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August 31, 2005
So that’s where the spike in traffic was coming from
Posted by Patrick at 10:05 PM * 10 comments

Welcome, Spiegel Online readers—and hello also to KPLC Channel 7, the NBC affiliate in Lake Charles/Lafayette, LA, which kindly linked to us from its Katrina Resource Page.

There’ve been lots of discussion of the storm and subsequent events here over the last few days, so don’t skip our comment sections, which feature many cogent observations by folks who know more than we do.

Our main ongoing collection of disaster-related links and resources is here. Our comment threads also contain quite a few links that haven’t yet been incorporated into the list.

Another check-in site
Posted by Teresa at 05:10 PM * 4 comments

People have been using the craigslist>New Orleans>lost & found page as an improvised check-in site, posting messages from people who are trying to find their New Orleans relatives, and from New Orleans relatives who are trying to be found.

Emergency preparedness redux
Posted by Teresa at 02:19 PM * 42 comments

I think this makes the third time I’ve linked to Jim Macdonald’s jump kits page.

A jump kit, also called a go bag, is an emergency kit you leave next to the front door so you can grab it on the way out without breaking stride. You should have one, because, hey, you never know. I’ve seen interviews with Hurricane Katrina victims who were sitting on their roofs barefoot because the water came up so fast that they didn’t have time to grab their shoes.

If you’re interested in Making Light’s past discussions of these and other related topics, see Real emergency preparedness, from November 2004, and Tips for an apocalypse, from July of this year.

Coming at the problem from another angle, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) has a website about putting together flood buckets, health kits, and other special-purpose emergency packs to be sent to disaster victims.

Why everyone didn’t leave
Posted by Patrick at 02:07 PM *

This eye-opening rant by talented Southern writer Cherie Priest on what it’s like to have no money and no options, and no place to go, should be required reading for tsk-tsking newsreaders who’ve never missed a meal in their lives.

Also, an addendum here:

It was mentioned in the comments of that particular entry that the locals shown on the news tended to be the blustery type—“Evacuation be damned! I’m going to stick it out!” It’s easy to put these people on TV, because they make for good soundbytes—and they make it easier for the masses to care less when they get killed. Why, they practically asked for it! Darwin’s system is at work, and those too stupid to escape got what was coming to ‘em.

But the truth is this: people with no resources and no possibility of evacuation would rather look stubborn and angry than helpless and trapped. There is strength in the appearance of willfullness, and in obstinate defiance of authority. It saves face to say, “Screw you all! I don’t want to leave and you can’t make me!” rather than to admit the truth, which is that they couldn’t go even if they wanted to.

Also, in the comments to the first post, the astonishing news that they closed the Greyhound station on Saturday. Words fail.

Now, of course:

The governor of Louisiana says everyone needs to leave New Orleans due to flooding from Hurricane Katrina. “We’ve sent buses in. We will be either loading them by boat, helicopter, anything that is necessary,” Gov. Kathleen Blanco said.

With all due sympathy for the governor, it’s hard to avoid wondering why the heroic measures couldn’t have been taken before the storm, rather than after. Oh, wait, I know! If we’d had a plan to evacuate the tens of thousands of New Orleans residents who didn’t own cars, someone might have gotten something for free that they didn’t deserve. Which, in questions of American public policy, is always and forever the most important concern.

IceRocket
Posted by Teresa at 01:17 PM * 16 comments

Remember all those useful things Technorati used to do? IceRocket does almost all of them, plus other stuff besides—and quickly, too.

Gulf Coast status report
Posted by Teresa at 11:44 AM * 52 comments

New Orleans is being abandoned for the time being, by decree of the governor. The whole city’s flooded, and in places the water is twenty feet deep. Survivors in the city’s shelters are going to have to be relocated. Hell, survivors everywhere in the city are going to have to be relocated.

The city has no power, no clean water, no transport system, and can barely keep track of what’s happening. Everything’s been breaking down.

Example: Charity Hospital, backbone of New Orleans’ medical care since the mid-19th C., and the city’s only level-one trauma center, had already moved their ER to the second floor as of Monday afternoon, when the mayor declared them effectively inoperative because they didn’t even have the resources to treat a gunshot wound. They were shut down totally on Tuesday, by which time the complex had no land-based access.

Many people have been trapped by rising water. Available rescuers aren’t sufficient to the need. Remember the tsunami in the Indian Ocean? The storm surge in Biloxi and Gulfport was higher, in places going six miles inland.

Unofficial reports keep turning up that suggest a death toll that’s one or two orders of magnitude beyond what’s being reported in the news.

I’m not seeing nearly enough news reports out of smaller settlements and semi-rural areas.

Go here for links to sites with relevant information.

Whoops, nearly forgot: George Bush, busy taking the longest vacation in the history of the office, cut it short by two whole days in order to go back to Washington and make solemn statements on TV about the Gulf Coast catastrophe. Sorry if I sound cynical about that; I’m a New Yorker. Watch for George to turn up in NOLA for photo shoots once they’ve got the situation on the ground sufficiently stabilized for him to make an appearance there in the style to which he’s accustomed.

Open thread 48
Posted by Teresa at 08:11 AM *

An open thread is an open thread is an open thread.

Meanwhile, if you’re looking for info on Katrina and its aftermath, click through to our accumulating collection here.

August 30, 2005
Yahoo News photos
Posted by Teresa at 08:09 PM *

Jim Macdonald started it. He said, in AIM:

White people find things. Black people loot things.
This was literally just as Patrick was about to post:
Yahoo News photos:

Photo number one: “Two residents wade through chest-deep water after finding bread and soda from a local grocery store”.

Photo number two: “A young man walks through chest deep flood water after looting a grocery store”.

Two guesses as to the relative melanin levels of “two residents” and “a young man”.

Remember, white people “find” things; black people “loot”.

(Via pecunium.)

I was about to post my own piece. While the three of us were sorting all this out, a further story turned up:
Cops Looting New Orleans.
I hadn’t yet seen the photo of the lighter-skinned couple making their way through the water. My own piece went like this:
“Looting” in New Orleans:

I keep hearing on the news about looting in New Orleans. But what I’m seeing—everybody has digital cameras these days, especially reporters—are pictures of people slogging through filthy water with stashes of food, diapers, bottled beverages, etc.

The picture I’ve seen most often is a kid in his teens, up to his chest in black muddy water, trying to carry away a not-very-substantial load of black-bagged groceries plus (I believe) some cans of soda.

First, I believe it was St. Thomas Aquinas who said that if a man’s family is going hungry, it’s no sin for him to steal a loaf of bread.

Second, anything salvageable the kid finds in a grocery store is something that won’t have to be cleaned up later. Besides, where’s the store where he can make legitimate purchases?

Third, yes, I absolutely agree that looting has to be suppressed. Some people will loot any time they think they can get away with it. Others will loot if they see those first people getting away with it. It’s a behavior that’s guaranteed to snowball (which is why I still say we were at fault for allowing the large-scale looting of Iraq to get started and perpetuate itself, right after the first wave of the invasion). Civil order is important.

Fourth, I have yet to hear one mention, one murmur of a hurricane evacuation plan, that didn’t consist of “everybody gets in their cars and drives somewhere else.” This, in a city which was guaranteed to sooner or later need evacuating, and which had something on the order of 100,000 citizens who didn’t drive cars.

New Orleans kept its light rail system during that period when other cities were going over to an all-highway system. It has streetcars. It’s a walkable city. That’s a mercy to the poor: you can live a poor but decent life, get to your job, do your shopping, without having to support a car. Until, of course, the day comes when any prudent person would get out of town.

