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June 7, 2008

The power of storytelling…to make us stupid and crazy
Posted by Patrick at 11:00 AM * 165 comments

Bruce Schneier in the Guardian:

What is it with photographers these days? Are they really all terrorists, or does everyone just think they are?

Since 9/11, there has been an increasing war on photography. Photographers have been harrassed, questioned, detained, arrested or worse, and declared to be unwelcome. We’ve been repeatedly told to watch out for photographers, especially suspicious ones. Clearly any terrorist is going to first photograph his target, so vigilance is required.

Except that it’s nonsense. The 9/11 terrorists didn’t photograph anything. Nor did the London transport bombers, the Madrid subway bombers, or the liquid bombers arrested in 2006. Timothy McVeigh didn’t photograph the Oklahoma City Federal Building. The Unabomber didn’t photograph anything; neither did shoe-bomber Richard Reid. Photographs aren’t being found amongst the papers of Palestinian suicide bombers. The IRA wasn’t known for its photography. Even those manufactured terrorist plots that the US government likes to talk about—the Ft. Dix terrorists, the JFK airport bombers, the Miami 7, the Lackawanna 6—no photography.

Given that real terrorists, and even wannabe terrorists, don’t seem to photograph anything, why is it such pervasive conventional wisdom that terrorists photograph their targets? Why are our fears so great that we have no choice but to be suspicious of any photographer?

Bruce’s answer is that “we’re a species of storytellers,” and thus persistently vulnerable to a particular variety of logic failure, the movie-plot threat.
Terrorists taking pictures is a quintessential detail in any good movie. Of course it makes sense that terrorists will take pictures of their targets. They have to do reconnaissance, don’t they? We need 45 minutes of television action before the actual terrorist attack—90 minutes if it’s a movie—and a photography scene is just perfect. It’s our movie-plot terrorists that are photographers, even if the real-world ones are not.
It’s disturbing to contemplate that the same species-specific brain wiring that makes us create and enjoy stories might also be responsible for the insane “security” panic that’s eating our culture alive. But the idea has an awful plausibility.
Comments on The power of storytelling...to make us stupid and crazy:
#1 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2008, 11:49 AM:

Perhaps the only advantage that people who deal with story professionally have is that we know (or ought to) when we're indulging in movie-plot-thinking.

#2 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2008, 11:52 AM:

Some people have turned photographs into a macguffin. Alice thinks photographs are important to terrorist plots, so photographs (or stopping photographers) become important to Alice.

The problem is Alice forgot she is the narrator for the story in her mind, she forgot that she's the one who told her that photographs were important to terrorists in the first place.

Understanding "point of view" and narrative voice is probably one of the hardest things for a lot of new writers, because it is a distinction outside our normal observation. We see images and hear facts and watch the news, and we create a narrative in our mind. And for the most part, we don't even know we're doing it. The narrative is simply "true".

And when the narrative doesn't line up with reality, it's reality that usually loses.

Find someone who was convinced in Feb 2003 that Iraq had WMD's and no amount of objective evidence would alter their view. And a lot of that is because they can't see their own narrator. They think they're seeing truth.

I think "suspension of disbelief" and the disappearance of the narrator are opposite sides of the same coin. An indicator of a good story is that you immerse yourself into the story, you forget that youre reading a story, the narrator disappears, and you take it on as true.

#3 ::: R. Emrys ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2008, 12:15 PM:

Cognitive psychologists call this the availability heuristic. We're wired to judge how common something is based on how easy it is to bring examples to mind. No exceptions if they're easy to bring to mind because one real clip got repeated 50 million times on the news, or because that episode of 24 was really vivid and memorable. Basically, we're set up to assume that the best way to learn about the world is to hear your tribemates telling stories around a campfire.

The photographers have a fighting chance against this, because stories about people being falsely arrested for snapping pictures of national monuments are themselves vivid and dramatic if we can just get a good one circulating. What worries me even more is that on every cop show and every terrorist drama, the "good guys" torture and intimidate accurate information out of the captive bad guys just in time to save the day. The rest is left as an exercise for the student--including the solution, because I haven't got a clue. Reality, in this case, is unfortunately non-dramatic.

#4 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2008, 12:23 PM:

In the subway, the other day, there were a couple of guys with a camera on a tripod, taking pictures. The (viewing by remote camera) security was getting really loud about it, because 'you're not supposed to be taking pictures and if you don't put it away RIGHT NOW the sheriffs will be called'. (That isn't posted anywhere in the subway system, but other forbidden things are.) The other people around them on the platform weren't panicking or anything else: the guys with the camera weren't a problem as far as we could tell. They didn't appear to be shooting the trains, just each other.

#5 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2008, 12:57 PM:

I took broadcast studies in college (pre-9/11) and one thing I remember is how paranoid mall security was over any type of pictures. For a short assignment, we went to a local mall, stood outside on the public sidewalk, shot maybe 60 seconds of film, and security came out to question us before we'd even had a chance to pack up.

I'm personally of the opinion that at least half of the OH MY GOD YOU CAN'T TAKE PHOTOGRAPHS is a simple power trip, security forces for whatever group deciding they can Stop the Horrible Photographers— and that "terrorism prevention" is just a handy excuse. They acted like that before with little justification.

#6 ::: Syd ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2008, 12:58 PM:

I'm less concerned about potential terrorists taking pictures (which, as stated, doesn't seem to be something that happens in real life) than with things like Google's street-level photographs being an invasion of privacy...or possibly worse, depending on who uses said technology and for what purpose. (That the satellite view can show if my car is or is not in the back yard weirds me out just a tad, although I have no idea whether the refresh rate on those photos is one hour or one year.)

Taking government-level paranoia out on photographers just strikes me as a colossal waste of time from the standpoint of actually making people safer--but boy, is it ever designed to make people think Uncle Sam is on the case.

#7 ::: Brooks Moses ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2008, 01:08 PM:

Syd @6: The refresh rate on those photos is at least a year. They're not satellite photos, mostly (and certainly the ones that show your car aren't); they're aircraft overflights. And they'd happen and be available in some fashion whether or not Google published them, probably, and certainly they happened before Google got into this business (given that they bought existing photos). It's just that they weren't as easy to get ahold of earlier.

#8 ::: don delny ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2008, 01:17 PM:

Meanwhile, the government is taking pictures of us. Nekkid pictures too!

Yes, it's those backscatter radiation scanners, the ones that see through clothes. 10 more airports have them installed now.

No word on whether the computers the images are displayed are running windows, or are networked. Not much outcry over taking pictures of minors, too, which is an odd omission in paranoidland.

#9 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2008, 01:25 PM:

I'm sure a similar thing is going on with the widespread conviction that anything having LED lights on it could be a bomb. Real-world bombs don't generally have lights on them, but bombs in the movies and on TV do.

#10 ::: G. Jules ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2008, 01:30 PM:

Re: Google Maps: Satellite data is expensive enough when it's just one set of data; the cost of live, streaming data covering all of the US with resolution to the level Google Maps is currently at would be insane. And some (most?) of the time the images would just show cloud cover, anyway.

There was a similar aerial photography dataset available on terraserver-usa.com before Google Maps launched, but their coverage was based on the Urban Areas photography set from 2003 and was much more limited. They also had 1990s photographs, which had excellent coverage, but much lower resolution.

I've run into a number of people who thought Google Maps data was live, and I've always wondered why that would be the default assumption.

#11 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2008, 02:01 PM:

It's a problem in judicial proceedings, too; lies are, paradoxically, often more plausible than truth, because lies are neat stories, while truth is messy, with loose ends. Many people are persuaded simply be the presence of story, because of its formal qualities, without regard to truth, which has, usually, a formal structure harder to perceive. By the way, there is discussion of article this over at The Online Photographer. Some good stuff, but beware of the trolls.

#12 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2008, 02:03 PM:

Every so often I've been in conversations that included discussions regarding what would cause the worst damage/how to cause the worst disruptions. Some of them were casual, some were professional (I've been in and out and in the defense industry and involved with stuff designed to cause/try to defend against massive disruption weapon systems, and participated when in the Air Force in Let's Play All-out War exercises.. "there's a report of a mushroom cloud 20 kilometers away, and oh by the way the communications links to X and Y and Z have failed, and there are reports of..." and half the people in the facility you're in just ran out of the room clutching at their stomachs....

Those scenarios, however, were prior to following-in-ancient-traditions-of-my-lineage-I-do-NOT-invoke-the-abominable-by-unvillified-name

==========================
Start excursion...

(ever been to a Purim service? He who in legend which may or may not be historical truth whose name is attacked by every kid with a noisemaker, who had an agenda of genocide, seems to not have effected a fraction of the "collateral damage" deaths effected by the falsehood-laden premeditated invasion and occupation of Iraq. And not, I am not claiming that Saddam Hussein was a nice guy, far from it, he was a mass murderer, presided over atrocities and brutality, was a lousy Muslim in all sorts of different ways, executed members of his own family even.... but the pretexts and fabrications and effects of the US-led actions in Iraq, have caused enormous gratuitious misery and suffering and loss of world heritage and uncounted deaths... and tarred every person in the United States of America with the sordid slime associated with being a citizen of the country which effected such appalling consequences and mismanagement and malfeasance.

Apparently lots of Iraqis remain grateful for the ejection of Saddam Hussein and his cronies from their governance of the country and their brutality, however, what's replaced it has drastically worsened the quality of life for millions of people, caused ten percent of the population to leave the country for as long as they had funds for, dramatically eliminated the self-determination of the women of the country and of people of different religious background and values than the majority in the local area (that is, Christians attacked for being non-Muslim and selling alcohol, Sunnis attacking Shi'ites, Shi'ites attacking Sunnis, etc.)... but apparently according to people I've met who been in the country within the past couples years, the view is that much of the violence and atrocity is not of the same quality as it was under Saddam--it was targeted differently. Much of the current situation is that one gets attacked randomly being out, that it's not generally premediated at the individuals selected by Saddam's goon squad as either individuals or as representatives of the class.... apparently it's sort of like the chances of being killed in a car accident in the USA, being blotted out on the highway by a semi gone out of control is one of the hazards of daily life that is there, being attacked in New York's Central Park is one of the hazards of being out in the park, etc.)

End excursion
======================

reworking the US Government from the top down, with the collusion of an aligned Congress, which started the reworking when the Democrats ceased having effective power in US Congress--that is, the US military and defense industry has undergone, along with much of the rest of the US Government, a massively debasing revolution over the past couple decades.

I've been appalled at what I consider a debasing of federal specifications and standards, with replacement of public domain guidelines and standards, with "Pay the IEEE hundreds to thousands of dollars for these IEEE documents which replace SOME PARTS of MIL-STD 2167 (which was replaced replaced by a different MIL-STD, 498 or some such, which was stupider in my opinion than 2167A, before the Republican-remove-all-effective-controls-and-oversight-etc. dumped the MIL-STD which replaced 2167A and said, "go pay lots of money for the proprietary IEEE documents...." Worse still are the documents written by contractors for contractors, that leave out information about what the specification is supposed to do and why, what the values mean, what the context is.... it's WORSE than looking at badly written source code that lacks documentaton!!!!

That's just what I am personally dealing with these days, comparing what things used to be like at the end of the Cold War, to the contemporary situation.... it makes filleted color-added farm-raised fish fillets five days in the display case at the supermarket market down for lack of freshness, look like whole swimming wild salmon....

#13 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2008, 02:09 PM:

Anyway.... the current regime and its initiatives have wreaked massive debasement and profound de-intellectualization and massive dumbing down in the USA, taking away the boning and nervous system and -aliveness- and responsiveness and thoughtfulness and clueful analysis--removing the analyticial capabilities, and the entire mindset of intellectual analysis and actions based on analysis, with a mindset of All The Traffic Will Bear And Then Some corporatism and profit and greed and religious credo supporting that mindset...

The kneejerk arrest and punishment of photographers belongs to the anti-intellectualism and kneejerk follow the fascist credo and don't ask ANY questions about logic or efficaciousness.

