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April 29, 2005
2005 Locus Poll
Posted by Teresa at 11:23 AM * 41 comments

Just thought I’d mention that May first is the deadline for the 2005 Locus Poll, which is the largest reader poll in science fiction and fantasy.

(I will, with superhuman resolve, refrain from saying anything about Our Books.) (Which we love.) (And think are wonderful.)*

Anyway, the Locus Poll makes it really easy to vote. They’ve got their lists of recommendations loaded into the ballot form as pull-down menus, though if you’d rather vote for something not on the lists, you just have to type it in. Anyone can vote, though if you’re a Locus subscriber, you get an extra issue added to your subscription for voting.

That’s all.

April 27, 2005
Atlanta Nights and free homework!
Posted by Teresa at 03:37 PM * 85 comments

Yog has sent me a link that unexpectedly ties it all together:

Atlanta Nights Essays and
Research Papers on Atlanta Nights

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Now if only they’d claimed that the papers were written by Thomas Friedman, they’d have made a perfect score.

April 26, 2005
The Serenity trailer
Posted by Teresa at 04:21 PM * 194 comments

I’ve now seen it. It hasn’t increased my desire to see the movie, but that’s because that dial was already cranked all the way over to “max.”

The visuals are great. The special effects are judicious and expensive. I care about neither so much as I care about the characters and dialogue, which were spiff. There’s just something reassuring about hearing Mal say, “I aim to misbehave.”

On reading Thomas Friedman again
Posted by Teresa at 03:46 PM * 30 comments

I was right. Thomas Friedman is indeed one of those rare enlivening bad artists who inspires better writers to bouts of splenetic eloquence. What better proof could you ask than the following poems, written upon the occasion of my previous post?

The first, by John M. Ford, from the comments thread:

Much have I travell’d on the feet of gold,
And many tumbled walls and maidens seen,
Round many horny Africs have I been
Which bards like bosoms in their welkins hold,
Oft of a spare expanse had I been told
That fence-swung Homer looked on as demesne;
Yet never did I breathe its mountains clean
Till I heard Friedman speak out uncontrolled,
Then felt I like some Cousteau of the skies
When a new bubble undermines his ken,
Or sack-like Falstaff, when with precast eyes
He stared at echoes—and his fellow men
Harked back in multitudes like single spies
Silent, past their peak in Darien.

The second came in the mail from James D. Macdonald:
On first looking into Friedman’s Flathead

Much have I travell’d by commercial jet
And munched betimes upon a Cinnabon;
Upon my iPod listened to Don Juan
Which I downloaded from the wireless ‘Net.
I did not understand the ‘Nineties lore
Of Windows systems and of Pizza Hut,
How one was opened and the other shut,
Till I heard Friedman speak in metaphor.
Then felt I like a steroid in a vein:
Jose Canseco on a level field,
Whose random thoughts of glory and of pain
Were like an ice-cream sundae all congealed.
The moral is, when put by words in train,
That which does not exist can’t be revealed.
This becomes interesting. If it continues, Friedman may conceivably hope to someday outdo Gene Steinberg as one of the Muses of Eloquent Indignation.

Only time will tell.

Addendum: Jonathan Vos Post has weighed in:
Friedmandias

I met a traveller from the New York Times
Who said: ‘Two vast and Lexus legs of stone
Stand in Bangalore. Near their paradigms
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And open Windows, and sneer of the Berlin Wall,
Tell that its sculptor often ate at Pizza Hut
Which yet survive, stamped on this Lilliput,
T.I. that mocked them as ephemeral.
And on the plinth by this Michelangelo—
“My name is Friedmandias, king of the IPO:
Look on my prose, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing coherent stays. Round the decay
Of that steroidal wreck, boundless and bare
The level playing fields stretch far away.’
Those who prefer their inspired indignation in the form of prose may appreciate Ademithopur’s Venting at Cinematic Rain:
a commenter cited this little excerpt from a review of Mr Friedman in the LATimes book review, which set me off, hence the need to vent. my apologies
”’ Friedman recounts that he first realized the extent of these changes recently at the KGA Golf Club in southern India when his playing partner pointed at two shiny glass-and-steel buildings and declared, ‘Aim at either Microsoft or IBM’.’
IIRC, nearlymore than half the indian population is under the age of 25, a good number of whom live in abject poverty.

i seriously doubt that there are enough jobs at any level in IBM or MSFT or all the software startups in the world combined to satisfy such a vast labor market (250 freaking million jobs over the next 15 years, to keep up with population aging). the reason that people are pissed is because the MNC’s have this Massive advantage in the labor market and are abusing it thoroughly, making employees work crap hours for marginally higher pay. these are the ‘haves’ btw. the have-nots are pissed because they have no avenues to get a piece of this action.

i am from south india. my cousin works for HP in B’lore. i visited him this past december. i also visited chennai and hyderabad. there are a lot more poor, hungry people in india than there are employees at HP. these people have not received any of the ‘trickle-down’ effects of globalization. the situation is pretty standard for a developing nation. rich get richer, poor get bent over and penetrated with a wooden spoon. the right-wing politics that held sway the past 4 years hasn’t helped at all, only causing more social rifts while failing to heal or treat the economic ones.
It makes such a difference in the language when the writer knows something.

April 22, 2005
On reading Thomas Friedman
Posted by Teresa at 12:22 PM *

Most bad art is simply dull. Some inspires livelier reactions; for example, the poetry of Julia Moore and William T. McGonagall, Amanda McKittrick Ros’s novels, Florence Foster Jenkins’ recordings, Edward D. Wood Jr.’s movies, and old Petley Studios postcards.

Whatever else you say about Thomas Friedman—and there’s a great deal more you could say—it’s becoming apparent that he’s one of those rare enlivening bad artists. The man’s no H. C. Turk, but he does meet the minimum requirement, which is that contemplating his work can make your brain seize up and throw a tooth.

Kieran Healy is justifiably in awe:
It takes a long, long apprenticeship laboring the Augean stables of Globollocks to write a sentence like this:
The walls had fallen down and the Windows had opened, making the world much flatter than it had ever been—but the age of seamless global communication had not yet dawned.
Amazing. Tom Friedman is a God. No, not a God so much as a moustachioed force of nature, pumped up on the steroids of globalization, a canary in the coalmine of an interconnected era whose tentacles are spreading over the face of a New Economy savannah where old lions are left standing at their waterholes, unaware that the young Turks—and Indians—have both hands on the wheel of fortune favors the brave face the music to their ears to the, uh, ground.
Kieran Healy’s been a (fcvo)fan of Thomas Friedman for some time, but I’m under the impression that what set him off this time was Matt Taibbi’s Flathead: The peculiar genius of Thomas L. Friedman:
I think it was about five months ago that Press editor Alex Zaitchik whispered to me in the office hallway that Thomas Friedman had a new book coming out. All he knew about it was the title, but that was enough; he approached me with the chilled demeanor of a British spy who has just discovered that Hitler was secretly buying up the world’s manganese supply. Who knew what it meant—but one had to assume the worst.

