Electrolite
Kick at the dark until it bleeds daylight.
November 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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"Peace means something different from 'not fighting'. Those aren't peace advocates, they're 'stop fighting' advocates. Peace is an active and complex thing and sometimes fighting is part of what it takes to get it."
(--Jo Walton)

"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)

"See everything, overlook a great deal, improve a little."
(--John XXIII)

"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)

"But this kind of deference, this attentive listening to every remark of his, required the words he uttered to be worthy of the attention they excited--a wearing state of affairs for a man accustomed to ordinary human conversation, with its perpetual interruption, contradiction, and plain disregard. Here everything he said was right; and presently his spirits began to sink under the burden."
(--Patrick O'Brian, Master and Commander)

"For a Westerner to trash Western culture is like criticizing our nitrogen/oxygen atmosphere on the grounds that it sometimes gets windy, and besides, Jupiter's is much prettier. You may not realize its advantages until you're trying to breathe liquid methane."
(--Neal Stephenson)

"And after the fire a still small voice."
(--1 Kings 19:12)

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

On September 20, 2001 at the National Press Club in Washington, more than 150 organizations, 300 law professors, and 40 computer scientists expressed support for a declaration entitled "In Defense of Freedom."

Please visit the site and consider adding your own name to those endorsing their declaration.

Some weblogs I look at:
Making Light
The Sideshow
Boing Boing
Pigs and Fishes
24-hour Drive-thru
Yawl
Aries Moon
Honeyguide
Charles Stross
Bellona Times
World New York
James Lileks
Looka
Jimwich
Lost Pages
Outside Counsel
Obscure Store
Talking Points
Matt Welch
Ken Layne
Nick Denton
The World After WTC
USS Clueless
InstaPundit
Little Green Footballs
Newsrack
Punditwatch
Dynamist
rc3.org Daily
Red Rock Eater
Crypto-Gram
Politech
Meerkat
Metafilter
Memepool
Plastic
Slashdot
Media News
Spinsanity
Arts and Letters Daily
Moby Lives

Friday, November 30, 2001
[2:30 PM | permanent link]:

Okay, I don't get it. Joshua Micah Marshall is usually one of my favorite online journalists; he generally combines sharp wit with a considered moderation that is most becoming in a field dominated by loudmouths.

So what has he got against, of all things, plane-spotters? For the last three days he's been covering the story of a group of Brits who went to Greece to pursue their hobby and who've wound up slapped in jail and charged with espionage--with, evidently, a very real danger that they will be convicted and sentenced to long jail sentences. It's a striking story. But one doesn't have to think these middle-aged Brits are mental giants, or that they did nothing to create their predicament, to be also struck by the vehemence with which Marshall informs us, over and over again, that he considers these people and their fellow hobbyists to be "pitiful" "hapless boneheads." As he writes:

From what I can tell from this article in the Times of London, this one from the Telegraph, this one from the BBC, and others, plane-spotting is a popular hobby in Europe, which involves middle-aged, primarily male, oafs hanging out at air shows and military bases, watching planes take off and land, and taking pictures. If you're a guy and you've been through junior high you probably immediately understand the phenomena.

Well and good, but nothing about any of those links (click them yourself) particularly indicates that most plane-spotters are "oafs," as opposed to, say, people with a hobby. Marshall continues in this vein in a couple of follow-up stories, and in the second of these he finally manages to link to stories in the Telegraph and the Independent that mutter about the dark side of this British pastime (the Telegraph story is headlined "Nerdism with a dash of risk"). But it's still not enough to explain the startling drumbeat of contempt that rattles out of practically every paragraph Marshall writes on the subject: these people aren't just "luckless" but "sad sacks," "pitiful nimrods," and more.

Part of the angle Marshall is teasing out here is the fact that Britain, which "used to make and unmake small-time countries like Greece with one hand tied behind its back," is no longer in a position to do so. But while this was news in, say, 1957, it's not exactly a shocker now. What really emerges from Marshall's three short pieces, perhaps unintentionally, is a sense that we're to understand that these victims are in fact themselves to blame for their predicament; if only they hadn't been so dweeby, they wouldn't be in this situation. And since they are, let's laugh at them really hard. "You can't make this stuff up," he chortles.

And yet it's hard to avoid reflecting that great deal of what journalists do--get in the way of public officials, scheme to undercut one another, obsessively collect trivia, take unnecessary risks, indulge in macho contests, keep score on one another--could be described in the same contemptuous terms that Marshall brings to bear on these hobbyists; indeed, one could equally say of the daily behavior of many journalists that "if you're a guy and you've been through junior high you probably immediately understand the phenomena."

Everybody gets to have lapses sometimes, and I certainly have more than my share, but I don't enjoy watching someone whose political writing and insight I admire suddenly turn around and act like a bully for no obvious reason. It makes me wonder about all their other judgement calls.

If I were a really, really good writer, I'd tie all this to a few other recent squawks from the zeitgeist and try to adduce a recent spike in "bullying chic." I hesitate to bring it up because it means three Harry Potter items in Electrolite in the past month, and I'm not actually all that interested in Harry Potter, but one of those squawks would definitely be a November 23 Washington Post article called "'Harry' and the Nation of Dweebs", in which someone called Hank Steuver laments "Where are the kids who are supposed to be beating up the kids who like Harry Potter? Where is the bully who is going to tell them what kinda dorkface fairies they're being? Where are the kids who don't like to read?", warns of "a nation of remarkably behaved, oddly irritating children who all look and talk less like the punks of tomorrow and more like aspiring members of the youth orchestra, winners of the science fair," and threatens that "The next grown-up caught promoting Harry Potter to the rest of us better be ready to meet outside, after school, by the playground fence. Harry Potter is about a lot of things, and most of all he's about needing his butt kicked."

I guess this is meant to be shockingly funny, but mostly it just seems sordid. I dunno, maybe us "dorkface fairies" now actually pose such a threat to everyone else that the Washington Post ("Our Motto: 'Kneeling To Power Since 1877'") actually has to publish calls that we be beaten up. But it's also a reminder that, no matter where you go in America, you'll deal with people who never really left school.

[6:45 AM | permanent link]:

Let it roll across the floor
Through the hall and out the door
To the fountain of perpetual mirth
Let it roll for all it's worth
Let it roll

George Harrison, 1943-2001.

Thursday, November 29, 2001

[9:00 PM | permanent link]:

So you've got a country whose state-sponsored press routinely says things like "The Statue of Liberty, in New York Harbor, must be destroyed because of following the idiotic American policy that goes from disgrace to disgrace in the swamp of bias and blind fanaticism--the age of the American collapse has begun." Whose corrupt government brutalizes its minorities, suppresses all but a narrow range of opposition, and keeps its populace in a state of underdeveloped poverty while a small elite of apparatchiks enjoys the fruits of the country's resources. Whose government-controlled schools and mosques are seedbeds of anti-Americanism and whose nationals occupy some of the highest positions in al-Qaeda.

So what do you do with such a country? Why, sell them ultra-accurate surface-to-surface missiles--and four 199-foot diesel-powered Ambassador-class patrol boats from which to fire them--in a $400 million arms deal, of course! How could you even consider doing anything else? Particularly since these dandy boats (useful all around the place, for whatever might come up--from squelching insurgencies to attacks on neighboring countries whose names start with I and end with L) are made in Mississippi, home of Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R).

What on earth were you thinking? That maybe this particular month we might consider not rushing to supply every brutal, anti-American dictatorship in the Middle East with more and shinier weapons, just for a change? That maybe waging war on terrorism and its supporters just might be more important than a powerful Republican senator's grasping desire for just a little more pork? Ha ha.

Remember this one the next time you hear some pundit blowing gas about those liberal Democrats and their irresponsible foreign policy, and how lucky we are to have tough, grown-up conservatives in charge.

Wednesday, November 28, 2001

[8:50 AM | permanent link]:

For centuries, people have reported hearing crackling sounds when meteors visibly streak through the upper atmosphere; as we've come to understand the differing speeds of light and sound, this has become more and more puzzling, since we ought not be hearing this at the same time that we see the meteor's descent. A Science at NASA article reports on an Australian physicist's explanation. (Via Slashdot.)

[8:45 AM | permanent link]:

Avram Grumer writes:

Here's something that's been bugging me since last rassf meeting, when you mentioned that Scraps and Vijay had seen a preview of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, and that the stuff about the muggle vs. wizard class conflict was missing. This bit from the review reminded me:

"Leaving out any reference to Malfoy's family history with Potter, or Snape's with Voldemort, or the class conflict between Muggle-born and Wizard-born, are similar mistakes."

