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July 31, 2008
Card Tricks
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 08:29 AM * 53 comments

Did someone tell you that the way to be popular is to learn politics and join parties? No! The way to be popular is to learn parlor tricks and go to parties!

I’ve always preferred sleight-of-hand with common objects. That way you’re not caught out if you’re somewhere without your Special deck of cards or your Special coin. And there’s nothing for anyone to find on examination of your props.

Your self-working (“Requires no skill!”) card tricks can get tedious after a while. “Count the deck into three piles. Great! Now count it into three piles again!” Requires no skill? Making that entertaining requires a ton of skill.

Here’s a really good manipulator doing a nice trick: Four Twos

Spoiler alert: How it’s done. Four Twos Revealed. Notice that even knowing how it’s done doesn’t remove the entertainment value of that particular effect. Heck, everyone knows how jugglers do it, but folks still turn out to watch jugglers.

How to do another card trick. And another.

Y’see? Sleight of hand isn’t all that tough. (Except when it is.) Like playing the piano isn’t all that tough. (Except when it’s Rachmaninoff.)

If you want to learn card magic, there are far worse places to start that with Jean Hugard. (Oh—and if you’re serious about it, get the video demonstration too. Some of the moves are hard to describe but easy to show.)


While I’ve got you here: Spoon bending by sleight of hand.

Coin magic: The best book is Bobo’s Modern Coin Magic.

July 30, 2008
“In the groove with Harold Wilson, violin.”
Posted by Patrick at 11:19 PM * 18 comments

Like a real-life line from “The Intro and the Outro,” it’s Jimmy Carter on harmonica. (Joining Willie Nelson in a performance of, naturally, “Georgia On My Mind.”)

How to run a revolution, in five easy steps
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 12:10 PM * 170 comments

My friend Emma Jane Hogbin has been building a plan to dominate the world (as soon as she finishes her latest knitting project). And like anyone with really well organized global domination plans, she has a slide pack and google video.

I finally sat down and watched them the other day. I mean, she’s my friend and future overlord, so it was of interest. She’s got a lot of thought-provoking material about how to take over the world with free and open source software (her aim), and how to get women more involved in its development and use (in furtherance of said domination). I gather that this latter subject is being heavily discussed on the linux community right at the moment (even in blog posts that reference us too, because it’s a small internet).

The last section of her talk, though, struck me for its general applicability. The five steps she describes can change the world, in whatever direction. (Note that the headers are hers, but the riffs on them are mine.)

1. Live in the future
As Alasdair Gray said, “Work as if you lived in the early days of a better nation.” Demonstrate how livable in the future you want to build is by doing it. This also means, of course, that you’re already walking the walk, and that makes the talk so much more believable.
2. Do one thing different
There is an old saying that a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. Don’t worry about the whole journey; just take that step. The second one will be easier, because you have momentum.
3. Ask for help
Lone heroes and villains are for comic books. You change the world by getting other people involved, so your effort grows from insanity and love, through organization and into movement.
4. Empower people [to make mistakes]
People learn more by the mistakes they make, and recover from, then by the ones they don’t make. Besides, if other people are allowed to screw up without fanfare, then you get to do so as well. And that’s always useful.
5. Clearly transfer authority
This, as phrased, is specific to the movements that enable previously powerless groups. At a certain point, you have to let the local security forces take over, or let women make childbirth choices you wouldn’t, or watch the students exceed the master.
More generally, you have to pick the time when your effort is no longer needed, and bow out gracefully then.

(Please note that if this thread turns into another pointless brangle, I am going to crossbreed it with the previous one and require all posts on the contentious subject to be in verse. Or something equally evil and oppressive.)

July 29, 2008
am-phi-brach (n) + am-phi-brach (n) + i-amb (n)
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 12:01 PM *

A dictionary written in verse
Is not new, but quite the reverse
(I once had a tome
in the language of Rome
For Hebrew, but sadly quite terse.)

But now through the marvelous net
I’ve found a better one yet:
It uses the forms
And plays with the norms
Of limericks for each word you get.

Impressively, everything on it
Is reviewed, and scans, or is gone. It
Makes me wonder, is there
A website out there
Doing much of the same for the sonnet?

July 26, 2008
P - A - R - T - Y? ‘Cause I gotta
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 05:32 AM *

Kathryn, Serge, and sundry other lights of the firmament have arranged a Making Light party at Denvention!

Entire post has been rewritten to erase the historical record be less confusing:

- o0o -

We will will have dinosaurs: perhaps even shiny dinosaurs. We will have numinous luminous Fluorospherians. Eating light? Certainly. Eating chocolate? of course. Special appearance by Abi, through the magic of nets.

If you’re going to Denvention and think you might be dropping by that Friday evening, please leave a note here on Serge’s LJ (you can comment w/out a LJ account), so that neither too much or too little mammoth is ordered. You can also email Kathryn directly.

Details:
  • Friday the 8th,
  • Starting about 9:30pm—but the real-true start will be when the masquerade is done: many MLers will be in the audience or on stage (and that’s a priority and a must-see, especially if you haven’t been to a Worldcon masquerade before),
  • ending when it ends—maybe a bit earlier than that, we’ll see.
  • in the party hotel, #7 on the map. That’s 3 1/2 blocks from the C.C.= where the Masquerade will be held—in a 5000 seat auditorium—so everyone can go and see the Masquerade.
  • Room number to be found from Thursday afternoon under the name of Sanders Tim Walters on the voodoo/message board (near registration).
  • There will also be freestyle Rochambeau; see Kathryn’s comment 219 for details.

Is the party open or closed? The final answer is yes. Arrivals will be politely asked if they have RSVP’d to keep the random wanderers down.

Other Worldcon announcements of interest to the gathered community:

Bright yellow “Fluorosphere” Buttons made by Lee (Thank You!) will be at the Starcat Designs table, next to Instant Attitudes, in the Dealers’ Room. They have “Fluorosphere” and a lightbulb, and room to write your name.

If this is your first WorldCon, This guide, by Teresa, is good reading material. If you’re hosting or co-hosting at party, then How to throw a large room party at a science fiction convention (Also by TNH) will help you keep your sanity.

If you’re stuck for something to do before the party, Susan may still need more people for the Masquerade. Kathryn was going to do it, but the dilithium crystals in her cloning machine have cracked, and all it can produce are 3 inch high green copies. You must be able to walk and wear black at the same time. Contact Susan (email address available from her view all by in the usual fashion) for more details. Or sign up on Serge’s LJ thread.

