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July 28, 2009

AT&T pokes a beehive with a stick
Posted by Teresa at 10:35 AM * 172 comments

It’s been interesting watching AT&T skirt disaster, though it now looks like they’re going to avoid it after all. I suppose that’s a relief, though there would have been a certain grim fascination—blood everywhere—if they’d stuck to their original plan.

On Sunday, an engineer at AT&T blocked img.4chan.org (/b/ and /r9k/) across its entire network. This was after one of AT&T’s customers was hit with an apparent DOS attack from the site. What AT&T didn’t do was get in touch with 4chan to tell them about it.

TechCrunch saw the implications immediately: AT&T Reportedly Blocks 4chan. This Is Going To Get Ugly.

AT&T has just opened perhaps the most vindictive, messy can of worms it could have possibly found. Blocking any site is an extreme breach of user trust, but the decision to block 4chan in particular just seems stupid.
4chan’s /b/ forum, which gets called things like the Mos Eisley spaceport of the web when people are being polite, and the asshole of the internet when they aren’t, is energetic, anarchic, barely moderated, crude, irresponsible, vindictive if crossed, peculiarly creative, and full of hackers. It inspires loyalty in its core users, and makes everyone else nervous.

4chan’s most famous and harmless accomplishments were the invention of LOLcats and Rickrolling. More dubious exploits include hacking the Time 100 List, making the hashtag #gorillapenis a Trending Topic on Twitter, hacking Sarah Palin’s Yahoo Mail account, declaring Porn Day on YouTube, and hacking the MacRumors coverage of the 2009 Macworld keynote presentation. They’re also the central site of Anonymous, a group whose best move has been going after Scientology, though they’ve been real jerks on other occasions.

In short, you could say that 4chan is constantly in training for exactly the kind of fight AT&T looked like it was offering them. Only hours after news of the ban, there was already a fake story up on CNN’s iReport site, saying that AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson had been found dead outside his home. (He wasn’t, of course.) It isn’t hard to find discussions of retaliatory measures. I was amused by this comment on Reddit:

Yeah.

My dog hasn’t walked right since he pissed off /b/.

Say what you want… but they’re committed to their work.

(I found some illustrative discussions and announcements about all this on Raplpybcrqvn Qenzngvpn, but I’m not going to link to them. I wouldn’t have done so anyway, on general principles; but they now have a flashing red banner across the top of every page that says the proprietors “…can no longer afford the costs of running the site. Unless we get help quickly, we will have to shut down.” I’d hate to stand in the way of that; and since the site runs ads, traffic = income. Besides, there wasn’t anything terribly surprising there. Illustrative, sure; but not surprising.)

Anyway, the war was called off last night when AT&T unblocked 4chan, and let it be known that blackholing img.4chan.org wasn’t done for the sake of censorship, but rather because it was overloading their network, and looked like it was running a DOS attack. This site behavior turned out to be a side-effect of a DOS attack on 4chan which some anonymous script kiddies have been running for the last few weeks.

(The headline on the Wall Street Journal’s wrap-up said AT&T Says 4chan Block ‘In No Way Related to the Content’. I can’t help imagining 4chan feeling a bit disappointed by that, and vowing to try harder.)

Opinions vary about who was more at fault. Personally, I nominate AT&T. Stuff like this is bound to happen. Legitimate sites are going to get shut down. Not all of them are going to have 4chan’s ability to retaliate, but they’re still going to be upset. It’s bad for customers and bad for business. AT&T should make a practice of letting sites know why it’s happening. Action shouldn’t precede communication. The blocked sites will still be upset; but a reason they know, even one they disagree with, will do a lot less damage than the reasons they’ll imagine if they don’t know.

Comments on AT&T pokes a beehive with a stick:
#1 ::: Neil in Chicago ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2009, 11:06 AM:

“Industry news is my soap opera.”
Really, what does afternoon television have that can match it?

#2 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2009, 11:18 AM:

Ever since 4chan people (you can't blame anything on 4chan as a whole, because they're anarchic, as Teresa says) posted seizure-inducing graphics on epilepsy forums they hacked, I have hoped for them to be destroyed. That doesn't make AT&T's behavior OK, however.

Fighting evil is good. Just sort of tripping and spilling coffee on evil's shoes is pretty stupid.

#3 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2009, 11:19 AM:

We can hope that AT&T and Amazon both are learning that the saw about it being easier to ask for forgiveness than permission isn't necessarily true.

When it comes to network administration, if something's really going wrong you might just have to yank out the plug right then and there, so the first part of this is understandable. The reason for the lack of communication remains a bit of a mystery, though.

#4 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2009, 11:21 AM:

Xopher @ 2: Fighting evil is good. Just sort of tripping and spilling coffee on evil's shoes is pretty stupid.

You nearly owed me a new keyboard for that.

#5 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2009, 11:26 AM:

Hmm.
My own feelings are very mixed.
An entity facilitating a Denial of Service attack is facilitating an attack... I can curse TCP/IP and the existing state of the Internet until I get laryngitis and can't type anymore from RSI without the situation changing that makes DoS attacks so easy* .

That having been said, though, web hosting services which don't have procedures for noticing and killing DoS attacks, to me bear a strong degree of culpability, too.

As for those under attack, the first thing that someone or something under attack does is notice that there's an attack, and the next thing is to attempt damage mitigation. I don't blame AT&T for blocking access. Not saying why, however, is lacking in decency and good citizenship behavior.

Continuity of service, however, for a service company, is critical. The usual rules for service providers faces with an overload are to "shed load" to attempt to continue providing service under "degraded" conditions. If the degradation is from one source, that source gets the heave-ho and investigation of how/why is for later.

The Internet alas does not provide "graceful" ways to provide information about why the site you want to get it, is blocked, I don't think.

* The protocols involved were NEVER designed for a commercial environment, with its combination of clueless wonders, scammers, malevolent morons, morons, nice people who don't have and don't want a technical clue and have no idea that their use is clueless or that their computers may be full of noxious poisonous Internet parasites and viruses and Trojan horses, thieves, robbers, murdering fanatics, etc. There ARE communications protocols and techniques which provide protection against intentional and byproduct attacks and break-in attempts and misinformation spreading, but the Internet doesn't USE any of those protocols, techniques, and procedures... and it irritates me, and has for decades.

#6 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2009, 11:32 AM:

The Mos Eisley link isn't working, but the harm is already done, Teresa. I've got the Cantina's jazz number going on and on and on in my mind.

#8 ::: Evan Goer ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2009, 12:08 PM:

Serge - how about an a cappella version?

#9 ::: Sylvia ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2009, 12:12 PM:

Fighting evil is good. Just sort of tripping and spilling coffee on evil's shoes is pretty stupid.

This looks like a movie tag line. I'd watch it!

#10 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2009, 12:15 PM:

Xopher, I thought of citing the epilepsy hack, but there appears to be reason to doubt that they did it.

#11 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2009, 12:21 PM:

Sylvia @ 9...

"The Devil Wears Prada"
"Lord of the Shoe-strings"
"Island of Lost Soles"

#12 ::: Larry ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2009, 12:23 PM:

I don't have a problem with ATT blocking 4chan access. In an emergency situation you have to ensure the service is available after all. What happened after is more of an issue. They should have reached out to 4chan about it once they knew the source though.

ATTs first duty is to ensure its service is available not to fix 4chan problems. At work we actually took a hit briefly because of this I think. It affected our customers when ATT got attacked.

#13 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2009, 12:24 PM:

Wow, so it might have been the Scientologists? That's good news. I hate them already! Endangering the health and safety of innocent people in order to frame someone else for it is lower than low.

But then, Scientologists probably think epileptics just need to be Cleared or something.

Bottom line: I did not know that. Makes me feel better about less antagonistic toward 4chan.

#14 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2009, 12:31 PM:

Evan Goer @ 8... Nooooooooo!!!

