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June 30, 2005
I seen one a them before
Posted by Teresa at 10:31 AM *

Anybody else notice (this is Patrick’s observation) that the proposed redesign of the “Freedom Tower” on the WTC site looks like one of those big spitted hunks of meat that get sliced up to make gyros and donner kebabs?

June 29, 2005
Yo, Wocky Jivvy, Wergle Flomp—
Posted by Teresa at 04:00 PM *

I can’t believe I keep forgetting to mention this, but some months ago I actually managed to come up with a poem so bad that the International Library of Poetry, to which I submitted it, neither declared it to be a semifinalist in one of their contests, nor offered to publish it in one of their pricey yet unreadable anthologies.

Accomplishing this feat has been the aim of the people who maintain the Wocky Jivvy website. In their many attempts, they’ve come up with some truly remarkable entries—“My Cat Has Fleas,” “Walking with the Man,” “Dawn of a New Eve,” “Flubblebop,” “Yew Gotta Larf,” etc.—but as far as I know, they’ve never received the rejection they covet.

How did I do it? It was easy, once I hit upon the right approach. Here’s a slightly reconstructed version of my entry:

I am Mrs. Miriam Abacha a Widow

I salute you in the name of the most high God. I was the former first lady Federal Republic of Nigeria, married to
late General Sani Abacha the late Nigerian military Head of State.
I am presently in distress and under house arrest while
my son Mohammed is undergoing trial in Oputa Panel Lagos
and Abuja, this Panel was set up by the present civilian regime.

My son is presently detained in prison custody. The government has frozen all our family accounts, all
our buildings at Abuja Federal capital territory was seized
at the same time auctioned our remaining properties.
To save the family from total bankruptcy I have managed
to remove the sum of Thirty million US Dollars

( $ 30 .000.000.00 )

cash through covert means. This was only money kept by my late husband in our family safe at Kano State of Nigeria.
It was deposited in, an under cover security firm outside Nigeria,
but a neighboring country. I want you to receive this money
and pay into your account for the family safety.

Immediately, my daughter will proceed to meet with you because she is the only one that has free movement,
the men are monitored by the security Agents. You
will be well compensate for assisting me secure this money fast
before it is located by the Nigerian Government Agents.
Contact me immediately with my E-mail address so that
I can forward to you all necessary details. …

Okay, so I cheated. Kind of. But it worked. And as far as I know, nothing else pretending to be poetry has ever been rejected by Poetry.com.

Addendum: In the comment thread, far better poets than I have been getting into the act:

James D. Macdonald:
I now salute you in the name of Ghod,
I who a piteous widow must complain.
My son, my joy, arrested by a squad —
And in far Lagos he shall soon be slain.
The cash for his defense my husband hid
(I mean the late Abacha, even he),
I cannot use; for unjust laws forbid
That my funds can now be released to me.
There’s thirty millions that I cannot touch
But I can send to you, a man I trust:
O heed a widow’s prayer; your sleeve I clutch!
Relying on your kindness now I must
Request the number of your bank account.
I swear you’ll gain a very great amount.

Josh Jasper:

this is the song of miriam abacha
the spammer

miriam is a widower
of some vizeer or wazoo
in darkest africa
and she claims
that her son
had absconded with
thirty large
after her old man
got sent to sing sing

that was a long time ago
and one must not be
surprised if miriam
has forgotten some of her
more regal manners

archy

Larry Brennan:

This Is Just To Say

I deleted
the spam
that was in
the inbox

and which
you were probably
reading
as poetry

forgive me
they were meritricious
so false
and so bold

Virge:

Scammily-spammily Miriam Abacha,
Widow of former
Nigerian chief,

Seeks your assistance to Pseudofiducially
Hold thirty mil for her
Family’s relief.

Update: It’s now Thursday morning, and there are a further half-dozen poems on this theme in the comment thread. Do have a look.

Open thread 44
Posted by Teresa at 08:20 AM *

44, 44, 44, 44, and 44.

June 28, 2005
Dzur
Posted by Teresa at 07:38 AM * 56 comments

Oh, goody. Steve Brust has finished writing Dzur. It’ll be showing up in my mail as a set of attached files.

This doesn’t suck.

June 27, 2005
How not to think
Posted by Patrick at 05:20 PM * 85 comments

The usually canny John Scalzi demonstrates a flawed heuristic:

It looks like the Court’s ‘Split the Baby’ rulings on the 10 Commandments in courthouses and on government land hasn’t made anyone happy, so I figure that probably means it’s not a bad pair of rulings.

You know, whatever you think of today’s rulings on the pair of Ten Commandments cases (I haven’t followed the story in detail, and don’t really propose to argue about it), the fact is that “everybody’s unhappy, so it must be fair” is magical thinking. Justice isn’t a function of averaging.

I’m reminded of the number of times I’ve seen modern reporters and editors announce that they get flak from angry right-wingers and angry left-wingers alike, so they “must be doing something right”. (If I had LEXIS/NEXIS I could probably compile pages of links to media professionals regurgitating this odious cliché.) In 1859, many Americans were angry about slavery, and many other Americans were angry about the idea of limiting slavery. You know something? The justice of the matter wasn’t “halfway in between.” Quite the contrary, the radicals on one side were pretty much entirely right. Slavery was wrong.

If you use some approximate equality of protest from both alleged “sides” of an issue as your method for discerning justice, you might as well just hang a big sign around your neck saying GAME ME.

Why We Fight
Posted by Patrick at 04:22 PM * 12 comments

Jim Henley, demonstrating that he’s still one of the greatest bloggers alive:

“Egypt II” is and has always been the best-case scenario for our attempt to remake Iraq. “Greater Lebanon” and “West Bank East” were and remain the top competitors. Somehow, one of these three is supposed to inspire every last Muslim in the world to love the United States and Israel too.

What publishing is
Posted by Patrick at 03:20 PM * 37 comments

The Book Standard, an up-and-coming online trade magazine about the book industry, does a reasonable job of covering experiments in the online distribution of free-and-unfettered novel e-texts as a means of building an audience, including ventures from entities as diverse as Cory Doctorow and Baen Books. Among those quoted are Cory, Jim Baen, Charles Stross, Tim O’Reilly, and me. I’m particularly glad they used this bit of summing-up:

“Publishing is not about just making a paper copy of a book,” says Hayden. “The essential enterprise of publishing is finding texts that audiences want to read and signaling to those audiences that, hey, this is something neat,” he says. “Those skill sets are going to be just as valuable with new forms of publishing.”

Not as well-put as I might have managed if I hadn’t been blathering over a long-distance phone line, but it’s a point I find myself making a lot, and I’m glad to see it passed along.

Archie’s Fourth of July
Posted by Teresa at 08:49 AM * 129 comments

I have here in my hand a little book, Archie’s Fourth of July, which was printed sometime in the nineteenth century by the Sunday School Union. It’s about three inches by four and a half inches,* 58 pages,* and has an embossed fabric cover and engraved interior illustrations. I can find no online references to it, but its author, Rena Ray, also wrote Grace and Her Money-Box and Old Granny Tift for the Sunday School Union.

It’s the awfullest piece of twaddle, I swear.

It’s about a boy, Archie, one of those perky 19th C. infants who’d make Shirley Temple look like Lou Reed. He has two smirking minxes for sisters, a dog named Fido whose only role is to pad out the story with tepid displays of affection, and a friend next door, Orsie, who is Disobedient.

Here’s the setup: Archie’s always been at his grandmother’s house over the Fourth of July. This year he’s at home, and he discovers that his little village celebrates it in bang-up fashion. Cannon start firing salutes at daybreak, a military parade passes his house on their way to the festivities in the village center, and there are obviously going to be all kinds of exciting to-do and fro-do.

Naturally, Archie’s wild to go see it. Then he’s told he can’t. Note: finding out he can’t go is the first actual story-type event—you know, development, conflict, decisive action, that sort of thing—in the entire book. It occurs 80% of the way through the story. The previous pages are taken up with pointless diffuse blather, mostly Archie figuring out that it’s the Fourth of July.

And why can’t he go? Because he’s too little, his sisters smugly inform him. He might get hurt in the crowds. He’d have be looked after, and they can’t do it—though why not, is something I’d like to know. Archie points out that it’s not exactly suitable for them to be going by themselves, either. They reply that Cousin Joe is taking them. Why Cousin Joe can’t look after Archie as well as the girls is also not covered.

Archie runs to ask his mother for permission to accompany them. It is a measure of the degree to which this story is padded that the book has him search all through the house, then the cellar, and then wonder whether she might not be in the cistern, before he locates her in the garden. His mother says no. Archie’s crushed. He says he wishes he were Orsie Alden next door, “and then I could go just where I was a mind to.”

“Would my little boy want to be Orson Alden and go and disobey his mother, as he does?” his mother asks gravely.

Well, of course he has to say no, he wouldn’t; and he turns away, just in time to see his sisters triumphantly driving away in Cousin Joe’s carriage. In a moment of intrusive realism, he goes inside and cries his head off. Then he wanders back outside, runs into Orsie Alden, is told in more detail about all the swell things that will be happening in the village, and very nearly succumbs to temptation! But then he doesn’t. Orsie, no doubt observing that the story’s almost reached its wordcount, runs off in the direction of the festivities.

This crisis is marked with a footnote referring you back to the frontispiece, which illustrates the decisive moment, and thus protects the reader from the least little bit of suspense about how the story’s going to turn out.

Worse, it’s at this point that the Sunday School Exemplary Story Effect kicks in: a violation of moral and general causality that used to drive me crazy, back when I was still young enough to be obliged to go to Sunday School and sit still to listen to the things. Basically, in a Sunday School story, if you give up something you want, you will immediately and inevitably be rewarded, either by having that thing come to you in some other way, or by being randomly given some other good thing. A body could be excused for getting the idea that there are only two deadly sins, Desire and Volition, and that virtuous self-denial is guaranteed to make you happy and fulfill all those desires that you’ve renounced.

Sunday School twaddle is a long-established tradition.

Since Archie has now given up what he wants, the effect kicks in and normal causality is suspended. He goes back into the house and discovers that while he’s been having his brief conversation with Orsie, his mother has somehow roped in a half-dozen neighborhood tots to spend the day with him. Or perhaps that was the plan all along, in which case his mother’s failure to tell him about it earlier was as inexplicably unkind as his sisters’ taunts. (Nasty family. No wonder he wants to go hang out with the other boys.)

Here’s the entire denouement:

Archie was pleased. The day was passed in various sports under the shady trees in the pleasant yard. The table was spread with many dainties, in a beautiful arbor which was covered with blossoms. And when the sun set, and the children returned to their homes, Archie felt that his Fourth of July had been the happiest day of his life. And shortly after, when he saw Orsie Alden carried by insensible, for he had been run over by a fractious horse, he thanked the good Lord who had put it into his heart to mind his mother.

So there. The end. And don’t you forget it.

Update:

Jim Macdonald promptly set the record straight on the actual events of that day:

That story about Orson Alden being run over by a horse? Don’t believe it. He was besotted by the punch that the Ladies’ Cavalry Auxiliary were serving at their Eat All You Want Cake and Ice Cream and Fried Sausage Picnic. I’m told that the Ladies themselves became quite giddy after drinking that punch. (Earlier during the soiree a hearty Sergeant of Cavalry (who had been in the parade) had tasted the punch and declared it “fit.”)

Wicked Dan, a villain, who also attended the festivities accompanied by a Ruined Woman known as Little Nell (who supposedly had Given Her All to save the Old Homestead), opined, “The ladies never fail to surprise me.” Little Nell (who was wearing a perky bonnet), fetched him another cup of punch.