#14 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2008, 02:13 PM:

Jules@10: I've run into a number of people who thought Google Maps data was live, and I've always wondered why that would be the default assumption.

Probably part because that's what the movies show ("Enemy of the State") and part because that's what they want to believe (we can find any terrorist any where).

#15 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2008, 02:15 PM:

Playing a bit of devil's advocate here:

Could part of the "terrorists will photograph their targets" meme be because that's what WE do!

Consider how widespread the use of photography is in intelligence and military planning. Aerial drones fly over enemy territory to scout out training camps, headquarters, supply caravans, etc.

(Hmmm... IIRC, the first "commercial" use of hot-air balloons was for military reconnaisance in the US Civil War. I wonder if any of those balloonists went the Matthew Brady route and took up a camera with them?) (Googled: Yes, 1862, at the direction of General George McLennan.)

And it's a cliche, but one somewhat based in reality, that spies use disguised and miniaturised cameras to photograph valuable information.

(There's even the science fiction connection, through Alice Sheldon/James Tiptree Jr, whose work for the military and CIA was largely in the field of photographic intelligence.)

If we do it, why wouldn't they?

#16 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2008, 02:17 PM:

Of course, people with eidetic memories, people with notebooks, people who have old maps and update them, aren't any sort of threat, nor are GPS receivers to note locations and triangulations of "I know where X is, I know were Y is, I know where Z is, and I can figure out where A and B and C are very accurately by interpolation...."

The old USSR knew -precisely- where Cheyenne Mountain and the Pentagon and the missile fields etc. etc were, the only questions involved were such things as the accuracy and precision of their weapons and probability of hitting what their targets were, how susceptible the targets were to Soviet attack, and how much damage would actually occur in terms of response to an attack and reconfifugaton/reconstitution how quickly from what sort of attack....

#17 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2008, 02:20 PM:

Bruce #15
If someone's got a sopisticated miniaturized spy camera, the Keystone Kops of DHS aren't likely to notice.

#18 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2008, 02:33 PM:

I've often thought that perhaps the reason Republicans want to ban all disturbing or titillating art is that they are particular susceptible and think that everyone is as well.

#19 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2008, 02:34 PM:

It’s disturbing to contemplate that the same species-specific brain wiring that makes us create and enjoy stories might also be responsible for the insane “security” panic that’s eating our culture alive. But the idea has an awful plausibility.

Before it was terrorists, it was satanic cultists. Before satanic cultists it was communists. Along the side, right the way along, it's been space aliens.

These are all types of one another.

The terrorists taking photos of their targets are just the commies putting secret marks on the backs of road signs, wearing a different costume. They exist in the subtext.

#20 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2008, 03:01 PM:

I realize Schneier was writing for the Brits, but on this side of the pond, the attacks on photographers fit nicely into ShrubCo's War On Reality.

Remember what the protagonist of 1984 did for a living? Imagine how much easier his job would be if private citizens weren't allowed to take unauthorized photographs!

Also q.v. Rodney King and all the other cases of police brutality exposed by amateur shutterbugs -- all very inconvenient, for an administration that wants to write their own news, and history to boot,. (Not to mention the police forces that might have to answer for attacking people on the street!)

#21 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2008, 03:08 PM:

James D. Macdonald #19: So the real danger is going to come from Ivan bin Laden Dracula from Zeta Reticuli?

#22 ::: Tamara ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2008, 03:10 PM:

If Bruce's theory about why photographers are getting hassled is true then my theory (that security guards don't know the law, are scared of losing their jobs and are behaving like bullies because it's what employers expect of them) goes out the window.

#23 ::: Tesla ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2008, 03:30 PM:

The other day, my boss explained to me that several people from his former employer joined our fair corporation at about the same time. All of them held the same title and did the same work at the former employer, and all of them did it well.

However, they got hired into positions at five different levels in our corporate hierarchy (meaning, among other things, that the lowest of their salaries was around one-quarter of the highest).

He attributed the discrepancy quite literally to "the different stories that they were able to tell about what they had done." And he thought the outcome was perfectly reasonable, never wondering whether the story was more likely to be compelling if it was embellished than if it was a simple recounting of actual events.

To me this is just more evidence to support my opinion that the qualities we select for when hiring are rarely the qualities that will be most helpful in performing the job. This is even more true (and significantly more disturbing) when it comes to electing our government officials.

------------------------------------

Not only does it not matter what the odds are that any given photographer is a terrorist, it doesn't even matter how anybody feels about the issue - except for the guy whose job it is to keep anything bad from happening, ever. I suppose it's no wonder that guy doesn't want anything happening in his corner of the world that could possibly lead to some occurrence that somebody might think of connecting (however tenuously) to the idea of an Evil Plot.

After all, he's being judged on the basis of the stories people tell.

#24 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2008, 03:30 PM:

Malls and stores get upset about photography and video because they are worried about industrial espionage, and/or unflattering exposés (think hidden-camera 20/20 report.) They are worried about their profits. It's always struck me that security guards for public areas who want to forbid photography seem to be acting on that model. The reaction just feels more like a property owner asserting his property rights, rather than a public servant attempting to ensure public safety.

I think there's a lack of understanding that some places are public, and we have a right to be there not at the pleasure of the owner, but because we are the owners. Corporations seem to own more and more of the "public" space in the U.S. -- malls made to look like city streets, amusement parks, etc. We've become socialized to understand that it's someone else's space and we have no rights there.

Terrorism is a handy excuse -- probably because of the movie plot. But I think photography bans are fundamentally about asserting that this space is owned by someone else and you have no rights here. You can stand here, but you can't take a piece of it home with you. In some cases there is still some kind of profit motive (postcards, for example). In other cases, like train stations and subways, it just seems to be a vague sense that it's someone else's property, and photographing it is somehow like stealing it.

That doesn't actually make a lot of sense, so security thinks "Photography is like spying, spying is like terrorism, 9/11 9/11 9/11!"

#25 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2008, 03:44 PM:

#19: And before that it was witches, fairies and demons. That's pretty much what The Demon-Haunted World is about. (Because of its age, it doesn't say much about terrorism, but it clearly fits right in.)

As far as I know nobody has yet claimed that a terrorist made their cow dry up. But only as far as I know.


P.S. This is also why terrorism itself works, to the extent that it does work. Killing one out of every 100,000 people in a country isn't really all that impressive a threat, even if you could do it again anytime you wanted (which they can't really - surprise was essential). But if you do it *dramatically*, in a way that makes people overestimate the chances that it could be them next time, then you might actually affect their behavior (if not necessarily in the way you wanted).

#26 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2008, 03:53 PM:

Greg #14 and Jules #10: exactly - the number of movies that have shown live 'satellite' images of the bad guys is huge - I blame Powers of Ten for that one. Having worked on 3D atlas with satellite imagery, what everyone wats to do is find their house, then a few other places, then they get bored. It's nice that Google is funding this so anyone can do it (disclaimer: I work for Google, but not on maps/earth/street view). When I had a technical demonstration of the possibility of globally zooming satellite imagery delivered over the net in tiles in 1996, we couldn't find anyone to back it. I was pleased when keyhole did it again, 5 years later, and even more so when Google took it over and made it free.
I wrote about the tyranny of the storytellers before and indeed it's what started me blogging - wanting to learn how to convey truthful ideas in a way that is as plausible as the false ones (though admittedly I was talking about the DRM myth and not the terrorism and torture ones).

Something else along these lines is the all-pervasive 'business as war' narrative of the tech media that I have seen. We really like war stories, and stories of the positive-sum co-operation embodied in Open Source don't get told.

#27 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2008, 04:31 PM:

If you were to GoogleMap my current address, Street View would show my neighbor walking down the sidewalk across the street from my building and shooting odd looks at that slow-moving car with the weird Thing on its hood.

I'm astounded at how thorough GoogleMaps has become. I recently had to find our local CSA's farm for a volunteer orientation; they're sorta north of Niwot and sorta south of Longmont out among other farms, ranchs, and etcetera ruralania. But GoogleMaps Street View had been there. I was able to get a good look at the silo and the parking lot sufficient for recognition when I finally drove out there. Ditto for the farmstand where my volunteer shift would be, and the bus stop where I'd be getting off that morning.

The privacy issues notwithstanding, I *heart* GoogleMaps Street View.

Also, it makes a good argument (for those inclined to be swayed by such) against the phototerrorism fears of our nation's security. I rather think that any potential terrorists performing reconnaissance would simply pull up the relevant address in Google and use the tools available there. Why send a spy with a camera when the pictures are already online?

#28 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2008, 05:13 PM:

Google Maps puts our address at immediately behind the apartment buildings on Cherry, we're the third house to the south.

don't know how to fix it either (or if I want to).

#29 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2008, 05:24 PM:

Syd, #6: My concern in that instance would be that if I were sunbathing nude in my completely private back yard, and one of Google's flyovers happened to snap that area at the wrong moment, I could either be the Next Hot Porno Pic (which I wouldn't mind if I got paid for it, but...) or get arrested for "indecent exposure".

Or am I behind the curve again, and this has already happened to somebody?

Randolph, #11: "Truth is stranger than fiction, because fiction has to make sense."

Carolyn, #24: Better watch it. The last time I said something along those lines, and opined that in some cases there might even be justification for it, I got a dogpile.

Nicole, #27: An excellent point, and one that every photographer should have in their toolbox of arguments!


#30 ::: Matt McIrvin ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2008, 05:51 PM:

When I was first dating the woman I eventually married, there were times when it became hard to shake the feeling that I was going to die soon, because in movies, an extended depiction of a happy loving relationship without major conflict is the lead-in to somebody dying.

#31 ::: Mikael Vejdemo Johansson ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2008, 06:42 PM:

I am reminded of my visit to Sydney last autumn. Near to U Sydney, there's a two-house four-story shopping arcade that I visited quite a bit. At the top floor, there was a shop selling, IIRC, stationery designed by a Swedish designer. They announced the name and nationality of the designer quite prominently in the shop logo.

Intrigued by all things related to my dear home country, especially if they appear abroad, I pull out my camera, snap a single shot of the store window and walk away. I got my parents to give me the camera for a recent Christmas explicitly in order to be able to take snapshots of things that amuse me.

Two stories down and halfway over to the other building half, I'm caught up by the store manager - running to catch up with me, and who tried to bully me into erasing the camera pictures and never ever use my camera again on Australian soil. I don't know how much legal support she had for the claims, and I pretty much ignored them as politely as I could. She didn't escalate.

I am very glad I haven't ran into more nuts participating in the War on Photography - but by the time I move across the Atlantic, I probably will print out one of those photographer's fact sheets and carry in my wallet.

#32 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2008, 06:43 PM:

Kevin @26 - I second that. I get the same feeling with politics. Surely the story of democracy (real democracy) should be more powerful than pretend-democracy-but-mean-authoritarianism? You'd think. It just requires some better storytelling, that's all.

What if a movie, just once, had a hero who was into democracy? Live Free or Die Hard almost did this, with the sidekick. Seeing a technoliberal in that role, well, it sent a shiver down my spine. (Not to mention the clear passing-the-baton frame there.) I'm wondering if Hollywood isn't sniffing the wind a little on that.

It could be done. America tells all its stories as movies. Maybe we just need some better movies.

#33 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2008, 06:51 PM:

Lee @ 29
I can assure you that at the current maximum level of resolution they wouldn't be able to recognize you in an aerial. You're lucky if you can see something that's less than a foot across. I'd worry more about the government seeing you - they have better-quality imaging. If you're really worried, have an awning over you. Or a tree.

#34 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2008, 06:53 PM:

Lee @ 29, I'm not sure what you mean. I don't think there's a justification for treating public spaces like private property. I can accept a photography ban on truly private property, like an American indoor mall, even if I think it's silly. But I don't like the trend of privatizing public space.

#35 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2008, 07:21 PM:

I don't think it's unreasonable to suppose that sometimes terrorists will take reconnaissance photographs--after all, regular military does. The problem is that everyone takes photographs, or at least an awful lot of people do, and you're not going to prevent acts of terrorism by harassing every visible photographer, especially since there are so many images on Flickr, and since cameras can be made so small. The fear is simply an excuse for bad policing.

