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November 29, 2009
Robert Holdstock, 1948-2009
Posted by Teresa at 12:06 PM * 57 comments

The first thing I saw when I started up Twitter just now was a message from John Jarrold:

John Jarrold feels numbed by Rob Holdstock’s death - one of my oldest friends. Nothing sensible to say, just love sent to Sarah and his family…
I’m stunned. I’d known he was seriously ill with an E. coli infection, but I never thought…

===

His Wikipedia entry.
His own website, Mythago Wood.
His ISFDB entry.

Latin obscenities meet comment-order preferences
Posted by Teresa at 10:10 AM *

Debra Doyle has pointed me at a piece by Mary Beard in her weblog, A Don’s Life, at TLS. It’s titled Pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo: what was Catullus on about?, and as Doyle says, it’s

A truly marvelous blog entry and comment thread, in which a discussion of the difficulties of translating certain Latin obscenities in Catullus becomes entangled with a discussion of the relative merits of oldest-first versus newest-first comment posting order.
True.

We do like that sort of thing.

===

In my anything-but-humble opinion, oldest-first is the way to go. It means you have to at least scan past the rest of the thread, and ideally read it, before posting comments of your own.

Can I state that as a general rule? I think I can:

  • The natural action after reading an entry should be one that ensnares the reader in the site’s ongoing conversation.
  • It should always be easier to read the existing comments in a thread before posting comments of one’s own.
  • Forums should be configured so that it’s easier to read and respond to an existing discussion than to start a new one.
  • The default organization and presentation of comments should be full text, in chronological order, with as few page breaks as possible, in order to encourage a coherent and integrated general discussion.
  • Threaded headers-only comment formats are appropriate for tech support forums devoted to providing specific answers to specific questions; viz., which printer driver is required for your combination of hardware and software. If any point can be said to have been established by last year’s appalling unpleasantness in LJ, it’s that collapsed threaded paginated comment formats are inimical to large-scale general discussions.
  • Reward and encourage commenters who engage with the discussion. The basic unit of engagement is coming back to see what the other commenters said in reply.
  • A commenter’s name and other information should be given at the beginning of a comment, not the end, to encourage readers to perceive the thread as a discussion taking place among identifiable human beings.
  • The most useful and accurate User Profile is an automatically generated list of the complete text of that person’s previous comments.
  • Give preference to the use of real-world identities.
I’ll leave the learned opinions on Latin translation to the real classicists here. I did appreciate one rule of Mary Beard’s which strikes me as being applicable under all circumstances:
First rule for undergraduates: always check where the quote actually comes from!

November 26, 2009
Thanksgiving
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 12:15 AM * 72 comments

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies.

To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battlefield; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People.

I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.

And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity, and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward,
Secretary of State

November 25, 2009
Boycott Black Friday at Wal-Mart
Posted by Teresa at 01:11 PM *

Boycott Black Friday in general, for its hype and fraud; but definitely boycott Wal-Mart.

A year ago, on Black Friday 2008, a man named Jdimytai Damour was trampled to death by a crowd at the Valley Stream Wal-Mart on Long Island. Wal-Mart’s corporate headquarters immediately responded by announcing that Damour was a temp worker employed by a subcontractor. They also called it a “tragic situation,” but they didn’t mean anything by that. “Tragic” is just the word corporate PR people automatically use when someone’s been killed.

Xeni Jardin wrote about it in Boing Boing:

Wal-Mart Worker Crushed to Death on Black Friday; Union Responds
Posted by Xeni Jardin, November 28, 2008 1:19 PM

A worker at a New York Wal-Mart location was crushed to death this morning, “Black Friday,” when hordes of shoppers overwhelmed to get inside for bargain-hunting. Snip from AP account:

At least four other people were injured, and the store in Valley Stream on Long Island was closed. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. in Bentonville, Ark., called the incident a “tragic situation” and said the employee came from a temporary agency and was doing maintenance work at the store.

“He was bum-rushed by 200 people,” co-worker Jimmy Overby, 43, told the Daily News. “They took the doors off the hinges. He was trampled and killed in front of me. They took me down too. … I literally had to fight people off my back.”

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1500, which represented the deceased worker, has called for a investigation by OSHA and the NY State labor department.
Director of Special Projects for Local 1500 Patrick Purcell called Wal-mart’s comments in response to the incident both “cold and heartless.” “If the safety of their customers and workers was a top priority, then this never would have happened,” Purcell stated. “Wal-mart must step up to the plate and ensure that all those injured, as well as the family of the deceased, be financially compensated for their injuries and their losses. Their words are weak. The community demands action,” Purcell concluded.

Purcell also suggested that people visit the website walmartcrimereport.com to review other incidents of Wal-mart not providing a safe work and shopping experience.

After the comment thread broke a hundred, I wrote and posted the comment/article that follows. It was motivated by a number of things, one of them being the amount of astroturfing Wal-Mart had thrown at Boing Boing since comments recommenced there. Still, I might very well have written and posted the article if I’d never worked for Boing Boing at all. Wal-Mart is an appalling organization.

Some of the links may be broken. I’m sure there are plenty of others that could take their place.

===

Why Wal-Mart Is to Blame for the Death of Jdimytai Damour
Comment #128, November 30, 2008 11:13 PM

Wal-Mart holds these Black Friday sales every year—and every year, there are reports from all over the country of injuries when customers get trampled in the rush, or when fights break out due to inadequate stocks of merchandise and poor crowd control. There have been some very ugly incidents.

