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August 31, 2003
Posted by Teresa at 03:48 PM *

I bought another button. This one says, in necessarily small type:

It’s okay to disagree with me. However, once I explain where you’re wrong, you’re supposed to become enlightened and change your mind. Congratulating me on how smart I am is optional.
It doesn’t represent my own opinions.

August 29, 2003
Fame and recognition, of a sort
Posted by Teresa at 08:11 AM *

Mary Kay Kare and Jordin Kare were lying in wait for me yesterday when I finished my first panel of the worldcon. They said they had something to give me—and, with a flourish, produced a button made by Nancy Lebowitz that said:

What did I do? What do you think? I fell over flat on the floor like I’d been poleaxed, giggling helplessly, and stayed there until the cataplexy passed.

Thank you, Jordin; thank you, Mary Kay; and thank you, Nancy Lebowitz. Let evildoers beware.

August 28, 2003
Some last speculations
Posted by Teresa at 04:15 PM *

I’ve been looking at Fox’s original filing in the Fox/Franken lawsuit, and thinking about Fox’s timing and intentions. (Background: see posts of August 11th, 22nd, 23rd, and 25th.) Fox had known about the book clear back at the end of May, long before they brought suit. Waiting ten weeks is not what you do when you’re worried about defending a trademark.

Franken’s Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right was supposed to be a September release. In the lawsuit, Fox quite shamelessly asserted that it would be no hardship for Franken and his publishers to stop using the original cover, and to take “fair and balanced” out of the title.

That couldn’t be farther from the truth, and I’m sure Fox knew it. Franken’s book had long since been sold to booksellers under that title. The cover’s all over online and hardcopy catalogues. The changes Fox demanded would at minimum have been a huge headache. Making them—if it were even possible to do so without completely disrupting the book and its publication process, which is not a foregone conclusion—would have done serious damage to the book’s momentum. Also, if there’d been a court-ordered change in the book’s cover, title, and contents, no one who’s even slightly connected with the book could have missed noticing what was happening.

Waiting until it’s difficult-to-impossible to make changes in a book, and then trying to legally force changes to be made at the point of the book’s greatest public exposure, isn’t how you defend a trademark. It’s how you count coup.

But there’s more. The lawsuit—I have a copy of the original filing right here—called for Franken and his publishers to not use the “fair and balanced” trademark; nor use any other logo, trade name, or trademark which might be interpreted as having a connection with Fox News; nor further infringe upon or dilute Fox’s trademark; nor unfairly compete with Fox News; nor use any photographs of “…Fox News’ on-air talent, including, without limitation, O’Reilly on the cover of or in any advertising or promotional materials for the promotion of the book.”

If you think about that a moment, I’m sure you’ll notice that very little of it is necessary to defend Fox’s “fair and balanced” pseudo-trademark. I speculate that if the lawsuit had gone the way Fox fantasized, O’Reilly would have claimed that Franken had called him a liar, but that a court had forced Franken to stop doing so, and to take his picture off the book—as though the court had ruled on the content of Franken’s book, and not just Fox’s right to a trademarked phrase which happened to appear in the title.

Furthermore, that claim could have been extended to the rest of Fox’s amusingly-named “on-air talent”, giving them a certain immunity to Al Franken’s attentions. I speculate that Fox was planning to misrepresent that circumstance as well. It’s even possible that they would have claimed that the court had upheld some of the truly bizarre remarks in the lawsuit about how Franken is “shrill”, “increasingly unfunny”, and not nearly as prominent as Fox’s lineup of stars. I can’t see any other reason for those remarks, unless Bill O’Reilly is so unbalanced that he insisted on having them appear there.

I’m not going to say that I have to wonder what Fox thought they were doing with this lawsuit. Their timing makes it impossible for me to believe in their candor. When you wait until you’re that close to the book’s release date to interdict a book’s cover, title, and possibly some of its core content, you’re making it impossible to fix up the book in time for it to be published on schedule.

Fox didn’t bring that lawsuit to defend their commercial rights. The trademark thing was just their excuse. Their real problem with Franken’s book is that Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right is a devastatingly readable demolition of Fox and its brand of journalism. They didn’t want to see it published under any title.

August 25, 2003
Posted by Teresa at 09:43 PM *

Three days after their initial request for an injunction was laughed out of court, Fox News has dropped its lawsuit against Al Franken.

“It’s time to return Al Franken to the obscurity that he’s normally accustomed to,” Fox News spokeswoman Irena Steffen said, once again displaying the sophisticated wit and the concern for accuracy that have characterized Fox’s participation throughout the case.

(see also August 11th, 22nd, and 23rd.)

August 24, 2003
By my ear and hand
Posted by Teresa at 09:03 PM *

I was sitting on the bed, editing a manuscript. Patrick looked up from his computer. “I’ve found a weblog entirely devoted to copyediting,” he said. “This is from his right sidebar.” And he read:

Listen to me, I know style and how to use it. The point of the site is to advance the dialogue of style, usage and grammar as it pertains to newspaper copy editing. Everything posted here reflects my opinion on how style should be used.
“There’s the true voice,” I said; meaning the true voice of the copyeditor: a distinctive thing.

I got up and had a look. There, in large black letters, was the title of the weblog: COPY EDITING, DAMNIT. “Whoops, he’s misspelled it,” I said; ‘damn it’ if two words, ‘dammit’ if one.”

“There’s the true voice,” said Patrick.


Update: The weblog in question renamed itself Stylin’ and Smilin’. Some weeks later—Tuesday, September 16, 2003, to be precise—I ceased to feel any qualms about having made fun of it, because that’s when it ran this piece:

Soon, I will have a comments option to obtain feedback about my posts. But until then, here is a sample of what has been said about Sylin’ and Smilin’ on other sites.

(This site was once called “Copy editing, damnit” and apparently the misspelling of dammit/damn it caused some commotion in certain corners.)
Le coin, c’est moi, et LanguageHat aussi.
Click on each quote to find the source.
What follows are eighteen quotes about the weblog. One could, technically, classify them as reader feedback, since nine of them, nos. 5-13, are lifted directly from the comment thread for the very post you’re reading right now. Their source is never cited. It’s not even mentioned.

Five of the “links” one supposedly clicks on to see the sources of the quotes don’t work and never did. That’s because their URLs were formed by appending the e-mail addresses of their authors—Jonathan Lundell, Tim Kyger, Robert Legault, Robert Legault, and Terry Karney—to S&S’s own URL. The other four links—to Tina, Arthur Hlavaty, LanguageHat, and me—do connect to their authors’ websites, but only to their general addresses. What they don’t connect to is remarks about S&S.

This has two especially ridiculous aspects to it. First, at this remove, S&S would have been working from my archive, not my main weblog. That means he’d have had to go to extra effort to cite my general URL, instead of just copying the URL at the top of the page he was on.

Second, one of the other nine quotes not lifted from my comments thread was also written by LanguageHat; and in that instance, S&S did actually link to the source material: LanguageHat’s offhandedly magisterial demolition of his website, opinions, and general copyeditorial virtue—which demolition, by the bye, explicitly linked to my own piece.

That does it. Smilin’ and Stylin’, I am officially saying “neener, neener” to you. Having a tin ear for style is a misfortune that could happen to anyone. Being a wuss is a matter of choice.

House, home, and demographic facts
Posted by Teresa at 11:38 AM *

The MSN House & Home Find the Best City for Me site looks like pure whitebread, but you can find some interesting information there. For instance, it has a very shrewd section titled The Sweet Smell of Country Life:

Increasing numbers of people are moving from large cities to small towns and rural areas. Many are seeking less congested conditions, lower costs of living, and a slower pace. Others are searching for closer family ties, better schools, safer streets, or deeper community connections.

Are you thinking of moving to a rural area? Movies and advertising tend to romanticize small-town life. Take a moment to separate fact from fantasy. Test these common perceptions against the facts of any town you are considering:

It’s cheaper. In many areas on the edge of suburban sprawl, development pressures are driving up costs. Look at housing prices and tax rates, as well as utility rates, and telephone and cable service. (Also, if an area is cheaper to live in, you can be sure that its employers pay less.)

Schools are better. Many rural areas struggle to provide schools with adequate funding and teachers. In towns in developing areas, schools are often inundated with new students. Check out a town’s teacher/student ratios and other school indicators.

It’s safer. In most cases, small towns and rural areas experience less crime. However, there can be property crime, such as burglaries, in developing areas. Check the town’s crime statistics.

It’s less congested. You’ll find less traffic in almost any small town. But in areas on the suburban edge, traffic from new housing projects can put a strain on country. Test an area by driving through it during commute hours.

The pace is slower. Time does seem to move slower in many small towns, but that may be hard to live with when you need to get the house painted quickly and there’s only one painting firm in town. Think about how preplanning might solve such scenarios.

It’s friendlier. The lifeblood of a small town is the goodwill of those who live there. Goodwill is forged in close connections with friends, neighbors, teachers, store clerks— whoever you encounter. Still, this interdependence can sometimes feel stifling, because there is less room to be anonymous. Consider whether you want more interaction in your life.

