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September 26, 2003
“The jackboot must be thrown into the melting pot.” The dead metaphors and worn-out similes so memorably chronicled by Orwell in “Politics and the English Language” are with us still. Former New Labour health secretary Alan Milburn sleepwalks through a Guardian column:
Labour is at a crossroads. Beneath the fog of doubt overhanging Tony Blair in the wake of Iraq is a sense that his government is drifting and lacks purpose.
Nothing like drifting in a wake at a crossroads beneath a fog, I always say. Somewhere out there, the fascist octopus is singing its swan song.

[01:12 PM : 42 comments]

Shut up. Today is Talk Like Bill O’Reilly Day at Eschaton.

[11:38 AM : 5 comments]

September 24, 2003
Top pick. Slacktivist, one of my favorite weblogs, has moved.

I hardly know anything about weblogger Fred Clark. I have the vague sense that he lives in or around Philadelphia, and works for a living as a newspaper copyeditor. It’s evident from his writing that he’s an evangelical Christian (but not a “fundamentalist”), with a serious commitment to social justice issues. On his weblog, he writes with more vigor—and far more concision—than any number of pundits who get paid for this sort of thing. Recent entries cover such subjects as Bush at the UN, the distorting effects of slavery on American Christianity, the birthdays of Edgar Lee Masters and John Coltrane, and Blaise Pascal’s relevance to Ben and J-Lo.

I’m a lot more interested in what Fred Clark has to say every morning than I am in most of the opinion-mannequins on the op-ed page.

[11:22 AM : 19 comments]

September 21, 2003
Schism among the Anglicans. Charles Hoffacker has the scoop.
Conservatives in many provinces are insisting that the church return to what they term “the biblical teaching on dogs.” Others, especially in Britain and North America, insist that there is nothing unchristian about showing dogs love and respect as creatures of God.

Both sides admit that there are relatively few references in the Bible to dogs, and that most are negative. Many of these verses use the image “dead dog” as a term of opprobrium. Others speak of dogs licking up somebody92s blood or eating their mortal remains. […]

Conservatives see these texts as establishing conclusively that dogs are nasty, and that Christians should have little or nothing to do with them. […] Progressives, on the other hand, see the negative references in Scripture as culturally determined, and base their case for respecting dogs on a creation theology that sees every living creature as good. In some places they are building churches or installing stained glass windows honoring St. Bernard. A trend in their scholarship identifies the Wolf of Gubbio, which St. Francis tamed as not a wolf, but a German shepherd.

[07:22 PM : 21 comments]

Flybys. Charles Kuffner is coordinating a “blogburst” in which various Texas Democrats blog on what, in the wake of the redistricting battle, the state party should do next. This post is serving as a constantly-updated index to all the other contributions. Check it out.

The Sacramento Bee is starting a series of articles on the state of our freedoms in post 9-11 America. Executive summary: we’re in trouble. The long version goes into more detail, with pictures and conversations.

Vietnam vetaran and former Senator Max Cleland pens an incandescent op-ed about developments in Iraq: “Welcome to Vietnam, Mr. President. Sorry you didn’t go when you had the chance.”

Pulitzer Prize-winning historian James M. McPherson (author of the one-volume Civil War history you should read if you’re going to read only one) takes a distinctly dim view of George W. Bush’s use of the term “revisionist history.” (Via Thomas Spencer.)

[07:02 PM : 4 comments]

September 20, 2003
Brief Lazy Web query. I’ve previously praised NetNewsWire, the remarkably well-designed RSS reader for OS X.

What I’m looking for now is a Windows product that gives me the core NetNewsWire features that I actually use. Which is to say, I want it to

  • poll a list of RSS feeds,
  • show me which ones have new content, and
  • allow me to selectively launch those in an actual web browser.
I’m not much for reading the actual content in an RSS reader, nor am I looking for the sort of RSS arrangement (Amphetadesk is a good example) that concatenates new content from multiple sites into a single generated-on-the-fly web page.

Final detail: The product I’m looking for has to be able to import a longish list of RSS feeds via OPML. Can you tell I’m trying to enable, on a couple of Windows boxes, the sort of efficient weblog browsing I enjoy on OS X? Indeed I am.

