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June 30, 2003
Not buying. Trying to post a comment to the weblog Writing in Orange, I get the following email:

I’m using to filter my incoming email.

Please read this message before going through the approval process:

1.) If your name is Hattie Yuan, I am not buying from you. You are not my friend. Remove my name from your mailing list.

2.) If this is an invitation to launder your money using my bank account, know that if you let the email through, I will send the message with its full headers to the Federal Communications Commission and to Interpol. You will not interest me in the least, but I am sure they will be interested. Stop while you are ahead.

3.) If you are trying to sell me something, I am not interested. I won’t read it. Don’t bother. Take my name off the mailing list.

4.) If you are sending me something in a foreign language that I cannot understand, I won’t read it because I can’t.

5.) If you’re asking me a question based on my web sites or sending me a compliment or you are a friend who is checking up to see how I am, by all means get yourself approved!

To those who fall under categories 1 through 3: you may get through ONCE. But I have the power to override your approval and I will. I will delete your message unread and report you to your ISP for violation of your terms of service. Take me off your mailing list.

To those under number 5: fear not. I do want to hear from you. Just follow the instructions.

Just this once, click the link below so I can receive your emails. You won’t have to do this again.

Uh huh. You solicit comments on your weblog, then when you get them, you auto-send a form letter explaining the extra, unadvertised hoops your users have to jump through.

I’m as opposed to spam as anyone else. But I find that SpamAssassin, running on Panix’s well-maintained shell service, takes care of 99% of it, without any need to demand that innocent emailers “prove” themselves.

Any way you slice it, this amounts to an attempt to externalize the spam problem onto others. I can see an argument for the practice, where private email is concerned. But to set up a weblog, solicit comments, and then demand that commenters jump through hoops just because you can’t manage a better spam filter, seems to me the height of rudeness. I certainly won’t be checking into “Writing in Orange” again any time soon.

[UPDATE: Perhaps I was being a jerk; see the comments.]

[12:19 AM : 64 comments]

June 29, 2003
I thought you brought the potato salad. From Time, June 29, 2003:
Meeting last month at a sweltering U.S. base outside Doha, Qatar, with his top Iraq commanders, President Bush skipped quickly past the niceties and went straight to his chief political obsession: Where are the weapons of mass destruction? Turning to his Baghdad proconsul, Paul Bremer, Bush asked, “Are you in charge of finding WMD?” Bremer said no, he was not. Bush then put the same question to his military commander, General Tommy Franks. But Franks said it wasn’t his job either. A little exasperated, Bush asked, So who is in charge of finding WMD? After aides conferred for a moment, someone volunteered the name of Stephen Cambone, a little-known deputy to Donald Rumsfeld, back in Washington. Pause. “Who?” Bush asked.

[10:30 PM : 21 comments]

Nice one. Impressed by the Bush administration’s much-ballyhooed establishment of a national do-not-call registry for telemarketers? Longtime software developer Jeffrey Kay points out a few things you probably didn’t hear in our national media’s adoring reports:
First, there’s no security on the process. Anyone can conceivably register a phone number on the list, whether it’s yours or not. You are asked for an e-mail address for confirmation, but there’s no correlation between e-mail addresses and phone numbers anywhere. Where’s the harm here, you ask? After all, we’re talking about the most evil of problems—telemarketing. Well, it turns out that anyone can just unregister a phone number also. It’s trivial to obtain an anonymous e-mail address through Yahoo or HotMail. If I want you back on my list, I’ll just unregister you and then call you. There’s no protection. It would be trivial to write a program that registered every phone number and equally trivial to unregister them.
Kay goes on to point out something even more impressive: that the law as written specifically exempts long-distance phone companies, airlines, banks and credit unions, and “the business of insurance, to the extent that it is regulated by state law.” Oh.

“When Americans are sitting down to dinner or a parent is reading to his or her child the last thing they need is a call from a stranger with a sales pitch,” said President Bush at a White House ceremony inaugurating the project. “So we are taking practical action to contrive a phony feel-good ‘solution’ that will get lots of good ink while inconveniencing our big contributors not at all.”

[07:48 PM : 18 comments]

June 27, 2003
Nailing it. Soundbitten on Hillary Clinton’s memoirs:
Frankly, “Living History” seems so excruciatingly dull I’d rather have nude portraits of [Lucianne] Goldberg etched inside my eyelids than read it. But thanks to the Code Orange hysterics it has inspired amongst conservatives, it’s the most entertaining book of the year.

[08:13 AM : 26 comments]

June 26, 2003
Who we are. Via Altercation, this interesting view of American deference to authority, from Justin Webb, Washington correspondent for the BBC:
Just before the Iraq war, [well-known British TV news anchor and interviewer] David Dimbleby came to Washington to interview Donald Rumsfeld. They talked for half an hour. As you would expect, the questioning was persistent, forensic. Americans who heard the interview were shocked. The world’s most powerful nation does not have the world’s most powerful press. Specifically, it has no daily forum for the close questioning of politicians—no Today programme, no Channel 4 News, no Newsnight.

Incredibly—in this cultural and political superpower, in this supposed beacon of world freedom—radio stations were reduced to running interviews with experts from the BBC on their airwaves; a plucky station in Boston laid on an hour-long discussion and phone-in to follow the broadcast, during which I had to explain to the listeners that this kind of thing happened all the time in Britain.