In spite of the obvious danger, Wal-Mart continues to put a lot of effort into creating mobs of shoppers charged with an artificial sense of urgency. Over the years, they’ve pushed their Black Friday starting times further and further back. They do stunt pricing—advertising a new laptop or Xbox or plasma TV for a fraction of its usual price—then stocking only twenty or thirty of each those items, when they know they can expect a thousand shoppers at their door.

Wal-Mart also appears to have decided not to require crowd-calming measures at their stores, like handing out numbered chits to the people waiting in line to buy big-ticket items, or stationing enough security at the front of the line to force people to enter in a well-regulated stream rather than a mob.

Game behavior is always conditioned by the rules, and the entire emphasis of Wal-Mart’s Black Friday game is that the first person with their hands on the package wins. (See above, “creating an artificial sense of urgency.”) Where there’s no regulation or crowd control, people who are first in line and have been waiting longest will still have to scramble if they’re going to get anything, since otherwise they’ll be beaten out by more aggressive shoppers.

Therefore, that mob at the door of the Green Acres/Valley Stream Wal-Mart didn’t just happen. There’s a mob at the door of every Wal-Mart Black Friday sale. It was engineered, and Wal-Mart did the engineering.

Every year, Wal-Mart’s had ugly incidents, scuffles, and injuries at Black Friday sales. It was a foregone conclusion that sooner or later, one of these stunt sales would result in serious injury or death. Wal-Mart has known that. They’ve done nothing to avert it, and much to encourage it. They’re responsible for Jdimytai Damour’s death.

Why would they set up a system like that? Simple: they’re raking it in. People who come to Black Friday sales spend freely once they’re inside. (If they’ve stood in line for that long, they’re damned well going to get something.) They tend to have a rough amount in mind they’ve budgeted for Christmas, and Wal-Mart gets first crack at it.

The mob rush at the Green Acres/Valley Stream store could just as easily have killed customers as Jdimytai Darnour. Crush incidents can form surprisingly quickly and kill a lot of people fast. All it takes is a chokepoint, an approach to the chokepoint that doesn’t let the crowd in the back see what’s happening in front, and a crowd with a strong motivation to get through that chokepoint. At its simplest, that’s a locked door, a dogleg corridor, a crowd of protesters or sports fans, and one tear gas grenade.

The Black Friday opening rush is a natural occasion for such events, but it’s not the only point of vulnerability. There’ve already been a couple of incidents of pepper-spray being used on crowds of Black Friday shoppers. You could readily come up with lots of further scenarios. The death of Jdimytai Darnour was awful, but it was just one death. We may see incidents with more.

Connie H. @82:

Human-chain formation in front of the doors was a supremely dangerous maneuver - it was an incipient stampede at a choke point. People moving from the back of the crowd couldn’t see what they were getting into … There seem to be disparate reports as to what went on with the doors—it’s quite possible that the crowd movement pushed people into them, then they gave way.
That is: the surge of the crowd—an annual event which Wal-Mart has engineered—was pushing forward against the doors. If the doors had not given way, there might well have been crush injuries among the customers outside the doors. If the doors did give way, the human chain of Wal-Mart employees were going to be in the direct path of the stampede. One way or another, there were going to be injuries.

Why Wal-Mart knew this was going to happen:

Note: I started researching at 2005, and found far more material than I expected, so 2005 is overrepresented and 2006-2007 are underrepresented. I’m sure you’ll still get the picture.

Raking it in:

2003: Bentonville, AK: Wal-Mart reported a single-day sales record for sales of $1.52 billion the Friday after Thanksgiving at its domestic stores. This represented a 6.3 percent gain over last year’s single-day sales record, also on Black Friday, of $1.43 billion.

2006: El Cajon CA: Footage taken “about five minutes” after the start of the 2006 Black Friday sale in El Cajon. Note the amount of merchandise already in carts.

ND: Black Friday in a Texas Wal-Mart. The ambient sounds are interesting.

2008: Secaucus, New Jersey.

2005 Incidents - compilations:

Nationwide Black Eye Friday wrap-up. Of 23 news reports about Black Friday violence, 16 involved Wal-Mart stores. Locations included Mountain View CA, Orlando FL, Oak Grove KY, Elkton MD, Cascade Township MI, Grandville MI, Hamilton Township NJ, Mays Landing NJ, Wallkill NY, Atlantic County PA, Warwick R.I., Kingsport TN, Beaumont TX, Lynchburg VA, Renton WA, and Puyallup WA.

ConsumerAffairs.com compiles shopper complaints and reports from all over the country, including inadequate or nonexistent supplies of advertised merchandise; store managers refusing to honor advertised offers of rain checks; customers trampled in the opening rush; and poor organization and crowd control inside stores, leading to shouting matches, pushing and shoving, fights, and a pepper-spray incident. Locations included Tigard OR, Chicago IL, Beaumont TX, Wilton, IA, and Gilroy, CA.

More complaints logged by ConsumerAffairs.com, plus some repeats in more detail. Lots of complaints about inadequate or nonexistent merchandise that had been advertised, and flyers offering rain checks which store managers refused to issue. Locations included Montgomery County MD, Chicago IL, Gulf Shores AL, Lincoln NE, Wilton IA, Memphis TN, Hinesville GA, and Gilroy CA.

A Democratic Underground reader posts a compilation of the full texts of news stories about violent incidents during Black Friday 2005 at Wal-Marts in Orlando FL, Cascade Township MI, Hamilton Township NJ, Puyallup WA, and Oak Grove KY.

The Scotsman on Wal-Mart Black Friday violence in Orlando FL, North East MD, and Cascade Township MI.

BoxTank’s compilation of stories.

