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November 26, 2002
One version of a rabbinical joke
Posted by Teresa at 02:46 PM *

I think it’s a joke. It might be a parable. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.

Once there was a town drunk who was forever lying in a stupor by the side of the road. Every day, the Bishop would ride past in his carriage and look at this miserable creature with disgust and disdain.

Finally, the Bishop decided to teach him a lesson. He had him dragged unconscious into the carriage, then brought him to his own house, where he had his servants wash him, comb his hair, and dress him in the Bishop’s grand clothing. Then they put him to sleep in the Bishop’s own bed.

When the poor drunkard awoke, he was amazed by his surroundings, and even more amazed when he got out of bed and looked at himself in a full-length mirror. He stared in bewilderment, then began to lament: “Who am I? Am I really the Bishop and I just think that I’m the town drunk, or am I really the town drunk and I just think that I’m the Bishop?”

It was a dilemma. Then the drunkard had an idea: Sooner or later, the time would come for the Bishop to pray, and his servants would bring him his prayer book. “If I know how to read the prayer book,” he reasoned, “obviously I’m the Bishop; and if I don’t, obviously I’m the town drunk.”

In due time the prayer book was brought to him. He opened it and turned page after page, but to his distress he couldn’t make out a single word. He stood in front of the mirror, dressed in the Bishop’s magnificent vestments, and cried bitterly in the realization that he was indeed the disgusting town drunk.

Then he was struck by a lightning bolt of understanding. Lifting his hands to heaven, he said, “Ah, but who says the Bishop knows how to read?”

BOFH and the Nigerian 419
Posted by Teresa at 07:41 AM *

I am The PFY, otherwise know to you as the Pimply-Faced Youth, assistant to the Bastard Operator From Hell.

As you know, The Bastard is a very wealthy person, having stolen, lied, cheated and blackmailed his way into several dubious consulting positions, including the one he now holds with a large and very cash-rich company. In recent days, the Bastard Operator from Hell has gone on an extended holiday under the guise of searching the web for a secure version of Explorer, and is not expected back for several years.

Before he left, he deposited a large amount of his wealth in a room in the basement of the company building…

If you’re not familiar: BOFH is the Bastard Operator from Hell, as in Computer Operator. Simon Travaglia’s been chronicling his dastardly adventures since the early 90s. You can find all the BOFH stories through 1999, plus additional material, in The Bastard Operator from Hell Official Archive, and subsequent stories in The Register.

Aspiring BOFHs are referred to the excellent O’Really line of computer manuals, including Distributing Clue to Users, Snooping E-Mail, Tracing Spammers, Practical UNIX Terrorism, and User Obliteration.

November 19, 2002
Posted by Teresa at 07:05 PM *

Steven, Zizka, is the Internet Explorer scrolling problem fixed?

Burrowing owls of Yuma, Arizona
Posted by Teresa at 03:27 PM *

Two pages, no explanations. I just like them.

More burrowing owls; this photo by Jason Stemple.

They’re a convivial species.

Southern Arizona is good for odd owls. Not only do they have the world’s only species of burrowing owl; they have the world’s smallest, the absurdly tiny elf owl.

November 18, 2002
Spectacular meteor shower
Posted by Teresa at 03:41 PM *

Tonight, or very early tomorrow morning, there should be an amazing meteor shower. These are the Leonids, and they usually turn up around this time; but this year, predictions say they should be something else again. Here’s how NASA explains it. Here’s Sky and Telescope’s version:

Every third of a century, for several Novembers in a row, there is the chance that the Leonids will put on a truly prolific showing. There can be hundreds or even thousands of shooting stars per hour. In fact, we are in this window of potential Leonid storms right now. 85

Leonids appear ultrafast compared to the meteors of other showers, for this stream92s particles enter our atmosphere at 71 kilometers per second (near the theoretical speed limit for particles belonging to our solar system). Because of their tremendous speeds, Leonids can be extremely bright and are often tinged with hues of blue or green. Roughly half leave luminous vapor trains 97 some hanging in the air five minutes or more.