I don't think any of that stuff is in the first book. (Maybe the connection between Snape and Voldemort.) I can't find my copy, but I skimmed through the second book, Chamber of Secrets, and the anti-muggle prejudice is introduced there as if it's something Harry's never encountered before. Ron tries to zap Draco for calling Hermione a mudblood, and Harry doesn't recognize the word; Hagrid sits Harry down and lays the big class prejudice infodump on him.

Chamber of Secrets is also the first book in which Draco Malfoy's father appears; Harry sees him, and it's obvious from the description that he's never seen him before. Draco himself seems to hate Harry largely because Harry's famous, at least at that point.

Scraps de Selby responds:

Avram's basically right; though Malfoy's father is mentioned in the first book, he doesn't appear till the second. His association with Voldemort is mentioned in the first book, chapter six, p. 110 of the Scholastic edition. It's a passing reference, admittedly.

Anti-Muggle prejudice, including prejudice against muggle-born wizards, is explicitly gone into in chapter five (pp 78-79 of the Scholastic edition, which I suspect was shot from the hardcover), in Harry's first meeting with Malfoy and Harry's subsequent discussion with Ron.

Neither of those is as important as leaving out the character of the houses, of course, and I might as well have left out the paragraph.

Tuesday, November 27, 2001
[5:10 PM | permanent link]:

Jack Womack writes:

Hadn't realized you weren't already hep to the Fabulous Ruins of Detroit, which is everything you say and more. (I think I found it by way of forgotten-ny.com, which I'm sure you're familiar with.) Do you know the work of the photographer Camilo Vergara? He's Chilean, originally, but has been photographing US ruins for twenty years; he's done two books, The New American Ghetto and American Ruins, both of which have many photos of contempo Detroit. He's also the fellow who proposed that downtown Detroit be officially proclaimed the American Acropolis, and left to decay naturally. Needless to say he hasn't made many friends there. [...] A friend of mine who lives outside Detroit told me years ago that at night deer sometimes swim over from Belle Isle, and skitter nervously through the downtown streets, rats on stilts.

[4:30 PM | permanent link]:

Okay, at this point you've all read enough reviews of the Harry Potter movie, and many of you have seen it. I was struck, though, by this review, written (a few days before the film's general release) by my old friend Scraps de Selby. No, I haven't seen the movie, and I will, but I'm fascinated to hear...not that stuff was left out, but specifically what kind of stuff was left out:

Here's an example that I think sums up what's wrong with the movie, and how unnecessary the flaws are: The Sorting Hat's song is excised. (What did they have against songs?) This may seem like a minor thing, but it's not, because at no other point are the houses explained in the movie, not even by inference. What do we know about the houses? Let's see: Slytherin are the bad guys, and could give Harry power. Malfoy is a Slytherin, and so was Voldemort. Slytherins sneer at everyone else, and play rough at Quidditch. That's all we know about Slytherin, and it's more than we find out about anyone else. How about Gryffindor? Okay, Harry and our other heroes are Gryffindors, but what does Gryffindor mean, what is the character of Gryffindor? We aren't told. How about Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff? Nothing. They're not in the plot, and that's okay--we don't even see anyone sorted into Ravenclaw by the Sorting Hat--but we are told absolutely nothing about Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff at any point.

This is not a trivial omission: it is central to the background of the story. And it wasn't necessary to omit: one minute to let the Sorting Hat explain it, and it's there. Why omit it? Because Columbus and the script writer don't understand that the background is the soul of the story. They've animated the plot skeleton of the book, but they left out the engine that powers it. Leaving out any reference to Malfoy's family history with Potter, or Snape's with Voldemort, or the class conflict between Muggle-born and Wizard-born, are similar mistakes. The story is stripped of motivation, of the deeper things that drive people. All we're left with is Good Guys vs Bad Guys.

I can hear the objection: you can't make a full-length novel into a feature film without leaving a lot out. (As Michael Cassutt says, a movie script is about the length of a novelette.) But it seems to me this is one of the commonest problems in translating the experience of good fantasy and science fiction into Hollywood films: not that Hollywood is actually any worse at characterization, plausibility, and imaginative brio than your average decent SF or fantasy writer, but rather, that for the average decent SF and fantasy writer, this kind of deep-background is the meat in the sandwich, whereas for Hollywood it's extra coleslaw to be thrown away.

And that's why prose SF and fantasy are sometimes subversive, whereas Hollywood translations of SF usually wind up being normative. Because if you're building a world with a history, you have to think about how worlds work, which means having and defending some opinions and outlooks which, the more you think about them, the more they become political. It Is No Accident (as we ancient leftoids say) that so much written SF and fantasy is about the relationship of the individual to the commonweal. But if you take all the backstory, history, and deep-background detail and discard it as inessential decoration, what you're left with is stories about good people who are good because they're good, in conflict with bad people who are bad because they're bad. Which is ultimately what all the "smelly little isms", the dreadful simplicities, Toryism and monarchism and fascism and Islamicism and all the rest, are all about: establishing that some kinds of people are just good (brave, generous, deserving, and unfairly maligned) and others are just bad (cowardly, exploitive, foul, and deserving of obloquy)--and to heck with all that sissy "background" frippery which Just Gets In The Way Of The Story.

[3:40 PM | permanent link]:

It appears that the battle of Qala Jangi fortress is over. One suspects Carlotta Gall of the New York Times had a certain amount of quiet fun composing this paragraph:

The turning point of the fight occurred at about 3:30 p.m. local time, when Northern Alliance troops moved a T-55 Russian-made tank into the area where the last Taliban prisoners were holding out. Once in position, the tank fired on the building at point-blank range. No one returned fire, the alliance soldiers said.

That's dry enough to light a match on.

Also in the Times, this photo could be the wraparound jacket for a Glen Cook novel, I swear.

[2:10 PM | permanent link]:

Yesterday, James Lileks reviewed Planet of the Apes.

As Marky Mark's capsule enters a wormhole, we see a little dial with the date and year start to spin. So: In the future, the best rocketship designer will be a fellow who has one, well, peculiar idiosyncrasy: he believes that once on a mission he went forward in time. No one believed him. Just to humor him--he is the best, after all--they allow him to install a date-and-year chronometer in every cockpit, which will spin wildly if the vehicle enters what he calls a "chrono-tunnel-hole." He always shows up to test the new designs, while a workman stands by embarrassed for the great man.

You there! Technician! These years don't spin freely enough. They have to fly, man. Fly!

Uh, yessir--pardun me, sir--but, uh, how will the ship know time's movin' a-forwart? Is there like a universal time signal that's always broadcastin'?

As Avedon Carol notes, I've been reading back columns on the immense Lileks site, which is always fun; he's a funny, very human writer with wild outbursts of flair and a lot of heart. His politics aren't always mine--he seems to be a big Clinton-hater, which I'm not--but when he's right he's right with style. For instance, in his comments on those who --

[...] seem to believe that patriotism equals a pollyanna worldview, that it is impossible for a thinking person to be a patriot. I heard a talk show host this weekend lament that Americans "think this is a CNN miniseries, Gulf War 2"--which of course they donít; this is waaaay different, and pretty much everyone understands that. She went on to say that this situation is "soo complex. There are so many shades of gray." Well, duh. The shallow mind always congratulates itself for identifying complexity, as though that alone constitutes an insight. But in nearly every instance, her notion of "complexity" made her unable to formulate any response to a racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, nihilistic death cult which itself is bereft of the very idea of complexity, let alone displays any manifestation of it. [...]

I'm not talking about people who have long-standing, detailed complaints about US foreign policy, who believe a compromise with the PA is possible, who want more equitable trade policies, or any of the other things reasonable people can disagree about in a civil fashion. I'm talking about comfy members of the intelligentsia who can say, like Columbia historian Eric Foner in the London Review of Books, that he's "not sure which is more frightening: the horror that engulfed New York City or the apocalyptic rhetoric emanating daily from the White House." I don't know what planet such people live on.

[12:30 PM | permanent link]:

Via Bruce Sterling, whose weblog on Eileen Gunn's recently-revived science fiction webzine The Infinite Matrix is a thing of beauty and terror: a strange, absorbing web installation, The Fabulous Ruins of Detroit.

My father grew up in Detroit; throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, as I was growing up, we would periodically visit relatives there. So I got to watch a fair bit of its fall. Let's be clear about this: the ruination of downtown Detroit, and of its immense industrial areas, is without parallel in the annals of modern American urban decay. Other Rust Belt cities have had hard times, have suffered blighted neighborhoods, are even now hardscrabble and down-at-heel. Detroit--central Detroit, not the suburban ring--is a ruin. Downtown Detroit is the closest to a science-fictional after-the-catastrophe urban landscape as you'll find in America. Yes, we are talking ruined skyscrapers.

The site, an obvious labor of love, is weird, complicated, and confusing to navigate, almost like getting lost in a great fat urban post-apocalyptic SF novel with a big orange sun on the cover. Persevere. As Bruce says, if you look at only one thing, check out the Michigan Central Railroad Station tour. But don't check out just one thing.

