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December 31, 2006
Open thread 78
Posted by Patrick at 11:42 PM *

So the year doesn’t end with “Aargh!”

And we’ll sing hallelujah
At the turning of the year
And we’ll work all day in the old fashioned way
‘Til the shining star appears.
A better 2007 to you all.

Aargh
Posted by Patrick at 12:06 PM * 28 comments

We don’t know what’s gone wrong with the front page, either. At the moment, the right sidebar is gone and the front page cuts off in the middle of a post. Interestingly, that cutoff point is in a different spot every time we dump our cache and reload, which would tend to indicate that the problem isn’t some random garbage character in a particular post or template.

The individual archive pages seem to be fine—there, the right sidebar is intact, the pages aren’t truncated, and comments work.

Telling Movable Type to “rebuild” the blog and all its templates hasn’t fixed the problem. Do any of our readers have any ideas about what might be going on here?

UPDATE: The problem wasn’t some subtle flaw in Movable Type. The problem was that we’d let our server’s disk quota completely fill up. (Mechanic to driver: “Okay, we could disassemble your car’s entire electrical system, but before we do that, you might want to put some gas into that empty tank.”)

December 29, 2006
Jim Henley speaks into the night
Posted by Patrick at 11:55 PM * 21 comments

Here:

[T]he US and its Iraqi allies chose to try Saddam on one of his relatively minor crimes because if they did so they could get him safely hung before they had to try him for the major ones, the gas attacks and massacres that happened during The Years of Playing Footsie with the United States. The Dujail reprisals were a war crime, no doubt about it, a bigger sham of justice than Saddam’s own trial, by two orders of magnitude. They were also the sort of war crime that people like Ralph Peters and a hundred other pundits and parapundits think the United States should be committing. Every time you read a complaint about “politically correct rules of engagement” you are reading someone who would applaud a Dujail-level slaughter if only we were to perpetrate it. Those are the people who are happiest of all about tonight’s execution. Smells like—victory! It’s the pomander they don against the stench.

News of the night
Posted by Patrick at 10:20 PM * 134 comments

Saddam Hussein hanged1.

Josh Marshall writes:

This whole endeavor, from the very start, has been about taking tawdry, cheap acts and dressing them up in a papier-mache grandeur—phony victory celebrations, ersatz democratization, reconstruction headed up by toadies, con artists and grifters. And this is no different. Hanging Saddam is easy. It’s a job, for once, that these folks can actually see through to completion. So this execution, ironically and pathetically, becomes a stand-in for the failures, incompetence and general betrayal of country on every other front that President Bush has brought us.

Try to dress this up as an Iraqi trial and it doesn’t come close to cutting it—the Iraqis only take possession of him for the final act, sort of like the Church always left execution itself to the ‘secular arm’. Try pretending it’s a war crimes trial but it’s just more of the pretend mumbojumbo that makes this out to be World War IX or whatever number it is they’re up to now.

The Iraq War has been many things, but for its prime promoters and cheerleaders and now-dwindling body of defenders, the war and all its ideological and literary trappings have always been an exercise in moral-historical dress-up for a crew of folks whose times aren’t grand enough to live up to their own self-regard and whose imaginations are great enough to make up the difference. This is just more play-acting. […]

Marty Peretz, with some sort of projection, calls any attempt to rain on this parade “prissy and finicky.” Myself, I just find it embarrassing. This is what we’re reduced to, what the president has reduced us to. This is the best we can do. Hang Saddam Hussein because there’s nothing else this president can get right.

What do you figure this farce will look like 10, 30 or 50 years down the road? A signal of American power or weakness?

Matthew Yglesias is good too:
The Washington Post editorial page is mad at human rights groups for complaining about procedural flaws in Saddam Hussein’s trial since, after all, we all know Saddam is guilty. Martin Peretz is upset that death penalty opponents oppose executing Saddam Hussein since, after all, we all know Saddam’s a really bad guy.

Do these guys not understand the concept of principles? The point of the belief that all people are entitled to fair trials before receiving criminal sentences is that all people are entitled to fair trials. The point of the belief that capital punishment is immoral (not a belief I share, incidentally) is that it’s always immoral. It’s not as if Amnesty International is confused and doesn’t understand that Saddam isn’t a very sympathetic case. Rather, the point is that organizations committed to principles of human rights—fair trials, no executions—need to uphold those principles even when violating them sounds appealing. If they didn’t, the groups wouldn’t be standing for anything.


(1) Thank you, grammar nitpickers, you were right.

December 28, 2006
What the BBC News learned this year
Posted by Teresa at 09:33 AM * 32 comments

This is another year-end roundup. The BBC News magazine has a regular feature called “10 Things We Didn’t Know Last Week,” which are factoids gleaned from news stories. They’re currently running their hundred favorite of these factoids from the past year. Some of my favorites of their favorites:

Just 20 words make up a third of teenagers’ everyday speech. :: Technology analysts estimate that there are 200 million blogs which are no longer being updated. :: Urban birds have developed a shorter, faster style of singing. :: The lion costume in The Wizard of Oz was made from real lions. :: Halloween spending has risen tenfold in the UK over the last five years. :: Up to 25% of hospital keyboards harbor the MRSA “superbug” staph infection. :: More than one in eight adults in the US are being classified as internet addicts. (Hmmmmmmf.) :: Over 90% of airplane crashes have some survivors. :: Eating a packet of potato chips a day is the equivalent of drinking five litres of cooking oil a year. :: Scientists at Kew Gardens have been getting 200-year-old seeds to germinate. :: The full name of Barbie (as in the doll) is Barbie Millicent Roberts. :: The part of the brain associated with teenage sulking is called the superior temporal sulcus. :: There’s only one cheddar cheese manufacturer left in Cheddar. :: Mount Everest averages one death per ten successful ascents. :: While 53% of UK households have garages, only 24% use them for parking cars. :: Cows have regional accents. :: “Time” is the most common noun in English. :: A determined housecat can tree a bear. :: The egg came first. :: Humans were first infected with the HIV virus in the 1930s. :: Teenagers are behaving better than their counterparts did twenty years ago. :: According to George Bush, his personal high point while in office has so far consisted of catching a large perch. :: Britain is still paying off pre-Napoleonic War debts because it’s cheaper to do so than buy back the bonds on which they’re based. :: The Labour Party spent £299.63 on Star Trek outfits for the last election, while the Tories shelled out £1,269 to import groundhog costumes from the US. :: Back in the 1960s, the CIA used to watch Mission Impossible to get ideas about spying.

December 27, 2006
January 2007: United States Conquered by Canada; Pockets of Resistance Quickly Suppressed
Posted by Patrick at 12:38 PM * 166 comments

December 20, 2006: “Currently there are no active or reserve Army combat units outside of Iraq and Afghanistan that are rated as ‘combat ready.’”

At least we’ll finally get health insurance.

December 26, 2006
Whisperado tonight
Posted by Patrick at 01:17 PM * 13 comments

One set, 9 PM, Kenny’s Castaways, 157 Bleecker Street, NYC. $5 cover. Our fourth anniversary! Old songs, new songs, red songs, blue songs. And of course Henry the Horse dances the waltz.

December 25, 2006
Texts
Posted by Teresa at 12:01 AM *

Luke 2:1-14, Anglo-Saxon (via):

Soþlice on þam dagum wæs geworden gebod fram þam casere Augusto, þæt eall ymbehwyrft wære tomearcod. Þeos tomearcodnes wæs æryst geworden fram þam deman Syrige Cirino. And ealle hig eodon, and syndrige ferdon on hyra ceastre. Ða ferde Iosep fram Galilea of þære ceastre Nazareth on Iudeisce ceastre Dauides, seo is genemned Beþleem, for þam þe he wæs of Dauides huse and hirede; þæt he ferde mid Marian þe him beweddod wæs, and wæs geeacnod. Soþlice wæs geworden þa hi þar wæron, hire dagas wæron gefyllede þæt heo cende. And heo cende hyre frumcennedan sunu, and hine mid cildclaþum bewand, and hine on binne alede, for þam þe hig næfdon rum on cumena huse. And hyrdas wæron on þam ylcan rice waciende, and nihtwæccan healdende ofer heora heorda. Þa stod Drihtnes engel wiþ hig, and Godes beorhtnes him ymbe scean; and hi him mycelum ege adredon. And se engel him to cwæð, Nelle ge eow adrædan; soþlice nu ic eow bodie mycelne gefean, se bið eallum folce; for þam to dæg eow ys Hælend acenned, se is Drihten Crist, on Dauides ceastre. And þis tacen eow byð: Ge gemetað an cild hræglum bewunden, and on binne aled. And þa wæs færinga geworden mid þam engle mycelnes heofenlices werydes, God heriendra and þus cweþendra, Gode sy wuldor on heahnesse, and on eorðan sybb mannum godes willan.

Luke 2:1-20, tr. John Wycliffe, 1382

And it was don in tho daies, a maundement wente out fro the emperour August, that al the world schulde be discryued. :: This firste discryuyng was maad of Cyryn, iustice of Sirie. :: And alle men wenten to make professioun, ech in to his owne citee. :: And Joseph wente vp fro Galilee, fro the citee Nazareth, in to Judee, in to a citee of Dauid, that is clepid Bethleem, for that he was of the hous and of the meyne of Dauid, :: that he schulde knouleche with Marie, his wijf, that was weddid to hym, and was greet with child. :: And it was don, while thei weren there, the daies weren fulfillid, that sche schulde bere child. :: And sche bare hir first borun sone, and wlappide hym in clothis, and leide hym in a cratche, for ther was no place to hym in no chaumbir. :: And scheepherdis weren in the same cuntre, wakynge and kepynge the watchis of the nyyt on her flok. :: And lo! the aungel of the Lord stood bisidis hem, and the cleernesse of God schinede aboute hem; and thei dredden with greet drede. :: And the aungel seide to hem, Nyle ye drede; for lo! Y preche to you a greet ioye, that schal be to al puple. :: For a sauyoure is borun to dai to you, that is Crist the Lord, in the citee of Dauid. :: And this is a tokene to you; ye schulen fynde a yong child wlappid in clothis, and leid in a cratche. :: And sudenli ther was maad with the aungel a multitude of heuenli knyythod, heriynge God, :: and seiynge, Glorie be in the hiyeste thingis to God, and in erthe pees be to men of good wille. :: And it was don, as the aungelis passiden awei fro hem in to heuene, the scheephirdis spaken togider, and seiden, Go we ouer to Bethleem, and se we this word that is maad, which the Lord hath maad, and schewide to vs. :: And thei hiyynge camen, and founden Marie and Joseph, and the yong child leid in a cratche. :: And thei seynge, knewen of the word that was seid to hem of this child. :: And alle men that herden wondriden, and of these thingis that weren seid to hem of the scheephirdis. :: But Marie kepte alle these wordis, berynge togider in hir herte. :: And the scheepherdis turneden ayen, glorifyinge and heriynge God in alle thingis that thei hadden herd and seyn, as it was seid to hem.