What surprised people most was the style. Mr Rumsfeld’s answers were followed up. His reasoning was tested. He was put on the spot and not allowed to leave it. When Dimbleby asked him why he had repeatedly referred to the “so-called” occupied territories of the West Bank, Mr Rumsfeld said he might have done it once but certainly not repeatedly.

Dimbleby had the dates and occasions in front of him. The Defence Secretary was forced to concede the point.

What a far cry it was from the Donald Rumsfeld Americans know and love. Strutting his stuff on the Pentagon podium, Mr Rumsfeld is lord and master of all he surveys. The Defence hacks titter nervously at each other and hope to get off with as light a beating as possible. Difficult questions are avoided; difficult questioners are lampooned. Anyone who persists is taken out and beaten senseless. (I made that up, but the atmosphere is genuinely one of laughing menace; a truly independent spirit would not enjoy being a Pentagon correspondent. The Today programme’s Andrew Gilligan would not get through the door.)

Of course, as we all know, America is the land of plucky defiance. Don’t Tread On Us. And Europe is where they just don’t get it about that freedom stuff. Anyway, that’s our storyline and we’re sticking to it.

Not for the first time, I’m reminded of Ken MacLeod’s improvisation, in a long-ago Usenet discussion, of a line of Euro-jingoism grounded in generalizations every bit as valid as the usual American self-love:

This is Europe. We took it from nobody; we won it from the bare soil that the ice left. The bones of our ancestors, and the stones of their works, are everywhere. Our liberties were won in wars and revolutions so terrible that we do not fear our governors: they fear us. Our children giggle and eat ice-cream in the palaces of past rulers. We laugh at popes. We snap our fingers at kings.
The point wasn’t that this is true; it was that this is easily as true as any portrayal of a country with a cowed national media and a fear-entranced populace as “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

[02:05 PM : 105 comments]

June 24, 2003
Chiba City Times-Picayune. Bill Gibson used to be taken aback by people who called his Neuromancer a “dystopia.” As he pointed out, considering the alternatives, its future was pretty optimistic.

Bill’s still an optimist, only now on the New York Times op-ed page:

That our own biggish brothers, in the name of national security, draw from ever wider and increasingly transparent fields of data may disturb us, but this is something that corporations, nongovernmental organizations and individuals do as well, with greater and greater frequency. The collection and management of information, at every level, is exponentially empowered by the global nature of the system itself, a system unfettered by national boundaries or, increasingly, government control.

It is becoming unprecedentedly difficult for anyone, anyone at all, to keep a secret.

In the age of the leak and the blog, of evidence extraction and link discovery, truths will either out or be outed, later if not sooner. This is something I would bring to the attention of every diplomat, politician and corporate leader: the future, eventually, will find you out. The future, wielding unimaginable tools of transparency, will have its way with you. In the end, you will be seen to have done that which you did.

Hope he’s right. I find I’m a little more suspicious of this kind of deterministic techno-optimism than I was just three or four years ago.
I say “truths,” however, and not “truth,” as the other side of information’s new ubiquity can look not so much transparent as outright crazy. Regardless of the number and power of the tools used to extract patterns from information, any sense of meaning depends on context, with interpretation coming along in support of one agenda or another. A world of informational transparency will necessarily be one of deliriously multiple viewpoints, shot through with misinformation, disinformation, conspiracy theories and a quotidian degree of madness. We may be able to see what’s going on more quickly, but that doesn’t mean we’ll agree about it any more readily.
That certainly describes something real.

[11:13 PM : 26 comments]

Quick takes.

Liberal rabblerouser Digby with some sensible advice for everyone interested in beating Bush.

Henry Farrell (seen right) displays his eminently good taste.

Arab belief in the fraudulent Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion: still a problem.

Lester Maddox is still alive? (Via War Liberal.) (UPDATE: Not any more.)

A day at the races.

The trouble with dismissing “conspiracy theories” wholesale is that, in the real world, people actually conspire.

Teresa Nielsen Hayden makes the world’s best vegetable soup. No link; you’ll have to take my word for it.

[10:39 PM : 20 comments]

“Democracy! Whiskey! Sexy!” Nicholas Kristof notes:
Already, almost every liquor shop in southern Iraq appears to have been forcibly closed. Here in Basra, Islamists have asked Basra University (unsuccessfully) to separate male and female students, and shopkeepers have put up signs like: “Sister, cover your hair.” Many more women are giving in to the pressure and wearing the hijab head covering.

“Every woman is afraid,” said Sarah Alak, a 22-year-old computer engineering student at Basra University.

Tom Tomorrow wonders how this fits in with the hopeful notion, immediately transformed into a warblogger rallying cry, that our invasion would serve to establish a Middle Eastern outpost of the Hip Society.

[08:55 PM : 11 comments]

June 21, 2003
Well-chosen symbolism. This’ll definitely win over the hearts and minds:
U.S. troops psyched up on a bizarre musical reprise from Vietnam war film “Apocalypse Now” before crashing into Iraqi homes to hunt gunmen on Saturday, as Shi’ite Muslims rallied against the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

With the strains of Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” still ringing in their ears and the clatter of helicopters overhead, soldiers rammed vehicles into metal gates and hundreds of troops raided houses in the western city of Ramadi after sunrise as part of a drive to quell a spate of attacks on U.S. forces.

