Art and argument. Popping fresh.
(August 2001 archive)
        Tell all the Truth but tell it slant--
Success in circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise

(--Emily Dickinson)

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(TNH's weblog)

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"We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to make us happy is something to be enthusiastic about."
(--Charles Kingsley)

"Plot is a literary convention. Story is a force of nature."
(--Teresa Nielsen Hayden)

"Just because you're on their side doesn't mean they're on your side."
(--Teresa Nielsen Hayden)

"Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die."
(--Anne Lamott)

"You will never love art well, until you love what she mirrors better."
(--John Ruskin)

"They lied to you. The Devil is not the Prince of Matter; the Devil is the arrogance of the spirit, faith without smile, truth that is never seized by doubt. The Devil is grim because he knows where he is going, and, in moving, he always returns whence he came."
(--Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose)

"Details are all that matters; God dwells there, and you never get to see Him if you don't struggle to get them right."
(--Stephen Jay Gould)

"For every complex question, there's a simple answer. And it's wrong."
(--H. L. Mencken)

"History is the trade secret of science fiction."
(--Ken MacLeod)

Some weblogs I look at:
Making Light
Pigs and Fishes
24-Hour Drive-Thru
Robot Wisdom
The Null Device
Follow Me Here
World New York
Talking Points Memo
Arts and Letters Daily
Media News
E-Media Tidbits

Friday, August 31, 2001
9:45 PM: I've been busy at work, and now I'm at the World Science Fiction Convention, so I've been stacking up links and not getting around to posting them.

In The New Republic, James Forman Jr. explains why people who claim to be "conservatives" ought to oppose racial profiling, instead of making excuses for it:

In The Dream and the Nightmare, which President Bush cites as one of the most influential books he has ever read, the conservative theorist Myron Magnet writes: "[W]hat underclass kids need most...is an authoritative link to traditional values of work, study, and self-improvement, and the assurance that these values can permit them to claim full membership in the larger community." Magnet quotes Eugene Lange, a businessman who promised scholarships to inner-city kids who graduated from high school: "'It's important that [inner-city kids] grow up to recognize that they are not perpetuating a life of the pariah, but that the resources of the community are legitimately theirs to take advantage of and contribute to and be a part of.'"

Magnet is right. But random and degrading police searches radically undermine this message. They tell black kids that they are indeed pariahs--that, no matter how hard they study, they remain suspects. As one Maya Angelou first-year student explained to me: "We can be perfect, perfect, doing everything right, and they still treat us like dogs. No, worse than dogs, because criminals are treated worse than dogs." Or, as a junior asked me, noting the discrepancy between the message delivered by the school and the message delivered by the police: "How can you tell us we can be anything if they treat us like we're nothing?"

10:00 PM: The Guardian reports on the BBC's preposterous preparations for the Queen Mother's death:
[A]s anyone who has participated in one of the BBC's regular "royal death rehearsals" knows (look serious Luckhurst this is not remotely funny), there is an absolute ban on risking the possibility that ordinary licence-fee payers might express anything ranging from mild indifference to outright republicanism.

Despite significant internal scepticism, some of it from very senior figures, the corporation is determined to mark the Queen Mum's passing with the sort of reverence which went out of fashion shortly after the Suez Crisis.

One officially recommended script achieves a tone hovering neatly between Iraqi state radio introducing Saddam Hussein and a Monty Python sketch. Over the next two hours (the presenter will say): "We'll be looking back over her long and remarkable life...We'll be hearing from many of the people who--although they never met her--felt that they knew her too." (As long as their views have been vetted in advance and declared safe by those responsible for the defence of the nation's airwaves.)

10:15 PM: From Mike Godwin, a very good piece about the sinister changes being wrought to our laws by the big copyright-holding companies:
Congress has essentially delegated the business of writing copyright law to the copyright industries, which have used technological advance as a rationale for expanding its protected interests under the law [...]

The increasing expansiveness of the copyright law has led to a shift in the theory behind the law. What began as a government-created monopoly established in the public interest has increasingly come to be understood, especially by the copyright industries, as a kind of natural right.

We are moving toward a world in which everything is property and nothing is commons, in which every cultural artifact will be controlled in perpetuity by the rights-holders' heirs to the Nth generation--and we are doing so with the consent and support of small-time writers and creators who imagine that if they support this kind of grab against the commons by Disney, Microsoft, and AOL Time Warner, they will somehow benefit. These writers should consider Teresa Nielsen Hayden's advice: "Just because you're on their side doesn't mean they're on your side."