Luke the Obscure’s Wal-Mart Trampling Roundup:

Wal-Mart Black Friday Trampling is here to stay! I was able to track down a Wal-Mart trampling account in nearly every one of the fifty states, and the lack of any class-action lawsuits speaks volumes about the corporate influence of everyones favorite corporation.
Locations included Cascade Township MI, Hamilton Township NJ, Kingsport TN, and Orlando FL. My favorite:
CNN Money - Calls made to several Wal-Marts around the country revealed that one of the hottest items on the holiday sale list, a $378 Hewlett-Packard laptop, sold out within the first hour the stores were open. “They trampled each other for ‘em,” said one Wal-Mart employee at a Maryland store. “It was great.”

2005: single incidents

Footage: Stampede in Cascade Township, Michigan (near Grand Rapids), with shoppers (mostly women and children) falling and getting trampled. There were several injuries.

Orlando FL: shopper gets into fight with plainclothes security officers.

Security guards wrestled a man to the ground and handcuffed him, this morning at an Orlando Wal-Mart. Eyewitnesses told Channel Nine that the man cut in line to get laptop computers that were on sale.

The man started arguing with people inside the store, and then scuffled with plain-clothed security guards.

One man told reporters that the laptops were being thrown into the air and people rushed toward them, collapsing on each other. Another man described the scene as crazy.

“It was absolutely pandemonium in there. They were throwing laptops twenty feet in the air, and people were collapsing on each other to grab them. It was ridiculous,” said shopper Brian Horwitz.

“A guy came on top of me and hit my head,” said Wal-Mart shopper, Jennifer Harris. “When he did it bounced against the other two people. I got hit on both of my ears.”

Some people weren’t fazed in the least. Many customers simply carted their stuff out of the store and passed right by the man in handcuffs, without any reaction.

When a Sheriff’s deputy arrived, he gave the man a trespassing warning and let him go. It turns out, in the confusion, he fought off the plain-clothes security guards, when they grabbed him, because he thought they were other customers.

Oak Grove, KY: A woman is trampled and hospitalized when a crowd waiting for laptops goes out of control.

Hamilton Township, NJ: a fracas breaks out in a Wal-Mart over inadequate stocks of desirable items. Police have to call for backup.

Lincoln, Nebraska: a scrimmage over laptop computers turns ugly.

Beaumont TX: A security guard pepper-sprays customers waiting in line in the electronics department. Beaumont TX, two years later: Customers who were pepper-sprayed are suing Wal-Mart.

Renton WA: Police have to be called in to deal with a crowd in the electronics department.

2006 Incidents

Footage: Chokepoint stampede at Wal-Mart in South Philadelphia. Two shoppers go down and can’t get up. A policeman wades in and rescues them.

Footage: A West Bend, WI store manager makes a crowd of waiting customers race to a row of chairs to determine who gets xbox systems. By report, people in the crowd were begging him to use some other system, like a simple lottery. Many people are hurt in the race. One is seriously hurt, and is hospitalized. See also: Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel on the West Bend Wal-Mart footrace fiasco.

Another bad system for allocating scarce goods is to let the shoppers in early to take up positions near the items they want, but not allow them to lay claim to those items until the clock strikes. The results are predictable. Footage: A fight breaks out over six computers.

Lewis Center, Ohio:

at the Wal-Mart outside Columbus, customers dashing toward 5 a.m. deals pinned employees against stacks of merchandise.

“Oh, my god, stop pushing me, oh, my god,” screamed Linda Tuttle, a 47-year-old employee at the store.

Grace Smith, a 22-year-old customer in the store, was stunned by the scene. “I heard it would be crazy but I never thought I’d see anything like this,” she said.

Lafayette LA: Man suffers broken leg in the Black Friday rush.

2007:

Footage: opening rush, Wal-Mart Store 5450, North East Maryland. I suspect this “informal YouTube video” was made by Wal-Mart. All is sweetness and light. You’d never guess that two years earlier, on Black Friday 2005, this same store was the site of a melee that took ten policemen to settle, caused by atrociously bad crowd control measures on the part of the manager.

2008:

Footage: A mad scramble for a small number of 360 XBoxes.

Rapid City, SD: A teenage girl was holding an Xbox 360 was struck in the throat by a man who was yelling and pushing his way through a line of shoppers. He may face assault charges.

Secaucus NJ: a woman’s leg was injured in the scrum, and she had to be taken to hospital in an ambulance.

The Consumerist bingo card, which predicts everything but the killing.

In summary: Wal-Mart makes Black Friday happen. Wal-Mart knew something like this death-by-trampling would eventually happen. The blood’s on Wal-Mart’s hands.

November 24, 2009
Restoration Hardware et al. vs. the TSA
Posted by Teresa at 09:00 AM *

I was checking out the stocking-stuffer gadgets the other day at Restoration Hardware and found a nifty little object called a Utili-Key. Unfolded, it’s a combination screwdriver (phillips head, micro-flat, eyeglass), knife blade (partly serrated), and bottle opener. Which is useful. Folded, it looks like a key, which means it can lurk like a sleeper agent on your keychain. (There’s also an eight-tool version, but it doesn’t look as much like a key.)