[12:15 PM | permanent link]:

Thomas Nephew of Newsrack also expresses pity for a child imprisoned in Kunduz along with his fellow Taliban fighters. The London Times describes the scene: "The [Taliban] attackers were eventually subdued and led away with their elbows bound behind their backs with their black silk turbans, being held in subterranean cells at the Taleban's former headquarters [...] The dungeons presented a nightmarish scene: inside one stinking, mud-walled cell, with a ceiling so low that its occupants needed to crouch, were a dozen or more men in deep despair. In one corner was a shaven-headed boy small enough to stand upright. When asked his name he opened his mouth, but in his terror no words came out."

Nephew points out that a lot of the Taliban "fighters" were indeed kids like this, straight out of the madrassa, "a sorry kind of Koran-thumping school that is the only taste of education for many in those parts." What goes on in those madrasses, the religious schools that are the wellspring of this insanity (and which are heavily supported by our pals the Saudis, imagine that) is pretty interesting. According to an article in On the Issues (thanks to Teresa for spotting this):

Most Talibs (the name means religious student) are young zealots, graduates of the regime's madrassas, so-called religious schools that are based, for the most part, in Pakistan, and funded in part by the Saudis. In these cloister-like environments, boys grow up totally segregated from any women, including those in their own families. The highest honor they can earn there is that of qari, a Muslim honorific given to those who memorize and can recite the entire Koran, and a number do. Sadly, however, they learn to do so in Arabic, a language they do not understand, and is not taught to them. Consequently, they have no idea of the rights given to women in Islam.

In other words, they memorize the Koran, but only in a language they don't speak. And they're completely separated from normal human company. Sounds like a very effective way to make psychotics. What it has to do with Islam, and how any sincere Muslim could possibly take pride in this kind of "school", I can't possibly imagine.

[11:45 AM | permanent link]:

Via Thomas Nephew's consistently interesting newsblog Newsrack, a striking bit from the Times of London's coverage of the fall of Kunduz:

Merwis Shakar, 25, a shopkeeper, said: "You would be beaten if you did not grow your beard or if you walked down the street with your head uncovered. The problem with the Taleban is they treated you like you were a woman."

Nephew's headline for this is "Kunduz shopkeeper narrowly avoids insight."

[11:00 AM | permanent link]:

"I've read 'I note with disapprobation that that wench Columbia has lost her innocence yet again' about five hundred times in the last month," said Cory Doctorow to Teresa other day. "Which means that it's time to update your weblog!"

Well, yes it is, and in the great cycle of things I suspect Teresa will get back to writing new Making Light entries soon. Just to tide you all through, though, here's a review she wrote on Amazon of that egregious perennial, Fascinating Womanhood.

[8:30 AM | permanent link]:

A followup to my tossed-off comment yesterday about that editorial in Egypt, that Jeffersonian democracy, excoriating America for the imperfect realization of our democratic ideals. Steven Stalinsky, executive director of the Middle East Media Research Institute (which has been discussed here before), has a piece in National Review that goes into some detail about the depths of anti-Americanism in the state-sponsored press of this supposedly "moderate" country. Stalinsky is more bothered than I am by mere polemical America-bashing; what's really noisome in the stuff he details is the smooth disregard for simple verifiable truth:

An editorial in a major Arab newspaper recently claimed that American planes flying over Afghanistan had dropped "genetically treated" food into areas full of land mines, in order to impair the population's health--and to maim and kill those hungry enough to risk gathering the food. These fictitious claims were made in the October 20 edition of Al-Ahram, a newspaper controlled and run by the Egyptian government. When the Western press picked up on the story, Al-Ahram's editor-in-chief responded, on November 1: "These reports are drawn from the announcements of the Taliban heads themselves, who know best what is happening in their land."

"Genetically-treated," indeed. You bet, the US government has the power to genetically modify food so as to "impair" and "maim" those who eat it, and nobody in the world scientific community knows it save for brave, outspoken writers of state-sponsored Egyptian newspaper columns. And yes, Al-Ahram is also the newspaper that published the column I linked to below.

I don't for a moment think we should lift a finger to squelch this stuff; if anything, we should be using our clout with regimes like Mubarak's (Egypt is the second-largest recipient of US foreign aid, I believe) to press for freer speech, not more "acceptable" speech. The issue here isn't that the Egyptian press is (like most of the Middle Eastern press) full of tinfoil-underwear nonsense about America; the issue is that this stuff is being sponsored and encouraged by the same governments that want us to regard them as "moderates" and pony up lots of aid and support.

Monday, November 26, 2001

[3:45 PM | permanent link]:

It shouldn't be necessary to spend much time discussing the now-notorious report "Defending Civilization: How Our Universities Are Failing America and What Can Be Done About It," issued last week by something called the "American Council of Trustees and Alumni", which turns out to be a right-wing pressure group co-founded by Lynne Cheney, wife of Mr. Undisclosed-Location himself. Aside from the Cheney connection, what got this particular wodge of bound photocopying into the daily papers was the sheer indiscrimateness of its 117 attacks on individual academics deemed to have been insufficiently patriotic in the wake of 9/11. Even a cursory glance at quotes from the report indicates that it's the usual right-wing gripemeister stuff--it turns out that university professors are invoking "tolerance and diversity as antidotes to evil", imagine that.

What raised my eyebrows to the ceiling, though, was the report's assault on NYU prof and longtime lefty Todd Gitlin. Hello? Todd Gitlin? Would this be the same Todd Gitlin who wrote, on October 10, this stinging critique of the lazy anti-Americanism of his fellow leftwingers:

From the Indian novelist Arundhati Roy, who has admirably criticised her country's nuclear weapons and development policies, there is a tender concern that "American people ought to know that it is not them but their government's policies that are so hated." One reason why Americans are not exactly clear about the difference is that the murderers of 11 September did not trouble themselves to make such a nice distinction. (Just what were some 300 firefighters' views of American bases in Saudi Arabia?). This extends to a fear that if America "doesn't find its enemy, for the sake of the enraged folks back home, it will have to manufacture one."

Does Arundhati Roy really need reminding that the enemy does not need to be manufactured? And when she describes bin Laden as "the American president's dark doppelganger...the twins are blurring into one another and gradually becoming interchangeable," is she aware how the lazy, patronizing coupling demeans its author?

What links Roy and [Edward] Said is what demarcates anti-Americanism, that peculiar empire of the one-eyed, from reasoned political opposition to US policies. Real, not gestural politics must worry about the breadth of the brush; but anti-Americanism is one of those prejudices that musters evidence to suit a conclusion already in place.

Gitlin's crime against patriotism? He told a journalist who asked him about the mood on campus that "there is a lot of skepticism about the administration's policy of going to war."

It sounds to me like the "American Council of Trustees and Alumni" is a bunch of bored conservatives without enough to do. Instead of libelling Americans for professing "tolerance" and "skepticism," perhaps they should work on a new report, compiling 117 notable public instances of longtime liberals and conservatives treating one another's views with respect and finding common ground in defense of the civilization we all share. Free clue: I'll bet it wouldn't take as long to assemble as the first report.

[3:00 PM | permanent link]:

Scottish science fiction writer, techno-whiz, blogger, and all-around good egg Charlie Stross says that if the Bush/Ashcroft tribunal stuff is for real, he won't be visiting the US anytime soon: "Would you visit some Ruritanian backwater where the government had explicitly said that foreigners could be arrested, held indefinitely, tortured, tried by military tribunal, and executed without a judicial appeal, at the whisper of an anonymous denunciation?" A good point from the sensible-overseas contingent, and one not dissimilar to some remarks made by William Safire in today's New York Times, as he continues beating the crap out of the Bushies on this very issue:

[Bush's] advisers assured him that a fearful majority would cheer his assumption of dictatorial power to ignore our courts. They failed to warn him, however, that his denial of traditional American human rights to non-citizens would backfire and in practice actually weaken the war on terror.

Spain, which caught and charged eight men for complicity in the Sept. 11 attacks, last week balked at turning over the suspects to a U.S. tribunal ordered to ignore rights normally accorded alien defendants. Other members of the European Union holding suspects that might help us break Al Qaeda may also refuse extradition. Presumably Secretary of State Colin Powell was left out of the Ashcroft try- 'em-and-fry-'em loop.

Thus has coalition-minded Bush undermined the antiterrorist coalition, ceding to nations overseas the high moral and legal ground long held by U.S. justice. And on what leg does the U.S now stand when China sentences an American to death after a military trial devoid of counsel chosen by the defendant?

