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August 26, 2003
“Note,” says the weblogger who writes Making Light. “My readers are the best thing about this weblog. If you92re not reading the comments, you92re missing half the fun.”

What she doesn’t say is that if you’re not reading the comments, you’re missing half of the outstanding Teresa Nielsen Hayden writing.

My problem with “creative destruction” is that when I hear the phrase, I think of what happened when Ron Perelman got hold of a large segment of the comics industry. He very nearly destroyed both Marvel Comics and the existing comics distribution system.

Comics is full of guys who’ve put years and years of hard work into learning demanding and highly specialized skills. Ron Perelman never studied under Joe Kubert. I doubt he knew more than one-point-five nanosquats about the Marvel or DC continuities. But he leveraged his leverage into enough leverage to grab hold of Marvel, and proceeded to wreck the hopes and livelihoods of half the people in the industry. Maybe more than half. […]

The more I watch how people build their lives, the less I like large upheavals. All of us are forever trying to spin out some modest little web of opportunity and possibility in the gaps and angles formed by the much larger economic entities around us. And when the lords of this earth bring their creative destruction down upon us, we weep for the wreck of our small schemes.

Some years back I came upon a little heap of old possessions that had been left next to a streetcorner garbage basket on the Upper West Side. It definitely had the air of someone cleaning out a long-inhabited apartment.

Naturally, I rummaged through it. What I found, bundled up together as they’d been stored, were an old newspaper, a language instruction book for teaching yourself Dutch, and a complete set of 78 rpm records to go with the book. They were all from 1929. The book was an artifact from another age, full of conversations about lifestyles involving cooks, nursemaids, and first-class accommodations on transatlantic liners. The newspaper — one of the old second-string New York papers, I forget which one — was from the day before the great stock market crash of 1929. Like the instruction book, it was an artifact from a vanished world. The 78s looked like they’d never been used.

I’ve always wondered what the deal was. It seemed to me that something had come to an end there, and that it had been important enough to someone that they’d preserved its remains intact for the next fifty-odd years.

Any time you have chaos and destruction, you get stories like that. They don’t get told much, because there’s not a lot of punch in a story about things not happening; and also because one of the hardest things to remember is all the possiblities and contingencies you had spinning in the air before large events precluded their existence.

Comments turned off; go join the conversation over where it lives.

[12:44 AM : 0 comments]

August 24, 2003
Going to Torcon? Americans planning to attend the 61st World Science Fiction Convention, in Toronto later this week, will naturally want to brush up on the exotic party politics of our neighbor to the north. HogBlog (“c6quus et Exe6quatus”) has your basic rundown on that alternate North America where right-wing head cases are a frustrated and divided minority.

[11:31 PM : 10 comments]

Back when they didn’t even try to hide it. From the Report of the Committee on Education, United States Senate, 1888:
We believe that education is one of the principal causes of discontent of late years manifesting itself among the laboring classes. [Page 1,382.]
More here. Discuss.

[02:12 PM : 24 comments]

Ah, memories. Arthur Hlavaty quotes this Reuters story:
The U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, said on Sunday guerrilla fighters infiltrating into Iraq are becoming a growing problem for the occupying American-led forces.
Says Arthur: “Don’t tell me, let me guess: They’re from North Iraq.”

[01:47 PM : 6 comments]

August 20, 2003
Plowed under. Maybe someone will explain to Timothy Burke that there’s a whole range of subcultures for whom the word “fandom” means something quite different from “celebrity worship.” Having spent years on this, I’ve run out of heart for explaining yet again.

I do sometimes understand what it must feel like to be, for instance, Welsh-language literature.

[09:55 PM : 109 comments]

August 19, 2003
Lists apart. John Hawkins of Right Wing News asked a bunch of right-leaning and left-leaning webloggers to list their twenty greatest figures of the 20th century. 31 right-wingers and 23 left-wingers replied. (I was in the latter set.) Hawkins then listed the top choices from right and left.

