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April 30, 2003
Posted by Teresa at 01:50 AM *

For the record: It was a 1988 white Honda Civic Hatchback, blue upholstery, license plate 5YF 600. I should have noted the mileage. I’ve had it for fourteen years. I loved it dearly.

It was the best car that ever was. It survived many mishaps, and danced innumerable fandangos. It sassed New York taxis, went light-footedly through blizzards, and carried improbable loads.

I found it on Staten Island. We’d been shopping for a car, and had visited asst’d other dealerships and driven their cars, and been judgemental but uncommitted. Then we went to Staten Island Honda. I settled down to talk car with the salesman, letting Patrick and Scraps wander off. They’re not car guys, those two. I was deep in a discussion with the salesman when Patrick reappeared, tugging at my sleeve. I excused myself and impatiently went to see what he’d found.

It was a white Civic Hatchback with blue upholstery, a floor model. I sat down behind the wheel, adjusted the mirror, ran the gearshift through its sequence — and suddenly knew without any doubt that this was My Car, and that it needed to be rescued from this place Right Now, before someone took advantage of its vulnerable position.

I went back to the salesman and worked out a fairly advantageous deal. Then I took my car home.

We had fine adventures.

This evening, the police showed up at my door. They’d been summoned by Peter, owner of the Saturn. I’d parked behind him earlier this evening. The hit-and-run driver of a green Jeep Cherokee had rear-ended my poor car so hard that its front end was driven deep under the Saturn, lifting that car’s rear wheels off the ground. The back of my car is shattered and deeply staved in. Parts of its rear luggage compartment broke loose and were thrown forward against the back of the front seats.

The police estimate the driver was doing at least forty miles an hour, at night, on a narrow ill-lit residential street. The police estimate that the driver was drunk.

It’s still a good car. It started right up, and I backed it out from under the Saturn. Then I put my head down on the steering wheel and cried, because it had started up just like it always did. I drove it to a parking lot after making a tight U-turn on 5th Avenue. It beeped at me the whole way, conscientiously advising me that one of its doors wasn’t properly shut.

I think I’m coping.

Cars are like dogs. Some are better than others. A few, you love. And you always outlive them.

Addendum: This morning I sorted things out with a Mr. John Stockinger at Geico, who was kind and helpful and thoroughly professional. I started by confessing my irrational fear that I was about to find out that some form we’d sent in had gone astray and never reached them, after which they’d cancelled our insurance. He actually understood this. (Policy fine, not cancelled. Big relief.)

After we’d gotten it straight that Geico was going to send their tow truck to the parking garage to haul my car off to one of their preferred auto body places for a triage inspection, I walked down to the parking garage to collect my belongings from the car. You can accumulate a lot of stuff over fourteen years.

The parking garage guys were also very helpful. I gather one of them had gotten the day off to a jolly start by scaring a fellow employee with a convincingly upset-sounding report about how one of the cars parked in an employees-only area had gotten its rear end caved in. The victim of this joke had duly gone to see my car. “It just about gave me a heart attack,” he said.

They all agreed that Honda Civic hatchbacks are great cars, but that they’d never heard of an insurance company not totalling a car as badly banged-up as mine.

The process of collecting my stuff was complicated by the sheer amount of shattered glass all over the car’s interior. The top of the back seat couldn’t be touched. It wasn’t just a matter of bits of broken glass sticking to the upholstery; the force of the collision had driven fine splinters of glass straight into the seat padding, and they stuck straight out like cholla spines.

Really, it was just as well we weren’t around for that.

And my car gave me an inexplicable parting gift. Back in the rear luggage compartment, underneath the midden of spare windshield washer fluid, WD-40, motor oil, Smofcon ice scrapers, rust remover, spare tail light bulbs, paper towels, plastic bags, first aid supplies, and the H. B. Fenn cold-weather breakdown kit—clear down at the bottom, underneath the jumper cables and the vise grip—I found a complete rappelling harness. I’ve been wanting a rappelling harness for my own peace of mind, but I know I didn’t beg, borrow, steal, receive, or purchase this one, and I don’t remember it being there the last time I did a full-scale packing job on the car. It’s a complete mystery.

April 25, 2003
Damn Covad, damn Speakeasy
Posted by Teresa at 10:55 AM *

Our net connection went down hard on Wednesday night. After twenty-four hours of this, Speakeasy was persuaded to acknowledge that there was a problem, though they clearly favored the “you must have reconfigured something in your own setup” hypothesis (wrong) over “we have to come out and fix this, like it says we will in the service agreement.”

Monday, they say. They’ll come on Monday. It might even happen.

Meanwhile, I’m stuck at home because I’ve messed up my back. I built one of my eight-foot-tall bookcases over Easter weekend, and just as I was getting ready to attach it to the wall, the dratted thing fell on me, landing with its top shelf athwart my shoulder. (It got attached anyway, with vindictive thoroughness.) Shifting all those cartons of books did’t help either. Ow ow ow ow ow.

(I don’t suppose anyone here can figure out how fast the top of the bookcase was moving when its arc intersected with my shoulder (elev. 54.25”)? Just curious.)

Anyway. For the next few days, our connectivity will consist of sharing a single dial-up modem connection through our home network, and that’s only when Patrick is at home.

Lo, how I suffer. I am irritated! I am indignant! Woe!

Y’all have a good weekend, and behave yourselves, lest I get my connectivity back before I’m finished waxing and polishing my wroth.

April 22, 2003
Sorry, no.
Posted by Teresa at 11:07 PM *

Not plausible.

Or maybe someone at Fox News delayed the piece by three weeks, mistakenly thinking it wasn’t tied to a specific date.

April 21, 2003
Why it’s a bad idea to burn old libraries
Posted by Teresa at 10:00 AM *

Recently I was deeply vexed by the news that a professional author, who of all people should know better, has dismissed the burning of the National Library in Baghdad on the grounds that any book destroyed in the fire could simply be reprinted. There are moments when you find out more about someone’s scholarship and research habits than you’d ever want to know.

Apparently he was unaware that whereas reprinting might serve to reconstitute his high school library, substantial research libraries contain all sorts of odd things, possibly odd old things, some of which may be sole copies. This goes double for major research libraries, which are textual mathom-houses. Moreover, at the time that some of these odd things were catalogued, they may not have been properly recognized for what they were. (This is, incidentally, why I hate having to do research in closed-stack library systems: You have to take the cataloguer’s word on everything.) Anything can turn up there.

Just this year came the news that a big wodge of Tolkien manuscript had turned up in a carton in the Bodleian Library. It hadn’t been lost, exactly; but it hadn’t occurred to anyone who knew about the material’s existence that it might command enough general interest to warrant publication. It has now been published.

Then there’s the Didache, a.k.a. “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles,” an authentic document of the ancient church discovered in 1873 in an old library in Constantinople. It dates from around 70 CE; that is, from when people who knew Jesus personally were still alive:
The Didache (“The Teaching”) is one of the most fascinating yet perplexing documents to emerge from the early church. The title (in ancient times “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles”) was known from references to it by Athanasius, Didymus, and Eusebius, and Serapion of Thmuis (4th century) has a quotation from it in his Eucharistic prayer [Richardson] p. 163. But no copy was known until 1873, when Bryennios discovered the codex Hierosolymitanus, which contained the full text of the Didache which he published in 1883. Since then it has been the focus of scholarly attention to an extent quite out of proportion to its modest length. …

The document is composed of two parts: (1) instruction about the “Two Ways”, and (2) a manual of church order and practice. The “Two Ways” material appears to have been intended as a summary of basic instruction about the Christian life to be taught to those who were preparing for baptism and church membership. In its present form it represents the Christianization of a common Jewish form of moral instruction. …

The second part consists of instructions about food, baptism, fasting, prayer, the Eucharist, and various offices and positions of leadership. In addition to providing the earliest evidence of a mode of baptism other than immersion, it records the oldest known Christian Eucharist prayers and a form of the Lord’s Prayer quite similar to that found in the Gospel according to Matthew.

The document closes with a brief apocalyptic section that has much in common with the so-called Synoptic Apocalypse (Mark 13; Matthew 24-25; Luke 24). Which is sort of non-trivial, for those who are interested in such things.