Maybe it's not as apparent to Electrolite's overseas readers, but the fact that the loudest voices against Bush and Ashcroft's overweening schemes are coming from the Right is making this lifelong leftoid's head spin. As Christopher Hitchens writes in the latest Nation:

Near the bar I ran into Grover Norquist, one of the chief whips of the Reagan revolution. He's also the man who arranged to take the President to the Washington mosque, and he has been very active in opposing Attorney General Ashcroft's megalomaniacal plan to turn the United States into a national-security garrison. Norquist's question to me was, in effect, What happened to the liberals? In meetings in the House, the supposed "USA PATRIOT Act" had been somewhat declawed by conservatives like Bob Barr of Georgia, Darrell Issa (an Arab-American Republican from California) and Chris Cannon of Utah, ably assisted by Bobby Scott, a black Democrat from Virginia. Some of the most extreme proposals of the bill were either diluted or struck out or subjected to a four-year time limit related to the course of the war. But then the White House tried to resell the original bill to the Senate. "That's the Democrats, right?" said Norquist. "But we were assured there would be a fight up there. Instead all the liberals just rolled over." In my pocket was an article by one liberal hack journalist named Jonathan Alter, and another article by the rich thug's liberal loophole artist, Alan Dershowitz. Both men proposed that we should give torture a chance.

It gave me a vertiginous feeling, to be talking with a toughened conservative who had helped organize a struggle, in wartime, for the defense of civil and political liberties and the rights of unpopular minorities.

Back to Charlie Stross, though: Tell you what, you don't visit America as long as these odious overreactions are in place, and no Americans with small children and a lick of sense will set foot in Britain so long as noxious garbage like this--reported by the Sydney Morning Herald--is in effect:

British police will set up a secret database of children as young as three who they fear might grow up to become criminals.

Youngsters who behave badly or commit trivial misdemeanours will be put on the confidential register so they can be monitored and supervised throughout childhood.

The controversial initiative is to be pioneered in 11 London boroughs from March and then expanded nationally. Any child who is thought to be at risk of committing a crime by the police, schools or social services will be put on the database.

Children who are cheeky, involved in minor vandalism or causing nuisances will be targeted under the scheme.

Their progress will then be monitored at school and on the streets by special squads of police officers and social workers, even though the children have not committed a crime and will not have been warned that they are being watched.

It would appear that moral panic leading to Really Bad Ideas isn't a political phenomenon entirely confined to the US. But we knew that already. (At least Charlie is making a valid point in obvious good faith, which is more than I can say about this newspaper column lambasting the US government for its insensitivity to human rights and Constitutional niceties. The punch line, as those of you who already clicked on the link know, is that this is a newspaper permitted to operate in that outstanding home of civil liberties and constitutional governance, Egypt. Bah.)

[2:55 PM | permanent link]:

More impressive and informative animated Flash maps from Spain's El Pais newspaper: one of the attacks, and one covering the refugee situation.

[2:50 PM | permanent link]:

It's not true that photos can't lie. But a picture can get to the heart of things in a way that pages of prose can't. These photographs of life in Kabul in the first days following its liberation will make you smile, make you laugh, and make you cry.

[1:20 PM | permanent link]:

Joan Jacobs Brumberg and Jacquelyn Jackson, Boston Globe, November 23, 2001:

The war on terrorism has certainly raised our awareness of the ways in which women's bodies are controlled by a repressive regime in a far away land, but what about the constraints on women's bodies here at home, right here in America?

Paul Watson, Los Angeles Times, November 24, 2001:

[Dr. Zekreya Yosufi, Afghan orthopedic surgeon] saw the body of one woman delivered to the hospital after she was stoned to death. Taliban soldiers refused to tell him why she had been killed, he said.

Brumberg and Jackson:

In the name of good looks (and also corporate profits - the Westernized image of the perfect body is one of our most successful exports) contemporary American women continue to engage in behaviors that have created major public health concerns.

Watson:

Women who tried to follow every rule by completely covering themselves and leaving home escorted by a close male relative could still be thrashed in the street because their shoes made a clicking sound.

Brumberg and Jackson:

Whether it's the dark, sad eyes of a woman in purdah or the anxious darkly circled eyes of a girl with anorexia nervosa, the woman trapped inside needs to be liberated from cultural confines in whatever form they take. The burka and the bikini represent opposite ends of the political spectrum but each can exert a noose-like grip on the psyche and physical health of girls and women.

Watson:

"They brought in one woman who was skinned and another who was chopped into pieces and carried in a box," the surgeon added. "When we asked about the women's bodies, they said it was none of our business."

Good thing we have Brumberg and Jackson of the Boston Globe to remind us that the problems of American women are so similar (merely "opposite ends" of a "political spectrum") to those of women in a place where men beat women with sticks, skin them, and stone them to death.

Have people who write this kind of thing lost all moral perspective? Or are they simply mad?

Wednesday, November 21, 2001

[6:10 PM | permanent link]:

If I were to link to every post on Spinsanity that I found notably lucid, pertinent, and rational, Electrolite would rapidly become a mirror of Spinsanity. So I won't. But with every passing day it gets better and more essential, as it evenhandedly works to "expose and analyze the increasingly pervasive use of manipulative and subrational rhetoric in American politics." Among those currently being spanked on its front page are a liberal philosophy professor whose rhetorical attack on the Bush administration's domestic anti-terrorist programs veers into the irrational and insupportable; Republican pundit Rich Galen, for grossly misrepresenting the position on the Taliban of liberal women's groups in general and Hilary Clinton in particular; a bunch of people and groups (more of them on the left than on the right, it must be said) who continue to use epithets like "Taliban" and "Osama" as smears against their domestic political opponents; and Rush Limbaugh, who--despite his brief moments of lucidity two months ago--continues to provide enough shameless mendacity to keep a site like this going forever.

The fact that we need a site like this could fill one with despair. The fact that we have a site like this fills me with hope.

[12:50 PM | permanent link]:

Even twenty years ago, when Teresa and I lived in Seattle for a few years, we thought David Horsey was one of the most underrated editorial cartoonists around. Clean lines, great faces, and a Herblockian gift for dramatizing complicated issues with simple images. I only realized today that, of course, one can now read tons of his stuff on the Web, at his home newspaper's site. Duh. Here are ten of his best cartoons since September 11.

[11:10 AM | permanent link]:

And speaking of right-wing critics of the Bush administration's assault on civil liberties, nobody in the past week has done a better job of tearing these guys a new one than that ancient Famous Monster of Conservatism, William Safire:

Proponents of Bush's kangaroo court say: Don't you soft-on-terror, due-process types know there's a war on? Have you forgotten our 5,000 civilian dead? In an emergency like this, aren't extraordinary security measures needed to save citizens' lives? If we step on a few toes, we can apologize to the civil libertarians later.

Those are the arguments of the phony-tough. At a time when even liberals are debating the ethics of torture of suspects--weighing the distaste for barbarism against the need to save innocent lives--it's time for conservative iconoclasts and card-carrying hard-liners to stand up for American values.

It's a short piece, and worth reading in its entirety.

[11:05 AM | permanent link]:

Well-designed and informative interactive map of Afghanistan on the web site of the Spanish newspaper El Pais, which nicely animates the events of the past week and a half, with useful sidebars on various ethnic and tribal groups. No, I don't speak Spanish, and yet somehow "La Alianza del Norta ocupa Kabul, Jalalabad y Ghazni" turns out to be not too challenging to puzzle out. (Via Ken Layne.)

[11:00 AM | permanent link]:

Whitfield Diffie and Susan Landau on the threat to national security posed by Microsoft's .NET project. Why is this stuff only being covered in the geek press? This isn't a "computer" story, this is a story about an impending and real danger to everybody else.

[9:15 AM | permanent link]:

It's interesting that, amidst all the strenuous headlines claiming that the NORC report proves Bush was elected fair and square after all ("Move along, nothing to see here, we have always been at war with Eastasia"), it's a small group of journalists who have, shall we say, never been big Clinton/Gore cheerleaders who've noticed that this isn't what the record shows. Says Jonathan Chait in The New Republic:

[T]he newspapers concluded that the statewide hand count underway in Florida--the one halted by the U.S. Supreme Court--would have given Bush the presidency anyway. The papers splashed this conclusion atop their stories--"FLORIDA RECOUNTS WOULD HAVE FAVORED BUSH," blared the Washington Post in a typical headline. And Bush supporters have seized on this point to conclude that the Court ruled correctly in Bush v. Gore--as the [Wall Street] Journal puts it, "a judgment more than vindicated by the media recount." The newspapers, however, are wrong in their assessment of their own recount. Why? Because they presuppose that the statewide count ordered by the Florida Supreme Court would have been confined to undervotes. But the Orlando Sentinel reports that several counties were counting overvotes, too. Moreover, the judge assigned to run the statewide count told the Sentinel that he might well have ordered canvassing boards to examine the overvotes. Since overvotes, as we know now, slant significantly in Gore's favor, then Gore might very well have won the recount had the Supreme Court not stopped it prematurely.