Later Dan declared the fireworks to be “capital.” He and Nell gave young Orson (who was quite jolly, no doubt from all the excitement) a ride home, and whispered to him with a wink, “Don’t worry, lad, I’ll tell ‘em all you were run over by a horse.”

Nell giggled prettily, but, well-brought-up as she was (for all that her status now is Fallen), she covered her lips with her fan.

June 25, 2005
A prescient note from Robert Frost
Posted by Teresa at 05:14 PM * 33 comments

From adamsj, an Infernokrusher comment on the Giant Ice Pop Meltdown:

A prescient note from Robert Frost:

Some say the world will end in fire, Some say with ice.
From what I’ve tasted of frozen Snapple
I hold with those who blow shit up.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know that’d be really cool,
‘Cause then we could crush it with something
That could put out the fire
And then maybe explode?

June 23, 2005
Local history
Posted by Teresa at 06:18 PM *

I was looking at the Arizona History and Archives Division’s online collection of historic photos, and put in a search for Mesa, the town where I grew up. It’s grown huge over the last few decades, but before that Mesa was a dusty little town whose only claim to fame was having killed Santa Claus.

I was shocked, therefore, when the archive’s collection of pictures of Mesa turned up multiple photos of a man lynched by a mob in 1917. It said his name was Starr Daley, sometimes known as Van Ashmore.

The only further info Google turned up on “Starr Daley” was a photograph of Sheriff William Henry Wilky, with a note that “…his best efforts could not prevent the lynching of Starr Daley, an event that precipitated the reinstatement of the death penalty in Arizona.”

Something like that happened in Mesa, and I never heard about it?

I kept digging. Eventually it occurred to me to search on “Star Daley,” and I got the story. It was simple and sordid. James and Florence Gibson were traveling on the Apache Trail, and decided to stop and camp for the night. Starr Daley turned up on a lathered horse and asked for water, which they gave him. Then he shot James Gibson three times in the back with a rifle and spent the night raping Florence Gibson.

In the morning he forced Mrs. Gibson to come with him in the car. When it ran out of gas, Daley left Mrs. Gibson there and set out to find a gas station. Mrs. Gibson flagged down the first person she saw, a man named Phelps—probably one of ours; my Granny was a Phelps—who went and told Marshall Petyon. The Marshall arrested Daley before he got back to the car.

Daley was a talker. He told all about what he’d done. When word got out, several hundred indignant Mesans turned up at the jail. Sheriff Wilky threw Daly into a car and headed for the prison at Florence, AZ, but some ways out of town he was headed off by three or four hundred citizens who’d jumped into their own cars roared off after him. They took Daley back to the scene of the crime, stood him on a car, rigged a noose from a telephone pole, and drove the car away.

It’s like a bad western movie, only with different props.

A coroner’s jury from Florence ruled Daley’s death was “justifiable homicide, by hanging, at the hands of unknown parties.” It was the last officially recorded lynching in Arizona history. None of the sources explain why it prompted the reinstatement of the death penalty.

Billy the Shake goes to the Demo Derby
Posted by Teresa at 12:12 PM * 19 comments

By John M. Ford, from the Infernokrusher thread:

[From Verona Total Breakdown (Liebestod), a forgotten early Infernokrusher work by Bill “Hoist This Petard” Shakespeare …

Ro-Mo. Your windows are still mirrored; taunt me not, But show your colors, dare to challenge me,
These lips are two shaped charges, primed and hot,
That wait the go-code for delivery.
J-Cap. The flag is to the deadly, not the loud,
Yet aim as well as posing shows in this;
The worthy throwdowns always to the proud,
And hammer down is how the hard girls kiss.
Ro-Mo. My draft is stopped; I struggle toward the clutch.
J-Cap. And would a charge of nitrous make thee run?
Ro-Mo. Too much; but what else is there but too much?
Let me take arms, and elevate the gun.
J-Cap. Small arms but hint what demolitions say.
Ro-Mo. Then, gunner, gimme one round.
J-Cap. On the way.

Baby, pull yourself together
Posted by Teresa at 07:00 AM * 30 comments

Over the last week or two, my previous problems with Technorati have been supplanted by a new one: it gives me the same set of outdated incoming links over and over again, reshuffling their order, sometimes swapping one out only to swap it back in again an hour later.

I wrote my post about the giant popsicle meltdown yesterday morning. By early evening I learned that it was picking up considerable linkage. How? Not from Technorati; it hadn’t registered any of that activity. I found out because Patrick told me. So I went and checked the Making Light tracking statistics, and sure enough, more than half the incoming referrals were to the popsicle post. That’s heavy traffic.

I went and checked Technorati again. Once again, it gave me the same old reshuffled links it’d been showing me all week. The links it had missed, at least the ones I know about, included BoingBoing, Metafilter, Crooked Timber, Majikthise, and Sisyphus Shrugged. Julia’s tardily showed up at Technorati this morning. Going by what I’ve observed thus far, it may never register the existence of the others at all.

I’ve been in denial. No more. When Technorati can’t tell you that you’ve been simultaneously BoingBoinged and Metafiltered—an event that can shut down a low-bandwidth site—it is formally useless.

Bummer. I am definitely in the market for a replacement.

June 22, 2005
Ice pop
Posted by Teresa at 10:04 AM * 76 comments

Anent our recent discussion of PR-driven “news”, here’s an interesting specimen: three photos, with captions, from Snapple’s attempt yesterday to break the world’s record for largest ice pop. This event took place in Union Square, just a few blocks south of Tor.

Here’s one of Snapple’s suggested captions:

Today, Snapple and CoolBrands International launched new Snapple on Ice pops with an attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the World’s Largest ice pop. Even though the 35,000 pound, 24 foot tall ice pop didn’t break the world record, New Yorkers had a great time kicking off the first day of summer.

Didn’t break the world’s record? That’s one way to put it. Reading that, you’d never guess how much wilder the real story was. As our mailroom guy Mike put it, “When I saw all those engines I thought it was a huge fire, but it was just a popsicle.”

For reasons that are not yet clear, the 25-foot popsicle suffered some kind of cooling failure, and seventeen tons of bright red slush were loosed upon Union Square. From the Times:

Under the noontime sun of New York’s first day of summer, Snapple, the soft drink maker, answered the question of whether a 17-1/2-ton Popsicle can be made to stand upright in Union Square.

It cannot.

In a brave attempt to surpass a Guinness record—“The World’s Largest Popsicle”—Snapple mixed and froze a gargantuan icy doppelganger of its new kiwi-strawberry flavored Snapple on Ice. Then the frozen treat was hauled by freezer truck from Edison, N.J., and raised with an enormous crane in Manhattan.

Alas, like James Arness in the 1951 alien thriller “The Thing From Another World,” the giant Snapsicle began to melt. Soon pedestrians were fleeing in not-quite terror, fire trucks were converging, and the police were closing off streets to contain the publicity stunt gone wrong.

From Newsday:

“A small wave of slush began moving across 17th Street,” said Ken Giddon, the president of Rothman’s, a clothing store on the square, who was watching from a perch of relative safety on the sidewalk. Asked what it looked like, he responded, “the red tide.”

“It wasn’t a bad smell. But the people stepping in it were not pleased,” Giddon added. “People were pretty bummed out with what was going on with their shoes.”

From the Daily News:

Bicyclists wiped out in the stream of goo. Pedestrians slipped. Traffic was, well, frozen.

Snapple officials had hoped to get in the Guinness Book of World Records and promote their new line of ice treats.

Instead, New Yorkers got a first-of-its-kind, first-day-of-summer mess.

“It was a big boo-boo,” said Kizzy Vazquez, 28, of Manhattan, as she watched the mammoth pink pop ooze while someone with a sick sense of humor blasted “Cruel Summer” over a sound system. “They should have had that [up] before the sun came out.”

Firefighters hosed down E. 17th St. between Union Square East and West, and about 100 yards of Park Ave. South, rinsing away a thick, sweet slime.

It took the Fire Department 45 minutes to hose away the mess.

So, Snapple, New Yorkers had a great time kicking off the summer? Sort of. In a New Yorkish “oh yeah, giant popsicle gone wrong” kind of way. Except for the ones whose shoes were messed up, and the pedestrians and bicyclists who slipped in the muck, and the drivers caught in the traffic jam; but hey, next time there’s a giant popsicle meltdown it’ll be somebody else’s turn, so it all evens out in the end.* Otherwise, it was a complete hoot—just not the sort Snapple had in mind.

June 20, 2005
Rosa Monday
Posted by Teresa at 03:00 PM *

Out in the backyard, planted just this spring, my new “Caldwell Pink” polyantha rose is doing spectacularly well.

That was a happy find. I was in the garden department of my local Home Depot this spring, viewing with faint condescension their promotional loss-leader truckload of second-string hybrid teas, when I spotted the ringer: a brushy litle own-root polyantha. I belatedly recognized the name: Caldwell Pink, an interesting rose, one of the Texas found roses.

Here’s the story. Roses have been bred and hybridized for a long time. The promising ones are given names and put on the market. If the distributor subsequently goes out of business, finding and identifying surviving specimens can get iffy. Roses get moved and propagated. Sometimes they hybridize on their own. There’s a group called the Texas Rose Rustlers that’s into finding, salvaging, and identifying old roses. One of them found Caldwell Pink in Caldwell, Texas.

When a rosarian finds an unidentified rose and puts it into play, it’s given a purely descriptive study name based on who had it, where it was found, or some other identifying characteristics. That’s why there are roses named Cemetery Keeper Peach Tea and Highway 290 Pink Buttons. As far as I can tell, the rose keeps the study name even after it’s been identified, because some people will inevitably feel that it hasn’t been proven to be the same one. There’s a good chance that Caldwell Pink is actually “Pink Pet,” a polyantha introduced in 1928, but it’s still being sold as Caldwell Pink.

I brought mine home, dug it a nice hole in a sunny spot, and let it do its thing. You could practically hear it revving its engine. It has since sprawled out in a vigorous and comely fashion, and at the moment is covered with clusters of pink roses in the flattish dense-packed old-rose style. By report, it should keep blooming like that, off and on, until serious cold sets in.

There in a nutshell is My Secret for Growing Roses: pick a good one, dig it a nice hole in a good spot, maybe throw some bones into the bottom of the hole if you’ve got them around, and then keep the thing watered until it settles in. That should be enough, if you give it a little extra water during dry spells and keep the weeds from choking it. If you find yourself having to treat multiple rose diseases and infestations every summer, you didn’t pick the right one.

One of my most cherished gardening beliefs is that “may become invasive” is a strong recommendation. Some plants just try harder than others. This is especially pertinent with roses because plant breeders have fiddled with them so much, in many cases sacrificing vitality for unusual flower colors or some other desirable characteristic. I’m not into single perfect blooms a few times a year. My gardens are too small for that. Fortunately, that’s the direction roses are going anyway.

I’ve sometimes wondered whether that long period of Americans growing cranky, unattractive, disease-prone Hybrid Teas, with their small number of florist-quality blooms and their constant neediness, wasn’t a manifestation of some of the problems Stewart Brand talked about in How Buildings Learn. If you’re buying roses from a catalogue or nursery on the basis of a color photograph of said rose, single perfect blooms are going to be your best selling point.

A few years back, when I lived reasonably close to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, home of the Cranford Rose Garden, I had an informal project going. Every week or two I’d visit the garden and make notes on which roses were looking good that day. It was educational.

