

How could they not tie it in?

A universe of lost possibilities.

[12:28 AM : 0 comments]

The Phantom Milo John M. Ford is still curmudgeonly. (Yes, this is that Water Still Wet feature promised below.)
The Economist’s weekly feature obit was on John R. Pierce, and gosh all friday, was it weird.

Of course they mentioned Telstar and The Fateful Naming of the Transistor, but the writer apparently got obsessed with the idea that this really smart and productive guy wrote, you know, sci-fi, and could not let go of said idea, despite the usual Big Press Journalist combination of a) knowing diddly-squat and b) cutesy condescension thereabouts. This would not matter nearly so much if the damn thing didn’t spend more than half its length on the skiffy stuff. (There is, perhaps mercifully, no mention of John J. Pierce.)

There’s a certain shallowness of scientific background, too—Pierce’s pseudonym was indeed “J. J. Coupling,” but the electron phenomenon from which he took it is “J-J coupling,” hyphen, no periods. And John W. Campbell would never have called Pierce by his pseudonym in private. But I digress.

It’s impossible to deduce whether the writer has actually read any of Pierce’s fiction. He cites one story, “Period Piece” from 1948, and refers to its protagonist as a “cyborg.” Well, leaving aside that the protagonist is properly an “android,” the word “cyborg” didn’t exist in ‘48; the obituarist is clearly trying to show off how much sci-fi jargon she, he, or the software knows, and, stop me if you’ve heard this one, blowing it.

Oh well. I hesitate to think of what would have happened had they picked on Damon. Fiery retribution from the heavens, is my guess.

[12:08 AM : 0 comments]

May 06, 2002
Revisiting crowd noise The estimable Christine Quinones sheds a little light on the reports of Paul Wolfowitz being booed when he expressed some support for the Palestinians at the DC support-for-Israel rally:
Manny Jacobowitz, my oldest and one of my closest friends […] was up front at the rally and could barely hear the boos Paul Wolfowitz got for his comment about how the Palestinians have suffered too. (I almost went to the rally myself, if conscientiousness about work hadn’t trumped the ability to use bronchitis as a plausible excuse for taking a sick day.) I told [Joshua Micah Marshall] this, and apparently his third-person account carried more weight with him than a total stranger’s third-person account. I know, go figure, but with the press making it out as a vociferous repudiation, I’d hoped the idea that at least one attendee thought otherwise would have been of note to someone.

BTW, Manny told me the press emphasis on the Israeli hardliner contingent at the rally was very much a case of putting the spotlight on the con members with the Spock ears; the organizers were aiming to show support for Israel’s continued survival, whether Sharon is doing the right thing or not.

Christine, who has been displaying signs of incipient blog for several weeks now, has now come down with a full-fledged case, and very worthwhile it is too.

[11:49 PM : 0 comments]

Revisiting petitions Chris Bertram remarks about the petition to change the name of Peter Jackson’s next movie:
I’m sure it must be a hoax, and that a lot of Internet petitions are. I remember one protesting against some legislation planned by the Brazilian government to cut down some vast proportion of rainforest. There was no such legislation, but that didn’t stop hundreds of environmental activists from signing!
Similarly, Simon Bisson comments: “Of the 1100 signatures something over 90% are void due to invalid addresses, and the comments attached to the remaining few are cynical in the extreme. I doubt anyone will take the petition seriously…”

Which was, in fact, my general point: that by and large, and for good reasons, online “petitions” don’t get taken seriously. I must have been singularly bad at putting the point across, though, since even as cogent an activist as my old pal Avedon Carol seemed to miss that that was my point. Oh well.

[11:33 PM : 2 comments]

Revisiting hyperlexia Back on April 14, I was boggled by the newly-discovered child disorder “hyperlexia.” Arthur Hlavaty wrote to point out that the son of a writer he and I both know has been diagnosed with the condition. As Arthur says, surely this fellow and his wife “are not insensitive to the call of reading.” Similarly, Alison Scott wrote: gives details, and includes the key sentence:

“It should be noted that the diagnosis of hyperlexia does not apply to children who are precocious in reading but who do not exhibit a significant language disorder.”

Most of the fannish children I know have large spoken vocabularies as well as the reading habit.

On the other hand, whenever I read stories about hyperlexic children, even including the case studies in the article I’ve linked to, I just think ‘Hey, these kids are just weird.’