Luke 2:1-20, tr. William Tyndale, 1530

And it chaunced in thoose dayes: yt ther went oute a comaundment from Auguste the Emperour that all the woorlde shuld be taxed. :: And this taxynge was ye fyrst and executed when Syrenius was leftenaut in Syria. :: And every man went vnto his awne citie to be taxed. :: And Ioseph also ascended from Galile oute of a cite called Nazareth into Iurie: vnto ye cite of David which is called Bethleem because he was of the housse and linage of David :: to be taxed with Mary his spoused wyfe which was with chylde. :: And it fortuned whyll they were there her tyme was come that she shuld be delyvered. :: And she brought forth her fyrst begotten sonne and wrapped him in swadlynge cloothes and layed him in a manger because ther was no roume for them within in the ynne. :: And ther were in the same region shepherdes abydinge in the felde and watching their flocke by nyght. :: And loo: the angell of ye lorde stode harde by the and the brightnes of ye lorde shone rounde aboute them and they were soare afrayed. :: But the angell sayd vnto them: Be not afrayed. For beholde I bringe you tydinges of greate ioye yt shal come to all ye people: :: for vnto you is borne this daye in the cite of David a saveoure which is Christ ye lorde. :: And take this for a signe: ye hall fynde ye chylde swadled and layed in a mager. :: And streight waye ther was with the angell a multitude of hevenly sowdiers laudynge God and sayinge: :: Glory to God an hye and peace on the erth: and vnto men reioysynge. :: And it fortuned assone as the angels were gone awaye fro them in to heven the shepherdes sayd one to another: let vs goo eve vnto Bethleem and se this thynge that is hapened which the Lorde hath shewed vnto vs. :: And they cam with haste and founde Mary and Ioseph and the babe layde in a mager. :: And when they had sene it they publisshed a brode the sayinge which was tolde them of that chylde. :: And all that hearde it wondred at those thinges which were tolde the of the shepherdes. :: But Mary kept all thoose sayinges and pondered them in hyr hert. :: And the shepherdes retourned praysinge and laudinge God for all that they had herde and sene evyn as it was told vnto them.

Luke 2:1-14, King James Version, 1611

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem (because he was of the house and lineage of David), to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, she being great with child.

And so it was that while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered; and she brought forth her first-born son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes; and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not; for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: That ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Addendum: Clever Nick White has done the same thing, only his is in Greek. :: Sisuile posted hers in the Vulgate. :: Hot stuff: Lisa Spangenberg put it up in Gothic. :: Lee Sandlin posted it to the comment thread in Lowland Scots.

And also: Below is the original Anglo-Saxon text I used in this post. I couldn’t find a text of the Gospel of Luke, so instead I used Bede’s account of Caedmon, and Caedmon’s Hymn. Then Harriet Culver posted exactly the text I’d wanted in the comment thread. I’ve swapped it out, but the Caedmon’s still cool (and appropriate, too), so here goes:

Caedmon, as told by the Venerable Bede, c. 731

…þa stod him sum mon æt þurh swefn ond hine halette ond grette ond hine be his noman nemnde: Cedmon, sing me hwæthwugu. :: Þa ondswarede he ond cwæð: Ne con ic noht singan; ond ic forþon of þeossum gebeorscipe uteode, ond hider gewat, forþon ic naht singan ne cuðe. :: Eft he cwæð se ðe wið hine sprecende wæs: Hwæðre þu meaht me singan. :: Þa cwæð he: Hwæt sceal ic singan? :: Cwæð he: Sing me frumsceaft. :: Þa he ða þas andsware onfeng, þa ongon he sona singan in herenesse Godes Scyppendes þa fers ond þa word þe he næfre gehyrde, þære endebyrdnesse þis is:

Nu sculon herigean heofonrices weard,
meotodes meahte ond his modgeþanc,
weorc wuldorfæder, swa he wundra gehwæs,
ece Drihten, or onstealde.
He ærest sceop eorðan bearnum
heofon to hrofe halig scyppend;
þa middangeard monncynnes weard,
ece Drihten, æfter teode
firum foldan, frea ælmihtig.

Þa aras he from þæm slæpe, ond eal þa þe he slæpende song fæste in gemynde hæfde. :: Ond þæm wordum sona monig word in þæt ilce gemet Gode wyrðes songes togeþeodde. :: Þa com he on morgenne to þæm tungerefan, þe his ealdormon wæs: sægde him hwylce gife he onfeng.

December 23, 2006
Advertising art
Posted by Teresa at 10:48 AM *

“There was this ad with gerbils and a cannon—” Lydy said.

“Yup. They did another one with a marching band and wolves. Can’t remember who did it,” I said, typing gerbils “marching band” wolves into Google. “… Got it!”

“You’re good.”

We watched Outpost.com’s Gerbils and Wolves, and their third ad, the one I hadn’t been able to remember, with the tattoos.

Lydy asked whether I’d ever seen the Mountain Dew Bohemian Rhapsody ad. I hadn’t, so we watched that, and the EDS Herding Cats ad, because we both love it, and the Carlton Draft Big Ad because she’d never seen it and everyone should. Then of course I had to look up the other two Carlton Draft “Made from Beer” ads I remembered, Canoe and Big Metal Thing. That was a good campaign.

Then there are the ads I can’t place. Which one had the guy named Bob who’s got his own parking spot, lane on the freeway, etc.? Who did the beer ad that’s a complete fantasy short story about a miraculous ever-flowing bottle of beer? And a long time ago, there was this great Bollywood ad for pappadams I saw that had a really brilliant Elvis impersonator. I have no idea.

(I don’t think Stan Freberg commercials ever aired in our area. I’ve managed to catch up on a few: Butternut Coffee Subliminal Advertising, Chun King Chow Mein, and Jeno’s Pizza Rolls.) (Also, thanks to JBWoodford, the Great American Soups extravaganza.)

Addenda:

Jim Macdonald tracked down the story of The ever-flowing bottle of beer. It’s a Budweiser. Bob Oldendorf identified the tale of Bob, the guy with his own expressway, toll lane, and parking space, as an ad for the ‘91 Nissan Sentra. Unfortunately, I haven’t yet found a video for it online. And Claude Muncey says there are still more good Carlton ads, most notably Flash Beer and Shed.

Will Entrekin said:

I’m so torn. Commercials! I used to produce commercials. I was going to blog about them myself, in fact, and so I have a bunch of links to my favorites on youtube. It’d be a long comment, though.

Would that be okay?

Well, yeah, that would be okay. Check out Will Entrekin’s list of great commercials, which is much longer than mine and has some spectacular stuff on it.

Kip Williams came up with a series of surreal animated German ads from the ’30s and ’40s.

Dang. I can’t keep up with all the good links in the comment thread. Just read it.

December 22, 2006
How to wrap a package
Posted by Teresa at 12:08 PM *

This is for everyone who’s wondered why their packages don’t come out looking as nice as their sister-in-law’s.

There are two important but inobvious principles of package-wrapping technology: First, keep the paper and the package straight and square in relation to each other. Second, keep the paper slightly under tension as you wrap it around the package. That’s how you get that sleek, tidy look: pull it tight, keep it square.

You can see this inadvertently illustrated on this site. The woman does demonstrate basic wrapping procedures, but she doesn’t pull her paper snug as she goes. See the photo of the finished package at the top of the page? Her wrapping paper buckled when she tied the ribbon on. Loose paper is the commonest way to screw up gift wrapping.

Further useful principles:

Before you do anything else, take the price tags off the gifts. Do them all at once, right at the beginning. You won’t remember to check when you’re wrapping your fifth package and you’re up to your elbows in ribbons and gift cards.

Have a large flat clear area to work. If it’s the floor, sweep it and give it a quick swipe with a wet paper towel before getting down to work. Little bits of grit can do a surprising amount of damage to wrapping paper.

Have some bits of tape already torn off the roll and stuck down lightly by one corner on a hard, smooth object. You don’t want to be messing around with a roll of tape at crucial moments, because you need your hands for the paper.

(Note: most novice wrappers use too much tape. Wily old wrappers use all kinds of fastenings; for instance, hot glue guns and contact cement. For added geek value, you can either get great effects or get yourself into a whole lot of trouble with 3M Super 77 spray adhesive.)

Secure your package first. It will make things a lot easier. Fasten cardboard boxes together with bits of tape. Consider wrapping some kind of padding around unboxed irregular objects. Newsprint never killed anyone, though tissue paper looks nicer. Bubble wrap is also fine, though you’ll want to tape it down tidily and trim off any excess.

Folding over your edges before taping gives you a bulky edge if you’re using heavy papers, but it’s a very good idea if you’re using soft, fragile, or very lightweight wrapping materials. If you’re using translucent tissue-weight wrapping paper, you’ll have to first wrap the package in an underlayer of tissue paper or plain white paper, or it’ll look crappy.

An industrial-size roll of shiny metallic mylar covers all bets. Saving the Sunday funny pages is good too. Plain brown wrapping paper can make a fine-looking package if you use large bold ribbons and bows in congenial colors.

How to actually do it:

I could write out the full description, but others have already done it. All hail the web. The best and clearest version I’ve seen is this video demonstration by Santa Claus. He needs to clear off that tabletop so he can see what he’s doing, but he’s rock solid on important stuff like a snug, tight wrap and sharply creased corners.

If you want a non-video version, eHow’s How to Wrap a Gift has good, clear instructions and some thoughtful warnings. Avoid the WikiHow entry on the subject.

If you’re very clever or very desperate:

Onward to more exotic techniques. The method demonstrated by Santa and at eHow is called a seam line wrapping. You can find an additional explanation of it, plus instructions for diagonal wrapping and furoshiki-style wrapping, and various ways of tying ribbons, at the Shimojima gift wrapping page. Just click on a picture and you’ll get a step-by-step how-to. Shimojima’s been in the wrapping-paper business since 1920. Trust that they know what they’re doing.

Wrap Art is a page after my own heart. It shows how to put together gift wrappings that give the impression that You Meant It To Look That Way when all you have to work with are too-small scraps and pieces of several different kinds of paper and maybe some old markers. Click through their gallery to get an idea of your options.

There are only two tricks I can see that they’ve missed. One is using the food coloring out of your kitchen to paint watery stripes (or other patterns) onto plain paper. The other is to wrap a package in paper of one color, then take paper of a contrasting color, pleat it, and snip shapes out of it as though you were making a paper snowflake. When you’re done, carefully unfold it and smooth it out, then wrap a single layer of this paper lace around your contrasting package. It’s tricky, but can look quite impressive.

Furoshiki: this is one of those wrapping techniques that’s either very special or an act of last-minute desperation. Furoshiki are hemmed squares of fabric you wrap and tie in different ways to accommodate parcels of different sizes and shapes. It’s very Japanese. Want to give someone a bowling ball, or two bottles of wine, or a poster in a tube? There’s a furoshiki wrapping technique that’ll handle it. Here’s a how-to page. (Thank you, Erin Kissane.) You probably don’t have spare furoshiki lying around, so use a square scarf, or a bandana if the package is small, or an inherited bridge cloth you’ve never particularly liked.

Be bold. Look like you meant it.

December 21, 2006
The top ten underreported news stories of 2006
Posted by Teresa at 02:28 PM * 74 comments

Via Kottke.org: the Foreign Policy list of the ten most important news stories you hardly heard about in 2006. This is stuff the national media could have been covering all those times they respectfully rehashed Rove’s latest round of disinformation. Note: I’m going to be condensing these without proper ellipsis-markers.

10. Hackable Passports: In October, the U.S. State Department began issuing biometric “ePassports” that contain a radio frequency identification (RFID) tag under the back cover. The tiny chip holds the usual passport data, including a digital photo. A hacker with a laptop and a chip reader he bought for $200 found he was able to steal data from an encrypted RFID tag, potentially allowing him to clone an ePassport. A group of German hackers now recommends that people microwave the new passports to destroy their chips.
Bruce Schneier and Cory Doctorow have been all over this one.
9. What’s Worse Than Bird Flu? The Cure: There were no confirmed deaths in developed countries from bird flu; but the alarm, fueled by Western media reports, did real damage. A rash of abnormal behavior, hallucinations, and even deaths was attributed to Tamiflu, the medicine marketed as a key drug capable of fighting the disease. Ten Canadians taking the drug died suspiciously. The FDA received more than 100 reports of injury and delirium among Tamiflu takers, nearly as many cases as were logged over the drug’s five-year trial period.
But Cylert got taken off the market. Do I sound bitter? I’m bitter.
8. Petro Powers Drop the Dollar: Noticed how the dollar keeps slipping? The latest Bank for International Settlements quarterly report, which tracks the investment trends of oil-producing countries, indicates that Russia and OPEC countries are moving their holdings out of dollars and into euros and yen. OPEC cut its holdings in the dollar by more than $5 billion during the first and second quarter of 2006. Russia now keeps most of its new deposits in euros instead of dollars. This doesn’t just raise our gas prices. It may weaken our currency and drive up inflation.
This development is the hurt that goes on hurting. The next time you hear some balsa-for-brains right-winger shooting his mouth off about how we don’t have to care what other countries think of us, check the international currency exchange rates.
7. The Gender Gap Gets Smaller: A report released in February by the Washington-based Population Reference Bureau found that the gender gap in secondary education is closing or has closed in most developing countries. Particularly in Latin America and Asia, girls are attending school at the same rate, or higher, than boys.

