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October 29, 2003
How to. Atrios shows what you do with an attempt at barratry: publish the threat. And let your commenters do useful research into the personalities involved.

The subsequent posts on Eschaton are pretty amusing, too.

UPDATE: If all of this is too blogospherically arcane, Slacktivist has a concise and amusing rundown.

UPDATED UPDATE: Andrew Northrup, unsurprisingly, trumps everyone.

[11:12 PM : 6 comments]

October 27, 2003
Greetings from the War on Lunchmeat. Jay Allen’s MT-Blacklist, a powerful and flexible tool for fighting comment spam in Movable Type weblogs, has achieved a stable and useful 1.5.

We had a bunch of problems with the initial release, and Allen was a complete mensch about it, poking around at the innards of our site and reconfiguring until everything worked. So we’ve been using some of the additional functionalities of 1.5 for several days now. If you maintain a weblog with Movable Type, go get this. And if this open-source freeware it works for you as well as it’s working for us, consider hitting his tipjar.

Anyway, how can you dislike a program that, once you have the offending spam lined up in your sights, presents you with a button that reads “Go now and do my bidding”? I ask you.

[07:51 PM : 1 comments]

Party of Lincoln update. Joshua Micah Marshall is all over the story, mentioned on Electrolite here, of Republican black-voter-suppression efforts in the current Kentucky gubernatorial race.

Here’s the flyer used this past summer to recruit Republican “challengers” to work at the polls, in order to counter the wicked “NAACP and their efforts to marshal the Get Out To Vote efforts targeted toward the black, poor voters in selected communities and selected targeted races of national impact.”

[03:01 PM : 11 comments]

October 24, 2003
Out of sight, out of mind. From the Washington Post:
Since the end of the Vietnam War, presidents have worried that their military actions would lose support once the public glimpsed the remains of U.S. soldiers arriving at air bases in flag-draped caskets.

9 To this problem, the Bush administration has found a simple solution: It has ended the public dissemination of such images by banning news coverage and photography of dead soldiers’ homecomings on all military bases.

Good response here. (Spotted by Beth Meacham.)

[11:49 AM : 24 comments]

Cyberterrorism! Newsday covers the DOS attack that took down Hosting Matters at various points during the past week, affecting many weblogs including ours.

As widely reported in the world o’ weblogs, the attack appears to have been against a site called Internet Haganah, which among other things is involved with exposing web sites they say are involved with terrorism, and getting their ISPs to cut them off.

Internet Haganah claims the DOS attack “was directed by hackers associated with Yussuf al-Ayyeri, one of Osama bin Laden’s closest associates since the early ’90s.” Maybe so. If Internet Haganah really is involved in a gritty online struggle with elements of Al Qaeda, well, go Internet Haganah. Here in NYC, we’re opposed to Al Qaeda. I wish I didn’t have the uneasy feeling that there’s more to this story, but I get that feeling from most stories like this, these days.

Of course, it would help if “terror” hadn’t come to be a term as overused as “fascism”:

Meanwhile, bloggers at other affected sites were concerned that cyberterrorists might be targeting them, said Michele Catalano, the Long Islander who runs the popular Web site.
I may not have a precise and bulletproof definition of “terrorism” in my hip pocket, but I do know this: a disruption that does not require me to get out of my chair isn’t “terrorism”, it’s an annoyance. Buildings being blown up, people being killed: definitely terrorism. Weblog inaccessible for a few hours, hobbyists cranky about it: not terrorism.

Really, are the rugged, go-get-‘em web warriors of Internet Haganah and Command Post really terrified (as opposed to concerned, or vigilant, or quite reasonably pissed off) by the prospect of vandalism against web sites? Is anyone? I think not. I certainly hope not. If this is what we in America now consider “terrorism,” we must be the most easily-terrified bunch of weenies on the planet. I’d really rather have a better opinion of us—all of us—than that.

[11:29 AM : 74 comments]

Out of all them bright texts. As widely noted all over the net, Amazon has made it possible to search the interior text of over 120,000 in-print, in-copyright books in their catalog. You have to be logged in with an Amazon user account to do it. Search results arrive in the form of an image of the actual book page, complete with page numbers and running heads; you can read a little ways forward and backward, and there are (reasonably generous) limits to how much of any book you can retrieve, and how many pages overall you can summon up in a certain amout of time.

Via BoingBoing, here’s a Wired article about the Amazon project. I have a feeling this is one of those online tools whose second- and third-order effects will only be discovered in practice. Five years from now it will be obvious that Amazon’s full-text search feature would of course lead to 2008’s boom in Restoration drama, or the state of Minnesota buying all of its residents pogo sticks.

[09:11 AM : 53 comments]

October 23, 2003
Happy happy joy joy. Before you get too encouraged by the Senate’s touching display of unity in voting 97-0 for an “anti-spam” law, read this.

