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October 31, 2006
Feast of All Spooks
Posted by Teresa at 08:42 AM * 99 comments

Tomorrow is the Feast of All Saints, and the day after that the Feast of All Souls, so I’ve decided today must be the Feast of All Spooks.

We have a small ofrenda in Elise and Juan’s living room, with calaveras de azucar for David Stemple and Mike Ford. Elise has added four marzipan skull-faces for people I don’t know.

Patrick and I are coming home tonight.

The terrorists who don’t count
Posted by Patrick at 08:30 AM *

Via supergee: Jennifer L. Pozner writes in Newsday about the terrorists who aren’t in the news.

On Sept. 11, 2006, the fifth anniversary of the terror attacks that devastated our nation, a man crashed his car into a building in Davenport, Iowa, hoping to blow it up and kill himself in the fire.

No national newspaper, magazine or network newscast reported this attempted suicide bombing, though an AP wire story was available. Cable news (save for MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann) was silent about this latest act of terrorism in America.

Had the criminal, David McMenemy, been Arab or Muslim, this would have been headline news for weeks. But since his target was the Edgerton Women’s Health Center, rather than, say, a bank or a police station, media have not called this terrorism—even after three decades of extreme violence by anti-abortion fanatics, mostly fundamentalist Christians who believe they’re fighting a holy war.

Since 1977, casualties from this war include seven murders, 17 attempted murders, three kidnappings, 152 assaults, 305 completed or attempted bombings and arsons, 375 invasions, 482 stalking incidents, 380 death threats, 618 bomb threats, 100 acid attacks, and 1,254 acts of vandalism, according to the National Abortion Federation.

Abortion providers and activists received 77 letters threatening anthrax attacks before 9/11, yet the media never considered anthrax threats as terrorism until after 9/11, when such letters were delivered to journalists’ offices and members of Congress.

After 9/11, Planned Parenthood and other abortion rights groups received 554 envelopes containing white powder and messages like, “You have been exposed to anthrax….We are going to kill all of you.” They were signed by the Army of God, a group that hosts Scripture-filled Web pages for “Anti-Abortion Heroes of the Faith” including minister Paul Hill, Michael Griffin and James Kopp, all convicted of murdering abortion providers, and a convicted clinic bomber, the Rev. Michael Bray. Another of their “martyrs,” Clayton Waagner, mailed anthrax letters while a fugitive on the FBI’s 10 most wanted list for anti-abortion related crimes.

It’s the War on Some Terror, just like the War on Some Drugs.

October 27, 2006
October 25, 2006
Big red dunce cap
Posted by Teresa at 08:29 AM *

Lawyers, Guns and Money has collected some remarkable specimens of stupidity about the history of the Middle East. My favorite:

Professor, I have read many of your books, a resource I use often in my classes. However, you and I both know the real problem with the Middle East. They haven’t ever tasted defeat, not in a way that European powers have. For a millenium, they have been beaten by the West, but have never faced the wages of their defeats. They have never (save for the Mongols in 1258) had a Dresden, Tenchtitlan, or Hiroshima.

Thus, they can live in their adolscence, pursuing dreams that an adult population would never contemplate. They can really believe that some day the caliphate will return, and even worse, that the one society they hate, the one with the true means to destroy them, will not act.

I’ve amused myself a bit in their comment thread.

October 23, 2006
The creek’s dried up
Posted by Teresa at 06:02 PM *

Via Pharyngula, news of a regrettable loss: Chris Clarke’s weblog, Creek Running North, has been taken offline after a commenter threatened to do violence to the Clarkes’ dog.

That’s as much as I know, though I assume it must have been a credible threat. I won’t second-guess the decision. When you write online, you risk bringing yourself to the attention of nogoods and crazies. It’s one thing to be brave on your own behalf. It’s another to worry that you’re putting a helpless animal in danger.

Update: Zeke speaks! And Chris Clarke reopens CRN with First, they kill your dog, an essay on the long history of life-threatening harassment aimed at environmental activists.

October 22, 2006
Open thread 73
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 07:11 PM *

With throats unslaked, with black lips baked,
Agape they heard me call:
Gramercy! they for joy did grin,
And all at once their breath drew in,
As they were drinking all.

Diners in New England
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 11:22 AM * 96 comments

So there you are, traveling around New Hampshire (and circa), and you want to eat something that isn’t Burger King. Whacha gonna do?

I present: Two diners and two truckstops, beloved of the local ambulance crews coming back from long transfers.

The Fort @ 18 is the only 24/hour 7/day location on my little list. This is just off I-89 (Exit 18) in Lebanon, NH: go north on 120 to Heater Road (it’s on the right, just past Evans Road (where Lebanon High School is located). The truckstop is behind the Getty station. It isn’t obvious from the road. Breakfast all day. (The skillet breakfast, which is eggs, potatoes, and meat mixed together, is pretty good.) The dining room is in the back; you have to walk through the convenience store to get there.

There’s a U-shaped central island with stools around it, and some booths against the wall. A corkboard with folks’ snapshots. They’ll probably sell souvenir coffee mugs and tee shirts. (Most of the rest of these places do, they probably do too.) The interior walls are an amazing shade of yellow. I suppose it’s cheerful. (When I go there “cheer” isn’t high on my list of things I’m looking for, but “coffee” is.) More working class, lots fewer tourists than any of the other spots on this list, too. When you’re heading north on 120 If you get to Dartmouth/Hitchcock Hospital, you’ve gone too far.

