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June 28, 2002
The Evil Overlord gets automated
Posted by Teresa at 07:07 AM *

Avram Grumer has been so kind as to write a web-based PHP randomizer for the Evil Overlord Plot Generator.

Yay rah Avram! And thank you. Now everyone go read Pigs and Fishes.

Tor Internships
Posted by Teresa at 06:55 AM *

Up-and-coming Tor editorial luminary Anna Genoese thinks we’re not getting enough applications from prospective interns. Our current working theory is that it might help if more people knew that Tor does student internships.

It’s too late now to apply for this summer, but if you’re a student and you’re interested, you’re in good time to apply for a winter internship. Send snailmail to Anna Genoese, Tor Books, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York NY 10010, or e-mail to anna.genoese@tor.com.

June 22, 2002
The Evil Overlord Devises a Plot
Posted by Teresa at 03:50 PM *

Every year, I teach at Viable Paradise. It’s an intensive week-long SF & fantasy writers’ workshop held on Martha’s Vineyard. (Some student reports from previous years. Some photos from last year.) This year it runs from 29 September through 05 October, and the other teachers are Patrick, Jim Macdonald and Debra Doyle, Steve Gould, and James Patrick Kelly.

This week, on the other hand, is when the Secret Masters of VP assess applications. If you blew the application deadline, you could probably still throw an e-text story at us and we’d absentmindedly consider it along with the rest. We’re a tad behind on processing applications this year.

The Evil Overlord Devises a Plot is something I put together for a VP colloquium on “Stupid Plot Tricks.” It was a departure for me to be talking about plot at all. Plot is Jim Macdonald’s forte. His annual lecture—during which he explains that making plots is like building models, devising stage magic tricks, playing positional chess, and baking a Key Lime Pie—is brilliant, a masterful performance, packed so full of useful insights that students are still unpacking it months and years later. He also does hands-on lab sessions. When I hear a student talking about how the skeleton of his story has been disjointed and reassembled into a different animal that runs faster and jumps higher, I know Jim’s been working him (or her) over.

I normally hang out at the other end of the spectrum, talking about expository theory, sentence-level events, how reading works, appropriate level of detail as a function of pace, and five major and eleven minor techniques for gracefully fudging the bits you don’t know. My party trick—which you’re not going to see on Sabado Gigante anytime soon—is a live-action demonstration of where, how, and why you can chop 10%-40% of the words out of a scene without affecting its meaning or tone.

On the other hand, we’d had a run of stories that were light on story. I figured that if I could teach the students some low cheap tricks for coming up with plots, it would give them something to work with while Jim was teaching them how to do it for real. Unfortunately, I later mislaid all my notes except for the introduction, so I’m not sure what I told them.

Here’s the introduction: “Plot is what maintains a decent separation between the front cover and the back cover of a book. Story is what gives the readers the incentive to read all the pages in order. Plot is a literary convention. Story is a force of nature. And now that we’ve got that out of the way…”

I recall telling them some basic moves, like how you can get away with hokey crap a lot better if the story’s moving fast and other cool things are happening, and how you can make two or three half-baked ideas look deceptively substantial by using them in combination. I fear I may have told them—this is like remembering what you said last night at the party—that it counts as originality if you try to do an outright imitation of some other writer but get it so wrong that no one can tell that’s what you were trying to do.

Whatever other low depraved advice I gave them is lost to history, unless one of them comes up with their class notes.

Anyway, The Evil Overlord Devises a Plot was the class assignment. It uses the Evil Overlord lists—you do know the Evil Overlord lists?—as the basis of a plot-generating engine. And the awful thing is, it works.

June 20, 2002
Bashing NPR
Posted by Teresa at 12:48 PM *

Over on Electrolite, Patrick has posted a rich, full-bodied denunciation of a new NPR policy:

According to Boing Boing, National Public Radio demands that you request permission before linking to any portion of their web site.
Linking to or framing of any material on this site without the prior written consent of NPR is prohibited.

Please use this form to request permission to link to npr.org and its related sites.

And to think that after I appeared on All Things Considered on April 17, 2002 to talk about the late Damon Knight, I thoughtlessly linked to their Real Audio file of the interview. Right here on Electrolite, I linked to NPR’s Real Audio file of my interview. And all that time it was “prohibited”! Imagine that.

Of course, it isn’t “prohibited.” Or rather, it’s “prohibited” with exactly the same legal force as I have when I say “False legal claims designed to intimidate the public are hereby prohibited. Signed, Me.” …

(Go read the whole thing, and keep an eye on the links.)

To me, it seems like this issue should be fairly straightforward. Say you put up a publicly accessible website. It has your own copyrighted material on it, which probably isn’t a single coherent unitary work.

Now say someone links to an article on one of your pages. The material referenced by the link is still on your website. It has not been copied to some other site. The link itself is on the other guy’s site, and your own site is not altered by its existence. The link just tells browsers how to get to your article; and if your website is publicly accessible—in a word, published—that information is not a secret.

Where in all that is there anything that requires permission?

The essential nature of a link is that it says “Here is where to find this.” That is not a new thing, and it shouldn’t be an occasion for new law.

The obvious analogy is to footnotes. The person who creates a footnote is saying, “There’s material relevant to my point in another work by someone else; here’s where to find it, and” (optionally) “here’s a bit of the pertinent passage.” This is an utterly established practice, couldn’t be more established if it tried; and it doesn’t require anyone’s permission. A website link differs only in that it lets your browser take you there directly, instead of giving you cryptically abbreviated instructions on how to find it in a library; which is a simply a matter of speed and convenience, not a change in the essential action.

Another analogy would be to program listings and reviews in brief. I see in the Yahoo TV listings that at 9:30 this morning channel 68 (WFUT) showed the 19 July ‘99 episode of Isabel, Mujer Enamorada, and in this week’s New Yorker that the Brooklyn Museum of Art is hosting the “Star Wars: The Magic of Myth” exhibit through July 7. Both these listings are accompanied by descriptions, and I’m absolutely certain that neither required the permission of WFUT or the BMA before they could be published. And if the New Yorker had an online edition and the BMA listing included a link to the BMA’s website, I’m still absolutely certain that no permission would be required. Computerizing an everyday action doesn’t make it a different action.