Consider also this discussion of ancient imaging technology and the interesting bit of text, found in 1925 by the Catalan historian Pedro Ple1, which turned up in the regional library in Granada:
One of the most regrettable events in history was the destruction of the Library of Alexandria by order of the caliph Omar. It is supposed that this library contained marvelous secrets that, when lost, set back some aspects of human knowledge by centuries. Few things could be rescued. Among them was one related to our subject, which we will transcribe in part below. It was written in the VI century by an Arab doctor and alchemist called Abd-el-Kamir, on whom there is little data. The following is a fragment:
When silver is melted, some small lead-colored particles remain at the bottom of the recipient. If these particles are taken and mixed with animal resin, a thick solution will be obtained which must be poured into a recipient where light does not penetrate.
Then, in absolute darkness, a metallic plate can be impregnated with this solution and is then ready upon exposure to the sun’s rays to record the contours of any object that is placed upon it.
Then there’s the new work being done with palimpsests. These are parchments whose original texts were partially erased, then overwritten with another text. New forensic and imaging technology are enabling us to see the first version of the text, sometimes with startling results:
The announcement on July 11 of the availability of a tenth century manuscript of texts by the Greek scientist and mathematician Archimedes offers an important opportunity to probe the works of one of the greatest thinkers of the ancient world. The document provides the oldest known source of Archimedes’ writings. … The original work lies hidden beneath an overlay of Greek prayers.

Scientists will be using the latest technology such as digital enhancement and ultra-violet and infra-red filters to discern the original text. Some of the inks used contain particles of iron and will be analyzed using delicate magnetic equipment. An RIT archaeologist, Robert Johnston said that “there is always a residual, traces of what was there. It’s amazing what can come out. Soon, nothing will be secret or hidden.94 …

The Palimpsest is the only copy of Archimedes’ important On the Method of Mechanical Theorems and the original Greek version of On Floating Bodies. It also contains copies of Archimedes’ On the Measurement of the Circle, On the Sphere and the Cylinder, On Spiral Lines, and On the Equilibrium of Planes, which had previously been known from much later sources.
The manuscript was first written in the tenth century, copied from an edition of Archimedes’ work then extant in Constantinople. Two hundred years later that text was scraped off, and the parchment was rewritten as a prayer book. Many of Constantinople’s books were burnt when the city was sacked by crusaders in 1204, but this prayer book survived. In the sixteenth century it turned up in the Monastery of St. Saba in what is now Israel. By 1846 it was back in Constantinople at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where it was first identified as a palimpsest. In 1906, a Danish philologist named Johan Ludvig identified the original book as a mathematical text by Archimedes. And now we can read it.

What’s in old libraries? You don’t know until you find it. But in order for that to happen, you have to preserve the old holdings and original documents. You also have to keep the library from being burnt. Until last week, the holdings of the National Library in Baghdad were part of the common inheritance of human civilization. We know some of what was lost. We’ll never know all of it.

I’m sure there’ll continue to be some ignorant barbarians who’ll insist that the library was no great loss, and that Donald Rumsfeld isn’t a nyekulturniy lout as well as a profoundly incompetent Secretary of Defense. They’re nothing new in the history of the world. I just wish that so much of the work of civilization didn’t consist of trying to recover from their little sprees.

April 19, 2003
Further religious tat
Posted by Teresa at 09:34 AM *

The best ones always leave me speechless. Just go look.

But wait! There’s more.

(via Boing Boing)

April 17, 2003
Brain gender
Posted by Teresa at 12:18 PM *

The Guardian reports yet another theory about the characteristic differences between men’s and women’s minds. This one comes with a pair of moderately sophisticated little tests for empathy and systematization. But I don’t know how much validity there is to the whole thing, because according to the test results I’m almost certainly a man.

Perilously close to respectability
Posted by Teresa at 07:06 AM *

Paul G. Allen, billionaire co-founder of Microsoft, is planning to build something called SFX (Science Fiction Experience) in Seattle. He’s calling it a “cultural project”, and says he sees it as “a jumping-off project for examining the future”:

According to promotional material, SFX “will explore our culture through the broad, historic and compelling lens of science fiction.” The material promises models of “bug-eyed monsters” and exhibits that illustrate “science fiction’s alternate realities.” …

Plans call for a hall of fame for science-fiction heroes, another hall shaped like the interior of a spaceship and a third that would commemorate terrifying aliens and other evil creatures. SFX’s advisory board includes the science-fiction writers Greg Bear, Ray Bradbury, Octavia Butler and Arthur C. Clarke.

Writers like those transfixed Mr. Allen when he was young. He said he was a small child when he stumbled on a book called “Spaceship Galileo” and has been “a huge fan” of science fiction ever since.

That’s Rocket Ship Galileo—and so did I.

These things are bound to happen, though the gradually increasing respectability of Our Beloved Genre over the course of my lifetime has caused me considerable bemusement. It’s a normal process. We love as adults what we read as kids, back when we had no thought of the respectability of a book, but only cared whether it was a good story. Meanwhile, the ones who grow up to be authors reshape that rapturous indiscriminate junk-laden reading into better art that resembles, not the original work, but what they saw in their heads when they read it.

We’ll live to see skiffy become respectable. And that’s good, I suppose; but there’ll be something lost the day that teachers try to get kids to read it on the grounds that it’s good for them.

April 16, 2003
And this is evidence of …?
Posted by Teresa at 07:00 PM *

Those who can bear to read the news will already know that The libraries of Baghdad have been burned. Below is Robert Fisk, writing in The Independent, 15 April 2003, testifying to the loss, and to the holiness of the written word:

So yesterday was the burning of books. First came the looters, then the arsonists. It was the final chapter in the sacking of Baghdad. The National Library and Archives ad a priceless treasure of Ottoman historical documents, including the old royal archives of Iraq ad were turned to ashes in 3,000 degrees of heat. Then the library of Korans at the Ministry of Religious Endowment was set ablaze.

I saw the looters. One of them cursed me when I tried to reclaim a book of Islamic law from a boy of no more than 10. Amid the ashes of Iraqi history, I found a file blowing in the wind outside: pages of handwritten letters between the court of Sharif Hussein of Mecca, who started the Arab revolt against the Turks for Lawrence of Arabia, and the Ottoman rulers of Baghdad.

And the Americans did nothing. All over the filthy yard they blew, letters of recommendation to the courts of Arabia, demands for ammunition for troops, reports on the theft of camels and attacks on pilgrims, all in delicate hand-written Arabic script. I was holding in my hands the last Baghdad vestiges of Iraq’s written history. But for Iraq, this is Year Zero; with the destruction of the antiquities in the Museum of Archaeology on Saturday and the burning of the National Archives and then the Koranic library, the cultural identity of Iraq is being erased. Why? Who set these fires? For what insane purpose is this heritage being destroyed?

When I caught sight of the Koranic library burning ad flames 100 feet high were bursting from the windows ad I raced to the offices of the occupying power, the US Marines’ Civil Affairs Bureau. An officer shouted to a colleague that “this guy says some biblical [sic] library is on fire”. I gave the map location, the precise name ad in Arabic and English. I said the smoke could be seen from three miles away and it would take only five minutes to drive there. Half an hour later, there wasn’t an American at the scene and the flames were shooting 200 feet into the air.

There was a time when the Arabs said that their books were written in Cairo, printed in Beirut and read in Baghdad. Now they burn libraries in Baghdad. In the National Archives were not just the Ottoman records of the Caliphate, but even the dark years of the country’s modern history, handwritten accounts of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, with personal photographs and military diaries,and microfiche copies of Arabic newspapers going back to the early 1900s.

But the older files and archives were on the upper floors of the library where petrol must have been used to set fire so expertly to the building. The heat was such that the marble flooring had buckled upwards and the concrete stairs that I climbed had been cracked.

The papers on the floor were almost too hot to touch, bore no print or writing, and crumbled into ash the moment I picked them up. Again, standing in this shroud of blue smoke and embers, I asked the same question: why?

So, as an all-too-painful reflection on what this means, let me quote from the shreds of paper that I found on the road outside, blowing in the wind, written by long-dead men who wrote to the Sublime Porte in Istanbul or to the Court of Sharif of Mecca with expressions of loyalty and who signed themselves “your slave”. There was a request to protect a camel convoy of tea, rice and sugar, signed by Husni Attiya al-Hijazi (recommending Abdul Ghani-Naim and Ahmed Kindi as honest merchants), a request for perfume and advice from Jaber al-Ayashi of the royal court of Sharif Hussein to Baghdad to warn of robbers in the desert. “This is just to give you our advice for which you will be highly rewarded,” Ayashi says. “If you don’t take our advice, then we have warned you.” A touch of Saddam there, I thought. The date was 1912.

Some of the documents list the cost of bullets, military horses and artillery for Ottoman armies in Baghdad and Arabia, others record the opening of the first telephone exchange in the Hejaz ad soon to be Saudi Arabia ad while one recounts, from the village of Azrak in modern-day Jordan, the theft of clothes from a camel train by Ali bin Kassem, who attacked his interrogators “with a knife and tried to stab them but was restrained and later bought off”. There is a 19th-century letter of recommendation for a merchant, Yahyia Messoudi, “a man of the highest morals, of good conduct and who works with the [Ottoman] government.” This, in other words, was the tapestry of Arab history,ad all that is left of it, which fell into The Independent’s hands as the mass of documents crackled in the immense heat of the ruins.