In turn, here are few pointless lists I’ve derived from the data:

People I chose who made both lists:
Albert Einstein (chosen by 15 on the left and 16 on the right)
Mohandas Gandhi (chosen by 10 on the left and 10 on the right)
Martin Luther King (chosen by 20 on the left and 12 on the right)
Franklin Delano Roosevelt (chosen by 20 on the left and 11 on the right)
Theodore Roosevelt (chosen by 5 on the left and 11 on the right)

People I chose who made only the Left list:
Louis Armstrong (chosen by 5 on the left)
Nelson Mandela (chosen by 14 on the left)
George Orwell (chosen by 4 on the left)

People I chose who made only the Right list:
The Beatles (chosen by 4 on the right)

People I chose who didn’t make either list:
Ian Ballantine
Stewart Brand
Dorothy Day
William O. Douglas
Jane Jacobs
John XXIII
Alexander Solzhenitsyn
I. F. Stone

People I almost chose, then cut at the last minute, who made both lists anyway:
Alan Turing (chosen by 3 on the left and 4 on the right)
Vaclav Havel (chosen by 4 on the left and 4 on the right)

People I would have seriously considered if I’d thought of them:
Jonas Salk (chosen by 11 on the left and 9 on the right)
Margaret Sanger
John Maynard Keynes

People from my own field whom I seriously considered, then decided against because I’m too close to the subject:
John W. Campbell
J. R. R. Tolkien

People whom, on second thought, I probably should have included:
Winston Churchill (chosen by 13 on the left and 26 on the right)

Evidence that I’m as provincial as anyone else:
The near-total absence of serious novelists, poets, painters, sculptors, classical composers, scientists, scholars, and almost the entire non-English-speaking world

Disconnected thoughts inspired by the comments on Hawkins’s site and at Matthew Yglesias’s:

It’s a bit startling, indeed, that the Beatles only made the right-wing list. I know that at least one left-leaner listed them—me, and I’ll defend the choice against all comers. My highly unfair speculation is that, overall, we 23 left-leaners distributed our votes over a broader range of musicians, because we’re ever so much more musically broad-minded and well-informed. (As everyone knows, we have all the best songs.)

A bit more seriously, it’s just as startling that George Orwell made only the left-wing list, given that so many conservatives have tried to co-opt him over the years.

And it’s even more striking that neither list includes Solzhenitsyn. Sure, he’s a cranky old jerk, but how many books in the 20th century had the global impact of The Gulag Archipelago?

On the subject of Gandhi (or “Ghandi,” as Hawkins spells it) making both lists, Matthew Yglesias remarks: “In general, I think the widespread admiration of Gandhi by people—left and right—who would never dream of embracing the pacifism that lay at the center of his politics is a bit odd.” Well, I’m not a pacifist, but I doubt I’m unique in admiring Gandhi as a tactician. My problem with the Harry Turtledove story in which Gandhi tries non-violent resistance on the Nazis, and is swiftly dispatched with a bullet, is that I think Gandhi might have come up with some other way to resist the Nazis. Or, at any rate, the Gandhi of my imagination would have.

Imagination is what a lot of this is about. Do I think Dorothy Day (whom I listed) had a greater impact on the planet than Henry Ford (whom I didn’t)? Nah. Does the life of Dorothy Day furnish my imagination, my “sense of the world,” more than Henry Ford’s does? Yeah, that would be about right.

[05:36 PM : 101 comments]

August 18, 2003
Face forward, pilgrim. John Holbo, of the excellent John and Belle Have a Blog, takes flight into the higher criticism:
What makes Alan “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” Moore the best—and he is—is not so much his plots as his endlessly inventive, overflowing re-imaginings of the genre. His elective affinity for superheros. His plots are always good: solid, well-balanced, proportioned, streamlined affairs. But this is all just by way of erecting a frame. Then come all the wonderingly appreciative pinnings of caped and cowled butterflies to the board of these plots. Moore is so sentimentally attached yet clinically detached in his treatment of these subjects. He is so deeply understanding and precise. Every detail, every nuance of the genre for the last fifty years—all the tics and twitches; gestures and modes of speech; absurdity stipulated to be normality; cliches and childishness; tinhorn faux-Wagnerian ‘if this be Ragnarok’ bombast; blindspots and obsessions; superficial encrustations of successive decades. Tight drawers. No constitutive element of the superhero genre fails to be recorded and re-presented from a fresh angle somewhere in Moore’s work. “Watchmen”, “V For Vendetta”, “Supreme”, “Top Ten”, “Tom Strong” and, of course, “League”.