[08:28 PM : 7 comments]

Keep them down. The Louisville, Kentucky Courier-Journal reports on the party of Lincoln:
Jefferson County Republicans intend to place Election Day challengers at 59 voting precincts in predominantly black neighborhoods, a move that NAACP leaders yesterday called blatant intimidation.

The GOP election workers, most of whom live outside the targeted precincts in western and central Louisville, Portland and Newburg, will be on hand to challenge voters who they suspect aren’t eligible.

Jefferson County GOP Chairman Jack Richardson IV said the precincts were chosen at random or because the Republican Party has had trouble finding registered voters in those areas to serve as election workers. […] Richardson said the precincts weren’t chosen because of their racial makeup or voting patterns.

In further comments, Richardson detailed his ownership of the Brooklyn Bridge and his membership in the Rumanian royal family.

[07:52 PM : 13 comments]

October 22, 2003
Keen are the eyes of the Elves. From what I can read through the layers of hype, Internet Seer is a service that offers to “monitor” your web site at regular intervals to make sure it’s still there. Presumably someone is willing to pay money for this, and if so, I’d like to know who they are so I can alert them to several other exciting business opportunities, beginning with “Look, your shoelace is untied.”

Anyway, so all-seeing is the sightly sightfulness of Internet Seer that in the wake of our recent downtime, dozens and for all I know hundreds of people who have left comments on Electrolite and Making Light are now getting baffling email from the Seer informing them that “their” site—here follows the URL of one or another of our individual-post pages—was recently unreachable.

In other words, Internet Seer, a business that wants site owners to pay it dozens and for all I know hundreds of dollars in order to perform services that could be accomplished with an MS-DOS batch file, to say nothing of a few lines of Perl, can’t tell the difference between the email address of a site’s owner and the email addresses of people who happened to post comments on the site.

We’re sorry about this. If Internet Seer’s FAQ is on the level, what we’ve just done with our .htaccess file should prevent this happening again. Meanwhile: sheesh.

[11:48 PM : 19 comments]

Revelations. Slacktivist is blogging about the mega-bestselling “Left Behind” novels, so far here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. For those of you who may have missed this $50 million phenomenon, the “Left Behind” novels, by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, are near-future thrillers about the supposedly imminent Rapture and apocalypse.

Slacktivist is a Christian, and that’s what gives his mounting outrage at these nincompoops its special tang. As he wrote in an earlier post, before getting down to the meat of the books themselves:

The only Bible where you’ll find LaHaye’s weird apocalyptic fantasies is a Scofield Reference—and that’s only in the convoluted and arbitrary footnotes below the text. Nowhere is this vision “laid out in the New Testament.” It is the bastard child of “premillennial dispensationalism”—a tortured and torturous hermeneutic that carves up Scripture like a veg-o-matic and functions as a kind of American evangelical cabala.

“Secrets of Bible prophecy revealed” read the advertisements for the thousands of “prophecy seminars” promoting this nonsense every week across the country. “Secrets…revealed”—can you get any more gnostic than that?

We often refer to evangelical Christians as “conservative”—which accurately reflects their cultural and political views. But there is nothing “conservative” about the obsession with prophecy theories that has twisted so much of the American church.

Indeed, quite the contrary, it’s occultist and hermetic, in all the worst senses of those words. But what earns Slacktivist’s particular ire is the “Left Behind” worldview’s fundamental cruelty:
Christians, in the words of the Nicene Creed, “look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” We believe, in the words of the Apostles’ Creed, in “the resurrection of the body.”

L&J are not interested in resurrection. Resurrection is something that happens to dead people, and L&J don’t want to die. Death scares them. And that, more than anything else, explains what rapture-mania is all about.

Christianity is about death and resurrection, not about the denial of death. Not about “Jesus coming back to get us before we die.”

This escapist fantasy of a gospel isn’t just bad theology. It’s cruel. Consider the poor souls clinging to this hope who get the big bad news from their doctor. Consider those who have lost a husband, wife, mother, father, daughter or son. Consider all those who have died and all those they have left behind.

In his most recent post, Slacktivist cites a recent Jimmy Breslin column about the sudden death of an infant, headlined “A Thief in the Night.”
Whether Breslin himself or some Newsday copy editor wrote that headline, the allusion is apt. The end is sudden, mysterious, imminent and inevitable, yet always a surprise. Suddenly, we are out of time.

More than anything else, this is what pisses me off about the shallow, death-denying, false hope of the false gospel preached by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins in their Left Behind series. They would pervert every piece of biblical wisdom about our mortality into a fairy tale of “Jesus coming back to get us before we die.” This weird and desperate mythology denies L&J’s followers of the comfort, hope, wisdom and solace needed in the face of the death of Daivon Nicolas Richardson, 18 months, or of anyone and everyone else.

A theology that denies the reality, mystery and meaning of death is ultimately irrelevant for us mere mortals.