I heard the city officials, before the storm hit, explaining that the Superdome would be a shelter for people with medical problems, people with special needs, who weren’t prepared to evacuate the city. Malarkey. It was, as they knew all along, the first last and only refuge for tens of thousands of New Orleans citizens who had no way to leave the city.

Not all of them are in the Superdome, or the other refugee centers; but no matter where they are, the majority of New Orleans’ beleaguered and flooded-out residents who’ve remained are the city’s poor.

That’s not looting. That’s plain old survival.

While I was intercollating posts at near-lightspeed, Making Light regular Adamsj was posting a comment about that same police looting story, in the comment thread following Then again—, under the heading, “It must be legal,” she said. “The police are here taking stuff, too.”

No Borg jokes, now. We’re just all being simultaneously perceptive.

Addendum: Here’s a photo with another great caption from the Associated Press:

As one person looks through their shopping bag, left, another jumps through a broken window, while leaving a convenience store on the I-10 service road south, in Metairie, La., Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2005, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

The store is dark and deserted. The “shopper” and his buddy have entered and left it via a huge hole smashed in the store’s front window. What’s happening in this photo is more obviously looting than any of the photos I’ve seen of New Orleans citizens toting their plastic bags of food through the flood waters. Yet AP is calling this activity “shopping”—perhaps, because the young man with the plastic bag is patently white.

Further addendum:

Xeni Jardin at BoingBoing quotes Ned Sublette:

The poorest 20% (you can argue with the number—10%? 18%? no one knows) of the city was left behind to drown. This was the plan. Forget the sanctimonious bullshit about the bullheaded people who wouldn’t leave. The evacuation plan was strictly laissez-faire. It depended on privately owned vehicles, and on having ready cash to fund an evacuation. The planners knew full well that the poor, who in new orleans are overwhelmingly black, wouldn’t be able to get out. The resources—meaning, the political will—weren’t there to get them out.

Further along in her post, she quotes Ned Sublette quoting from an email attributed to a relief worker in New Orleans, describing conditions there. You might want to have a look at it.

Of one mind
Posted by Teresa at 07:57 PM * 1 comments

It was bound to happen sooner or later, but I didn’t expect it quite this soon: Jim Macdonald, Patrick, and myself, all discovering via conversation in Instant Message that we were about to post exactly the same sentiments.

We’re sorting it out. Watch this space.

Katrina info
Posted by Teresa at 01:33 PM * 41 comments

Scroll down or click through to Katrina for our accumulating collection of links to check-in pages, current info sources, and background articles.

(Note: This post—the one called “Katrina info”—has been moved up to its current position. You may have seen it before without seeing the posts immediately following it.)

Meanwhile, in non-Katrina news
Posted by Patrick at 01:16 PM * 15 comments

Via BoingBoing: gosh, this sort of thing will earn the US and, specifically, Hollywood lots and lots of friends worldwide:

Q. What does the Motion Picture Association (MPA) have in common with the pre-revolutionary colonial British?

A. They get to use general warrants.

General search warrants are part of what caused the American Revolution. Now it’s the legal tool of choice for the movie industry in its war against copyright infringement—or at least, the tool of choice in Delhi, India.

According to this press release from the international arm of the more familiar Motion Picture Association of America, the MPA “has obtained a general search and seizure warrants order covering the entire city. The order permits police to search any premises suspected of containing pirated products, and permits officers to open locked premises without delay.”

These kinds of warrants are ripe for abuse. That’s why they’re prohibited in this country under the Fourth Amendment, which was prompted by British abuses of power during colonial times. The MPA has the right to go after those suspected of infringement all around the globe, but it should be ashamed of using tactics that ignore basic civil liberties.

Of course, they’re only brown people. It’s not like their rights matter, or as if they hold grudges or anything.

Remember, dignity and fairness are for white people. In New Delhi, just as in Fallujah, you gotta go door to door and kick ass.

Images
Posted by Patrick at 08:52 AM * 27 comments

Footage from yesterday from a helicopter over New Orleans, with local commentary. Needless to say, the flooding is worse today.

Then again —
Posted by Patrick at 07:57 AM * 30 comments

— we may have breathed a sigh of relief for NO too soon:

A large section of the vital 17th Street Canal levee, where it connects to the brand new “hurricane proof” Old Hammond Highway bridge, gave way late Monday morning in Bucktown after Katrina’s fiercest winds were well north. The breach sent a churning sea of water from Lake Pontchartrain coursing across Lakeview and into Mid-City, Carrollton, Gentilly, City Park and neighborhoods farther south and east.

As night fell on a devastated region, the water was still rising in the city, and nobody was willing to predict when it would stop. […]

The effect of the breach was instantly devastating to residents who had survived the fiercest of Katrina’s winds and storm surge intact, only to be taken by surprise by the sudden deluge. And it added a vast swath of central New Orleans to those already flooded in eastern New Orleans, the Lower 9th Ward and St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes.

Beginning at midday, Lakeview residents watched in horror as the water began to rise, pushed through the levee breach by still-strong residual winds from Katrina. They struggled to elevate furniture and eventually found themselves forced to the refuge of second floors just when most in the neighborhood thought they had been spared.

“It would have been fine,” refugee Pat O’Brien said. “The eye passed over.” But his relief was short-lived. “It’s like what you see on TV and never thought would happen to us. We lost everything: cars, art, furniture, everything.” […]

“We were good until the canal busted,” Sontag said. “First there was water on the street, then the sidewalk, then water in the house.” […] In Lakeview, the scene was surreal. A woman yelled to reporters from a rooftop, asking them to call her father and tell him she was OK, although fleeing to the roof of a two-story home hardly seemed to qualify.

About 5 p.m., almost as if on cue, the battery power of all the house alarms in the neighborhood seemed to reach a critical level, and they all went off, making it sound as if the area was under an air-raid warning. Two men surviving on generator power in the Lake Terrace neighborhood near the Lake Pontchartrain levee still had a dry house, but they were watching the rising water in the yard nervously. They were planning to head out to retrieve a vast stash of beer, champagne and hard liquor they found washed onto the levee. As night fell, the sirens of house alarms finally fell silent, and the air filled with a different, deafening and unfamiliar sound: the extraordinary din of thousands of croaking frogs.

There seems to be some ambiguity in the national press about when the levee actually broke. CNN says it happened “overnight”. An AP report quoted in the New York Times says it “gave way Monday afternoon.” The local report quoted above says “late Monday morning.” One suspects a certain unfamiliarity with the way floods develop, plus of course the problem of getting up-to-the-second accurate news out of a place that’s in the process of undergoing a world-class catastrophe.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin confirmed the breach in a local TV interview. City fire officials said the break was about 200 feet long in the levee surrounding the 17th Street Canal.

“My heart is heavy tonight,” Nagin said in the interview on WWL-TV. “I don’t have any good news to share.

“The city of New Orleans is in a state of devastation. We probably have 80 percent of our city underwater. With some sections of our city, the water is as deep as 20 feet.”

Here’s a diagram that very crisply diagrams New Orleans’s extraordinary vulnerability. (This, linked to earlier by Teresa, features even more neighborhood-specific information.)