And Mickey Kaus writes in Slate:

Even worse, for the "Bush would have won" theory promoted by the New York Times and others, [recount-supervising Florida Judge] Lewis' statements to [Newsweek reporter Michael] Isikoff indicate a pro-overvote ruling would have not only been possible but probable. Lewis told Newsweek:

Logically, if you can look at a ballot and see, this is a vote for Bush, or this is a vote for Gore, then you would have to count it...Logically, why wouldn't you count it?

Indeed, since Lewis had already ordered the overvotes counted, with the totals reported to him, not counting them would have amounted to Lewis saying, "I know you have found these perfectly valid uncounted ballots, but I'm not going to let them count." It wouldn't have been easy to defend that position on the inevitable appeal.

(Keep in mind that Lewis was one of the few straight-shooters in the whole Florida saga. He gave Gore a big victory one day, and then gave Bush a big victory a few days later when he upheld Secretary of State Katherine Harris' decision to ignore some manual recounts. It's hard to dismiss him as a partisan hack.)

Had there in fact been a statewide re-examination of the overvotes, Gore would have won--according to the media recount (which was, admittedly, not precise)--by a margin ranging from 42 to 171 votes.

It's now clearer than ever that, when Ford Fessenden and John Broder wrote confidently that "George W. Bush would have won even if the United States Supreme Court had allowed the statewide manual recount...to go forward," the two Times reporters didn't know what they were talking about.

Back to Jonathan Chait:

The media's impulse to exonerate Bush is understandable. Nobody wants to appear sour or partisan, or to shatter the unity necessary to prosecute the war on terrorism. But accepting the finality of the election and unifying against enemies abroad does not necessarily conflict with the idea that the president holds office due to bungling compounded by deliberate wrongdoing. We really ought to be able to hold both ideas in our heads at once.

[8:30 AM | permanent link]:

Magisterial Daily Howler dissection of a shameful performance by the Weekly Standard, in which contributing editor Noemie Emery slimed journalists George Packer and Maureen Dowd for supposedly attacking patriotism and the flag. The good part: both Packer and Dowd's pieces were actually about rediscovering the virtues of patriotism and the positive values people express when they fly the flag. But the Weekly Standard's contributing editor wasn't going to let this stand in the way of asserting that these writers "thought that the worst thing about the war is the flag" and had "attack[ed] Old Glory as being somehow oppressive and sinister." As Bob Somerby of the Howler remarks:

Emery egregiously lied about Packer's piece; made up a quote and lied about Dowd; and presented an utterly ludicrous view of what Harden actually said. (In Harden's case, she cut-and-pasted a phony "quote" that would flunk any freshman in college.) None of these writers expressed the views which Emery, a crackpot dissembler, described. At a time of massive national stress, Noemie Emery knew just what to do. She told ugly lies about the NYT 3, and she told ugly lies to the Standard's readers. She needed domestic enemies to hate. And so she just made a few up.

Does the Weekly Standard endorse outright lying? Are slander and lying American values? Such basic questions come to mind after working through Emery's piece. But of course, Emery has long been an hysteric and liar, and the Standard has dissembled this same way before. In 1999, to cite a remarkable example, their bald dissembling about a New Yorker piece set the tone for the slanders of Gore to come [...]

A final question--for people like Emery, does the time ever come when they decide to stop lying about fellow citizens? We're in a time of great national stress, and Emery knew what to do--begin lying. She slandered Packer, Harden and Dowd; she openly lied to the Standard's subscribers. For people with character problems like Emery, is there ever a time when this sort of thing stops? Or have we reached a time of great national stress when we need to stop it ourselves--like Americans?

[8:20 AM | permanent link]:

Further evidence of the ongoing national breakdown of everyone's ability to remember whether they're on the red team or the blue team: right-wing columnist Cal Thomas says "George McGovern Was Right."

A staggering 58,000 Americans are dead because Johnson would not listen to his inner voice, revealed on the tapes, or the voices of McGovern, Hatfield, Gruening and Morse, who many conservatives at the time labeled un-American.

Among the many lessons of Vietnam, which, as Beschloss notes, can teach us something about present and future conflicts, is that no president should have exclusive power when it comes to committing so many American lives and resources to a war.

The Johnson tapes should also teach conservatives a lesson. Many anti-war activists love this country as much as those who supported the Vietnam War. Just because someone is of a different party or persuasion does not necessarily mean they are wrong.

[8:10 AM | permanent link]:

Good analysis by a conservative--on the FoxNews site, yet--of why national ID cards are a loopy idea. (The author, Glenn Reynolds, later noted on his blog Instapundit that he'd got some of his math wrong. But his basic argument is sound.)

Tuesday, November 20, 2001

[2:20 PM | permanent link]:

We hear a lot about capitalism as an inexorable engine of global freedom. Exhibit A for this notion is probably not the Secure Computing Corporation of San Jose, California, which holds the contract to keep Saudi Arabia's citizens locked behind a filter that prevents them from viewing any Internet sites their totalitarian masters deem ungood. Which is a tidy multi-million-dollar business, says this New York Times article.

You remember Saudi Arabia. That's the place where freedom of speech and association are nonexistent; where political parties are banned; where all media are under government control. Where religious police regularly harrass anyone whose behavior violates the tiniest tenet of hyper-strict Wahhabist Islam; where petty theft is punished by sawing off the offender's hands; where convicted "sodomites" are publicly beheaded. Where women live in virtual house arrest--not only are they forbidden to drive, they aren't even allowed in the front seat of a car.

You also remember Saudi Arabia. That's the place whose citizens made up fifteen of the eighteen hijackers on September 11. Whose ruling family, while declaring its support for America, has refused to cooperate with even the most basic anti-terrorist measures, like freezing terrorist assets in their own country. Whose government proselytises militant Wahhabism, the core ideology of al-Qaeda, all over the world, even in America. Whose state-controlled media froths with nutbar assertions like the claim that "Zionism controls most, if not all, of the US media," or that Rudolph Giuliani, the "Governor of the Big Apple," is a "Jewish homosexual." And whose wealthy ruling families provide the lion's share of covert financing for terror networks like Al-Qaeda and its cuddly pals.

There's been a lot of talk about "fifth columns" lately, much of it directed at the dingbat utterances of folks like Michael Moore and Oliver Stone. I'd like to see the angry pundits who make free with such accusations address the issue presented by outfits like Secure Computing. To protect itself from the just rage of its subjects, the House of Saud has for decades kept its people ignorant of the most basic facts about the world while feeding them a steady diet of tinfoil-hat garbage about, for instance, the Elders of Zion. Surely even the most isolationist among us now realize that the ignorance into which regimes like this shackle their people is, all by itself, one of the greatest extant threats to American safety and global peace.

Writes the Times, "To critics of the sale of content filters, software company executives say that they are only providing politically neutral tools. 'Once we sell them the product, we can't enforce how they use it,' said Matthew Holt, a sales executive for Secure Computing..."

Selling shackles to anti-American totalitarians may be good entrepeneurial capitalism. In this war, in which the relationship between enforced ignorance and murderous violence couldn't be clearer, what Secure Computing is doing is also treason--against America and against civilization itself.

As Frances McDormand says at the end of Fargo: "And for what? Just for a little bit of money."

Monday, November 19, 2001

[5:10 PM | permanent link]:

In the words of the best linked-to-nothing Onion headline in years, GOOGLY MOOGLIES: GREAT? What a week; what a backed-up lot of things to blog.

Today is the annual SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America) Editors and Authors reception in New York City; on the liturgical calendar of science fiction publishing, this is a day that's a wash in terms of getting anything productive done. We did have the privilege of taking Cory (Boing Boing) Doctorow out to a terribly entertaining dinner Saturday night, followed by four hours of desperate sleep in Brooklyn and then rising at three-farking-thirty-in-the-morning to drive like mad people down to the beaches of Staten Island and watch the Leonids, the ever-enthusiastic Cory in tow. Which was a certifiably cool experience and if you couldn't be bothered to get out of bed for the best meteor shower since 1966, well, it sucks to be you.

Anyway, links-a-go-go coming up, but for today I just want to link to the Rev. Tony Pierce's wonderful illustrated rant to the angry Muslim masses.

now, im not saying that we didnt want to fight you because we're so peaceful and holy ourselves,

we're not.

last year several highschool kids took their parents' guns to school and they killed a bunch of their fellow students and their teachers

we have a president who put criminals to death when he was governor.

we have people who drown their kids in cars, who throw their babies in garbage cans, we even had this guy who ate the people he murdered.

and as for holy, i doubt that 2 people in 10 could name
all twelve of Jesus's diciples
we may not be holy, but except for the assholes,
we're not assholes

our president is not our hero

and if your heroes are cold blooded dirty killers

then we are going to have to figure out a lot, together, over the next few years

cuz i, for one, just dont get it. [...]

when you pray today

pray that you'll find a better hero

someone who believes in peace and love and understanding

someone who knows that holy and war dont go together

someone who doesnt scheme to murder innocent civilians

someone who wont lie to you or put you in danger.

perhaps he'll end up a hero of ours as well.

we sure need one.

