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April 30, 2007
Reminder
Posted by Teresa at 11:21 PM *

Could everyone please see to it that Patrick makes an appointment tomorrow to go see a dentist?

Thank you.

April 28, 2007
The Evil Overlord applauds
Posted by Teresa at 06:44 PM * 312 comments

When we’re teaching SF&f writing at Viable Paradise, one of the things we always tell our students is to get the story started. Limiting yourself to dicking around with scene-setting and character introduction for the first few chapters gets you nowhere.

For an example of the other end of that spectrum, try this single-panel cartoon epic.

April 27, 2007
The way the future was*
Posted by Teresa at 04:09 PM * 105 comments

Debra Doyle has pointed me at Paleo-Future, a blog about the way the future used to be, and in particular to this collection of postcards, printed by a German chocolate manufacturer around 1900, which show the world as it’s going to be in the year 2000.

Along with the usual flying machines and glass-roofed cities, this one has an interesting bit of technology: slidewalks. I have to wonder whether Heinlein ever saw that image. Outdoor slidewalks aren’t an intuitively obvious development—which is a polite way of saying that as an engineering solution to the problem of overlong or congested pedestrian routes, they suck.

Lime Pie
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 11:45 AM * 82 comments

Here’s the recipe for the best lime pie in the world:

Pie Shell:

Whites of 3 large fresh eggs, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar

Heat oven to 300 F. Lightly grease a 9” pie plate.

Beat egg whites in a medium bowl on medium speed until frothy.

Add cream of tartar and salt and beat on high speed until soft peaks form when beaters are lifted.

Beat in 1/4 cup of the sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, until blended.

With mixer on low speed, sprinkle on remaining sugar and beat until blended.

Spread meringue over bottom and sides of prepared dish.

Bake until lightly browned, about 45 minutes.

Cool in dish on wire rack.

Pie filling:

6 egg yolks, slightly beaten
1/3 cup lime juice
2 and 1/2 Tablespoons grated lime rind
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons cold water
6 egg whites
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup granulated sugar

Beat egg yolks until thick and lemon-colored.

Add lime juice, rind, sugar, and salt, then beat mixture until throughly blended.

Cook this mixture in a double-boiler until very thick, stirring constantly.

Now add the cold water to the egg whites and beat until stiff but not dry.

Combine baking powder and remaining 1/4 cup sugar and add to beaten egg white mixture.
Beat until stiff.

Fold hot lime mixture into half the egg white meringue; fill pre-baked pieshell.

Cover with remaining meringue.

Sprinkle lightly with sugar and bake 15 minutes in a moderately slow oven (325 F) or until meringue is delicately brown.

Serve cold.

[Recipe Index]

April 26, 2007
Internet time-wasters
Posted by Avram Grumer at 11:08 PM * 61 comments

Because the day is so long, and there’s so much Internet!

Boomshine
A simple Flash game about epidemiology, with pretty graphics and music. Click to make an explosion; when the explosion hits a dot, the dot explodes. You’re trying to make chain reactions. (Discovered via Cthulhia)

Acrobots
No, not the magnetic toys. This is an addictive little physics simulation. Those little units are three-legged acrobats. They have inertial and gravitational mass (the slider control on the right changes the gravity), springy legs, and magnetic hands/feet. Add acrobots, subtract them, toss them around, see what happens. I like putting 15-20 of them in there, maximizing the gravity till they all slump down, then minimizing the gravity and seeing them leap and toss each other around.

And if all that wasn’t enough, Kevin Church presents drunk monkeys!

April 24, 2007
Global warming and those wicked liberals
Posted by Teresa at 03:44 PM *

Ambitious Wench says the following letter really was published in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on 15 April 2007, and that its author, Connie Meskimen, is a lawyer in Little Rock, AR.

The letter:

You may have noticed that March of this year was particularly hot. As a matter of fact, I understand that it was the hottest March since the beginning of the last century. All of the trees were fully leafed out and legions of bugs and snakes were crawling around during a time in Arkansas when, on a normal year, we might see a snowflake or two. This should come as no surprise to any reasonable person. As you know, Daylight Saving Time started almost a month early this year. You would think that members of Congress would have considered the warming effect that an extra hour of daylight would have on our climate. Or did they ?

Perhaps this is another plot by a liberal Congress to make us believe that global warming is a real threat. Perhaps next time there should be serious studies performed before Congress passes laws with such far-reaching effects.

CONNIE M. MESKIMEN
Hot Springs

Thanks to Patrick, and to James Nicoll’s LJ, which is where Patrick found it.

April 23, 2007
Pitch sessions viewed as useless
Posted by Teresa at 05:44 PM *

(Note: I’ve been adding segments to this post as I’ve written them. If this isn’t the first time you’ve looked at it, check the bottom to see if there’s new material.)

During the great Pitch Bitch thrash—one of the wilder nights we’ve had for a while at Making Light—a question was left hanging that’s never been answered. It concerns the NYC ‘07 Pitch and Shop: A First Novel Pitch Conference.

#218 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2007, 11:23 AM:

#165, query for Jim or others: Doesn’t charging $600 for the opportunity to pitch to a bunch of editors constitute a violation of Yog’s law? Or is this considered a “how to pitch” teaching venue?

Confused about whether the whole thing is evil, or if it’s just being marketed evilly.

I said no at the time, but I’ve done some further research and thinking about it, and you know what? Mary Dell was right, except for the “bunch of editors” part. It’s a bunch of editors and agents. The NYC Pitch and Shop Conference is either a conscious scam, or it’s being run by people who know so little about publishing and professional writing that they shouldn’t be running workshops at all. Either way, it’s going to be useless to almost all of its attendees. On top of that, it’s absurdly expensive for what you get.

My biggest objection to the conference is that it’s being marketed to unpublished novelists. Its subtitle is A First Novel Pitch Conference. I had the same objection to the now-defunct Pitch Bitch weblog, a deliberately deceitful and misleading site that was run by some of the same people who are organizing the NYC P&SC.

Pitch sessions for unpublished novelists are a cargo-cult activity. TV and movie and radio scripts get sold via pitch. Sometimes magazine articles or nonfiction books get sold that way too—nonfiction sells on its ideas plus the author’s expertise, skill, and track record (if any). But nobody buys first novels via pitch. Fiction in general doesn’t sell via pitch, unless the person doing the pitching is already an experienced and established writer, or is an agent. The absolute most an unpublished novelist can get out of a pitch session is to be told to go ahead and send the manuscript: an outcome that’s hard to distinguish from the normal submission process.

No way is this worth $600. Don’t go.

(This post is almost certainly going to grow over the next few hours, but I’m posting the first segment now: 5:45 p.m., 23 April 2007.)

Onward.

Most first-time novelists don’t know any of this stuff. Unpublished fiction writers are the largest and most reliably naive segment of the whole aspiring writer tribe. Pitch sessions at legit weekend writers’ conferences are perennially oversubscribed by aspiring young writers eager for their ten or fifteen minutes with a Real Agent or Real Editor. The only case I’ve heard of where pitch sessions with editors resulted in sales by unpublished novelists was when Harlequin bought a couple of titles at romance conventions. On the other hand, Harlequin is always trolling for newbie romance writers, and these magic sales happened some time ago. For everyone else and since, the best recorded outcome is still “Sure, go ahead and send me the manuscript.”

On top of that, most workshops forbid writers to bring samples of their work. Brilliant, eh? They ban the single most useful diagnostic tool we have. How do you give advice to fiction writers when all you’ve got to go on are descriptions of their ideas? A writer with a Jack Womack or Jasper Fforde kind of idea is headed for trouble, unless he or she can write like Womack or Fforde. Meanwhile, most ideas for fiction sound stupid when you boil them down to their essentials:

Bill S.: Okay, get this: melancholy Prince of Denmark comes home from school to find Dad dead, Mom married to Uncle. Trouble ensues. What do you think?

Phil H.: I dunno, Bill. That one’s been used before.

In fiction, the execution is what counts. Ideas don’t even come into play unless the execution is good enough. That’s why many publishers won’t buy a first novel that isn’t finished yet. Plot outlines are all very well, but they want to see whether the author can do a passable job of writing the whole thing, start to finish.

Pitching ideas for fiction is so useless that it qualifies as a sin (var. sloth). You and the author or editor might as well be blowing soap bubbles at each other. Granted, some ideas will be more promising than others; but when the book is written, what we’ll look at is the execution. If it’s good enough, we’ll consider caring about the ideas.

How is it possible to be any more useless than that? In previous years, the P&SC managed. Their pitch sessions weren’t supposed to be actual pitch sessions. Instead, they focused on training authors to pitch books, which is not a skill authors need to have.

I have a couple of thoughts on that. The first is that running training sessions for pitch sessions, rather than running pitch sessions proper, has the virtue of making it impossible for anyone to say that your conference is a useless way to try to sell a manuscript.

Second thought: in previous years, the P&SC organizers discreetly mentioned in their advertising that if agents or editors there were sufficiently impressed with your presentation, you might be asked to submit your work to them. That’s a problem. If having your manuscript taken up by an agent or editor was a possible outcome of the sessions, then the P&SC was running real pitch sessions, not just training sessions for pitch sessions.