There’s more “there” there. The unique charm of a place usually derives from a blending of its geography, history, architecture, culture, or people. Look at a town’s features as a whole to see if it has the combination of qualities you want. A gorgeous physical setting with a lackluster Main Street and a declining population may not add up to enough charm to move there.
One of the points it’s making, though not in so many words, is that inexpensive, pleasantly semi-rural areas within commuting distance of lots of jobs don’t retain their character for long. I learned this one growing up in a town that combined explosive growth with minimal zoning.

There are two rules: You can’t count on land you don’t personally own, and Traffic always gets worse. If you buy a house in a cute little development that’s just been built out in the middle of farmland, you can assume all that all those pretty trees and meadows are going to get bulldozed when more housing developments are built. Your commute, which you timed at 25 minutes, is going to turn into 55 minutes or more, at which point those picturesquely narrow country roads are going to get turned into four-lane commuter thoroughfares. However, this is not actually going to help, because the newly widened roads will make it possible for people to commute from even greater distances. The broader the road, the more commuters it can feed back and forth every day between the city and the expanding suburban frontier.

The other point that article is making, this one more explicitly, is that if an area is pleasant and cheap, there’s probably a reason for it—most likely, no jobs. The absence of money for new construction is a great preserver of quaint old housing stock.

The article amuses me because I so seldom see blunt discussions of these issues and tradeoffs. It stands to reason I’d find it in a real-estate section. Romanticized fantasies about small-town life are all very well for movies and campaign speeches, but no one wants to personally get stuck buying the wrong house in the wrong area.


In the Neighborhood Finder section, you can type in your zipcode and see what they have to say about your neighborhood. I must say that as grossly oversimplified caricatures go, they called my neighborhood pretty well—aside from not noticing things like our many elderly residents who’ve lived here since Hoover was President. They say our neighborhood composition is 43.92% Young Literati, 17.56% New Americans, and 16.92% Urban Achievers.

This is according to a classification system called PRIZMae Neighborhood Types, which I hadn’t heard of before. I fed that into Google and, Behold! Up popped a complete list of American society, classified by marketing category, from #01 Blue Blood Estates to #62 Hard Scrabble, each briefly characterized and explained. Everybody gets a tag. Some hardly need explaining: #05, Kids & Cul-de-Sacs; #16, Big Fish Small Pond; #20, Boomers & Babies; #32, Middleburg Managers; #44 Shotguns & Pickups; #55, Mines & Mills. Others are less clear, and so relentlessly pleasant and positive that it takes you a minute to figure out what they’re saying:
57 Grain Belt: Farm Owners & Tenants Feeding America and sometimes the world, Cluster 57 is our breadbasket. Centered in the Great Plains and South Central regions, this Cluster shows a high index of Latino migrant workers. Life here is tied to the land, and ruled by the weather. Mostly self-sufficient, family- and home-centered, these families are poor only in money.

Age Groups: 55-64, 65+
Dominant Race: White, Some Hispanic

Another way you can use the Neighborhood Finder is by searching within a designated area for neighborhoods that most closely match your selected criteria. I used this to search Brooklyn and Queens, using only the criterion of having a worse-than-average risk of violent crime, and discovered that my quiet, tree-shaded brownstone neighborhood scores 8 on a scale of 1-10 (best to worst), whereas Bedford-Stuyvesant is only a 7. Maybe it’s a glitch.

For no particular reason that I can see, you get a somewhat different data set if you use their Compare Cities page. Since it also compares your city’s stats to the national average, you can use that to judge the info that interests you and ignore the stats on the comparison city, unless it interests too. (The page comes pre-set to compare the San Francisco area—unfavorably—with Seattle. One suspects this is not an arbitrary pairing.)

There are some databits you can get from the neighborhood demographics section but not the city comparisons: percent of population that’s female, male, married, or single; median home age and purchase cost; percent of homes owned vs. rented; vacancy rates; number of toxic sites, and the UV index.

The data you can only get via the city comparison page includes population change, income per capita, house median value, property tax, overall commute time; plus the overall cost of living broken down by housing, food and groceries, transportation, utilities, health care, and miscellaneous; plus altitude, rainfall, snowfall, precipitation days, sunny days, days over 90 F., days under 32 F., average temperatures in July and January, and the average wind speed (not specified as to laden or unladen).

Neither section mentions commute time by subway or light rail, which is an odd omission. That data exists; it’s a major factor here when you’re looking for a place to live. I’m going to try not to say anything about parts of the country that need to be forcibly reminded that effective mass transit really does exist—just not where they live.

August 23, 2003
Posted by Teresa at 11:30 AM *

I do believe this Japanese print, circa 1863, qualifies as the earliest known example of popular four-color narrative art featuring a bug-eyed monster, a menaced human, and a caption which more or less translates as Resistance Is Futile.

The print, by Kawanabe Kyf4sai, is part of the Images and Literary Sources section of the Library of Congress’s online exhibition of Ukiyo-e. The Images and Literary Sources section is the most fun, because it talks about the stories that go with the prints.

Here are a few more specimens from it: One of the 47 Faithful Ronin, from the story which we know (if we know it at all) as Chushingura. Another image from that cycle shows the backstage area after hours at a bunraku puppet theatre, where two of the puppet-antagonists are still going at each other. A favorite image of mine, one I’ve blogged before, imagines the famous heroes of the kabuki stage as frogs. And here’s an almost startlingly accomplished little drawing of Fukurokujo, the deity of longevity.

Have a look at the whole thing. It’s pleasant browsing on a hot day.

Exceedingly satisfactory developments in Fox vs. Franken
Posted by Teresa at 11:00 AM *

When I originally posted (Fox News Network is a bunch of wusses, 11 August 03) about the Fox News Network’s lawsuit against Al Franken’s new book, Lies, and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right, I had a question. FNN’s brief had said Franken and his publisher’s

…intent is clear - to exploit Fox News’ trademark, confuse the public as to the origins of the book and, accordingly, boost sales of the book.
What I wanted to know was whether Fox’s lawyers actually managed to keep from giggling when they said that. The good news yesterday was that a federal judge has denied Fox’s request for an injunction. And this morning’s coverage in the New York Times comes very close to answering my question. Fox’s lawyers have got to be experts at keeping a straight face, because it appears that yesterday they were the only people in the courtroom who weren’t laughing.
A federal judge in Manhattan told Fox News yesterday that it had to learn how to take a joke. Then he rejected the network’s request for an injunction to block the satirist Al Franken from using the words “fair and balanced” on the cover of his book, Lies, and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right.

Calling the motion “wholly without merit, both factually and legally,” the judge, Denny Chin of United States District Court, said that a person would have to be “completely dense” not to realize the cover was a joke, and that trademark protection for the phrase “Fair and Balanced” was unrealistic because the words are so commonly used.

Lawyers for Mr. Franken and his publisher, Penguin Group (USA), called the ruling a victory for the First Amendment. Mr. Franken was not in court.

“I never really had any doubt,” he said in a telephone interview, calling the ruling “a victory for satirists everywhere, even the bad ones. In addition to thanking my own lawyers, I’d like to thank Fox’s lawyers for filing one of the stupidest briefs I’ve ever seen in my life.”

The Fox court papers had referred to Mr. Franken, a former “Saturday Night Live” writer and performer and an unabashed liberal, as a “parasite” who appeared shrill, unstable and “increasingly unfunny.” …

The network filed for the injunction on Aug. 11. Fox News Network trademarked the phrase “Fair and Balanced” in 1998 to describe its news coverage, and network lawyers claimed that Mr. Franken’s use of the phrase in his book would “blur and tarnish” it. Fox also objected to the use of a picture of Bill O’Reilly, one of its prominent news personalities, on the cover, claiming that it could be mistaken as an endorsement of the book.

But these arguments were met by laughter in the crowded courtroom, as Fox tried to defend its signature slogan. Part of the network’s burden was to prove that Mr. Franken’s use of the phrase “fair and balanced” would lead to consumer confusion.

One round of laughter was prompted when Judge Chin asked, “Do you think that the reasonable consumer, seeing the word `lies’ over Mr. O’Reilly’s face, would believe Mr. O’Reilly is endorsing this book?”

The giggling continued as Dori Ann Hanswirth, a lawyer for Fox, replied, “To me, it’s quite ambiguous as to what the message is here.” She continued, “It does not say `parody’ or `satire.’”
Thus proving that she’s either lying, or is thick as two short planks. Either way, I wouldn’t want her on my side.
Ms. Hanswirth said Fox’s “signature slogan” was also blurred, because people who were not associated with the network, which owns the Fox News Channel, also appear on the cover with Mr. O’Reilly.

Judge Chin said, “The president and the vice president are also on the cover. Is someone going to consider that they are affiliated with Fox?”

The courtroom broke into laughter again.

Ms. Hanswirth replied, “It’s more blurring, your honor.”

After more discussion about what was and what was not satire, and about the definition of “parody,” Judge Chin decided that Mr. Franken’s work was of “artistic value.”

“Parody is a form of artistic expression protected by the First Amendment,” he said. “The keystone to parody is imitation. In using the mark, Mr. Franken is clearly mocking Fox.”

He said Mr. Franken’s work was “fair criticism.”

