Back to July 2007

To Making Light's front page

Forward to September 2007

August 31, 2007
SFWA: DMCA abusers
Posted by Patrick at 03:14 AM *

From Cory Doctorow on BoingBoing:

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America has used the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to fraudulently remove numerous non-infringing works from Scribd, a site that allows the general public to share text files with one another in much the same way that Flickr allows its users to share pictures.

Included in the takedown were: a junior high teacher’s bibliography of works that will excite children about reading sf, the back-catalog of a magazine called Ray Gun Revival, books by other authors who have never authorized SFWA to act on their behalf, such as Bruce Sterling, and my own Creative Commons-licensed novel, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom.

Read the whole thing. SFWA’s behavior is evidently as odious as you could possibly imagine—for instance, in the name of nabbing copyright-infringing e-texts of works by Isaac Asimov, SFWA issued legal takedown notices for entire ranges of electronic documents with the string “Asimov” in them.

It’s often said that one should never attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity. But at a certain point, willed and determined stupidity becomes a kind of malice. With this latest stunt, SFWA’s behavior has come to that point.

August 30, 2007
A few links
Posted by Avram Grumer at 06:50 PM * 26 comments

August 28, 2007
More Republican gay bathroom sex
Posted by Teresa at 07:14 PM * 455 comments

Remember Florida legislator Bob Allen? The one John Scalzi mocked to such excellent effect? Step right up, because we’ve got another winner. He’s not as colorful as Bob “Jackson and a hummer” Allen, but on the other hand, he is a member of the United States Senate.

Senator Larry Craig, (R) Idaho, has offered an explanation for what he was doing with that police officer in that public restroom that meets the usual high standards of plausibility:

(CNN)—Sen. Larry Craig said that he “overreacted and made a poor decision” in pleading guilty to disorderly conduct after his June arrest following an incident in a Minneapolis airport bathroom.

Tuesday, in his first public statement on the arrest, the Idaho Republican said he did nothing “inappropriate.”

“Let me be clear: I am not gay and never have been,” said Craig, who has aligned himself with conservative groups who oppose gay rights.

With his wife by his side, Craig said he is the victim of a “witch hunt” conducted by the Idaho Statesman newspaper. “In pleading guilty, I overreacted in Minneapolis, because of the stress of the Idaho Statesman’s investigation and the rumors it has fueled around Idaho,” he said. “Again, that overreaction was a mistake, and I apologize for my misjudgment.”

Being under investigation by a newspaper back home causes you to “overreact” and plead guilty to a charge of soliciting gay sex in a public restroom? That’s creative.
He added: “I should not have kept this arrest to myself, and should have told my family and friends about it. I wasn’t eager to share this failure, but I should have done so anyway.”

A police officer who arrested him June 11 said Craig peered through a crack in a restroom stall door for two minutes and made gestures suggesting to the officer he wanted to engage in “lewd conduct.”

Craig’s blue eyes were clearly visible through the crack in the door, Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport police Sgt. Dave Karsnia wrote in the report he filed. “Craig would look down at his hands, ‘fidget’ with his fingers, and then look through the crack into my stall again,” Karsnia wrote in documents accompanying the arrest report.

Craig said the officer misinterpreted his actions.

Yeah. Because straight guys are forever gluing themselves to the cracks in bathroom-stall doors in order to stare for minutes on end at some other guy who’s got his trousers down.
After he was taken for questioning, the police report says, Craig pulled out of a Senate business card and asked the officer: “What do you think of that?”
I think that’s what we call compounding the error.
Senate Republican leaders are calling for an ethics committee review. A GOP leadership aide said senators were especially concerned about the business card allegation.
Sounds like they’re getting ready to cut him loose.

Isn’t there some theoretical limit on the number of times highly-placed conservative Republicans can be caught out this way?

Japan: both more rinkydink and more awesome than I expected
Posted by Patrick at 06:47 PM * 50 comments

More rinkydink: Surprisingly more evidence of infrastructure decay, notwithstanding the high-tech wonderamas like the Minato Mirai district of Yokohama where the Worldcon is about to be held. It’s not all the 22nd Century; parts of it are miles and miles of shabby suburbs, like some of the more stressed parts of Los Angeles or Phoenix only compressed to dwarf-star density. Other parts look like someone took Akron, Ohio and scrubbed it with a giant Brillo pad, so that the rust stains are still visible but it’s nonetheless clean enough to eat off of.

More awesome: Unbelievably friendly people, even service people who don’t speak English and are dealing with an idiot (me) who doesn’t speak Japanese. Trains you could set your watch by, all with their interior air-conditioning set to “stun”. And the gigantic statue of eleven-headed Kannon, Goddess of Mercy, allegedly carved from a single camphor tree, at the Hasedera Temple in Kamakura. I walked into the room out of the killing heat and time screeched to a stop. I think my jaw is still on the floor back there.

Upcoming: the 65th World Science Fiction Convention, starting tomorrow, at which Tor publisher Tom Doherty and I will be doing something a little new—podcasting the Worldcon, or at least our corner of it. Beginning late tomorrow (if the creek don’t rise), we’ll be putting up dispatches and interviews with a variety of skiffy luminaries. Hear Tom Doherty chat with Larry Niven over lunch! Listen as Robert Charles Wilson and I amble through the book room, peering at SF book publishing past and present! Behold the spectacle of PNH interviewing George Takei! (That one’s set for Saturday morning Japan time.) You can subscribe to the whole series here, or (if you promise to ignore the empty dummy podcast currently sitting there) you can pick and choose as they get posted here. (No, Making Light isn’t about to become a Tor promotional vehicle, but this is the first of several Tor intertube-related projects that I’ll be mentioning in the next few weeks.)

Conversations at Boing Boing
Posted by Teresa at 02:43 PM *

Remember that project I was working on that I couldn’t talk about? I can talk about it now: Boing Boing has gone back to having comment threads. I’m the moderator. (And in case you’re wondering: no, I’m not abandoning Making Light.)

It’s been an exciting day. The new comment system was launched simultaneously with the launch of the Boing Boing Gadgets Blog (that’s being done by former Gizmodo editor Joel Johnson), and the redesign of Boing Boing itself. Have you ever moved into a house where the moldings, light fixtures, and cover plates haven’t been installed yet? It’s a bit like that. A work in progress, as it were.

(Chief tech guy Ken Snider has been stellar, and I won’t hear a word against him.)

Fixes will be fixed, as I keep telling the commenters in the announcement thread. But in spite of all the problems, there’s an air of giddy good cheer about the place today. Boing Boing’s readers missed having comments, and they’re delighted to have them back.

August 27, 2007
Mike Ford: Occasional Works: Coda
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 10:09 AM * 19 comments

Making Light posts by Mike Ford:



John M. Ford, 1957-2006 by Teresa Nielsen Hayden


Here endeth Mike Ford: Occasional Works

Your Tax Dollars At Work
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 09:57 AM * 25 comments

Remember how Georgie wants to start a war with Iran because they’re funding and training (some of the) insurgents in Iraq?

He can start a war a little closer to home if he wants and save on travel costs. It seems that the US is funding the insurgents too.

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s deadly insurgent groups have financed their war against U.S. troops in part with hundreds of thousands of dollars in U.S. rebuilding funds that they’ve extorted from Iraqi contractors in Anbar province.

The payments, in return for the insurgents’ allowing supplies to move and construction work to begin, have taken place since the earliest projects in 2003, Iraqi contractors, politicians and interpreters involved with reconstruction efforts said.

A fresh round of rebuilding spurred by the U.S. military’s recent alliance with some Anbar tribes — 200 new projects are scheduled — provides another opportunity for militant groups such as al Qaeda in Iraq to siphon off more U.S. money, contractors and politicians warn.

“Now we’re back to the same old story in Anbar. The Americans are handing out contracts and jobs to terrorists, bandits and gangsters,” said Sheik Ali Hatem Ali Suleiman, the deputy leader of the Dulaim, the largest and most powerful tribe in Anbar. He was involved in several U.S. rebuilding contracts in the early days of the war, but is now a harsh critic of the U.S. presence.

And:

WASHINGTON - Nearly one of every 25 weapons the U.S. military bought for Iraqi security forces is missing and many others cannot be repaired because parts or technical manuals are lacking, a government audit said Sunday.

The Defense Department cannot account for 14,030 weapons — almost 4 percent of the semiautomatic pistols, assault rifles, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and other weapons it began supplying to Iraq since the end of 2003, according to a report from the office of the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction.

The missing semiautomatic pistols, assault rifles, machine guns and other weapons will not be tracked easily: The Defense Department registered the serial numbers of only about 10,000 of the 370,251 weapons it provided — less than 3 percent.

And:

BAGHDAD

The top U.S. military commander in Iraq, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., predicted last week that Iraqi security forces would be able to take control of the country in 12 to 18 months. But several days spent with American units training the Iraqi police illustrated why those soldiers on the ground believe it may take decades longer than Casey’s assessment.

Seventy percent of the Iraqi police force has been infiltrated by militias, primarily the Mahdi Army, according to Shaw and other military police trainers. Police officers are too terrified to patrol enormous swaths of the capital. And while there are some good cops, many have been assassinated or are considering quitting the force.

“None of the Iraqi police are working to make their country better,” said Brig. Gen. Salah al-Ani, chief of police for the western half of Baghdad. “They’re working for the militias or to put money in their pocket.”

Rats, Ship, Sinking
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 09:17 AM * 73 comments

Word is that Alberto “Torture is Fun” Gonzales is resigning. That’s good. It won’t be possible to impeach him any more, but he can still be prosecuted.

Further rumor is that he’s going to be replaced by Michael “Stupid, Incompetent, Unqualified, Pick Any Three” Chertoff of Homeland Security. That’s less good.

Still, they’re bailing out. Getting while the getting is good. Handwriting, wall, you know the deal.