Worth reading by everyone, “Christian” or not, religious or not. This bizarrely mutated Christianity is a powerful force, and we need to understand it better. (In yet another provocative post, Slacktivist suggests that the disorder, like so many other dysfunctions in American life, is rooted in slavery.) Whatever their origins, these cults are now radical and revolutionary, not even remotely “conservative”, and a threat to normal American life.

[08:47 PM : 29 comments]

Hold it right there. Commenting on the general bogglement over the revelation that Diebold’s e-voting systems rely on Microsoft Access, Jon Meltzer writes:
The real issue isn’t Diebold trying to maximize its profit by using cheap labor and software tools; it’s the very concept of an unauditable voting system. The problem would be no less severe if they were using a secure, unhackable implementation.
Erik V. Olson, who does this stuff for a living, asks what suddenly seems like a rather pertinent question: why on earth are they recording votes in a relational database at all?
There aren’t supposed to be any relations in voting. […] What other data are they creating relations to? This is even more contrary to the purpose of a voting machine than simple security.

At the end of a vote, the machine needs to produce the following data.

   FOO xxxx votes
   BAR xxxx votes
   QUX xxxx votes
   ALL yyyy votes

The precinct is a set field, determined by where the machine is set. Every other relation, other that “foo gets a vote,” is antithetical to the secret ballot process, and should never be collected. Not time, not date, not who, where, why, whatfor, nothing! Give me a camera in the polling place—not in the booths, mind you—and a very accurate clock on the voting machine and the camera, and save the time voted with the vote, and I can tell you how almost every person in that polling station voted. Save machine number with that vote as well, and that becomes every voter. Period.

The fact that they are using a RDBMS is a declaration that they intend to treat voting as a relational database.

There’s more in Erik’s full comment, over in this thread. Meanwhile:

“Every other relation, other that “foo gets a vote,” is antithetical to the secret ballot process, and should never be collected.”

Right. Whether Access is on the voting machine itself, or being used on the voting data somewhere else, why on earth is it in use at all? The “relations” involved in vote-recording are completely trivial. The only sensible reasons to use a relational database are if you’re planning to record data you shouldn’t record, and to do things with it that you shouldn’t do.

[11:03 AM : 48 comments]

October 21, 2003
All that way for this. In Wednesday’s New York Times, pointed out by Jeralyn Merritt:
Officials chose Guante1namo as a location where United States constitutional protections would not apply, and two federal courts have agreed that the naval base here is not legally part of the United States.
If you think this is nothing to worry about, that it will never affect you or those you love, the nicest thing I can think to say about you is that you are a fool.

[11:41 PM : 27 comments]

Open thread. Open threads, as Teresa has remarked, are an answer to the problem of comments on sidebar links. Alternately, discuss whatever you want. “Say what you mean. Bear witness. Iterate.”

(Assuming our host doesn’t get DOSsed again. What a pain for everyone.)

[11:01 PM : 17 comments]

General protection fault. Tom Runnacles of Crooked Timber waxes wroth about the underpinnings of Diebold’s voting machines. (Cue Groucho Marx: “Is Roth in there? Tell him to come out and wax me for a while.”)
Back to Diebold. As someone who fiddles with relational databases as part of my living, I don92t know whether to laugh or cry when it is revealed that the system which is offered as the backing infrastructure for American democracy involves as its lynchpin an Access database.

Access, as any fule kno, is a toy program for putting together a database upon which you want to record the details of your CD collection or keep track of the contents of your sock-drawer; it does not supply a platform which anyone with the tiniest bit of nous would use for anything that actually mattered.

If a reader can provide me, in confidence, with the name of a financial institution which relies on Access as a core component of a critical business system, I shall be gigantically surprised, and then move my account with them, if I have one, when I have recovered. Perhaps I92m just weird, but I really do care at least as much that I can trust the means by which my government is elected as that my bank statements should be correct each month.

Really, there is no more important domestic political story than the growing voting-machine scandal. And we need to start acting like it, instead of just insta-clucking as if it’s just one enormity among many.

[10:43 PM : 36 comments]

October 19, 2003
Your astrology moment. Today is both Jim Henley’s and Kevin Drum’s birthday. And indeed, the similarities are obvious. Jim has always reminded me of Louis Althusser (October 19, 1918), while the estimable Calpundit’s similarities to Divine (October 19, 1945) are the talk of Champaign-Urbana, Illinois.

More to the point, though: I’m older than Jim Henley? That can’t be right. There ought to be a law. Er, a voluntary expression of several individual and firmly independent views. Remember, Probity is Theft. Or “Proudhon is Impossible.” I get so confused.

[10:39 PM : 11 comments]

Search me. Because several people asked, I’ve set up site-wide searching. You can search Electrolite, Making Light, our sidebar blogs, and our comment sections, as well as various combinations thereof. The input form, bristling with offers of case-matching and regexp, may be found at the bottom of the sidebar to the left.