6. Iran and Israel Hold Secret Talks: While Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spent the better part of 2006 denying the Holocaust and threatening to destroy Israel, his country was sitting down with Israeli representatives to settle old debts. The clandestine talks, first reported by Israeli daily Haaretz this month, concern hundreds of millions of dollars allegedly owed to Iran for oil it supplied to Israel before the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

5. United States Funds the Taliban: Some of the money the United States is spending to combat the resurgence of the Taliban is winding up in the hands of the Taliban. As recently as November, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting revealed that villagers in Afghanistan’s war-torn south were handing over U.S. cash meant for reconstruction projects to Taliban fighters, who then use the money to purchase weapons, cell phones, and explosives.

4. Russia Fuels Latin American Arms Race: Latin America has begun a new arms race. There’s been a sudden uptick in major arms deals in the region, largely between Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela, and their newest patron, Russia. The deals have left the region flush with shiny new tanks, fighter jets, and custom-built presidential helicopters.

3. Bush’s Post-Katrina Power Grab:: Overlooked in the $532 billion federal defense spending bill Bushed signed in October was a revision of a nearly 200-year-old law which restricts the president’s power during major crises. In December, Congressional Quarterly examined the changes, saying that the new law “takes the cuffs off” federal restraint during emergencies. Rather than limiting the circumstances under which a president may deploy troops to “any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy,” the 2006 revision expands them to include “natural disaster, epidemic, or other serious public health emergency, terrorist attack or incident.” In other words, it’s now easier for the federal government to send in troops without a governor’s invitation.

Ostensibly, the move aims to streamline bureaucratic inefficiencies that left thousands of New Orleanians stranded last summer. Yet the Insurrection Act that existed when Katrina struck didn’t actually hinder the president’s ability to send federal troops. He simply chose not to.

Critics have called the changes an opening for martial law. Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, one of the few to raise the issue in congress, says that “Using the military for law enforcement goes against one of the founding tenets of our democracy.”

We’ve all noticed how often these changes, supposedly intended to fight terrorism, are neither needed nor used for that purpose, and how almost all of them reduce our liberty and our protection under the law. This particular instance is like taking the brakes off an emergency vehicle so it’ll go faster, when the real problem is that nobody’s taking calls for assistance.
2. China Runs up African Debt: The debt-relief deal struck at last year’s Group of Eight (G8) summit, where rich countries promised to forgive about $40 billion in debts owed by poor countries, was supposed to be a turning point in Africa’s development, a chance to wipe its economic slate clean. Then came China. The rapidly industrializing country has emerged as a top lender to poor African countries. The World Bank estimates that Chinese loans for African infrastructure already total more than $12.5 billion. In November, Chinese President Hu Jintao promised to provide another $5 billion in loans to Africa by 2009.
Foreign Policy frets that these are commercial loans, not the long-term low-interest loans made by multilateral development banks, and that Africa may wind up even further in the red. Maybe. But the other big difference is that China’s loans aren’t backed up by the IMF, the First World’s debt collector. This is going to be interesting.

There’s a limit to how much we can say about this: China’s holding a lot of our debt, too.

1. White House Looks the Other Way while India Helps Iran Build the Bomb: The U.S. government usually takes a hard line against countries that assist Iran with its nuclear program. In 2006 alone, Washington sanctioned firms in Cuba, North Korea, and Russia for making it a little easier for Iran to develop weapons of mass destruction. Not so with India, a close American ally. Just after the U.S. House of Representatives voted in July to support a plan to provide India with nuclear technology, the Bush administration quietly imposed sanctions on two Indian firms for supplying Tehran with missile parts. Nor was the White House forthcoming with Congress about India’s other instances of nuclear proliferation: In the past two years, two other Indian companies have been penalized for allegedly passing chemical weapons information to Iran, and two Indian scientists who ran the state-run nuclear utility were barred from doing business with the U.S. government after they allegedly passed heavy-water nuclear technology to Tehran.
My favorite wild-assed conspiracy theory about Iran is that Bush wants there to be as much evidence as possible that they’re building a nuclear bomb, because (1.) he wants a war with Iran; (2.) U.S. conventional forces are already stretched way too thin by Iraq and Afghanistan; and (3.) we have all those old nuclear weapons we’ve never used. An even loopier version says that the real reason he wants a war with Iran is that he’s privately concluded that he’s not going to win in Iraq, so he’s casting around for another war he can win before his term is up.

That theory’s too loopy even for me. I don’t believe it. I’m just amused by it. Sort of.

Anyway, there’s FA’s list. Other news-watchers might come up with a different list, or rank these ten items in a different order, but they’re all stories we needed to hear about. Maybe one of those news services or lagging newspapers out there will rechristen itself “News for Grownups” and go after my business.

Bactrian gold
Posted by Teresa at 11:30 AM * 52 comments

When it comes to lost archaeological treasures, the news is seldom good. This time it is. The Bactrian Treasure—a cache of more than 20,000 gold ornaments from the Tillia tepe site near Sheberghan*—has turned up again.

That was unexpected, to put it mildly. The trove had been unearthed in the winter of 1978-79 by a joint Soviet-Afghan archaeological team, not long before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. It vanished off the map shortly thereafter. Then there was civil war. Then the Taliban came in and started destroying any pre-Islamic art they could get their hands on.

The odds of recovering the trove looked very bad indeed. Gold ornaments can pretty much last forever, unless people get their hands on them. Gold in lumps or ingots is worth far less than treasures of ancient art, but it’s much harder to identify and thus much easier to sell. With so much other stuff getting stolen or destroyed in Afghanistan, there seemed little chance that a batch of fragile antiquities had survived. The only real cause for hope was that the items weren’t being offered for sale in any of the usual venues.

Last month, mirabile dictu, the Bactrian Treasure reappeared. Turns out it had been carefully stashed three levels down in the Central Bank vaults inside the royal palace compound, along with various other valuable and significant antiquities like the Bagram ivories. Here’s the AP version of the story. Here’s the New York Times. If you want additional pictures, try MSNBC, Spiegel Online, and BBC News. And: Tim May found a stash of photos here.

Open thread 77
Posted by Teresa at 08:30 AM *

Letter to Lady Georgiana Morpeth, 1820:

Dear Lady Georgiana,

Nobody has suffered more from low spirits than I have done—so I feel for you.

1st. Live as well as you dare.
2nd. Go into the shower-bath with a small quantity of water at a temperature low enough to give you a slight sensation of cold, 75 or 80.
3rd. Amusing books.
4th. Short views of human life—not further than dinner or tea.
5th. Be as busy as you can.
6th. See as much as you can of those friends who respect and like you.
7th. And of those acquaintances who amuse you.
8th. Make no secret of low spirits to your friends, but talk of them freely—they are always worse for dignified concealment.
9th. Attend to the effects tea and coffee produce upon you.
l0th. Compare your lot with that of other people.
11th. Don’t expect too much from human life—a sorry business at the best.
12th. Avoid poetry, dramatic representations (except comedy), music, serious novels, melancholy sentimental people, and everything likely to excite feeling or emotion not ending in active benevolence.
13th. Do good, and endeavor to please everybody of every degree.
14th. Be as much as you can in the open air without fatigue.
15th. Make the room where you commonly sit, gay and pleasant.
16th. Struggle by little and little against idleness.
17th. Don’t be too severe upon yourself, or underrate yourself, but do yourself justice.
18th. Keep good blazing fires.
19th. Be firm and constant in the exercise of rational religion.
20th. Believe me, dear Lady Georgiana,

Very truly yours, Sydney Smith

December 20, 2006
Never counting the cost
Posted by Teresa at 01:30 AM * 133 comments

Patrick just came in to say that Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings put up a post about Bush’s rejection of the Iraq Study Group’s report that more or less duplicated the rant I delivered to him while cooking dinner this evening.* It’s a good post. Here’s a chunk of it:

A lot of us assume that people operate within certain normal parameters: we assume that someone who looks like a normal person won’t pull out a machine gun over lunch for no reason, and don’t worry about that possibility unless something suggests it, even though it would be pretty bad if it actually happened. Likewise, I assume that my friends won’t go out of their way to seriously harm me just for fun, and [I make] all the rest of those basic, unnoticed assumptions that allow life to go on.

I think that Bush violates those assumptions. He is more or less completely irresponsible. You can see this tripping people up over and over. For instance, when Colin Powell gives Bush his ‘hey, think really hard about Iraq; you break it, you own it’ speech: that seems to have been, for Powell, a big deal to do, and for him, assuming responsibility for a whole country would be a big deal as well. I don’t think Powell understood that he was dealing with someone to whom those words would mean nothing.

…[A]fter the ISG report came out, I heard a number of people say things like: “Bush can’t ignore this report.”

With normal people, they’d be right. (And normalcy here is pretty minimal.) Normal people would not be able to ignore a report like this, either because it would be flatly unreasonably to just ignore a report with these authors or because it would be imprudent. Similarly, normal people couldn’t possibly invade Iraq without making sure that someone had drawn up careful and detailed plans about what would happen after the fall of Baghdad. I mean, how could someone possibly overlook that?

The problem is that Bush is not, in this sense, a normal person. … [The] sense of “can’t” that’s at work in statements like “he can’t just ignore the combination of the ISG report, the election, his own unpopularity, and the unanimous advice of the Joint Chiefs of Staff” has no purchase on him whatsoever.

She notes that unlike the pundits, Atrios, Ezra Klein, and Atrios again knew that Bush would insist on continuing to fight his disastrous war, because that’s what he’s been saying he’d do all along.

Fancy that.

I’ve written about Bushspeak before, mostly to point out its unashamed lack of meaning. (Bush is to public discourse as Three Card Monte is to card game.) The other side of that is spotting the times Bush does mean something. Briefly: if he says it over and over again; if changing circumstances cause him to make changing arguments that nevertheless arrive at identical conclusions; and if it consistently commands his time and attention, odds are he actually means it. This yields a short list: going to war in Iraq, cutting taxes in the upper brackets, getting rid of the estate tax, privatizing Social Security, continuing to fight in Iraq … and not much else.

I keep telling Jim Macdonald, when he’s trying to figure out Bush’s Iraq policy, that he’s crediting the man with excessively complex and detailed thought processes. Why does Bush insist on staying the course, and/or making One Last Big Push? Because if he agrees to pull out, he doesn’t get what he wants. However, he might get what he wants if he keeps insisting that we keep fighting the war, no matter what the consequences. That’s all. This is a man who’s never paid the cost of anything in his life, and has no interest in the costs to others.

From a recent Bush/Blair joint press conference:

Q. Mr. President, the Iraq Study Group said that leaders must be candid and forthright with people. So let me test that. Are you capable of admitting your failures in the past, and perhaps much more importantly, are you capable of changing course, perhaps in the next few weeks?

BUSH: I think you’re probably going to have to pay attention to my speech coming up here when I get all the recommendations in, and you can answer that question, yourself. I do know that we have not succeeded as fast as we wanted to succeed. I do understand that progress is not as rapid as I had hoped. And therefore, it makes sense to analyze the situation and to devise a set of tactics and strategies to achieve the objective that I have stated.

The correct answer would have been “No. I am not capable of admitting failure. I am also incapable of changing course, no matter how desperately it’s needed.”