Note that the party is designed to start after the Masquerade. You can do both for extra fun bonus points, which can be traded in for mammoths and dinosaurs. Sodomy not included.

Kathryn’s Twitter feed is available as kathrynsun, for additional entertaining and useful information.

July 25, 2008
“And lightly drizzled with a glistening varnish of epic fail.”
Posted by Patrick at 08:29 PM *

John Scalzi on much the same issues as Our Jim.

I want a T-shirt reading “Editing! Gerunds! Death!”

Time Notices Comments
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 03:47 PM *

Time magazine has noticed that comment threads exist.

The article is called Post Apocalypse (heh-heh, get it?) and it starts like this:

Last month a woman who worked for the Stranger, an alternative weekly in Seattle, quit in a huff. She had been writing for the paper’s blog, the Slog. The problem was the comments people were making on her posts. She couldn’t stand them anymore. “The word I would use is cruel,” she wrote in her sign-off.

Actually, if cruel was all they were, she got off pretty easy. …

In theory, it’s a great thing. We’re giving the people a voice! But the reality is that commenting either attracts loathsome people or somehow causes ordinary people to express themselves in a way that is loathsome.

The solution to the problem isn’t given in the article, or even suggested. The solution is strong moderation. If the Slog had had a moderator (Yog and his minions, for example), the Stranger lady wouldn’t have been driven out.

Here’s what moderators need to know:

a) Sure, there’s freedom of speech. Anyone who wants it can go start their own blog. On Yog’s board, Yog’s whim is law.
b) Yog is an ancient ghod of chaos and evil. And he doesn’t like people very much.
c) Moderation is a subjective art, and the moderator is always right.
d) The moderator may have minions. They need to have a private area where they keep the buckets of Thorazine and the cold-frosty bottles of cow snot.
e) The minions speak with the voice of Yog. Yog backs his minions up.
f) There is always someone awake, and in charge, when Yog isn’t around in person. The minions know who the Duty Yog is.
g) If someone starts off as a spammer, troll, or flamer, he is a spammer, troll, or flamer forever and is liable to instant deletion/banning with no recourse and no appeal.
h) If the moderator ever needs inspiration, he can re-read Jonathan Edwards’ Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God and recall that the posters are sinners and he is Ghod.
i) Rules? In a knife fight? Yog and his minions have standards, but they don’t need to tell the posters, lest some of them attempt to game the system. Attempting to game the system is, all on its own, a deletable offense.
j) ALL CAPS posts are deleted on sight, unread. Mostly ALL CAPS POSTS are ALL CAPS.
k) Anyone who doesn’t space after punctuation marks is insane, and can be deleted/banned on sight.
l) Personal attacks against Yog and his minions are ignored. Personal attacks against anyone else are deletable on sight.

UCVH Seeks COO
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 02:51 PM * 33 comments

Upper Connecticut Valley Hospital (UCVH) in Colebrook, New Hampshire, is looking for a Chief Operating Officer.

The hospital services an 850-square-mile area spread over three states, with a population of around 8,500 people. The right person will have management experience in a Critical Access Hospital (CAH).

Pluses:

  • Located in a scenic/recreational area—people pay thousands of dollars and travel thousands of miles to visit.
  • Small-town casual and friendly.
  • Outstanding winter sports.
  • No state income tax.
  • No sales tax.
  • Low cost-of-living.
  • Two hours to Montreal.
  • Really, really nice hospital. I hope we can get some testimonials from folks who’ve been there.

Minuses:

  • Rural location — thirty-five miles to the nearest McDonald’s, fifty-five miles to the nearest stop light.
  • Two-lane blacktop with moose.
  • Brutal winters.

If you’re interested, or know someone who might be, contact Louise A. McCleery (Louise.A.McCleery@hitchcock.org), CEO.

181 Corliss Lane
Colebrook, New Hampshire 03576
(603) 237-4971 Phone
(603) 237-4452 Fax

This job is open right now.

July 23, 2008
Open thread 112
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 04:50 PM *

112 is the Europe-wide emergency telephone number, supplanting or supplementing (in the case of the UK, which still uses 999 as well) earlier emergency numbers. It is also the worldwide emergency number from GSM mobile phones, redirecting to the local emergency number depending on location.

(Of course, there may be other problems once you reach the emergency services number, but that is out of the scope of this discussion.)

Universal public emergency services of are surprisingly recent in the history of urban living. According to Wikipedia, the first organized municipal fire brigade was established in Edinburgh in 1824. Sir Robert Peel is credited with establishing the Metropolitan Police in London in 1829. And although the history of the ambulance is much more gradual, civilian emergency medicine and transport seems to have been an innovation of the 1800’s.

Regular readers of this blog are of course aware that Jim Macdonald is an emergency medical technician. I, for one, would like to take this numerically convenient moment to thank him for what he does in that role, both online and in the all too real world. Jim, you rock.

It’s also appropriate to remind everyone reading this that the emergency number, and the services it reaches, are there for a reason. Call them at need, and let the vehicles by if someone else has done so.

July 21, 2008
The Internet, finder of lost things
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 04:05 PM *

Remember when, if you needed to remember the date of the Treaty of Westphalia1 or the members of the First Triumvirate2, you had to go find a book with the information and look it up? Remember when every true fact, and a heck of a lot of false ones, were more than a click away?

Remember trying to explain Schoolhouse Rock, or Tom Lehrer, or Bagpuss, without recourse to examples?

Remember when, if you lost track of something like this, you knew you would never find it again without the most extraordinary luck?

I think I just found another piece of my sensawunda as well. How about you? What have you found lately?


  1. October 24, 1648
  2. Pompey, Caesar and Crassus

July 20, 2008
Tor.com
Posted by Patrick at 12:00 PM * 84 comments

As discussed four months ago on Making Light—Tor.com is public. Join us.

July 18, 2008
The “aye” in God’s mote
Posted by Avram Grumer at 01:05 AM * 122 comments

I’ve been thinking about the paradox of the stone. You know, Could God make a rock so big he couldn’t lift it?

(This is the ANSI-standard Abrahamic monodeity I’m talking about here. One of the ones I don’t believe in. Advertised as “omnipotent” on the label.)

CS Lewis’s take on it was that it’s a nonsense question, which I suppose is what you get when you ask a technical question of a non-technical person. I mean, it’s not obviously nonsense. If you swap a person in for God — Can a person make a rock so big that he himself can’t lift it? — the answer becomes obvious: Yes, of course. Sedimentary rock would probably be the easiest. Blackboard chalk is made of artificially compressed gypsum powder; it shouldn’t be impossible for a person of typical strength to make a huge chunk of it, too big for a person of typical strength to lift. The question is well-formed, except for the word “God”, which isn’t well defined.