August 26, 2007
John Barnes opens a can of worms
Posted by Teresa at 09:42 PM * 82 comments

John Barnes, on the difference between political participation and writing novels:

The habits of mind required for a novelist are antithetical to those required for political participation. A hard-working, competent politician will open a can of worms only as a last resort, and then try to discard the bad worms, make the good worms line up straight, and ultimately put all the good worms back into a better can. A fiction writer who is serious about writing good fiction will open the same can just for the hell of it, with a joyous shout of “Wow! Cool! Worms!” in order to play with the worms, show the worms to friends, give the worms names, dress the worms up in costumes, attempt to interview the worms, and perhaps try to become a worm. Naturally the can is thrown away at once, because the worms need room to tangle and copulate and make more worms; if the worms are to be put into anything, it will be something more interesting than a can, perhaps a flower pot, bathtub, or gravy boat.
I’m not sure I agree, but it’s certainly vivid.

August 24, 2007
*SPOILERS* What’s Wrong With Veronica Mars? *SPOILERS*
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 07:52 PM *

The first season convinced me to watch the second season. The second season convinced me not to bother with the third season. What happened to the program Joss Whedon called the “Best. Show. Ever”?

Continued below the cut.

Bright Shining Lies
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 11:43 AM * 70 comments

Bush is pushing a new story, comparing Iraq to Vietnam.

As you’d expect, the Republicans’ version of Vietnam, and the lessons to be learned from it, are a blend of fiction, magical thinking, and propaganda. They’re helped in this by the simple fact that nearly half of all Americans (42.2% if you must know) hadn’t yet been born in 1973 when the US pulled out.

Bush cites Vietnam in making case for Iraq war

“Three decades later, there is a legitimate debate about how we got into the Vietnam War and how we left,” Bush said. “Whatever your position in that debate, one unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America’s withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like ‘boat people,’ ‘re-education camps’ and ‘killing fields.’”

This is nonsense.

Rick Perlstein debunks the right-wing propaganda in a series of posts at Common Sense.

Start with The ‘Genocide’ Card

It is true that tens of thousands of Vietnamese were killed, and hundreds of thousands exiled to re-education camps, by a triumphant Communist government after Saigon fell in 1975. But by the early 1970s as the worst American bombing was raging, hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese were being killed, and millions being exiled from their homes—carnage that came to a dead stop once the war ended. As cruel as the Communist consolidation of power was, ending the war entailed an obvious net saving of lives, and if it were saving lives conservatives actually cared about—instead of scoring ideological points—this should be obvious.

That’s the first point. The second: America’s war aim—standing up an anti-Communist democratic government in Saigon absent an American military occupation—was impossible. President Nixon admitted this privately all the time, even while he was simultaneously publicly claiming he was negotiating to achieve exactly that. The point has finally become so obvious that now even conservatives admit it. Though conservatives still haven’t brought themselves to admit the more fundamental point: Nixon was right. Indeed, sickeningly, after more visits and better contacts in-country than any American politician, he had been saying we couldn’t win in Vietnam privately since 1966, as Len Garment disarmingly acknowledged in his memoir.

From there, move on to The Cambodia Card

Indeed, leaving Southeast Asia itself, with the subsequent unification of North and South Vietnam under a Communist government, ended up producing the conditions that stopped the genocide—because Communist Vietnam invaded Cambodia in 1978. That was what ended the genocide.

Then Lying about liberals: our national sport

Early in 1974, Nixon requested a support package for the South Vietnamese that included $474 million in emergency military aid. The Senate Armed Services Committee balked and approved about half. A liberal coup? Hardly. One of the critics was Senator Barry Goldwater. “We can scratch South Vietnam,” he said. “It is imminent that South Vietnam is going to fall into the hands of North Vietnam.” The House turned down the president’s emergency aid request 177 to 154; the majority included 50 Republicans.

Then Coked up

Digby tells me that Cokie Roberts assured her Sunday morning audience that the Democrats’ move to end the Iraq war will prove a debilitating political liability for them, “just like it was in Vietnam.”

The latest Bush story is that history repeats itself. We should find out what history said the first time before we go running off to prolong the folly in Iraq.

August 23, 2007
The will of man made visible
Posted by Avram Grumer at 03:49 PM * 216 comments

A few years back, I saw an article online about a guy who’d founded a company he was calling “Reardon Steel” “Rearden Steel”*, a reference to Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. He said that he was getting lots of email from people wanting to work for him, saying things like “All my life I’ve wanted to work for Reardon Steel!”

Now, I haven’t read a whole lot of Rand. Just some of her essays, which was enough to put me off reading anything longer. Every so often in a bookstore I’ll pick up a copy of Atlas Shrugged and read a random paragraph, but the prose style always drives me off. But my general impression of her ethos is that a person who really did live up to the ideals she put forward in her books wouldn’t wait around for someone else to found the company he’d always wanted to work for. In other words, a whole lot of Objectivists like to talk the talk, but can’t manage to walk the walk.

Perhaps Objectivism is no worse than any other moral philosophy in this regard, but now I’ve bulked up this post with enough paragraphs that I don’t feel like I’m just posting a glorified Particle when I point out that the company that was managing the demolition for the Deutsche Bank building — where two firemen died in a fire last week and another two injured today in a scaffold collapse — is called the John Galt Corporation.

David Dunlap at CityRoom has already commented on the irony of this by quoting passages from the famous Galt mega-speech (“Building is not done by abstaining from demolition; centuries of sitting and waiting in such abstinence will not raise one single girder for you to abstain from demolishing”).

New! Improved! Iraq! Now with Democracy!
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 12:43 AM * 108 comments

Remember the long list of Why We Had To Start A War With Iraq?

Pick a reason: It was because of Saddam’s support for al Qaeda. It was because of Weapons of Mass Destruction. It was because Saddam wasn’t following UN directives. It was because Saddam tried to kill my daddy. It was because we left the job unfinished in ‘91. It was because of mobile biowar laboratories. It was because of 9/11. It was because of yellowcake from Niger. It was because of aluminum tubes. It was because Afghanistan didn’t have any good targets.

Finally they decided (long after we were already there) that it was to set up a beacon of democracy in the Middle East, so that the folks in other countries, seeing how wonderful it was, would want some for themselves and spontaneously become democracies too.

Not so much any more.

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) — Nightmarish political realities in Baghdad are prompting American officials to curb their vision for democracy in Iraq. Instead, the officials now say they are willing to settle for a government that functions and can bring security.

A workable democratic and sovereign government in Iraq was one of the Bush administration’s stated goals of the war.

But for the first time, exasperated front-line U.S. generals talk openly of non-democratic governmental alternatives, and while the two top U.S. officials in Iraq still talk about preserving the country’s nascent democratic institutions, they say their ambitions aren’t as “lofty” as they once had been.

“Democratic institutions are not necessarily the way ahead in the long-term future,” said Brig. Gen. John “Mick” Bednarek, part of Task Force Lightning in Diyala province, one of the war’s major battlegrounds.

There you have it. We invaded Iraq, killed thousands of US troops and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians, and bankrupted the US treasury, in order to overthrow a dictator. But the price was worth it because at the end of the day the Iraqis would be ruled by … another dictator.

August 22, 2007
Hot x3 action
Posted by Teresa at 09:43 PM *

This is MoanMyIP.com, a distinctly work-unsafe site that shows you a picture of a busty blonde while an unconvincing* female voice moans, pants, and whimpers your IP address. It’s supposed to sound sexy.

So close. Just not quite there.

What you need is a better photo of a sexy-looking woman, and a much better actress moaning, panting, whimpering, and throatily murmuring well-known mathematical equations.* That’d work. You could sell ads.

August 21, 2007
Some idiot is suing PZ Myers
Posted by Teresa at 08:02 AM *

PZ Myers—biologist, academic, tireless crusader for science and reason, and proprietor of the weblog Pharyngula—is being sued for reviewing a book. The plaintiff, one Stuart Pivar, has charged PZ Myers and Seed Media with assault, libel, and slander.

Let’s go over that again: Pivar published a book; he got bad reviews; he’s charging assault. Yes, it really is that dumb. But speaking from experience, even if all you’ve got is a lackwit suing you on patently ridiculous grounds, it’s still damned irritating. (And sometimes funny. But irritating.)

Pivar thinks he’s come up with a revolutionary idea for how evolution works. He wrote a book about it, which he published in two versions, both attractively illustrated. The first, LifeCode: The Theory of Biological Self Organization, was reviewed in Pharyngula. The gist of PZM’s review:

I will say this: it is very pretty. Pivar has a website for the book, with some of the artwork on display. It’s visually striking stuff.

Unfortunately, it has almost nothing to do with reality. His theory (which is also explained on a website) is all about topological manipulations of embryonic forms, and he uses the artwork to show his models for how the embryo is distorted by physical forces to generate various structures…and they simply do not bear any relationship to cell and tissue movements in any embryo I’ve ever seen. …

I’m afraid all of these artistic inventions are in the service of a theory that is unappealing, uninteresting, and without the slightest bit of predictive power. Here is his idea, briefly: all cells and embryos are donuts, and how they turn themselves inside out determines their future morphology.

When Pivar put out his second version of the book, PZM reviewed it too:
Pivar has put out a new version of his book, Lifecode: From Egg to Embryo by Self-Organization. I’m sorry to say it doesn’t address any of my criticisms, and is even worse. This is not a scientific theory, and it isn’t even a collection of evidence: it’s a jumble of doodles. I read through it all this afternoon (there really isn’t that much to read), and I have to conclude it says nothing about the development or evolution of biological organisms, although it is relevant to something else.