#15 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2009, 12:51 PM:

Serge @6, seeing as how the damage is already done, would you like to test the new version of the link?

Lee @7, that's my favorite XKCD ever.

Larry @12, I agree that keeping the system running has to come first, but any respectable site will have a mailbox. At minimum, AT&T could have a policy, plus a set of form letters to modify or send as-is. A site that's trying to figure out why some of its users can't access it could add "Check the mailbox and see whether there's a note from AT&T" to its diagnostic procedures.

It's fast, it's perfunctory, it's a starting point.

Xopher @13: I repeat, it's not proof; but non-4chan, non-anonymous people seemed unusually willing to believe their protestations of innocence; ditto, to suggest that the Scientologists had done it.

#16 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2009, 01:04 PM:

Teresa @15: but any respectable site will have a mailbox.

This is 4chan. A mailbox would just be a target.

#17 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2009, 01:04 PM:

It wouldn't surprise me to learn that AT&T had trouble with 4chan before, attempted communication, was rebuffed abusively, and decided not to waste their time thereafter.

#18 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2009, 01:05 PM:

Teresa @ 15... If they're Mos Eisley, what's ML? Obviously not a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.

#19 ::: Samuel Bierwagen ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2009, 01:13 PM:

Point of order: Even if it was scientologists on a false flag operation, they're still part of the Anonymous un-collective, since they were anonymous.

It's like the No True Scotsman "newfag" threads. If you're posting anonymously, then you're anonymous. That's what anonymous is. The character of anonymous may change, as it did, dramatically, with the advent of, uh, "4puna" (looks like rot13 doesn't work on numerals) along with an illusionary sense of community, but the definition remains the same.

#20 ::: Matthew Ernest ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2009, 01:14 PM:

Teresa @15: "any respectable site will have a mailbox"
Respectable site? Where?

More seriously, what official communications method could exist that some other "legitimately aggrieved" organization would not have already reached through to grab a notional Person-in-Charge by the short hairs?

#21 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2009, 01:31 PM:

Paula (#5), I agree wholeheartedly with your first and last paragraphs.

But anyone who sets up a service company that depends on the Internet had better get wise to this:  you can’t demand continuity of service from the Internet.  You can demand it from your ISP, but they only have control of their part of it, and even then they have weasel words about force majeure.  You pay your ISP to give you access to the Internet, not to give you reliable global communications.  The Internet isn’t guaranteed to work.  That’s the nature of the beast.  It’s been known to slow down or fall over, in whole or in part, and when it does, who you gonna call?  Anyone who runs a business on the Internet needs to understand that continuity of service isn’t, and cannot be, guaranteed.

Sorry if I’m teaching grandmother to suck eggs, as we say over here in England.

#22 ::: Scott Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2009, 02:01 PM:

Matthew Ernst @ 20 -
Teresa @15: "any respectable site will have a mailbox"
Respectable site? Where?
More seriously, what official communications method could exist that some other "legitimately aggrieved" organization would not have already reached through to grab a notional Person-in-Charge by the short hairs?

Oh, for crying out loud.

4chan is owned and run by moot. moot is, in fact, contactable - he's been interviewed by the Wall Street Journal and Time - it would be difficult for them to get ahold of him if he were not contactable.

The idea that one of the largest broadband providers in the country cannot get in touch with the owner of one of the most popular image boards in the world (according to Alexa) is patently ridiculous.

#23 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2009, 02:03 PM:

#21 John

A company doing business on the Internet gets a lectern to provide its policies. It has the opportunity to provide disclaimers... such as the ones that Amazon apparently has regarding "we reserve the right to delete content on you," or "terms of service, no obscene material" without defining what "obscene material is."

The Internet not being guaranteed is irrelevant, the corporations are under an implicit obligation to specify just what the services they supply are and how reliable they are going to be about it.... and the reliability includes, "We are not responsible for outages upstream or downstream from our section of the cloud."

#24 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2009, 02:15 PM:

Serge @18

Making Light is obviously a wretched hive of puns and villanelles.

#26 ::: Mashell ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2009, 02:19 PM:

Not to hijack a thread, but why all the hate on Scientology? They seem nice enough. Sorry to appear stupid, but everone seems to take it as given that they are evil and I am wondering why.

#27 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2009, 02:24 PM:

Paula, thanks, I understand where you’re coming from now.  It was the words “continuity of service” and “critical”, in relation to the Internet, that set me off on one of my hobby-horses.

#28 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2009, 02:27 PM:

Dave Bell @ 24... A place so foul that no rhyme ever is punnished?

#29 ::: Scott Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2009, 02:29 PM:

Mashell @ 26 -
Not to hijack a thread, but why all the hate on Scientology? They seem nice enough. Sorry to appear stupid, but everone seems to take it as given that they are evil and I am wondering why.


Scientology on W*k*p*d*

Operation Chanology

(WP links because they're easy and safe to get to at work)

#30 ::: Rob T. ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2009, 02:29 PM:

Before I figured out that it was rot13'd, I found myself wondering how to pronounce the "Raplpybcrqvn Qenzngvpn" referred to above. (It sort of looks like an attempt at transcribing mumbled cartoon cussing.)

#31 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2009, 02:33 PM:

Scott Taylor @ 22 ...
4chan is owned and run by moot. moot is, in fact, contactable - he's been interviewed by the Wall Street Journal and Time - it would be difficult for them to get ahold of him if he were not contactable.

... and moot was at ComicCon...

Beyond that, from what I saw, AT&T (along with a number of others) was blocking a specific IP due to DoS issues, for a short period of time. It's interesting to me that there's been functionally no mention of the various other carriers who were -also- doing the same thing.

IMO, mountain out of a molehill.

Then again, drama is a specialty over at 4chan...

#32 ::: Larry ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2009, 02:33 PM:

Teresa @15: I agree they should have contacted them. Though listing 4chan as respectable is kind of amusing.

They could have gotten in touch somehow I imagine. Unless there was some bad blood or something between ATT and them that made it not in their interest to try too hard.

John @21: Pretty much all major providers have agreements to provide a minimum level of service. If an attack threatens that they have to take measures to make sure the SLA is not broken. A lot of big contracts have penalties for failing to meet it. If an upstream provider is down then that is one thing, but if ATT is down itself that is a different thing and the direct customer does have a case.

#33 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2009, 02:41 PM:

#24 Dave

And don't forget, Making Light is ALSO a sting operation! (Atlanta Nights, e.g.)

(Virtual cue-up of music from the the film The Sting )

Hey, I don't do (or rarely do, I may have done some) villanelles, usually I compose song/poetry in ballad form!

#34 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2009, 02:45 PM:

#22 Scott

There was a disaster in Bismarch, ND, and the authorities in the locality could NOT find a contact for the local radio stations, which were all remote content with ad insertion customized to the area, to put out public warnings.... was Clear Channel or Sinclair or some such (one of the heading-into-bankruptcy entities of that ilk... my opnion is that bankruptcy is too generous, I want them treated the way the industries went down in the old days of the owners of the corporations who were the operating executives, PERSONALLY bankupted for their misdeeds and arrogance....)

#35 ::: Madeline Ashby ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2009, 02:50 PM:

These guys are not to be screwed with. They're the future of investigative reporting.

#36 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2009, 03:00 PM:

Hey, I've had several ISPs deny my e-mail, coming from AT&T, because AT&T are suspected spammers. How come nobody ever mentions this?(And I can't get AT&T to do anything about it, nor can the people I'm trying to reach!)

#37 ::: Seth Breidbart ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2009, 03:06 PM:

Early reports mentioned that AT&T did contact the colo site that owned the IP address that was blocked (of whom 4chan is a customer). From an engineering viewpoint, they contacted their peer/customer who they had a problem from.

#38 ::: Anonymous ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2009, 03:08 PM:

Xopher @14: But then, Scientologists probably think epileptics just need to be Cleared or something.