Downstate, at Exit 20 off I-93, you find The Tilt’n Diner, which has a sort-of Fifties Music theme to it.

Diner History

We opened the Tilt’n Diner in June of 1992 but our authentic diner was built way back in 1953 by the O’Mahoney Diner Company.

The Diner’s early days (1953-1971) were spent in Waltham, MA, where she was known as the “Monarch Diner.”

In 1972 she was moved to Salisbury, MA, and became “Linda’s Jackpot Diner.” Linda’s Diner had closed when Alex Ray bought her in 1988.

The rest as they say, is HISTORY.

The Tilt’n Diner is the only one on this list with a liquor license. They boast a full bar. The cherry Coke here is cherry syrup and Coke, the vanilla Coke is vanilla syrup and Coke. The Tilt’n Diner buys and sells old magazines; if you have old magazines for sale the number is 603 536 1922.

Get off at Exit 18; go east on Rt. 3 (that is, take US 3 North). (From the northbound exit you can see the diner (a silver car with a Pepto-Bismol Pink building attached behind it) from the stoplight at the end of the ramp. From the southbound exit you have to turn left and take the bridge over the highway to get there.)

If you go the wrong way on Rt. 3 you get to Tilton, New Hampshire, itself. Tilton has a set of allegorical statues representing the continents. Asia is over by the high school. America is the Indian Maiden, on Main Street in front of the town hall. Europa is called “Timetable Mabel” because she originally stood at the railway station. The Civil War memorial is a thing of wonder. So — if you get to a set of amazing statues, you’ve gone the wrong way. Turn around to get to the diner.

The Littleton Diner. Down the street from Thayer’s Inn (where Sam Grant stayed during his tour of the White Mountains in 1869) and next door to the Masonic Temple. Main Street, Littleton. Exit 41 off I-93. Cash and checks only. No credit cards, no Canadian money accepted. This one started off as a parlor car diner in 1930. It was replaced by a Sterling Diner and expanded in the 1940s; it has a back dining room now (with a mural all the way around the top of the room showing Main Street in all four seasons). The interior and exterior are made of enameled metal. The menu is Typical American Diner. The pancakes are made from locally ground flour. The corned beef hash has recognizably been corned beef in the recent past. You’re well north of the frappe line here: if you want a milkshake you have to ask for a frappe.

Get off at Exit 41, head into downtown (there’s a helpful sign saying “Historic District”). You’ll come to a stoplight at the top of a hill, beside the Opera House (with an octagonal tower on it). This stoplight is the farthest north stoplight in New Hampshire. Turn left to get to the diner. Finding parking can get … interesting. There is free parking behind the Village Bookstore.

Main St., Littleton, is also US 302. If you continue south on 302 (through Lisbon (home of the Lilac Festival), Bath (where there’s an amazing general store), and Woodsville (where Cottage Hospital is located), you cross the Connecticut River into Wells River, Vermont, home of P&H.

P&H Truck Stop. Over in Vermont, Exit 17 on I-91 (Wells River). You can see it from the exit whether you’re traveling north or south. “P&H” stands for “Pride and Honesty.” Under new management, alas, their grill service ends at midnight. But you can get breakfast all day. This is the sort of old-fashioned deep-fried truck stop where you can feel your coronary arteries closing up just driving into the parking lot. It’s French enough (on the direct route up to Quebec) that french fries are served with mayonaise and the menu is bilingual English/French. They renovated the place (and made it all clean and bright and family friendly — no more Adult Novelties for a quarter in machines in the men’s room, or graffiti by the toilet paper rolls reading “[Name of trucking company] contracts — take one”). But they still have the little pegboard games. During the renovation the mural showing Wells River in four seasons was removed and saved. It’s now in two sections (rather than one long painting) and located in the back dining room.

Only pure Vermont Maple Syrup served there, and the french toast is … amazing. The bread and pies are outstanding. The cinnamon raisin bread is essentially a large stickybun turned on its side and baked in a loaf pan. The Vermont Maple Pie is almost too rich to eat. They sell bread and pies to go.

Red Mike says check it out.

October 21, 2006
Bestsellers, okaysellers, and slippery figurative language
Posted by Patrick at 11:40 AM *

Over at BoingBoing, Cory Doctorow blogged Teresa’s post about how the news media exaggerates the role of the bestseller in modern book publishing. Here at Making Light we love us some Cory Doctorow, and we always enjoy the spike of traffic that comes from a BoingBoing link, but in this case, by headlining his post “Publishing isn’t bestseller-driven” and going on to summarize Teresa as saying that “publishing isn’t driven by bestsellers, but by ‘okaysellers,’” I think Cory accidentally misrepresents what Teresa was trying to say.

The fact is that book publishing is indeed “driven by” bestsellers. Okay, “driven by” is a figurative and slightly imprecise term, but it’s entirely reasonable to observe that book publishers’ tactical and strategic decisions are to a non-trivial extent affected by whether they have bestsellers and what kind of bestsellers those are. Having bestsellers on a regular basis makes an profound difference to what a publisher can do in connection with all their books, bestsellers and “okaysellers” alike. Teresa and I have worked at publishers where nothing was bestselling, and we’ve worked at publishers where books were landing on the New York Times list every month, and we can assure you that the latter is better in the same way that winning the lottery is better than having bone cancer.

