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October 30, 2003
Groundlings
Posted by Teresa at 12:27 AM *

From the NYTimes, Keepers of Bush image lift stagecraft to new heights:

George W. Bush’s “Top Gun” landing on the deck of the carrier Abraham Lincoln will be remembered as one of the most audacious moments of presidential theater in American history. But it was only the latest example of how the Bush administration, going far beyond the foundations in stagecraft set by the Reagan White House, is using the powers of television and technology to promote a presidency like never before.

Officials of past Democratic and Republican administrations marvel at how the White House does not seem to miss an opportunity to showcase Mr. Bush in dramatic and perfectly lighted settings. It is all by design: the White House has stocked its communications operation with people from network television who have expertise in lighting, camera angles and the importance of backdrops.

On Tuesday, at a speech promoting his economic plan in Indianapolis, White House aides went so far as to ask people in the crowd behind Mr. Bush to take off their ties, WISH-TV in Indianapolis reported, so they would look more like the ordinary folk the president said would benefit from his tax cut. …

The White House efforts have been ambitious97and costly. For the prime-time television address that Mr. Bush delivered to the nation on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, the White House rented three barges of giant Musco lights, the kind used to illuminate sports stadiums and rock concerts, sent them across New York Harbor, tethered them in the water around the base of the Statue of Liberty and then blasted them upward to illuminate all 305 feet of America’s symbol of freedom. It was the ultimate patriotic backdrop for Mr. Bush, who spoke from Ellis Island.
I remember that occasion. It was the first anniversary: a very tough day. Our own officials—the ones who actually went through it; who were here to help afterwards, not just for photo shoots; and who afterward kept their promises about what the were going to do to help—had all agreed to refrain from speechifying. Instead, we were going to have memorial marches by the departments that lost so many people, and lots and lots of candles and prayers, and the reading-out of the names of the dead, and solemn and dignified musical performances. In place of any one person’s words, we were going to have readings of the Gettysburg Address and other well-loved texts from the days of the republic.

Which we did. Only right in the middle of it, we got ol’ Georgie Boy, carried live on the PA system, making his self-regarding and artfully theatrical speech from Ellis Island. That man has never seen an occasion he thought was more important than he was. Patrick and I walked away, deeper into Prospect Park, for the duration of the speech. Better to risk getting mugged than stay and listen to that.

I’ve mentioned it before here, but I’ll say it again: Bush showed up to get his picture taken with our firefighters and EMTs and police officers, but afterward he stiffed them on all those fine-sounding promises of help. He had money for three barges’ worth of fancy theatrical lights to give him just the right backdrop for one speech. He didn’t come through with money to help replace our emergency services’ squashed and shattered vehicles, much less help out with anything else.

Know what else? He’s a physical coward. Ellis Island was ringed with major amounts of heavy-duty security, at no small cost. Bush’s public appearances tend to involve shutting down and securing everything for a mile or so in all directions. This includes peaceable citizens going about their daily business. They can agree to be part of the rally, or they can choose house arrest for the better part of the day, but they can’t come and go in any normal fashion. They also aren’t allowed to put any kind of opinionated signs (no matter how mildly the opinions are expressed) on their parked cars or front lawns, which is clearly a violation of the First Amendment but so far hasn’t gone to court in any effective way.

Wuss, wuss wuss.

I’m trying to remember the chronology now. I think that in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, Chirac may have gotten here before Bush did. What I do know is that Clinton almost made it back here from Australia before Bush got here from D.C. Bush did his little publicity turn under heavy security and took off again.

Clinton, with just a dab of Secret Service keeping an eye on him, started out from Union Square/14th Street—which was then the northern boundary for vehicular traffic—and just walked southward through the Manhattan streets. People came up and talked to him, and shook his hand, and told him their stories; and a lot of them hugged him and literally cried on his shoulder. That was okay. He was there for them.

October 29, 2003
Die, die, die, die, die
Posted by Teresa at 12:51 PM *

I just mucked over seven hundred pieces of spam e-mail out of my in-box, almost none of them for legitimate businesses. This is the stuff that got through my filters and my ISP’s very good filters.

Why isn’t it legal to track down spammers and shoot them out of hand?

October 28, 2003
Fans and fires
Posted by Teresa at 10:00 AM *

This is a page of status reports on Southern Californian members of the SF community who live in areas threatened by brush fires. Additions and updates (Mitch, are you okay?) should be sent to socal-fires@hematite.com. (via Mary Kay Kare)

Meanwhile, an astonishing satellite photo of the region shows the extent of the fires, and the strength of the wind that’s feeding them. (via Claude Muncey)

October 27, 2003
Further installment
Posted by Teresa at 02:44 PM *

The latest development in the administration’s program to crack down on the basic freedoms of ordinary law-abiding citizens, while doing nothing to make us more secure, is this plan to require ID on outgoing mail.

This is supposedly a response to the anthrax scare. It isn’t. The government’s investigation of that scare has been—“less than thorough”, would be one way to put it. It doesn’t seem to hold their interest. Meanwhile, there are all kinds of genuinely security-oriented things they could be doing, starting with basic procedures for what you do if you open an envelope and find odd white powder in it.

They haven’t done it. It’s a simple thing. Let’s do it now:

Here’s a good site for basic information about anthrax, put up by Health Canada, which is the Canadian equivalent of the Department of Health. Here’s a very good one on how to handle anthrax and other biological agent threats. It’s from Pryme Safety Services, a private company.

And here’s the basic deal: Say you open an envelope and find weird powder in it. What do you do? You start by knowing that anthrax spores are heavier than air, and that anthrax is not the easiest infection in the world to catch. It’s just relatively easy to prepare usable powdered anthrax for use as a weapon. That’s lucky for you. (You may also be aware that anthrax-bits tend to be electrostatically active, so watch out for that.) Now:
1. Don’t gasp. Don’t hyperventilate. Ideally, don’t inhale at all. If you can just quietly stop breathing until you’re out of the room, do so.

2. Don’t wave the envelope around. Don’t open it further and peer into it. Don’t turn it upside-down and dump its contents out on your desk. Just set it down very quietly.

3. If you have a plastic bag, some plastic wrap, another larger envelope, or other means of containment directly to hand, slide the envelope into that. Otherwise, lay the envelope down and put something—a sheet of paper, a jacket, anything—down on top of it.

4. If there are other people in the room, tell them calmly and quietly to leave. Shut the door behind yourselves. If there’s no door, put tape across the doorway.

5. Immediately go wash your hands and face with soap and water, then dial 911. Get everybody else out of the office—calmly! You don’t want to stir up the air, or breathe in more of it than necessary—and have them all wash up immediately as well.
There. Learn that, and you’ll have done the biggest single thing we can do towards protecting ourselves from anthrax.

This has been a public service announcement.

Now let’s consider the question of how one puts ID on outgoing mail. Any system rigorous enough to actually stop terrorists is going to be incredibly burdensome. Anything less rigorous will be meaningless when it comes to stopping terror. Furthermore, why should a government that doesn’t hand out basic anthrax information come up with a big complicated expensive plan to require ID on all outgoing mail? The obvious answer is: So they can track it. Mail is the most anonymous means of communication we have. It’s incredibly pervasive. It’s low tech. It’s powerful. It goes to all kinds of people who don’t hang out online. The Founding Fathers knew perfectly well why mail is important. They’d used it themselves when they made their revolution.