[01:51 AM : 6 comments]

October 18, 2003
Shorter Stratton Sclavos. sclavos.jpg The cultural divide and the Internet’s future:
  • “Democracy, disagreement, and accountability are inconvenient, so get out of the way and let business run the net.”
(“Shorter” concept via Daniel Davies and Elton Beard.)

[09:16 PM : 17 comments]

F2F. I keep meaning to mention last weekend’s very pleasant pair of gatherings of local (and not-so-local) bloggers, organized by Jim Capozzola of The Rittenhouse Review and Julia of Sisyphus Shrugged. Said Mary Beth Williams of Wampum in her post-weekend report:
As we Lefties obviously always do when we gather, we plotted the furthering of the Liberal Media’s anti-American agenda, including, but not limited to, cheering on the prospects of greater quagmire in Iraq and another million lost jobs; we also ate, drank and generally made much merry.
Julia posted some snapshots of the Friday evening gathering at Brothers’ Barbecue in lower Manhattan; this one shows, from left to right, me, Carpe Icthus of The Sacred and the Inane, Dwight Meredith of the late lamented PLA (who flew up from Georgia!), Mary Beth Williams, and the back of Jim Capozzola’s head. There were lots of other bloggers and their S.O.’s scattered about, some of whom I never even managed to meet, and I’m not even trying to list them all.

The next day a very similar set of people gathered in Julia’s back yard in Queens to drink too much, apply fire to slabs of meat, sing Beatles songs, and plot to undermine America’s moral fi—oh, I’m sorry, we’ve already had that joke. Here’s a page of photos from Elayne Riggs of Pen-Elayne On the Web. To expand on the captions, “Seth” is the person known to an international audience of blog connoisseurs as The Talking Dog, whereas “Mad” is the indefatigable Madeleine Begun Kane.

[08:29 PM : 13 comments]

Trivia of the day. Apple released a Windows version of iTunes, its jukebox program for organizing music on your computer and (optionally) copying it to your iPod. Cool, thought I, I’ll put it onto our sole Windows PC and we’ll move the household mp3 store over there and serve it to the house network. Since that’s the computer that gets used the least anyway, being as it is, you know, cough, a Windows PC.

So, to make a long story short, I installed it, it hosed my Windows 2000 Professional setup, I happened to post a cranky comment about it to this post by Greg Greene, Greg happened to mention it on the Pho list, and the next day I had email from a CNet reporter asking for more details. By evening the story (“Windows iTunes sparks mixed reactions”) was up on CNet, quoting me and everything. Remember, complain about all your software misadventures on The Green[e]house Effect, because Greg Greene gets results.

(Actually, the only result was a couple of curious emails from old acquaintances. Having had no success with the repair methods described in this discussion among other iTunes/Win2K victims, I simply blew away the crippled Windows installation and installed the previously-unused copy of Windows 2000 Advanced Server I had stashed away. Okay, it’s like trading your Honda for a tank because you like the tank’s radio better, but server stuff is mostly what that box does anyway. Yes, my inept fumblings with software are of consuming interest to everyone around me, why do you ask?)

[07:38 PM : 30 comments]

October 17, 2003
“You know, I don’t think you’re here just for the huntin’.” A “Southern Heritage” website linked to a post by John Scalzi, causing him to receive another wave of email from offended fans of the Confederacy.

Scalzi, a three-time Olympic gold medalist in brushing back nitwits, responded by posting a handy set of links to all of his posts on this subject over the years. The link titles alone will leave you breathless. The posts are pretty good, too.

[01:35 PM : 8 comments]

Collateral damage. As several friends and readers emailed us to observe, we were down for several hours yesterday evening, due (it eventually transpired) to a denial-of-service attack on a site hosted by Hosting Matters, the company that provides bandwidth and server space to our own host. I noticed plenty of other blogs turning up absent as I updated my RSS reader during this time; I suspect many of them were down for the same reason.

Here’s a graph of the DOS, and here’s Hosting Matters’ own announcement about the attack, if you’re curious about the details.

[08:20 AM : 12 comments]

October 16, 2003
Enemy flag. Cory Doctorow—novelist, uberblogger, and happy warrior for your rights online—says the impending fight over the odious “broadcast flag” (the latest in the entertainment industry’s seemingly endless series of proposed Business Model Protection Acts) is an significant battle. Cory is one of the sharpest and most decent people I know, and when he says something like this is important, I’m inclined to give it a serious look. Here he is in his own words:
We’re asking for your help with the Broadcast Flag. This is a proposed technology mandate that would give Hollywood studios a veto over the design of the output and recording technologies that get built into DTV receiver —which is by way of saying the stuff that we take for granted on our general-purpose machines, like CD/DVD burners, high-speed cabling standards like FireWire, and so on. This is an unprecedented maneouvre: the Hollywood studios are saying that tech companies should have to get the studios’ permission before releasing new tools to their customers. These are the studios that tried to ban the VCR, that sued ReplayTV over commercial-skipping, that put Fritz Hollings up to the CPDTPA bill, a proposal to make all technologists get the entertainment industry’s approval before producing new equipment.