What Teresa was trying to get at, and she’s absolutely right, is that while book publishing may be greatly driven by our need for bestsellers, in the same way that many American policies are “driven by” our national need for easy access to petroleum, we don’t in fact spend every second of every day wandering around in a frenzy obsessing about bestsellers, any more than everyone in America spends all their time invading Middle Eastern countries or grovelling at the gas pump. When the Wall Street Journal writes that “publishing is becoming a winner-takes-all contest” and says that “when a book doesn’t sell right away, the large chains sweep it into the back room, making space for the next aspirant,” they’re grossly misrepresenting how most of book publishing works. We may be driven by a need to have some books that “bestsell,” but our daily life is far from dominated by work on bestsellers to the exclusion of all else. To the contrary, smart publishers know that publishing is more like gardening than it’s like factory-farming; if you want giant successes, you’d better have a whole lot of little experiments going all at the same time. We need bestsellers. But we don’t spend all of our time on them, and we don’t sweep non-bestselling books (or their authors) off to the glue factory. We need all the other books as well. Because you never know.

October 20, 2006
Stupid Pro-Bush Ad
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 08:18 PM * 80 comments

New from our good friends at the Republican National Committee, the Ticking Bin Laden ad! To keep us worried about terrorism the GOP has decided to remind us that after five years, two wars, billiions of dollars and thousands of lives — they still haven’t caught the SOB.

Currently you can see the ad on the RNC’s web page (warning: you may have to wade through some Bushista BS to find it). It features pictures of Osama, the guy of whom George Bush said, “The most important thing is for us to find Osama bin Laden.” That was before Bush said,”I am truly not that concerned about him.” So we’re either flipped or flopped now. (It’s hard to keep track.)

You can tell it’s election season because the RePubs are hauling Osama out of the closet like an old Herman Munster costume. They’re hitting the road, knocking on people’s doors and yelling “Boo!” in hopes of getting their bags filled with electorial candy.

Georgie needs something, because he can’t run on competence. Or family values. Or anything else. But he still has his old family friend Osama. That’s why we’re being treated again to all these scary pictures of Osama bin Forgotten. Yeah, yeah. We get it Georgie. Osama made you tear up the Bill of Rights. It wasn’t your fault! The only thing we have to fear is lack-of-fear itself!

If y’all want to see exactly how stupid the ad is, here’s how to find it: Go to GOP.com. You should see a large graphic in lurid orange and black (to keep with the Trick or Treat theme, perhaps) labeled “These are the stakes” and a button that says “Watch the New Ad.” So watch it. Try not to laugh out loud. Then shed a tear. These guys are so desperate it’s almost hard not to feel a bit sympathetic.

I hear the RePubs are planning to actually run this ad (at the cost of who knows how much loot) this Sunday during the national news. If you happen to see it then, giggling and pointing is appropriate. If anyone asks you what’s so funny, you can explain that Bush shut down the CIA office that was looking for bin Laden.

In keeping with the spirit of fun, here’s an old Soviet joke. Update it as you will:

“Comrade Rabinowich, why weren’t you at the last Party meeting?”

“If someone had told me it was the last one I would have brought the whole family!”

October 19, 2006
Conventional unwisdom on publishing
Posted by Teresa at 04:00 PM *

The Wall Street Journal has run a long prominent story about Henry Holt’s expensive acquisition of, and inadequate success with, Jed Rubenfeld’s The Interpretation of Murder. Short version: big advance, big marketing budget, major push, not enough sales. Lots of sales, mind you, but nowhere near as many as they were aiming for.

These things happen. It’s why a project like that is called a gamble.

But enough about The Interpretation of Murder. What irritated me about the story was having the Wall Street Journal trot out the completely bogus standard paragraph about the state of publishing:

Much like Hollywood, book publishing is becoming a winner-takes-all contest. A publisher has to find a title with huge potential and single it out for special attention. If the book gets traction, the upside is limitless. If it fails, there’s a long way to fall. When a book doesn’t sell right away, the large chains sweep it into the back room, making space for the next aspirant. With 172,000 books published last year, shelf space is limited.
I think they’ve got that paragraph set up as a macro—and they’re not the only publication that uses it.

I’ve been hearing the “publishing is becoming a winner-take-all sweepstakes” riff since I started working in the industry. It’s not true, and it’s not becoming true. I suspect it’s generated by lazy news departments that can’t be bothered to take notice of books that aren’t blockbusters, and from this conclude that blockbusters are all that matters in publishing.

Bestsellers aren’t the whole of publishing. Every year, we publish a great many okaysellers. You guys buy them because they look interesting, or because a friend has recommended them, or because you liked another book by that author. Marketing push only goes so far.

A quick test: raise your hand if you only buy bestsellers. No? Okay, raise your hand if the majority of your book purchases are current bestsellers. Right. Now raise your hand if your bookbuying decisions are based on marketing buzz. If you still aren’t raising your hand, you’re a normal book-buying reader, and the Wall Street Journal is chin-deep in hogwash on this point.

And while I’m on the subject, that “172,000 books published last year” is neither reliable nor pertinent if you’re talking about bookstore shelf space. “All books published” includes books you’ll never see in a bookstore at all, like manuals for operating and maintaining equipment, industry trade guides, and family genealogies.