I haven’t written about every instance where the administration could be doing something real about security and isn’t, nor about every instance where terrorism and the need for increased security are being used to justify new laws and regulations that don’t make us any more secure, but are just the thing if you want to suppress dissent. There have been a lot of them. Way, way too many of them. Stories about them sit in my queue of half-written weblog posts, and I don’t have the heart to finish them. I can get this one out because it’s such a small instance, relatively speaking.

Ever since the attack on the ballot count in Florida, I’ve been assuming that Bush and his fellow brigands don’t expect they’re ever going to go out of power.

You don’t attack a ballot recount at a federal office building, using “rioters” who are actually known political staffers and campaign workers who’ve come in from out of state, having planned and conspired to do so in advance, and having had their expenses paid out of moneys traceable to the core Republican organization, if you think there’s any chance you’re ever going to be called to account for it. There are just too many potential criminal charges that arise from it. But that’s what they did; and there was no great effort made to cover up the money trail.

So. I think they’re planning to systematically rig the coming election. As we saw during the last presidential election, you don’t have to rig an election well enough for it to pass muster during later investigations. You just have to rig it long enough for the general public to perceive that the election is now over. The citizenry doesn’t know what to do at that point.

I think that after the election, they’ll really start tightening the thumbscrews.

I’m not an excitable conspiracy theorist, or a wild-eyed lefty radical. I’m a despairing centrist who had a solid conservative upbringing. And I can’t believe how many supposed conservatives out there are willing to sell their birthright for a mess of nonsensical tough talk. When you’re old, you won’t be proud of having listened to Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter.

Addendum: Meanwhile, that little rodent Byron York at NR has the shameless mendacity to suggest that Democrats don’t really care about terrorism. He is without honor.

Everybody plays B*llsh*t Bingo
Posted by Teresa at 01:18 AM *

It’s become a trope. Still, it’s interesting, because it gets people to record the buzzwords of a particular place, time, and context. Here are some specimens:

One version of default mainstream BSB, and a different version.

Mormon BSB.

Some thoughts on BSB from the Sacred Heart Parish.

UN employee BSB.

Malaspina College BSB (scroll down).

Digital Terrestrial Broadcasting BSB.

XP developer BSB.

Hipster BSB. I think.
I’d like to think that some future historians will find them invaluable.

October 23, 2003
Yet another angle
Posted by Teresa at 12:27 AM *

This evening I was checking in at Technorati and found I’d been linked to by a weblog I’d never heard of, so I clicked through to have a look. And lo! It turned out to be a new kind of scam. Basically, it’s an ad for porn sites that’s disguised as a weblog.

The site purports to be written by a couple of sex fiends named “W@@D!E & PE&CHEZ” (damned if I’m going to give them a link, and I’m not going to make this mention easy for them to find, either), who love talking about their erotic activities. But mostly, what they do is give links and recommendations to commercial porn sites. Lots and lots of links. Their sidebar is contains of even more explicit links and come-ons for porn emporia.

There are only about half a dozen weblog entries total, and they all read exactly like the letter columns of stroke magazines: falsely casual, falsely confiding, essentially impersonal accounts of improbable sexual encounters. You’d have to be earless, very young, or hopelessly over-motivated to believe they’re real.

Shall I admit that I used to edit naughty books? I did, and very educational it was, too. I can spot hacked-out formulaic porn at fifty yards, even the slickly-written sort; and this is the pure article. In fact, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if the text of the entries turned out to have been lifted from old letter columns.

The other thing this supposed weblog has is a titanic blogroll some 3,500 entries long. It’s an utterly indiscriminate list. It links to conservative religious websites, and to weblogs in languages that don’t use the Roman alphabet and haven’t been transliterated, and to random pages on About.com, and to the official website of the California Sociological Association, to name but a few.

It looks like the proprietors harvested the addresses of everything that looked like a weblog and tossed them into their list, not even pausing to weed out the false positives. The links go out, the webloggers learn via Technorati or some comparable site that they’ve been linked to, and they go to have a look.

Isn’t that just too cute for words?

Addendum: Last night, Jaquandor of Byzantium’s Shores posted much the same story at the same time I was, only he was more worried that he might be misjudging the perpetrators.

I say no. That “weblog” is not an attempt to communicate, voice to voice, with other human beings. It’s pure advertisement and deceit.

October 22, 2003
The testifying Slacktivist
Posted by Teresa at 08:56 PM * 2 comments

As Patrick has also mentioned, the Slacktivist has been on a roll, on a rant, he’s been testifying, on the subject of the “Left Behind” books and their religious and political implications. It’s glorious. It’s what weblogs are for.

I’d been accumulating the links to the Slacktivist’s installments as he posted them, but now I find Patrick’s done the same, and I can’t improve on his summary; so just go and pick it up from there.

How things work
Posted by Teresa at 08:55 PM *

A lucid explanation of Google’s PigeonRank99 system.

On writing genre fantasy
Posted by Teresa at 10:09 AM * 147 comments

Instead of taking the subway home last night, Patrick and I walked south through Manhattan, taking the air and running a couple of small errands. At one point I found myself looking into a shop window where a big video monitor was running sample scenes from some kind of fantasy adventure computer game.

The players were represented as a couple of interestingly individuated warriors who appeared to be either attacking or trying to sneak into a fortified structure. The building was nicely detailed as well, and looked like a logical piece of real-world construction, only zippier and with more fantasy elements. I believe there may have been a monster involved in it somewhere. The motion was good. The space and lighting and perspective looked acceptably realistic.

When I got home, I spent some little time looking at computer game ads and reviews. I still couldn’t figure out what I’d been seen in that window. There are a lot of good fantasy/magic/quest games out there.

If you’re writing novels, it’s not enough to arbitrarily have standard genre fantasy characters running around loose in standard genre fantasy settings, questing for the magic rose-quartz dingleberry while they try to defeat the Dark Lord who’s trying to take over the world. If that’s all your audience wants, they can get it elsewhere.

And computer games aren’t their only source. If all your readers want is the usual matter and appurtenance of genre fantasy, they can also find that stuff in more thoughtful, complex, and inventive fantasy novels. That’s what they like best anyway.

Writing nothing, or a version of nothing that’s enacted on the same sets and uses the same props and costumes that everyone else is using, is a losing proposition.

October 21, 2003
Plan of the day
Posted by Teresa at 10:05 PM *

First: apologies for Making Light’s spells of inaccessibility. Our provider’s provider has been experiencing DOS (denial of service) attacks, and the provider just upstream from them is ATT. This is a problem. Every time ATT spaces out and forgets what it’s doing, it screws up the filters and configurations that keep the DOS attack from hitting our provider, and we (along with many other weblogs) get zapped.

So far, all I know about the DOS attacks is that the code for them was so incompetently written that they’re proving unusually hard to kill. The IP address they were aimed at isn’t even there anymore, but since they’re too dumb to realize it, they just go on attacking.