When you broadcast or publish something, you make it public, and the fact that you have done so is public information. Once it’s out there, you don’t have control over the way people approach it. They can reference it, describe it, praise it or blame it, and quote bits of it by way of illustrating their points, just as they please. This is Fair Use, seen here (for once) in its native habitat. It’s also freedom of speech. It’s the public discourse. It’s what NPR used to stand for.

There’s another point that’s so far been overlooked in the general furor, which is that NPR’s attempts at control go beyond requiring permission to link to their pages. Here’s a link to their Request permission to link to NPR form, in case you want to follow along. In fact, here’s A WHOLE BUNCH OF LINKS TO IT, . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . BWAH-HA-HAH! . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . So there!

[*cough*]

Their form begins, “Linking to or framing of any material on this site without the prior written consent of NPR is prohibited.” This is wishful thinking, but they’re counting on people taking it to mean “prohibited by law”; which on the one hand is simply not true, and then again on the other hand is a shabby, disingenuous piece of weaseling.

The form then asks for your name, e-mail address, phone number, home page URL, the URL of the page on which the reference will appear, and the NPR content that will be linked from the page. They ought not be asking at all, but it’s still just information about the link.

But the next thing they ask for is the “Proposed wording of the link and accompanying text”, and that is plain flat-out none of their business. We are not in the world of reprint permissions here. This is the universe of public discourse, and I’m hard-pressed to see that question as anything but an attempt at prior restraint.

(Shame! Shame!)

Next they want to know how long the link will be up, and whether you’ll be using the NPR logo in connection with it. These questions make me wonder whether an earlier version of this document originated in their publicity department, but they aren’t otherwise interesting.

The last section, “Information about the entity that controls the Web site”, is a gross imposture. It’s one thing to put a questionnaire on the web that asks for more information than people really ought to give. Most people won’t, and some will; but asking is within the rules. It’s another thing for NPR to ask for data that is not theirs to demand, under the clearly implied but wholly false representation that they can deny permission to link to their site to anyone who fails to furnish it.

This information includes: The controlling entity’s formal name. Their mailing address. Please describe the entity’s principal activities. Is this entity a[n] individual, partnership (give the full name of at least one General Partner), for-profit corporation (incorporated in which state?), not-for-profit corporation (ditto), government agency, or other (please specify)? Contact information for the person who will maintain the link: full name, e-mail address, phone, fax.

No kidding, suckers? Give me the password for your webmaster’s personal e-mail account plus a map showing the location of all his cool toys, and maybe I’ll tell you. I don’t think they asked Patrick for that much info when they had him on All Things Considered. I know for sure they didn’t tell him that he couldn’t link to his own words from his own webpage without their prior written consent.

Live from the briar patch
Posted by Teresa at 12:49 AM *

Someone turned up today in the comments section of one of Patrick’s Electrolite posts, writing in persona as the young Karl Marx. Things promptly got strange.

June 19, 2002
From correspondence
Posted by Teresa at 10:03 AM *

This is from Jim Macdonald. He and Debra Doyle are hanging out, waiting for a plane to arrive in Manchester, NH:

After this —- it was nine o’clock, and we went over to the Wendy’s in Bedford (the other side of the Merrimack from Manchester, but essentially part of the same city). … I had a bowl of chili, Doyle had a baked potato, and we sort of hung out. And while hanging, in came a group of Minority Youth, in the colorful costumes that such lads assume. They take the next table, and whoop and yodel, and carry on in the ways that make Upright Citizens tremble. I, however, listen to their conversation. They’re throwing numbers at each other, and extracting the square roots in their heads.

“What was that?” Doyle asks after they’ve departed. “‘We the Math Club, and We Bad’?”

June 18, 2002
Other New York stories
Posted by Teresa at 11:09 PM *

Oh god. I can’t go down into the basement. That thing is at least three inches long, and it’s lurking on the stairs, popping up now on this step, now on that one, as though it were on patrol.

I’m sure the landlord won’t let me brick up the door into the basement. He wouldn’t like flamethrowers, either. I can’t think either is an unwarranted response.

I hate cockroaches.

Chu-Bu vs. Sheemish
Posted by Teresa at 11:04 PM *

I meant to blog this story a while back, but lost track of it in my queue. It’s from the New York Times, about the problems at the church of St. Cecelia (RC) in Harlem. This is such a NYC story: They’re running out of wall space at the church because the different ethnic elements in their congregation all want to have their own favorite icons displayed:

It all started in the mid-1990’s, when Mexican parishioners staked out a corner for a shrine to their patron saint, the Virgin of Guadalupe. Soon, black parishioners took another corner of the church to install a shrine for St. Martin de Porres, a Peruvian-Dominican ascetic who tended to the sick and unfortunate in the 16th and 17th centuries. Now, Puerto Rican and Ecuadorean devotees are lobbying for space for their own patronesses97the Virgin of Providence for Puerto Ricans, the Virgin of Cisne for Ecuadoreans.

The Rev. Francis Skelly, St. Cecilia’s pastor, can hardly keep up with so much devotion.

Last January, the priest said, he returned from a vacation to find a statue of a regal-looking baby Jesus on top of a side altar. He suspected the church’s small but powerful Filipino contingent97the Filipinos sing in the choir97so the statue of baby Jesus, with its crown, golden outfit, and wavy long wig, remains where it miraculously appeared, while the baffled priest decides how to deal with it.

“I don’t see him,” Father Skelly said, deadpanning. “I don’t want to get into it.”

Of course they want their own icons; people always do. It’s the same reason the Diocese of Brooklyn contains 217 parishes in 179 square miles. It’s probably the same reason there were so many temples in Dura-Europos.

May the state bird land on your head
Posted by Teresa at 09:06 PM *

Selections from The Plain English Meanings of Turkish Idioms, part of the Learning Practical Turkish website:

cami yIkIlmIs ama mihrabI yerinde: She may have aged, but she’s still good-looking.