(People trying to resolve this paradox have come up with various different definitions for the word “omnipotent”. Aquinas seems to have thought that God can do anything logically possible, while Descartes figured that God transcended the merely possible. It’s pretty tough to talk rationally about Descartes’s version of God, so I’m going with the Aquinas model.)

Looked at from a mathematical angle, this seems like it might be another example from the family of paradoxes related to Kurt Gödel’s incompleteness theorems. The key terms in the paradox are never formally defined, which keeps us from being certain that the question is an example of Gödel-type incompleteness. Still, it shares the most obvious family traits: It’s got an element of self-reference (God’s power is being asked to act on God’s power), and negation (we’re speculating about God’s inability to lift the stone — to keep himself from being able to do something).

(Areas for further speculation: For Christians, could Jesus’s dual nature as wholly man and wholly God be described as a reconciliation of the use-mention distinction? For Jews, if the Torah is the blueprint used to create the universe, then the universe contains its own formal description, and must therefore also be subject to Gödel-type incompleteness.)

But if we move from mathematics to the realm of physics, the question actually becomes answerable, although we’ll have to change it slightly. What does the word lift mean? To raise something from a lower to a higher position, to move it away from the local center of gravity. And since the Abrahamic God has the power to create universes to spec, there’s our answer: God can create a universe in which there’s no force of gravity. No gravity, no lifting, by definition, though the size of the rock is irrelevant.

There’s a problem with this solution, though. A universe without gravity would be very different from our own universe. It’s possible that the laws of physics would be such that no substance we’d recognize as rock would be possible. So let’s assume a universe with the same physics as ours, but only one material object — the rock. As the only piece of matter in this universe, the center of gravity of the rock would always be the lowest point in the universe, no matter how it was moved. The rock would therefore be unliftable.

There still remains a quibble: What if God breaks the rock? That would make the smaller pieces of rock liftable, and open my solution up to all sorts of arguments about whether a piece of the rock constitutes the original rock. So, another change. Let’s assume that God makes a universe empty of matter except for the smallest piece of matter that could be considered a rock. There we have it! This tiny speck of rock would be, by definition, unliftable, even by an omnipotent (in Aquinas’s sense) deity, though this unliftability is not a property of the rock’s bigness, but its smallness. Yes, God can create a rock that he himself cannot lift.

July 16, 2008
Trinity
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 06:31 PM * 160 comments

The sixteenth of July, 1945, fell on a Monday.

That was sixty-three years ago today. And sixty-three years ago today, with the Trinity test at Alamogordo, New Mexico, the nuclear age began.

Alamogordo means “Fat Cottonwood” in Spanish. (See also: Los Alamos, the Alamo.) The place lies along the Jornada del Muerto (the Trail of the Dead—so called because it runs 100 miles without any available water). It was chosen for its remoteness, so that a nuclear weapon of unknown strength (Enrico Fermi was taking bets on whether it would set the atmosphere on fire) could be detonated without attracting attention.

It was observed anyway, but quickly explained away.

The Socorro Chieftain:

An explosives magazine at the Alamogordo air base blew up on Monday morning, and the flash, sound and shock was seen, heard and felt in Socorro, more than 100 miles away….

The explosion, as we now know, created a nest of giant ants that terrorized Los Angeles, a giant octopus that terrorized San Francisco, and a giant lizard that destroyed most of metropolitan Tokyo. A giant tarantula had also been reported although, like the initial bomb blast, the government has denied its existence.

Trauma and You: Final Exam Pt. Two
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 05:39 PM * 45 comments

Teresa, don’t look.

A more complex scene: Car crash. (Another copy here.)

What the video shows:

The scene is at the corner of West Third and Edwin C. Moses in Dayton, OH. 23 May 2004, 12:40 pm. A traffic camera looking at the intersection has the light red for the lanes entering from the bottom of the screen. One car is in the left-turn lane at a complete stop. Oncoming traffic, two lanes, is slowing to a stop. A pedestrian is in the intersection moving from bottom of screen toward the top, on the left side of the intersection, against a red Don’t Walk sign.

A PT Cruiser enters the intersection from the bottom of the screen against the light. The PT Cruiser strikes a Subaru SUV that has entered the intersection from the right, hitting it about level with the driver’s door. The PT Cruiser rotates around its vertical axis and comes to a stop. The Subaru rolls over twice, coming to rest on its roof. The Subaru rolls over the pedestrian.

You’re a witness to this collision. Okay, what do you do?

Discussion below the cut.

Trauma and You: Final Exam Pt. One
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 05:38 PM * 68 comments

Teresa, don’t look.

A simple scene. Skateboard accident.

What the video shows: A skateboarder tries to do a trick and fails. He falls, catching himself with his hand. His left forearm shows obvious deformity and he is in pain. No bleeding.

You are a witness to this event. Okay, what do you do?

Discussion below the cut.

July 15, 2008
Chimay Ale
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 12:06 PM * 170 comments

This stuff showed up recently in my local grocery store.

By golly, it’s good. Brewed by the Trappist monks in Belgium. It tastes much like drinking a loaf of bread.

Welcome to the source of the Trappist beers and cheeses of Chimay.

Here, in this heaven of peace and silence where since 1850 Trappist monks have dedicated their life to God, products are made which, in themselves, gladden the heart of man.

Red label, cork with a wire basket, 1 Pint 9.4 fluid ounces (75 centiliters). 7% alcohol. Definitely know you’ve been drinking something with this stuff. Gladden the heart of man? You betcha!

Why no, it is definitely not too early in the day to be drinking beer! It’s summer!

(Official Trauma-and-You note: Beer and power tools (much like beer and off-highway recreational vehicles, beer and firearms, and beer and sub-zero temperatures) do not mix.)

July 12, 2008
Trauma and You, Part Four: The Squishy Bits
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 03:11 PM * 128 comments

Soft-tissue injuries can be dramatic and grotesque. For this reason, even injuries that aren’t life-threating in themselves can prove deadly by distracting rescuers from the actual life-threatening injuries, particularly airway and breathing problems.

Continued below the (so-to-speak) cut.

July 11, 2008
“In America, they bring only a penny”
Posted by Avram Grumer at 11:17 PM *

Perhaps you have already observed that in the White House, human life is cheap. The EPA has reduced the value of human life, from $7.8 million five years ago to a mere $6.9 million today. MSNBC explains:

When drawing up regulations, government agencies put a value on human life and then weigh the costs versus the lifesaving benefits of a proposed rule. The less a life is worth to the government, the less the need for a regulation, such as tighter restrictions on pollution.