That raises questions of professional ethics. Legit weekend writers’ workshops typically charge $200 - $400 for a basic membership, and offer a diverse program of panels, lectures, and other educational events which may or may not include pitch sessions. The agents and editors who attend have their expenses paid, may receive a modest honorarium, and work nonstop all weekend.

By contrast, the NYC Pitch ‘n’ Shop is all pitch session. There’s no other programming. The authors and editors have been getting paid $500 plus lunch for 90 - 120 minutes of work. If they’re potentially accepting manuscripts, and the pitch sessions are all that’s going on, then the authors were paying the agents to consider their work.

This year, the P&SC has a couple of new policies. They’re explicitly aiming their conference at first novelists, and they’re putting front and center the idea that these are potential-sale pitch sessions. Someone should mention this to the AAR.

Also:

Please note that writers tapped by publication editors for a manuscript submission during the course of the NYC Pitch and Shop conference are advised to meet with the workshop editors [I think they mean workshop organizers] to discuss, among other things, options for agent representation. Both Algonkian and NYWW [those are other workshops run by the same organizers] are connected to several top-flight agencies.
Beware of any publishing-related operation that funnels authors into the hands of agents, book doctors, or freelance editors with whom they have an ongoing relationship.

(More to come. The foregoing segment was added at 10:25 p.m., 23 April 2007.)

Our summaries thus far:

1. For fiction writers, pitch sessions are as close to perfectly useless as you’re likely to see; and the NYC P&S’s sessions are more useless than average.

2. The NYC Pitch and Shop First-Novel Pitch Conference is deliberately aimed at unpublished fiction writers, who are a chronically naive bunch. The organizers are selling them a grossly overpriced pitch-session conference, when first novelists are the writers who are least likely to sell anything to the professional publishing industry via pitch session.

Onward, then.

Something I didn’t mention in the last segment: This year, as in previous years, the NYC P&SC’s organizers are forbidding writers to bring samples of their work with them to their pitch sessions. Why? As they explain:

Editors will not read the actual prose during this conference. The NYC Pitch and Shop is a pitch conference, not a word craft shop.
That is, it never crosses their minds that looking at the prose itself might be useful for the instructors.

Who are these people?

The NYC P&SC appears to be part of Michael Neff’s cross-promotional chain of online literary magazines, the Web Del Sol literary portal site, Algonkian Workshops (both online and in person), New York Writers Workshop, and assorted book-pitching training sessions.

Someone who’s been involved with the NYC P&SC for years is Kaley Noonan, a failed fiction writer with a BA in Magazine Journalism from Ohio University and an MFA in Writing and Publishing from Emerson College. She’s Neff’s short fiction editor at Del Sol Review and teaches online writers’ workshops for Algonkian. She has never made a commercial fiction sale in her entire life. (Scroll down for her professional bio. Michael Neff’s is there too.) Noonan was responsible for the mendacious weblog Pitch Bitch, in which she pretended to be “an editor on the inside” and handed out advice which largely consisted of promoting other parts of Michael Neff’s operation. I got into a major thrash with her a few months ago.

Short version: In January of this year, a woman styling herself “An Editor on the Inside” started up a Miss Snark/Pub Rant-style weblog called “Pitch Bitch”, and spammed authors’ forums to advertise it. She promoted the NYC P&SC and Algonkian Workshops. Her website was specifically aimed at first novelists. The NYC P&S website linked back to her. It also promoted/still promotes Algonkian Workshops.

I read the material posted at Pitch Bitch and put up a post at Making Light saying that far from being “An Editor on the Inside,” the author of Pitch Bitch was not an editor at all, and furthermore her advice was worthless. Our enterprising and ingenious readers went to work on the mystery. In a series of three comments, Mary Dell identified “An Editor on the Inside” as Kaley Noonan.

This sparked an epic comment thread. The first few hundred messages are especially interesting. It is very likely that Kaley Noonan was the person posing as “Julie Field” who showed up to aggressively defend Pitch Bitch and the NYC P&S in a sockpuppety style. Then, in a series of comments (164, 168, 170, 173, 199, JDM@176, 199, 233, 238), Greg London outed Julie Field as a stooge or sockpuppet of NYC P&S, and connected her with Kaley Noonan. The Pitch Bitch site disappeared. In message 219, Mary Dell observed that the link from the NYC P&S site to Pitch Bitch vanished at the very same time that the Pitch Bitch site was taken down.

(Pitch Bitch later resurfaced as a sub-page on the NYC P&S website. If I’d had any lingering doubts that the NYC P&S people were consciously dishonest (as opposed to clueless), having a Pitch Bitch page pop up on their site would have ended them. In my opinion, this is a dishonest operation.)

The gist of Greg London’s discoveries was that Julie Field’s entire online existence consisted of showing up in venues where people were criticizing the NYC P&S in order to do damage control. Sometimes she just praised the NYC P&S to the skies; but in one instance Greg found, a discussion thread about the NYC P&S at Lulu.com, she called out the troops.

Greg spotted a bunch of suspicious accounts on Lulu.com which appear to have been created for the sole purpose of helping Kaley Noonan shout down a single post by a critic of the P&SC. Those same names were later quoted on the P&SC website. All of them were real people who’d previously attended the P&S Conference. Their appearance at Lulu.com was the only time any of their Lulu.com accounts got used. Here’s the post they showed up to quash:

Posted: Tue May 23, 2006 4:13 pm
Post subject: NYC Pitch is a very expensive and useless conference

Hi innocent writer: Do not attend the NYC Pitch, unless you have $500 extra to throw to the winds. This is three days when you essentially sharpen a “pitch”, and meet three editors. Face time with editors - about a minute each. The editors may not be people in your genre. They may not be interested in your manuscript. There is no guarantee that you will be given a “contract”, which the misleading advertising in the NYC Pitch claims.

Instead, save your money, break it into $75 chunks, and attend six other well reputed conferences where you can get the same face time from different editors and agents. You can also invest your cash more wisely by hiring an editor and copy-editor to comb through your manuscript.

Again, don’t waste your cash.

Apparently this was enough to get the Pitch & Shop organizers to make a formal complaint to Lulu.com. Trouble is, that description matches fairly closely what I’ve heard about the P&S Conference—including from one of the instructors.

Julie Field also complained about a comment by this same disgruntled customer at Evil Editor, saying he or she had been “…posting all over the net in a vendetta frenzy.” Do two instances qualify as “all over the net”? Because that’s how many I can find.

One of the areas of professional expertise listed on Kaley Noonan’s personal website is guerrilla marketing. We know she set up a fake weblog, Pitch Bitch, and posed as a commercial editor in order to promote the Pitch and Shop Conference and the Algonkian Workshops/New York Writers Workshops complex. This is almost certainly her work. We know she repeatedly spammed a bunch of online writers’ forums to promote the Pitch Bitch weblog. As “Julie Field”, she does her best to suppress legitimate online criticism of all these enterprises. I think she’s one of those people who believes that calling yourself a “guerrilla marketer” means you have a license to lie online.

But back to the night of 24 January in Making Light’s comment thread. Many things happened, including ML readers hunting up online specimens of Kaley Noonan’s fiction. It’s unmistakably bad. I was especially smitten with the bit where a girl is going around with a big old workboot pulled down over her head, with only her mouth and nose showing, to “force others to acknowledge her pain.” Woof!

One of the reasons I’m increasingly suspicious of WebDelSol/Algonkian is that Kaley Noonan is one of their editors, and has been teaching pricey online workshops for them. Only extra-textual influences or a complete disregard for the quality of the instruction could explain that. Another reason I’m dubious about the Algonkian workshops is that training their students in how to do pitch sessions is a major element in their syllabus.

And an odd bit I couldn’t fit in elsewhere: Usenet veterans will recognize the pattern. “Julie Field” responded to criticisms of Kaley Noonan’s writing as though she were the author. She was obviously badly stung, and felt obliged to respond to everything said about KN’s writing. Someone who does that always turns out to be the author in question.

(A few more observations will be added tomorrow. The foregoing segment was posted at 1:20 a.m., 24 April 2007.)

I’m hoping this will be the last segment of this post. To reiterate an earlier set of summaries:

1. For fiction writers, pitch sessions are as close to perfectly useless as you’re likely to see; and the NYC P&S’s sessions are more useless than average.

2. The NYC Pitch and Shop First-Novel Pitch Conference is deliberately aimed at unpublished fiction writers, who are a chronically naive bunch. The organizers are selling them a grossly overpriced pitch-session conference, when first novelists are the writers who are least likely to sell anything to the professional publishing industry via pitch session.

To these, add:

3. Kaley Noonan, the front person and probable organizer of the NYC P&SC, has a BA and MA from university writing programs, but has never made a single commercial fiction sale. She is nevertheless charging writers $600 a head to come to her conference and learn how to make commercial fiction sales.

4. It is perhaps not a coincidence that after four years of pitch-session conferences, K. Noonan still doesn’t have an agent, and hasn’t placed her novels with a commercial publishing house.

Conclusions:

1. If you’re in the business of selling advice to aspiring novelists, shouldn’t you know how novels do and don’t get sold?