I should have been more clear. I didn’t really mean to suggest there’s nothing real there. But when I see news stories adducing what seems to me pretty normal smart-little-kid behavior as evidence of a pathology, my eyes cross. (He was so absorbed in a book, he refused to come to the table! Heavens to Betsy.)

What we know is that we don’t know much, and that a lot of neurological conditions (“narcolepsy,” “Asperger’s,” “hyperlexia”) aren’t really crisply-defined things on the same order as “compound fracture” or “the mumps,” but, instead, a bunch of fuzzy circles loosely drawn around sets of events and symptoms that often seem to go together, except when they don’t. And yet the very fact that we give these cloudy sets names tempts us to think of them as more crisply-defined states of being than they actually are. Moreover, for many people, getting assigned even one of these vague diagnostic labels is a big relief after years of feeling like they must just be lazy, crazy, or stupid. This is perfectly understandable and, believe me, I sympathize a lot.

So I don’t want to seem like I’m gainsaying anyone’s real problem, but I’m also pretty skeptical about what looks to me like a media rush to pathologize a lot of kid behavior that may not be, in every case, pathological. I’m sure there are kids out there who badly need to be diagnosed as “autistic” or “hyperlexic” and duly treated. I’m just as sure there are a non-trivial number of slightly obsessive or precociously verbal kids who are well within the range of adult “normality”—who simply have, you know, personalities, just as if they were people—who are being misdiagnosed by panicky parents and teachers who can’t imagine any non-pathological reason any kid might prefer reading all day to playing football. Does this mean the pathologies don’t exist? No, it means some adults are numbskulls. Next on Electrolite: “Water: Still Wet.”

[10:32 PM : 0 comments]

Gearing back up By the way, I’ve received a bunch of thoughtful Electrolite-related email in the last couple of weeks, and although I’ve been delayed in answering it and/or writing about it, I don’t intend to ignore it. Tonight, with any luck, I’ll get started on some of it.

Meanwhile, this is either so right that it’s wrong, or so wrong that it’s right.

[02:18 PM : 0 comments]

May 05, 2002
Moving party New host. New Labour. New Britain. Okay, forget those last two.

Our apologies, again, for all the URL-changing. On the bright side, now that we’ve got our own domain, any future moves are likely to be less troublesome. Meanwhile, Blogomania seems pretty decent. What will we do with all the bandwidth? We’ll think of something.

[07:08 PM : 0 comments]

Wait a minute, I like cheese Despite quite a few predictions in blogland that Le Pen would do better—much better, I tell you—than the conventional wisdom expected, it appears the CW was right. Chirac got about 82% of the vote. Le Pen got barely two percentage points more than he did a few weeks ago.

Somehow I doubt this will stop anyone from writing their already-planned blog essays about the perfidiousness (and imminent moral collapse) of the French. And when we’ve finished them off, on to Belgium!

[04:32 PM : 0 comments]

Reality check Charles Dodgson explains the pertinence of the Boston Massacre to the propaganda war over Jenin. As Dodgson points out, the facts about that incident were nothing so dreadful as revolutionary American propaganda made them out to be—and yet note the name we remember it by.
Just a thought on the use of the M-word —- and on how it will continue to be used by those with an axe to grind. Palestinian casualty estimates now more or less agree with initial reports from the Israelis, which means only that for Palestinian propagandists and their partisans, fifty-odd deaths are enough. No need to be fussy about the details.

[03:19 PM : 0 comments]

May 04, 2002
We, the undersigned Next time someone asks you to sign an online petition, reflect that at, there’s a petition demanding that Peter Jackson change the title of the forthcoming second movie in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Two Towers, explaining that “The title is clearly meant to refer to the attacks on the World Trade Center.”

The Two Towers, by J. R. R. Tolkien, the second part of The Lord of the Rings, was originally published in 1954.

As of this moment, the “Rename The Two Towers to Something Less Offensive Petition” has 1,110 signers.

I love the Internet. I signed both of the online petitions in opposition to banning therapeutic-cloning research, the mostly-conservative-libertarian one and the mostly-progressive one. (They’re not contradictory, and they both deserve your support.) But honestly, sometimes effective political activism requires stepping away from the computer.