There’s no assumption of responsibility in his statement. No admission of doubt. No regret. No acknowledgement that he’s presiding over one of the greatest military and foreign relations disasters in United States history. No acknowledgement that the cost of his proposed course of action will be unacceptably high in six different ways. Just “We have not succeeded as fast as we wanted to succeed,” and a final admission that his objective has not changed.

Bush has of late been pushing the “We can only lose if we quit” line, and invoking analogies to Vietnam. That is: disaster can be turned into success, if only we try hard enough. There’s a very simple counter to that argument: Forget trying harder. We’ll try as hard as we need to. The real question is, what do we define as success, and how much are we willing to pay for it?

(That is, by the way, the response to assertions that we could have won in Vietnam if only we hadn’t been hamstrung by our own leaders: What do you mean by “win,” and how much would you have been willing to pay for it? The varieties of “winning” that were still possible were looking nastier and more pointless all the time, and the costs were running most unreasonably high.)

The Iraq Study Group’s recommendations were aimed at getting our troops out without having the situation around them collapse into civil war, chaos, and running guerrilla battles all the way to the sea. Also, without leaving behind every bit of military gear that’s too big to pick up and run with. Their estimate that this might be possible was based on the assumption that preparations for it would start soon, and be pursued in a determined and orderly fashion.

Do you imagine that if dumping more troops into Iraq and making One More Big Push were enough to win the war, the Iraq Study Group wouldn’t have mentioned it? Bush’s plan doesn’t address any of the actual, identifiable problems of the Iraq occupation. He’s just throwing good money after bad, only now he’s going to throw it harder, and use both hands.

A quote from Ingvar Kamprad:

A design without a pricetag is meaningless.
And a last quote from Hilzoy:
Sometimes people have a hard time wrapping their minds around the fact that someone has no limits whatsoever.

December 19, 2006
December 18, 2006
Keith Snyder on Novels in Progress
Posted by Teresa at 10:30 AM * 87 comments

Earlier this month I ran Keith Snyder on Novels in Progress as a Particle. I’ve been gradually finding out that not a lot of people clicked through to read it, mostly because it’s a .pdf. (Update: it’s now in HTML. I’ve redirected the link.) That’s too bad, because it’s stellar practical advice. It’s also, rarest of rarities, original: stuff I’ve never before seen, heard, or thought of. Let me give you some samples so you’ll go read it yourself:

No problem is just one kind of problem.

Every weakness is a weakness in more than one way. a problem with “characterization” turns out to be, coincidentally, where the plot also happens to lose track of itself. Lack of sufficient description is also where character voice disappears.

That means several things. First, it means a story is a unified whole, and that discussing “plot,” “character,” and “setting” as though they are separate is a mistake. Second, it means there’s more than one way to attack the problem. In the case of insufficient description, it would be easy to say, “Put in more description!” However, it might prove as fruitful to say, “You’ve missed a chance to let your point-of-view character tell us how she sees the world.”

This may go partway toward explaining why I’m probably contradicting other authors from whom you may have had advice, and why the next author you consult will contradict me: Sometimes, it’s because somebody’s actually wrong, but it’s also possible that we’re all seeing the same weakness, and simply approaching from the particular angle with which we’re most comfortable. We see the same problems, but solve them differently. So if more than one reliable source complains, but they’re complaining about different things, try to figure out the root cause of the symptoms they’re pointing to.

This sheds a lot of light on a rule of thumb I’ve known for years: If someone tells you a passage doesn’t work, they’re almost always right. What they tell you you ought to do to fix it is less certain to be right. I’ve also known that one problem scene can elicit six different authoritative suggestions on how to fix it. These well-known phenomena suddenly make sense if you look at them in terms of there being an undiagnosed root cause of the problems.
If you can identify the function of a scene, it’s easier to solve your problems.

Seeing your novel as a series of scenes, each of which has some sort of concrete purpose that you can articulate, can be helpful when trying to figure out how to attack problems.

For example, figuring out which dialogue to cut becomes clear when you know what the scene is for—you just cut whatever dialogue doesn’t agree with that function. Same with description, narrative, and everything else; there’s always going to be stuff that you keep because it’s fun, or chilling, or sad, or interesting, even if it doesn’t directly contribute to the scene’s function—but when you keep the scene’s function in mind while you’re cutting, it becomes easier to recognize what’s expendable and what’s not, and you’ll start making choices that make the scene feel taut.

This is why we’re forever telling students at Viable Paradise to finish the first draft, write straight through to the end of the book, instead of slowly creeping forward via rewrites of rewrites of rewrites. (“Epicyclic rewrites,” I say, and watch to see whether anyone gets it.) You can’t perfect a scene or chapter until you know what it’s doing, and you can’t know that until you know where the book goes and how it ends. Sometimes we hand out Certificates of Permission to Write Badly, if that’s what the student needs to start moving forward.*
Hide and Seek.

Some new writers love to withhold information so they can give the reader a surprise later. This is not necessarily a bad thing in all cases, but it can mean the reader is being denied the chance to enjoy the book now. It might also mean you’re relying too much on the idea of surprising the reader later instead of entertaining the reader now.

If you’re hiding information, the question I’d ask is why?

If the answer is that you’re writing a story with a twist ending—like The Sixth Sense—and all the hidden information builds toward it in concretely identifiable ways, then you may be fine.

If the answer is “I just like surprises,” then you may be reducing the dramatic impact of your story by sacrificing an interesting story now for a structurally meaningless surprise later.

It’s an easy trap to fall into. For some reason, we think springing a gotcha on the reader will make them go “Wow!” But it often doesn’t work out that way; by the time we get to the surprise, we’ve had to slog through too much that wasn’t interesting on its own.

And then—often—the surprise serves no identifiable purpose. So first there’s a slog, and then there’s no payoff.

Okay, so you got me. Big deal.

If this is one of your bad habits, the solution is simple: If you’ve got something interesting, use it sooner instead of later.

Let me say a fervent “amen” to that one.
Why I’m not line-editing.

In most cases, you’re here because you’ve got a manuscript that you’re not entirely happy with. Usually, the source of your unhappiness will be something structural: A plot that doesn’t happen, a character who’s not really a person yet, an incompletely thought-out thing of some sort.

Line-editing doesn’t make sense in that context; there’s no point agonizing over a single line if the entire chapter might be cut during your next revision. A story with structural problems is like a car with six side-view mirrors, one wheel, and twelve front seats; we can work on polishing each of the mirrors, and congratulate each other on how nice the seat leather is, but how much good is that really going to do when what the car needs is three more wheels, eleven fewer front seats, and an engine?

I’m sometimes asked whether a book can be fixed with a good rewrite. In most cases I say no, because what it first needs is a good rethinking. That makes the outcome a lot more uncertain. Rewriting is a skill, but every rethinking is a different problem.

Now go read the whole thing.

December 17, 2006
Underrated Bloggers of Our Times (#1 in a series)
Posted by Patrick at 09:22 PM *

Jonathan Schwarz of A Tiny Revolution. Sample post:

We Need More Comparisons Of Iraqis To American Indians

This, by James Woolsey in the recent Vanity Fair article about the chastened neocons, is a good start:

[Woolsey draws a] historical parallel, to the U.S. campaigns against Native Americans in the 19th century, to make another point: that the absence of Iraqi auxiliaries deprived coalition soldiers of invaluable local intelligence. “Without the trained Iraqis, it was like the Seventh Cavalry going into the heart of Apache country in Arizona in the 1870s with no scouts. No Apache scouts. I mean, hello?”
But we need much more where this came from. The lack of this is, I think, what has caused so much ill-will towards us among Iraqis. Only when they hear the United States constantly comparing them to Native Americans will they understand how truly glorious the future we have planned for them is.

December 16, 2006
Deaf video: the street finds its own uses (again)
Posted by Teresa at 07:46 PM *

Why did it not occur to me that the signing deaf would be using YouTube as a public forum? This is transformational. Many of them aren’t comfortably fluent in written language. For many more, sign is and always will be their first language. YouTube gives them an easy, expressive, unmediated channel for many-to-many communication.

I wandered into this via YouTube’s “related videos” feature, from Eddie Izzard doing standup, to David Armand’s partly-signed Karaoke for the Deaf. The deaf video universe opened out from there. I can’t tell what anyone’s saying, but if I watch closely, I can mostly tell what kind of thing is going on, even if I miss out on the specific content. It’s all the usual stuff. Some segments are clearly labeled, like Letter to Deaf UK raising my concerns about the moderation of the group. Others are more inscrutable. I suspect that Todd Bonheyo Deaf Superdeafy is rapping. It’s stylish, whatever it is.

Here’s what I can make out. Storytelling: An idiot boy and a motorbike; I bought myself a riding lawnmower; Busted! Everyday blogging: Morning news from my mom; The death of Miss Deaf Texas; Deaf Rambo’s College Life; Deaf Rambo in re Lindsey Lohan’s breasts. Tech neep: RSS in ASL. Community announcements: Sujit explains a program called RYLA Deaf Way in ISL. Closer to home: Par-TAY!, San Onofre, August 26th. I’m bringing barbecue. You bring your board. Political blogging: Levinson-Schwarz Duel (Oy Vey!); Richard Roehm outs his speaking abilities. Political organizing: in support of the protests at Gallaudet, 1, 2, 3. (I get the impression that it would be a bad idea to put these people in the same room with Richard Roehm.)

I was struck by one personal essayist, kunosher, who posts as Deaf Angel. His Deaf Angel’s Life has the most words in it, so I know the least about it. If I’m not mistaken, Dude … I’m deaf is about the frustration of being a deaf-mute trying to cope with stupid hearing people who refuse to believe that a person of normal intelligence might be unable to hear or speak. His nearly wordless download … wait … done … happy is about living with a slow internet connection, and his joy when things come through. I’m sure the metaphor is intentional.

Eddie Izzard’s Mongrel Nation
Posted by Teresa at 10:32 AM * 58 comments

If you don’t mind watching it in segments, there’s an interesting Eddie Izzard documentary, Mongrel Nation, available on YouTube. It’s about how much quintessentially English culture comes from somewhere else.

So far my favorite bit is where Izzard demonstrates that English is a Germanic language. First he gets taught the basics by an Anglo-Saxonist. (Actually, what we see is him having a fit of the giggles over the first two words of þuhte me þæt ic gesawe.*) Then he goes to Frisia to see how the Anglo-Saxon for “I want to buy a brown cow that makes a lot of milk” goes over with a Frisian dairy farmer.

Component segments: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15.

It’s not surprising that comedians make good nonfiction programs. If you’re into that, try Terry Jones’ four-part series, Crusades.

December 14, 2006
Geomagnetic storm incoming
Posted by Patrick at 01:08 PM *

If your local forecast is for clear skies tonight, and your distance from the equator is the same or greater than ours, get outside and look up. You may get to see an aurora. Trust me, it’s worth going to some trouble to see.

Guest-blogging stint
Posted by Patrick at 09:18 AM *

Making Light co-blogger Jim Macdonald and his spouse-and-collaborator Debra Doyle are guest-blogging this week at the Eos Books blog, in conjunction with the publication of their American Civil War naval fantasy novel Land of Mist and Snow. Here’s Jim introducing a post about sea stories:

Here’s what to do if you miss being in the Navy: Put on your foul-weather jacket. Hang two Coke bottles around your neck. Go stand in your shower from midnight to four a.m., with the water turned on full cold and all the lights out. Get out of the shower, strip down, and go to sleep on the top shelf of your closet.

It’s only recently that I’ve gone past the point where I’ve been out of the Navy longer than I was in it, and I do miss it. Just not enough to go stand in a cold shower for four hours at a time. Instead, I write about it.