King Faisal of the Hejaz, the ruler of Mecca, whose staff are the authors of many of the letters I saved, was later deposed by the Saudis. His son Faisel became king of Iraq ad Winston Churchill gave him Baghdad after the French threw him out of Damascus ad and his brother Abdullah became the first king of Jordan, the father of King Hussein and the grandfather of the present-day Jordanian monarch, King Abdullah II.

For almost a thousand years, Baghdad was the cultural capital of the Arab world, the most literate population in the Middle East. Genghis Khan’s grandson burnt the city in the 13th century and, so it was said, the Tigris river ran black with the ink of books. Yesterday, the black ashes of thousands of ancient documents filled the skies of Iraq. Why?
Good question. Right now we’ve got a lot of our guys combing the country, still looking for those weapons of mass destruction. They’re not turning up. I figure they’re not going to turn up, because Rumsfeld is now suggesting that the WMDs were all spirited over the border into Syria.

And why shouldn’t he? With so many records destroyed, in the library and elsewhere, we can claim anything about Saddam’s regime; and who can prove us wrong? If we really wanted to know about weapons of mass destruction, we wouldn’t have blown Chemical Ali’s house to smithereenies. That’s where those records were kept. Or if we did happen to blow it to smithereenies, we would have gone in and secured the site and whatever remained. It wouldn’t have been difficult; a reporter for the Daily Telegraph walked into the house while it was still being looted by local peasants and little kids. But we didn’t do that either. Nor did we secure the government offices and the homes of other high officials to see whether their paperwork held any clues. Darned if the looters didn’t destroy all that data too.

And now Rumsfeld is saying the WMDs have gone over the border into Syria. This might have more credibility if he and his cronies hadn’t already let slip that Syria’s next in line for a regime change anyway.

I’ll end here with a bit of the log file from a conversation I had in chat with a very knowledgeable friend:
Friend: The following is from Bush’s recent State of the Union speech: “Our intelligence officials estimate that Saddam Hussein had the materials to produce as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent. In such quantities, these chemical agents could also kill untold thousands. He’s not accounted for these materials. He has given no evidence that he has destroyed them. “ TNH: Oh, what [very bad word]!
Friend: Still quoting: “U.S. intelligence indicates that Saddam Hussein had upwards of 30,000 munitions capable of delivering chemical agents. Inspectors recently turned up 16 of them, despite Iraq’s recent declaration denying their existence. Saddam Hussein has not accounted for the remaining 29,984 of these prohibited munitions. He has given no evidence that he has destroyed them.”
Friend: Okay. Now there are no files or paperwork left showing what was or wasn’t around.
Friend: (This is now me talking.)
TNH: I can tell.
Friend: But … 29,984.
Friend: Where are they?
TNH: That’s a big stack, and a precise count.
Friend: Sixteen of ‘em showed up in an old bunker, covered with bird poop, crates unopened since the late ’80s.
TNH: Obvious inventory error.
Friend: That leaves, let’s see, 29,968?
Friend: One turned up this morning, and the preliminary test showed positive for chemicals. The secondary test popped negative.
Friend: That’s 29,967 left. Where are they?
Friend: Those aren’t hidden under the bed in Saddam’s Love Shack. Where are they?
Friend: 500 tons of sarin, mustard, and VX is a big whacking pile. And you can’t just leave it lying around. The dead birds would give it away.
Friend: So, where is it?
Friend: (As to how we know exactly how much he’s got, that’s easy. We saved the receipts.)
Friend: Rumsfeld, today, is putting out that it’s all been moved to Syria.
Friend: I’m sure you want to know what Iraq was claiming as far as where all this stuff went, back before the war started. You do know, don’t you?
TNH: Yes?
Friend: As you recall, Iraq was required to destroy all the stuff within 15 days at the end of Gulf War I.
Friend: Iraq has been claiming, right along, that they did in fact destroy it, right on time.
TNH: And you know, they might just be telling the truth.
Friend: But that the records of having destroyed it were kept at good ol’ “Chemical Ali’s” headquarters, in Basra, and were burned by mobs during rioting in that city when they broke into government offices and destroyed files.
TNH: [Very bad words.]
I want to put up ads all over America showing Rumsfeld’s and Bush’s grinning faces. Underneath them, it would say:
“Hi! I’m Donald Rumsfeld!” “And I’m George Bush!”
“We hold you in complete contempt! We think you’ll believe anything!

Reading comprehension, and other problems
Posted by Teresa at 06:59 PM *

I see from Technorati that I’m getting linked to by various blogs that are full of spluttering indignation about how I obviously value a museum full of trinkets over the lives and liberty of the poor oppressed Iraqi people.

Well, no. That’s neither true, nor what I said. These people don’t read too well.

The big lie is that the looting and general disorder was a necessary tradeoff for freedom. The blowhards are out in force: You must not care about all those Iraqi babies Saddam was eating for dinner! I care more about the Iraqi people than about a few trinkets, huh huh huh!

(There’s a new one: bleeding-heart freepers. They didn’t care about the Iraqi people last week and they won’t care about them next week. It’s just their football cheer of the moment. The advent of the internet has made so many things possible. Self-published recreational journalism has always been around; but back when you had to at least learn to run a mimeograph, and you had to pay postage to distribute your deathless prose, people who didn’t actually have much to say for themselves found other hobbies.)

Anyway, it’s complete balderdash. This failure to maintain public order, and the consequent catastrophic looting (which has not been limited to museums), is happening because our leaders screwed up. Our troops are stretched so thin that they couldn’t afford to move a squad and a Bradley three hundred yards down the street to keep a major institution from getting trashed. Days after the outcry over the museums, they couldn’t keep the National Library from being burnt.

How many times have we heard now that we’re more or less in control of Baghdad?

If you want to invoke babies, we can discuss the costs of massive social disorder. This is from Salon’s piece on the looting of Mosul (formerly Niniveh), from a reporter who got there not long after Rumsfeld announced that the city had been taken by a mixture of US special forces and peshmerga:
April 12, 2003 | MOSUL, Iraq — A little girl in a red velvet dress stood in the middle of the street on the outskirts of Mosul on Friday morning, holding a box. Traffic zoomed past her in both directions. She was hesitating, uncertain about which way to go, because she was transfixed by everything that was rushing past her. I saw the little girl in the street a second before the car in front of us ran her down. She must have been only five or six years old. The driver who hit her was trying to get his fair share of the loot, and because she was there in front of him, he hit her. She disappeared in the traffic for a moment, then—miraculously—stood up. The car had only knocked her down. She made her way to the median and looked shocked and sad; her parents were gone, or perhaps were busy trying to get something for themselves. Her mouth filled with blood. Behind her, a supermarket burned.
You may take it as axiomatic that in a situation where there’s serious looting going on, there’s also rape and casual brutality. You may also take it as axiomatic that where the looters have finished, the vandals and arsonists move in.

It is Saddam’s fault that he ran a violent and oppressive regime. It’s our fault that we’ve gone in to do too much with too few troops, lost control, and delivered the helpless people and institutions of Iraq into the hands of the worst elements of their own society. Every society has them, ours included.

And why did we screw up like that? Because the looters are destroying a lot of documents we’d just as soon went bye-bye.

Also because we don’t have the manpower. Our guys couldn’t protect Baghdad’s hospitals, so 39 out of 40 of those are gone, stripped to the walls. The banks are gone too; and if you think that’s trivial, imagine you’re an elderly Iraqi whose savings were in a bank that’s not only been robbed, but stripped of its computers, filing cabinets, furniture, light fixtures, and plumbing. Mom-and-pop stores are being pillaged. The offices responsible for dull but essential social services are being plundered for their office equipment and furniture. It’s ugly.

And why are our troops stretched so thin? Because when the war was in its planning stages, Donald Rumsfeld repeatedly dismissed and overruled the experienced military planners who told him how much force would be needed to invade Iraq. We have the troops. We have the equipment. Our annual military budget could practically have bought the country. More conventionally, we could have gone in with massive force and done everything in an orderly fashion, the way all our military doctrine says we should do it. But Rumsfeld said no.

Let’s be perfectly clear about this: It was Rumsfeld’s decision, not some fuzzy misunderstanding shared between twenty officials in three different organizations. It’s documented. Rumsfeld repeatedly, personally, decisively, insisted on cutting troop allocations to a fraction of what was needed. He has his own cronies and advisers, and they’re at fault too; and of course George Bush okayed it so he’s responsible in the end; but this mess is as clearly Rumsfeld’s fault as anything in the history of military folly.