[02:44 AM : 1 comments]

Moral clarity, part 5,271,009 We’re installing a king in Afghanistan. Michael Kinsley recalls that the United States of America used to be the hope of a world weary of kings.
We might not want a king ourselves. But Afghanistan, you see, is what one calls a “traditional” culture in which they take innocent pleasure in pretending that some doddering 87-year-old is better than everybody else because his father was, too. Still, the United States of America was long associated with the idea of rejecting kings. And that “branding strategy,” as the business world calls it, worked pretty well. When we find ourselves installing kings instead, the course of human events has taken a strange turn.

[01:55 AM : 0 comments]

May 02, 2002
Falling rocks, &c Yes, we’re tinkering again with CSS and other dangerous substances. Yes, we know there are problems with MSIE 5.x, and we’re working on it.

UPDATE: Okay, the heck with that for now. I’d like a three-column layout, but not enough to kill this page for everyone who uses MSIE 5.x for Windows. Further testing will be done offline.

[10:00 PM : 0 comments]

Query Electrolite and Making Light have outstripped the limits of our current Panix hosting plan, so we’re looking for an arrangement that doesn’t entail the kind of surcharges we’re currently paying.

Among the several options we’re looking at is Blogomania. If you’ve had any dealings with them or an opinion about their competence, probity, and likely longevity, we’d like to hear from you.

[11:37 AM : 0 comments]

May 01, 2002
Another quote for Jamie Kellner Who, as you’ll remember, is the TBS chairman who claims that TV viewers who skip commercials are committing “theft”:
“There has grown up in the minds of certain groups in this country the notion that because a man or a corporation has made a profit out of the public for a number of years, the government and the courts are charged with the duty of guaranteeing such profit in the future, even in the face of changing circumstances and contrary public interest. This strange doctrine is not supported by statute nor common law. Neither individuals nor corporations have any right to come into court and ask that the clock of history be stopped, or turned back, for their private benefit.
It’s spoken by the judge in Robert A. Heinlein’s first published story, “Life-Line” (1939). Remembered by Sal Manzo, a poster to Steven den Beste’s U.S.S. Clueless. (Den Beste has some good comments of his own here.)

[09:51 PM : 0 comments]

Says it all Ted Barlow again:
One of Bush’s first actions in office was to step up enforcement of the rule that denied federal financial aid to students who had been convicted of drug possession. Clinton had relaxed this rule, but Bush, a lifetime teetotaler who struggled financially to put himself through school, had the moral authority to apply such a law, which by definition only punishes poor and middle-class students.

[09:29 PM : 0 comments]

And for our next trick, the other foot You know something? Like an increasing number of American liberals, I’m off the reservation about guns. The conventional “gun control” positions keep flunking various reality tests. Concealed-carry doesn’t correlate with increased gun crime; quite the reverse. The permit system in places like New York City leads, unsurprisingly, to the kind of corruption through which record-industry insiders with gangster connections can carry a gun, but I can’t. Meanwhile, banning guns outright seems to keep people from using guns about as well as banning drugs keeps people from using drugs. It may or may not be true that Americans are crazy about guns, but it seems pretty clear that the “gun control” approaches we’ve tried mostly serve to disarm the law-abiding while leaving criminals armed to the teeth. (Indeed, it turns out that when guns are outlawed, only outlaws…ah, you’ve heard it.) And on the personal level, most of the people I personally know who own guns are solid citizens, nothing like the violent lunatics of anti-gun demonology.

All that being the case, imagine how impressed I am by America’s leading gun organization when I read things like this:

The National Rifle Association’s annual convention in Reno, Nev., degenerated on Sunday into a session of gay-bashing, with one commentator referring to anti-gun talk show host Rosie O’Donnell as a “freak” for her recent admission that she’s a lesbian.

During a two-hour panel discussion attacking the media for distorting the views of gun-rights proponents, all but one speaker took an opportunity to slam gays and lesbians — including O’Donnell — in some manner. […]

Schlussel also referred to straight actor Jude Law, who she said admitted to hesitating before handling a gun for one of his films, as a “girly man.”

I’ve argued that the gun argument is too often simply a front for culture war: nice liberals don’t like people who like guns. But this is the other side: a cheerful hate-off among homophobic fatheads. That’ll convince lots of Americans.

It’s hard to imagine an organization that’s done more over the years to damage rational discussion of guns than the NRA.

[12:31 PM : 0 comments]

Tactically shutting up I don’t always agree with Steven den Beste, but this is a good example of why I read him with respect.

[12:55 AM : 0 comments]