…I tried not to think about it. But when I heard the book was actually coming out, I started to worry. Among other things, I knew I would be asked to write the review. The usual ratio of Friedman criticism is 2:1, i.e., two human words to make sense of each single word of Friedmanese. Friedman is such a genius of literary incompetence that even his most innocent passages invite feature-length essays. …

It’s not that he occasionally screws up and fails to make his metaphors and images agree. It’s that he always screws it up. He has an anti-ear, and it’s absolutely infallible; he is a Joyce or a Flaubert in reverse, incapable of rendering even the smallest details without genius. The difference between Friedman and an ordinary bad writer is that an ordinary bad writer will, say, call some businessman a shark and have him say some tired, uninspired piece of dialogue: Friedman will have him spout it. And that’s guaranteed, every single time. He never misses.

On an ideological level, Friedman’s new book is the worst, most boring kind of middlebrow horseshit. If its literary peculiarities could somehow be removed from the equation, The World Is Flat would appear as no more than an unusually long pamphlet replete with the kind of plug-filled, free-trader leg-humping that passes for thought in this country. It is a tale of a man who walks 10 feet in front of his house armed with a late-model Blackberry and comes back home five minutes later to gush to his wife that hospitals now use the internet to outsource the reading of CAT scans. Man flies on planes, observes the wonders of capitalism, says we’re not in Kansas anymore. (He actually says we’re not in Kansas anymore.) That’s the whole plot right there. If the underlying message is all that interests you, read no further, because that’s all there is.

It’s impossible to divorce The World Is Flat from its rhetorical approach. It’s not for nothing that Thomas Friedman is called “the most important columnist in America today.” That it’s Friedman’s own colleague at the New York Times (Walter Russell Mead) calling him this, on the back of Friedman’s own book, is immaterial. Friedman is an important American. He is the perfect symbol of our culture of emboldened stupidity. Like George Bush, he’s in the reality-making business. In the new flat world, argument is no longer a two-way street for people like the president and the country’s most important columnist. You no longer have to worry about actually convincing anyone; the process ends when you make the case.

Things are true because you say they are. The only thing that matters is how sure you sound when you say it. In politics, this allows America to invade a castrated Iraq in self-defense. In the intellectual world, Friedman is now probing the outer limits of this trick’s potential, and it’s absolutely perfect, a stroke of genius, that he’s choosing to argue that the world is flat. The only thing that would have been better would be if he had chosen to argue that the moon was made of cheese.

And that’s basically what he’s doing here. The internet is speeding up business communications, and global labor markets are more fluid than ever. Therefore, the moon is made of cheese. That is the rhetorical gist of The World Is Flat. It’s brilliant. Only an America-hater could fail to appreciate it.

Start with the title.

The book’s genesis is conversation Friedman has with Nandan Nilekani, the CEO of Infosys. Nilekani causally mutters to Friedman: “Tom, the playing field is being leveled.” To you and me, an innocent throwaway phrase—the level playing field being, after all, one of the most oft-repeated stock ideas in the history of human interaction. Not to Friedman. Ten minutes after his talk with Nilekani, he is pitching a tent in his company van on the road back from the Infosys campus in Bangalore:
As I left the Infosys campus that evening along the road back to Bangalore, I kept chewing on that phrase: “The playing field is being leveled.”

What Nandan is saying, I thought, is that the playing field is being flattened… Flattened? Flattened? My God, he’s telling me the world is flat!

This is like three pages into the book, and already the premise is totally fucked. Nilekani said level, not flat. The two concepts are completely different. Level is a qualitative idea that implies equality and competitive balance; flat is a physical, geographic concept that Friedman, remember, is openly contrasting—ironically, as it were—with Columbus’s discovery that the world is round. Except for one thing. The significance of Columbus’s discovery was that on a round earth, humanity is more interconnected than on a flat one. On a round earth, the two most distant points are closer together than they are on a flat earth. But Friedman is going to spend the next 470 pages turning the “flat world” into a metaphor for global interconnectedness. Furthermore, he is specifically going to use the word round to describe the old, geographically isolated, unconnected world.
Emboldened stupidity: I like that. It’s a good antidote to writing in which fuzzy metaphors yoked to abstract verbs overtake and engulf phrasal nouns.

Check out the whole article. I particularly recommend Taibbi’s analysis of the calculability of Friedman’s numerical metaphors.

Addendum: And don’t miss the cover image! (Thank you, Avram Grumer.)

Book-burning idiots
Posted by Teresa at 10:31 AM * 60 comments

A couple of appallingly stupid ethnic separatist groups in Manipur have burned a library that contained many of their most ancient texts. From BBC News:

Officials of a prestigious library in India’s north-eastern state of Manipur say nearly 145,000 books have been destroyed in an arson attack.

Protesters demanding the introduction of Manipur’s ancient Mayek script set fire to the Central Library in Manipur’s capital Imphal on Wednesday. Officials say many of Manipur’s most ancient texts were among the books destroyed by the fire.

The arsonists want the Mayek script to replace Bengali script in the state. …

Police say that a group of nearly 50 protesters started the fire. They say they came from two groups.

The first is a regional group, Mayek Erol Evek Loinasillon Apunba Lup (Meelal)—or the United Forum for Safeguarding Manipuri Script and Language. For several months it has been demanding the introduction of Manipur’s ancient Mayek script, and the abolition of Bengali script that has been used for the last three centuries to write the Meitei language.

The second organisation is a separatist rebel group, Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP), which has called for a week’s strike in support of the Meelal’s demands. …

Earlier this month, Manipur’s vernacular newspaper editors agreed to print their broadsheets in both Bengali and Mayek scripts under pressure from Meelal and groups supporting them. But the state government insists that it will only introduce Mayek gradually, because its sudden introduction could cause problems for a generation of Manipuris who are not familiar with the ancient script.

Analysts say that has upset Meelal and groups like the KCP. They say the library was burnt because almost all Manipuri books preserved in it were written in Bengali script.
Brilliant. Nothing like burning your own Ur-texts to help preserve your language and culture.

Literature is an infinitely cooperative undertaking. The same goes for libraries. It’s the continuous work of centuries to preserve texts. And all it takes is one dimwit with a Bic to destroy them. (Via Jeremy Osner, via Languagehat.)