The curtain on the current Leonid saga rose in November 1998, just eight months after Comet Tempel-Tuttle passed perihelion. On the night of November 169617 that year, practically the whole world witnessed a remarkable and unexpected 18-hour bombardment of brilliant fireballs, at times numbering up to a few hundred per hour. In 1999 fewer fireballs were seen, but they were replaced by a true storm of more typical Leonids with rates reaching one per second over Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. A very good display (but no storm) appeared in 2000. Then in 2001, not one but two Leonid storms materialized.

And now, in 2002, we prepare for what indeed will be the grand finale. It92s one final opportunity to see Leonid displays capable of producing rates in excess of 1,000 per hour 97 one last chance, for probably a very long time, to see a Leonid storm.

Last year, Patrick and Cory Doctorow and I went and watched the Leonids from the south shore of Staten Island—hardly the best viewing spot in the world, since it’s well within range of New York City’s glow—and the display was still spectacular, huge streaking lines of light across the sky, sometimes several at once. If you could bear to look away you could see the people around you lit up by the nearly continuous meteor flashes.

But that was last year, when the estimated peak rate was around 1,300 meteors per hour. One estimate is that this year at peak we’ll see 5,400.

There’s more than one set of predictions for where and when the show will appear. Sky and Telescope is backing this set of predictions, which has an intense first wave peaking around 11:00 EST, and a second wave tomorrow morning when everyone else expects it. (Alas, the first wave will be below the NYC horizon.) Here’s a chart of three teams’ predictions, as calculated for New York City. Here’s Sky and Telescope’s advice on how to watch it.

Two more good general sites to hit for more information: The basic NASA site, which has a very useful chart if you want to know when to look from where you are; and the 2002 Leonid Site.

Go. Watch. It’s magic.

I’m back
Posted by Teresa at 12:22 AM *

It’s the system software again.

November 14, 2002
Yetanother variant
Posted by Teresa at 06:06 PM *

Lore Sjoberg, light and life of Brunching Shuttlecocks, who’s now doing a weblog/journal called Slumbering Lungfish, has been the target of an attempted scam. It’s one I haven’t seen before:

Ran into an interesting scam the other day. I got a call from someone claiming to be a producer for a television show, saying he wanted to interview me, in my capacity as a Web programmer and the owner of Seven Deadly Productions, for a show on the Bay Area business scene. He was interested in me “as an expert,” he said. I’m not an expert on the Bay Area business scene, but I am an expert at bullshitting in interviews, so I called him back. …

The spiel was odd from the beginning. For instance, he described his show as being “like Hard Copy or 20/20 except we only say good things.” Hard Copy without the criticism is like World’s Scariest Police Chases without the reckless driving. …

Then he went into the details of what they’re going to do for me. He pointed out that they were going to pay for a cameraman and lights and so forth, to the tune of something like ten thousand dollars. This is where my right eyebrow began to lift of its own accord. …

… [T]hen he dropped the bomb. Well, more kind of sidled the bomb into place. Introduced the bomb. He told me that what with them paying for the videotaping and all, I’d be expected to pay the relatively small cost of “production and editing.” Then he quickly moved onto something else which I don’t remember because of the klaxon and flashing red lights that were going off in my head.

No kidding, the alarms went off. I hadn’t heard of vanity TV before, but it’s a variant of one of the common scams that target aspiring writers. (For an introduction to the basic set, read Victoria Strauss’ article, “Writer Beware”. And these are some juicy case studies from the Writer Beware website that grew out of Victoria’s article.)

The version we know is usually run by fee-charging literary agents. Those operations are a scam to start with, but many of them run additional cons on their hapless clients. One of these is operating a scam publishing house under a different name. They’re merciless. First they charge the writers agenting fees, which no respectable agent would do. Then they cycle them through a costly and bogus book doctoring operation that’s either part of the agency or pays kickbacks to it. Then they tell the hopeful author that the manuscript is now ready to be marketed.