The whole point of this artifact is that it’s invisible to TSA baggage screeners. That’s a known genre of objects. You can buy blades disguised as belt buckles, pens, lipsticks, key chains, combs and brushes, pendants (most of which are seriously ugly), and harmless-looking unidentifiable objects. Almost all of them fall prey to the Urge to Look Badass, which impairs their stealthiness. A few don’t. (I can vouch for the effectiveness of mild-mannered camouflage. I normally wear a folding Silver Leaf knife, which when closed looks like a leaf-shaped silver pendant. On the few occasions when I’ve forgotten to put it in my checked luggage, hastily stashing it with my jewelry in my carry-on has been enough to get it past security.*)

Anyway, it wasn’t the Utili-Key’s existence that surprised me; it was seeing it given prime display space by a mainstream retailer like Restoration Hardware. I expect to find stealthy camouflaged blades at “unleash your inner ninja” websites, not at upscale Midtown stores. I take this as a sign that the general public is getting tired of the TSA’s policies concerning dangerous implements, and is equally tired of being unable to cut string, open bottles, or get at the contents of plastic blisterpaks when traveling.

If so, I say yay. TSA policies are stupid beyond words. Here’s a demo: go to eBay and type NTSA lot or TSA lot -approved -buddha -buddhist into the general search box. What you’ll see is the everyday contraband TSA baggage screeners confiscate when they’re not busy removing the tiny files from fingernail clippers.* It includes about a zillion leatherman multi-tools, bitty Victorinox knives, folding corkscrews, carabiner-style Buck 759s, tiny cuticle scissors, and antique embroidery scissors shaped like storks. (Sometimes you also get to see what happened to those TSA-approved locks that were missing when you got your luggage back.)

What doesn’t show up in any quantity in TSA/NTSA resale lots: the camouflaged metal blades I mentioned earlier, and the more sophisticated camouflaged blades I assume must exist. TSA employees who spend their time staring at x-ray screens are looking for weapon-shaped weapons. Items traditionally made of metal (like belt buckles) that consist of a sharp metal blade fitted into a snug metal sheath are not going to reveal their inner structure. When they show up on the TSA’s screens, they’ll be shaped like the sheath—and that can look like anything.

Non-metallic objects are even more problematical, because you can walk them straight through the metal detector. As I’ve observed before, knapped stone and obsidian blades have been making quite a comeback, and some of those things are sharp enough for surgery. For those with less primal tastes, there are fiberglass-reinforced hard plastic knives, and ceramic blades—in this case, zirconium oxide with an all-rubber handle.

Last week, Bruce Schneier pointed out the exotic weapons issue in Stabbing People with Stuff You Can Get Through Airport Security:

Use of a pig model to demonstrate vulnerability of major neck vessels to inflicted trauma from common household items,” from the American Journal of Forensic Medical Pathology.

Abstract. Commonly available items including a ball point pen, a plastic knife, a broken wine bottle, and a broken wine glass were used to inflict stab and incised wounds to the necks of 3 previously euthanized Large White pigs. With relative ease, these items could be inserted into the necks of the pigs next to the jugular veins and carotid arteries.

This will come as a blow to KZ, a firm which manufactures a line of specialized (and IMO very silly) self-defense pens.
Despite precautions against the carrying of metal objects such as knives and nail files on board domestic and international flights, objects are still available within aircraft cabins that could be used to inflict serious and potentially life-threatening injuries. If airport and aircraft security measures are to be consistently applied, then consideration should be given to removing items such as glass bottles and glass drinking vessels. However, given the results of a relatively uncomplicated modification of a plastic knife, it may not be possible to remove all dangerous objects from aircraft. Security systems may therefore need to focus on measures such as increased surveillance of passenger behavior, rather than on attempting to eliminate every object that may serve as a potential weapon.*
Great idea! Since they can’t very well ship us to our destinations naked and shrink-wrapped, the TSA should focus on real security, run by professionals, instead of a fiasco-prone system that spends an unbelievable amount of time, effort, and money making sure that no one can hijack a plane by threatening the flight attendants with tiny Victorinox folding scissors.

Addenda: I just double-checked my “find the TSA-confiscated resale items on eBay” search strings, and for the first time ever saw listings for wholesale lots of TSA-confiscated sunglasses and reading glasses. I have no idea what that’s about.

TChem points out a cognate technology: thread cutter pendants (also yarn cutter pendants and thread cutter rings):

In early ‘02 when they started confiscating tiny thread scissors, I started seeing these at a lot more craft shops. Like the key, its purpose was pretty obvious.

November 20, 2009
Unclueful Rogue promo
Posted by Teresa at 09:44 AM *

Some PR outfit sent me the following email. As our esteemed readers will no doubt recall, Going Rogue is Sarah Palin’s recently released book-like object.

from: Benjamin Kellogg (bkellogg@groupsjr.com)
to: gau@cnavk.pbz*
date: Thu, Nov 19, 2009 at 3:19 PM
subject: Top “Rogue” movies to watch while waiting in line to hear Sarah Palin speak

Teresa-

Thought this could be a fun list for your readers…

In honor of Sarah Palin’s “Going Rogue” book tour, mobile movie site zFcbg.pbz has put together a list of eight rogue-centric movies to watch while waiting in line to hear her speak.

8 Rogue Movies to Watch While Waiting in Line to Hear Sarah Palin Speak:
Patriot Games
Braveheart
Mission: Impossible
The Hunt for Red October
American Gangster
The Sum of All Fears
How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Van Helsing
Benjamin Kellogg | Group SJR | 646 495 9722
I replied:
You put out a list of “Rogue” movies that doesn’t include the first X-Men movie? Epic fail.
It’d be a fail under any circumstances to spam the world with a movie list that’s less than the sum of its parts; but jeez.