What seems to be new in the book is a set of experiments, of sorts. Pivar’s model of development has long been that we achieve the diversity of organismal form by starting with a torus, and that fluid movements and distortions of the toroid form lead to the more elaborate forms at the end of development. The donut is the unifying principle underlying everything (hmmm, makes one wonder if there is a tie-in to the new Simpsons movie). So what he’s done in this work is make some flexible plastic toroidal tubes filled with fluid and flexed them and twisted them, and taken some pictures. These balloons of fluid, as you might guess, buckle and wrinkle in predictable ways—ways that, in Pivar’s interpretation, leap to be represented as morphogenetic events. A tube that is bent, for instance, makes a series of wrinkles with an even distribution that look, very vaguely, like maybe you could pretend they are segments.

So he does pretend. At length.

… The doodles in this book bear absolutely no relationship to anything that goes on in real organisms, but after staring at them for a while, I realized what this book is actually about.

This book is a description of the development and evolution of balloon animals.

It’s that bad.

If you’re tempted to criticize PZM for his unkindness, go read the reviews in full. Both of them fully engage with Pivar’s theories, and discuss them at length. PZM even finds a few kind things to say about the books. Really, they’re model reviews. Pivar’s only cause for dissatisfaction is that PZM comprehensively dismissed his theories: not grounds for legal action.

The case has been reported by Christopher Mims in Scientific American. Reduced to more or less its topic sentences, the piece says:

Stuart Pivar is a wealthy New York businessman who also was or at least claims to have been a close friend of noted evolutionary biologist Steven Jay Gould.

PZ has made a number of unfavorable but, on balance, not in my opinion excessively mean-spirited reviews of Pivar’s book.

Stuart responded by leaving a number of comments on PZ’s blog expressing his displeasure, and according to PZ:

I’ve got a mailbox full of his frantic hallooing, some of which claims I “have transcended the barrier separating protected commentary from libel.”
So, it looks like Mr. Pivar has made good on his threat to sue for libel. I’ve no doubt he believes he has a legitimate case, but of course the bar for proving libel under U.S. law is quite high.

There’s probably a lot of other things going on here, as well. For instance PZ (and CSICOP’s Intelligent Design Watch) have accused Pivar of being mixed up with the Intelligent Design movement. (I believe the exact word PZ used in describing Pivar was “crackpot.”)

A quick search of the database of the New York state court system reveals that since 1986, Stuart Pivar has been named as a plaintiff in 25 different cases filed with the New York State Unified Court System (and a defendant in two).

This is either harassment or cluelessness. Whichever it is, Pivar’s lawyer is at fault for helping him pursue the case.

If it is a matter of cluelessness, I think we’re going to see more cases like it. A lot of people out there have some notion that the New York Times is allowed to make unfavorable remarks about their ideas or business practices or prospects for success, and that Library Journal and Publishers Weekly are allowed to print unkind reviews of their books; but they aren’t nearly as clear on the idea that webloggers can do it too.

Addenda:

Someone whom I believe is unconnected with the case has e-mailed me a .pdf of the complaint Stuart Pivar filed against PZ Myers and Seed Media Group. Apparently what set Pivar off was the use of the word “crackpot”. Tough noogies. Anyone can see it’s true.

I’m puzzled by “Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief and money damages for defamation and libel per se premised upon diversity of citizenship.” Wonder what that’s about.

Woo! Get this:

“Plaintiff discussed the LIFECODE project on numerous occasions with Professor Stephen Jay Gould, who, until his untimely death in May 2002, was working on a refutation of the fundamentalist Darwinian theory of evolution, a position of scientific orthodoxy that LIFECODE questions.”
I have serious trouble imagining Stephen Jay Gould going along with a revolutionary theory of embryological development that doesn’t match anything we know about the actual development of embryos. It’s a good thing for Pivar that the dead can’t sue for libel.

Hmmm. Pivar says that his book was “reviewed” by an odd assortment of scientists. He says that PZM’s motives for calling him a crackpot can only have been malicious, since PZM knows that no such assortment of scientists would endorse or review a crackpot’s work. He seems to have no notion that PZM’s judgements might be based on scientific expertise, independent of anyone else’s endorsement of the book. Hang on, there’s something I need to do …

Yo, Stuart Pivar! You’re a crackpot. Yes, you are. Get used to it.

Back to the filing.

Pivar is asking for total damages of fifteen million dollars, plus PZ Myers has to take down those reviews. He says he’s been made to suffer humiliation, anxiety, emotional upset, public ridicule, public embarrassment, impairment of his good name, gross impairment to his professional reputation (as a manufacturer of plastic containers? I doubt it), and public impairment of his abilities and integrity. I say that if he’d really suffered all those things, the experience would have taught him the difference between impairment and disparagement.

This demonstrates once again, as if it needed demonstrating, that trying to retaliate for bad reviews is always a mistake. If Pivar had left the matter alone, some fraction of Pharyngula’s readers would have remembered PZM’s reviews of the books, and a much smaller fraction might have remembered Pivar’s name. Now he’s well on his way to becoming middling famous as the crackpot who sued PZ Myers. He has no one to blame but himself.

More:

Read the entire filing (.pdf). (Thank you, Michael Weholt.)

Kathryn Cramer on Stuart Pivar and Andy Warhol.

Blake Stacey, in Science after Sunclipse, lays out the gory details, then says:

When I think of the people I’ve angered on the Internet, this kind of censorship-by-intimidation gives me pause … and then makes me want to load up on 1.21 jigawatts of caffeine and sound a barbaric yawp over the networks of the world.

August 20, 2007
Mike Ford: Occasional Works (Pt. Twelve)
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 09:50 AM * 20 comments

Cans are breeders of International Agents of Botulism.

Many cans contain liquids, some even gels. You know the drill.

A wounded can may pursue its hunter for long distances, especially downhill.

Can hunting is a great Ameri-CAN tradition. Think of the Pilgrims, utterly alone in the New World, bringing down cranberry sauce to serve with their turkey loaf. Or the Cowpokers building the first railroad to the Moon with the herds of baked beans and Hormel chili that once darkened the plains. GIs fought their way from the Normandy beaches to wherever it was, shooting the wild K-rats in Beggars Canyon. And the skills so honed will serve us all well in the Robot Wars to come.

Blasting cans is not just American, it is Real American. Just ask your Mom, the next time she takes the lid off some apple pie filling.

Pretend Tough

Continue reading Mike Ford: Occasional Works (Part Twelve)


August 19, 2007
Your News Media At Work
Posted by Patrick at 11:44 PM * 39 comments

Defending his Los Angeles Times piece attacking blogs for their lack of journalistic standards, journalism professor Michael Skube “freely admits that he allows to appear under his own name claims about a publication he concedes he’s never read.”

Gosh, do you suppose someday us lowly weblogs might aspire to this Olympian standard of probity and integrity?

Alternately, does it seem to you possible that today’s media establishment isn’t just self-interested and corrupt, but in fact downright mentally deficient? This is beyond pathetic and well into bulbous-rubber-nose and floppy-clown-feet territory.

UPDATE: Teresa thinks I muffled the main point. Skube’s piece criticizes blogs for their lack of “old-style gumshoe reporting.” But the blogs he singles out include sites such as Josh Marshall’s Talking Points Memo, which regularly features original reporting of very high quality. Challenged on this point by Marshall, Skube responded that he wasn’t actually familiar with TPM; its mention had been “inserted late by an editor who perhaps thought I needed to cite more examples.” As excuses go, this is right up there with “I didn’t plagiarize my term paper from someone else’s; the roommate who wrote it for me did so.”

The Dream-Quest of Pooh Corner
Posted by Teresa at 09:55 PM * 130 comments

Brought to you by ajay, comment #546, Open thread 89. Ajay began by quoting Julie L., comment #531:

“Oh, bother,” said Pooh, as the unclean emanations of the Old Ones manifested as squamous and rugose tentacles that were of no earthly color.
Then:
#546 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 05:24 AM:

from “The Dream-Quest of Pooh Corner”…

I am forced into speech because Rabbit and other Organdized People have refused to follow my advice without knowing why. I am a Bear of Very Little Brain, and so it is altogether against my will that I tell my reasons for opposing this contemplated Expotition to the East Pole - with its vast Woozle hunt and its wholesale boring and excavation of Heffalump Traps. And I am the more reluctant because my warning may be in vain…

…”It’s All Right,” said Eeyore, looking into the dark waters again. “This Sort of Thing was Bound to Happen. Just a question of the Stars being Right, I suppose.”

“I mean,” he continued, as the surface of the water was torn asunder and a mass of hideous, churning flesh rose into view, “what else was I supposed to Expect?”

“There’s Rabbit,” he said, as the blasphemous mouth of the being from the depths opened in a scream. “He’s Energetic, Rabbit is, but he will Meddle in the Forbidden Arts. And then there’s Owl. Owl is very intelligent, but I’m afraid that in some of the older and more unsettling texts in his house he may have seen things that have driven him into shrill unreasoning madness. And then there’s Tigger. No earthly creature could possibly Bounce quite so much as Tigger.”

After that, we were all eaten by Great Old Ones.

For source materials and fellow-travelers, see also Tales of the Plush Cthulhu, Mary Dell’s latest joyful artifices, a Hokusai you can’t open in the office, and a great deal of further strangeness in that line.

Addendum:

From the stygian deeps of the comment thread (#27, actually), ajay replies,

Cottleston, Cottleston, Cottleston Pie,
That’s not dead which can eternal lie,
And in aeons strange even Death may die —
Cottleston, Cottleston, Cottleston Pie.
Have a look. The Pooh/LOTR/Lovecraft nexus is getting a workout (“Pooh escapes from the Downfall of Numenor in Christopher Robin’s umbrella, renamed The Brain of Pooh, bearing with him Piglet and a seedling of the Eldest of Trees…”), and the bleeding remains of Rob Holdstock, Robert Frost, and Dr. Seuss have been found, torn as if by the talons of some great beast.