Literally: The mosque has been toppled but the mihrab is still in place. (Note: the mihrab is the niche in the mosque wall that indicates the direction of Mecca. )

fare delige sIgmamIs, bir de kuyruguna kabak baglamIs: For someone to take on new responsibilities when he can’t handle the ones he has; or, for someone who is not welcome himself to bring someone else along with him.

Literally: To not fit into a mouse hole; to fasten a pumpkin to the tail.

hem kel, hem fodul: Said of someone who makes great claims for himself, but lacks competence.

Literally: To be both bald and vain.

IsItIp IsItIp f6nfcne koymak: To continuously repeat stories about the past to the point of weariness.

Literally: To warm and warm and put to the front.

ahret suali: A tiresome and difficult question.

Literally: A question that will be asked at the gates of heaven.

Al birini, vur e7arp f6tekine: None of them are useful; or, One of them is no better than the other; or, It all needs fixing.

Literally: Take one of them and hit the other with it.

ana avrat dfcmdfcz gitmek: To swear a blue streak.

Literally: To go straight forward, including mother and wife

AnasInI satayIm!: Oh, what the hell—it’s not that important; or, What will be, will be; or, Damn it!

Literally: Let’s sell his mother!

battI balIk yan gider: FUBAR: The situation’s in such a mess that there’s no use trying to do anything about it.

Literally: The fish has sunk and now swims sideways.

bayram degil, seyran degil eniste beni niye f6ptfc?: There must be something behind this…

Literally: It’s not festival time, it’s not a pleasure trip, [so] why did my brother-in-law kiss me?

zonk zonk: Used to intensify zonklamak (throb with pain).

burnundan fitil fitil gelmek: To suffer so terribly after making a big gain that you wish you’d never made it in the first place; to have something go terribly wrong which should have been very pleasant.

Literally, for wicks or fuses to come from the nose. In a related phrase, KazandIgImIz burnumuzdan geldi, “We suffered greatly because of our previous gains,” means literally “Our previous gains came from our noses.”

basIna e7orap f6rmek: To plot against someone; to prepare a trap for them.

Literally: To knit a sock for the head.

basIna devlet kusu konmak: To have a stroke of luck; to attain happiness; to win a prize or the lotto.

Literally: For the state bird to land on your head.

agzI df6rt kf6se olmak: To be all smiles.

Literally: To be four corners mouth.

bundan iyisi Sam’da kayIsI: It doesn’t get any better than this.

Literally: Better than this is an apricot in Damascus.

zfcgfcrt (zfcgfcr) tesellisi: An unimportant trifle that a person pretends is important in order to console himself about a major loss or failure

Literally: Penniless consolation.

burnunu sIksan canI e7Ikar: Being greatly distressed.

Literally: If you squeeze the nose, the life goes out. As in, for instance, c7ok fczfcnfctfclfc gf6rfcnfcyor; burnunu sIksan canI e7Ikacak: “She seems very upset; if you squeeze her nose, her life will go out.”

zemberegi bosalmak: To be seized by a fit of laughter.

Literally: For the mainspring to be emptied.

Huzzah!
Posted by Teresa at 06:38 PM *

The AC has been fixed, and is back in our bedroom window, right next to the bed. We rejoice. We admire it: How fine! It broke down weekend before last, and oh, how we’ve missed it.

We’re grateful to J&R Appliances & Repair (108 Seventh Avenue, Brooklyn 11215, next to the video rental place) for fixing it—and at a reasonable price, too. Good guys. Neighborhood institution. Not the first time they’ve fixed something of ours.

Huzzah, huzzah.

Go ahead, tell us what you really think
Posted by Teresa at 01:12 PM *

The Claddagh Ring……The Rest of the Story is a splendidly loony page devoted to denouncing and vilifying (and Bauchling and Reproaching) the traditional Irish heart-crown-and-hands ring. Its technically simple yet spirited graphic design is butt-ugly, in a strikingly original way. This is the first time I’ve seen column width used to indicate emphasis. But if anyone needs more ways to indicate emphasis (having already run through italics, boldface, centering, and variable type size and color), it’s the author of this page.

It seems a shame to quote such expressive text in this drab context, but I’m shameless:

Now…let us tell you about this tragic design…

The design originated in the small,quiet and somewhat ordinary vilage of Claddagh on the shores of Galway Bay in Ireland. The locals still remember the day when the combined armies of both England and Ireland uniting for the first and only time in history came to the town and completely destroyed it- leaving not a trace….all because….the design which had so infected the world with its terrible powers had originated there. Alas… not fully understanding, the dynamics of Material Culture-

All was in vain and the design is still with us today with thousands falling to its addiction daily. Many of Irish descent worship this mystical design and can not have any other pattern or design on any object-large-or-small. From doormats to dustbins it is literally everywhere. It rages like a computer virus blocking out all other images. If left unchecked it is feared that it will blot out all other designs and images in the world. Whole art galleries will become empty of all but artworks portraying the design. We here at the Official Claddagh web site are not striking out at the design we are attacking the root cause-the addiction itself.

The site tells three different stories of the Cladagh’s origin, all scurrilous to one degree or another, and helpfully passes on the information that the European Community has classified the Claddagh as an environmental hazard, and that the Republic of Ireland is considering gathering Claddagh-marked objects and using them to fill in Galway Bay.

Digging deeper
Posted by Teresa at 12:56 AM *

More here on the Moscow spelunkers, from a variety of sources.

Joel Davis found this interview with Vadim Mikhailov in LifeStyle:

The Moscow region has some 150 underground rivers carrying chemical wastes. Fish that happens to get into these rivers begins to mutate. I have seen fish without fins and without eyes, and once a carp with tiny horns on its head. We came across huge worms of grass-snake size that glowed in the darkness.
Ships in the night, puddles on the ground, which I found at the same site, is a short piece about the peculiarities of living in such a thoroughly excavated city:
When I was a kid, I loved this song by singer-songwriter and poet Novella Matveyeva about houses with no roofs that at night would “sail forth, as though they were ships and not houses.” I never thought that, one day, this metaphor might sail ominously into my life.

Last summer, Moscow was exceptionally hot and dry, whereas July 2000 was exceptionally wet, almost hitting the watery record set by the summer of 1965. All this rain is a worry because of the many cavities and water flows under the streets of Moscow. Holes and currents may be vastly different things to builders, but residents of collapsed buildings probably don’t see much difference between their homes caving in or sailing away.