How to put it? It’s as if Moore was the first to find a way to express how this silly, shallow thing—the superhero—is concocted of so many layers of manners that you almost think he could make Henry James a fanboy. Almost.

[12:14 AM : 15 comments]

August 15, 2003
What about those people stuck on the subway? Amy Langfield tells what it was like. Followed by a strikingly accurate description of our neighborhood in the blackout. (We should have gone to Two Boots!)

[10:20 PM : 10 comments]

We’re back! Power came on at 8 AM in our section of Brooklyn. However, Panix, our ISP for email, still seems to be down, so if you’ve sent us anything it may be a while before we see it.

Power to the Flatiron Building went poof at 4:09 yesterday. We wound up walking home, hiking out of Manhattan in the 90-degree heat in the company of thousands of others. As luck would have it, my brother Benjamin from Portland, Oregon has been in northern New Jersey on a job for several days, and he was scheduled to drive his rented van over to Brooklyn and stay with us last night. He made it, a couple of hours late, and we wandered the pitch-dark streets of Park Slope in search of food and drink. We finally found a take-out Chinese place on Flatbush that was cooking in the dark over gas—one person would cook while the other held a flashlight over his head, looking for all the world, as Teresa observed, like Mad Max Does Chinese.

Laden with take-out containers of black-bean chicken and orange-flavor beef, we trudged home home, grabbed bowls and cutlery out of our dark apartment, and sat in Benjamin’s blessedly air-conditioned van, eating Chinese food and listening to blackout updates on 1010 WIN (“You Give Us 22 Minutes, We Give You the World”). The rich full life.

[09:04 AM : 66 comments]

August 13, 2003
End construction, resume normal potholes. Those of you who stopped by today while columns of text were breaking free of their moorings can come out from hiding now: the heavy lifting is mostly done. Thanks to the many people who posted useful advice, explanations, and tutorials in the comments to this post. Particular thanks to Seth Ellis, Dave Pentecost, and Mark Gallagher, all of whom spent an inordinate amount of time in email helping me wrap my brain around the subtleties of CSS.

Things still to come: a search field, cleaned-up archives, and an alternate front page for handheld devices and low-res monitors. Anything else?

[04:20 PM : 49 comments]

August 12, 2003
Adam Felber has been browsing the same bestseller shelves as the rest of us, evidently.
The Rugmaker’s Stepdaughter’s Tale by Anne Shiraz-Lee
A moving tale of a Turkish girl and her life growing up in a moderately successful rugmaking family near Istanbul. Enchanting, lyrical, and full of gentle insight. Nothing happens.

I’m With You! by Dick Morris
Morris gives us an insider’s view of the lies, distortions and incompetent bumblings of the party that’s not in power. Peppered with telling anecdotes about how Morris warned them, and how they would still be in power if they’d only listened. [Note: Actual incompetent political party in question to be determined at time of publication.]

[12:30 AM : 16 comments]

August 11, 2003
Here’s what another hero, and another American, looks like.

Here’s his little town.

Here’s the resolution they passed:

Section 1. The City of Tonasket supports all lawful and Constitutional efforts to prevent and investigate terrorist or other criminal acts and prosecute their perpetrators.

Section 2. The City of Tonasket believes that sufficient Constitutionally acceptable tools existed, prior to the passage of the “USA Patriot Act” or other such restrictive acts, for law enforcement to accomplish their intended lawful purpose.

Section 3. The City of Tonasket believes that any act, enactment, law, or legislation, etc., which dilutes, weakens, or denies the State and/or Federal Constitutionally guaranteed Rights of the Citizen is void from its inception, is unenforceable in our jurisdiction, and should be quashed, repealed or found by a court of jurisdiction to be unconstitutional in part or in full, as appropriate, to protect the Rights and Freedom of the Citizenry.

Section 4. The Tonasket City Council strongly encourages all citizens, organizations, and governmental legislative bodies to study, for understanding, the State and Federal Constitutions and their history, and the Bill of Rights and its history so that they can recognize and resist attempts to undermine our Constitutional republic and the system of government that has brought our civilization so much success.