If you take the devaluation of the dollar into account, the value of a human life in euros has dropped from €7 million in 2003 to a mere €4.3 million now. So if any of our European readers have been thinking of putting hits out on Americans, you ought to be able to get a good deal.

In barrels of oil, the value of a life has plummeted from 312 thousand to 49 thousand barrels! Iraq is estimated to hold around 112 billion barrels of oil, which means that in 2003, at the time of the US invasion, Iraq’s oil reserves were worth about 360 thousand American lives, while they’re now worth about two million. We’ve actually only spent a bit over three thousand American lives there so far. What a bargain! No wonder Republicans want to stay the course!

July 10, 2008
Back on the Table
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 02:47 PM * 250 comments

Remember when Nancy Pelosi said that impeachment was “off the table”? Well lookee here:

CBS News is reporting…

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said this morning that the House Judiciary Committee may hold hearings on an impeachment resolution offered by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio). Kucinich is expected to offer a “privileged resolution” this afternoon calling on the House to look at whether President Bush should be removed from office for lying to Congress and the American public when he sought congressional approval back in 2002 for taking military action to invade Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein.

See also:

Darn, these gnats are hard to swallow. Please pass the camels.
Posted by Patrick at 12:32 AM *

Speaking as an editor, if I ever reject a submission by means of a spluttering fulmination about the depravity of the Belgians, the imminent need to combat fluoridation, and my belief that ancient astronauts built the Pyramids, I will not be amazed if my letter winds up being shared with other writers. Or, even, reproduced on somebody’s blog.

Yes, despite the fact that the contents of such a letter would be covered by my copyright. The plain fact is that rejection letters are business communications, and there are many valid reasons for people to discuss and compare notes on communications from enterprises with whom they may wind up doing business. Without a commonsensical recognition of this fact, worthwhile consumer-rights activism such as that practiced by, for instance, this blog would be impossible. Yes, occasionally, enterprises attempt to use copyright law as a stick with which to suppress discussion of their actions. We tend to refer to such enterprises as “thugs.” It’s startling to see that for some senior people in the SF field, explaining that a letter-writer holds copyright in their missive takes priority over noting that a belief that ancient astronauts built the pyramids is crazy. And depraved. And stupid.

July 09, 2008
Today’s Captain Renault Award
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 09:32 PM *

… goes to Attorney General Michael Mukasey:.

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Michael Mukasey on Wednesday dismissed allegations of widespread politicization within the Justice Department, saying he hadn’t seen evidence of it since he took office eight months ago.

Add the entire Justice Department to the list of totally corrupt federal agencies that will have to be rebuilt from the ground up if we ever get an honorable president and a congress with a spine.

And add Mukasey to the list of federal officials who should face criminal charges.

Who won in New Hampshire?
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 10:21 AM *

Belatedly I look at some of the results from the New Hampshire Recount. While the data is available on the Secretary of State’s web page I don’t know as anybody has added up the numbers and published them.

The Democratic recount ran out of money, so we don’t have a 100% count. But the Republican recount (financed by the Ron Paul campaign) chugged on to the end.

The complete results don’t just show the major Republican candidates: they show everyone. Including the Democrats who got write-ins on the Republican ballots. I’m going to presume, here, that Independents who wanted to vote for a Democrat would have picked up a Democratic ballot, so these votes for Democrats are coming from registered Republicans.

In the following list Democrats are in boldface. “Others” is the group list of folks who hadn’t registered as running for president (e.g. Mickey Mouse).

All of the Democrats on this list were write ins on Republican ballots.

  • McCain 88,713
  • Romney 75,675
  • Huckabee 26,916
  • Giuliani 20,344
  • Paul 18,346
  • Thompson 2,956
  • Obama 1,996
  • Clinton 1,828
  • Duncan Hunter 1,192
  • Edwards 747
  • Richardson 210

The Crazification Line. Everyone who cast ballots for Republicans below this line is “either genuinely crazy; or so woefully misinformed about how the world works, the basis for their decision making is so flawed they may as well be crazy.”
  • Keyes 205
  • Marchuk 127
  • Others 94
  • Tancredo 63
  • O’Connor 46
  • Howard 43
  • Supreme 43
  • Cox 39
  • Wuensche 36
  • Cort 35
  • Gilbert 35
  • Shepard 28
  • Mitchell, Jr. 26
  • Klein 16
  • Kucinich 15
  • Fendig, Jr. 13
  • Gravel 5
  • Biden 1
  • Caligiuri 0
  • Capalbo 0
  • Crow 0
  • Dodd 0
  • Hewes 0
  • Hughes 0
  • D.R. Hunter 0
  • Keefe 0
  • Killeen 0
  • Koos 0
  • LaMagna 0
  • Laughlin 0
  • Savior 0
  • Skok 0

So what does that mean? Not a lot. But in this snapshot it does show that in January 2008, in New Hampshire, Obama had a slight edge on Clinton among registered Republicans. McCain thinks New Hampshire is in play? Nope. Not a chance. And Senator Sununu is toast too.

(I report, with some joy, that in Belknap County Vermin Supreme beat Tom Tancredo.)

July 08, 2008
The Libertarian Party: racism for smart people
Posted by Patrick at 01:11 AM *

Thank you, Bob Barr, for reminding us that “libertarianism,” as espoused in America today, is fundamentally about hating black people, homosexuals, liberals, and the poor.

Up until this, I actually had kind things to say about Barr, based on the notion that he’d gone through some interesting changes since being a floor manager for the impeachment of Bill Clinton. Never mind that. I’m obviously a complete idiot.

July 07, 2008
Nothing Better Has Happened Since
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 09:31 PM * 99 comments

Today, July 7th, is the 80th anniversary of sliced bread.

The Chillicothe Baking Company of Chillicothe, Missouri, put pre-sliced bread on sale on the 7th of July, 1928. At the time they advertised it as being the best thing since wrapped bread.

“As one considers this new service one cannot help but be won over to a realization of the fact that here indeed is a type of service which is sound, sensible and in every way a progressive refinement in Bakers bread service.

“There is no crumbling and no crushing of the loaf and the result is such that the housewife can well experience a thrill of pleasure when she first sees a loaf of this bread with each slice the exact counterpart of its fellows.”