#36 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2008, 07:30 PM:

Caroline #29, Lee #24:

I think this development (more and more "public" spaces are privately owned) has to do with at least three big cultural developments:

a. Some liberals and libertarians came to believe that enforcing any rules on public spaces was somehow oppressive. In practice, this meant that bums and small-time criminals could take those spaces over without consequence. And that led to the rise of privately-owned alternatives.

b. Many mainstream folks (left and right) really like the idea of "public/private partnerships." This often involves using government money and powers to build public spaces that are privately owned.

c. Some conservatives and most libertarians came to believe that all spaces should be private, and so didn't mind these developments.

All this led us to a bad place, IMO. Property rights are important, but they aren't the right model for city streets, sidewalks, parks, etc., because property-owner-level control over public spaces gives the owners a lot of power to do bad stuff.

#37 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2008, 08:58 PM:

albatross, I agree with all your assessments. Couldn't have said it better.

#38 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2008, 09:14 PM:

Paula (#28): Google Maps will let you move the marker if you search for your address (you may need to be logged in to google to do so).
You can also make your own map labels and lines, share them, and review businesses - the Maps team is trying to encourage people to add things.

#39 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2008, 09:35 PM:

James D. Macdonald #19: So the real danger is going to come from Ivan bin Laden Dracula from Zeta Reticuli?

If he's running a day-care center you get a perfect storm.


#40 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2008, 10:18 PM:

Paula @28,

You can fix that through Google Maps itself--they'll let you drag the pin to where it ought to be*.

This works quickly if GMaps is less than 200 meters off. Our house was 500 meters off**, requiring incremental fixes.

If you-the-Fluorosphere find GMaps is off, then footnote three may apply to you.

----------
* fair warning that you'll lose a tiny bit of privacy as they display part of your edit name with the edit history.

** not just them--most GPS software programs have the same mistake in their data***. We constantly have to tell drivers

"Don't believe your screen. Please don't. I'm on the curb of this very house in which I've lived for 10 years and you've never been, I'm quite certain you aren't here. Do you see no one on the phone in front of you? Then that's not me."

*** reminding me to tell the neighbors that if they're directing emergency services to my house they'll have to insist on the intersection, etc.

#41 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2008, 10:32 PM:

I couldn't find the WashPost article from last year that enumerated the number of photographers killed in war, but the number was very high. So "worse" is not worst.

#42 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2008, 10:36 PM:

Kathryn from Sunnyvale, #40, I used to have to tell delivery guys that no, they could not get here from Douglas Street. If you look at any of the online maps at a resolution other than the finest, it looks like the roads are connected. There's actually not only six feet full of pyracantha and fence between us, but about 12 feet of height. The delivery guys have apparently figured it out now.

#43 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2008, 10:39 PM:

Albatross #36: a. Some liberals and libertarians came to believe that enforcing any rules on public spaces was somehow oppressive. In practice, this meant that bums and small-time criminals could take those spaces over without consequence.

When did this happen? I think I missed it.

#44 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2008, 10:39 PM:

Madeleine Robins #39: I forgot about that stuff from the 80s. You're right.

#45 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2008, 10:50 PM:

The Google Maps aerial photo of my office building is clear enough that I can recognise the minivan belonging to one of my colleagues. And it places the address marker accurately.

However, if I put in my home address, the pin is several places down the street (and the photograph is about 18 months old). Mapquest, for some reason, can't find my home address.

#46 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2008, 11:01 PM:

In re Google Maps here in Puerto Rico -- and maps in general in this least-documented of nations -- they don't work here. Oh, they're better than Mapquest, and they do manage to get things right 90% of the time, but for that last 10%, well, they just plain don't.

I fondly remember the time I tried to get my daughter to a party on time, using a shortcut which was clearly visible on both the map and the satellite view. But that road was no longer there.

My daughter was not amused.

#47 ::: Doctor Science ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2008, 11:07 PM:

A related example of "seeing the world through the stories we're used to" is what Kit Whitfield calls the "Macho Sue":

Macho Sue's storyline follows a certain trajectory: he begins by acting egregiously, picking or provoking fights and causing problems. However much the ensuing difficulties can be laid at his door, Macho Sue is not about to apologise, in any way. So the problems continue - only to be salvaged by some immense reversals that give the impression that he was right all along.
What we need are *better stories*, because we can't help thinking in narrative terms. And better pictures, because they're even more persuasive than stories.

#48 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2008, 11:18 PM:

I just wanted to note that the idea that something like Google Maps is real time, or near real time, is not at all strange or mysterious to anyone who happens to watch weather reports regularly, or even is just aware of them.

#49 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2008, 11:36 PM:

Holy schemoly - that Macho Sue link is great! I have to think about this.

#50 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2008, 11:43 PM:

Avram, #43: I believe that Central Park is the canonical example, but there was a period when a lot of parks in cities all over America were not good places to be unless you were looking for a dope deal. There has been a significant shift back in the last 15 years or so; it seems to be running side-by-side with the reclamation of the downtown area in many places.

Bruce, #48: Good point! Yes, I'm used to seeing the radar map running in almost-realtime on WU.

#51 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2008, 12:08 AM:

Kevin Marks writes in #:

Greg #14 and Jules #10: exactly - the number of movies that have shown live 'satellite' images of the bad guys is huge - I blame Powers of Ten for that one.

Dwayne Day, known for his work on the history of early spysats, once wrote a nice article rounding up Hollywood's use and abuse of reconnaissance satellites.

Bruce Baugh writes in #48:

I just wanted to note that the idea that something like Google Maps is real time, or near real time, is not at all strange or mysterious to anyone who happens to watch weather reports regularly, or even is just aware of them.

It is indeed a reasonable idea, to anyone unfamiliar with how aerial or satellite imaging actually works. A little technical knowledge spoils it, as Kevin suggested.

#52 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2008, 12:09 AM:

Kevin Marks writes in #26:

Greg #14 and Jules #10: exactly - the number of movies that have shown live 'satellite' images of the bad guys is huge - I blame Powers of Ten for that one.

Dwayne Day, known for his work on the history of early spysats, once wrote a nice article rounding up Hollywood's use and abuse of reconnaissance satellites.

Bruce Baugh writes in #48:

I just wanted to note that the idea that something like Google Maps is real time, or near real time, is not at all strange or mysterious to anyone who happens to watch weather reports regularly, or even is just aware of them.

It is indeed a reasonable idea, to anyone unfamiliar with how aerial or satellite imaging actually works. A little technical knowledge spoils it, as Kevin suggested.

#53 ::: Adrian ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2008, 01:01 AM:

Back in comment #3, R. Emrys wrote: "We're wired to judge how common something is based on how easy it is to bring examples to mind."

When there's a big scary story about something, that builds the reservoir of examples that can come to mind. It doesn't matter if it's fiction. Surprisingly, when a story is used as a counter-example, the setup part of the story can go into the same reservoir of examples. (I think of Maher Arar's story as an example of injustice, showing an innocent man wrongly detained and unable to defend himself against torture. My mother sees it as an example of why torture is necessary--Arar being one of Those People, and his behavior being so suspicious, how else could he be made to confess his links to terrorism? (The detail of Arar's innocence, even the detail that he did not confess under torture...those don't change the emotional weight the story has for my mother.) It should go without saying that my values are different from my mother's, but I'll say it anyhow, because they are so different it hurts.

Ruth: "What worries me even more is that on every cop show and every terrorist drama, the "good guys" torture and intimidate accurate information out of the captive bad guys just in time to save the day."

It's not just cop shows and terrorist dramas. I don't watch cop shows or terrorist dramas, and read relatively few stories along those lines. Yet I've lost track of how many times I've re-read a book in the few last few years, and been shocked to discover that a character I'd loved before Abu Ghraib had suddenly become somebody I had to recognize as a torturer.

#54 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2008, 03:18 AM:

Madeleine Roberts @ 1: “Perhaps the only advantage that people who deal with story professionally have is that we know (or ought to) when we're indulging in movie-plot-thinking.”

And then there’s Orson Scott Card. I can never get over the fact that the man who wrote Xenocide fervently backed every excess of the post-9/11 regime. Oy. Which brings me to this:

Doctor Science @ 47: [quoting Kit Whitfield’s “Macho Sue”] “Macho Sue's storyline follows a certain trajectory: he begins by acting egregiously, picking or provoking fights and causing problems. However much the ensuing difficulties can be laid at his door, Macho Sue is not about to apologise, in any way. So the problems continue - only to be salvaged by some immense reversals that give the impression that he was right all along.”

There’s another, complimentary story that goes with the Macho Sue: the weary soldier, who fully knows the horrors of war. Despite his reluctance to engage in what he knows (oh how well he knows!) is a horrific endeavor, he nonetheless Does What He Must Do to Protect Home and Country.

Instead of beginning with the hot-headed young asshole picking unnecessary fights, the Reluctant Soldier’s story begins by establishing how happy he is to avoid violence—backing down from confrontations, even with stupid young punks who he could easily take out.* No, he is too wise (and weary) for that. But the offenses against Civilized People simply grow more and more intolerable, until finally some climactic event (his girlfriend is assaulted, his son is killed, his home is invaded, etc.) Forces Him to Take Action.

This is the storyline that John McCain is living. “War is despicable, which is why when I advocate bombing Iran you know it’s totally important!” It’s a storyline that was near and dear to the Cold Warrior’s hearts, making them into noble, hard men Doing Whatever Needs To Be Done to save democracy, even including destroying democracy. That’s why it’s so important to make terrorism into an existential threat—the Reluctant Soldier’s actions are only justified in the extremist of emergencies. (To complete the circle, it’s also the story that gives OSC shivers, I think.)

*Much like Macho Sue, the Reluctant Soldier’s victory in any purely physical contest is all but assured. That’s what makes his reluctance to fight so gosh-darn noble.

#55 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2008, 03:22 AM:

29, Lee: Or am I behind the curve again, and this has already happened to somebody?

Already happened to this poor Dutch woman, though nobody was sure whether she was au natural or not.

#56 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2008, 03:40 AM:

B. Durbin @ 5: "I'm personally of the opinion that at least half of the OH MY GOD YOU CAN'T TAKE PHOTOGRAPHS is a simple power trip, security forces for whatever group deciding they can Stop the Horrible Photographers— and that "terrorism prevention" is just a handy excuse. They acted like that before with little justification."

I think Caroline's post @ 24 answers the question of why: "Malls and stores get upset about photography and video because they are worried about industrial espionage, and/or unflattering exposés (think hidden-camera 20/20 report.) They are worried about their profits."

I don't think it's a lack of understanding of public and private on the companies' part, as much as it is that they know they will get away with it. The companies feel that much more secure about espionage,* the guards get to power trip, and everyone's happy. Oh, except for the consumers.

*I think that keeping consumers and academics from examining them too closely is just as important, if not more so, than keeping their competitors from figuring out their precious trade secrets.

Avram @ 9: "I'm sure a similar thing is going on with the widespread conviction that anything having LED lights on it could be a bomb."

Very true.

Michael Roberts @ 32: "It could be done. America tells all its stories as movies. Maybe we just need some better movies."

I saw Shooter on a plane a while back, and while it was a very by-the-numbers Reluctant Soldier revenge story, I was struck by how incredibly pissed off it was at pretty much everyone. The enemy was basically the entire military-industrial complex, and he hated them for sending him off to die so they could make more money. And this was a standard boilerplate macho drama, not a Noam Chomsky documentary.

Sample quotes: "There's always a confused soul that thinks that one man can make a difference. And you have to kill him to convince him otherwise. That's the hassle with democracy."

"There are no sides. There's no Sunnis and Shiites. There's no Democrats and Republicans. There's only HAVES and HAVE-NOTS."

"This is a country, where the Secretary of Defense can go on T.V., and tell the American public, oh, that "This is about freedom! It's not about oil!" And nobody questions him, cuz they don't wanna hear the answer, because it's a lie!"