August 29, 2005
Apocalypse deferred; likely damage merely “incredible”
Posted by Patrick at 07:46 AM * 89 comments

From Dr. Jeff Masters:

Katrina is due south of the Mississippi-Louisiana border, and moving northward at 15 mph. On this course, the western edge of the eyewall will pass some 20 miles to the east of New Orleans, sparing that city a catastrophic hit. As the eye passes east of the city later this morning, north winds of about 100 mph will push waters from Lake Pontchartrain up to the top of the levee protecting the city, and possibly breach the levee and flood the city. This flooding is will not cause the kind of catastrophe that a direct hit by the right (east) eyewall would have, with its 140 mph winds and 15-20 foot storm surge. New Orleans will not suffer large loss of life from Katrina.

[…] Katrina is not hitting at maximum intensity and is sparing New Orleans a direct hit, and although the damage will be incredible, it could have been much, much worse.

Maybe there’ll be a New Orleans to go back to after all. We can hope.

Addendum, TNH:

We’re continuing to accumulate useful and interesting links in Katrina, next post down.

John Houghton, who does disaster relief work, comments:

The major Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster (VOADs) are:

American Red Cross - 1-800-HELP-NOW for donations.
Salvation Army
Southern Baptist Convention

The Red Cross federal charter requires us to respond to the human needs in disasters, and is responsible for the majority of Emergency Support Function (ESF) 6 Mass Care in the Federal Response Plan, and usually shoulders most of the cost themselves (we accepted money from the feds last fall (after much soul searching), and will probably accept it for Katrina). While both the Army and the SBC are “Religions with Agendas”, for this they are deserving of support, even though they have their own funding sources.

The Red Cross is going to need money the most—to buy food, rent trucks, pay for diesel fuel. And while this is certainly the biggest disaster at the moment, we also need to keep responding to our everyday disasters—household fires, tornados, etc. and that takes money.

The Salvation Army helps with feeding and sheltering, and the Southern Baptists have several big mobile kitchens that will be feeding the folks hot meals in the Gulf Coast for weeks. Never underestimate the power of a hot meal (especially since we’ll be starting with Heater Meals and MREs).

Call your Red Cross, see if they need help answering phones, or stuffing envelopes, or bookeeping. If your’re able to leave home for three weeks, they might even want to train and recruit you to work in the field for this (not a usual thing, but this isn’t a usual disaster).

Katrina
Posted by Teresa at 12:59 AM *

Check-in pages: type in a quick comment to let people know you’re okay, and where you are.

Jim Macdonald’s page at SFF Net.

Patrick Connors’ check-in page.

The Salvation Army Team Emergency Radio Network has a web form for submitting names and addresses of people for whom a health and welfare check is desired; it says on the web page, “Your inquiry will be sent to the disaster area, where SATERN personnel will attempt to locate the person or persons about whom you are inquiring.”

Romance Writers of America check-in page.

craigslist>New Orleans>lost & found has been pressed into use as a check-in page.

(Thank you, Debra Doyle, for the SATERN and RWA links.)

Who’s good right now:

The Times-Picayune was hanging in there like a champ, but the last story I saw from them was about how they were having to evacuate to another location. (Signs of stress: They had a typo in their lead.) Let’s hope they reappear.

I’m leaving the New Orleans webcams in the links list, mostly because my heart isn’t yet up to the task of deleting them, but I doubt any of them are operational.

My current favorite source for what’s going on in New Orleans itself is the NOLA View weblog, a.k.a. nola.com.

A local station, WWLTV, is continuing to update its website with local news reports, a text-only weblog, streaming video, and lots of pictures—if you can get to them.

For all the others feeling the brunt of Katrina, I can’t improve on the well-organized and constantly updated Wikipedia entry.

If you know of a good site, the comment thread’s right there.

Basic info and primary data:

Boing Boing and its readers have been collecting links to aerial and satellite images of the areas hit by Katrina.

Boing Boing has also been collecting reports of and links to phony Katrina aid scam websites. This was predictable; fraudulent victim-relief collection scams pop up like mushrooms any time there’s a major disaster.

NOAA/NWS’s National Hurricane Center website.

The National Weather Service Telecommunication Operations Center, the National Weather Service Forecast Office for New Orleans and Baton Rouge, and the NWS Nonprecipitation Warnings. Even the weather junkies amongst us have never seen the NWS use language like they’ve used tonight. It’s terrifying.

Wikipedia is doing a magnificent job of collecting and compiling information on Katrina.

New Orleans webcams. Some are down; others are still in operation.

More NOLA webcams.

Even more NOLA webcams. There’s some overlap from site to site.

Brian Robak has a spectacular collection of animated and still radar and satellite images.

A satellite image of New Orleans, for reference.

The concise New Orleans Hurricane Impact Study Area page, with assorted useful links, maps, and charts, including a shaded wireframe map of areas of New Orleans that are below sea level.

News compilers and knowledgeable watchers:

Jeff Masters’ extremely knowledgeable Weather Underground site.

Steve Gregory’s Weather Underground page.

Stormtrack: Frequent updates, bleakly humorous titles.

New Orleans Metroblog is collecting storm reports and substantial first-person accounts.

So is the NOLA View weblog.

MetaFilter is accumulating material as usual: much signal, much noise.

Insomnia is collecting storm reports at his Live Journal.

Background articles

Hurricane Risk for New Orleans: one of the two prescient articles everyone’s quoting.

Chris Mooney’s Thinking Big about Hurricanes: the other prescient and much-quoted article.

And another bit from Chris Mooney.

“Did New Orleans Catastrophe Have to Happen? ‘Times-Picayune’ Had Repeatedly Raised Federal Spending Issues” by Will Bunch, in Editor & Publisher. A very strong article which lays out Bush & Co.’s consistent policy of stripping funding from levee maintenance and hurricane preparedness in the Gulf Coast area in order to reallocate those funds to the Department of Homeland Security and the war in Iraq.

An old Making Light post about New Orleans’ vulnerability.

Popular Mechanics published an article on what could happen if New Orleans gets hit by a Cat. 5 hurricane. The article might have gotten more attention if it hadn’t been published 9/11/01.

Charlie Stross on The potential cost of Katrina, and its impact on the American economy.

Damage from Katrina stuns Troops in Iraq.

August 28, 2005
The Word Made Visible
Posted by John M. Ford at 02:32 PM * 64 comments

… and so Teresa, having seen the e-mail, said unto the scribe, “Shall we enter this into Making Light, that it may be known among people, and also that you will cease in the effort of doing the whole [of the]* thing yourself, and return unto the text that is under contract?”

The object of the game is to create the Table of Contents for the Graphic Bible,** an adaptation of the major bestseller with words, illustrations, and sound effects in specialized lettering. Because this is a conceptual book, the actual appearance of the stories left to the reader’s imagination, creators who are no longer among us are permitted; these should be designated by an asterisk.***

A couple of other rule-like objects:
— Feel free to “assign” a book already on the list. If we should get a complete coverage, we might select the best from any multiple entries and make the thing more widely available. (I can think of a couple of ways to get some cash for the CBLDF from this, but that’s a long way off. Allow it to inspire you, though.)
— If you want to combine some of the “serialized” books (e.g., I and II Kings) go right ahead.
— Commentary on your choices is allowed. I did it, after all.
— cf. last entry, commentary on other people’s choices is allowed, too. But you knew that.
— Slipping in creators who haven’t done comics is also allowed (same point as two up). After all, there’s an implied “yet” in the statement.
— There is no sixth rule. Or the other five, really.

For those who need a refresher on The Books of The Book (Haggai? The Epistle to the Chelmians?) here’s a link to an RSV with Apocrypha. If this version does not suit, in the Netiverse they made engines, invented by cunning geeks, to compare strings and score hits.