Moscow homes like to set sail because the Moscow River isn’t the only source of water in the city. Many streams, such as the Presnya and the Neglinka, used to flow through Moscow. You can’t see them today, but they have bequeathed to the city streets names, underground water flows and unstable soil. Geology isn’t the only problem — the Swiss cheese effect is aggravated by the fact that, over the 850 years of Moscow’s existence, all kinds of underground infrastructure has been built. Central Moscow and the Khoroshevo-Mnevniki district, where I happen to live, are particularly dangerous in this respect.

Cassandra Phillips-Sears contributes several links:

Moscow Diggers Make Interesting Discoveries Under Sukharevskaya Square:

Moscowdiggers made interesting discoveries under Sukharevskaya Ploshchad. Vadim Mikhailov, the Moscow diggers’ leader, told RIA Novosti today that his exploration team had approached the recently bricked passage. On pushing away the bricks, not bound together with a mortar, the diggers saw a chamber resembling a section of the Kremlin’s underground palace. They suppose that an aqueduct was laid through the underground passage and chambers in the 1930s, which has by now decayed.
From Outside magazine: FEAR ME, Giant Sewer Rodents, for I Am VADIM, Lord of The Underground!:
Deep beneath Moscow a crew of urban spelunkers frolics, hunting Stalin’s secret hideaway, Ivan the Terrible’s torture chamber, bootleg nuclear weapons, and a little fame and fortune…
Also from Outside: Spelunking: And Please, No Flash Pictures of the Blob, about Mikhailov’s dreams of making the Moscow underground a tourist attaction:
“It’s very rare, but occasionally you find a really big example of a cockroach,” Vadim Mikhailov says, with oddly upbeat emphasis.

Mikhailov, 29, is trying to drum up interest in his strange new tourist business: leading rubber-suit-wearing adventure-seekers into parts of Moscow’s 620,000 miles of dank, dark sewer tunnels. Mikhailov and his 15-person Diggers of the Underground Planet — named after the seventeenth-century English agrarian reformers — are hoping to make a little capitalist jingle while calling attention to the fact that, like many of the sewers on his tour, Russian environmental regulations have scarcely changed since the Middle Ages.

The Novosibirsk Diggers’ Website may be triffically interesting, but it’s entirely in Russian. Let me know.

The Minsk Diggers have their own website, also in Russian, featuring photos from their expeditions. There are six lines of text in the top portion of their main page. I think these correspond to separate expeditions. Clicking on one will take you to a page of thumbnails of photos from that outing. If you can’t read any Russian, the fourth through sixth pages are more interesting. They may also be more interesting if you can read Russian, but I’m in no position to judge that. The seventh group appears to be photos of an old unused subway line.

Finally, Cassandra said that while there also appeared to be a website for the Moscow Diggers, it doesn’t work.

June 17, 2002
Lutheran humor
Posted by Teresa at 09:30 AM *

The site’s called Old Lutheran, subtitled The Center for Lutheran Pride—But Not Too Proud. They have a lot of merchandise for sale, but the clear standout is the Martin Luther bobble head doll. They also sell signed portraits of Martin Luther, with an optional personalized message: Congratulations on Your Ordination, Congratulations on Your Anniversary, Happy Birthday, Grace to You, and Sin Boldly.

That’s from everyone’s favorite Martin Luther quote: “Sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly, for he is victorious over sin, death, and the world.” (Actually, what he said was Simul justus et peccator! Pecca fortiter sed fortius fide et gaude in Christo, qui victor est peccati, mortis et mundi,” but it’s not like he’d have been speaking English anyway.) “Sin boldly” is the part everyone remembers best.

Old Lutheran has a whole line of “Sin Boldly” products, starting with their “Sin Boldly Lager”, and their “Old Lutheran Pencil Holder” which is an empty bottle of the lager; but it might be well to start with the “License to Sin Boldly”, which entitles you to dance, play cards, and drink beer, and is of course signed by Martin Luther.

Etymology
Posted by Teresa at 08:52 AM *

I’ve been enjoying reading Route 66 A.D.: On the Trail of Ancient Roman Tourists by Tony Perrottet, thanks to Lucy Huntzinger who sent me a copy. It’s simultaneously a discussion of tourism in classical antiquity, and an account of a trip around the Mediterranean by the author and his pregnant wife as they attempt to follow the old travel guides and itineraries.

Naturally, they begin in Rome; but Perrottet finds the present version of Rome too mellow and graceful under its multiple layers of culture, history, and paint:

What made Ancient Rome unique as a city—what defined it to its inhabitants and the world—was its exhilarating extremes, its giddy combination of grandeur and squalor. It was exuberant, energetic, confronting, cosmopolitan, a volatile cocktail of wealth, penury, lust, and degradation. Modern Rome, by comparison, is like a soothing watercolor hanging in a dentist’s waiting room.

At some point I had to admit that on an imaginative level, Ancient Rome had less in common with modern Rome than with the more overpowering, rough-edged, and crass metropolis we’d just left behind: New York.

He then goes on to discuss the ways that NYC (he says he lives on Tenth, in the East Village) can be legitimately compared with the Rome of antiquity. I particularly liked this bit, where he’s discussing blood sports:
Any New York writer would be fascinated to learn that our word editor can be traced back to the Colosseum. The Latin editor was the head of a gladiatorial school, whose job it was to decide whether a wounded fighter should live or die. Lurking in the sidelines of the arena, the editor gave thumbs-up or -down on purely financial grounds—whether it was worth it to nurse the man back to health in the gladiatorial hospital, or to let him perish like a dog. (Just like Manhattan publishing!) But the role was too popular to leave to a minor figure. The life-and-death power was later given to the emperor—who, to curry favor, deferred to the masses.
I knew there was something we were missing.

June 15, 2002
A recipe for tomato season
Posted by Teresa at 12:16 AM *

It’s that time of year when fresh ripe tomatoes used to be really cheap. Maybe they still are somewhere, but not in my neighborhood. We get greenhouse “vine tomatoes” all year round, and they’re $2.49 a pound in July just like they are in January. Maybe I’ll go up to the farmer’s market in Grand Army Plaza tomorrow morning and see what’s available.