April 19, 2005
Habemus papam
Posted by Teresa at 12:15 PM * 335 comments

Don’t know who yet, but the smoke’s white. Let me know what you hear.

UPDATE: It’s Ratzinger, who’s taking the name Benedict XVI.

“Benedict, hell. Look at the guy—he’s Palpatine I.” —Patrick

(Wikipedia: look quick.)

Just last night I was talking about this with my godfather. We pretty much agreed that Ratzinger was an unlikely choice. After all, he’s been the Vatican’s enforcer for a long time now. The College of Cardinals must be aware that, while we surely don’t know everything he’s done, we just as surely know that he’s done a lot of things; that some of them won’t have been terribly presentable; and that if he were made Pope, some of those not-terribly-presentable stories would be bound to come out.

Oh well.

Just because I feel like it:

Why I already didn’t believe in Papal Infallibility:

1. If that were true, surely someone would have noticed it earlier than 1870.

2. When you look at the history of the Papacy, “infallible” is neither the first nor the twentieth adjective most likely to occur to you.

3. A philosophical dialogue:
Q. How do we know the Pope is infallible? A. We were informed of it by the Pope, who is infallible.
Q. This is like that thing about all Cretans being liars, right?
A. Uh-uh, nope, nothing like it.
4. Shall the Pope, alone of all God’s children, be stripped of his moral agency? That seems very wrong. Yet moral agency necessarily implies the ability to screw up. Someone who isn’t God, yet is guaranteed to not screw up, must not have it.

Objection #4 is the one that gets me. I’m sorry, but I can’t believe in the infallible infallibility of anyone but God. It breaks the whole system.

April 17, 2005
Spring
Posted by Teresa at 03:34 PM * 168 comments

My god, I’m exhausted. Bring me water, bring me Ibuprofen, bring me coffee and beer. I’m grimy, too, and I think I may be sunburned. And however did I get that deep bloody scratch that spirals down my left calf? I don’t remember doing that.

I have clearly overdone it. Oh, my back. Oh, my feet.

Oh, but my garden.

April 14, 2005
A seedweight of strong old speech
Posted by Teresa at 01:49 PM * 51 comments

Greer Gilman has written a lovely piece, Inscape and Outlandishness, which starts with some quotations:

“-er (an ending). It means outeked in size or time:—Chatter, to chat much; clamber, to climb much; wander, to wind about.” “-sh (an ending). It means quickness and smartness; as, clang, clash; crack, crash; fly, flash; go, gush; hack, hash.” (…)
Who is this madman? you ask. And what is this stuff? William Barnes’s An Outline of English Speech-Craft (1878), his grammar for the common folk, written “towards the upholding of our own strong old Anglo-Saxon speech, and the ready teaching of it to purely English minds by their own tongue.” And English, he upheld, should be of good English roots, without outlandish borrowings. “So the forlessening names, leveret for a hareling, and cygnet for a swanling, are unwontsome, as being words of another speech.” What the sturdy Saxon peasantry made of his grammar is a riddle.
A bit more on William Barnes.

Finally, I have an explanation for Poul Anderson’s Uncleftish Beholdings.

Open thread 39
Posted by Teresa at 11:27 AM *

“Where are your nonfiction novels?”

April 12, 2005
From correspondence
Posted by Teresa at 04:19 PM * 22 comments

This in from Jim Macdonald, chief perpetrator of Atlanta Nights, and a tireless raker of PublishAmerica’s muck:

Normally I don’t spam Making Light, but I couldn’t get the announcement about the consumer report in Philly today to show up in either of the [Absolute Write] Atlanta Nights threads. [T]he consumer report about PublishAmerica will run on Channel 6 in Philly today at around 5:30. It’ll be on the Five O’Clock News, and they usually do the consumer report then.
Thanks, Jim.

April 08, 2005
More old media
Posted by Teresa at 05:27 PM * 57 comments

I will shortly be visited here at home by a camera crew from an Indian cable TV station. Apparently my story about how you can use eBay to purchase bespoke salwar kameez from Indian and Pakistani tailors got into circulation in e-mail, and so wound up in the hands of a reporter for this station.

Yours for global disintermediation—

Further:

Okay, that was fun.

They’ve left now: Vitek Rai, the Correspondent/Producer, and Sulekh, his Supervising Producer. (That’s what their business cards say. To me, they looked a lot like a reporter and a cameraman. But what do I know? It’s their industry.)

I was mistaken about their provenance. Easiest just to quote the original e-mail:
I’m writing with reference to a mail circulated by SAJA (South Asian Journalists Association) sometime late last year, about your experiences buying salwar kameezes over ebay from producer in South Asia.
I’m working for a new television channel, South Asia World, which is available on satellite TV here in the US and also in the UK. In India, we partner with CNBC to provide business programming but on South Asia World, we also produce feature stories related to South Asia. I’m interested in producing a story on the ebay salwar kameez sale, and would love to interview you, since it was through your weblog that I found it.
As Vitek Rai explained it to me, South Asia World does television for the South Indian diaspora.

It was a beautiful evening, so we did some talking sitting out on the front stoop, then moved inside when it got too dark and cold to continue out there. I had the laptop set up on our dinner table, with a bunch of eBay “salwar kameez, any size” tabs already in place. I poured coffee and showed them.

I don’t know whether this part got taped, but to my mind the most pertinent stuff I said was when we were first talking, out on the stoop.

Here’s one thing I know: For decades, now, I’ve been seeing third-world imported handicrafts—obviously piecework—priced so low that I flinched at the thought of what their creators received per hour. In Toronto in 1983, I saw fine hand-tatted placemats from China selling for $4.00 Canadian. Smaller round doilies, just as fine, were $2.00. In the fancy tchotchke shops along Park Avenue South, the ones that cater to tourists, one of their staple bits of inventory is the full-size tablecloth worked in multicolored applique plus lace-crochet inserts, with six matching napkins. I don’t know what the price for that is now, but for the longest time it was $19.99 the set. Entire tablecloths made of Battenberg lace sell for more, but not enough more.

I’ve also flinched at the waste I sometimes see in the export-handicrafts market. Off-the-rack clothing manufacture inherently has some waste built in, but this is different. The example that has stuck in my mind was a bin of handknit sweaters that were going for a couple of bucks each in an Odd Lots. I believe they were made in Turkey. The knitting was beautiful—classic lacework patterns—but the yarn was multi-stranded cheap cotton string, garment-dyed using cheap harsh colorants, and the sizing was waaaaay too small for the American market. (That was back when I took a size 4, and the sweaters were still too small.) It hurts to see a handknit sweater knocked down to less than the price of the string it was made of.

(I could go on about this for a long time. Textiles are a traditional way to concentrate and display other people’s labor. Imperialism can be defined as a system for obtaining other people’s Cool Stuff for less than you ought to pay for it.)