In other news, U.S. troops are now adopting the Pickelhaube helmet. Okay, probably not. But hey, they might as well. The poor bastards.

[10:37 PM : 56 comments]

Mechanics of the lie. From the Washington Post, Saturday, June 14:
Iraq Museum Regains A Famed Treasure

This is how it happens in Iraq today. A shiny red Toyota, or maybe it’s a Nissan, pulls up in front of the National Museum, along a busy roundabout on the Tigris River. Three men in their twenties step out cradling an object wrapped in a blanket and, eschewing the usual social niceties, hand it to museum officials.

The officials say thank you. The men drive away.

Thus was recovered one of the greatest treasures of Mesopotamian antiquity, a three-foot-high, 5,000-year-old ritual vase carved with intricate images of men, a goddess and nature. It is the Warka vase, a priceless artifact gone missing during the looting of the Baghdad museum after the fall of the city in April.

Retrieved on Thursday, no questions asked.

“I am delighted it has been returned,” Pietro Cordone, senior adviser on culture for the U.S. civil authority, told the Associated Press. He happened to be there when the “Ali Babas,” as thieves here are called, showed up. He was able to thank them before they sped off in the midday heat. “It is reason for people all around the world to celebrate,” he said.

Photograph of the Warka Vase accompanying the cheery Washington Post story:
Actual condition of the returned Warka Vase:
Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, Friday, April 11, 2003:
Let me say one other thing. The images you are seeing on television you are seeing over, and over, and over, and it’s the same picture of some person walking out of some building with a vase, and you see it 20 times, and you think, “My goodness, were there that many vases?” (Laughter.) “Is it possible that there were that many vases in the whole country?
(Via Body and Soul.)

[09:49 PM : 34 comments]

June 20, 2003
Band schedule change: Our next gig, this Sunday evening at Kenny’s Castaways (157 Bleecker Street, NYC), will be at 8 PM, not 9 PM as previously announced.

(As usual, upcoming Whisperado gigs are noted at

[11:42 AM : 0 comments]

June 17, 2003
“Banned in Boston”: Music producer Danny Goldberg’s Dispatches from the Culture Wars: How the Left Lost Teen Spirit, excerpted in Salon along with a feature article about the author and his thesis, offers up a wide-ranging critique of Democratic pop-culture cluelessness which will no doubt provide material for substantial and thoughtful blogging all over the place. However, what I’m going to do is nitpick one minor point of fact. Writes Goldberg:
Cultural conservatives like [William] Bennett claim that high divorce rates, drug addiction, and teen violence are all the result of modern culture. They want a return to the authoritarian America of the 1950s, when the Catholic Church could make books “banned in Boston” and J. Edgar Hoover and the acolytes of Senator Joseph McCarthy could marginalize and terrorize any kind of unorthodox political or cultural thought.
In fact the whole “banned in Boston” thing has little or nothing to do with the Catholic Church. Quite the contrary, it was the culture of Boston Protestantism that spawned the Watch and Ward Society, a “citizen’s vigilance” group, founded by Anthony Comstock in 1878, which worked with Boston’s then quite un-Catholic municipal authorities to root out books, plays, and other artistic expressions deemed too depraved for public view—for instance, the novels of Sherwood Anderson, or magazines like H. L. Mencken’s American Mercury. A word from the Watch and Ward Society would regularly send police cracking. For sheer effectiveness, later Catholic pressure groups like the League of Decency had nothing on them.

It’s understandable in an era when the American Catholic Church is increasingly associated with cultural censoriousness and appalling misbehavior that people should assume that the phrase “banned in Boston” has something to do with all those Catholics up there, but in fact it’s not true. It’s just something we assume because we figure we already know the script. This kind of thinking is very similar to the way this report plays a bit of wiffly European proposal-drafting as evidence that those Euros just don’t get freedom like we Americans do. It is of course axiomatic that Americans are all about freedom, PATRIOT Acts and secret military tribunals notwithstanding, while it takes only the tiniest of evidence to establish that those Europeans just “don’t get” the Internet and are probably all dying to re-establish some kind of monarchical or totalitarian rule. (Known European Iain Coleman has more to say about this.) Really, there’s nothing like the simple narratives we don’t realize we’ve bought into for making us dumb as posts.

[05:59 PM : 17 comments]

June 16, 2003
Four days to the next installment of Spiders. Meanwhile, we have author Patrick Farley’s LiveJournal to patch us through:
Last night was good for me. I went to watch The Animatrix with Kristen B. and a housefull of nerds. That’s right, not just geeks—nerds. The conversation before the movie turned to the gender politics of Dune, (how, I don’t know. It just did.) then the merits of Gene Wolfe’s Torturer novels, and then I hurled out the name of Octavia Butler just to see who would bite. Almost immediately, a nerd feeding-frenzy erupted. Names ricocheted around the room: Iain M. Banks, Bruce Sterling, Vernor Vinge, and a bunch that I didn’t even recognize. Soon it was like that old joke about the prisoners shouting out the numbers to their jokes—people were just screaming out the names of science fiction authors, and others would gleefully shout, “Oh yeah! He/She kicks ass!” Somewhere in there, a conversationlet fractal-branched off the main conversation, and a small knot of people began furiously deconstructing Melkor’s revolt against Aule in The Silmarillion while names of SF authors flew over their heads.