The Corner of 4th Ave and 9th Street
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 10:31 AM * 16 comments

Promoted from Sidelights:

Call for Entries:
Your bright ideas are needed to redesign the intersection of 9th Street and 4th Avenue in Brooklyn

“Designing the 21st Century Street” is an open design competition sponsored by Transportation Alternatives. We are looking for new conceptual and physical approaches to the planning of public streets by asking participants to redesign the intersection of 9th Street and 4th Avenue. The street will be re-imagined as a healthy, safe, and sustainable 21st Century street.

The top four photos on this page show more views of the intersection: A Walk Down 9th Street

Here’s the intersection at Google Maps.

The tall building slightly to left of center in the photo on the design-contest page is the Willie (the Williamsburg Savings Bank building).

Yet more photos from (at or near) that intersection.

I find this interesting in light of my recent post about cholera; the book I read went into great flights about the design of cities past and future.

Where’s Victor’s Manuscript?
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 09:36 AM *

Victor L. Martin, a prisoner in Elizabeth City, NC, has had his latest manuscript, 310 pages, confiscated, for “prison safety.”

Martin’s problem is that he’s managed to get published, and prison rules say prisoners can’t run a business from inside prison (because if they make money they aren’t safe). There’s an assumption there that all prisoners must be destitute that probably doesn’t bear looking at.

Meanwhile, from the News & Observer:

Victor Martin has been writing since he was a child, but he didn’t realize it could be a career until he became a convict.

A few years ago, Martin became a published author, writing four novels while lying in his bunk in a state prison in Elizabeth City. His books, which feature a high-rolling criminal named Unique, have a following among readers of what is known as “urban fiction,” a popular literary genre characterized by explicit tales of inner-city crime life. Martin’s books are available on barnesandnoble.com.

But Martin says prison officials are shutting him down, saying his novels violate a policy that bars inmates from conducting business behind bars.

Martin, a 32-year-old habitual felon with several theft-related convictions, says the policy violates his right to free speech. Martin’s attorneys are challenging the policy, which they say prison officials have used to confiscate Martin’s manuscripts and discipline him for writing.

He’s being published by a very small publisher. His publisher says that writers play a very small part in the business of publishing (and boy-howdy does she speak true). She says that so far he hasn’t made any money. (That’s very likely true too.) This isn’t a publisher that pays advances, either. (Here are their guidelines.)

The story continues:

Attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina have sent a letter to officials with the state Department of Correction asking about the whereabouts of a 310-page manuscript that they say was confiscated.

“There is no evidence that his writing is posing a danger,” said Katherine Lewis Parker, legal director with the ACLU’s North Carolina branch.

I can’t imagine any more crushing punishment for a writer than confiscating his manuscript.

There’s quite a bit more; please go read the full story.

Here are Mr. Martin’s four novels:

If the state of North Carolina has its way, no one will be able to read the sequel until Martin gets out in 2021.

July 06, 2008
The modern office: technological boneyard and slough of despond
Posted by Patrick at 10:03 PM * 70 comments

Ars Technica’s Jon Stokes on “IT Consumerization and the Future of Work”:

[T]he cheap, ubiquitous transistors provided by Moore’s Curves have completely changed the sites—and by this I mean the actual physical spaces—in which we develop our sensibilities and expectations about what technology can and should do, as well as how it should behave. The end result is that the office has gone from being the place where you spend time with cutting-edge technology, to a technological boneyard where you’re perpetually trapped about three years in the past. Meanwhile, the new tech Meccas are retail spaces like Best Buy and the Apple Store, where you go to run your fingers over the future, and maybe take a piece of it home with you. The end result is that consumers bring to the office the expectations that they’ve developed through their interaction with consumer hardware, and in most cases those expectations are frustrated by the reality of corporate IT.

This phenomenon is also at work on the network, where users develop their sense of how networked apps (messaging, collaboration, and archival) should look and function through daily contact with the lively ecosystem of consumer-driven Web 2.0 applications. Next to something like Facebook or Google Maps, most corporate intranets have an almost Soviet-like air of decrepit futility, like they’re someone’s lame attempt to imitate for a captive audience what’s available on the open market.

Stokes isn’t dismissing corporate IT departments’ reasons for handling things as they do, so those of you who spend your days trying to keep your incorrigible users from downloading network-trashing viruses from AOL Instant Messenger can lean back from the let-me-tell-you comment you were probably about to post. He is, however, observing that as virtualization becomes easier and easier, and the attractions of “cloud computing” more substantial, more and more business users are going to demand that their IT departments allow them greater individual discretion over their work-related technology than they’ve enjoyed in the past. In an increasing number of fields, not just the tech sector, IT flexibility will be a significant recruiting factor. Certainly companies that enjoin their employees to master the Internet and develop forward-looking business models while simultaneously chaining those same users to locked-down computers and noisome net-nanny programs are going to find themselves falling behind in the struggle for talent and innovation. This is obvious from the trenches; it will be interesting to see which companies, particularly which media companies, come to find it obvious from the executive suite.

Thomas M. Disch, 1940-2008
Posted by Patrick at 04:37 PM * 114 comments

Ellen Datlow writes:

I’ve just found out that Tom Disch committed suicide in his apartment on July 4th. He was found by a friend who lives a few blocks away.

I’m shocked, saddened, but not very surprised. Tom had been depressed for several years and was especially hit by the death of his longtime partner Charles Naylor. He also was very worried about being evicted from the rent controlled apartment he lived in for decades.

Scott Edelman quotes John Clute’s entry on Disch in the Science Fiction Encyclopedia:
Because of his intellectual audacity, the chillingly distant mannerism of his narrative art, the austerity of the pleasures he affords, and the fine cruelty of his wit, Thomas M. Disch has been perhaps the most respected, least trusted, most envied and least read of all modern first-rank SF writers.
I certainly read him; his SF novels of the 1960s and 70s, particularly Camp Concentration and 334, had an enormous impact on me. But “least read” may be true: according to publishing legend, his SF masterpiece On Wings of Song had a 90% return rate in its 1980 Bantam paperback edition. Despite that, he went on to hit bestseller lists with his 1991 horror novel The M.D. Just as unexpectedly, his children’s book The Brave Little Toaster was adapted into a popular Disney cartoon.

He could be hard to take, both in person and in his public interactions with the SF world. He played the game of literary politics hard, and sometimes lost badly. He frequently seemed to have no patience for his allies, much less his enemies. Of his other career, as noted poet Tom Disch, I can’t say much, except that to my mind the poetry was often good. In his later years he wrote a blog; after he began to post frequently on the depravity of Muslims and immigrants, I became unable to keep reading it.

