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February 28, 2008
Open thread 102
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 04:16 PM * 170 comments

I had a story idea this afternoon, kind of a mashup between the Brothers Grimm and Larry Niven. Chocolate Covered Manhole Covers meets The Robber Bridegroom, with zombies.

It goes something like this.

Back in 1983, there’s this young couple living in Seattle. And late one night the zombies come, sneaking unseen through the Art Deco lobby of the building, creeping into their apartment. They seize the man and are about to eat his brains when the woman stops them.

She has the Voice, you see. Natural authority over all beings. Purest luck. And she offers them a trade. Part of her living mind, enough to keep them going for years, if they’ll spare her husband. And she’ll teach them how to feed that piece of herself so it stays sharp.

They accept, and she gives them her wakefulness. The zombies devour it, and one human’s wakefulness is powerful enough to energise a good dozen of them. Then the couple teach them about science fiction. They explain unreliable narrators, dish out samples of Joseph Campbell, even let the undead try their first argument about time travel paradoxes. The zombies leave at sunup, electrified, hyperconscious.

She sleeps for three days straight.

The couple moves on, finally ending up in New York, and their uncouth housebreakers follow. The two humans become publishers, paying a Danegeld in science fiction to keep the distributed spark of her mind active. At home they keep hamsters, little-known defenders against all unnatural foes.

Eventually, though, it’s not enough. The spark is fading, and the zombies are hungry again. In a last desperate move, the couple establish a website, a zombie trap to feed her lost wakefulness. And to their delight, it works; the revenants feast on poetry, puns and politics in full measure. They brighten up again, shamble less, move to New Jersey. The threat is lifted.

But others are watching. Others have noted how a piece of a living mind can revivify the undead. And they watch the blog, with its population of tasty commenters. Perhaps, they reason, they can duplicate the Seattle revenants’ success…

It’s only a story idea.

What’s that noise? Something is scraping against my darkened window. Excuse me while I go check…

Hugos, 2008
Posted by Patrick at 01:41 PM * 45 comments

Those of you who regularly nominate and/or vote in science fiction’s Hugo Awards probably don’t need to be reminded, yet again, that this year’s deadline for nominations is midnight PST at the end of this coming Saturday, March 1. Or that you’re eligible to nominate if you’re either a member of the upcoming World Science Fiction Convention in Denver, or were a member of last year’s convention in Japan. Or that if put it off until the last minute based on the idea that you can nominate online, you may not be able to get through.

So I won’t dwell on any of that. But I will mention that among the things I nominated was, in the “Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form)” category, Paul Cornell’s two-part teleplay “Human Nature” / “The Family of Blood,” a two-episode Doctor Who story which I found startlingly affecting. Within the constraints of cheesy, cornball old Doctor Who with all its implausibilities, and of sci-fi TV with its need for regular, formulaic fight scenes, Cornell manages a story about memory and mortality which is genuinely moving and, at times, scary as hell. If you get the opportunity, check it out.

(Yes, this marks, I believe, the first time I’ve ever expressed a strong opinion about the TV-episode Hugo category. How we change.)

February 27, 2008
William F. Buckley, dead
Posted by Patrick at 11:51 AM * 395 comments

“The central question that emerges…is whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas where it does not predominate numerically? The sobering answer is Yes—the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race.”
—William F. Buckley, National Review, August 24, 1957
There’s your “refined, perspicacious mind” for you. The one that, we’re told, “elevated conservatism to the center of American political discourse.” Racism and power-worship—and, from first to last, uncompromising defense of the idea that society should be structured into orders and classes.

A poisonous, wicked man. Good riddance.

February 26, 2008
Art links
Posted by Avram Grumer at 10:56 PM *

And Then, The Fascist Octopus Sang Its Swan Song
Posted by Patrick at 09:42 PM * 94 comments

Leon Panetta, chief of staff for Bill Clinton from 1994 through 1997, being quoted by the New York Observer on the condition of Hillary Clinton’s campaign:

“Obviously she is now someone who is the underdog. Everybody is still hoping that she might run the table, but it is a much tougher mountain to climb.”
The dog…the table…the mountain…no, I can’t go on.

Turkey is radically revising the Hadith
Posted by Teresa at 04:38 PM *

Fragano Ledgister sent me this link, saying “I’ve a feeling that the US media won’t pay much attention to this.” I don’t know whether they will or not, but the news certainly made my jaw drop.

Turkey in radical revision of Islamic texts

Turkey is preparing to publish a document that represents a revolutionary reinterpretation of Islam—and a controversial and radical modernisation of the religion.

The country’s powerful Department of Religious Affairs has commissioned a team of theologians at Ankara University to carry out a fundamental revision of the Hadith, the second most sacred text in Islam after the Koran.

The Hadith is a collection of thousands of sayings reputed to come from the Prophet Muhammad. As such, it is the principal guide for Muslims in interpreting the Koran and the source of the vast majority of Islamic law, or Sharia.

The Koran has immense authority, but it doesn’t cover every possible subject, and not everything it says is explained in detail. To fill the gap, early Muslims collected the Hadith: in theory, either statements made by the Prophet, or actions taken by him, or the Prophet’s commendations of actions taken by others. Between the action and the collection falls the oral tradition.
But the Turkish state has come to see the Hadith as having an often negative influence on a society it is in a hurry to modernise, and believes it responsible for obscuring the original values of Islam. It says that a significant number of the sayings were never uttered by Muhammad, and even some that were need now to be reinterpreted.

‘Reformation’

Commentators say the very theology of Islam is being reinterpreted in order to effect a radical renewal of the religion. Its supporters say the spirit of logic and reason inherent in Islam at its foundation 1,400 years ago are being rediscovered. Some believe it could represent the beginning of a reformation in the religion.

Turkish officials have been reticent about the revision of the Hadith until now, aware of the controversy it is likely to cause among traditionalist Muslims, but they have spoken to the BBC about the project, and their ambitious aims for it.

That is in the running for the top ten understatements I’ve seen in my lifetime.
The forensic examination of the Hadiths has taken place in Ankara University’s School of Theology. An adviser to the project, Felix Koerner, says some of the sayings—also known individually as “hadiths”—can be shown to have been invented hundreds of years after the Prophet Muhammad died, to serve the purposes of contemporary society.

“Unfortunately you can even justify through alleged hadiths, the Muslim—or pseudo-Muslim—practice of female genital mutilation,” he says. “You can find messages which say ‘that is what the Prophet ordered us to do’. But you can show historically how they came into being, as influences from other cultures, that were then projected onto Islamic tradition.”

The argument is that Islamic tradition has been gradually hijacked by various—often conservative—cultures, seeking to use the religion for various forms of social control. Leaders of the Hadith project say successive generations have embellished the text, attributing their political aims to the Prophet Muhammad himself.

Call me a text-interrogating child of the Western critical tradition, but I’d have thought it was astonishing if successive generations hadn’t tried to push forward their various agendas by attributing them to the Prophet.
Revolutionary

Turkey is intent on sweeping away that “cultural baggage” and returning to a form of Islam it claims accords with its original values and those of the Prophet.

Ah, the traditional claim of religious reformers: “We’re just returning to the original form and faith of our religion.” Whatever would we do without it?
But this is where the revolutionary nature of the work becomes apparent. Even some sayings accepted as being genuinely spoken by Muhammad have been altered and reinterpreted. …

As part of its aggressive programme of renewal, Turkey has given theological training to 450 women, and appointed them as senior imams called “vaizes”. They have been given the task of explaining the original spirit of Islam to remote communities in Turkey’s vast interior.

One of the women, Hulya Koc, looked out over a sea of headscarves at a town meeting in central Turkey and told the women of the equality, justice and human rights guaranteed by an accurate interpretation of the Koran—one guided and confirmed by the revised Hadith.

She says that, at the moment, Islam is being widely used to justify the violent suppression of women. “There are honour killings,” she explains. “We hear that some women are being killed when they marry the wrong person or run away with someone they love. There’s also violence against women within families, including sexual harassment by uncles and others. This does not exist in Islam… we have to explain that to them.”

Is it hypocrisy to claim that doesn’t exist in Islam? Not as long as you’re working to make it true. Asserting that the thing you love most is too good to have n bad thing in it is part of the normal processes of spiritual renewal. It beats the heck out of saying n bad thing must be okay because it’s part of the thing you love most.
‘New Islam’

According to Fadi Hakura, an expert on Turkey from Chatham House in London, Turkey is doing nothing less than recreating Islam—changing it from a religion whose rules must be obeyed, to one designed to serve the needs of people in a modern secular democracy. He says that to achieve it, the state is fashioning a new Islam.