Judge Chin said the case was an easy one, and chided Fox for bringing its complaint to court. The judge said, “Of course, it is ironic that a media company that should be fighting for the First Amendment is trying to undermine it.”
Just to run through the basics again, if you haven’t been following the story:

1. Fox filed this ridiculous suit against Al Franken and the Penguin Group.
2. Yes, “Al Franken and the Penguin Group” would make a good name for a rock band.
3. The news met with general derision.
4. As did Fox’s claim that it owns the phrase “fair & balanced”.
5. Ditto, its claim that the general public associates “fair & balanced” with Fox News.
6. Ditto, its claim that Penguin thinks it would sell more books if it associated itself with the Fox News Network.
6a. (Hoo boy. Pull the other one.)
7. Ditto, its claim that Franken’s use of the phrase was not legally permissible satire or parody.
8. Which inspired lots and lots and lots of derision.
9. Whereupon the advance orders caused Franken’s as-yet-unpublished book to hit #1 in Amazon’s ratings.

For a less humorous take on Fox’s lawsuit, see yesterday’s post in John Savage’s Surreality Check. The pseudonymous John Savage is a lawyer who specializes in publishing and intellectual property issues. He is definitely not amused, and thinks the lawyers who brought the lawsuit should get smacked hard for violating professional ethics.

It’s widely believed that what’s actually motivating Fox’s lawsuit is Bill O’Reilly’s fury over Franken’s having publicly outed him as a liar. O’Reilly had repeatedly claimed that Inside Edition had received the prestigious Peabody Award. It hadn’t. Franken said so during a panel at Book Expo America 2003, which is the big annual gathering of independent booksellers. The other two panelists were Bill O’Reilly and Molly Ivins. The panel was broadcast on C-SPAN’s Book TV. Here’s a chunk of Buzzflash’s interview with Franken:
BUZZFLASH: On May 31, your appearance at a book exposition with co-panelists Molly Ivins and Bill O’Reilly was broadcast on C-SPAN’s Book TV. At the event, you confronted O’Reilly about his lie that that he received the prestigious Peabody Award for his work as host of Inside Edition. Could you recap the story — which is kind of funny when you think about it, lying about an award that honors outstanding achievement in broadcast journalism.

AL FRANKEN: Well, it isn’t just that Bill O’Reilly claims he won a couple of Peabody Awards. Whenever he was asked about Inside Edition and it being sort of a tabloid show, O’Reilly would indignantly say that they had won two Peabody Awards. Who says we’re a tabloid show? And O’Reilly would offer as proof the Peabody Awards that Inside Edition had supposedly won. And he did this on a number of occasions. I got through watching him once on C-SPAN and then went researching on Nexis. I just followed it up because I couldn’t believe that Inside Edition had won a Peabody. And I did the research. And, of course, they hadn’t won any Peabody Award. I thought I would call O’Reilly, and that way he could stop saying the wrong thing, which any journalist would be embarrassed about. Instead of being grateful that I had called him, he just got angry. Well it turns out that Inside Edition had won a “Polk” Award a year after he left. And so he got very, very angry and said, “Go ahead – go after me, Al.” And so I just thought that it’d be fun to do.

I gave the story to Lloyd Grove at the Washington Post, who called O’Reilly. O’Reilly sort of said, “Well, all I did was mix up a Polk and a Peabody, and Al has this jihad against me,” et cetera. Now that’s not necessarily worth writing about, but then I discovered that about a week later Robert Reno at Newsday decided to do a column about the fact that O’Reilly had claimed on several occasions to have won Peabodies and hadn’t.

O’Reilly then attacked Rob Reno in the most vitriolic way, saying, basically “I never said I won a Peabody. This is a total fabrication. The man’s a liar,” et cetera, et cetera. And that sort of seems pathological to me, or Bill O’Reilly just felt that he could get away with it. It’s sort of emblematic of him.
Read more about it at Buzzflash. They say they have a video clip of the Book Expo incident, but so far I haven’t been able to get it to play for me.

So that’s the story. Judge Chin’s unambiguous dismissal of Fox’s request for an injunction isn’t the end of the case, but it significantly decreases Fox’s chances of getting an outcome they’d consider satisfactory.

As I said yesterday: Neener-neener.

Addendum: The version of the story amplifies and expands on the Times story without contradicting it. Some especially good bits:
Fox objected especially to its cover, which displays the “fair and balanced” phrase in its subtitle and an unflattering photograph of the news channel’s most popular host, Bill O’Reilly. It argued that the cover layout “is likely to cause confusion among consumers as to the origin and sponsorship of the book.”

The judge disagreed. “There is no likelihood of confusion as to the origin and sponsorship of the book … or that consumers will be misled that Fox or Mr. O’Reilly are sponsors of the book,” he said.

During oral arguments, Chin brought up one of O’Reilly’s books, “The Good, the Bad and the Completely Ridiculous in American Life” as an example of a similar play on a well-known phrase — in this case, the title of a Clint Eastwood movie, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”

“Isn’t Mr. O’Reilly doing exactly the same thing?” Chin asked.

Attorney Dori Hanswirth, representing Fox News, disagreed, saying the intent was different. She contended that Franken’s book cover did not qualify as satire. “This is much too subtle to be considered a parody,” she said.

Responding to a comment by Franken that he intended the cover to be a joke, she told the judge that she thought the cover’s message was “ambiguous,” and called it “a deadly serious cover, and it’s using the trademark of Fox News to sell itself.”

Floyd Abrams, representing Franken, said that under the First Amendment, “a book is allowed to criticize a holder of a trademark and mock a trademark as well.” Abrams said the big word “lies” over the photo was a signal that the cover was “obviously tongue-in-cheek.”

“There is no way a person not completely dense would be confused by this cover to think that Fox is accusing Bill O’Reilly of being a liar,” he said. “There is nothing confusing about this.” …

Fox alleged the cover also tarnished it by association with defendant Franken. Although Franken has appeared as a guest on Fox News Channel at least 10 times in the past five years, according to Fox, he is not affiliated with the network, which, in court papers, called his commentary “not good enough to be endorsed by Fox News.”

Franken, who won four Emmy awards for his work on “Saturday Night Live,” is the author of four previous books, including the recent bestseller, “Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot.” Presale orders of “Lies” first drove it to the top sales position at the online bookseller

(see also posts of 11 August 03, 22 August 03.)

August 22, 2003
Revolutionary allegory
Posted by Teresa at 09:53 PM *

This is The Hanging of Absalom, a needlework thought to have been created in the wake of the Boston Massacre of 1770. In it the Biblical story of Absalom’s rebellion against his father, King David, and Absalom’s death at the hands of Joab after he’s ridden under an oak tree, gotten his hair tangled in it, and been left hanging helplessly in mid-air (2 Samuel 18:9-14), are re-imagined in terms of revolutionary politics.

As the Library of Congress’ Religion and the American Revolution page explains it,
The creator of the work saw Absalom as a patriot, rebelling against and suffering from the arbitrary rule of his father King David (symbolizing George III). The king, shown at the top left, is playing his harp, evidently oblivious to the anguish of his children in the American colonies. The figure executing Absalom—David’s commander Joab in the Old Testament story—is dressed as a British red coat.

Federal judge denies Fox’s request for injunction
Posted by Teresa at 06:50 PM *

You might want to hang on to this Associated Press text. I’ve already seen three different trimmed versions of it. Fox’s own version is severely trimmed.

Neener, neener.

Here goes:
NEW YORK A federal judge on Friday denied Fox News Channel’s request for an injunction to block humorist Al Franken ‘s new book, whose title mocks the Fox slogan “fair and balanced.”

U.S. District Judge Denny Chin said the book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right is a parody protected by the First Amendment.

“There are hard cases and there are easy cases,” the judge said. “This is an easy case. This case is wholly without merit, both factually and legally.”

The network had argued the subtitle to Franken’s book could trick some consumers into believing the book is associated with Fox. Fox, which trademarked “Fair and Balanced” as a slogan in 1998, was seeking an injunction barring publisher Penguin Group from using the cover or any other promotion including those words.

Franken called the ruling a victory for the First Amendment and satirists everywhere “even bad satirists.”

“In addition to thanking my own lawyers,” Franken said, “I’d like to thank Fox’s lawyers for filing one of the stupidest briefs I’ve ever seen in my life.”

The ruling opened the door for lawyers for Penguin and Franken to file a motion to dismiss the suit altogether. In addition to denying the injunction, the judge took direct aim at Fox for bringing the case.

“It is ironic that a media company, which should be protecting the First Amendment, is seeking to undermine it,” Chin said.

The judge also said the “Fair and Balanced” trademark itself is weak, considering those words are used so frequently “in the context of the public marketplace.”

The lawsuit described Franken as a “C-level political commentator” and said “he appears to be shrill and unstable” and his “views lack any serious depth or insight.”

Franken’s book went on sale nationally Thursday, moved up from its September rollout date because of publicity from the lawsuit. Penguin added 50,000 copies to the original run of 270,000 after the suit was filed.
(Patrick and I whistled when we saw that paragraph.)
On Friday, the book was listed at No. 2 on’s best-seller list, behind The South Beach Diet.

Fox spokesman Paul Schur said the network was considering its options, including appealing the judge’s denial of an injunction.

“We don’t care if it’s Al Franken, Al Lewis or Weird Al Yankovic,” he said. “We’re here to protect our trademark and our talent.”

Al Lewis played Grandpa on “The Munsters.”

The book’s cover features Franken standing in front of a television monitor with screens of President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, conservative pundit Ann Coulter and Fox host Bill O’Reilly.