This is a recipe for tomato junkies. Also for people who get shanghaied by irresistible tomatoes and fresh basil at farmer’s markets, but are too tired when they get home to do anything elaborate with them. Martha Stewart would use it as a salad or appetizer, but we eat it as our main course and are happy therewith.

Required ingredients: A lot of good tomatoes. Salt and pepper. Just a dollop of Best Foods (Hellman’s) mayonnaise—you don’t want to drown it. An unsliced loaf of good French or Italian bread. Don’t use that mooshy sandwich stuff.

Potentially advantageous additions: A little chopped fresh basil. A little chopped green onion. (Go light. This dish is about tomatoes and bread.) If you insist, you can probably get away with olive oil instead of mayonnaise, but it’ll be a different dish. And if you’re so fortunate as to have salad burnet (Sanguisorba minor) available to you, by all means put it in.

Procedure: Wash the tomatoes and cut them up into loose chunks. Put a nice dollop of mayonnaise on them, enough to tincture the whole when stirred in. (How much mayo exactly? Search me. How should I know how many tomatoes you bought? My own way of measuring is, if after adding the mayo the color spec goes over 50% white, you’ve used too much.)

Season with salt and pepper to taste. If you’re adding a little fresh basil or chopped green onion or salad burnet, add it now. Set the tomato mixture aside to bleed.

Now take your loaf of fresh French or Italian bread, or portion thereof to equal or slightly exceed the volume of tomatoes, and cut it into chunks about as big as you can comfortably put into your mouth. (Avedon, make them a little bigger than that.)

Take a serving bowl (glass, if you want to show off how pretty this is), and arrange about half the bread chunks in a layer on the bottom. Spoon some—not half, just some—of the tomato mixture over them. With any luck, there’ll be a lot of tomato juice tinged with mayonnaise lurking in the bottom of the bowl. Make sure some of that gets onto the bread. Now take the rest of the bread chunks and layer them in, then spoon all the remaining tomato mixture over them.

Press it down a little with the back of your big wooden spoon, or wash your hands well and press it down that way. Don’t squash it. You’re just trying to get the bread to soak up tomato juice. Serve fairly soon.

I know this dish sounds a little weird. Ask Patrick how it tastes.

[Recipe Index]

June 14, 2002
Religion is always confusing when you’re a kid.
Posted by Teresa at 07:12 PM *

The link in that header goes to a photo by Jeffrey Aaronson, from the Smithsonian Image Gallery. Other favorites: George Steinmetz’s Eskimo walking past a deserted radar station, Bill Curtstein’s black dog in Yarmouth, Maine, and Kay Chernush’s cranberry harvest.

June 12, 2002
Deliberation
Posted by Teresa at 12:53 PM *

Patrick just called to say the closing arguments were finished and the case has been handed over to the jury. He’ll be in deliberation until they finish deliberating. He says to say he misses his life, especially Tor.

Hello Tor, Patrick misses you.

Do they think I’m crazy?
Posted by Teresa at 08:35 AM *

I got an interesting piece of spam this morning, for certain values of “interesting”:

X-From_: freebiecash@ofr.mb00.net Wed Jun 12 01:27:25 2002
From: Content Watch
To: tnh@panix.com
X-Info: Message sent by Mindshare Design customer with ID “freebiecash”
X-Info: Report abuse to list owner at freebiecash@complaints.mb00.net
X-PMG-Userid: freebiecash
X-PMG-Msgid: 1023854889.19185
X-PMG-Recipient: tnh@panix.com
Subject: Advisory: Hidden file danger
Date: Wed, 12 Jun 2002 01:00:02 EDT

Did you know that your computer AUTOMATICALLY SAVES every PICTURE from every WEBSITE you visit? This function helps your PC access your favorite websites more quickly, but it also allows EXPLICIT adult pictures to be saved to your computer if adult websites have been accidentally or intentionally visited!

FREE, confidential online PC check! Safely detect offensive files in just minutes!

http://www.play4keeps.com/rd.cgi?0612contentwatch

(Note: Scan will not display images—only file names that may indicate the presence of offensive material.)

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Let me get this straight: These people, who hang out at places like “freebiecash” and “play4keeps”, and who write and format letters that look exactly like every other would-be scammer on the net, want me to make my files accessible to them so they can check my computer for residual naughty pictures left over from web browsing? No, I don’t think so. I think I’d sooner send money to Miriam Abacha.

Have you seen the ContentWatch website, by the way? It’s a lure for the computer-illiterate and naive, full of testimonial quotes from people like “father, Ireland”, “Sandra, mother of 2”, and “Jane G., OR”. For only twenty bucks they’ll sell you a piece of software that identifies objectionable files that are safe to remove, minimizes the risk of inadvertently accessing objectionable material, and frees up disk space while doing so!

(Dear not-yet-computer-savvy friends: If you want to get rid of residual website caches and free up disk space, just look through your browser’s menus and help files. There will be functions that automatically clear out your cache and get rid of your history of pages visited. Clearing the cache is the most useful one. Thank you.)

What I also found striking about this morning’s proposal is that it can’t work as described. I don’t know about Netscape, but Internet Explorer saves pictures, not under the original names they had on the website, but under random unique strings of gibberish. So whatever else these guys are doing, they’re not scanning for those saved pictures. All they can do is scan for naughty words on the websites on which those pictures originally appeared.

Now that everyone else has one blogged a similar letter from these same guys back in March. This guy actually let them check him for naughty words. They found 226 instances. Some of the words they found: screw, gambling, lovers, tobacco, breast, sex, stud, murder, lottery, rifle, blood, booty, lust. Another user tried it, and found that ContentWatch flagged “Paradise Lost.txt” because it contained repeated mentions of Satan, a file containing the name “Beaver Country Day School”, some testing software called “Browser Torture Test”, and a file containing the phrase “I’m a Google lover”.

And now, if some nervous parent lets ContentWatch check out the computer you’re using to read this, the test will come up positive. Which is laughable; but I wonder how many innocent kids have suffered because their computer-illiterate parents believed this crap?