Selah, y’all.

*Translation Uncertain.
**”The Comic Bible” has ambiguous connotations. The author’s avatar as standup prophet might someday do “66 Books in 6.6 Minutes,” but stay not thine own breath.
***q.v. entry on the Book of Judges.

And off we go:

Genesis, Stan Lee (script) and Jack Kirby* (art)

Exodus, Alan Moore (script) and Kevin O’Neill (art)

Leviticus, Julie Schwartz* (script) and Curt Swan* (art)

Deuteronomy, Scott McCloud

Judges, Rene Goscinny* and Albert Uderzo [for the Gideon material, naturally]

Ruth, Jill Thompson

Second Book of Samuel, Neil Gaiman (script) and Michael Zulli (art) [This is the one where David commits an impeachable offense]

Esther, Delia Sherman and Ellen Kushner (script) and P. Craig Russell (art)

Job, Will Eisner* [I mean, who else?]

Psalms, divers hands (script), Yoshitake Amano (art)

Proverbs, Larry Gonick

Ecclesiastes, Rachel Pollack (script) and Jean “Moebius” Giraud (art)

Lamentations, Neal Adams

The Gospel of St. Mark, Frank Miller

The Gospel of St. John the Divine, Charles Schulz*

The Acts of the Apostles, Shelly Mayer* [uh…]

The Epistle to the Romans, Howard Cruse

The Epistle to the Ephesians, Eddie Campbell

The First Epistle to Timothy,Howard Chaykin

Jude, John Kovalic

The Book of Revelations, Clive Barker (script) and Bill Sienkewicz (art)

The Apocryphal Book of Tobit, J. M. deMatteis (script) and Steve Ditko (art)

And from tnh:
Jonah, Keith Giffen

Katrina: Not your usual weather disaster story
Posted by Teresa at 11:04 AM *

O the dreadful wind and rain—

From Dr. Jeff Masters’ excellent Weather Underground site:

Posted By: JeffMasters at 12:24 PM GMT on August 28, 2005 Updated: 12:36 PM GMT on August 28, 2005
Katrina is in the midst of a truly historic rapid deepening phase—the pressure has dropped 34 mb in the 11 hours ending at 7am EDT, and now stands at 908 mb. Katrina is now the sixth strongest hurricane ever measured in the Atlantic. At the rate Katrina is deepening, she could easily be the third or fourth most intense hurricane ever, later today.

He gives a list of some all-time biggies, then continues:

Katrina’s winds and storm surge Maximum sustained winds at flight level during the 7am Hurricane Hunter mission into Katrina were 153 knots, which translates to 160 mph at the surface, making Katrina a minimal Category 5 hurricane. The winds are likely to increase to “catch up” to the rapidly falling pressure, and could approach the all-time record of 190 mph set in Camille and Allen. Winds of this level will create maximum storm surge heights over 25 feet, and this storm surge will affect an area at least double the area wiped clean by Camille, which was roughly half the size of Katrina. Katrina has continued to expand in size, and is now a huge hurricane like Ivan. Damage will be very widespread and extreme if Katrina can maintain Category 5 strength at landfall.

They’re talking about this being the kind of storm that can reshape coastlines. Hurricane-force winds could be felt up to 150 miles inland. The Mayor of New Orleans has ordered a mandatory evacuation, and the governors of Louisiana and Mississippi have ordered that all the lanes on the interstates be switched to “outbound.” Best-case scenario for New Orleans still has the levees breaking and the city under fifteen feet of filthy water—and it doesn’t look like we’re going to be a best-case scenario. As of mid-afternoon, the storm’s stats are worse than Hurricane Camille’s—and while Camille was intense, it was also physically small. Katrina is huge.

Rose White (of Yarnivore), writing in the comments thread, reports that the National Weather Service is using language she’s never seen before. Neither have I. Click through on the link.

Major casualties a strong possibility: Walter Maestri, New Orleans’ Director of Emergency Management, is saying on TV that FEMA has modeled this scenario, with a Cat. 4 or Cat. 5 hurrican making a direct hit on metropolitan New Orleans, and that FEMA estimated 40,000-60,000 casualties.

There are tens of thousands of people in New Orleans who don’t own cars. The city kept its light rail system; that’s why it’s so charmingly walkable. I’m not seeing any news reports of non-automobile-based evacuation plans. The Army might have been able to help deal with this, but they’re not at home.

Something useful you might do: This would be a very good moment for people outside the Gulf Coast area to put up “Hi Mom, I’m okay” check-in pages. Here’s the rule: Collect names. Swap lists. Keep it simple. Bill Shunn put up a good one on 9/11. It allowed you to type in your name plus a one-line message. He expected it would mostly be the NYC SF community checking in there. By the time he had to shut it down, people all over the world were going to his site to try to find news of their missing loved ones.

I’ll add one suggestion to the general rule: if you put up a page, police and moderate your lists. Bill Shunn had jerks posting all kinds of garbage to his site. There weren’t a lot of them, but nobody needs to read that crap. Also, if you don’t delete vandal posts, you’ll get lots more of them—it’s like graffiti.

American RadioWorks’ prescient article, Hurricane Risk for New Orleans. Read it now before the site gets swamped.

Where’s the Louisiana National Guard while all this is going on? A lot of them are in Iraq. Overseas deployment of Reserves and National Guard units have stripped emergency-response resources all over the country. (For instance, small-town and rural police departments, volunteer fire departments, and ambulance crews have a big overlap with Reserves and the National Guard. More on that later.)

Here’s a post from Making Light, last year, on the subject of New Orleans’ vulnerability.

By the way, New York City is also vulnerable to hurricanes. Making Light is in a Zone C evacuation area, which means that in the event of a major hurricane making landfall south of the city, we’ll be flooded. That’s as opposed to the large swathes of the city that are Zone A evacuation areas. Zone C means “get out”; Zone A means “get out or die.”

The Air Force took its planes out of Elgin AFB in the Florida Panhandle, and the Navy sortied yesterday from its base at Pascagoula, Mississippi, because it’s a lot easier to ride out a hurricane at sea than to be battered against a hard coastline. (Jim Macdonald: “Storms at sea are great fun as long as you aren’t actively sinking.”) Gulfport, Biloxi, and Mobile are looking at a real bad day. That whole long strip of the Gulf Coast is battening down (again). Global warming: It’s not just a theory. More on that later, too.

Why newscasters will be fretting about the exact path of the storm: The worst hit from a hurricane comes from the right front quadrant of the storm—two o’clock and three o’clock on the dial. New Orleans is the most vulnerable point on the coast. Damage there will be worst if Katrina hits west of NO. It’ll still be horrendous if the storm hits east of New Orleans, but it won’t be quite as bad. On the other hand, if it hits on the east side, it’ll be harder on Biloxi, Gulfport, Mobile, etc.

Here’s an article by Chris Mooney—blogger, and author of The Republican War on Science, imminently available in bookstores, shipping from Amazon now—from last May, which describes what a slow-moving Category 4 or Category 5 hurricane would do to New Orleans:

Such a storm, plowing over the lake [Pontchartrain], could generate a 20-foot surge that would easily overwhelm the levees of New Orleans, which only protect against a hybrid Category 2 or Category 3 storm (with winds up to about 110 miles per hour and a storm surge up to 12 feet). Soon the geographical “bowl” of the Crescent City would fill up with the waters of the lake, leaving those unable to evacuate with little option but to cluster on rooftops—terrain they would have to share with hungry rats, fire ants, nutria, snakes, and perhaps alligators. The water itself would become a festering stew of sewage, gasoline, refinery chemicals, and debris. … A direct hit from a powerful hurricane on New Orleans could furnish perhaps the largest natural catastrophe ever experienced on U.S. soil. Some estimates suggest that well over 25,000 non-evacuees could die. Many more would be stranded, and successful evacuees would have nowhere to return to. Damages could run as high as $100 billion.