The word “Lies,” in the title, appears in large print over the four screens.
Is Dennis Slater still around? Someone should e-mail him a copy of the story.

Addendum: PiscusFiche has given us the Reuters version. It’s nice to see that it confirms the judge’s line about hard cases and easy cases, which is one of the things I’ve seen snipped in second-wave AP versions.

(see also posts of 11 August 03, 23 August 03.)

August 21, 2003
Power survey
Posted by Teresa at 04:14 PM *

Okay, that was weird. I just got surveyed over the phone on behalf of the local power company. They wanted to know how many air conditioning units we have, when we bought them, when we installed them this year, during what hours do we use them, do we leave them on when we leave the house, how many computers do we have, how many electric fans, et cetera.

(Answer: One very small AC, three electric fans, two ceiling fans, and it’s hard to take an accurate count of the computers. The AC’s next to the bed, and doesn’t cool the rest of the apartment.)

As the questions went on, they were more and more about whether we virtuously and public-spiritedly keep our AC turned down during peak hours on hot summer days, whether we’ve been trying hard to use less power in general, and whether we believed that our own personal comfort and well-being were more important than the overall public good. I kept my composure until she got to the question about whether we’d been using less power on account of the unusually cool weather this year. I couldn’t help it; I laughed. Today’s predicted high is 92 F., with 60% humidity.

But all those questions did help me crystallize my own position on this, which is: Yes, I do run my AC on hot afternoons, and I intend to continue doing so. That’s what air conditioners are for.

At the end of it, I asked her to pass on a comment to the power company: Why were they asking about computers, CD players, and tabletop electric fans, and the exact BTUs of my little AC, when they hadn’t even asked whether I own a microwave oven, washing machine, dryer, or electric range? Here they are, guilt tripping me about VCRs and tabletop fans, and they haven’t bothered to ask me whether I own any of those energy-gobblers.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I’ve been wondering why those appliances aren’t on the list.”

Any theories?

August 20, 2003
Kiss your glass goodbye
Posted by Teresa at 05:45 PM *

A lot of sites are blogging The New Diamond Age, a story in Wired, about a couple of companies that may have cracked the problem of synthesizing large top-notch diamonds. You should have a look; the technical details are fun.

There are a couple of interesting angles on this. One is, if one or both of these companies have cracked the synthetic diamond problem, they’ve also broken the De Beers diamond cartel. This is a good thing. De Beers, a monopoly run by the Oppenheimer family, is one of the great supervillain organizations. Consistently, over the last several generations, they have systematically lied to the retail customers about the permanent investment value of diamonds. They go to great and unscrupulous lengths to make sure they buy almost all the raw diamonds mined on this planet, stockpiling them to keep prices high. They support iniquitously evil regimes and insurgent groups by buying diamonds from them, knowing that by doing so they’re helping fund their activities. And it scarcely needs saying that De Beers’ labor policies are awful.

So hell with them. Off to the dusbin of history with De Beers.

Another interesting angle has nothing to do with jewelry. Diamond microchips could run much, much faster than silicon chips can. They have tremendous thermal conductivity, which means they won’t melt in the heat generated by all that processing. If Moore’s Law is going to continue to hold true, synthetic diamond microchips could be one of the means by which it happens.

Naturally, that would be a very cool thing.

But what I’m thinking about now is what happens when all those diamond chips get into circulation on the street. The current form of graffiti on NYC subway cars looks primitive compared to the polychrome spraypainted extravaganzas of bygone years. Trouble is, the new cars in the system have special surfaces and coatings that make pigmented graffiti hard to put on and easy to take off.

Kids in their teens have responded by using keys to scratch their initials onto the walls and windows. It’s ugly stuff—big squarish malformed letters made up of multiple scratches—and I doubt it’s anything like permanent, because I hardly ever see graffiti overlaid upon earlier graffiti. But apparently they have this irrepressible urge to leave their initials on subway cars, because they keep doing it.

(There’s another a subclass of vandal that likes to scratch stuff into the brushed-metal elevator doors in the Flatiron Building and other office buildings. I resent that one. It’s difficult and expensive to repair, the brushed metal doors are pretty, and the graffiti gouged into them is never interesting or creative. Eh, jerks, what can you do.)

Anyway, what occurs to me is that if diamond chips come into general use, there’s not a surface out there that’s safe—not glazed tile, or steel doors, or opaque architectural glass, or picture windows. A diamond will grave straight into the surface of any of those materials.

I’m wondering whether we maybe ought to loosen up about letting kids do spraypainted graffiti.

Tropical scrud
Posted by Teresa at 03:32 PM *

Anyone here acquainted with tropical medicine? Mark Frauenfelder has been bitten or infected or something while on a tropical island, and has developed a nasty-looking lesion. He doesn’t know what to make of it, so he’s posted a photo and is asking for helpful suggestions. Look a lot like a spider bite, IMO.

They’re at it again
Posted by Teresa at 12:59 PM *

Just in case you haven’t heard, Giffen, DeMatteis, and Maguire are doing Justice League again. Technically, it’s a six-part miniseries called Formerly Known As The Justice League; effectively, it’s the same old soap opera, picking up with the same characters after a years-long hiatus.

As usual, it starts with Max Lord. He has this dumb idea he wants to sell to the Justice League alums, a cut-rate “superheroes for the people” business startup, and it’s going over better than any reasonable metahuman has a right to expect. The Dibneys are bored out of their minds. L-Ron’s working at a fast food joint, while Beatriz is selling naughty pictures of herself from her website. Beetle always was easy to talk into doing things against his better judgement. Same goes for Captain Atom—and he’s bored, too. Booster has a positive appetite for folly, especially if Beetle’s involved. And if Billy Batson isn’t interested in joining the reconstituted group, his sister Mary is.

It would be superfluous to observe that trouble ensues.

I suppose we did
Posted by Teresa at 02:03 AM *

Ah, 1975, back when we still had pinfeathers and gills. Someone’s posted a couple of photos from TusCon II.

Yeah, right, as if
Posted by Teresa at 01:04 AM *

It is reported—note the careful phrasing—that al-Qaida has taken credit for the blackout.

I’m sure. Like, if they could do that, why didn’t they do it before? And if they wanted credit for this supposed terrorist act, why didn’t they do it at a time when it wouldn’t look just like a summer blackout?

Answer: Because they didn’t do it. Because it was in fact a blackout. We’ve had them before. This one was worse. Deregulation is to blame. Don’t be distracted by a third-rate fairy tale about Arab terrorists.

Unless of course they come up with proof. I’m patient.

Not that I expect any proof to be forthcoming. But then, I’m not even sure I’m prepared to believe it was al-Qaida that made the claim. Could be this has more to do with people blaming Bush for the blackout.

As I said, I’m patient. I can wait—with my thumb in a constant state of readiness, right next to the tip of my nose.

August 19, 2003
Unedifying doings
Posted by Teresa at 08:08 PM *

Tell me again about protecting the sanctity of heterosexual marriage? And if that’s not enough, go here and start reading.

Trope on a stick
Posted by Teresa at 03:41 PM *

The Iowa State fair has added salad on a stick to its usual corn dogs, chicken bits, and other stuff-on-a-stick. There is no word yet as to how the Minnesota State Fair will respond to this challenge.

August 18, 2003
The view from above
Posted by Teresa at 09:45 PM *

This has been much linked-to, but just in case you haven’t seen it yet, here are the NYTimes’ comparison photos of the usual nighttime satellite view of the Northeast, and the view from space on Thursday.

August 17, 2003
How do you say “smoking gun” in ecclesiastical Latin?
Posted by Teresa at 01:37 PM *

The BBC news story, Vatican ‘ordered abuse cover-up’, overstates things. What the story does demonstrate, though, is that (1.) the Vatican-an’-all knew what was going on; and (2.) they had entirely the wrong reaction to it.

Well, you can’t say I’m an opportunist.

The Vatican and Curia aren’t the church. The church is the church. Good thing, too.

Vexing though the situation is, I still prefer this to “Truth is whatever the current prophet has most recently said it is,” and “When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done.”

—but what do they care?
Posted by Teresa at 10:05 AM *

First, an exchange of comments between Mike Ford and myself, on August 15, in the comments thread following my Fiat Lux! post. Mike goes first:

Okay, Big Surprise of the Day: I have just seen a videoclip of a federal spokesthingy (I missed his name, and it was edited down to one long sentence) explaining that the blackout was all the fault of … regulation.

You see, the utilities would just love to replace their distribution system, but evil regulators prevent them from raising their rates. (Take that, Gray Davis!)

I suspect that this argument, to dignify it with such a word, is about be heard a lot, though not on the networks I listen to.

Actually, since last night I’ve been expecting a demand for enormous federal handouts to utility companies, probably playing the terrorist defense card.
I followed with:
Goodness. I find I’m still capable of being surprised. Deregulation is what’s made us, in the memorable words of someone I don’t remember, a first-world nation with a third-world power grid. Ol’ Georgie Boy has been making all the appropriate noises about this crisis, but then he always does in the first week. If he’s running true to form, the investigation into the causes of the blackout will be starved for funds, its results will be gutted and rewritten in ways its authors wouldn’t recognize (poor Charlotte-Sophia!), and not a penny will actually go toward any of the improvements he promised when he was temporarily Sounding Presidential.
Today, the Washington Post has a story headlined Bush to Back Delay Of Power Grid Plan:
The Bush administration intends to side with a Senate Republican attempt to freeze a disputed regulatory proposal meant to strengthen the nation’s aging power transmission system, which was blamed in last week’s massive blackout, a senior administration official said yesterday. …
An explanation of why this is important, from later in the article:
The need for more investment in transmission grids has become an increasingly urgent priority for most of the energy industry.