We are at the mercy of dweebs.

Second: I appear to have misjudged a joke. I can tell, because I keep hearing about it from very smart people who didn’t get it.

When I described Joe Shetler’s website about Ancient Rome as amusing, awful, and artificial, I was making reference to the well-known (but apparently not sufficiently well-known) story about the monarch telling Sir Christopher Wren that his recently completed St. Paul’s Cathedral was, likewise, “amusing, awful, and artificial”—which in those days would have meant, approximately, amazing, awe-inspiring, and artful or ingenious.

When humor goes badly astray, it’s the author’s fault, so this one is mine. Apologies to anyone who was confused. It’s really an excellent site.

October 20, 2003
Another holy rating system
Posted by Teresa at 11:54 AM *

Ship of Fools, always one of my favorite websites, has come up with a weighted scoring system for judging the apocryphality of New Testament apocrypha. Short version:

Horrible and graphic deaths, 5 points. God talks directly to everyone, 10 points.
Friendly lions, 15 points.
Talking statues, 20 points.
Simon Magus makes a pest of himself, 25 points.
Random miracles, 30 points.
Really obvious anachronisms, 35 points.
The Devil gets beaten up, 40 points.
The Romans are the good guys, 45 points.
Jesus gets medieval, smiting right and left: 50 points.
Even shorter version: New Testament apocrypha are what you’d get if you handed the New Testament to a bunch of comics writers and said “Here’s the existing continuity—see what you can do with it.” (via Almeda’s Journal)

October 19, 2003
The red and the black
Posted by Teresa at 09:40 PM *

In a discussion that developed in the comments thread of Cri de coeur—a discussion which may have been influenced by John Scalzi’s recent inspired thrashing of post-Confederate recidivists—adamsj remarked:

A dear friend of mine, someone who has always been most generous to me, both personally and politically, is heavily involved with indigenous people’s issues, both in the US and elsewhere. We were talking one day about the Confederate flag and southern heritage—a subject on which I was surprised not to find us in agreement—when he popped up with the remarkable statement that the Confederacy was okay by him. Why? Well, they’d made alliances with some of the tribes and, unlike the United States, they’d kept their word, didn’t break treaties, and so on. What to say to that?
Tom Whitmore and Matt Irvin both beat me to the obvious response: The Confederacy didn’t have time to break its treaties with the Indians.

My second thought was that while the Confederacy only lasted a few years, the population that created the Confederacy was there long before and long after the Civil War; and you couldn’t say those guys were friends of the Native American populations.

Let’s arbitrarily start with the 1838-1839 deportation of the Five Civilized Tribes from their ancestral homelands (taking it as read that there’d already been a real effort on the part of white settlers to exterminate the tribes of the Upper South). These tribal homelands included big chunks of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, the easternmost and westernmost parts of southern Tennessee, and bits of Maryland and South Carolina. This was arguably the single evillest thing done to the Amerinds, and it was the Southern states that did it. The United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Five Civilized Tribes, saying they had the right to keep their lands. The state governments in the South ignored this and dispossessed the FCTs anyway. Nothing was done about it, thus storing up much trouble for the future.

Everything matters.

When you think about the Southerners who started the Civil War, recollect that many of them were living on land from which the FCTs had been evicted just a generation earlier, and that they’d taken possession of that land in defiance of all law and justice. These were the same guys who made such a fuss about the Northerners not respecting “Southern honor” and states’ rights. This circumstance makes it hard to justify the idea that a victorious South would have treated Indians with respect and consideration.

(A footnote for the “change is bound to happen” crew: We’re not talking about shy aboriginal creatures of the forest. In terms of social organization and material culture, some areas of the Five Civilized Tribes weren’t any more primitive than some of the white settlers. Some members of the FCTs had even bought black slaves and set up plantations. They got turfed out right along with everybody else.)

Then there’s the whole race thing. The plantation owners would have enslaved the Indians wholesale if they could, but it was too hard to hold on to them, or to enslave enough of them, so they also imported blacks from Africa. But not enslaving Indians was always a matter of practicability, not philosophy. When whites went on raids down into Florida to recapture runaway slaves living with the Seminoles, they’d scoop up Indians and free blacks and take them too.

(A further footnote: I’ve seen one account of a couple of dark-haired little German girls whose immigrant parents got as far as New Orleans, where they died of cholera. It was a couple of years before one of the family’s German relatives managed to track down one of the girls and rescue her. Both children had been sold into slavery. The other girl was never found. Southern racial theories were wonderfully flexible.)

Another one of the reasons the Southern states dispossessed the large settled Indian tribes was that Indian and mixed-race groups would often take in runaway slaves. It’s been suggested that Andrew Jackson’s invasion of Florida had less to do with the British or Spanish presence there than it did with the Seminoles being a mix of Creeks who’d dodged relocation, and blacks who’d run off from their owners.

And on the subject of mixed-race groups, consider the odd histories of the various tri-racial isolates (the catch-all term for these groups) that grew up in marginal areas of the South. There’s an entire short book about it online, Melungeons and Other Mestee Groups, if you’re interested:
Large numbers of Indians were enslaved and kept with black slaves, eventually merging into the black population, especially in the Carolinas. Indian women were forced by the whites to live with black slave men in Virginia so their babies would be part black and easier to keep as slaves. Part Indian slaves were imported from the Caribbean and Brazil. Black and part black people incorporated into Indian tribes were frequently enslaved by white raiders. Free blacks and mulattos frequently married Indians. The remnants of decimated Indian groups sometimes joined black communities, especially when the Indians already had some black in them. In such ways, the contribution to the gene pool of black Americans by Indians has been large. 85

Free blacks and mulattos and escaped slaves frequently joined Indian groups. Indian raiders took black prisoners and made them slaves or incorporated them into their communities. Some Indians, particularly the Cherokee, bought black slaves from the whites. Black-Indian marriages sometimes joined the Indians instead of the black community. Some Indian groups absorbed so many blacks that some of them became a separate entity, like the black Seminoles. All Indian groups from Oklahoma east and south of New York have much black in them.

Southern slaveowners didn’t even like living too close to non-slaveholding whites, because their presence made it too easy for slaves to run away. The idea that the slaveholding South would have tolerated, much less respected, the presence of a dark-skinned free population, with a significant admixture of black ancestry and a history of sheltering runaway slaves, appears to me to be wishful thinking.

Mixed-race groups were particularly hard-hit by the South’s increasingly segregationist policies in the post-Civil War era, which said that any amount of black ancestry made you entirely black. There are Indian tribes that to this day aren’t officially classified as such (and don’t get the benefits pertaining thereto) because, in the Jim Crow era, they were seen as blacks who were trying to get out of being black by claiming to be Indians. This group includes the Lumbee, who are the largest Indian tribe east of the Mississippi and the ninth-largest tribe in the United States.

It’s all pretty weird and interesting. Have a look at the histories of the Redbones and Melungeons. If you want to go on after that, see also the Lumbees, Mestees, Mustees, Brass Ankles, Free Moors, Ramapo (aka Jackson Whites), Black Seminoles, Cajans, Smilings, Guineas, Haliwas, and Turks.