Here’s Chris Mooney’s weblog post from 7:45 this morning.

(Hmmm. I missed the name of the guy being interviewed right now on the Weather Channel. He’s saying the same things, almost word for word, that Chris Mooney said in that article last May.)

If I have additional material I’ll add it inside this post, so it’ll stay on top of the stack. I’ll try to incorporate stuff posted to the comment thread, but I may not be able to keep up, so check it out.

Other sources and places:

Pimp Junta, New Orleans is about to be destroyed. PJ referred me to:

Stormtrack (subtitle: Oh crap, not again), where the current lead story is Bigger than Camille, time to pray. 3:45 p.m.: Subsequent posts include “Hurricane Katrina expected to devastate New Orleans,” “Urgent Weather Message from NWS New Orleans,” and “Katrina continues to strengthen.”

Also via PJ, some New Orleans webcams.

Port of New Orleans fact page.

NOLA satellite map.

Newsbits

The French Quarter has shut down and is boarding up.

Authorities have announced voluntary evacuations in zones 1 & 2 in the Mobile area, where they’re saying there’s a possibility of a twenty-foot storm surge.

Delta, United, and US Airways are shutting down outbound service.

The U.S.S. Alabama is in the path of the storm. Director Bill Tuttle says employee and their immediate families are being allowed to hole up in the ship for the duration, and notes that she “moved slightly” during Hurricane Camille. Roll, Alabama, roll…

2:00 p.m.: Storm’s still getting stronger. Windspeed increasing, 906 millibars, track still heading for New Orleans. 2:40 p.m.: 902mb, wind 184 m.p.h., eye’s 29 miles across. Millibars: lower is badder. Comparisons: Camille was 909mb when it came ashore; Andrew was 922mb. This is a terrifying storm. 3:00 p.m.: The Weather Channel is flatly saying, “This is going to be catastrophic.” Their weather-junkie reporters are saying they’re not going to be staying. 3:07 p.m.: CNN is reporting tornadoes inside the hurricane. 3:50 p.m.: Mayor Billy Duke of Gulf Shores, AL is describing the storm surge in terms of “tsunami-like conditions.”

August 26, 2005
Then again
Posted by Patrick at 08:34 AM * 32 comments

Why bother with this when this sums it up so much better?

August 25, 2005
Preach it, brother
Posted by Patrick at 01:21 PM *

Tim Clare, “Everyone Does Not Have A Novel Inside Them”:

“The publishing world, frankly, is a cartel,” opined G. P. Taylor, children’s author and erstwhile self-publisher, “you can only get in there if you’re in the know…I and J. K. Rowling were discovered by accident. Most people are in the club, and it’s a mafia.”

[…F]or a grand cosmic fluke, J. K. Rowling’s “discovery” seems suspiciously stage-managed. Upon finishing her first Harry Potter novel, The Philosopher’s Stone, she sent the first three chapters to an agent, who turned them down. She sent them to a second agent, who asked to see the rest of the manuscript. A year later the agent secured a publishing contract. Behind the scenes there may have been smoke-filled pool halls, gunpoint negotiations and the ritual amputation of little fingers, but on the surface it seems rather genteel for the mob.

The truth is a disproportionate number of publishers are wide-eyed idealists with a frightening propensity for chucking good money after bad. As much as agents and editors may feign a cool professional insouciance, most dream of stumbling across The Next Big Thing and securing their place in industry history. While veteran authors languish in the mid-list doldrums, jammy first-timers rake in vast advances on the promise of long and lucrative careers, which frequently fail to materialise. Publishers act with one eye on posterity, leaving their accountants with ulcers the size of kumquats, and the UK book market saturated with newcomers brawling over a limited readership.

Despite this, there will always be luminaries such as G. P. Taylor who are happy to curry favour with the disaffected and untalented. Enthusiastically promoting a competition with the aim of finding “the next J. K. Rowling”, Taylor made the bizarre claim that “for the first time ever, a publisher is going to offer someone totally unknown the chance to be published”. […T]he simple fact is that unknown authors are being taken on every day, and frankly, publishers and established authors suffer because of it. The British publishing industry is crying out for a high-profile hothead to disabuse thousands of needy, bumbling timewasters of the notion that nascent masterpieces stir within their loins.

[…] If anything, the British publishing industry is too open to new writers at the expense of skilled stalwarts. […] Instead of promoting an attitude of “everyone has won and all shall have prizes”, the industry needs to remind people that brilliant writing is very, very hard, that there are many dragons to be fought on the way to publication, and that perishing in the battle is no shame.

The above was read aloud to a small band of Tor editors who responded with unruly outbursts of cheering. Mind you, this was on a day when I’d bought a first novel just two hours before, and a good book it is, too. Which simply demonstrates that Clare has hold of a Higher Truth, which, like many Higher Truths, is easily refuted and yet persists…

August 23, 2005
Political spam
Posted by Teresa at 06:27 PM *

I feel like I’m being slowly driven crazy by unsolicited and unwanted political junkmail. Most of it is sent on behalf of causes I support, so I don’t want to label it as outright spam and tell Gmail we hates it we hates it forever, but I’m increasingly tempted to do so as the volume increases.

Thing is, I’m a brain-damage case who copes spectacularly well (if I do say so myself) with all kinds of stuff; but I’m probably slower than you are at tasks like sorting out plain spam from fellow-traveler political spam from real mail. The sheer amount of clutter generated by well-meaning lefty junk mail is getting to be a burden.

I find myself thinking, “If they’re really the good guys like they say they are, how come they send out spam?”

August 22, 2005
We Get Letters
Posted by Patrick at 10:56 PM *

From: REAL Republican
To: pnh@panix.com
Date: Aug 22, 2005 10:40 PM
Subject: ACLU Propoganda Hits TV- Anti-ACLU Movement Gains Steam

Making Light Staff,

In an effort to bring publicity to a movement that needs funding, support, and more members, I am bringing to you good news. The Stop the ACLU movement is gaining steam, with its major sites, www.stoptheaclu.org and www.stoptheaclu.com getting major recognition. Also, Stop the ACLU runs a major blog network, of which many blogs are a part of. I am attempting to contact as many major bloggers as possible to get the word out about one of the most recent developments on the Stop the ACLU Front, my Call to Action against a new ACLU TV series. My blog, REAL Teen, did a post calling for a massive email campaign to voice concerns over this new series, and we are making great strides to get this campaign up and running. My first post is at http://www.libertynewsforum.com/real/index.php/?p=81 and my update on the issue is at http://www.libertynewsforum.com/real/index.php/?p=92. We hope that you can either publish something in support of the Stop the ACLU movement on your site, or at least send us a response with your official comments on the ACLU and the Stop the ACLU movement. In light of reason developments, like the TV Series, which will attack the Patriot Act, the same act defending us against terror, in its first episode, we need to move as quickly as possible. I hope for a response as soon as possible.

Sincerely,
Justin (REAL Teen)

August 20, 2005
Introduction to New Magics
Posted by Teresa at 11:32 AM *

In the discussion following Story for Beginners, I’ve been finding myself wanting to repeat things I said in the introduction to Patrick’s New Magics: An Anthology of Today’s Fantasy (Tor, 2004, ISBN 0-765-30015-X).