[09:02 AM : 19 comments]

September 17, 2003
Take another little piece of my appropriations bill, baby. Via Greg Greene, source of rather a lot of Electrolite’s best links, the results of a Washington Post contest for only-in-DC pickup lines:
Third Runner-Up: Excuse me, ma’am, but the gentleman at that table has sent you a FYH 2005 energy and water appropriations bill rider for a $52.3 million solid-waste treatment plant upgrade in your home congressional district, with his compliments. (Mark Briscoe, Arlington)
As usual with such contests, several of the also-rans are as good as or better than the winners:
Let’s play Cabinet. You be the president, and I’ll serve at your pleasure. (Jon Holmlund, Carlsbad, Calif.)

[11:17 PM : 1 comments]

Deep mystery of the web, or just niacin deficiency? At this hour, experts were baffled by the presence of obscure personal website on the “resources” list of Structured Settlement Investments, Ltd., “perhaps the only direct purchaser of Structured Settlement Payment Obligations in the nation to purchase such payments for long term investment objectives.” Just in case you were wondering, no Nielsen Hayden has ever knowingly structured a settlement or purchased such a payment for long term investment objectives.

Understand, maybe this is just a wave “hello” from somebody we know in another context, using our URL as the http equivalent of Lorem Ipsum. In which case, rock on. For, I hasten to add, long term investment objectives.

[10:57 PM : 10 comments]

Heads up for Salam Pax fans. According to Helen Thompson, although the show’s official site hasn’t announced it yet, the now-famous Baghdad blogger will be a guest on NPR’s “Fresh Air” tomorrow. Check your local NPR affliate for times, and tune in.

[10:14 PM : 9 comments]

September 16, 2003
Calpundit interviews Paul Krugman. Here. Today’s flat-out weblog must-read.
So you say, but this can’t happen, this is America, and I guess my answer is, is it?…I think we have to take seriously the possibility that things won’t work out this time.
Read the comments, too, for the sight of so very many people—moderate people, centrists even, soft-spoken, even-handed, the Kevin Drums of the world—finally, finally waking up.

Comments here disabled. Post on Kevin’s site.

[01:58 PM : 0 comments]

September 15, 2003
Who we are. In further evidence that “consumer” is now the all-purpose replacement for that outdated term “citizen”:
IIABA Offers Consumer Safety Tips as Hurricane Isabel Approaches East Coast

[02:42 PM : 25 comments]

September 11, 2003
Life is a matter of having good days. We conclude a day of quoting others by quoting John Scalzi.
When you’re younger, you yearn for the extraordinary because you don’t understand the value of the ordinary, of days when all you do is live and spend your time with those you love and eat and sleep and have the horizon of your consciousness end at the line of your lawn. Then the extraordinary happens and you understand, and every ordinary day you have after that you have a moment—sometimes just a second or even a flash—where you thank whoever or whatever you might believe in that today was an ordinary day.

We live in extraordinary times, and we are not beyond them yet. Other generations in other times have had their extraordinary times or will have them to come. These timesa0call us to do more than we thought we could and we find a way to do them, toa0fill our days again with the ordinary, which we value, as they say, at a price beyond rubies. In these extraordinary times, two years on from an extraordinary day,a0I had a beautiful, ordinary day, with a bottomless blue sky.

I do not take it lightly. I am glad for it. I hope for many more ordinary days to come.

[11:22 PM : 19 comments]

The greatest city in the world. Like many of us, Eric Alterman likes to go walking in it.
I was walking past an enormous construction site at 42nd and Madison at the moment when the planes hit two years ago and the construction guys were—I swear—calling out and whistling to the pretty girls walking by. I know that92s supposed to be a bad thing, but God, I love my unkillable home.

Since 9/11 we have gotten nothing but sanctimony laced with acrimony from our national government. We are starved for funds and told to fend for ourselves as our schools go begging, homelessness increases, services decline and the city bleeds money trying to carry the cost of a global terrorist threat on its weakened back. There are days when it appears that Bush, Cheney, DeLay, and Pataki would prefer to see us die; they have other fish to fry—imperial wars, police-state intelligence tactics, and, of course, tax-giveaways to the wealthiest few. They even lied to us about the air quality at Ground Zero, telling heroes who didn92t know if it was even safe to breathe to go ahead and risk their lives. (Is there a special circle of Hell for those who lie to persuade others to risk their lives while shielding themselves from all danger? If so, I hope they have a special room for the guys who do it dressed up like fighter pilots.)