And then there’s the normal waste of off-the-rack clothing. Where the maker and the customer can’t deal directly, the maker is working by guess and by golly: what do retail customers actually want? in what color? in what size? They’re also at the (hah) mercy of middlemen, who get a bigger cut of the eventual purchase price than the workers ever will.

When you’re working for the mass market, you have to have mass quantities. They have to be made to certain standards, in a certain range of sizes. It’s the industrial-size package deal. Small shops can’t get into that market, unless they want to produce to order, for a bid-down price.

Something else I know is that India and Pakistan have huge textile industries. They’d love to sell more goods into our markets—Pakistan especially. Unfortunately, they’re blocked from doing so by a system of quotas and tariffs.

Something I didn’t get to say, not that it would have come as a surprise to anyone: those tariffs are designed to prop up the dying but politically powerful American textile industry. The guys who run it are the successors of the mill owners who impoverished industrial New England by picking up and moving to the South, where labor was cheap, workers were cowed, and health and safety regulations were more decorative than functional. When you see spokesmen for the Southern textile mills spluttering about how the worst damage to their industry hasn’t been done by competitors in India or China, but rather by Sally Fields playing Norma Rae in a movie that portrayed J. P. Stevens as a bunch of union-busting bad guys (which they are), you know what kind of mindset you’re dealing with.

Sure, Georgie-boy would in theory like a better relationship with Pakistan; but Southern mill owners are his friends.

Well, screw that. Screw the lot of it. There’s nothing about ground-level clothing production that requires large-scale industrial organization. That’s an artifact of the distribution system. Spinning and weaving are best produced by mechanized systems, and processes like making running shoes takes specialized equipment, but garments are made by one person sitting at a sewing machine.

(We’re now re-entering the zone of Things I Got To Say.)

The internet, in this case eBay, lets me do business directly with shops in India and Pakistan and Bangladesh. The barriers to doing business are so low that very small operations can post their offers on eBay and see who bites. There are various service firms that will intermediate the cash transaction. The most notable of these is PayPal, but they’ve hardly cornered that market: it’s a competitive field. International delivery companies are likewise competitive.

Here’s what a clothing shop in South Asia needs in order to sell bespoke clothing on eBay:
1. Items to sell. If they’re making salwar kameez, that’s two or three pieces of coordinated fabric draped around a mannequin.

3. A digital camera, or the use of a digital camera, to take digital pictures of the offerings.

3. A sewing machine, and the ability to make a salwar kameez to order.

4. An account with Paypal, Bidpay, or some other financial intermediary.

5. An account with a shipping service.

6. An account on eBay.

7. A purchaser somewhere in the world who wants the salwar kameez they’re offering to sell.

It’s not as easy as getting into the car-window squeegee business, but it’s a hell of a lot easier than setting up to mass-produce clothing for the export wholesale trade.

If textile workers in India and Pakistan can get direct input from their potential customers instead of wasting output on a guessed-at market, and sell their work for retail rather than wholesale prices, and keep a much bigger percentage of the take, several good things will happen.

One is that they’ll make more money, lead happier lives, and run their own businesses, which is reason enough right there. Another is that they’ll expand and diversify their offerings, which will be good for their customers (me!), and spread the prosperity around in their own countries. Another is that we’ll sidestep the stupid U.S. textile mills with their stupid bought-and-paid-for tariffs, and the stupid large-scale clothing industry (which keeps discovering and then forgetting again that there’s money to be made selling clothing in more diverse sizes), and instead feed money into those countries’ working economies.

(1. Take it from a New Yorker: it’s amazing how fast scary brown persons turn into cheerful householders when they have real paying jobs with reasonable job security. It’s almost as though they have the same desires and ambitions that white people do. 2. When people make money, and therefore have money, they buy your products, too.)

Another thing I think will happen is that we’ll become real human beings to each other. Some people think “terrorist” when they hear “swarthy Middle Eastern immigrant,” but to me that description also covers “the guy with the bismillah-stickered cart on the corner of Broadway and 23rd who does the great halal-chicken-and-rice lunch special.” I figure we could stand to have more people in Pakistan for whom the word “American” conjures up not only “soldier shooting an unarmed wounded man in a mosque,” but also “that short blonde woman in California who’s so fond of purple.”

Some of us have been saying for a while that if we can export our jobs, we can export our labor practices. My addition to this is that if the plutocrats can export our manufacturing, I can damned well export my retail purchasing. Let George’s campaign contributors fend for themselves.

Neurological update
Posted by Teresa at 07:35 AM *

Big relief: I have a new neurologist, and am once again receiving my old standard medications. They haven’t been working as well as they have in the past, but this is still an improvement, because for a while there I wasn’t getting any at all.

So far, the new doctor seems like a good guy. Here’s a first: he’s funny. You’d think more neurologists would have a sense of humor, but they don’t, so this one’s a find. He and I also exchanged words about my previous neurologist, which was very reassuring.

As part of this change of administration, I’m going to have to do an overnight sleep study next week and another a month later. That’s normal. Whenever I get a new neurologist, I know I’m going to spend some time in a sleep lab with electrodes stuck to every available surface. The good part here is that unlike some sleep tests, these won’t require that I go off all my medications for two weeks.

We’ll look at the test results and go onward from there. This is all very reasonable.

Another reason for optimism is that I think this guy might actually understand my basic position: that in spite of the fact that I have a seriously gaudy case of cataplexy (if you surprise me with a joke, I’ll fall down like a puppet whose strings have been cut), cataplexy is not my biggest concern. I laugh, I fall over, I get back up again: no big deal, except that it sometimes upsets other people, and so far they’ve all survived the shock. I’ll take that any day over the available anti-cataplectic drugs, which render me stunned, forgetful, and mildly incoherent. I don’t think the idea is that they prevent cataplexy by making me so stupid I can’t catch the jokes, but that’s how it works out.

I’ll never forget bowling a strike at a big narcolepsy support group meeting by getting all the medical professionals in the room to drop their jaws simultaneously. I did this by saying “I’d rather fall over.” I explained to them that without anti-cataplectic drugs I had a life, albeit one that intermittently involved falling over; but that when I was on those drugs, I really didn’t have a life at all. I thought this was a reasonable viewpoint, but explaining it didn’t make them stop looking at me as though I were an alien.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m unusually shameless about falling over. The way I see it, my spells of cataplexy are harmless, temporary, not my fault, and—if bystanders feel like asking me what’s going on—can even be educational. However, if people are going to insist that someone in the transaction be embarrassed, I’d lots rather it be them than me. The falling-over thing happens to me much oftener than it happens to them, so having them be the ones who get embarrassed spreads the chagrin around much more equitably.

