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June 28, 2002
Suddenly, the sun went nova Regular readers of Teresa’s weblog will have read her recent post on the use of “Evil Overlord lists” as tools with which to devise story plots. You know “Evil Overlord lists”—those widely-circulated, often multiply-authored Internet documents such as “Ten Things I Will Not Do If I Am the Evil Overlord,” “Ten Things I Will Remember To Do If I Am the Plucky Sidekick,” and so forth. Teresa’s point, elaborated on in a lecture about “Stupid Plot Tricks” delivered at the Viable Paradise writing workshop, is that although these lists are tongue-in-cheek compendiums of cliche, they also tell us a lot about storytelling. Some things are cliches because they work.

Now, with programming help from Avram Grumer, presents the Evil Overlord Random Plot Generator. Enjoy.

[07:50 AM : 1 comments]

June 25, 2002
Department of evidently obscure post titles Someone asked if the Fabian Society really had a football cheer. I thought everybody knew it:
What do we want?
Gradual change!

When do we want it?
In due course!

I trust I don’t have to explain the part about being all outta gum.

[06:34 PM : 7 comments]

Score one for the libertarians Wild-eyed antigovernment extremist Jim Henley holstered his gun, stubbed out his dollar-sign cigarette, and made a rather telling point about the Librarian of Congress’s recent ruling that Internet webcasters shall be forced to pay higher royalties than conventional broadcasters. Having cited the concept of “regulatory capture,” the phenomenon by which regulatory agencies eventually become the tools of the businesses they’re supposed to be reigning in, Henley observes:
Good thing we have an author of books on Russian history deciding what new-technology business structures will be “fair!” (One might wish he knew a little more Russian history.) And a good thing he’s making decisions based on which medium supposedly best serves the pecuniary interests of existing conglomerates!

[06:29 PM : 0 comments]

Cue the Fabian football cheer Elsewhere, Brad DeLong takes issue with a William Greider piece in The Nation in which Greider—I am not making this up—hopes for a depression in the United States, because it would “deflate” the “smug triumphalism of Bush’s unilateralist war policy” and be “a good thing for world affairs.” At which point “the fashionable boastfulness about America…would implode.”

DeLong, a blogger who also happens to be an economics Ph.D, a tenured full professor, and a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, tidily demolishes Greider’s notion that a depression could be counted on to have any such effect. What’s really striking, though, is Greider’s flirtation with one of the oldest and stupidest tropes of the left, the notion that things are about to get much worse and that this is a good thing because it will bring on the necessary preconditions for the revolution, or whatever fantasy of sudden and all-encompassing radical change is currently on offer.

Of course, meanwhile, actual people’s lives will be ruined by the things-getting-much-worse part, but that’ll be okay since it’s all part of mankind’s march to a triumphant future. And in fact reformist measures are to be sneered at and dismissed, since they merely delay the exposure of the contradictions inherent in the system. This is why, for a certain kind of so-called leftist, the real enemies aren’t the powerful and the privileged. The real enemies, to be fought tooth and nail, are reforming liberals.

I don’t think Greider is actually this variety of hard-left nincompoop, but it’s amazing how easy it is to slide into the kind of thinking in which the prospect of a severe depression becomes something happy and delicious. For my part, I want a button that says “Hard-Nosed Meliorist.”

[02:23 PM : 8 comments]

Junius is all outta gum Posting has obviously been light lately—I’ve been so busy, I haven’t even read the last couple of days’ worth of stuff posted to my comment sections. This will improve.

But I have to note Chris Bertram’s latest post, in response to Brendan O’Neill, who is

[…] expressing his disbelief in human rights (along with a load of other stuff). He doesn92t actually have an argument against them, though, he simply thinks that human rights rhetoric is a tool for the projection of western power into the third world. (Compare: God doesn92t exist because people invoke His name in self-serving ways. Would that be a good argument?) Now Brendan is entitled to believe what he likes (hang on, am I granting him a human right there?) but it seems odd to declare one92s disbelief that individuals have any rights not derived from positive law and then go on to assert support for the idea that states have absolute rights to non-interference.
The notion that people don’t have rights but states do has a long history, of course. The Confederate States of America was founded on the principle that slavery is A-OK but that when the federal government overrules a state government it’s an outrage against the conscience of mankind.

[01:54 PM : 2 comments]

June 21, 2002
Moments of sanity Peggy Noonan, of all people, gets why “Homeland Security” is a lousy name.
…[T]he essence of American patriotism is a felt and spoken love for and fidelity to the ideas and ideals our country represents and was invented to advance—freedom, equality, pluralism. “We hold these truths…” The word Homeland suggests another kind of patriotism—a vaguely European sort. “We have the best Alps, the most elegant language; we make the best cheese, had the bravest generals.” It summons images of men in spiked helmets lobbing pitchers of beer at outsiders during Oktoberfest.