#57 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2008, 05:06 AM:

Adrian: "Yet I've lost track of how many times I've re-read a book in the few last few years, and been shocked to discover that a character I'd loved before Abu Ghraib had suddenly become somebody I had to recognize as a torturer." Me too, a lot. I find myself really not able to enjoy a lot of old comfort-food reading and viewing, because I see in it the seeds of this "we can do anything 'coz we're the heroes" mentality. I'm in the early stages of fleshing out a fantasy series in which the good guys' power depends on holding to a very, very strict moral code even in the face of extreme crisis, to see if I can get some good drama out of it.

#58 ::: Duncan ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2008, 07:22 AM:

Reading all this, I suddenly remembered something the late insane William S. Burroughs used to say: if you want to ruin a business, just go stand outside and take pictures of it, and record the ambient sound outside it, every day. (Nowadays a videocamera could do both at once; that tells you how long ago -- the 60s and 70s -- Burroughs was doing this spiel.) He recounted how he did this to a merchant he had some obscure grudge against, and described with relish how the merchant came out of the store and yelled at him, because he knew what Burroughs was doing, but there was nothing he could do about it. Within a few weeks his enemy went out of business.

I think I found this material in that old collection of interviews with WSB, "The Job", but I'm far from my books and can't check now. It reminds me just how batshit-crazy Burroughs was, and how incomprehensible it is to me that anyone ever took him seriously. But it also shows that paranoia (and I mean Burroughs's) about having your image stolen goes deeper, and is older, than today's 9/11 society.

#59 ::: Daniel Martin ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2008, 08:42 AM:

Adrian: "Yet I've lost track of how many times I've re-read a book in the few last few years, and been shocked to discover that a character I'd loved before Abu Ghraib had suddenly become somebody I had to recognize as a torturer."

Oh. This comment just caused me to come to some rather unpleasant realizations about fast-penta. I mean, in theory the realization that Barrayar is not a nice place for the non-Vors is old news, but... Hrm.

#60 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2008, 09:10 AM:

Duncan @58 - perhaps Burroughs was right -- doing that caused the merchant to come out and make an ass of himself in public, after all. And who would give a public ass their business?

Daniel @59 - yeah. Miles considers more traditional techniques when fast penta doesn't work. With distaste, to be sure. And I love Miles like a brother, but still. He's a Barrayaran, all right.

#61 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2008, 10:05 AM:

Heresiarch, #54: If you'd care to write that analysis up in a little more detail, I'd be interested in linking to it. I think it's important to give people the tools to see the sleight-of-hand happening.

On a slight tangent, I was recently given the first season of Eureka on DVD, and I'm finding it to be quite subversive in its own way. The lead character is an absolutely classic Macho Sue, but his reality doesn't support it; he keeps getting slapped down again and again, either by the other characters or by the world not working the way he thinks it does. The heart of the Macho Sue character is that it takes an author to make everything come out right for him, and if the author doesn't cooperate...

Adrian and Bruce: That's exactly the sort of epiphany that leads to social change. Unfortunately, if you're on the leading edge, it's also extremely frustrating, because it feels as though a switch has been flipped in your brain and you're the only one who Gets It.

#62 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2008, 10:19 AM:

Three observations on the photography thing:

First, are there really very many movies where innocent-looking photography turns out to be the prelude to terrorism?

Second: My first theory about the photography ban is that they don't want any damning evidence of their sins, even if they don't know what those are.

Third: My second theory is that they think you're going to steal the corporate soul with your magic box.

#63 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2008, 10:48 AM:

Isn't the reason for the flashing LED=bomb meme that the bombs in question are likely to be improvised, using whatever consumer electronics is at hand to make the fusing mechanism - and yes, lots of stuff has winking LEDs on it?

Of course, it used to be an alarm clock and duct tape - there's even a Dubliners song with the refrain "it was I who put the gelignite in the ould alarm clock".

#64 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2008, 11:12 AM:

Bruce Baugh @ 48: I just wanted to note that the idea that something like Google Maps is real time, or near real time, is not at all strange or mysterious to anyone who happens to watch weather reports regularly, or even is just aware of them.

In the movie Deja Vu, the protagonist is shown footage of a crime victim, indoors, in high resolution, with sound. The investigating team give him some technobabble about amalgamating data from a variety of spy satellite feeds, security cameras, and other sources. My immediate reaction was a total failure of suspension of disbelief. I was somewhat relieved when, a little later in the film, the protagonist also calls them on the bullshit.

#65 ::: David Wald ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2008, 11:15 AM:

Alex@63: And thus any ticking object in fiction was a bomb. Or maybe a crocodile.

I don't think the "improvised device" logic works as well for LEDs, though, at least not since the invention of duct tape. I think it's just an equation of blinkenlights = active technology. If it's lit up, following movie plot logic, it's the thing you should focus on.

#66 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2008, 01:04 PM:

Bruce@48: I just wanted to note that the idea that something like Google Maps is real time, or near real time, is not at all strange or mysterious to anyone who happens to watch weather reports regularly, or even is just aware of them.

Except for resolution. Weather satelites are extremely high orbits so they can get the big picture. Spy satellites are as low as possible so they can get high resolution.

Actually, the "Physics for Future Presidents" course devoted a good chunk of time explaining the limits of what spy satellites can do. I can't remember which lecture it was in, though, so you'd have to google around for it. But he basically said that due to atmospheric issues, optical issues, and minimimum orbits, you'd never be able to get more detailed resolution beyond a certain limit. I think he specifically said you'd never be able to read a license plate from a satellite, but my memory about this is at least a year old and subject to bad DDR refresh and radiation-enabled bit flipping.

#67 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2008, 01:10 PM:

Speaking of movie-induced bomb-making bullshit, I actually laughed out loud in the theater while watching Lethal Weapon 1. A bomb had gone off, I believe, and amid the wreckage, they found a high tech firing device used only by serious terrorists: A mercury switch.

And all I could think of was that every house in the US (at the time, at least) probably had a mercury switch in their thermostat, available at nearly any hardware store and Radio Shack.

#68 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2008, 01:57 PM:

At work we were able to figure out that Google Earth was using pictures from about 6 or 7 years ago because their photos of Bellshill showed no containers in the bottom car park. The containers had been there for about 6 years. That was my first real introduction to Google earth, and after I'd seen that, it was obvious that it was using old databases.

#69 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2008, 02:07 PM:

You can buy aerial photos with really good resolution, but the higher the resolution, the more the photos will cost.

There's a company called GlobExplorer that will cheerfully sell you a picture, and they'll also tell you the date of it. Usually they're a year or so old; urban areas are generally both more recent and higher resolution. (You can browse on their site.)

#70 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2008, 02:07 PM:

guthrie @68 -- I know they've updated, though. We re-did our terrace 4 years ago, and up until a few months ago, Google Earth was showing the old, ugly one. Hmph!

#71 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2008, 02:19 PM:

guthrie #68:

Is there any way to find out from Google Maps how old the images are? A map and aerial or satellite image of a city I'm planning to visit has a very different value, depending on whether it's from a couple months ago, or five years ago!

#72 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2008, 02:43 PM:

David #65:

Yeah, terrorist bombs have blinking LEDs for the same reason futuristic weapons fire visible line-like rays which advance toward their targets at human-perceptible speeds, and magical powers involve cool sounds and interesting visual effects.

By contrast, check out real technological magic. Note the disappointing lack of cool visual effects from an MRI, the uninspiring sight of a successful attack on a computer system ("Hey, what's with this stupid blank blue screen?"), or not-especially-dangerous looking UAVs that have apparently had a huge impact on war in the last few years.

Movies (and TV media, unfortunately) need to be able to tell a story. It needs to be easy to distinguish good guys from bad guys, keep people straight in a complicated visual scene, and intuitively get what the magic technology is supposed to be doing. People whose entire understanding of unfamiliar areas of the world comes from movies and TV subconsciously expect things to work like they do in the movies.

#73 ::: Kayjayoh ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2008, 03:14 PM:

In the Google streets image of my apartment building, I can see my parked car. The thing is, it is parked in such a way that I can tell that I had simply stopped and was running inside to grab something quickly before running off. (I can tell because my car is parking in my landlord's car, which I only do for temporary stops.)

Somehow the nature of the "I was almost right there" moment in the photo fascinates me, in a way that just seeing my car parked in its normal spot would not have.

It reminded me of the video by The Vacationeers.

#74 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2008, 03:15 PM:

I just realized this topic connects very closely with something I've been thinking about for at least a decade - the social danger that "realistic" crime movies and TV dramas present.

People will justify all sorts of crazy stuff to themselves - such as feeling it's essential that everybody raises gnus - because they perceive that they're always in terrible danger of being murdered by some random stranger. Why? They've seen it on TV, and in the movies, over and over and over again. In particular, they've seen it in shown in settings that look just like their own surroundings.

They will persist in believing that street crime is getting worse and worse, even though it's been declining for over 20 years, because during that period they've seen more and more movies. What's more, they'll believe that the '50s were a golden age of domestic peace and little crime, because the movies they watch about the '50s don't depict violence as graphically - even though the '50s had relatively high rates of juvenile violent crime and murder. [citation needed!]

It doesn't just affect Americans, of course - I've noticed it particularly in some British people's comments, wondering how Americans can stand to live with the incredibly high crime and murder rate here. The answer, of course, is that while we have a much higher murder rate than the UK, it's still not anything the average person runs into day to day, unlike in the movies. (Other than of course hearing it run over and over again in the TV news...)

#75 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2008, 03:50 PM:

Adrian @ 53

Everything old is new again. This story has been part of the American internal narrative since the beginning; certainly all of my life and before that. It's the basic Cold Warrior story, "We're the ones who make the hard choices" as Ollie North loved saying. It goes back at least to the Indian Wars in the 19th Century ("We do what we have to, to protect Civilization, and the women and children" and the railroad and the cattle ranchers and ...). And our literature has supported it all along. from the Penny Dreadfuls to the Mack Bolen series.

C. Wingate @ 62

First: Every example I can think of shows reconnaisance, almost always with a camera, and often with two terrorists, so they can talk about their plans while photographing. It's become a conventional plot device to allow a few minutes of location setup and/or infodump.

Second: I agree; corporations are by their nature paranoid, and most of them have skeletons in the closet; it's an easy jump to worrying that you've done things wrong you don't even know about.

Third: Also agreed; most managers in my experience are seriously steeped in magical thinking.

Industrial espionage is a given in most corporate cultures; they're out to get everyone else, after all, so the converse surely must apply. It's such a pervasive meme, that the company I work for, which makes church organs and other musical instruments, has attempted to install some rather draconian rules about cell phones, cameras, and other electronic devices on the manufacturing shop floor to prevent industrial espionage. This despite the fact that their business in general and their new models in particular are lagging behind their major competitor in sales and marketing, so there's not much motivation to steal their secrets.

Alex @ 63

The blinkenlights on a bomb are a convenient (and horribly overworked) device to ratchet the suspense up as the time runs out, and provide a cheap set of shots to use as cutaway. It's a cheap and easy way to both lengthen the screen time of the climactic scene and make the hero's attempts to stop the catastrophe seem doomed to failure, so the final triumph is that much more exciting. It's a narrative, not an electronic, device.

#76 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2008, 04:47 PM:

Clifton Royston @ 74: I've noticed it particularly in some British people's comments, wondering how Americans can stand to live with the incredibly high crime and murder rate here.

This goes back a long way. IIRC, in Wodehouse's 1933 story "The Luck of the Stiffhams", the male protagonist goes off to America to seek his fortune, but his sweetheart is convinced that he'll be shot as soon as he arrives, because such events are so common there. I'm pretty sure that the same thing came up in other stories -- exaggerated and played for laughs, of course, but the concept is there.

#77 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2008, 06:47 PM:

Clifton @74,
And our brains are so easily taken over by what we see, vs. what we know.

When I was a kid, at one point I went to a school where... 1. I walked 1/2 mile to a bus stop located on a busy street, 2. took the city bus one mile, walked across a mall's parking lot to transfer 3. took the 2nd city bus several miles to the school. This was fine by my parents and me.