[1:08 AM | permanent link]:

As my friend Scraps de Selby points out, the attacks of September 11, and the war following, have done a lot to separate the people who are actually thinking from the people for whom politics is just an endless game between the Red Team and the Blue Team. For most of my life I have been a serious lefty with a weakness for anarchism. Now I pore over web sites like U.S.S. Clueless and Strategy Page, looking for insight and information and not really worrying too much about whether those writers agree with, say, the average reader of the Nation.

But no one has done more in the last two months to drive me away from conventional antiwar liberalism than the incredible foolishness of antiwar liberals. Here's the lefty Independent Media Center covering itself in glory:

We heard today that Mohammed Atef was killed in Afghanistan, as a result of US military action.

He is alleged to have been Osama Bin Laden's right hand man; and the corporate controlled media have passed on to us the goverment allegation that he was responsible for planning the attacks of Sept. 11.

That allegation has not been the subject of critical commentary or investigation by CNN or the other corporate media outlets.

Below is a list of those supposed to have been killed in the attack on the Pentagon on September 11. The list contains US army, navy and marine personnel, enlisted men and officers, retired and those currently at work for the armed services.

Also amongst those presumed dead are many engineers, arms contractors, computer specialists, and other employees of the Pentagon.

Can independent reporters do some investigating on these people? For example, regarding those who worked for the US army, navy, and marines: would it be possible to get an estimate of how many people they might have killed during military operations they might have performed? How many Koreans, Vietnamese, Central Americans, or other Third World Peoples have these US military personnel killed or helped other to kill?

Good God. In other words, here's the full list of murder victims (which I have cut); can we dig up some dirt on some of them, in service of our belief that they must have done something wicked, since they worked for the US military?

I no longer want anything to do with people who think like this. Not politically and not socially. This is vile beyond vile.

Wednesday, November 14, 2001

[9:00 PM | permanent link]:

My old friend Avedon Carol, American expatriate in London, co-founder of Feminists Against Censorship, author of Nudes, Prudes, and Attitudes, fine singer, lousy housekeeper, and indefatigable complainer, now has a weblog: The Sideshow. It's not quite as much fun as staying up all night in London with her and a couple of friends while playing cards, watching Avedon smoke, and discussing the perfidy of New Labour and George W. Bush, but it conveys endearing overtones of that.

[4:40 PM | permanent link]:

Cruel, unfair, nasty-minded, and I laughed like a drain.

As Christopher Hitchens says, "ha ha ha, and yah, boo."

[1:00 PM | permanent link]:

I don't know what ghastly literary politics may (or may not) swirl around the appointment of this guy as the current US Poet Laureate, but I like what this article shows of him, and I like this:

"Introduction to Poetry"
by Billy Collins

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide
or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,
or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to water-ski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.
They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

Thanks to Erik V. Olson for this one.

[8:40 AM | permanent link]:

For about the zillionth time, Bruce Schneier calmly explains, in terms anyone can understand, why an open and public approach to exposing software insecurities leads to better security for everyone--and how foolish laws like the DCMA make this sort of good work dangerous and illegal for the people who do it.

That's the debate in a nutshell: Is the benefit of publicizing an attack worth the increased threat of the enemy learning about it? Should we reduce the Window of Exposure by trying to limit knowledge of the vulnerability, or by publishing the vulnerability to force vendors to fix it as quickly as possible?

What we've learned during the past eight or so years is that full disclosure helps much more than it hurts. Since full disclosure has become the norm, the computer industry has transformed itself from a group of companies that ignores security and belittles vulnerabilities into one that fixes vulnerabilities as quickly as possible. A few companies are even going further, and taking security seriously enough to attempt to build quality software from the beginning: to fix vulnerabilities before the product is released. And far fewer problems are showing up first in the hacker underground, attacking people with absolutely no warning. It used to be that vulnerability information was only available to a select few: security researchers and hackers who were connected enough in their respective communities. Now it is available to everyone. [...]

The DMCA has enshrined the bug secrecy paradigm into law; in most cases it is illegal to publish vulnerabilities or automatic hacking tools. Researchers are harassed, and pressured against distributing their work. Security vulnerabilities are kept secret. And the result is a plethora of insecure systems, their owners blustering behind the law hoping that no one finds out how bad they really are.

The result is that users can't make intelligent decisions on security. Here's one example: A few months ago, security researcher Niels Ferguson found a security flaw in Intel's HDCP Digital Video Encryption System, but withheld publication out of fear of being prosecuted under the DMCA. Intel's reaction was reminiscent of the pre-full-disclosure days: they dismissed the break as "theoretical" and maintained that the system was still secure. Imagine you're thinking about buying Intel's system. What do you do? You have no real information, so you have to trust either Ferguson or Intel.

This is an ongoing story that needs attention from more than merely computer techs, libertarians, and Slashdot readers; it affects all of us, not just our ability to keep our personal computers safe from teenaged vandals, but also in a very real sense national security. Under pressure from big vested interests like Microsoft, we are rapidly changing our laws in ways that make our lives and property objectively more insecure and more vulnerable to terrorism. This is, not to put too fine a point on it, insane. I'd like to see about twelve journalists on the order of Matt Welch or Josh Marshall, guys not known for being tech specialists, jump on this and start writing about it as if it mattered to everybody, because it quite assuredly does.

Bruce Schneier is without a doubt a major go-to guy on this subject; his book Secrets and Lies is magisterial and readable even by non-programmers like me. But this is an ongoing emergency that needs public attention from more than specialists.

[8:20 AM | permanent link]:

And the prize for original and effective presentation of complex information goes to: the Washington Post, for its Florida recount-o-matic. You choose what combination of standards you would have found reasonable for punch ballots, optical ballots, and agreement among election judges; only then do you find out which candidate would have taken the state--and by how many votes!--had your standards been in effect. Interactivity at its best! (Thanks to Beth Meacham for spotting this. Happy fiftieth birthday, Beth!)

Tuesday, November 13, 2001

[8:00 PM | permanent link]:

Ken Layne is a splendid ranter:

OK, so who's going to govern Afghanistan now? While the various powers and tribes wrestle with this mess, let's remember Germany. It was a damned mess after WWII. Did the Allies say "Good Luck" and run? Of course not. We occupied Germany until it was in good enough shape to run itself. That must be done in Afghanistan. It's going to be a helluva lot harder, but there is no other choice. We just did it in Kosovo--with the UN, the Russians, NATO--and while it's not perfect, it is slowly working.

I know how much Dubya hates the phrase "Nation Building," but that's exactly what must happen in Afghanistan. Rebuild the highways and cities, get that oil pipeline together, dump all kinds of money and experts for schools and hospitals, build some dams and irrigation systems for the farmland, send some Peace Corps kids to make nice, and let's get some ski resorts in those beautiful mountains. Bin Laden--or his ghost--is no match for a bunch of co-ed ski bunnies looking for an exciting winter vacation.

I don't think about God or Allah or Whoever too much, because this life is just fine. Sure, I'm broke and need new eyeglasses, but I'm also well fed, surrounded by smart and pretty girls, and living in beautiful Los Angeles with 200 channels of teevee and more books, newspapers and music than I can handle. Afghans--and Iranians and Egyptians and Iraqis and common Saudis--deserve the same.

For those who cry "Cultural Imperialism," I'll have you know I'm drinking Barcelona wine tonight while smoking Turkish cigarettes, watching English news on a Japanese teevee, reading an Israeli Web site, digesting a Sicilian dinner and typing on a computer built in Taiwan. I live in a U.S. city where Spanish is the dominant language, unless you go down the street to Koreatown, or over to the Russian neighborhood on Fairfax, or to my corner liquor store run by multilingual Armenians. My neighborhood is full of Central Americans and old gay men. I vote in a Roman Catholic Church, a block away from the huge Sikh temple. I eat the world's best sushi and tacos de carnitas , my wife is half-Jewish, and I'm finishing an e-mail to my Albanian Muslim friend in Macedonia (we ran a failed business together and shared his family's house in Skopje).