Even if you limit the number to “trade books”—i.e., books that get bookstore distribution—the number is hard to pin down. A lot of university press and regional press titles get distributed to a handful of bookstores. Are they trade books? Those authors and those publishers would say yes, and I can’t see any good reason to contradict them, at least not to their faces. Still, there’s a big difference between books offered for sale at a handful of bookstores, and books offered for sale at bookstores everywhere.

If you’re talking about new titles that would come through a large urban bookstore in a single year, one rough but reliable estimate I’ve been given (by a source that declined to be named) is that it’s about 10,000 titles. Jim Macdonald once did a rough shelf count of a B&N superstore and came up with an estimate of 100,000 and 120,000 titles total, old and new books combined.

Almost none of them are bestsellers. They’re all in print, and many will remain so for a long time, while the front-of-the-store pyramids of red-hot bestsellers come and go. And next year, and the year after that? Same pattern. The Wall Street Journal really needs to get out more.

And an addendum.

October 18, 2006
Waifs and strays
Posted by Patrick at 04:43 PM *

Right-wing zoophile Rick Santorum embarrasses Tolkien fans everywhere by explaining how things are swell in Iraq because “as the hobbits are going up Mount Doom, the Eye of Mordor is being drawn somewhere else…I want to keep it on Iraq. I don’t want the Eye to come back here to the United States.” Matt McIrvin, unlike me, has the patience to explain why this is insane.

Remember the astonishing Sony Bravia ad with the thousands of colored balls bouncing down San Francisco streets? Sequel here.

One of the nice things about being the Empire is the privilege of stupidity. Okay, it’s not like anyone important doesn’t know the difference between Sunni and Shiite Islam. Just the top FBI guy in charge of national security, and a bunch of major Republican congressional committee chairs. Nothing to worry about. Remember, these are the people Joe Klein, Mickey Kaus, Joe Leiberman, and the people who run your national media consider “serious.” Knowing actual facts is boring.

I don’t know who sent me the 2007 John Jude Palencar calendar, but thanks very much to whomever did. Like this year’s Hugo winner, Donato Giancola, Palencar gets contemporary effects by deploying an old-fashioned, almost lush illustrator’s sensibility in startling ways. He’s way overdue to win the field’s major awards.

October 17, 2006
VP 10: Home again
Posted by Teresa at 08:28 PM * 132 comments

Patrick and I and Jim Macdonald are home again after a week of teaching at the Viable Paradise writers’ workshop on Martha’s Vineyard. We do this every year. The other five instructors (this year we had eight total) were Debra Doyle, James Patrick Kelly, Steve Gould, Laura Mixon, and Cory Doctorow.

Teaching at VP is intense and tiring. Most of our time is spent working with critique groups and individual students, but we also give lectures. Let me see if I can do the list from memory:

Jim Macdonald: How to put together a plot.
Jim Kelly: Ten cheap plot tricks.
Debra Doyle: Style, language, and names.
Me: Expository theory and close-up text analysis.
Cory Doctorow: Copyrights, other rights, and how to sell yourself as an author.
Laura Mixon: The care and feeding of creativity; getting the Muse to show up on schedule.
Steve Gould: The real life of the writer, and how to cope with it.
Patrick: The current state of the industry.
Those are all approximate descriptions.

(In less structured settings, we can find ourselves explaining anything from useful handwaving dodges, how to fake guns and ammo, coping with reviews, the one true way to do word counts, worldbuilding techniques, model dialogues with prospective agents, some known pitfalls of sex scenes, the history of the anthology, what goes into an editorial style sheet, and how to behave at conventions, to the finer points of Mafia and Thing. There is an Oath, and the occasional grant of Permission to Write Badly.)

To go with our eight instructors, we had twenty-eight students: our biggest year ever. (Group shots.) I refuse to try to correlate names with photographed heads, and as of right now I’m giving up on trying to match names to links (krylyr? orogeny? huh?), so here’s the name list as it stands: Terry Berube, Lucia Bibolini, Evelyn Brown, John Chu, Linda J. Daly, Terri Defino, Monica Eiland, Evan Goer, Barbara Gordon, John Hawkes Reed, Scott Hawkins, Lucy Huntzinger, Zak Jarvis, Mur Lafferty, Nicole LeBoeuf-Little, Greg London, Emily Mah Tippetts, Elise Matthesen, Andrew Miller, Chris Miller, Bart Patton, Cal Primer, Kathleen Retterson, Diana Stewart, Macallister Stone, Laura Strickman, Dave Thompson, and Erin Underwood.

Also the staff, of whom I’m surely forgetting a few: Kate Salter, Ernie Jackson, Jennifer Pelland, Andy, Bill and Carol Boyke and their daughters and Max, Pippin Macdonald, and Emma and Carita Mixon-Gould.

I need to speak here in praise of Carol Boyke. Every year, after VP, I swear I’m going to keep track of my lecture notes. Every year, when I’m getting ready for VP, I find I lost them in the morass of post-workshop exhaustion, so I have to reconstruct my lecture on the fly. This year was running true to form. Then, when I got to the workshop, Carol handed me my notes from last year. She’d saved them. She also put them up online as a .pdf file, so I can find them whenever I want. Yay, Carol!