10:30 PM: Old-fashioned American bravery. Protesting George W. Bush's nonsensical photo-op at a Habitat For Humanity site, gutsy Texans encounter police and Secret Service determined to isolate them in faraway "First Amendment Zones." (Imagine if Clinton's handlers had pursued such a policy.)

The SS were yelling on the police radios to move us back. There seemed to be an unholy relationship between the Bush advance people, the SS and the Waco police. When the Waco Sergeant in charge on the scene came out he demanded that we go to this first bullshit zone that was supposed to be set up for us. "The press is there and everything" he said. That's where you want to be anyway. No I said, I like it here. The local press is here I am staying. Well I couldn't stay there he said. Oh yes I can I said. "Every piece of public property in this free United States is a 1st amendment zone." He said I was going to get myself in trouble if I didn't go. I said that he was going to get himself in trouble if he tried to make me.

I had warned everyone in our group and my husband that I would not be put in any stinking BS zone. period! I warned them that It might get me arrested in gw's fascist state. "Americans died so I could have this right to speak in public on this street and no one is going to take it from me without a fight!" I told the sergeant.

10:45 PM: As reported in the New York Times, the Church intends to canonize the nineteenth-century pope Pius IX, which is roughly the equivalent of giving the Nobel Peace Prize to Jesse Helms.

We are talking about a Pope who enforced a system of laws and restrictions on Jews in the Papal States by which they were literally locked into their ghetto neighborhoods at night, and forbidden to hold public office or practice medicine or law.

By the way, remember that panel of Catholic and Jewish scholars appointed around the time that Pope John Paul visited the Wailing Wall? The one that was going to go over the Vatican's World War II-era archives? The Times reports that it "disbanded last month, its work unfinished. (A news release issued by the panel's Jewish coordinator blamed the Vatican, saying its refusal to grant access to relevant archives effectively hamstrung the scholars.)"

Garry Wills argues in his entirely wonderful Papal Sin that the core offense of the modern papacy--its central offense against common morality and, not insignificantly, against its own flock--is intellectual betrayal: the utter unwillingness of the Church's princes, including the media-worshipped John Paul II, to face plain and obvious truths about the Church's own history. Including perfectly well-documented recent history, which accounts for the repeated and always comically transparent shenanigans about access to the famous Vatican archives. Against all this, the much-ballyhood "apologies" of John Paul II are meaningless PR gestures so long as he and his rich, comfortable lieutenants persist in systematically excusing, obfuscating, and hiding the Church's centuries of systematic anti-Semitism--and, just as unforgiveably, valorizing the very scoundrels who most vigorously promoted it.

We are not, after all, talking about the a proposal to canonize some barbarian from the eighth century whose rough talk and moral lapses may be accounted typical of their time. Rather, we are talking about canonizing a powerful, educated, cultivated 19th-century European head of state...who, in speeches, referred to Jews as "dogs."

No excuse.

Monday, August 6, 2001
8:45 AM: Also from the Independent, a memoir of British "regional" journalism in the author's youth, with very thoughtful reflections on how habitual cliches and deference to authority color latter-day reporting on the Middle East:
[...] We wrote in cliches. Always cliches. When the police were seeking a hit-and-run driver, they either "spread their net" or "narrowed their search" or "stepped up their hunt". Company directors were "bosses", scientists were invariably "boffins", officials were always "chiefs", storm-battered ships inevitably "limped" into port. Suicides were always tragic, brides always beautiful, angry councillors were "hopping mad" and protesting villagers would always "take to the streets". Those who discovered bodies were, of course, "horror-struck" or "mystified"; the latter applied to the construction gang building a new Blyth bypass who excavated dozens of corpses -- all in their Victorian Sunday best -- and thought they'd discovered a mass murder before realising they were digging up an old cemetery. Needless to say, Tory election candidates always "lashed out" at the sitting Labour MP, Eddie Blythe.