And here’s Debra on the advantages of fantasy:
[W]hen it comes to dealing with large important issues (things like slavery and freedom, for instance) fantasy has some advantages that realism doesn’t. Fantasy is the genre in which metaphors and symbols can be given life and physical existence. Instead of dealing with ideals and abstractions at one remove, the writer can introduce them directly into the tale as independent actors. And issues in this country don’t come much larger or more important than the Civil War.

If the stories and legends of King Arthur make up the Matter of Britain, and those of Charlemagne the Matter of France, then the Civil War is surely the heart of the Matter of America: It is the painful working-out in blood of the original sin of the Republic, the failure to deal with the problem of slavery; and the resolution by force of arms of the contradictory existence of sovereign states inside a sovereign nation.

Drop over there and give ‘em a shout.

December 13, 2006
Not so brilliant
Posted by Patrick at 09:09 AM * 78 comments

Okay, joking aside, I really can’t figure out if this post from Attytood is meant as a jape or not. If it’s serious, my brain hurts. Even assuming that Craig Newmark is in fact singlehandedly responsible for the precipitous recent decline of American daily newspapers (a debatable point in itself), it’s nuts to contend that by inventing and giving away some new good thing you incur a moral obligation to provide social welfare to the people who were previously making a living by selling it. I’m entirely comfortable with the idea that society as a whole has an obligation to help the unfortunate, and (as a liberal) I’m fine with higher rates of taxation on rich guys like Craig Newmark. But specifically dumping extra-special obligations on a philanthropist as punishment for his philanthropy is crazy. By that logic, all donations to relieve any kind of human suffering should oblige the donor to additionally provide for the hypothetical lost livelihoods of people who might have stood to profit from the suffering thus relieved—usurers, drug dealers, weapons merchants, and on down.

December 12, 2006
Brilliant sendup
Posted by Patrick at 10:23 PM * 90 comments

What I don’t understand about this masterful parody of right-wing fruitcake web site WorldNetDaily is how its creators managed to hack it so that their spoof appears to be a real article on WND’s site. Well done!

December 11, 2006
Regarding ads
Posted by Patrick at 08:31 PM * 460 comments

This seems like a good moment to remind everyone that we don’t endorse every viewpoint presented or advocated by our advertisers, nor do we feel obliged to regularly note which ones we do or don’t agree with.

In fact, our default assumption is that our readers can make up their own minds. By and large, we approve most ads, unless they’re either irredeemably ugly or morally objectionable beyond the compass of reasonable disagreement. The decisions of the judges are final. Contents may have settled in shipping. Close cover before striking. Reg. Penna. Dept. Agric.

From correspondence: current sentiments
Posted by Teresa at 10:54 AM * 115 comments

This is making the rounds in e-mail. My mother forwarded it to me.

Bumper stickers and other political messages recently sighted:

Is It Vietnam Yet?
That’s OK, I Wasn’t Using My Civil Liberties Anyway.
Bush. Like a Rock. Only Dumber.
Let’s Fix Democracy in This Country First.
If You Want a Nation Ruled By Religion, Move to Iran.
If You Can Read This, You’re Not the President.
Of Course It Hurts: You’re Getting Screwed by an Elephant.
George Bush: Creating the Terrorists Our Kids Will Have to Fight.
(over a photo of Bush) Electile Dysfunction.
America: One Nation, Under Surveillance.
They Call Him “W” So He Can’t Misspell It.
Which God Do You Kill For?
Jail to the Chief.
No, Seriously, Why Did We Invade Iraq?
Bush: God’s Way of Proving Intelligent Design is Full of Crap.
Bad President! No Banana.
We Need a President Who’s Fluent In At Least One Language.
We’re Making Enemies Faster Than We Can Kill Them.
Guess What? Bush Doesn’t Care About Poor White People, Either.
When Bush Took Office, Gas Was $1.46.
The Republican Party: Our Bridge to the 11th Century.
What Part of “Bush Lied” Don’t You Understand?
Bush Lost Iraq. Deal With It.
Even Nixon Resigned

Addenda:
Republicans for Voldemort. (W. H. Heydt)
Who Would Jesus Torture? (Lizzy Lynn)
Would Someone Give Him A Blowjob So We Can Impeach Him Already? (Annalee Flower Horne)
IRAQ: Arabic for Vietnam. (Annalee Flower Horne)
Give Bush an Inch and He Thinks He’s a Ruler. (Serge)
Bring Back Monica Lewinsky. (Rachel)
My Country Invaded Iraq and All I Got Was This Expensive Gas. (Marie Brennan)
I MISS BILL. (ajay)
If He Were My Bush I’d Shave Him Off. (Dena Shunra)
My Kid’s an Honor Student and My President’s a Moron. (Mike Berry)
My Other President Was Elected. (Kip Williams)
(ribbon shape, in red, white, & blue) Just Pretend It’s All Okay. (John from Tucson)
When Jesus Said Love Your Enemies, I’m Pretty Sure He Meant Don’t Kill Them. (Emily H.)
When Clinton Lied, Nobody Died. (Lizzy Lynn)
Vampire Slayers Against Bush. (Candra)
PBS Mind In a Fox News World. (cap)
I Never Thought I’d Miss Nixon. (cap)
(under a red no-no circle) Dubya Dubya III. (Mimi)
“Bush: It’s What’s for Dinner.” —Cannibals for Liberty (anaea)
Re-elect Jeb Bartlett. (Earl Cooley III)
Bush Is Listening—Use Big Words. (Lorax)
Is It 2008 Yet? (Lorax)
I don’t have to like Bush to love America. (Larry Brennan)
Who would Jesus Bomb? (Larry Brennan)
Impeach Xenu. (PixelFish)
Religious freedom is measured by the distance between church and state. (Lee)
I vote on moral issues: Greed, Corruption, Poverty, War, Intolerance, Hunger, and Equality. (Lee)
B U * *
S H * * (moe99)
At least in Vietnam, Bush had an exit strategy. (Emma Bull)
George W. Bush: Let’s not elect him THIS time either! (pedantic peasant)
George W. Bush: FOUR MORE WARS! (pedantic peasant)
Still glad you voted for Bush? (pedantic peasant)
Nous sommes desoles que notre president soit un idiot. Nous n’avons pas vote pour lui. (Bill Humphries)
CUT out the crap
AND
RUN the country. (Xopher)
Be nice, or we’ll bring democracy to your country next. (Mac)
01.20.09. (Bush’s last day. Tell a friend.) (Bob Oldendorf)
Pelosi ‘07. (TomB)
Somewhere in Texas, a Village Is Missing Its Idiot. (TomB)
One twig short of a shrub. (TomB)
Don’t you think Bush is looking tired? (Julia Jones)
He’ll always be ex-Governor Bush to me. (Nancy Lebovitz)
Regime change begins at home. (Nancy Lebovitz)
The Republican Party: Speaking power to truth. (Nancy Lebovitz)
Political skill in the absence of statesmanship is the first act of a tragedy. (Nancy Lebovitz)
If you return those books, we won’t tell the FBI you borrowed them. (Nancy Lebovitz)
NOT IN MY NAME. (Nancy Lebovitz)
You put your hand on the Bible and swear to protect the Constitution, not the other way around. (Nancy Lebovitz)
War is Terrorism With a Bigger Budget. (debcha)
Who do I have to blow to get an impeachment around here? (Adam Rice)
The last time we followed a talking Bush into the desert, we got stuck there for 40 years. (Cory Doctorow)
Impeach Cheney First! (Neil in Chicago)
Nehemiah Scudder in 2012. (Booklegger451)
I have a little white oval sticker on my car that says “FGW.” (RedMolly)
I’ll do my part, I’ll play the pawn
If that’s what it takes to get you gone
I’m my knees, Dubya, BRING IT ON.
Here’s your fucking blowjob. (Velma)
2004: Embarrassed
2005: Horrified
2006: Terrified. (Claude Muncey)
Where Are We Going? And Why Are We In This Handbasket? (Claude Muncey)
You Elected Him. You Deserve Him. (Claude Muncey)
Frodo Failed. Bush Has the Ring. (Claude Muncey)
1.20.09: End of an Error. (Claude Muncey)
Support Our Troops—Bring Them Home! (Edward Oleander)
Support Disaster Relief: Impeach Bush Now. (Edward Oleander)
It’s all fun and games until the Vice President shoots someone in the face. (murgatroyd)
My Bush Would Make a Better President. (miriam beetle)
</bush>. (Sharon M)
Gore/Clinton ‘08. (Randolph Fritz)
I hated Bush before it was cool. (Patrick Nielsen Hayden)

December 10, 2006
In a sentimental mood
Posted by Patrick at 10:41 PM * 75 comments

Another response to the death of mass-murdering Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet:

Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Pinochet’s staunchest ally in Britain, was “greatly saddened” by his death, her office said.
Another response to Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher:
Well I hope I don’t die too soon
I pray the Lord my soul to save
Oh I’ll be a good boy, I’m trying so hard to behave
Because there’s one thing I know, I’d like to live long enough to savour
That’s when they finally put you in the ground
I’ll stand on your grave and tramp the dirt down
UPDATE: Randy Paul has more on the career on the man whose death “greatly saddens” Margaret Thatcher.

December 09, 2006
More gay Republicans
Posted by Teresa at 08:09 PM * 140 comments

Quoted without comment:

Janice Crouse, of the scary hyperconservative organization Concerned Women for America, on the pregnancy of Dick Cheney’s openly lesbian daughter Mary Cheney, who worked for her father as a campaign aide during the 2004 election, and has been with her partner Heather Poe for fifteen years:

Janice Crouse of Concerned Women for America described the pregnancy as “unconscionable.”

“It’s very disappointing that a celebrity couple like this would deliberately bring into the world a child that will never have a father,” said Crouse, a senior fellow at the group’s think tank. “They are encouraging people who don’t have the advantages they have.”

Filtration
Posted by Teresa at 12:01 PM *

How fine are coffee filters, as in microns? Does anybody know?

I’m trying to figure out whether there’s an inexpensive way to filter particles that will pass through a coffee filter.

Thanks.

Rumsfeld: Not Done Yet
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 11:25 AM * 146 comments

Rumsfeld wants torture lawsuit dismissed

WASHINGTON (AP) — Outgoing Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is asking a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit that would hold him personally responsible for torture in overseas military prisons.

The lawsuit, filed by two civil rights groups, describes the imprisonment of nine foreigners detained in Iraq and Afghanistan. The lawsuit contends the men were beaten, suspended upside down from the ceiling by chains, urinated on, shocked, sexually humiliated, burned, locked inside boxes and subjected to mock executions.

No kidding he wants that suit dismissed. Imagine if he had to stand up and answer for his actions, without having an invading army take the country in order to put him in the dock. If post-invasion trial was good enough for Hermann Goering and Saddam Hussein, it’s good enough for Don Rumsfeld, right?

If the court lets the lawsuit continue, the Justice Department said, it would allow prisoners around the world to use U.S. courts to disrupt military operations.

“Subjecting military leaders to such personal tort liability could distract them from their duties, and the specter of captured aliens harassing military personnel with time-consuming individual capacity litigation could cause grave damage to military morale,” the government wrote in briefs filed with the court.

Yeah, because being beaten, suspended upside down from the ceiling by chains, urinated on, shocked, sexually humiliated, burned, locked inside boxes and subjected to mock executions is so much part of legitimate military operations.

Imagine if the prisoners in Dachau had been able to bring a suit against Heinrich Himmler and actually bring him to court. How terrible it would have been had he been distracted from his duties.

December 08, 2006
What is it with fruitcake?
Posted by Teresa at 11:56 AM * 304 comments

Here’s the deal: the old rule for fruitcake used to be that (a.) you used only confectionery-grade nuts, candied fruit, candied citrus peel, etc.; (b.) you cut the candied fruit and candied peel into thin julienne strips; and (c.) you aged the fruitcake some weeks or months, wrapped in cheesecloth in a tightly lidded container, and periodically doused it with the hootch of your choice.