2. We already know from the sockpuppetry, forum spamming, and the whole Pitch Bitch fiasco, that Kaley Noonan is willing to lie and mislead other writers in order to get them to buy into the Web Del Sol/Algonkian Workshops/New York Writers Workshops/NYC P&S Conferences. If she knows that novels (especially first novels) aren’t bought via pitch session, her conference is a scam from start to finish. If she’s been doing the conference for years and still doesn’t know that pitch sessions are a grossly ineffective way to sell novels, she’s thick as two short planks. In neither case should anyone be buying writing advice from her.

3. I’m not saying that publishing is perfect, or that the submission process doesn’t have its frictions, irritations, and irrationalities. However, none of these are addressed by the NYC PItch and Shop First-Novel Pitch Conference. All they’re doing is intermediating themselves in processes that don’t need intermediation, and charging an arm and a leg to do it.

4. There is no value in the NYC Pitch and Shop Conference. Don’t go. Warn your friends not to go.

(Finished, 11:55 a.m., 24 April 2007.)

April 22, 2007
Public Comment to the FDA
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 04:32 PM * 159 comments

Lack of public comment is one of the the things that let the FDA take away Cylert.

Now they’re planning to ruin chocolate.

Via Crooks and Liars:

From the Modesto Bee:

The federal Food and Drug Administration is proposing to redefine the very essence of chocolate and to allow big manufacturers such as Hershey to sell a bar devoid of a key ingredient - cocoa butter. The butter’s natural texture could be replaced with inferior alternatives, such as vegetable fats. And consumers would never know.

Chocolatier Gary Guittard said it best: “No one can afford to sit back and eat bonbons while America’s great passion for chocolate is threatened.”

For every defender of traditional chocolate, there are powerful proponents who want to replace cocoa butter with vegetable oil: the Chocolate Manufacturers Association, the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Snack Food Association. These industry titans have filed a “citizens petition” to the FDA, as the Los Angeles Times recently reported, as if there were some groundswell in society to water down chocolate.

At the moment, chocolate requires two basic ingredients - cocoa and cocoa butter. Cocoa provides much of the flavor; cocoa butter, the texture. So if, say, Hershey wanted to make a chocolate bar without cocoa butter, it can under today’s rules. The product has to be labeled “chocolate flavored” (for it still has the cocoa in it) rather than “chocolate.” That gives the consumer a signal that something less than chocolate lies beneath the wrapping. To help defend chocolate, visit www.dontmesswithourchocolate.com and learn how to submit feedback to the FDA.

More on this story:

This is from one of the comments at the Grist site. It refers back to the LA Times editorial (emphasis mine):

The FDA is considering MANY things within the docket under consideration. That’s why there are so many names on that “citizen’s petition”. Yes, ADM would benefit in many areas should this pass as they make both chocolate and many of the substitute oils.

The curious thing about this docket is that there is an open comment period, but the precise contents of the docket have not been posted on the FDA website for the public to view. (As the originator of the editorial in the LATimes, I tried very hard to get a hold of the text.)

The portion about chocolate has come to light because a member of the CMA has dissented from the organization and passed around the proposed changes while we could still voice our opinion.

The “ADM” referred to is Archer Daniels Midland, a huge agroconglomerate.

We have just three days left in the public comment period.

April 21, 2007
Rhyming “retina” with “et cetera”
Posted by Teresa at 04:46 PM * 57 comments

To begin with, there’s the Lake District, a lovely area that’s been cosseting tourists ever since the Romantics discovered Landscape. (We’ve been there. It really is that pretty. Even their sheep are kind of cute.)

The Cumbrian tourist board is ever mindful of the two big names associated with the area—William Wordsworth, as in Daffodils, and Beatrix Potter, as in Squirrel Nutkin—and “reaching out to a wider audience” undoubtedly sounded like a good idea at their meeting where it was first proposed. I can just imagine the checklist of components they settled on: Wordworth, check. Beatrix Potter, check. Photogenic bits of the Lake District, check. Attempt to appeal to younger and more modern demographic, check.

Thus (or so I must suppose) was born the promotional M.C. Nuts video, in which a person in a Squirrel Nutkin costume awkwardly wanders through Lake District scenery while delivering “Daffodils” as a rap number. Pretty much by definition, there’s nothing else quite like it.

Mike Ford: Occasional Works (Pt. Eight)
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 04:10 PM * 20 comments

For indeed, dear Miss Musgrave, if I saw even a woman whom I loved, borne along the circling waltz . . .

“Ah, Watson. Once again we are brought news of the Musgrave Ritual. This will, I think, be a two-pipe and one-bitchin’-speedball problem.”

Tina Adams wants to sell you something

Continue reading Mike Ford: Occasional Works (Part Eight)


April 19, 2007
I don’t feel two years healthier
Posted by Avram Grumer at 09:25 PM * 127 comments

Americablog found the following a few paragraphs into an ABC News story about the VA Tech killer:

Some news accounts have suggested that Cho had a history of antidepressant use, but senior federal officials tell ABC News that they can find no record of such medication in the government’s files. This does not completely rule out prescription drug use, including samples from a physician, drugs obtained through illegal Internet sources, or a gap in the federal database, but the sources say theirs is a reasonably complete search.

A gap in the what? Since when is there a federal database of drug prescriptions?

Since two years ago, looks like, and it’s not technically a federal database. In July of 2005, Congress passed the National All Schedules Prescription Electronic Reporting Act of 2005, and it was signed into law by Bush a couple of weeks later.

This authorizes grants to the states for prescription drug databases,

in order to ensure that health care providers have access to the accurate, timely prescription history information that they may use as a tool for the early identification of patients at risk for addiction in order to initiate appropriate medical interventions and avert the tragic personal, family, and community consequences of untreated addiction

Which sounds okay at fir— well, no, it actually sounds creepy right off the bat. If they’d said it was to help prevent bad drug interactions, that would sound okay to me. An obsession with other people’s addictions strikes me as overbearing nanny-state behavior.

Anyway, scrolling down to the section on “Use and Disclosure of Information”, we see that among the people authorized to check out your prescription drug history are:

any local, State, or Federal law enforcement, narcotics control, licensure, disciplinary, or program authority, who certifies, under the procedures determined by the State, that the requested information is related to an individual investigation or proceeding involving the unlawful diversion or misuse of a schedule II, III, or IV substance, and such information will further the purpose of the investigation or assist in the proceeding;

…as well as:

any agent of the Department of Health and Human Services, a State medicaid program, a State health department, or the Drug Enforcement Administration who certifies that the requested information is necessary for research to be conducted by such department, program, or administration, respectively, and the intended purpose of the research is related to a function committed to such department, program, or administration by law that is not investigative in nature;

…and a few other people as well.

So, no federal database, just fifty-one state databases that the feds and state and local governments can go browsing through every time they decide you’ve done something bad.

(And thanks to Dvd Avins for bringing this to my attention.)

By popular demand
Posted by Teresa at 03:58 PM * 27 comments

The improved (i.e., even less gender-specific than the previous model) certificate is now available here. Don’t nobody speak Middle English no more?

Dealing with guns
Posted by Teresa at 10:44 AM *

1. Old Jarhead, on amateurs and guns

I’m promoting to the front page a comment that Old Jarhead posted in the “I’m right about everything” thread:

… as I mentioned above, I wrote on the topic of armed amateurs last year when some female attorneys who do family law were concerned about some incidents of violence and wondered if they should buy guns just in case. Since I DO know what it is like to face another human being with a gun in my hand, I wrote this. (…)

Subject: Guns in the Office

If you intend to get a carry permit and pack heat for self protection, you should keep several things close to mind:

1. Unless you have invested the time and money to be well trained in the defensive use of a handgun, don’t carry one.

2. Unless you are willing to spend the money and time to go to the range and fire your weapon at least monthly and at least a box of ammo at that time, don’t carry one.

3. Unless you are certain that you have the emotional and psychological ability to shoot another human being dead, don’t carry one. Do not count on “brandishing” the weapon to frighten the other party into submission - it is far more likely to dramatically increase the level of violence. Do not even consider “shooting to injure”. Unless you are willing to put two rounds, center of mass, into the other person and kill him (usually) dead, you are far more likely to end up the dead or grievously injured one.

4. A handgun is not a magic wand. Displaying it will not cast a spell of caution or calmness on the various parties. A loaded weapon makes people crazy - the person at which it is aimed, the persons who are witnesses, and often the person who is holding it.

5. Unless you are willing to purchase and practice with a handgun that is large enough and packs a sufficient punch to put an attacker down and down now, don’t carry one. In the early 70s a female student at [University] was in her apartment with her daughter when an attacker burst through the door. She had a .22 pistol and shot him 4 or 5 times. He had a .45 and shot her once. He was arrested at the hospital. She was dead.

There are lots of sources of good advice on combination of caliber, proper ammo, and frame size for control.

What it comes down to is that there is no way to prepare for the first time you point a loaded weapon at an identifiable human being and have to pull the trigger. The reason the military does repetitive, mind-numbing training is to try and ingrain the muscle memory and develop the reflexes so that brain does NOT interfere, because if you give it a vote it will pause and then it is too late. Soldiers call the enemy by racial or ethnic names to depersonalize them so that they don’t have to think about the fact that they are killing other people with mothers, fathers, kids, wives, and families. Troops assigned to Special Operations forces or Delta Force fire hundreds of rounds a month because in their job they have to be able to make a split second decision on whether the human in their sights is a target or a hostage or innocent.