They actually taught us to write like this. There was a whole Thomson school of journalism in Newcastle which I and my fellow "cub" reporters from other Chronicle district offices were ordered to attend once a week[...] The best stories could be told in 400 words, we were told. All the facts in the first para, plenty of punchy lines, equal time to all parties in a dispute and a good "kicker". No anger, no passion, no suggestion that there was right or wrong. I was reminded of Joe Friday in Dragnet. "Just the facts, Ma'am, just the facts," he'd yell at the broads. We were given "story-lines". Write the intro to the following: a retired soldier -- who once took part in the Normandy landings -- was blaming the local council because his wife had disappeared after seeing a ghost in her council-supplied house. Answer: "A mystified D-Day vet lashed out at council chiefs last night after his terrified wife fled 'phantoms' in their council home." Anything that moved away from this rubric, that suggested a more subtle, nuanced approach -- perhaps the old soldier was suffering from shell-shock or his wife was mentally ill or perhaps the ghosts were real -- was wiped out. [...] We were supposed to write stories the readers would easily "understand". Readers were in a hurry, tired, often not well educated, we were taught. Having talked for hours to miners and part-time shipyard workers and firemen and cops and landladies, I didn't think our readers were that dumb. I thought they might like something more than our cliches. But not according to the journalism teachers. We had to have "key" words. Lash out. Bosses. Phantoms. Chiefs. Terrified.

[...] Out in the Middle East, more and more journalists, each with their local reporting experience, their "training", their journalism schools -- the American version being even more banal than the English ones -- are using cliches and tired adjectives to obscure reality. Turn on your television tonight or read tomorrow's agency reports and we are told of the "cycle of violence" -- no side taken there -- of "clashes" (in which the identities of victim and killer are obscured) or of "the fears of Israeli security chiefs". Note how the word "security" is always linked to the word "Israel". And how "chiefs" has made the grade from Blyth to Palestine. And just as the police chief in Blyth would tip us off on a story, so Israelis -- to a much lesser extent Palestinians -- tip us off on stories. No one wants to rock the boat, to be controversial. Why write about the Blyth staithes if we're going to carry a Coal Board denial? Why write about the outrageous nature of Israel's killing of stone-throwing children if we're going to get outraged letters to the editor?

Much better to stick to cliches. Arab "terrorists" threaten Israel. Israeli "security chiefs" warn Arafat. Can Arafat "control" his own people, we asked when the Israelis asked the same question. Yet when a Jewish settlers' group killed two Palestinian civilian men and a baby, we did not ask if Sharon could "control" his own people. Since the Palestinians had not asked that question, we did not ask it. We were silent that time round. Over five days in the North-east and on the long drive back to London, I listened to the radio news. Two Israelis had been killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber at Binyamina. The Israelis "struck back" at the Palestinians, killing four guerrillas in a "targeted" killing. "Targeted" was Israel's word. In other words, death squads. But that wasn't what the BBC said. When the Israeli settlers murdered the three Palestinians -- including the baby -- the Israeli police were reported as "narrowing their search" for the killers.

7:30 AM: From the Independent, and worth reading in its entirety:
In a major surrender to Israeli diplomatic pressure, BBC officials in London have banned their staff in Britain and the Middle East from referring to Israel's policy of murdering its guerrilla opponents as "assassination". BBC reporters have been told that in future they are to use Israel's own euphemism for the murders, calling them "targeted killings".

BBC journalists were astonished that the assignments editor, Malcolm Downing, should have sent out the memorandum to staff, stating that the word "assassinations" "should only be used for high-profile political assassinations". There were, Mr Downing said, "lots of other words for death".

Goodness, "euphemism" is such an ugly word. Can't we say, instead, "targeted rhetorical device"?
Friday, August 3, 2001
8:30 AM: Welcome to the rapidly-darkening 21st century.

"Who is your government?" Genoan police make it clear:

The protesters were loaded into prison vans and taken to the Bolzaneto detention centre. Norman called it 'the sort of place where you know terrible things happen'.

Terrible things did happen. The psychological abuse began. Prisoners, including those with broken limbs, were spread-eagled against a wall for up to two hours while abuse was hurled at them. Prisoners were spat on, urinated on and not allowed to go to the toilet. Some were made to sing fascist songs.

'I could hear people screaming and one woman saying "Please help me, please help me" over and over again,' said Norman.

Then, one by one the prisoners were asked, in broken English: 'Who is your government?' Norman thought they meant what nationality he was, but then he noticed the replies of the others. Taking his cue from his neighbour, he answered in Italian: 'Polizia'. Anything else would almost certainly have meant another beating.