Since New Magics was being sold into the upper-YA market as well as to the general audience, its introduction struck me as a good opportunity to push various agendas concerning the ways fantasy is taught and read. I’m rather fond of it as an essay in its own right. Here goes:
Introduction

It’s hard to come up with a good definition of fantasy literature. It’s easy to come up with a definition that includes fantasy, but most such definitions also take in a lot of other kinds of storytelling. For instance, it has been observed that, in a sense, all fiction is fantasy. This is true, but it isn’t useful.

Here’s another: fantasy is tales of things that never were and never could be. That hardly narrows things down at all. Along with fantasy, it scoops up folktales, fairy tales, allegories, utopias, and loosely imagined historical novels. Admittedly, many of those do have a strong family resemblance to fantasy literature. Unfortunately, the definition also takes in 95% of the dramas ever written, 96% of the political memoirs, 97% of the spy novels, 98% of the real-estate brochures, 99% of the comics, 99.5% of the operas, and a great many bad novels that were supposed to be realistic, only their authors got things wrong.

Another definition says that fantasy is tales of marvels and wonders. This, too, has some truth in it. But the unintended fish caught in that particular net include some religious literature, “Ripley’s Believe It or Not!”, articles in Popular Mechanics magazines, and travel writers from Marco Polo to Richard Halliburton.

Et cetera and so forth. We could go on this way for a long time, trying one definition after another; and at the end, all we’d know is that no definition of fantasy is perfect. We can skip that. If you already know that a road is a dead end, you don’t have to drive all the way to the end of it. Instead, we can turn around and look at how fantasy works.

***
There’s a rule for what makes good fantasy work, and it’s as strange as any riddle ever posed in a fairy tale: In fantasy, you can do anything; and therefore, the one thing you must not do is “just anything.” Why? Because in a story where anything can happen and anything can be true, nothing matters. You have no reason to care what happens. It’s all arbitrary, and arbitrary isn’t interesting.

Say there’s a path through a forest, and a knight comes riding along. You, being the reader, are standing by the side of that path, maybe floating a few feet in the air so you can see better. You’re invisible, as readers always are. And you can hear the hoofbeats of the horse on the path as the knight approaches.

He comes into view. The horse is tall. The knight is also tall, and wears armor. He carries a shield, painted red, that has a shining gold star on it. This is good. You watch the knight to see what will happen next.

But wait! Did I mention that he wears a heavily embroidered surcote over his armor? He does. It’s embroidered all around with a dozen different knightly and heraldic emblems, one for each month in the year; and each symbolizes a different virtue. His horse isn’t just any horse; it’s a noble and fiery steed, with a curving neck, a flowing mane and tail, and an expressive eye that shows an almost human intelligence. The horse’s trappings—that’s the harness, the saddle, and all the bits of draped cloth—are made of fairest samite, richly ornamented, with deeply cut and scalloped edges; and from each pointy bit on the scalloping there hangs a tiny silver bell. Furthermore, it’s a magic horse. And there’s a noble hawk perched on the knight’s shoulder, and it’s a magic hawk. And the knight is magic too; in fact, he’s an elf from the planet Vulcan. And of course the knight’s sword is magic, and has twelve remarkable jewels set in its handle, each with a different magical power—

I’ll bet you’re starting to roll your eyes. Somewhere in there it will have occurred to you that it’s just as easy to type “magic horse” as “horse,” and no more expensive to write “fairest samite” than “rough woolen fabric.” It stopped being a story, and turned into nothing but words. Once you notice that the words are arbitrary, you stop believing and cease to care. This is the curse of the arbitrary, the unconsidered, the too-easily-had: it means nothing.

But say the man who comes riding down the path is just a tall knight on a tall horse. Winter has set in. The afternoon’s already growing dark, and the forest is deep and wild. The knight should be at home, far from here, at the court of Camelot. There it’s warm by the fire, and everyone he loves in this world will be bustling about, laughing and making old jokes, as they get ready for Christmas.

He should be there, but he isn’t, because a year ago an extraordinary thing happened. On Christmas Day, a strange knight—a huge man, green from head to toe, holding a green axe, wearing green armor—rode a green horse straight in through the door of King Arthur’s court at Camelot, and issued a challenge. (A challenge is a fancy way of saying “I dare you.”) The Green Knight dared the knights of the Round Table to come forward and strike him one blow with his own axe. Twelve months and a day later, he’ll return the blow.

Nobody wanted to do it. It was all too weird. But dares mean a lot to knights—it’s one of their rules—so finally King Arthur said he’d accept the challenge. At that point our knight—his name is Gawain, by the way—jumped up and said no, he’d do it. Gawain is one of the greatest knights of the Round Table, not that he’d mention it himself, and it’s only proper that he should be the one to take up the challenge.

The Green Knight gave him the axe and knelt down, baring his neck. Gawain took a deep breath, hefted the axe (it’s heavy), took one huge swing, and wham! He cut the Green Knight’s head clean off. The head went rolling and skittering across the floor like a bowling ball, bumping into the guests’ feet, getting blood all over everything. Then the Green Knight’s body stood up from where it was kneeling, walked over to the head, picked it up by the hair, and got back on the horse, holding his head up like a lantern. The head’s eyes opened. “See you in a year, Gawain,” he said, and rode away.

It’s been almost a year since then, getting close to Christmas. That’s why Gawain is off in the wilderness, looking for the Green Knight’s castle. He knows it wasn’t a fair challenge. He figures he’s going to die. But he’s Sir Gawain, most honorable of knights, and he said he’d do it; so here he is.

This is not a story in which “just anything” can happen. It’s a story in which a very few things can happen, and so far only one of them has been magical. By the time Gawain comes riding down that forest path, the story’s down to a handful of possible outcomes. Gawain may or may not find the castle. The Green Knight may or may not cut off his head. And Gawain may or may not continue to be the most honorable knight in the world, which for him is the really important part.

And how about us, the invisible readers, standing there watching him ride through the forest? It’s time for a test. If I’m right about how fantasy works, you’re going to feel a little bit ticked at me for not telling you how the story comes out. There are a lot of different ways a story can mean something to us. Caring how it comes out is one of them.

(I’m not going to tell you. Sorry about that. It’s a good story. You’ll have to read it for yourself someday.)

And a word here about what we mean when we talk about fantasy meaning something to the reader. What we don’t mean is one of those dumb worksheet study-question systems where the knight symbolizes courage, and the Green Knight’s challenge symbolizes the fine print at the bottom of contracts which you should always remember to read before signing, and the road symbolizes the writer’s subconscious, and the wilderness symbolizes the wilderness only not the one you’re thinking of, and the knight’s horse symbolizes the oppression of the working class. No. When everything in a story means a specific something else, and it means that something-else more than it means itself, what you have is allegory: a kind of writing almost no one does well. Allegory is frequently irritating, and seldom successful.

Fantasy can mean things in a lot of different ways. It doesn’t always have to be black and white, good vs. evil, fate of the world hangs in the balance, et cetera. Sometimes it’s just telling you something about how the world works, or making room in the understood universe for something that wasn’t there before.

And it doesn’t always take place in Europe during the Middle Ages. Check out the stories in this collection. Some of them take place in Appalachia during the Depression, or on the American frontier during the nineteenth century, or in New York City right now. Some are sad, some are funny. You’ll see.

We won’t tell you what to make of them. We know you can do that for yourself. Have a good time doing it.