You want to talk about not supporting our troops? (Try to remember. It was last month’s football cheer.) Rumsfeld sent our guys into harm’s way with inadequate numbers and inadequate support. That’s why little 19-year-old supply clerks were getting shot to pieces. It’s why our soldiers have been having to use inappropriate munitions like cluster bombs, and in moments of stress and uncertainty have been shooting at civilians. It’s why we can’t spare the manpower to preserve hospitals and museums and essential government ministries from looters.

Since this is in fact a complete and godawful screwup, the mighty spinning Wurlitzer has come up with “it was the necessary price paid for the liberation of the Iraqi people.” And since these lines always come equipped with a concomitant “You must be a bad person if you don’t agree” bit of spinnage, we’re getting “You must care more about things than about people.”

(This is the heart of the deal for freepers. They get their regular dose of fictional indignation, which gets metabolized as cheap moral righteousness—and don’t ever let anybody tell you that isn’t an addictive vice. The concomitant “why those liberals are bad” line is for those who like to mix active bullying with their cheap moral glow. Next week it’ll be a different cause for indignation, and a different bit of abuse to throw at anyone who can be construed as disagreeing with them. There can’t much actual processing going on, because they never seem to notice when these spin cycles contradict the previous rounds. The ostensible content can’t be sticking in their memories.)

How many reasons have there been now for this war, and how thoroughly have they been discredited? Let’s see how many we can remember:

Iraqis were involved in the 9/11 attacks. Try as they will, Bush & Co. have never succeeded in manufacturing evidence that Iraq had anything to do with that.

Saddam is ignoring UN resolutions. Other nations have ignored UN resolutions, but we didn’t invade them. We’ve ignored UN resolutions ourselves. Besides, Saddam’s been ignoring UN resolutions for years. Why didn’t we go to war before? Why now? And please, don’t tell me that Bush & Co. have any actual respect for the UN.

Saddam has weapons of mass destruction. Every piece of evidence advanced to substantiate this claim has collapsed, embarrassingly quickly, on inspection. Besides, it’s obvious that our leaders don’t believe the Iraqis have WMDs. They refused to wait for UN inspectors to finish looking for them before they sent in our troops, and they cut troop allocations down so low that we’ve had trouble just dealing with conventional weapons—both of which would have been insanely risky moves if the Iraqis had had WMDs. Then they bombed the site where the WMD records would have been kept, and didn’t investigate it afterward. Now they’re combing the country for WMDs that still aren’t turning up.

Saddam supports al-Qaeda. Saddam and al-Quaeda despise each other.

Saddam hasn’t given up fast enough or thoroughly enough. We were getting desperate by then.

We have to go to war because we’ve already gone to war. And furthermore, anyone who criticizes the conduct of the war at home or abroad is unpatriotic, probably a traitor, and is failing to support our troops (see above, “desperate”).

This is too working. It’s a good plan. We planned all along to take weeks taking Basra, get into an extended fight at Nasiriyah, and bog down in front of Baghdad. And furthermore, anyone who criticizes the conduct of the war at home or abroad is unpatriotic, probably a traitor, and is failing to support our troops (see above, “desperate”).

We are fighting to save the oppressed people of Iraq from further harm at the hands of the monster Saddam. The world’s full of oppressed people we aren’t helping. Why the Iraqis, why now? We supported Saddam’s regime for years when we knew perfectly well he was a psychotic bastard. And if rescuing the Iraqis was the idea all along, why aren’t we doing it? There should be massive amounts of help and support coming up behind our strike force. It isn’t there. And by the way, Bush’s latest budget has zero money allocated for the reconstruction of Afghanistan, which we were also supposed to be saving from evil oppressors.

Saddam Hussein stole more than the looters did.

What a mighty and inspiring democratic slogan! It’s the latest musical phrase emitted by the mighty Wurlitzer: What’s been stolen by looters is less than what Saddam stole. Considering how many years he had to work, as compared to a week or so for the looters, this isn’t much of a recommendation. But it’s also a load of codswallop. First, as I pointed out earlier, looting-for-liberation wasn’t an inevitable tradeoff. Second, the list of reasons we’ve gone to war may be long and ever-changing, but “an improved kleptocracy for Iraq” has yet to appear on it.

Third, sorry, but the looting is worse. Saddam is/was a nasty bastard and a thief, but he was also a pro. He knew that if you want to maximize your rakeoff, putting the bite on profitable businesses and keeping society running is the gift that keeps on giving. He also knew that if you go around burning libraries and smashing up your cultural heritage, it just puts people’s backs up. Many of the things he stole still exist in recognizable form, as do the places from which he stole them. This is more than you can say for the National Library.

I’m not saying Saddam was a good guy in any way, shape, or form—and what a contemptible piece of calumny it is, to claim that anyone who criticizes our leaders and their war must needs be pro-Saddam. I’m saying that before, Baghdad and Mosul had libraries, museums, hospitals, stores, banks, social services, and a thousand and one other essential institutions. Now they don’t. There’s a world of suffering in that. It will go on, as will the pillaging.

Another line I’ve been hearing is that this is something the Iraqi people have done to themselves; so I’m going to talk now about rioters, looters, vandals, and arsonists.

Are the pillagers to blame? Yes, of course they are. They’ve wrecked and stolen and burned. It was wicked, and they are at fault. But in any society, ours included, there are people whose good behavior is wholly conditional on their estimate of the odds that they’ll be caught and punished. Part of the work of civilization is to help citizens grow up with a better sense of responsibility and cooperation than that; but I suspect we’re always going to have some people who’ll do whatever they can get away with.

A good way to get a sense of this is to look at employee theft, a relatively well-documented subject which has been studied over a very broad sample of the population. Experts in employee theft prevention estimate that 10-20% of all employees are honest. They won’t steal, no matter what else is going on. Another 10-15% will steal whenever they think they can get away with it. The rest might or might not, depending on need, opportunity, and whether or not they see someone else getting away with it.

That last one’s important. You can see it demonstrated during morning rush hour on the New Jersey Turnpike approaches to the Holland Tunnel, where there’s a traffic light with a very long timing cycle. A mile of cars will stack up while the incoming turnpike traffic waits for its turn. However, if you illegally drive in the breakdown lane, you can bypass them and go straight to the head of the line. Most drivers won’t do that. A few will. But if more than two or three cars go zipping past in the breakdown lane, you’ll see drivers who’ve been sitting patiently, awaiting their turn, start to pull out and do the same themselves.

So. Back to the looters. If you demolish the previous system for maintaining social order (irrespective of how evil or benevolent it was), and it then becomes clear that you’re not going to maintain law and order, you’re giving permission to that 10-15% who’re always waiting for an opportunity. Once those guys get going, visibly unchecked, the middle range will start to join in.

This is what’s behind the controversial practice of announcing, during episodes of temporary catastrophic disorder, that looters will be shot out of hand. The point isn’t that any particular looter deserves to die; it’s that looting will snowball if you don’t get it stopped fast. You want to head that off. Second order, you want to keep groups of looters from forming, and becoming more organized and violent.

There’ve been reports of COW troops explicitly encouraging gangs of young men to ransack properties that belonged to Saddam Hussein, his supporters, and the Baathist Party. Was this a deliberate attempt to destroy evidence? It might have been. But even if there was no such intention, it was still a strikingly bad idea. They were teaching those men to loot. Nothing was more predictable than that they’d keep looting, once the approved targets were used up.

There’ve been reports that the early rounds of museum looters, the ones that cleaned out the gold artifacts, went in hard and fast, and appeared to know what they were looking for. The indiscriminate ransacking mobs followed after, and then the vandals and arsonists. This was standard mob behavior; and again, it was entirely predictable. The same thing could have happened in Winnipeg or Houston.

(There’s a thought. Would Bush have laughed it off as “high spirits” if it had happened in Texas?)

So. Are the looters at fault? Sure. Are our leaders who created this situation at fault? Deeply. The damage has been horrendous. It’s still going on. And it’s happening on our watch.

Posted by Teresa at 03:32 PM *

Some people have found themselves unable to post comments here.

Jo, this is a different problem from the one you’ve been having.

April 15, 2003
Light entertainment
Posted by Teresa at 09:36 PM *

And now, this evening’s short subject: How to turn off a 345,000-volt circuit. (via Erik Olson)

Also, this time from Laura Mixon: Cool zero-gee thin film experiments involving a wire loop, a dab of water, an Alka-Selzer tablet, and a cannula.

April 13, 2003
Posted by Teresa at 10:55 PM *

Proposition: That anyone who shows up in some online venue for the first time, collectively addresses the participants in an established conversation as “you folks”, and tells them there’s some point they’ve all missed, will infallibly turn out to be a jerk. Further, his great and brilliant point will either be stupid or elementary.