“This is kind of akin to the Christian Reformation,” he says. “Not exactly the same, but if you think, it’s changing the theological foundations of [the] religion. ” Fadi Hakura believes that until now secularist Turkey has been intent on creating a new politics for Islam. Now, he says, “they are trying to fashion a new Islam.”

Significantly, the “Ankara School” of theologians working on the new Hadith have been using Western critical techniques and philosophy. They have also taken an even bolder step—rejecting a long-established rule of Muslim scholars that later (and often more conservative) texts override earlier ones.

“You have to see them as a whole,” says Fadi Hakura. “You can’t say, for example, that the verses of violence override the verses of peace. This is used a lot in the Middle East, this kind of ideology. I cannot impress enough how fundamental [this change] is.”

I can’t express how fundamental a change this is either. If you can look at the Hadith as a whole, and subject it to the full battery of textual criticism, historical and linguistic analysis, document verification techniques, and other disciplines that have grown up around Bible scholarship and the study of other early religious texts, you’re in a different world.

Memorial
Posted by Patrick at 01:38 PM * 0 comments

A memorial service for Robert Legault will be held on Sunday, March 9, at the Beth Abraham Memorial Chapel, 199 Bleecker Street, between Sixth Avenue and Macdougal. The specific time remains to be announced; I’ll add it to this post once it’s known, probably after this coming weekend. The chapel’s phone number is 212-614-2300.

Robert’s sister Jeanne, who’s organizing the event, solicits ideas for appropriate charities for memorial donations, in view of Robert’s long involvement with science fiction and music. Suggestions should go directly to her at jeannelegault@aol.com.

UPDATE: The memorial will be held at 10:30 AM.

Cold Weather Drinks
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 04:34 AM * 72 comments

Hot Lemonade:

In a coffee mug of normal size, place about 1/8 cup lemon juice (bottled ReaLemon works fine). Stir in 1 large dollop crystalized honey (you want pure honey for this; we use the stuff from Champlain Valley Apiaries), where “dollop” is defined as “as much crystalized honey as can be reasonably supported by the bowl of an ordinary spoon.” Fill the cup with boiling water. Stir.

Puggle:

  • 8-10 oz. apple cider
  • 5 whole cloves
  • Cinnamon stick
  • 1 shot pure maple syrup (dark amber preferred)
  • 1 shot dark rum

Heat the cider with the cloves and cinnamon in a saucepan until steaming but not boiling. Put the rum and syrup into a coffee mug. Fill the mug with hot cider; stir with the cinnamon stick.

Alcohol doesn’t really warm you; it makes you feel warmer while bleeding off core heat. So drink this one after you’ve come in from outside, with no intention of going back out.

[Recipe Index]

February 25, 2008
Leaves of Lettuce
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 04:45 PM * 68 comments

My inbox reminds me: there’s something from the bookbinding world that I want to bring to your attention. There’s no point posting this on the day itself: an event held on April 1 is not going to be taken seriously, and this is a serious matter.

Two serious matters, really: books and food.

April 1, you see, is not just the Feast of All Fools; it is also the birthday of the father of food writing, Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin. His eight volume Physiologie du Goût, ou Méditations de Gastronomie Transcendante; ouvrage théorique, historique et à l’ordre du jour, dédié aux Gastronomes parisiens, par un Professeur, membre de plusieurs sociétés littéraires et savantes (The physiology of taste, or, Meditations of transcendent gastronomy; a theoretical, historical and topical work, dedicated to the gastronomes of Paris by a professor, member of several literary and scholarly societies) was published anonymously in 1825 and took Paris by storm. It has been in print ever since.

You can download it in English translation here. He covers matters as diverse as the number of senses (six: sight, hearing, scent, taste, touch, and physical love) and the end of the world. It’s full of bizzare little anecdotes and meditations (“Take a raisin” “No I thank you; I do not like wine in pills.”) I’d put it with the older editions of Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable for unreliability and downright strangeness.

In honor of Brillat-Savarin’s birthday, bookbinders all over the world celebrate the Edible Book Festival (Le Festival international du livre mangeable), making books out of food. The term “book” is stretched to its limit by some examples (I believe that is The Grapes of Wrath), but the entries are certainly interesting and memorable.

Edible Book locations for this year are still being posted. If there’s one near you, it might be fun to check it out. (I, being a grumpy old sod solitary artist type, have never participated, but I hear good things from people who do.)

But if you can’t go, perhaps this thread might be a chance to take a moment, amidst the grief, fear and anger, and turn to the twin comforts of gastronomy and literature. What books would you bind edibly?

I’ll start by suggesting a salad binding of R is for Rocket.

The Secret Service writes off security for candidates
Posted by Teresa at 12:01 AM *

Here’s the initial story: the Dallas police, who are more conscious of these issues than most municipal police forces, told reporters that the Secret Service ordered them to suspend weapons screening while people were still arriving at an Obama rally this past Thursday. From the Dallas Star-Telegram:

Police concerned about order to stop weapons screening at Obama rally

DALLAS—Security details at Barack Obama’s rally Wednesday stopped screening people for weapons at the front gates more than an hour before the Democratic presidential candidate took the stage at Reunion Arena.

The order to put down the metal detectors and stop checking purses and laptop bags came as a surprise to several Dallas police officers who said they believed it was a lapse in security.

Dallas Deputy Police Chief T.W. Lawrence, head of the Police Department’s homeland security and special operations divisions, said the order—apparently made by the U.S. Secret Service—was meant to speed up the long lines outside and fill the arena’s vacant seats before Obama came on.

“Sure,” said Lawrence, when asked if he was concerned by the great number of people who had gotten into the building without being checked. But, he added, the turnout of more than 17,000 people seemed to be a “friendly crowd.”

(WTF? Is he holding out for a swarthy, disaffected anarchist who’ll come skulking along, singing It’s Sister Jenny’s Turn to Throw the Bomb, and carrying a bowling ball with a fuse sticking out of it?)
The Secret Service did not return a call from the Star-Telegram seeking comment.

Doors opened to the public at 10 a.m., and for the first hour security officers scanned each person who came in and checked their belongings in a process that kept movement of the long lines at a crawl. Then, about 11 a.m., an order came down to allow the people in without being checked.

Several Dallas police officers said it worried them that the arena was packed with people who got in without even a cursory inspection.

That is to say: in a state with few gun laws and no shortage of racist crazies, and in a city with a high crime rate and a history of political assassination, they had less security for a major campaign appearance than many high schools apply every day to their students. They had less security than I’ve run into at concerts, baseball games, and second-string amusement parks. They had far less security than was in force at comparable campaign events during the previous two elections. They had much, much less security than the torpid Republican National Convention in NYC had on its slowest day, in a year when all they had to do was renominate Bush.

More pertinently, they didn’t have an atom of the security that’s lavished on a the most minor and unannounced semi-public forays of George W. Bush or Dick Cheney. (Mind you, Bush and Cheney’s personal security protocols verge on the insane.)

Two points to bear in mind: first, the Secret Service is run by the Executive branch of the government.

Second, we’re talking about an administration that didn’t hesitate to turn FEMA into a branch of its PR organization; fired U.S. District Attorneys for failure to pursue partisan, politically motivated prosecutions; and outed one of our own undercover intelligence agents in retaliation for that agent’s spouse accurately reporting information that Bush, Cheney & Co. found inconvenient.

Would those guys hesitate to turn the Secret Service into their own private security force, even if it meant they scanted or ignored the Secret Service’s other assigned duties? You don’t even have to ask. To think of the question is to know the answer.

Back to the Dallas police force:

They spoke on condition of anonymity because, they said, the order was made by federal officials who were in charge of security at the event.

“How can you not be concerned in this day and age,” said one policeman.

Bear that in mind. Later we’re going to see the Secret Service deny that they decided to suspend weapon checks, on the grounds that they didn’t decide to do it, but instead intended to do it all along. You wouldn’t think that could be true, would you? But it is. I know this because I have a secret privileged information source.

Onward.

To state the obvious, security has been a major concern since Barack Obama started running. He started getting Secret Service protection since May 3, 2007, which is the earliest it’s ever been assigned to a candidate. He needed it. The man’s been a target for death threats and hateful craziness all along.