The grid began in the 1930s and was expanded in the 1950s when problems occurred. It was never meant to provide backup power between utilities when problems occurred, not as a national system, said Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), the top Democrat on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, who backs FERC’s role in shifting power away from the states. “Our power grid was built and has been largely regulated on a state-by-state basis,” Bingaman said. “It was never intended to serve as an electricity super-highway.”

But since the beginning of electricity deregulation in 1992, the transactions moving power over long-distance high-voltage lines have shot up 400 percent, creating dangerous congestion at a number of bottlenecks around the country. Meanwhile investment in the nation’s 170,000-mile high-voltage grid has stalled as the electric-power industry tries to recover from huge stock market losses. Last year, less money was spent on the grid, after allowing for inflation, than in any year since the Great Depression, says the Electric Power Research Institute.

“It is very well known where there are weak links in the transmission grid,” said Elizabeth A. Moler, former FERC chairwoman and now a lobbyist for Exelon, a utility based in Chicago. “There are maps of them. The fact that these weak links persist is ridiculous.”

Every day, thousands of megawatts of power are bought and sold between regions, transforming the way in which the U.S. electrical system worked in the first half of the last century, when one company served a region as both generator and distributor of electricity.

Some big utility companies depend on shipments of power from distant states to provide critical reserves for peak loads during heat waves. If that power is not available when it is needed, power failures are a threat.

After a series of regional power failures in 1999, an Energy Department panel warned: “The problem is not that we have not learned from past outages. … In many instances we have not taken the necessary steps to design and implement the solutions.

“The overall effect has been that the infrastructure for reliability … has been considerably eroded,” the panel said.
Stuff like this is what responsible government is all about. The power grid infrastructure is as non-ideological as an issue can get, as non-ideological as rating railway bridges for maximum loads.

It doesn’t matter how you voted, or who you supported. Staunch conservatives get stuck in stalled elevators, and sit wheezing miserably in the hot and muggy darkness, just like everyone else.

Still think these guys give a damn about you?

Addendum: More on this topic.

August 16, 2003
Charles Mackay’s Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (1841)
Posted by Teresa at 05:50 PM *

VOL. I - NATIONAL DELUSIONS, including: The Mississippi Scheme, The South Sea Bubble, The Tulipomania, Relics, Modern Prophecies, Popular Admiration for Great Thieves, Influence of Politics and Religion on the Hair and Beard, Duels and Ordeals, The Love of the Marvellous and the Disbelief of the True, Popular Follies in Great Cities, The O.P. Mania, and The Thugs, or Phansigars.

VOL. II – PECULIAR FOLLIES, including: The Crusades, The Witch Mania, The Slow Poisoners, and Haunted Houses.

VOL. III, BOOK I – PHILOSOPHICAL DELUSIONS, including: The Alchymists, Geber, Alfarabi, Avicenna, Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquina, Artephius, Alain de Lisle, Arnold de Villeneuve, Pietro d’Apone, Raymond Lulli, Roger Bacon, Pope John XXII, Jean De Meung, Nicholas Flamel, George Ripley, Basil Valentine, Bernard of Treves, Trithemius, The Marechal de Rays, and Jacques Coeur.

VOL. III, BOOK II – PROGRESS OF THE INFATUATION DURING THE SIXTEENTH AND SEVENTEENTH CENTURIES AND PRESENT STATE OF THE SCIENCE, including: Augurello, Cornelius Agrippa, Paracelsus, George Agricola, Denis Zachaire, Dr. Dee and Edward Kelly, The Cosmopolite, Sendivogius, The Rosicrucians, Jacob Bohmen, Mormius, Borri, Inferior Alchymists of the Seventeenth Century, Jean Delisle, Albert Aluys, The Count de St. Germain, Cagliostro, and the Present State of Alchemy,.


VOL. III, BOOK III - THE MAGNETISERS, including chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.

August 15, 2003
Open thread 3
Posted by Teresa at 10:54 PM *

Time to start a new one.

Uh-huh, yeah, okay
Posted by Teresa at 09:26 PM *

Here’s CNN’s summary of the blackout in New York. They sound surprised and mildly disappointed at the lack of violence and general disorder. They’re not from here.

I can’t give you a better summary than Seth Lerner’s, as our group of Brooklyn-bound Tor employees was walking over the Manhattan Bridge. Seth, by the way, was having to walk from the Flatiron Building, at 23rd Street and Fifth Avenue and Broadway in Manhattan, to Kings Plaza in Brooklyn. Look up the distance if you’re interested. Anyway, Seth’s take was, “It’s just another thing.”

Which it was. Granted, it was a wholly unexpected hours-long thing in humid ninety-degree heat. Not what I’d have chosen to do, but life is full of those. It’s also full of things that don’t work they way they’re supposed to. If your life has led you to think that things work the way they’re supposed to, well, good. I’m glad. Let’s all work together for a world where everybody’s life works that way.

But, yeah: Getting home yesteday was just another thing.

Justifiable glee
Posted by Teresa at 09:10 PM *

Some of the Iraqis who’ve been suffering daily highs in excess of 120 F., and whose access to electrical power is still nowhere near prewar levels, have been gloating over the blackout in the United States. They’ve also been offering suggestions for beating the heat.

I hereby acknowledge that we and they both have it coming. Furthermore, most of their suggestions are pretty good. They’re what my grandparents’ generation did in Central Arizona, before real-estate developers redefined “house” as an uninsulated, hermetically sealed living space that’s permanently attached to an air conditioner.

Posted by Teresa at 08:59 PM *

We’ve been without it for over 24 hours now. I expect that if it were humanly possible to get Panix up and running, Panix would be up and running. In the meantime, all we can do is wait.

Posted by Teresa at 08:27 AM *

Lights! Coffee grinders! My electric fan! The Internet!

Good morning! Yesterday was a long, strange day. It was, perhaps, not the best possible day for the front door lock to go screwy. This made it necessary for us to destructively remove the screen in our front bay window (fortunately left open) and break into our own house, under the benign gaze of our neighbors who were all sitting out on their stoops.

Last night was a long, hot night.

Some limited power went back on about twenty minutes ago. It’s wonderful how much difference even that much makes. We’re not supposed to turn on our air conditioning, or our washing machine if we had one; but we have lights, coffee, and computers again.

We don’t have e-mail yet. Panix is still down. Alexis Rosen, we have faith in you.

August 14, 2003
Army of one
Posted by Teresa at 01:00 PM *

Army of One is a flash animation from Take Back the Media.

This is an announcement: I never, ever want to hear again about how mainstream/centrist and liberal Americans “aren’t supporting our troops,” when what the speaker really means is that we aren’t bending over for Bush, Ashcroft, Rumsfeld, and the rest of that crew.

Money walks, bullshit talks. Bush & Co. talk big about our military. They use it for photo ops at the same time that they’re reneging on promises of support, just like they did with the New York firefighters. The administration may say that the war is over, but the fighting’s still going on. And while our guys are out there putting it on the line, getting shot up, or killed, or dying in their sleep from dehydration and heat exhaustion, Bush & Co. are slashing funding for basic support programs for those troops and their families—programs that weren’t all that cushy to start.

Dammit, “support” means support, and Bush isn’t doing it. The only support he reliably cares about is support for George W. Bush. Don’t kid yourself that that has anything to do with our troops in Iraq. (via The Daily Kos)

Addendum: I’m not responsible for other bloggers’ take on links they pick up from me.

Beer in the bathtub
Posted by Teresa at 07:54 AM *

I posted a longish comment over at Snapping Links about how to run a small conference, if anyone here is interested. For many of you, the technology’s going to sound awfully familiar.

[Recipe Index]

Outrageous Recipes
Posted by Teresa at 12:44 AM *

I can’t properly characterize the Outrageous Recipes website, which I found while looking for a recipe for scrapple and headcheese, except to say that it deserves its name, and that scrapple and headcheese are two of the most conventional recipes there. I’ve got to wonder who invented this one:

Spam Shake

1 can of Spam
1 tin of anchovies
2 12oz cans of beer
4 oz tomato juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 cup chopped up parsley
1/4 cup chopped scallions
dash of Tabasco
salt (if you’d need it), pepper to taste

Put it in a blender and blend until smooth. Serve chilled with a celery stick.

[Recipe Index]

August 12, 2003
…that through these, Bugs Bunny may become a partaker in the divine nature…
Posted by Teresa at 12:38 AM *

Some of you may remember a discussion here of Custom Classics, an outfit that’ll substitute your name (and the name of your sweetie, if desired) for the names of characters in Moby-Dick, Romeo and Juliet, Alice in Wonderland, The Jungle Book, and assorted Sherlock Holmes titles.

