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January 31, 2003
Eye candy
Posted by Teresa at 08:03 AM *

Have I ever mentioned that Bill Atkinson’s Photography is one of the most beautiful sites on the web? No fuss. Not a lot of words. No extraneous presentation. Just page after page of remarkably clear thumbnails (he’s good at this computer stuff) that click up into marvelous images.

January 29, 2003
I love my country, pt. 2
Posted by Teresa at 10:07 AM *

Here’s another piece in this mosaic whose overall picture I can’t yet see.

It’s Brian Averett’s Triple A Rock Shop website, where, amidst his the businesslike listings of cabs and rough and equipment, Averett has written a page of “people stories” about his two sets of rockhound adoptive parents.

The first set, John and Marge Little were an elderly white couple who did lapidary work. Brian Averett was a 6’3” 255-pound half-Indian construction worker who came to them with his first two thunder eggs. Somehow they became inseparable. Averett later got to know some friends of theirs, George and Anita von Brandt, who also wound up adopting him. I can’t explain why I find this affecting without sounding stupid.


I’m thinking about this stuff right now because George Herbert Walker Bush’s idiot son is scaring the bejeezus out of the rest of the world, and trying to start a war of aggression we don’t have any right to be pursuing. Didn’t we use to believe we were the good guys? What kind of heroes will we raise up among ourselves if we start doing things like this?:

800 missiles to hit Iraq in first 48 hours

The US intends to shatter Iraq “physically, emotionally and psychologically” by raining down on its people as many as 800 cruise missiles in two days.

The Pentagon battle plan aims not only to crush Iraqi troops, but also wipe out power and water supplies in the capital, Baghdad.

It is based on a strategy known as “Shock and Awe”, conceived at the National Defense University in Washington, in which between 300 and 400 cruise missiles would fall on Iraq each day for two consecutive days. It would be more than twice the number of missiles launched during the entire 40 days of the 1991 Gulf War.

“There will not be a safe place in Baghdad,” a Pentagon official told America’s CBS News after a briefing on the plan. “The sheer size of this has never been seen before, never been contemplated before.”

… George Bush has been displaying increasing impatience with the pace of inspections and is eager to start the bombing. But according to UN sources he has resigned himself to the fact that the US lacks enough votes on the Security Council to wage a military campaign.

That’s not the style of bombing you use when you’re specifically going after Saddam Hussein, or industrial facilities that might produce weapons of middling destruction, or the Iraqi military. If US planners expect to leave no safe places in Baghdad, they’re planning to hit the civilian population.

No one should ever be eager to start a bombing campaign like that, no matter what the cause or circumstances.

What the devil is that man eager for? What is he getting out of it? These are strange doings for a draft-dodger, a deserter during time of war, who’s still such a physical coward that his security apparatus shuts down everything for miles around when he makes one of his infrequent and carefully staged “public” appearances.

(Maybe he wants to start the bombing because, thanks to the UN inspectors, he can now be sure that Iraq can’t hit back. That is more his style.)

We can’t do this. Militarily we may be the strongest country in the world, but we’re not stronger than the rest of the world put together; and we don’t have legitimate cause to go to war.

The UN inspectors haven’t found much of any significance, and they haven’t even gotten to finish their inspection. The United Nations hasn’t passed a resolution in favor of war. We haven’t got the votes in the Security Council. Iraq hasn’t attacked us. Meanwhile, Dubya & Co. have been squandering our international credibility. The Afghan conflict is still a mess and needs huge amounts of cleanup. We’ve got egg all over our face from that business with North Korea. We’re alienating our allies at an appalling rate, and publicly announcing that we intend to bomb Iraq to flinders can only speed up that process.

I find the proposed method of attack profoundly disturbing.

It sounds to me—especially with a name like “Shock and Awe”—like they’re essentially planning to use cruise missiles as morale weapons. That’s a style of use, not a class of weapons. By way of illustration, daisy cutter bombs are good for clearing the vegetation off a big patch of jungle floor without blowing a crater in it, so you can land a helicopter there. However, it is also true that if you drop them on troop concentrations, other troops nearby will suffer a massive loss of morale. At that point, a daisy cutter becomes a morale weapon.

I’m no expert in these matters, but to the best of my understanding, the virtue of morale weapons is that they motivate the opposing troops to drop their gear and head for home. That means you don’t have to fight them, and they don’t have to stick around and fight you and get shot up in the process. Too bad about the guys who were nearby when the daisy cutter touched down, but in terms of overall numbers it beats doing a live-ammo reenactment of Verdun.

I could be wrong, but that’s my understanding.

The trouble with using morale weapons against the general population is that they’re already at home. This creates a very different effect. Maybe you get a scenario like Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where they’re so horrified that they stop fighting. On the other hand, maybe you get something more like the London Blitz, or the Siege of Leningrad.

This is bad. This is so not like us.

I don’t want this to become like us.

January 27, 2003
Endless religious permutations
Posted by Teresa at 10:25 PM *

Lydy Nickerson got it right in a letter she sent me:

Just two words: Hasidic Gentiles.

The net is a place of never-ending wonder and surprise. I think I’ve recovered from having my brain shorted out. Thought you might be entertained by them too.