In a pinch, you can forget the other indicators and just shoot on sight anyone who turns up and collectively addresses the conversation as “you folks”. I don’t know why this class of yoyos feels compelled to say “you folks”, but I’ve been quietly tabulating instances of it here and on Electrolite, and it’s a clear marker for “I am an idiot”.

Addenda: In the comments thread, Neil observes that the “you folks” rule:
…seems equally to apply to anyone who uses the phrase “you people” in an opening post. Especially “what you (folks/people) fail to understand is…”
Soren deSelby exhibits his own collection of markers, only he’s turned his into art:
I know I won’t be very popular for saying this, but

The emperor’s naked,

and I’m not afraid to point it out.

I know what you’re going to say.

You’re just saying that because

you would say that,

of course.

What a … coincidence.

Think about it.
To which Avram replied,
Soren — Sorry, I didn’t read that, because I can’t stand exposure to new ideas.

Hey, looka there
Posted by Teresa at 12:29 AM *

Troops Discover Lush Saddam Hideaway, the AP story says; and it does sound like the guys who found the place were suitably, er, awestruck:

The doors of the town house opened to reveal a playboy’s fantasy straight from the 1960s: mirrored bedroom, lamps shaped like women, airbrushed paintings of a topless blonde woman and a mustached hero battling a crocodile. … “This must have been Saddam’s love shack,” said Sgt. Spencer Willardson of Logan, Utah.
They’ve heard all about those things in Logan, Utah.
Capt. Chris Carter, commander of A Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, said the home appears to be one of Saddam’s safe houses. Officials concluded that the house was used by Parisoula Lampsos, who publicly claimed to be Saddam’s mistress. She escaped to Lebanon in 2002.
The house was done in high 60s style, with beanbag furniture and lots of fake plants. According to the story, the decor had everyone doing Austin Powers imitations.
Upstairs was a television room with bright blue, pink and yellow throw pillows. The bathroom included a whirlpool bath. The kingsize bed was fitted into an alcove with mirrors on two sides and a fantasy painting on the third. …

One of the airbrushed paintings depicted a topless blonde woman, with a green demon behind her, pointing a finger at a mythic hero. From the tip of her finger came a giant serpent, which had wrapped itself around the warrior.

Another showed a buxom woman chained to a barren desert mountain ledge, with a huge dragon diving down to kill her with sharpened talons.
Next to the news story was a little thumbnail photo of a couple of Army captains lolling about in Saddam’s love nest. On the wall above their heads I could see a painting. I squinted at it a moment, then clicked through to get an enlarged view. Could that be…?

Ghu, Foo, and Roscoe, it was! I thought I recognized it! Unless some artist has done an ultra-shameless copy, that’s a Rowena Morrill painting.

I have some personal history with that piece of art. I once helped hang it, so to speak, on the wall at a convention art show. How odd to think of it winding up over the bed of Saddam Hussein and his mistress.

Addendum: Turns out the other painting they describe is also a Rowena. (Thank you, Kevin Andrew Murphy and James D. Macdonald.) But the one in the news photo looks to me like a knock-off—among other things, it’s missing Rowena’s signature—so perhaps the painting of the young lady with the wyvern is a copy as well.

April 12, 2003
Posted by Teresa at 08:28 PM *

I was in the kitchen, sitting at my computer, when I suddenly burst into tears and covered my face with my hands.

“What is it?” Patrick asked from the front room.

I said, “I’m so ashamed—this shouldn’t hit me harder than hearing about people—but—”

“I know exactly which news story you’re looking at,” he said.

Looters have stolen almost everything from the National Museum of Iraq, one of the world’s great museums of antiquities. It’s the national museum of Mesopotamia, for god’s sake:
BAGHDAD, Iraq, April 12 — The National Museum of Iraq recorded a history of civilizations that began to flourish in the fertile plains of Mesopotamia more than 7,000 years ago. But once American troops entered Baghdad in sufficient force to topple Saddam Hussein’s government this week, it took only 48 hours for the museum to be destroyed, with at least 170,000 artifacts carried away by looters.

The full extent of the disaster that befell the museum only came to light today, after three days of frenzied looting that swept much of the capital.

As fires in a dozen government ministries and agencies began to burn out, and as some of the looters tired of pillaging in the 90-degree heat of the Iraqi spring, museum officials reached the hotels where foreign journalists were staying along the eastern bank of the Tigris River. They brought word of what is likely to be reckoned as one of the greatest cultural disasters in recent Middle Eastern history.
Why mince words? Call it one of the greatest cultural disasters, period. We and all the generations to come have suffered a terrible loss, and we’ll never get it back. We’re all poorer. You can cap a burning oil well. This is irreparable.
A full accounting of what has been lost may take weeks or months. … What was beyond contest today was that the 28 galleries of the museum and vaults with huge steel doors guarding storage chambers that descend floor after floor into darkness had been completely ransacked. Officials with crumpled spirits fought back tears and anger at American troops, as they ran down an inventory of the most storied items that they said had been carried away by the thousands of looters who poured into the museum after daybreak on Thursday and remained until dusk on Friday, with only one intervention by American troops, lasting about half an hour, at lunchtime on Thursday.
We knew this was going on, but we did nothing. Why? because we don’t have enough troops. There may be enough of them to deal with the fighting in Baghdad and beyond. There aren’t enough of them to maintain civic order.

This is Rumsfeld’s fault, him and Richard Perle and all the others—including Mr. Bush, on whose watch it happened—who repeatedly overruled our own military planners, and insisted on cutting troop allotments to a fraction of what was needed. Rumsfeld didn’t go to war with a serious heart. He went into it looking to buy a reelection campaign on the cheap.

This is the real failure to support our troops. Rumsfeld’s left them in dire straits. Our guys are stretched way too thin, and they’re not in control of the situation. This is why little 19-year-old supply clerks are getting shot to pieces. It’s why our soldiers are having to use inappropriate munitions, and in moments of stress and uncertainty are shooting at civilians. It’s why we can’t spare the manpower to preserve hospitals and museums from looters.
Nothing remained, museum officials said, at least nothing of real value, from a museum that had been regarded by archaeologists and other specialists as perhaps the richest of all such institutions in the Middle East. As examples of what was gone, the officials cited a solid gold harp from the Sumerian era, which began about 3360 B.C. and started to crumble about 2000 B.C. Another item on their list of looted antiquities was a sculptured head of a woman from Uruk, one of the great Sumerian cities, from about the same era, and a collection of gold necklaces, bracelets and earrings, also from the Sumerian dynasties and also at least 4,000 years old.
Old gold is terribly vulnerable. It’s easily identified as long as it stays in its original form. Melt it down, and who’s to say what it used to be or who owned it? It’s yours now.
But an item-by-item inventory of the most valued pieces carried away by the looters hardly seemed to capture the magnitude of what had occurred. More powerful, in its way, was the action of one museum official in hurrying away through the piles of smashed ceramics and torn books and burned-out torches of rags soaked in gasoline that littered the museum’s corridors to find the glossy catalog of an exhibition of “Silk Road Civilizations” that was held in Japan’s ancient capital of Nara in 1988.

Turning to 50 pages of items lent by the Iraqi museum for the exhibition, he said that none of the antiquities pictured remained after the looting. They included ancient stone carvings of bulls and kings and princesses; copper shoes and cuneiform tablets; tapestry fragments and ivory figurines of goddesses and women and Nubian porters; friezes of soldiers and ancient seals and tablets on geometry; and ceramic jars and urns and bowls, all at least 2,000 years old, some more than 5,000.

“All gone, all gone,” he said. “All gone in two days.”

An Iraqi archaeologist who has participated in the excavation of some of the country’s 10,000 sites, Raid Abdul Ridhar Muhammad, said he had gone into the street in the Karkh district, a short distance from the eastern bank of the Tigris, about 1 p.m. on Thursday to find American troops to quell the looting. By that time, he and other museum officials said, the several acres of museum grounds were overrun…

Muhammad spoke with deep bitterness toward the Americans, as have many Iraqis who have watched looting that began with attacks on government agencies and the palaces and villas of Mr. Hussein, his family and his inner circle broaden into a tidal wave that targeted just about every government institution, even ministries dealing with issues like higher education, trade and agriculture, and hospitals.

American troops have intervened only sporadically, as they did on Friday to halt a crowd of men and boys who were raiding an armory at the edge of the Republican Palace presidential compound and taking brand-new Kalashnikov rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and other weapons.
I’m sure it breaks our commanders’ hearts that they can’t defend the hospitals and museums and the general civic order. It wouldn’t have taken a lot of men and firepower to keep the museum and the main hospital from being stripped. But they don’t have even that much margin. They can’t afford to pay attention to anything but the fight.
American commanders have said they lack the troops to curb the looting while their focus remains on the battles across Baghdad that are necessary to mop up pockets of resistance from paramilitary troops loyal to Mr. Hussein.