Some little while later, the agency calls to say good news, they’ve managed to place the manuscript with a publishing house. They don’t tell the author they own that publishing house. They do tell him-or-her that since it’s so very hard to launch first novels, it’s standard publishing practice (malarkey!) for the author to pay part or all of the book’s costs. Or maybe the author has to guarantee to buy a certain number of copies of the first edition—some few of which the author sees, while the rest are “warehoused” in Never-Never Land.

(See, for instance, the Deering Literary Agency/Sovereign Publications case. Here’s the basic case study; also, a mildly stodgy but extensive and detailed article; and a splendidly damning account of Deering/Sovereign’s practices, from an honest participant in them: the Deerings’ former office assistant.)

Sometimes they’ll vary this by selling the client into a vanity house they don’t own. I don’t think any of them have actually been photographed in the act of taking a kickback, but they do tend to place their books with a small number of vanity presses with whom they have noticeably cozy relationships. And am I being too obvious when I point out that nobody ever has ever had to sell a book to a vanity publisher?

Another prize specimen is Cynthia Sterling, owner of both the Lee Shore Agency and Sterling House Publishing. As Ron Jenkins said in Writers’ Weekly:

Lee Shore and Sterling House Publishing are owned and operated by the same individual. Cynthia Sterling. Under the Lee Shore Literary Agency her modus operandi is this: She charges a reading fee for material submitted to her. She also has an in-house editorial service that is also a costly endeavor. She has never placed a book with a well-known publisher. She bills monthly for sending out manuscripts to “publishers.” It’s an ongoing income. She is known on sites such as Writer Beware and is found throughout the internet with a multitude of complaints.
(In re Lee Shore Agency/Sterling House Publishing: Charges agenting fees; more on those agenting fees, plus general damnation; is in conflict of interest; is definitely in conflict of interest; a description of her procedures; a summary of the operation; and an even blunter summary.)

Cynthia Sterling puts an additional loop into the process: The postdoctoral manuscript is sent out to some real publishing houses to pick up a bunch of quick rejections. I used to wonder why we got so many manuscripts from Lee Shore, with never a good one among them, and why Lee Shore went out of their way to make it easy to reject them. Some manuscripts came with auto-reject checkoff slips. Imagine how thrilled I was to discover that we’d been used to help soften up hapless would-be writers.

After the softening-up comes the good news, the big break, the hoped-for day: Hurrah, your book’s been placed, they just love it, so happy for you, it’s a publisher called Sterling House. (Or Press-Tige. Or Northwest Publishing. Or Commonwealth [2, 3]. Or Aegina.)

The variables change, but the underlying form of the scam remains the same. In my taxonomy, this one files under “Spanish Prisoner”. There’s something wonderful, something very valuable to you—your book can be published, your company can be featured on TV—that can be yours; but first we need just a little extra money from you in order to make it happen. This is all standard procedure, you understand.

November 12, 2002
Posted by Teresa at 10:39 AM *

I will take this as the opening act of the 2004 presidential campaigns.

November 11, 2002
Ghosts of the Great War
Posted by Teresa at 11:11 AM *

“We’re not making a sacrifice.
Jesus, you’ve seen this war.
We are the sacrifice.”

Ulster regiment, marching toward the Somme

Eleven eleven has come round again. Have a look at Tony Novosel’s two pages of spooky, evocative photos of Great War memorials:

Painting: Menin Gate: The Ghosts of Ypres

The actual Menin Gate, on which are carved the names of the 54,000 Missing from the Battle of Ypres.

Thiepval Memorial to the Missing. There are 73,350 names on its panels.

Kathe Kollwitz’ Grieving Parents, near the site where her son and his comrades are buried.

The Silent Sentinels, Langemarck German cemetery in Belgium.

The Sentinels again.

Watching over the German graves at Langemarck.