This produced a moist, mellow fruitcake with well-integrated flavors. The interlocking julienne strips held it togther, so it could be cut into proper thin slices. The julienne strips also meant that a mouthful of cake wouldn’t turn out to consist of a single horrible wodge of denatured maraschino cherry. Finally, the use of confectionery-quality ingredients meant it tasted good.

How you can screw up with fruitcake: 1. Start too late in the year, so that your fruitcake doesn’t mellow properly, and instead turns out nasty, crumbly, and dry. 2. Cheap out on the ingredients, using semi-rancid nuts, the wrong sort of raisins, and wholly denatured “candied fruit chunks”. 3. Use a recipe that calls for the substitution of gum drops. This is an abomination. Also, the melting gumdrops weld the cake into the pan.

My theory about the decline of the fruitcake: When you buy baked goods for your own consumption, you’ll notice adulteration; but you won’t notice it in baked goods you buy to give as presents, and the recipients will be too polite to mention it. Fruitcakes are the definition of baked goods people buy to give away. Adulteration happened. By the time everyone got around to comparing notes on how nasty most commercial fruitcake had become, we’d raised a generation of kids who wouldn’t eat fruitcake on a bet.

I love good fruitcake, myself.

If you’re starting now, or if you like a light fruitcake, or if you just plain don’t like candied fruit and citrus peel, you can do worse than Jo Walton’s Cousin Beryl’s Fruitcake Recipe. It’s great stuff, and it doesn’t require aging. A large wedge of it was our salvation when our train was delayed coming home from Montreal.

[Recipe Index]

December 07, 2006
Le Vostre Geoffrey Chaucer (update)
Posted by Teresa at 03:30 PM *

Master Geoffrey is still at it. Naturally, I like everything he writes. Some notable recent pieces: No Japery Todaye, a brief serious homily for World AIDS Day:

Agayns this horrible synne of Accidie … ther is a vertu that is called fortitudo or strengthe, that is an affecioun thurgh which a man despiseth anoyouse thynges. …
And two digressiouns from his Parlement Journale: a description of a work of science ficcion ycleped Battlestar Ecclesiastica, and the Harley Lyrics, whereof one follows:
Maketh motor for to runne
Shoopen vs to to heigh-waye
No aventure shal we shunne
In what-evir cometh ower waye

Yn the smok and lightening
Blastes of hevy metal
Wyth the wind goon racing-
The felinge is so goode

An hendy happe ichabbe hent,
From nature pure we aren sent
Vndyinge we kan make ascent
For borne we are to wexen woode

BOOOOOORNE TO WAXEN WOODE (refrain repeateth)

The last verse may not make you pass thinly-sliced cucumber through your nose if you read it while eating lunch, the way it did me; but that’s your loss.

Firepower on the Great Lakes
Posted by Teresa at 03:00 PM *

Since Jim has put up his post about passports on the Canadian border, I feel a little braver about this one. I wrote it at the beginning of September of this year, then talked myself into not posting it. I still wonder whether I’m being too easily spooked.

If I get any more froward with my paranoias, I’ll have to dig out that old unpublished post of mine speculating about whether Bush is planning to use nukes on Iran. —TNH

==============

05 September 2006: For some time now I’ve been twitchy about news stories that suggest the possibility that the U.S. government might try to limit the ability of its citizens to travel out of the country.

The latest one is a report from the London (Ontario) Free Press saying that U.S. Coast Guard ships operating in the Great Lakes have been equipped with machine guns that can fire 600 rounds a minute, and that they now want to test-fire them in 34 “safety zones”:

Now that it has armed its boats with machine guns, the U.S. Coast Guard wants to test-fire them on the Great Lakes.

While the Coast Guard prefers to call the 34 test-fire areas “safety zones,” a spokesperson concedes they’re designed to provide “operational readiness” for national security, defence and maritime law enforcement. He also conceded there’s no plan to alert Canadian boaters or harbourmasters to the tests.

One of the test-firing areas is barely 20 kilometres north of Sarnia and the move has so upset Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley, he’s appealing to Prime Minister Stephen Harper to stop it.

“The world’s longest undefended border no longer exists,” Bradley said, adding he’s “stunned” at the development that follows an agreement to allow arming Coast Guard cutters.

No one’s going to invade the United States through the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Great Lakes. If they did, our primary line of defense wouldn’t be Coast Guard cutters with machine guns. And if terrorists were trying to slip into the U.S. from Canada, they wouldn’t do it in ways that warranted a 600-rounds-per-minute response from routine patrol boats.

All this firepower is going to be limited to the American side of the lakes. I can only think of one thing an armed Great Lakes Coast Guard would actually be good for: stopping boats leaving the American side for Canada.

Will someone please show me how I’m just being paranoid?

December 05, 2006
Passports
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 09:42 PM * 116 comments

Another quote from a small newspaper that no one outside of town is likely to have seen. This is from the weekly The Colebrook Chronicle (published every Friday) in a small New Hampshire town located on the Canadian border:

Quebec Official Speaks Out Against Passport Initiative

by Donna Jordan

The Colebrook Development Corporation (CDC) held its annual meeting at the Colebrook House this week. The special guest speaker was Frances Dionne, who is the New England delegate from economic affairs for the Quebec province.

Dionne pointed out in her talk the importance of making sure that the United States and Canadian border remains “fluid,” so that citizens and transportation of product can move back and forth.

Dionne said that she is not in favor of the passport initiative and spoke out against the passport initiative at the Senate hearings in Concord last May that were hosted by N. H. Senator John Sununu. Dionne suggested that if a school in the United States can come up with a simple system of scanning a student’s thumb to identify their allergies or if they have paid their lunch bill, then something similar can be created for border crossings—rather than asking citizens to invest $100 in a passport. She said that requiring passports, especially for those living along the border, is not the answer and cited the example that the 19 terrorists on Sept. 11 all had passport and it didn’t stop them.

It’s clear that the new passport requirements have nothing to do with security. This is all part of the same plan that is putting armed gunboats on the Great Lakes for the first time since the War of 1812.

Why would anyone want to do that? Let’s quote from Murphy’s Laws of Combat: “Make it tough for the enemy to get in and you can’t get out.”

That’s George Bush’s motive for wanting to build a Berlin Wall around America.

You know I know when it’s a dream
Posted by Patrick at 01:09 AM * 37 comments

The last few years have provided a clinic in the peculiar ability of the “mash-up” to refresh and revive our appreciation of great music. And practically no one’s music has been more mashed-up by outlaw engineers than the Beatles’. From the mysterious “Ill Chemist“‘s collage “Feel Allright” (evidently unavailable online), to the notorious DJ DangerMouse “Grey Album,” to the sustained brilliance of “Revolved” (I recommend “Got To Get You Into The Mood”), to more recent efforts like this fusion of the Beatles with Aretha Franklin, George Michael, and the Scissor Sisters, the Fabs’ catalog has been catnip to brilliant remixers.

Now it’s being re-ripped, re-mixed, and re-burned by this guy called George Martin. I actually wept with sheer delight. (Via.)

“Qualities of experience”
Posted by Patrick at 12:32 AM *

I’ve never met Bruce Baugh, but based on his online writings I’ve come to think of him as one of the smartest, sanest people I know. Here’s an example of why.

December 04, 2006
Why I blog
Posted by Teresa at 10:03 PM *

I’ve been thinking about his for a long time, but it got moved to the front of the stove after we had all that trouble getting people to understand that when we referred to Bill Maher outing Republican party chair Ken Mehlman on Larry King Live, it was’t “outing” as they understood it. Washington insiders knew that Mehlman’s gay. That wasn’t why Larry King briefly looked poleaxed when Bill Maher mentioned it. He was shocked because Maher was talking about it where hoi polloi like us could hear.

1. In which Jonathan Schwarz of A Tiny Revolution explains that the news media have sided with the privileged elite, a class to which you almost certainly don’t belong.

Begin by reading A Little Story about the Media. I’m about to quote way too much of it, in part because it’s brilliant and accurate and something everyone ought to know, and in part because if I just link to it, too many of you will think it’s a “see, somebody else agrees with me” link, rather than a “go read this entire article immediately” link.

Some time ago, while witnessing the blathering about Valerie Plame, Karl Rove, Judith Miller, Matt Cooper, etc., Digby asked this:
…is it normal that members of the press know the answer to a major mystery but they withhold it, as a group, from the public?
Based on my own experience, I’d say the answer to Digby’s question is: yes.

I grew up in the Washington area and went to school with lots of children of government and media types. Then I went to Yale, which is also full of such offspring. What I saw was that the corporate media—places like the New York Times, Washington Post, the networks, etc.—and government figures are blatantly, brazenly in bed with each other. And not just metaphorically; it’s often literally true. There’s Andrea Mitchell & Alan Greenspan; James Rubin & Christiane Amanpour; Judith Miller & a cast of thousands; and so on.

In any case, whoever they’re shtupping, they share a mindset: the government and corporate media self-consciously see themselves as a governing elite that runs things hand in hand. That’s why Nicholas Kristof is anxious that if hoi polloi keep calling George Bush a liar, it may make America “increasingly difficult to govern.” And it’s why Katherine Graham famously said this, in a speech at the CIA to new recruits:

“There are some things the general public does not need to know and shouldn’t. I believe democracy flourishes when the government can take legitimate steps to keep its secrets, and when the press can decide whether to print what it knows.”
William Greider explained the perspective of people like Graham and Kristof and their political cuddlebunnies in his book Who Will Tell the People:
In many private quarters of Washington, Alexander Hamilton’s derisive dictum—“The People! The People is a great beast!”—has become an operating maxim. Survival in office requires a political strategy for herding “the beast” in harmless directions or deflecting it from serious matters it may not understand. Now and then, to the general dismay of political elites, Hamilton’s “beast” breaks loose and tramples the civility of the regular order, though this usually occurs on inflammatory marginal issues that have little to do with the real substance of governing.
Weirdly, in fact, the media may be more invested in the status quo, and more concerned about “the people” going berserk, than actual politicians. Officeholders come and go, but the Washington Post is eternal.

So anyway, here’s a funny little story illustrating all this:

Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen came to talk at Yale in 1988, just after I arrived. Following schmancy Yale tradition, he had tea with a small group of students and then ate dinner with an even smaller group. I weaseled my way into attending.

Gary Hart had recently flamed out in the ‘88 presidential race because of Donna Rice. And at dinner Cohen told all us fresh-faced, ambitious, grotty youths this:

The Washington press corps had specifically tried to push Hart out of the race. It wasn’t because Hart had had extramarital affairs—everyone knew this was the norm rather than the exception among politicians. So Hart wasn’t at all unusual in this respect. Instead, Cohen said, it was because the press corps felt that Hart was “weird” and “flaky” and shouldn’t be president. And when the Donna Rice stuff happened, they saw their opening and went after him.

(I wish I remembered more about what Cohen said about the specific gripe of the press corps with Hart, but I don’t think he revealed many details.)

At the time, I remember thinking this:

1. How interesting that the DC press corps knows grimy details about lots of politicians but only chooses to tell the great unwashed when they decide it’s appropriate.

2. How interesting that the DC press corps feels it’s their place to make decisions for the rest of America; ie, rather than laying out the evidence that Hart was weird, flaky, etc., and letting Americans decide whether they cared, they decided run-of-the-mill citizens couldn’t be trusted to make the correct evaluation.

3. How interesting that Cohen felt it was appropriate to tell all this to a small group of fresh-faced, ambitious, grotty Yale youths, but not to the outside world. And how interesting that we were being socialized into thinking this was normal. …

But the point is the powerhouse media and their politician lovemates truly do feel there are things normal, grubby Americans simply can’t handle. Moreover, it has nothing to do with political parties. Everything I’ve seen in my life confirms that, with few exceptions, they feel this way across the (extremely narrow) political spectrum.