Uh, yeah. Right. Just so. (Snap, crackle, pop!)

So far, these people’s biggest activity seems to be getting into controversies over their campaign to eliminate Christmas.

Whoo. I haven’t felt quite this dizzy in quite this way since the day I found out how many Christian BDSM sites there are on the web.

Pure speculation
Posted by Teresa at 08:41 PM *

As I said to Jim Henley and Patrick when we were down in DC for that antiwar march, our European semi-allies aren’t going to back us up on a war with Iraq if the UN weapons inspectors don’t find anything. Our guys are committed to the idea that they’re going to find something in Iraq, whether they find anything or not. This doesn’t wash with the rest of the world, which thinks that finding something means finding something.

Forgotten, bird-doody-covered boxes of old shells don’t make it. Did you ever see such a PR fiasco? It was pathetic. Portentously suggesting that those might constitute “a smoking gun” just told the rest of the world that some dusty old boxes of shells were the biggest thing the inspectors had found.

Still and all, it’s clear that our guys really have expected to find something. You could hear it in their voices, all up and down the line. John McCain absolutely thought so; and while the Bushies lie so habitually that it takes an effort for them to do anything else, McCain doesn’t do their lying for them.

Tony Blair, that sly sleek bouncy political animal, has just as clearly been expecting that UN inspectors would find something in Iraq. He wouldn’t have committed himself this thoroughly for anything less. The Brits might go to war on our side if UN inspectors found weapons of mass destruction but we didn’t get a UN resolution out of it, or vice-versa; but they won’t do it if they don’t have something to go on.

Besides, it’s not like Dubya to keep upping his bets if he doesn’t think he’s onto a sure thing. He’s never been a risk-taker. He obviously wants a war with Iraq because he wants one, just because; but it’s not like him to put himself in a position where he’ll be personally, objectively shown up as wrong—no excuses, no spin, no safety net—if some real-world development doesn’t come through.

So, what’s the difference between Blair and Britain, on the one hand, and the rest of our Western European semi-allies on the other? The obvious one is that we share more intelligence with them. This doesn’t necessarily mean that Blair knows more than the other European leaders, but it may mean that he thinks he does.

As you know, Bob, the Bush clan has close, deep connections to the CIA, and to a lesser extent with the rest of the intelligence community. Bush Sr. was basically a career spook who became Ronald Reagan’s Vice President, where he built up enough momentum to carry him forward into a single-term Presidency. GHWB’s intelligence background has been a godsend to Dubya, whose earlier career and habits left the kind of stains that require the attention of professional cleaners.

For some years now, giving Dubya what he wants has been a real good career move. And he really does want that war. I’m just wondering now whether somewhere along the line, someone in the intelligence community foolishly decided to give him what he wants. Dubya would believe it without a second thought, of course; and since he’d figure he had a sure thing with this inside information, he’d bet heavily on it. Other leaders to whom he passed on the intelligence, such as Tony Blair, and Congressional leaders like McCain, would believe it too. It would explain a lot.

I’m just asking.

Here’s more on the developing fiasco from Tim Dunlop, proprietor of The Road to Surfdom. Go and read, it’s good stuff.

More and more, Bush & Co. remind me of Jim Macdonald’s definition of the difference between a goat-roping and a clusterfuck—those being occasions of complete fiasco, transcending all degrees of snafu—which is that one is fun to watch, and the other isn’t.

More science fun
Posted by Teresa at 04:16 PM *

Patrick phoned me. “If you were on AIM right now,” he said, “I could send you this story about how astronomers want to drop bowling balls out of airplanes onto the Bonneville salt flats.”

“Well, of course they do,” I said. “Wouldn’t anyone want to drop bowling balls out of airplanes onto the Bonneville salt flats?”

“It struck me as a Teresa kind of story,” he said.

Patrick also sent me this one: a nice puzzle. Check it out.
Posted by Teresa at 11:11 AM *

January 26, 2003
I love my country
Posted by Teresa at 10:15 AM *

One of the last letters I got before the MS-SQL worm choked off my mail was my sister forwarding me something from the Memorial Drive Church of Christ in Tulsa. Design-wise they’ve got a real Highway 1/Route 66 kind of website, the kind of thing that leaves me stuck on the halfway line between helpless fondness and a case of the giggles.

I have a similar reaction to the goings-on and shenanigans at St. Paul Saints baseball games: Bat races. Drawings to see who gets to watch the next game from the sofa behind home plate. The ceremonial trotting-out of their mascot, This Year’s Pig. Special cheers for certain players. The freight trains that run along two sides of the park slowing way down if they pass the stadium during a game, because they know there’s a special prize for any player who bounces a homer off a passing train. Much other goofiness. A stadium full of fans singing “The Star-Spangled Banner”, then making a game try at “O Canada” because they’re playing the Winnipeg Goldeyes. Primordial baseball.

It’s cheesy, it’s traditional, it’s much beloved. Also, nobody’s trying to shove it down my throat, or sell me mass-produced versions of it, or use it as a vehicle for some political agenda. It’s just there for its own sake, like the marshmallows in a church potluck jello salad.

O, my country.