Section 5. The Tonasket City Council believes it is the duty of every citizen to protect and defend the State and Federal Constitutions from all enemies97foreign and domestic97and to demonstrate outspoken respect for the Rights that have been paid for with the blood and sweat of the American People throughout our history.

Symbolic and toothless? Surely. These things take time. Don’t underestimate the potency of symbolic action.

(Via TalkLeft.)

[11:17 PM : 42 comments]

Atrios, fool-killer. Okay, you knew that already. But this is particularly good.

In a nutshell, NRO lamprey Michael Novak (“the George Frederick Jewett Scholar in Religion, Philosophy, and Public Policy at the American Enterprise Institute,” which is sort of like being Regius Professor of Forestry at Isengard State University) put forth the remarkable assertion that:

[T]he defense that both Jefferson and Madison gave of the right to religious liberty depends crucially on a specifically Jewish and Christian concept of God. Theirs is not a Hindu, Buddhist, or Muslim concept, let alone the concept of God in Aristotle or Plato, Kant or Leibniz.
Atrios responds with a quotation from that Jefferson guy, writing in 1821, making it abundantly clear that “the bill for religious freedom” was “meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination.”

But what makes this a true gem of blogdom, predictably enough, is Eschaton’s comment section, wherein one Brian C. B., in the course of explaining that “Jefferson’s beliefs were anything but easy to assess,” informs us that:

What is clearest about his religious understanding is that he was willing to scour received dogma against the rock of Reason—he assembled a version of the Gospels edited down to only those sayings of Jesus of Nazareth, and dispensing with all else—and to count no man less as a citizen because he wasn’t of a particular religion. As a result, even in his lifetime he was scorned by many more doctrinaire Christians, but admired by those whom religious tests might have consigned to second class citizenship: Commodore Levy, a Jew, bought Monticello from its first purchaser after Jefferson’s death (he died bankrupt) with the intention of preserving it because he believed Jefferson’s championing of religious freedom was responsible for his own advancement in the Navy. And Baptists in Massachusetts presented Jefferson at his inauguration with the world’s largest wheel of cheese.
It’s that final detail that reassures me that the basic DNA of what makes America American persists.

[10:14 PM : 99 comments]

August 10, 2003
Here’s what a hero looks like. A “knotty jumble of mind and heart.” (Via Charles Kuffner.)

[02:14 PM : 23 comments]

August 09, 2003
Asking for help. I’ve said before that most of what I know how to do with HTML and CSS is, essentially, “cargo cult programming.” Other, far more technologically advanced sites parachute code onto my primitive island; I then whittle away at it, trying various genuflections and incantations until I get some sort of reasonably pleasing result. Every so often I come across a useful instructional document, and so long as the words aren’t too long I can make out what they’re saying if I read slowly and move my lips.

However, there’s a time for incantations and then there’s a time for straight-out pleading. What I want is a third column on Electrolite’s front page; specifically, an additional (narrow) column to the left of what you’re reading right now. I don’t have a strong preference about how the overall layout should degrade on pre-1024x768 displays, just so long as it degrades gracefully. What I don’t want is to have to start from scratch with somebody’s pre-rolled CSS template, because I’m not sure I’ll ever get everything else back to the way I want it if I disrupt the site’s internal ecology that abruptly. I’ve googled “three column CSS” and tried a bunch of recipes, none of which quite worked (and apologies to anyone who came here in the last couple of hours to find columns wandering all over the screen).

Electrolite’s readers are a savvy lot. My existing CSS style sheet is viewable here; I suspect more than one of you could glance at it and say “Add these four lines, delete these two, fix that margin statement and Bob’s your uncle.” I have nothing to offer in exchange save for worldwide fame and the thanks of a grateful nation. Well, maybe a recent Tor hardcover or two. Okay, three.