Am I less American because of all this internationalism? A victim of Global Imperialism? Did Nick Cave (Australian) or Leonard Cohen (Jewish Canadian) or Muhammad Ali (black Muslim war protester from Kentucky) or Ibrahim Ferrar (black Cuban) or Serge Gainsbourg (alcoholic French pedophile Eastern European Jew) or Steve Earle (hillbilly anti-Death Penalty activist) or Salman Rushdie (Muslim Indian novelist weirdo who hangs around with Irish Jesus-Freak egomaniac Bono) or Greta Van Susteren (Scientologist AOL-Time-Warner news anchor with a Dutch name) ruin me? Did Afro-Cuban records break my Free Will? Did Bob Marley steal my white Anglo birthright, just because I listened to his lovely lilting stoner songs about African Kings? Did Joey Ramone ruin me because I wasn't a long-haired Jewish punk singer from Queens? Did Shaq make me feel short and pale and nervous? Of course not! Shaquille O'Neal is the King of Los Angeles. I just live here.

"Cultural Imperialism" is a cop-out phrase generated by wealthy Western college kids and their goofball professors. We are better off with every culture right in our faces. This doesn't mean we give up our family culture--I still eat Grits with butter and salt and pepper, and I still listen to Hank Williams Sr.--but it does mean we don't live in a stupid vacuum.

I'm not in a big hurry to see a Starbucks in Kabul, but I'll take that over a wrecked country full of terrorist psychos blowing up Manhattan.

Kabul needs a Functioning Government, not a bunch of angry young gunmen looting the fig market.

Monday, November 12, 2001

[10:50 PM | permanent link]:

My life was incomplete until I discovered Scientology fan fiction:

"This is Chase Hardrock, Scientomologologist Warrior," he proudly stated while brushing back his illustrious brown hair which had grown to new lengths and became much more handsome and flowing ever since he graduated to OT IV.

"Chase! This is Clair at Sci-Base 7, the floating Scientistalologoimistriology base above the Atlantic Ocean! We need you up here quickly!" Chase recognized Clair's voice instantly because he had heard it before and had wisely decided to remember it. "Those pesky Thetans are up to their old tricks again!"

Thetan. The mere word itself made Chase's skin crawl, which happened because a Thetan floated around and began prickling his skin with Poison Thetan Needles, which is a good reminder to the fact that Thetans are everywhere and can attack you no matter how well protected you are. Even if you wear a ski coat and a bunch of scarves and lock yourself up in the bathroom, the Thetans can still get you. You can put up a sign on your door that says "NO THETANS ALLOWED" but they'll still come in anyway because they're evil and superintelligent, like Lex Luthor except Lex Luthor isn't a ghost and can't pass through bathroom walls. Chase ripped off his jacket to reveal his Clari-T-shirt, which immediately scared away the weak and cowardly Thetans.

"Clair! I'll be there right away! These dastardly Thetans need to be taught a lesson once and for all!"

[10:20 PM | permanent link]:

I want to know more about these guys:

The only real reason to put rockets on an aircraft these days, explains Greason, XCOR president, is to go into space. Jet engines can't do it. Propellers can't do it. And once you're 50 miles or so in the air, or what's called suborbital space, there's business to be done: low-gravity experiments, satellite missions, military research and--here's the sexy stuff--tourism. Sending humans up to see stars that don't twinkle, any time of day, on visits much like California millionaire Dennis Tito's paid leisure trip to the International Space Station last year. "I would never have talked about tourism in public," says Greason, "until Dennis Tito flew."

At XCOR, this shiny, gee-whiz future is couched in small-business pragmatism and dot-com-influenced caution. There is a mantra, spoken all day around the little, hot-and-cold rocket plane: "Build a little, test a lot, get more funding." [...]

Next? Nobody talks too much about what's next, but they'll say that any small private aerospace company wants to build a space plane, a reusable, reliable vehicle that will shuttle people and cargo into outer space, to orbiting hotels, to the moon. This is similar to what Rotary Rocket tried to build right off the pad, and that's where it went wrong, says Greason. The company burned through $35 million and never got into space, he says, which is why these survivors are building, first, a tiny rocket plane that goes only a dull 225 mph, and plan to work up from there. They've spent less than a half-million dollars so far, private investments from traditional high-tech and venture capital sources. "We're trying to get away from that starry-eyed image," he says. "The first time you hear about us, a pilot gets into it and flies it. It's a real thing."

Along the way, the company's willing to flip burgers. They've got a government contract to build clean-burning propulsion systems for satellites. They've publicly offered to build anyone who wants one a working, flying replica of the X-1, the orange, sausage-like rocket plane in which Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in 1947. (Got $5 million? You want one?)

Despite all this, um, everyday pragmatism, there's something deeper driving this crew, a reason why people move to the desert and stand around cold hangars all morning. Jackson talks about the passions that brought her out here. She wants to retire on the moon, she says. [...] They want to see, with their own eyes, things like orbiting hotels and moon bases and humans on Mars--things that did not seem so far-fetched when men went to the moon in machines less sophisticated than a buggy VCR. She says she hasn't been this excited about working since the mid-'60s, since her days with the Gemini project, where she fitted clocks into the capsules, a job she got because she has tiny hands.

"Dammit, we're dreaming. This offers a hopeful future, if we can get out of Earth's gravity and into space permanently," she says. "The rest of the universe is out there, and it's only 100 miles away."

Those of us who've spent our lives in the freemasonry of science fiction always knew in our hearts that this is how it would happen. If it ever happens. When.

[9:30 PM | permanent link]:

"No can do, big guy. Everybody's kind of attached now." Okay, you already saw this Doonesbury. I tend to get behind on the funny papers, seeing as my local broadsheet is much too refined to be seen in such low company.

[12:45 PM | permanent link]:

And speaking of beating up on the Guardian (and their Sunday paper the Observer), intermittently-insightful provocateur and drama queen Andrew Sullivan has a striking bit on his web site today:

TALIBAN PROPAGANDA IN THE OBSERVER: Take a look at this piece in Sunday's Observer in London. It's an interview with a Taliban-supporting suicide killer. To interview him, without alerting the authorities, the Observer clearly acquiesced in the possible murder of British and American soldiers. There is barely a word of context or criticism in the article. Every conceivable piece of pro-Taliban propaganda is relayed. Notice how the Observer quotes this man's rabid anti-Semitism--"'The American leadership has put too much attention to the short-term interest of the Zionist financiers, rather than the safety of the American people"--without comment, and even some praise. The would-be murderer's rant is a "thoughtful conversation." Can you imagine a newspaper interviewing, say, a member of the Waffen SS in the early days of the Second World War in order to encourage Brits that their struggle was hopeless, that "Zionist financiers" were behind the Allied effort, and that their enemy could not be stopped. Meanwhile, on the same day, the Taliban forces essentially collapsed across whole swathes of Afghanistan. No doubt a gloomy day in the Observer's editorial offices.

I'm of one and a half minds about this. On the half side, I think we need to know as much as possible about viewpoints that seem alien to us, which is why I read Andrew Sullivan's web site in the first place. (Okay, that's kind of a joke, but not really. In normal times, like everyone else, I tend to read a selection of books and magazines and newspapers and web sites that cater to my biases. These aren't normal times. Deranged people are trying to kill me and my loved ones. That being the case, I find myself reading all kinds of stuff from all over the map. I want to know what's actually going on, and I don't think that people who share my political and social prejudices necessarily have a monopoly on crucial information or insights.)

On the one side, though (as opposed to the half side), I think Sullivan has a point. No, it's not the Observer's job to purvey war propaganda for "our" side, but it's also not my job to admire them for portraying this vicious would-be murderer and anti-Semite as judicious and "thoughtful". This guy wants to kill me; he wants to kill you; he wants to kill our spouses and lovers and children and friends. He couldn't be clearer about exactly what he intends to do. There are excellent arguments for reporting what these people say (and I think the Bush administration's attempt to squelch the Bin Laden videos has been a serious error). But nothing justifies protecting this guy. I don't relish getting Manichean about it, and like everyone else who's done their time on Usenet, I tend to stop listening when the Nazi analogies get trotted out. But living here in Likely Target #1, I'm having a hard time not seeing the Observer as a tacit accomplice in the lethal violence these people are planning against me and mine right now, right here, as soon as they can manage it. This is no longer any kind of game.

Sunday, November 11, 2001

[11:20 PM | permanent link]:

Once again, the Guardian demonstrates the casual attitude they take to boring old fact when the opportunity to cluck at American lunkheadedness comes to hand. (This has become one of my Crank Causes; see the entry dated October 24, below.) In a story about threats to civil liberties in wartime America, ace reporters Ed Vulliamy and Ed Helmore recycle the days-old and widely-disputed tale of Nancy Oden, the "Green Party activist" who claims to have been detained at a Maine airport because of her political views. Oden's claim to political persecution was comprehensively debunked on snopes.com last Wednesday. (Matt Welch's observations, while not precisely relevant to the question of her probity, are nonetheless germane.) Oh, and...her name is Oden, but the article refers to her as "Ogden" throughout. Way to go, Guardian! It's the gratuitous extra touches that really separate the pros from the amateurs. (Thanks to Glenn Reynolds, whose sometimes right-leaning but always interesting blog Instapundit highlighted this.)