IIRC it's more like they're subhumans who cannot be cleared, and need to be dealt with before the human race as a whole can be cleared. Scientology really has issues with disabled people as a whole. Not quire R2-45 level issues, but pretty major ones.

#39 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2009, 03:23 PM:

Dave Bell @#24:

You are awesome.

#40 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2009, 03:28 PM:

Paula L @ #34

I agree about the radio stations. If you are in a car in the KC Metro area and there is a tornado on the freaking ground you cannot get a radio broadcast warning. Even the supposedly "Local News" stations on AM.

It's scary and dangerous. On the other hand we can't get the local weather bunnies to shut the f-k up about a hard rainstorm...

#41 ::: Irene Delse ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2009, 03:33 PM:

It'd be funny if AT&T tried the "we couldn't contact them" line. 4chan provides at the bottom of their home page a perfectly good link to their Contact section, with the administrator's email written plain and clear.

#42 ::: Seth Breidbart ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2009, 03:40 PM:

AT&T had an IP address, from which too much traffic (a DoS attack) was emanating. As of now, at least, the IP addresses for img.4chan.org do not have rDNS, so there's no fast way to see who they think owns them. whois -h whois.arin.net says they're owned by "Net Asset", with an email address in that domain and a phone number.

#43 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2009, 03:42 PM:

Ex-Scientologists have had some very ugly things to say under oath about things that have gone on in the organization.

Search on "sea org chain locker" for the one that stuck in my mind. While I'm trying to write in neutral point of view, I'm not particularly neutral on the topic.

#44 ::: martyn ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2009, 03:44 PM:

Paula Leiberman @ #34 - I have that at No 2 on my To Do list when I am declared Ruler of the World. You?

#45 ::: Seth Breidbart ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2009, 03:48 PM:

Samuel Bierwagen #19: "Anonymous" is a particular group; merely hiding your identity does not make you a member of that group.

#46 ::: Larry ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2009, 03:49 PM:

If all they can get is the owner of the netblock then that is all they could do. I'd love to know how people think they could contact 4chan if they had no way to know it was 4chan. I just did a check 4chan does have broken rDNS. tsk tsk.

And really, a site with no rDNS that doesn't seem to be a large entity is not something that I can see any ATT or other company admin going to loads of trouble to work with directly. They'd blackhole the offender, contact the owner of the netblock (since no other contact info is easily obtained) and monitor it from that perspective. That seems more reasonable.

#47 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2009, 04:25 PM:

Dave 24: *bows to the master*

#48 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2009, 04:27 PM:

... and to second Larry @ 46, when you've got a -right now- problem, and can only get as far as "this is the hosting company", it's simply not worth trying to track things down further. Most hosting companies have tons and tons of customers, many of whom are a right royal pain to get in touch with for the -hosting company-, never mind random upstreams.

#49 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2009, 05:08 PM:

Well, we have a "business decision" that we can point to that is just as boneheaded as intentionally blocking 4Chan (even if AT&T had meant to do such)

The Chicago Sun Times a story up about a rental management company that is suing a former tenant for libel (claiming damages in exces to $50k) because the tenant made a comment on Twitter about mold in the apartment she was renting.
(see the following - http://www.suntimes.com/news/24-7/1687436,CST-NWS-twitter28web.article - Sorry, but I'm having trouble embedding the hyperlink).

So far, it looks bad publicity for the management company, especially since they attached the twitter transcript to their court filing and it shows (at the time of the transcript capture) the user has 20 followers.

But the real MBA-quality business decision was by the spokecritter for the familiy-run mangement company, when he stated, in an interview with the Sun Times:

"...the company never had a conversation about the post and never asked her to take it down.
"We're a sue first, ask questions later kind of an organization," he said,..."

My head hurts just thinking about how dumb you have to be, and how hard you have to work, to disprove the "all publicity is good publicity" maxim.

#50 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2009, 05:25 PM:

# 49 Craig R.

That sounds like Apple. It's sued lots of small fry who couldn't afford a legal battle, no matter how lame Apple's case. Most of them capitulated and went into another business area without any attempt to fight, it was too expensive(there are people out there who worked for or even owned companies which won the court battle but went bankrupt from the effort and expenses of defending against "frivolous" lawsuits by entities with deeper pockets which used lawsuits rather than technical merit as their "competitive edge.") to fight.

#51 ::: Larry ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2009, 05:27 PM:

Craig @49: wow that is pretty bad. Looking at the comments it looks like there are recorded cases of mold in the place. I hope she countersues the crap out of them.

#52 ::: Anonymous ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2009, 06:35 PM:

To be honest, I'm not sure what would have happened even if AT&T had blocked /b/ due to content. Most of the 4chan users' posts on the subject were either delusional ("ANONYMOUS IS LEGION") or apathetic ("And nothing of value was lost"). Or so I heard.

Mashell #26: this is probably the most succinct answer to your question.

#53 ::: mcz ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2009, 07:13 PM:

Operation Clambake (http://www.xenu.net/) was founded some time between 1995 and 2000, during the a.r.s. vs $cientology wars. It is updated regularly and remains a valuable resource.

#54 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2009, 07:38 PM:

#33 And don't forget, Making Light is ALSO a sting operation! (Atlanta Nights, e.g.)

No, Making Light had no connection with Atlanta Nights, other than that a couple of people who post here also wrote chapters for AN.

Atlanta Nights took place before I became a front-page poster and moderator here.

Atlanta Nights was planned, organized, and carried out on other sites entirely.

#55 ::: Scott ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2009, 08:55 PM:

What I like about this story is that 4chan was under a DoS attack for several weeks, and kind of rolls its eyes and keeps on doing... whatever they do there. AT&T, in the process of carrying that DoS attack says "Oh my god, we're all going to die."

#56 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2009, 09:15 PM:

Serge: Clearly, no true Scientologist would ever write a punning villanelle.

#57 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2009, 09:53 PM:

re 26: The Great ARBCOM Decision to clamp down on editing THAT article

#58 ::: Brenda Kalt ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2009, 10:32 PM:

Craig @49: But the real MBA-quality business decision was by the spokecritter for the familiy-run mangement company

A mangement company might be expected to have apartments with mold.

Sorry, couldn't resist.

#59 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2009, 10:57 PM:

Scott @ 55 ...
What I like about this story is that 4chan was under a DoS attack for several weeks, and kind of rolls its eyes and keeps on doing... whatever they do there. AT&T, in the process of carrying that DoS attack says "Oh my god, we're all going to die."

Pointing out the obvious, 4chan is a (lite entertainment) content destination -- AT&T is a carrier... or in other words, 4chan can ignore being DoS'd because it's AT&T that's paying for it.

#60 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2009, 11:55 PM:

Brenda Kalt @ 58... You just reminded me of the last yearly review given to me by my former boss. She felt there were problem areas(*), but that they could be solved, with some manger coaching. It is true that our work environment was quite stable.

------

(*) I should have told her there are unguents for that.

#61 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2009, 12:28 AM:

Serge @ 60 ...
My favourite along those lines remains "the intangibles", which were apparently so intangible that any elucidation was impossible.

... just... y'know ... the intangibles :)

#62 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2009, 12:36 AM:

xeger @ 61... Ah, those intangibles that cannot be elucidated. Reminds me of that scene from Amadeux.

"My dear young man, don't take it too hard. Your work is ingenious. It's quality work. And there are simply too many notes, that's all. Just cut a few and it will be perfect."
"Which few did you have in mind, Majesty?"

#63 ::: tykewriter ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2009, 12:48 AM:

@60: I read that as ungulates. A gnu cure perhaps.

#64 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2009, 12:56 AM:

Tykewriter @ 63... A gnu cure perhaps

...to a hoof-and-mouth disease.