I have that reaction in spades to the half-hourly show at Roadside America. It’s a roadside attraction, a huge miniature village built over a period of sixty years by an immigrant living in Pennsylvania. It’s actually pretty cool: huge amounts of detail, lots of nifty moving parts, and it’s obvious that its creator loved his work. The last time I visited there was when Maureen Kincaid Speller and Paul Kincaid were visiting from Britain. The four of us were on our way back to NYC from Gettysburg. I was the only one who had visited there before. All I told the others was that it was a must-see. I didn’t tell them about the show.

What happens: Every half-hour, the proprietors announce that it’s time for the show, and direct you to a set of bleachers at one end of the room. Music plays. The lighting mimics sunset. Evening falls on the village. Crickets chirp. Streetlights come on. “Stars” appear on the ceiling. It gets darker and darker. The lights in the shops and houses gradually go out in their proper order until it’s obviously the middle of the night.

And then! A patriotic and religious slide show gets projected on the far wall, the one that has the Statue of Liberty painted on it, while Kate Smith sings “God Bless America”, and an unseen electric fan flutters the American flag that hangs there. Then it’s over, the lighting simulates dawn, lights start coming on in little village windows, and a few moments later it’s daytime again and you can go back to watching the working coal mine.

On the one hand, it’s hokey as all get-out. On the other hand, there’s something profoundly sincere about it, as though it were a preserving spell or a blessing for that part of Pennsylvania. What really made it for me, that visit, was the family sitting nearby who were beaming as they quietly sang along with Kate Smith. Paul and Maureen and Patrick were deeply impressed by all this. “Thunderstruck” would be another way to put it. Or, as Maureen said once we were back in the car, “My god. You didn’t warn us.”

“Nope!” I said happily. “I couldn’t possibly have done it justice.”

The American Jazz Museum in Kansas City isn’t hokey; it’s brilliant. It’s not all that big, and shares its building with the excellent Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. Patrick and I went there with Connie Willis and various local fans when we were guests at ConQuest. We had some hours to fill before the convention started, and Connie wanted to visit the Negro Leagues museum because she’s writing a story about Satchel Paige. Naturally, as soon as she got there she ran into Buck O’Neill, so they talked for a while. When he heard about her story, O’Neill just said, “It’s always about Satchel.”

But I digress.

The jazz side of the museum has some nice exhibits of memorabilia associated with Kansas City jazz, well arranged, with informative signage (I particularly liked their wall of great record album cover designs); but musicologically it shines. It has a great series of interactive exhibits on topics like different styles of harmony, or ways to handle rhythm, or the characteristics of “Big Band” style. You put the headphones on and start pressing buttons, and get complex, professional-level demos of (for instance) what different bass lines could do to some classic piece of jazz. And yes, I probably could have left Patrick there all weekend.

Around the time we entered, a group of thirty or forty elementary-school children showed up to visit the museum. We had no problem with them. They were just tall enough to see into the displays—real rugrats—so we could look right over their heads. Besides, we like kids, and this was a happy and enthusiastic bunch of them. After they’d spent some time looking around at the exhibits, a docent gathered them into an area where there were wide shallow steps for them to sit on, and started telling them about the history of Kansas City jazz.

“Kansas City was a big place for jazz,” she said. “Some important jazz musicians came from right around here. This was their neighborhood. Can you say ‘Charlie Parker’?”

CHARLIE PARKER!” they sang out in unison. They were having a good time. This was cool.

“Can you say Bebop?”




Patrick and I dived behind a Duke Ellington display, and clung to each other for support while we silently laughed ourselves stupid. As soon as he got his breath back, Patrick said, “I love my country.”

January 25, 2003
Open thread 1
Posted by Teresa at 08:48 AM *

The purpose of this entry is its comment thread. Read on.

Our mail is down, and yours may be too.

Post messages here if you want to get in touch with us, or if your ISP is affected and you’re trying to get in touch with someone who might turn up here, or if you want to swap information about the DDOS attacks.

If things get too lively and numerous I may open further threads, but for now this one is it.

What’s happening:

As I said, our mail is down. Patrick’s posted about this briefly in Electrolite. Panix, our ISP, is getting hit with a massive DDOS (distributed denial of service) attack. Sayeth Panix:

Many Panix services were disabled on-and-off (mostly off) from about 12:30AM Saturday morning up until recently. This was the result of a massive DDOS (distributed denial-of-service) attack that apparently affected a number of ISPs. We don’t know a lot about this yet, though we’ve been working on it all night, since the volume was far more massive than any attack in our previous experience, and apparently triggered at least two separate bugs in Cisco’s IOS (memory leakage and HSRP failures).

The attack is continuing, on and off. We’ve taken certain measures, which are partially effective, but we’re uncertain as to how they’ll stand up.

See the first comment in the thread for a further description of what’s going on.

This is disturbing. Panix has previously gotten hit with some state-of-the-art DDOS attacks. This one must be huge.

So that’s where things stand. To repeat what I said earlier:

Post messages here if you want to get in touch with us, or if your ISP is affected and you’re trying to get in touch with someone who might turn up here, or if you want to swap information about the DDOS attacks.

If things get too lively and numerous I may open further threads, but for now this one is it. (The other threads in my weblog are still the other threads. Simple.)