[01:56 PM : 25 comments]

Getting it right. Jim Henley, in a post headlined “Proportion.”
Soon the columns, weblogs and airwaves will be full of people instructing us that we must “never forget” what happened in New York City, Washington DC and the sky above western Pennsylvania two years ago. As if any of us could or would forget the despicable acts that took place that day, the heroism, the damage, the wasted lives. What they really mean is not “remember,” but dwell. Obsess. Lingeringly finger the scab. And most of all, fall in line when assured that some grand policy, however wise or unwise, is put forth in the name of that day and the atrocities that marked it.

Don’t listen to these people. You and I do not need their instruction in how to remember or honor our dead. Nor need we go veiled, cowed or enraged to the end of our days to prove our memories or honor. In the time of my grandparents it was the custom to mark a year of mourning for the loss of a loved one. Women wore subdued colors; men, armbands. By these signs they notified the world that they had suffered loss. It was incumbent on the notified to recognize that those in mourning were not yet “right,” that they needed time and space to come to terms.

We as a nation have had that time and that space.

[07:38 AM : 22 comments]

September 10, 2003
Science fiction subculture politics alert. Anthologist, critic, and mother Kathryn Cramer has a long, calm, and detailed weblog post about the real-world ramifications of trying to attend science fiction conventions with small children in tow, and what the “child care” offered at even the better conventions generally entails. Must reading for SF convention runners, many of whom I know read Electrolite at least sometimes.

[09:13 PM : 20 comments]

Attention all webloggers. The name of the American book-publishing industry trade magazine is Publishers Weekly. Not “Publisher’s Weekly.” That is all.

[10:26 AM : 12 comments]

September 09, 2003
Visual aid. Copped from Atrios.

[01:01 PM : 25 comments]

September 08, 2003
If this were Brad de Long’s blog, this header would read “Andrew Northrup is banging his head against the wall.” Of course, Brad lives in the Bay Area, where walls are flimsy and life is cheap. Meanwhile, Andrew dilates:
I’d also like to take this moment to remember all the scientists who died in that big tragic accident that killed all the scientists in the world. It’s been hard on everyone, now that there’s no one with any expertise around to make sense out of complicated scientific and technical issues. Still, it’s heartening that there are still weblogs and message boards where we can work out the truth about depleted uranium, global warming, and so on. And, now that the world of weblogs has added the powerful critical technique of “fact-checking asses” to its already potent toolbox of Google searches, pop psychology, and amateur media criticism, I feel that we may be able to open up new vistas of human understanding that would have never been possible using the debunked Old Media techniques of the scientific method. Indeed, this has already led to such astonishing discoveries as Noam Chomsky is a self-promoting bore and people in the Middle East are nuts, things which those high-and-mighty scientists never managed to figure out. It’s really a tribute to how far we’ve come.

[10:13 PM : 34 comments]

Let me break it on down. Jim Henley proffers grandmotherly advice to this administration.
Here’s a rule of thumb: If your cunning plan that can not fail requires years of undivided resolute purpose to achieve highly speculative if grandiose ends, you can be pretty darn sure that this country is going to manifest a sizable bunch of critics. If it’s really true that the mere existence of those critics prevents you from achieving your ends, then your plan may not be so cunning after all. Survivors of close, indeed disputed elections who got in with a plurality of the popular vote should put the rule of thumb in boldface. Such administrations should consider starting only those wars which are absolutely and clearly necessary, and only upon securing agreement on honest and accurate cause in advance.

Or do as they like, but don’t be little whiners.

[10:06 PM : 4 comments]

Comical Rumi. His eyes increasingly pointing in different directions, Secretary Rumsfeld today explained that critics of Administration policy are responsible for its failures.
Mr. Rumsfeld did not mention any of the domestic critics by name. But he suggested that those who have been critical of the administration’s handling of the war in Iraq and its aftermath might be encouraging American foes to believe that the United States might one day walk away from the effort, as it has in past conflicts.
Well, obviously. After all, no “American foes” would ever suspect that the US “might one day walk away from the effort” if those “domestic critics” would just button their lips. Being as how “foes” never read any history, certainly not their own. That’s why they’re foes, and not smart Americans like us.