#65 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2009, 02:14 AM:

xeger/Serge:
One of my favorites (now that I can look back on it from an amused distance) is the time I was told that I had been taking credit for far too many achievements in the past year. It was explained to me gently that while it was true that I had achieved everything I took credit for, and never claimed responsibility for anything that wasn't my work, and was scrupulous about making sure my co-workers got proper credit for all of their accomplishments - I simply shouldn't take credit for so much, that's all. (I neglected at the time to ask if the correct solution would be to accomplish less; but really, I think that's what they were hoping for.) The same reviewers also warned me that I sometimes appeared to be resentful or upset if I felt I was being treated unfairly. You can imagine what a surprise that was. Quel horreur!

#66 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2009, 02:24 AM:

Clifton Royston @ 65... My previous mangler... I mean... manager took the opposite approach and dismissed an important project(*) of many months that I singlehandedly brought to successful completion as 'just one project'.

(*) It must have been important because she kept breathing down my neck to get started on it, forgetting that the delays were caused by her dropping other projects in my lap.

#67 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2009, 05:49 AM:

Hadn't heard of the epilepsy hacking... nasty. (Another thing to blame on David Langford!)

#68 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2009, 06:57 AM:

Legitimate sites are going to get shut down. Not all of them are going to have 4chan’s ability to retaliate, but they’re still going to be upset.

Is this a little like saying, ordinarily police officers can arrest elderly black men in their own homes for no reason and get away with it, but when they happen to be Harvard professors, *then* they have a problem?

The fact that the rest of the world only occasionally hears about the little guy being picked on when he happens to be less little than expected doesn't make it not a problem when all the little guys *without* the ability to retaliate get picked on.

#69 ::: Ken Brown ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2009, 07:03 AM:

I don't think supposedly epilepsy-inducing images are the nastiest things that have been posted on 4chan by a long way. I don;t actually want to describe what I think are the nastiest things I've seen there.

But I still look at it now and again.

And I look at it through one of a number of mirrors, as far as I know unconnected with moot or the 4chan site, which you can find without much difficulty with a bit of poking about through Google/Reddit/slashdot and other obvious routes.

So one or two big SPs blocking 4chan is not going to stop people seeing /b/

#70 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2009, 07:50 AM:

Who would imagine 4chan is daft enough to stage a DOS attack on AS7018 from their own colo box? I mean, DOS without the extra D for Distributed is more like Dated Denial of Service these days. It's been all about botnets, at least since the 2002 rootzone DNS DDOS showed the way.

Clearly, what's happened is that the people who were DDOS-ing 4chan decided to have a little extra fun by spoofing the requesting IP address in their packet headers, so if 4chan was able to handle the traffic, all the backscatter would end up landing on some poor fool behind 7018. It's similar to the DNS reflector attack, where you pelt the root servers with requests and forge the source header to send the replies to the target machine, taking advantage of the anycast DNS cloud's resources. 2 DDOS for the price of one, with the added chance that the telco guys would freak out and pull the plug.

In fact, the schwerpunkt of the attack might have been the provocation of AT&T rather than the actual DDOS.

#71 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2009, 09:24 AM:

Ken Brown @69, I don't think supposedly epilepsy-inducing images are the nastiest things that have been posted on 4chan by a long way.

They weren't posted on 4chan, they were posted on epilepsy discussion boards people had hacked into. And no need for the "supposedly"- certain kinds of sequences can cause seizures. Whoever did that wasn't just some kind of prankster or run of the mill troll.

#72 ::: Kate ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2009, 09:55 AM:

Having worked in a small section of internet security (anti-spam ops) on both sides of the fence, no reasonable ISP is going to contact anyone when they block an IP address.

Last I checked, AOL had something like 80+% of IP space blocked from sending them email. If it's a problem, you'll get a handy error message that tells you who to call and has a problem resolution code.

If all AT&T is seeing is "hey, unusual amounts of traffic from this IP," they're going to pull the trigger and assume that it probably won't be a problem - and some huge portion of the time, they're right. I'll point out that it doesn't seem to have been all that long of a problem here, either - people who could change the behavior of that IP contacted them and resolved the issue (albeit through unusual means). If they called 4chan's hosting company to let them know it was a problem, they were going above and beyond the industry standard, IMO.

#73 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2009, 10:29 AM:

Serge @ 60: It is true that our work environment was quite stable.

In the Augean sense?

#74 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2009, 10:35 AM:

Joel Polowin @ 73... Very mulch so.

#75 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2009, 11:22 AM:

#73 and 73, Joel and Serge

And the pear of you leave mold in the forest of the nigh in immoral hand-eye coordination....

(running)

#76 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2009, 11:42 AM:

Paula Lieberman @ 75... Why run away? Afraid of the Future? Might you have consulted an auger?

#77 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2009, 11:50 AM:

Might you have consulted an auger?

She's probably a bit unsure of the correct drill.

#78 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2009, 11:52 AM:

Last time I was involved with projects that involved Auger microprobes, was decades ago and dealt with space electronics.

#79 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2009, 02:35 PM:

John Stanning @21, are your grandmothers particularly good at sucking eggs?

Mashell @26, individual Scientologists can be nice people, but the organization is so bad that it's difficult to summarize all their misdeeds, deceptions, corrupt policies, and structural flaws without sounding like one has an obsessive hate-on for them. Operation Clambake at www.xenu.net is a reliable site. Check out the information available there and see what you think.

Larry @32, when I said "respectable" what I had in mind was "not confirmed spammers or other evildoers," but it's also a real community. It's not one I'd want to hang out in, but it's real.

Madeline Ashby @35, I sincerely hope they're not the future of investigative reporting.

Anonymous @38, there are at least two cases where epileptics died while in custody of the Scientologists.

http://www.whyaretheydead.info/room758.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narconon#Controversies

Another epileptic wound up leaving Scientology: http://www.lermanet.com/scientologynews/newtimes-toryB-92701.html

There's lots of testimony from ex-Scientologists about medical conditions going untreated:

http://whatstheharm.net/scientology.html
http://web.archive.org/web/20051107211235/http://www.whyaretheydead.net/

The story that really got to me was about a toddler that was in their care. One of the caretakers was concerned because the kid had a fever of 105 F., and his neck was so stiff that he couldn't turn his head. Her superior told her it wasn't serious.

http://web.archive.org/web/20051210230002/www.whyaretheydead.net/childabuse/index.html

Miscellaneous issues: lying and racism.

http://web.archive.org/web/20061013101844/www.solitarytrees.net/racism/lying.htm
http://web.archive.org/web/20050907142653/www.solitarytrees.net/racism/deny.htm

That's enough out of me for now. The subject's just too big, and I'm on a deadline.

Jim Macdonald @54:

Atlanta Nights was planned, organized, and carried out on other sites entirely.
In large part through the efforts of some guy named Jim Macdonald.

#80 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2009, 02:45 PM:

Teresa @ 79... Regarding Jim and Atlanta Nights...

"The Secretary will disavow any knowledge."

As for grandmothers and egg-sucking, I didn't know it was a British expression. I first came across it in the western The Big Country, when Burl Ives makes it clear to Gregory Peck that he already knows how to clean up old-style pistols.

#81 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2009, 03:03 PM:

I never saw The Big Country that I recall, or ever heard that expression in USian;  I only know it in English idiom.  In #21, merely a deference to Paula.

#82 ::: Larry ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2009, 03:03 PM:

Teresa @79: Ahh ok, yes they are a community. In that light I see what you mean.

I was involved with a woman with epilepsy for a few years. I'd see the after effects of the seizures as well as the seizures (scared the crap out of me the first time it all happened). To think anyone would want to induce them on purpose is pretty despicable. I did not know about the Scientology angle. All I can say after reading about that is "WTF?"

I've read a lot of the other crappy things regarding Scientology though. What is it with these cults and fringe religions and their utter hate of medicine? Is it simply science hating or is it deeper? I never understood why.

#84 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2009, 03:23 PM:

John Stanning @ 81... There's a YouTube except from the movie here. Fast forard to the 9:00m point.

#85 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2009, 04:28 PM:

Thanks Serge – it’s good stuff – and he does say “grandmother”, too.