The same parent now gets worried about a grandchild walking 1 block from one house to a friend's house. They know that things are just as safe, there's just more sensational reporting. But the knowing can't overtake the feelings caused by that reporting.

We believe what we see, and if a scene is repeated 20 times on the TV, deep down we'll feel that it's happened 20 times.

#78 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2008, 07:07 PM:

Lee @ 61: "If you'd care to write that analysis up in a little more detail, I'd be interested in linking to it. I think it's important to give people the tools to see the sleight-of-hand happening."

Hmm, I hardly have anything for you to link to. I've posted to my blog all of three times in the years since I got it, and once was just a comment pasted from here. You'd be better off linking to that comment.

To add a little, I'd say that the basic conceit of both Macho Sue and the Reluctant Soldier is the belief that violence really is necessary, and those saying otherwise are naive, cowardly, or trying to trick the rest of us.

...this is a conceit shared by a great deal of science fiction and fantasy.

#79 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2008, 07:22 PM:

heresiarch #78:

Surely the issue isn't whether violence is sometimes necessary, but whether it's sometimes necessary to "take the gloves off" or abandon law and morality. And that's a philosophical question I don't claim to be able to answer once and for all, but which most action movies seem to answer in the positive, with very little thought appearing to be given to the bad consequences of that answer.

#80 ::: Dan S. ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2008, 08:13 PM:

"We believe what we see, and if a scene is repeated 20 times on the TV, deep down we'll feel that it's happened 20 times."

Which, I think, may have been one contributing factor - however minor - to how so many people went a bit bonkers after 9/11.

#81 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2008, 08:41 PM:

Dan: Yes, that was one reason I began consciously avoiding TV in those days; I realized I needed to avoid traumatizing myself, as I was seeing a lot of people doing. To this day, I think I've seen that footage once, maybe twice?

#82 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2008, 08:49 PM:

Kayjayoh #73: 'I can tell because my car was parking in my landlord's car'. I'd love to know how you did that

#83 ::: Syd ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2008, 08:57 PM:

albatross @ 79: this is exactly one of the reasons I enjoyed Star Trek: TNG and DS9. I don't recall if it was explicitly stated in either show (I suppose not being able to quote episode name and dialogue means I'm not a real Trekkie, but I'll survive :), but there was a strong indication that resorting to violence meant you'd already lost the argument.

#84 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2008, 09:04 PM:

Heresiarch@78: I'd say that the basic conceit of both Macho Sue and the Reluctant Soldier is the belief that violence really is necessary, and those saying otherwise are naive, cowardly, or trying to trick the rest of us.

i.e. see Charlie's thread about alternative boondoggles instead of blowing 3T$ on Iraq.

It didn't take long for the conversation about the cost of the war and is it worth it to draw out some trolls who tried to accuse folks of wanting to lose the war.

#85 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2008, 09:32 PM:

albatross @ 79: I don't quite understand the distinction you're driving at, so I'll simply try to explain my own point of view a little more clearly.

I think the Macho Sue conceit is that there's a sort of special zone wherein violence shifts from being categorically bad to being categorically good. Sure, you shouldn't kill people, but if the mobster murders your family, then taking bloody revenge on his entire organization is worth supporting. Once stuff shifts to the Macho Sue zone, all those asshole traits--aggressive, violent, antisocial--become virtues. That's the payoff for his earlier struggles: now that the shit has really hit the fan, everyone realizes how much they needed him!

The Reluctant Soldier view is different. Violence is always bad but, sometimes, necessary. Sometimes the weak need defending, and the hard choices need to be made. Doing these things hasn't become a moral good; they still taint the person who does them. Thus, making these hard choices is an actual sacrifice. Their burden is unique--they have accepted corruption to save everyone else. Now, in my moral universe, this isn't entirely insane. Some fights do need to be fought, and the noblest of causes doesn't make it any less awful. PTSD doesn't care why you fought.

That doesn't mean that the Reluctant Soldier archtype isn't harmful, though. As a storyline, the violence is inevitably necessary. The moral of the story is less "Let's avoid violence as much as possible" than it is "Look how awesome he is for being so self-sacrificing and noble!" So in the end, the Reluctant Soldier archetype is still about glorifying violence and the men who do it--just like the Macho Sue. Both are designed to make the case that violence is necessary.

Another problem is that Macho Sues (who are never right) love to pretend they are Reluctant Soldiers (who are sometimes right). It transforms their asshole machismo into noble, Christ-like martyrdom. But they aren't really making any sort of sacrifice; they love deciding who will live and who will die. They love the violence, the power. The Reluctant Soldier is just their sheep suit.

#86 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2008, 10:22 PM:

#85:

The moral of the story is less "Let's avoid violence as much as possible" than it is "Look how awesome he is for being so self-sacrificing and noble!"

I think this varies greatly depending on who is telling the story. The Sharing Knife comes to mind as a counterexample. (It's not finished yet, but if the main characters change the world for the better in the last book, I bet it won't be by violence.)

Part of the problem is that the times when violence is necessary and the times when you *think* violence is necessary aren't necessarily the same times. The people who just want a fight will try to convince you that it's necessary even when it isn't. (I hardly need to detail the historical and current-events examples.) But even the people who aren't actively hoping for violence can screw this up.

E.g.: Ender's Game. Warriors don't come much more Reluctant than Ender. He's actually *frg hc* gb svtug gur jne orpnhfr ur jbhyqa'g qb vg vs ur xarj vg jnf sbe erny. Ohg gur crbcyr jub frg uvz hc sbe vg ner znxvat rknpgyl guvf zvfgnxr - gur jne vfa'g arprffnel ng nyy.

#87 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2008, 10:43 PM:

Lee@61: Heresiarch, #54: If you'd care to write that analysis up in a little more detail, I'd be interested in linking to it. I think it's important to give people the tools to see the sleight-of-hand happening.

Lee, analysys of the ways in which an author can create sympathy for a pro-war viewpoint character was something I tried to hammer out on the war pr0n page.

The links on the right hand side include a "complete description" and a "short form" page. The "complete description" is CC-BY-SA if you want to put it on your own site or create a derivative.

It doesn't go into the tricks of how the author explains why the reluctant soldier must bring himself out of retirement (usually its a specific form of the "out of whack" event. i.e. they "killed my father, raped and murdered my sister, burned my ranch, shot my dog, and stole my Bible!"), but it does try to go into the number of ways that the author will try to minimize any realistic negative impact from violence (such as colateral damage) and maximize the justification for violence.

Basic author tricks include othering and distancing.

Othering simply means presenting the enemy as evil incarnate, mindless minions, irredeamable rubbish, things which do not feel, do not have families, do not live day to day lives as we know it.

distancing means the author puts distance between the reader and the violence performed by the sympathetic character. As an example, lethal rube goldberg machines are everywhere in fiction once you start looking for them.

Contrast this distancing of the effects of violence committed by the sympathetic character with the intense focus of the damage done by the violence of the antagonist character. This goes back to the "out of whack event", showing how traumatic the death of the protrag's wife was to the reluctant soldier, versus the lack of emotional cost when the protag kills the antagonist's evil girlfriend.

And so on.

#88 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2008, 10:49 PM:

for example, with regard to Iraq, contrast the Bush Administration's intense focus on the damage done (or could be done, or maybe, might be done) by al queda or terrrists, invoking 9-11 whenever possible, versus their complete unwillingness to look at the damage their policies inflict on everyone else.

that's controling the distance of the narrative

#89 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2008, 11:33 PM:

Bruce #57: The twist the new incarnation(s) of Doctor Who have on the Reluctant Warrior fits in very well with this view of having a code of non-violence. The Doctor's distaste for guns is a big part of this. If you haven't watched the whole 4 series, do so. Or we can tell you which episodes are best ones (*ahem* Stephen Moffat *ahem*) -but no Spoilers.

Firefly is an interesting American attempt in the same direction - the Macho Sue character Jayne is the butt of their jokes, but it doesn't quite hold it up as well as Doctor Who does.

I wrote about this theme in Stardust before.

#90 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2008, 11:34 PM:

Greg #87:

As an alternative to this, look at the reluctant soldier in Munich. Ol gur raq bs gur zbivr, vg'f cynva gung gur znva punenpgre unf fhpprffshyyl pneevrq bhg fbzr ynetr cneg bs uvf bssvpvnyyl-fnapgvbarq iratnapr zvffvba, naq gur whfgvsvpngvbaf sbe gung ner irel pyrne. Naq lrg, vg'f nyfb pyrne gung ur vf qrrcyl, cebonoyl creznaragyl, shpxrq hc ol jung ur'f qbar, ol gur qrnguf bs olfgnaqref naq greebevmngvba bs enaqbz sbyxf jub unccrarq gb or va gur jebat cynpr ng gur jebat gvzr, naq ol gur rkcrevrapr bs orvat obgu uhagre naq uhagrq.

#91 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2008, 11:48 PM:

heresiarch #85:

I agree on the Macho Sue character and its problems. Being an asshole who's willing to hurt or kill people who get in the way just can't be made okay, no matter how bad the bad guys. I think there's a certain image we have of Mr. Macho Sue as being a thug, but "our" thug--someone who is fearsome to the enemy (and women and children dear to him), but not to our people.

As far as the second part, I think we just have a fundamental disagreement. I don't think violence is inherently a bad thing, I think its rightness or wrongness is based on the surrounding situation. A policeman using violence to stop a robbery in progress is a good thing, even though it would be still better if he could stop the robbery without it.

IMO, there's a big danger in glorifying violence, because that encourages it where it's not necessary. But there's also a big danger in categorically condemning it, because we can no more run a working society without violence than we can without farming.

#92 ::: Takuan ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2008, 12:27 AM:

(* * * ) Is this thinge onne?

#93 ::: Takuan ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2008, 12:40 AM:

ah, excellent. If you don't like the story being told, tell your own. Do the righteous outnumber the bad? Perhaps instead of trying to counter lies with facts it is better to tell stories. Why does the Warofterror Industry have such legs in the demographic? Are they delivering what people WANT to hear? How can we deliver what they NEED to hear in a manner that they will hear it?

#94 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2008, 02:08 AM:

Daniel Martin at #59 writes:

> Oh. This comment just caused me to come to some rather unpleasant realizations about fast-penta. I mean, in theory the realization that Barrayar is not a nice place for the non-Vors is old news, but... Hrm.

I'd been reading the Barrayar books for quite a while before it really clicked that the "good guys" were a bunch of militarist racist classist thugs. Which doesn't mean I stopped loving the books, but it made my head spin around a couple of times.

#95 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2008, 02:48 AM:

Chris @ 86: "I think this varies greatly depending on who is telling the story. The Sharing Knife comes to mind as a counterexample. (It's not finished yet, but if the main characters change the world for the better in the last book, I bet it won't be by violence.)"

Well, archetypes can be used in different ways--just because a story is has a Reluctant Soldier in it doesn't mean it will be a typical Reluctant Soldier story. The Sharing Knife, in my humble, isn't about Dag's reluctant soldieriness--among other things, he isn't that reluctant about fighting the blight. It is really about recovering from the horrors of violence, and about learning how to be a human again.

And like I said before, the Reluctant Soldier archetype isn't inherently awful. There are some very good stories about Reluctant Soldiers (Road to Perdition, A History of Violence, Transmetropolitan,* etc.). The problem is that they often serve as a seemingly-reasonable pretext for Macho Sues looking to prove something.

*I don't think it's a coincidence that the three reluctant soldier stories I thought of first came from the comic book tradition--the justifications and ramifications of violence are a major theme in that realm.

albatross @ 91: "As far as the second part, I think we just have a fundamental disagreement. I don't think violence is inherently a bad thing, I think its rightness or wrongness is based on the surrounding situation. A policeman using violence to stop a robbery in progress is a good thing, even though it would be still better if he could stop the robbery without it."