(I do try to be polite. In the presence of a standup comedian, I sit down.)

What does matter to me? Wakefulness. Maintaining mental alertness. That one gets me where I live. Being undermedicated is like being demoted to a slow-clock-speed single-tasking computer with no proper access to directories, one where you can only find your files by searching for character strings. It just plain sucks.

Physical alertness. That’s important too. It’s hard to have a decent life when you’re weak, clumsy, and constantly feel like you’ve gone 48 hours without sleep.

Integration is the one that’s hard to explain. I don’t lose my faculties evenly. Mathematics, navigation, multitasking, large-scale organization, and a sense of duration fade out first, in approximately that order. Words, text, pictures, and music are more durable; but when you lose your larger road map, you tend to stumble from one still-available neighborhood to another, with undiminished appreciation but not enough volition.

(Furthermore, if I were better medicated, that last paragraph would have less Greco-Latinate vocabulary in it. I can feel the presence of better sentences lurking nearby. I just can’t reach out and grab them. Perhaps another day.)

Integration is important. Way back when I was a literary criticism reference series editor, and was losing my ability to do the kind of large-scale synthesis the job required, I had a neurologist reply to my plea for readjusted meds by saying, “There’s no test we could devise that would show you as being anything other than a very intelligent woman.”

I mark that as the moment when I really started loathing him. Someone who’s hung out his shingle as a neurologist has to know that there’s more to the mind than can be measured by standard IQ tests. Someone who’s decided to specialize in sleep disorders ought not be snotty about anecdotal data, especially when it’s coming from someone who’s been his patient for years and has never lied to him.

“Right now,” I said, speaking rather more slowly and clearly than I had before, “I can’t parse anything more complicated than a Georgette Heyer novel. If I can’t read complex texts, I can’t keep my job as a litcrit editor. If I lose my job, I’ll have neither the income nor the medical coverage to pay for appointments with you.”

Only then did he agree to increase my dosage: despise, despise, despise.

Have I mentioned how hard it is to find a good neurologist who specializes in sleep disorders? As one neurologist explained to me while speaking off the record, the hot research is in other areas, and the money’s in strokes. Narcoleptics are always troublesome and idiopathic, they never get well, and the most effective drugs for their condition will bring you under the scrutiny of the Feds.

Thank goodness for the few doctors who think we’re interesting.*

I just turned 49. I’ve been a diagnosed narcoleptic for more than twenty years now. I have some idea of who and what I am, what I want to do, and what I need if I’m going to do it. I persist in believing that life and narcolepsy can both be managed better than they have been. I go forward in hope.

April 05, 2005
Minor housekeeping note
Posted by Teresa at 09:15 AM * 72 comments

My problems with my narcolepsy medications, referred to here some while back, have not been cleared up. Instead, they’ve gotten worse and weirder.

I live in hope of some constructive resolution of these matters, in much the same spirit that subway riders, who always get told “thank you for your patience” at the end of PA announcements explaining why their train has been stalled in the dark for twenty minutes, will have actually been waiting in patience.

In the meantime, the continuing forecast calls for slow writing and lots of little textual and HTML glitches. Please be patient.

Addendum: Patrick and I just now managed to simultaneously Particle and Sidelight the same item. I knew we’d do that one of these days. The item is Patricia Storms’ The Amazing Adventures of Lethem & Chabon, which I heard about from Marc Laidlaw.

April 04, 2005
Your homework done for free!
Posted by Teresa at 11:53 PM * 181 comments

I have long been a fan of the Flying Moose of Nargothrond’s delectable Tolkien Sarcasm Page. The TSP has added a new feature: The Your Homework Done for Free! page, which begins:

A Brief Synopsis of The Lord of the Rings

One of the often-recurring requests on the newsgroup rec.arts.books.tolkien is from students requesting a synopsis of J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic work The Lord of the Rings. The work is extremely long, and because of this many students simply can’t find the time to give the work a thorough reading before giving a written report on it. In the interests of cutting down the number of requests for this material, I have written a short synopsis of the three volumes which make up the Lord of the Rings as well as an accompanying synopsis for Tolkien’s posthumous book The Silmarillion.

As an added supplement, I have also listed some possible topics for term papers and book reports for those who don’t feel a desire to come up with their own.

Of course, I feel compelled to point out that a much better understanding of Tolkien’s work can be achieved by reading the actual books; it’s well worth the effort. If you simply don’t like to read, however, I’m sure the following synopsis and suggestions will help you make the grades you obviously deserve.
I believe them, because I used to answer the general e-mail at Tor. We got what were essentially “Will you write my term paper for me? Please hurry, it’s due soon” requests from everyone from middle-school students to university upperclassmen. I understand librarians get the same treatment. The Tolkien Sarcasm Page provides a very thorough summary of the plot, viz.:
The story starts with the twentieth birthday-party for Frodo Baggins, a Hobbit who lives with his brother Sam in a mythical land called the Shire. Frodo owns a magic Ring which makes him invisible when he wears it, a gift from his cousin Bilbo who stole it from the hoard of a Dragon years ago.

One day the old wizard Gandalf comes to the Shire, and he tells Frodo of an evil being named Sauron who wants to capture the Ring for himself. In ages long past Sauron stole the Ring from the Elves, to protect him from the Powers of Good; but the Ring was stolen from him by a creature named Gollum,and then stolen from Gollum by the Dragons, and then from the Dragons by Bilbo, who finally gives it freely to Frodo. “Sauron has been searching for the Ring for years,” Gandalf tells Frodo, “and now he has sent his ally, the evil Witch-king, to the Shire to look for it.” Frodo and Sam consult with their loyal friends Merry and Pipsqueak, and when the evil Witch-king appears with his nine servants the clever hobbits trick them into going into a mushroom-patch, disorienting the witches just long enough to escape the Shire.