It’s been interesting watching the reactions to the initial story. There’ve been 3,682 votes cast so far in the Star-Telegram’s poll that asks the readers how good they thought security was at that event. The breakdown: excellent, 11%; suitable, 6%; a bit below par, 7%; unacceptable, 77%. Right now the story’s comment thread is 54 pages long. It makes interesting reading, if you ignore the nutbars. The citizens are outraged. They ask what the bleep the Secret Service thought it was doing, and demand that the person who gave that order be fired. They point out that people don’t get let in unchecked at concerts, rodeos, football games, or the state fair. A couple of them speak from the viewpoint of security professionals:

I served at the 2002 Winter Olympics as part of Joint Task Force Olympic Gold. In almost every event we (US Army/National Guard/Secret Service/US Customs/Local police) protected there were more than 17,000 spectators. Troughout the Olympics we were able to sweep 100% of all spectators entering the venues, before the event took place. The Secret Service agents we worked with (I was with the Missouri National Guards 110th Engineer BN) were professional and subject matter experts on protection. I Find it hard to believe these men and women would on thier own accord stop searching individuals entering the venue, it goes against their very being. :: Posted by: [name left blank] :: 2/22/2008 3:25 PM :: 2595.310

I have had many friends work at times in the security business. If they had done what the U.S. Secret Service got away with at Reunion Arena, they would have been summarily fired. Moreover, the long lines were caused by a lack of planning by the Secret Service. This is an abysmal performance by one of our alleged premier government security organizations. It deserves an outright formal investigation. Oh, but I forgot, Bush is still the “President”. :: Posted by: DrToketee :: 2/22/2008 2:55 PM :: 2595.277

And here’s a comment about the Star-Telegram’s followup story, which we’ll be getting to in a moment:
Hey Editor, how about doing your job and pointing out in your followup that the Secret Service confirmed the story is true in every detail and their only defense was that this is standard procedure. That is the real story and an even greater scandal than an “Oops it won’t happen again” response!

A casual reading as you have written the story gives people the impression that the Secret Service is saying it didn’t happen, bolstered by the headline. That’s not what they’re saying at all!

As for the interview, any reporter worth hiring would have asked the apologist for the Secret Service if this is the same security they would provide for…oh I don’t know, maybe President Bush? Let’s start refining those journalistic skills. :: Posted by: Jerry C. :: 2/23/2008 7:13 AM :: 2595.455

He’s got a point. Here’s the followup, in which the Secret Service replies to the initial report:
Secret Service defends security strategy at rally in Reunion Arena

The U.S. Secret Service on Friday defended its handling of security during a huge rally in downtown Dallas for Barack Obama, saying there was no “lapse” in its “comprehensive and layered security plan,” which called for some people to be checked for weapons while others were not.

Jerry C.’s right. The problem isn’t that there was a lapse in the Secret Service’s plan; it’s that what they had wasn’t a security plan at all. If you check some people, then let a bunch of unchecked ones into the same area, you’re no more secure than you would be if you hadn’t checked anyone at all. This is a basic principle.
A report in the Star-Telegram that said some security measures were lifted during Wednesday’s rally sparked a public outrage across the country, with most people saying they were shocked that a routine weapons search was lifted at the front gates of Reunion Arena an hour before the Democratic presidential candidate took the stage.

“This relaxed security was unbelievably stupid, especially in Dallas,” Jeff Adams of Berkeley, Calif., said in an e-mail, noting the assassination of President Kennedy in Dallas more than four decades ago.

Others said they had attended large political events in the recent past, many of them for Obama, where security screening was halted.

Jeremy Dibbell of Boston said in an e-mail that he attended an Obama event in Boston and “the same thing happened there. We waited for hours in line as people were screened, and then suddenly everyone was just allowed in without going through any inspection at all.”

I believe we can confirm Jeremy Dibbell’s report from Boston.

This is the heart of the story. It’s also where that 54-page comment thread in the Star-Telegram comes into its own. That’s my secret privileged information source. The thread contains nearly two dozen independent corroborating accounts of Obama’s and Clinton’s campaign appearances in cities across the country. All but one describe the same pattern of events: security gets set up in advance of the event. For a while, they check the people going in. It’s slow. Then, an hour or less before the event is supposed to start, they drop the security checks and let in everyone who’s been waiting.

(The one exception is a comment that claims that security at Reno, NV was “very tight BUT NOT necessarily visible,” and calls it “top-notch.” Since it’s unlikely that security personnel managed to remain invisible while checking attendees for weapons, I doubt security was top-notch, or even minimally satisfactory.)

If the same thing is happening at every event in every city, it’s not a lapse. It’s planned to work out that way. And that is a complete and utter outrage, because what the Secret Service is enacting isn’t security; it’s security theatre. They know it’s inadequate. They go in with inadequate equipment and personnel, and give a full check to the early arrivals. Then, a half hour to an hour before the main event, when people are arriving in droves, they turn off their metal detectors and wave everyone through.

Since every Abba revival concert and monster truck rally in this country manages to check its attendees for weapons and other interesting baggage, this policy on the part of the Secret Service can only be taken as deliberate neglect of the safety of the candidates and the people who come to see them.

Nick Shapiro, a spokesman for Obama in Texas, said the campaign would have no comment on whether there was a security breach in Dallas. He referred questions to the Secret Service.

Jessica Santillo, spokeswoman for Hillary Clinton in Texas, said the Clinton campaign works with the Secret Service to “protect the safety of everyone who attends our campaign events.”

I doubt the Obama campaign wants to announce that their candidate is a sitting duck. The same goes for the Clinton campaign.
‘No security lapses’

Eric Zahren, a spokesman for the Secret Service in Washington, said precautionary measures went as planned for the Obama rally. “There were no security lapses at that venue,” Zahren said. There was “no deviation” from the “comprehensive and layered” plan, implemented in “very close cooperation with our law enforcement partners,” he added.

Zahren rebutted suggestions by several Dallas police officers at the rally who thought the Secret Service ordered a halt to the timeconsuming weapons check because long lines were moving slowly and many seats remained empty as the time was nearing for Obama to appear.

“It was never a part of the plan at this particular venue to have each and every person in the crowd pass through the Magnetometer,” Zahren said, referring to the device used to detect metal in clothing and bags.

Score another point for Jerry C.: the Secret Service has confirmed that the story is true in every detail, and their only defense has been that it’s standard procedure.
Asked whether the Secret Service would re-evaluate its security procedures at such events, he said, “We’re always re-evaluating security measures … and we make adjustments as necessary.”
That’s a blow-off answer. They’ve used the same procedures and gotten the same results at one campaign after another, so they must not have felt adjustments were necessary. The only reason they might re-evaluate their policy is if there’s sufficient public outrage.
A security ‘success’

The Dallas Police Department said in a statement Friday that the Obama rally was a “success from a police standpoint.” Lt. V.L. Hale III, a spokesman for the force, also said in the statement that city officers were not in charge of the metal detectors. He declined to comment further on security issues.

I think “success from a police standpoint” means “nothing too awful happened this time around.”

Here we get into a piece of inexplicably bad journalism: the reporter interviews a security consultant who wasn’t at the event, had no connection with it, doesn’t appear to have spoken to any of the people who were running security there, and is discussing it from an entirely speculative viewpoint.

The Secret Service may have been doing all it could at the rally, said Keith Howse, a lawyer and consultant for security concerns and a former assistant police chief for the sprawling Baylor Health Care System.

Howse, who was not at the rally, said the Secret Service may have been screening the people closest to the candidate while letting others go in unchecked who were seated far away in the spacious, 17,000-seat arena.

“It may have ended up not being the best of all worlds, but it might not have been a flat-out security breach,” he said, adding: “I think it’s important to understand that the Secret Service would not sink below minimum protection” for a presidential candidate.