Le Mort Homme (The Dead Man), Verdun.

Another view. “ILS NONT PAS PASSE” means “They did not pass”.

The Guardians of Verdun.

Wilfred Owen’s grave.

Not pictures: A pertinent selection of Wilfred Owen’s poems. And a bit of Philip Larkin.

The Lost Poets of the Great War website, with its calculation of total casualties.

One of whom was young Umberto Boccioni, Italian Futurist artist. This is his “States of Mind” series: The Farewells. Those Who Go. Those Who Stay. There aren’t many paintings by Boccioni. This is a piece called Unique form of continuity in space. There is even less sculpture by him.

If there are universes with multiple branching timelines, there are thousands of them very much like ours, except that in them no one’s ever heard of J. R. R. Tolkien. The toll of the dead is as difficult to comprehend as the Black Death.

At one point I looked up the history of Tolkien’s unit, the Lancashire Fusiliers. First they significantly distinguished themselves at Gallipoli. Then they significantly distinguished themselves at the Somme. No wonder Tolkien came back from the war saying, “Everyone I know is dead.”

Bad place to make a landing, Gallipoli. A few words from the last surviving ANZAC. And the other last surviving ANZAC.

There is great generosity in the monument to the dead of both sides at Kabatepe Ariburun Beach, inscribed with the speech Ataturk made in 1934 to the first ANZACs and Brits who came back to visit:

Those heroes that shed their blood
And lost their lives…
You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country.
Therefore rest in peace.
There is no difference between the Johnnies
And the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side
Here in this country of ours…
You, the mothers,
Who sent their sons front far away countries
Wipe away your tears,
Your sons are now lying in our bosom
And are in peace
After having lost their lives on this land
They have become our sons as well
An affecting, low-key page about New Zealand public memorials: Lest We Forget: War Memorials of the First World War.
The New Zealand war memorials of the First World War have become part of the common fabric of our lives, like stop signs or lamp-posts. Virtually every township in the country has one, usually in the main street. Excluding the many honours boards and plaques in schools and churches throughout the country, there are well over five hundred public memorials to the soldiers of the Great War.

Despite their numbers, the memorials are not boring or stereotypical. This was because New Zealanders showed much inventiveness in remembering the dead of the Great War. By the time the war ended, over 100,000 young New Zealanders had served overseas and some 18,000 had lost their lives. Sacrifice of this magnitude engendered enormous emotions.

One of my two favorites is the Kaitaia memorial, in Maori and English. The other is the annual ceremony at Piha. Every year there, at low tide on Anzac Day, they process out across the sand to lay their wreaths on Lion Rock ; and then the tide comes in and carries the wreaths away.

November 10, 2002
Good meeting news
Posted by Teresa at 11:00 PM *

It’s strange to see your home continuum through the eyes of strangers., the online version of semi-venerable Meeting News magazine, has run an article—The Science Of Unconventional Planning—about the annual World Science Fiction Convention.

It’s not your usual Worldcon writeup. Forget surface weirdness like hall costumes and skiffy slang; what fascinates Meeting News is the really strange thing about the Worldcon, which is how it’s run. Nobody else does it the way we do:

What makes the World Science Fiction Society’s annual convention seem other-worldly isn’t so much the guys walking around dressed like Klingons as the way the event is organized. Despite some unconventional planning, the society presents a compelling value proposition to destinations—and as it happens, perhaps some lessons to planners of more conventional events.

What’s so unconventional? First, nothing pleases organizers of the World Science Fiction Convention, or Worldcon, more than scheduling the international meeting over what planner Ben Yalow calls “rotten dates”—Labor Day weekend.

Second, the legal entity organizing the convention changes practically every year—the society owns only the Worldcon name—not a move that normally instills confidence in suppliers that might need to seek legal recourse for nonperformance.

Third, the convention, which draws about 5,500 people, including upward of 700 presenters and 300 exhibitors, is organized completely by some 500 volunteers, except for suppliers such as printers and show decorators.