#86 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2009, 04:42 PM:

John Stanning @ 85... it’s good stuff

And what you saw is an abbreviated version of that scene with crappy sound. Critics usually pan The Big Country, but I think it's an excellent film by the director of Best Years of Our lives and Ben-Hur.

#87 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2009, 05:11 PM:

Larry #82: What is it with these cults and fringe religions and their utter hate of medicine?

I'm reasonably sure it's a control issue: (1) it lets them be "the only ones who can help". (2) and also blame death or illness on the (fictitious) faults of the victim -- thus claiming utter compliance and belief as a matter of life or death. Admitting that a doctor could save someone who their "priests" couldn't would imply that their gods (and more importantly, the religion's leaders) have less than absolute control over the world....

#88 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2009, 06:14 PM:

In the case of Scientology, I think it's because L. Ron Hubbard, like Mary Baker Eddy, decided that sin, sickness, death, and other physical problems are the products of human error, and that it's a further error to try to address them with drugs and other medical treatments.

After you've read a few reasonably accurate biographies of Hubbard, his absolute rejection of psychiatry makes sense. If he'd granted it any validity, it would have said he had serious problems. He resolved this conflict by deciding that everyone else had serious problems, which they could fix by learning to be more like him.

#89 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2009, 06:37 PM:

I've often thought that that whole Scientology story about Xenu and the evil Psychlos (transparent much, L. Ron?) reads like a paranoid schizophrenic delusion.

But then, I've often entertained the theory that the founders of new religions are generally mentally ill, con men, or both. St. Paul: mentally ill. Gerald Gardner: con man. Joseph Smith: mentally ill con man.

Also remember a news story I heard a while back...Scientologist couple had a schizophrenic teenage son; he got worse and worse, as schizophrenics do during adolescence if untreated, which of course he was. Finally he went completely off the deep end and killed both of them. It's tempting to shrug that off as the karma for their outrageous neglect of him, but that ignores the fact that they ruined his life.

#90 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2009, 06:40 PM:

Oh, I forgot to mention that IMO being founded by a con man or nutbar doesn't necessarily make a whole religion invalid. How could I, a Wiccan, believe that it does?

#91 ::: Henry Troup ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2009, 08:56 PM:

The Church of Scientology of Toronto was convicted of "breach of public trust" by the courts in Ontario: R. v. Church_of_S_of_Toronto. The specific offense was possession of stolen government documents.

#92 ::: scyllacat ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2009, 09:21 AM:

#2: *wheezy laughter* (I've given up ROFLing, I've broken too much furniture). I agree. I would really LIKE for this to have been the skirmish that opened the "Free Speech vs. Socratic Bullies" brawl, but alas, 'twas not to be.

#93 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2009, 02:19 PM:

xopher@90: Well, I don't know how you could, really. However, it seems to me that some Wiccans do manage that feat, so apparently it is possible!

(It's related to the fallacy ad hominem, in fact; an idea is not responsible for the people who believe in it.)

#94 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2009, 06:00 PM:

David, but not Wiccans who believe, as I do, that Gerald Gardner was a con man.

Well, maybe there are some. There are people without logic everywhere.

#95 ::: Peter Darby ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2009, 07:44 AM:

Neo-Pagans: yes, we know the most prominent founders of our movements were flamboyant con-men. What, exactly, is your POINT?

#96 ::: Peter Darby ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2009, 07:47 AM:

Wait, reading that back, came out as needlessly combative to Xopher.

Read it in the voice of someone faced AGAIN with "well, Iolo was a fraudster!", and replying with a big grin.

#97 ::: Andrew M ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2009, 09:03 AM:

Xopher: Many religions are, at least partly, about their founders. In that case, if their founders were con-men, it would be a problem for the religion. Perhaps the fact that Gardner insisted he was not the founder of Wicca makes it easier to make the separation in this case.

#98 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2009, 12:59 PM:

Peter: Thanks for the clarification! Rereading 95 after reading 96, it seems much different, almost to the point of qualifying as an illusion.

Andrew: Hmm, an interesting point. You'll note that I credit Paul (alias Saul of Tarsus) as the founder of Christianity, not Jesus. What Jesus was trying to do was quite different than the form it took after Paul. Also I wouldn't dare tag Jesus as a conman or a lunatic, even if I thought he was one, which I don't.

There are some Gardnerians who have that attitude toward Old Gerald, though. I call them Hard-Gards. They say things like "the window of inspiration closed at the death of Gerald Gardner"—meaning they know he made shit up, but to them a) it's sacred shit, and b) that doesn't mean anyone else should be allowed to, ever.

Some of them are nice otherwise, but I don't discuss ritual, history, or GG with them.

#99 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2009, 01:19 PM:

@80 & @81 - If I recall correctly, Lazarus Long complains to Ira Weatheral about trying to teach grandmother to suck eggs. If that doesn't make that as American a phrase as apple scones, I don't know what will.

#100 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2009, 02:10 PM:

Michael Roberts @ 99: Once or twice I've been tempted to do a complete gender-flip on that expression, but I've managed to avoid quite that level of crudity. At least on those occasions.

#101 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2009, 04:04 PM:

Joel:
Cf. the chapter title of Aleister Crowley's Book of Lies - The way to succeed, and the way to suck eggs.

#102 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2009, 07:00 PM:

That's... um, remarkable. Not something I would have encountered myself, I think. Thanks.

#103 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2009, 10:29 PM:

I thought egg sucking was a colloquialism only found in (and possibly made up by) Heinlein. I wonder if he picked it up from Crowley? And when is that damned biography going to be published, anyway?

Perhaps the most charming thing I know about Wicca is that people accept they've got a made-up religion, they still find it meaningful, and they practice it anyway. That strikes me as a remarkably mature attitude.

#104 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2009, 10:42 PM:

John A Arkansawyer @103: Perhaps the most charming thing I know about Wicca is that people accept they've got a made-up religion, they still find it meaningful, and they practice it anyway. That strikes me as a remarkably mature attitude.

There is something to be said for being engaged in a satisfying story. And remembering that it is a story.

#105 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2009, 10:46 PM:

John, 103: No, indeed. Don't you remember Gollum teaching his grandmother to suck--teaching his grandmother to suck--EGGSES!

#106 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2009, 10:49 PM:

Rob Rusick @ 104: That there is pretty much my own personal theology.

#107 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2009, 10:56 PM:

John A Arkansawyer @106: I was thinking that it was also more fun if you have friends playing along with you. But you don't know how seriously they're taking it.

#108 ::: Randall ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2009, 11:01 PM:

Tolkien had Gollum solve one of Bilbo's riddles in the Hobbit by remembering his days at home, teaching his grandmother to suck eggs. Or, as he put it, "eggses".

#109 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2009, 11:31 PM:

Thank you, John! I must say, though, that it's easier to keep in mind that it's a story when you've been writing the last few chapters yourself.

#110 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2009, 11:55 AM:

I remember asking my paternal grandmother (the only one I knew) about sucking eggs, figuring that she'd be the logical Authority. She explained that it was an ancient (pre-Colonial, anyhow) English expression meaning "thinking you're teaching someone something new because it's new to you, when that person already knows more about it than you do", and that it involved a technique for producing empty nearly-complete eggshells (fun to play with, especially at Eastertide) by carefully making two tiny holes in opposite ends of a raw egg and removing the contents -- though she confessed to some puzzlement because the way she learned it was to blow, rather than suck. In retreospect, I don't think she had (this would have been in the mid-'30s) any idea of what has since become a confusion between these two verbs in a somewhat different context.

#111 ::: Paul Duncanson ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2009, 12:35 PM:

As both my grandmothers are deceased, I asked Google about sucking eggs and got this. It seems the saying is old and English but the question of why grandmothers are supposed experts on egg sucking isn't really addressed. There is speculation elsewhere that it is related to toothlessness and soft foods.