That was bad. But now Isabeau (not Alwin Hawkins, as I originally said; the letters were next to each other in my mail queue, and I stupidly got them mixed up) has sent me a worse one: The Personal Promise Bible, billed as “a Bible as unique as you are!” As they say:
Have you ever inserted your name as you read the Bible to make it more personal? Now you can experience the reality of God’s love and promises in a way you never thought possible. In the Personal Promise Bible, you will read your name in over 5,000 places throughout the New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs.
It’s not as much fun as you might imagine. Your name doesn’t get inserted at any of the really colorful places. It mostly swaps out for “you”, as in “I say unto you.” Still, their little demo can be fun. You’re supposed to type in your own name to see how it will look embedded in Bible verses, but why stop there?
By which He has granted to Bugs Bunny His precious and exceedingly great promises; that through these Bugs Bunny may become a partaker of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world by lust.
I also tried “Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves”, “Legolas, son of Weenus”, and “Hairy Lorenzo, the Tireless Vicar”. You can do whatever amuses you.

Of course, the entire text of the Bible is available online. Anyone with a little gumption could do their own chop-and-channel job on it, and have PublishAmerica print and bind a single copy of the results for a very reasonable price. You could win a lot of arguments that way, if you were so minded.

August 11, 2003
Fox News Network is a bunch of wusses
Posted by Teresa at 08:59 PM *

Fox News Network is suing Al Franken and the Penguin Group (and yes, Dave, it would be a great name for a rock band) in an attempt to keep them from using the phrase “fair and balanced” in the title of Franken’s forthcoming book.

Why? Because, FNN says, they registered “Fair & Balanced” as a trademark in 1995.

I’m sure this comes as a surprise to everyone who thought that (1.) “fair and balanced” was a common phrase in journalism (I remember my old high school journalism teacher writing it on the board), and who (2.) thought that FNN’s slogan was “We Report, You Decide” (universally rendered as “We Distort, You Deride”).

But no. They say it’s their registered trademark, and that they now own this common phrase. This is a maneuver on par with LucasFilms trying to trademark “galactic empire” (which would only have been appropriate if George Lucas were Edmond Hamilton’s secret love child). Nevertheless, today in Manhattan, FNN filed a trademark infringement lawsuit, seeking a court order that would force Penguin to retitle the book currently known as Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right. They’re also asking for unspecified damages.

So how do they figure these damages? Like this:
Franken’s “intent is clear - to exploit Fox News’ trademark, confuse the public as to the origins of the book and, accordingly, boost sales of the book,” the suit said.
The news story inexplicably fails to note whether their lawyers managed to keep from giggling when they said that. In summary:
1. Fox News Network, which has a different and perfectly well known (if universally disrespected) trademark slogan, asserts that because, I don’t know, they got the court drunk or something back in 1995, they have sole use of the common journalistic phrase, “fair and balanced”.

2. Fox News Network thinks people automatically associate “fair and balanced” with “Fox News Network”.

3. Fox News Network thinks people so invariably associate “fair and balanced” with “Fox News Network” that they’ll believe a book with those words on the cover will be mistaken for a Fox News Network product, even though the book is by Al Franken (well-known author of Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot), is about the shameless chronic mendacity of the far right, and is clearly identified as being published by Penguin, not FNN.

4. Fox News Network thinks Al Franken will sell more copies of his latest book if people think it was published under the auspices of Fox News Network.

5. FNN wants to change the title of a book a month before its pubdate. That right there is a flogging offense all by itself.
I can only think of three possible explanations for this filing. One is that it’s simple harassment, a shameless misuse of the court system. Another is that Fox News Network’s legal staff is so stupid that they have to be regularly reminded to breathe. The third is that they’re all secretly Al Franken fans, and are trying to drum up publicity for his new book.

Consider putting in an advance order for it, next time you’re in a bookstore.

Addendum: Mary Kay Kare and Mike Kozlowski have come up with a possible explanation for this splenetic and nonsensical lawsuit: Al Franken called Bill Reilly on his lies during a panel discussion at Book Expo America 2003. Thanks, Mary Kay; thanks, Mike.

(see also posts of 22 August 03, 23 August 03.)

Live and on the ground
Posted by Teresa at 05:21 PM *

Moja Vera (?) is in the US military, currently stationed in Iraq. Reading Salaam Pax’s weblog inspired himi to start one of his own: Turning Tables, subtitled (in part) “…the hardest lessons are the ones you repeat… …like a second deployment to the middle east…”

He doesn’t use capitals and more or less punctuates by ellipsis, but if you read a paragraph or two out loud you’ll have his voice, and after that it’s fine. A sample:
i was impressed very quickly with the iraqis with their skill at seeing a prime opportunity when we convoyed up from Kuwait…most of them just tried to sell us crap but there were a few who had the foresight to go out and buy coolers…ice…and cokes…what g.i. wouldn’t turn down an ice cold coke when he’s been convoying for 2 days in 100 plus degrees…it was a shame that i couldn’t buy anything from them…

we were under strict orders…the forces that be were trying to nip the ‘side of the road swap meet’ in the bud…but it was no use…there were just to many convoys on the road…in the dust and heat…everybody wants a trinket…

i remember one instance on our convoy up when we stopped at a refueling point along the ‘expressway’…there were these iraqi kids on bikes…they were trying to sell us everything from the scarves off their head to the rings on their fingers…i attempted to be as firm and as polite as possible…using the right hand to tell them no…putting myself in between them and my trucks…but they were every where…and even though i was pretty sure they weren’t going to throw a grenade into my hmmv…how could i really be sure…my index finger stayed real close to my trigger…the m.p.’s rolled up in their trucks…wearing reflective vests…so that they could be easily spotted by the iraqis…the kids bolted leaving their bikes…the m.p.’s chased them down…they apprehended them…they were just trying to scare them away form the convoys and the fuel point…they took their bikes…just for a few minutes…just long enough to make the kids think they wouldn’t get them back…and then they released the kids with a strong warning not to come back…

out at the check points is where all the magic happens…the soldiers out there pull shift and they interact with the iraqis…a lot of the infantry pukes that i help out with internet and phone time tell me stories that impress me…one troop…a samoan guy from the midwest takes them out the care packages that his unit receives from the states…we receive so many packages that a lot of it goes to waste and he had the ingenuity to see that the iragis would really enjoy some of the stuff we might just toss into the dumpster…

in return they bring him iraqi food…he says he loves it…the people of baghdad make great sandwiches…and he can’t stop talking about his amazement at the tastiness of their pizza…

the iraqis trust them…they come up all the time with wounds needing attention…and the infantry pukes will treat them right there at the scene…and if they can’t they will call in some medics…the other day he told me how his combat medics in his squad treated a little girl with a metal sliver in her eye…this is where we will win the hearts and minds…not with propaganda magazines called the liberator…but with humane understanding and helpful hands…

all is not lost in this country…the iraqis are not blind…so keep sending your care packages america…they might just end up in the hands of a very thankful iraqi child…

Cor chase my Aunt Fanny ‘round the psionics lab!
Posted by Teresa at 08:00 AM *

Do-it-yourself summer projects for the differently-illuminated:

1. This one’s a washout. The people at Time Travelers say they can teach you how to time travel, but if they can actually do the trick, how come they have such a sucky website? Can’t they run a quick errand to the future and pick up one of those cute little self-contained hand-held workstations they’re going to be selling for $35 at Staples? Those all come loaded with brill page-authoring software.

Okay, okay, so maybe they don’t travel physically. But if can do it mentally, why do they have to charge for their services? Any self-respecting time traveler ought to be able to make a few quick killings at the track or in the stock market, and thereby fund their enterprise for decades to come.

2. Plans for building an orgone-powered wishing box. I could use one of these. If yours needs extra power, you can build an additional orgone accumulator.

3. From the “Stop Alien Abductions” website come directions for making a thought screen helmet. This design was invented by a guy who read about thought screens in the Lensman novels, which as sources of loony ideas go is pretty benevolent—and by the standards of the Differently Illuminated genre, notably well-written. The guy is happy with his design:
Results of the thought screen helmet exceeded expectations. Since January 2000 aliens have not taken any abductees while they were wearing thought screen helmets using Velostat shielding. See Case Histories and Testimonials.
The testimonials are pretty good. So are the excerpts from the Lensman novels, which you should sample if you haven’t previously had direct personal knowledge of E. E. “Doc” Smith’s prose.

4. If you don’t fancy wearing a hood—and in this weather, who would?—here are simple directions for making the classic AFDB, the Aluminum Foil Deflector Beanie. Warning: I don’t think this site is entirely serious.

5. If you’d like fashionably accessorize your helmet or beanie, here are diagrams for a pair of UFO-detecting binoculars.

6. At’s “Get Bent” site, you can teach yourself to bend flatware (remember Uri Geller?), using only the power of your mind! The site takes a fine practical tone, right from the start:
You’ll want to collect a lot of unwanted cutlery - otherwise, once it starts working, you’ll end up without a single functional fork in your house. Which is a little bit annoying once the euphoria of bending them wears off. The best ones are those chunky big old-fashioned ones, usually silver-plated brass. It will work with stainless steel ones just as well, but the core metal in a lot of stainless cutlery is really cruddy, and they snap much easier that old-fashioned ones. Whatever the mysterious process is, it certainly stresses the metal, and a snapped fork is very disappointing.