What’s more, the Broadcast Flag demands that approved technologies will have to be built to be “tamper-resistant.” That means that we’ll have a law that will require an entire class of general-purpose technologies to use only obfuscated, closed-source drivers. That’s right, it bans open source for tech that can be used in DTV applications.

The worst part is: there’s no problem. Hollywood has made more money every single year since the last fight like this, over the VCR. Last year was the movie companies’ best year since 1959—this despite a worldwide economic crisis! Hollywood doesn’t dispute this, but they insist that since there might be a problem tomorrow, they need to take extrodinary measures today. This is ridiculous, of course: it’s like eating your seatmate on the off-chance that your plane will crash.

EFF has been fighting this proposal since day one, marshalling a large oppositional coalition that tore apart the inter-industry consensus that would have made this regime trivial to enact. The Congressman who got the ball rolling backed off from his commitment to requiring the FCC to enacting the Flag, preferring instead to request that they seek comment on it.

Well, the FCC sought comment on this. They asked the public and other organizations to participate in the rulemaking, to help them make up their minds. EFF has been calling on our supporters to send notes into the Commission in opposition to this plan, and we’ve passed over 15,000 faxes onto the Commissioners’ desks.

Numbers count in this fight. When over 700,000 Americans wrote to the FCC on media consolidation, it so alarmed lawmakers that Fritz Hollings (of all people!) called for Congressional action to limit media consolidation. We need lots of people to write into the FCC asking them to set this proposal aside, and we want you to help.

The EFF’s “action center” for this issue is here. Go, fight, win.

[05:09 PM : 3 comments]

Rains of frogs. Meanwhile, I just want to know if something is going after neighborhoods we used to live in.

If something really bad happens to San Francisco, Seattle, or Toronto in the next few days, I’m going to be unsure if we should flee Brooklyn, or stay put.

[04:41 PM : 6 comments]

Talk to me, baby. The sharp-eyed among you will have noticed a small addition to Electrolite’s and Making Light’s left-hand sidebars: at the bottom of the recent-comments list, a link to a page that lists the most recent 200 comments in reverse chronological order.

I initially set this up as a private tool to make it easy to hunt through recent comments for spam (it’s easy, just make a new template and use the same code that generates the sidebar list, increasing the number to 200), but from some remarks by frequent commenters it seems the longer list might be a useful navigational tool for them, too. Our sites, Teresa’s in particular, seem to be tending toward the condition of online conversations with a couple of weblogs attached. Since this is a fine thing and sometimes yields up startlingly well-informed commentary or even small miracles like the sonnet John M. Ford posted to this thread, don’t stop.

[03:04 PM : 13 comments]

Welcome to Latin America. I may be the last weblog writer to link to this measured and well-researched roundup of reasons to be concerned about the spread of unverifiable electronic voting systems in America. If you haven’t read it yet, do so. Yes, it’s in the Independent—warning, warbloggers, Robert Fisk cooties! As Kevin Drum remarked, “Why do I have to go to England to find this story, anyway?”

Indeed, for a long time, I’ve resisted getting too exercised about this issue, because I simply couldn’t bring myself to believe how bad it is. Ken MacLeod articulated that sense of oh-god, this-can’t-be-true:

I find the whole thing almost literally unbelievable. How the hell can a great nation hand over control of its voting, for crying out loud, to corporations? Corporations who are deeply partisan? And deeply interested in the outcome of the elections? Hello? Some of them run by people who believe in theocracy? WTF?

To my mind, one of the most striking comments came from Billmon of the outstanding Whiskey Bar, who pointed out that one of the most disquieting aspects of the Independent story has nothing to do with computers or programming:

One of the conditions states have to fulfil to receive federal funding for the new voting machines, meanwhile, is a consolidation of voter rolls at state rather than county level.
Said Billmon:
The consolidation of such a key function at the state level begins to erode what I had thought was the ultimate safeguard against trying to tamper with a national election—the voting process is so decentralized that an effective conspiracy would be impossible, much less easily detectable. While the same decentralization can lead to fiascos like the Florida recount, it’s also a check against the kind of election rigging that the PRI used to be so adept at in Mexico.

Like I said, I don’t know how alarmed we should all be about this. But after reading the Independent’s story it was hard not to be reminded of the 1988 presidential election in Mexico, when the computers at the centralized, national election bureau mysteriously “failed” after early returns showed the left-wing insurgent candidate, Cuautemoc Cardenas, in the lead. When the count resumed, the PRI candidate was declared the winner.

Not that anything like that would ever happen here, perish the thought. Remember, power corrupts other people.

Billmon gets in the last word:

The fact that such an important and thoroughly researched story appeared in the Independent, and not the New York Times or the Washington Post, is a pointed comment, I suppose, on the long decline of American journalism.