Hell, the only thing missing from this scene were a few good Cylon jokes. What can I say; I was among my people. *sniff*

[11:36 PM : 30 comments]

Neil Gaiman explains that no, he’s not a member of the International Socialists Organization, and goes on to vividly express the politics of a great swathe of the international (i.e., non-American) middle class:
Of course, when stood next to the choice of American political parties (“So, would you like Right Wing, or Supersized Right Wing with Extra Fries?”) my English fuzzy middle-of-the-roadness probably translates easily as bomb-throwing Trotskyist, but when I get to chat to proper lefties like Ken McLeod or China Mie9ville I feel myself retreating rapidly back into the woffly Guardian-reading why-can’t-people-just-be-nice-to-each-otherhood of the politically out of his depth.

[10:51 PM : 45 comments]

Real-life “flash crowds”: “Inexplicable mobs.” (Via Futurismic.)

[09:57 PM : 11 comments]

Terry Southern is writing the news now:
“Attached you will find the outlines of a proposal that includes ideas from CBS News, CBS Entertainment, MTV networks and Simon & Schuster publishers,” Betsy West, a CBS News senior vice president, wrote to Private [Jessica] Lynch’s military representatives. “From the distinguished reporting of CBS News to the youthful reach of MTV, we believe this is a unique combination of projects that will do justice to Jessica’s inspiring story.”

CBS Entertainment executives, the proposal said, “tell us this would be the highest priority for the CBS movie division, which specializes in inspirational stories of courage.” Simon & Schuster, it said, “is extremely interested in discussing the possibilities for a book based on Jessica’s journey from Palestine, West Virginia, to deep inside Iraq.”

MTV Networks, the letter went on, was offering a news special, a chance for Private Lynch and her friends to be the co-hosts of an hourlong music video program on MTV2, and even a special edition of its hit program “Total Request Live” in her honor. “This special would include a concert performance in Palestine, West Va., by a current star act such as Ashanti, and perhaps Ja Rule,” the proposal said.

Notes the Times: “In the process, CBS renewed concerns among critics about the independence of news divisions owned by media giants.” Yes, I guess you could say that.

[09:46 PM : 9 comments]

Bush administration does right thing: revokes visa of right-wing coup-plotting Venezuelan former general.
“A lot of people looked at what this guy was engaged in and it was clearly inconsistent with U.S. law and democratic principles,” said an American official in Washington who is familiar with State Department policy on the matter. In rescinding Mr. Medina’s visa, American authorities invoked regulations barring foreigners who endorse “terrorist activity.”
It’s probably a measure of my hard-earned cynicism about this crowd that I expect to eventually learn that this was just a calculated feint in a game for bigger and nastier stakes, but just for the moment I’d like to enjoy the idea that someone in the current administration has an ounce of sincerity and the ghost of a clue. Hey, it could happen. (Via Beautiful Horizons, an outstanding English-language weblog focussed on Latin American politics.)

[09:24 PM : 4 comments]

Our name in lights. The homepage, along with Ken MacLeod’s fine blog, is obliquely referenced in the last paragraph of this Guardian review. But we all stole it from the great Alasdair Gray.

[05:55 PM : 2 comments]

June 15, 2003
Why, yes, you are chopped liver: Tonight’s “QuickVote” at asks “Should states be allowed to regulate sex between consenting adults?” I clicked “no,” and was immediately given a pop-up window stating that 727 people had voted “yes” and 0 people had voted “no.”

Just practicing for 2004, I guess.

(Screenshot here.)

[11:48 PM : 25 comments]

June 14, 2003
Gratuitously brilliant: The only thing that could improve this epic post from the increasingly essential Whiskey Bar would be for it to have appeared in Mad Magazine, circa 1954, illustrated by Will Elder. Alas.

[09:42 PM : 4 comments]

Bush vs. God: Via Jeff Jarvis, a well-argued piece that pointing that the flag-burning amendment—passed in the House of Representatives with White House support, 300-125—violates not just the First Amendment but, um, the Ten Commandments:
By elevating the flag to an object of transcendent veneration—an untouchable idol—the proposed amendment strikes at the core of Jewish, Muslim and Christian belief systems.

The Ten Commandments apply to Jews and Christians alike. Heading the list is the commandment to have no other god, meaning no other absolute allegiance. The Second Commandment extends that prohibition to veneration of material objects—it forbids “bowing down to” or worshipping graven images of any kind. The point of all this is that no temporal power is worthy of the veneration that must be reserved for God alone.

A virtually identical prohibition applies to Muslims. The First Pillar of their faith, repeated daily in prayers, is “There is no God but God and Muhammed is the messenger of God.” The greatest sin for a Muslim, comparable to idolatry for a Jew or Christian, is “shirk,” which means associating something with God. That includes associating a state or nation with God, or assigning transcendent importance to a symbol of that state or nation.