7. If you’re looking for something that has more practical use, here’s how to transmute carbon into iron, using either cold fusion or alchemy.

8. For the truly ambitious DIY enthusiast, this site has diagrams and descriptions of the Clem Engine, the classic perpetual-motion engine of urban legend:
Immediately after the inventor had the heart attack and the papers were removed, the son of the inventor took the only working model of the machine to a farm near Dallas. There it was buried under 10 feet of concrete and has been running at that depth for several years.

9. Finally, if you insist on a DIY project that has actually been demonstrated to work, the excellent Circlemakers website has a detailed and well-written three-page beginner’s guide to making crop circles. The results are beautiful.

And to clear your palate, a collection of quotes compiled by the Errors and “Science Myths” in K-6 Textbooks and Popular Culture webpage:
Errors, like straws, upon the surface flow; He who would search for pearls must dive below.
—John Dryden

Truth comes out of error more readily than out of confusion.
—Francis Bacon

It is one Thing, to show a Man that he is in an Error, and another, to put him in possession of Truth.
—John Locke

The ill and unfit choice of words wonderfully obstructs the understanding.
—Francis Bacon

It is as fatal as it is cowardly to blink facts because they are not to our taste.

Many errors, of a truth, consist merely in the application of the wrong names of things.

When even the brightest mind in our world has been trained up from childhood in a superstition of any kind, it will never be possible for that mind, in its maturity, to examine sincerely, dispassionately, and conscientiously any evidence or any circumstance which shall seem to cast a doubt upon the validity of that superstition. I doubt if I could do it myself.
—Mark Twain

I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it is much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that might be wrong.
—Richard Feynman

The most erroneous stories are those we think we know best—and therefore never scrutinize or question.
—Stephen Jay Gould

There are many hypotheses in science which are wrong. That’s perfectly all right; they’re the aperture to finding out what’s right.
—Carl Sagan

Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age 18.
—Albert Einstein

An easily understood, workable falsehood is more useful than a complex incomprehensible truth.—Thumb’s Postulates

August 10, 2003
American hero
Posted by Teresa at 03:09 PM *

Story here. I got it via Electrolite. Patrick got it from Charles Kuffner. It’s what we imagine Americans are like. Sometimes they are.

Stalin vs. Hitler superhero comics
Posted by Teresa at 01:04 PM *

Stalin vs. Hitler, created by Alexey S. Lipatov, is a boggling piece of syncretistic mythologizing. The basic style is Marvel/DC, heavy on the Dr. Strange-era Ditko, mixed with a big dollop of Soviet social realism, plus maybe a few Maoist Chinese swipes here and there.

During a flashback, we see Lenin in his secret hideout, playing an obvious Yoda to Stalin’s equally obvious Luke Skywalker:
The laws of historical inevitability are our strength. You must learn to make the laws obey you. Watch and learn, Joe!
The ballooning is all in Russian, but Lipatov has provided translations at the tops of all the pages except page four. That’s a little frustrating. I can more or less tell what’s going on—Stalin’s zapping Hitler with something that’s first cousin to Big Barda’s power rod—but I can’t tell whether it’s the collective might of the proletariat, or the force of historical inevitability, or just whatever the Russian is for “power rod”. On the other hand, it’s cool to find out on page three that the Russian for “MWAH-HA-HA-HAH!” is “XA XA XA XA XA!”

One note: The pages are out of order on the site, with page two turning up at the end of the sequence. Here’s the correct sequence: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12.

August 09, 2003
Ow ow ow ow ow
Posted by Teresa at 01:46 AM *

Tom Tomorrow’s readers have sent him a couple of items guaranteed to leave a dent in your central nervous system. One’s a statement by Dick Cheney:

Events leading to the fall of Saddam Hussein are fresh in memory, and do not need recounting at length. Every measure was taken to avoid a war. But it was Saddam Hussein himself who made war unavoidable. He had a lengthy history of reckless and sudden aggression. He bore a deep and bitter hatred for the United States. He cultivated ties to terrorist groups. He built, possessed, and used weapons of mass destruction. He refused all international demands to account for those weapons.
The other’s an eldritch horror of an action figure. It looks keen and fearless, which is pretty good for a man who was a deserter in time of war. As TT observes, the action figure’s packaging doesn’t mention whether the accessories include a 1/6 scale sock to stuff in the crotch.

I swear, these guys really do hold us in contempt. They really do think we’ll believe anything, and remember nothing.

Addendum: More on the George Bush action toy.

August 08, 2003
Posted by Teresa at 11:03 PM *

Has anyone else gotten spam that claims to be from Fredrick Taylor, younger brother of President Charles Taylor of Liberia? I got one forwarded to me from Jerry Kaufman and Suzle Tompkins:

Date: Sat, 9 Aug 2003 01:53:52 +0100 From:

Dear friend,

Greetings, how are you, business and family? I hope all is well with you. I know you might wonder how I got to know your name and email address. I got it from the Presidential library. My name is Fredrick Taylor, the junior brother to president Charles Taylor of the country of Liberia. Please this a very confidential letter and treat it very secret.

The rebel forces are coming very close topple my brothers government and to worsen the situation the United Nation had issue a warrant for his arrest on war crimes. Under my custody are boxes containing $25million. If the rebel forces enters and over throw my brother’s government, they will take the money. I have hidden boxes containing the fund and I have the authority to use the Diplomatic courier service now that my brother is still in power to you the boxes of fund for safe keeping to any address of your choice tagged Diplomatic luggage without questioning, with your name as the beneficiary.

Further more,when you get the boxes in three days you notify me immediately so that I will come to your country to spilt the fund.

It shall be 60% for me and 40% for you period. My own share will be used for investment in your country.

If you agree and to be an honest individual for this transaction reply me immediately through this email address:

It is very urgent.

Best regards,
Fredrick Taylor
That’s a shoo-in for this year’s award for topicality in a 419 scam.

Do we know whether Charles Taylor actually has a younger brother? He probably does; most scammers aren’t that creative. But as I’ve observed here before, the wonderful thing about the Spanish Prisoner con is that not only is it not necessary that the prisoner exist; it’s not necessary that Spain exist.

It would be amusing to run a 419 scam based on current events in some nonexistent country, or nonexistent current events in some real country, just to see what kind of responses you’d get.

August 07, 2003
Mildly defective egoboo
Posted by Teresa at 03:14 PM *

Today I got a letter from Dave Winer, subject line Invite: BloggerCon, Harvard Law, Oct 4:


I know you’re busy so here’s what’s going on.

1. We’re having a conference about weblogs on October 4, at Harvard Law School.
That sounded potentially amusing.
2. The pleasure of your company is requested. (In other words, you’re invited.)

3. I am the host of the conference. It’s going to be a great show. We’re going to have a lively discussion including (at no extra cost) Web Energy and lots of philosophy, great art and technology and lots of ideas.

4. Presenters include Glenn Reynolds, Joshua Marshall, Doc Searls, Scott Rosenberg, Adam Curry, Elizabeth Spiers, Jim Moore, Susan Mernit and more. Moderators: Lance Knobel, Ed Cone, Christopher Lydon and myself. And new discoveries, people we hadn’t heard about until we set out to find the most interesting and eclectic blogs and bloggers.
Well, cool. That could be a lot of fun, not to mention it’s an honor to be asked.
5. We’re going to talk about how weblogs are used in politics, business, journalism, the law, medicine, engineering and education. And it’s Harvard so you know it tastes good and is good for you too. ;->
Hrm. I was once a typesetter for the Harvard Crimson, and spent a good part of one school year living illegally in Mather House. Somewhat more recently I did a guest lecture there, with Patrick, on science fiction and its relation to the community. Harvard’s a nice place, but in this postlapsarian world its gooditude is no more certain than any other institution’s.
6. It’s a one-day Saturday conference, with an all-day open house on Sunday for impromptu meetings and discussions about anything you want to talk about. We did it this way because we’re going to have so many creative minds, we wanted to make sure there was lots of time for people to create.
Got it. What the SF community would call a relaxacon.
7. It’s October, the most beautiful time of year in New England. Come see the beautiful trees and of course the beautiful young Harvard students.
I’m not sure how to take that. If I want to see students, New York is full of them. If I go to a conference about weblogging, I want to see other webloggers.
8. Our local host committee of Boston-based bloggers includes Cluetrain author David Weinberger, InfoWorld’s Jon Udell, author Halley Suitt, MIT’s Andrew Grumet and Tracey Adams, Harvard librarian Jessica Baumgart and Larry Bouthillier from Harvard Business School. They’re here to make sure you find what you’re looking for at Harvard and in the Boston area. If you have ideas for speakers, or people we should invite, please let any of us know, including the local hosts. 9. This is a user’s conference. Technology is important, but at this conference the people who make the products are here to listen, to learn how people use the software, and to learn how we can improve it. This guarantees that something will actually get done here. It’s an important role-reversal.
I took that part to mean that there won’t be any elaborate presentations. The “role reversal” bit is a little puzzling. In what universe does the normal role of the weblogger consist of shutting up and listening?
10. Okay this didn’t turn out to be that short. Hehe. Hmm. Anyway, it’s time to say that seating is very limited, so if you want to come, please sign up right away. The cost for this incredible once-in-a-lifetime experience is a mere $500, …
Say what?!
… and if you’re a student (please provide a photocopy of your ID) it’s only $250. Harvard affiliates also qualify for the discount (Harvard ID, or mail address). We’re using the money (where needed) to get the talent in and out of the city, and to put on a few great parties so we can all mingle, share ideas, and learn a lot.
Those had better be some swell parties. And given that Atrios and Tom Tomorrow have apparently been sent the same invitation that I received, I have to wonder who in the weblogging universe is so exalted that they qualify as “the talent”, while we qualify as “people entitled to pay $500 apiece to subsidize The Talent’s travel and party expenses.”