Under supposedly "progressive" New Labour, British immigration policy becomes overtly racist:
The daily discrimination practised by British officers in Prague was exposed last week by two undercover Czech television reporters. Richard Samko, a journalist of Roma -- or, as some still like to say, gypsy -- origin, was told he would be refused entry to the UK, while Nora Novakova, his white colleague, was allowed to travel freely. Both gave exactly the same information to immigration officials: that they had $200 on them, were travelling as tourists and earned the same amount each month.

While Ms Novakova passed through the British control without any problems, Mr Samko endured a humiliating 25-minute interrogation in a private room before being told he had not provided sufficient evidence that he simply wanted to visit Britain. The whole sordid affair was caught on a hidden camera and shown on Czech national television, provoking many to conclude that Britain was deciding whether a Czech citizen could visit the UK largely on the basis of race.

In the first 10 days British officials were at the airport, 90 people -- mostly Roma -- were refused entry to the UK. Almost 50 years to the day after Britain became a founder signatory of the UN convention on refugees, it is deliberately flouting its own commitment to provide asylum to the persecuted by filtering out the most plausible cases on the basis of ethnic origin. [...]

Roma have been in the sights of the British media since 1997 when aslyum applications from the Czech Republic and Slovakia peaked -- and gave the Labour government a timely scapegoat to flex its bogus-bashing muscle. The campaign of vilification reached a pitch in the now infamous Dover Express editorial which referred to Roma as "human sewage".

Such sentiments have found protection in British law. The 2000 amendment to the Race Relations Act, which outlawed racial discrimination by public bodies, exempted the immigration service, allowing asylum decision-makers to discriminate legally on grounds of skin colour.

Racism is once again being built into our immigration system -- with immigration officers authorised to treat certain nationalities "to a more rigorous examination than other persons in the same circumstances".

In the United States: seven years in jail for thinking bad thoughts:
An Ohio man has been sentenced to seven years in prison for thinking bad thoughts about children and writing them down in his private journal. In Ohio, that's against the law.

It didn't matter that the man never wanted anyone else to see the journal, or that the children he fantasized about were entirely fictional. What mattered to authorities in Ohio -- the only thing that mattered -- was that the thoughts were vile. The fantasies written down by Brian Dalton, who is 22 years old, involved the sexual abuse and torture of children.

Mr. Dalton made up names for the children and said they were 10 and 11 years old.

This should not be an issue in the United States of America. This is a country in which you ought to be able to write down in private whatever you are thinking, no matter how awful the thoughts. This is not China, or Afghanistan under the Taliban. This is a country in which freedom is supposed to matter.

Mr. Dalton, a resident of Columbus, was charged under a state law that prohibits the creation of obscene material involving minors. Such a law sounds reasonable. But the local prosecutor believed (along with others) that the statute covered not only images of real children, but printed or written words involving fictional children. And not only words involving fictional children, but words that were never intended to be shown to anyone. This is as close as it's possible to get -- short of ESP -- to criminalizing thought.

Soon there will be no escape:
The United States is exploring the development of a 'space-bomber' which could destroy targets on the other side of the world within 30 minutes.

As part of a weapons modernisation strategy personally directed by Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the Pentagon is drawing up plans for a 'sub-orbital vehicle' launched like a spacecraft, which Rumsfeld describes as 'valuable for conducting rapid global strikes'. The craft -- which would set the scene for a new generation of stratospheric warfare -- would be able to drop precision bombs from a height of 60 miles, flying at 15 times the speed and 10 times the height of America's current bomber fleet. It is unclear whether it would be manned. [...]

It would drop bombs from such a height that they would act as 'bunker busters', penetrating deep into underground silos without explosive warheads and causing massive pre-emptive damage on the ground within minutes of the start of a conflict - indicating a clear intention to take out enemy missiles before they have the capacity to launch. It would also be out of reach of conventional air defence systems. [...]

The development of the bomber -- details of which have been obtained by the Los Angeles Times -- has keen supporters, including the man tipped to be nominated by Rumsfeld as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force General Ralph Eberhardt, commander of Space Command.

Meanwhile, when not preparing to enforce their whims on the entire globe, American authorities are protecting us from the menace of German tourists reading Esquire in public:
The officer scanned the pages sternly and declared them to be pornographic. He had Sebastian open up his backpack to make sure that there were no more offending materials hidden within, but there was only his diary, his wallet and a copy of the New York Times.

