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February 28, 2007
More Fun in Boston
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 10:11 PM *

Thanks to John Houghton who noticed this.

Boston, 28 February: The Boston Bomb Squad, who made their city a national laughing stock a month ago by blowing up cartoon Lite-Brites, answered the question “What will you do for an encore?” by blowing up a traffic measuring device put in place by the Boston Transportation Department.

Unfortunately this is a single-source story, and that source is Fox News so it has to be treated as unconfirmed, but they have video. Apparently the Fox News truck was in the financial district to get backdrops for a report on the recent downturn in the stock market, and got the whole thing on tape.

This makes me wonder some things. Both of the recent events, this one and the Mooninite affair, happened on the last day of the month, and both involved an apparent over-reaction to obviously harmless objects. Does someone have some actual intel that says there’ll be an attack on Boston with an explosive device on the last day of a month, but they don’t know which month?

I also wonder who Boston will try to fine for the cost of the police response for dealing with this hoax? And when will Michael Chertoff offer his congratulations on their efficient and effective response to the threat?

February 27, 2007
Underrated Bloggers of Our Times (#2 in a series)
Posted by Patrick at 06:04 PM *

Hilzoy, of Obsidian Wings.

Violence is not a way of getting where you want to go, only more quickly. Its existence changes your destination. If you use it, you had better be prepared to find yourself in the kind of place it takes you to.
Much more at the post; read it all. Why doesn’t this woman have an opinion column in a national newspaper?

February 25, 2007
“So Muqtada al-Sadr, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and Ahmed Chalabi walk into a bar…”
Posted by Avram Grumer at 08:40 PM *

The Times of London is reporting that as many as five American senior military commanders are prepared to resign if the Bush administration orders an attack on Iran. Good for them, though it won’t keep Israel from making a bombing run. (Yeah, I know that’s a denial. Check out that closing paragraph, where the Israeli Defense Minister says that western authorities “are anxious to spread the idea that we are planning to attack Iran and so be absolved of the need to do the things we have requested of them.”)

The possible resignations reminded me of the military mutinies in Vietnam, which were a major contributor to ending that war. Not that there’s a moral equivalence between fragging your commander and peacefully resigning your commission, but I still couldn’t help but think of the mutinies. I’d vaguely remembered that the Pentagon had recorded some shockingly large number of mutinous incidents, and was googling around for more info, when I found this old Vietnam-era joke (credited to 1,001 Ways to Beat the Draft, by Tuli Kupferburg). A GI is in the hospital, explaining how he got wounded:

I was told that the way to tell a hostile Vietnamese from a friendly Vietnamese was to shout “To hell with Ho Chi Minh!” If he shoots, he’s unfriendly. So I saw this dude and yelled “To hell with Ho Chi Minh!” and he yelled back, “To hell with President Johnson!” We were shaking hands when a truck hit us.

If you were updating this joke for Iraq, you’d swap Bush in for Johnson, but who would you swap in for Ho Chi Minh? Muqtada al-Sadr? Abu Musab al-Zarqawi? Ahmed Chalabi? There are so many factions in Iraq that you need an entirely different base joke, probably the one with people on a falling airplane without enough parachutes.

In fact, there’s a sort of meta-joke going on there. You swap in Osama bin Laden for Ho Chi Minh, and if the guy hearing the joke laughs, he probably gets all his news from Fox and Instapundit, and has no idea of what’s going on in Iraq. If he complains that the situation’s more complicated than that, and there are a bunch of rival factions in Iraq, then you’ve got a basis for rational discussion. And then you get hit by a truck.

February 24, 2007
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 11:44 PM *

Two days in a row I’ve received identical emails:

hey man,

What’s up with that negative feedback you left me? I will let negative
too if you don’t cancel it.

please reply asap

Word for word, right down to the typo. Thing is, they purportedly came from different email addresses, and they were sent to different email addresses (that all resolve to me).

Turns out I’m not the only person who’s gotten identical emails.

This is just another spam/scam to try to find out valid email addresses belonging to folks who read and will reply to their mail. The subject line for this particular spam is negative feedback. Don’t reply to it unless you like spam.

February 23, 2007
Geek test
Posted by Teresa at 05:47 PM *

Here’s the question: If you don’t already know what this is, and you don’t google on it, can you nevertheless tell what it’s a translation of?

Baradis, Eltāringua!
Be telepe penda mīrala
Menello alat’ elnio.
Chaiana palan-tīrala
Gallarembinai dorilo
Spanoioglossen linduban
Nib gaiar, sī nib gaiaran.
A simple “yes” will suffice for the next day or so. The answer can be found here.

And at the other end of the galaxy, Second Conservapedia
Posted by Patrick at 07:30 AM * 296 comments

Via several news sources in the last day or two, we learn of Conservapedia, the online, user-editable encyclopedia for crazy people.