I’m sorry. My background’s in the SF community, where our basic model is that a convention is the community coming together to enjoy and entertain itself, not some kind of hierarchical thing where some people are stars who get paid to come, and the rest are attendees who pay to come see them. A ten-year-old kid sitting in the audience at a panel is as much a member of the convention as the newbie pro writer on the panel who’s temporarily hogging the mike, and the thirty-years-a-fan moderator who’s presently going to wrest the mike away and hand it off to another panelist. It all goes around.

This attitude may explain why we can run our conventions on volunteer labor. This keeps our costs way down, which means we means we can keep membership prices far lower than they would be for comparable gatherings of most other groups, which means that more of our people can afford to come. We like it that way.

That inclusiveness has been one of the things I’ve liked about the weblogging universe. Anyone with a web connection can start one, and after that it’s all a matter of how interesting you are. How many fewer weblogs would there be if you had to pay $500 upfront?
You can reserve your space, right now, at this URL:


Please go there now, sign up, and let’s make BloggerCon 2003 a huge success!

If you have questions about the signup procedure, or conference logistics, reply-all, or send mail to:


There’s also a BloggerCon weblog [1], with an RSS feed [2] you can subscribe to. We’ll do several mailings as the conference date approaches with more info as it becomes available.

Dave Winer
Host, BloggerCon 2003

[1] http://…url…url…url…url…url…/bloggerCon/
2 http://…url…url…url…url…url…/bloggerCon/xml/rss.xml
My goodness.

I’m sure Dave Winer meant no harm. He does work in a better-paid industry than I do, so perhaps it didn’t occur to him that cost might be an issue. In any event, it was very kind of him to ask me.

I wrote back to say thank you, that I was pleased and honored to be asked, and that I was sure the conference would be enjoyable; but that I couldn’t possibly afford a $500 membership charge on top of travel and lodging expenses, especially not for a one-day conference. I added,
Please don’t take this as criticism, but I’ve been helping run conventions since the late 1970s, and I cannot for the life of me imagine why a small, low-key one-day conference with no food functions and no unusual setup, AV, or security needs should require a $500 membership fee. Even assuming the worst sort of sucker rates for facilities, I can’t imagine how you’d run a convention with that kind of fee structure. … One of the joys of weblogging as a medium is that it’s so inexpensive, which means it’s available to a very wide range of participants. At $500 a head, your weekend gathering may talk about that aspect of weblogging, but you won’t be talking with the webloggers in question.
I wish them well. I’m sure someone will write it all up when it’s over.

August 05, 2003
Posted by Teresa at 12:28 PM *

Let me just say that when I got home from traveling and saw the number of letters that had stacked up in my absence, I briefly considered faking my own death and running away to Lubbock to work in a hardware store.

August 04, 2003
Gay marriage
Posted by Teresa at 08:02 PM *

The subject of gay marriage is currently getting a workout all over the bloggy world.

The Pope’s denounced it, which by me matters about as much as his recent addition of five new Mysteries to be said on the Rosary every Thursday. I figure that if the OHC&A Church isn’t ready to recognize gay marriage, it doesn’t have to. Lord knows there are plenty of other marriages it doesn’t recognize; mine, for instance. And if you personally aren’t in favor of marrying gays, don’t marry one. (I’m of the school that thinks that someone else’s gender preferences are only your business if you’re thinking of making a pass at them. If not, not.)

Meanwhile, Dubya has also denounced gay marriage. And get this: he wants to “codify”, via a constitutional amendment, the principle that marriage is by definition a union between one man and one woman. Which can’t be right, since that would mean that my great-great-grandparents weren’t married, or anyway that my great-great-grandfather wasn’t married to his plural wives, which he most certainly was.

But I’m sure ol’ Georgie Boy didn’t think that through. What he’s supposedly on about here is the horrid possibility that persons of the same sex might marry each other, as has been deemed legal in Canada.

I think he’s going about this all wrong. The Constitution just isn’t the place for that kind of thing. If you’re going to specify that marriage is only a cross-gender phenomenon, one man one woman, you’re going to have to spell out what that means; and isn’t that going to look nice, in amongst the provisions of that hitherto dignified document? Next thing you know, people won’t be wanting their kids to read the Constitution on account of its racy passages.

On top of that, Georgie’s got one of his henchmen out there explaining that he’s just trying to to protect “the sanctity of marriage”. Dead wrong. Matters of sanctity are definitely not within the Constitution’s bailiwick. If Dubya wants to get something sanctified, he should talk to the Pope.

But what I really think is that Bush & Co. are turning gay marriage into another one of those pointless flustering non-issues like flag-burning, or prayer in the schools, that get everyone excited but make zero difference. These non-issues are deployed in order to soak up any additional brainpower the American people might otherwise be tempted to spend on issues like the economy, or what became of those WMDs. It’ll be good for months and months of content-free fuss and botheration.

We aren’t going to draft and ratify a full-scale amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America, saying that only cross-gender marriages count. Neither are we going to throw up our hands, say “Oh well, if Canada’s going to do it, we’d better follow along,” declare gay marriage legal in all fifty states, and accept that for a while we’re going to be up to our ears in matching tuxedos and dishes of adorable little triangular pink mints.

It’s a shame, really. All those weddings would be a lot of fun.

But it’s not going to happen. This fuss about banning gay marriage via constitutional amendment is just a piece of handwaving flapdoodle, specially cooked up for the election season. If it weren’t for that, the Republicans wouldn’t give a damn either way. They have a history of getting along just fine with gays who are sufficiently rich, powerful, and well-connected. It’s the poor ones they can’t stand.

Film at eleven
Posted by Teresa at 09:00 AM *

CNN reports that suspicious spouses, who in times past might have hired a detective, are now using DIY software packages to monitor their supposedly-errant partners’ internet activities:

Divorce lawyers and marriage counselors say Internet-abetted infidelity, romance originating in chat rooms and fueled by e-mails, is now one of the leading factors in marital breakdowns. With the surge in cyberaffairs, a new market for electronic spying has developed. Web sites such as and describe an array of surveillance products capable of tracking a cheating spouse’s e-mails and online chats, including some that can monitor each key stroke in real time.
This is one hot story, you betcha. Why, it must be the better part of ten years since I saw my first news story about it. If I recall correctly, that one quoted an interview with a prominent divorce lawyer. Somebody asked him what was the leading cause of divorce in America today. “E-mail,” he succinctly replied.

I found that strikingly logical at the time, which is probably why I’ve remembered it. This isn’t an internet thing. People who start writing to each other, whether electronically or in hardcopy, are going to be susceptible to the odd pitfalls of correspondence. This is one of them. In my own time I’ve known of several people who’ve done that, and I know from my litcrit-editing days that there’s a surprisingly long roster of author who’ve fallen into unexpectedly passionate exchanges of correspondence with persons other than their spouses. I’ve mislaid my Oxford Dictionary of Literary Anecdotes again—I know it’s somewhere around the house—the usual problem with books you absentmindedly browse at all hours—but right off the top of my head I know that Jonathan Swift and Benjamin Franklin both did that. And Carlyle, maybe? I’d have to check. I know there are more.

There’s a whole book out (Lotte and Joseph Hamburger, Contemplating Adultery: The Secret Life of a Victorian Woman: New York, Ballantine Books (1991), ISBN 0-449-90307-9) about Sarah Austin, an appealing Englishwoman who in the 1830s got into one of these epistolary affairs with a minor German prince, Hermann von Puckler Muskau, after she acted as translator for one of his books. She conscientiously destroyed his letters to her, but he saved hers, the cad, and a pair of modern scholars found the lot of them sitting in a Polish library—which is also one of those things that happens sometimes.

I’m not making light of this. People genuinely get hurt. What I’m saying is that falling into a passionate correspondence is simply one of the hazards of writing. We’re all writing more, so it’s happening to more people. As pitfalls go, I’d say it’s on par with another rare-but-documented condition that’s getting commoner, which is initially adopting a persona solely for purposes of playing a FRPG (fantasy role-playing game), then suddenly discovering that that persona has developed strong emotions and become a demanding part of your life, and that the relationships you’ve developed with other players and/or personas matter.

It happens. These things happen. Words can seem like lightweight little things, and you think you’re only playing with them; but if you stack up enough of them in the right order, they can up and turn real on you.

Nice work if you can get it
Posted by Teresa at 08:26 AM *

Bush is taking off for a month of fun and fundraising.

I expect he’s going to use Lincoln’s “don’t change horses in the middle of the river” argument when he’s trying to get reelected, but it’ll be hard to take that seriously after he’s stopped in the middle of the river to go swimming.

Update: Kos has a sharper-tongued and more extensive take on this same story. (You all do read The Daily Kos, right?)

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