—P&TNH, 2004
If you’re interested in New Magics itself, here’s the lineup: Neil Gaiman, Chivalry. Ellen Kushner, Charis. Susan Palwick, Jo’s Hair. Harry Turtledove, Not All Wolves. Debra Doyle and James D. Macdonald, Stealing God. Jane Yolen, Mama Gone. Charles de Lint, The Bone Woman. Andy Duncan, Liza and the Crazy Water Man. Sherwood Smith, Mom and Dad at the Home Front. Emma Bull, A Bird That Whistles. Ursula K. Le Guin, The Bones of the Earth. Orson Scott Card, Hatrack River.

It’s a good collection. I’d say the same no matter who edited it.

August 17, 2005
Everything you know is wrong
Posted by Patrick at 04:28 PM *

Evidently we’re not living in a standard spiral galaxy, but rather a barred spiral. This Explains Everything.

If I had a boat
Posted by Teresa at 02:33 PM * 177 comments

Recently, when my mother was going through some of my grandmother’s genealogical research papers (a large and ongoing task), she found a list Granny had compiled in the event that any of us conceived a desire to join one of the organizations of Mayflower descendants. As far as I know, none of us ever have—nor the Daughters of the American Revolution, nor the Colonial Dames, nor any of the other ancestor-worshipping cults—but Granny was a great one for anticipating possible need.

Mind, this is just the Allen side of the family, which lays claim to William Brewster, Stephen Hopkins, and Samuel Fuller. The Phelps/Bingham side is descended from Miles Standish and Priscilla Mullen. Patrick’s people came over on the Ark and the Dove, the papists.

Behold, the sacred ancestral tubers:
William Brewster Patience Brewster
Hannah Prence
Samuel Mayo
Hannah Mayo
Silvanus Hopkins
Elijah Hopkins
Deborah Hopkins
Clarinda Knapp
Charles Hopkins Allen
John Seymour Allen
Barbara Allen
Barbara Crandall
Barbara Nielsen
Teresa Nielsen Hayden

Stephen Hopkins
Giles Hopkins
Stephen Hopkins
Judah Hopkins
Silvanus Hopkins
(etc.)

Samuel Fuller
John Fuller
Joseph Fuller
Mindwell Fuller
Joanna Parish
Deborah Hopkins
(etc.)
We’ve also got a bunch that came over on the Speedwell, plus any quantity of other boats; which to my mind mostly demonstrates that the ones who tried to swim didn’t live to be recorded.

August 14, 2005
Also, I happen to have Marshall McLuhan right here
Posted by Patrick at 10:54 AM *

Another item much blogged elsewhere, but worth recording: Roger Ebert’s review of Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo.

According to a story by Larry Carroll of MTV News, Rob Schneider took offense when Patrick Goldstein of the Los Angeles Times listed this year’s Best Picture Nominees and wrote that they were “ignored, unloved and turned down flat by most of the same studios that…bankroll hundreds of sequels, including a follow-up to Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo, a film that was sadly overlooked at Oscar time because apparently nobody had the foresight to invent a category for Best Running Penis Joke Delivered by a Third-Rate Comic.”

Schneider retaliated by attacking Goldstein in full-page ads in Daily Variety and the Hollywood Reporter. In an open letter to Goldstein, Schneider wrote: “Well, Mr. Goldstein, I decided to do some research to find out what awards you have won. I went online and found that you have won nothing. Absolutely nothing. No journalistic awards of any kind…Maybe you didn’t win a Pulitzer Prize because they haven’t invented a category for Best Third-Rate, Unfunny Pompous Reporter Who’s Never Been Acknowledged by His Peers.”

Reading this, I was about to observe that Schneider can dish it out but he can’t take it. Then I found he’s not so good at dishing it out, either. I went online and found that Patrick Goldstein has won a National Headliner Award, a Los Angeles Press Club Award, a RockCritics.com award, and the Publicists’ Guild award for lifetime achievement.

Schneider was nominated for a 2000 Razzie Award for Worst Supporting Actor, but lost to Jar-Jar Binks.

But Schneider is correct, and Patrick Goldstein has not yet won a Pulitzer Prize. Therefore, Goldstein is not qualified to complain that Columbia financed Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo while passing on the opportunity to participate in Million Dollar Baby, Ray, The Aviator, Sideways and Finding Neverland. As chance would have it, I have won the Pulitzer Prize, and so I am qualified. Speaking in my official capacity as a Pulitzer Prize winner, Mr. Schneider, your movie sucks.

Speaking in my official capacity as a reader, I would not be surprised to hear that, at the moment that Roger Ebert typed that concluding statement into his word processor, he was bodily transported into Heaven, his work on Earth done. How can the rest of his life be anything but a pale anticlimax?

When the levee breaks
Posted by Patrick at 10:22 AM * 24 comments

If you read a lot of political blogs, you’ll have been hard-pressed not to run across links to these three recent articles, but if you don’t, you’ll find they provide a synoptic look at just how thoroughly we are, not to put too fine a point on it, screwed.

“Tort reform”
Posted by Patrick at 08:59 AM * 27 comments

Merv Grazinski set his Winnebago on cruise control, slid away from the wheel and went back to fix a cup of coffee.

You can guess what happened next: The rudderless, driverless Winnebago crashed.

Grazinski blamed the manufacturer for not warning against such a maneuver in the owner’s manual. He sued and won $1.75 million.

His jackpot would seem to erase any doubt that the legal system has lost its mind. Indeed, the Grazinski case has been cited often as evidence of the need to limit lawsuits and jury awards.

There’s just one problem: The story is a complete fabrication.

It is one of the more comical tales in an anthology of legal urban legends that have circulated widely on the Internet, regaling millions with examples of cluelessness and greed being richly rewarded by the courts. These fables have also been widely disseminated by columnists and pundits who, in their haste to expose the gullibility of juries, did not verify the stories and were taken in themselves.

Although the origins of the tales are unknown, some observers, including George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, say their wide acceptance has helped to rally public opinion behind business-led campaigns to overhaul the civil justice system by restricting some types of lawsuits and capping damage awards.

“I am astonished how successful these urban legends have been in influencing policy,” Turley said. “The people that created these stories did so with remarkable skill.”

Los Angeles Times, August 14, 2005

The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from [businessmen], ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never to be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention. It comes from an order of men, whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it.

—Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations (Book I, Chapter 11, Conclusion)

August 13, 2005
Fiction scientifique
Posted by Patrick at 12:25 PM * 10 comments

Paul McAuley: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen…

Kim Newman: Bon soir, mesdames et messieurs…

Paul: …and welcome to the 63rd annual Hugo Awards for Superior Achievement in the field of Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Kim: …et bienvenue a le soixante-troisieme Prix Hugo pour achèvement plus-plus-grande dans le champ de Fiction-Scientifique et Fantastique.

Paul: As you know, the Hugo Awards are named for the father of modern science fiction—that tireless self-promoter, prolific journalist, pioneering inventor of television and the steam-driven automatic pencil, and editor of the world’s first real F-S magazine: Victor Hugo.

Read the rest for the full script of McAuley and Newman’s mastering-of-ceremonies at the Best Hugo Awards Ceremony Ever…including Jules Verne’s Three Laws of Automata, the sad tale of Arthur C. Doyle and his Kirk of Spiritology, and the chain of orbital satellites that enforce today’s Pax Francais upon a grateful globe.

Open thread 47
Posted by Teresa at 10:46 AM *

Today’s forecast high: 99 F.