So come on, shut up, you darn critics! You’re ruining everything!

[01:36 PM : 36 comments]

Convergence. Wild-eyed left-wing foreigner Ken MacLeod, blogging before the speech:
It looks like a line change, and possibly an Inner Party purge, are underway or imminent. Down the memory hole goes the increasingly risible WMD snipe hunt. The sinister visages of the neocons vanish from the telescreens. A better rationale for the long-planned endless war is in the pipeline.
Nice reasonable moderate American Joshua Micah Marshall, blogging after it:
The president has turned 9/11 into a sort of foreign policy perpetual motion machine in which the problems ginned up by policy failures become the rationale for intensifying those policies. The consequences of screw-ups become examples of the power of “the terrorists.”

[10:00 AM : 11 comments]

Warren Zevon, 1947-2003.

Don’t let us get sick
Don’t let us get old
Don’t let us get stupid, all right?
Just make us be brave
And make us play nice
And let us be together tonight

“I believe Warren Zevon is the only man in the history of human communication to use the word ‘brucellosis’ in a song.” —David Letterman

[08:13 AM : 36 comments]

September 07, 2003
Two years on. It’s a hell of a thing when I, a two-decade citizen of the state of New York, have to go to a British newspaper for full coverage of what my own Senator is up to.

Briefly, our junior Senator has announced that she will block the nomination of Utah governor Michael O. Leavitt as EPA administrator until the Bush administration provides some straight talk about air quality around the World Trade Center site—and the White House’s role in pressuring the EPA to falsify itself on the subject.

A number of New York City webloggers have made an ongoing gig out of their anger and outrage over September 11, 2001. Words like “idiotarian” figure prominently in their arias.

I was there, too. I saw the towers burn from my office in the Flatiron Building. And I came home to Brooklyn, hours later, to see the vast plume dropping its particulates on my block. I inhaled those silicates, and those human remains. As did my friends, my neighbors, my wife.

So here’s the New York Times story about our junior Senator’s stand:

“It’s unfortunate that Senator Clinton would seek to politicize such a qualified nominee as Governor Leavitt,” said Taylor Gross, a White House spokesman. “He’s well regarded throughout the nation as a known consensus builder, bringing people to work together on solutions for environmental improvement.”

Last month, the inspector general of the environmental agency released a report saying that after the World Trade Center attack, White House officials instructed the agency to reassure New Yorkers that the air was safe to breathe, even though deadly contaminants were present. E.P.A. officials have defended their actions.

But Senator Clinton and Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut sent a letter late last month to President Bush, asking for a “thorough and expeditious accounting of what transpired” among White House officials by Sept. 5. And Senator Clinton and Representative Jerrold L. Nadler called for a Congressional inquiry into the environmental agency’s response.

Senator Clinton said yesterday that she had not yet received a response from the White House, and that her request for a hearing was denied by the chairman of the Senate environment committee.

By contrast, here’s a newspaper that doesn’t need to care what Karl Rove thinks:
A news release issued on 18 September 2001 left out a line raising health concerns both for rescue workers digging through the rubble at ground zero and for Wall Street employees nearby. Instead of noting the presence of deadly contaminants, the release said that the air was generally safe to breathe.

According to Nikki Tinsley, the EPA’s acting inspector general, official eagerness to get Wall Street up and running took precedence over providing the fullest information available.

“That was wrong. That was inexcusable,” Mrs Clinton said. “I want to know exactly what happened.” Mrs Clinton and another influential Democratic senator, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, wrote to the White House 10 days ago demanding a “thorough and expeditious accounting” of what happened by the end of last week. But the White House was silent, accusing Mrs Clinton of exploiting the issue for political gain.

The former EPA administrator Christine Todd Whitman has defended herself vigorously against charges of impropriety. “There’s no way in hell—excuse my language—that I would ever, ever play games with this kind of information,” she said last week.

Mrs Clinton’s sights are set not on Ms Whitman but on the President’s immediate entourage. “I know a little bit about how White Houses work,” she said. “I know somebody picked up a phone, somebody got on a computer, somebody sent an e-mail, somebody called for a meeting, somebody in that White House probably under instructions from somebody further up the chain told the EPA, ‘Don’t tell the people of New York the truth’. And I want to know who that is.”