But the tone of the book rapidly becomes more serious as the Witch-king and his evil servants pursue the hobbits through the forest. Frodo discovers that the witches have destroyed the village of Bree, and the Witch-king uses a magic spell to burn down the home of their old friend Tom Bombadil. Frodo, horrified, wants to go back and fight the evil witches, but at a hill called Weathertop he meets a noble man named Aragorn who convinces him to go to the city of Rivendell. “In Rivendell you will be safe from their magic,” Aragorn tells him, “for Elrond is a sensible man, and does not believe in it.” With that Aragorn leads them rapidly to Rivendell, with the witches in hot pursuit. As they ford the last river between them and Rivendell the Witch-king casts a spell on the river-water, causing it to rise up and try to drown them; only Frodo’s quick thinking can save them, and he uses the power of the Ring to make all the water evaporate into fog. The fog is so thick that the Witch-king and his servants become hopelessly lost, and our heroes make it to the safety of Rivendell.
It goes on like that. I particularly like their run-in with wicked Queen Beruthiel, who imprisons them in Lothlorien, and her good sister Galadriel, who helps them escape by floating them down the river in barrels. The synopsis proceeds onward through The Two Towers
Merry and Pipsqueak get kidnapped by forty-foot-high walking trees, but as the story goes on they convince the trees that it’s best to be kind to strangers; the lesson is well-learned, and when Aragorn and the others arrive the trees welcome them with open limbs. Just as this reunion is taking place Gandalf reappears, having ultimately defeated the evil Radagast; he reveals that there were actually two of him all along, and the other one is still trapped at Orthanc, now under the control of the wizard Saruman, Gandalf’s half-brother. …
and The Return of the Kings:
… Meanwhile Sam chases the tarantula back to the lair of Ungoliant, the Queen of Spiders, and after a tense argument about the nature of good and evil she finally reveals to Sam the cure for the spider’s-venom which holds Frodo in thrall. Sam thanks Ungoliant for her mercy and wisdom and revives Frodo, and they set off into Mordor to find Gollum. “Oft help will come from the weak when the Wise are foolish,” Gandalf once said, and sure enough all the spiders of Mordor are willing to help Frodo and Sam in their quest. …
It’s bound to make a powerful impression on your teacher, as will the suggested paper topics.

(Hey, you can’t argue with what’s practically a free term paper.) (Free term paper, free term paper, free term paper, free term paper, free term paper, free term paper.)

Most joyfully, the London Sunday Times appears to have used the Tolkien Sarcasm Page as one of its primary sources in a story about Cate Blanchett. And as we all know, if it’s printed in the Times, it must be true.

Addendum: Another FREE TERM PAPER! (free term paper, free term paper, free term paper): wicked Charles Eicher’s A History of Pigment.

April 03, 2005
Sole in a panicky green sauce
Posted by Teresa at 09:57 PM * 82 comments

1. Buy a couple of pounds of nice little filets of grey sole because they’re on special at Whole Foods.

2. Realize a couple of days later that the filets aren’t getting any younger, and that you have neither citrus nor white wine in the house. Be alarmed. Have your husband point out that you do have Martini & Rossi vermouth.

3. While talking to Graydon on the phone, lightly fry the filets in a little butter, not quite getting them done. Stack them on a plate as you work. Realize at this point that you have three large fresh tomatillos (which are very acid) and some fresh dill in the refrigerator.

4. Ring off. You need both hands. Put some more butter in the pan. Take the tomatillos and shred them fine. Toss them into the pan along with a smallish finely-chopped onion. While it cooks—rapidly—season it with white pepper and a tiny amount of mace.

5. Gently hold the fish on the plate while tipping all the liquid off them into the sauce. Put fish and plate into the microwave, but don’t turn it on.

6. Grab the fresh dill out of the fridge and snip it up with a scissors—that’s about a half cup when snipped. Toss about two ounces of vermouth into the sauce, stir, add the snipped dill, stir again. Give it one good crank of black pepper and adjust the salt. Turn off the fire.

7. Turn on the microwave for about thirty seconds. Carefully move the fish filets onto dinner plates and pour the sauce over them. Serve immediately.

Patrick liked it a lot.

Addendum: The subsequent discussion of fish led to the following exchange:
Jonathan Vos Post: I’ve also heard that octopi and squid are particularly fast and efficient at generating human-desired edible protein in extraterrestrial settings.

Stephan Zielinski: Oh, that’s a great idea. Pick the two most tentacle-intensive forms of life on the planet, and make a point of eating them right there in the aliens’ faces. “Yeah, we could have brought along something furry—but we find it more efficient to eat things that look like this.”

When the tripods are striding across the landscape as the soldiers within harden their ammonia-circulation-peristalsis-nexi with images of human explorers chowing down on things indistinguishable from little Squorklings, I hope you’ll be happy.

[Recipe Index]

April Fool’s Day in review
Posted by Teresa at 08:20 PM * 10 comments

I’ve done an extensive update on A Day for Fine Notions.

April 01, 2005
Extreme measures
Posted by Teresa at 11:34 AM * 193 comments

Corndog, writing in The Daily Kos (via) quotes from the report on Theresa Schindler Schiavo written by Dr. Jay Wolfson, the Guardian Ad Litem whom Jeb Bush appointed to the case in 2003:

The Testimony provided by members of the Schindler family included very personal statements about their desire and intention to ensure that Theresa remain alive. Throughout the course of the litigation, deposition and trial testimony by members of the Schindler family voiced the disturbing belief that they would keep Theresa alive at any and all costs. Nearly gruesome examples were given, eliciting agreement by family members that in the event Theresa should contract diabetes and subsequent gangrene in each of her limbs, they would agree to amputate each limb, and would then, were she to be diagnosed with heart disease, perform open heart surgery. There was additional, difficult testimony that appeared to establish that despite the sad and undesirable condition of Theresa, the parents still derived joy from having her alive, even if Theresa might not be at all aware of her environment given the persistent vegetative state. Within the testimony, as part of the hypotheticals presented, Schindler family members stated that even if Theresa had told them of her intention to have artificial nutrition withdrawn, they would not do it. Throughout this painful and difficult trial, the family acknowledged that Theresa was in a diagnosed persistent vegetative state.
If no degree of physical or mental depersonalization, nor the express desires of the woman herself, could alter the Schindler family members’ resolve to keep the remains of Theresa Schiavo alive, then they were engaged in a transaction that had nothing to do with the person of Theresa Schiavo herself. One mindless denatured animate corpse is much like another. If the only point was that the Schindlers got to go on thinking that some animate corpse designated Theresa Schiavo was still alive, then any such corpse, or the idea of any such corpse, would do as well. The specific remains could be excused from further participation.

I don’t doubt that members of the Schindler family sincerely believe they loved her. But then, most domestic violence is committed by people who sincerely believe they love their victims. Most murderers who, in a fit of jealous or possessive rage, kill a departing spouse or SO (and sometimes their children as well), claim that they loved them. Perfectly warm, well-behaved, supportive families do the same. Who am I to say that any of them are right or wrong? I can’t see into their hearts. For all I know, what they feel is what they call love. The trick is what they do about it.

A day for fine notions
Posted by Teresa at 07:23 AM * 60 comments

Scientific American gives up.

Google has announced the roll-out of Google Gulp:
Quench your thirst for knowledge.