It seems voting machines aren’t the only democratic devices in danger of failing.

[02:22 PM : 18 comments]

Must…keep…straight…face. One gets the sense that even mainstream media outlets are, at last, beginning to tire of declaring that chalk is cheese. From this morning’s Philadelphia Inquirer:
Concerned about the appearance of disarray and feuding within his administration as well as growing resistance to his policies in Iraq, President Bush—living up to his recent declaration that he is in charge—told his top officials to “stop the leaks” to the media, or else.

News of Bush’s order leaked almost immediately.

Bush told his senior aides Tuesday that he “didn’t want to see any stories” quoting unnamed administration officials in the media anymore, and that if he did, there would be consequences, said a senior administration official who asked that his name not be used.

(Via that Philadelphia guy Atrios, who headlined his post “Not From the Onion.”)

[12:50 PM : 8 comments]

User unsatisfactory. On reflection, I think last night’s post was stupid. Jay Allen’s MT-Blacklist is a good example of community-based tool development, in which a tight feedback loop between creator and users leads to rapid improvement in the tool. Not only did he write it (for free) in a sleepless 48-hour mad dash over last weekend, he’s also ground out two updated versions in the few days since, with an even more improved version 1.1 promised for this coming weekend. The fact that we happen to be among the users with the most problems is bad luck for us, but we should be documenting our problems and feeding them back to the author, not stomping off.

This whole business distresses Teresa and me both. But what I was doing last night is technically known as “being a jerk.”

[09:07 AM : 4 comments]

October 15, 2003
Solution Unsatisfactory. Yes, we’re aware of Jay Allen’s MT-Blacklist, the Movable Type plugin that consolidates and simplifies a whole bunch of different approaches to stopping weblog comment spam. We even recommend it. Try it out. It’ll probably work for you.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work for us. Quite the contrary, it slows routine rebuilds to a crawl, and the “despam” link it adds to our comment-notification email leads to a Movable Type error message. We’ve been in touch with the estimable Jay Allen about this, and he’s made a valiant effort to figure out the problem, but no dice.

The last straw, though, was when Teresa attempted to post a comment to a thread on her own weblog and got the following error message:

Your comment submission failed for the following reasons:

This comment could not be posted due to questionable content.

Please correct the error in the form below, then press POST to post your comment.

After peeling one (1) outraged spouse off the ceiling, I deleted MT-Blacklist from our Movable Type installation, and the comment posted successfully. You can read it here; it’s the one that begins “When are we going to get serious about spammers? Do you ever think about how much human effort gets pissed away dealing with them?”

Yes, God is an iron, why do you ask?

I had no idea MT-Blacklist was filtering based on mere content; I thought the idea was to look for—and filter based on—the spammy URLs that blogspammers are trying to get onto our sites. Indeed, as you can see, Teresa’s comment contains no URLs whatsoever.

I think we’re giving up on MT-Blacklist for now. Whether we give up on blogging altogether is a still-unanswered question.

UPDATE: If you’ve come to this post from an external link such as this one, be sure to read the followup post as well. Things are nowhere near so dire.

[10:51 PM : 12 comments]

Staten Island ferry crash. Teresa says it all. I can’t even begin to count how many hours I spent on that very boat, often on the right forward side, between 1989 and 1996.

[08:04 PM : 0 comments]

October 14, 2003
Man of the hour. I don’t know. You listen to most of these politicians and they just talk and talk. But this one is different. He’s a real leader.

I mean, I’m no extremist, but sometimes you need a strongman who can sort the bad guys out.

[02:34 PM : 5 comments]

October 13, 2003
Our impending Wile E. Coyote moment. Before becoming one of America’s most praised and reviled pundits, Paul Krugman was an expert observer of economies in trouble—of financial crises on the order of Argentina in 2001.

Krugman is worried:

A third world country with America’s recent numbers—its huge budget and trade deficits, its growing reliance on short-term borrowing from the rest of the world—would definitely be on the watch list.

I’m not the only one thinking that. Lehman Brothers has a mathematical model known as Damocles that it calls “an early warning system to identify the likelihood of countries entering into financial crises.” Developing nations are looking pretty safe these days. But applying the same model to some advanced countries “would set Damocles’ alarm bells ringing.” Lehman’s press release adds, “Most conspicuous of these threats is the United States.” […]

Krugman goes over the “reassuring counterarguments.” After all, like everyone else, economists are good at forseeing the previous crisis. Financial crises are exacerbated in places like Argentina or Indonesia because their debt tends to be denominated in currencies they don’t control. And, of course, financial markets generally give “advanced countries” (that would be us) more benefit of the doubt. After all:
Third world countries typically suffer from institutional weaknesses. They have poor corporate governance: you can’t trust business accounting, and insiders often enrich themselves at stockholders’ expense. Meanwhile, cronyism is rampant, with close personal and financial links between powerful politicians and the very companies that benefit from public largesse. Luckily, in America we don’t have any of these weaknesses. Oh, wait…

[11:34 PM : 20 comments]

Who kills orchards. I’ve been trying all day to get my mind around this.
US soldiers driving bulldozers, with jazz blaring from loudspeakers, have uprooted ancient groves of date palms as well as orange and lemon trees in central Iraq as part of a new policy of collective punishment of farmers who do not give information about guerrillas attacking US troops.