#112 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2009, 02:09 PM:

Don Fitch #110: Curiously, Brewer, which is as antiquated a source as one would wish merely says of the phrase "Attempting to teach your elders and superiors" and doesn't give an etymology. He does add, "The French say, ' The goslings want to drive the geese to pasture' (Les oisons veulent mener les ois paître)."

My copy of The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, a modern updating of Brewer calls it an eighteenth century phrase.

#113 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2009, 02:39 PM:

Emptying out eggshells by sucking out the raw egg white and yolk inside, to use the eggshells as decorated items, was common in my childhood.

#114 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2009, 03:20 PM:

We blew them out, after poking a hole in each end and breaking the yolk with a toothpick.

But the phrase 'blow eggs' sounds even worse than 'suck eggs', so I guess it never caught on.

#115 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2009, 05:55 PM:

Somehow my Personal Information went away. Good thing I'm not suspicious.

#116 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2009, 06:24 PM:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that eating an uncooked egg without utensils and without loosing any of the valuable content has traditionally been an important skill in many low-tech cultures. To do it well takes a certain amount of skill and practice (eggshell is rough on the throat). While the grandchild thinks that this is a great new skill that he has learned and is eager to show it off, Grandma has been doing it since she was a little kid, and has gotten really good at it. Hence.
/pedant


A modern version might be along the lines of "Teach an upper classman how to shotgun a beer".

#117 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2009, 06:27 PM:

Wow. I just heard the narration on an action show say "The truth is, torture is for sadists and thugs. To get real information..." then a whole lot of bullshit about interrogation, but wow. "Torture doesn't work," right on network television.

It was Burn Notice, for what it's worth.

#118 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2009, 06:31 PM:

Damn. Wrong thread, sorry.

#119 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2009, 06:53 PM:

Oh, I don't know, Xopher. What folks have been talking about here might be classified as torture.

#120 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2009, 07:23 PM:

Can someone make a case why I should even consider reading Tolkien? Everything from him I've ever seen smacks of:

anti-urban/anti-modern, Edwardian but in the 50s bollocks, the Merrie England bollocks as in Lucky Jim

kulturpessimismus rightwing gunk & snobbery
(note the eggses thing - an oxbridge knobber's daft idea of the speech of the college porters - these were people fresh from six years rebuilding Spitfires at Morris Cowley, the original sf audience if you will)

and finally...TWEE TWEE TWEE

seriously - what am I missing here?

#121 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2009, 07:41 PM:

Alex - how about because if you haven't read it, everything you say about it makes you sound like a dick? Especially in a completely unrelated thread.

#122 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2009, 09:00 PM:

Alex, Gollum is about as far as you can get from an Oxford porter. Read the book before deciding you hate it.

#123 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2009, 09:23 PM:

Alex, I'd say the same reason a great many people read the later Twilight books: if you're going to hate it loudly and in public, it helps to have in-book examples. It's also a foundation of the fantasy genre, so criticism of it is often related to criticism of other books.

If you think you might like it, there are other reasons. It's been a while since I read it, but I remember just loving poor dutiful Sam and the entire Shire-scouring thing, that home wasn't safe during the war even though it should have been, that those who do great things are changed by them. There's also scholarship/thinkybook work about it-- yes, the Shire is a sort of idealized England, here are the trenches of WW1, where are the women, is the West necessary, et cetera. Even if you don't like it, you might like taking it apart.

On eggs: is it possible/advisable to use a pump to empty eggs? I've done the blowing thing before, and besides needing a much bigger hole at the out end-- not enough to really wreck the egg, but enough that I worried-- it's been a while since I played an instrument and my lungs have become relatively wimpy.

#124 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2009, 10:16 PM:

#123
You could get a syringe with a fairly large diameter needle and suck the insides out that way.

#125 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2009, 11:21 PM:

"Making Light -- we teach future grandmothers how to suck eggs" ?!?

#126 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2009, 02:54 AM:

How To Suck An Egg

1. Reduce the temperature of the egg to about 2.2 Kelvin.

2. Compress the egg with about 25 gigapascals of pressure, or just shy of the electron degeneracy point.

3. Spin the degeneregg up to a rotational period of about 1.5 milliseconds, maintaining sufficient additional counter-pressure to retain its stability.

4. Aim a portable monopole gamma-ray burst generator at the axis of rotation of the degeneregg, and let loose a 5.1243 petajoule burst; have backup generators ready to compensate for the resulting continental power blackout.

5. Fiat Lux.

6. If your aim has been true, you should now have a stable inverted degeneregg of antimatter, which can be sucked through a simple antimatter straw.

7. Thank you for observing all safety precautions.

#127 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2009, 04:02 AM:

It's worth remembering that Tolkien started writing LotR before the war, and he was an eminent scholar of language. Gollum's speech isn't a cheap knock-off of the locals. If anything, the Hobbits should maybe speak with a Brummie accent, since so much of the Shire is built on the last days of the rural fringe of an expanding Birmingham.

And if anyone might be based on college porters, it would be Sam Gamgee, not somebody one can easily dismess as trivial.

Maybe some of the old North European ideals seemed a lot less risible when Tolkien was writing. America, since then, has fought some rather different sorts of war.

And he's one of that generation who went to war, and experienced the horror, and must have watched aghast as war loomed again. If there's any wish fulfilment in the tale, it's that there is a way of ending the long, Ages-old, struggle. A way that doesn't require surrender, even if it loses so much that is good in the old world.

The Shire is scarred by the War, but it survives.

#128 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2009, 06:24 AM:

Alex @120:
TWEE TWEE TWEE

Forgive me, but this sounds rather like the lady who went to a production of Hamlet and complained that it was full of clichés. Tolkien is many things, but he is rarely twee. The fact that twee things have been done in imitation of him is hardly his fault.

Generally, you're going to get very short shrift by expressing such dismissive opinions on a work you haven't read. It's not personal; I feel the same way about religious boycotters of "blasphemous" films they haven't seen and books they haven't read.

#129 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2009, 02:13 PM:

For the person upstream who was wondering what people had against Scientology, here's a timely news story from the Tampa Bay newspaper:
http://www.tampabay.com/news/scientology/article1023717.ece

A lot of this kind of thing (and worse) has been known for years, but almost nobody has been ready to go on record because of fears about what will happen to them.

#130 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2009, 06:47 PM:

Alex, #120, the same reason I read them and Harry Potter -- enough people read them that you will be left out of many conversations if you don't also read them. There are fantasy books (with wizards, even) that I like, but these two series just didn't click for me.

#131 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2009, 03:20 AM:

To be fair, there's a little bit of twee in The Hobbit ("Tra la la lally, the valley is jolly") and a little bit in The Fellowship of the Ring ("Ring-a-ding-dillo"). Most of Tolkien is grand and glorious and could only be called twee by stunted little minds.

#132 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2009, 09:56 AM:

And less overtly twee, the creation of the game of golf. I've heard that C.S. Lewis poked Tolkien about that one. But as you say, these bits are the exception.

#133 ::: Ken Brown ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2009, 10:13 AM:

Alex@120: "note the eggses thing - an oxbridge knobber's daft idea of the speech of the college porters - these were people fresh from six years rebuilding Spitfires at Morris Cowley, the original sf audience if you will"

Tolkien was one of the world experts in English dialects and knew perfectly well how College porters spoke. He'd also been on the Western Front in the Great War fighting alongside men from all sorts of other places, including maybe Cowley.

I am reminded of Tolkien's defence of his supposed misspellings in a letter to Katharine Farrer of 7th August 1954:

"I am afraid there are still a number of 'misprints' in vol. I! Including the one on p. 166. But "nasturtians" is deliberate, and represents a final triumph over the high-handed printers. Jarrold's appears to have a highly educated pedant as a chief proof-reader, And they started correcting my English without reference to me: "elfin" for "elven"; "farther" for "further"; "try to say" for "try and say" and so on. I was put to the trouble of proving to him his own ignorance, as well as rebuking his impertinence. So, though I do not much care, I dug my toes in about "nasturtians". I have always said this. It seems to be a natural anglicization that started soon after the 'Indian Cress' was naturalized (from Peru, I think) in the 18th century; but it remains a minority usage. I prefer it because nasturtium is, as it were, bogusly botanical, and falsely learned.