They noticed! That’s so cool.

Other conventions and gatherings hire professional meeting planners to organize their events. That makes the whole proposition a lot more expensive. I’m startled every time I see the membership rates for non-fannish conventions.

I hadn’t previously known that fandom is part of the “SMERF market” —social, military, educational, religious, and fraternal groups. As I understand it, the hotel industry would normally be skittish about dealing with us because each Worldcon is run by its own separate organizing committee that’s incorporated solely to put on that Worldcon. On the other hand, we have a consistent profile from year to year, a sixty-year history of paying our bills, and are actually a well-behaved bunch.

Ben Yalow once told me once that the hoteliers have a dossier on us that goes back a long way. The organization putting on the Worldcon may change every year, but they know who they’re dealing with just the same. Short version of our rep with the industry, as strained through my memory of a long-ago conversation: “Yes, the fans in hall costumes look weird, but they’re harmless. Basically, what we do is fill our bathtubs with ice, drink every available can of soda in the state and maybe in the contiguous states, depending on where we are that year, and sit up until four in the morning talking.” Ben said they have us profiled in enough detail that they know the people who spend the whole convention sitting in the bar are the pros.

Er, yeah, that would be us. It’s nice to find out that Meeting News thinks being us is a good thing:

However much science fiction enthusiasts may appear to have their heads in the clouds—or indeed the stars—Worldcon organizers are meticulous in their attention to detail, and not only when it comes to negotiating hotel room rates.
Worldcon organizers are perhaps even more experienced than some may realize. When it comes to back-end administration, they pioneered computerized meetings management.

Beginning in the late ’70s, computer programmers in the science fiction community modified commercially available database software to create programs for managing registration, rooming lists and presentations. And they communicated via email long before most people had ever heard of the Internet.

“In science fiction, we’ve always had a high number of computer programmers and other people involved in science,” said Yalow. “We have a big pool of knowledgeable people to draw upon.”

And, talking about the Labor Day 2002 Worldcon in San Jose:
“It ended up being a cool group for the city,” said the CVB’s Ponton, referring not only to the convention activities but also to the cool $9.8 million Worldcon poured into San Jose.

“The perception of that kind of group, science fiction, is people dressed like Mr. Spock, with pointed ears,” said Ponton. “But their money is just as good as suit-and-tie business meetings. They were lovely to work with, and it was a positive experience for everyone. We’ve asked them to come back.”

From time to time I fall into thinking that non-SF types must be as much slicker than we are in their operations as they are in their appearance. There’s no reason for it; just cultural cringe. It’s nice to be reassured.

Additional crunchy goodness

Meeting News also did a sidebar article on Ben Yalow himself. It’s way too short, but yay rah Ben all the same.

Ex voto
Posted by Teresa at 10:17 AM *

Art: a memorial to the artist’s grandfather, gone by way of Alzheimer’s. The third photo’s the best.

Posted by Teresa at 12:55 AM *

From “The testimony of Margaret Fox concerning her late husband,” from The Journal of George Fox,a0 1694; describing the first time she heard him speak:

And so he went on, and said, “That Christ was the Light of the world, and lighteth every man that cometh into the world; and that by this light they might be gathered to God,” &c. I stood up in my pew, and wondered at his doctrine, for I had never heard such before. And then he went on, and opened the scriptures, and said, “The scriptures were the prophets’ words, and Christ’s and the apostles’ words, and what, as they spoke, they enjoyed and possessed, and had it from the Lord”: and said, “Then what had any to do with the scriptures, but as they came to the Spirit that gave them forth? You will say, ‘Christ saith this, and the apostles say this;’ but what canst thou say? Art thou a child of the Light, and hast thou walked in the Light, and what thou speakest, is it inwardly from God?” &c. This opened me so, that it cut me to the heart; and then I saw clearly we were all wrong. So I sat down in my pew again, and cried bitterly: and I cried in my spirit to the Lord, “We are all thieves; we are all thieves; we have taken the scriptures in words, and know nothing of them in ourselves.”