If Making Light slows down, please just be patient. If it stops working entirely, you can assume the attacks have spread to encompass our DSL provider and/or Blogomania. I’m hopeful about our chances of staying up, but there is that possibility. Make talk while the sun shines.

Addendum: A lot of sites out there will explain what DDOS attacks are and how they work, but if you’re starting from scratch, you might find it helpful to read Steve Gibson’s The Strange Tale of the Denial of Service Attacks Against GRC.COM, which tells the story of a series of attacks launched against Gibson Research Corporation in January 2002. It’s lively reading, and a good way to get a sense of the issues.

January 22, 2003
Who “made” traditional Japanese prints?
Posted by Teresa at 11:11 AM *

This is a page of selected comments from a thread that developed in the Shogun Gallery’s Chats on Japanese Prints discussion forum. It’s fascinating if you’re into ukiyo-e, but it’s also one of the best discussions I’ve seen of the issues that arise in any collective or collaborative art form:


I’d like to toss out a topic for debate. I have a sneaking suspicion that our art-historical approach to ukiyo-e is mistaken in concentrating too much on individual artists and less on the productive role of Edo culture itself.

When we truly consider the ‘ukiyo-e quartet’ that lies behind the production of a work, how can we continue only to assert the central importance of the designer? Isn’t this merely a leftover of the ‘collector mentality’ (it’s a Hokusai!) that has distorted our view of ukiyo-e for too long? …

A final piece of evidence: in certain joint works, each artist puts his ‘own’ style aside for the sake of continuity, producing designs so completely unlike his other that without the force of the signature, no one would recognize him. Ultimately, wasn’t ukiyo-e just a question of ‘giving the people what they want’, as in any piece of pop culture? And wasn’t it the publisher’s job to put his tendrils out into the waves and feel which way the current was flowing, then direct the designer accordingly? Hokusai was the only artist capable of carving his own blocks, and when it came to color choice, the ‘artist’ had only a preliminary say. So I want to question all these monographs that discuss an artist’s work as if his life experiences led him to it, and as if he just came up with these great ideas on his own. Isn’t ukiyo-e a collective product that in the final analysis represents the people of Edo much more than any one person, the almighty creative artist?

John Fiorillo:
The ‘ukiyo-e quartet’ (artist, block carver, printer, and publisher) does not preclude the central importance of the artist, who was, after all, the designer or ‘conceiver’ of the composition. First, without the artist’s original inspiration and its translation into at least a rough sketch (sometimes there were more finished drawings), there would be no print. Second, we must carefully evaluate what role the artist might have played in influencing the final outcome in the collaborative process - it is not true that every artist simply handed over a sketch and then had nothing else to do with the production of ukiyo-e prints…

You are certainly correct to suggest that wider influences operated on the artist, and I agree that an artist could not produce his work in a vacuum, but surely that does not also mean that the artist would be undeserving of the primary credit for his creations. If that were so, you could argue that anyone could be an artist of repute because the influences were around all of us and so we would only have to express them. But there’s the rub! A thousand people who had grown up in the same local culture could view a landscape from the same observation point and then attempt to draw that landscape, but would any of them be another Hokusai or a Hiroshige?

Dave Bull:
May I refer interested readers to a page in the [Baren] Encyclopedia of Woodblock Printmaking?
It is sometimes difficult for people living in our day, a time in which the names of many of the long-dead designers have been elevated into ‘superhero’ status … Utamaro, Hokusai, Hiroshige … to understand that these designers in many cases had very little to do with the details of the appearance of the finished prints. Quite a number of working sketches and intermediate stages have survived to our time, and these show us that the designer usually produced what we would now call a ‘sketch’. The main strokes of the design were there, but all else was vague at best….
But who do we remember now - that man who carefully drew every line in the print? The carver who brought those lines to life? The printer? No, the only name we remember is that of the man who brushed that original sketch.
It goes on from there, touching on many points: a marvellous and illuminating conversation. Also, if you’ve worked in comics or graphic design, there’s this Utamaro kyogo-zuri (color key) you’ve got to see…

Visible grammar
Posted by Teresa at 11:10 AM *

Claire Eddy alarmed me a few days back by telling me about a website that diagrams sentences. “They can’t possibly!” I said. “The best AIs we have couldn’t handle that, and Fowler Himself says you can’t diagram the English subjunctive.”

Things cleared up when I looked at the site. They have samples of diagrammed sentences, and they’ll diagram a sentence if you send it to them, but they haven’t tried to make it an automated process. That’s feasible. I can live with it.

While I’m no great fan of diagramming sentences, I have to admit it’s as good a site as you could put together, given the subject. For one thing, they quote from Dave Barry’s “Ask Mr. Language Person”:

Q. Please explain how to diagram a sentence.

A. First spread the sentence out on a clean, flat surface, such as an ironing board. Then, using a sharp pencil or X-Acto knife, locate the “predicate,” which indicates where the action has taken place and is usually located directly behind the gills. For example, in the sentence: “LaMont never would of bit a forest ranger,” the action probably took place in a forest. Thus your diagram would be shaped like a little tree with branches sticking out of it to indicate the locations of the various particles of speech, such as your gerunds, proverbs, adjutants, etc.