I’ve never been an unalloyed Hillary fan. But when the Executive Branch screws around with the well-being of my respiratorily-impaired wife, I’m all for my Senator “exploiting the issue for political gain.” That’s her job. Meanwhile, note who reports on the story in plain English, and who doesn’t. And to think I once had critical words for Media Whores Online.

[11:30 PM : 14 comments]

Mel Gibson, Christian. “I want to kill him. I want his intestines on a stick…I want to kill his dog.”

(New York Times columnist Frank Rich, the target of Gibson’s wrath, told the Daily News through a spokesman that he doesn’t actually have a dog.)

According to the News, Gibson “reluctantly” removed, from his weirdo ultramontaine Jesus movie, a particularly lurid scene involving Jewish high priest Caiaphas. “I wanted it in,” he said. “But, man, if I included that in there, they’d be coming after me at my house, they’d come kill me.”

Yeah, “they.” With their hooked noses, their interest payments, and their take-out Chinese food. Will their wickedness ever end? Quite the paragon, Mel Gibson.

A lot of phospors have been spent arguing over the extent to which Mel can be held to account for the views of his notoriously anti-Semitic parents, Hutton and Joye Gibson. As the New York Times reported, in a piece no longer available on line, Hutton and Joye…

—told the Times that the Holocaust was a fabrication manufactured to hide an arrangement between Adolf Hitler and “financiers” to move Jews out of Germany to the Middle East to fight Arabs.

“Go and ask an undertaker or the guy who operates the crematorium what it takes to get rid of a dead body,” Hutton Gibson told the Times. “It takes one liter of petrol and 20 minutes. Now six million?”

Said Joye Gibson: “That weren’t even that many Jews in all of Europe.”

But can Mel really be held responsible for this? Who cares? Here’s lovable Mel himself, in his own words, interviewed by Playboy in 1995:
IBSON: Women are just different. Their sensibilities are different.

PLAYBOY: Any examples?

GIBSON: I had a female business partner once. Didn’t work.

PLAYBOY: Why not?

GIBSON: She was a cunt.

There’s the voice of Christian compassion. Who could doubt him?

[10:09 PM : 35 comments]

Another good question. Juan Cole is a University of Michigan history professor who blogs on “the Middle East, History, Islam, and Religion.” And who doesn’t seem to have been very impressed by Donald “Mr. Diplomacy” Rumsfeld’s recent comments suggesting that Iraqis need to “take responsibility” for their security, “instead of pointing fingers, it seems to me, at the security forces of the coalition.” Remarks Cole:
Does anybody but me find this sort of rhetoric disgraceful? First of all, it lumps all Iraqis together. Do people in Najaf even know anybody in Tikrit, where the recent bombing was probably planned? How could they have tipped the US off about something a small group of Sunni Arabs in another town were planning? Since the US dissolved the Iraqi army, moreover, how exactly could Iraqis track such terrorists? With the PTA? It is the US that has 140,000 troops in the country and is supposed to be in control of places like Tikrit, and which has special forces and CIA field officers on the ground. Why isn’t it the responsibility of the US to stop bombings and provide security?
Cole, of course, actually knows something about the Middle East, history, etc. For that reason, look for him to be extensively slagged off as an “idiotarian.”

[01:18 PM : 5 comments]

Wave of the future? Group weblogs have been around for a while—BoingBoing is a venerable example—but suddenly they’re popping up like botanical metaphors. The tricontinental and formidably learned Crooked Timber led off the current wave. In subsequent weeks, we’ve also noted the debuts of Jusiper, smart political commentary from a bunch of poli-sci types; Not Geniuses, ongoing observations on practical politics by activist twentysomethings in, mostly, the Rocky Mountain West; Corrente, from the crew that conned the U.S.S. Eschaton while its captain took a summer break; A Fistful of Euros, featuring actual Europeans discussing European political issues (imagine that); and Open Source Politics, bringing together an eyebrow-raising twenty-five political bloggers to “promote active discourse among progressives.”