Wedding apparel, never worn
Posted by Teresa at 03:44 PM * 200 comments

One of my occasional vices is lurking in eBay’s wedding apparel department, reading the notes written by vendors who are selling off wedding dresses that never got worn. You can’t reconfigure or cancel a wedding without generating story. This series, for instance, has the sound of someone (the almost-bride’s sister, I mean) dazedly coping with catastrophe:

Wedding Dress Oleg Cassini Dress with Gloves and Garder

Flower Girl Dress size 3 and comes with LittleVeil

Very nice Tiara Sliver with Rhinestone and pearl

New White Veil with crystal dropletts Brand NEW

Up for bidding are some very nice items, for the first part a New Wedding Dress never worn also comes with Brand new Gloves that are Whites lace with a pearl bead to it cost around 19.99, and brand new Garder that cost 7.99(look at pics for more details) These items are my sisters who just called off her wedding and now has no use for them and is just trying to get rid of them (have more stuff in other auctions) The dress was cost her 1,100 dollars it has an embordered flower pattern on the mesh also with a pearl bead design, the back is a complete button up. Please ask any questions you have before bidding if you need to, I will relay your questions to her and have her answer them since I really dont know to much about these things. Thank you and good luck.
Simple heartbreak:

New w/Tags Never Worn White/Red Wedding Dress

This is my first sale on ebay. Unfortunatly my wedding was called off 2 months before the date. I have this beautiful dress that I used to love and now it make me cry to see it.
What, me upset?

Oscar Delarenta Designer Gown

This is a beautiful wedding dress. Unfortunately my wedding was called off at the last moment so I never got a chance to wear it.
(Get a look at the photo.)

The bridesmaids try to recoup their losses:

Bridesmaid dress: never been worn (set of 3 available)

These dresses are made by Mori Lee. They were purchased from a bridal shop for $175 each. The dresses were never worn or altered because the wedding was called off within a week of us picking them up. … The dresses can be sold as a group or individually. We are asking for $100 each.

A mystery:

Wedding Dress and Veil

Wedding Dress, Never touched, wedding called off. Veil included, plus dress but one of the most spectacular dresses you will see. Will have pic up as soon as can.
Almost a week later, there’s still no picture. Could she not bear to deal with it? Is the wedding back on? We’ll never know.

Shades of F. Scott Fitzgerald:

REEM ACRA “ALLURE” COUTURE DESIGNER BRIDAL GOWN $5.9K

Reem Acra “Allure” Couture Bridal Gown Available!!! This breathtaking dress was featured in Town & Country Wedding Issue, Fall [October] 2006. Stunning hand beaded sheath gown. This dress is simply exquisite; the pictures pale in comparison to the actual dress. Double lined with ivory silk, the tulle overlay is dripping with hand beading details; seed pearls, silver wire thread, bugle beads, sequins, ivory silk thread. FREE WEDDING GIFT INCLUDED! I will include the 20 yards of matching bugle beads for your veil as a wedding gift. Here is an opportunity to be a bride with amazing style - stand out in the sea of standard wedding dresses! Dress never worn. Original unfinished hem. Untouched - not even tried on! Size 10, which will fit anyone in a size 8 to 10 range. Retails for $5980.00 at Reem Acra in NY and Marina Morrison in San Francisco. Can’t use it - we eloped!
Lydy (who’s visiting us just now): It’s a fabulous dress. The run-up to the wedding must have been awful.

Me: That, or she was so rich she didn’t think twice about writing it off.

Lydy: No. She’s going to all the trouble of selling the dress.

Me: Yes, but paying for the dress would have been Daddy’s money. What she gets for selling it is hers.

Finally letting go:

Sz 8, never-used satin cathedral length wedding gown

Up for auction is a brand-new absolutely gorgeous wedding gown. It is a size 8 and has never been worn (unfortunately for me). This gown is sleeveless and loaded with beautiful detailing featuring a cathedral length train, which bustles. I hope that my pictures truly show it’s simple, yet perfect style, if not, please email me and I will send you more pics. It consists of pearls, sequins and roping down the train with beautiful rosebuds in between and a simple bow in the back of the waist. It has covered buttons in the back. All I can say, is I hope some lucky bride will get to wear this down the aisle! It is truly a stunning gown with the tag still on it. It was purchased about 7 yrs.ago …
A dress which at this rate will never be worn:

Elegant Victorian style Wedding Dress - High Quality!

This elegant Victorian style wedding dress is one of a kind, custom designed and sewn, and never worn. It was originally designed and customized for a customer in an exclusive shop I managed some years back (the owner of the boutique lived in New York and he handled the details of the custom order). The selling price was $8,700. Today’s cost for a gown of this quality and design could be $10,000 or more. The customer’s wedding was called off and, being single at the time, I bought the dress at a discounted price, with the intention of wearing it for my own wedding someday. At the time I got married, I felt this gorgeous dress was far too elaborate for our wedding. Nevertheless, I have kept the dress as I loved it so much. However, I have no daughters (sons!) and I now feel that it is only fair for some fortunate young lady to be married in this storybook gown.
Say what?

Size 10 Ivory,off shoulder Wedding gown Chapel Train

You will be striking at your wedding in the beautiful, off the shoulder, ivory gown with 3/4 sleeves and roses on the shoulders and the top of the bustle and Chapel Length Train. …

This would also be a good dress for the corpse bride/dead bride.

Three collisions with the stork:

This is the most Romantic Wedding Dress….Ever

I won this Romantic, Off the Shoulders Wedding Dress on e-Bay – it was my Dream Dress. Unfortunately I never had a chance to wear it to my Wedding. There was no formal Wedding. No – my fiancée and I didn’t break up. Let’s just say, It is time for me to pass on some very important and excellent advice…………….”Ladies when you are planning your Dream Wedding make sure that you are using a good form of birth control”. Yes, I got pregnant – so under the circumstances, my fiancée and I decided that it would be best to elope. Heeeeeelllllllllooooooooooooo Vegas. So, here I am with this incredible dress and no where to wear it. It’s not like I can walk into the local restaurant wearing it. That is where you come in. If you fall in love with this dress as much as I did – I pray that it will bring you the dreams that I had when I was bidding on it.
Wedding Dress Eden 1135
Long story short, its never been worn down the isle. I bought this dress to wear thinking i would be 4 months pregnant, unfortunately, i lost the baby and will not be wearing this beautiful dress.
MATERNITY WEDDING DRESS. IVORY, BRAND NEW, BEAUTIFUL!
This is an ivory satin maternity wedding dress with chiffon overlay. Details include beading on the bust area and on the straps. The dress has a lovely train and ‘baby streamlining’ chiffon pleats fall from a diamonte clasp at the centre of the bodice.

This gorgeous wedding dress was an eBay buy after i had to admit that my origional dress just wouldn’t go over the bump (wedding planned for 2 years, baby planned but arrived a bit early)! It was made to measure for me (size 10/12, 7 months pregnant) in China but was made too big and needed major alterations when it arrived.

I never did get to wear it as the lady that was doing my alterations took too long to take it in by not enough and in the end I unfortunately had to buy yet another dress (oh the expence!!! We do these things when we’re getting married)

Therefore this dress is (part from 2 fittings) unworn and is essentially brand new, it would fit a very pregnant size 14 bride at the moment, but can be altered to fit any size from 14 down and any level of pregnancy (i have 3 weeks to go and it’s still roomy!). It is currently the perfect length for a 5 foot 6 inch bride wearing a 1 inch heal.

It is a gorgeous wedding dress and i’m gutted i couldn’t wear it! The tayloress at any bridal shop will be able to alter this for £70 up so as long as you leave yourself enough time and/or get someone who is brave enough to take in more than i inch at a time …

Simple fury:

NWT EMME BRIDAL 14 GOWN STRAPLESS SPAGHETTI WITH SHAWL

This is a wedding dress my mother bought for me with good intentions. But, unfortunately I was marrying a can’t-hack-it-pantywaist, so I never got to wear it. I would just like to get enough to pay my mom back for the rest of the dress I haven’t paid her back for. The list price is $500.

Who You Callin’ “Terrorist”?
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 01:15 PM * 124 comments

With the recent designation of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps as a “terrorist” organization, the first time ever that a military unit owned and operated by a national government has been so designated, it’s official: the word “terrorist” doesn’t mean anything.

Most remarkably, the designation is being seen as a victory for the forces of moderation led by Condoleezza Rice, as opposed to the group that wants to just bomb Iran (led by Dick “Pump Head” Cheney).

WASHINGTON — As President Bush escalates the United States’ confrontation with Iran across a broad front, U.S. allies in Europe and the Middle East are growing worried that the steps will achieve little, but will undercut diplomacy and increase the chances of war.

In the latest step, Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are considering designating Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the elite military force that serves as the guardian of Iran’s Islamic state, as a foreign terrorist organization.

News of the decision was leaked to newspapers in what a senior State Department official and Washington-based diplomats said was a sign of an intensifying internal struggle within the U.S. government between proponents of military action and opponents, led by Rice.

State Department officials and foreign diplomats see Rice’s push for the declaration against the Revolutionary Guards as an effort to blunt arguments by Vice President Dick Cheney and his allies for air strikes on Iran. By making the declaration, they feel, Rice can strike out at a key Iranian institution without resorting to military action while still pushing for sanctions in the United Nations.

Bush and his pals want a war in the worst way … and that’s what they’re going to get. No one needs a crystal ball to see how this one will play out.

The designation of the Islamic Guards as “terrorists” raises the question of who couldn’t be declared “terrorists” by someone. We’ve already seen Greenpeace described as a “terrorist” organization. What stops the Nicaraguans from declaring the US Marine Corps to be a terrorist organization?

We’re well into “Boy Who Cried Wolf” territory now. The word “terrorist” is the last one Bush has, perhaps because if he called the Iranians “illegal immigrants” even the one-percenters would laugh in his face.