It was an excellent VP: great students, interesting stories, nonstop teaching. It remains only for me to catch up on my sleep so I can stop nodding off …

October 15, 2006
Fred Head, Anti-Porn Crusader
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 09:05 PM *

Presented for your consideration: Fred Head, Democrat of Texas. He wants to be the next state comptroller. To that end, he’s decided that there’s nothing better than a good old-fashioned smear against his Republican opponent, Susan Combs.

Now there’s lots that you could say about a Republican. She belongs the party of corruption, incompetence, and cronyism. The party of Tom Delay, Duke Cunningham, and Mark Foley. The party of torture. The party of warrantless surveillance. The party of indefinite detention without charges. The party that canceled habeas corpus. The party of aggressive war. The party of Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld.

The Republicans are the party that’s trying to dismantle social security, the party that forced through a drug plan that increases costs to seniors, the party that’s turned a surplus into the biggest deficit in history. They’re the party that cut taxes for their rich friends, while presiding over the slowest job-growth rates in forty years.

With all that, you’d think that Fred could come up with something bad to say about Susan that wasn’t Totally Stupid. But no. Fred went his own way. He invented Susan Combs, Pornographer.

Y’see, back in 1990, Susan published a romance novel (A Perfect Match, Kismet #23, Meteor Publishing Company, ISBN 1-878702-22-X). That gave Fred his opening: a real meaty, relevant campaign issue. Seizing his opportunity with both hands (I wouldn’t want anyone to think Fred was reading Susan’s novel one-handed), he put up a quasi-literate screed on his webpage:

Susan Combs claims to be a person of high moral standards. Her record of writing, having published and selling a pornographic book clearly shows that Susan Combs is a two faced, hypocrite who was obviously more concerned with her literary career and seeing her name in print than the morals of the young People of Texas who are exposed to her 222 page book, A Perfect Match, which has her name at the top of every other page - - - a clear testament to Susan Combs’ insatiable ego and desire to see her name in print.

Susan has her name on the top of the even-numbered pages? He’s never seen a running head before? What that tells me is that Fred hasn’t opened a book in years. Possibly in his life.

Then there’s the content (which he’s helpfully posted). In eight breathless (if clumsily-written) paragraphs, Fred uses the words “pornographic” or “pornography” a dozen times to describe a pretty standard spicy romance. It doesn’t even rise to the level steamy romance, and as to it being pornography … well, if he thinks that’s porn Fred needs to get out more.

The first breeze of this brainstorm seems to have been in June. This is Fred speaking at the Texas Democratic Party Convention:

Now, you would think that your governor, your Republican governor, would know about that. In fact here’s this little book right here called “The Perfect Match.” (Book entitled “A Perfect Match” by Susan Combs held up and shown to the crowd by Fred Head). And, and Mrs. Susan Combs in 1990, my opponent wrote this book. Now, she was only forty-five years old at the time, so I’m not sure that she was mature enough to know that she was really making a serious mistake by doing it. But there’s some other interesting questions. Uh, I think it would be nice to know how many more she wrote. Whether she wrote any more in assumed names. Whether or not she’s got some that were published in other areas that we don’t know about. I think this sort of thing is what we need to find out about these people that are on the other side. And I think you’ve gotta tell that story.

Now, I told you I wanted to talk to you about truth. The truth is, as I’m telling you about her, she’s been in a public office now for a long time, eight years as Agriculture Commissioner. She hasn’t tended to her job there, but she’s had time in her previous life to write this trashy novel. We need to get rid of this lady! We need to get rid of all those kind of folks!

Just to show you how high-profile the Comptroller race is, no one noticed Fred’s unusual preoccupation for another four months.

Then the Burnt Orange Report noticed it on 5 September .

Soon after, romance readers and writers got the word. Last Monday: http://joliemathis.blogspot.com/2006/10/any-texas-voters-out-there.html. By Tuesday it had gone here (with a letter to Fred) and here (with a song). Wednesday it was over here, Thursday here, and here on Friday among other places.

A typical response was at “Smart Bitches Who Love Trashy Novels”:

I was really enjoying my morning glee, and along came a heaping cup of what-the-fuck to make me glare and seethe. Although we mentioned this issue in passing back in August, the reminder made me growl enough to rant about it.

Seems a man named Fred Head is running for State Comptroller in the state of Texas. His website accuses his Republican opponent, Susan Combs, currently the state agriculture commissioner, is a writer of pornography.

Guess what she wrote? You get one guess. Seriously.

Oh, the joy of reading romance. I had no idea it was so powerful. It makes me stupid AND it makes me a prurient partaker of pornography. Perhaps I should feel guilty about enjoying the genre so much, but somehow, I feel sexually empowered, confident, and more intelligent.

Head’s website is kind enough to offer “extraxts” (sic) should you wish to examine how Combs’ “pornographic book” disputes her claim of being a “person of high moral standards” and is a “two faced hyprocrite who was obviously more concerned with her literary career and seeing her name in print than the morals of the young People of Texas.”

My personal jaw-dropping favorite part of this nonsense is where he accuses her of having an “insatiable ego” because her name appears at the top of every other page.

I have to wonder if this man has ever read a book.

About the kindest comment was this one from yesterday:

As an artist, a mother, and a citizen of Texas, I’m seriously struggling. The choices set before us in the upcoming election are an abysmally sad comment on the state of our state. Seems like every race features the loser who will lose and the loser who will end up in office. … we have the comptroller’s race, in which we can vote for either Democrat Fred Head (who appears to be an idiot) or Republican Susan Combs (who I suspect has no reflection when she stands before a mirror.)