That is a major disagreement. While I agree that the surrounding situation is very important in cases of violence, no matter how justified violence is, it still causes pain and is therefore undeniably bad. It is never a good, only the lesser of two evils. Surgery is often a good thing on the whole, but that goodness doesn't make the knife inflict any less damage, or the cuts any less likely to get infected. You're still getting cut up, and you still end up with scars.

#96 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2008, 03:13 AM:

Hi, Takuan! Nice to see you joining the conversations over here.

#97 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2008, 03:16 AM:

One of the reasons I love Lost so much is that it often runs contrary to these myths, and does it well. So far I can think of very few examples in Lost where violence proved to be the 'correct' solution, and quite a few cases where it proved to be a very bad choice. Rot’d for many, many spoilers:

Unaqthaf unir serdhragyl xvyyrq fbzrbar bgure guna gurve vagraqrq gnetrg, va gjb pnfrf xvyyvat n gbgny vaabprag jub whfg unccrarq gb fgnegyr gur crefba ubyqvat gur tha. Nyfb, eneryl unf n tha npghnyyl cebivqrq fnsrgl bs nal xvaq, orpnhfr bccbaragf jrer bsgra zber ahzrebhf naq fvzvyneyl nezrq. Va bar pnfr, gur 'tbbq thl' jvgu gur tha vf fubg qhevat n xvqanccvat, orpnhfr ur nggrzcgrq gb fubbg gur bgure crbcyr jub unq gurve bja thaf… ol orvat nezrq, ur orpnzr n gnetrg. Va bgure pnfrf, gur znva punenpgref jvgu thaf ner fheebhaqrq naq znqr gb fheeraqre gurve jrncbaf ol gurve zber ahzrebhf rarzvrf. Lrg nabgure rknzcyr unf n punenpgre fubbgvat na hanezrq crefba jub vf gelvat gb pncgher ure. Guvf nyybjf ure gb rfpncr, ohg gur qrngu bs gur crefba jub jnf fubg pnhfrf navzbfvgl orgjrra gur gjb tebhcf gb fcveny bhg bs pbageby. Gurer ner n srj pnfrf jurer crbcyr jub xabj ubj gb hfr thaf hfr gurz jryy, ohg gurer ner sne zber pnfrf jurer gurl ner hfryrff be fghcvq, naq pnhfr n ybg bs pbyyngreny qnzntr.

Ybfg vf nyfb havdhr va gung bar bs gur znva punenpgref, jub jbhyq ynetryl or pbafvqrerq n 'tbbq' thl, vf n sbezre gbeghere sbe gur Erchoyvpna Thneq. Juvyr ur ernyvmrf gbegher vf ubeevoyr, vg nyfb frrzf gb fcevat gb zvaq nf n tbbq cbffvoyr fbyhgvba sne gbb bsgra*. Guvf unf erfhygrq va n pnfr jurer ur gbegherq n urycyrff fhowrpg jub qvq abg unir gur vasbezngvba ur jnf ybbxvat sbe, naq n pnfr jurer ur gbegherq fbzrbar jub jnf na npghny rarzl, bayl gb unir gung rarzl rnfvyl jvgufgnaq gur gbegher naq fraq gur tbbq thlf ba n jvyq tbbfr punfr. Va synfuonpxf ur vf obgu sbeprq ol uvf bja tbireazrag gb gbegher fbzrbar ur xabjf gb or n tbbq crefba (gubhtu gung crefba vf n serrqbz svtugre), naq va n qvssrerag synfuonpx ur vf oynpxznvyrq ol gur HF tbireazrag vagb gbeghevat n fhfcrpg fb gung gur HF pna ‘xrrc gurve unaqf pyrna.’ Juvyr gurer znl unir orra na bppnfvba be gjb jurer fbzrguvat fvzvyne gb gbegher unf ‘jbexrq’ ba gur fubj, ab cbfvgvir rknzcyrf whzc gb zvaq, naq gur pnhgvbanel cbegvbaf bs gur gnyr ner zhpu terngre.

Evtug abj jr unir fbeg bs n ubeevoyr gjvfg ba gur eryhpgnag fbyqvre cnenqvtz. Fbzrbar oebhtug hc gur rknzcyr jurer gur ureb xvyyf gur ivyynvaf rivy tveysevraq gb trg eriratr sbe gur ivyynva xvyyvat gur ureb’f tveysevraq. Jryy, va Ybfg, Onqzna#1 unf xvyyrq gur Onqzna#2’f qnhtugre (n gbgny vaabprag) naq abj #2 vf tbvat gb xvyy #1’f qnhtugre… nabgure gbgny vaabprag, naq fbzrbar jubfr unccvarff jr ernyyl pner nobhg. Fb rira gur byq “rlr sbe na rlr” cnenqvtz vf erirnyrq nf cerggl tbqqnz snhygl.

Ernyyl, V pna’g guvax bs n fvatyr fubj jvgu zbenyvgl nf ahnaprq nf Ybfg. V’z fher gurl rkvfg, ohg V’z abg erthyneyl rkcbfrq gb gurz.

*V guvax guvf vf n pnershy zbir ba gur jevgref cneg gb fubj ubj uneq vg vf gb yrg tb bs fbzrguvat lbh'ir orra genvarq gb eryl ba, rira vs lbh xabj vg vf jebat, naq abg zreryl n pbairavrag cybg

#98 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2008, 03:29 AM:

Clifton, #81: Indeed. We put a moratorium on the TV for several weeks after the day itself, but I know a number of people who did watch obsessively and, I think, worked themselves into something not unlike a state of PTSD as a result. Some of them have not yet recovered, which I take as a serious cautionary tale.

Takuan, #93: Excellent points, and they tie back into one of my pet hobby-horses: namely, that language and framing are vitally important, and that progressives have sat back and allowed the neocons and greedheads to control the terms of discourse for the past 30 years or more. Over in Suzette Haden Elgin's LiveJournal, there have been several lively discussions of what kind of counter-metaphors might be useful, and I'd like to see some of the same here -- especially since there are so many people here who either work with language for a living, or care passionately about it.

#99 ::: Kayjayoh ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2008, 03:52 AM:

Fragano Ledgister @ #82

Kayjayoh #73: 'I can tell because my car was parking in my landlord's car'. I'd love to know how you did that

Reaction #1: Huh?

<pause...>

Reaction #2: ROFL

Ok, how about I rephrase that: My car had my landlord's car parked in.

:)

#100 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2008, 05:49 AM:

Lee @98 re: 77,80-81:

Soon after that day the newspaper had a section on how to talk to children about it, and it emphasized how small children can't tell if an event is new or repeated. I remember thinking to myself "Deep down, my brain is different how?"

I was stranded in a nearby state and ended up renting a car to drive home, thus I didn't watch more than a few hours on the first 2 days. Ever so, I have a false Flashbulb-memory (see post in another thread) that I cannot remove.

"Expectation of learning by watching" is a very human trait (one the other chimps don't have). One or two million years of that, versus a few decades of media analysis... I know what'll win when the brain is looking for truthiness.

#101 ::: Pete Darby ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2008, 06:41 AM:

@57, Bruce, I'm sure you know about this, but "Clinton R Nixon's Paladin is a handbook for making an RPG about strict ethical ass-kickery.

#102 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2008, 07:16 AM:

We got Google Streetview this year here in Raleigh. I can find my car in two places; parked in my driveway and in my office's parking lot.

While it doesn't bother me that much, I know at least one person who'd be freaked out to see her car parked in front of their apartment building, though (yes I looked).

#104 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2008, 09:31 AM:

Kathryn #100:

Yeah, I always think of it this way, in classic evo-psych just-so-story form: For all of history up until very recently, anything you saw was something that you could assume was reasonably likely to happen, because after all, it happened in front of your eyes. If you have just seen a friend eaten by a lion, being deathly afraid of lions from now on is an excellent strategy.

#105 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2008, 09:36 AM:

Part of the reason for the widespread acceptance of the Macho Sue reading of the state of the world by inhabitants of the US* these days is that it's a comforting reminder of "old-fashioned values" in a time when so many people have been traumatized by events and want a security blanket to hang onto. The Macho Sue meme, usually thinly disguised as the Reluctant Soldier, was the default narrative for most of television and many books (especially in SF&F) in the 20th Century (say from the beginning of WWII to the end of the Vietnam War**).

It's comforting for a lot people to believe that the monsters under the bed can be subdued by returning to the old, "successful" ways of a time when no one messed with us because we had the Bomb†, and we got to take what we wanted without saying "please". Several posters here have commented on being shocked on re-reading their old comfort fiction to find how much it glorified the Macho Sue view of the world. The problem we have in the US today is that so many weren't shocked but comforted.


* I'm looking for a term for members of the US culture, not necessarily just citizens, but people who are a part of the society and accept its values, which is less klunky than USians. "Americans" is too ambiguous, and, I think, insulting to Canadians and Mexicans, if not everyone else in the Western Hemisphere.
** And after; the Vietnam Vet as Paladin got to be even more popular a story than the Vietnam Vet as psychotic killer after the war.
† Except. of course, for whoever was the Great Satan that decade. Having the Nazis, or the Soviets, or the Red Chinese around gave us an enemy that kept us on our toes, tuned up and ready to fight evil effectively whenever we found it.

#106 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2008, 10:45 AM:

Bruce #105:

The weird thing is, people look back to a time that was many times less safe for us. We can "lose" the war on terror, in the sense that maybe a thousand people a year will die in terrorist attacks and we'll all have to live with more security hassles day to day. But we could have lost the cold war in the sense that a few people in very remote parts of the US (and USSR, and much of Europe and some of Asia) with no prevailing fallout-carrying winds would still have been eking out a living farming and nursing along failing technology with no spare parts available. We could plausibly have lost in the sense that, having backed away from a nuclear exchange, we might have had much of our overseas military and many of our allies killed/captured, and might have had to make various painful concessions to avoid further losses. Similarly, our forces fighting the Germans and Japanese could have lost, and we'd have had to live in a radically different, much darker, world.

In some sense, fighting the Nazis or Commies might seem, now, to have been a morally simpler time. (It wasn't, as far as I can tell. You don't choose Stalin as an ally because your moral choices are good, simple, clear ones; firebombing Dresden and nuking Hiroshima aren't painless moral choices. And the cold war was chock full of nauseating moral choices, starting with the willingness to premeditate and lay out the murder of 100M+ Russians and Eastern Europeans with our nuclear forces, and extending from there to siding with charming folks like Pinochet and the Shah.) But mainly, I think the difference is that we know how all those conflicts turned out, and we can assign "good guy" and "bad guy" labels to the participants, and imagine ourselves as the ones wearing the white hats. This is helped along by war movies celebrating WW2 in pretty much straight propoganda terms.


#107 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2008, 10:46 AM:

Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) @#105:

I'm looking for a term for members of the US culture, not necessarily just citizens, but people who are a part of the society and accept its values, which is less klunky than USians. "Americans" is too ambiguous, and, I think, insulting to Canadians and Mexicans, if not everyone else in the Western Hemisphere.

"Freedom Lovers"

[/tonguecheek]

#108 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2008, 10:55 AM:

Bruce Cohen @ 105... "Americans" is too ambiguous

On the other hand, even if inhabitants of the USA stopped referring to themselves as Americans, neither Canadians nor Mexicans would then decide it's OK for them to call themselves Americans. So why bother changing it?

#109 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2008, 11:02 AM:

Kayjayoh #99: Funny kind of matryoshka cars you've got there.

#110 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2008, 11:09 AM:

Mary Dell #107: In Spanish 'americano' refers to someone from Latin America, while 'estadounidense' means someone from the United States. This caused me no end of confusion when I was growing up.

#111 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2008, 11:39 AM:

Fragano Ledgister @#110: Are you sure? Movies and TV have taught me that Mexicans call USians "Los Americanos" or "Gringos," and there are no countries south of Mexico.

Oh Pancho! Oh, Cisco!

#112 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2008, 11:53 AM:

Sidenote, inspired by seeing Escape From New York again on TV a few nights ago: With its streetgang-hippy kidnapper/terrorists and that light plane landing atop one of the World Trade Center buildings, it offered (from a 2008 perspective) clear proof that truth is *much* stranger than fiction. As for the film 2001, the changes may have been more monumental there, but our real experience of the year still seems more bizarre.