Wrong. The Secret Service was not screening people by zone, and they most certainly did sink below minimum protection for Barack Obama. The Star-Telegram really needs to read their own comment threads:
I attended the event and, I must say I was shocked by not being screened. I made my way to the rope line and shook Barack’s hand. Think about It. :: Posted by: D. Guillory :: 2/22/2008 3:07 PM :: 2595.291
Here are the rest of the reports of negligent Secret Service security from that comment thread. Sorry about the length. It’s data.
The same thing happened at the speech in Virginia Beach, where we had 18,000 people. I was pretty surprised when they stopped screening and opened all the doors, and even if it’s a “friendly” crowd, it only takes one to cause a disaster. :: Posted by: Ben :: 2/22/2008 11:59 AM :: 2595.24

I went to Obama’s rally in St. Louis. We were just allowed into the arena. Our bags weren’t checked nor were metal detectors used. There were over 20,000 at that rally. :: Posted by: Kelly :: 2/22/2008 12:02 PM :: 2595.31

The same thing happened in Green Bay, WI at the Kress Center on February 15. People were just waved through to the auditorium during the last 15-20 minutes - No visual checks whatsoever or passing through a metal detector. The goal was to start on time apparently, which the rally did. :: Posted by: Green Bay reader :: 2/22/2008 12:15 PM :: 2595.58

I attended an Obama rally in Reno, NV and security was very, very tight BUT NOT necessarily visible. However, I imagine after this story, the Secret Service will probably add some visibility to their security protocol. I also understand the sensitivity of the Dallas Police Department but I think Sen. Obama’s security is top notch. :: Posted by: Metro :: 2/22/2008 12:30 PM

This is exactly what happened in NYC last fall when Obama made an appearance in Washington Square Park. They screened people with metal detectors for the first two hours, but when it became apparent that most of the crowd would not make it in for several more hours they just let everybody flood the park with no screening. :: Posted by: ea :: 2/22/2008 12:32 PM :: 2595.90

When Hillary Clinton gave a speech in Salinas, CA the police did not scan either. There was an obvious S/S presence but it was all very casual. A local DNC woman just had the few of us at the door fill out a donation form. Then right in we went. :: Posted by: Bubba :: 2/22/2008 12:37 PM :: 2595.94

Sam thing happened in Houston. A friend and I arrived about 30 minutes before he spoke and walked right through the font doors of the Toyota Center without going through any medal detectors, wands, etc. Rediculous that the security is so weak and that our law enforcement is not taking the necessary steps to protect against anyone wishing to do him harm or wishing to do harm to the thousands that show up at these events to support him. :: Posted by: JDM :: 2/22/2008 12:43 PM :: 2595.107

The same thing happened at the Obama rally that I attended in San Francisco. We waited in line for hours and then suddenly the speed of the line picked way up and we walked right through the metal detectors which had been turned off. I would’ve much rather gotten into the rally late than had the individual who I hope will be the next President of the US endangered by “expediency” efforts. :: Posted by: Kari Chao :: 2/22/2008 1:15 PM :: 2595.158

I was amazed in Seattle at the Key Areana that the security was more lax than for a WNBA Storm game. It was good to feel the trust, but also caught my attention. :: Posted by: :: 2/22/2008 1:21 PM :: 2595.169

The exact same thing happened at the Denver rally. I did not think about it too much at the time, but this is bad. :: Posted by: Tim Tribbett :: 2/22/2008 1:30 PM :: 2595.188

The same thing happened at the outdoor Wilmington, Delaware rally I attended. Over 12,000 folks showed at that one. It appeared the officers were overwhelmed with having to check so many people. What I really found interesting were the snipers and scouts on the roof of the old courthouse. I noticed two of them captivated by Obama’s speech and simply put their binoculars down. I remember praying, please don’t let anything happen. :: Posted by: L. :: 2/22/2008 1:48 PM :: 2595.209

This happened in Kansas City, Missouri, too, but only a few people - perhaps 100 or so - got in without being screened, including me. The few they let in without screening were among the last to be let in after metal detectors had been taken down, when they initially determined that the venue was full. Officials opened about a few more spots and we got in without any check at all. :: Posted by: LM :: 2/22/2008 1:57 PM :: 2595.217

I was told that the same thing happened in Hartfrd,CT :: Posted by: R. Guzman :: 2/22/2008 2:34 PM :: 2595.253

I also attended the rally and was astonished that everyone’s bags and purses etc?.were not checked. It was obvious the lines were extremely long way before the doors officially opened at 10:30. I’m not with Secret Service, but even I had the bright idea of allowing people to enter the arena early so security checks would not impact the start of the program. It seems to me that allowing people inside a facility that could handle the capacity is a LOT SAFER and SMARTER than jeopardizing the safety of our next potential president. They don’t even let people with checking them for a rodeo or music concert. Hmmmm…I wonder if they would have made the same decision if it was Clinton or McCain. :: Posted by: Delilah Tinsaye :: 2/22/2008 3:10 PM :: 2595.298

When I saw Obama in Oakland, CA last summer, it was ridiculous: anybody could have gotten to him. I told the lady next to me that I hoped he would be protected better because of our history. :: Posted by: Juan Quinones :: 2/22/2008 3:30 PM :: 2595.319

I was at the Barack Obama rally in Houston at the Toyota Center. Depending on where you sat, half of the people went through a metal detector and the other half were not checked at all. I crossed from a “non-checked” area into a “checked area” and an usher took me to the Secret Service and through a metal detector. However, my friend who was with me did the exact same thing and no one saw him at all. I never thought about it until I read this article. How could security be so lax? :: Posted by: SCNTEXAS :: 2/22/2008 3:59 PM :: 2595.329

At the Virginia Beach Convention Center rally a few weeks ago, screening was taking a very long time. The line of 18,000 people was taking hours to get in the building. Eventually all screening was stopped for those who didn’t care about being the closest. They opened up the back doors and thousands of people flooded in. He would have started speaking before 1/5 of the people were even in the building had they not done so. 3 TSA personnel just isn’t enough for such large crowds… Haha. :: Posted by: Joe :: 2/22/2008 7:22 PM :: 2595.404

I got to see obama up close and personaI in Iowa several times times and was never checked by anyone. I believe it would be immensely easy to kill any presidential candidate on the campaign trail if you were willing to be caught. This DOES worry me a great deal as my friends and I often found ourselves commenting on how lax security was. :: Posted by: Ron Orf :: 2/22/2008 8:03 PM :: 2595.411

I attended a rally in Oakland and there was no checkin gate there either. A friend in New York said the same thing. :: Posted by: AJ Fish in San Francisco :: 2/23/2008 11:51 AM :: 2595.471

In Omaha, I noticed the exact same thing! I was somewhat alarmed at blatant dismantling of the metal detector, at the entrance to a large side chamber to the Civic Auditorium, while it was beginning to fill up with people just prior to Obama coming out to us. I and others pulled out digital cameras and/or camera phones, and no way that a weapon would have been noticed in time. And this dismantling of metal detectors and zero screening of audience is happening at other campaign stops too???? (Security was much more lax than it had been at the same site when the Vice Presidential debates were held in Omaha, about 20 years ago in the 1980’s, when we were not “in a state of war” as this administration likes to put it. ) :: Will Monif, Omaha, Nebraska 2008 :: Posted by: Will Monif :: 2/24/2008 6:08 AM :: 2595.514

same exact thing happened when he spoke in washington square in new york. :: Posted by: lol :: 2/22/2008 5:32 PM :: 2595.378

I was at the Dallas rally and there was no security - no purse checks and no metal detectors. I was appalled. I couldn’t believe it!! Anyone could have brought a gun into Reunion Arena. There were purse checks and metal detectors for Barry Manilow and he is a threat to no one! We need Sen. Obama as our leader and he needs to be kept safe! :: Posted by: Shirley :: 2/22/2008 6:05 PM :: 2595.388

We have a problem.

February 24, 2008
Why Does Nader Hate America?
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 04:33 PM * 349 comments

Nader announced today that he’s running for President.

WASHINGTON (CNN) — Ralph Nader is entering the presidential race as an independent, he announced Sunday, saying it is time for a “Jeffersonian revolution.”

With himself in the starring role of Thomas Jefferson?

“In the last few years, big money and the closing down of Washington against citizen groups prevent us from trying to improve our country. And I want everybody to have the right and opportunity to improve their country,” he told reporters after an appearance announcing his candidacy on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Nader seems to forget that a big part of why we’ve had the “last few years” is because he pulled this same stunt in 2000, giving us G. W. Bush and the Republican band of neo-cons, cronies, and incompetents.
Asked why he should be president, the longtime consumer advocate said, “Because I got things done.” He cited a 40-year record, which he said includes saving “millions of lives,” bringing about stricter protection for food and water and fighting corporate control over Washington.

He did indeed “get things done.” He got us the worst president in our history. He made sure Detroit cars guzzled gas. He kept useful drugs off the market, or once they were there, got them removed.