Regarding that last group, M&OMG says:
The Turks of Sumter County, South Carolina, have been accepted as entitled to the rights of white people longer than any other Mestee group. This does not stem from their physical appearance, as they are less white than Brass Ankles or Melungeons, but from the connivance of one influential white man. General Sumter hired some of the Turks who had served under him in the Revolutionary War to work on his plantation, and apparently found them more productive than slaves. Fearful of losing them, as they were unhappy with their treatment by neighboring whites, he took action to have their status as whites recognized. He presented an affidavit to the authorities that they were indeed Turks which he had personally imported from the Ottoman Empire as contract labor. Never mind that Turks were the ruling people of that Empire and not likely to contract out as hired hands, or that the Turks of South Carolina knew no Turkish and were not Muslim.
Last I heard, local custom still allowed Turks to list the parentage of their children as “white” on birth certificates.

Conclusions:

1. American Indians would have done better if the Confederacy had won? Don’t kid yourself.

2. Historically, Southern leaders have had a remarkable tendency to be shameless, grandiose, and inventive liars.

3. I love my country, but it’s a weird place.

New search function
Posted by Teresa at 09:59 AM *

We’ve installed (that is to say, Patrick cooked the whole thing up, and I said “Okay, you can put it on my weblog too”) site-wide searching. It’s the bottom section of the left-hand column.

That thing can simultaneously search Electrolite, Making Light, Particles, and Sidelights. It has all sorts of case-matching and date-constraining finicks and crotchets built into it. It’s fluent in Regexp and Bocce. (Okay, maybe not Bocce.) And if while using it you discover that I’ve told the same joke more than once, please be kind.

October 17, 2003
Cri de coeur
Posted by Teresa at 05:32 PM *

Becky Miller is a longtime Oregon conservative who’s read Al Franken’s Lies and the Lying Liars that Tell Them. Her review of it in the Oregonian is a straightforwardly amazed reaction from someone whose worldview has just turned upside-down:

I must say that only once before in my life have I ever felt as utterly shocked as I am at this moment. The time before was when I first realized that my boss at the time, Bill Sizemore, was greedy and dishonest. The foundations of my universe shook. What has utterly shocked me today is Al Franken’s latest book, “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right.”

I read the book in one sitting. It is an amazing book, and—if you’re a decent, honest, hard-working, patriotic, true-blue conservative who listens to Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly and watches Fox News—an earth-shattering book. …

Until I read this book, I believed the Bill Sizemore/Oregon Taxpayers United mess was a bit of a fluke. (In 2002 I testified against him in a civil trial in which a Multnomah County jury found that his charitable foundation and political action committee had committed fraud and forgery, and that Oregon Taxpayers United had engaged in a pattern of racketeering to obtain signatures on initiative petitions for tax measures drafted by Sizemore.) The spin, the lies, the greed, the disregard for the everyday person—I thought it was all just a fluke and really limited to this one little pustule of filth that had festered in a little storefront in Clackamas, Oregon. Boy, was I wrong.

I believe Franken is telling the truth in his book because it meshes perfectly with what I personally have observed. And I think every decent, honest, hard-working, patriotic, true-blue conservative owes it to himself to read it. Hold your nose if you must—Franken is as foul-mouthed and crass as his reputation would lead you to believe (and quite mistakenly believes Christians love Israel because it is the center of prophecies that include the fiery deaths of all Jews)—but read it anyway.

The other day on talk radio, I heard a guy tell an incredulous Lars Larson that he wouldn’t believe Rush Limbaugh was a drug addict involved in a drug ring even if Limbaugh himself admitted it. If you’re that guy, don’t bother reading Franken’s book. You will really just drive yourself even more crazy.
When you’re totting up the victims of the Conspiracy to Reestablish the Class System, pause a moment to remember the decent old-line traditionalist conservatives, who’ve been cynically seduced and abandoned by that lot more times than I like to think about.

Open thread 8
Posted by Teresa at 05:06 PM *

The dogs bark, but the conversation moves on.

October 16, 2003
Mormonism: The Gathering
Posted by Teresa at 06:42 PM *

Sample cards and everything:

Urim and Thummim

4: Take a piece of paper and crayons. Design your own card, using archaic pronouns in the text. Put this card into your hand.

“And it came to pass…”

Such joy.

Water main break in Harlem
Posted by Teresa at 04:33 PM *

Please post what you know. City news websites are getting hammered, and the office doesn’t have a TV. We can’t tell what’s happening.

We’ve just heard it isn’t the main city water tunnel. Major relief.

October 15, 2003
Crash on the ferry
Posted by Teresa at 07:13 PM *

There’s been a serious accident at the St. George terminal, which is the Staten Island side of the Staten Island Ferry. I’m going by the New York Times’s story. Ten people are dead, and 34 have been taken to hospital. Divers are searching the water to see if anyone’s down there. The overall toll’s almost certain to rise.

The accident was bizarre. The Andrew J. Barberi plowed into the dock at a 45-degree angle, at the kind of speed ferries normally make only in the middle of the harbor, and hit hard enough that the side got ripped off the boat. I’m weirded out. Patrick and I lived on Staten Island for seven years, in a neighborhood not far from the ferry. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come and gone from that terminal, and taken that boat.

(When I first heard the story, I figured it had to be the American Legion, because it’s the perennially unlucky boat in the ferry fleet. If your ferry’s listing to port when it’s traveling in a straight line on dead calm waters, you know you’re in the Legion. But the Andrew J. Barberi? What? What?!)

The ferryboats never, ever do that. They never do anything even vaguely like that. At most you’re going to get a cancellation for fog, or experience some barely perceptible turbulence if you’re crossing in the bitty Alice Austin on a very rough night, or once every year or three get treated to a passage through the Buttermilk Channel because there’s something-or-other going on in the main harbor. (Going through the Buttermilk Channel means you’re going around the east side of Governor’s Island, rather than the west side as usual.) That’s about as exciting as the ferry gets. Sometimes the passengers do exciting things, but that’s different. The boat gets loaded, starts slowly, takes more or less the shortest path as it lumbers across the harbor, slows down again, and does its best to dock smoothly at the other end.

They come in slowly because, basically, the ferries stop by running into the dock at the other end. If the pilot does everything just right, the boat slowly hauls itself into its slot with a small terminal thump. If it’s the Legion, it’s likely to be a bit more jarring. And once in a while, the ferry doesn’t haul its slow-moving ass into the dock at exactly the right angle, so it has to stop, back up a bit, then try again, like an inexpert driver trying to parallel park.

But … coming in fast? At a 45-degree angle? This never, ever, ever happens.

Consult your TV for what I expect will be a smorgasbord of Staten Island accents, as the newsies try to deal with rattled commuters who’re explaining how dafookinboat hit dafookinpeeah an oll hell broke loose, and how dis nevah happens—dis is weeahd.

Update: This is just getting weirder. According to New York Newsday, the captain of the Barberi has tried to commit suicide:
One hour after the fatal crash of a Staten Island Ferry, police called to the house of a man identified as its pilot found him with a pellet shot to the head and slashed wrists, police sources said.
The man was identified as Richard Smith of 75 Margaretta Court in the borough’s Westerleigh section97about a 10-minute ride from St. George, the scene of the accident. Smith was taken to St. Vincent’s Medical Center on Staten Island in police custody, the sources told Newsday, as police cordoned off his house with wooden barricades and posted officers there.