In early June, every plant with rose in its genetic makeup will bloom or die trying. The Cranford Rose Garden is so intense that you could think you’re hallucinating. Everything is covered with flowers. All those old roses that only bloom once a year are out in force, and their scent’s enough to knock you over. The hybrid teas and grandifloras and floribundas are in their first flush of improbably perfect bloom, and their foliage, being brand-new, is likewise in a seldom-seen state of perfection.

This is a terrible time to be making decisions about which roses to put in your garden. Unfortunately, it’s also the point in the cycle where all that exuberant display is likely to make you want to buy some plants. This explains a great many things about the commercial rose world.

A few weeks later, lo, how changed. The once-a-years had packed it in, of course; they do that. What was startling was how many other roses had done the same thing. For instance, two current bestsellers, Gertrude Jekyll and Abraham Darby, had been impressive during the first flush, but afterward they slacked off, rebloomed sporadically, and slowly fizzled out in late July, not unlike most of the other roses on the market. Nothing special there.

The modern tea roses in general were just awful, and the AARS annual selections, which had their own little section, practically deliquesced. As of about the first week in July, they were almost uniformly flowerless, and plagued by black spot.

Granted, they were in an exposed spot. Granted also that it was a rough summer for disease-prone roses, with warm heavy rains plus wind in June, and spells of high heat and humidity but not enough rain in July and August. But so what? Summers like that will happen. I don’t want to hear about how great a rose would have been if only I’d grown it under laboratory conditions.

The summer wore on. I kept taking notes. When it was all over, the House Cup went to all the little polyanthas and to the rugosa hybrids. They’d looked good, stayed in bloom, and kept their leaves all summer.

Two things happened that make me feel good about my observations. One was that I got an unexpected result. I kept noticing roses which, while not quite the nonstop bloomers of my final list, seemed to always look significantly better than the other roses of their sort: Polka, Charles Aznavour, Frederic Mistral, Johann Strauss, Leonardo da Vinci, etc. When I checked on them in some of the online rose databases, I discovered that they were all bred by one company, Meilland, and that most of them were in Meilland’s “Romantica” line, which I think is their answer to David Austin’s “English Roses” line.

IMO? Meilland’s Romanticas are much better—sturdier, more vigorous, with clean dark-green foliage, and lots of gorgeous flowers that smell like Granny Smith apples.

A more recent thing that made me feel good about my results is the recently announced EarthKind Roses program at Texas A&M. In an attempt to get away from the constant pesticides, fungicides, fertilizing, and pruning of conventional rose growing, they grew 117 different kinds of roses in high-alkaline Texas clay soil. They didn’t fertilize them, they didn’t spray for insects and diseases, and they didn’t water them after the first year. Eleven of their 117 varieties turned in spectacular performances anyway. Of those, five were on my own final list. suspect some of the roses that weren’t on my list simply weren’t in the Cranford Rose Garden.

Their list: Sea Foam, Marie Daly, The Fairy, Caldwell Pink, Knock Out, Perle d’Or, Belinda’s Dream, Else Poulson, Katy Road Pink, Mutabilis, and Climbing Pinkie.

My list: The Fairy, Stanwell Perpetual, Seafoam, Perle d’Or, Baby Love, Cecile Brunner, Bloomfield Abundance, Happenstance, Mutabilis, Else Poulson, Golden Wings, Marie Pavie, Bonica, Jeanne LaJoie, and Verdun.

Note: if the rose the Macdonalds call Drunken Lady keeps going this summer the way it has so far, it’s going to make my permanent list.

Other results:

Rugosa hybrids: Hansa, the Grootendorsts, the Pavements, John Davis, Henry Hudson, Yankee Lady, Rosarium Uetersen, Rugosa Magnifica. Honorable mention: Fru Dagmar Hastrup, Roseraie de l’Ha�, Blanc Double de Coubert.

Good climbers: Aloha, Awakening, Compassion, New Dawn, Jeanne La Joie.

Oldies but surprisingly goodies: Gruss an Aachen, Marquise Boccella.

Not the most floriferous, but unaccountably makes me happy: Sparrieshoop.

Your mileage may vary. Have fun traveling.

June 19, 2005
Gitmo sutra
Posted by Teresa at 11:40 PM * 154 comments

Meanwhile, Avram says:

The Gulag that can be told is not the true Gulag.
The Nazi that can be named
is not the true Nazi.

Free from the Gitmo, you see only the manifestations. Caught in the Gitmo, you realize the mystery.

Yet Gulag and Gitmo arise from the same source. This source is called darkness.
Darkness within darkness,
The gateway to all understanding.

Durbin
Posted by Teresa at 10:00 PM * 33 comments

Sorry about the duplication; I’d already been writing about the Durbin thing when Patrick finished and posted his piece about it. I’ll skip the part where I rehearse the news story, and cut to the part where I’m disagreeing with Charles Bird at Obsidian Wings. He said:

Can we agree that … putting American in the same sentence with Nazis, gulags and the Khmer Rouge has no place in civil political discourse?

No.

All humans have moral agency—call it free will—and we have it all the time. The circumstances in which we find ourselves may contrain our choices, but we do make them.

Free will has a lot of implications. One of the biggest is that we can always screw up. That’s why it can never be right for us to give ourselves permission to stop making moral judgements. If we let ourselves become so certain we’re the good guys that we no longer have to question whether we’re acting like the good guys, we’re already deeply in the wrong and getting wronger by the minute.

So very sorry, Charles Bird. Americans have the same ability to do evil as anyone else. There’s no magic fuse box that’ll save us from our own excesses. Arguably, as Americans we have greater ability to do evil—it goes along with having more power, more resources, and more freedom of action. That makes us the last people on this planet who ought to be excused from having to think about whether there isn’t some resemblance between our own recent actions and those of the other regimes you’ve mentioned.

Good is always good, no matter who does it. That’s one of the really swell things about good: it’s a universally available option. Likewise, evil is evil, whether or not you reassure yourself that you’re one of the good guys while you’re doing it. Nobody gets to hand out white hats and black hats, then stop thinking.

What excuse do we have for the treatment of prisoners at Gitmo? Torture doesn’t yield worthwhile intelligence; everybody knows that. Also, many of these guys have been there for years. Whatever intelligence could be gotten out of them has long since been got. And yet, there they are, being tortured. What remaining reasons can there be? If it’s being done to send a message of intimidation to various persons and populations around the world, then we have met the terrorists, and they are us. And if even that very bad reason doesn’t stand up, the one that remains is that they’re being tortured for the amusement of their jailors.

What in all this disqualifies comparisons to other regimes? We’re less systematic and explicitly ideological about it than the Nazis? We’re not coming anywhere near the Khmer Rouge’s record-setting score for total percentage of population slain? Gitmo’s generated fewer notable works of literature than the Gulag Archipelago? That’s like saying you can’t be called an alcoholic because you drink less than Shane MacGowan.

On torture: Keeping someone chained up in a strained and unnatural position for 18-24 hours qualifies as torture, even if you don’t do anything further to them. Also, as I’m sure some of your office mates or neighbors could tell you if only you knew which ones to ask, prolonged restraint can cause permanent injury or death: impaired circulation, tissue damage, nerve damage, death or brain damage due to positional asphxia, heart attacks, et cetera.

(Here’s the challenge: try to find a “safer BDSM” site that doesn’t say that you should never, ever leave someone unattended, even for a minute, when they’re in restraints.)

We are behaving very badly indeed. There is no defense for it. Bridling at an accurate description of the situation is not going to get us off the hook.

Actually, it’s just now occurred to me what our Guantanamo policy adds up to. To summarize our positions:
    For our own purposes, or for no purposes at all, we assert that we have the right to take captive people who fall into our hands, hold them incommunicado, and transport them to distant countries, if we so desire.

    We can do anything we please with our prisoners, and keep them as long as we like—for the rest of their lives, if it comes to that.

    We may transfer ownership of our prisoners to other parties.

    We are not answerable for these actions to any tribunal. We owe no compensation to our prisoners, their families, or anyone else.

    Our prisoners have no rights we are bound to respect.

Technically? This isn’t law, war, or national security. It’s slavetaking.

Bad words, no biscuit
Posted by Teresa at 06:54 PM *

It’s not like I’d normally be reading the Citizen Journal, but Steve Timberlake dropped me a note pointing me to James G. Poulos’ Bad Words: The Case Against Decadent Fonts, which I think may be the single most staggeringly wrongheaded essay about typography I’ve ever seen:

Today the rout of English is finished. In print the professional classes make it thick as cold porridge and just as flavorful, and in common usage it is spoken with deliberate disregard for grammar as well as style. �It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish,� as Orwell explained, �but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.�

The same is true, over half a century later, about fonts. Except today, the people picking our public fonts have a vested interest in general foolishness.

Much in the way that architecture is a reflection and embodiment of the psychology of a culture, the various fonts that appear most often in public print offer portraits of the aesthetic lurking inside them. A philosophy of fonts, reflective of how the printed word is deployed as deliberately as language in the shaping of culture, should be staked out at once. Beginning with a historical prologue that traces the development of script up to and beyond the invention of the printing press, it would be made clear that the triumph of computers and the internet represents a technological leap in the appearance of communicative text even more revolutionary than that of the printing press itself. Fonts�in their full range of possibility�have been thrown to the mob.

The digitization of information has already created dilemmas of truth and content in the publication of photographs. An editorial decision to alter the appearance of captured real-world images in order to communicate a desired meaning, not originally present, is troubling to us but inviting to those for whom the stakes are high enough to lie. It is not just inevitable: it has already happened. The imbroglios of yesteryear over manipulated pics of American troops in Iraq are already forgotten, but a primal notion that the physical shape of images shouldn’t change to fit the agenda of their publishers lives on.

And yet the altering of fonts strikes everyone as much more benign. The digital age has made a font for every mood no longer the province of the monastery or the tenth-grade art class. We all know which styles of lettering look �scary,� �technological,� �elegant,� �childish,� or �authoritative.� Half of the ugliness in a Los Angeles Department of Water and Power building, or a Federal agency in Washington, is the spare, squat, sans-serif font of the letters used to identify it. Contrast such a font with the fine, chiseled lines of, say, the Supreme Court or the Treasury. There one reads culture—skill wrought by the practiced human hand—with all the sophistication of shape and style that communicates an ennobled social message about aesthetic virtue.

What few recognize is that such value-signaling has gone beyond the realm of aesthetic appearances and into the arena of behavioral valuation itself. Just as the script of hand-copied Bibles in the Middle Ages clearly represented the �divine perfection� of its contents and values, so today have fonts become tools of cultural conditioning.

He goes on to tie this to “the imposition of ideological, and otherwise needless, diversity directives from triumphant Human Resources departments to their own parent corporations;” also parents allowing noisy uncontrolled kids to run around loose in public places, the promiscuous dissemination of microbes, and that old favorite, the coming triumph of illiteracy:

…it may only be a matter of time before children raised on chat rooms, billboards, and music videos will lose the ability to write properly altogether, completing the eradication of ennobling, culturally demanding, fonts from public print.

Yeeeee-haw! James G. Poulos is a nutbar for sure. I have to wonder whether The Citizen Journal noticed that before they ran the piece. Check out the long chewy comment posted there by “pro typesetter” for a saner and far more knowledgeable take on the subject.

I think what has Poulos freaking out is the proliferation of digitized fonts. As you know, Bob, fonts were once made out of metal. Designing and physically producing a font represented a major investment of time and resources, so new ones came along in a slow manageable trickle. Even fonts that were supposed to look frivolous were professionally designed, and anything but spontaneous.