There are two ways in which the proposed amendment violates the prohibitions on shirk/idolatry. One is the use of the word desecrate, which, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, means “to violate the sacredness of.” The amendment would in effect declare the American flag sacred. Efforts to use a less loaded term were explicitly rejected by the amendment’s sponsors.

But more than semantics is at play. As it presently stands, the First Amendment forbids Congress from passing any law “abridging the freedom of speech” or “prohibiting the free exercise” of religion. The proposed amendment would create an exception for the flag. It would become the only object in America that could not be subjected to symbolic protest. Not even the Cross, Crescent and Star of David merit such protection. […]

Should the amendment be passed by the Senate and then ratified, it would for the first time incorporate religious language into the Constitution. The great irony is that it would do so to venerate a secular object—the symbol of an often exemplary but still fallible nation-state—violating the most fundamental tenets of the three primary religious faiths of the American people.

I’m particularly struck by the news that “efforts to use a less loaded term [than “desecrate”] were explicitly rejected by the amendment’s sponsors.” Well, in a world where “conservatism” stands for record deficits and Federal pre-emption of the states, I guess we have to expect “Christian” politicians to be opposed to that tired old First Commandment. Excuse me while I go outside to stare at the three moons as they race across the green sky.

[07:59 PM : 38 comments]

And all they will call you will be—: Commenting on this post on Alas, a blog, Teresa spotted this bit of misdirection at The Globalist (“For Global Citizens. By Global Citizens.”), in a Q&A about “US-Mexican Relations”:
Which U.S. States do Mexican immigrants prefer to live in?

As of 2001, 25% of California’s population is Mexican. It’s 24.3% in Texas, 20.8% in Arizona—-and 10.5% in Colorado. (Wall Street Journal)

This was linked to in Alas-A-Blog’s comment section by one “Joe” (no last name), who used it to apparently substantiate the claim that “24% of Texas’s population are Mexican immigrants, legal and illegal.”

In fact, a bit over 24% of Texas’s population is Hispanic in ancestry. That’s around 5,100,000 out of a state population of 21,300,000. Of those, perhaps 700,000 are illegal immigrants. As best as I can Google—corrections welcome, particularly if you are Ginger Stampley—another 1,000,000 or so are legal immigrants from Mexico, about 25% of whom have become American citizens since entering the US. (Indeed, according to the Center for Immigration Studies, Texas has the highest rate in the country of Mexican immigrants becoming citizens. Warning: the agenda of the Center for Immigration Studies is unknown to me.) That leaves 3,400,000 born-in-the-USA Texans being called “Mexican” by The Globalist—and being labelled “Mexican immigrants, legal and illegal” by “Joe.”

As Teresa remarked, a lot of those people have been living in that part of the world for more generations than their Anglo neighbors have, so it’s a bit rich to be calling them “immigrants,” “Mexican” or otherwise. And yet when commenter “Joe” applies that label to the entire Mexican-ancestry population of the second largest state in the United States, Alas’s host, the normally sharp “Ampersand,” grants the point as if it’s true. Or even plausible.

This is how second-class citizenship is constructed: a series of shadings and misrepresentations and nuances, some in ignorance and some in clear bad faith, until “Hispanic” equals “Mexican” equals “immigrant” equals “illegal.” Do you wonder why Hispanic Americans whose families have been here for decades and even centuries are so touchy about calls to “tighten up enforcement” of immigration laws? They’re touchy because they know perfectly well that most of their Anglo neighbors, when the chips are down, won’t really distinguish all that much between them and the people who snuck over the fence last week—and if this little bit of theater in the blogosphere is any indication, they never will. The idea that America is a country based on a shared idea rather than a shared ethnicity is wonderful. Maybe someday white Anglo-Americans will actually start behaving as if it’s true.

[06:44 PM : 37 comments]

Decline and fall of the Amazon database, part 5,271,009: Who hasn’t heard of Garry Wills? From Nixon Agonistes to Papal Sin, from Chesterton to the Pulitzer Prize-winning Lincoln at Gettysburg, his wide-ranging interests and elegant polemics have earned him decades of attention and acclaim.

Now the great public intellectual blazes a new trail as the work-for-hire author of children’s book series volumes, with Ghost Beach: Goosebumps #22, by, it says right here, R. L. Stine and Garry Wills. “Anticipating the fun of exploring a cave he finds down by the beach, Jerry dismisses the story the other kids tell him of the spooky three-hundred-year-old ghost that lives in the cave and comes out when the moon is full.” The story of St. Augustine’s influence on our modern idea of narrative intertwines with a magisterial exposition of nineteenth-century cave discoveries and their role in the popular press. Jerry’s dramatic realization of the true relationship of history to the imagination delivers a powerful new picture of the Founding Fathers and their intellectual roots in the Scottish Enlightenment. Don’t miss it.

[05:03 PM : 5 comments]

June 13, 2003
Even the conservative New Republic is evidently running out of patience:
[W]hat’s really infuriating about the whole thing is that even today, when the Niger-uranium story his been proven to be completely bogus, the White House still won’t come clean and admit it screwed up. Don’t believe us? Well, consider these two paragraphs from [Walter] Pincus’s piece:
A White House spokesman said yesterday, “We have acknowledged that some documents detailing a transaction between Iraq and Niger were forged and we no longer give them credence. They were, however, only once piece of evidence in a larger body of evidence suggesting Iraq attempted to purchase uranium from Africa.”