It's evident why even genuine soothsayers would rarely be believed!

#113 ::: guthri ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2008, 11:58 AM:

Albatross #71- I have no idea how you can find out how old the pictures are.

#114 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2008, 12:21 PM:

Albatross (#71)/ guthri (#113): the latest version of Google Earth (4.3) will show you imagery dates. Looking at Cambridge (MA) can be amusing, since the western part has the old MassGIS 2001 photos which are noticably different in color, and were taken at a different time of year, than the 2007 photos of the eastern portion.

(The update was necessary to show things like the Stata Center at MIT, which had been a construction site during the 2001 photography.)

#115 ::: jamiehall ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2008, 12:53 PM:

Well, my response ended up being way too long for a comment, so I made my own blog post about it.

#116 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2008, 12:56 PM:

albatross @ 106: "The weird thing is, people look back to a time that was many times less safe for us."

I think that that is very telling of the Macho Sue mindset. Back then, if they grabbed at too much power, if they used terrible means to acheive their goals, well, you could not question the importance of those goals. Yet today, when the stakes are far lower, they argue for the exact same sorts of powers. Clearly their professed aims--promoting and protecting democracy, etc.--were to them merely the means by which they reached their true goal: unquestioned power. Now they yearn for the days when the justifications for violent excess were so much better.

"But mainly, I think the difference is that we know how all those conflicts turned out, and we can assign "good guy" and "bad guy" labels to the participants, and imagine ourselves as the ones wearing the white hats."

I think that's very true. The wars of yesteryear are always easier, morally: someone won, and wrote the history, and now we can all more or less agree what was worth it and what wasn't. But it's a false clarity.

#117 ::: Kayjayoh ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2008, 01:52 PM:

Kayjayoh #99: Funny kind of matryoshka cars you've got there.

<flicks rubberband at Fragano>

#118 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2008, 02:24 PM:

Bruce Baugh: I'm in the early stages of fleshing out a fantasy series in which the good guys' power depends on holding to a very, very strict moral code even in the face of extreme crisis, to see if I can get some good drama out of it.

That one novel of Starhawk's - I think it was The Fifth Sacred Thing - almost qualifies. It depicted a society totally committed to non-violence and having to deal with invasion and occupation by military sorts. I liked it a lot and really relished the thought-experiment, right up until...

***spoiler***

...one of the main characters saved the day, and the life of one of the other main characters, by shooting someone.

Maybe that didn't count as non-non-violence on the part of the non-violent community, since this character had been conscripted out of that community and into the occupying army. Maybe he was meant instead to serve as an example of violence eventually turning on its own practitioners. But it seemed like cheating on the thought-experiment, to me.

***/end spoiler***


Michael Roberts: perhaps Burroughs was right -- doing that caused the merchant to come out and make an ass of himself in public, after all. And who would give a public ass their business?

I can't help but wonder how that story would have gone if the shop keeper instead responded with "Oh, good morning, Mr. Burroughs! Good to see you again. Can I pour you a cup of coffee? I've just brewed a fresh batch. How was your weekend?"


Kevin Marks: If you haven't watched the whole 4 series, do so.

But how? They've only aired through Ep 9 by now!

(Oh, Gods, Ep 9. How I *heart* Steve Moffat. Even while I was sobbing like a baby, there was part of me standing back and taking notes: "Ooh! That is so going into the Author's Toolbox! Filed under How To Create A Complete And Emotionally Effective Back Story Without Actually Writing It.")


Re: Kit Whitfield's Macho Sue analysis: While we're at it, her thoughtful examination of Rambo by way of Son Of Rambow is likewise excellent and very much on topic. Read it here.

#119 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2008, 02:49 PM:

Mary Dell #111: The Spanish I learned in my childhood was that of Spain. I learned New World Spanish as an adult, and still think Mexicans talk funny.

#120 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2008, 03:28 PM:

Fragano @119:

Funny. I learned Mexican Spanish as a kid, and I have trouble hearing the Castillian accent without smiling.

It'th the lithping. Gets me every time.

#121 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2008, 03:32 PM:

abi @ 120... How bad was my mastery of the 'th' sound - assuming that you remember?

#122 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2008, 03:43 PM:

Serge @121:
How bad was my mastery of the 'th' sound - assuming that you remember?

I'm afraid I don't recall; after realizing that you sounded exactly like Christopher Lambert, I confess that I paid more attention to content than to accent.

Sorry.

#123 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2008, 03:48 PM:

Turista de España está visitando Ciudad de México y se está colocando en una parada de autobús.

Un autobús llega y el turista pide, " ¿Adónde va ethte autobú?"

"A Tacuba," dice el chofer.

"¡Tan lejo!"

#124 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2008, 03:50 PM:

abi @ 122... Oh, no need to apologize. Now, if you had compared me to the Kurgen...

#125 ::: Richard Brandt ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2008, 04:10 PM:

Today's paper has a rather disgustingly jingoistic editorial cartoon in which a circle of Republicans gleefully egg on an American soldier who has some Middle Eastern fellow on the ground and is pounding away at him with his fists. These are the good guys, as you can plainly see by the contrast with the wimpy Democrats in the next panel.

#126 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2008, 05:00 PM:

abi #120: Just because Spaniards can pronounce an unvoiced 'th' and Latin Americans can't? (And it isn't a lisp -- there's no problem with esses, the difference is on cees and zeds before e and i.)

#127 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2008, 05:02 PM:

James Macdonald #123: Tu español mas bien parece un borinqueño con ceceo.

#128 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2008, 05:22 PM:

Fragano @126:
I admit that I am being unfair.

But the time that the accent really got to me was in the hospital in Almería, after I had set my legs on fire*. I was all alone—my travelling companions were back at the beach. It was late at night, and I was so thirsty†. So I rang for the nurse.

"Tengo sed," I said.

"¿Qué quieres?" she asked, and then said a word I could not understand at all. "¿Thumo?"

I had a little dictionary with me, but even then I could not find it, because I simply could not figure out what the first letter of the word was‡.

It was one of those achingly lonely moments that create lifelong aversions. Be grateful that it's only one sound in the language that's affected.

-----
* plastic bottle of alcohol para cocinar + fire too close = exploding bottle, melted skirt fabric, 15% partial thickness burns, and 8 days in a hospital where no one spoke English
† A long day in the sun followed by burns will do that to you.

#129 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2008, 05:23 PM:

‡ Z, pronounced S in Mexican Spanish and voiceless TH in Spain

#130 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2008, 05:41 PM:

abi #128: And, of course, in the US they teach you that the Spanish word for fruit juice is 'jugo' rathar than 'zumo'...

#131 ::: Alberto ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2008, 06:47 PM:

Fragano @ #130:

Clearly. Juice is jugo and the wonderful volatile essential oils that spray out everywhere when you peel an orange (or what have you) is zumo. At least, that's what I learned in my house. Being provincial Mexicans, and all.

Took me by surprise when I was offered a glass of zumo de naranja when I was in Madrid last year. But that got sorted out right quick.

#132 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2008, 07:04 PM:

Alberto #131: I'll bet! On t'other hand, I've read complaints in the Spanish press about the 'South American' accents of the automatic ticket readers installed in some modern 'parkings' that say 'grasias' instead of 'gracias'.

#133 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2008, 07:12 PM:

abi @ 128... I had set my legs on fire

Zees eez a razer extreme depilatory mezod.

#134 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2008, 07:38 PM:

Nicole@118: Kit Whitfield's Macho Sue analysis

Good stuff there. Bookmarked for further reading.

#135 ::: clew ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2008, 09:56 PM:

I read jamiehall's delightful post on the dangers of 'shelved disbelief' and, nosing through links *from* it, came across this excellent comment on (e.g.) Macho-Sue-ism:

There's a definite purpose for telling a story about yourself, as long as you stay grounded in the realities of this world. I think Chris did a great job of showing the boundaries between personal mythology as a way of enhancing one's understanding of this life, and personal mythology as a way of disconnecting from this life.

It startles me that this good advice to current war-mongering fantasies comes from people who believe that they are the incarnations in this world of real beings who happen to exist in alternate realities that we only experience as fiction.

#136 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2008, 10:11 PM:

Questions for the Spanish speakers in the house:

1. Which is your favorite Spanish accent that you have heard?

2. The only diaspora language* with which I'm very familiar is English, and I'm quite amused at the different...personalities? stereotypes? associated with its various accents. So, are there similar accent associations with various Spanish-speaking areas?

*a language used by a large, discontinuous population of speakers. Preferably mutually intelligible, mostly.

#137 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2008, 10:20 PM:

1. Which is your favorite Spanish accent that you have heard?

I love the Columbian accent.

#138 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2008, 10:21 PM:

Serge @#124:

I love Kurgen! Highlander is more fun when you root for Kurgen.

#139 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2008, 02:24 AM:

Fragano, #45, the aerial photo of our condo development shows my van, but it still has the old railroad junction, so it's between three and thirteen years old -- I can tell it's all one photo by the color and resolution. The point, though, is two buildings down and I didn't see a way to edit that. There's no streetview.

Kayjayoh, #73, Hmph. I had a joke, but Fragano got it first.

#140 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2008, 03:21 AM:

Fragano @132:
I've read complaints in the Spanish press about the 'South American' accents of the automatic ticket readers installed in some modern 'parkings' that say 'grasias' instead of 'gracias'.

My first taxi ride in the Netherlands was entirely taken up with the driver complaining that the TomTom spoke Flemish (Belgian) rather than proper Dutch.

#141 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2008, 05:09 AM:

clew @135: sorry, your link to The Wild Hunt interview with Lupa back in May last year somehow got totally munged. I hope this one works, it's quite interesting.

Re Dr Who & the Reluctant Warrior: What the Doctor does at the end of the two-part Family of Blood was pretty confronting. It opened up, to me at least, a new view of him — or one I'd forgotten. Tho' I still somehow mentally overlay the Eccleston version onto the 'serious' Doctor — I still *heart* that 'incarnation' — p'raps 'cos I saw David Tennant in some quite silly & annoying roles first.

#142 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2008, 06:25 AM:

James Macdonald #137: That being the form of Spanish spoken in the vicinity of the capital of South Carolina?

Colombians have the odd habit of saying 'siga' (go on) for 'come in', by the way.

#143 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2008, 06:32 AM:

Marilee #139: For the longest time, the photograph of the area where I work showed a building that had been demolished several years ago. It was updated about a year and a half ago (I can see the car our former department secretary bought about then).

#144 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2008, 06:35 AM:

abi #140: That's rather on the order of a Yorkshireman complaining that it had a Lancastrian accent.

#145 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2008, 06:38 AM:

Nicole@118: Yeah, there's a legacy of novels in which basically pacifist people win the day, but only with someone resorting to violence. Pat Cadigan's take in "The City, Not Long After" appeals to me because she treats the violence as a tragedy and leaves open the question of whether it was necessary. I'm not at all sure I can make this work the way I want to, but it's interesting to see how the world needs to be shaped to make the effort worth taking.

#146 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2008, 07:09 AM:

Bruce Baugh @ 145: A Michael Swanwick novella, Griffen's Egg, touches, lightly, on this.

#147 ::: Tlönista ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2008, 07:25 AM:

The problem is, in Griffin's Egg they like it (afterwards, anyway).

#148 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2008, 07:27 AM:

Pat Murphy, darn it. I keep doing that. Pat Cadigan's written a lot of fine stories, but not that one in particular.

#149 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2008, 08:54 AM:

heresiarch #136:

My favorite was the accent in Barcelona, but I'm not sure how much of this was colored by how much fun I had there. And while there, I remember noticing the difference in accent of a bartender/waitress from Ecuador, and I recall that she seemed a bit offended that I asked about it.

OTOH, I probably understand the Mexican and Salvadoran accents best, because they're what I hear most often.