I consulted the college gardener to this effect: 'What do you call these things, gardener?'

'I calls them Tropaeolum, sir.'

'But, when you're just talking to dons?'

'I says nasturtians, sir.'

'Not nasturtium?'

'No, sir; that's watercress.'

And that seems to be the fact of botanical nomenclature. . . .

#134 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2009, 10:49 AM:

Alex@120: what you are missing there, apparently, is the entire book.

The one specific you have -- "the eggses thing" -- you have wrong. At least, I have no idea why you associate it with college porters; and the essence of your complaint seems to be that Tolkien somehow patronizes college porters in the book. This seems to be total nonsense, I don't see how it can be supported from the text.

Your general complaint that it's anti-urban and anti-modern is not as insanely crazy. But I don't see how one can read the sections set in Gondor, the greatest city of that world, as anti-urban. The hobbits find it a strange environment, they're a from a different culture as well as a much less urban environment, but they're rather impressed by it and many of the people who live there, as I read it.

It is, in fact, a rather complex and nuanced work.

One reason you should read them is so that, if you in fact hate the actual books in addition to the impressions of the books that you've apparently picked up from pop culture, you can write intelligently and rationally about the problems you find in the actual text. You'll have a much better chance of convincing anybody of your view of the flaws if that view is based in the text of the books themselves, rather than made up out of whole cloth.

#135 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2009, 12:59 PM:

Alex @120: If the whole idea of tweeness really squicks you out, try skipping the intro and the first chapter. You may be a bit lost to start with, and miss some nuances, but it may help; I've heard of a lot of folks who get bogged down in the "hobbit stuff" and give up, not least some of the other Inklings when it was first read to them. But there are worthy riches if you persevere. It's a book that repays re-reading at different phases in your life.

Just don't discount the importance of the Scouring of the Shire at the end of the book -- I'm more and more convinced of its central importance to what Tolkien was trying to say, though when I was younger I didn't get it and thought it didn't fit the rest of the story at all.

#136 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2009, 03:08 PM:

Tolkien himself said,

‘The Scouring of the Shire’ ... is an essential part of the plot, foreseen from the outset, though in the event modified by the character of Saruman as developed in the story without, need I say, any allegorical significance or contemporary political reference whatsoever.
(LOTR, foreword)

#137 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2009, 03:29 PM:

Janet @135, John @136, Yes! Scouring of the Shire brings Big Grand Epic themes right back home.

OTOH, some of the writing & Sam stuff still put my teeth on edge.

#138 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2009, 04:01 PM:

Peter Jackson's worst crime, in my opinion, was leaving out the Scouring of the Shire. If he hadn't done that (in favor of flashy but truly pointless battle sequences), I could have forgiven him for the Elves at Helm's Gate, the dwarf-tossing, the Star Wars and Indiana Jones references, possibly even the snowboarding. But as he chose to leave out that key section, I hold him fully accountable for all the stupid shit he put in, using up time that could have been better spent.

#139 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2009, 05:01 PM:

What Xopher said! Well, I think the Faramir thing was unforgivable too. Both go to show that Jackson Just Didn't Get It.

#140 ::: pat greene ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2009, 12:32 AM:

I dealt with Peter Jackson's movie as being something totally separate from the book. It's how I plan to cope with the Robert Downey Sherlock Holmes movie, which from the trailers appears to deviate a *lot* from canon but also appears to be potentially enjoyable in its own right.

And, honestly, I felt Faramir made more psychological sense in the movie. Although leaving out the Scouring of the Shire was regrettable, to say the least.

#141 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2009, 09:05 AM:

During the years that the Jackson LOTR films were coming out every Christmas, we were in the habit of attending an annual Near New Year's party at the house of a professor of Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse. He was also a Tolkien fan, and had indeed corresponded with him at least once. Naturally, the films were a hot topic of conversation*.

The general conclusion was that Tolkien was trying to create (or synthesize) a Great Tale, with the same enduring power as the Norse and Anglo-Saxon epics. One test of a true Great Tale is that it can be retold in a different style, or even in a different language, and retain its power.

The films are not the same as the books. They can't be. Cinema doesn't tell stories in the same way as prose. Emphases shift and nuances are buried or made more overt, because the immediacy of film carries the viewer along with it through scenes where a reader might pause and reflect. Expecting the pace and structure of the storytelling to be the same across media is like expecting characters to carry specific symbols with them everywhere to replicate heroic nomenclature.

That said, I agree that the omission of the Scouring of the Shire was a poor choice. And we Will Not Speak of the extra scenes involving Éowyn in the extended cut of The Two Towers.

(And Tom Bombadil? Many find him tiresome. Metered dialog needs a skillful writer lest the rhythm turn to affectation. Yet despite that I confess I missed him. He provided an air of secrets lurking just beyond the borders of the story.)

-----
* Not the only one; his parties were very much like Making Light live, though with rather less knitting

#142 ::: tykewriter ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2009, 09:27 AM:

John Stanning @136: you believe what an author tells you his book is about? M15 commissioned Tolkien to write LOTR as an English counterblast to the Ring Cycle, as any fule kno.

#143 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2009, 09:46 AM:

abi #141: Tolkien was trying to create (or synthesize) a Great Tale...

And he succeeded! There are a fair number of authors who can carry on a mythic tradition, but very few who can create a new myth, one with staying power. In our time, I'd put Gaiman in that company, as well as (ironically!) Pratchett.

#144 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2009, 10:22 AM:

And Tom Bombadil? Many find him tiresome. Speech in metre needs a skilful writer lest the rhythm turn to affectation. Yet despite that I confess I missed him. For he brought a sense of secrets lurking just beyond the borders of the story

I see what you did there...

#145 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2009, 10:59 AM:

ajay @144:
I see what you did there...

Well, I tried to. But I like yours better.

Look! The wingéd Victory of Samothrace! (*whistles idly, looking vaguely upward*)

#146 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2009, 11:39 AM:

tykewriter #142 : a new conspiracy theory!  Are you sure The Two Towers wasn’t a prophecy of the demolition of the World Trade Center (with magic explosives) in order to prevent the emergence of long-hidden evidence revealing who really shot JFK?

[Note to pedants:’ yes, I know The Two Towers wasn’t Tolkien’s title.]

#147 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2009, 11:53 AM:

145: the person who polished the Winged Victory is not the equal of the person who sculpted it, even if the polisher produces a shinier end-product than the sculptor.

146: Gentlemen, we must not allow a Folklore Gap!

#148 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2009, 12:30 PM:

John, I like that. And are you sure The Return of the King wasn't a veiled reference to a Kenyan-born royal taking over America?

#149 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2009, 01:01 PM:

Oh, of course.  We know it was his destiny to become king president, that’s why his mom had to put those notices in the Hawaii papers.  She already knew in 1941 that he was destined to run for POTUS.  So after the US joined the war, the Democrats arranged for an OSS agent at Oxford (posing as a Rhodes scholar) to blackmail Tolkien into putting the right references in LotR.  You see, it all fits.

#150 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2009, 02:09 PM:

pat greene @ 140: And, honestly, I felt Faramir made more psychological sense in the movie.

Furthermore, Tolkien could just tell you about Faramir's inner conflict. Jackson had to show it. Plus we got to see Osgiliath.

"Aragorn over the cliff" is what I would have cut.

#151 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2009, 02:28 PM:

"When you're paranoid, everything makes sense." I would conjecture, in fact, that as the number of things that you perceive as all fitting one grand pattern increases, the probability that you are a paranoid schizophrenic approaches one.