With the snark level five feet high and rising, with thousands of ticked-off voters (including former straight-ticket Democrats saying that they were planning to vote Republican for the first time in their lives just for this race), someone variously calling himself “anonymous” and “concerned citizen” came slinking along, posting this note in assorted blogs on Saturday the 14th:

I think everyone is missing the bigger picture, Susan Combs wrote a book with sex and then Susan Combs took a public position during debate on a sex education (ABSENCE ONLY) bill while she served as a State Representative. The point, Susan Combs is a hypocrite.

Fred Head is clearly stating the facts.

Please debate how you can write a book of this nature and then took a public position of sex education (ABSENCE ONLY) bill. Can’t have it both ways.

That quasi-illiteracy (ABSENCE rather than “abstinence”), that attempt to invent Google-bombing, that frantic desire to answer everyone who’d commented on his mistake — the suspicion quickly arose that this was Fred Head in person. Alas! That suspicion was soon confirmed.

Here’s what Fred says in his web page screed:

Susan Combs has shown no remorse and made no apology for writing her pornographic book. Fred Head hereby challenges Susan Combs to fully explain to the People of Texas why she wrote a pornographic book, apologize to the People and withdraw from the race for Comptroller of Public Accounts.

Here’s how I’m going to finish up this post:

Fred Head has shown no remorse and made no public apology for attacking 50% of the fiction market. If he wanted to lose the election, dissing romance novels, their writers, and their readers, is one of the best ways he could have chosen. I hereby challenge him to explain fully exactly what he’s been smoking.

[UPDATED TO ADD:]

The Ballad of Fred ‘n’ Sue

Come and listen to my story ‘bout a man named Fred,
A good ol’ Texan boy with the last name o’ Head.
Seems one day he was fixin’ to be elected
When he heard about a book that could get a man erected.
Porn, that is…evil…a one-hand read.

Well it turns out, you see, that this filthy book was writ
By gal named Sue who he called a hypocrite,
‘Cause she was runnin’ for that Texas post as well
But page one-oh-two sez she’s goin’ straight to hell.
Sex, that is…nekkidness…doin’ it.

But if y’all take a look, you will find to yer surprise
What looks purty raw to our saintly Freddie’s eyes
Turns out to be an ol’ fashioned kind o’ read
A sweet li’l tale that won’t make yer eyes bleed.
Romance, that is…makin’ love…commitment!

Why would he tell everyone she wrote a porn?
Are voters down there dumber than the newly born?
Or maybe lit’rate folks are poor Freddie’s greatest fear
Bein’ that he posted “Read an Extraxt here.”
Spellcheck…proofread…idjit.

So you figure ol’ Fred is a good Republican
A fine upstanding conservative gen’leman,
Turns out instead she’s the GOP’s lass
It’s her opponent who’s the real jackass.
C’mon Texas…don’t fall for this…bull-hockey!

M J Pearson

October 06, 2006
Register to Vote
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 12:11 AM * 35 comments

Voter registration deadlines are coming up over the next few days. (For example, New York’s is 13 October. Nevada is 7 October. That’s tomorrow.)

Register to vote.

Make sure all your friends are registered to vote.

Then get out there and vote.

October 05, 2006
MSWord: I love it less each year
Posted by Teresa at 01:46 PM *

(growling)

Does anyone here know how to make Microsoft Word start the page numbering sequence with “1” rather than “0”?

More blackwhite newspeak AP foxnews hogwash
Posted by Teresa at 11:28 AM * 84 comments

We have a couple of further instances (see the earlier post) of Fox News and the Associated Press identifying predatory pedophile Mark Foley (R-Fla) as a Democrat:

Matt D, in the comment thread, pointed out this screen shot preserved at Daily Kos. It shows Fox News displaying the headline, DID DEMS IGNORE FOLEY EMAILS TO PRESERVE SEAT?

An interesting new development spotted by The All Spin Zone in the Long Island Press is an AP news story identifying Dennis Hastert, GOP Speaker of the House, as a Democrat:

Nassau County Legislator and congressional candidate David Mejias (D-Massapequa) insisted on Monday that House Speaker Dennis Hastert (D-Illinois) resign after Hastert failed to act on knowledge that former Congressman Mark Foley (D-Florida) engaged in inappropriate actions with minors…
It’s a good thing All Spin Zone saved a screen shot, because where that story used to be there’s now a page that says “An error occurred. The document you are looking for does not exist.”

Stay tuned for late-breaking news from the Eastasian front.

Addenda: Reynolds gets pick of the litter.* (The actual story: here.)

On a PR site, Steve spotted an instance of (D-Fla) that’s dated September 7th.

Mike Ford: Occasional Works (Pt. Four)
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 12:04 AM * 20 comments

In Celebration of Talk Like Dr. Stephen Maturin Day

The names of these pirates, the Doctor thought, were not dissimilar to those of pigeons; a panoply of blacks and shades of gray, colourful in adjectives rather than hues.

As to the pirates as agents of political transformation, he had made some notes upon the subject, which indicated that their primary purpose was taking things from ships and trading them for rum and intimate favours, in places ranging from Tortuga to Whitehall. Some did affect views on individual freedom, though these would have rattled the brains of a Paine or a Wollstonecraft, and the notion that they were a seething mass of nautical Robespierres would not stand the light.