The Disch I prefer to remember was no nicer than that, but much smarter: a brittle and brilliant ironist with a bright wit and no optimism whatsoever. Here are the concluding lines of his 1965 SF novel The Genocides, a book wedged forever up the nose of overweening skiffy can-do-ism:

Nature is prodigal. Of a hundred seedlings only one or two would survive; of a hundred species, only one or two.

Not, however, man.

Clarion West, crisis and response
Posted by Patrick at 12:23 PM *

Tor employee and Clarion West attendee Theresa Delucci phoned me with this the night before last: the news, now spread all over the skiffy blogosphere, that someone had burglarized the student residence and stolen four of the students’ laptops, among other essential workshop supplies, and that Clarion West management was appealing for donations to quickly get the affected students back up and running.

I’ve taught Clarion West a couple of times; it’s a great workshop. Six weeks of SF-writer boot camp in the heart of Seattle’s University district. And it’s tightly scheduled; you don’t want anyone to lose even two or three days of writing time. Of course, I promised to publicize the appeal on Making Light.

Which I then promptly failed to do, first because I made a stupid error that caused me to have to spend several hours on Saturday rebuilding our household network, and subsequently because of a prior social engagement. Now it’s Sunday morning and due to the quick work of bloggers a lot more together than me, and the generosity of a whole bunch of helpful people, all the stolen equipment has been replaced. Go, skiffy blogosphere! I suck, but yay us anyway.

July 05, 2008
Cold beef salad with preserved lemons and fresh basil
Posted by Teresa at 05:13 PM *

Here’s the setup: While working too fast in the kitchen late last night, put the plastic bag full of little individually-wrapped frozen beef tenderloins on top of the refrigerator. Forget it’s there. Find it this morning, still chilly but definitely defrosted. Cook all the tenderloins before making breakfast. Around lunchtime, contemplate the stack of cold cooked beef in the refrigerator.

5 cold cooked beef tenderloins, about 0.75” thick
1 entire package of mixed yuppie salad greens
a nearly equal quantity of small fresh spinach leaves
a good handful of fresh basil leaves
7 medium tomatoes
6 fat stalks of green onion, chopped
8-9 of those mutant dwarf sweet bell peppers
2/3 C. sun-dried tomatoes snipped into little bits
4 small salty French preserved lemons
olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper

Slice tenderloins in half along their horizontal axis, then cube the resulting half-thickness pieces. Put them in a bowl. Seed your lemons and chop them fine. Chop or snip your sun-dried tomatoes into bits. Snip the fresh basil into thin bits. Put the chopped lemon, sun-dried tomatoes, and basil bits in with the beef, and toss gently. Stet.

Wash your greens, get the excess water off via your preferred method, and put them into a very large bowl. Chop the green onions. Cube the tomatoes. Cut up the mutant dwarf bell peppers. Toss them in with the greens. Snip some more basil leaves and toss those in too, if you feel like it.

Add the beef mixture to the main bowl and toss everything together gently. Dress it with a good olive oil (the cloudy greenish sorts work well with this) and some balsamic vinegar. Salt and pepper to taste. Eat happily.

Before I go any further: no, I have not become a spendthrift! The Fairway in Red Hook sells cut-price whole beef tenderloins. I de-sinew them (that’s the trickiest bit), slice them into individual servings, and wrap and freeze them myself. If they’re not the cheapest meat on the market, they’re also far from the most expensive.

The preserved lemons are from Fairway as well. They import them from France under their own “Campagne St Eugene” label. They’re small, salty, and intensely flavorful. The complete ingredients list is “lemons, water, salt, anti-oxidant F300, citric acid.” If you can’t get French lemons, use Moroccan preserved lemons instead.

I’m recording this one because it turns out there’s something alchemical about the combination of cold beef, preserved lemons, and fresh basil. It’s possible the alchemical effect depends on some of the other ingredients as well, but it’s the beef, lemon, and basil that rise up singing.

[Recipe Index]

One Simple Reason to Vote for Obama
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 04:57 PM *

The US Supreme Court:

  • John Roberts, age 55
  • John Paul Stevens, age 88
  • Antonin Scalia, age 72
  • Anthony Kennedy, age 71
  • David Souter, age 68
  • Clarence Thomas, age 60
  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg, age 75
  • Stephen Breyer, age 69
  • Samuel Alito, age 58

July 04, 2008
Hey, McCain and Obama!
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 12:35 PM * 301 comments

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

That’s the Fourth Amendment, complete.

What part are you having a hard time understanding? Listen, call me on the phone* and I’ll explain it to you.

—-

* That way the NSA can hear too.

July 03, 2008
Eat Shit and Die
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 12:07 AM * 156 comments

I don’t often read books twice in rapid succession. I just did that with The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic—and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson.

The epidemic, of course, is the cholera outbreak around Golden Square in Soho, 28 August— 6 September 1854. We’re talking about 700 dead in a five-block area over about a week’s time. Famously, this is the case where the board of governors removed the handle from the Broad Street Pump.

What makes that a turning point is that this is the first time an official body gave credence to the germ theory of disease. The accepted theory of disease at the time was miasma — that bad air caused disease, and the form in which the disease appeared depended on the moral quality and inner constitution of the victim.

The person who made the connection was a doctor named John Snow, one of the pioneers of early anesthesia, who lived in the neighborhood. He had been following cholera for some time, and had formulated an idea that it had something to do with the water rather than the air.

This is a discursive book. It starts with a description of the toshers, mud-larks, rag pickers, bone pickers, sewer hunters, pure finders, and nightsoil men who made up the garbage collection and recycling system of Victorian London. From there we go to a history of Soho, then the biology of cholera (a bacterium that in its normal course feeds on algae in the Ganges). We have touching and horrid scenes in this book: a man eating a cup of pudding and washing it down with a glass of water, not knowing that that simple act would feature in books over a century hence. Children dying alone in dark rooms beside the corpses of their parents. The streets blocked with hearses.

Cholera is a nasty disease. It’s roughly 50% fatal if untreated. The incubation period ranges from one to five days. Then the cholera patient can die in as little as two hours after the onset of symptoms, as up to 30% of the patient’s body mass is evacuated in the form of watery diarrhea. It’s transmitted by the fecal/oral route: you have to ingest an infected person’s shit, and London in the 1850s seemed to have been designed to get as much shit into as many mouths as possible.

The cure for cholera was within the reach of Victorian medicine, and had been described in a journal as early as 1832. But that cure had been drowned out by the claims of the patent medicines and the advice of theorists recommending anything from castor oil to opium to bleeding.