November 18, 2009
RWA Walks the Walk
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 05:29 PM *

Romance Writers of America (RWA) has reacted to Harlequin’s announcement that Harlequin has gone into the vanity publishing business in partnership with Author Solutions:

RWA Alert: RWA Responds to Harlequin Horizons
Dear Members:

Romance Writers of America was informed of the new venture between Harlequin Enterprises and ASI Solutions to form Harlequin Horizons, a vanity/subsidy press. Many of you have asked the organization to state its position regarding this new development. As a matter of policy, we do not endorse any publisher’s business model. Our mission is the advancement of the professional interests of career-focused romance writers.

One of your member benefits is the annual National Conference. RWA allocates select conference resources to non-subsidy/non-vanity presses that meet the eligibility requirements to obtain those resources. Eligible publishers are provided free meeting space for book signings, are given the opportunity to hold editor appointments, and are allowed to offer spotlights on their programs.

With the launch of Harlequin Horizons, Harlequin Enterprises no longer meets the requirements to be eligible for RWA-provided conference resources. This does not mean that Harlequin Enterprises cannot attend the conference. Like all non-eligible publishers, they are welcome to attend. However, as a non-eligible publisher, they would fund their own conference fees and they would not be provided with conference resources by RWA to publicize or promote the company or its imprints.

Sometimes the wind of change comes swiftly and unexpectedly, leaving an unsettled feeling. RWA takes its role as advocate for its members seriously. The Board is working diligently to address the impact of recent developments on all of RWA’s members.

We invite you to attend the annual conference on July 28 - 31, 2010 in Nashville, TN, as we celebrate 30 years of success with keynote speaker Nora Roberts, special luncheon speaker Jayne Ann Krentz, librarian speaker Sherrilyn Kenyon, and awards ceremony emcee Sabrina Jeffries. Please refer to the RWA Web site for conference registration information in late January 2010.

Looking forward to seeing you at the Gaylord Opryland!

Michelle Monkou
RWA President

They really do take their role as author advocates seriously over there.

November 16, 2009
Open thread 132
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 01:11 AM *

From my arsenal of quotes for dealing with SAD:

Those joys were so small that they passed unnoticed, like gold in sand, and at bad moments she could see nothing but the pain, nothing but sand; but there were good moments too when she saw nothing but the joy, nothing but gold.
Anna Karenina, book 3, chapter 7

November 14, 2009
Scraps. Bad. [Update: Doing better. See below.]
Posted by Teresa at 07:28 PM * 186 comments

I just heard from Velma Bowen. She says it looks like Scraps—Soren de Selby—may be having another stroke. They’ve called 911 and are waiting for the ambulance to arrive.

I asked her whether there was anything we could do. She said “Prayer.” I asked her whether there was anyone she wanted me to tell, and she said “Everybody.”

I could use some help with the telling. Mention Velma in your prayers, too.

If there’s more news, I’ll add it here.

7:52: They’re at New York Methodist Hospital.

Velma reports that Scraps is compos mentis and furious (no details on that), and that his blood pressure is somewhat low. For all of which we are grateful.

9:36: Velma texts to say CAT scan soon; also, Howard is there, and he says “Due diligence to figure out what’s the matter.” I add, Howard knows this stuff.

I further add, IMO, things are sounding better than they might, but Scraps clearly needs to be in the hospital.

11:11: Velma says not to sit up all night. She’ll call if there’s news, and I’ll keep updating.

1:19: Helen, who’s also been at the hospital, says:

Howard and I just got back from the hospital. Soren did not have a stroke. At 7pm Soren had a seizure which lasted about 2 minutes, Velma called 911 and he was taken to the hospital. At 9:50 pm Soren had a second seizure while in the hospital which lasted for 2 and a half minutes.

He was given medication to relax him and to stop the seizures. His blood pressure was on the high side while we were there. A CAT scan showed some abnormalities but those could be contributed to residual artifact from the stroke. He is probably going to be held 24-48 hours for observation, given anti-seizure medications, and then referred to his primary doctor for followup.

As Cousin Linkmeister observed, “it seems very odd to think ‘phew, seizure,’ but when the alternative is stroke, I guess that’s the appropriate response.”

2:08: Velma posts:

It’s a bit after 2am, and I’m home. Soren’s in a room at Methodist, and the plan is to saturate his system with anti-seizure meds, have a neurosurgeon take a look at the CAT scans, and see what happens. He’ll be in the hospital at least until Monday or Tuesday.

He has speech, though he’s somewhat disoriented by the hospital setting, and he’s unhappy and drugged-drowsy.

Thank you all for prayers, good thoughts, and spreading the word. I’m going to follow his mother’s directions and go to bed. I’ll try to be more coherent in the morning.

3:09 PM: Velma texted: “Keeping Scraps till Tuesday @ earliest. EKG will be tomorrow.” Patrick had a conversation with her about whether that’s an EKG or EEG. Velma said NYMH staff had initially been saying EEG, but now were saying EKG. She couldn’t tell whether they’d changed their plans or were simply misspeaking.

Rouge Queen
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 03:16 PM * 77 comments

It was the typo that had to happen. And happen it did, at CNN, just now today. The story is,

November 14, 2009
McCain Campaign Adviser pushes back on Palin book
Posted: November 14th, 2009 02:22 PM ET

As you know, Bob, Sarah Palin’s book is called Going Rogue. The title is on the cover and everything.

But observe on CNN just now:

The full page is here as a graphic, or read the original; maybe they haven’t corrected it yet.

November 09, 2009
It was twenty years ago today
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 02:08 PM * 110 comments

It’s evening now, here in Europe, so we’re really two decades from that night. I can’t watch even the announcement without crying. I never have, not since the first time I saw it live, and I don’t know if I ever will. I’m not sure I want to; when I can watch sundered families be reunited with dry eyes I think I’ve lost some part of my humanity.