The official added that in his speech the president talked about purchases from Africa and did not specifically mention Niger, adding that Bush’s comments were “based on a multiple of other sources.”

Hmm. Let’s see if we can put this delicately: WHAT OTHER FRICKIN’ EVIDENCE???!!! WHAT OTHER FRICKIN’ SOURCES???!!!

Are we expected to believe that the administration has been sitting on a mountain of evidence suggesting Saddam had tried to purchase uranium from multiple African countries, but that the only piece of evidence it actually ended up citing in public was the one that happened to be bogus? Are we expected to believe that, once the Niger story was publicly revealed to be bogus, the administration decided it’d be better to keep sitting on the legitimate evidence that Saddam had been trying to purchase uranium from Africa and, instead, to just let the bogus evidence speak for itself? Well, Dick, I guess we could share this incredibly incriminating, incredibly damning pile of evidence with the rest of the world. But then that would probably prove the merits of the war beyond a reasonable doubt, and getting help from all those second-rate European armies would be much more trouble than it’s worth. Good point, Don. Why don’t we just keep that stuff quiet and rest our case with the forged Niger documents…

Are you kidding us? THERE ARE NO OTHER SOURCES. It’s about time the administration owned up to it.

My goodness, look at all that straw in the wind.

[11:55 PM : 14 comments]

June 12, 2003
Arthur Hlavaty wonders about high-school students being urged to be “well-rounded.”
I’m proud to be a geek. I get more and more tired of the apotheosis of well-roundedness, whether it’s Heinlein’s list of all the things a person should be able to do to be considered human, or saying that people who are “too” interested in something “have too much free time.” The British Pocket Essentials Guide to Conspiracy Theories says, “Trainspotter and anorak are terms media representatives use for people who have a longer attention span than they do.” Geekery is a form of division of labor, which is what got humanity to the moderate amount of civilization we have now; it’s a negentropic factor that is as natural as entropy.
What he said. Particularly the part about declaring that anyone who accompishes something odd and time-consuming has “too much free time,” a bit of by-the-numbers humor that stopped being funny after the first several hundred iterations.

[06:49 PM : 33 comments]

So round, so firm, so fully packed. Ray Davis, a really smart guy I can’t even understand sometimes, posts a dazzling entry, hardly more than a screen long, that brings together Teresa of Avila, Merle Travis, celebrity endorsement, the human desire to “bolster one unattainable yearning with another,” and the century-old American exploration of “the ambiguous frontiers of self-definition.” Plus: music and a picture. It’s a mind-bending synesthetic experience!

[05:43 PM : 3 comments]

My goodness. Mark Shields is actually angry. At Thomas Friedman.
Unlike Bush, Friedman had never argued that Saddam posed a grave threat to America. He wrote this week that the “real reason” for the war was “that after 9-11, America needed to hit someone in the Arab-Muslim world…because a terrorism bubble had built up over there—a bubble that posed a real threat to the open societies of the West and needed to be punctured.”

Why Iraq? “We hit Saddam for one simple reason: because we could, and because he deserved it, and because he was right in the middle of that world,” Friedman wrote.

According to Friedman, “The only way to puncture that bubble was for American soldiers, men and women, to go into the heart of the Arab-Muslim world…and make clear that we are ready to kill, and to die, to prevent our open society from being undermined by this terrorism bubble.”

Tell me, Tom, exactly whom do you know professionally or socially in Washington who was urging his or her children to leave their “hardship duty” on Ivy League campuses “to go into the heart of the Arab-Muslim world” to “make clear that we were ready to kill and to die?”

Quit an outburst from someone who I thought was just making a living playing the “placating liberal” role on TV news shows. (The rest of his piece is good too.)

[02:18 PM : 19 comments]

June 11, 2003
That liberal media. Slate has been running a series of just-the-facts-ma’am profiles of each of the announced Democratic presidential candidates—in essence, baseball-card stats. Useful stuff. The latest is of Ohio congressman Dennis Kucinich.

Here we find that the long-shot lefty is a vegan, that his father was a truck driver; and that he’s a Catholic with a long-term Jewish girlfriend.

The headline on Slate’s front page currently linking to this brief article? “Dennis Kucinich, Jew.”

Further research reveals that Kucinich sometimes goes to synagogue with his longtime friend, and that they both keep kashrut. But none of that is in the Slate article. Failing further research, Slate’s headline strongly suggests that they think it’s witty to deploy “Jew” as a taunt againt Kucinich simply because he’s in a mixed-faith relationship, the weirdo. I’m not likely to become a Kucinich supporter. But what a bunch of jerks.

[01:40 PM : 21 comments]

June 09, 2003
Cato guy, reprobate, and frequently funny libertarian Gene Healy is fantasted by this, from the teaser page for next week’s National Review:
As the hunt goes on, there are some simple truths that many seem to be forgetting: 1) At one time, Saddam had enough chemical weapons and toxins to annihilate the eastern United States…
Observes Healy:
Umm, yeah. I guess that’s true, given the right method of delivery. Like say, if everyone in the Eastern United States conveniently agreed to sit in front of their houses and apartment buildings and wait patiently for Mukhabarat agents to come by and spritz them individually with VX, then sure, he could “annihilate the eastern United States.” By the same logic, Hussein might have been able to kill everyone in Washington D.C. with a single Ford Explorer, if we’d only be kind enough to lie down next to each other strung out along I-95 and let him run us over.