The cure for cholera is simply rehydration. The patient needs to drink water in sufficient quantity to stay alive long enough for his body’s immune system to get up to speed. Oral rehydration salts are good (the field-expedient mix is one teaspoon of salt plus eight teaspoons of sugar in one quart of water), but failing that, plain water works fine.

Back to the book: We meet eminent Victorians like William Farr who published the Weekly Returns, a list by parish and cause of all the deaths in London. Farr (like all other scientific men) was a miasmatist — he recorded atmospheric conditions and smells district by district)— but he provided the raw material for a statistical study of what was killing people and where. Statistics as a science had finally reached the point where it could reveal hidden truths.

Another eminent Victorian: Edwin Chadwick—

It is nearly impossible to overstate the impact that Edwin Chadwick’s life had on the modern conception of government’s proper role. From 1832, when he was first appointed to the Poor Law Commission, through his landmark 1842 study of sanitation among the laboring classes, through his tenure as commissioner of the sewers in the late 1840s, to his final run at the helm of the General Board of Health, Chadwick helped solidify, if not outright invent, and ensemble of categories that we now take for granted: that the state should directly engage in protecting the health and well-being of its citizens, particularly the poorest among them; that a centralized bureaucracy of experts can solve societal problems that free markets either exacerbate or ignore; that public-health issues often require massive state investment in infrastructure or prevention. For better or worse, Chadwick’s career can be seen as the very point of origin for the whole concept of “big government” as we know it today.

Alas, Chadwick was an ardent miasmatist (as were all learned men); he went to his grave (in 1890) still believing in miasma. And what he did to alleviate bad smells involved dumping London’s human waste upstream of London’s water supply.

When the Board of Health investigated the Golden Square cholera outbreak they examined in astounding detail:

Atmospheric pressure
Temperature of the Air
Temperature of the Thames Water
Humidity of the Air
Direction of the Wind
Force of the Wind
Velocity of the Air
Electricity
Ozone
Rain
Clouds
Comparison of the Meteorology of London, Worcester, Liverpool, Dunino, and Arbroath
Wind
Ozone [again]
Progress of the Cholera in the Metropolitan Districts in the Year 1853
Atmospheric Phenomena of the Year 1853
Atmospheric Phenomena in relation to Cholera in the Metropolitan Districts in the Year 1854

The data were all genuine, the math of the analysis was exhaustive and correct, and the results were utterly useless.

Snow presented his conclusions, that an unseen quality of the water from a single source caused the disease, and was dismissed. The earlier removal of the pump handle was the desperate act of a group that had run out of options — and indeed, had no effect. The number of new infections was already declining before the handle was removed, and the curve didn’t change afterward.

The Ghost Map of the title was a street map of the area around Golden Square that Snow created, showing where the deaths occurred, and bounded by a line showing where the Broad Street pump was closer by walking time than other pumps. The deaths occurred inside of that line, with odd lacunae, like the Lion Brewery (only a few yards from the pump) with no deaths at all. The men of the Lion Brewery, however, were partly paid in beer and no one could recall ever seeing any of them drink water.

Which is pretty much where things might have stayed, if not for Henry Whitehead, a young curate in St. Luke’s parish, where the outbreak had taken place. He set out to examine and disprove all of the theories on what caused cholera. One that he tried to disprove was Snow’s waterborne theory. On its face it seemed ridiculous: the water from the Broad Street pump was well-known locally to be good; cold and sweet-tasting. Whitehead himself had drunk water from the pump during the height of the outbreak. And he was aware of people who had survived the disease who had drunk literally gallons of Broad Street water in the course of their recovery.

(Johnson hypothesizes that the reason this worked was because the bacteria had already vanished from the water — cholera doesn’t last long in cold pure water lacking algae to feed on. I think that it doesn’t matter whether the cholera bacteria were present or not—what was going to happen to those folks if they drank contaminated water? They’d catch cholera?)

Try as Whitehead will, he cannot disprove the waterborne hypothesis. He disproves the others, one by one, until he has nothing else. And when you have eliminated the impossible, as Sherlock Holmes would later say, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. He champions the waterborne theory, and lives to see it become the accepted wisdom.

But that was long after Snow’s death in 1858. Four years after the outbreak at Golden Square the waterborne theory of cholera transmission still had not been accepted. Then, all at once, it was. And London got new sewers, and a new system of running water, and … there’s never again an outbreak of cholera in London.

Robert Koch would eventually find the cholera bacterium (thirty years later).

The last fifty pages of the book is an extrapolation to the Cities of the Future, and the earth as a world of cities. The author points out that the richest people on earth, who have the means to live anywhere they want, choose to live in cities. He points out that cities use less energy per capita than rural living, so in a future of limited energy, cities make sense. (For example, if New York City became a state, it would rank twelfth in population, but fifty-first in energy consumption.)

I’m not convinced by the conclusions in the last fifty pages, but the trip up to that point (jumping from microbiology to chemistry to city planning, all illustrated with quotes from Victorian novels) is great fun.

Okay, to finish this post up (aside from saying, go read this book, folks):

If you’re in an area where you aren’t sure of the water, boil your water (one minute at a rolling boil minimum) before you drink it. Either that or stick to booze, tea, and coffee. Wash your hands (in known good water) after using the toilet and before preparing food. Avoid shellfish. Stick to food that is completely cooked and served hot, or things that come in thick rinds.

And if you do get cholera (the symptoms are unmistakable), drink a lot of water.

Signs and symptoms of cholera (from the Mayo Clinic website):

  • Severe, watery diarrhea. The incubation time for cholera is brief — usually one to five days after infection. Diarrhea comes on suddenly. Cholera diarrhea often is voluminous, flecked with mucus and dead cells, and has a pale, milky appearance that resembles water in which rice has been rinsed (rice-water stool). What makes cholera diarrhea so deadly is the loss of large amounts of fluids in a short time — as much as a quart an hour.
  • Nausea and vomiting. Occurring in both the early and later stages of cholera, vomiting may persist for hours at a time.
  • Muscle cramps. These result from the rapid loss of salts such as sodium, chloride and potassium.
  • Dehydration. This can develop within hours after the onset of cholera symptoms — far more quickly than in other diarrheal diseases. Depending on how much body fluids have been lost, dehydration can range from mild to severe. A loss of 10 percent or more of total body weight indicates severe dehydration. Signs and symptoms of cholera dehydration include irritability, lethargy, sunken eyes, a dry mouth, extreme thirst, dry, shriveled skin that’s slow to bounce back when pinched into a fold, little or no urine output, low blood pressure, and an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia).
  • Shock. Hypovolemic shock is one of the most serious complications of cholera dehydration. It occurs when low blood volume causes a drop in blood pressure and a corresponding reduction in the amount of oxygen reaching your tissues. If untreated, severe hypovolemic shock can cause death in a matter of minutes.