Mr. Muhammad, the archaeologist, directed much of his anger at President Bush. “A country’s identity, its value and civilization resides in its history,” he said. “If a country’s civilization is looted, as ours has been here, its history ends. Please tell this to President Bush. Please remind him that he promised to liberate the Iraqi people, but that this is not a liberation, this is a humiliation. If we had stayed under the rule of Saddam Hussein, it would have been much better.”

The looting appeared to have its heaviest impact on a security guard at the museum, Abdul Rahman, 57, who said he had tried to stop the first band of looters breaking through to steel gates at the rear of the compound on Thursday morning. He said he gave up when the looters started firing in the air with pistols and rifles. “They were shouting, `There’s no government, there’s no state, and we will do what we like. We will take anything we want.’ They said `Open up, open up, there’s no more Saddam so we can do what we like.’ “

Mr. Rahman said he returned to his room and remained there for two days, hiding and heartbroken.
What can any of us say that would console Mr. Muhammed and Mr. Rahman?

And one more thing: Anyone who thinks we’re in control of Baghdad is kidding himself. People who think civil order is going to be reinstated anytime soon don’t loot hospitals. They don’t announce that there’s no government and no state. The American press may be next to useless, but when the guys who are there on the ground think it’s a good idea to lay their hands on hospital supplies now, you’ve got to figure they know something.

Stupid security winners announced
Posted by Teresa at 04:42 PM *

Privacy International’s Stupid Security Competition is over, and the winners and runners-up have been announced for the Most Inexplicable, Most Intrusive, Most Counterproductive, Most Annoying, and Most Egregious Security Measures. None of them make anybody one whit safer. All of them are outrageous, exasperating, and stupid. This one is transcendent:

Shortly after Richard Reid’s attempt to light his shoes, I boarded a flight from San Francisco to London on British Airways.Travelling alone, I was singled out by the computer for further inspection. The polite inspector informed me that he had to check my shoes for explosives.I dutifully removed them and handed them to him. He picked them up one by one and slammed them down on the floor with full force.

Apparently, as they hadn’t exploded, they were not dangerous, and he handed them back to me to put back on.

Let this be a warning to future terrorists. Your explosive shoes may go off in the crowded departure lounge instead of on board the plane.
Brilliant. You can spot the terrorist because he’s the one who screams and dives for cover when he realizes you’re about to slam his shoes against the floor. And if that amount of force is enough to set off the explosives, he’ll also be the one who refuses to run when the velociraptors are gaining on him.

Update: It was bound to happen.

Historian of things that never were
Posted by Teresa at 03:32 PM *

Edgar Governo is a historian of a very pure and particular sort: he collects fictional timelines. As he explains, he’s also interested in history proper; but “Gleaning knowledge from a past that never existed—or a future, for that matter—is simply so much more sublime. That is what this site is all about.”

He has extensive descriptive links to 79 timelines for television shows, 25 for movies, 83 for books, 23 for games, and 63 for comics. There are all the timelines you could have predicted would exist: Sherlock Holmes, J.R.R. Tolkien, Patrick O’Brian, Robert Jordan, Star Wars, Star Trek, X-Files, Babylon 5, Buffy, etc. It’s equally inevitable that fans have compiled over two dozen timelines for DC’s multiply replaited continuity, including Earth-2, -2.5, -3, -4, -5, -12, -17, -18, -238, -1278, -A, -C, -K, -S, and -X. (There are far fewer attempts to sort out the Marvel universe. I think Marvel fans have simply given up.)

There are some odd gaps—apparently no one’s compiled timelines for The Sopranos, the three Godfather movies, or Pulp Fiction—and some odder non-gaps. I wouldn’t have expected there’d be two timelines for Friday the 13th (one of which Governo calls “surprisingly rational”), or an extensive discussion of the pre-show back history of Bonanza, or one covering the four “Minervan Experiment” novels by James P. Hogan. Nor, for that matter, that there’d be a timeline for the Muffy Birnbaum stories.

I think what we’re seeing is the operation of a particular turn of mind, like the ones that make you a copyeditor or a bibliographer. I think some readers automatically keep track of the implicit and explicit chronology. The reason I think it’s a turn of mind (as opposed to a meme, habit, or fannish enthusiasm) is that they can’t shut it off, even when it’s obvious that a narrative’s chronology is being driven by the needs of a sloppily contrived ongoing plot, rather than any underlying plan or logic. I’m fairly certain that in a couple of cases, the fans who’ve put the timeline together have given the subject far more thought than the author ever did.

I’m also struck by the aspect of timeline compilation as a reconstruction of the author’s working notes. When I’m teaching expository theory to young writers, I always tell them yes, you should figure out your world’s geography, history, economy, climate, material culture, religion, and quaint social customs; and then you should leave 98% of it out of the story. If you do, the 2% you mention will feel solid and accurate to your readers, but it won’t overtax their patience by making them remember details they don’t yet care about. Fiction should not make you feel like you’re studying for the test.

I assure you, it’s excellent advice. But what do we have here? Fans of the work trying to recreate all that information the author justly left out!

There’s the paradox of it: A lively, fast-moving story can so engage the audience’s imagination that they’ll go to all the work of reconstructing the background notes; but if that same information had been left lying around underfoot on the surface of the page, slowing and encumbering the narrative, the readers wouldn’t have cared enough about the story to go on reading. (via Morfablog)

A pyrite specimen…
Posted by Teresa at 09:44 AM *

…you could take for an alien artifact.

Pyrite is sneaky that way. I have a sliced-open pyritized ammonite that looks like it was delicately machined out of brass.

April 11, 2003
Tyrannosaurus rex, and other rumors
Posted by Teresa at 05:16 PM *

Following last year’s discovery of Tyrannosaurus rex remains in Cambridgeshire—a particularly fortuitous find, since the same falling tree that did for the T. rex also dripped sap all over the animal’s left big toe, encasing the 85-million-year-old tissue specimen in a protective coating of amber—the T.rex International Palaeontonomics Experiment (TRiPE) have been using the remains for gene sequencing studies. This year they’ve announced that they’ve produced the first T.rex draft assembly.

It’s all very lighthanded. I liked the part about how
The assembly consists of large supercontigs aligned to chromosomes using a Monte Carlo heuristic. The supercontigs are extremely long; this is believed to be due to the large size of the organism.
But Emmet O’Brien, who sent it to me, says the funniest bit is the Glycosylated Endonuclease Sequencing Strategy discussed in the press release. Speaking of interesting revelations made on the first of of this month, I hope no one missed Locus Online’s Small Press Report, and its assorted news stories. The latter are a lot like the standard SF gossip, only different: Clarion Recalls Classes of ‘96 and ‘98; Michael Swanwick to Write 200 Short-Shorts Based on Lord of the Rings Characters; Baen Books Announces Product Placement Deals with Microsoft, Coca-Cola; and James Cameron to Make $100 Million Film From Barry Malzberg’s Galaxies, which last concludes:
Lightstorm Entertainment bought the rights to Galaxies outright for an undisclosed seven figure sum. However, due to the terms of Malzberg’s contract with original publisher Pyramid Books, he will receive none of the money from the movie sale. Also, given how markedly Cameron’s film will diverge from original novel, there are no plans to reprint Malzberg’s book for the film’s release. Instead a separate Galaxies novelization will be contracted out to another writer, as was done with Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Alan Dean Foster and Terry Brooks are reportedly among the finalists for the assignment. When asked to comment on the story, Malzberg’s only reply was “Typical.”

Posted by Teresa at 04:00 PM *

Over on Johan Anglemark’s weblog I ran into a mention of Franz Xavier Messerschmidt [1736-1783], an artist I’d never heard of before. He sculpted striking portrait busts in which his subjects’ faces are set in extreme expressions you wouldn’t normally see in formal portraiture.

It’s remarkable work. And yet, when I look at all those faces at once, I find I can’t help thinking that about two-thirds of those guys just need more fiber in their diet.

April 09, 2003
Sector General
Posted by Teresa at 02:30 PM *

When a book gets printed, the first carton of copies is sent to the Tor offices. This morning we got one: General Practice, the third of our omnibus editions of James White’s “Sector General” stories.

I am pleased to announce that Tor has now published the entire Sector General series. I wish James could have seen it.

April 08, 2003
Mystery citrus
Posted by Teresa at 04:51 PM *

All right, I’m stumped. And considering that I am on a lifelong mission from God to eat (and most likely make marmalade out of) every kind of citrus on this planet, it takes a lot to stump me.

I found this one last night at my local grocery, which is run by Middle Easterners who don’t speak a lot of English, and their Hispanic immigrant employees who speak almost none. Two of them indicated that they either couldn’t identify the citrus, or didn’t know its name in English. The girl at the cash register said she’d been hoping I’d know what they were called.