When you say you love America, you’re not saying our mud is better than the other guy’s mud.

[10:44 AM : 44 comments]

June 18, 2002
National Public Bite Me According to Boing Boing, National Public Radio demands that you request permission before linking to any portion of their web site.
Linking to or framing of any material on this site without the prior written consent of NPR is prohibited.

Please use this form to request permission to link to and its related sites.

And to think that after I appeared on All Things Considered on April 17, 2002 to talk about the late Damon Knight, I thoughtlessly linked to their Real Audio file of the interview. Right here on Electrolite, I linked to NPR’s Real Audio file of my interview. And all that time it was “prohibited”! Imagine that.

Of course, it isn’t “prohibited.” Or rather, it’s “prohibited” with exactly the same legal force as I have when I say “False legal claims designed to intimidate the public are hereby prohibited. Signed, Me.” This is the web. If you put a public document onto it, it’s linkable. If you don’t want to be linked to, use some other means of putting your information online.

According to NPR’s “about” page, “In 1967, Congress passed the Public Broadcasting Act, authorizing the creation of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). The Act called on CPB to encourage ‘the growth and development of noncommercial radio’ and to develop ‘programming that will be responsive to the interests of the people.’”

As Cory Doctorow points out, you can express to NPR’s ombudsman any views you may have about how well NPR’s behavior here serves “the interests of the people.” Oh, and how well it furthers their mission to “create a more informed public.” Or, perhaps, what such a policy reveals about an organization that pretends to epitomize a humane, liberal outlook while in fact acting as shameless stenographers to the powerful. And for that matter, what we are to make of an organization that deliberately, as policy, strives to deceive the public on the question of what they may and may not prohibit: a question that has by no means been settled by either legislation or precedent. One might even suspect National Public Radio of being no better than any other pack of corporate hacks who routinely attempt to undermine legitimate journalism about their behavior.

Or, as John Hockenberry remarked in this 1999 interview:

By the time I left NPR in 1992, it was an audience-driven, revenue-driven entity, not unlike corporate media outlets. […T]he idea that NPR is more in-depth, or is saving the world, is about as laughable as NBC saying, “More Americans get their news from NBC than any other source.” It’s just one of those slogans.
Think about this the next time you hear about what an indispensable cultural institution NPR is. And I’ll certainly be emailing that ombudsman a pointer to this post.

[07:48 PM : 30 comments]

June 17, 2002
More straws, more wind The blogosphere’s most prominent hawk:
But while I believe in prosecuting the current war against Islamist terrorists to the utmost, I feel absolutely sure that if the U.S. government is given power to act in ways for which it is unaccountable, it will act badly. Our entire Constitution is based on the notion that unaccountable power cannot be trusted. That’s more than a notion, really: it’s a certainty, on a par with the law of gravity.
Well said, and right on.

[12:05 AM : 0 comments]

June 16, 2002
Run away As the blog world gets larger and more diverse, I find that I enjoy a lot of blogs in which people talk about the stuff they do for a living. I’m always up for overhearing professional backstairs chat.

For instance. Bill Altreuter is a lawyer in Buffalo, New York who writes a blog called Outside Counsel. Here he is with an observation that could apply, mutatis mutandis, to the heartburn of a lot of jobs:

Under New York law, certain types of people get the trials of their cases prioritized. Mostly you see this in the context of old folks: people who are over seventy get a special preference. Municipalities do, too, as do the terminally ill, and the victims of medical, dental or podiatric malpractice. I propose a special “pain in the ass” preference, for those clients that one never wants to see again. “Your Honor, I move for an expedited trial, on the grounds that my client is a pain in the ass.”“What is your basis for requesting this relief, counselor?” “She does not return my calls. She refuses to follow my advice. She calls at the end of the day, and talks for hours about the stuff I have spent hours explaining, then has her cousin who is a lawyer call and ask me the same questions two days later.” “Motion granted. Your client is a pain in the ass. May g-d have mercy on your soul.”

[05:00 PM : 1 comments]

Trade matters Nick Denton continues to be an invaluable source of links to information about trade hypocrisy. From, here’s a link to a punchy Economist piece arguing that the most effective way rich countries could fight world hunger would be to stop subsidizing First World farmers, thus giving poorer countries a chance to accumulate capital by selling us food. And from the same source, here’s an article in today’s New York Times about the worldwide impact of our recent grotesque (and bipartisan) $180 billion Welfare For Rich Agribusiness bill.

Sometimes somebody else puts it so crisply that it’s impossible to improve on it. Writes Nick: “There’s something wrong when it’s easier to crash a plane into New York than ship rice to the US.”