Jesus, is it so important to justify the war that you have to print stuff this patently stupid?

[10:20 PM : 21 comments]

The admirable Jeralyn Merritt, to whom we don’t link nearly often enough, reminds us that today marks a full year of the ongoing detention of an American citizen, Jose Padillo, in sensory deprivation without access to counsel or charges.

Reports the Charleston, South Carolina State:

Donna Newman says she isn’t asking for much. She wants to meet with one of her clients.

Virtually every other lawyer in the country can do that with ease, but it’s different when you represent Jose Padilla, the alleged al Qaeda dirty bomb plotter whom President Bush declared an enemy combatant a year ago today.

Although Padilla is a U.S. citizen, he has spent the last year in a Navy brig in Charleston, S.C., with no access to a lawyer and no way to appeal his detention.

Defense Department officials won’t even guarantee that he gets letters Newman sends him, nor will they tell her in what conditions he’s being held. It’s conceivable Padilla doesn’t know he even has a lawyer.

“He’s in a black hole, totally incommunicado,” Newman said as she talked about her frustrating yearlong odyssey.

“It’s like he fell down the rabbit hole,” she said. “Did I ever think a year later I would still be fighting just to see him? Of course not. This is America. Things like that aren’t supposed to happen here.”

Jeralyn suggests we commemorate this anniversary by re-reading Judge Learned Hand’s great “I Am an American Day” speech, given in Central Park on May 21, 1944, to an audience of thousands, including many newly-minted citizens. Sample:
What do we mean when we say that first of all we seek liberty? I often wonder whether we do not rest our hopes too much upon constitutions, upon laws and upon courts. These are false hopes; believe me, these are false hopes. Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it.
It’s June 9, 2003. Has liberty “died there”? That’s up to you.

[09:45 PM : 11 comments]

A gentlemanly affair. Reviewing, in Salon, Roy Blount’s Robert E. Lee, a new entry in the Penguin Lives series, Alan Barra makes this remarkable statement:
If, however, Lee gave us the worst of the Civil War, he also gave us the best of it, largely because of his own decency and humanity. Civil wars in European or South American countries have generally been the worst periods in those countries’ histories, scorched-earth affairs that left wounds that didn’t heal for centuries. By contrast, the American Civil War was a gentlemanly affair, to the point where pickets on both sides would warn each other to keep pointless fights from making the war worse than it was. Much of this civility can be attributed to Lee’s personal sense of honor.
Barra must be referring to some other Civil War; certainly not the American Civil War, that “gentlemanly affair” in which Southern soldiers routinely executed or enslaved captured Union soldiers who happened to be, you know, black people. Yes, that includes Southern soldiers under the command of that nice Mr. Robert E. Lee.

Barra’s romantic blithering should be rephrased:

The American Civil War was a gentlemanly affair insofar as white troops were concerned, to the point where white pickets on both sides would warn each other to keep pointless fights from making the war worse than it was for white people. Much of this civility between white people can be attributed to Lee’s personal sense of honor leaving aside, for instance, “decent” and “humane” Robert E. Lee’s refusal to include black troops in prisoner-of-war exchanges with Grant at Petersburg.
Northern troops committed enormities too; and race hatred was (and is) hardly confined to the South. (See NYC draft riots, etc., passim.) And certainly the Civil War, like most wars, was punctuated with outbreaks of humanity between the soldiers of both sides. But if Barra really doesn’t think 1861-1865 was a “scorched-earth affair that left wounds that didn’t heal for centuries,” I want to know what he thinks qualifies. Overall, the idea that the Civil War was a “gentlemanly affair” is justifiable only if you think white people are the rule and black people are the special case. Shame on Salon for publishing this racist drivel.

[09:00 AM : 193 comments]

June 08, 2003
Sorry, I’ve been busy. Books I’ve been reading or re-reading in the last few days: Sethra Lavode by Steven Brust. Shelter by Susan Palwick. Eastern Standard Tribe by Cory Doctorow. Currently reading: Newton’s Wake by Ken MacLeod.

Oh, that’s right, none of these have actually been published yet. Hey, you know, some days, this job doesn’t actually suck.

[11:01 PM : 42 comments]

June 06, 2003
Crusaders. From the Washington Post:
Frank’s senior enlisted man, Sgt. Major Dwight Brown told the troops before Bush’s appearance, “I don’t want any damn catcalls from the crowd. We have the president of the United States coming to tell us what a great job we did destroying those heathen up in northern Iraq.”
I await the chorus of explanations of how this “heathen” thing was (1) misquoted, (2) justified, and (3) no big deal. Warbloggers, start your engines.