August 18, 2007
Logic Puzzle (Open Thread 90)
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 06:07 PM *

Miss Teresa started an Open Thread. The first five folks who posted in it were (not necessarily in this order, abi, Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers), chris y, debcha, and ethan. Remarkably (or maybe not so remarkably) all five of their posts were poems in a different poetic form. What order did they post in, and what kind of poem did each supply?

  1. Ethan posted before the person who wrote a haiku but after the person who wrote a villanelle.
  2. Debcha didn’t write the limerick.
  3. The person who posted a double dactyl posted first, but wasn’t Bruce.
  4. The sonnet, the haiku, and the limerick were posted in that order.
  5. Everyone applauded chris y’s villanelle.
  6. Abi commented later in the thread, “I wish I’d written the limerick; it’s so much better than my effort, and the haiku is better still.”
  7. The sonnet was written by someone whose name starts with the vowel.
  8. The haiku was a particularly witty response to the villanelle.
  9. Debcha had hoped to have the first post but instead came in fourth.
  10. Chris y posted after abi but before the person who posted the sonnet.
  11. Remarkably, no one parodied William Carlos Williams.

August 16, 2007
Internal Passports
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 03:13 PM *

Next up from Security Theater:

(CNN) — Americans may need passports to board domestic flights or to picnic in a national park next year if they live in one of the states defying the federal Real ID Act.

The act, signed in 2005 as part of an emergency military spending and tsunami relief bill, aims to weave driver’s licenses and state ID cards into a sort of national identification system by May 2008. The law sets baseline criteria for how driver’s licenses will be issued and what information they must contain. The Department of Homeland Security insists Real ID is an essential weapon in the war on terror, but privacy and civil liberties watchdogs are calling the initiative an overly intrusive measure that smacks of Big Brother.

More than half the nation’s state legislatures have passed symbolic legislation denouncing the plan, and some have penned bills expressly forbidding compliance.

That’s because the various states (more than half of them!) are so leftist-liberal-radical and so much Want the Terrorists to Win, I guess. Seriously, when the states are pushing back that hard that’s a sign that something is seriously wrong at the national level. Think of it as over half the country saying “I call bullshit on your Real ID Act.”

I remember back in the days of the Cold War how the Soviet Union’s insistence on Internal Passports was reported as a major mark of tyranny. Well, if was good enough for Joe Stalin it’s good enough for George Bush. Between torture, gulags, warrantless wiretaps and now internal passports we’re well down the slope and gathering speed. The Real ID act is stupid. This latest proposal is beyond stupid.

“An overly intrusive measure that smacks of Big Brother” is one of the nicest, mildest things you can say about this nonsense.

Osama bin Laden can’t destroy America without out our help. Bush is giving him far more help than he ever dreamed.

Bad sources
Posted by Teresa at 10:55 AM * 578 comments

By popular demand: scholarly or reference works so bad that you must never, ever cite them, lest you be cruelly mocked by your fellows.

Also: how to spot a bad book when you aren’t already familiar with the literature in that field.

August 13, 2007
From correspondence: Top this!
Posted by Teresa at 05:06 PM *

Received this morning from Kathryn Cramer:

I think I’ve just gotten the ultimate comment to my Wikipedia User talk page. If I can figure out the formatting, I’ll frame it. The commentor (an admin and a Wikimedia intern) argues that I have never been nominated for a Hugo on the grounds that the nomination was for NYRSF.

Here it is in its full perfection, Wikipedian self-satisfied ignorance at its highest purity:

About Wikipedia

I’ve noticed something about the past couple of conversations we have had. Wikipedia is an encyclopedia that anyone can edit. Nobody needs any special knowledge, or special position, any qualifications to edit. It’s not helpful to demand that other editors present their credentials or show their knowledge, to edit an article. It would be appreciated if you no longer did that again. ⇒ SWATJester Denny Crane. 02:15, 13 August 2007 (UTC)

I was trying, as politely as possible, to explain him that he knew nothing about either Hugo rules or pre-web hypertext (he’s nominated the Eastgate Systems entry for deletion), and so should back down on his wikipedian boldness.

Kathryn

p.s.: Note also that Wikipedia has no entry for Complacency, and that the WP entry on Ignorance covers Willful Ignorance, but not Self-satisfied Ignorance. (The closest they come is the enty Avidya (Buddhism): “Avidyā is a lack of knowing, and can be associated with intention.”

It seems to me that the situation needs to be corrected.

Let us despair: Swatjester is indeed a Wikipedia Administrator. He’s very active. As of this writing, I count 4,882 “User Contributions” of his for this year alone. His run-in with Kathryn isn’t an isolated case. For instance, here you can see him peremptorily telling another user, “Please do not revert my edits. The Vietnam war was not “lost” as there was no declaration of war. Please stop adding in POV items.”

Swatjester’s been running loose on Wikipedia since January 2006, when he popped up in Talk: Counter-terrorism to announce:

==Here I am!==

I’ve got some experience in the field of counter-terrorism. I’m taking it upon myself to clean up this page, as it absolutely reeks of kiddies playing too much Counter-strike.

He was all over the place in Talk: Greenpeace, where he argued doggedly that Greenpeace is too a terrorist organization; and he took it upon himself, in the main article, to change mentions of “Greenpeace representatives” to “Greenpeace agents.”

Swatjester has continued as he began. He’s downright bellicose about credentials any time he thinks he has them. When he has none and is arguing with an expert in her field, he’s equally insistent that citing credentials, or expecting them to be taken into account, is grossly inappropriate. Wikipedia has responded to this astounding buffoon by clasping him to its institutional bosom. As it says in the opening paragraph of Swatjester’s user profile:

I am a legal intern for the Wikimedia Foundation, a member of the Communications Committee, an OTRS representative on the legal queue, and an English Wikipedia administrator. I also edit Wikiversity, Meta, Wikimedia Commons, and sometimes Wikisource.
It would be nice to believe that Swatjester’s comment is the acme of Wikipedian self-satisfied ignorance. If we find a worse one, Kathryn can frame that too.

Addenda: Kathryn from Sunnyvale has requested a list of our stories about Wikipedia. If anyone remembers a piece we’ve omitted, let us know.

Making Light, 05 May 2007: Grep that spool (TNH).
(Idiot in question: Initially: earless busybody Azer Red, who’s big on tone complaints and deletions. Later: mendacious troll Will BeBack. He was so mortified at having his Wikipedia pseud linked to his real identity that he organized a campaign against Making Light, calling it an “attack site,” and vandalizing unrelated Wikipedia articles that contained links to material at ML.)
Sidelights, 02 July 2007: Wikipedia: still run by horse’s asses who think print is magic (PNH). Note: that discussion at Talk: Fred Saberhagen has since been archived. Link was via John Scalzi’s Whatever, same date: Fred Saberhagen Is Dead, But Not on Wikipedia.
(Idiot in question: the invincibly ignorant Quatloo.)
Making Light, 24 July 2007: Gaming Wikipedia (PNH).
(Idiots in question: this gets complicated, but the chief culprit is clearly the vile Hayden5650, a racist nazi homophobe and known Wikipedia vandal. Significant contributory idiocy was provided by Dmcdevit and a complete and utter airhead who signs herself “Alison :)”.)
Particles, 03 August 2007: Another way to game Wikipedia (TNH).
(Not quite the idiot in question: Professor Luca de Alfaro, who wants to color-code the reputability of Wikipedia contributions. How? If an author’s contributions go unchanged, their reputation rises. If their material is reverted to a prior version, their reputation falls. Problems with this system are left as an exercise for the reader.)
Making Light, 13 August 2007: From correspondence: Top this! (TNH).
(Idiot in question: Swatjester, of course.)
Note that every one of them is anonymous. It’s enough to make you think there might be problems inherent in giving people power without responsibility.

“It’s a quagmire”
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 04:12 PM * 33 comments

Even Dick Cheney agrees: taking down Saddam’s government was a stupid idea.

(via The Agonist)

Mike Ford: Occasional Works (Pt. Eleven)
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 01:31 PM * 35 comments

At the end of the day, it’s morning in America.

I gotcher go-to-market strategy right here

Electrolite Edition

Continue reading Mike Ford: Occasional Works (Part Eleven)


August 12, 2007
Pancake Recipe
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 11:38 AM * 112 comments

In response to popular demand (i.e., several requests during this weekend’s Viable Paradise X Joyful Class Reunion, now in progress in beautiful New Milford, Connecticut), here’s my family pancake recipe:

Two cups flour
Two tablespoons sugar
Two teaspoons baking soda
Two eggs well beaten
Two cups buttermilk
Two tablespoons butter, melted

Mix together dry ingredients.

Stir in buttermilk.

Fold in eggs.

Stir in butter.

Cook on a hot, ungreased griddle until brown on each side.

Serve them forth. Good with genuine New Hampshire maple syrup, lingonberries, black cherry preserves, bacon, and anything else. Stand back as aspiring writers inhale the results.

[Recipe Index]

August 11, 2007
I’m just a typical American boy from a typical American town
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 08:26 AM *

Y’remember when way back in 2005, on Electrolite, I said:

I am interested as to the wellsprings of manpower for Operation Holy Shitheads; LA street gangs? Unemployed dot-commers? Hammer’s Slammers?
Can you say D-R-A-F-T? I knew you could!

Today:

Iraq war czar: Consider a draft

WASHINGTON (AP) — Frequent tours for U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan have stressed the all-volunteer force and made it worth considering a return to a military draft, President Bush’s new war adviser said Friday.

“I think it makes sense to certainly consider it,” Army Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute said in an interview with National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered.”

“And I can tell you, this has always been an option on the table. But ultimately, this is a policy matter between meeting the demands for the nation’s security by one means or another,” said Lute, who is sometimes referred to as the “Iraq war czar.” It was his first interview since he was confirmed by the Senate in June.

Don’t those guys remember why we abolished the draft in the first place?