[10:17 AM : 14 comments]

June 15, 2002
The vulgate Andrew Northrup, at The Poor Man, once again nails it:
In America, we give things American names. We don’t talk about “homelands”, and we don’t make up wicked radically awesome acronyms for our anti-terrorism bills. We are American. We give things normal-sounding names and then get down to business. The USA PATRIOT Act should be called “The Anti-Terrorism Act of 2001” because that’s what it is. It’s not the “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism”, because that’s about 6000 more words than is needed just so it can be a stupid acronym. “The Department of Homeland Security” is much better, but still all wrong. “Federal Bureau of Investigation”—that’s a deeply, profoundly cool name. Professional, of modest length, and without any florid language—I feel comfortable knowing that the FBI (note: not a weird acronym designed to give everyone the willies) is out there, walking around in sensible suits and being all serious and dedicated and professional and not at all like the SS, and then probably going home and putting on some smooth Gil Evans 45’s and sipping Manhattans with the missus. Cool. Central Intellegence Agency—very, very cool. National Security Agency, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms - cool, cool, cool. Homeland Security—weird. […]

What is the first thing to be done in order to promote a renewal in disastrous circumstances? Words must be set aright. What inheres in words should be brought out. But language is constantly misused, words are employed for meanings that do not befit them. A separation arises between being and language…If words are not right, judgments are not clear; works do not prosper; punishments do not strike the right man, and the people do not know where to set hand and foot.


[02:50 AM : 9 comments]

Japan defeats Turkey, abuses chicken Of course, judging from BBC coverage of the latest World Cup developments, Tony Blair’s difficulties with Black Rod seem positively normal by comparison:
It now appears something of a Japanese tradition to deface the man intriguingly described in The Japan Times newspaper as “the bearded poultry icon” on days of great celebration.

The Colonel was whisked from a store in Kobe’s Sannomiya entertainment district by a mob of men.

They then kicked the statue and made off with its hands.

It was a repeat of an incident in 1985 when, after a Hanshin Tigers triumph, a life-sized model of Colonel Sanders was stolen and thrown into the Dotonbori River.

The Colonel was replaced by Japan fans yesterday, with 500 hurling themselves into the river in joy, despite the presence of 400 police officers detailed to stop them.

[02:22 AM : 3 comments]

I never dreamed it could happen like this As a longtime connoisseur of British political intrigue, I think I can definitively state that I have never seen a more incomprehensible scandal. Or whatever it is.
Ms Sumner’s own memo of her Easter Day call to Black Rod, sent to the PCC on May 20, points up the possibility of confusion. “I told [him] that the guidance I had was that the prime minister and the Leader of the Opposition met the coffin. [He] said that his guidance did not say that and that it was the Speaker and the lord chancellor who met the coffin. I said my guidance included them, too,” she wrote.

Whereas Sir Michael allegedly became convinced that No 10 was trying to upgrade the Blair role, Ms Sumner recalls: “I said, and I remember this very clearly, ‘You are Black Rod, you are arranging it, just let me know what you want the prime minister to do so I can arrange it.’ I thought no more of it.”

[01:57 AM : 6 comments]

June 14, 2002
Unexpected civic duty (3) We’re done. Here’s the Daily News story. As usual, there are small inaccuracies: for instance, our jury deliberated for at least four to five hours, not three.

It was an interesting experience. More on this after I’ve caught up on some work.

[09:14 AM : 2 comments]

June 12, 2002
Whale the nukes Supposedly, we get given the case today. So I may be gone overnight. Or I may be back home later today. Impossible to know. (Why, no, I don’t in fact deal well with not being in control of my schedule, why do you ask?) (Twitch.)

Quick blogospheric observation. Like Ted Barlow, I’m a lot more amenable to nuclear power than are many liberals. However, what I remember is why American public opinion swung so sharply against nuclear power in the first place. It wasn’t because Americans were all irrationalist, science-hating nincompoops, swayed by evil luddite propaganda. It’s because the nuclear-power industry lied itself to death. Between astronomical cost overruns and repeated safety lapses, by the early 1980s no one in America would trust a nuclear-power executive with a burnt-out match, and rightly so. It seems to me that nuclear power is like the FBI: we need it, and we probably need to replace an entire two or three generations of hopelessly compromised managers. Fire up the reactors, but roll the tumbrils first.

[07:57 AM : 13 comments]

Nothing to see here, move along Jury service continues. Gosh, I’d like to get back to the rest of my life one of these days.

Meanwhile, Teresa’s blog is full of great stuff lately. Go there.

[12:34 AM : 0 comments]

June 10, 2002
And now, the theory of “stupid design” It’s the shortest posts that provoke the longest discussions. My three-line agreement with Avram Grumer has set off a comment-board discussion of the politics and metaphysics of “intelligent design theory” that’s up to 35 messages, with some interesting writing from all sides. Fans of Teresa’s writing might want to note that she weighs in with a long and chewy post in the thread.