The nuances of the fall of the Berlin Wall are being debated all over. Anniversaries are good times for awkward questions and complex analyses. Were the East Germans fairly treated in reunification? Has the victory of free-market capitalism been everything it promised, all things considered? How many half-truths and simplifications have buried the ambiguous complexity of that time?

I have nothing useful to add to the discussion, except that I live in a Europe that could not have existed with the Wall intact, and I think it’s a good place. I call it a night’s work well done.

I think I’ll have a drink. It’s a suitable matter for a toast. Anyone with me?

November 04, 2009
“Radical Presentism”
Posted by Patrick at 08:11 AM * 186 comments

Cory Doctorow writes about the kind of science fiction I find myself most wanting to read these days. As he says, “science fiction writers don’t predict the future (except accidentally), but if they’re very good, they may manage to predict the present.”

Mary Shelley wasn’t worried about reanimated corpses stalking Europe, but by casting a technological innovation in the starring role of Frankenstein, she was able to tap into present-day fears about technology overpowering its masters and the hubris of the inventor. Orwell didn’t worry about a future dominated by the view-screens from 1984, he worried about a present in which technology was changing the balance of power, creating opportunities for the state to enforce its power over individuals at ever-more-granular levels. […]

Some of my favorite contemporary speculative fiction is instead nakedly allegorical in its approach to the future—or the past, as the case may be.

Consider Bruce Sterling’s The Caryatids (Bantam, 2009), an environmental techno-thriller—Sterling once defined a techno-thriller as “a science fiction novel with the president in it”—set in a mid-twenty-first century in which global warming has done its catastrophic best to end humanity. Finally forced to confront the reality of anthropogenic climate change, humanity fizzles and factions off into three warring camps: the Dispensation, an Al-Gorean green-capitalist technocracy; the Acquis, libertarian technocrats who’ll beta-test anything (preferably on themselves); and China, a technocracy based on the idea that technology can make command-and-control systems actually work, in contrast to the gigantic market failure that destroyed the planet. The play of these three ideologies serves as a brilliant and insightful critique of the contemporary approach to environmental remediation. Sterling especially gets the way that technology is a disruptor, that it unmakes the status quo over and over again, and that a battle of technologies is a battle in which the sands never stop shifting. Casting his tale into the future allows him to illustrate just how uneven our footing is in the present day—and the fact that the book consists of humans getting by, even getting ahead, despite all the chaos and devastation, makes The Caryatids one of the most optimistic books I’ve read in recent days.

All of which has something in common with Mundane SF, but it’s different in an important way. Cory isn’t prescribing rhetorical devices; he isn’t categorically dismissing as “wish fulfillment” stories that include time travel or warp drives. Indeed, Cory isn’t prescribing anything; rather, he’s pointing out how some of the most effective SF works.

November 03, 2009
Technically American
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 05:04 PM * 129 comments

I almost hate to distress our commentariat with the latest piece of stupidity to sully the aether. But I think there’s some value in discussing these matters, if only to discourage, with the prospect of mockery, journalists who are not motivated by more conventional goads such as professionalism, or truth.

Exhibit A: Marathon’s Headline Win Is Empty by Darren Rovell, a CNBC Sports Business Reporter.

The meat of the article is that the Men’s New York City Marathon winner may be the first American to take the prize since 1982, but it’s “not as good as it sounds.” Take it away1, Darren.

Meb Keflezighi, who won yesterday in New York, is technically American by virtue of him becoming a citizen in 1998, but the fact that he’s not American-born takes away from the magnitude of the achievement the headline implies.

The article goes on to explain how Keflizighi was born in Eritrea, and African runners are so poor that the measly money that one can make as a runner is “a lifetime full of riches”. But how is that relevant to Keflizighi?

He is an American citizen thanks to taking a test and living in our country.

That’s the usual way, yes. There’s an oath, too; some people do care about that. I’m guessing that Rovell isn’t Native American, so I bet he’s descended from similarly technical Americans.

Let’s do a trivial bit of research on the web and clear up a few facts. According to both Wikipedia and Sports Illustrated, Keflezighi came to the United States at the age of 12, and started running in seventh grade (about a year later, I guess). He was naturalized as a US citizen in 1998, when he will have been about 23. So he’s not a product of the African distance-running culture, and as a college graduate (UCLA, 1998), he’s not dependent on his running to fund his third-world life of poverty. Implying otherwise is—to put it mildly—completely incorrect.

Furthermore, the 1982 finisher whom Rovell cites as the previous American winner was Alberto Salazar, who was born in…Cuba.

(We won’t even go into whether Keflezighi got his citizenship as easily as “a ringer who (sic) you hire to work a couple hours at your office so that you can win the executive softball league” gets work. That level of ignorance about the difficulties of the American immigration process is a whole different field of fail.)

Exhibit B: What I got Wrong About Keflezighi, also by Darren Rovell, CNBC Sports Business Reporter.

The non-apology apology.

I said that Keflezighi’s win, the first by an American since 1982, wasn’t as big as it was being made out to be because there was a difference between being an American-born product and being an American citizen. Frankly I didn’t account for the fact that virtually all of Keflezighi’s running experience came as a US citizen. I never said he didn’t deserve to be called American.

Oh. That phrase “technically American” really doesn’t mean “doesn’t deserve to be called American.” I see.

And I’m a Dutchman.

Rovell is on a bit of a cleft stick. He can either say that the use of “technically American” in his original article was correct, and that American citizenship by adoption is second-class citizenship, or he can say that he did no research whatsoever on Meb Keflezighi, and conflated two unrelated English terms to boot.