Does he have a chance in hell of becoming president? No. None at all. Can he play spoiler and get another Republican warhawk in place? He certainly hopes so, or at least his secret backers think he can.

Okay, everyone. Help save America. Work to keep Nader off the ballot in your state.

February 23, 2008
Robert Legault
Posted by Teresa at 03:18 PM *

I am stunned by the news that Robert Legault died of a coronary this past week. We just heard about it from Valeria Susanina, who wrote:

Robert Legault’s sister Jeanne called me and I just spoke to her. Robert evidently had a coronary sometime during the past week and passed away. … She’s trying to get ahold of the friends she knows but she mostly just has first names.
I don’t know whether Jeanne Legault wants her phone number or e-mail address given out. I’ve left a message with her.

Some of you may have known him as readwrite on Live Journal. [Update: Papersky has posted a list of links to some of his LJ posts she liked best.]

Robert was my good friend. I’ve known him since I lived in Seattle. He was also my right hand when I was Managing Editor at Tor, and succeeded me in that position. He was kind and grumpy and generous and one of the world’s great nitpickers, and there’s no one I trusted more with a text.

There are so many stories I could tell about Robert, but right now I feel like they’re all written on potsherds.

When further information comes in, I’ll add it to this post.

UPDATE:

I’ve heard from Jeanne Legault. Robert died at home. He had one of those very fast coronaries and was gone before he hit the floor.

Jeanne and his friend Terry realized something was wrong when they didn’t hear from him—Robert always stayed in touch, and was prompt about returning phone calls. They had another friend who’s local try the apartment, and when he got no answer, they filed a Missing Person report. A police detective broke in and found the body.

She said she’d keep me informed. In the meantime, does anyone here know Mary Lou Currier? She’s another good friend of Robert’s, and Jeanne doesn’t know how to contact her. Any help will be appreciated. [Update: Ellie Lang has contacted Mary Lou Currier. Thank you, Ellie.]

UPDATE: Ellen Datlow has posted a wonderful Flickr set of pictures of Robert from the last few years.

February 21, 2008
Curating conversations (a meditation in the sunlight)
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 07:09 PM * 207 comments

Somewhere in the war between enthusiasm and cynicism, the content of Patrick’s notes on the O’Reilly Tools for Change for Publishing conference went undiscussed. And I’m sorry about that, because some of them really got my attention. They looked neat. I wanted to hear more.

Then, less than a week later, I was sitting in a restaurant in the Alps, nursing a bruised tendon in one knee while one of the smartest people I know dozed beside me. And suddenly two of those one-line comments tied together a mass of notions I’d collected from a dozen disparate sources. It was pure high country cascade, and I’d like to pick apart some of the ideas from it here on Making Light.

‘Content is king! Content is king!’ No. Nor is ‘context.’ Contact is king.

Since when is the Internet a monarchy?

Content is important, since the internet is basically an information delivery system. But we’re social animals, so we bring community into everything we do. Look at the stories of the desert fathers; these men were hermits, and still their lessons are about community. We’re the same today, even when we’re alone at our keyboards.

Really good communities tend to grow around valuable or interesting content. Google and StumbleUpon pull new readers in. If the content keeps moving and stays good, a certain proportion stay around and chat, get to know each other, hang out. The growing community at BoingBoing is a recent example.

Contrariwise, really good content is about community. Writers are motivated by readers; creation implies audience. And a good community can generate even better content than an individual, if conversation and dissent are used to refine the ideas under discussion.

The two are one, like hands joined together, like the end and the way.

Curating the conversation will be a whole new kind of editorial job.

Communities that generate content generally do it in conversation (not always; my old community didn’t). That conversation needs to be gardened and nurtured while it’s in progress — and that’s a whole ‘nother ball of fishy kettles — but it also needs care afterwards.

Online conversations can strain even Sturgeon’s Law. Some of them are astonishingly crap. And even — or especially — the good ones wander all over the place, cross-fertilize, merge and separate. Finding anything again is a matter of luck and memory. Finding it the first time is more about miracles and Google-fu.

That’s not going to be good enough in the future. More and more new ideas are first proposed online. Without a record of how they were developed, without the initial arguments against and reactions to them, they lose a significant part of their meaning. (For instance, only without context can Wikipedia seriously describe disemvoweling as “a technique by forum moderators to censor unwanted posting”.) Valuable historical information is being lost.

One could manually index conversations, of course, but that’s enormously time-consuming. Kelly McCullough’s excellent work indexing Making Light and Electrolite is the product of great effort as well as love. To index every conversation like that is way over the event horizon of practicality.

So what should be done?

If I may go all Charlie Stross for a moment (by which I mean buzzword-rich and science fictional), we need some way of automatically tagging and flagging conversations.

Tagging can indicate the content of a discussion. Word-frequency analysis might be useful here, perhaps in a moving average over multiple comments to pick up threaded discussions. There is a tension between using a controlled vocabulary and a free one; one is more searchable, the other more adaptable. Perhaps some form of evolving or semi-controlled vocabulary? Bayesian algorithms already figure out which emails are spam and which are ham; could they figure out which tags are applicable and which have been superseded?

But conversations should also be flagged for quality. A good conversation is idea-rich; a poor one reiterates old notions and beats them to death. Text mining and search systems should prioritise the former over the latter. And that’s yet another question: what are the markers of a good online conversation? I bet that’s harder to detect automatically than trolling, even, but what a treasure for searchability if we could!

At this point, my companion woke from his sleep and listened to my excited handwaving exposition. He was unconvinced.

What say you?

Nota bene: constructive criticism of goals, means and methods is keenly sought. Rants might be better left at the door, unless they are funny or in verse.

February 20, 2008
And speaking of blog writers we can’t get enough of
Posted by Patrick at 04:47 PM * 56 comments

Belle “Earth-II TNH” Waring:

Sometimes I read old articles from the National Review and I think, where did that spirit of frank, open racism go? Why must John Derbyshire be restrained by political correctness when he "wraps his silk dressing gown tightly about his withered frame and totters onto the balcony to address the Negro Question"? But along comes sweet, sweet Lisa "Clinton really was running drugs through Mena AK" Schffrin to pour some sugar on me. She’s got that old-time religion, friends. I wanted to excerpt but it was too good […]
Read the rest.

I wondered where Michael Bérubé had got to!
Posted by Patrick at 04:31 PM * 59 comments

Here he is, on TPM Cafe, arguing with Reed Hundt:

Yes, it’s possible…that “the Clintons will attack Obama in harsh, personal terms,” and that Clinton and McCain “will go low and will be outrageous.” (Though after Billy Shaheen’s inquiry into whether Obama might have done a little drug dealing, exactly how much lower can a fellow Democrat go? Is someone going to start a whispering campaign that Obama has fathered a white child out of wedlock?) But it’s also possible that the Clinton team will respond to last night’s drubbing in Wisconsin by becoming even more message-incompetent.

Ever since Super Tuesday, the Clinton campaign team has collectively sounded like Spinal Tap manager Ian Faith, he of the immortal line, “the Boston gig has been cancelled…I wouldn’t worry about it though, it’s not a big college town.” (One waits eagerly to learn why the Wisconsin vote doesn’t matter!) The next two weeks are going to be a challenge, especially since the campaign hadn’t bothered to learn the primary ropes in Texas. But beyond March 4, the Clinton camp is looking at some very dispiriting news. Here are the latest (Feb 18-19) polls from four insignificant states (none of them conducted by the bizarrely erratic ARG):

Virginia:
McCain (R) 48%, Clinton (D) 45%
McCain (R) 45%, Obama (D) 51%

Iowa:
McCain (R) 52%, Clinton (D) 41%
McCain (R) 41%, Obama (D) 51%

Minnesota:
McCain (R) 47%, Clinton (D) 42%
McCain (R) 38%, Obama (D) 53%

Wisconsin:
McCain (R) 49%, Clinton (D) 42%
McCain (R) 42%, Obama (D) 52%

Granted, these are only polls, and it’s only February. But this just can’t be good news for the Clinton campaign, and if I were a superdelegate (and why, now that I mention it, am I not a superdelegate? I think I’m pretty damn superdelegatious, myself), I would be looking hard at numbers like these. So perhaps the Clinton campaign will drop the charge that Obama is campaigning by using words, and attack numbers instead. This campaign is about solutions, not numbers—that might work! Or maybe Numbers don’t put food on the table. Numbers don’t fill up your tank or fill your prescription or do anything about that stack of bills that keeps you up at night.