At Google our mission is to organize the world’s information and make it useful and accessible to our users. But any piece of information’s usefulness derives, to a depressing degree, from the cognitive ability of the user who’s using it. That’s why we’re pleased to announce Google Gulp (BETA)™ with Auto-Drink™ (LIMITED RELEASE), a line of “smart drinks” designed to maximize your surfing efficiency by making you more intelligent, and less thirsty.

Think fruity. Think refreshing.

Think a DNA scanner embedded in the lip of your bottle reading all 3 gigabytes of your base pair genetic data in a fraction of a second, fine-tuning your individual hormonal cocktail in real time using our patented Auto-Drink™ technology, and slamming a truckload of electrolytic neurotransmitter smart-drug stimulants past the blood-brain barrier to achieve maximum optimization of your soon-to-be-grateful cerebral cortex. Plus, it’s low in carbs! And with flavors ranging from Beta Carroty to Glutamate Grape, you’ll never run out of ways to quench your thirst for knowledge.
The best part is their Google Gulp FAQ, which perfectly replicates Google’s expository style.

The Welcome to Gmail page announces their new Infinity + 1 storage plan. My favorite line: “NOTE: All numbers rounded to the nearest GB.

BoringBoring: A Directory of Dull Things is an elaborate and graphically well-executed spoof. Unfortunately, it succeeds in being dull.

Update: Cory Doctorow swiftly returned fire with Cory uses the DMCA against Boring Boring .

Mattandjess tenders a couple of nice little stories: New IBM server guarantees 100% uptime / AltaVista adds new translation to BabelFish.

Update: Further entries from Mattandjess included Blog Trackbacks create digital Cartel and C++ under trademark infringement on the school grading system.

The Museum of Hoaxes keeps a list of the greatest AFD hoaxes of all time (in their opinion), but that’s a poor substitute for a fresh hoax on the day itself.

A NASA article about dust fountains on the Moon has been mistakenly identified as an April Fool’s Day hoax.

BrandRepublic has put together a round-up of the day’s hoaxes in the UK media. AFD hoaxes are more of a tradition in the British media than they are in the US. Over here we mostly just have the White House Press Secretary, and every day is April Fool’s Day.

Any reports of other spoofs?

Addenda from the comment thread: Michael Pullman says the admins at the Comic Book Resources Forums are insisting that the boards switch over to paid format today, but that no one’s biting. He’s keeping an eye on other major comics sites.

Paula Helm Murray says that Wikipedia is getting slammed; no specifics as yet.

Update: Andrew Gray reports that Encyclopedia Britannica stages armed takeover of Wikipedia; also
European Toilet Paper Holder
, an old joke article that surfaced again.

Dorothea Salo notes that Bloglines has added a new language option.

Abi spotted a prime item at The Register: Bush twins to join Air Force tech unit in Iraq:
First daughters Jenna and Barbara Bush will be assigned to a high-tech unit in Iraq, the Air Force Human Resources Command has confirmed. Having finished basic training at the Officer Training School (OTS) at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama, they are scheduled to receive advanced training in telecommunications at the School of Information Technology before deployment overseas with the USAF Information Operations Squadron. For security reasons, the exact dates have been withheld.

The girls’ surprise enlistment was kept secret until they successfully completed their basic training. During an invitation-only press conference while on leave between OTS and their school assignment-conducted, symbolically, at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware where America’s war dead are brought-the twins described their motives and rationale. (…)

“Everyone knows what a devoutly religious and exceptionally patriotic family we are,” Jenna added, “so it shouldn’t surprise anyone to know that this wasn’t as hard as it might have been for other people. Of course, it cuts both ways. I mean, when you’re as close as we are, it’s hard to let go of each other. But we made the ultimate argument: we said to our parents, ‘how can we, as a family, ask other families to put their children at risk for the world’s benefit, when we aren’t willing to set the right example and accept the same challenges?’”

Legendary Bush family religious piety also played a significant role, the girls explained.

“As our father led us in prayer, asking for strength and wisdom from Our Lord-as he does in every important decision of his Presidency-divine Grace touched all of us, and we were of one mind,” Barbara recalled. “We all understood that my sister and I had been called to set this example of hope and optimism for all of America and the world beyond. And we knew as well that it would be a disgrace and a scandal for us not to accept freely the consequences of our father’s decision to go to war on behalf of freedom and liberty.”

“How could my sister and I, in good conscience, allow other Americans to shoulder this burden if we were not just as willing?” Jenna asked rhetorically. “How could our parents allow it? What a terrible message to send! Well, fortunately, that’s not the way we Bushes are made. We have a long history of public service and personal sacrifice.”
I’ve been waiting a long time to see that story. Too bad it’s a hoax.

Update: The Register also weighed in with Cisco to merge with Nabisco.

Anna Feruglio Dal Dan fell for this one.

Andy Perrin says the Fug girls have had a change of heart. Also, a Harry Potter fansite called The Leaky Cauldron has launched a new portal: Ask Peeves.

Update: Zzedar adds that Ask Jeeves has done its own parody of itself. He also notes that the Thinkgeek anagram shirt decodes to “Shop at Thinkgeek, fools!”

From Tobias Buckell, Spacedaily’s lead article: Bush Cancels Space Shuttle Program.

Skwid notes that Foxtrot, Get Fuzzy, and Swine Before Pearls are all in cahoots today. He also pointed out the Internet Working Group’s AFD RFD for this year, Requirements for Morality Sections in Routing Area Drafts.

Greg Ioannou says the Toronto Star had him fooled all the way down to the rewritten song lyrics with Long overdue Casablanca remake a new classic.

I love the one Julia found on Astronomy Picture of the Day: Water found on Mars!

Two stories were noted by Tiara. One had LiveJournal’s founder, Brad Fitzpatrick, anouncing major corporate changes, including his “resignation” and the addition of banner ads. As of this posting, the story has gotten 1610 comments.

The other story:
Hitz.FM, a Malaysian radio station, pulled off a major prank involving the “firing” of their Morning crew due to them coming late the day before. They took the studio hostage, other DJs came and yelled “YOU’RE FIRED” at them only to be suspended, there were fights, they even changed the format. The Malay Mail was even in on the act (either that or they’re being extremely obtuse). It was quite a while before they confessed to the joke. Very convincing!

Still redacting:

Phil Lee reports that a grand AFD hoax was posted by Japanese game company Irem, and translated elsewhere on the web, but none of the URLs I have for it seem to be working.

Aaron Bergman: “The joke’s unfortunately highly dependent on knowing what’s been going on in high energy physics, but this paper is an April Fool’s joke.”

Skwid:ThinkGeek usually has a good turnout, and this year is no exception, with my personal favorite being The Green Laser Aircraft Tracker.”

See also their Executive Pong, iCopulate, and MegaMags offerings.