Naturally, I bought six of them.

They’re about the size of a smallish Valencia orange, and are a faintly greenish grapefruit-yellow color, like grapefruits whose forebears have never even heard the word “ruby”. Their skin is tender, and so thin you can see the segmentation through it. It’s as thin as I’ve ever seen on a citrus, like the thinnest limes only not as hard. There’s no pith at all. They’re not very hard to peel.

The peel smells funny, a sort of sharp citron/camphor smell that’s somewhat reminiscent of the peels of meyer lemons, pummelos, citrons, and the one lavender gem I’ve ever met.

Inside, they’re a pale grapefruity yellow. The segments are large — I count nine or ten — and regular. The seeds are are fat, round, sturdy, and scarce. The fruit itself has the lowest acid content of any citrus I’ve ever eaten. It’s mildly sweet. The flavor is truly strange. At first sniff it’s got some of those same camphorish overtones, but then when you eat it, it tastes more like cantaloupe. (Yes, really. Would I lie about citrus?)

So. Anybody have any idea what these are?

April 07, 2003
Judging the dubiousness of saints
Posted by Teresa at 08:21 AM * 115 comments

This is an improved version of a list I posted to a comments thread some while back.

Subtract credibility points from any saint who:

-1 levitated
-2 flew
-3 performed significant actions after being dismembered
-4 performed significant actions after being beheaded
-2 is a Celtic saint associated with a body of water
-6 is a Celtic saint known only through being associated with a body of water
-1 is fun to draw
-1 has generated ex ossibus relics in excess of a single normal human skeleton
-1 is a popular statuary figure in the front windows of botanicas
-2 has an entry in the Oxford Dictionary of Saints which mentions the word “Antioch”
-2 is credited with the spontaneous generation of roses or rose petals
-2 after death or martyrdom, exuded water, milk, oil, perfume, or some other benign substance
-3 was granted specific favors at the point of martyrdom; viz., that women who invoke the saint during childbirth will bear healthy children, or that anyone who writes a Life of the saint will receive an unfading crown in heaven
-3 was the recipient of three or more miracles involving a significant discharge of energy
-4 performed numerically improbable feats (traveling in company with 11,000 virgins; simultaneously besting 50 philosophers in debate)
-5 had a run-in with a dragon
-5 is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers (of whom there are nineteen)
-6 is first mentioned in martyrologies written several centuries after his or her supposed lifetime
-2 is mentioned in the Legenda Aurea
-7 is mentioned in the Legenda Aurea as a beautiful young virgin of noble birth who vows herself to Christ, is desired by a highly-placed official, and dauntlessly undergoes a long series of imaginative tortures interspersed with miracles before finally claiming the Palm of Martyrdom.
-8 appears to derive his or her entire existence from a medieval rhetorical trope
-9 appears to derive his or her entire existence from a misunderstood word or etymology
-10 appears to derive his or her entire existence from a typo
-15 is a member of the current lineup of the X-Men
Subtract one additional point for each 10% of the saint’s life that can be mapped directly onto the folklore motif index.

It would improve the accuracy of this method to have a second weighted list of characteristics pointing toward believability: being mentioned in scripture or other early writings, being mentioned by contemporaries (esp. sober and authoritative contemporaries), being the author of thoroughly respectable early writings, having a detailed Life which is marked by great piety but contains no colorful anecdotes at all, etc. etc. etc.

Bear in mind that even the best of saints can have a few dubious characteristics. St. Teresa of Avila occasionally levitated during prayer. All sorts of odd legends have gotten attached to St. Nicholas of Myra and St. George. Poor old St. Oswald died by being hacked to pieces by Mercians at the battle of Maserfield, and between that and the confusion of the times that followed, he somehow acquired an extra head. Really, it could happen to anyone; and there is a preferred head, the one that was kept with the relics of St. Cuthbert. Oswald’s remains are positively staid compared to the five or six (or seven? I’ve lost count) heads that have been credited St. John the Baptist, every one of which is exceedingly dubious.

April 06, 2003
Posted by Teresa at 08:07 AM *

You know those fire-escape chain/rung ladders? We’ve had one sitting out on our fire escape proper, in its original corrugated cardboard box.

Yesterday a squirrel took a liking to the box. I think he must be building a nest somewhere. He began by rather timidly stripping the top layer off the corrugation on one end of the carton. At intervals all afternoon he was out there working, right outside our bedroom window, getting bolder and more emphatic in his depredations as the day wore on. It was better than a zoo.

I expected he’d wind up taking the whole corner off the box on the end furthest from the window. I was wrong. As of this morning, what we have sitting out on the fire escape is a naked, unboxed chain/rung ladder. He took the whole damned thing. The only bits of cardboard that remain are some areas that were pinned between the ladder and the fire escape proper.

That squirrel is an industrious little monster. Now I’m wondering where he’s building that nest.

April 04, 2003
BRAMA bull session
Posted by Teresa at 11:04 PM *

Tired of the same old arguments? Want to feel like you’re visiting a semi-alien planet? Try the BRAMA Gateway Forum, and listen to the voices of the Ukrainian Diaspora. Naturally, they’re arguing right now about the war in Iraq. Otherwise it sounds a lot like a quiet week in the SFF Net SFWA forum, if SFWA made Byelorussian jokes and conducted half their arguments in the Cyrillic alphabet.

April 03, 2003
Pushing the limits of patriotic religious tat
Posted by Teresa at 01:05 AM *

This started with the statuette referenced in Religious tat triumphant. I regret to say that I’ve done some more looking. Ebay turns out to be a rich source of patriotic/religious tat.

1. Start with some pure idolatry: the Support Our Troops Bush T-shirt[!!!!], which shows the ghostly figures of Lincoln and Washington kneeling in supportive prayer on either side of Georgie-boy. As it says in the sales copy:
You are bidding on a BRAND NEW t-shirt to commemorate Bush and the efforts made to support freedom, democracy and the American way.

The shirt features George Washington and Abraham Lincoln in spirit at our President’s side as he makes serious decisions regarding our country!

This shirt is available for a limited time only and exhibits support to the soldiers who have been sent overseas to engage in war. Wearing this shirt is also a way to support the victims and the families affected by the Sept. 11th tragedy against the U.S.A.
The seller doesn’t explain how the shirt supports any of those things, aside from its expression of sentiment, so it might be more effective support to donate the money directly to one of the 9/11 charitable funds. 2. Next we contemplate two Holy Beanie Bears, starting with the Spirit of America bear, which is of course red, white, and blue. It appears to be holding one of Captain America’s alternate shields, but on examination the object turns out, very disappointingly, to be a paper tag with a verse from Isaiah on its back. The Smurfy-blue Air Force Holy Beanie Bear has been tattooed with the Air Force emblem, and sports a truly unfortunate slogan:
America’s Air Force
No One Comes Close

3. Another t-shirt: America with God—The Unbeatable Team. The “America with God” symbol is a rippling American flag seen at a cropped angle, so the undulating stripes look like stylized water. Through them swims the little IXOYE-fish, heading for the field of stars like a salmon going home to spawn.

4. A genuine piece of folk art in the form of an embroidered denim shirt:
The Cap Shop is proud to offer a light blue denim long-sleeve shirt, size xlg, with custom embroidery on front and back. The back is a giant 10.38 high X 12.49 wide 24-color-change 69,082-stitch custom pattern. The guardian angel holds the eternal light in one hand while welcoming the American Eagle with her other hand. The verse is Job 11:20, The Eyes of the Wicked Will Fail and They Shall Not Escape. The large right front is a 6.65 high X 6.89 wide 49-color-change 38279-stitch custom pattern. The United American, British, and Spanish soldiers holding their flags are covered by Heaven’s protective light. The verse is Job 12:13, With Him Are Wisdom and Strength.

5. Some small stuff: An American Christian Fish Pin. (“The fish symbol represents being a Christian and the flag represents being an American. The 10 stars represent the 10 commandments. They are nickel plated. This would make a Great gift. Show your Christianity and your spirit for America.”) Some Patriotic greeting cards with embedded scriptures. A Swarovski crystal Rosary Bracelet made of red, white, and blue crystal beads. (“Please Pray for our Troops!!! As you wear this bracelet, everytime you look at it please say a Hail Mary for our troops and for Peace!!!”) And finally, Patriotic Hero Candy Bar Wrappers. (“If you have a friend or loved one serving in the armed forces, show your support by surprising them with our personalized chocolate HERO BARS. It is a ‘sweet’ way to let them know that you care! Specially priced at only $15.75 for 1 dozen 1.55 oz. Hershey or Nestle Crunch chocolate bars. We invite you to personalize the back wrapper with your own special message. Bars arrive bagged and tied with a patriotic ribbon.”)