Then computers came along.

There was an interim period where professional-grade typesetting was done by specialists on chippy dedicated machines. It was a lot easier all round than the old days of metal type, though it would seem cumbersome now. The pace of new font introductions started picking up.

Then we all got desktop computers. Some of them were Macintoshes. Some of those Macs were running early type-manipulation software.* Suddenly, anyone who wanted to could design and distribute a font for Klingon, or Elvish, or whatever the designer thought looked cool. Many of these fonts were Just Dreadful. In the long run, that didn’t matter. The software got better, the computers grew more powerful, the type designers learned better, and we gradually returned to a world where the good stuff drives out the bad—only this world has a lot more fonts in it.

But as I say, I can kind of see where Poulos is coming from. When I was young, you could almost get the idea that there was some kind of centralized cultural imprimatur guiding the design and selection of typefaces, just like you could get the idea that there was a rule that said major public buildings had to have Roman columns.

You could, but you’d be wrong. There’s no such thing. Did I mention that Poulos is a nutbar? Never mistake manufacturing methods for moral policy.

Actually, no
Posted by Patrick at 11:23 AM * 78 comments

Charles Bird at Obsidian Wings asks:

Can we agree that, no matter how the words are weaseled, putting American in the same sentence with Nazis, gulags and the Khmer Rouge has no place in civil political discourse?

No, we can’t, because Nazism, the Gulag, and the Cambodian genocide all emerged from human decisions, many of which probably seemed reasonable at the time. They weren’t beamed down to the planet by aliens.

“Civil political discourse” is about what we’re doing, where we’re going, and who we are. When our own FBI agents are reporting that American soldiers are chaining prisoners in fetal positions for 24 hours or more, leaving them to roll in their own shit and piss, it’s not unreasonable to wonder what we’re doing, where we’re going, and who we’ve become.

When Deputy Associate Attorney General J. Michael Wiggins asserts that “It’s our position that, legally, they can be held in perpetuity,” it’s not unreasonable to wonder what we’re doing, where we’re going, and who we’ve become.

And while we’re wondering, it’s extremely not unreasonable to note how this kind of thing has come about in the past.

Observes Bruce Baugh in the comments to Bird’s post:

There was a time when the Nazis and Soviets had each slain just a few—they didn’t leap from the end of World War I straight to Auschwitz or the gulags. There was a time when they were doing just what our troops and non-military people are doing right now, on precisely the same moral trajectory. Because in each case, they were led by people who decided that their cause was so important, all means could be allowed.

Yes, it’s a slippery slope argument. Guess what. Sometimes, you’re on a slope, and you’re sliding.

Last word (for now) from the increasingly excellent Brad Plumer:

The outrage over Durbin’s remarks—and Amnesty’s “gulag” report before that—is, to be perfectly frank, one of the most asinine and depressing episodes I’ve yet had the misfortune to witness in my brief time following politics. Cut the crap. Durbin very obviously wasn’t calling American soldiers Nazis; no one more sentient than a deepwater sponge was genuinely confused about this point. It’s also clear that Durbin’s words, whatever you think about it, isn’t a “propaganda victory” to the terrorists. I know it’s in vogue for “serious” thinkers to believe that “the terrorists” are slumped around headquarters, devoid of propaganda material, and waiting, just waiting for the Senate Minority Whip to give them something that will reinvigorate the movement. It’s a grand little theory with just one minor flaw—it’s not true. […]

When actions carried out by our military interrogators can be confused with even the most “minor” of atrocities carried out by some of the worst regimes in history, then no, that doesn’t make our soldiers Nazis or a Soviet thugs, but it does mean it’s time to worry. When our op-ed pages are filled with academics and other pseudo-intellectuals taking pains to point out exactly how we differ from Nazi Germany—how our torture is quantitatively different from their torture; how our enemies are worse than their enemies; how at least we haven’t killed 13 million people yet—then yes, it’s time to worry. The issue isn’t whether or not we’re the same as Nazis, because we’re clearly not; it’s whether we’re different enough.

June 17, 2005
Witness, False, Bearing of
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 06:51 PM * 0 comments

Neither shalt thou bear false witness against thy neighbour. —Deuteronomy 5:20

Dearly beloved, we all recognize one of the Ten Commandments (the ninth, for those who are foggy on the subject). Those self-same commandments have been ordered removed from courthouses all over America lest they establish a religion. Yet who would have thought that the folks most determined in their campaign to remove the Ten Commandments from public life would be the far right?

Consider the addiction to taradiddles, lies, mendacity, and fibs in the upper reaches of the Bush administration. For one example let’s look at a bit from a commencement address delivered by Mark Danner this May:

Let me give you a last example. The example is in the form of a little play: a reality-based playlet that comes to us from the current center of American comedy. I mean the Pentagon press briefing room, where the real true-life comedies are performed. The time is a number of weeks ago. The dramatis personae are Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld; Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs (and soon to be promoted) General Peter Pace of the Marine Corps; and of course, playing the Fool, a lowly and hapless reporter.

The reporter’s question begins with an involved but perfectly well-sourced discussion of Abu Ghraib and the fact that all the reports suggest that something systematic—something ordered by higher-ups—was going on there. He mentions the Sanchez memo, recently released, in which the commanding general in Iraq at the time, Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, approved twelve interrogation techniques that, as the reporter says, “far exceed limits established by the Army’s own field manual.” These include prolonged stress positions, sensory deprivation (or “hooding”), the use of dogs “to induce stress,” and so on; the reporter also mentions “extraordinary rendition” (better known as kidnapping, in which people are snatched off the streets by U.S. intelligence agents and brought to third countries like Syria and Egypt to be tortured). Here’s his question, and the officials’ answer:

Hapless Reporter: And I wonder if you would just respond to the suggestion that there is a systematic problem rather than the kinds of individual abuses we’ve heard of before.

Secretary Rumsfeld: I don’t believe there’s been a single one of the investigations that have been conducted, which has got to be six, seven, eight or nine—

General Pace: Ten major reviews and 300 individual investigations of one kind or another.

Secretary Rumsfeld: And have you seen one that characterized it as systematic or systemic?

General Pace: No, sir.

Rumsfeld: I haven’t either.

Hapless Reporter: What about—?

Rumsfeld: Question?

[Laughter]

And, as the other reporters laughed, Secretary Rumsfeld did indeed ignore the attempt to follow up, and went on to the next question.

But what did the hapless reporter want to say? All we have is his truncated attempt at a question: “What about—?” We will never know, of course. Perhaps he wanted to read from the very first Abu Ghraib report, directed by US Army Major General Antonio Taguba, who wrote in his conclusion

“that between October and December 2003, at the Abu Ghraib Confinement Facility, numerous incidents of sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses were inflicted….This systemic and illegal abuse was intentionally perpetrated….[Emphasis added.]
Or perhaps this from the Red Cross report, which is the only contemporaneous account of what was going on at Abu Ghraib, recorded by witnesses at the time:
“These methods of physical and psychological coercion were used by the military intelligence in a systematic way to gain confessions and extract information or other forms of co-operation from persons who had been arrested in connection with suspected security offenses or deemed to have an “intelligence value. [Emphasis added.]
(I should note here, by the way, that the military itself estimated that between 85 and 90 percent of the prisoners at Abu Ghraib had “no intelligence value.”)

Between that little dramatic exchange—

Rumsfeld: And have you seen one that characterized it as systematic or systemic?

General Pace: No, sir.

Rumsfeld: I haven’t either—

—and the truth, there is a vast gulf of lies. For these reports do use the words “systematic” and “systemic”—they are there, in black and white—and though the reports have great shortcomings, the truth is that they tell us basic facts about Abu Ghraib: first, that the torture and abuse was systematic; that it was ordered by higher-ups, and not carried out by “a few bad apples,” as the administration has maintained; that responsibility for it can be traced—in documents that have been made public—to the very top ranks of the administration, to decisions made by officials in the Department of Justice and the Department of Defense and, ultimately, the White House. The significance of what we know about Abu Ghraib, and about what went on—and, most important, what is almost certainly still going on—not only in Iraq but at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, and other military and intelligence bases, some secret, some not, around the world—is clear: that after September 11, shortly after you all came to Berkeley, our government decided to change this country from a nation that officially does not torture to one, officially, that does.

I suppose that if one is willing to order torture that subsequently lying about it is no great thing. But while torture is not forbidden by the Ten Commandments, lying is.

(Torture is later forbidden by the Great Commandment, that we love our neighbors as ourselves, but that hasn’t been posted in, nor removed from, courthouses so far as I’m aware.)

What is this addiction to lies? Does the administration think that if the American people knew what was really going on that they would reject it?

From the Washington Post:

On Thursday, President Bush stepped to a lectern at the Ohio State Highway Patrol Academy in Columbus to urge renewal of the USA Patriot Act and to boast of the government’s success in prosecuting terrorists.

Flanked by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, Bush said that “federal terrorism investigations have resulted in charges against more than 400 suspects, and more than half of those charged have been convicted.”

Those statistics have been used repeatedly by Bush and other administration officials, including Gonzales and his predecessor, John D. Ashcroft, to characterize the government’s efforts against terrorism.

But the numbers are misleading at best.

Misleading at best? Of lies, damned lies, and statistics, Bush’s statement partakes of all three.

The article continues:

An analysis of the Justice Department’s own list of terrorism prosecutions by The Washington Post shows that 39 people—not 200, as officials have implied—were convicted of crimes related to terrorism or national security.

Thirty-nine. Not two hundred. An order of magnitude.

In the end, most cases on the Justice Department list turned out to have no connection to terrorism at all.

They include Hassan Nasrallah, a Dearborn, Mich., man convicted of credit-card fraud who has the same name as the leader of Hezbollah, or Party of God. Abdul Farid of High Point, N.C., was arrested on a false tip that he was sending money to the Taliban and was deported after admitting he lied on a loan application. Moeen Islam Butt, a Pakistani jewelry-kiosk employee in Pennsylvania, spent eight months in jail before being deported on marriage-fraud and immigration charges.

And there is the case of Francois Guagni, a French national who made the mistake of illegally crossing the Canadian border on Sept. 14, 2001, with box cutters in his possession. It turned out that Guagni used the knives in his job as a drywall installer. He was deported in March 2003 after pleading guilty to unlawfully entering the country.

“His case had nothing to do with terrorism, as far as I’ve ever been told,” said Guagni’s attorney, Christopher D. Smith.

How does this harm us, for Bush to claim two hundred when he really means thirty-nine? It gives the people a false sense of security. Two hundred convictions out of four hundred cases with a 50% conviction rate is an active and effective counter-terrorism effort moving through the courts where it belongs.

Thirty-nine convictions out of four hundred cases is blundering around; either there isn’t a large group of al Qaeda sleeper cells in the USA, or if there is we’re missing them.

Let’s look at the FBI protecting us from a suicide bomber.

As reported in the New York Times:

DHAKA, Bangladesh—Slumped at the edge of the bed she would have to share with four relatives that night, the 16-year-old girl from Queens looked stunned.

On the hot, dusty road from the airport, she had watched rickshaws surge past women sweeping the streets, bone-thin in their bright saris. Now, in a language she barely understood, unfamiliar aunts and uncles lamented her fate: to be forced to leave the United States, her home since kindergarten, because the F.B.I. had mysteriously identified her as a potential suicide bomber.

“I feel like I’m on a different planet,” the girl, Tashnuba Hayder, said. “It just hit me. How everything happened—it’s like, ‘Oh, my God.’”