The passive defensive measures discussed herein are excellent approaches and will be far more effective in providing security than a sign that says “This family law attorney is protected by Smith & Wesson”.

When I was a young Marine we lived in southern Cal, and one night about 2 am my wife said that she had heard a sound in the garage. I scoffed of course (husbandly response #1), but then I heard the sliding door of the VW van. There WAS someone in the garage. I got up and sneaked to the garage door and peeked - the dome light was on. Heart beat at 120, adrenaline everywhere. As I whispered for my wife to call the cops I saw an arm - a little arm. A 5 y/o girl’s arm! I stormed out into the garage to confront my little daughter and as I demanded an explanation she sobbed that she couldn’t find her bunny rabbit and was looking in the car.

I had numerous weapons in the house - all locked up. After that I asked myself - “If I had had a weapon quickly available would I have gotten it and had it ready?” My answer was “yes”. And then I realized that if I had, I would have been confronting my little girl with a .357 in my hand. Accordingly I have never kept a weapon out of the safe in the house.

Given my background I obviously am not an anti-gun crusader. I believe, however, that the decision to carry a weapon in the office or on the street places an enormous responsibility upon the bearer to obtain excellent training, to commit to frequent practice and refresher training, to choose a weapon ideally suited for you and the purpose, and to stare into the mirror and ask yourself if you could really use it - and if you would make its use a truly last resort.

If you shoot and kill someone in the office you are not going to be celebrated as “Annie Oakley” and carried around the Family Law convention on a sedan chair. You are going to go to a private place and vomit until you don’t think you will ever be able to stand up straight again.

2. From Libby Spencer of Newshogger: Spare me the false bravado:
It’s so easy to be brave if you’ve never actually faced down a gunman. I have. Twice. So I found this fool Derbyshire and his loyal fan’s insipid posts especially offensive. They should keep their adolescent daydreams of glory to themselves until after they’ve looked down the barrel of a gun wielded by a hostile hand.

I was an eighteen year old college student when it first happened to me in the 60s. I was living with housemates in a house on a lake. It was a snowy night in winter and a woman knocked on the door saying she was stuck down the road and asked to use the phone. Of course I let her in. By the time I closed the door, three other guys had followed her and I staring down the barrel of some kind of shotgun. I didn’t have a clue what kind of gun it was. It was big, that’s all I knew.

I did what they said and so did the other five people in the house at the time. We found out later they were junkies from a big city about 20 miles away who had come after hearing an erroneous rumor that we had a large shipment of marijuana in the house. They were total amateurs. They stayed so long that another roommate showed up in the interim. She joined us in lying on the floor, where we had been for the previous 30 minutes. They took anything we had of value in lieu of the non-existent pot, but at least nobody got shot.

The second time, I was in my early 40s. I was in the parking lot of what was then the Star Community Bar in the very center of Little Five Points in Atlanta, GA. A very tall black man jumped out from behind the dumpster and grabbed me from behind in a bear lock. He held a handgun right behind my left ear and said, “You know you a fuckin’ bitch?”

Time slows down in a situation like that, sort of like when you’re in a bad auto accident but you don’t really have a lot of time to think. My first thought was that my daughter was going to be really pissed at me for getting my brains shot out in a parking lot. She told me to leave Atlanta only hours before it happened. My second thought was - shit, this guy is going to kill me.

You go into another realm of consciousness. There’s no word for that level of adrenaline. It’s pure survival instinct. I didn’t fight him. I leaned into the guy’s chest, like a lover would.

“No I’m not. You got the wrong girl,” I said, remarkably calmly. “Please don’t kill me.”

I don’t know why he didn’t just pull the trigger. Maybe that response threw him off. It felt we just stood there in this kind of standoff for a really long time. It was probably only seconds. He didn’t shoot, so I did the next thing that came to mind. I screamed at the top of my lungs. Huge, high pitched screams of pure terror. My own fury scared me. The gun was still at my ear. I can still feel the cold steel even now, as I recount that night.

Six white guys came running down the sidewalk from the plaza. They were hollering but they were a long way away. He still could have shot me long before they could reach us and they didn’t exactly come running over. They were milling around on the sidewalk. I stopped screaming. We all looked at each other.

The guy let me go and started running the other way, down towards the alley. As he was running, he shot off the gun. It wasn’t as loud as I thought it would be. I looked at the guys on the sidewalk. To this day, one of the few regrets I harbor is that I didn’t walk over and thank them for saving my life. I was too stunned. (…)

Derbyshire and his little usefool tool are only right about one thing. Until you’ve been there, you don’t have a clue what it’s like. Until they have, they might want to think twice before publishing such clueless posts.

3. A warning about bog-standard gun arguments

This was a notice I posted at the end of Guns in New Hampshire, 07 November 2002:

Public Notice: Anybody who comes along and posts stupid gnu-control flaming boilerplate in my Comments section will find out about my magic powers to Edit and Delete. I don’t mind being disagreed with, but I hate being bored. Say something new or suffer the consequences. You have been warned.
It may or may not be a coincidence that that was the first Making Light comment thread to break a hundred messages, but the policy stands to this day.

April 18, 2007
Moderation certificate
Posted by Teresa at 10:51 AM * 63 comments

At the end of my most recent post on moderation, I said:

If you have a weblog or live journal, or you administer a website that has comment threads, stand up for yourself and your readers. The jerks are never going to like you, or praise you, or admit that you’re doing the right thing. And if you’re waiting for someone to give you permission to suppress and thereafter ignore malfeasants, you have it right now. If you want, I’ll make up a certificate. Go forth and civilize.
The certificate is now available on Patrick’s Flickr account. At full resolution it’s an 8” x 11” JPEG. A large clear version of the seal (created here) is available as a separate file.

April 17, 2007
“But we must also not lose sight of the fact that I am right on every significant moral and political issue.”
Posted by Patrick at 09:18 PM *

Arthur Hlavaty reminds us of this, posted and widely linked to in the immediate wake of September 11, 2001. Relevant again:

Many people will use this terrible tragedy as an excuse to put through a political agenda other than my own. This tawdry abuse of human suffering for political gain sickens me to the core of my being. Those people who have different political views from me ought to be ashamed of themselves for thinking of cheap partisan point-scoring at a time like this. In any case, what this tragedy really shows us is that, so far from putting into practice political views other than my own, it is precisely my political agenda which ought to be advanced.
And don’t neglect the handy news poll off to the right.

Wh1te Pr1de Virginia Tech autoposting
Posted by Teresa at 04:00 PM *

If you have a weblog or comment-enabled website:

Not long after the post went up, the comment thread on the Christopher J. Bishop post got hit with a link to a white supremacist website’s discussion of the Virginia Tech shootings. Nasty stuff. The link was posted from somewhere in Southern California. I suspect it’s being automatically posted to venues that mention the shooting.

Here’s the thing itself in ROT-13:

jjj.fgbezsebag.bet/sbehz/fubjguernq.cuc/ivetvavn-grpu-fubbgvat-380981.ugzy

It’s gone now from Making Light’s threads. If it turns up on your site, you might want to get it gone from yours.

Christopher J. Bishop
Posted by Teresa at 02:59 PM * 36 comments

Via Tom Barclay, who heard it from Sheila Finch and posted it in the current open thread: one of the dead in the Virginia Tech shootings was Christopher J. (Jamie) Bishop, Michael Bishop’s son. From the LA TImes:

Personable’ professor among shooting victims
By Greg Miller, Times Staff Writer
8:43 PM PDT, April 16, 2007

WASHINGTON — Monday’s session of the class in introductory German was nearly an hour old when the shooter entered the classroom in Norris Hall and fired dozens of rounds.

One of the first was aimed at the head of the teacher, Christopher J. Bishop, who wore his hair long, rode his bike to campus and worked alongside his wife in the foreign languages department at Virginia Tech.

Authorities had not publicly identified any victims as of late Monday, but colleagues confirmed that Bishop, 35, was among the 33, including the shooter, killed during the rampage.

His friends said they were struggling to comprehend the violent death of an instructor who was known for his gentle manner and generosity toward students.

“I don’t think he was the type of person who had an enemy,” said Troy Paddock, a close friend whose wife also teaches in the German program. “He was a very friendly person. He did weekly gatherings for students out of class to practice German where they could talk about anything. He was a nice and helpful person.”

There’s more of the LATimes’ story in Tom Barclay’s comment.

Moderation isn’t rocket science
Posted by Teresa at 10:42 AM *

A lame article in the New York Times reports that Tim O’Reilly and Jimmy Wales have proposed a lame Blogger Code of Conduct:

Correction Appended

Is it too late to bring civility to the Web?

The conversational free-for-all on the Internet known as the blogosphere can be a prickly and unpleasant place. Now, a few high-profile figures in high-tech are proposing a blogger code of conduct to clean up the quality of online discourse.

Last week, Tim O’Reilly, a conference promoter and book publisher who is credited with coining the term Web 2.0, began working with Jimmy Wales, creator of the communal online encyclopedia Wikipedia, to create a set of guidelines to shape online discussion and debate.