Index to Medical Posts

McCain, sockpuppets, and comment spam
Posted by Teresa at 12:06 AM * 95 comments

I swear, McCain’s websites feel like every scrap of intelligence that goes into them is being charged for at retail rates, and the campaign’s getting taken on the deal.

I first noticed McCain’s comment spam solicitation page on his campaign website some weeks ago. The program, called Spread the Word, offers his supporters “McCain points” for posting his campaign’s talking points du jour on a list of target weblogs. It attracted a fair amount of criticism when it went up. I didn’t write about it at the time because I was sure McCain’s campaign strategists would immediately see what a terrible idea it was, and take it down.

Silly me. As Markos Moulitsas said in The GOP’s Sockpuppets:

“John McCain is aware of the Internet.”

This dubious assurance—an instant Internet classic—was offered by John McCain aide Mark Soohoo at a recent technology conference, where he had the unenviable task of defending his boss’s previous confession of computer ignorance (“I’m an illiterate that has to rely on my wife for all of the assistance I can get.”). Unsurprisingly, Soohoo’s argument that “you don’t actually have to use a computer to understand how it shapes the country” did not convince the assembled digerati.

The self-confessed tech ignorance from the head of the GOP pervades the party from top to bottom, as Republicans have failed miserably this decade to keep up with critical technological advances and the societal changes they have spawned. While Democrats build on the innovations pioneered by Howard Dean’s campaign in 2003, Republicans at all levels are being left far behind in today’s socially networked world.

Rather than adapt and innovate, as Democrats have done, frustrated Republicans are resorting to clumsy guerrilla action—attempting to sabotage their opponents’ online efforts by creating “sockpuppets,” or fake online personas.

Or by getting their supporters to post comment spam.

To my amazement, the Spread the Word page is still on McCain’s official campaign site, and is still linked from the front page. I have to think the comment spam project itself is a washout, because if it were working, we’d have noticed by now. That failure doesn’t excuse the attempt. I’m still offended that they even tried it. The hell do these people understand the internet.

Some notes on the implementation:

Spread The Word

Help spread the word about John McCain on news and blog sites. Your efforts to help get the message out about John McCain’s policies and plan for the future is one of the most valuable things you can do for this campaign. You know why John McCain should be the next President of the United States and we need you to tell others why.

I think they were trying to enlist relatively naive web users who don’t normally post comments on political weblogs. This may help explain why the program was a washout. Lurkers seldom turn into commenters. If they do it at all, they do it on their own schedule.
Select from the numerous web, blog and news sites listed here,
When you choose Liberal, Moderate, Conservative, or Other from their pull-down menu, you’re offered a list of target weblogs. The list of right-wing weblogs is by far the longest. You’d think they’d be trying to reach out to a wider audience.
go there, and make your opinions supporting John McCain known.
This may be the other reason the program went nowhere. They don’t actually want their supporters’ own opinions. Further on down the page, they give them the talking points of the day. It’s a brain-jamming contradictory message: We want you to express your opinions, and we’ll tell you what to say when you do.
Once you’ve commented on a post, video or news story, report the details of your comment by clicking the button below.
Notice how many things those instructions leave out: You’re a guest in someone else’s conversation. Don’t just barge in. Read their current comment threads and follow the links in the initial entries before you start posting. If you don’t understand what they’re talking about, look it up on Wikipedia. Talk to people, not at them. Say something pertinent that’s a response to earlier statements. Come back and read your replies, if you get any. And so forth: basic online behavior, as laid out eons ago in hundreds of forum rule sets and Usenet newsgroup FAQs. But the site doesn’t tell McCain’s followers any of that stuff.

This means that if the campaign had succeeded in aiming their stream of naive users at other sites’ comment threads, they’d have made a complete hash of the conversations. You’ve seen newbies in action. They’d have turned up on targeted weblogs, posted semi-random comments in random locations (current threads, guestbooks, administrator alert forms, user profile pages, old archived threads), and then left and never come back. If this program is a measure of the McCain campaign’s respect for the online political discourse, they’ve got no respect for it at all. If it’s a measure of their internet savvy, they flunk.

After your comments are verified, you will be awarded points through the McCain Online Action Center.
The only McCain Online Action Center is the comment spam page itself, and it doesn’t say how many points you’ll get per comment, or what the points are good for. That’s lousy organization and site design. McCain has an entire line of campaign merchandise. How much trouble would it have been to add a t-shirt, feed cap, tote bag, and cheap windbreaker with a “McCain: Spread the Word!” design, plus a note saying they’re only available in exchange for comment points?
Today’s Talking Points
More bad organization: the text under “Today’s Talking Points” hasn’t changed since the page went up. You get your choice of two versions:
The Issue: Time for Solutions
John McCain will put the national interest ahead of partisanship, he will work with anyone who sincerely wants to get this country moving again. If John McCain is elected President, the era of the permanent campaign will end. The era of problem solving will begin. Read More…

The Issue: Partisanship
There are serious issues at stake in this election, and serious differences between the candidates. And we will argue about them, as we should. But it should remain an argument among friends; each of us struggling to hear our conscience, and heed its demands; each of us, despite our differences, united in our great cause, and respectful of the goodness in each other. Read More…

(No kidding? An end to deliberately destructive partisanship? I’ll believe that line out of Republicans when they throw Grover Norquist the hell out of their party and burn him in effigy.)

Both of those “read more” links go to the same place: a transcript of the McCain speech from which they were excerpted. That is: they aren’t real talking points. They’re placeholders. This is an unfinished web page, and it’s been live on McCain’s official website for weeks. That’s amateurish to a startling degree. If the program wasn’t ready to go, McCain’s people shouldn’t have gone live with it. If they’re having second thoughts about the idea, they should have taken down the link from the front page.

It makes me want to explain the online world to McCain when there’s a camera running: “I’m the moderator of a weblog called Boing Boing. Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of it; almost no one reads it. This guy Flickr is one of our regular commenters. He’s got a really impressive photography website. He’s also a contributor to The Live Journal, which is an open-content project like Wikipedia, except instead of an encyclopedia they compile a monthly general-interest magazine. You can buy a printed copy of it through Fark.com. Both The Live Journal and Flickr’s photo site are Web 2.0, which means their code is finished and has no bugs in it…” And all the while McCain would be smiling, and nodding sagely, as if to say, “Yes, of course—I was already aware of that. After all, it’s the internet.”

July 01, 2008
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