Once more the officer scanned the offending pages, shaking his head ruefully. Sebastian offered the only two defenses that came to mind. First, he explained, he was a foreigner.

"I don't know what the laws are in Germany," responded the officer, "but here it is against the law to read such materials in public."

Then Sebastian attempted to say that the materials were not pornographic, that they came from a serious magazine. They had been torn from the pages of Esquire magazine, from an article titled "How a Woman Ages." There were no pictures of buttocks or breasts, although the woman featured in the photos did cover herself up with her arms in one or two of the black-and-white shots. [...]

I called the Toledo bus station and spoke with the officer.

His name is Arrow Osborne. On the phone he was quite courteous, but he contradicted nothing Sebastian had told us. "That was material that was clearly borderline pornographic," he told me. "I'm sure it's acceptable in Germany, but it's illegal here in the United States."

Never in my three years of law school had I been introduced to the term "borderline pornographic." It seems the law of the land with regard to pornography is indeed "knowing it when you see it."

"It was a call that I made and I stand by it," said Officer Osborne. "There were kids in the area. One of the pictures shows a girl covering up her breasts. It's illegal to show pictures of breasts or buttocks. He had it out in the open and that makes it illegal."

Apparently, this was not the first time such a thing had happened. "I stop people all the time," said Officer Osborne, who explained that Greyhound encourages him to do so.

8:00 AM: Fascinating online interview with Jack Womack (author of Elvissey, Terraplane, Let's Put the Future Behind Us, and the recent Going, Going, Gone).

Asked about his famously gourmet taste in crank literature, he answered (in part):

When it comes to woo-woo, I believe in the people who believe in and write about woo-woo; I don't believe in the woo-woo itself.

Let me repeat that. I don't believe in the woo-woo itself. [...]

Much woo-woo is terrifically boring but without the necessary frisson. There are no channeled texts in the Womack collection, for example, save for my sister's book (she makes her living channeling angels, we rarely speak, she's generally on a higher plane, somewhere. It was in Rockland county and is now in Santa Fe.). There is nothing about astrology, save as it appears in such academic works as the 8-volume History of Magic and Experimental Science (Columbia University Press, 1923 on.) I have no works on palm reading, on divination, next to nothing on ESP. The books I have on Spritualism are either historical accounts or 19th-century volumes I've picked up for a song simply for the fact that I could pick them up for a song -- any bookperson knows how that works.

However, confronted with Biblical Dinosaurs, and quickly realizing that the author is actually proferring the theory that the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel were, in fact, dinosaurs, stops me dead with -- well, that all-important sense of wonder. The author isn't saying: man lived at the same time as dinosaurs, as creationists are wont to do. He's taken it several extra steps further, to a truly unique position, and that's where the fascination, to me, comes in. Through what possible process of logic did the author arrive at such a conclusion? Find the book, and read it for yourself.

What I get from the books I collect is a sense of the human mind in all its possible manifestations, good, bad, indifferent, and crazed (sometimes, delightfully, all four in the same book). This gives me ideas. It increases my appreciation of the workings (or lack thereof) of the brain. It enables me to see how extrapolation can not only go off on a tangent, it can slide off the edge of the world. The comic aspects, almost inevitably inadvertant, of course delight me.

This interview is part of the Well's "inkwell.vue," a Well conference that, unlike anything else on the Well, is publicly readable. Unfortunately, the Web interface is confusingly designed; the link above will take you to the Inkwell "front door", and if you then click on "An Interview with Jack Womack", you will be taken, not to the start of the interview, but to posts from two days ago. Click on "see all responses" to read the interview from the beginning. It ought to be possible to do this directly from a static URL, but it's not.
Thursday, August 2, 2001
10:00 AM: Another interesting review of Jonathan Rose's The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes. If this book didn't cost $50 I would have bought a copy by now.
8:30 AM: Poul Anderson has died. About a day before it happened, Anderson's son-in-law, the SF writer Greg Bear, circulated a letter to Poul and Karen Anderson's many friends and admirers, urging folks to send Poul email now. Along with, I gather, many hundreds of others, I sent a note. I have no idea whether it reached Poul in his last hours, and it is no masterpiece of eloquence, but it says most of what I wanted to say.

All contents copyright 2001 by Patrick Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.