The stumps of palm trees, some 70 years old, protrude from the brown earth scoured by the bulldozers beside the road at Dhuluaya, a small town 50 miles north of Baghdad. Local women were yesterday busily bundling together the branches of the uprooted orange and lemon trees and carrying then back to their homes for firewood.

Nusayef Jassim, one of 32 farmers who saw their fruit trees destroyed, said: “They told us that the resistance fighters hide in our farms, but this is not true. They didn’t capture anything. They didn’t find any weapons.”

Other farmers said that US troops had told them, over a loudspeaker in Arabic, that the fruit groves were being bulldozed to punish the farmers for not informing on the resistance which is very active in this Sunni Muslim district.

“They made a sort of joke against us by playing jazz music while they were cutting down the trees,” said one man. Ambushes of US troops have taken place around Dhuluaya. But Sheikh Hussein Ali Saleh al-Jabouri, a member of a delegation that went to the nearby US base to ask for compensation for the loss of the fruit trees, said American officers described what had happened as “a punishment of local people because ‘you know who is in the resistance and do not tell us’.” […]

The children of one woman who owned some fruit trees lay down in front of a bulldozer but were dragged away, according to eyewitnesses who did not want to give their names. They said that one American soldier broke down and cried during the operation. When a reporter from the newspaper Iraq Today attempted to take a photograph of the bulldozers at work a soldier grabbed his camera and tried to smash it. The same paper quotes Lt Col Springman, a US commander in the region, as saying: “We asked the farmers several times to stop the attacks, or to tell us who was responsible, but the farmers didn’t tell us.”

“I came and called them by their long names, but they did not quiver, they did not hear or answer. They lay dead.”

Iraqi blogger Riverbend discusses the preciousness of palm trees and citrus orchards to desert farmers, and the intense feeling for trees that results.

Juan Cole points out that if we are indeed destroying agriculture in order to punish whole populations for not informing, then we are in direct violation of the Geneva Convention, which specifically prohibits this sort of “collective punishment.” (Commenter “ott”, in the thread following this post at Whiskey Bar, provides the specific Convention passages that apply.)

Teresa, who knows something about growing up in a desert, nailed it in conversation this afternoon. “If I were a child, and remote, powerful strangers came and cut down my trees…I would never again believe that they were the good guys.”

Me, I can’t stop thinking about Ken MacLeod’s point about “giant lizards from another star.”

[08:19 PM : 98 comments]

Come in, White Hart. Ken MacLeod reviews Backroom Boys: the Secret Return of the British Boffin by Francis Spufford, a Faber and Faber title forthcoming in November.
This is one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read this year, and the one most likely to appeal to SF fans. I mean, how many books start with a wartime pub scene of the London members of the British Interplanetary Society cheering as the near-miss plaster falls around them because they recognise instantly what an explosion followed by a strange rising boom means for their dreams?
According to Ken, Spufford anecdotally covers six different areas of modern British science and engineering, but the book’s real achievement is to put across the “distinctive style of each field’s native geek.” I want this book.

[05:24 PM : 6 comments]

De vermis. Blogger and journalist Andrew Brown published a book about worms and subsequently awoke to discover that he had, instead, collaborated with John Updike on a history of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Elsewhere and not long ago, Brown published some observations about the slow and terrible death of a friend’s wife:

When I last saw her, in the observation ward next door, she was completely immobile, vegetal, in her wheelchair. Now, when she lies in bed there are fragments of sudden movement, none of which seem to be connected to anything. It is like watching an ocean liner go down, as the water floods the different switchboxes: lights go on and off in the ballroom; in the cargo hold a crane rattles across the ceiling, chains swinging. The master’s wheel suddenly twirls decisively. But the master and all the crew fled long ago.
If I were a better writer I’d conclude by yoking the trivial to the tragic, relating the twin inevitabilities of death and database error by means of a rhetorical figure involving worms. Meanwhile, Andrew Brown is a good writer.

[09:50 AM : 11 comments]

October 11, 2003
Killing time. If you follow any of my comment threads, you may have noticed posts signed “Lolita,” all of which were stuffed with links to particularly raw and nasty pornography. As of this moment, they’re gone, thanks to our steely-eyed comment-section overseer. We’ll see if they stay gone.