And, in a virtuoso display of sentence-diagramming macho, they diagram The Pledge of Allegiance and the Preamble to the Constitution.

from Hiperespacio
Posted by Teresa at 11:09 AM *

Frase geek del mes

Escuchado, como quien no quiere la cosa, en uno de estos dedas tontos, de boca de un geek:

“Cuando este1s a punto de morir, seguro que ves pasar un resumen de toda tu vida ante tus ojos, como en un PowerPoint.”

Posted by Teresa at 11:08 AM *

I mentioned to Jim Macdonald that the temperature here hasn’t gone above freezing for eight or nine days now, and that it’s getting colder. He responded by telling me about the weather in Colebrook.

He wins, if that’s winning. At those temperatures, they ought to have mammoths wandering through, along with their usual moose.

January 17, 2003
Collecting Bug
Posted by Teresa at 07:20 PM *

This started when I read one too many stories about some recluse who, when their neighbors finally got the city to act on repeated complaints about noxious odors, turned out to be living in filth and squalor with 137 live cats, all of them in pitiable condition, plus the rotting or mummified or partly cannibalized or refrigerated carcasses of an indeterminate number of dead cats.

It came to me that I’d seen a great many of these stories, and that they were all of a pattern. What was going on there? I went googling to find out.

Take a deep breath.

The term for it is animal collecting or animal hoarding. Basically, hoarders accumulate an impossible number of animals—more than they can care or provide for, and far too many for the available space. Their quarters rapidly become a stew of filth, misery, and suffering animals. For instance:

I volunteered to assist in a collector case involving a woman who claimed to breed “show poodles.” The neighbors finally called the police because of the foul odor coming from her house. …

This collector was a middle-aged woman who had literally filled her house to the brim with poodles — letting them breed and inbreed until she ended up with at least 40 poodles in a tiny two-bedroom house. Since she never let them outside to go to the bathroom, layers upon layers of urine, feces, and newspapers stood two to three feet high throughout the home. The dogs were covered in their own urine and feces and their coats were severely matted from lack of care.

One dog had just given birth to a litter of puppies, yet she was so thin I could see every bone in her body. Old dogs, young dogs, and even puppies all suffered, living in deplorable conditions with no visible food or water. Emaciated dogs fed off the carcasses of dogs that had already starved to death. Others crouched in corners and hid behind furniture in fear from the lack of human companionship and socialization. … All of the dogs were emaciated, many were obviously sick, yet the woman denied any wrongdoing in the care she provided for her dogs.

Hoarding used to be thought of as an eccentricity, but more and more it’s being recognized as a social problem—and, more to the point, a form of mental illness. Here’s Salon on the subject:
Gary Patronek, director of the Center for Animals and Public Policy at Tufts University, argues that animal hoarding represents a vastly misunderstood problem. …

“For years it’s been perceived as an animal welfare issue, and left for the shelters to handle by themselves,” Patronek says. “The human [side of the problem] has been largely ignored.”

Patronek and his group, the Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium (HARC), coined the phrase “animal hoarding” in 1997. It was a watershed moment: There had always been cat ladies, and newspaper stories about them began to appear routinely a decade ago, but they were referred to, rather benignly, as collectors.

“That connoted nothing,” says Patronek, who, as a veterinarian, has walked into homes putrid with rotting carcasses and urine-soaked floors. He says the behavior “is much more like the pathological hoarding of objects.”

Animal hoarding, says Patronek, is the end state of several different pathways. It can be an outgrowth of the problems of old age. Sometimes it’s just good intentions colliding with bad coping, like the couple in North Carolina who took in 100 potbellied pigs. Unfortunately, she then fell ill; and after that, as her husband said, “Things just get away from you.”

Many animal hoarders also compulsively hoard objects. Even without the animals, their houses would still be cluttered and disorganized, becoming in their end stages what social service providers call garbage houses. This may put them on the same map as the obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD), as opposed to the addictive model some animal-welfare advocates favor. Even more than people who live in garbage houses, animal hoarders tend to become secretive and isolated. Their lives fold inward until it’s just them, the animals, and a houseful of sh*t.

Some statistics: It’s estimated that there are 700 to 2,000 new cases of animal hoarding every year in the United States. Two studies of hoarders showed:

Most cases were female (76%), a large proportion (46%) were 60 years of age or older; most were single, divorced or widowed; and almost half lived alone. The most common animals involved were cats (65%) and dogs (60%). … The conditions described were fairly consistent in both studies. Dead or sick animals were discovered in 80% of reported cases, yet in nearly 60% of cases the hoarder would not acknowledge the problem. In 69% of cases, animal feces and urine accumulated in living areas, and over one-quarter of the hoarders’ beds were soiled with feces or urine. … A significant number of hoarders had nonfunctional utilities (i.e., bathroom plumbing, cooking facilities, heat, refrigeration and electricity).
Sometimes the only cleanup option is to burn or bulldoze the house.