[08:16 PM : 3 comments]

Apology My apologies to the people who ordered copies of Starlights 1 and 2 and haven’t received them yet. Even aside from the time-consuming experience of being on a jury (which is still ongoing), life has been a bit time-consuming lately. With any luck the books will go out in the next few days.

[08:08 PM : 0 comments]

June 08, 2002
Those annoying little people Blogger Jeff Jarvis says of FBI whistleblower Coleen Rowley:
With her Fargo drone and her schoolmarm glasses and her willingness to propound her personal recommendations on any topic—even the structure of the federal government itself—I have to believe that every single FBI boss over her—competent or incompetent — is gritting and grinding teeth right now, unable to say a thing, unable to shout: She’s just a midwestern midlevel cog.
Normally sensible Matthew Yglesias agrees:
I kept thinking while I watched her that if I’d been her boss I would have ignored everything she told me.
Both Jarvis and Yglesias give Rowley points, albeit grudgingly, but it’s hard to avoid being struck by the attitude that sees “midwestern” and “midlevel” as infra dig. From here it looks like the problem is that the people in charge of our security think pretty much exactly like Jeff Jarvis and Matthew Yglesias—which is to say, like a well-connected East Coast media maven and a smart Harvard undergrad. For people like them, or like Robert Mueller and George Tenet, someone like Coleen Rowley is and always will be the sort of person you ignore. After all, she’s a drone. Single-minded in a weirdly, you know, unironic way. All in all, midlevel: the very definition of “a cog.” Okay, sure, maybe she could accidentally know something important, but how could she possibly have any real big-picture insight?

Jarvis and Yglesias are good guys, but (wittingly or unwittingly, I can’t quite tell) they’re offering a window into exactly why we’re where we are.

UPDATE: Bob Webber remarks in my comment section: “I thought it was just my pre-caffeine blurred vision, but did I just read that bloggers are putting someone down for being ‘…willing “to propound her personal recommendations on any topic”?’”

[01:56 AM : 22 comments]

June 07, 2002
Not that it’s important, of course Also via Dodgson, the Washington Post on the results so far of those steel tariffs:
The cost of hot-rolled steel, an industry benchmark, is up from $210 per ton late last year to $300. Makers of car parts and other steel users, which account for many more jobs than steel producers do, report that suppliers are reneging on promises to deliver steel and holding out for extra money. The result is likely to be job losses in manufacturing and higher prices for American consumers.
That’s what you get when you put Karl Rove in charge of economic policy.

[10:25 AM : 1 comments]

But hey, it knocked the hearings below the fold! Charles Dodgson coolly assesses Bush’s proposed Cabinet-level “Department of Homeland Security”:
The proposed solution is a government reorganization which doesn’t touch the FBI and CIA, but combines other agencies including the Secret Service (which handles counterfeiting), the Coast Guard (which handles rescue and shore safety), Customs (which does revenue and tariff enforcement), the INS (which issues tourist visas) and so forth into a single agency which will focus on counterterrorism.

The intelligence problems are addressed by creating a center within the new agency which will review intelligence gathered by other agencies (FBI, CIA, apparently, NSA).

So —- the problem of turf wars between the FBI and CIA is dealt with by giving them both a new agency to fight with, the problem of information hoarding at headquarters is dealt with by establishing a new hoard of information at headquarters, and we also improve matters by imposing a new layer of centralized bureaucracy on agencies which (with the possible exception of INS) didn’t have much to do with the problem.

[10:12 AM : 1 comments]

The persistence of narrative I’m not much of a sports fan, but I’ve gradually come to respect sports and sports fans in a way that would have surprised my younger self. Here’s a marvelous piece (via Junius) that does a good job of explaining.
What the anti-sport people don’t see is that the drama of sport flows from the compelling sub-plots that surround the game. One of the defining moments of history was when Ali knocked over Foreman, not for the quality of the punch but for the triumph of artistry, wit and rebellion. When Viv Richards scored 291 at the Oval it mattered because the white South African England captain had said he would make the West Indies “grovel”. When Dennis Taylor beat Steve Davis on the last black it was a rare 1980s defeat for someone who not only was a Conservative but played like a Conservative, without even the pretence that some of his points would trickle down to the poorer players. And today’s match is all about the sub-plots, the Hand of God, Beckham’s sending-off and the busted foot. You can no more appreciate the game without being aware of all this than you could make sense of Casablanca by watching only the last 10 minutes.

[09:58 AM : 3 comments]

Unexpected civic duty (2) Jury service continues to dominate my time during the week. It’s amazing how much energy it sucks up—I keep coming home and falling asleep much earlier than usual.