Do understand: I have nothing against pornography. I have everything against people who hijack thirty of my comment threads for their own commercial enterprises. But let’s be completely clear about this. I would be utterly opposed to personally harrassing Guy McFarland, who lives at 9 Dancing Cloud Ct. #42, Destin, Florida, 32541. I certainly would oppose any and all efforts to pester him via his phone number, (850) 269-3388. Goodness, that would be ever so wrong. How we would deplore that. Yes, this is sarcasm. Professional driver on closed road. Don’t try this at home.

UPDATE: As Teresa was deleting them, the pathetic little tools (Phone number: 850-269-3388!) managed to post two more.

You know something? If anything shuts down Electrolite and Making Light, it’ll be this kind of thing. It breaks our hearts. We don’t have the technical chops to fight it, and it’s clear that the world has people ready and willing to fuck us over. Either someone will come up with a non-gearhead tool for blocking this stuff, or no more weblogs from us. (Hello, Movable Type, if you’re not too busy with TypePad.)

[11:34 PM : 53 comments]

October 09, 2003
No, it’s not just you. CalPundit really is having some kind of server-side meltdown. Contacted by email, Kevin Drum says he’s been told by his hosting company to be patient while panic-stricken employees run around stepping on garden rakes. (I paraphrase.)

Next question: what became of Not Geniuses?

UPDATE: Both Kevin and the non-geniuses are back on the air.

[05:57 PM : 3 comments]

Break out the clue musk. Writing in Salon, Tina Brown describes a recent meeting of well-heeled Upper West Side Democratic activists:
At a “political brainstorm” supper the other night, hosted by a brand-name author who’s also a Democratic activist, a bunch of West Side legends with plenty of cash to spare sat with dinner on their laps and harangued each other about the need for action. In truth, the host had convened them so he could put the arm on them on behalf of the DNC, but they wouldn’t have come if he’d told them that. “Money’s not the issue here,” one of them thundered (to the host’s chagrin). “Everyone in this room has given at least half a million bucks to the party in their time.” No, they wanted to talk ideas. They wanted to talk tactics. Most of all they wanted to talk winning.

One recurring theme was the longing for a rapid-response war room to beat off Republican “disinformation.” When Rush Limbaugh’s OxyContin habit hit the airwaves, for instance, Democrats lacked what Republicans would have had in their shoes: a ready-to-go bullet-point list of all the times Rush had mouthed off about how drugs are all the fault of permissive liberals. “I’m happy to give money to that!” shouted a theater producer.

Not that anybody asked me, but you know, you’d think these “West Side legends” could take a look at Eschaton.

Or, you know, pay someone to do so and summarize the results, seeing as they’re so busy being legendary and all.

[03:01 PM : 34 comments]

October 07, 2003
Break the chain. Via Crooked Timber: RIAA Radar, which displays the 100 highest-selling CDs on Amazon from non-RIAA members.

Just in case you don’t feel like, you know, giving money to an industry syndicate that sues 12-year-olds. And the #1 top-selling non-RIAA album today is…Warren Zevon’s The Wind.

[08:37 AM : 17 comments]

October 06, 2003
Octopus, jackboot, swan song, etc. We’re back. Good workshop. Heaps of stuff to catch up on.

Meanwhile, just to show that the Guardian has no monopoly on metaphors run amok, Electrolite commenter Robert L. Bolton points out the following, from Time magazine’s farking cover story this week:

So when Plame’s husband tried to step in front of the shoot-first, verify-later car that Bush had been steering, it was only a matter of time before the hard-liners tried to flatten Wilson.
As Bolton remarked in the comments to this post, “What on earth is a shoot-first, verify-later car? Who sells these dangerous vehicles?” While we’re at it, tell me again about the high standards of the national media.

[01:55 PM : 20 comments]

October 02, 2003
Incommunicado. Every year Teresa and I come to Martha’s Vineyard to help teach Viable Paradise, a one-week workshop for aspiring science fiction writers. And every year, getting dial-up access to the net is a problem. But it’s been even worse than usual this year. Not for a lack of local dialup numbers, but because of the phone system in this inn, which makes getting even shell access to our email into an agonizing, slow-motion ordeal. As a result, chances are that if you’ve sent us email since Saturday, you haven’t heard a response. We’ll be home this coming Saturday evening; our apologies until then.

Frankly, I’ve about had it with stuff like this. I like to travel and I’m not averse to taking some time away from the net, but if I’m going to do that, I’d like to do it on purpose, and plan ahead accordingly. Certainly from now on I’m going to be asking more detailed questions about local connectivity before I make convention plans or accept teaching or speaking gigs. The hospitality industry is scrambling to catch up with modern travelers’ desire for easy net access and I intend to be one of those fussy customers who pushes them hard in this regard. Being so thoroughly out of touch this week is going to make next week seriously unfun. Life is too short for this kind of nonsense.

All that aside, this is an excellent workshop full of outstanding students, so now that I’ve got that off my chest, I’m going to go back to it.

[09:08 PM : 18 comments]