November 09, 2002
Squalor and hope
Posted by Teresa at 05:15 PM *

This one isn’t about politics.

I keep showing the Squalor Survivors page to friends. It’s an unfailing source of cheer to people who feel overwhelmed by the messiness of their own homes.

Start by reading the explanation of the four degrees of squalor. After that, you’ll be ready for the before-and-after photos. Read the stories, too. It’s a tremendously brave, hopeful site.


I haven’t joined the cult myself yet, but I’m hearing good things about from friends. I like her slogan—“You can do anything for 15 minutes94—and she appears to be full of sensible, practical help for the disorganized.

Well, yes, but. There are lots of those.

What actually impresses me is that I’m hearing from friends that this one works.

November 07, 2002
Guns in New Hampshire
Posted by Teresa at 11:56 PM *

As I mentioned two posts back, this past week I was visiting my friends Nancy and Elric in Auburn, New Hampshire. On Sunday night—which is Ladies’ Night at the Manchester Firing Line Range—Nancy and I, accompanied by Jim Macdonald, went and made a lot of holes in defenseless paper targets. (Pictures! We got pictures!) (And here are some pictures of Nancy and Jim).

The Colt .45 pistol was fine, and so was the AR-15 Sporter (though a little too hair-triggered, IMO); but the one I liked the very best of all was the 1928 Thompson Submachine Gun—that’s the Navy model, with the (relatively) reduced rate of fire when you’re on full automatic. That thing is one nice piece of design and engineering. It just feels good, like an IBM Selectric or my Honda Civic.

(Aiiiiiieeeeee! Flee, puny humans! It’s a liberal with a tommy gun!)

I mention this because it was fun, and cool; and also because I’m tired of hearing about how all liberals want to outlaw guns. Plenty of ‘em don’t. It’s not my place to say how Nancy or Jim voted in this recent election or any other, but let’s just say we assort well.

Personally, I think a lot of the liberals who want to ban firearms don’t have much ideological basis for it. It’s more that they aren’t familiar with guns, so they find them frightening and alien.

You have to admit, guns are naturally scary objects. After the first time I fired the Colt .45, I had to flip on the safety and carefully lay the thing down, then lean against a nearby wall a few seconds until the faintness passed. Biiiiiiiiiiig noise. Lots of power. A kick that tells you you’re holding a controlled explosion in your hand. Woo. And then I picked it back up, flipped off the safety, and fired a bunch more shots.

Any sane person’s going to be wary of guns. But if you’ve never handled one, and you don’t know anyone who does, they’re just plain frightening. Basically, I figure guns are like gays: They seem a lot more sinister and threatening until you get to know a few; and once you have one in the house, you can get downright defensive about them.

Then there’s the NRA. You know, those guys are no help at all. If I were a conniving right-wing strategist, I’d funnel lots of money to the NRA because their spokesmen are always coming off like such dangerous loonies. I’ve never known one single non-gun-using person who was persuaded by listening to the NRA that there’s such a thing as sane, reasonable gun ownership and use. Instead, they stampede in the opposite direction, which causes sane, reasonable gun owners to stampede rightward, and next thing you know there’s a culture war going on between people who otherwise would be sympathetically inclined.

My feeling on this issue is that next time I’m in Manchester, I want to try out a shotgun, even if it knocks me over backward. I understand the sound makes a Colt .45 sound like a popgun.

(Public Notice: Anybody who comes along and posts stupid gnu-control flaming boilerplate in my Comments section will find out about my magic powers to Edit and Delete. I don’t mind being disagreed with, but I hate being bored. Say something new or suffer the consequences. You have been warned.)

Movie rules governing Aboriginal Persons and their Ancestral Mystic Stuff
Posted by Teresa at 08:40 PM *

(I’m sorry; this crawled out from under my fingers today while I was trying to write something else…)

1. The mystical powers wielded by any Aboriginal Person who wanders into the storyline shall be sufficient to accomplish anything that needs to happen for the plot to reach its climax and resolution.