He declined the racist2 option and went for incompetence:

It turns out, Keflezighi moved to the United States in time to develop at every level in America. So Meb is in fact an American trained athlete and an American citizen and he should be celebrated as the American winner of the NYC Marathon.

<Jon Stewart voice>It turns out? What, was it just revealed, just today, November 3, 2009? Then that Sports Illustrated article that tells the whole story of his childhood was, like, backdated to October of 2005?</Jon Stewart voice>

And then there’s the fact that, to make sense of Rovell’s argument, you have to read “American-trained” for “American-born”, the phrase he uses to differentiate Keflezighi from runners for whom he would “break out [his] red, white and blue.” For a professional writer, conflating two such terms is like a carpenter picking up a screwdriver to pound nails.

The irony is, there is actually a core discussion to be had about American runner training. But it’s covered in the muck of so many assumptions and errors that it’s not worth addressing. That would dignify said muck with too much legitimacy, and its the kind of stuff that damages actual human beings.

The point of all this

It’s useful and necessary to discuss these things, if only to discourage that level of stupidity. But there’s a deeper point than just the question of why this particular man, who has epitomized the American narrative, is being accorded second-class citizen status. Seriously. A man goes from being a refugee from a war-torn country to a college-educated world-class athlete. He demonstrates pride in his American citizenship; most other runners did not wear shirts with USA emblazoned on them. And yet he can’t shake the perception that he’s only “technically American.”

What does that make my children, who are natural born American citizens, but have never lived in the US? What about my cousin, born in El Salvador and adopted at 12 by my uncle when he married her mother? What will it make my niece, when my brother and his wife bring her back from China in three weeks? What does that make the members of our community who have chosen their citizenships, taken tests and oaths?

I get it all the time, as an expat; people want to lessen and belittle my Americanness when they disagree with my opinions. Leaving the US is apparently very unpatriotic; learning about other cultures is suspect, and moving abroad all but treason3. (And taking a second citizenship? Dear Lord, the reactions.) I recall one conversation where I only salvaged my right to an opinion on matters American by mentioning that I am required to file tax returns.

There are similar discussions in pretty much every nation on earth, of course. This deep question of identity is not specific to the United States. Europeans have been wrestling with it since the Moorish Conquest. The rise of the British National Party in the UK is symptomatic of England’s ongoing struggle to see even the Scots as fellow countrymen.

But the matter at hand is the American identity, and I’m relieved to report that the majority of the comments on both of those posts agree that Rovell failed this impromptu civics test. That, at least, restores some of my faith in my fellow Americans, technical and otherwise.


  1. Intentional, yes
  2. I’d have gone for nativist if he hadn’t made the race-specific argument about the value of runners’ cash prizes in Africa.
  3. And yet nothing cured me of my adolescent disassociation with American culture like moving abroad did. That proved to me that I am immutably American.

Worst Internet Hoaxes
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 02:34 PM * 9 comments

They’ve got an article over at MSNBC today, 10 most heinous hoaxes on the Net. Their definition of “hoax” seems to be rather broad, ranging from the MySpace Suicide to Nigerian e-mails and Work-at-home scams.

There’s a survey on the second page, where you can vote for your choice of Most Heinous Hoax. But they don’t limit it to the choices they presented: There’s an “other” choice with a fill-in-the-box.

I used the fill-in. For me, it’s a tossup between PublishAmerica and Strategic Book Group as the most heinous hoax, but in the end I went with Strategic Book Group. Bobby Fletcher has been (according to the Florida Attorney General) scamming hopeful authors out of $600,000 per year for the best part of a decade. Compared to that, “Save Toby” is rabbit food.

November 02, 2009
Revolver Books
Posted by Teresa at 07:19 PM * 36 comments

This one’s for Abi, but that doesn’t mean it’s only for Abi.

I was browsing some gift shop canvas booths at Madison Square, and met the people who invented Revolver bound books. You know that old-timey toy called a Jacob’s Ladder that’s made out of flat square blocks laced together with fabric tapes? Revolver books are made like that, except that there are only two blocks, and the “tapes” form the book cover.

Here’s their site. Look at the pictures. Watch the video. It’s a better way to understand the concept.

The inventors describe it as “a binding technique that allows the journal to turn inside out and back again around a floating spine.” I say it’s a way for a book to have two front sections, so you don’t have to choose whether your to-do list or your notes on your novel belongs in front, or your lined as opposed to your unlined paper. It also means your book can have two different covers.

I love this because, like mimeography, chimney-style fire starters, or the magic loop trick for knitting two socks at once, it’s a recent technology that could have been invented any time in the last millennium or so.

“He used…sarcasm. He knew all the tricks.”
Posted by Patrick at 06:48 PM *

You may recall Alan Grayson (D-FL) as the freshman Congressman who explained that the Republican health care plan is “don’t get sick, and if you do, die quickly” and who told Chris Matthews that he sometimes has “trouble listening to what Cheney says because of the blood that drips from his teeth.” Naturally, having violated the Washington, DC rule that says that liberals are required to be thoughtful, high-minded, and terrible on TV, Grayson is now being cast, by the guardians of our political discourse, as History’s Greatest Monster.

Digby responds to one such guardian, Stuart Rothenberg:

You see, it’s one thing for Republicans to give speeches on the floor of the House saying that Democrats want to murder the elderly or that they plan to create sex clinics and force teenage girls to have abortions. That is simply folksy language these people use to communicate with their people. When Newt Gingrich blamed Susan Smith’s murdering of her own children on liberalism, Lady Frothenberg understood that it was harmless hyperbole. When Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck and the rest of the conservative movement leadership say daily that Barack Obama is a black racist who hates America, it’s simply their way, and we all understand that it is just entertainment for the masses who require this type of crude stimulation.