The reasoning is this: Some suicide bombers are teenaged females. Tashnuba Hayder is a teenage female. Therefore….

In a way I can understand it: Once official notice is taken of an individual, and it’s officially noticed that her immigration papers aren’t in order (actually, not her papers; her mother’s—she’s a minor child), the law will deport her.

And it’s understandable that she would come to official notice: She listened to Sheik Omar Bakri Muhammed. First Amendment, meet Bush’s America.

The alarm bells are going off,” said Mr. D’Amuro, now the chief executive of Giuliani Security and Safety, a consulting company. “And we have each and every time to run those threats to the ground, whether it ends up to be a bogus threat or proceeds to some type of prosecutorial action.”

Some cases are never resolved, he added. Even when suspicions prove unfounded, he said, any visa violations are already in the hands of immigration authorities, who have to bring them “to some type of closure.”

But Mike German, who left the [FBI] a year ago after a long career chasing homegrown terror suspects, said that the agency’s new emphasis on collecting intelligence rather than criminal evidence has opened the door to more investigations that go “in the wrong direction.”

It’s a good thing that Abu Ghraib-style questioning hasn’t yet caught on in this country, or Ms. Hayder undoubtedly would have confessed anything Homeland Security wanted. Then they might have had forty terrorism convictions, not just thirty-nine.

There are worse things than sharing a bed with relatives in a country where you don’t speak the language. You could be in Gitmo.

That’s the entire point of Gitmo, just as terror was the entire point of the Soviet gulags.

A conversation between a Siberian prisoner and a new convict:

“How long did you get?”

“Ten years.”

“What did you do?”

“Nothing.”

“Impossible! For nothing you only get five years!”

And…

In the time of Stalin’s mass purges, a knock at the door woke a family in the middle of night. All family members, shaking in terror, jumped up.

“Take all you can carry with you, and get out at once,” a voice sounded. “But, for God’s sake, don’t panic! It’s me, your neighbour. It is nothing serious, just our house is on fire.”

Speaking of which, you can get I [heart] GITMO tee shirts. Maybe the interrogators will go easier on you after you’ve been denounced by an anonymous source if you’re wearing one when you get there.

Or maybe not.

Back to Bush fibbing:

WASHINGTON (AP)—Amid new questions about President Bush’s drive to topple Saddam Hussein, several House Democrats urged lawmakers on Thursday to conduct an official inquiry to determine whether the president intentionally misled Congress.

Rep. John Conyers of Michigan and a half-dozen other members of Congress were stopped at the White House gate when they hand-delivered petitions signed by 560,000 Americans who want Bush to provide a detailed response to the so-called Downing Street memo.

At a public forum where the word “impeachment” loomed large earlier in the day, Exhibit A was the Downing Street memo, a prewar document leaked from inside the British government to The Sunday Times of London a month and a half ago.

Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, organized the event.

Recounting a meeting of Prime Minister Tony Blair’s national security team, the memo says the Bush administration believed that war was inevitable and was determined to use intelligence about weapons of mass destruction to justify the ouster of Saddam.

“The intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy,” one of the participants was quoted as saying at the meeting, which took place just after British officials returned from Washington.

The president “may have deliberately deceived the United States to get us into a war,” Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, said. “Was the president of the United States a fool or a knave?”

A fool, a knave, or a compulsive liar? As John says (1 John 2:4) “The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”

These words the LORD spake unto all your assembly in the mount out of the midst of the fire, of the cloud, and of the thick darkness, with a great voice: and he added no more. And he wrote them in two tables of stone, and delivered them unto me. —Deuteronomy 5:22

The secret engines of the world
Posted by Teresa at 11:21 AM * 74 comments

Paul Graham’s The Submarine talks about one of the secret engines of the world: the PR industry.

“Suits make a corporate comeback,” says the New York Times. Why does this sound familiar? Maybe because the suit was also back in February, January, September 2004, June 2004, March 2004, September 2003, February 2003, November 2002, April 2002, and February 2002. April 2001.

Why do the media keep running stories saying suits are back? Because PR firms tell them to. One of the most surprising things I discovered during my brief business career was the existence of the PR industry, lurking like a huge, quiet submarine beneath the news. Of the stories you read in traditional media that aren’t about politics, crimes, or disasters, more than half probably come from PR firms….

Symbiosis

PR is not dishonest. Not quite. In fact, the reason the best PR firms are so effective is precisely that they aren’t dishonest. They give reporters genuinely valuable information. A good PR firm won’t bug reporters just because the client tells them to; they’ve worked hard to build their credibility with reporters, and they don’t want to destroy it by feeding them mere propaganda.

If anyone is dishonest, it’s the reporters. The main reason PR firms exist is that reporters are lazy. Or, to put it more nicely, overworked. Really they ought to be out there digging up stories for themselves. But it’s so tempting to sit in their offices and let PR firms bring the stories to them. …

Once upon a time, I was the typesetter for a smallish weekly newspaper. I had keys to the place, and kept my own hours. The owners would leave me a stack of draft material. When they came back, the sheets of typeset repro would be hung up like the week’s laundry on a piece of string stretched across the office.

Here’s where their non-advertising content came from: The owners wrote the editorials and a small number of news stories themselves. Other bits of news came from the wire service. The syndicated features and columns arrived weekly in a single big manila envelope. And if all that plus the advertising wasn’t enough to fill the issue, which was usually the case, I’d start in on our stack of press releases.

The owners’ standing instructions were to go through, find the press releases that read most like news stories, and make any alterations necessary to improve that resemblance. I had a fairly good idea of how many column inches they’d need when it came time to make up the issue. All I had to do was give them that much plus a bit more, clean up everybody’s copy, and pick good press releases.

I hope most newspapers are a little less casual than that, but the underlying principle remains: reporting and newswriting takes work. Press releases are a freebie.

Where the work of PR firms really does get deliberately misleading is in the generation of “buzz.” They usually feed the same story to several different publications at once. And when readers see similar stories in multiple places, they think there is some important trend afoot. Which is exactly what they’re supposed to think.

At this point, if the mass media are inclined to further spin out a piece of trend journalism, they start quoting each other: “According to a story in the Springfield Bee-Picayune this week…”

I doubt PR firms realize it yet, but the Web makes it possible to track them at work. If you search for the obvious phrases, you turn up several efforts over the years to place stories about the return of the suit. For example, the Reuters article that got picked up by USA Today in September 2004. “The suit is back,” it begins.

Trend articles like this are almost always the work of PR firms. Once you know how to read them, it’s straightforward to figure out who the client is. With trend stories, PR firms usually line up one or more “experts” to talk about the industry generally. In this case we get three: the NPD Group, the creative director of GQ, and a research director at Smith Barney. When you get to the end of the experts, look for the client. And bingo, there it is: The Men’s Wearhouse.

Not surprising, considering The Men’s Wearhouse was at that moment running ads saying “The Suit is Back.” Talk about a successful press hit—a wire service article whose first sentence is your own ad copy.

The secret to finding other press hits from a given pitch is to realize that they all started from the same document back at the PR firm. Search for a few key phrases and the names of the clients and the experts, and you’ll turn up other variants of this story.

Casual Fridays are out and dress codes are in writes Diane E. Lewis in The Boston Globe. In a remarkable coincidence, Ms. Lewis’s industry contacts also include the creative director of GQ.

Ripped jeans and T-shirts are out, writes Mary Kathleen Flynn in US News & World Report. And she too knows the creative director of GQ.

Men’s suits are back, writes Nicole Ford in Sexbuzz.Com (“the ultimate men’s entertainment magazine”).

Dressing down loses appeal as men suit up at the office, writes Tenisha Mercer of The Detroit News.

Isn’t that cute? It’s like finding out where fashionable colors come from.

I like Paul Graham’s conclusion—not because it’s flattering to bloggers, but because it addresses a question that’s bugged me since I was a little kid: Why is the tone of so much magazine and newspaper writing as unnatural as silicone breast implants on a snake?

I was talking recently to a friend who works for a big newspaper. He thought the print media were in serious trouble, and that they were still mostly in denial about it. “They think the decline is cyclic,” he said. “Actually it’s structural.”

In other words, the readers are leaving, and they’re not coming back.

Why? I think the main reason is that the writing online is more honest. Imagine how incongruous the New York Times article about suits would sound if you read it in a blog:

The urge to look corporate—sleek, commanding, prudent, yet with just a touch of hubris on your well-cut sleeve—is an unexpected development in a time of business disgrace.

The problem with this article is not just that it originated in a PR firm. The whole tone is bogus. This is the tone of someone writing down to their audience.

Whatever its flaws, the writing you find online is authentic. It’s not mystery meat cooked up out of scraps of pitch letters and press releases, and pressed into molds of zippy journalese. It’s people writing what they think.

I didn’t realize, till there was an alternative, just how artificial most of the writing in the mainstream media was.

Okay, I didn’t say he answered the question, just addressed it.

He ends with a link to a lame article in the PRSA newsletter about how to pitch the woo to weblogs. I’ll add a further link to another article on the same subject.

I win! I found a lamer article than he did:

Never, ever use the words, “I think your readers would be interested in this story.” To a large extent, bloggers are more interested in a point of view or the power of an idea than they are “readers.”

I think we’re safe, for a while at any rate.

June 16, 2005
Fairy Chess
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 12:05 AM *

Dearly beloved, let us talk for a moment about chess. I’ve mentioned elsewhere that writing a novel is like playing a game of chess, but that isn’t what I’ll talk about today.

Chess is a wargame of ancient origin. Eight pieces and eight pawns on a side, a board of sixty-four squares arranged in a square. The rules are formal and fixed. The last successful variation to chess was nearly five hundred years ago: The Mad Queen’s Game, which gave the queen the power to move the length and breadth of the board in a single move rather than being limited to one square in any direction (like the King’s move).

Chess is an excellent source for pithy quotes:
“The blunders are all there on the board, waiting to be made.”
— Tartakover
No successful variations in the last five hundred years, did I say? I lied. There have been many; they just haven’t caught on universally. Many of them are called Fairy Chess, a term that became popular in Great Britain around WWI, when “fairy” meant “whimsical.”

Sometimes the board is modified (the right edge and the left edge, or the top and the bottom, become continuous to make a cylinder, for example). Sometimes the pieces get unusual moves or unusual methods of capturing other pieces. Sometimes dice or cards add randomness. Sometimes … things get weird. Let’s look at some creative chess games.

Adding a Piece

The Blue Queen is a queen, painted blue, or otherwise differentiated from the colors of either side. She moves like a normal mad Queen. She starts somewhere in the center of the board. And she belongs to whichever side is currently moving.

Adding a Piece and some Randomness

Behemoth Chess requires a piece (such as an Orc) that starts the game on d4 (Gads, I hate algebraic notation! That means Q4). That’s the Behemoth. The Behemoth doesn’t belong to either player, and it’s indestructable. You also need two dice, one eight-sided, the other four sided.

Before each move, the moving player rolls the dice. The eight-sider shows the direction the Behemoth will move, the four-sider shows the number of squares it will move. A roll of 1 on the eight-sider points toward black’s queen’s rook, the rest follow clockwise.

The board wraps for the Behemoth (but not for the other pieces and pawns). If the Behemoth leaves at the top of the board, it emerges on the bottom of the board exactly as if they were connected.

Anything that the Behemoth tramples it crushes. Those pieces and pawns are removed from the board. This means that … should the White player roll 6-4 on the first turn, that both sides would lose their queens.

If the Behemoth crushes a king, that side loses. Otherwise play continues until one side or the other wins by checkmate.