That’s one level of weirdness. (Level 1.1: Hoarding beavers.) Next level: Hoarders say they love animals, and characteristically believe that they have exceptional insight where animals are concerned. They also believe they’re “saving” them from certain euthanasia. They refuse to let them be adopted by others. Some can’t even bear to relinquish their animals’ corpses :

An investigator found dead cats in one collector’s freezer. Another collector, also unable to accept the death of her cats, eviscerated their bodies and dried them on her fire escape, keeping their dried remains in cupboards. Many collectors see themselves as the only person who can help animals, and they distrust other individuals or groups who offer assistance. When outsiders intervene, collectors may refuse to part with any of their animals, even through adoption or veterinary care for the sick.
As one animal welfare worker said, “Collecting is not about having a loving home. Collecting is not about love, it’s about control. I have real contempt for collectors.”

Here’s another:

Pamela Frasch, an attorney with the anti-cruelty division of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, … recalls one collector who, when her dogs were seized, fought to keep them from being treated with medication for heartworm. Demanding holistic treatment, the woman kept the case tied up in court as each of the dogs died a painful death from that illness. “The standard line,” says Frasch, “is, ‘I love these animals and no one can love them as I can.’
And again from Salon:
“Perhaps the most prominent psychological feature of these individuals is that pets (and other possessions) become central to the hoarder’s core identity,” Patronek writes in Municipal Lawyer magazine. “The hoarder develops a strong need for control, and just the thought of losing an animal can produce an intense grief-like reaction. …

On their way to the squad car, hoarders often explain that they simply love animals, or that these particular critters would’ve died without their intervention, or that in a mere two cats lies loneliness. The would-be animal rescuers often say they hear a calling. The problem is that they don’t always answer properly. The great irony regarding hoarders, of course, is that their loving benevolence commonly leaves a trail of horribly sick and neglected animals.

To me, the most striking feature of the animal hoarder’s psychology is their state of complete and utter denial. This is not your usual “Your father never did that, you don’t understand what he was going through, and why do you insist on only remembering the bad things?” kind of denial. This is world-class craziness. Hoarders insist there’s no problem, the house is just a little messy, and their critters are fine—even when the feces are a foot deep, animals are dropping dead and other animals are cannibalizing them, or the poor beasts have chronic infections that leave them with masses of scar tissue instead of eyes. If it weren’t real, it would be unbelievable:
Irene Holmes, a District Attorney who has assisted in the prosecution of a number of collector cases throughout the United States, … states that collectors have a “death grip on denial.” She gives the example of a woman who was shown a photograph of one of the dogs that was seized from her care. The photo shows a Weimaraner, so starved from lack of food that it was literally shedding its intestines and rectum. Holmes relates that when the woman who owned the dog looked at the photo, her only comment was “I guess it did seem a little ill.”
Their recidivism rate is close to 100%. I can think of two ways to get an idea of the magnitude of the misery involved. One is to read the Humane Society’s two-part article on how to conduct a large-scale intervention. The other is to read about the career of Marilyn Barletta, the Petaluma Cat Lady, or the even stranger case of Vikki Kittles.


Although many cases are successfully prosecuted, the punishment is seldom severe — very few collectors are punished beyond paying a fine. Even collectors whose animals have all been confiscated, and those who have been convicted of animal cruelty as the result of their collecting and neglecting animals, seldom stop this aberrant behavior. Most just move to another county or state and start collecting all over again. For example, a Maryland collector had 50 companion animals confiscated from her residence a few years ago. Two days later she had 20 more animals …
Addendum: If you’re interested in the clutter-and-hoarding angle but can’t deal with the animal mistreatment stories, you want the following links from the paragraph that begins, “Many animal hoarders also compulsively hoard objects”: hoard , objects, cluttered (1), cluttered (2), end stages, garbage houses, and OCD. The piece on garbage houses is particularly striking.

Nabokov and Legault: Together again for the first time
Posted by Teresa at 07:21 AM *

Robert writes:

I’m a big fan of Vladimir Nabokov’s fiction. Many of you are also aware that I sometimes translate Spanish-language comics (or graphic novels, if you prefer). These are often of an erotic nature. One of the graphic novels I translated is called Lolita. Its author, Milo Manara, is a well-known artist (he has a regular serial in Penthouse). While the title character’s name may have been suggested by Nabokov’s most famous novel, the story bears no resemblance to it whatsoever.

Periodically, like a lot of people, I’m sure, I run my name through Google to see what turns up. Sometimes I’m surprised—but never as much as this.

Well, I guess it can only help sales.

January 12, 2003
Butterscotch Blonde Telecaster
Posted by Teresa at 12:40 AM *

He sold off his Fender Performer on eBay (it had become a Collectible Guitar in the years since he bought it at a closeout price at Sam Ash, and anyway it never quite suited him), and with the proceeds got the used non-vintage but canonical Telecaster he wanted.

“Wanted” is such an inadequate verb.

He’s been intensively making its acquaintance all day. Every so often he comes up with a combination of settings he recognizes, and then the famous rock song that used it abruptly crawls out from under his fingers.

A few hours ago I asked him, quite unnecessarily, if he were happy. He looked up at me, blinking and confused, and said “I don’t know. I’ve been too busy to think about it.”

Very happy Patrick.

January 09, 2003
Posted by Teresa at 12:18 PM *

Oolong the rabbit is dead. He was the much-photographed and obviously much-loved pet of Hironori Akutagawa, who for years now has maintained a frequently updated photographic weblog about him. The photos are charming. Here are some typical days. Hironori Akutagawa is a sensitive photographer, and he and the bunny obviously had great rapport. That weblog was one of the things that got me through the weeks following 9/11.