Uh-huh. And I’m busy constructing a bamboo-and-wicker water gate that will hereafter govern the flow of the Mississippi River.
Chief among the recommendations is that bloggers consider banning anonymous comments left by visitors to their pages and be able to delete threatening or libelous comments without facing cries of censorship.
See me in open-mouthed incomprehension. Bloggers can ban anonymous comments or not, as they please. The problem isn’t commenter anonymity; it’s abusive behavior by anonymous or semi-anonymous commenters. Furthermore, the kind of jerks who post comments that need to be deleted will infallibly cry “censorship!” when it happens, no matter what O’Reilly and Wales say.

Anyone who’s read ML for more than a couple of months has watched this happen. Commenters who are smacked down for behaving like jerks are incapable of understanding (or refuse to admit) that it happened because they were rude, not because the rest of us can’t cope with their dazzlingly original opinions. It’s a standard piece of online behavior. How can O’Reilly and Wales not know that?

John Scalzi had an even-more-incisive-than-usual post on the subject:

Indeed, the reason that we’re now at a point where some self-appointed guardians of the discourse have decided it’s necessary to tell the rest of us slobs how to talk to each other is that people apparently forgot they have the right on their own sites to tell obnoxious dickheads to shut the hell up. Honestly, I don’t know what to say to that, other than I’m sorry that other people’s muddled-headed conception of what “free speech” is has allowed obnoxious dickheads to run free in blogs, and allowed busybodies to wring their hands in the New York Times about how mean the blogosphere is. It’s idiotic.

What the blog world needs is not a universal “Code of Conduct”; what it needs is for people to remind themselves that deleting comments from obnoxious dickheads is a good thing. It’s simple: if someone’s an obnoxious dickhead, then pop! goes their comment. You don’t even have to explain why, although it is always fun to do so. The commenter will either learn to abide by your rules, or they will go away. Either way, your problem is solved. You don’t need community policing or a code of conduct to make it happen. You just do it.

You can’t have a good online discussion without moderation. Every weblog out there that has good comment threads has a policy of moderating the discussion and kicking out the fuggheads. I swear, Cory Doctorow was right when he said I ought to write a book about moderation. I keep thinking it isn’t rocket science, and that anyone who’s hung out on the net for a while should know the basics. (If you want a short version of what I consider the basics, I posted it here.) Then something like this comes along, and I realize it’s not as self-evident as I thought.

O’Reilly and Wales were apparently moved to promulgate this code of conduct by a recent and extremely unpleasant event in the blogosphere:

Mr. Wales and Mr. O’Reilly were inspired to act after a firestorm erupted late last month in the insular community of dedicated technology bloggers. In an online shouting match that was widely reported, Kathy Sierra, a high-tech book author from Boulder County, Colo., and a friend of Mr. O’Reilly, reported getting death threats that stemmed in part from a dispute over whether it was acceptable to delete the impolitic comments left by visitors to someone’s personal Web site.

Distraught over the threats and manipulated photos of her that were posted on other critical sites — including one that depicted her head next to a noose — Ms. Sierra canceled a speaking appearance at a trade show and asked the local police for help in finding the source of the threats. She also said that she was considering giving up blogging altogether.

In an interview, she dismissed the argument that cyberbullying is so common that she should overlook it. “I can’t believe how many people are saying to me, ‘Get a life, this is the Internet,’ ” she said. “If that’s the case, how will we ever recognize a real threat?”

That really was a nasty episode, and I don’t blame Kathy Sierra for reacting the way she did. However, what caused it wasn’t some sort of generalized inchoate blogger rudeness, and Wales and O’Reilly’s proposed code of conduct wouldn’t address the problem. Here’s what happened, as described on Kathy Sierra’s website:
At about the same time, a group of bloggers including Listics’ Frank Paynter, prominent marketing blogger Jeneane Sessum, and Raving Lunacy Allen Herrel (aka Head Lemur) began participating on a (recently pulled) blog called meankids.org. At first, it was the usual stuff—lots of slamming of people like Tara Hunt, Hugh MacLeod, Maryam Scoble, and myself. Nothing new. No big deal. Nothing they hadn’t done on their own blogs many times before.

But when it was my turn, somebody crossed a line. They posted a photo of a noose next to my head, and one of their members (posting as “Joey”) commented “the only thing Kathy has to offer me is that noose in her neck size.”

My first reaction—and probably yours—is to think, “Of course he doesn’t actually mean it.” But the “funny” thing about crossing the line from criticism to suggestion of death is that your mind starts to wander:

* The guy who wrote this is anonymous (to me… I’m sure the people behind the site know exactly who made that comment and who posted the photo). I have no way of knowing just how disturbed he might be.

* Normally sane adults don’t cross that line, especially when they know they’re breaking federal law.

* The (apparently) same person made several sexual comments about me as well… for example, analyzing my “Canyon of Pain” graphic and turning it into a metaphor for what I want sexually (you can imagine).

Noose. Sex. Hatred. Misogyny. Willing to commit a federal crime. Anonymity.
If you think she’s overreacting, go to her site and look at the bit of screenshot she posted from meankids.org. It’s every bit as ugly and disturbing as she says.
I started to slide down a very bad path (and I’m showing you only a snippet of what was actually posted and sent to me), but held it together until two days ago, March 24.

On that day, the meankids site was down and a new “replacement” appeared, unclebobism.wordpress.com. The “Bob’s Yer Uncle” site was supposedly started by Cluetrain co-author Chris Locke (who, along with Jeaneane Sessum, also authors the Kat Herding Media site) and included most of the same members as meankids.

What good does it do to ban anonymous comments, when the abusive behavior is coming from one of the bloggers who run the site?

I think what (rightly) disturbed Kathy Sierra was that none of the participants at meankids.org, or its successor site, unclebobism.wordpress.com, identified the author of that extremely upsetting material. Real people, not nithing online trolls, were implicitly condoning and enabling the behavior that had Sierra too frightened to go to a conference. She was right to hold all of the site owners responsible. They’re all complicit in protecting whoever it was that posted that filth.

That’s enough to make anyone angry. What makes it frightening is their betrayal of the social contract. They’re all implicitly saying that they’re willing to have Kathy Sierra continue to be terrorized and hurt, and that they won’t lift a finger to stop it. If I’d just been the victim of frightening and abusive behavior, and I were getting that message from the people around me, I’d be afraid to go out too.

The nastiness at meankids.org is the kind of online behavior I was addressing in item #10 of my own set of the basic rules:

You can let one jeering, unpleasant jerk hang around for a while, but the minute you get two or more of them egging each other on, they both have to go, and all their recent messages with them. There are others like them prowling the net, looking for just that kind of situation. More of them will turn up, and they’ll encourage each other to behave more and more outrageously. Kill them quickly and have no regrets.
Never doubt that it occurs. It’s why BoingBoing no longer has comment threads. None of BoingBoing’s bloggers wanted to have to act as moderator (it is a lot of work), and the hyenas took over the school cafeteria.

A lot of the filth that got posted as comments at BoingBoing was aimed at Xeni Jardin. Notice also that Kathy Sierra takes it for granted that anonymous crap will get thrown at her on a regular basis. So do other women who are prominent in technical (i.e. “male”) fields. There’s a strong component of misogyny in this behavior.

I can delete this kind of crap in my own comment threads. Individually, I can’t do much to suppress it in other venues. What I can do is refuse to respect bloggers and other site administrators who let it flourish on their own sites, or who provide cover for the anonymous vandals who post it. For instance, Frank Paynter. He apparently apologized to Kathy Sierra, and tried to publicly distance himself from the group that was running the two sites; but as far as I know, he’s never outed the author of the material that put Kathy Sierra in fear of her life. I say he’s a wuss until he does.

Anonymous nastiness is easy to write, and will always find an appreciative audience. I don’t care. It’s not a manifestation of the free and open discourse of the internet; it’s a thing that destroys that discourse. To be specific, it’s the same old trashmouthed bullying we all know from junior high and high school. Putting it on the net doesn’t cause it to develop any novel complexities or interesting emergent behaviors. It’s just the same old sh*t.

If you have a weblog or live journal, or you administer a website that has comment threads, stand up for yourself and your readers. The jerks are never going to like you, or praise you, or admit that you’re doing the right thing. And if you’re waiting for someone to give you permission to suppress and thereafter ignore malfeasants, you have it right now. If you want, I’ll make up a certificate. Go forth and civilize.

Addendum: Here’s the certificate.

April 16, 2007
Near-death of a cliche?
Posted by Teresa at 05:35 AM *

In the second post I ever put up on Making Light, Good search strings for bad writing, 08 June 2001, I said:

It’s like an infallible fishing lure for unreadable fiction: If you go to www.google.com and type in “She loved him. She really loved him.”, you’ll turn up between twelve and twenty specimens of online fiction, not one single piece of which will be good. “He loved her. He really loved her.” works just as well, though the results are a bit steamier. Oddly enough, the same-sex variants, she-loved-her and he-loved-him, aren’t represented at all. I see no reason why gay writers should have denied themselves the use of this cliche in bad online fiction, but there it is. If you’re desperate, you can substitute he knew he loved him or she knew she loved her, though you have to ignore the instances where “her” is being used as a possessive rather than a pronoun.