A bit of Borges
Posted by Teresa at 07:35 AM *

This morning brings a quotation Kevin Maroney has obligingly dug up for me. This is Jorge Luis Borges, from “The Analytical Language of John Wilkins”:

These ambiguities, redundancies, and deficiencies recall those attributed by Dr. Franz Kuhn to a certain Chinese encyclopedia entitled Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge. On those remote pages it is written that animals are divided into (a) those that belong to the Emperor, (b) embalmed ones, (c) those that are trained, (d) suckling pigs, (e) mermaids, (f) fabulous ones, (g) stray dogs, (h) those that are included in this classification, (i) those that tremble as if they were mad, (j) innumerable ones, (k) those drawn with a very fine camel’s hair brush, (l) others, (m) those that have just broken a flower vase, (n) those that resemble flies from a distance.

June 11, 2002
Old muddy river
Posted by Teresa at 10:58 PM *

J. Bradford Delong notes in his Semi-Daily Journal that Amazon.com made him a hot offer:

The Theory of Moral Sentiments Or, an Essay/2 Volumes Bound in 1 Book : Towards an Analysis of the Principles, by Which Men Naturally Judge Concerning… by Adam Smith …List Price: $30.00

Great Buy: Buy Theory of Moral Sentiments with Sex and the City - The Complete Third Season today! Buy Together Today $64.88. Buy both now!

That unbelievably hashed title is actually Adam Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments; or an essay towards an analysis of the principles by which men naturally judge concerning the conduct and character, first of their neighbours, and afterwards of themselves; to which is added, a Dissertation on the Origin of Languages (1759). As of this moment, several hours after the Semi-Daily Journal post, Amazon has decided that it pairs up better with John Maynard Keynes’ The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money.

However, there’s a sad lack of parity. If you click through to the page for the Keynes title, the recommended pair-up is not Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments, but the collector’s edition DVD of Chasing Amy. Meanwhile, the recommended pair-up for Adam Smith’s An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations is the widescreen version of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. And if An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations isn’t your cup of tea, you can try any one of the other eighty-four titles Amazon lists as being by the same author, including Gettysburg 1863: High Tide of the Confederacy by Carl Smith, illus. Adam Hook; Sams Teach Yourself Adobe GoLive 6 in 24 Hours by Jennifer Smith, Lynn Grillo, and Adam Pratt; and The Comic Book Kid by Adam Osterweil, illus. Craig Smith.

Lord almighty, this is a mess.

It’s not just the economic philosophers. For some while now Amazon has been recommending Sex and the City—The Complete Third Season! as the obvious complement to all the works of H. W. Fowler, who as you know Bob is the author of the cranky and magisterial Dictionary of Modern English Usage. You can buy the two together for just $47.83.

That’s assuming you can find it. Amazon’s been listing that basic reference work as Oxford Fowler’s Modern English Usage Dictionary —which title, to borrow John Clute’s immortal phrase, contains more errors than it does words— “by H. W. Fowler (Editor), Sir Ernest Gowers”. I pinch the bridge of my nose, I shake my head. Fowler is the author. Gowers edited the second edition. And the descriptive text Amazon runs underneath this travesty refers to the unbeloved third edition, edited by Burchfield and well worth avoiding.

If you click on the Fowler’s name to see his other works, you get the works of one Earlene Fowler, a writer of murder mysteries. H. W. Fowler’s works are listed below that, followed by another recommendation for Sex in the City—The Complete Third Season!

As of this evening the Oxford Fowler’s Modern English Usage Dictionary title appears to have finally gotten fixed, but I’m not reassured. I know authors who’ve been trying for years to get Amazon to fix risible errors in their listings, and who’ve watched in dismay as new errors have randomly appeared. For instance, Debra Doyle, co-author with Jim Macdonald of assorted space operas and other ripping adventure yarns (available at fine bookstores everywhere), is currently credited by Amazon with the authorship of 607 books, apparently because one of the editors of CountryWatch.com’s “Country Reviews” series is also named Doyle. Meanwhile, a long string of errors in the listings for their books—mostly miscrediting Jim Macdonald as “contributor”, “illustrator”, “et al.”, etc., and misspelling his name as “MacDonald”—continue to go uncorrected.

I’d better stop now or I’ll rant myself into a froth. I was just checking one last thing on the site and noticed a listing for “Arthur Conan, Sir Doyle”. I swear to god, the errors on Amazon are fractal.

What it takes
Posted by Teresa at 02:39 PM *

I continue to find myself fretting over the sheer amount of information Mr. Bush must not know, given that he was, until recently, unaware that there are blacks in Brazil.

(Quick recap: My earlier post on the subject. The CNN transcript. The article in Der Spiegel.)

Take soccer, for instance: that game variously known as ffatbol, boldspil, voetbal, calcio, Fudfball, sepakbola, fotboll, pilka nozna, fudbal, nogomet, futebol, jalkapallo, fotbalu, knattspyrna, fodbold, labdarfagf3, and football-no-the-other-kind, a.k.a. the most popular sport in the world. As James Carville pointed out, it’s hard to live on this planet without hearing about Pele o rei de futebol, and there’s no mistaking what color he is.

It bothers me. You don’t have to be a fan of football, but there are times — this week, for instance — when the subject is completely unavoidable. Where has GWB been?

Lay that aside for the moment. Let’s go after this question systematically. At minimum, Bush is missing several centuries of the post-Columbus history of the New World. Within that, he’s missing the history of the black Africans’ emigration (kidnapping? diaspora?) to the New World. He can’t know about the triangle trade, which means he has a defective grasp of early North American history, because the triangle trade was a big deal in Colonial times. He doesn’t know anything about the history of Cuba, because if you know even a little about it, you’ll stumble across the fact that there are blacks in Brazil. One somehow feels the Leader of the Free World ought to know something about Cuba, unless the title “Leader of the Free World” is now trading at par with”Holy Roman Emperor.”