[09:40 AM : 2 comments]

June 05, 2002
Straws, wind, etc. From CBS News (pointed out by Avedon Carol):
“I don’t believe any longer that it’s a matter of connecting the dots,” Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., told reporters. “I think they had a veritable blueprint and we want to know why they didn’t act on it.”
Remember when remarks like this were prima facie evidence of insane Democratic partisanship? That was of course a long time ago. Perhaps as much as two or three weeks.

[09:25 PM : 5 comments]

Wedge this Avram Grumer has the goods on the bad faith behind the so-called “intelligent design” movement. Avram is an atheist and I am not, but when it comes to this kind of thing, I’m on Avram’s side of the barricades.

[05:47 PM : 72 comments]

A little less lying to children Followup to the Regents’ exam story:
In response to criticism from writers and publishers, the New York State education commissioner said yesterday that literary passages in state-administered tests would no longer be altered to delete unwanted words or phrases.

“It is important that we use literature on the tests without changes in the passages,” said the commissioner, Richard P. Mills. “I have looked carefully at the Education Department’s current practices and the concerns of the writers and have directed that these changes be made.”

In a small piece on this controversy, Slate’s Kate Taylor points out that one of the pertinent legal precedents under which the bowdlerized authors might sue New York State is one involving Monty Python. (Thanks to Charlie Stross for forwarding an email that points this out.)

[05:28 PM : 0 comments]

June 04, 2002
Nuanced diplomacy watch Not actually an Onion story, but rather a real AP lead:
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (June 4, 2002 12:58 a.m. EDT) - In an outspoken interview, Uruguay’s president was quoted Monday as saying Argentines were a “bunch of thieves”—causing some diplomatic tension between the countries.
In other news, Paraguay demanded to stop for ice cream, and Brazil threatened to stop this car right now if you kids don’t behave.

[08:00 AM : 1 comments]

June 03, 2002
Rediscovery Why haven’t I been regularly reading Andrew Northrup’s blog The Poor Man? I think I linked to something of his several weeks ago, but lost track of him in a swirl of browser changes. Anyway, he’s sharp and often extremely funny and deserves a much wider readership. Here Northrup, self-described “com-symp liberal East Coast weenie”, finds himself compulsively reading National Review regular Victor Davis Hanson:
Recognize. If you are going to be a hawk, why be half-assed? Why make some candy-ass proposals about how to assemble a coalition and apply diplomatic pressure and use surgical strikes, when you can bellow from the crenellated walls of your Fortress of Blood that the armies of democracy will wash away all who oppose them like a dark tide? And why talk about modern politics and warfare at all when Pericles or Thermistecles or Triceratops offers a perfect object lesson in why America is the fucking tits, and is going to pound your sorry democracy-hating ass until my fist breaks. I think Mr. Hanson should consider taking some TM classes, and possibly a mild tranquilizer, but I hope he doesn’t.

[Note: This is not in any way an attempt to exorcise myself of the nightmare I have where, night after night, I am a novice hoplite, sea-sick and terrified aboard my trireme, as Prof. Hanson screams in my face about the glory of Athens. We are about to attack the evil Persians, when I realize I am naked, and I don’t know how to use my sword, and I’m late for a math test that Prof. Pythagoras said was half my grade. Also, all the Persians look like Jimmy Carter. I awake, drenched in sweat, only to find that I am clutching in my hand a piece of my sunken warship, still wet with the Aegean waters of 25 centuries past! Dear God, just give me one night of peace!]

[07:36 PM : 0 comments]

June 02, 2002
Act now, act without thinking, send money today As you can see, I have copies of the trade paperback editions of Starlights 1 and 2 for sale. Yes, for the low, low price of ten PayPal dollars, you can read some of the best short SF and fantasy of the last several years. Starlight 1 won the World Fantasy Award for Best Anthology; stories from both volumes won various awards and were finalists for others. More about Starlight 1 can be found here and here; more about Starlight 2 here and here.

A fine point of publishing practice that might not be entirely clear is that, although I am indeed Senior Editor and Manager of Science Fiction at Tor Books, I don’t edit these anthologies as part of my day job. Rather, when I want to do an anthology, I propose the idea to my own editor at Tor (the estimable Claire Eddy), and through her to our publisher, Tom Doherty. If Tor decides they want to publish it, we negotiate a normal book contract, with me as the outside contractor. The same arrangements hold for other Tor editors who also edit anthologies, such as my colleague David Hartwell. Indeed, not all of David’s anthologies, or mine, are published by Tor.

I go into this so that it’s clear that I’m not just kiting boxes of overstock from the office. The copies of Starlights 1 and 2 that I have for sale were bought by me from Tor on the same terms by which any other author or anthologist would buy remainder copies.

I am not offering Starlight 3 for sale here—it’s in print and available in fine bookstores everywhere, as well as through the usual online booksellers. I certainly commend it to you, though. As usual, an overview of my anthology projects, including those in progress, can be found here.