[12:35 AM : 34 comments]

June 04, 2003
Gray Lady defended. Libertarian pundit Virginia Postrel remarks on habitual conservative and libertarian slagging of the New York Times:
First of all, the Times is full of smart, conscientious, hard-working people who don’t deserve to be bashed every day because sundry bloggers don’t like their bosses. Second, this incessant sniping is coming from people who don’t do reporting and rely every day on the reporting of the people they’re trashing. Third, even the Times’s annoying political bias is as much a function of its readers as it is of its editors, possibly more so. In my experience, the editors are far more open-minded and thoughtful than the readers who write them letters. Finally, the Times would be a disaster if it were full of writers like me, because I despise trying to get sources to tell me things they don’t want me (or the public) to know, and I’m not especially good at it. I love learning new stuff, but I consider even easy reporting, like the stuff I do for D Magazine, to be a time-consuming pain—too much waiting by the phone, too many dead ends. That’s why I got out of the newspaper business at an early age. The blogosphere is full of commentators, because commentary is easy and quick, and media commentary is the easiest and quickest of all.
Good points all, especially the last. Actual reporting is work, lots of it. There’s plenty to be said for the flash and sparkle of weblog punditry, or, alternately, for the Fleet Street approach to journalism. (Nick Denton periodically makes that case; most recently, here.) But it’s hard to believe that, among the ills that afflict us, one of the greatest is excessive media devotion to verifiability and documentable fact. That the Times has a complex, decades-old bureaucratic culture devoted to that sort of slogging is an accomplishment of civilization, not a menace to it—even when and if that bureaucratic culture fails. Most iterations of “{foo}pundit” don’t even try. That’s their glory, but it’s also why we need institutions like the Times.

[08:58 AM : 40 comments]

June 03, 2003
Every day in every way, making us feel more secure: (Via BoingBoing.) A senior official in the Department of Homeland Security evidently got her Ph.D from a diploma mill.

Writes WashingtonTechnology, a division of Post Newsweek Tech Media:

Laura L. Callahan, now senior director in the office of department CIO Steven Cooper, states on her professional biography that she “holds a Ph.D. in Computer Information Systems from Hamilton University.” Callahan, who is also president of the Association for Federal IRM and a member of the CIO Council, is commonly called by the title “Dr.”

Callahan’s resume says she began her civil service career in 1984. Before joining HSD, she was deputy CIO at the Labor Department.

Hamilton University, according to an Internet search, is located in Evanston, Wyo. It is affiliated with and supported by Faith in the Order of Nature Fellowship Church, also in Evanston. The state of Wyoming does not license Hamilton because it claims a religious exemption. Oregon has identified Hamilton University as a diploma mill unaccredited by any organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

Callahan could not be reached for comment after repeated calls to her office.

Faith In The Order of Nature Fellowship Church.

Faith In The Order of Nature Fellowship Church.

As the great Walter A. Willis said in similar extremis:



“Cor chase my Aunt Fanny round the psionics laboratory.”

Seriously, as a high school dropout with no college, I’d be the last to demand that everyone have an advanced degree, but jeez, I never realized that all you need for a high-paying job in the booming field of Fatherland Security was a mail-order sheepskin from Evanston, Wyoming. Much is explained.

[09:05 PM : 16 comments]

Jon Carroll commits what is probably history’s most elaborate lead-in to a column about cats.

[07:48 AM : 4 comments]

Paul Krugman:
It’s no answer to say that Saddam was a murderous tyrant. I could point out that many of the neoconservatives who fomented this war were nonchalant, or worse, about mass murders by Central American death squads in the 1980s. But the important point is that this isn’t about Saddam: it’s about us. The public was told that Saddam posed an imminent threat. If that claim was fraudulent, the selling of the war is arguably the worst scandal in American political history—worse than Watergate, worse than Iran-contra. Indeed, the idea that we were deceived into war makes many commentators so uncomfortable that they refuse to admit the possibility.

But here’s the thought that should make those commentators really uncomfortable. Suppose that this administration did con us into war. And suppose that it is not held accountable for its deceptions, so Mr. Bush can fight what Mr. Hastings calls a “khaki election” next year. In that case, our political system has become utterly, and perhaps irrevocably, corrupted.a0

Feeling uncomfortable? Find yourself wanting to immediately dismiss this as partisan extremism? In the words of South Knox Bubba: Well, then.

[12:30 AM : 29 comments]

David Scott Marley was always one of our favorite Well posters, whether under the “hudu” ID or otherwise. On his weblog, he quotes Newsweek:
It is disheartening that the military was unable to secure Saddam’s large nuclear-material storage site at Al Tuwaitha before the looters got there. Materials for a “dirty bomb” could have found their way by now into the hands of terrorists.
Says Scott:
I like “unable”. Makes it sound like they tried and couldn’t pull it off. It is disheartening that Enron was unable to balance its books. It is disheartening that Neil Bush was unable to return the profits he made off the S&L deregulation scandal. It is disheartening that Jeb Bush was unable to ensure an accurate count of his state’s ballots. That kind of thing.

[12:16 AM : 6 comments]

June 02, 2003
Salam Pax is real. War reporter Peter Maass belatedly realizes he employed “Pax” as a translator while in Iraq last month. Fascinating.

Peter Maass is also real. I met him last year, at a party organized by Nick Denton.

(Nick Denton, on the other hand, is a solar myth.)

[10:28 PM : 8 comments]

Any weblog called “Electrolite” is obliged to link to this.

[10:10 PM : 3 comments]