It was good to have an enemy, he reflected, and it was good to have an enemy who believed odd things that were incompatible with one’s own views. He had encountered sailors from English towns that were fiercely proud of having been sacked by ships scattered from the Armada. While the only evidence of such pillage was here a stack of cannonballs and there a public house named “Ye Dead Spaniardo,” every man from those villages stood ready, centuries later, to take the battle back to Philip II, with his dreadful religion and his incomprehensible consonants.

(Continue reading Mike Ford: Occasional Works (Part Four))

October 04, 2006
The Big Lie, Fox News Style
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 05:54 PM *

Fox News, to what should be no one’s surprise, and the AP, to what I wish were everyone’s surprise, have been identifying busted pedophile Mark Foley (R-FLA) as a Democrat:

FOX

FOX

Associated Press

Yes, they really do think we’re stupid.

October 03, 2006
Reading the news
Posted by Teresa at 05:08 PM * 109 comments

Bush: “Democrats shouldn’t be trusted to run Congress.”

Invisible subhead: “Because they’ll impeach my sorry ass.”

Open thread 72
Posted by Teresa at 02:33 PM *

The twin opposed poles of this world are Mythology and Economics. Crossing the axis they define is another, with its own set of poles, one of which is Geology. It is not certain what Geology’s opposed twin may be, though Music, Fish, and the Internet have all been proposed.

Within the space thus defined are the entities of Commerce: Work, Food, Language, and Memory. Thus the world.

But what, you may ask, of Love, Mathematics, Humor, Divine Presence, Desire, the Electromagnetic Spectrum, and Death? The answer is that they are present in all times and places, and so do not fall within the purview of mapmakers.

October 02, 2006
Announcement
Posted by Patrick at 03:14 PM *

Here’s the basic information about the public memorial for John M. Ford. All of Mike’s friends and admirers are welcome.

Friday, October 27, 2006
First Universalist Church
3400 Dupont Avenue (in Uptown)
Minneapolis, Minnesota

Memorial service, 2-4 PM; reception, 4-5:30 PM. For more information, email Elise Matthesen.

We’ll be there. Teresa will be one of the speakers.

ATTENTION US MILITARY PERSONNEL
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 12:05 AM * 364 comments

You are not required to obey an unlawful order.

You are required to disobey an unlawful order.

You swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

The Constitution states (Article VI):

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

Here is article 3, the common article, to the Geneva Conventions, a duly ratified treaty made under the authority of the United States:

Article 3

In the case of armed conflict not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties, each party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the following provisions:

1. Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.

To this end the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons:

(a) Violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;

(b) Taking of hostages;

(c) Outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment;

(d) The passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.

2. The wounded and sick shall be collected and cared for.

An impartial humanitarian body, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, may offer its services to the Parties to the conflict.

The Parties to the conflict should further endeavour to bring into force, by means of special agreements, all or part of the other provisions of the present Convention.

The application of the preceding provisions shall not affect the legal status of the Parties to the conflict.

Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions is straightforward and clear. Under Article VI of the Constitution, it forms part of the supreme law of the land.

You personally will be held responsible for all of your actions, in all countries, at all times and places, for the rest of your life. “I was only following orders” is not a defense.

What all this is leading to:

If you are ordered to violate Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, it is your duty to disobey that order. No “clarification,” whether passed by Congress or signed by the president, relieves you of that duty.

If you are ordered to violate Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, this is what to do:

1. Request that your superior put the order in writing.

2. If your superior puts the order in writing, inform your superior that you intend to disobey that order.

3. Request trial by courtmartial.

You will almost certainly face disciplinary action, harassment of various kinds, loss of pay, loss of liberty, discomfort and indignity. America relies on you and your courage to face those challenges.

We, the people, need you to support and defend the Constitution. I am certain that your honor and patriotism are equal to the task.

This post may be quoted in full. A linkback would be appreciated.

October 01, 2006
The Science of Sheep
Posted by Teresa at 06:43 PM * 63 comments

Want to see a high-end PR disaster in progress? Go here.

Lee pointed it out in one of the comment threads:

[A]nyone who is interested in astroturfing should check out this community on LiveJournal. The “community” in question is one of LJ’s less-inspired notions, a “corporate-sponsored” promotional site. But of particular interest is the fact that most of the people making positive comments about the movie have brand-new LJ accounts. If these aren’t corporate-paid astroturfing sockpuppets, I’ll eat my hat.
Lee’s hat is safe. The LJ sponsored community is full of posters spontaneously saying totally believable things like:
Win autographed Gondry stuff, cash, clothes, etcetera

Threadless T-Shirts put together an awesome contest. Check it out:
http://www.threadless.com/loves/thescienceofsleep

and
I saw it two days ago and it changed my life forever…

thank you Michael Gondrey… not only did you bring my dad and I closer, but you made me a different person

and
I am soooo looking forward to see this movie!!! I really liked the idea and I adore Gael Garcia Bernal! ;) So it changed your attitude? made you a different person? That makes me want seeing this movie even more
and
I’m going to watch this movie in a few hours, I’v been waiting for it to show near my house and it has finally arrived. I’m so excited!
Then LJ reality reasserts itself. Here are the responses that followed directly after that last comment:
lol

let’s see.

you made your journal a month ago and have 14 total journal entries, and now you’re in this community.

looks like a FAKE MARKETING SHILL to me

that is truly pathetic. there is not even an effort to make it look real. give us a break. we’re not gonna fall for that
And:
odd how every positive poster in this community has their entire journal friends only.
And:
It throws into sharp relief the problem of sponsored communities, doesn’t it? Who is real? Who isn’t? I don’t know who this person is, but I do know that what she wrote is incredibly over the top, and isn’t something I would expect a real human being to say about any film short of Schindler’s List or something of equal weight. …

Fifteen months is a sneeze in the movie business, so it is possible this person is a corporate troll. Whether she is or not, the fact that she posted her opinion here makes it suspect to me.