The idea, of course, is that in a world of more and more weblogs, readers tend to hew to sites that post strong new material constantly, and a group is better able to provide that steady flow. Certain my own recent occasional posting habits have had a downward effect on my traffic, whereas Teresa’s greater productivity has driven hers up; Making Light is now well ahead of Electrolite in daily hits, despite being linked to by significantly fewer other blogs. This suggests that frequent posting, not linkage, is the important factor.

A danger of group blogs, of course, is that without strong writerly voices, the participants’ individual personalities can be somewhat hard to discern, which matters to those of us who read blogs for the “strong voices” (vernacular, unintermediated, you know the drill) that they often afford. The folks at Crooked Timber don’t have much to worry about on this score. I have a harder time remembering who’s who when I read some of the others. One thing both CT and Not Geniuses do that some others could stand to imitate is put the damn authorship credit at the beginning of the post, not at the end. Which means we go into reading the post with a name in mind, thus giving us a head start toward building our own sense of the personalities involved. (Of course, if your group blog’s ambition is to subsume all individuality into a single collective voice, that’s cool too, providing the voice has a tang of its own. I enjoy the group-written and unattributed Tapped, leaving aside their peculiar and, one would think, self-damaging decision to absorb Matthew Yglesias rather than make use of his well-established and popular “brand.” But that’s a different argument.)

As in so many areas of life, the really deadly temptation is to make it all too complicated. The simplity of the weblog is one of its glories: short and medium-sized pieces of writing, every so often, with the most recent stuff on top. I’m unfond of “continued on page X” jumps in magazines, and I’m not wild about them in weblogs, either; kinesthetically, whether I’m at a desktop or a laptop computer, it’s always easier to keep scrolling down than it is to reach for the pointing device and bring up a new page. When a weblog has five new posts each of which is continued on a separate page, that’s a bunch of extra work. Yes, granted, only in America in 2003 could you find an able-bodied adult male actually calling the effort of a few mouse clicks “a bunch of extra work,” but consider this. When I’m running through my daily blog trawl, which consists of several dozen of the things, I find, increasingly, that sites that demand extra mousing-around tend to slip to last. Which means that if I’m interrupted by more pressing matters, they don’t get read as regularly. Even when they’re as good as Crooked Timber. I doubt that I’m alone in this.

Of the new crew, by far the worst design offender is Open Source Politics. More like a magazine than a weblog, OSP offers up an elaborate proscenium arch, from which are linked each day’s several new posts. It’s like Slate, complete with the dismaying sense that there’s too much here and not enough of it is going to be good. You also know from the front-page presentation that every one of these new “posts,” each behind its own link, is going to aspire to the condition of a full-fledged “article.” No wiseass bloggy one-liners here. There are some smart people and fine writers listed among OSP’s contributors, and much of the material is definitely worth your time, but as a piece of weblog design it’s all throat-clearing and trumpery, the exact opposite of inviting.

[11:30 AM : 21 comments]

Mazel tov. Writes The Head Heeb:
349 years ago today, the ship St. Catherine landed at New Amsterdam carrying 23 Jewish settlers….They were the founders of the six million strong Jewish community of the United States, and the day they landed—September 7—is Arrival Day.

This is the first annual Arrival Day Blogburst. Arrival Day will be the first holiday of the Jewish people rather than the Jewish religion—a celebration of the Jewish community and its contributions to America.

THH has been promoting this “blogburst” for some days, which has led some interesting writing all around, much of them best of it from him. Check his site out.

[09:28 AM : 0 comments]

September 06, 2003
Testimonial. This probably belongs over in the sidelights, and I suspect I’ve linked to it before, but let me say anyway that Forgotten NY is one of my favorite web sites in all the world.

I’ve long fantasized about doing a coffee-table book called The Fringes of New York, to be made up of pictures and descriptions of all the weird, funky, haunted bits of New York City that don’t look remotely like Tourist Midtown. This site is better than my imagined book.

[06:44 PM : 19 comments]

Fyi. Blogger and Blogspot are evidently undergoing a denial-of-service attack, which certainly explains why I’ve been unable to read any Blogspot-hosted weblogs all day, and might explain why you haven’t been able to, either.

Oh, yeah, we’re back from Worldcon, desperate fun, exhausted, catching up, you know the drill. More in a bit.

[03:55 PM : 1 comments]