Alberto #131:

It's striking to me how much more I notice irritations (weird accents, static on the radio, background noise, unfamiliar technical terms) when I'm listening to Spanish than English. There's clearly some huge advantage to having a better mental model for the language. A level of static that I can adapt to in an English language radio program will make me just give up and turn off the Spanish program. Similarly, I can come into the middle of a discussion in English and very quickly catch what's going on, where a Spanish conversation takes more time. This whole second language thing is a great way to get some intuitions about information theory and communications....

#150 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2008, 09:00 AM:

Mary Dell @ 138... Highlander is more fun when you root for Kurgen

Kurgan: You can't defeat me, Ramirez! I am the strongest!
Ramirez: My cut has improved your voice!

#151 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2008, 09:23 AM:

abi (#128): after I had set my legs on fire

When first reading this comment, my immediate thought was "wait, I didn't see James Nicoll's name, did I?"

#152 ::: Alberto ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2008, 04:28 PM:

heresiarch @ #136

1. Which is your favorite Spanish accent that you have heard?

Upper bourgeois Guatemalan from Antigua and Guatemala City. Absolutely gorgeous. I had a coworker whose background was such, and her Spanish was amongst the most mellifluous I've ever had the pleasure of hearing. Of course, that could have just been Lucía's idiolect. Still, that sets the gold standard for me.

Beyond that, I love the high formalism of some of the Colombians. Another former colleague always used the formal register with everyone, she spoke to her brother as "usted" and when she spoke to her grandmother, it was as "vuestra merced"--"your mercy" (the equivalent of addressing an Englishwoman as "Your Grace").

My family's own accent and dialect is old high provincial Mexican, from the region of Cotija, Michoacan (where the cheese comes from). It's got some archaisms, like most Mexican Spanish, but I love the way my mother, and especially my eldest sister, speak it. It's a clear and oddly educated-sounding sort of speech for ranchers and farmers, you know?

My accent is a bit... muddier... than that, having been raised in the Central Valley in California. But it gets much clearer when I've been home for a while (I live in SF now). However, when I haven't been, it's sometimes hard for other Spanish-speakers to place with any certainty. They're certain that I'm a native, they just can't say a native of where. (Which caused much fun in a job interview with that Colombian colleague of mine I mentioned above. Since she'd been in the States since her teens, her accent was also... ambiguous. After the interview, we quizzed each other as to where our people where from.)

2. The only diaspora language* with which I'm very familiar is English, and I'm quite amused at the different...personalities? stereotypes? associated with its various accents. So, are there similar accent associations with various Spanish-speaking areas?

Oh, yes! In Mexico, the northerners talk like uppity hicks, chilangos (folks from Mexico City) either speak well (if they're bourgeois), or have dreadful naco accents (think Poor Brown Trash, and you're most of the way there), and the east coasters sound almost like Cubans, god forbid. Argentines sound snobbish, but not as bad as those arrogant lisping Spaniards, who can be cursed hard to understand! Chileans put the accent in the strangest places. Boricuas (Puerto Ricans) talk so fast that they drop half their syllables and replace all their Rs with Ls, so it's a wonder the rest of us understand a word they say at all... And the Caribbean islanders in general have no sense of decorum at all--addressing people as "tu" at the drop of a hat, never mind being called "mi amor" (my love) and "cariño" (darling) by people I'd just met! The effrontery of it, I tell you (oh my poor overly-formal Mexican soul).

And those, my dear, are just a few of the stereotypical impressions I've heard/picked up growing up as a native Spanish-speaker. YMMV.

albatross @ #149:

Yes, definitely. I'm a native bilingual, really, having learned both Spanish and English at the same time. They're tucked into the same meta-box in my head that says "primary language" (although all of my formal education is in English). I've learned that every other language I've picked up get shoved into the same "foreign language" box. Which makes it interesting when I want to say something in French and reach for a Hebrew word instead: "Slichah, où est ha'bibliothèque?" isn't the most helpful phrase in the world, ya know?

Additionally, there are just some things that don't translate. They just don't. And it was great learning Hebrew, especially, because it's so radically different in structure/concept to my native languages. It really opened up a new way of looking at language (and therefore, the world) for me. Even if it get tossed into the box with French.

#153 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2008, 02:27 AM:

Epacris @ 141: "What the Doctor does at the end of the two-part Family of Blood was pretty confronting. It opened up, to me at least, a new view of him — or one I'd forgotten. Tho' I still somehow mentally overlay the Eccleston version onto the 'serious' Doctor — I still *heart* that 'incarnation' — p'raps 'cos I saw David Tennant in some quite silly & annoying roles first."

I've held off from the "Doctor as positive non-violent role-model" conversation because I haven't seen series 4 yet, but this pretty much sums up my feelings. The Doctor is in no way a rejection of the Reluctant Warrior, Tough Jobs That Need Hard Men To Do Them storyline. Let's remember: the Doctor obliterated his entire race in order to win the war with the Daleks. Non-violent he ain't.

Alberto @ 152: Thanks! That's all quite fascinating. I especially like the uppity hicks stereotype--it doesn't map onto anything I'm familiar with at all =). The laidback Carribean islanders, on the other hand, fit my English-language stereotypes perfectly.

It's interesting to hear to you shudder at the idea of sounding Cuban--the one other person who I have asked this question said that she (bourgeois Mexico City/international) found Cuban accents the most beautiful.

#154 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2008, 05:33 AM:

I think The Doctor is a more complicated character than the typical Reluctant Hero.

And it's a bit like the line about the importance of fairy stories. We know there are Daleks, just as we know there are Dragons. But we are taught they can be defeated.

(The Daleks are a tangle of conflicting canonicity, as are most repeated enemies in Doctor Who. But, in the context of the Great Time War between Time Lords and Daleks, it would be wrong to forget Genesis of the Daleks)

#155 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2008, 06:04 AM:

One thing to remember is that we in the UK, at least, are used to some quite competent terrorists, from the various Irish factions. They planned attacks a bit more complicated than a suicide bomber. They must have done some sort of recce.

It's so not enough to justify the photo phobia, but that, and a failure to appreciate the ubiquity of cameras, maybe does make the story fit a little better, over here.

A for instance: there was an Eastercon practically next door to what was later an IRA target. There was a lot of slightly spiffy, somewhat futuristic, architecture. Fans took photographs. I expect they bought newspapers at the kiosk where a man was killed.

But what recce did that attack need? Not much at the site. My guess is that a couple or three people drove through the area enough times not to look like strangers at the road junctions. The escape route matters more than the attack point.

Yes, it's another story, but it doesn't feel silly.

#156 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2008, 09:08 AM:

heresiarch@153: the Doctor obliterated his entire race in order to win the war with the Daleks.

Woah. Doctor Who never really grabbed my attention. I've only seen bits and bobs here and But now I'm gonna have ta google that.

#157 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2008, 09:20 AM:

Alberto #152, if you asked me that question, I'd understand it just fine, but I'd wind up answering in a garble of French and English (and pointing, probably), depending on how complicated the street directions were. Along with some attempt at polite conversation that might be along the lines of "vous avez retournee d'Eretz Yisrael?"

I know just enough of other languages to sound like a complete idiot in several.

#158 ::: Alberto ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2008, 10:09 AM:

heresiarch @ 153: The norteño accent kind of maps on to something like, hm, Texann (hence hick), with an overlay of some very good manners (hence uppity). The northern Mexicans, especially from Monterrey (Mexico's third-largest city and the industrial heart of the region) have a reputation for being stingy, but in actuality are incredibly open-hearted and warmly generous as a rule.

As for the Cuban thing, it's not shudders at the sound--which I think is the least odd of the Islanders to Mexican ears, since it's similar to that on the Gulf coast of Mexico but more musical, but at the familiarity in the language. I'm Mexican (and a provincial one, at that)--my instinctive cultural reaction to most things is warm but strict formality until permission (or enough time, maybe) allows for familiarity. I've had some experiences with non-Mexican hispanophones who got upset at my use of usted until they realized that I was Mexican. Then they insisted that I use tu and all was right in the world. Ah, the power of social conditioning.

Rikibeth @ 157: "I know just enough of other languages to sound like a complete idiot in several."

Yes, exactly! I was able to manage a basic competence when I was in France last year, based purely on my Spanish and English skills and the willingness to sound a complete idiot. Also, I never underestimated the power of a smiled "bonjour." With Hebrew I got really lucky--my teacher was a wonderfully practical Israeli woman who worked on giving us passable accents. Even today, Israelis will ask where I learned to get my reshes right. Truth to tell, I couldn't pronounce the French R correctly until after I began learning Hebrew.

#159 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2008, 10:53 AM:

Alberto @ 158: I had a Miami Cuban housemate once who insisted that the true distinguishing feature of Cuban Spanish was the constant profanity!

#160 ::: Alberto ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2008, 01:51 PM:

Rikibeth @ 159: There are several varieties of Mexican Spanish where that is also the case. (Heck, you should hear me when I've been dealing with our users or our engineers for too long!)

#161 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2008, 02:29 PM:

Rikibeth #159: That might also be true of Peninsular Spanish or of Mexican Spanish (and particularly of that variety of Mexican Spanish influenced by English, I recall hearing one conversation on a train here in Atlanta that seemed to consist of almost nothing but swear words in both English and Mexican Spanish).

#162 ::: Larry Lennhoff ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2008, 03:44 PM:

hiersarch@153:

I knew the Timelords and the Daleks almost mutally annihilated, but hadn't gotten the impression it was the Doctor who made the decision to go for mutual annihilation. In fact, I thought he was in exile, and survived the war for that reason.

As for his actions in Family of Blood I thought they were completely uncalled for. I think the Doctor was brought face to face with some unpleasant truths, and ran away from them by exacting revenge on the family instead.

#163 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2008, 12:44 AM:

The "photography is taking something which is mine" meme is old. I've been dealing with it for what, 20 years now?

People get really upset when one takes a photo of a public space in which they happen to be. "Why are you taking pictures," with an accusatory/hostile tone, is something I started getting within days of starting to take photos.

I almost think they beleive a piece of their soul is being stolen.

As to recon by camera: The easiest way to avoid it coming up, is to have a small, cheap, camera (the sort I would expect someone performing an illicit activity to use.

The easiest way (based on personal experience over 20+ years) to get harrassed, have an expensive, "professional" camera. When I was using my FE2, I got less grief than I did with my F3, and now that I have a D2, I get all sorts of intervention attempts.

I am very good at diffusing them; at times by raising the stakes. I keep the local police, of several cities I spend time in, in my phone. When someone says they want to call the cops on me... I offer to let them use my phone. None of them have taken me up on it. The college kids who threatened to come beat me up and take away my camera decided this wasn't the way to go when I told them that was a sure trip to the local clink.

#164 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2008, 01:54 AM:

Greg London @ 156: "Woah. Doctor Who never really grabbed my attention. I've only seen bits and bobs here and But now I'm gonna have ta google that."

I've been doing some googling, and it seems as though he may not have destroyed his home planet to win a war with the Daleks. It was for a different reason. Also, he may have done it twice.

Despite Davies' unequivocal statement that the two wars are distinct, Lance Parkin, in his Doctor Who chronology AHistory, suggests in a speculative essay that the two destructions of Gallifrey may be the same event seen from two different perspectives, with the Eighth Doctor present twice (and both times culpable for the planet's destruction).

Alberto @ 158: "As for the Cuban thing, it's not shudders at the sound--which I think is the least odd of the Islanders to Mexican ears, since it's similar to that on the Gulf coast of Mexico but more musical, but at the familiarity in the language. I'm Mexican (and a provincial one, at that)--my instinctive cultural reaction to most things is warm but strict formality until permission (or enough time, maybe) allows for familiarity. I've had some experiences with non-Mexican hispanophones who got upset at my use of usted until they realized that I was Mexican. Then they insisted that I use tu and all was right in the world. Ah, the power of social conditioning."

Also a facet of Spanish I was unaware of. Fascinating!

#165 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2008, 10:03 AM:

Getting back to photographers for a moment:

Russian national arrested in Lynn MA for taking pictures of industrial sites. (He couldn't find the nuclear wessels.)

Judge throws the case out of court. Must be a terrorist.

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