2. Any ethnically Aboriginal Person who has a Western education and profession, but also has some acquaintance with Ancestral Mystic Stuff, will be unable to do whatever is required of him by the plot until that point at which he rejects all his education and training, and goes with the Ancestral Mystic Stuff instead; whereupon Rule #1 will kick in.

3. Any non-Aboriginal Person who’s living with Aboriginals or has otherwise gone native shall be subject to the general rules governing Aboriginal Ancestral Mystic Stuff.

4. What would under any other circumstances be continuing social or romantic relationships between Westerners and non-Westernized Aboriginal Persons shall be terminated before the closing credits roll.

5. The class of “Aboriginals with Ancestral Mystic Stuff” shall include the Amish, obscure Catholic orders, and any other non-Jewish non-mainstream religion, organization, tribe, or society that wears funny hats and Isn’t Like Us.

6. Non-B.C. Jews are exempt from all plot conventions governing Persons Not Like Us who have Ancestral Mystic Stuff. They shall be understood to have Ancestral Mystic Stuff in spades; just not the kind that can resolve an action/adventure plotline or get you out of Auschwitz.

November 06, 2002
Ground-level politics
Posted by Teresa at 09:21 AM *

Bad news. The Republicans have the senate. Mondale lost in Minnesota. How? It snowed. The Republicans organized a better get-out-the-vote operation than the Democrats.

How these things work: This past weekend, I was visiting my friends Nancy and Elric in Auburn, NH. Along with all the political solicitation phonecalls, they got a call from their local Democratic organization, asking whether they needed a ride to the polls on election day. They didn’t, as it happened; they’re both mobile and their house is very close to their polling place. But if the election had happened when Nancy was ill and Elric had a dislocated shoulder, the offer of a ride could have been good for two votes.

(Note: Either side will give you a ride if you ask for it. There’s no obligation. But local Democratic organizers phone likely Democrats, and Republicans phone theirs.)

This is real political action. And if you’ll excuse me for saying so, if even a fraction of the effort some lefties put into personally gratifying but politically low-yield activities like petitions and street theatre were to instead go into voter registration drives, door-to-door canvassing, and get-out-the-vote operations, their causes would be in much better shape right now.

Real political action is always social. The primary interaction isn’t between you and your political ideals; it’s between you and other people. If you don’t engage with your fellow citizens, you might just as well have stayed home, or joined a community theatre group.

And I don’t mean confrontations, or hectoring and lecturing them. You have to talk with people—real talking, the kind where you make eye contact, take turns, and respond interactively.

On the altered role of the news media:

There was a long period when semi-theatrical symbolic political street action was more effective than it is now, because the national news media would pick up the story and transmit your message for you. You may have noticed that they’ve stopped doing that.

In fact, these days they’re doing the opposite. If you turn out hundreds or thousands of demonstrators, they’ll underreport your numbers and ignore or distort your core message. What gets on the evening news won’t be the march’s organizers’ well-thought-out speeches and banners; it’ll be the scruffiest fringe sociopaths who’ll turn out for anybody if it means they can throw bricks through windows and trash cars.

We got into the habit of thinking of the news as a public utility: Turn on the tap, and out flows relatively fair, impartial reportage. But that’s not the case. News organizations are businesses. And for some time now, those businesses have been passing into the hands of Very Large Corporate Arrays, while the news itself has been concentrated into fewer and fewer channels.

As I’ve said before, the goal of the wealthy and powerful is to achieve a happy state of all profit and no risk. If you don’t support people and policies that favor that outcome, you must not expect the mainstream news media to be your friend.

Deal with it. Stop wasting brain cells wondering why the blunders, lies, and acts contrary to the public good of Reagan and the Georges Bush have gotten so little play, and how they can get away with gross libels and the public flayings and disembowellings of politicians like Clinton, Gore, and McCain. The way the world works is not a secret.