But when one calls a former Enron lobbyist a K-Street whore on an obscure radio show, one has simply gone too far, sirrah, and it will not be tolerated.

There will be a town hall meeting this evening led by Pastor Dick Cheney to discuss the possibility of witches in the village and what types of enhanced interrogation might be used to determine the breadth of the infiltration. Our deep sense of decency, morality and civility demand it. And thank you once again, Lady Frothenberg, for bringing this egregious breach of proper behavior to our attention.

Whatever the rest of you do, don’t encourage this miscreant Alan Grayson to do more of this boorish behavior by donating money at his crude web site: Congressmanwithguts.com. If you do, I certainly hope you don’t plan on being invited into the any of the finer homes and establishments in the Village because you just aren’t welcome there!

Sage advice. Why, if more Congresspersons talked like Grayson, who knows what might happen. Can’t have that.

And furthermore, the Anaconda Plan didn’t actually take place on the Snake River
Posted by Patrick at 08:55 AM * 204 comments

John Keegan, author of the excellent The Face of Battle (1976) and many other books, is possibly the most widely-respected military historian alive. James M. McPherson is an eminent historian of the American Civil War; his Pulitzer Prize-winning Battle Cry of Freedom (1988) is often called the best single-volume history of that conflict.

Keegan has now published his own history of the American Civil War, and McPherson has reviewed it in the New York Times. And by “reviewed,” I mean “discredited it for the ages,” if even only a portion of the factual errors McPherson cites are in fact present in Keegan’s book.

The analytical value of Keegan’s geostrategic framework is marred by numerous errors that will leave readers confused and misinformed. I note this with regret, for I have learned a great deal from Keegan’s writings. But he is not at top form in this book. Rivers are one of the most important geostrategic features he discusses. “The Ohio and its big tributaries, the Cumberland and the Tennessee,” he writes, “form a line of moats protecting the central Upper South, while the Mississippi, with which they connect, denies the Union any hope of penetration.” The reality was exactly the contrary. These navigable rivers were highways for Union naval and army task forces that pierced the Confederate heartland, capturing Nashville, New Orleans, Memphis and other important cities along with large parts of Tennessee, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas. Keegan acknowledges this reality later in the book when he notes that these rivers “offered points of penetration to the Union into Confederate territory.” Precisely.

But Keegan’s grasp of river geography and other terrain features is shaky. He confuses the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers, seems to place the Confederate forts Henry and Donelson on the wrong rivers, has the Kanawha River join the Monongahela River at Pittsburgh to form the Ohio River (it is the Allegheny River that joins the Monongahela, while the Kanawha empties into the Ohio 150 miles southwest of Pittsburgh) and shifts the state of Tennessee northward, where he says it “gives on to” Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. The Confederates did not abandon their strong point on Island No. 10 on the Mississippi River; Union forces surrounded and captured it with its 5,000 defenders. Tunnel Hill at Chattanooga is not a feature of Lookout Mountain, and the battle of Cedar Mountain did not take place in the Blue Ridge.

McPherson goes on. Keegan is confused about when North Carolina was first invaded by the Union; he’s off by two years about when the British government recognized the Confederacy as a belligerent under international law. He misrepresents Lincoln’s attitude toward visiting soldiers in the field and makes the jawdropping claim that the Gettysburg Address “refus[ed] to differentiate between the sacrifice of the North and the South.” He is comprehensively wrong about the condition of the United States Navy at the outbreak of hostilities. Most amazingly, and I confirmed this one by using Amazon’s “Look Inside This Book” feature, Keegan, an eminent British historian, appears to believe that Benjamin Disraeli was Prime Minister during the American Civil War. (It was Palmerston.)

All books contain errors; book publishers, even long-established book publishers with large nonfiction lists, don’t have staffs devoted to “fact-checking,” nor is it clear that the world would be better off if they did. Moreover, as a book editor myself (albeit primarily of fiction) I usually hesitate to point fingers; I’ve made enough mistakes of my own that my more usual reaction is a sympathetic wince. But it’s boggling that no reader at US publisher Alfred A. Knopf noticed that this distinguished historian, at the beginning of Chapter Nine, asserts that Tennessee shares borders with Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. It’s equally amazing that nobody at UK publisher Hutchinson remembered that Disraeli wasn’t actually Prime Minister yet in the years 1861-1865. As for the Gettysburg Address, it was entirely about the sacrifice of Union soldiers, the ones being buried in a Union cemetery, the dedication of which occasioned the speech. The address is ten sentences long. It’s not exactly little-known or hard to find. Against my better judgement and all sense of professional discretion, I find myself compelled to emit that cry of the outraged reader: Didn’t anyone at either publisher actually read this book?

November 01, 2009
NaNoWriMoOThread
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 06:34 AM * 134 comments

ItWaADaAStorNi. TheTriOrTreaWeGo. AsMidReaEaTiZo, ComWeTurOn, OutCon, OpSeWri. ChaStiACaToLi, EnWorSpraInEx, AndPloBeToUnLiSaiJuCaTheWi. ItWa, AsTheSa, AGreDiInTheFo.

NaNoWriMoHaBe. HeAThreToTeUsHoItGo. IfYouDoItBe, AdvIsWe. IfYouDoItNow, FeeFreeToPoWoCouATho.

AllCaVaIsEnTheReOfTheCoPo.

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