6. One more t-shirt: Show your “Christian American” pride. (Here’s a larger view.)
Beautiful 100% Hanes heavyweight, white “Christian American” T-Shirts. This double-sided t-shirt is a great gift idea and witnessing tool bringing a message of repentance and hope to all.

Front panel has a picture of the cross with an American flag draped over it; life-like blood dripping from the flag and cross, representing the blood that Jesus shed on the cross for us, and the shedding of blood of innocent people. Back panel has the scripture IIChronicles 7:14. Available in sizes S-XXL

Dare to be a bold witness for Christ! Also a great witnessing tool for street ministries.
Personally, I wouldn’t go near a guy wearing that shirt if he were preaching punch and cookies for eveybody and giving away free hamsters.

April 02, 2003
The Onion scores again—
Posted by Teresa at 10:36 PM *

—with I Should Not Be Allowed to Say the Following Things about America.

If you’re a person from the future, reading this perhaps-historically-interesting old weblog post, please understand that we are in equal measure delighted and terrified by the frequency with which the most accurate news reporting in the United States is done by The Onion.

April 01, 2003
Counting down
Posted by Teresa at 10:33 PM *

The Defense Department’s very own online biography of Donald Rumsfeld says:

Secretary Rumsfeld is responsible for directing the actions of the Defense Department in response to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. The war is being waged against a backdrop of major change within the Department of Defense. The department has developed a new defense strategy and replaced the old model for sizing forces with a newer approach more relevant to the 21st century. Secretary Rumsfeld proposed and the President approved a significant reorganization of the worldwide command structure…
Anyone want to place bets on how long it’ll be before that wording changes?

How-to lessons
Posted by Teresa at 06:09 PM *

This is journalist Ralph Lee Smith’s fascinating account of attending a 1969 seminar in “practice building” for chiropractors. It’s taught by a born salesman and storyteller, James W. Parker, who appears to have had one of those oversize Texas personalities. After making a fortune as a chiropractor and creating a chain of eighteen clinics, Parker wrote a textbook and turned his hand to running six three-day seminars a year in which he told his fellow chiropractors the real tricks of the trade.

“At these sessions,” he said, “I intend to teach you all the gimmicks, gadgets, and gizmos that can be used to get new patients. … Thinking, feeling, acting determine the amount of money you will take to the bank. … Remember, enthusiasm is the yeast that raises the dough.”

The afternoon and evening sessions were devoted to “Success Philosophy.” It turned out that, when it comes to love, the hippies have nothing on Jim Parker. In order to succeed, the Textbook says, the chiropractor must “LLL: Lather Love Lavishly!!” “When you meet a new patient,” Parker explained, “you can push a button. You can push the LLL button, the love button. It’s like a light bulb that you switch on. When you meet a new patient, LLL him in. When you do this, you disarm a patient who has developed sales resistance.” However, like the hippies, Parker finds some people more lovable than others. An unlovable type from the chiropractor’s point of view is a person with an acute illness. The course, says the Textbook, “is designed to make you a ‘D.C.’ — ‘Doctor of Chronics’ rather than a Doctor of Acutes.’ “You’ll make a lot more money,” Parker explained.

But what if the patient comes in with acute, rather than chronic, symptoms? The chiropractor’s task, Parker said, is to try to discover that the symptoms are “an acute flareup of a chronic condition,” and to convince the patient that this is so.
The patient has now been drawn into the chiropractor’s office for a “free initial consultation”—the purpose of which, as Parker’s textbook explicitly states, is to get the caller into the office so you can make a complete selling pitch in person:
Now come the most important steps. First, the “Yet Disease.” “If the patient has a pain in his left shoulder Dr. Parker said, “ask, “Has the pain started in your right shoulder yet?” “Use it when you must instill a sufficient amount of fear to get the patient to take chiropractic.” The next step is to “dig for chronicity.” The doctor puts an elaborate series of questions to the patient that suggest or imply that the condition is chronic. “How long has it been since you really felt good?” the doctor murmurs gently. (“I make $10,000 a year on that one, easy,” a chiropractor sitting next to me whispered in my ear.) With the verbal digging completed and chronicity unearthed, the chiropractor moves on to “Connect up affected parts (pain) with the area of treatment (spine)”that is, to tell the patient that his condition stems from spinal subluxations. Having done this, the chiropractor is then to “restate information (or acquire additional information) which may prove useful later on to explain limited results, or to excuse you from getting results expected.” As a final step he releases some more lather to “establish LLL principle in patient’s mind.” At this point says the Textbook, “most patients are ready to proceed.”
The patient has now been examined—and charged in cash for the examination. Turns out the consultation is free, but the examination isn’t. At this point the Textbook…
…adds some comments intended for the chiropractor’s eyes only. “You might suggest only as many adjustments as the patient can pay for,” it says. “…One adjustment for each year of age of the average chronic patient over twenty years of age is a rough thumbnail guide of what people will willingly accept and pay for.” However, the book observes, there is no reason for the chiropractor to he unduly modest in his expectations: “Chiropractors should keep in mind that many truck drivers, carpenters, electricians, steel workers, and radio repairmen earn more than $12,000 annually.”
Now that the patient’s in treatment, the “patient management” phase begins. The emphasis is on getting the patient to believe he’s getting better, and getting him to say so. Very important part, apparently, this business of getting the patient to explicitly say he’s getting better. Parker has suggestions for how to do it. He also has suggestions for how to pump the patient for the names of family members and friends who might be susceptible to the lure of chiropractic treatment. Summing up at the end, the journalist says:
Throughout the procedure the chiropractor tries to wean the patient away from established medical treatment—permanently, if possible. “A true chiropractic patient,” says the Textbook, ” is one whose convictions with regard to health have been diverted from the muddy road of medicine to the superhighway of chiropractic by a series of correlated mental concepts, positively implanted in proper order.”
The episode at the seminar is one chapter of an entire book, At Your Own Risk: The Case Against Chiropractic by Ralph Lee Smith, published by Pocket Books in 1969. It’s long out of print, so the author has put the whole thing up on the web. It’s got some interesting episodes. In Chapter 3, Smith presents himself as a patient at the National College of Chiropractic in Lombard, Illinois:
When I arrived for my appointment I was met by a young chiropractor—we’ll call him Dr. John May. At National College, I found, the clinic work is done by recently graduated students, who work at the clinic for fifteen to eighteen weeks before beginning their practice. … [T]heir work is supervised by chiropractors on the college faculty and on the staff of the clinic. For about a year, I said, I had been having dull, cramplike pains in my chest. I had them sometimes two or three times a day, sometimes only once a week. They tended to come when I had been exerting myself heavily, or when I was angry or under strong emotional stress. The pains, I continued, would cause me to breathe deeply. They lasted for periods of time ranging from a few seconds to a few minutes. When they came, I said, they would go away if I simply stopped what I was doing, if they came when I was angry, they would go away if I just took it easy, sat back, and relaxed. I added that these pains would sometimes go up from my chest into my left shoulder and arm.
That is, he’s claiming to have a set of symptoms so obvious that even television network execs can spot them.
Dr. May asked me no questions about my symptoms, and showed not the slightest sign of recognizing their possible significance. He took a brief medical history. As he finished it, Dr. Eugene V. Hoffmann, Jr., a chiropractor who is an assistant director of the clinic, came in. Dr. May told him that I had “dull chest pains, going up into his left shoulder and arm.” Dr. Hoffmann was apparently as impervious to the possible meaning of the symptoms as Dr. May. He asked me no questions.
You know how it comes out, right? Both Dr. May, the graduate student, and Dr. Hoffman, the assistant director and faculty member, conclude that what Smith needs is to have his spine adjusted.

I know this is going to sound weird, but I’m finding it sort of comforting to remember that blatantly irresponsible fraud wasn’t invented this decade.

Boo Cheney
Posted by Teresa at 09:06 AM *

In solidarity with Make Fun of the Cheneys day, we bring you the Ask Dick Cheney! Unofficial Official Simulator. It’s as plausible as the man himself:

Sample question: Isn’t this war a complete fiasco? I think from the standpoint of this basic proposition, we are right I think people know we’re right and we’ll do everything we can to sustain that position. Containment is not possible when dictators obtain weapons of mass destruction, and are prepared to share them with terrorists who intend to inflict catastrophic casualties on the United States. The President has asked Congress for a one-year increase of more than $48 billion for national defense, the largest since Ronald Reagan lived in the White House. Great decisions and challenges lie ahead of us. He has not complied with the Resolution, he’s now kicked the inspectors out, there’s a lot of evidence that he does in fact have and is continuing to develop weapons of mass destruction.
The Unofficial Official Simulator also comes in four other exciting fruit flavors: Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Perle, Condi Rice, and Paul Wolfowitz. (via Patrick)

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