That’s why sponsored comms blow chunks. They create an atmosphere of suspicion and distrust.

And in classic LJ fashion:
Yup. Out of the moderators:
b1soux is almost definitely a sock puppet - “Date created: 2006-08-25.”
endlessfalling started 8-30-06.
f1ora started 8-25-06.
samoutlaw started 9-12-06.

Their only LJ friends are each other plus people involved with lj_biz. LOL!

And whoever made them actually went to the trouble of “friending” one or two token people with each, giving them indie-rock usericons, and writing two or three vague entries like “HAY HERE’S MY JOURNAL” and “HERE’S A DREAM POEM I FOUND.”

Or, you know, maybe 4 people decided around the same time to make four journals that are all essentially the same. Whatev, that sounds REALLY plausible.

And one other set of responses:
i find it just a little suspicious that most commenters here have had ljs for a very short amount of time are in less than 5 communities, have very few entries, have myspace…

maybe some of you are real, just plain old sad

but it is so very suspicious, like you were all created to comment here.

i actually thought it looked interesting but there’s no way i’m watching this now. not paying anyhow.

the comm about a movie is almost, almost understandable.

but filling it with these posers who say ’ OMG THIS MOVIE IS SO GOOD IT CHANGED MY LIFE!”

and other such things.

not only is lame, it reminds of myspace.

Congratulations, thou astroturfing PR firm, thou! Your target audience now associates this movie with the least-cool aspects of MySpace.

The conversation at the site is gradually filling up with LJ regulars who are politely but firmly explaining that while they’d previously been planning to see the film, they’re now going to give it a miss. And they’ll encourage their friends to do the same. And they’ll do the same to anything else advertised on LJ in this dishonest fashion:

insomnia: And just to think, I was actually curious about seeing The Science of Sleep in a movie theatre before this unwanted ad sellout in LiveJournal. Now I’m going to have to give the movie a pass, simply for ethical reasons… and I will use my journal to encourage others to do the same.

ilea: What part of my comment did you not understand? I won’t be seeing this movie nor will I be talking about it in a sponsored or unsponsored community because of what they have done.

The only buzz they’ll get from me is “..science of sleep? yeah that’s the movie that produced the first sponsored community on lj complete with sockpuppet journals. They started the ruin of LJ. I won’t pay money to see it ‘cause of their marketing practices….you shouldn’t either.”

elsabet: It’s sad cause this is actually a good movie. I saw it on opening night before I even heard about all this sponsored community crap. Huh.

swoozie: I WILL NEVER EVER SEE THIS MOVIE.
You are a sponsored community. It does not make me want to talk about you or go see this movie.
LJ crossed the line when they invited you.

Orb2069: Pity. Seemed a lot like Amelie in the previews. Wanted to see it, Wife didn’t, was going to rent it when it came out on DVD.

Not now. I actually just took it off my ‘To rent’ list, quite literally.
This lying/astroturfing/’Gorilla Marketing’ is not acceptable on LiveJournal. Go away.

missmurchison: I find it interesting that while most of the maintainers of this comm are clearly socks, I recognize many of those complaining as long-time LJ residents. If Six Apart were in politics, I’d say it’s eroding its base.

It grieves me to contradict these upstanding netizens, but I think it’s possible that this wasn’t LJ or Six Apart’s fault. They’re fairly straightforward about sponsored communities being paid-for commercial space. It’s not an inherently corrupt concept. I can imagine circumstances where such a site could be a force for good, and attract a real community of people who are honestly interested in whatever-it-is.

What I can really imagine is LJ management and Six Apart having no idea that the publicists for The Science of Sleep were going to pull such a boneheaded stunt. You know how it goes: if you hang around the net long enough, it starts seeming obvious to you that of course clumsy sockpuppetry will be detectable, undisguised message headers will tattle on the sender, and covert PR campaigns will yield to traffic analysis. You forget that there’s no mystic force that keeps fools from calling themselves media consultants.

Next thing you know, you’re watching, jaw dropped, as some person or organization you’d have sworn knows better is caught pulling some unbelievably stupid online stunt—a category to which the Science of Sleep campaign clearly belongs.

Meanwhile, courtesy of Miss Murchison’s own site, another potentially delicious story of astroturf gone astray: the task of providing fraudulent online support for Katherine Harris’ campaign may have been outsourced to India. It wasn’t just that the messages could be tracked back to India:

The comments sound stilted, as if English wasn’t the first language of the writer.

“Guys let us come out of this blue eye shadow,” one says. “Let us not discuss such irrelevant details.”

Hoist, begad! The Party of Cheap Labor strikes again!

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