August 10, 2007
Bookstore chain puts the screws on small publishers
Posted by Teresa at 07:30 AM * 500 comments

A&R Whitcoulls Group, a.k.a. the Angus & Robertson bookstore chain, is Australia’s largest bookseller, with 180 bookstores and about 20% of the retail market. A&R’s owners, an outfit called Pacific Equity Partners, are thinking of taking it public.

This may or may not have been why A&R’s commercial manager, Charlie Rimmer, sent a startlingly arrogant letter to Australia’s smaller publishers and distributors, demanding a substantial payment from each by August 17 (reportedly ranging from AU$2,500 to AU$20,000) if they want A&R to keep selling their books. Among the recipients was Michael Rakusin of Tower Books, who made the letter public. (Presently we’ll see Mr. Rakusin’s reply.) From A&R:

Dear Michael
Tacky. When you’re sending a formal blackmail request, you should always use the recipient’s full name.
I am writing to inform you of some changes in the way we manage our business.

We have recently completed a piece of work to rank our suppliers in terms of the net profit they generate for our business.

Malarkey. If you’re a bookstore chain, doing business with a publisher doesn’t mean that you automatically carry a standard number of all the titles they publish. You order the books you want, in the quantities you judge appropriate. Whatever doesn’t sell gets returned to the publishers at their own expense. If A&R hasn’t been making a suitable profit off these publishers, it’s not the publishers’ fault. Booksellers make money by recognizing the books their customers will want to buy, ordering them in appropriate quantities, and selling them well.

Later we will read how A&R has been determinedly paring down, de-rationalizing, and generally muddling their own purchasing operation so badly that their bookbuyers no longer see any of the books they’re ordering.

We have concluded that we have far too many suppliers,
Malarkey again. Rimmer is inappropriately borrowing language from other industries, as though A&R were a construction firm and he’d noticed they were buying their bricks from too many different brickyards. Bricks are interchangeable. Books aren’t. A house built with bricks from one or two brickyards will be just fine. A bookstore that only carries stock from a few publishers will have a thin, poor selection to offer its customers.

Multiple suppliers—that is, a broad range of publishers and books to choose from—is a good thing, if a bookstore chain knows what it’s doing.

and over 40% of our supplier agreements fall below our requirements in terms of profit earned.
He doesn’t say they’ve been losing money on them. He doesn’t say what the requirements are, or how long they’ve been in force. He just says A&R now wants more profit from business it’s already transacted.
At a time when the cost of doing business continues to rise, I’m sure you can understand that this is an unpalatable set of circumstances for us, and as such we have no option but to act quickly to remedy the situation.
A&R’s been cutting its operating expenses (ineptly), so if its net profits are down, that’s because its sales are down; and if so, that’s A&R’s fault. But are its profits down? If so, it’s an odd moment for its owners to be taking it public.

In any event, “we have no option but to act quickly” is a barefaced lie. Rimmer’s been describing a slowly developing situation. The only need for speed I can see is that A&R wants to gouge a lot of money quickly out of the small distributors and publishers it does business with, and it wants them to pay up before they have time to compare notes and organize a general response.

Accordingly, we will be rationalizing our supplier numbers and setting a minimum earnings ratio of income to trade purchases that we expect to achieve from our suppliers.
“Earnings ratio of income to trade purchases” has nothing to do with A&R’s cost of doing business. What he’s talking about there is the discount rate publishers give bookstores. He’s saying he wants them to give him a higher discount rate; i.e., give the booksellers a greater proportion of the sales revenues, and give the publishers less. (I’m not saying this situation is unique to Australia. Bookstore chains in the US and Canada are always pushing for bigger discounts.)

What I find interesting here is that A&R is specifically putting the thumbscrews on the smaller distributors and publishers. If A&R’s been ordering haphazardly and selling badly, their sales should be down for all the publishers they stock. The only difference is that the little guys don’t have as much clout and can’t hold out as long as the bigger publishers.

If A&R gets a bigger discount, the other booksellers will want one too.

I am writing to you because TOWER BOOKS falls into this category of unacceptable profitability.

As a consequence we would invite you to pay the attached invoice by Aug 17th 2007. The payment represents the gap for your business, and moves it from an unacceptable level of profitability, to above our minimum threshold.

Raise your hand if you think A&R didn’t know at the time how much it was making on those transactions. No? Me neither.

Wouldn’t life be interesting if we could just tell our trading partners that we’ve decided to raise our “minimum threshold of profitability” on past transactions, and they owe us?

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, A&R “invoiced” Tower Books for AU$20,000.

If we fail to receive your payment by this time we will have no option but to remove you from our list of authorised suppliers, and you will be unable to complete any further transactions with us until such time as the payment is made.
For some small publishers and distributors, that’s a death threat. They can’t afford to pay the mordida now, they can’t afford to give A&R a bigger discount, and they can’t afford to lose that large a percentage of their retail sales.

I’m wondering whether it’s also an implicit threat to return all their Tower Books inventory and/or hold on to any monies currently owed to Tower.

I have also attached a proforma for you to complete and return to me, with your proposed terms of trade for our financial year commencing Sept 1st 2007. We have the following expectations:
It’s a new contract. Tower is expected to write out the terms of their own servitude and submit them to A&R. Other publishers will be sending in their own offers of terms. Effectively, they’re being ordered to bid down their own market.
All agreements contain a standard rebate, a growth rebate and a minimum co-op commitment to enable participation in our marketing activity
I’m not familiar with the “standard rebate/growth rebate” terminology. My guess is that that’s a bigger standard discount, an even-bigger-than-that discount, and a commitment to formalize and regularize tribute paid for co-op advertising.
Growth rebates activate as soon as our purchases with you increase by $1 on the previous year
I believe that means that if A&R sells $1 more of Tower’s books than it sold the previous year, Tower has to pay an even higher discount rate—which is going to amount to a lot more than a dollar.
All rebates are paid quarterly for the previous quarter’s performance, you must ensure that your remittance, with calculations, is received by us by the 7th of the month following the preceding quarter. Any remittances not received by this date will attract a daily 5% interest charge.
There’s no way the publishers can calculate that in time. The only way to avoid that piratical interest charge is to overpay, then try to get a refund on the overpayment. And you can bet your booties that A&R doesn’t pay publishers anywhere near that quickly.
I am also including a copy of our ratecard, and our marketing calendar, to enable you to begin planning your promotional participation now.
That’s that non-elective co-op advertising.
If you would like to discuss this with me in more detail, I am delighted to confirm an appointment with you at 1:00pm on Friday 17th August for 10 minutes at my offices at 379 Collins St, Melbourne.
It’s not just the non-negotiable timeslot or the insulting ten-minute limit. Tower Books is in Frenches Forest, NSW. Rakusin would have to fly to Melbourne for his ten-minute meeting with Rimmer.
Best Regards,

Charlie Rimmer A&W Group Commercial Manager

I have a theory about what A&R is up to. Traditionally, when a publishing house is acquired by some big conglomerate, the bean counters take a look at the accounts, turn pale, and have a talk with the publisher. It has come to their attention, they say, that many books lose money, and most of the others make a small profit at most. Almost all the publisher’s profits come from a small number of bestselling titles. “True,” says the publisher. In that case, the beancounters reply, would it not make more sense to only publish the bestsellers?

I’m wondering whether A&R thinks they’d do better business if they only stocked the bestsellers. (If you look at the sixty-odd reader comments on the news story in question, you can see the actual reaction the book-buying public has when they find a poor selection on offer in a bookstore.)

Alternately, it’s possible that A&R’s management stands to personally profit if the company goes public and the initial stock offering does well, so they’re running a quick slash-and-burn raid on their more vulnerable suppliers in order to temporarily make their company look more profitable. Or maybe it’s something else. It’s tacky and stupid and self-defeating, whatever it is.

Onward to Michael Rakusin’s reply:

Dear Mr Rimmer

We are in receipt of your letter of 30 July 2007 terminating our further supply to Angus & Robertson. As you have requested, we will cancel all Angus & Robertson Company orders on 17 August and will desist from any further supply to your stores.

I have to say that my initial response on reading your letter as to how you propose to “manage” your business in the future was one of voluble hilarity, I literally burst out laughing aloud. My second response was to note the unmitigated arrogance of your communication, I could not actually believe I was reading an official letter from Angus & Robertson on an Angus & Robertson letterhead.

My reply to you will perforce be a lengthy one. I hope you will take the trouble to read it, you may learn something. Then again, when I look at the level of real response we have had from Angus & Robertson over the past six or so years, I somehow doubt it.

The first thing I would say to you is that arrogance of the kind penned by you in your letter of 30 July is an unenviable trait in any officer of any company, no matter how important that individual thinks himself or his company, no matter how dominant that company may be in its market sector. Business has a strange habit of moving in cycles: today’s villain may be tomorrow’s hero. It is quite possible to part from a business relationship in a pleasant way leaving the door open for future engagement. Sadly, in this case, you have slammed and bolted it.

More to the point, however, we have watched our business with Angus & Robertson dwindle year upon year since 2000. We had to wear the cost of sub-economic ordering from you through ownership changes, SAP installation, new management, and stock overhang. In summary our business with you has dropped from over $1.2 million at the end of 2000 to less than $600,000 in 2007.

You would be quite correct to question whether our offering to the market had changed in any way. The answer can be derived from the fact that during the same period our business with Dymocks, Book City, QBD and Borders continued to grow in double digits, our business with your own franchise stores has grown healthily, and our overall business during the same period has grown by more than 50%.