If you’re not part of their little charmed circle, believe me, all your worst suspicions about them are true. They do think you’re stupid. They do lie to you. They do hate and fear you. Most importantly, they think you can’t be trusted with the things they know—because if you did know them, you’d go nuts and break America. …

Go and read the complete version. I also highly recommend the first message in the comment thread.

Addendum: Julia, in the comment thread, pointed to another story like the one Jonathan Schwarz told. As she described it:

[Newsweek Senior Editor] Jonathan Alter explains to a bunch of kids at his alma mater prep school about real-world politics, and specifically the character of one George W. Bush.

Hear a lot of that from Newsweek, did we? Um, not so much.

We did hear rather a lot about Democrats and their character issues, though, didn’t we.

Might coulda had to do with the fact that he really, really wanted a war and if the middlebrows who read his magazine had any idea who was in the White House he might not have gotten it?

It’s The Last Hurrah without the charm.

2. In which, in an unguarded moment, the Editorial Director of CBSNews.com explains what was really going on over the last twelve years.

The next item for your inspection is a piece by Dick Meyer, the Editorial Director of CBSNews.com, called Good Riddance To The Gingrichites:

This is a story I should have written 12 years ago when the “Contract with America” Republicans captured the House in 1994. I apologize.
“I apologize,” he says, and he figures that’s enough? That we little people will be so grateful to hear this story at last that we’ll accept his tossed-off “I apologize” in lieu of getting to hear the story when it would have done some good? When it was news?
Really, it’s just a simple thesis: The men who ran the Republican Party in the House of Representatives for the past 12 years were a group of weirdos. Together, they comprised one of the oddest legislative power cliques in our history. And for 12 years, the media didn’t call a duck a duck, because that’s not something we’re supposed to do.
Fckng well excuse me? Is there some other reason for the news media to exist? I would have sworn that all of us who were reading or listening to their news thought that calling a duck a duck was pretty much their job.

If saying that didn’t get Dick Meyer fired, I see no reason why I should ever again trust CBS News.

I’m not talking about the policies of the Contract for America crowd, but the character. I’m confident that 99 percent of the population—if they could see these politicians up close, if they watched their speeches and looked at their biographies—would agree, no matter what their politics or predilections.

I’m confident that if historians ever spend the time on it, they’ll confirm my thesis. Same with forensic psychiatrists. I have discussed this with scores of politicians, staffers, consultants and reporters since 1994 and have found few dissenters.

Politicians in this country get a bad rap. For the most part, they are like any high-achieving group in America, with roughly the same distribution of pathologies and virtues. But the leaders of the GOP House didn’t fit the personality profile of American politicians, and they didn’t deviate in a good way. It was the Chess Club on steroids.

It was nothing of the sort. I’d trust your average Chess Club. Meyer is making a statement about his own social class: members of the Chess Club are social misfits who have nothing but their intelligence to recommend them. The generation of congresscritters who came in with Gingrich had no more overlap with Chess Club types than they did with Candystripers or FFA Aggies.

Remember the story about Washington journalists deciding Hart was “weird and flaky”? Meyer’s doing the same thing, and his personal referent for “weird and flaky” is “member of the Chess Club.” His actual case against the Gingrich generation, which is substantial, really should have different adjectives attached to it.

The iconic figures of this era were Newt Gingrich, Richard Armey and Tom Delay. They were zealous advocates of free markets, low taxes and the pursuit of wealth; they were hawks and often bellicose; they were brutal critics of big government.

Yet none of these guys had success in capitalism. None made any real money before coming to Congress. None of them spent a day in uniform. And they all spent the bulk of their adult careers getting paychecks from the big government they claimed to despise. Two resigned in disgrace.

Having these guys in charge of a radical conservative agenda was like, well, putting Mark Foley in charge of the Missing and Exploited Children Caucus. Indeed, Foley was elected in the Class of ‘94 and is not an inappropriate symbol of their regime.

Do you remember the Washington press corps reporting these stories? I don’t. I vividly remember them baying after Clinton during the Lewinsky thing, knowing perfectly well that Clinton’s personal life wasn’t particularly lurid by Washington standards, and that almost all of the Republicans who were pursuing the issue had personal lives that were as bad or worse than Clinton’s.

Calling a duck a duck isn’t the press corps’ job? Then what were they doing with Clinton? Had they decided, as they did with Gary Hart, that he ought not be President? On what grounds had they decided that? And where the hell do they get off thinking they have the right to decide that for us? For that matter, where the hell do they get off deciding that Gingrich’s tribe of baboons should be left unmolested by the unkind words of the national press?

Notice that Meyer takes no responsibility for the fact that Gingrich’s mob got elected and re-elected. He doesn’t admit to any connection between his personal, moral, and professional failure to report that set of real and important stories, and the fact that they stayed in power for twelve years. He’s now trying to distance himself from the politicians who stayed in office with his help.

He goes on to discuss the various personal misdeeds of prominent members of that club. I remember when and where those stories came out—the interesting details about Livingston, for instance, appeared in one Irish newspaper—and I remember the single individual who did most to see that they got made public: Larry Flynt, the publisher of Hustler. He put his own money on the line, offering to pay a substantial sum to any woman who’d come forward and testify that she’d had an affair with one of Clinton’s accusers. Not long after that, Gingrich and Hyde and Livingston went down like a row of dominos.

Needless to say, Larry Flynt was not a Washington insider. But in that instance, he did more to preserve the Republic than the entire Washington press corps.

Meyer ends his piece:

History reveals that great leaders and intellectuals often appear in clusters, inspiring and motivating each other to extraordinary achievement. American historians have focused on this in recent books looking at the “founding brothers,” Lincoln’s “team of rivals,” the 19th-century pragmatist philosophers called “the metaphysical club,” Roosevelt’s New Dealers and Kennedy’s “best and the brightest.”

The opposite is also true.

What’s next for the House is of course uncertain, but an undistinguished chapter has come to a close. Good riddance.

How very uncharitable of Mr. Meyer, considering that he was in bed with the Gingrichites (figuratively, one hopes) the entire time. He was a participant, not a detached observer. Let it be writ in stone that he was a man to match his age.

3. In which CNN demonstrates its loyalty to the dark side of the force.

Today Eric Alterman pointed out that CNN is being disingenous when they claim that they “did not set out to have anyone from any particular view” when they hired Glenn Beck to front Headline Prime. In case you haven’t been watching, Headline Prime is the new name for CNN Headline News during prime time. They’re describing it as “views not news,” presumably because CNN feels Americans suffer from an oversupply of reliable news reportage.

Glenn Beck is the loathsome and completely unprofessional idiot who, when he was interviewing Congressman-elect Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to the House, said,

I have to tell you, I have been nervous about this interview with you, because what I feel like saying is, “Sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies.”
Ellison took this with far more aplomb than Beck deserved. Glenn Beck has also been on the warpath about Happy Feet, a recently released movie about dancing, singing penguins, because he feels that it promotes a radical environmental agenda. Beck called it “an animated version of An Inconvenient Truth,” thereby demonstrating that he hasn’t seen either movie. (Among other things, Happy Feet makes no reference to global warming.) One of these days we’re going to think up a new word for these guys, so that we won’t have to use the “conservative” label on people who think there’s something inherently objectionable, and probably illegal, about speech acts that espouse views they don’t agree with.

Alterman points out some other interesting things Glenn Beck has said. For instance:

On the September 5 edition of his CNN Headline News program, Glenn Beck again warned that if “Muslims and Arabs” don’t “act now” by “step[ping] to the plate” to condemn terrorism, they “will be looking through a razor wire fence at the West.” Although he described as “grotesque” the possibility that Muslims could be interned like Japanese-Americans during World War II, Beck repeatedly warned that it is the responsibility of the “Muslim community” to avert such an outcome by “find[ing] a spokesman who isn’t a ‘yes, but’ Muslim” who tacitly endorses terrorism.
Beck’s bete noir is what he calls the “‘yes, but’ Muslim.” In the Glenn Beck universe, a “‘yes, but’ Muslim” is someone who thinks things are perhaps more complicated than Glenn Beck imagines; which viewpoint, he feels, amounts to a tacit endorsement of terrorism.

Alterman points to another Glenn Beck quote:

On the August 10 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio program, Glenn Beck warned that “[t]he world is on the brink of World War III” and that “Muslims who have sat on your frickin’ hands the whole time and have not been marching in the streets” will face dire consequences. Beck made his comments toward Muslims who he claimed “have not been saying, ‘Hey, you know what? There are good Muslims and bad Muslims. We need to be the first ones in the recruitment office lining up to shoot the bad Muslims in the head.’ ” He predicted that the result will be that “[h]uman beings are not strong enough, unfortunately, to restrain themselves from putting up razor wire and putting you on one side of it,” adding that “when people become hungry, when people see that their way of life is on the edge of being over, they will put razor wire up and just based on the way you look or just based on your religion, they will round you up.” He concluded: “Is that wrong? Oh my gosh, it is Nazi, World War II wrong, but society has proved it time and time again: It will happen.”
Alterman’s take on this:
The network’s head calls this “passion and point of view.” I call it not merely racism, but a particularly brutal and dangerous form of racism—to say nothing of deeply stupid and ignorant. I mean, my God, it comes pretty close to Coulter/”Kill their children” territory. Beck, at least, is honest about himself.
Alterman then quotes Beck speaking about himself today in a story in the New York Times:
“I never thought I would be on CNN, Fox, MSNBC. I am not a journalist. I am a recovering alcoholic with A.D.D.,” he said. “I am closer to an average schmoe.”
(NYT went on to say that though he’s bombastic on screen, Beck is more subdued in person, though he will take credit for “saying what others are feeling but are afraid to say.” They inexplicably fail to cite The Lurkers Support Me in E-Mail in connection with his statement.)

Alterman again:

CNN is simply saying, “We are exploiting racism and hatred with this guy, but don’t hold us responsible because he says he’s not a journalist.”
I used to be a CNN junkie, especially during periods of fast-breaking news. I stopped watching it years ago—avoid it, in fact. I feel like they’ve betrayed me, my country, the rest of the world, the profession of journalism, and the truth (insofar as it’s given us to know it). What they’re doing with Glenn Beck, and what they’ve done in so many other cases, is no better than the crap on Fox News.

If Glenn Beck is in play, it’s because CNN put him on the board. They knew what he was when they hired him. They know he’s a thoughtless, impulsive hatemonger. Sometimes I look at howling lunatics like Beck and Coulter and think that the national news media took the wrong lesson from Adolph Hitler: these out-of-control mediumistic hatemongers can generate emotionally compelling rhetoric, which can be immensely useful if you’re trying to get and keep power; but you mustn’t give any of the real power to them.

Here’s to you, Paddy Chayevsky.

4. In which we discover yet again that deceiving us has become an industrial process.

I’ve written about astroturfing before, most notably here and here, but also here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.

Found on Slashdot:

Mofomojo writers:
“Democracy Now! reports that a new study by the Center for Media and Democracy says Americans are still being shown corporate public relations videos disguised as news reports on newscasts across the country. In April, the Center identified 77 stations using Video News Releases in their newscasts; the findings led to an investigation by the Federal Communications Commission. A followup study has found that 10 of those stations are still airing VNRs today, for a new total of 46 stations in 22 states.”
From the article:
“Most of the VNRs have aired on stations owned by large media conglomerates such as News Corp., Tribune, and Disney. They’ve also been sponsored by some of the country’s biggest corporations including General Motors, GlaxoSmithKline, and Allstate Insurance.”
The original article referenced is well worth reading.

5. In which I bid farewell to some of the related issues I left out of this post, and explain why I write about politics and current events.

Omitted: Social stratification. The increasing gap between rich and poor. The bizarre belief, held by most Americans, that they are in the top income bracket or will be by the end of their lives. The tendency of members of privileged classes to have far more in common with each other than they have with the commoners over whom they are set. How little there is that an individual can achieve that will bring more benefits than belonging to the ruling class. David Kuo’s Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction. The relationship between the increasing power and price tags of printing presses in the 19th and 20th centuries, and the size of the audience they could serve, and the size of the audience needed to absorb their costs. The unexpected emergence of the multi-author project. The average age this year of people who subscribe to at least one major daily paper.