Failing that, Mark Penn can lament that no one anticipated the breach of Super Tuesday, and that the campaign has actually been doing a heckuva job.

It’s sad, really. As I’ve said before, I have no animus against Hillary Clinton, and I don’t believe that Barack Obama is the chosen one who can bring balance to the Force, end the war with the machines, and destroy all of Voldemort’s horcruxes. But Hillary really is surrounded by the gang that can’t shoot straight, and for some reason I’ve grown leery of politicians who don’t fire incompetents.

I’d ask why Bérubé, these days, lounges around in dives like Talking Points Memo or Crooked Timber instead of writing his own damn blog where we can keep up with him, but I’m distracted by wondering, instead, why we don’t see him on the op-ed pages of the Times or the Post. Oh, right: we have official, certified wits like Maureen Dowd to handle the official funniness in the officially funny way. Ha ha, comrade. Ha.

February 18, 2008
This can’t be good for one’s soul
Posted by Teresa at 11:06 PM * 789 comments

Once upon a time there was a book called Night Travels of the Elven Vampire, which was read and reviewed by Crevette:

Alaric is a vampire. And he shapeshifts into a wolf. Alaric is also an Elf. It also turns out that Elves are aliens from the planet Telvron, where there are also sentient trees and unicorns. And he’s telepathic too, because he talks to his brother Marti’el that way. So that makes Alaric an alien vampire werewolf psychic writer. Got that? Good. That way you won’t get confuzzled when he becomes a pirate.
The novel has since been rewritten. The altered version is titled Eternity of Blood, and is longer. What’s remarkable is that it has apparently gotten worse—or so Crevette claims in You all suck, her updated review of the work:
Gareth is a darkly angelic, alien vampiric UFO-debunking half-divine military fighter pilot…
I can’t think of a single good reason to read this book. There’s not enough irony in the world.

February 16, 2008
Bookhunter by Jason Shiga
Posted by Avram Grumer at 11:21 PM * 40 comments

Imagine an action-packed police procedural, full of technical details like CSI, but all about bookbinding and library catalogs. Since this is Making Light, probably half of you just leaned forward and said “Tell me more!” OK, here goes:

The kettle stitch...Jason Shiga’s Bookhunter is very (very!) loosely based on a real book theft, but turned into an action movie. Special Agent Bay of the Library Police tracks down missing library books. Small-time perps just steal or deface books, but sometimes Bay faces more complicated cases, such as when a valuable pre-1500 bible once owned by John Quincy Adams is not just stolen from a library, but replaced with a high-quality forgery.

Fortunately, Bay has the resources of a major police organization behind him, as well as sharp eyes, a good head for detail, and little to no regard for the personal safety of himself or the people around him.

Shiga writes deeply nerdy comics. I don’t mean that they’re saturated with SF pop culture references — I mean that they’re thick with nerdy technical detail. Fleep, for example, is a short story about an amnesiac who finds himself inexplicably entombed within a phone booth surrounded by concrete, and promptly MacGuyvers a Foucault pendulum out of the booth’s light fixture so as to narrow down his possible locations. That kind of nerdy.

Bookhunter is nerdy like that, too, with details of printing, bookbinding, safecracking, and phone phreaking all part of the plot. It’s set in 1973, so all the tech neepery involves card catalogs, check-out slips, microfilm, and 75-baud modems. And there are crazy shoot-outs, reckless automobile driving, and a climatic fight scene in a library with actual library equipment used as weapons.

I’ve only two caveats in recommending this comics: First, be warned that Shiga’s artwork is crude, especially if you’re used to the polished work that comes out of the big comics companies. His figures have just the bare amount of detail necessary to distinguish them from each other and convey simple emotions. He’s a couple of steps above Randall Munroe.

Second, it may be hard to find. Amazon has a page for it, reselling for some other bookstores, but charges the ridiculous price of fifty goddamn dollars for a book with a $15 cover price. You can order his books from Shiga himself, but expect shipping times of six to eight months. I got mine at Cosmic Comics, and I’ve seen it at Jim Hanley’s Universe, but not everybody lives in NYC with its many fine comic shops. Or you can read it online, if your eyes are young and strong.

Update: Or, as Hob points out in comments, you can order it from the publisher.

(Panel from Bookhunter ©2007 Jason Shiga.)

The Blog Posts, They Write Themselves
Posted by Patrick at 02:24 PM *

US government to shoot down malfunctioning 5,000-pound spy satellite. Gosh, what could possibly go wrong?

February 13, 2008
Birthday
Posted by Patrick at 06:38 AM *

Happy birthday this coming Friday, Abi Sutherland!

(Co-conspirators in the above image: Serge, Mary Dell, and a cast of thousands.)

Now get going on that several-day-long, Internet-free vacation…

February 12, 2008
False economies and either-ors
Posted by Patrick at 10:28 PM * 356 comments

Elise Matthesen elbows her way onto the front page of Making Light:

We were discussing the comments of people who reacted negatively to Barack Obama because he is a charismatic speaker, and something occurred to me. People are saying they are suspicious of Obama specifically because he’s charismatic. They’re treating Obama (and, in some other conversations, Clinton) as if politicians are gaming characters, where there are only a certain number of points to be allocated, and therefore a high Charisma must be balanced by disadvantage points elsewhere, so either they’ve got a lowered Intelligence or a weak Willpower or some other compensatory flaw. That’s not how it works, though. Not in real life. Not unless you’re limiting people to only one facet for some reason. (I won’t speculate on possible reasons, because it would be impolite.)

I’m particularly struck by the way that charisma is seen as a quality, not an achievement.

(In Obama’s case, charisma may indeed be an achievement—at least, political charisma of the type he is now demonstrating—and a meaningful one, and one that he got with help. See the WSJ article about the role of his wife Michelle in the campaign—and their roles in each other’s lives. But that’s a whole another thing.)

In particular, all this focusing on Obama’s charisma is served up with a side order of “he’s a starry-eyed idealist with warm fuzzy rhetoric full of emotional appeal about uniting, but short on actual specifics and real-world plans.” I’m not sure exactly what people think University of Chicago law professors are chosen for, but I suspect that warm fuzzy rhetoric long on emotions but short on specifics isn’t real high on the checklist.

The other thing that it made me think of was something a little more insidious. Charisma is seen as a quality intrinsic to the person; it hasn’t any connection with their skills or their smarts, either, and by some logic, it might lessen the chance that they have any. (No, really—just listen to the criticisms. What they’re reminding me of right now is the notion that a woman cannot be both brainy and beautiful.) There’s this weird implication out there in the discussions about Obama’s charisma—or “messiah status,” to grab the current buzz-slap—that charisma leaves no room for a mind and a moral center. It’s the political equivalent of reducing him to his looks.

It reduces him to a feel-good candidate, instead of acknowledging him as a candidate we can feel good about precisely because he’s got smarts and skills, a mind and a moral center, and because he’s not afraid to sound passionate about what he believes in and what he proposes to do.

All I want to add to this is the observation that “cynicism is a sorry kind of wisdom” may be the best line of the campaign so far.

Sympathy for the Clintons
Posted by Teresa at 06:17 PM * 164 comments

It’s grieved me to see the Clintons behave poorly. I figure they’re going to behave worse before the election’s over, and have years to regret it afterward. But right now, they’re in the middle of a political campaign, and their job is to fight. (Y’all have more than once gotten angry at candidates in that position who haven’t fought when they should.)

The political commentariat knew Obama would be a candidate. Some of them thought he’d be a remarkable one. But what the whole Obama thing has grown into, what it may yet become—that, they didn’t foresee. Did anyone, with the possible exception of Barack Obama? So we’re all astonished. The difference between Hillary and the rest of us is, we haven’t bet everything we have on a different outcome.

Hillary Clinton is a good politician and a good candidate, but she’s getting run down by a historic freight train. It’s a strange and tragic thing that she and her husband should both get hit by those. In her case, it’s coming from within her own party. And right now, it’s not her job to see that what’s bearing down on her is a different kind of power.

She and Bill will at times behave gracelessly while it’s happening. We’ll all regret it. But if those two didn’t fight back and keep fighting under pressure, very little of the good they’ve accomplished in their political lives would ever have happened.

Lots of things get called tragedies that don’t really qualify. This one does. Consider taking a break to be quiet and watch.