Next step: I think this also has to mean that Bush didn’t know there are blacks in all the Latino countries in the Western Hemisphere. Now that he’s been tipped off, he’ll probably claim that he did too know that, but … nope, can’t. If he knew there were blacks in all the other countries, but he didn’t know there were blacks in Brazil, he’d have to have thought Brazil was somehow an exception to the rule. But he can’t have believed that. No sane person could. Brazil has the second-largest black population of any country in the world. (Nigeria’s #1.) So: Bush can’t have known there are black (mulato, actually) populations in every country in the Western Hemisphere. This is depressing when you consider that Latin America is supposedly his area of greatest expertise.

It’s a non-trivial point. Look at Mexico, an afternoon’s drive from his home town. He’s supposed to be really up on Mexico. During Mexico’s Colonial period, there were more Africans living there than Europeans. The second President of Mexico, Vicente Guerrero, was a mulatto. And consider the Alamo, 1836. Race and slavery issues were a lot of what brought on that war. The abolitionist movement got started early in Mexico, and slavery was abolished there in 1829. This irritated Texican settlers, who were doing the cotton-plantation cash-crop thing, so Texans got a temporary exemption from the anti-slavery laws.

If you grew up in the US, you were probably taught in school that the Mexican government imposed irksome restrictions on the Texas settlers. You may not have heard that one of these was a ban on importing any more slaves. (They already made up about a fifth or a sixth of the Texas population.) Then, in 1835, Generalissimo Santa Anna declared all slavery illegal in Mexico. The Texans promptly seceded, and while they were at it banned free blacks from living in Texas, no matter how long they’d been there. (Nice bunch, eh? Damned straight I’ll remember the Alamo.)

Anyway, to repeat a point, Latin America is the area of foreign relations we’re always being told George W. Bush knows the most about. It’s reasonable to infer that his knowledge of the rest of the world is even more superficial. That’s very bad. Not knowing that immigration to the New World was black as well as white is like not knowing that English is derived from both Romance and Germanic languages, or that the Mississippi empties into the Gulf of Mexico: a disturbingly large gap in its own right, made even more disturbing by the larger areas of ignorance it implies.

But I’m going to take one step further, this time into speculation: I know George W. Bush has visited some or all of the Latino countries of the Western Hemisphere. No matter how good his security was, he has to have seen something of their populations, and within those populations there have to have been quite a few blacks (mulatos) (whatever) (this gets complicated). Is it possible that he doesn’t recognize them when he sees them? That he thinks some Latinos just happen to have frizzy hair and darker skin, while others happen to look more like indios, and a few look kind of like Europeans, but that racially they’re all in the same category, that being “mostly-brown people who speak Spanish”?

It would be startlingly advanced of him to understand that racial identity is a social construct, but one would prefer that he hadn’t arrived at that opinion by accidentally backing over it.

June 10, 2002
Mysteries under Moscow
Posted by Teresa at 10:08 PM *

Everybody knows that New York City has dug down as well as built up. In an article from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, May/June 1997, we learn that Moscow has done the same, only more so. Is all the stuff in the article true? I don’t know. I hope so. Reading it leaves me feeling like I’ve just read a really good comic, maybe a whole mini-series. Behold:

What is hidden under Moscow?

This question has intrigued Vadim Mikhailov since he was a child in the early 1970s, when his father, who drove a train in the Moscow subway, first gave him a ride in the driver’s cabin and showed him the network of Metro tunnels beneath the Russian capital. By the time he was 12, Mikhailov and his friends had begun making increasingly ambitious journeys beneath the city.

Discoveries began with the first expeditions. Through manholes and building basements the boys wriggled into labyrinths under the Russian capital. First, they explored the bomb shelters under Leningradsky Prospekt, then they came across an Academy of Oceanology warehouse. “Imagine walking along endless corridors,” recalls Mikhailov, “something dripping from the ceiling, the uneven light of torches. And all of sudden you find yourself in a room full of tanks of formalin, containing various sea monsters.”

They soon went deeper underground. According to Mikhailov there are about six levels under Moscow, and in some places as many as 12, including old sewer systems, fountain foundations, and sloping drainage tunnels entangled in the depths.

As they grew up, the explorers took their investigations more seriously, drawing maps of their routes, studying history books, and talking to elderly Muscovites about past uses of the underground. Their explorations of deserted shafts and water mains built during the reign of Catherine the Great in the eighteenth century sparked a greater interest and enthusiasm for further expeditions.

In 1990, Mihailov and his friends formed themselves into the “Diggers of the Underground Planet,” an organization devoted to studying the Moscow underground. Their work has gotten riskier as gypsies, spongers, alcoholics, druggies, prostitutes, political refugees, homeless families, ex-convicts, and hermits have homesteaded the upper levels. Some of them live in respectable digs, even commuting to day jobs through the manholes. Elsewhere it’s not so cozy:
Three or four years ago the Diggers found their first corpse. Now horrible things like dismembered bodies can be found in sewers and drains. “In former times the public works department used to control these facilities,” Mikhailov says. “But today the engineers—mainly women—are afraid to come down because there are a lot of strangers in the underground.”
No kidding. For instance, the Diggers keep sighting groups of people in camouflage uniforms and masks. Sometimes these groups are excavating new areas. Another time the Diggers came across people in monk’s robes, carrying torches round a strange-looking stone altar and singing. And they’ve found dozens of entries to supposedly closed-off bomb shelters and strategic command posts.

They’ve also found deserted passageways, dry water courses, torture chambers, ancient weapons, ancient stashes of ancient skulls, an entire second outer ring of Metro lines that were built but never used, another site that may have been a Stalin-era mass grave (only nobody wants to take responsibility for discovering it, even now), an inexplicable 3,000-seat bunker, and:

Under Bolshaya Pirogovskaya Street the Diggers discovered a deserted laboratory with an old telephone, chemical-protection suits hanging on the walls, and old-fashioned respiration masks. The room appeared to have been abandoned in a hurry. In adjacent rooms there were huge flasks, and the floor was covered with crystals.
A mystery, yes? But what the Diggers really want to find is the lost medieval library of Ivan the Terrible, brought from Byzantium by Princess Sofia Paleolog when she married him in 1472, and supposedly stashed in a secret underground library beneath the Kremlin. Maybe they will. That would be way cool.