Oolong had a lot of personality. His most notable oddity was his ability to balance objects on his head. He liked meadows, and running around in the snow. He went on excursions. It looked like a happy life.

There’ve been times of late when his health didn’t look so good. No surprise there; he was a very old rabbit. Still, I didn’t like to think about it. He was well enough at New Year’s to balance his annual Happy New Year sign on his head, and go outside to play in the snow.

Yesterday the last pictures went up. The story’s buried in the source code, picture by picture: He’d been unwell since the day before. Probably he had acute heart failure. He died peacefully. Goodbye.

Goodbye, rabbit, and thanks for all the pix.

Update: Hironori Akutagawa has put up an announcement:

I’m sorry for this sudden news, Oolong passed away on January 7th.

He was so well and cheerful as usual, but at 14:30 his condition changed suddenly, and he couldn’t support himself less and less, seemed to feel dull. Then at 19:30, he softly stopped breathing in the arms of his owner and completed his eight years and five months and more several days life filled with various adventure.

Since opening this website, Oolong had gotten incredible lots of support from all over the world, not only in Japan, more than 25 countries. Surely he seems to be the best fortunate rabbit in the world.

Thank you very much for your warmth.

There is still some stock of Oolong’s photograph not released yet, so this site will be regularly updated so far. Here he can live for ever. Wishing he can also live in hearts of you all, please.

P.S. I’m receiving so many emails about condolences from over the world, please forgive me not to be able to send quick each reply. Thank you.

January 07, 2003
Bacon and egg soup
Posted by Teresa at 09:40 PM *

1 lb. good bacon
1/2 C. chopped shallots
3/4 C. frozen spinach or collard greens
1/2 C. water
4 eggs
3 cans Campbell’s chicken broth
1/3 C. shelled chopped pistachios
3/4 C. fresh cilentro, loosely chopped
3/4 C. grated muenster cheese
several T. heavy cream, to taste
black pepper, sage, mace
2 T. dry sherry

Chop the bacon and the shallots both small and fry them together in a pan until the bacon is crisped. Set them aside. Drain off all the grease except a little, and use that and the water to cook the collards until they soften. Turn off the fire and let your pan cool while you beat four eggs, then beat the chicken broth into them. Pour this into the pan with the collards and heat, stirring constantly, until the soup thickens. This will be sudden, so keep your fire moderate and watch closely. While you’re stirring, throw in the pistachios and cilentro, and season to taste with black pepper, a good pinch of rubbed sage, and a little mace. When the soup has thickened, turn off the fire and keep stirring. Add the crisp bacon and onions, and a little later the cheese, stirring the whiles until the cheese melts. Temper it up with sherry and cream and serve it forth.

This is a consoling soup, good for staving off or ameliorating a cold. I make it in a pan like a non-stick wok, and find it answers very well.

Addendum: You can also make this with leftover baked ham and the juices from its baking. A very nice addition is queso de freir, also known as queso para freir, queso fresco, queso blanco fresco, and panela. It’s a crumbly white Hispanic cheese that doesn’t melt when you cook it. If you take a slice and fry it in a little oil, browning it on both sides, it’s like an entire slice of the little crispy bits you get around the edges of a grilled cheese sandwich. Take several of these browned cheese slices and use your scissors to cut them up into strips. At the last minute, throw them into the soup in place of the grated cheese.

[Recipe Index]

January 06, 2003
Cutting-edge technology
Posted by Teresa at 09:54 AM *

As Heinlein once said, “Long after the first star ship leaves for paths unknown, there will still be outhouses in upstate New York.” I expect he’ll be right, assuming that ship ever leaves at all. Few technologies ever go away completely.

Consider that there are guys out there right now, in this first-worldliest of countries, whose pleasure it is to knap flints, cherts, and obsidians into stone knives and arrowheads. The blades they make are pretty, but you can skin a deer with those things, and do surgery, and get past airport metal detectors. (Clovis points: the original North American superweapon.) On the other hand, you could just open your mail.

Naturally, once you’ve got a scene like that going, some flint-knappers are bound to get way good at what they do, and start turning it into art, and getting weird. Which brings us to the most Gibsonesque artifacts I know of: Stone tools made from fiber optic glass.

They also make them out of fused millefiori glass trade beads. And salvaged sky-blue glass from an old stage light lens Corning made for Hollywood in 1938. And vitrolite, that opaque architectural glass they used to use on storefronts. (Judging from the color, I’d guess that piece was salvaged from the facade of an old Woolworth’s building.)

I don’t know. Maybe future histories of materials science say that this was the period in which we finally started to get over our millennia-long initial infatuation with metal technology. And then again, maybe not.

January 05, 2003
Still out there
Posted by Teresa at 01:02 PM *

he latest in our series of inscrutable objects found on eBay. Seem like nice people, though.