Geolocating PNH
Posted by Patrick at 08:34 AM * 128 comments

In case any Making Light readers happen to be here, I should mention that I’m at the O’Reilly Tools for Change for Publishing conference in New York all day today, as I was most of yesterday as well. Notwithstanding the fact that yesterday the office was so demanding that I felt like I was only half here (there are definite downsides to being constantly tethered to your email), it’s been pretty interesting. Here’s today’s schedule and here’s the conference blog.

From my erratic notes, some favorite moments so far:

Stephen Abram: “What does it mean to deal with a world with too much information? By 2020 your iPod will have enough storage for all the information ever created in all media. Formats die; human social needs trump everything.”

Ben Vershbow: “Curating the conversation will be a whole new kind of editorial job.”

Abram again: “Context, not ‘content,’ is king. If you don’t know the context in which your users are inhaling your information and making use of it, what their goals are, you’re not there.”

Dan Gillmor: “My readers are smarter than I am.”

Douglas Rushkoff: [pulls out easel, draws geometric-increase line chart] “THIS CHART IS ALWAYS HAPPENING.” [draws another] “INCREASE IN THE NUMBER OF THESE CHARTS OVER TIME.”

Rushkoff again: “‘Content is king! Content is king!’ No. Nor is ‘context.’ Contact is king. What makes the Internet different from previous mass media is that it provides people with enhanced opportunities to socialize. Prior mass media were created to reduce contact between individuals and increase contact between individuals and a brand. I buy oats less from Joe and more from a Quaker who doesn’t exist.”

Rushkoff again: “The reason everyone goes online isn’t to find a new data stream. It’s in order to be able to say ‘I found a new data stream.’”

Rushkoff again: “The Internet isn’t ‘interactive’ media. CD-ROMs were ‘interactive media,’ and they were so wildly successful because that’s what people really want to do, interact with their computers.” [Pause] “Yes, that was sarcasm. The Internet is interpersonal media.”

Derek Powazek: “The three lies we all tell ourselves are: (1) Everyone on the net is an idiot; (2) You can’t find the good stuff, and (3) You can’t make money with this stuff.”

More to come, I’m sure. If any of you are around, do say hi.

February 11, 2008
Those Clintons
Posted by Patrick at 10:04 PM * 78 comments

Not for the first time, Jim Henley, with whom I probably have a four-drawer file cabinet’s worth of disagreements on policy particulars, demonstrates that he’s nonetheless acquainted with the same human race as I am.

Of course he loves her. And she him. Beyond reason and beyond calculation. And yes, it’s really weird. What long-term marriage on Earth isn’t?

RFC (Request For Clue)
Posted by Patrick at 09:19 AM *

We appear to have gotten over 7,000 visitors in the last day or so via StumbleUpon.com.

First, welcome, StumbleUpon users!

Second, can someone explain to this particular old person exactly what it is that got linked to, and where on the StumbleUpon site I can view the link? Despite being a fully-signed-up member of StumbleUpon, I’ve never been able to quite make sense of how it works, and although I’ve signed in and clicked around this morning, I can’t find whatever it was that sent all that traffic to Making Light. I suspect I need someone twenty or thirty years younger than me to explain it all.

Greg McMullan
Posted by Teresa at 07:57 AM *

Sad news from Jen Pelland:

I just found out that an old friend of mine who I hadn’t seen in years recently died in a fire. His name was Greg McMullan. We worked together at Harvard, and at some point after I left, he moved to Virginia, which explains why I stopped seeing him at conventions. Greg was a smart, fun guy with a big heart and a wonderful laugh, and it saddens me to know that I’ll never hear that laugh again.

His wife and stepdaughter were thankfully not home at the time of the fire, so they’re both alive, but the fire destroyed everything. If people would like to help out the family of a fellow fan, they can visit http://www.filknet.org/gem/ for information on how you can donate either money or items to the survivors.

You can read his obituary here.

May we none of us come to such a pass. May we all meet with kindness if we do.
Update: Anyone who knew him can leave memories and stories on the LiveJournal his brother has started. A previous entry on the LJ links to further information about the fire.

February 10, 2008
Open thread 101
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 04:33 AM *

There is a grey heron that lives by the Water of Leith in Edinburgh. It ranges from Dean Bridge to Canonmills. I’d not thought that an urban burn would have fish enough for it, but still it endures.

I used to walk that way of a lunchtime. Eventually, I became quite superstitious about that heron. Every time I would see it, standing in the water with the intense stillness that its kind seems to exude, my day would improve. Bad mornings would be followed by good afternoons. Good days became perfect.

Here in Noord-Holland, herons are ubiquitous. They stare at me fixedly from the reed beds in het Twiske, and peer unblinking from beside the canals near my office. Amidst the common rabble of ducks and gulls, beside the vanity of the swans, they stalk like aristocrats or priests, somber and watchful.

I guess I’m very lucky these days. Odd how it feels like being paranoid. All those eyes, watching

A set of juxtaposed pictorial images agreed upon
Posted by Avram Grumer at 02:38 AM * 16 comments

Hey, kids! Kate Beaton’s Historical Comics! Here’s an LJ post with a set of 20 comics, covering such historical celebrities as Geoffrey Chaucer, Emperor Joshua Norton, Percy & Mary Shelley (guest-starring Lord Byron and his penis), and the fabulous Nicola Tesla (’cause the ladies love Tesla).

She’s doing more, too, like the death of Captain Cook. See her website, or her LiveJournal.

Ooh, and there’s some older stuff, too!

February 07, 2008
Self-Absolution
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 04:06 PM * 101 comments

There won’t be an investigation for torture.

From CNN:

WASHINGTON (CNN) — Attorney General Michael Mukasey told lawmakers Thursday he will not open a criminal investigation into the CIA’s acknowledged use of “waterboarding” on terror suspects.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers asked Mukasey bluntly whether he was starting a criminal investigation since CIA chief Michael Hayden has confirmed the use of waterboarding.

“No, I am not, for this reason: Whatever was done as part of a CIA program at the time that it was done was the subject of a Department of Justice opinion through the Office of Legal Counsel and was found to be permissible under the law as it existed then,” he said.

Mukasey said opening an investigation would send a message that Justice Department opinions are subject to change.

“Essentially it would tell people, ‘You rely on a Justice Department opinion as part of a program, then you will be subject to criminal investigations … if the tenure of the person who wrote the opinion changes or indeed the political winds change,’” he said. “And that’s not something that I think would be appropriate and it’s not something I will do.”

So .. how about an investigation of the people who gave that opinion? Of the people who claimed that torture is legal? You want to let the folks who followed the orders go free, fine. But the people who gave the orders should be standing in front of the bar explaining themselves.

February 06, 2008
Hit and Run, Part Three
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 03:51 PM *

Do you recall the story of Paul Corriveau, badly injured in a hit-and-run accident a bit over a year ago?

I posted about it before in Hit and Run (02DEC06) and Hit and Run, Redux (19JAN07).

I was on the scene of that accident. The man had truly frightening injuries.

Now there’s been a development:

Police Arrest Groveton Man for 2006 Hit-and-Run Accident

By Claire Lynch

N.H. State Police have arrested the alleged driver in a November, 2006 hit-and-run that occurred on Route 3 in Columbia and left a Berlin man seriously injured.

Paul Fortin, 43, of Groveton and formerly of Stratford, was arraigned by video on Monday, February 4 on a felony charge of conduct after an accident. He is currently being held in the Coös County House of Corrections in Stewartstown in lieu of $25,000 cash bail, and a probable cause hearing is set for February 14 in Colebrook District Court.

According to Sgt. Bret Beausoleil, the driver’s side mirror and parts of the front bumper left at the scene were identifed as coming from a Jeep Grand Cherokee manufactured between 1993 and 1998. Many car dealerships in Coös County were checked, he said, but based on information that surfaced recently, Trooper Charles Boutot traced the vehicle to Dan’s Auto Sales in Lancaster. Police reportedly learned that the vehicle was sold to Mr. Fortin and bore 20-day plates at the time of the accident.

The victim, Paul Corriveau, now 70, suffered from severe head and leg injuries, and Sgt. Beausoleil believes he is a resident in the care of Granite State Guardianship. Mr. Corriveau was released from Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in April of 2007, five months after the accident.