This variant is credited to Donald Seagraves.

Oddness in the Universe

Alice Chess is played with one chess set and two boards. The pieces and pawns are set up normally on one board. They move and … when they move, at the end of the move, the piece teleports “through the looking glass” to the other board.

Pieces and pawns that move on that board teleport back to the first board at the end of their moves. Moves are the same as for regular chess. If the target square on the other board is occupied you can’t move to an otherwise legal square on this one. Moves must be legal on the board on which they are made. The game ends with checkmate.

(A variant of this variant allows you go make a “zero move,” to just drop from one board to the other ending on the same square you started on, only on the other side of the looking glass. Kings can’t zero move to get out of check.)

This variant is credited to V.R. Parton.

A Guessing Game

This variant, Kriegspiel, requires two chess sets, three boards, and three players. Two of the players set up on two boards facing one another, with a screen between them so they can’t see the other’s board. The White player has only the white chessmen; the Black player has only the black chessmen. The third player is the referee; she can see both of the first two’s boards, and has her own board set up with both white and black. This board is screened so that only the ref can see it.

The object of the game is checkmate, by the usual rules.

Each side moves in turn; after each move the ref either says “legal” or “illegal.” If the move is illegal the moving player must take it back and try another move until hitting on a legal move.

Before moving, a player may ask “Any?” meaning “Are any pawn captures possible?” If there are, the ref replies “Try,” and the moving player must attempt a pawn capture before attempting any other move.

When a piece or pawn is captured, both sides are informed of the fact, and what was captured, but the player losing the chessman isn’t informed of what it was that performed the capture.

You can play a game against the computer here to see how it goes.

This variant is credited to Henry Michael Temple.

Games with Unusual Boards

I’ve already mentioned boards that wrap around right-and-left and top-to-bottom. You can find variants with round boards, hexagonal boards, boards that have more squares than standard and boards with fewer squares.

Let’s end with the infamous Star Trek three-dimensional chess board. Here are the rules.

St. Teresa of Avila is the patron saint of chess.




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Rabbit’s friends and relations
Posted by Teresa at 12:05 AM * 22 comments

Er. It’s all the weblogging fashion, now, having multiple authors and guest authors and what-not. We’ve given an extra set of housekeys to Jim Macdonald for the joy of an occasional post, and for his expertise at killing spam and maintaining civil order when we’re not around.

(A fair fraction of what I know about moderating online discussions was learned watching Jim, then known as Yog Sysop, as he rode herd on the GEnie SFRT.)

The shorter Jim Macdonald: novelist, EMT, formerly Navy, permanently Catholic, married to co-author Debra Doyle, four sturdy children, lives ten or fifteen miles south of the Canadian border in the Great North Woods of New Hampshire. Fluent in Middle English. Takes the Scout Oath seriously. Has a sometimes startling acquaintance with armed mayhem. Teaches writing to the young at the Viable Paradise writers’ workshop on Martha’s Vineyard, and online during the rest of the year. Partner and Managing Sysop at SFF Net. Helps hunt down scammers who prey on naive writers. Was chief perpetrator of Atlanta Nights. Good writer. Separate skill: is an accomplished commercial writer-to-order, esp. on short notice. Once wrote a Spider-Man tie-in novel where the first letters of the paragraphs in one chapter spelled out, “The reason this book isn’t very good is that it was written in less than a week.”

Here he is doing something (probably wicked) with Esther Friesner.

We may have further sets of keys made. No hurry.

June 15, 2005
“Things you’ve seen. Things you’ve, well—done.”
Posted by Patrick at 11:56 PM * 72 comments

Sometimes, it doesn’t matter that a bunch of other people have already blogged the same thing.

Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) reads an FBI agent’s report, on conditions at Guantanamo Bay, into the minutes of the United States Senate:

Let me read to you what one FBI agent saw. And I quote from his report: “On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times they urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18-24 hours or more. On one occasion, the air conditioning had been turned down so far and the temperature was so cold in the room, that the barefooted detainee was shaking with cold….On another occasion, the [air conditioner] had been turned off, making the temperature in the unventilated room well over 100 degrees. The detainee was almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his hair out throughout the night. On another occasion, not only was the temperature unbearably hot, but extremely loud rap music was being played in the room, and had been since the day before, with the detainee chained hand and foot in the fetal position on the tile floor.”

This is your country. This is your people. This is your relatives. This is us.

From Reuters:

Delaware Democratic Sen. Joseph Biden asked Deputy Associate Attorney General J. Michael Wiggins whether the Justice Department had “defined when there is the end of conflict.”

“No, sir,” Wiggins responded.

“If there is no definition as to when the conflict ends, that means forever, forever, forever these folks get held at Guantanamo Bay,” Biden said.

“It’s our position that, legally, they can be held in perpetuity,” Wiggins said.

This. Is. Who. We. Are.

June 10, 2005
More astroturf
Posted by Teresa at 12:17 PM *

In Deceiving Us Has Become an Industrial Process, the weblog Rational Grounds has far exceeded the old post of mine he quotes, Common Fraud, in examining how pervasive corporate-sponsored fake grassroots organizations have become:

Josh Marshall is currently beating the drum against Koch Industries and their various outfits, who are staging some protests around the Rock the Vote awards ceremony tonight. And reading his comments I was bowled over by the number of astroturf groups involved in this little network. You’ve got Social Security for All, who are actually Americans for Prosperity, who are actually the Independent Women’s Forum (Do the math yourself, really)

Then there’s Citizens for a Sound Economy (now merged with Empower America to become Freedom Works, flaming sword sold separately). They share a good deal with all the above groups. Interestingly, they also had a hand in my last post’s topic, lobbying for the tobacco companies going back to 1994.

And that’s just the groups involved with this Social Security protest shindig today. The bizarre advocacy network the government has worked up for No Child Left Behind is probably more famous, if only for it’s eventual involvement with Armstrong Williams and the illegal fake-news blocks the Bush administration put out promoting its Medicare, drug control and NCLB initiatives. (The administration shows every sign of continuing these practices.)

The Medicare and Armstrong parts of this saga are run through a PR and marketing firm named Ketchum, Inc.. An internet campaign was also mounted through Democracy, Data & Communications, a company with a breathtaking record in the astroturf world. A quick WHOIS/nslookup investigation turned up oodles of DDC fronts. [detailed list to follow] Their client list is also pretty impressive.

Harking back to Common Good for a moment, it seems tort reform, as a movement, is entirely concocted from corporate lobbying fronts. All those stories about wacky lawsuits and outrageous settlements? Lies. (Really, read the whole Making Light article.)

Social Security, tort reform, the drug war… looking through all this, I have to wonder - how many of my opinions about my world are bought and paid for?

Answer: a lot of them, unless you’ve gone through and cleaned out every compartment.

I don’t want to give myself undue credit for precocity, but I started noticing there was something funny going on when I was a kid reading my grandparents’ copies of Readers Digest. That was where I first heard about juries making ridiculous awards in personal-injury cases. It made interesting reading, but after a while it occurred to me that I never saw articles about reasonable and justifiable personal injury awards. Surely there had to be some? Likewise articles in which the IRS wasn’t a monster, and labor unions had some good reason to exist, and politicians weren’t all windbags, layabouts, and snake oil salesmen.

I doubt we’ll ever know the whole history of astroturf. I suspect it goes back further and spreads wider than most sane people have ever imagined.

One life
Posted by Patrick at 07:51 AM * 11 comments

Via Jim Henley, an affecting eulogy that braids its way through the multiverse of American demimondes in surprising ways. For instance:

And so it was that the nation’s most militant labor organization, the brotherhood of Big Bill Haywood and Joe Hill, came to publish the lyrics of “Run, Cthulhu, Run,” a Lovecraftian parody of the bluegrass standard “Molly and Tenbrooks.”

Real life: far more complicated than any description of it.

June 09, 2005
Hot New York minute
Posted by Teresa at 03:08 PM *

The halal chicken cart

Southeast corner of Broadway and 23rd, across from the Flatiron: fast, cheap, good, and if you take your food back to your office, everyone within sniffing distance will be wanting to know what you got. Also, I’ve been eating grilled chicken from that cart for years, and never suffered so much as an upset stomach.

The vendor’s a nice guy. He appears to be doing the whole immigrant success thing. This spring he traded his battered old bismillah-stickered cart for a shiny new one twice the size, so now along with spicy grilled chicken-and-rice, chicken-on-pita, and kebabs he’s doing falafel, Italian sausage sandwiches, and a spicy vegetable and rice thing.

It’s all good.

Queues and celery salt in the park

There’s an American-style burger shack in the park across the street from the halal guy. The good part is that it does classic pre-McDonald’s burger shack-style burgers. Even better, it does Chicago-style hot dogs with the full salady presentation.

What’s less good is that if you get there any later than 11:30 or so, there’ll be a line, and by 12:15 it’ll stretch halfway to the edge of the park. Some days, when you really want a Chicago-style hotdog, it’s worth it.

Kickshaws at Eisenberg’s

Eisenberg’s is a deli that’s across the street from the other side of the Flatiron. I think the only bits that date from later than the 1950s are the delivery boys and the textured coating on the north wall. The rest is a time capsule—like, not only can you get an egg cream there; you can get a lime rickey. They’re said to make the best standard tuna sandwich in New York, but I’m not big on tuna sandwiches so I wouldn’t know.

I’m curious about the terminology on their takeout menu, though. The section for side dishes is labeled “sidekicks.” Now, I know the etymology of sidekick has never really been nailed down. The word showed up in American English around the time the Flatiron was built. There’s a theory that it derives from a term for side-pockets on one’s pants, but that’s a best-guess no-real-connection kind of explanation.

Eisenberg’s has me wondering whether sidekick is derived from kickshaw: an interesting word in its own right. Kickshaw is an English repronunciation of quelque chose, which is French for “thingy.” It has two main meanings: a trifling, trumpery thing, or a side dish—what they used to call a “made dish.”

Kickshaw may have contributed genetic material to kicky-wicky, a term for “wife,” which Shakespeare used in All’s Well that Ends Well, II iii.297:
To the wars, my boy, to the wars! He wears his honour in a box unseen,
That hugs his kicky-wicky here at home,
Spending his manly marrow in her arms,
Which should sustain the bound and high curvet
Of Mars’s fiery steed….
Kickshaw has never fallen out of the language.

Meanwhile, in America, the recorded terms for a person we’d call a sidekick were side-pal (1886) or side-partner (1890). I find it very easy to imagine that kickshaw, “side dish,” collided with side-pal or side-partner and came out sidekick.

Trust me on this one

On the same block as Eisenberg’s are three deli-plus-salad-bar places. I strongly recommend the two southernmost ones. They never get shut down for penance and cleanup.

Achieving authenticity the hard way

Finding bits of historic New York is always a matter of knowing where to look and being able to recognize what you’re looking at. The Old Town Bar manages to look just like a nineteenth-century New York bar by dint of being one. If you want to hang out and pretend you’re waiting to meet a guy who’s with the Five Pointers, this is the place for you. It has good beer, good burgers, and good potato salad all the time, and other stuff that’s usually pretty good too. The food comes down from the second-floor kitchen via one of New York’s few operating dumbwaiters.

On a quiet afternoon in the summer, the Old Town’s first floor is one of the best places in the city to hide out: dark, cool, easygoing, with deep booths, and a very high hammered-tin ceiling that swallows up the heat and noise and holds it far away from you. The height of that ceiling makes the climb to the second floor surprisingly long, but the upstairs dining area is very pleasant.