About 4:20 p.m., a male caller to 911 said the boat’s captain had tried to kill himself at that address. That’s when police responded. …

Authorities also quickly sought to question the other 15 members of the crew who had been aboard the Andrew J. Barberi during its fatal afternoon crash into a St. George pier.

“The crew is all being investigated, interviewed, tested for drugs and alcohol, as is the normal procedure,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. “All the crew members, as far as we know, are alive, so we’ll be able to get the information.”
The poor guy barricaded himself in his bathroom, slashed his wrists, and shot himself with a pellet gun.

October 14, 2003
Fallen
Posted by Teresa at 12:47 AM *

Lolita’s website is down. We all still need better ways to block comment spam, but for the moment we can rejoice.

I meant to spend the last two days writing and editing. The vote in favor of a case of the boils for the authors of this episode still stands.

October 13, 2003
“—but that would be wrong (click!)
Posted by Teresa at 12:07 AM *

In the comment thread of the previous post about comment spammers, Mean Dean says:

Sometimes I wish I weren’t so straight-laced. Otherwise I might consider a solution I learned on slashdot recently.
The slashdot discussion in question is interspersed with remarks like “But that would be wrong,” and “BTW, responsible people do not do: …” [followed bya line of code, then] “And very responsible people don’t even think about raising that 100 in an order of magnitude.” Furthermore:
You may also not want to recommend people use a web server benchmarking tool (such as Apache Benchmark, which comes on Mac OS X and most Linux distros, probably available for Windows): ab -c 60 -n 50000 http://www.thebulkclub.com/benefits.asp Running this will send 60 requests at a time for 50000 times. Since the benchmarking tool is used for testing the performance of web servers, it really taxes them. Doing this can really slow down a web server, so I wouldn’t recommend doing it. I also wouldn’t recommend making either of those numbers larger.
I myself am protected from this near occasion of sin by being unable to make out what they’re saying; but I doubt that what they’re doing would grieve me even a little bit.

October 12, 2003
More porn spam
Posted by Teresa at 01:17 PM *

Now it’s “Preteen”. I’ve gotten hit with ten comments so far. I’ve locked them out. They’ve spammed porn advertisements into my Christmas post, and my post about Tim Maroney’s death. This is vile and indecent.

Patrick, from the next room, just said they hit thirty-eight of his topic threads before he got them blocked.

Grrrrrrrrrr.

Block them now: 209.210.176.20

IMPORTANT ADDITIONAL INFO: adamsj says:
Since we’ve gotten attacks from multiple addresses in this range (I’ve had three different ones in the last day), block the whole range, thus, as the MT Support Forum notes:

209.210.176.

That’ll get ‘em all, for now.

Make sure you include the period at the end of the address.

The savvy Erik Olson has been trying to find a way to block this spammer’s range of IP addresses (209.210.176.0 - 209.210.176.63) without blocking unoffending addresses in the adjacent ranges. However, having now looked into MT’s source code, he says:
They [Movable Type] are just doing matching, not netmasking. … You have two choices.

1) Block 209.210.176. which blocks the whole 255, or

2) Block 209.210.176.1, 29.210.176.2, all the way to 209.210.173.63, individually.

That is, if you don’t want to have to block unoffending addresses, you have to block 209.210.176.1, 209.210.176.2, 209.210.176.3, … 209.210.176.63, inclusive, as sixty-three separately blocked IP addresses.

Fast-breaking information is likely to show up in the comments following this post, so keep an eye on them.

UPDATES: Matt, over on Electrolite, reports that the guy is also using 62.42.228.6 , so block that one too.

In a message thread on Where Worlds Collide, Scott of The Gamer’s Nook also identified 199.20.16.200 as an IP address belonging to this spammer.

Erik Olson has dug up a related Malaysian spammer: 219.95.14.69

Mary says this guy — no evident relation to the Lolita and Preteen spammer — has been posting ads for Viagra and hardcore in the comments of Pacific Views: 80.50.117.113

Wink advocates using this approach.

Movable Type’s authors discuss the issues, problems, and some possible answers to comment spam.

Joe Katzman’s Winds of Change has further suggestions on what needs to be done, and how to do it.

Mitch Wagner has commended Yoz Grahame’s piece in Wistful Chocolate, Seven Quick Tips for a Spam-Free Blog.

October 11, 2003
Further Lolita alert
Posted by Teresa at 11:31 PM *

“Lolita” is the name used by a robot that’s posting spam in the comments sections of weblogs. The brief, meaningless messages it posts contain links to a notably blatant come-on page for a porn site.

Weblogs whose comment sections are known to have been hit with “Lolita” posts: Joseph Duemer’s Reading & Writing, some indeterminate number of messages. Making Light, seven of them. Geek News Central, a dozen. Space Waitress Gate A and Talk Left, about fifteen apiece. John Cole’s Balloon Juice, twenty. Electrolite, thirty-two. I’m sure many other sites have been hit as well.

Joseph Duemer went poking around and came up with this:
209.210.176.20 Leonid@yahoo.com

domain: video-lo.com
status: production
organization: Video LO
owner: Guy McFarland
email: video_lo@yahoo.com
address: 4009 Dancing Cloud Ct. #42
city: Destin
state: Florida
postal-code: 32541
country: US
admin-c: video_lo@yahoo.com#0
tech-c: video_lo@yahoo.com#0
billing-c: video_lo@yahoo.com#0

nserver: ns1.smartdns.org
nserver: ns2.smartdns.org
registrar: JORE-1
created: 2003-03-09 15:54:35 UTC JORE-1
modified: 2003-08-31 16:07:25 UTC JORE-1
expires: 2004-03-09 09:54:19 UTC
source: joker.com

Phone: 850-269-2814
4009 Dancing Cloud Ct,
Destin, FL 32541-3388

When we tried to resolve the IP address, we got “pfilter3.ikano.com.”
Joseph Duemer also posted that information to Talk Left’s comment thread on this subject, where Felix Deutsch replied:
The IP address (the machine where the robot lives) is located in the following netblock:

felixd@fubar:~$ whois 209.210.176.20
Electric Lightwave Inc ELI-NETBLK98 (NET-209-210-0-0-1)
209.210.0.0 - 209.210.255.255
SISNA ELI-209-210-176-0-20 (NET-209-210-176-0-1)
209.210.176.0 - 209.210.191.255
SISNA, Inc. SISNA-SLC-SERV (NET-209-210-176-0-2)
209.210.176.0 - 209.210.176.63

felixd@fubar:~$ whois SISNA-SLC-SERV

OrgName: SISNA, Inc.
OrgID: SISNAI
Address: 265 East 100 South Suite 310
City: Salt Lake City
StateProv: UT
PostalCode:
Country: US

NetRange: 209.210.176.0 - 209.210.176.63
CIDR: 209.210.176.0/26
NetName: SISNA-SLC-SERV
NetHandle: NET-209-210-176-0-2
Parent: NET-209-210-176-0-1
NetType: Reassigned
Comment:
RegDate: 1998-12-02
Updated: 1998-12-02

TechHandle: PN44-ARIN
TechName: Ngai, Peter
TechPhone: +1-801-924-0900
TechEmail: pngai@sisna.com
First order of business: If your weblogging software plus the above information gives you the option of blocking these guys from posting to your journal, weblog comments sections, guestbook, etc., go take care of it right now. The weblogging and journaling community has already spent too much time today cleaning Lolitas out of our sites.