[11:54 AM : 7 comments]

Lying to children Jeanne Heifetz, a mother in Brooklyn, has discovered that New York State’s Regents exams, which high school students must take in order to graduate, systematically bowdlerize famous works of contemporary literature, without indicating that the passages have been altered.

From this morning’s New York Times:

In a feat of literary sleuth work, Ms. Heifetz, the mother of a high school senior and a weaver from Brooklyn, inspected 10 high school English exams from the past three years and discovered that the vast majority of the passages — drawn from the works of Isaac Bashevis Singer, Anton Chekhov and William Maxwell, among others — had been sanitized of virtually any reference to race, religion, ethnicity, sex, nudity, alcohol, even the mildest profanity and just about anything that might offend someone for some reason. Students had to write essays and answer questions based on these doctored versions — versions that were clearly marked as the work of the widely known authors.

In an excerpt from the work of Mr. Singer, for instance, all mention of Judaism is eliminated, even though it is so much the essence of his writing. His reference to “Most Jewish women” becomes “Most women” on the Regents, and “even the Polish schools were closed” becomes “even the schools were closed.” Out entirely goes the line “Jews are Jews and Gentiles are Gentiles.” In a passage from Annie Dillard’s memoir, “An American Childhood,” racial references are edited out of a description of her childhood trips to a library in the black section of town where she is almost the only white visitor, even though the point of the passage is to emphasize race and the insights she learned about blacks.

Many of the affected authors are alive—and, when Heifetz informed them, were outraged. Several have written to the office of the state education commissioner.
[Frank] Conroy wrote in part: “Who are these people who think they have a right to ‘tidy up’ my prose? The New York State Political Police? The Correct Theme Authority?”

Cathy Popkin, Lionel Trilling professor in the humanities at Columbia, wrote: “I implore you to put a stop to the scandalous practice of censoring literary texts, ostensibly in the interest of our students. It is dishonest. It is dangerous. It is an embarrassment. It is the practice of fools.”

The state Education Department acknowledged and defended the practice, saying it was in compliance with “sensitivity review guidelines”, so no student will be “uncomfortable in a testing situation.”
In the Chekhov story “The Upheaval,” the exam takes out the portion in which a wealthy woman looking for a missing brooch strip-searches all of the house’s staff members. Students are then asked to use the story to write an essay on the meaning of human dignity.

A paragraph in John Holt’s “Learning All the Time” is truncated to eliminate some of the reasons Suzuki violin instruction differs in Japan and the United States, apparently not to offend anyone who might find the particulars somehow insulting. Students are nonetheless then asked to answer questions about those differences.

The department’s assistant commissioner for curriculum, instruction and assessment told the Times that they “did not believe that it was necessary to ask authors’ permission to change their work.”

In other words: The educators of New York State lie to children. Then they require that children pass a test on the content of the lies.

This is beyond outrageous. This is no subtle matter of teaching from old-fashioned biases, or of presenting a worldview with which some adults might disagree. This is, rather, a large department of the state government deliberately contriving and presenting lies about serious literary work. It is in its own way a kind of child abuse, not as spectacular as battering or molestation but every bit as flagrant a violation of trust. The people who do it and who defend it should be removed immediately from any position of power over children, and never allowed to work in such positions again.

[09:12 AM : 34 comments]

June 01, 2002
Cui bono Matthew Yglesias supports universal health care, but wonders what’s so great about prescription coverage for the elderly as a supposed step toward that:
Morally speaking, if anyone’s entitled to basic health coverage at public expense, the case seems clearest when you’re talking about children, not old people—it’s hardly a sick six year old’s fault if his folks haven’t managed to make enough money to get him decent health care. From a pure bang for your buck standpoint children seem like the right place to focus too. They’ve got a lot more to gain in terms of years of healthy living from getting things treated properly, and giving health care to children can (in some sense) be seen as a public investment in a future worker, taxpayer, and generally productive member of society in a way that giving care to the elderly can’t.
Fellow Harvard blogger Glenn Kinen points out, in Yglesias’s comment section, that old people vote; children don’t. He’s probably right, but all the more reason to remark on the hypocrisy implicit in this tactical political choice.

[03:09 PM : 4 comments]

Worth your time (2)
  • “Cold War in a Hot Climate,” by Anne Applebaum, in Slate. An argument that the cold-blooded logic of MAD shows evidence of operating between India and Pakistan, just as it did between the US and the USSR. Yes, this is actual optimism.
  • “The September 11 X-Files,” by David Corn, in the Nation. Measured assessment of various post-9/11 conspiracy theories, from a left-liberal point of view; very good at tracing the backgrounds of some of the more popular theories and their advocates. Does it matter that conspiracy theorist Mike Ruppert, much-cited on web sites like BartCop, professes “a near universal respect of the LaRouche organization’s detailed and precise research”? I’d call that an alarm bell. At the same time, Corn is careful to note several good questions that remain worrisomely unanswered, and notes the people and groups who keep asking them.
  • “Don’t save the Queen—for her sake,” by Johannn Hari, from the New Statesman. “Monarchists claim to love and respect the Queen - yet they snatched her at birth and systematically ruined her life. As we mark 50 years of tormenting her on the throne, it is perhaps time we looked at the damage we have inflicted on Elizabeth Windsor.”