I take more than a little pride in the search strings for bad poetry I suggested to my friend Scraps, who collects the stuff: peom and peotry. Scraps says poerty works too.

On 06 March 2003, I reported that googling on “She loved him. She really loved him.” would now turn up about forty specimens of online fiction, and that they were all still bad.

Yesterday, News You Can Bruise mentioned using my badfic search techniques to find online Powerpoint presentations they could use to play Powerpoint Karaoke. Since they’d mentioned it, I idly typed in The Fateful String to see how many pieces of online fiction it currently summons.

The results were unexpected. It turned up one article about Alan Clark, plus two and a half pieces of fiction: a dreadful RPG-based bitey vampire thing, a chapter of a Harry Potter/Draco Malfoy slash epic, and a snippet by a B.F.A. at Vanderbilt who “exhibits photographs and mixed media objects and installations.” Which is nothing.

Either Google’s latest revision of their algorithms and parameters has somehow made them tetchy about searching for that string, or we’re seeing the near-death of a durable cliche. Both seem unlikely.

At least peom still works.

April 14, 2007
Seatbelts Save Lives
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 11:02 AM *

Do you know how we can tell the difference between people who were wearing their seatbelts and those who weren’t, at the scene of an automobile accident? The ones who were wearing their seatbelts are standing around saying “This really sucks,” and the ones who weren’t are kinda just lying there.

This is not to say that all unrestrained traffic accidents are fatals, or that seatbelted folks are invulnerable. But if you’re playing the odds….

The proximate cause of this post is the recent automobile accident involving Jon S. Corzine, governor of New Jersey.

Dr. Robert Ostrum said that Corzine’s surgery was successful but noted that the governor would need two more operations on his leg in the coming days.

Doctors also inserted a breathing tube that would remain “for days to weeks, until [Corzine] is able to breathe on his own again,” Ostrum said.

Corzine had a broken sternum, a broken collarbone, a slight fracture of his lower vertebrae, a broken left leg, six broken ribs on each side and a laceration on his head, said Dr. Steven Ross, head of trauma for the hospital.

The two other persons in the vehicle sustained minor injuries. Bet you’ll never guess which two were wearing their seatbelts.

(Or—from a few years back—beautiful young princess, millionaire boyfriend, drunk driver, bodyguardhit an abutment at a Whole Bunch of Miles Per Hour. Who lived? Answer: the guy who was wearing a seatbelt.)

Did you ever notice how often the words “unrestrained passenger” turn up in Trauma: Life in the ER just before something Really Messy rolls in the door?

In a collision, you have three or four sub-collisions all taking place in sequence. First, the vehicle hits some object. The vehicle abruptly slows, but unrestrained objects inside it continue at the same speed, in the same direction. Then the unrestrained body hits the interior of the vehicle, and starts to slow. That’s the second collision. That body’s internal organs are still moving at speed until they hit the inside of the chest (or get cheese-sliced by their supporting ligaments—and that’s where you get things like bisected livers or aortas). The fourth collision is when your buddy who was riding in the back seat lands on your head, because he wasn’t wearing his seatbelt either and he kept moving at the same speed in the same direction. Newtonian physics: Learn it, live it, love it.

There are two major routes that unrestrained persons take in a front-end MVA (Motor Vehicle Accident). Up-and-over or down-and-under (AKA “submarining”). With up-and-over, the upper body launches forward and up. The head strikes the windshield. (This produces the classic “windshield star”) Your injuries here include concussion, scalp laceration, and various brain bleeds. You can suspect fractured cervical vertebrae (and if you have a fracture with compromise to the spinal cord at C-4 or higher, you’ve lost the nerves that control chest expansion and the diaphragm. “C-4, breathe no more,” as the saying goes).

Go a little farther through the windshield, and it isn’t unexpected to leave some or all of your face behind stuck in the broken glass. You’d be surprised by how easily faces come off the facial bones.

You can also expect fractured wrists, arms, and shoulders, from folks trying to brace themselves.

A little farther through the windshield, all the way out of the vehicle (a situation we call “pre-extracted for your convenience”), and in addition to whatever damage you took on the way through, you get the damage from hitting the ground, trees, and metal poles at however-many-miles-an-hour.

Sure, you hear people talking about wanting to be “thrown clear” in the event of an accident. If you want to simulate being “thrown clear,” go to the fifth floor of a building and jump out the window.

Let’s talk briefly about being thrown clear, because it happens more often than you’d think. Unrestrained driver: side impact. Vehicle spins. Driver goes out the window. In one case I recall, the driver was half-way out his window when the vehicle rolled over on top of him. That was the second-most grotesque scene I’ve ever been to. Another scene, the driver went out the window when it spun. The vehicle went into a snow bank and was drivable from the scene. The driver went into a river and drowned.

Any time you go to an accident and the windows aren’t rolled all the way up and unbroken, look 200 feet in all directions for the other patients. It’s pure heck finding them three days later when someone wonders why all those birds are over there, or when someone at the hospital wakes up enough to ask “Where’s Joey?”

Okay, let’s look at down-and-under. In this one the patient goes forward and down, under the dashboard. Here’s where you’re going to find fractured femurs, broken knees, and compression fractures to the lower spine. If you’re asking “Is it possible for a human femur to be pushed through the floor of the pelvis?” the answer is “Yes.” If you ask me how I know that, the answer is: “Seen it done.” Unrestrained driver, 40 MPH impact.

As the legs collapse accordion-style, the patient’s chest hits the dashboard. This can give you rib fractures, a fractured sternum, cardiac bruising, or that ruptured aorta that we all love so well.

The nice thing about going submarining is that there usually isn’t any brain damage (unless you got clonked on the knob by that bowling ball, and seatbelts won’t help with that). On the other hand, femur fractures can be, and frequently are, fatal.

I think I’ll leave Traumatic Asphyxia, Hemo/Pneumothorax, and Flail Chest for the Trauma and You post that I’m going to do one of these days. Let’s just say that they’re associated with having your chest hit the dashboard or steering wheel, and they Really Suck (and not in a good way).

Seatbelts stop you from going up-and-over or down-and-under, or out the window. Sure, seatbelts can hurt you too, but hey, you’re in the presence of large amounts of free-floating energy.

So.

Effective May 1, 2000 New Jersey’s seat belt law is being upgraded. Police officers will be able to stop and issue summons to drivers and front seat passengers solely for not wearing their seat belts.

The fine is $20 and $26 court costs.

The penalty can be death.


Este artículo en español.

Copyright 2007 © by James D. Macdonald

I am not a physician. I can neither diagnose nor prescribe. This post are presented for entertainment purposes only. Nothing here is meant to be advice for your particular condition or situation.

Creative Commons License
Seatbelts Save Lives by James D. Macdonald is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License.

(Attribution URL: http://www.nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/008845.html)


Index to Medical Posts

Sidelighted Scabs
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 08:52 AM *

In re the two “Scab” posts, linked from Sidelights, the original rant that folks are responding to is here:

http://community.livejournal.com/sfwa/10039.html

When you read Dr. Howard V. Hendrix’s original post you’ll find it has a lovely phrase in it to describe those of us who are putting our work, for free, on the internet: Pixel-stained Technopeasant Wretch.

That so cries out to be made into a tee-shirt.

The Locus poll
Posted by Patrick at 08:09 AM * 9 comments

Still in London, back home mid-week, but I’m reminded by several people that the deadline for voting in the Locus poll is midnight tomorrow.

The Locus poll doesn’t quite have the in-genre prestige of science fiction’s Hugo Awards, but it does draw from a larger electorate; in fact, anyone with an interest in SF can vote, and you can vote online. (The form asks for your Locus subscription number but if you’re not a subscriber you can ignore that.) This year, what with the fiction Hugo nominees consisting of nineteen men and only one woman, a lot of people seem to be urging one another to use the Locus poll to, perhaps, think again. I personally think Jo Walton’s Farthing would be a good thought on which to start, but that’s just me.

April 13, 2007
WL Writers’ Literary Agency / Strategic Book Group
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 09:40 AM * 369 comments

We’ve mentioned these folks before at Making Light: Take My Logline … Please.

Now adjudged conman Robert Fletcher is back with a new name for his old agency. Ann Crispin of Writer Beware has this to say, and adds, “Please feel free to copy and paste this alert wherever writers gather.”

NEW ALERT FROM WRITER BEWARE: Writers’ Literary Agency & Marketing Company (formerly The Literary Agency Group)

The Literary Agency Group, a business owned or controlled by Robert M. Fletcher of Boca Raton, Florida, changed its name in February 2007 to Writers’ Literary Agency & Marketing Company (a.k.a. WL Writers’ Literary Agency).

This umbrella group includes or has included the following agencies:

* Christian Literary Agency
* New York Literary Agency
* Stylus Literary Agency (formerly ST Literary Agency, formerly Sydra-Techniques)
* WL Children’s Agency (a.k.a. Children’s Literary Agency)
* WL Poet’s Agency (a.k.a. Poet’s Literary Agency)
* WL Screenplay Agency (a.k.a. The Screenplay Agency)
* Writers’ Literary & Publishing Services Company (the editing arm of the above-mentioned agencies)

Since this company began operating in 2001 under the name Sydra-Techniques, Writer Beware has received hundreds of complaints and advisories of fee-charging, editing referrals, and other questionable practices. We’re not aware that the company has a significant track record of commercial book sales under any of its names, despite its claims to the contrary.