Useful stuff: Movable Type’s support forum topic about comment spam and how to fight it.

Jay Allen’s anti-comment-spam program “MT Blacklist” will be released on Monday. It doesn’t come a moment too soon. The incidence of this stuff can only increase.

Hope that’s everything. Must go to sleep now.

Lolita, damn her
Posted by Teresa at 02:10 PM *

Apologies to anyone who clicked on the name “Lolita” in the spam messages posted to seven of my old comments threads. I certainly didn’t enjoy the results when I did it. I’ve banned that site from posting here, but I doubt that’s the last spam we’ll see in these threads.

Those messages had some interesting properties. All the comments posted to Making light are also sent to me as e-mail. When I tried to past one of the e-mail versions of the Lolita spam into SpamCop, it hung my browser. I restarted and tried it again two more times, with the same results.

The other oddity is that when I went to delete Lolita’s comments using Movable Type, the text of the comment would replace the text of the original post as soon as the comment was deleted. I had to open the comment, copy its source code entire, delete the Lolita spam twice, then re-paste the text of the original comment into the main window.

Bad luck and a severe case of boils to whomever did this.

Addendum: Reading and Writing has the goods on this spammer. If you have a weblog of your own and have mechanisms for blocking unwanted participants, you might want to preemptively put Guy McFarland, 209.210.176.20, on your gag list.

See also Talk Left’s post and subsequent comments on this topic.

October 10, 2003
Losung
Posted by Teresa at 10:36 AM *

Sorry to bother you, but could someone with a solid knowledge of German either confirm or deny that the word losung means “password”, “fewmet”, and “scriptural text”?

October 09, 2003
Feeling safer yet?
Posted by Teresa at 12:11 PM *

You know those upgraded airport baggage screeners we’re supposed to be getting? A story just out from AP says the tests given to potential screeners when they apply, and the training program they undergo thereafter, are so unchallenging that they’d embarrass a Pac-10 football coach with an illiterate star quarterback:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The written tests given potential baggage screeners at airports never asked applicants to show they could identify dangerous objects inside luggage.

In addition, screeners hired by the government to check baggage for bombs were given most of the answers to the tests, according to an internal investigation by the Homeland Security Department.

“Not a single question called up on a student to demonstrate a sufficient mastery of the class content to achieve the purpose of the training,” the agency’s acting inspector general, Clark Kent Ervin, wrote to Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York.

During classroom training, screeners were given the questions in open-book quizzes and then the answers. The course ended with a closed-book examination of 25 questions. Nineteen of the questions on the final test were identical or virtually identical and three were similar to those on the quizzes, Ervin said.

One question asked “How do threats get aboard an aircraft?” The possible answers were (a) In carry-on bags; (b) In checked-in bags; © In another person’s bag; and (d) All of the above. The correct answer is (d).

A second question asked why it is important to screen bags for improvised explosive devices (IEDs). A possible answer: “The ticking timer could worry other passengers.” The right answer: “IEDs can cause loss of lives, property and aircraft.”

Schumer, who asked for the investigation, said the point of making airport security a federal function was to improve safety by employing better-trained workers.

“The questions appear as if they were written by Jay Leno’s gag writer,” said Schumer. “They’ve got to do a better job.”

Ervin’s letter to Schumer was dated August 29 but was not released until Wednesday. The senator’s office said the letter was meant to be distributed sooner, but got lost in the mail due to problems with the Senate mail system that have been occurring since the anthrax scare about two years ago.
“Anytime you have a government undertake a program of this size and scope, it’s going to be fraught with problems,” Rep. John Mica (R-Florida), Chairman of the House Aviation Subcommittee, said apologetically after the story came out.

No kidding? Curriculum development takes work? Who’d have thought it?

Thing is, these aren’t curriculum development problems. This is what you do when you want to satisfy a curriculum requirement without actually teaching anything. I have to wonder what Rep. Mica would say about a public school that used these same tricks to prop up their students’ test scores.

What distresses me is that this observance of the letter of the law but not its substance is an old habit with airport security. I posted about this back on October 05, 2001, in the midst of a long rant on several subjects.

Here’s the pertinent section. It used to be thick with links, but I’ve stripped out the dead ones. A lot of the remaining links are to organized labor sites, but that’s just because they keep their archives available longer than most online news sites do. Anyway:
I’m glad I’ve never had to work in airport security. There’s a reason scanners have a turnover rate between one hundred and four hundred percent annually. Working conditions are miserable. The pay is bone-scrapingly low, with no benefits and derisory raises.

The effect on airport security is a well-known problem. The GAO and the FAA have been issuing warnings about it for years. As one FAA security administrator put it, “At 400 percent turnover it’s hard to train people to sharpen pencils.” He added that the higher standards the FAA was considering might or might not help boost pay, since many airlines simply went for the security company that was the lowest bidder. Which is in fact true. Moreover, for years now many airlines have been lobbying against security upgrades, which cost more and create airport delays.

Let us pause here to reflect that the invisible hand of the marketplace has no brain attached to it.

The airport security industry is dominated by two companies, Argenbright and Huntleigh. They’re experts at lowball bids. Neither pays a living wage or provides benefits. Employee training is minimal, and they place no particular value on experience. The only activity they pursue with any degree of enthusiasm is employee intimidation. Both companies have been repeatedly cited for labor violations. Huntleigh’s management has come in for other criticism as well.

So, when it comes to actually providing security services, neither company is what you’d call results-oriented. This is because they’re not really in the security business. What they do is satisfy the letter of the law at the lowest possible cost.
In spite of everything, they’re still not taking this stuff seriously.

I am not unwilling to be reassured. In fact, I’ll come right out and admit that I would like to be reassured. But there’s not one single issue about which the Department of Homeland Security has made me feel a bit more secure. And with their mandate, and budget, and latitude of operation, by now they should have managed something along that line.

October 08, 2003
J. Daniel Scruggs
Posted by Teresa at 12:00 PM *

The kid was twelve. His father’s in prison. His mother works two jobs, as a teacher’s aide and as the part-time manager of a Wal-Mart. And in January 2002, J. Daniel Scruggs hanged himself in the bedroom closet where he often slept.

He was small for his age, socially backward. He got made the goat at his middle school:
It was easy to push J. Daniel Scruggs around, to throw him off gym bleachers and send him hurtling down school staircases. A slip of a boy, he was short, and at age 12, just 63 pounds. At Washington Middle School here, where he attended seventh grade until he killed himself in January 2002, he may as well have been invisible. And in many ways, he was.