January 02, 2003
Safe Treyf
Posted by Teresa at 08:57 PM *

David Levine turned me on to this charming article that analyzes the circumstances and semiotics of the New York Jewish community’s wholehearted adoption of Chinese as the restaurant food of choice:

Three themes predominate. First, Chinese food is unkosher and therefore non-Jewish. But because of the specific ways that Chinese food is prepared and served, immigrant Jews and their children found Chinese food to be more attractive and less threatening than other non-Jewish or treyf food. Chinese food was what we term “safe treyf.” Chinese restaurant food used some ingredients that were familiar to Eastern European Jews. Chinese cuisine also does not mix milk and meat; indeed it doesn’t use dairy products at all. In addition, anti-Semitism, anti-Chinese racism, and the low position of the Chinese in American society also (perhaps paradoxically) made Jews feel safe and comfortable in Chinese restaurants.

Second, Jews construed Chinese restaurant food as cosmopolitan. For Jews in New York, eating in Chinese restaurants signified that one was not a provincial or parochial Eastern European Jew, not a “greenhorn” or hick. In New York City, immigrant Jews, and especially their children and grand-children, regarded Chinese food as sophisticated and urbane.

Third, by the second and third generation, Jews identified eating this kind of non-Jewish food — Chinese restaurant food — as something that modern American Jews, and especially New York Jews, did together. “Eating Chinese” became a New York Jewish custom, a part of daily life and self-identity for millions of New York Jews.

It’s a good piece. Among other things, it analyzes why they didn’t go for Italian in the same way, even though it’s just a couple blocks over from Chinatown.

One for the copyeditors
Posted by Teresa at 08:11 AM *

Andrea Harris’s weblog Spleenville recently had a good long comment thrash about a remarkably fatuous essay about Tolkien that appeared in the online London Times. What fueled the thrash, besides the sheer obnoxiousness of the Times piece, was a fellow named A. C. Douglas, who thought the piece was just swell and modern fantasy is crap, and was taking on all comers.

But that’s not the point. A recurrent minor motif in the thrash was the essayist’s use of the term “inter-ballistic missile.” As Andrea Harris said to Mr. Douglas:

I also notice that you don’t seem at all bothered by his godawful writing. I repeat the question: What the hell is “an inter-ballistic missile”? You are always going on (on your blog) about how you love beautiful writing, and then comes along someone who goes at English with a metaphorical meat-cleaver, and you are unfazed.
Said Mr. Douglas:
An “inter-ballistic missile” is *clearly* a typo. Blame the copy editor (assuming there was one; these days that’s not a good assumption), not the author.
Uh, yeah, right.

He went on:

As to the general writing, the column was a first-rate piece of journalism: Clear, concise, and erudite.
Andrea Harris:
No it wasn’t. It sucked, if I may use a high-falutin’ literary term. Claiming that “inter-ballistic missile” was “a typo” is also a copout. You have no idea whether or not the website messed up instead of the author; but someone who could come up with examples of demented syntax such as [list snipped], could certainly come up with “inter-ballistic missile” his own self.
Whereupon Mr. Douglas triumphantly shot back:
On the matter of “inter-ballistic,” I know for a fact that it’s a typo because any author as clearly erudite as is the author of that piece could make such an error only by way of typo.
Friends, have you ever found yourself unable to speak, not because you have nothing to say, but because you have so much that you can’t see where to begin? It’s like that.

I’m posting it here in lieu of passing Mr. Douglas’s remarks along to every copyeditor I know.

January 01, 2003
Posted by Teresa at 11:44 PM *

Obliscence, Theories of Forgetting and the Problem of Matter, found here. Ages and Dispensations, by Charles Larkin, found here. And Planet Kolob and environs, found here.

Which chart is a sincere attempt to explain a set of beliefs? Which is an irreverent but accurate depiction of a serious belief system? And which one is a parody of the making of charts like these?

New Tolkien Book Discovered
Posted by Teresa at 09:10 PM *

That’s what the headline on the news story says. (Thanks, Graydon, for pointing it out to me.) Judging from the descriptions, the material is actually about 2,000 pages of handwritten text gathered into four bound volumes, containing Tolkien’s appraisal of Beowulf and portions of his own translations of the poem.

And where was this found? In the bottom of a box of papers at the Bodleian. A US academic named Michael Drout recognized it for what it is while looking for something else:

An assistant professor of English at Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts, Dr Drout was researching Anglo-Saxon scholarship at the Bodleian, and asked to see a copy of a lecture on Beowulf given by Tolkien in 1936.
“Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics.” (Of course.)
It was brought to him in a reading room in a large box. Professor Drout, who reads Anglo-Saxon prose to his two-year-old daughter at bedtime, said: “I was sitting there going through the transcripts when I saw these four bound volumes at the bottom of the box.

“I started looking through, and realised I had found an entire book of material that had never seen the light of day. As I turned the page, there was Tolkien’s fingerprint in a smudge of ink.”

I can respect the level of geekdom of someone who reads Anglo-Saxon to his toddler and can recognize Tolkien’s fingerprints.

The news story’s a little hazy on the whole thing, and thinks the interesting part is that this material might have some tenuous connection to the movies. Professor Drout’s site is more forthcoming with the details:

Tolkien wrote a complete prose translation of Beowulf, a fragmentary verse translation, and many, many pages of commentaries. The Tolkien Estate has approved my proposal to edit and publish the translations and commentaries in two volumes, and I have begun work on the project. It will be at least a year until the translations are ready for publication. I will post updates here if any new information becomes available.
My man.

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