[08:23 PM : 48 comments]

August 07, 2003
Mission accomplished. Via YAWL: The Scotland Sunday Herald reports finding cylinders of uranium oxide, very possibly looted from Iraq’s al-Tuwaitha complex, for sale in Basra.
The Sunday Herald source, who cannot be named for fear of reprisals, was approached by black marketeers in Basra and asked if he would help sell the material. He said: 93The cylinders are about a foot long, grey in colour with a red band around the top. The skull and crossbones warning logo, and the label 91pure uranium oxide92 are clearly marked in English.94 He added that it is thought to have come from the al-Tuwaitha complex, which is 15 miles southeast of Baghdad.

John Large, a leading independent nuclear consultant, said the size and description of the cylinders 93suggests this is enriched uranium94. He added: 93A well-informed terrorist might be able to construct a crude nuclear device which would act like a mini-nuclear reactor and generate highly radioactive fission products for release into the urban atmosphere.94

What a relief that our leaders, in their wisdom, have taken action to make sure no weapons of mass destruction emerge from Iraq.

UPDATE: Various commenters make plausible arguments that whatever’s being sold in Basra, it’s probably not actually WMD-useful uranium. Read the comments.

[03:38 PM : 36 comments]

August 05, 2003
Shaking my confidence daily. From Risks Digest, quoting a New York Times story now available only for pay:
Johns Hopkins University experts say that high-tech voting machine software from Diebold Election Systems has flaws that would let voters cast extra votes and allow poll workers to alter ballots secretly. Aviel D. Rubin, technical director of the Information Security Institute at Johns Hopkins, led a team that examined the Diebold software, which has about 33,000 voting machines operating in the United States. Adam Stubblefield, a colleague of Rubin’s, said that “practically anyone in the country—from a teenager on up—could produce these smart cards that could allow someone to vote as many times as they like.” Diebold has not seen the Institute’s report and would not comment on it in detail, but a company spokesman said: “We’re constantly improving it so the technology we have 10 years from now will be better than what we have today. We’re always open to anything that can improve our systems.” Peter G. Neumann, an expert in computer security at SRI International, said the Diebold code was “just the tip of the iceberg” of problems with electronic voting systems.
And here I’d been trying to ignore this: Was It Magic?

Explain to me again how it is that the networks’ election-day exit polling simply stopped happening all of a sudden. Was that magic, too?

In the words of Teresa Nielsen Hayden: “I deeply resent the way this administration makes me feel like a nutbar conspiracy theorist.”

UPDATE: This doesn’t help much, either.

[10:31 PM : 68 comments]

Boiling the frog. Jeanne D’Arc, whose weblog Body and Soul has a new URL, gets one of things I was trying to articulate here: namely, as she puts it, “the way you learn to pass over things that you would never have believed possible.”

[03:32 PM : 22 comments]

August 04, 2003
From our comment section. Regarding this post about the Valerie Plame Wilson affair, Ken MacLeod writes:
The junta have of course done far viler things than this, but something about this story gives me the creeps in a way the other things (in this specific way) don’t. This action doesn’t resonate with the history of 20th century totalitarianism, riddled though that is with tales of shot messengers and spooks hung out to dry. These betrayals at least had reasons of state behind them.

This is different. It smells of ancient Rome. It smells of decadence, of whim and spite indulged at the expense of the safety of the state. It’s the sort of thing that was done to Belissarius.

Perhaps someone who knows more than I do about the later Empire can run with this—Jo?

Jo Walton replies:
Ken: Google on “Flavius Aetius” sometime.

People in the Roman Empire had a lot of civil rights on paper, and a lot of civil rights by default, mostly nobody cared.

Feudalism was actually an improvement over slavery and arbitrary power. Feudalism assumed loyalty went in both directions.

As Teresa remarks: “That’s the creepy thing about George W. Bush—he’s not even up to the standards of feudalism.”

[01:23 AM : 51 comments]

“Have you heard about this one?” asked correspondent Neil Gaiman about the enormity detailed in this Independent story. I had, on various blogs. Ho hum, another civil liberties outrage, another day in the echo chamber. Temperamentally inclined to zig where others zag, I wasn’t planning to link to it.

I was wrong. “This is fascism,” notes Nathan Newman. “Not the late stages but the early stages, where if it’s not stopped, it grows into a cancer.” He’s right.

Libertarians: you’re next. Naderites, get your shoes on. Everybody happy now?

[12:18 AM : 35 comments]