Six years ago we were allowed to send reps to your company stores and do stock checks. Then these were “uninvited” and we had to rely on monthly rep calls to your Buying Office. Subsequently even that was too much trouble; your Buying Office was too busy to see us, so we were asked to make new title submissions electronically. Every few months the new submission template became more and more complex. This year, we have been allowed quarterly visits to your Buying Office at which we were to be given the opportunity to sell to all your Category Managers. At the first, we did indeed see all of the Category Managers - but they didn’t buy any of the titles offered. At the second, one Category manager was available, and again no purchases resulted. At the last (only last week), two Category managers attended. Through all of this, your overworked and under resourced Buying Department never got to see, let alone read, an actual book. While one may be forgiven for believing that Angus & Robertson is actually a company purveying “Sale” signs, I do believe you are still in the book business?

That’s a buying department that’s being serially meddled with by people who don’t know what they’re doing and don’t like the inherent particularity of books. You can’t engineer the complexity out of the book business.
That Angus & Robertson is struggling for margin does not surprise me. It amazes me that the message has not become clear to your “management”: there are only so many costs you can cut, there is only so much destiny you can put in the hands of a computer system, there are only so many sweetheart deals you can do with large suppliers. After that, in order to prosper one actually has to know one’s product and have an appropriately staffed buying department. Most importantly, one has to train sales people of competence. You will never beat the DDSs at their cost cutting game, you will only prosper by putting “books” back into Angus & Robertson. And it would seem to me paramount to stop blaming suppliers for your misfortunes, trying ever harder to squeeze them to death, and actually focus on your core incompetencies in order to redress them.

How a business that calls itself a book business is going to do without titles such as the Miles Franklin Prize winning book or titles like Rich Dad Poor Dad (according to this week’s Sydney Morning Herald it is still the fifth best selling business title in Australia nine years after publication) is beyond me. And how in good conscience Australia’s self-purported largest chain of book shops proposes to exclude emerging Australian writers who are represented by the smaller distributors, is an equal mystery.

Tower Books distributes Alexis Wright’s novel Carpentaria, winner of the 2007 Miles Franklin prize, which is a major Australian literary award.
We too have expectations Mr Rimmer. We have had the same expectations for many years, none of which Angus & Robertson have been willing to deliver:
That we are treated with equal respect to the larger publishers within the obvious parameters of commercial reality;

That your Buying Department is able and willing to assess our books with equal seriousness to those of the big publishers and buy them appropriately;

That you recognise the fundamental differences between the smaller distributors and the larger publishers and stop demanding of us terms that we are unable to deliver;

That you would support and help develop Australian literature.

Had you made any effort to meet these expectations you would have found the niche we should have occupied in your business, as have all other book shops, and you would have found our contribution to the profitability of your business would have been dramatically different.
Translation: “Don’t blame us. If you were doing your job, we’d all be making more money.”
In summary, we reject out of hand this notion that somehow, even giving you 45% discount on a Sale or Return basis, with free freight to each of your individual stores, where we make less than half of that on the same book, puts us in the “category of unacceptable profitability”. We have seen Angus & Robertson try this tactic before - about 12 years ago Angus & Robertson decided that unless we gave them a 50% discount, they would not buy from us any longer. We refused. Angus & Robertson desisted from buying from us for seven months. We survived, Angus & Robertson came back cap in hand.
As I said, this is a recurring fight between publishers and booksellers.
We have seen Myer effectively eliminate smaller suppliers. We survived and prospered but look at the Myer Book Departments today.

We have seen David Jones decide that it had too many publishers to deal with and to exclude the smaller suppliers. We survived and prospered but look at the David Jones Book Departments today.

He’s right. Readers don’t like being offered a curtailed selection. If you don’t have the books they want, they’ll take their business elsewhere—or spend their money on something else entirely.
David Jones and Myer sell other goods; Angus & Robertson does not.

That the contents of your letter of 30 July are both immoral and unethical, I have no doubt. That they probably contravene the Trade Practices Act, I shall leave to the ACCC to determine. (Five percent interest PER DAY !!!)

If you wish to discuss any of the contents hereof you may call my secretary for an appointment at my office in Frenchs Forest. I shall be marginally more generous than you and at least allow you to pick a convenient time.

Michael Rakusin
Director
Tower Books Pty Ltd
Carpentaria, Alexis Wright : Winner of 50th Anniversary Miles Franklin Literary Prize, 2007

Copy: Graeme Samuel, Chairman, ACCC
Rod Walker, Chairman, ARW Group
Ian Draper, ARW Group Managing Director
Rickard Gardell, Managing Director, Pacific Equity Partners
Simon Pillar, Managing Director, Pacific Equity Partners
Barbara Cullen, CEO, ABA
Maree McCaskill, CEO, APA

Bravo, Michael Rakusin. May his company flourish while publishing excellent books.

And a final note: if you’re interested in the realities of bookselling, do read the comment thread in the Sydney Morning Herald.

(Thank to reader Marina Chong, who sent me the link and asked whether this kind of thing happens a lot in the industry.)

August 09, 2007
Conservatives turn to PODs
Posted by Teresa at 09:15 AM * 178 comments

“Two great tastes that taste great together!” observed the mighty Julia, as she pointed me in the direction of TBogg’s post, You’re nobody until somebody ISBNs you. It’s about Townhall Press, an outfit whose motto is either “On-demand book publishing for conservative authors,” or “A new alternative to liberal NY publishing houses.” Townhall is everything you can imagine in a PODscammer—

Have you written a manuscript and you’re tired of being rejected by the traditional publishing houses? Townhall Press wants to be your book publisher. We can turn your manuscript into a high-quality book and make it available to 25,000 bookstores and on the Internet – all in less than 90 days. Townhall Press is an on-demand book publisher, and a part of Townhall.com – one of the leading self-publishers on the Internet. Send us your manuscript today and within 90 days we’ll promote it on Townhall.com and Amazon.com in high-quality paperback or hardcover editions.
—and then some:
Are you looking for a Conservative book publisher? Have you submitted your manuscript to dozens of publishing companies only to be turned away, time and time again? The problem is, most publishing houses shun conservative authors. Liberal authors get their foot in the door while conservative authors get the door slammed in their faces!

But now there is an alternative….

I’m torn. On the one hand, Townhall.com just cries out for the kind of dispassionately analytical thrashing the gang at Absolute Write’s Bewares Board is so good at administering to deceptive publishing operations. On the other hand, I really like the idea of Wingnuttia entrusting its cherished manuscripts to a print-on-demand publisher that doesn’t take returns and has no brick-and-mortar distribution deal. For years, I’ve watched hapless, naive authors get mired in deals like that, finding out the hard way that no amount of energetic self-promotion will sell a book if the publisher isn’t helping. There’s nothing different about the deal Townhall’s offering its authors, except I won’t feel bad about it.

Another pleasing feature is that the only real difference between Townhall.com and the “wingnut welfare” publishing programs at legitimate houses is that it gets rid of the welfare payments. With a very few exceptions, those right-wing opuses you’ve been seeing in the bookstores have been selling only a few thousand more copies than the average self-published title.

Since I’m a member of the NYC liberal publishing elite, there’s one more thing I’ve got to do before I settle back in to contemplate this happy marriage of right-wingers and PODscammers:

Curses! Townhall.com has seen through our campaign to suppress conservative voices! Now that Townhall is in business, right-wingers will be able to get their books published quickly and effortlessly. We’re doomed!
And you can quote me on that.

August 08, 2007
No More Vermont Bat Boy?
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 04:06 PM * 55 comments

Jay: *These* are the hot sheets?

Kay: Best investigative reporting on the planet. But go ahead, read the New York Times if you want. They get lucky sometimes.
Men In Black (1997)

Alas, the Weekly World News, long a stalwart of reportage no one else dared to print, is going out of business. The intrepid reporters who scooped all the mainstream press when the WWII bomber was found on the moon, the guys who told you in unflinching detail how to determine if your neighbors and co-workers were space aliens, the amazing journalists who followed the adventures of the Vermont Bat Boy on his round-the-world travels … are about to be out of a job.

Founded as a way to use the old black-and-white presses when the National Enquirer went full-color, the Weekly World News made standing in line at the grocery store fun. What now? Will we be reduced to reading the less-factual accounts of celebrity dating?

The Weekly World News was the Official Newspaper of the SFRT on GEnie.

Now comes the big question: Who will print Elvis’ obituary when he dies for real?

Greater NYC floods
Posted by Teresa at 12:17 PM * 77 comments

If you’re seeing pictures of the tornado track in Brooklyn, it’s about a mile from us.

It was a hell of a storm for this part of the world. Woke us up with spectacular non-stop lightning and thunder. Then the rain hit. For a while the water was accumulating in our back yard at an alarming rate, but then the storm moved on. I dumped more than three inches of water out of my garbage cans.

Scraps got scared. His building is shakier than ours.

Over at the NYTimes, the Cityroom blog is doing a good job of covering a major story: Flooding Cripples Subway System. Even better is the as-it-happens comment thread on that post. So far they have more than 400 flavorful comments. Numbers 155 and 170 are mine. Here’s #155:

#155. August 8th, 2007, 10:43 am

We walked down to 36th Street Station in Brooklyn and were told there were no trains. That wasn’t a huge surprise. Our neighborhood catches the runoff from Brooklyn’s highest hills—we’re down below Greenwood Cemetery and Sunset Park.

It was interesting walking along 4th Avenue. At least one building was still pumping out its basement. Judging from the debris deposits, this morning’s storm runoff was running well above the sidewalk curbs. In at least one place (the On the Go service station and convenience store at 32nd), it looks like the water completely covered the sidewalk and was up into their flower beds.

I tipped what looked like three or more inches of water out of my garbage cans. They were dry yesterday.

So yeah, the MTA couldn’t get rid of the runoff as fast as it flowed in. This comes as a surprise? We just had an extraordinarily heavy storm—there was a tornado in Brooklyn, for pete’s sake! Any place that got a storm like that would have some flooding. The difference is that we have a transit system that RUNS THROUGH UNDERGROUND TUNNELS. That’s why the subway keeps running when surface traffic is at a standstill due to heavy snow. The tradeoff is that it catches summer storm runoff.