Story for beginners
Posted by Patrick at 09:23 AM * 403 comments

In a generally positive review of Kelly Link’s Magic for Beginners, New York Times reviewer Michael Knight complains that Link is “a hard writer to put your finger on”:

Take “Some Zombie Contingency Plans.” It’s about a recently released convict who drives around the suburbs looking for parties to crash because he’s lonely. There are zombies here, but are they real? The premise is fresh and the characters (the con, the girl whose party he crashes, her little brother who sleeps under the bed) are likable and Link puts a metafictional twist on the narrative voice (“This is a story about being lost in the woods,” she says), but the story doesn’t quite come together, and those zombies—are they supposed to be a metaphor?

Freshly back from Worldcon and full of the wine of skiffy goodness, SF writer Scott Westerfeld shoots flames from the top of his head:

Argh. Are those not of the Tribe really so dim-witted? Are our skiffy reading protocols really so hard to understand?

Allow me to explain, Mr. Non-sf-Reading Reviewer Man. Sure, zombies can “be a metaphor.” They can represent the oppressed, as in Land of the Dead, or humanity’s feral nature, as in 28 Days. Or racial politics or fear of contagion or even the consumer unconscious (Night of the Living Dead, Resident Evil, Dawn of the Dead). We could play this game all night.

But really, zombies are not “supposed to be metaphors.” They’re supposed to be friggin’ zombies. They follow the Zombie Rules: they rise from death to eat the flesh of the living, they shuffle in slow pursuit (or should, anyway), and most important, they multiply exponentially. They bring civilization down, taking all but the most resourceful, lucky and well-armed among us, whom they save for last. They make us the hunted; all of us.

That’s the stuff zombies are supposed to do. Yes, they make excellent symbols, and metaphors, and have kick-ass mythopoeic resonance to boot. But their main job is to follow genre conventions, to play with and expand the Zombie Rules, to make us begin to see the world as a place colored by our own zombie contingency plans. […]

Stories are the original virtual reality device; their internal rules spread out into reality around us like a bite-transmitted virus, slowly but inexorably consuming its flesh. They don’t just stand around “being metaphors” whose sole purpose is to represent things in the real world; they eat the real world.

This is the best expression I’ve seen lately of the gap between people who get fantastic fiction and people who don’t. It’s almost a secular version of Flannery O’Connor’s answer to someone who praised the “symbolism” of the Mass: “If it’s just a symbol, then the hell with it.” Greg Bear’s Blood Music isn’t an allegory about Overmind, it’s a story about humanity being literally transformed, by material means, into a new kind of life. Of course any work of fiction with more substance than a Kleenex can support a reading that teases out metaphors and symbolic resonances, but it’s critical to SF and fantasy that the fantastic elements are, first and foremost, real.

(You can read Kelly Link’s earlier collection Stranger Things Happen for free here. Then check out Magic for Beginners, which is worth it for the title piece alone, a story that illustrates Westerfeld’s final point above with amazing grace.)

August 12, 2005
What we’ve become
Posted by Patrick at 11:41 AM * 104 comments

From the New York Times:

Foreign citizens who change planes at airports in the United States can legally be seized, detained without charges, deprived of access to a lawyer or the courts, and even denied basic necessities like food, lawyers for the government said in Brooklyn federal court yesterday.

As Jo Walton remarked to me in Glasgow last weekend, explaining her reluctance to visit the US any more, “Being a middle-aged white woman is kind of like having civil rights, but not really an adequate substitute.”

“Dealing with the phishing problem is so simple that I can’t see how to found a company to do it.”
Posted by Patrick at 08:32 AM * 45 comments

Adam Shostack explains how companies that communicate with their customers via email can defeat phishing. In four easy steps. (Via Rafe Colburn.)

August 10, 2005
Interesting technique
Posted by Teresa at 03:31 PM *

It’s fascinating to go to Technorati just now and watch the right-wing bloggers try to hijack web coverage of the impending Bush indictment. They’re putting up multiple weblog posts that claim the story is a hoax.

Update: So far, my favorite is Avram Grumer’s:
Gee, good thing it isn’t possible to gin up a big impeachment scandal out of nothing by just endlessly repeating the same empty talking points, or Bush might be in trouble.

August 08, 2005
Message from Glasgow to John M. (“Mike”) Ford
Posted by Patrick at 05:29 PM *

Elise says hi. She’s fine. Also, have you noticed yet that you’re shortlisted for the World Fantasy Award?

Everybody here says hi to everyone they’d say hi to there. (Signed, Elise and Patrick, channelling the weltanschauung.)

August 03, 2005
Better bad sentences
Posted by Teresa at 04:59 PM *

As longtime readers of this weblog will (probably) recall, I’m no great fan of the yearly Bulwer Lytton Competition, where the idea is to write the best (that is, worst) opening sentence of an imaginary bad book. I don’t know anyone who reads slush who’s particularly impressed by their annual collection of intentional howlers.

It’s the judging that’s the problem: the sentences they pick just aren’t that awful. Here’s the 2005 Bulwer Lytton winner:

As he stared at her ample bosom, he daydreamed of the dual Stromberg carburetors in his vintage Triumph Spitfire, highly functional yet pleasingly formed, perched prominently on top of the intake manifold, aching for experienced hands, the small knurled caps of the oil dampeners begging to be inspected and adjusted as described in chapter seven of the shop manual.

Bleh. It’s the kind of bad sentence you only find in Bulwer Lytton competitions: long; tightly engineered; chiefly consisting of an elaborately overinflated metaphor or simile that in the end is punctured by a ludicrously mundane or trivial final clause. You can construct one of those by the numbers. It has none of the mind-warping swoop and grandeur of real opening sentences like “Before him, the road receded in both directions.”

In their book-length compilations, the Bulwer Lytton people occasionally include runner-up sentences that don’t fit that pattern—I have a lasting fondness for one of these, “I was a very, very, very sensitive child”—but somehow those never win.

The excellent Liz Gorinsky has turned me on to the Lyttle Lytton Contest, which has similar aims but much more astute judges. Quite a few of their selected sentences have the desired property of instantly convincing me that I don’t want to read the rest of that book. Here are some of winners from the 2005 Lyttle Lytton Contest:

John, surfing, said to his mother, surfing beside him, “How do you like surfing?” (E. Davis)

Man oh man, you’re gonna like this book; boy howdy. (D. Stevens)

2004 brought us the clueless self-importance of:

Now, you’re all aware of my vocal campaign against the global slave trade, so what I am about to confess may raise a few eyebrows. (A. Davis)

and the case of syntactical whiplash brought on by trying to figure out where the dependent clause attaches in:

The dame had balls, you had to give her that, and a Jetta. (V. Tobin )

The 2003 entries didn’t do much for me, but this one was up to spec:

For centuries, man had watched the clouds; now, they were watching him. (S. Sachs)

The 2002 entries were also a little thin. That year did did see one beautifully earless specimen:

“I raped your sister,” cruelly he sneered, “and now she is no problem,” and my friends that is the day my heart tore a sunder. (A. Plotkin)

but the only other entry that took my fancy really needed to lose its last two words:

Herein lurk delegitimized power structures and epistemological straitjackets and stuff. (D. Stevens)

By me, 2001 was the best year to date:

Turning, I mentally digested all of what you, the reader, are about to find out heartbreakingly. (T. Changwatchai)

A lone testicle lay in a barren field. (J. Tando)

and the masterful

In anticipation, John licked his own lips. (A. Lloyd)

It’s the real thing.

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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.