“Like he was nothing,” said Melissa Smith, a 14-year-old student at the school, when asked how teachers and classmates regarded Daniel. She testified for the defense in the trial of Daniel’s mother, Judith Scruggs, who was convicted Monday in connection with his suicide. Ms. Scruggs was charged in April 2002, two months after her intent to sue the city had been filed.

Indeed, most school officials did little to halt the grim parade of attacks and indignities foisted upon Daniel. A report after Daniel’s death by the state’s Office of the Child Advocate, which oversees state agencies serving children, said he “seemed to be held responsible for his circumstances.”

The advocate’s report describes a boy who had failed to navigate the byzantine corridors that are middle school. His classmates and teachers said that his clothes were not right, that he smelled bad and that he had virtually no friends.
Only nothing was done about it, because everybody knows middle school is hell on earth, and therefore its miseries are normal, and therefore you aren’t obliged to do anything about them. Besides, he had other problems:
The Meriden police, who investigated his death, described a house knee-deep in clutter, garbage and unwashed dishes. They charged his mother with misdemeanor cruelty and two felony counts of putting her child at risk. She was found guilty of one of the felonies, creating an unhealthy and unsafe home environment. She was acquitted of the cruelty charge and the second felony charge that she put her son at risk by failing to get him proper help when he showed signs of trouble. Although the child advocate’s office found repeated instances of Daniel’s being assaulted at school, the school is not the subject of a criminal investigation. State prosecutors said there were no plans to file criminal charges against it or any of its students.
In the wake of the outcry following Daniel Scruggs’ death, Connecticut passed stiff new laws requiring schools to maintain active anti-bullying policies, and to log and report all such incidents. Nevertheless, the school in question has not been held responsible for anything. On the other hand, Judith Scruggs, Daniel’s mother, was convicted yesteray on one felony count of having put her child at risk by creating a home environment that was unhealthy and unsafe. She faces up to ten years in prison when she’s sentenced next month. You can read about it here. It does sound like the Scruggs family was living in a garbage house. As the NYTimes story said:
The Scruggs home, viewed from the outside, is ordinary, complete with cute decorations, including scarecrows and garden gnomes. But witnesses during the trial testified that the conditions inside the house were a nightmare of dirty clothes, dishes and debris.

“They had to climb over things to get to Daniel’s body in the closet,” Mr. Dinnan said.

Detective Gary Brandl, who led the investigation and testified during the trial, said in an interview that the police did not come to the decision to arrest Ms. Scruggs immediately. “When we first arrived at the house, we thought it was a routine suicide,” he said. “Once we started working the case, our eyes began to open.” Ms. Scruggs was arrested on April 23, 2002, four months after the suicide.

Detective Brandl bristled at the suggestion that the case was simply about a messy house. “Somebody wouldn’t be arrested just because they had a messy house,” he said, adding that in 22 years as a police officer this was among the worst-kept homes he had ever seen.

“It was disgusting, absolutely disgusting,” he said. “It is a tragedy that he took his own life, but the mother had many opportunities to address some of the major issues and repeatedly failed to do so.”
On the other hand, the story also says:
By the time he killed himself, [Daniel] had missed 44 days of class. He was so frightened of being bullied that he had taken to defecating and urinating in his pants, presumably to get out of school, witnesses said.
According to the jury, the deciding factor was that Mrs. Scruggs had been aware that Daniel was keeping knives—big ones, not little folding pocket knives—plus a homemade spear in his bedroom closet hideout. Mrs. Scruggs said he had his knives and spear because he was terrified of being bullied any further. Here’s the end of the AP version:
Judith Scruggs acknowledged Daniel would sometimes have body odor or bad breath and would soil himself to get out of going to school. She said she frequently told Daniel to take showers, but insisted she could not force him to do so.

Scruggs told police Daniel was afraid of bullies who had kicked and punched him, and he kept knives in his closet out of fear.

“These were not just pocket knives they were talking about. They were pretty big blades,” said Thomas Diaz, the jury’s foreman. …

“I definitely didn’t think she did enough. You just don’t let things go,” juror Vinny Giardina said.

Prosecutors said they took no joy in charging a grieving mother, but felt a jury should decide whether Scruggs’ actions contributed to the boy’s death. They presented evidence that there was barely room to move around the home because of clutter, the kitchen was full of dirty dishes and the toilet, bathroom sink and tub were soiled.

“Parents are responsible for the care and welfare of their children and must ensure their basic medical, emotional and psychological needs are satisfied,” prosecutor James Dinnan said.

Norris, who had called the boy’s death a case of “Bullycide,” said prosecutors never provided evidence linking the condition of the home to the suicide. He portrayed Judith Scruggs as a loving single mother who worked two jobs — full-time as a teacher’s aide in Daniel’s school and part-time at a discount store.
Christ, they all needed help, and none of them got it.

I must pause here to observe that many children survive being raised in garbage houses; and many children who are raised in perfectly orderly households but who are being bullied at school become severely depressed. Some of them commit suicide. In Daniel Scruggs’ age bracket, if you look at the stats for completed (as opposed to attempted) suicides, boys off themselves four to six times as often as girls.

And one other observation. Some of you may recall a post I did some time back about animal hoarding, garbage houses, and OCD. I’m not sure how clear it was at the time that many of the houses in question also had children or other dependents living in them. What follows is the text that accompanies a page of very vivid photos put together by Tufts University’s program on hoarding. The italics are mine.
The photographs on this page are meant to be representative of the conditions seen in animal hoarding. Although the newspaper and press coverage provides some idea of the conditions, it is difficult to appreciate how extreme the situation can get. In many cases, dwellings must be condemned and bulldozed because they are unfit for human habitation and are beyond repair. The dwellings pictures were all occupied by both people and animals. In some cases, the occupants were able to live double lives, holding down full-time jobs, with little clue as to their home situation. Hoarding behavior knows no socioecomonic or class boundaries. Although the stereotype is an older woman living alone with little social contact, this behavior has been discovered even among health care professionals, including veterinarians. In many cases of hoarding, dependent human victims of the hoarding (including children) were helped only because animal protection groups drew attention to the situation because of their rescue of the animal victims.

October 07, 2003
Angle-Grinder Man: A superhero for our times
Posted by Teresa at 09:54 AM *

This is from Sarah Lyall’s “London Journal” column in the New York Times:

“[T]he masked Englishman who calls himself Angle-Grinder Man … has been trawling London for four months dressed in a homemade superhero outfit, complete with gold lame9 underpants and cape, removing the security boots from people’s illegally parked cars.

As a one-man vigilante force, Angle-Grinder Man, who takes his name from the boot-destroying circular saw he wields, has made only a modest impact: by his own estimates, he has freed about 20 cars so far (he does it only part time). But his campaign against the city’s effort to immobilize cars for parking violations and other infractions has touched a nerve in a city of strict parking regulations, zealous traffic police officers, ubiquitous speed cameras and car owners increasingly aggrieved at what they believe is mean-spirited law enforcement.

Although he hardly melts into the background, particularly when he switches on his noisy machine, Angle-Grinder Man has so far managed to elude the authorities by a mixture of luck, cunning and quick work: once he gets going, he can liberate a car in less than a minute. …

Long-haired and lanky, he is becoming well known in some parts of south London. About a month ago, 25-year-old Petite Tendai arrived home to find a boot on her illegally parked car. (“There were no signs saying `no parking,’ ” she declared.) She had barely begun to rail at the injustice of it all when Angle-Grinder Man suddenly appeared.