The good news is that if you do get organized and start generating real power, the media will start coming round again. Big money may run the news, but big money follows power, not ideology.

Voting as though it mattered:

Get real, vote real. If you want to make changes happen, you have to get your guys elected. Deciding the whole system is corrupt so why bother, and/or casting symbolic votes and protest votes for non-starter candidates, is like wasting your ammunition on symbolic volleys that don’t hit anything. The other side won’t be impressed, and they’ll still be aiming their own shots at you.

Vote for real candidates even if you know they aren’t going to win this particular race. It lets them know you’re there, and encourages your side to try harder next time in your district. It also lets the guy who did get elected know you’re there. He also cares how you vote. It may affect his actions in office.

All races matter. In the 2000 election, Nader’s vandals claimed there was no difference between the two major parties’ candidates, so a vote for one or the other didn’t matter. And that was a huge lie; but it’s never true of any candidates in any race. If identical twins with identical platforms ran for the same office, they’d still be supported by different organizations, funded by different contributors, have different sets of political friends and allies, and be attached to exceedingly different national-level organizations and networks.

Attitudes, ideologies, allies, and language:

Power is good; purity’s a trap. Our political system is based on compromises and coalitions. Sacrificing effectiveness in the cause of perfect ideological purity is for wankers and dilettantes. If you want to do good, you need the power to do good things. That means you have to get into the game and play it right alongside everyone else, even if it means you have to come into contact with people who don’t think exactly the same way you do. After all, if you’re not coming into contact with people who don’t believe the same way you do, who are you preaching to?

Activists who pretend to disdain the compromises of power politics are just complaining that they can’t get as much power as they want via their preferred means.

Before you put the boot into your own candidate for insufficient adherence to some point of orthodoxy, ask yourself whether you like the other candidate better.

Cultivate all your potential allies. Above all, stop telling people they aren’t on your side. They may never figure it out on their own, in which case they’ll be indistinguishable from people who are on your side.

Be polite. Most especially, be polite to people who don’t have a perfect understanding of all the fine points of your political analyses. Explain how you think this point here, which they do agree with, hooks up to that point over there. They may thereupon decide they agree with that one too; whereas if you denounce them for not understanding that second point, they may decide they don’t agree with any of your points, so there!, and will undoubtedly decide that you’re a jerk.

Nobody will ever think you’re a genius because you’re berating them.

Use normal human language and stick to concretes. It’s the real thing, and it works. One reason the Wobblies got stomped so hard was that they put their case in plain, strong, vivid language that everyone could understand. That made them a real threat. Marxists who talk like English is their second language, and their first language is not from this planet, are no threat to anyone.

The bad guys (I’m not talking here about the Marxists) have to speak in abstract terms and weird twice-removed symbolic phrases because what they’re proposing would sound too awful if they said it in clear. Don’t copy them. They may sound slick, but the real human voice is what gets through.

Splitters and spoilers:

Thuggery is never okay, unless your personal goal is to wind up governed by thugs. What I have in mind are the Green factions that deliberately act as spoilers in elections where liberal Democrats are defending a seat. What those Greens are saying is that the only good they recognize is their own good. If your good happens to get in their way, they’ll sacrifice it without thinking twice. You and the rest of the country aren’t as important as them getting into power.

If they do get into power, don’t kid yourself that they’re suddenly going to turn into lambs. In fact, their natural allies will be the thugs on the opposing team.


Democracy isn’t something we have; it’s something we do. Giving an equal shake to the little guy is important because we’re all little guys.

This is so frustrating. If the government had proposed to take as much money away from people with 401(k) plans via taxation as has been lost by the market going into freefall, there’d have been white collar riots in the streets. But just mutter “No new taxes,” and they’ll all stand there, hypnotized, while the bad guys rifle their pockets and clean out the till.

You hurting? Go volunteer.

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