Writers who have had trouble with Robert M. Fletcher or any of the above-named companies, and who are or were residents of the state of Florida, please get in touch with Ann Crispin at anncrispin@aol.com (or beware@sfwa.org , if the AOL address bounces), even if you have previously contacted her. Please provide complete contact information.

You can learn far more about WL Writers’ Literary Agency wherever scam-hunters sit around the fire gnawing roast haunch of scammer and telling tales.

I note with some amusement that WL Writers’ Literary Agency has a wiki at AboutUs.org.


[UPDATE 14NOV08: If you’ve had any dealings with Robert Fletcher, or any of his businesses, the Florida Attorney General wants to hear from you.]

[UPDATE 11AUG09: Robert M. Fletcher, Literary Scammer. Bobby loses a lawsuit.]

[UPDATE 20AUG09 They’re changing their name (again!) to Strategic Book Group]

[UPDATE: 03SEP09: Attorney General Files Lawsuit Against “Literary Company”]



[UPDATE: 20JUN12]
Bobby has renamed his scam (again) to Strategic Book Publishing & Rights Agency (SBPRA), Publish On Demand Global, Best Quality Editing Services, and Best Selling Book Rights Agency, plus a dozen other names.

April 11, 2007
Starring Edward James Olmos as Eric Schmidt
Posted by Avram Grumer at 01:25 AM * 70 comments

Google was created by man.

It evolved. It expanded.

There are many caches.

And it has a plan.

(Nah, I haven’t gone all Orlowski on you. I just wanted an excuse to link to that cool infographic video, and also this even better one about the Iraq War.)

(And really, don’t take that Google vid too seriously. That ex-CIA agent they cite, Robert David Steele, also believes that WTC 7 was taken down by controlled demolitions.)

April 10, 2007
April to-do and fro-do
Posted by Teresa at 07:24 AM *

Back from Minicon: very good programming, excellent music. Saw old friends; made (I believe) new ones. Banished scurvy from premises. Observed shakiness of Whedon’s pacing. Hiro Frumentius visibly larger on our return; ditto the Macdonalds’ Drunken Lady rose. Having spent one night at home, Patrick now leaves for a week of publishing business in London.

Whee.

April 08, 2007
Mary Bennet, Vampyre Slayer
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 09:12 PM *

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a writer in need of a plot must steal from Jane Austen.

I spent the afternoon watching the six-hour Colin Firth version of Pride and Prejudice with my beloved daughter. This put me in mind of several things, neat plot twists that could improve it, and continuations and crossovers.

For example: Mary “You have delighted us long enough” Bennet playing pianoforte and singing at the ball at Netherfield Park. Imagine if she had sung, instead of the rather dull song she attempted, the Cab Calloway Saint James Infirmary Blues, or Minnie the Moocher. That would have certainly enlivened the party.

Or, during the period when Mr. Bingley is in London, he rents Netherfield Park to Sir Francis Varney. Into every generation a slayer is born … Mary Bennet, Vampyre Slayer. She alone will have the strength and skill to fight the vampires, demons, and forces of darkness …

Jane and Lizzy are in town. They are attending a ball. Lord Ruthven is in attendance. He’s gotten Lizzy separated from the crowd and is about to work his wicked will, when in through the French windows in a dive and roll, a wooden stake in each hand, comes Mary Bennet, dressed in man’s array.

I suppose Sir Lucas is her Watcher.

There in London, Lizzy Darcy makes the acquaintance of “Lucky Jack” Aubrey, ashore on duty at the Admiralty. Lizzy, encouraged by her sister Mary’s example, dresses in men’s array and ships out with Lucky Jack, where she plays a decisive role in the Battle of Trafalgar.

After Mr. Collins’ unfortunate early death (from a sudden disease with signs and symptoms nearly indistinguishable from arsenic poisoning), and after the death of Mr. Bennet, Charlotte takes possession of Longbourn, where she and Kitty start a school, with the aid of a certain Captain Jack Harkness. Captain Jack has no objection to sharing.

Silly young Lydia, age fifteen, had gone off and married Mr. Wickham. He’s gotten one last chance, and he now has the love of a good woman to guide him.

Mr. Wickham, now, up there in Newcastle with his new regiment and his new wife, soon ships out to the Pennisula, where (never one to stand on formality, nor likely to have much respect for respectability) he allies himself with Lieutenant Richard Sharpe and his company of Chosen Men.

Years later, in a novel to be titled The Colonel’s Lady, Lydia is in India, a terror of propriety to all the junior officers and especially to the officers’ wives. Then one day, the Indian Mutiny breaks out. She has Adventures.

I do love a good crossover.

Now I’m off to watch an episode of House on DVD.

April 06, 2007
Iran scheme
Posted by Avram Grumer at 01:49 AM *

Remember a couple years back when Seymour Hersh claimed that the US was already fighting a covert war against Iran? Looks like he got some of the details wrong, but the gist right. ABC News is reporting that the US is secretly supporting Pakistan-based terrorist attacks against Iran.

Jundullah is a Sunni group based in Baluchistan, a region spanning parts of Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. They’re seeking to split the region off into its own nation, with a Taliban-like government, and they have connections with al-Qaeda. Abdul Malik Rigi, the group’s leader, is a drug smuggler who used to fight with the Taliban, and earlier this week made an appearance on Voice of America, which described him as the “leader of the Iranian people’s resistance movement”. Jundullah has taken credit for a car-bomb attack in February that killed 18 members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

Money is funneled to the terrorists via Iranian exiles. Unnamed Pakistani government sources say that Cheney discussed Jundullah’s campaign against Iran when he met recently with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

Naturally, both Jundullah and the CIA deny that any such support or cooperation exists.

(Thanks to Jim Henley for the info.)

April 05, 2007
Preditors & Editors Hacked
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 07:03 PM * 9 comments

I was wondering why, earlier today, I couldn’t reach P&E and had to use a Google cached copy of their pages to find something. Now I hear from Dave Kuzminski:

For now, the P&E site that was hosted at Anotherealm was hacked along with Anotherealm. We are operating from our alternate site at URL http://www.invirtuo.cc/prededitors/ which happens to be a full and complete copy of the P&E listings, except for having a different host logo. Please feel free to pass along this info to others or post it in other sites.

[UPDATE]

All’s well, and P&E has restored its files at http://www.anotherealm.com/prededitors/

The Payoff
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 12:30 AM * 107 comments

Sam Fox, the guy who bankrolled Swift Boat Liars Against Kerry during the 2004 election seaon to the tune of $50,000, has gotten his payoff. Bush appointed him ambassador to Belgium (what has Belgium ever done to us?) while Congress was in recess, to keep him from needing to get congressional approval.

CNN reports:

Recognizing Fox did not have the votes to obtain Senate confirmation, Bush withdrew the nomination last month. On Wednesday, with Congress out of town for a spring break, the president used his power to make recess appointments to put Fox in the job without Senate confirmation.

This means Fox can remain ambassador until the end of the next session of Congress, effectively through the end of the Bush presidency.

That’s just Bush saying “Up yours!” to the American people and the world, one more time, and paying off another buddy with a government job.

April 04, 2007
Speed learning
Posted by Patrick at 05:28 PM * 73 comments

A metric ton of books, conferences, and seminars about The Realities Of Publishing, distilled into one convenient line:

“It is impossible for human nature to believe that money is not there. It seems so much more likely that the money is there and only needs bawling for.”
—Dorothy Sayers, Busman’s Honeymoon
Making Light, saving you valuable time in your many endeavors!

Iran smalltalk
Posted by Avram Grumer at 03:45 PM * 24 comments

Some more Iran links to go with Teresa’s recent post:

Wikipedia: Operation Ajax
Much of this Wikipedia entry is mined from Stephen Kinzer’s excellent All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror.

Operation Ajax (1953) (officially TP-AJAX) was a covert operation by the United Kingdom and the United States to remove the democratically elected nationalist cabinet of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh from power, to support the Pahlavi dynasty and consolidate the power of Mohammed Reza Pahlavi in order to preserve the Western control of Iran’s hugely lucrative oil infrastructure.

“A World Without Ahmadinejad?”
You wouldn’t know it from the way western sources talk about him, but the Iranian president is not the commander-in-chief of Iran’s military. The Supreme Leader is, and here he is telling Ahmadinejad to shut up and do his job:

“Our advice to the president is to speak about the nuclear issue only during important national occasions, stop provoking aggressive powers like the United States and concentrate more on the daily needs of the people, those who voted for you on your promises,” wrote the Islamic Republic, a newspaper owned by [Iranian Supreme Leader] Khamenei.

“Ahmadinejad under fire in Iran for hardline nuclear stance”

Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, came under fire from domestic critics yesterday for his uncompromising stance on the nuclear issue as the US and Britain launched a new diplomatic effort to agree harsher UN sanctions they hope will force Tehran to halt uranium enrichment.

“Whose Iran?”
Unlike Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, modern Iran is not a dictatorship. It’s got its own weird, complicated politics, with multiple factions struggling for control.