There are plenty of good reasons to be concerned about civil liberties in America today. Nancy Oden's experience doesn't appear to be one of them, and lazily perpetrating falsehoods--widely debunked falsehoods--does nobody any good. Except that one suspects the Guardian's agenda isn't to do good; the Guardian's agenda is to cater to the soft prejudices of a particular British middle-class demographic, made up of people who won't check the details and basically don't care. Which makes the Guardian as contemptible as...excuse me, I seem to have spittle all over my screen. Okay, I'll stop.

[10:15 PM | permanent link]:

If following the links from the item below left you considering the merits of slitting your wrists, cheer up. One of the most hopeful places in the modern Middle East, believe it or not, is Iran. The Iranian (motto: "Nothing is sacred") isn't published in Iran, but I'll bet it gets read there; it's a tasty stew of culture, humor, and--yes--advice columns. ("I think that a woman can go to nightclubs often and still be virtuous. In fact going to nightclubs is to virtue, like going fishing is to doing well in a Math exam--simply irrelevant. Virtue is in purity of heart and individual courage.") There's political commentary ("Pahlavis have straddled tradition and modernity on an 'as-needed' basis...When we want them to stand and fight for a cause--any cause--they run and hide. When we want them to stay away and let the events unfold, they're in the middle of every quagmire.") and satire ("Is it me or are Iranian women just plain depressed? I'm talking yo-yo like mood swings accompanied by feelings of bitterness and steaming bitchhood like a volcano ready to erupt without notice. It's like watching a bunch of drama queens running around looking for the emotional equivalent of full-contact kickboxing. What's up with that? As a part time gigolo, I'm having one hell of time...") and personals ads and cartoons I most certainly do not get. The contrast between this and the stuff linked by MEMRI couldn't be more pronounced. No culture this ively is going to be under the mullahs' thumbs forever.

For somewhat more sober but no less interesting coverage of contemporary Iran, The Iran Reporter seems pretty good. No, I'm not an expert in all the nuances; if someone who actually knows this stuff tells me that I've been duped and either or both of these publications are actually fronts for {$ODIOUS_AGENDA}, I'll have to believe them; meanwhile, though, this is interesting and intriguing stuff.

[9:30 PM | permanent link]:

MEMRI, the Middle East Media Research Institute, translates articles from Middle Eastern newspapers and magazines and posts them to the web. Your eyes will fall out of your head reading some of this stuff. These are the folks who spotted Mahmoud bin Abd Al-Ghani Sabbagh, columnist for the Saudi paper Al-Riyadh, explaining to his countrymen that Rudy Giuliani, "the governor of the Big Apple...is a Jew" and that Giuliani had called for America to "kill 6,000 innocent people." "If democracy means a governor who is a homosexual in a city in which dance clubs, prostitution, homosexuality, and stripping proliferate--the U.S. can keep its democracy."

Other fun reads on MEMRI's site include Hamas Weekly ("Anthrax Should Be Put In America's Drinking Water") and "Special Dispatch #295: Saudis Debate the Annihilation of Christians and Jews." (Some Saudi clerics and intellectuals, at any rate, are against it. Phew.)

[9:20 PM | permanent link]:

Eric Alterman interviews Mark Lilla, author of The Reckless Mind: Intellectuals in Politics.

Are American intellectuals any more or less likely to embrace tyranny than European intellectuals?

Twentieth-century continental and American intellectuals have been attracted to tyranny for different reasons. In Europe the issue since the French Revolution has been the legitimacy of the modern age: secularity, democracy, capitalism, and bourgeois culture. There the intellectual temptation has been to seek a return to some imaginary pre- modern idyll or the elimination of one or more aspects of modern life, especially bourgeois capitalism. For 200 years continental intellectuals flirted with tyrants who promised radical alternatives to modern life and heaped contempt on those who engaged in meliorist reforms of that life.

American intellectuals are thoroughly modern and bourgeois. When they embrace tyranny it is usually out of ignorance and a naÔve optimism about human nature. We Americans find it easy to assume that political cut-throats are just misunderstood delinquents and that their tyrannical practices are expressions of cultural differences we should tolerate. To read such statements today about the fascists, Stalinism, the East bloc, and third-world dictators is quite chilling. Our own modern democratic and bourgeois convictions are so strong that we have trouble grasping political phenomena not governed by our rules.

[1:15 AM | permanent link]:

And more on those European AWACS crews flying over the United States:

"I didn't even know where Oklahoma was," a German surveillance specialist named Mike admitted sheepishly as the NATO AWACS surveillance plane cruised toward the East Coast from its temporary post at Oklahoma's Tinker Air Force Base.

In fact, some of the corps' highly trained specialists had an image of the United States as a military superpower so formidable that it would never need assistance--especially not to defend its homeland.

"I was never in the States, but my impression was that America has everything--they've got all kinds of weapons. They can do everything themselves," said Mike, 30, who like other crew members on a recent NATO flight was forbidden for security reasons from giving his last name or hometown. Indeed, many of the operational details of the mission--such as the exact location of the patrol--were secret.

Despite the incredulity of many of the NATO crew members, they are now an integral part of an unprecedented U.S. military mission to protect the president and the people of the United States from future terrorist attacks, according to NATO and American commanders.

[1:00 AM | permanent link]:

More stunning pictures, these from a photographer who didn't survive taking them.

[12:35 AM | permanent link]:

More on why the Israeli political center looks like it's moved to the "right." It's not because of mind-control rays from Venus. A telling piece from today's New York Times:

Like other leftists, Mr. Odenheimer was shocked to discover that Mr. Arafat insisted upon a "right of return" for Palestinian refugees of the many wars here. The Israelis offered the Palestinians their own state; why would they still demand a right to live in Israel, he worried, unless they wanted to achieve through demography what they could not gain through force of arms? Could it be that the Palestinians still did not accept Israel's existence?

As he looked into the debate, he came across another notion that alarmed him. He discovered that some Palestinian leaders had suggested that the ancient temples of the Jews never stood on Jerusalem's Temple Mount, which is also the third-holiest site in Islam and probably the most contested plot of land on earth.

"If they don't accept that there's a Jewish history in the land, then I don't think there's any chance of peace here," he said. "Once I wasn't too concerned about the psychological or even mythical issues. Now I think they're at the root of the whole thing." That realization led him deeper into a subject that even Israeli left-wingers now raise time and again: Arab anti-Semitism, which Mr. Odenheimer once dismissed but now sees as a real threat.

His study ultimately left him with a gnawing feeling of isolation as an Israeli. A leader in the effort to integrate Ethiopian Jews into Israeli society, Mr. Odenheimer is a proud leftist who lectures about the connection of Judaism to social justice. That is why the most painful realization for him has been a growing sense that many fellow leftists outside Israel also harbored anti-Semitism. Why else, he wondered, would they focus so obsessively on Israeli injustices, rather than injustice elsewhere, like the oppression of women and minorities in Arab nations? Why were they so sensitive to the imbalance of power between Israel and Palestinians, and so cavalier about the danger from Israel's neighbors?

The son of a refugee from Nazi Germany, he became afraid for the first time that anti-Semitism retained its power as a threat to Israel. "I grew up with this hopeful feeling that this was not going to be a major issue in my lifetime," he said sadly.

Mr. Odenheimer believes that Israelis cannot retreat into victimhood. He still wants negotiations toward peace and still believes that most Palestinians want the same thing. But his personal odyssey has made him if not supportive, then accepting of a prime minister he once opposed as the bane of the left.

"If someone had said, 'Sharon is going to be the prime minister in three years,' I would have thought, 'disaster,' " Mr. Odenheimer said with a smile. "And I didn't think 'disaster' when he was elected in the middle of the intifada. I thought, 'That's what the P.L.O. wanted, that's what the P.L.O. got.'"

Wednesday, November 7, 2001

[10:00 PM | permanent link]:

No posts for two weeks. I just now calculated that 64% of the last six weeks have been spent either travelling or putting up house guests. And I enjoyed all of it, but it's good to contemplate that I have no travel plans for the next two or three months.

Today I've been home from work with a nasty cold, too bleary to concentrate on the several recently-delivered novels to which I owe attention. Allow me merely to say that this weblog is not dead, and that meanwhile, you should all go look at the excellent, challenging, and deeply thoughtful website and weblog of a Los Angeles journalist named Matt Welch. His general site, featuring links to recent articles and columns, is here, and his weblog--a "war blog" devoted to comments about the Current Crisis--is here. More on this later, when I have a brain.

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