June 06, 2002
Malefactors of great wealth, again
Posted by Teresa at 04:04 PM *

This is an ugly new development in a story that was already ugly enough. It would appear that Perot Systems sold Enron the techniques it used to rip off the state of California by manipulating the state power market:

After Perot Systems Corp. helped develop the computer systems used to track California electricity trading, it peddled a detailed presentation to energy companies on ways to “game” the state’s power market, newly released documents show. The blueprint outlined schemes similar to “Death Star” and others later used by Enron Corp. to inflate profits.

A state Senate committee investigating whether companies manipulated the market during last year’s energy crisis obtained the blueprint from Reliant Energy. Lawyers for the Houston-based company said Perot Systems made the same sales pitch to other companies selling power in California.

California lawmakers said they were stunned by the 44-page presentation, a series of computer graphics that provided a primer on the state’s deregulated electricity market and then illustrated ways to exploit it to raise power prices.

Dang. Just got out their presentation software and produced a picturebook primer on how to manipulate the energy market and gouge its customers. That’s a degree of cynicism that just takes your breath away. Thank you, Ross Perot, Man of the People. (Not that I ever believed he was; but damn him anyway.)

And let us not forget the day’s other testimony, especially since there’s always a chance that someone deliberately scheduled it for the same day as the Perot revelations so it wouldn’t get as much attention. It would seem that some of California’s own municipal utilities recognized what was happening, and moved fast to get in on the plunder:

Though it was largely overshadowed by the Perot Systems revelation, state lawmakers also heard testimony Wednesday from an industry consultant who suggested that some of the state’s municipal utilities should have known — and may well have known — that Enron and other power companies were possibly engaging in questionable business practices.

Robert McCullough, a former utility executive who runs an Oregon consulting firm, said the state’s utilities should have suspected that something was wrong when power companies such as Enron were offering to split profits with them — in some cases 50-50 — for the right to their capacity on power lines, and were then sending little or no power.

Some of Enron’s ploys were specifically tailored to employ the municipal utilities — including one dubbed “Red Congo” that used a portion of the Redding utility’s transmission line, he said, citing new documents obtained by the state.

Glendale’s municipal utility recently announced that it was investigating whether it unwittingly took part in some of Enron’s schemes by participating in similar arrangements. But McCullough said at least one municipal entity, the Northern California Power Agency, appears to have known something was afoot, citing a document that showed it was “aggressively” marketing use of its lines to Enron for a 50 percent cut of profits.

You really can’t call that normal business practices. Really. Not that they aren’t trying:
A lobbyist for the agency, John Fistolera, disputed McCullough’s accusation, saying his client was simply trying to make the best use of its assets, and had actually thought it was helping relieve power shortages during the energy crunch.
Why do I keep making snarky remarks about the Invisible Hand of the Marketplace? Because for people working in corporations, there are lots of ways to aggrandize and enrich themselves that have nothing to do with producing a better product more efficiently for a lower price. If classic economic models were applicable to the daily life, work, and decision-making processes of people in complex corporate structures, Dilbert wouldn’t be funny.

Lost and loster
Posted by Teresa at 08:31 AM *

“a/k/a Abraham’s Mentally Challenged Stepdaughters,” says Jack Womack; “Check this fascinating article out if you haven’t seen it already.”

Thank you, Jack. The article is “Confederate Flap: Rebels with an old cause reclaim their town’s not-so-glorious heritage with the assistance of a black mayor” in The American Prospect; and for certain values of “enjoy”, I enjoyed the hell out of it:

About halfway through dinner, Hart asks if I have heard of the Battle of New Market, which took place on May 15, 1864. General John Breckenridge of the Confederacy, ordered to save the Shenandoah Valley from Union forces, found himself short of manpower and reluctantly called up cadets from the Virginia Military Institute. At a crucial moment in the battle, the cadets, mostly teenagers, charged and held their position, swinging momentum to the Confederacy. Ten were killed. The valley was saved. At this point in the story, Hart’s voice begins to crack. His eyes well with tears. He apologizes: He can’t go on. It is the second time during our dinner that Hart has become choked up over Civil War battles. He is wearing a Confederate tie. He sports a Confederate wristwatch. And now he is verklempt.

Fortunately, there is a lot to be said about the crimes of cruel fate against the southern people, and my other dinner companions are more than happy to pick up where Hart leaves off. For if the Sons of Confederate Veterans have an unusually vivid sense of history, they have an equally well-developed persecution complex. “We are now the ones in the minority and finding our civil rights trampled,” Richardson says. Like members of any oppressed group, they are determined to reclaim their identity. “I had to go to the doctor about a year ago, and you had to put your race on a little form,” he recalls with the evident pride of someone who has beaten the system at its own game. “And I put ‘Southern Confederate.’”

In fact, the Sons of Confederate Veterans are fond of turning the rhetoric of the relativist left in on itself — and using it skillfully to decidedly nonliberal ends. “In this era of mutual respect and social healing,” Richardson asks, “how can everyone come together to be homogenous when the only people who can come together to celebrate their history are those people?” (He is referring to blacks.) “We all have a unique heritage, and we have more similarities than we do differences,” Fred Taylor, the group’s lieutenant commander, says of southerners. “Our strength is our diversity,” Richardson adds.

June 02, 2002
Lost cause. You got that? Lost.
Posted by Teresa at 01:01 AM *

Having settled that question…

The New York Review of Books has published Could the South Have Won?, a nice chewy thoughtful review of recent books on the evergreen subject of how and why the South lost the war. Titles discussed include William C. Davis’s Look Away! A History of the Confederate States of America, William W. Freehling’s The South vs. the South: How Anti-Confederate Southerners Shaped the Course of the Civil War, Gary W. Gallagher’s Lee and His Army in Confederate History, and Brian Steel Willls’ The War Hits Home: The Civil War in Southeastern Virginia. Which is all very interesting; but what’s really interesting is that the piece is by James McPherson.

Have fun, Steve. Will, I’d say something here, but you’ve already caught flak today from Patrick, and catching it from both of us in one day is Just Too Much. If you’re interested, I can tell you later on why you’re wrong.

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Making Light copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.