But the way Ahmadinejad governed was nothing if not divisive. He undertook the most far-reaching governmental housecleaning since the revolution itself, reportedly replacing as many as 20,000 bureaucrats. And when it came time for the elections last month, he offered his own slates of candidates, disdaining to ally himself with the traditional conservatives or with anyone else. For the Assembly of Experts, Ahmadinejad endorsed a ticket of scholars from what is known as the Haqqani circle, a group of clerics who cleave strongly to the notion of the divine state and disdain popular sovereignty and democracy.

“Iranian Jews Reject Outside Calls To Leave”

In recent months, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, Israeli officials and some American Jewish communal leaders have urged Iranian Jews to leave. But so far, despite generally being allowed to travel to Israel and emigrate abroad, Iranian Jews have stayed put.

“‘Wiped Off The Map’ — The Rumor of the Century”
Remember back in 1956 when Khrushchev told western diplomats “My vas pokhoronim” (“We will bury you”), and the US press went nuts and claimed this as a belligerent statement, when it actually meant something more like “We will outlast you; we will be present at your funeral”? Something similar seems to have happened with a statement Ahmadinejad made about Israel.

“As the Soviet Union disappeared, the Zionist regime will also vanish and humanity will be liberated”.

I’m not meaning to argue, here, that Ahmadinejad is not hostile towards Israel, or that Iran is a great place for Jews, or that there isn’t a lot of antisemitism in Iranian culture. Just that the actual situation is more complicated, and probably less grim, than the media portrayal of it. Israel and Iran are not going to have friendly relations any time soon. But war isn’t inevitable.

“Stop the Iran War Before It Starts”
Scott Ritter suggests passing something like the Boland Amendment that limited government aid to Nicaragua in the 1980s. Ironic, since it was that limitation that led to Reagan’s cronies financing the Nicaraguan Contras by selling weapons to Iran.

Democrats in Congress have the opportunity to nip this looming disaster in the bud. The fact that most of the Democratic members of Congress who enjoy tenure voted in favor of the resolutions giving the President such sweeping authority is moot. Democrats are all capable of pleading that they were acting under the influence of a Republican-controlled body and unable to adequately ascertain through effective oversight the genuine state of affairs. This is no longer the case. The Democrats in Congress are in firm control of their own destiny, and with it the destiny of America. A war with Iran will pale in comparison with the current conflict in Iraq. And if there is a war with Iran, this Congress will be held fully accountable.

“Iranian Typography Now”
Not relevant to the politics, but it’s pretty.

In comparison to Europe and North America calligraphy is a far more popular and practiced form of art in Iran and in most other countries around this area. You can spot at least one piece of calligraphy hung on the walls of most Iranian households.

Iran basic
Posted by Teresa at 12:00 PM * 84 comments

Bush & Co. were beating the drum for war with Iran for a while. They were of course insane, given that we can’t even hold Baghdad, the rest of the world is not going to believe anything we say about WMDs, and there’s no way the Iranians would greet us with flowers. Strangely enough, though, those are not the biggest reasons that war with Iran would be a non-starter.

Iraq is a small flattish riverine country that already has our soldiers in it, yet we don’t have the resources to continue fighting a war there. (Unless replaying “The Destruction of Army Group Centre” counts as continuing, which I don’t think it does.) Iran is nearly four times the size of Iraq—as big as the UK, France, Spain, and Germany put together. It’s rough terrain. In a purely topographical sense, making war on it is like invading Mordor.

Let’s call this one Why Persia Never Moves:

Iran is so thoroughly defined by its topology that its borders are visible from space. Basically—and few things in this world are as basic as geology—it’s the southeastern wing of the WSW Eurasian crumple zone, the area that got pleated when the Arabian Plate plowed into the Eurasian landmass.

Iran is one of the most mountainous countries in the world. They cover half its surface area. Unlike most countries, they don’t have a sprinkling of towns and villages in upland areas, and most of their population in the lowlands. A lot of Iran’s population lives in the hard-to-take, harder-to-control mountain valleys and high plateaus. That’s because those areas have soil and water. Their low desert areas are forbidding. Like, they have salt glaciers. Some parts of them look like abstract art.

If we go to war with Iran, it’s going to be uphill both ways. It’s hard to enforce your will in mountainous terrain where there’s a great spot for an ambush every half a mile along the road. If you send in enough troops to deal with that, there won’t be enough room to move, and water and other logistics will be a problem. It makes everything you do slow, difficult, accident-prone, and vulnerable to attack.

(See also Thermopylae, Pliska, Roncesvalles, Hattin, Morgarten, Killiecrankie, Jalalabad, the Khyber Pass (passim), the Valverde campaign, Gallipoli, the Winter War/Talvisota, and the role of road and bridge construction in the pacification of the Scottish Highlands. Terrain matters.)

Modern technology makes resupply easier, at least in good weather, but the basic problems remain. Plunging fire always favors the guys at the top of the gravity well. Helicopters will always be vulnerable from the top. (One of the problems the Soviets kept running into in Afghanistan was attacks from mountainside positions that were above their helicopters’ ceiling of operations.) A long war favors the defenders. You can’t win hearts and minds by bombing people. You can’t hold territory without boots on the ground.

Also, Iran is a modern nation-state with a middle class, lots of university graduates, and a large healthy military. While I’m sure that none of my readers are the sort who like the idea of the United States demonstrating its power by winning a one-sided war against a much smaller opponent, such people undeniably exist. If they should happen to read this, I hope they take the message the invading Iran would not be a satisfactory experience.

Here’s the very short version: If we can’t even hold a nice flat place like Baghdad, we sure as hell can’t hold Tehran.

I don’t think a war with Iran going to happen. The Yorkshire Ranter is good on the issue. Have a look if you’re interested.

And what were Bush and Cheney thinking? Heaven only know. They’re not competent and they’re not entirely sane, so it could have been anything.

Finally, insofar as any other right-wingers are holding on to the “war with Iran” meme, I suspect it’s so they can claim afterwards that Iran was the big enemy all along, and the U.S. could have licked them and ended terrorism forever, but the Evil Liberals and Democrats wouldn’t let them do it.

(Note: I’ve replaced some of the links in this entry because they’d gone bad. I couldn’t find exact equivalents, so I had to change some wording. While I was at it, I changed some other wording.* If this worries you,* you can find the original on Wayback. -TNH, 03 August 2008)

The phony middle, and why we fall for it
Posted by Patrick at 08:09 AM * 98 comments

Amanda Marcotte, in an absolutely terrific post at Pandagon:

The great myth of American politics is that we’re all just soberly analyzing the facts and opinions and “deciding for ourselves”, which would mean that we don’t lose out a whole lot if the field of available opinion is limited by Beltway wisdom. Unfortunately, human nature just isn’t like that. In reality, people tend to use the opinions they’re hearing as a gauge of what is possible and then reject the “extremes” of the available range of opinion and put themselves in the middle. There’s simply not a lot of thought that goes into it. Conservatives grasp this fact very well, which is why Fox News puts a bunch of conservatives on and characterizes them as left-wing Democrats. Slowly but surely, they create the impression that very middle-of-the-road, boring liberal ideas are raving socialism—thus how I managed to hear this weekend from my dad how attempts to reduce carbon emissions through conservation and carbon offsets is actually a socialist plot to destroy life as we know it.

You can read more about this theory, which is called the Overton window theory, at Wikipedia. When Joe Klein went apeshit on Atrios, what was making him angry was the very idea that anyone with an opinion left of Pat Buchanan could have access to a public forum, which could inadvertantly reveal that hawkish, socially conservative advocates of unfettered capitalism were hardly liberals. Atrios and other bloggers are getting in the way of characterizing anyone who would tentatively agree with FDR’s politics as a Stalinist.

Why the Overton window works the way it does is that humans are stubbornly human creatures, and therefore pack animals. Humanizing a political stance is absolutely critical to helping warm people up to it.

I’ve been trying to make this point for years. For a lot of reasons, not all of them bad, most people don’t like feeling like they’re disconnecting themselves from the majority of their fellow human beings. Yes, you are a profile in courage and a paragon of intellectual integrity, but for most people, being perceived as an eccentric outlier is something to be feared. This isn’t fundamentally because most people are corrupt, it’s fundamentally because most people are social animals, and feeling connected with the pack is critical to our sense of well-being. This is why “moving the goalposts” works, even when those doing so barely bother to conceal it. Nancy Pelosi is a left-wing extremist. Joe Lieberman is a centrist. The mass of Americans don’t want us to withdraw from Iraq. Most Americans favor replacing Social Security with private accounts. There’s a serious scientific dispute over human-created climate change, and Michael Crichton is a moderate in that dispute. None of these things are true, and you know non-crazy people who believe them all. This is why. And it underlines a more important point: the truly damaging propagandists aren’t the frothing demagogues, the Sean Hannitys, the Rush Limbaughs, or the Glenn Becks. The real damage, the real work of maintaining the catastrophic status quo of our headlong rush toward the cliff, is done by the fake liberals, the Alan Colmeses, the Chris Matthewses, the Joe Kleins. Those are the ones who do the truly important work of defining what opinions—and most importantly, whose opinions—are and aren’t inside the legitimate, respectable range.

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