“Basically, he jumped out of his car in his outfit and said, `If anyone can, Angle-Grinder Man can,’ ” Ms. Tendai said in a telephone interview. “Then he just started sawing it off. It was wicked.” He was gone almost as quickly as he came. “It was just a `good luck,’ and what-not, and then he was off,” she said.
Like all superheroes, he has an origins story: When his car got booted, and he was told it would cost a395 (around $150) to free it, he instead rented a circular saw for a330 and removed the boot himself.
But Angle-Grinder Man knew he was on to something. “There was so much injustice out there,” he said.
He heard the call, and answered it.

I’ve always been a little dubious about the average comic book superhero’s undifferentiated urge to “fight crime”. If that’s how they feel, why don’t they just become police officers, or join the military or the FBI or something? The urge to put on a costume and hit the streets makes far more sense if the person is motivated by a single issue. After all, non-costumed lone crusaders always crusade for something specific. Why should the costumed ones be any different?

Angle-Grinder Man has one specific issue that motivates him. So does that young woman who dresses as a superhero and patrols the NYC singles-bar scene, giving out taxi fares and prudent advice to other young women who are in danger of being abused. (Terrifica! Thanks to Edward Liu for diggin that up.) I’d like to know whether the pattern holds. I believe I’ve heard glancing references to a Mexican lucha libre wrestler who’s taken it to the streets, but that’s all I know about him. Does anyone know about other real-life costumed adventurers?

Addendum: Jon and Emmet both dug up articles on that Mexican superhero, who turns out to be named Superbarrio. The article Jon found, from CNN Online, says:
A high school dropout with a humble upbringing, Superbarrio has become one of Mexico City’s greatest folk heroes. For the past 10 years, he has stood as the champion of the working class, the poor and the homeless.

“I opened my eyes and found myself as you see me with a voice telling me, ‘You are Superbarrio,’” he said, explaining that his name means super-neighborhood. “I can’t stop a plane or a train single-handed, but I can keep a family from being evicted.”

His true identity remains a mystery, masked behind his quirky outfit. By day, he’s a street vendor, but at any time he can squeeze into the flashy tights to fend off evil. Little else is known about the masked man, fitting of a true superhero.

His role is primarily symbolic as the protector of low-income neighborhoods. But on behalf of squatters and labor unions, Superbarrio leads protest rallies, files petitions and challenges court decisions. Rumors also have circulated that he attempted to run for the president of the United States to better protect Mexican workers.

He says his mission is simply to protect the right of ordinary people.
This would tend to support the single-issue superhero hypothesis. So does the piece Emmet found in the New Internationalist:
[I]n the wake of the 1985 Mexico City earthquake, which killed up to 30,000 people, new local heroes emerged from the rubble. They put on masks and strode out to rescue their neighbourhoods from the Government92s incompetence. Super Barrio was the first to burst out of the comic books.

Initially, Super Barrio was three people who took turns donning the scarlet-and-canary tights and cape. But the role eventually fell to a corpulent candy vendor whose simple, earnest pronouncements soon captured attention. Super Barrio became the emblem of the Assembly of Barrios, one of the liveliest of the darnizificado (earthquake victims) groups to evolve. …

The popularity of Super Barrio has spawned many copycat superheroes, including: Super Animal Crusader (wears black with a gold lame9 cape and eagle crest mask); Super Eco, an environmental crusader who began life as a symbol of opposition to Mexico92s nuclear-power program (wears verdant green, with yellow piping and codpiece); and El Chupacabras Crusader, who defends and avenges debt-wracked members of Mexico92s middle class (wears a fanged mask and business suit).
Further examples or counter-examples will be regarded with interest.

Further addenda in due course: Olsen Ross of Olsen Blog has advised us of the existence of Polarman, Masked Hero of Iqaluit, and gives instructions on how to access Polarman’s story and photos while minimizing the irritations of the CBC website that carries them. Short version: As a young man, Polarman was inspired by a picture of the Lone Ranger to devote himself to protecting the children of Iqaluit from the bullying he himself suffered during his childhood there. His first heroic activity, back when he was younger and went by the name of Polar Lad, was to go out in his costume and mask, early in the morning, to shovel the snow off people’s walks. Polarman may not have great power, but he’s got the great responsibility part down cold.

October 06, 2003
Making no one more secure
Posted by Teresa at 07:53 PM *

Mitch Wagner has a good post on further abuses of the Patriot Act, and other derelictions. So far, the one that most alarms me is Mark Rasch’s column about one of the Justice Department’s recent flings. Forgive me if you’ve already heard about it; I’ve been away:

Mark Rasch, former head of the Justice Department’s computer crime unit, writes about the U.S. government threatening to subpoena all the records of some of the reporters who wrote about accused hacker Adrian Lamo. The government is forbidding the reporters from telling anyone about the subpoenas — presumably including their own attorneys and editors.
“Citing a provision of the Patriot Act, the FBI is sending letters to journalists telling them to secretly prepare to turn over their notes, e-mails and sources to the bureau. Should we throw out the First Amendment to nail a hacker?” The FBI sent letters to a “handful” of reporters who wrote about accused hacker Adrian Lamo — whether or not they interviewed Lamo. “The letters warn them to expect subpoenas for all documents relating to the hacker, including, apparently, their own notes, e-mails, impressions, interviews with third parties, independent investigations, privileged conversations and communications, off the record statements, and expense and travel reports related to stories about Lamo.” The FBI “has threatened to put these reporters in jail unless they agree to preserve all of these records while they obtain a subpoena for them under provisions amended by the USA-PATRIOT Act.”

“The government also officiously informed the reporters that this is an ‘official criminal investigation’ and asks that they not disclose the request to preserve documents, or the contents of the letter, to anyone — presumably including their editors, directors, or lawyers — under the implied threat of prosecution for obstruction of justice.”

Naturally, one is curious as to whether the Justice Department intends to thus subpoena the journalists who were leaked the name of an undercover CIA agent.

Mitch has more to say. Have a look.

Note to self
Posted by Teresa at 04:46 PM *

In future, if every office and business you try to contact is closed for the day, check and see whether it’s Yom Kippur before you start devising elaborate theories. It’s much less alarming that way.

October 05, 2003
Odd question
Posted by Teresa at 10:38 PM *

Some new neighbors up the block had a stoop sale, and were getting rid of a lot of good books. One I bought and have here to hand is called Bits of Travel by H. H. (Boston: James R. Osgood and Company, 1872).

Written on the flyleaf in pencil are the words “Chester A. Arthur 1874”. Below that, in 19th c. handwriting, in ink, it says “above is the signature of Chester A. Arthur 1874”. The hand is reasonably similar to other specimens of Chester A. Arthur’s writing.

I don’t know the autograph trade. Does this inscription qualify as an autograph if I don’t know where it’s been and who’s owned it?

Open thread 7
Posted by Teresa at 10:30 PM *

Home again, home again. Very tired, but it was a good workshop.

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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.