Bill Higgins: “Our lab newsletter is amusing today.
Olympic Committee Seeks Bid from Fermilab “Fermilab has much to offer,” said IOC President Jacques Rogge, of Belgium. “The Tevatron and Main Injector rings would be an unparalleled venue for track events, and the lab already has an Olympic-sized pool and a Village. As for field events, Fermilab is almost nothing BUT field. Frankly, none of the bids we have received so far can compare.”
Jason: “TeeVee.org’s eighth April Fool’s prank is a rendition of TypePad devoted entirely to blogs “by” TV celebrities, including Dan Rather.” From G. Jules: How to Felt Acrylic.

Julia: “quiet ahem?”

Skwid:

Tiger + Tiger, burning bright,
like a Photo iPod in the night,
what designer’s hand or eye
dare pixellate thy symmetry.

Michael Pullman: Comics update: Heidi Macdonald’s The Beat has 2 fake headlines for the price of one. Both, however, require some familiarity with the comics scene to get. (Google “Identity Crisis” and “Dave Sim misogyny” to understand the first, and just know that Joe Quesada and Bob Wayne hate each other for the second.)

Lis Riba: Opera Software has announced Platform-Independent Real-Time Speech Technology:
Opera Software’s R&D department today announced the discovery of a new technology dubbed ‘Opera SoundWave’ - a platform-independent speech solution for short- and medium-range interpersonal communication. Based on open standards, Opera’s patent-pending P2P speech technology uses analogue signals carried through open air, enabling users to communicate in real- time without the use of computers or mobile phones.
Stefan Jones Reported that the Landover Baptist website was under attack from fundies who’ve finally realized that it’s parodic. He also reported that the site itself had been hijacked, but currently it’s back to being its usual self.

Pupna is the search engine puppy that retrieves EXACTLY what you are searching for (and absolutely nothing else!).

Linkmeister: From RealClimate, Doubts about the Advent of Spring. From The Health Care Blog, Congress Acts in Health Care Emergency.

Kip Manley’s S.O., Jenn Manley Lee, announced that she’s giving up comics, and will go into either computers or cat anthropology.

Maines and Stefan Jones both spotted NPR’s “All Things Considered” segment on untapped maple trees.

Glenn Hauman: “A large number of Star Trek authors conspired to send an editor of the line their proposal to revive the sales: porn.

Liz: “OK, so April 1 was days ago, but I’m slow. The hands-down milk-out-the-nose winner, for me, was Michelle Maklin, done by Roxanne and her band of fools and helpers.”

Larry Brennan: Visible expressions of love, meant to last a lifetime (not for the easily squicked).

Right-coast Mike Walsh points out that www.Locusmag.com had some AFD goodies. This is true. The office where I work was giggling about them all day. My favorite was Paoli du Flippi’s (that’s Paul di Filippo’s) Charles Stross Achieves Posthuman Status:
At exactly 1:07 PM GMT on March 31, 2005, noted science fiction author Charles Stross ceased his existence as a baseline human being and entered an unknowable posthuman condition.

The precipitating event, as far as experts can determine, was Stross’s acquisition of a new Sony PSP game machine.

“Charlie was teetering on the precipice of transhumanism for the whole last year,” said his friend and collaborator Cory Doctorow. “His lifestyle and cerebral/neurological capabilities had been ramped up through intensive ideation and selective smart-drug use to an exquisite pitch just short of the Singularity. When he laid his hands on that sweet, sweet hunk of hardware, it provided the critical mass of complexification necessary to tip him over fully into the Extropian ideal condition.”

The resulting state-change brought total en-bobblement to an area of several cubic miles surrounding the store where Stross made his climactic purchase. It is presumed that the newly born ineffable deity once known as Stross is localized within the stasis-sphere, but authorities differ over containment theories. …
Charlie’s reply, from his weblog:
Stross to Earthlings Reports of my transcendence are regrettably lacking in a few minor details. Most notably, I am finding posthuman life rather cramped inside this Palm Pilot, and I urgently need more storage. Anyone got a spare 1Gb SD memory card?
I also liked 12 Killed in SFWA Flamewar by “L. Ron Creepweans” (Lawrence Person):
The outbreak of a vicious flamewar on a Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) private forum of has resulted in the deaths of at least 12 authors, though the death toll could climb much higher. “Many writers live alone,” said a SFWA spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity. “They could be pulling bodies out from behind computer monitors for months.”

Experts were shocked by the size and unexpected speed of the flamewar’s outbreak, which was the first fatal flamewar to strike SFWA since four writers died in the waning days of the Sawyer presidency. “It seemed like there were a lot of neopros involved,” said the spokesman, “people who didn’t realize how quickly a flamewar can turn deadly. …

The flamewar started innocuously enough in a SFWA Lounge thread on the percentage of reserves against returns on an author’s royalty statements for media tie-in novels. “It seemed like a reasonable discussion,” said a police spokesman investigating the deaths, “but then something went horribly wrong. Someone brought up the membership requalification issue again, and then all hell broke lose.”

From that point on, the flamewar quickly spiraled out of control and wildly off topic to such issues as by-law revisions, print-on-demand publishers, Sturgeon’s Law and who it applied to, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Jar-Jar Binks, racial stereotypes, Joseph Campbell, John W. Campbell, Robert A. Heinlein, gun control, Internet piracy, Napster, BitTorrent, Harlan Ellison, abortion, marginal tax rates, the war in Iraq, George W. Bush, John Kerry, Bill Clinton, John Ashcroft, the Patriot Act, Dan Rather, Michael Moore, Ayn Rand, rap music, Turkey, Armenia, Global Warming, the Kyoto Treaty, Russ Meyer, LASFS, Forrest J Ackerman, Isaac Asimov, Gnome Press, Philip Jose Farmer, L. Ron Hubbard, the Jonestown suicide, Bluejay Books, migration patterns in squirrels, IguanaCon II, Elian Gonzalez, Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, and Godwin’s Law.

Though the deadliest flamewar in SFWA history, old-timers say it wasn’t nearly as vicious as the 1970s debate over the SFWA tie. …
Further fun, with a high Inside Baseball quotient: Paradise Lost: A “Next Wave” of Year’s Best Anthologies Planned by “Ferje Vedfamner” (Jeff VanderMeer); Bertelsmann Technology—Press Release by “Achilles Wham” (Michael Walsh), and Jonathan Lethem to Novelize Three Comics by Mr. du Flippi.

Elsewhere in the AFD News:

Microsoft Announces SQL Server for Linux, Unix-based Systems, Support for Xbox Development.

Lethal Computer Virus Spreads in Humans.

Exclusive pictures of Motorola’s iTunes Phone.

Gentoo on the NT Kernel.

Auto-commentator software.

USB Memory with Ghost Detection.

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