Why I decided I liked the Old Town: Back before computers, before Selectrics with their swappable type balls, when an Underwood Electric Typewriter was about as good as you got, copy typists learned all kinds of little tricks, protocols, and maneuvers to make documents look as good as possible.

The first time I went to the Old Town, I opened their hand-typed menu and realized that (a.) it had no typos in it whatsoever, and (b.) the person who’d typed it—on a machine with nice clean keys and a new cloth ribbon—had used all those old-fashioned copy typist’s moves, the likes of which I hadn’t seen in thirty years. I immediately conceived a good opinion of the place, and it’s never given me any reason to change my mind.

Where it is: You know the big Barnes & Noble on Union Square? Okay, imagine you’ve set up a cannon facing it. If you fired a shot that crashed through the front wall of the B&N, flew across the store, and punched through the back wall, your cannonball would come to rest on the sidewalk in front of the Old Town. Which is convenient, because by then you’d really need to sit down and have a drink.

Slush: noted in passing
Posted by Teresa at 01:00 PM *

1. If an author says in their cover letter that they’ve had one or more books published, but they don’t have an agent and they don’t mention their title(s) or publisher(s), they were published by PublishAmerica.

2. Today I saw an error I’ve never seen before. If you’re writing SF or fantasy, and you need to make up a new name for someone or something, please don’t use a common English suffix: tion, ality, esque, izer, cious, teenth, matic, et cetera. I’ll stumble every time I read it, wondering where the other half of the word has gone.

While you’re at it, run your new words through Google. It’s surprising how many of them turn out to be the names of drugs, Indian side dishes, or obscure islands.

June 08, 2005
Open thread 42
Posted by Teresa at 10:21 AM *

”____, the ________, and __________.”

The garden this week
Posted by Teresa at 06:15 AM * 75 comments

Therese Bugnet’s first spectacular flush came and went along with the white lilacs and big purple German irises and those still-unidentified white things with the grasslike foliage that grow from bulbs. Mlle. de Sombreuil, Jean Keneally, Queen Elizabeth, and the Murgy rose have come along in their turn. Mlle. de Somebreuil was a particular joy, since I’d lost track of what survived and where it all wound up in the scramble to get my refugees transplanted last year, and had thought it was one of the casualties. Now that it’s identified itself, it’s clear that it’s doing exuberantly well.

The Murgy rose is an unidentified rescue. There’s a story. Many years ago, when Jim Macdonald was a growing up in Bedford NY, he had a rabbit named Murgy. The rabbit’s droppings were disposed of by dumping them off the porch of the Macdonald family’s Federalist-era farmhouse. The area where the droppings were being dumped promptly sprouted a rosebush which the family thereafter referred to as “the Murgy rose.”

It’s interesting. Its flowers are flat, quartered, 40-50 petals (do you count all the little bitty ones?) slightly smaller than Mlle. de Sombreuil, colored a nice Ispahan/Damascena pink, with a tight green-stamened eye. The leaves are on the small side, like The Fairy. It has a very faint scent, but if you take all the newly-dropped petals from a spent bloom and cup them in your hands until they warm up, it smells like an old rose. Jim says it reblooms.

The old red climbing roses (the big one in the corner, and the one against the fence that’s grown up into the magnolia tree next door) have exploded like the grand finale of a fireworks display, a testimonial to the beneficial effects of severe pruning. The unknown bush in the northeast corner under the lilacs has likewise come out in a prodigious number of blooms, which turn out to be an intense lipstick red.

The mint is rampant. The tomatoes are getting big and muscular, and are starting to sprawl sideways. I see cages in their future. There are about a zillion small tender green weed seedlings, reassuring me that I’m not going to run out of things to do.

Throughout it all, the Tradescantia virginia has been blooming profusely, mounds of blue-violet flowers every morning that are gone by afternoon unless the day is cloudy and damp. Last year they continued well into July, but that was an unusually cool summer. I’ll see how long they last this year.

I have finally figured out the strange structure my next-door neighbors put up along the fence line last fall: a descending row of tall 2×4s, with some kind of shallow metal roofing nailed along their tops, lintel to their posts. When I was out in my back yard during a thunderstorm a few days ago, I saw splashes of water coming off the top of the thing. It’s an aqueduct. They’re Azerbaijanis, used to dryland farming. They’ve channeled the runoff from their roof gutters into the back corner of their garden, where it can water their much-prized cherry tree.

June 07, 2005
Further annals of rent-seeking behavior
Posted by Teresa at 04:23 PM *

This site, the Lockergnome Encyclopedia (via), has found an easy way to generate its content: it mirrors Wikipedia. It’s a complete and comprehensive ripoff. The big difference between the sites (aside from Lockergnome’s dishonesty, of course) is that the Lockergnome Encyclopedia’s pages are dense with paid advertising.

The operation is run by DealofDay.com, a worthless site that’s pretty much all advertising, aside from a few links to second-hand content.

I could show you “M*k* M*n*y F*st”-type websites where the product they’re selling is semi-automated systems for setting up parasitic websites. You don’t even have to know how to do your own stealing.

When I look at sites like DealofDay.com or TrafficSwarm, I feel like I’m seeing an aspect of the true face of sin, damnation, and the loss of the good of the intellect. This is language turned into spacefiller and noise, communication that passes from no one to no one, commerce that exchanges nothing of value, and business that does no work. I don’t normally use language like this when I’m not joking, but this stuff is evil.

Go, Paris!
Posted by Patrick at 07:46 AM *

Mayor Bloomberg’s deranged West Side Stadium plan is dead. Thank God, or failing that, thank a crafty little obstructionist Albany legislator named Sheldon Silver. We’ll take what we can get.

Hard to improve on Scott Lemieux’s observation:

The other striking thing about Bloomberg’s strategy was to tie the stadium to the Olympics. So you’re telling me that this ends New York’s chances of getting the Olympics? I believe that it’s this sort of thing for which the phrase “feature, not a bug” was coined.

June 06, 2005
One minute’s worth of weblogs
Posted by Teresa at 09:09 AM *

I found Weblogs.com because I’d gotten exasperated with Technorati and was looking for something more reliable. Which is not to say that I succeeded, because Weblogs.com is a useless site. What it gives you is a single flat unadorned list of weblogs that’ve updated that minute. Given how many weblogs out there are doing that at any given minute, trying to make sense of their list is like reading the phonebook for the plot.

When I first looked at the site, several days ago, their list showed 66 updates for a single minute, 11:08 a.m. Mind you, that must have been a low-traffic period, because for one minute of the morning I’m writing this—9:54 EST, Saturday, 04 June 2005—Weblog.com listed 376 updates. Still, those 66 entries were a minute’s worth of the weblogging world. I copied off the list and looked at all of them, as though I were doing a species count in a wildlife area.

Here’s how they break out. My categories are arbitrary, but all categories are.

1. Potemkin weblogs that have a parasitic relationship with Google Ads

These nineteen weblogs are automated googletraps. They show up on Weblog.com’s radar because they use weblogging software and formats, but they contain no original content, and there’s no detectable human intelligence shaping or filtering the second-hand content that fills them. My best guess is that they exist solely to sop up Google advertising dollars. They are:
Technically, I’d classify this little dodge as the great-grandchild of the “reports” scam, which is older than the internet. In its original form, the mark in the reports scam is the person who thinks he can make big money publishing and selling the junk content he buys from the scammers. In this variant, the junk content is being automatically scooped up and aggregated from free content feeds to create Potemkin weblogs. The sites’ owners then sell ad space on them to Google Ads, which is itself heavily automated, and thus doesn’t notice that it’s placing ads on junk sites.

These fake weblogs come in familial clusters. For instance, “Fly Fishing” and “Home Mortgage” are both hosted at totalfreedomforever.com (the phrase “total freedom forever” is a variant of “m@k3 m0n3y f@st”), which also hosts “weblogs” named Fitness, Credit Card, Home Decorating, Jewelry, Pet Supplies, Scrapbooking, Self Help, and Weight Loss.

“Skateboard CentralPark” and “Mattress Finder” both belong to a large group of nearly identical pseudo-weblogs that can be spotted via their self-descriptive text:
Skateboard CentralPark is the definitive source for skateboarding news and reviews. Updated daily as news breaks, Skateboard CentralPark is widely read throughout the world.

Mattress Finder is the definitive source for mattress news and reviews. Updated daily, Mattress Finder is widely read throughout the world.

You get the idea.

Posts in this group invariably start with the first paragraph of a news story or press release related to the weblog’s declared subject. The story’s headline is used as the title of the post. Subsequent paragraphs are a random selection of the first paragraphs of other stories they’ve already used. It’s obviously a completely automated process, because major text glitches don’t get corrected. The resulting “weblog” couldn’t fool anyone but a computer.

Other clones in the “definitive source/updated daily/read throughout the world” group include daily sport news, daily finance news, online banking news, daily business news, daily flower news, Las Vegas 24 hrs, best internet service, daily auto news, best new york info, digicamera news, weight loss facts, best insurance deals, miami news, the home spot, daily Las Vegas, dating news, cellphone tracker, education news, the furniture spot, Las Vegas hotel reviews, wireless news today, pet news, breast cancer news, and best printer ink deals. Those are just the ones I spotted in a few minutes’ quick googling. I’m sure there are a great many more.

2. Moneygrubbing fake weblogs that don’t depend on Google Ads:

“Belmont Stakes Live Gambling” is exactly what it looks like. “Flaunting It” has a small amount of original content, and does a better job of imitating a real weblog than any other commercial site in this list. “Hotel Wildwood NJ Restaurants” is a porn site whose URL includes the string “anime-bikini-pics.” It’s using a spaces.msn.com account, so I doubt it’s long for this world.

3. Just using the software

Ten of the listed “weblogs” are sites that have adapted the weblog software and format to non-webloggish purposes. I expect we’ll be seeing more and more of this. Weblogging software is cheap, flexible, feature-rich, and extremely easy to use.
“Dane101” is a collaborative site about Madison, Wisconsin. “Brownglasses” is a photographer’s display site. “Slank en Gezond” is a Dutch site about health and fitness. “CivicSpace” is a bit puzzling. I think they’re offering some kind of software template for community activist groups. “www.GayInRealLife.com - be yourself, be proud, be g.i.r.l.” is pretty much what it looks like. The same goes for “Twin Cities PHP User Group.”

“PrimeMinister.ca” aggregates news stories about Canada, adding almost no original content, but it’s being selected and presented by live human beings. “L’herbe n’est pas plus verte ailleurs” is another photography display site. I think. “NextBillion.net - Development Through Enterprise” says “Our goal is to identify and discuss sustainable business models that address the needs of the world’s poorest citizens,” but it doesn’t feel much like a weblog. I wouldn’t personally guarantee that it isn’t astroturf. Finally, “Bringing Dearborn, MI into focus” is a civic website that makes Dearborn seem more boring than I think it’s possible for a city to be.

Running subtotal:

The overall count for the weblogs-that-aren’t-weblogs categories comes to 32 out of our list of 66. If there’s a moral to be drawn, it’s that weblogging is an activity and a set of customs, not the software and templates used to do it.

I can testify to that myself. Much of what I know about “weblogging” I learned when our technology was mimeographs, Selectric typewriters, and postage stamps. Walt Willis and Bob Shaw put it better, in a work that’s still surprisingly applicable: The Enchanted Duplicator, whatever its make, model, and condition, is the one with the trufan at the handle.

Onward, then, to those other 36 weblogs, online journals, and miscellaneous electronic perzines. My categories are about to get very arbitrary indeed.