On the evening of November 16, 2006, Mr. Corriveau was walking south in the northbound lane of Route 3 when he was hit, at about 5:45 p.m. At the time, darkness had fallen and it was raining, police said. Police had received complaints that evening of a pedestrian whom several vehicles swerved around.

Earlier that day, Mr. Corriveau had been released from the county jail in Stewartstown and had not secured transportation home, police said. He got a ride from a passing motorist and was dropped off in Columbia, near the intersection with Meridan Hill Road. The collision occurred about one mile further south, within a few feet of the Stratford town line.

February 05, 2008
Senescent Dominion
Posted by Avram Grumer at 08:40 PM *

Virginians are so eager to vote in the primaries that they’re turning up at polling places today, even though their state’s primaries are next week. The Mother of Presidents has boundary issues.

(via McMegan)

Peccavi
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 03:39 PM * 16 comments

I’m to help with a weekend writing workshop at I-con this year.

Authors’ Workshop

The Author’s track is proud to offer you a chance to have your work critiqued by professionals. Coordinator Terry McGarry, James Macdonald, Debra Doyle and Ann VanderMeer will analyze your short story in two ninety minute sessions during I-CON 27. Participation is strictly limited to five writers. Fantasy or science fiction stories must be submitted by email only, in MS Word format, double spaced, with a maximum length of 5000 words. The deadline for submissions is February 15, 2008. NOTE: you must be available both Saturday and Sunday to participate in the workshop.

Please send to authors@iconsf.org with the words “Writer’s Workshop” in the subject header. Participant confirmation will be sent by March 5, 2008. Submission implies your permission to provide your story to all workshop participants.

Another endorsement
Posted by Patrick at 02:10 AM * 47 comments

Bill Higgins for Democratic Precinct Committeeperson, 23rd Precinct, Naperville Township, Dupage County, Illinois.

This is what democracy looks like. More of us should be practicing it. (Me included.)

Endorsement
Posted by Patrick at 12:19 AM * 323 comments

Just for the record, and because some people might remember that a year and a half ago I wrote a Making Light post entitled “Why Barack Obama Can Kiss My Ass”, let me bring you up to date. I support Barack Obama for President. In fact, because I’ll be traveling all day tomorrow, I cast my absentee ballot for him last week.

I’ve come to this conclusion because in the months since mid-2006 I’ve read a great deal about the guy, his life, and his actual legislative record, both in the Illinois Senate and in Washington. And on balance I’m impressed. Not transported. Not uncritical. But impressed.

Two posts from group blog Obsidian Wings make the case on an issue-by-issue basis as well as I could:

Katherine, Maybe We Can
Hilzoy, Actually, I Think We Can
I have a couple of caveats to add. I know perfectly well that Obama, for all his idealism, is well inside the “centrist” consensus on how America ought to conduct itself in the world. He was against the Iraq war from the start, and that means a lot to me, but he’s also not someone who’s going to make the kinds of radical changes to American foreign policy that I would make on Day One if I were in charge. He’s not an insurgent; he’s the standardbearer for a faction of the country’s political elite. I believe that, on balance, this particular faction happens to comprise many of the the smartest and most conscientious individuals from within that elite. So I’m supporting Obama and his train, people like Samantha Power and Robert Malley and Lawrence Lessig, just as a peasant might cheer for an aristocratic faction made up of reasonably decent individuals against other factions made up of out-and-out thugs. Not because the peasant doesn’t know the game is rigged, or doesn’t have the wit to imagine a better world. But because incremental change matters, and because the right incremental changes can lead, like water flowing downhill, to bigger and more profound ones.

Also, while I am a radical in analysis, I am an incrementalist in practice, because life is short.

And all that said, I don’t loathe Hillary Clinton. I’ll support her against any of the Republican candidates, certainly against John McCain, a man whose basic foreign policy position is War With Everyone, Forever. And I think if she’s the nominee, she can beat McCain. I have a lot of reservations about some of the people she’s liable to bring in her wake, and the thought of a “Clinton Restoration” makes me tired. But the particular variety of frothing hostility she inspires in a lot of people makes me more inclined to support her, rather than less. And if she should become the nominee, two words will constantly remind me why I should get off my ass and vote for her: “Supreme” and “Court.”

But I think Obama can do more than beat McCain. I think he can beat McCain and sweep more Democrats, and more progressive Democrats, into power with him. I think it’s no accident that he’s been endorsed by so many elected Democrats in red states like Kansas, Arizona, and North Dakota. It’s not because he’s secretly a conservative, it’s because they know they’ll do better with him on top of the ticket.

I’m for Obama knowing perfectly well that, as Bill Clinton suggested, it’s a “roll of the dice”. A roll of the dice for Democrats, for progressives, for those of us who’ve fought so hard against the right-wing frames that Obama sometimes (sometimes craftily, sometimes naively) deploys. Because I think a Hillary Clinton candidacy will be another game of inches, yielding—at best—another four or eight years of knifework in the dark. Because I think an Obama candidacy might actually shake up the whole gameboard, energize good people, create room and space for real change.

Because he seems to know something extraordinarily important, something so frequently missing from progressive politics in this country, in this time: how to hearten people. Because when I watch him speak, I see fearful people becoming brave.

That’s not enough. But it’s something. It’s a real something. It’s a start.

February 04, 2008
Super-Duper Tuesday
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 03:35 PM *

Tomorrow we’re going to have primaries in a whole buncha* states.

From CNN:

GOP contenders make final pushes

Republican front-runner John McCain is hoping to maintain his strong momentum going into Super Tuesday, while rival Mitt Romney is telling voters in his final push that he is the conservative alternative to McCain.

GOP Front-runner by a great big five delegates, that is.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the street:

Democrats in dead heat going into Super Tuesday

With a new poll showing their race to be in a virtual dead heat nationally, the Democratic presidential candidates are making their final pitches Monday to voters in nearly two dozen states before Super Tuesday.

If you ignore the fact that different states have different numbers of delegates, so a win in California (370 delegates† possible) isn’t equal to a win in Utah (23 delegates† possible). The race so far isn’t a dead heat either: Clinton is either up 232-158 (if you count the superdelegates who can in fact vote for anyone they jolly please), or down 48-63 (if you only count the pledged delegates).

Of course, the states with later primaries will act as spoilers. There’s been a real trend for the ones batting cleanup to vote for the underdog (or against the front-runner).

Brokered conventions, anyone?


* 24 states, to be precise. For the Republicans it’s 15 primaries, 6 caucuses, 1,020 delegates. For the Democrats it’s 16 primaries, 7 caucuses, 1,681 delegates.
† Not counting superdelegates

February 03, 2008
Mooninites Terrorize New Mexico; Boston Surrenders
Posted by Patrick at 12:15 PM *

(Photo by M. J. Locke.)

Yes, I’m in northern NM for a few days, being duly enchanted in the Land of Enchantment by, among other things, the tram ride up Sandia Peak at sunset, Steve and Laura’s small but perfectly-formed Asus EEEs, green chiles on everything, Petroglyph National Monument, the impressive crowd at the Wild Cards signing at Page One, and the stunning dawn view of the Galisteo Basin out the front door of Melinda Snodgrass’s guest house. Back in NYC on Wednesday.

Birth announcement
Posted by Patrick at 08:45 AM *

Welcome to the world, Poesy Emmeline Fibonacci Nautilus Taylor Doctorow.

Holy moley, if my middle names included “Fibonacci Nautilus,” I think I’d have the power to transmute metal and fight crime.

February 02, 2008
Digression removed from a moderator’s comment
Posted by Teresa at 12:31 PM *

(Digression)

In my opinion, a perfect user interface would automatically register the use of words and phrases like:

so-called “[whatever]” or “[verbs]” so-called [whatever].
you people
groupthink
I know this will be an unpopular opinion, but I call ‘em as I see ‘em
I just felt like I had to say it.
LOL *ssh*l*s LOL!
I’m just saying what everyone really thinks
I came here expecting a civil and thoughtful exchange …
gee, did I hit a nerve?
I have better things to do with my time, so I will make this my last post.
It would also flag the combined use of the words censorship, hypocrite/hypocrisy, and ad hominem in a single comment.

When this feature is triggered, a dialogue box pops up that says “Warning! There’s a good chance that you’re about to say something stupid. Please reconsider your remarks before posting them.”

(End of digression.)

It’s morning at Social Graph Foo Camp. I’m sitting across a table from Christy Canida of Instructables as we both do our morning moderation runs. She’s having a less irritating time of it than I am.

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.