[03:08 PM : 1 comments]

Hot times in the undisclosed location If you’re one of the roughly five and a half billion people whose eyes glaze over at the word “accountant” (Wait! Come back! [bang] Okay, that’s better. Don’t worry, that shin will heal in mere months), you owe it to yourself to read Michael Kinsley’s explanation of the burgeoning Cheney scandal:
The New York Times, which first reported the Halliburton funny business, explained it pretty clearly: The company runs large construction projects, mostly for the government and the oil industry. Apparently, large construction projects work just like small ones, such as remodeling the bathroom. That is, the contractor states a price, runs over budget, then tries to get the customer to fork over the difference. Until 1998 Halliburton had the tact to wait until it got the extra money before putting it on the books. In that year, it began guessing how much of a disputed surcharge would ultimately get paid and crediting itself in advance. Why not? You only live once! This self-administered pick-me-up added $100 million in reported revenues to Halliburton’s books.

And where was Arthur Andersen while its client Halliburton was saute-ing the spreadsheets? Looking the other way, apparently. Later, when the Enron story broke, Halliburton undoubtedly thought, “Goodness. We’d better get rid of Arthur Andersen and find ourselves an accounting firm with integrity. We certainly don’t wish to be associated with an auditor that will allow us to do the kind of thing we’re doing.” So they fired Arthur Andersen. Too late, too late. Due entirely to Andersen’s failure to stop it, Halliburton is now under investigation for doing what it did.

And where was the future vice president while this was going on? The company insists, graciously, that a mere $100 million flyspeck on the company accounts (1999 income: $438 million) was beneath the notice of a busy CEO like Dick Cheney. This is believable. Cheney’s income in 2000, his last year at Halliburton, was $36 million in salary, bonuses, benefits, deferred compensation, restricted stock sales, exercised options, frequent-flier miles, a turkey at Christmas, and other standard elements of the modern CEO compensation package. It is a vital responsibility of anyone who is that valuable to remain completely ignorant of anything improper going on around him. He owes it to the company to be untainted.

But read the whole thing; otherwise, the terrori—[bang]

[02:04 PM : 4 comments]

America the jerk The right-wing Weekly Standard observes that, when it comes to noticing and appreciating our closest ally, America’s behavior has been disgraceful:
Not since the signing at Panmunjom had Canadian soldiers gone into battle. It was a huge moment in Canada’s life and one of great importance in ours—if only because homeland security is impossible without a friendly and committed Canada. In changing a half century of military doctrine, Jean Chretien’s ruling Liberals risked considerable political capital. But once the decision was made, the vast majority of Canadians embraced it as standing by the family in time of need. They understood the danger. So when four “sons of the Maple Leaf” fell in battle, it was not unexpected; nor was the cause of their loss—friendly fire—a shock. Canadians understood the price of standing up to evil.

What has stunned them, however, is our reaction. Not the official government-to-government noises, which have been appropriate, but our reaction—the feelings of the American people and the coverage of our media. Where were the newspaper editorials? Where were the “In-Focus” segments on Rather, Jennings, and Brokaw? Were the only telegenic funerals those orchestrated in Ramallah? […]

Last week, Canada announced it will be withdrawing all its troops from Afghanistan by the summer. They are the second largest force in Kandahar and a pivotal part of the combat formations. No doubt they will be missed. So far, no one here seems to have noticed.

This is unacceptable. We are at war. Self-absorption is not an option. We must pay close attention to our allies lest the world become a lonelier place for our cause.

[01:30 PM : 1 comments]