4. Spaces.msn.com: bringing self-expression to sensitive students worldwide

Nearly a fifth of the total, a dozen weblogs in all—or at any rate I think they’re weblogs—are located at spaces.msn.com, which must be making it cheap and easy to get on. I can’t make out most of their names, or the titles of their weblogs, but most of them give their location:
(If someone wants to tell me how to make the Chinese and Japanese names display properly, I’ll be grateful.)

I’m sure there must be spaces.msn.com members who are in their thirties or even forties, the majority of these webloggers are fairly young. It’s nice that they have a place of their own they can go to.

5. Non-spaces.msn.com weblogs in languages in which I am not fluent:

Here’s what I can tell: Hessamblog’s blog is in Farsi. It’s one of the many Iranian weblogs hosted at Persianblog.com “Antin It�-Bloggi” is Finnish. “Coredump” is a bunch of French UNIX/Linux/BSD types. The author of “Ciencia Rabia” lives in Chile. He’s very upset about desertification, and has a poor opinion of Greenpeace. “Franchement!” Is Francophone Quebeçois. “Antidig” is written by Erkin G�ren, a Turk who’s into deviant art. “Serializer” is by Henrik Erlandsson, in Stockolm. And “diario de wendy” is in Spanish, but all I can tell is that Wendy’s probably in Europe.

7. Anglophone blogs-for-the-sake-of-blogging:

Fourteen weblogs, between a fourth and a fifth of the total. Naturally, since this is the category I’d fall in, I can see all kinds of fine distinctions and subcategories within the list. And, since I can, I won’t. Look ‘em up yourself. You read English.
Okay, a few notes: “The Top 100 Oasis Songs” is a maniacal Oasis fan counting down the days to some major concert, one song per day. The “Ask Water” weblog seems real enough, but for some reason I’m not sure the blogger is. And I’m pretty sure I’m not in the demographic for glennandangie.com. I suspect that the people who are all know each other.

Wheel of Morality, turn turn turn:

So, there’s the lot of them. What do I conclude?

— Automated intelligence is stupid.

— Google Ads ought to be more discriminating about its ad placement.

— As noted earlier, weblogging is an activity and a set of customs, not the software and templates used to do it.

— Weblogging as currently constituted may or may not prove to be an enduring literary form, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the weblog template—episodic, open-ended, easily modified to have sidebars and text jumps and comments and embedded mini-blogs, imposing no relationship on it elements beyond chronological order—outlives everything else we’ve done. When people talk about innovation on the internet, all too often it’s about, say, some ditzy proprietary e-business software nobody’ll remember a few years from now. Inventing a new documentary form is a far rarer thing.

— We don’t have to read all the weblogs all the time—who could?—but as long as they exist, those parts of the world they illuminate can’t be invisible to the rest of the world. Hardworking teenagers in China, beleaguered housewives in Iraq, avant-garde art students in Turkey—they’re all real to us.

— If there’s an overall message to weblogging—not that there has to be one, but still, if there is—it’s HELLO WORLD.

Addendum: Jim Macdonald tells me that Wendy of “diario de wendy” had a fight last night with her mother over her clothing, and over the Catalan slang that she and her friends use. Her mother is of the opinion that as Spaniards they should only use Spanish. Jim also says that “Ciencia Rabia” means (approximately) “The Ass of Science,” or possibly “Science, My Ass,” rabia being a slang term for buttocks.

Feel enlightened now? I sure do. Thanks, Jim.

Bound to happen
Posted by Teresa at 09:08 AM * 29 comments

Patrick and I continue to settle in and adjust to our newly conjoined weblog. This morning he phoned and asked whether there was some polite, non-hurtful way I could get my readers to stop posting red-flag messages when they notice we’ve been hit with comment spam.

“Godalmighty no,” I said. “They’re my first line of defense. I’ve been encouraging them to do that all along.”

(Comment spam attacks and defenses are constantly mutating. It’s essential to have tools like MT Blacklist to automate established responses to established attack modes, but you guys can spot the stuff faster and more accurately than any computer on the planet.)

“It doubles my work,” Patrick said. “I have to use one system to get rid of the comment spam, and another system to delete the messages pointing it out.”

“You’ve been deleting their messages? I’d been wondering why I hadn’t seen those lately,” I said, in mild consternation. “Deleting them deprives the readers of their just glory for spotting the spam.”

“Yes—but once the spam has been deleted, they can sound like snarky comebacks to earlier comments.”

Okay, he’s got a point.

So here’s the deal: when you flag comment spam, can you phrase it in a way that’ll make it clear that that’s what you were responding to, once the comment spam itself has disappeared?

Thanks. Much appreciated, as always.

There’s glory for you
Posted by Teresa at 08:04 AM * 75 comments

The New York Times reports on the just-ended BookExpoAmerica. It’s a classic piece of business as usual being reported as though it were news:

There wasn’t so much buzz as buzzing at this year’s BookExpo America. Editors pushing their titles at the book industry trade show’s Buzz Forum on Thursday at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Manhattan outdid each other with hyperbole.
Well, yeah. That’s what the BEA is for. This isn’t information trying to be free; it’s a rampant swarming flood of information-about-information-about-information that can overwhelm the unwary. More amusingly:
On Friday afternoon, four young publicists from Tor Books were spotted in a corner trying to get one of them, Melissa Broder, into an 8-foot-tall hot-dog costume; it did have an air pump so the wearer could breathe. They were promoting “Invasion of the Road Weenies” (Starscape/Tor Books) by David Lubar. Finally, they zipped Ms. Broder up. Fiona Lee took her hand, or paw, or whatever, and led her across the convention floor. “Would you like your photo taken with a giant weenie?” Ms. Lee asked, over and over again.
They shoot, they score! Way to go, guys.

Again, that’s business as usual. Somewhere in my papers I have, thanks to publicist Susan Roegge of Avon Books during one long-ago ABA, a Polaroid photo of me standing next to Fabio. It was the exact same deal: “Would you like your photo taken with Fabio?” (Honest, I was just trying to get close enough to see whether he resolved into color-separation dots.)

Fabio, giant weenie—what’s the diff?

Addenda: Fiona Lee, in the comment thread, says:
Never in my entire life did Melissa and I think we would be mentioned in the New York Times for this of all things. There is a photo here at the BEA blog.
The caption at the BEA site says “Road Weenie invades BEA, with publicists Fiona Lee, Melissa Broder and David Moench. INVASION OF THE ROAD WEENIES by David Lubar comes out from Starscape in September 2005.” Since Melissa Broder’s in the photo, I think that must be Jodi Rosoff in the weenie.

Kathryn Cramer has more weenie photos.

June 05, 2005
Angels and dinosaurs
Posted by Patrick at 07:10 AM * 36 comments

Via Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon: the tale of how flood-maddened dinosaurs, egged on by fallen angels, attacked Noah’s Ark. In comic-book sequential art form.

A single inset provides the flavor:

Note: The fossil remains of numerous dinosaurs have been found with their heads arched upwards, as if in their death throes they were straining to keep their heads above water!

And they say there are no new ideas in the entertainment industry.

June 01, 2005
No ideas but in pieces
Posted by Patrick at 10:31 AM * 155 comments

David Moles and his cronies know how to put together a literary movement. Moles originally asked:

When, exactly, did “slipstream” stop meaning
a kind of writing which simply makes you feel very strange; the way that living in the late twentieth century makes you feel, if you are a person of a certain sensibility [Bruce Sterling, Catscan 5]
and start meaning stories that
feel a bit like magical realism…[that] make the familiar strange—by taking a familiar context and disturbing it with SFnal / fantastical intrusions [Rich Horton, quoted in Asimov’s]
?

‘Cause that seems to be what it means now. And it’s not cutting it for me.

Wrote Meghan McCarron:
Slipstream, ultimately, is just a wussy term. We should be drawing names less from wishy-washy words (slip, stream) and more from monster trucks (krusher, inferno).
Thus, (excerpts from) Notes Toward an Infernokrusher Manifesto:
Explosion is the new transgression. Demolition is the new deconstruction.
[—Benjamin Rosenbaum]

More than the death of the Reader, Infernokrusher prizes the sudden, violent dismemberment of the Reader

Infernokrusher fiction explodes stagnant genre conventions, e.g., that its not okay to have all your characters run over by a monster truck in what would seem to be the middle of the story

While other attitudes to art yearn to communicate truths, to move people, to challenge, or to entertain, infernokrusher art wants to blow stuff up

Redefinitions, subgenres, philosophemes:

slipstream -> proto-infernokrusher fiction
slipstream : infernokrusher :: uniformitarianism : catastrophism
Elemental truth in infernokrusher fiction: Nature crushes stuff too
Religious truth in infernokrusher fiction: God likes to blow stuff up

Deviations and faux-infernokrusher tropes:

infernoes/krushing only as metaphor
infernoes/krushing as resolution rather than violent irruption—trappings, but lacks sensibility

The first Infernokrusher poem:

I blew up the plums
that were in the icebox
and which you were probably saving for breakfast
forgive me
I like fire
[—Dora Goss]

Adds one “Celia”:
Admittedly I am not an innovator or even an early adopter here, but solidly in the consumer realm, but I was under the impression that infernokrush is intended to replace slipstream (and by replace, I of course mean crush into very small pieces). Furthermore, it really goes without saying, though that’s not going to stop me, that by its very nature infernokrush is interstitial, since it’s all about reducing the interstices into very small parts.
It’s good to see the young continuing the great work of literature.

“If you go dark, the world goes dark.”
Posted by Patrick at 09:54 AM *

Thomas Friedman, much abused on this weblog, has a good column in this morning’s Times, asking what we’re becoming and what we’ve become.

I worry that 20 years from now some eighth grader will be doing her National History Day project on how America’s reaction to 9/11 unintentionally led to an erosion of core elements of American identity. What sparks such dark thoughts on a trip from London to New Delhi?

In part it is the awful barriers that now surround the U.S. Embassy in London on Grosvenor Square. “They have these cages all around the embassy now, and these huge concrete blocks, and the whole message is: ‘Go away!’” said Kate Jones, a British literary agent who often walks by there. “That is how people think of America now, and it’s a really sad thing because that is not your country.” […]

In New Delhi, the Indian writer Gurcharan Das remarked to me that with each visit to the U.S. lately, he has been forced by border officials to explain why he is coming to America. They “make you feel so unwanted now,” said Mr. Das. America was a country “that was always reinventing itself,” he added, because it was a country that always welcomed “all kinds of oddballs” and had “this wonderful spirit of openness.” American openness has always been an inspiration for the whole world, he concluded. “If you go dark, the world goes dark.”

It’s easy to nitpick this sort of thing; a single fortress-like embassy, or a single increase in border-official scrutiny, doesn’t add up to a sea change in who we are. But even Friedman, normally an enthusiast for America, markets, capitalism, and the whole History Will Work Out For The Best worldview, can sense how all the little changes are adding up. As a constant world traveller, he can see how much the rest of the world’s attitude toward America has darkened.

What most Americans don’t yet get is that this isn’t the kind of overseas anti-Americanism they’ve seen on TV all their lives, angry slogans shouted by students, or radicals, or ethnic groups that happen to have had the misfortune to be on the wrong side of some American priority or other. Rather, the people Friedman’s citing are the educated, professional, middle-class types who, for generations now, have been benignly disposed to us; whose basic pro-Americanism has survived Vietnam, Nixon, our Latin American shenanigans, and worse. We’re losing those people. This is, quite literally, epochal. It’s how eras end.

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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.