If the MTA had laid in more pumps, they still couldn’t have kept this from happening. The storm sewers wouldn’t have enough capacity to take that much pumped-out water. They’re already running at capacity as it is.

The city’s a big, delicately adjusted machine full of interdependent infrastructural systems. Inevitably, there are tradeoffs. If the most important thing in the world was making sure the subway never, ever flooded, no matter how hard it rained, we could do it. It would be very expensive, and you wouldn’t like some of the side-effects. Instead, we have the system we have, and once in a while it floods.

Instead of cursing the MTA, give thanks that you’re not one of the subway workers whose job today will be to clean out all that filthy floodwater, mud, crud, washed-down garbage, and drowned and undrowned rats.

As you can probably tell, most of the commenters are ticked at the MTA. I think they’d have been far more understanding if the MTA had done a better job of getting information out to commuters. Info got out late, patchily, and in many cases not at all. Also, the MTA’s website went down as soon as we hit the crisis point. Nobody’s happy about that. New Yorkers are great at coping with challenges, but we can’t do it if we don’t know what’s happening. This is bad timing for the MTA, since they’re in the middle of campaigning for a fare hike.

They’re testing water quality at the beaches. The city’s emphatically telling Brooklyn homeowners who have downed trees that they’re not to try to dispose of the wood themselves, since they’re inside the Asian Longhorn Beetle quarantine area. The power’s out in places (among them St. Vincent’s Hospital in Manhattan, which is running on backup generators), and there’s a life-threatening high heat warning in effect.

The parkways north of the city are of course flooded. They always do that. They’re built on floodplains.

Bloomberg’s doing a press conference. Right now he’s not doing much of the talking. He’s mustered all the city commissioners and department heads, and is having them report where their problems are and what they’re doing about it. This is good. Also, the accents are fabulous.

Heh. Bloomberg’s thanking Father McGillicuddy and Our Lady of Perpetual Help for hosting the press conference. Where did he get those—Central Casting? … It’s being very New York out there. Bloomberg’s opining that God is no respecter of rush hours. Also, that the city is naturally sorry about individual cases of inconvenience, but it’s far from their biggest worry right now. Definitely NYC.

Update: At 1:03 p.m., the NYTimes shut down that Cityblog comment thread at 505 comments. (Sniffs delicately.)

August 07, 2007
A Jackson and a hummer
Posted by Teresa at 11:00 PM * 110 comments

John Scalzi has almost too much fun with the tale of Florida legislator Bob Allen:

Josh Marshall hauls up the story of Florida state legislator Bob Allen, who was recently arrested for soliciting sex in a public restroom; specifically it’s alleged that he offered an undercover cop a Jackson if he’d let the legislator blow him. This was not a smart thing to do. But having been caught doing something stupid, Allen, who is a pudgy white fellow, has decided to double down on his stupidity by offering what is a truly, spectacularly—indeed, magnificently—dumb reason for soliciting another man for sex …
Do read it. There were stretches in there where I laughed as hard as I’ve laughed at anything since Dogs in Elk.

August 06, 2007
The Bourne Geography
Posted by Avram Grumer at 10:46 PM * 53 comments

The first time I saw Manhattan’s Family Court building, around twenty years ago, I thought it would make a great headquarters for an evil organization in a movie.

Looks like someone working on The Bourne Ultimatum had the same idea.

(Possible spoilers in the text of the linked article.)

Mike Ford: Occasional Works (Pt. Ten)
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 12:08 PM * 23 comments

“Having the power of high, middle, and low fantasy …”

Hmm, not quite.

“One will come after unto like another one, and the one — the new one, not the old one — shall, being one that comesths after yon another one, shall be called tanist, an hword hof hour people meaning ‘succedant’ or ‘not nearly drunk enough yet,’ and beingth that when she finally makes her way through the Forest of Subordinate Clauses an bluidy well gets here, shall y-comme from down ye wind and with it, whistling, we shall clepe she to our hearts with houppelandes of steel as Tanist Lee.”

A bit prolix — though we do prolix in The Realm of Colourful Misprisions — and the terminal joke arrives DOA.

“It is good to be the splooshy thud.”

That’s the one.

Readercon 17

Continue reading Mike Ford: Occasional Works (Part Ten)


August 02, 2007
We’re not led, we’re kept
Posted by Patrick at 03:15 PM * 361 comments

Jonathan Schwarz discusses “the standard historical trajectory of imperial elites”:

[A]t a certain point they either (1) forget the power they can wield outside their country ultimately derives from a healthy society beneath them, or (2) understand that but decide they’d rather be comparatively more powerful within a poorer society and less powerful outside.

To understand choice #2 it’s useful to look at an extreme example, like Saudi Arabia. Certainly it has the natural wealth to be able to oppose Israel effectively. And you’d assume their elites want to do that, given that they’re always screeching about it. But effective opposition would require Saudi society to be internally far more democratic, educated and egalitarian. So the Saudi princes have decided they’d prefer their country to be a weak, poor backwater if that’s what’s required for them to each own nine palaces. As William Arkin said about our new $20 billion arms sale to the Saudis:

U.S. officials say the United States will seek assurances from Saudi Arabia that it will not store its new Joint Direct Attack Munitions—the satellite-guided bombs—at northern air bases, where they could threaten Israel.

Israel needn’t worry. The Saudi military is even less dangerous than the gang who couldn’t shoot straight…it’s not just incompetence when it comes to the Saudi military. The Saudi monarchy has methodically focused its military on pomp and equipment and spiffy uniforms, ensuring that it not acquire any real offensive capacity or the ability to operate as a coherent force. It does not want a competent, independent military contemplating a coup.

The same thing is true in the rest of the Arab world. For instance, at the beginning of the Six Day War in 1967, as Israel was bombing Egyptian airfields, the Egyptian air defense system was actually turned off. The Egyptian government had done this because they were more worried about internal enemies than Israel—they thought some rebel Egyptian military forces might be trying to shot down the plane of the Defense Minister, and didn’t want the rebels to be able to find out where it was.

Egyptian elites could have avoided this kind of internal conflict by having a democratic country with civilian control of the military, but who wants that? Far more enjoyable to be autocrats who turn off their air defense system RIGHT WHEN THEY’RE BEING BOMBED.

America’s elites are, at heart, the same way. They’d prefer to be emirs and kings running a shambling catastrophe of a country than moderately rich men in Sweden.

This articulates and clarifies a whole bunch of things I’ve been coming to suspect for a very long time.

August 01, 2007
Minneapolis bridge collapses
Posted by Teresa at 08:00 PM * 211 comments

One entire span of the Minneapolis 35W freeway bridge has collapsed into the Mississippi. WCCO-TV is carrying live streaming video.

We have so many friends and readers in Minneapolis/St. Paul. Could you please let the rest of us know how you are? Minn-StF has a check-in site.

More: Elise Matthesen says that cellphone service in the Twin Cities appears to be scrod—not surprisingly, since the bridge carried a lot of telecommunications infrastructure, and everyone’s simultaneously trying to phone their friends and relatives there. She suggests you send e-mail instead.

Internet Time-wasters II
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 05:49 PM * 44 comments

As if I needed something else to distract me from what I should be doing….

From the comments in Internet Time-wasters here at Making Light, I was introduced to Tower Defense Games. Specifically to Desktop Tower Defense.

The concept is simple: a bunch of little-bitty icons try to cross an area. Your goal is to stop them by putting up towers that shoot at the little-bitty icons. As time goes on the icons (called “creeps”) get faster and stronger. You have to build more towers and upgrade the ones you have to keep up with them. You get points (or “gold”) for killing the creeps that you can use to buy or upgrade your towers.

Some of the towers include pellet towers — they shoot fast, but don’t hit hard. They’re cheap, so you can use ‘em to build mazes to keep the creeps under fire from your stronger towers. You have splash towers. They shoot very fast, and hit hard. They can get expensive. You have dart towers. They can hit a bunch of creeps at the same time. The strategy comes from building paths and choosing towers that will stop the creeps, with their various special powers.

Dark creeps are slow, but pellets bounce off them. Spawn creeps break up into multiple daughter creeps that can go between towers. Hitting them is like hitting a blob of mercury. Flying creeps aren’t affected by the mazes you’ve built, and only certain towers can shoot at them. And so on.

Combination play is Very Good to Do. For example, combining a Freeze tower (slows down the creeps) with a Bash tower (strikes multiple creeps at the same time, slow but strong), is wicked. The creeps are kept in range of the basher for long enough to do some serious damage.

Eventually you run out of creeps. And you win. Or, you run out of lives, and you lose. The game actually has an endpoint! Hurrah! (The group name if you want to compare scores with other ML readers is Making Light, BTW.)

By contrast the endpoint of Flash Circle TD, comes when you lose. Which you will, eventually. That happens when there are 100 creeps on the board at the same time. A new wave starts periodically, each wave tougher than the last. They enter the board and just circle it until you’ve shot them down or they’ve overwhelmed you. Again you have the choice of slow, expensive, heavy towers or fast, light, cheap towers, with upgrades possible. All have special properties: shooting at air units, at ground units, or at both—striking one at a time or many at a time.

For something that’s as frustrating as this is, it’s remarkably addictive. (Oh, and there is a mute button. Which is a good thing.)

Then there’s Onslaught. Again, the goal is to put off the day when you’re overwhelmed as long as possible. The creeps follow a set path (which you can edit). You select towers and place them. Here, you can select whether you’ll upgrade range, strength, or rate-of-fire of your towers separately. The neat thing with this game is that you can put various towers together in order to build super towers—combinations that have wonderful properties. Not all of those combinations and specials are documented.

Simple as drool, highly addictive—what else do you need when the cat is already waxed to a high sheen?

Here’s a list of Tower Defense games. I haven’t tried them all.

Choose:
Smaller type (our default)
Larger type
Even larger type, with serifs

Dire legal notice
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.