I’m a slow, ruminative writer, and I do it in my spare time. I can’t fill in for the deficiencies of the New York Times or the Washington Post or CBS and CNN. I can’t singlehandedly beat back the tide of corporate astroturf and all the constantly proliferating varieties of spam. Fortunately, I’m not alone. If the vast field of political weblogging has sprung up seemingly out of nowhere during the last few years, it’s because the underperforming professional journalists are leaving us with so much material to work with.

December 03, 2006
Forum fodder
Posted by Teresa at 05:06 PM *

Speaking of web developers who are always on the lookout for natural subjects of conversation, so they can start a self-perpetuating forum and sell ads on it:

The Frontlist was started by a small group of web developers with experience in developing community sites. Two years ago we recognised the potential of a community site that enables talented writers to expose writing to agents and publishers. We developed the Frontlist, with the aim of improving upon the way that unsolicited manuscripts are submitted and considered.

We wanted to do three things. First, we wanted to allow a community of writers to self-select promising work. Second we wanted writers to be able to gain detailed feedback on their work as part of the submissions process. Third, we wanted to tie in with agents and publishers to ensure that good quality work bypasses the slushpile to be considered seriously by an agent or publisher that specialised the work’s genre.

Notice that the proprietors do absolutely nothing.
Writers, upon signing up to The Frontlist, will be able to submit sample chapters of work that they are looking to publish. They will then be invited to provide detailed critiques on several pieces of work. Once they have finished this, their own work will go up for critique. Work that achieves a score above a threshold will be fast-tracked to the desk of a respected agent or publisher who specialises in the work’s genre.
Uh-huh. It’s YADS, a.k.a. Yet Another Display Site. (That trick never works.) Amateur writers will put up amateur writing and receive amateur critiques—which is not a bad way to start, but they don’t need this site to do it, and there’s no reason to think that editors and agents are going to want to watch.

Useless. Avoid.

Advent, 2006
Posted by Teresa at 12:58 PM *

Happy Advent! Here’s a calendar. Jim found it for me.

As part of what she describes as her “continuing effort to fight the cold and dark by making Christmas-Solstice-whatever last as long as possible,” Avedon Carol has also been collecting Advent calendars. She’s got some goodies, but watch out for the Radio 3 Bach Christmas Advent Calendar—it plays music at you without asking.

Erin Kissane and Alexis both recommended the Leslie Harpold Advent calendar.

(See reviews, below.)

Spinning straw into gold
Posted by Teresa at 01:03 AM * 58 comments

The comment thread for I am not content; I am a human being has broken out in verse. Abi started it:

Oh, what a tangled Internet they weave
Who want to pay for shills to viral-post.
Thus do they practice, seeking to decieve,
Dilution of the thing they value most.
I mean our trust, because if this thing spreads
We’ll read with extra care—and question more—
Their zombie-filled and advert-bloated threads
Until we learn which posters to ignore.
Whoever dreamt this folly clearly knows
The cost of every post, the worth of none.
They pay a listed price for posting prose,
But not for verse, and no one’s paid to pun.
I challenge you: illumine what we see.
Be not content to simply content be.
Fragano Ledgister responded with a sonnet of his own, and then A. J. Luxton chimed in—
A fine solution made in Abi’s verse;
As I perceive, a fifteen-penny tawdry
Won’t hack it, and would surely stay more terse,
Revealing thus, by difference, their oddly-
crafted missives of imaginary worth,
That virtuous kind may take them well to task,
And banish these foul creatures of ill mirth
Arriving undisguisèd for the masque.
Now Candle’s done it too:
When I consider how my time is spent
in commenting on other posters’ words
and what might be the possible rewards
if I could sell them even for a cent,
I wonder, shall I ever be content
to post where words alone are currency
and value is placed on transparency
and truth above all else? But I relent
as reading through the comments I discover
that what makes stuff worth reading is the care
and effort you put in to get it right.
And so I shall permit myself to hover
here in the background, yet myself declare
a proud contributor to making light.
As to why it’s happening, I can only say that threads about spam tend to do that.

(And does this as well.)

December 02, 2006
Hit and Run
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 05:13 PM * 9 comments

Most of you don’t read Colebrook’s The News and Sentinel (motto: Independent But Not Neutral), so you won’t have read this story:

Police Seek Hit & Run Driver

by Claire Lynch

Police are seeking the public’s help in their ongoing search for the driver and vehicle that struck a pedestrian on Route 3 in Columbia on Thursday evening, November 16.

Police say the vehicle is a Jeep Grand Cherokee manufactured between 1993 and 1998, which is missing a driver’s side mirror and will have damage to the driver’s side front bumper. Paul Corriveau, 68, of Berlin, remains in critical condition at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in in Lebanon with severe head and leg injuries, according to a hospital spokesman.

At the time of the collision, around 5:45 p.m., darkness had fallen and it was raining. Mr. Corriveau was reportedly walking south in the northbound lane, and police received a complaint that evening from one motorist who had to swerve to avoid hitting a man walking in the roadway.

Anyone with information concerning the accident who can identify the vehicle involved or can substantiate Mr. Corriveau’s presence in the roadway at the time of the collision, is asked to contact Trooper Charles Bouton at N.H. State Police Troop F, (603) 846-3333.

This was one of my calls. I was one of the EMTs who worked on this patient. The collision took place two weeks ago and public sources state that the man is still in critical condition. I would personally be very grateful if anyone who witnessed any of the events before, during, or after the collision, or who can shed any light on the present location of the vehicle or who the driver might have been, would contact Trooper Bouton.

December 01, 2006
I am not content; I am a human being
Posted by Teresa at 07:19 PM *

I have now made the acquaintance of two new internet-based “content management industries”—one that’s less alarming than I initially thought, and one that’s downright sleazy.

This started when Yog and Sofi told me that an outfit called Paid Posting Tools had been trolling for writers over at Absolute Write:

PaidPostingTools - Get Paid To Post On Forums

If you have a strong grasp of grammar and are capable of posting to online forums or blogs in a wide variety of subject matters, then www.paidpostingtools.com is looking for you! Our lineup of available opportunities is exploding and we need many more writers.

Freelance writers are needed to post to forums, blog, place comments on blogs and write custom articles.

Payment is weekly via PayPal.

Current payment structure:
==========================
Forum posting: starting at 15 cents per post
Blog commenting: starting at 20 cents per comment
Blog posting: starting at 2.00 per 300 word post
Article writing: starting at 2.00 per 300 word article.

Many jobs pay more. We are growing at a rapid clip and hope to attract talented writers.

For more information visit www.paidpostingtools.com/writers.asp and apply as a writer.

Current subject matters include:
Internet Marketing
Electronic Music
CSS and Web Design
Webmastering
Poker
Gambling
All Wheel Drive Vehicles
Video Games
Soccer
Electronics
Gadgets
Online Education
Personal Finance
Mixed Martial Arts
Salsa Dancing
Print Graphics
Job Seekers
Automotive Enthusiasts
Gardening

and more - currently over 200 opportunities!

Alternatively you may email support@paidpostingtools.com for more information.

At first I assumed that they were being recruited to post unblockable comment spam, and hated them. Then I took a closer look, and realized they were in a different line of business altogether:
Solutions for your forums posting business.

Thriving online communities require active participants. Forum owners and administrators seek to build post counts by attracting members to become active in their forums. Your business seeks to fill the void of empty forums by providing top-notch writers who fulfill the orders your company recieves.

My current understanding is that there are all these web entrepreneurs out there who run online discussion forums because a forum is the only kind of website that will, on its own, generate a constant supply of fresh content. That’s their ideal: a website that’ll pull in a constant supply of saleable traffic without any work on their part.

The big problem is getting the forums going in the first place. Nobody wants to post to an empty site. Thus Paid Posting Tool’s troop of writers: they post to your forum, making it look attractively populated. Think of them as duck decoys, or as one of those porcelain eggs you put underneath chickens to get them to start laying. Once there are enough real members to keep the place going on its own, the PPT personnel can be withdrawn.

Seem strange? They’re not the only company doing it. There’s also ForumShock, ForumBulge, ForumBooster, The Mad Poster, The Forum Fairy, Forum-Angels, Forum Elevation, 100posts Forum Posting, PostOnMyForum.com, and goodness knows how many individual freelancers. You can find online discussions where forum proprietors recommend this or that service to each other, and sites for work-at-home schemes where they discuss the profitability of writing posts for hire.

Here’s an entire forum for people who are selling or soliciting paid forum posting services, with predictable gaps between rates sought and offered. And here’s a company that runs a post exchange system, whatever that is.

What a bizarre universe I’ve stumbled upon.

While I was researching this, I also found evidence of a more disturbing line of business. Like me, you may have heard about PayPerPost this past summer, and fervently hoped it would die of its own stupidity and cynicism. Here’s the idea:

Advertiser Overview

PayPerPost™ is a marketplace that allows you to promote your Web site, product, service or company through the PayPerPost™ network of thousands of independent bloggers. Advertise on blogs to create buzz, build traffic, get product feedback, gain links, syndicate content and much more. You provide the topic to our blog advertising network and our bloggers create stories, videos, audio or photos and post them in their individual blogs.

Bloggers Overview

Get Paid for Blogging. You’ve been writing about Web sites, products, services and companies you love for years and you have yet to benefit from all the sales and traffic you have helped generate. That’s about to change. With PayPerPost advertisers are willing to pay you for your opinion on various topics. Search through a list of opportunities, make a blog posting, get your content approved, and get paid. It’s that simple.

Publisher Overview

PayPerPost™ is a marketplace that allows you to promote your site and get exposure for your sites content through the PayPerPost™ network of thousands of independent bloggers. Advertise on blogs to syndicate content, create buzz, build traffic, get content feedback, gain links, and much more. You provide the main story to our blog advertising network and they create responses and post them on their individual blogs, linking back to your site for the original content.

There are three problems with this. First, affiliated bloggers aren’t required to disclose their relationship with PPP and its advertisers, and they’re silently paid off via PayPal. Ted Murphy, creator of PPP, has not come up with a new idea. This is plain old-fashioned Payola: a corrupt, dishonest practice and a violation of the reader’s trust.

Following a slew of online denunciations, PayPerPost came up with a breathtakingly cynical response: DisclosurePolicy.org, which automates the process of generating a disclosure policy for your weblog, which you then register with them. However, the degree of disclosure is left entirely up to the weblogger—which means it changes exactly nothing.

(These denunciations were followed by some internettishly predictable responses: Don’t worry, the invisible hand of the marketplace will take care of it; PayPerPost are lusers who run their operation on a Macintosh; Just because I’m standing out on the streetcorner in black fishnets and a miniskirt, offering to have sex with strangers for money, doesn’t mean you can call me a whore; I say yay rah for PayPerPal, the People’s Medium, because the blogs that oppose it get lots more hits than I do; and Hello out there, I’m ready to be bought! … Hello? … Is anybody listening? Also one sensible-sounding response: PayPerPost isn’t evil, it’s a failure. It’s nice to know the standard distribution is still standard.)

The second problem is that PayPerPost just got handed three million dollars in startup capitalization. I sincerely hope the investors lose their shirts.

The third problem is that copycat startups are popping up, hoping to cash in on the same set of dishonest transactions: Blogsvertise, inBLOGads.com, BlogToProfit, Blogging Ads, et cetera.

Bah.

I suppose this means that for a while, at least, we’re going to be seeing gormless weblogs fill up with awkward, unconvincing testimonials to unlikely products. It’s dishonest, but it’s not the end of the world—as long as they keep it in their own blogs. The minute they start getting paid to post that crap in my comment threads, I’m going on the warpath.

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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.