Worth Your Time (1) New Electrolite feature: links to other writing on the web, all guaranteed worthwhile but unencumbered by more than a line or two of further comment by me. Often, because fourteen-eleven other bloggers have already commented on the piece in question. Not everyone who reads Electrolite reads fourteen-eleven other blogs, however. Thus.
  • “Bomb Saddam?” by Joshua Micah Marshall, in the Washington Monthly. A liberal concludes that (1) the neoconservative Iraq hawks are sloppy with the facts, pursuing unsavory agendas, and generally untrustworthy, and (2) we probably have to go after Iraq anyway.
  • “Power and Weakness” by Robert Kagan, in Policy Review. Much-discussed analysis of why Europe and America are drifting apart, and why (in Kagan’s view) this is liable to continue.
  • “Bigotry in Print. Crowds Chant Murder. Something’s Changed.” By Paul Berman, in the Forward. Spooky, thoughtful examination of the worm of anti-Semitism and its return to center stage in the West.
  • “Japan’s Voluntary Shut-Ins,” by Kathryn Tolbert, in the Washington Post. “As many as a million Japanese — most of them young men — are considered shut-ins, either literally cloistered in their rooms or refusing to work and avoiding all social contact for periods ranging from six months to more than 10 years.” WTF?
  • “The end of multiculturalism,” by John Lloyd, in the New Statesman. If “multiculturalism” means tolerating practices like nonconsensual arranged marriages within immigrant communities, Western liberals are increasingly likely to reject it.
  • “In Praise of Vulgarity” by Charles Paul Freund, in Reason. Outstanding libertarian analysis refuting the idea that popular culture is dictated by entertainment tycoons. (We tycoons just wish.) Many fascinating digressions, like the tale of the “stilyagi” in the 1950s USSR.
  • “1491,” by Charles C. Mann, in the Atlantic. Mind-blowingly provocative overview of controversies over the true state of the New World’s natural environment before the European conquests. Some of its suggestions are sure to be refuted, but it can’t be emphasized enough that American aborigines were as enthusiastic about modifying their environment as we are—and darn good at it.

[12:52 PM : 4 comments]

People of the lie Slate’s Timothy Noah contributes to the growing field of Ari Fleischer Studies with a careful analysis of a single interaction between Fleischer and Helen Thomas at an April 18 news conference. Present are all Fleischer’s techniques, most notably bullying, repeated interruption, and several different kinds of misdirection—all in service, not of “spin”, but of a thoroughgoing lie.

Plainly put, the current White House press secretary is a bad man. He is the Grima Wormtongue of modern politics. And Bush isn’t Theoden, we are.

[11:53 AM : 0 comments]

Spam for the gander Apple’s free “” email service filters what Apple deems to be spam, without the user’s consent or even knowledge. Details here. Plenty of horror stories: evidently lost their domain name because Apple helpfully filtered away renewal notices from the registrar. (Via Avram Grumer.)

I’m noting this because I have several friends who use for email, and who should ask themselves just how much they would enjoy missing important email because someone at Apple mistakenly decided the sender was a spammer. This means you, Will and Emma.

[10:42 AM : 1 comments]

Shorter, too Andrew Northrup’s parody of National Review Online’s “The Corner” is sharper than that other recent attempt:
I was in the Walmart the other day, pricing flags (nothing fancy, just a mid-range one-handed model for discreet waving, such as at cocktail parties or in church), when I noticed a jigsaw puzzle on the discount table. It depicted cute kittens playing with a ball of yarn. Can’t get more wholesome than that, right? Wrong! The side panel bore the legend “500 PC PUZZLE - Ages 5+”. That’s right - 500 PC! In our own Supermarkets, children as young as 5 are being exposed to the corrupting influence of East Coast humanities professors, whose “deconstruction” of a cute image of kittens is merely a gateway to a life of promiscuity, intravenous drug use, Beat poetry, cross-dressing and moral relativism. Maggie would never have let this happen.
Posted 11:41 AM | [Link]

[10:02 AM : 0 comments]

Note this Several people told me I should check out’s The Note. For a while I didn’t, since I’m resistant to sites that require registration—and, worse, won’t accept the old “login: cypherpunk, password: cypherpunk” wheeze. I should have listened. It’s a breezy, bloglike roundup of political gossip and breaking stories, delivered with great self-assurance:
True or false, Note readers: Ari Fleischer began his morning press gaggle on Thursday by calling on David Gregory with a simple “Monsieur?”

Once, in fact, the Note went to Fleischer’s gaggle and learned, through the course of several answers, that he won’t answer questions about the past (“we are beyond that”), the present (“let’s wait and see what happens with that”), or future (“too speculative” and “hypothetical”), which even the Gene Roddenberry in us says doesn’t leave too much to ask about in any time/space continuum.

[09:47 AM : 0 comments]

Bailiffs and terriers From the Wall Street Journal (quoted on The Note):
Less than three months after the Bush administration suggested its stiff new tariffs on steel imports would have only a limited impact on prices, the levies are sending waves of pain through America’s manufacturing sector—including steep price increases, supply shortages and layoff threats.

“The Bush administration just assumed that people could eat this—that it would be no big deal,” says Charles Blum, a consultant who advises U.S. middlemen who buy and sell steel domestically. “But it has become a big deal very fast…”

The tariff decision unleashed a barrage of withering international criticism and reprisal threats, but it now appears that President Bush also may pay a domestic political price. Anger is spreading across the Industrial Belt as manufacturers complain that the president’s bid to help one industry is hurting hundreds of companies that employ far more workers.

I must have hallucinated all those bloggers who assured us that the steel tariff was a non-story.

[09:04 AM : 0 comments]