#152 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2009, 02:52 PM:

I would have cut Aragorn over the cliff (ref to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade), Legolas slashing the Mûmak with his sword while hanging from a rope (ref to The Empire Strikes Back), all the Dwarf-tossing alleged "humor" (ref to a clueless New Zealander gratuitously pissing in Tolkien's story), most of the Battle of Helm's Deep (especially the part where Legolas uses a shield to snowboard over the heads of the orcs), and the entire fight between Gandalf and Saruman.

I'd also cut half of the beacon-relay sequence (from the point where I started saying "OK, they see the beacon and light the next one, we GET it already!"), and big chunks of all the battles.

All of which would be entirely pointless, because even though that would leave room for the Scouring, Jackson was so clueless he didn't even film it. Or the scriptwriters did it. Or somebody else made the decision and will never get any of my chocolates, ever.

#153 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2009, 03:03 PM:

The death of Denethor is stupid. No, I mean the way Jackson does it in the film.

The timing of the beacons and the Ride of the Rohirrim seems warped.

But that initial cavalry charge...

I can forgive Jackson for much, because of when he manages moments like that.

#154 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2009, 03:08 PM:

Mind you, when the latest report is that Peter Jackson's remake of The Dam Busters might be in 3D, I have to wonder.

#155 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2009, 03:11 PM:

PJ showed some Shire-scouringish scenes in Galadriel's mirror, but I don't know whether there was enough of that footage to fill out the entire narrative at the end.

#156 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2009, 03:24 PM:

Xopher, #152: I normally don't try to argue with people over what to change in the LOTR movies, because everyone's a film editor at the end of the show. :-) However, I will fight you to the death for the beacon sequence, for two reasons: (1) it provided a sense of how far away Rohan is from Minas Tirith, so it doesn't seem odd that they only arrive well after battle is joined; and (2) it had some of the most fucking awesome cinematography in the entire movie. It's still one of my favorite scenes.

Dave, #153: Yes, and I was hoping for the iconic shot of "two aged hands withering in flame". But my biggest regret about Denethor is that because of time constraints and the difference between film and print, we never got to see competent!Denethor, the man who was the successful and respected Steward of the City for so many years. We see him being abusive to Faramir, and we see him already well into madness when Gandalf and Pippin reach Minas Tirith, and that's all.

#157 ::: pat greene ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2009, 05:35 PM:

Xopher, the beacon relay scene is not only my favorite scene in the entire trilogy, it's among my favorite moments in film.

#158 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2009, 06:22 PM:

Do not touch the beacon scene. It gave the entire thing scale.

#159 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2009, 03:03 AM:

Xopher @ #152: Jackson was so clueless he didn't even film it. Or the scriptwriters did it. Or somebody else made the decision

I think it must ultimately have been Jackson's decision, no matter whose idea it was: he could have done it if he wanted to. (And even if it was the scriptwriters, you know of course that one of their number was a certain P. Jackson...)

The thing I always say about the end of the movie is that what upsets me is not so much that Jackson didn't include the Scouring of the Shire, as that he specifically excluded it by including a shot of the hobbits arriving home and the Shire being whole and happy and safe. It seems to me he could just as easily have cut straight from the hobbits departing homewards from Minas Tirith to "The Shire, some years later", and left room for the people who know the story to assume that the Scouring still happened off-screen.

#160 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2009, 03:34 AM:

Heck, he could have had the homecoming with signs of something sinister going on, which might just have been the Shire being collectively scared, and in some sort of self-defence mode (think of the Brandywine Bridge being guarded), and then done the "several years later" thing, without spelling out the details.

Of course, now it's very easy to imagine a scene with heavy political overtones for today.

"We're at war, Mr. Baggins, sir. And when folks turn up with all that strange ironmongery, well, some folks get scared."

Frodo hesitated, and then said, "We were in the middle of the war. And it's over."

"Tell that to the Mayor."

#161 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2009, 07:27 AM:

Meseems there's much studio politicking & pressure to do 3D – similar ideas as pushed Cinerama back in the day? So praps not PJ's idea. Tho he's prone to the Ooo! Shiny!! Syndrome.

Xopher, any Antipodean-aimed choccies abjuring Mr Jackson would find safe sanctuary in the Epacrithekos.

#162 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2009, 10:02 AM:

On eggs: is it possible/advisable to use a pump to empty eggs? I've done the blowing thing before, and besides needing a much bigger hole at the out end-- not enough to really wreck the egg, but enough that I worried-- it's been a while since I played an instrument and my lungs have become relatively wimpy.

Check around sites that sell pysanky (Ukranian Easter egg) supplies. There are a variety of pump thingies, and some gadgets that are intended to let one empty the egg with only one hole in the shell.

#163 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2009, 11:16 AM:

I've seen 3D pop out into the cinemas a couple of times that I recall, and one or two of those red/blue 3D movies from the 1950s have been shown on UK TV. Whether the current generation gets past the point of cheap thrills to lure customers, I'm not sure.

Was it something Shrek-related, the last time? Yep, a special issue of the movie, with an extra DVD for the 3D material from some studio theme-park ride, with lots of shots designed to show off 3D effects.

Not much fun if your eyes don't match without spectacles...

#164 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2009, 01:33 PM:

As far as cutting out the "Scouring" from the LOTR movies, I agree with the decision for the same reason that I agree with cutting the Bombadil section. Both are basically self-contained sections that can be easily lifted out without much effect on the rest of the movie. Which makes them prime candidates for removal.

(Plus the movie already has enough climaxes.)

#165 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2009, 01:54 PM:

Michael @164 -- yes, structurally it does appear to be a self-contained section, BUT the wrap-up of themes about moral conduct of war, "et in Arcadia ego," maturity developed through adversity, and so on, bring closure to the whole story. With the Scouring, you see what it's all REALLY about in the end -- all the struggle and danger. Without it, you just get a run-of-the-mill return of the heroes without any heroic action at the local level. Better to have kept this and left out some of the stuff Jackson added, I think.

Yes, the beacons were visually and aurally a lovely, heart-lifting sequence. But I didn't like having Pippin light the first one by stealth. Just one more diminishment of Denethor. I think Jackson missed a great opportunity for character development (and for letting an actor show his chops) by showing him fallen into despair from the start, instead of in the process of falling.

#166 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2009, 06:44 PM:

Janet Croft@165

YMMV. I'd probably have been mildly upset at Jackson if he had included the Scouring because I see it as such an obvious section to cut.

I do agree that the Denethor arc in the book would have been dramatically more interesting than having him in despair from the start.

(On the whole, I think Jackson did an excellent job of translating the essence of the books into the movies. Although even I found the suggestion by one reviewer that Jackson had too much reverence for the books to be rather weird.)

#167 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2009, 08:31 PM:

A human head is self-contained, nearly separate; an obvious section to remove when you need to trim weight or size. (See Janet's first par @165)

Tho' I see Scouring as much the Heart of the story as its Head. So many seem to miss that import – maybe a flaw in the book's structure?

#168 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2009, 09:21 PM:

If Jackson had to work with 'Babylon 5' constraints (okay, we think we have enough money to wrap it up by the second movie; but maybe we can carry this out a bit...) the third movie would have been entirely the Scouring of the Shire.

I don't know that the most of audience would have been satisfied (Ring of Doom disposed of, what's the point?), but I though 'even home is not the same anymore, nothing is unchanged' a reasonable moral.

#169 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2009, 10:26 AM:

Epacris@167

I like "Scouring" in the book. I just don't think it would add much to the movie, at least not enough to justify keeping it in.

(I also suspect that adding it would cause the ending to drag a bit, especially for those viewers who weren't that familiar with the books.)

#170 ::: Mary Aileen suspects spam ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2012, 07:02 PM:

new poster, generic comment, commercial site

#172 ::: Mary Aileen seconds the spam-spotting ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2014, 02:52 PM:

I am kind of fond of 'seek engines', though.

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