Conservapedia is a much-needed alternative to Wikipedia, which is increasingly anti-Christian and anti-American. On Wikipedia, many of the dates are provided in the anti-Christian “C.E.” instead of “A.D.”, which Conservapedia uses.
Sadly, portions of Conservapedia already appear to have been vandalized by the forces of irony and sarcasm. For instance, Roy Edroso points out this, from the entry on Bill Clinton:
Bill Clinton managed to serve two terms without botching the prosecution of two wars, manipulating intelligence, engaging in a systematic program of torture, or mishandling the federal response to the flooding of a major American city. Obviously, he is the devil incarnate.
Remember, like it says on the main page, “With your help, Conservapedia will continue to be an online encyclopedia you can trust.”

February 22, 2007
Writing workshops
Posted by Patrick at 11:18 AM * 50 comments

The rapid approach of the March 1 application deadline reminds me to mention that I’m one of the six people teaching at this summer’s Clarion West, Seattle’s long-established “six-week workshop for writers preparing for professional careers in science fiction and fantasy.” I’ve taught this workshop before, as well as the “original” Clarion that used to be in Michigan and is now in San Diego; they’re both well-run, intensive experiences for people serious about becoming working SF writers.

And of course, Teresa and I both teach every year at Viable Paradise, the one-week SF writing workshop with the really dumb name. Other VP instructors include Cory Doctorow, Steven Gould, Laura Mixon, Debra Doyle, Making Light co-blogger Jim Macdonald, and for the first time this year, Elizabeth Bear. Offsetting the silly name is the fact that it’s on Martha’s Vineyard, a place so stunningly beautiful that you immediately understand why so many billionaires have houses there. VP is held in early October and the deadline for applications is June 15; application info is here.

UPDATE: Clarion West’s deadline is April 1, not March 1. If you apply by March 1, you save $100 in tuition. My fault for not reading the web page carefully!

February 21, 2007
If you want a picture of the future, imagine an adorable cartoon character stepping on a human face—forever
Posted by Patrick at 02:15 PM *

From the Associated Press, in the Japan Times:

Perky cartoon character Prince Pickles — with saucer eyes, big dimples and tiny, booted feet — poses in front of tanks, rappels from helicopters and shakes hands with smiling Iraqis. […]

As Japan sheds its postwar pacifism and gears up to take a higher military profile in the world, it is enlisting cadres of cute characters and adorable mascots to put a gentle, harmless sheen to its Self-Defense Forces deployments.

“Prince Pickles is our image character because he’s very endearing, which is what Japan’s military stands for,” said Defense Ministry official Shotaro Yanagi. “He’s our mascot and appears in our pamphlets and stationery.”

Such characters have long been used in Japan to win hearts and minds and to soften the image of authority.

The Metropolitan Police Department tries to lighten its stern image with Peopo, which looks like a cross between a rabbit and a space trooper.

The government hopes the same tactic can work overseas.

More from Passport, the blog of Foreign Policy magazine:
Not surprisingly, the military’s efforts to adopt innocuous-looking symbols has raised suspicions that Japan is cloaking darker ambitions, but the government insists that such imaging serves to create cultural understanding and help Japan’s efforts in the military theater. In Japan’s Iraq mission (where it deployed 600 noncombatant troops in its first military mission since the Second World War), water trucks were decorated with Japan’s globally popular cartoon characters, and “everybody loved it,” according to Foreign Ministry official Aki Tsuda. Not a single truck was attacked in the two and half year mission, which Japanese officials attribute to the cartoons rather than the fact that the deployment area was largely free of violence.
(Via Rafe Colburn’s

Posted by Patrick at 09:59 AM * 44 comments

‘O look, look in the mirror,
   O look in your distress:
Life remains a blessing
   Although you cannot bless.

‘O stand, stand at the window
   As the tears scald and start;
You shall love your crooked neighbour
   With your crooked heart.’

From “As I Walked Out One Evening”
by W. H. Auden (21 February 1907 - 29 September 1973)

More here.

February 16, 2007
Art thou Girl, or art thou Boy?
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 07:45 AM * 129 comments

The never-ending quest to figure out what all this “gender” stuff is about continues. Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, the question has been answered!

The Gender Genie allows you to paste in a 500-word block of text, choose whether your sample is fiction, non-fiction, or a blog entry, and click … voila! The true gender of the writer is revealed.

Let’s see … aside from figuring out how a blog entry is different from fiction or non-fiction … I’ve spent some time pasting in bits of prose (including entries from This Very Blog). Hilarity ensues.

9/11 Changed Everything
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 01:03 AM * 0 comments

From today’s headlines:

Passengers subdue armed hijacker

LAS PALMAS, Spain (CNN) — A man armed with two pistols hijacked an Air Mauritania flight Thursday but was subdued by two passengers, a Spanish official said.

Old-style hijackings are a thing of the past. Finito. Done. No more. The one and only thing that 9/11 changed was the rules of that particular game.

It used to be that if you were on a hijacked aircraft you stayed in your seat, did what the hijacker said, and the worst you’d usually face would be some very boring and uncomfortable hours sitting on a runway somewhere while the FBI’s Hostage Negotiation Team chatted with the hijackers.

Then came 9/11, and before it was over there was a new model: It evolved before the morning was over, before the government could act. If there’s a hijacking, everyone dogpile the hijacker(s). It doesn’t matter if they have machineguns—they have to reload sometime.

The elaborate security screenings that we have to undergo now are to protect us against a tactic that will never work again.

February 15, 2007
Dafydd ab Hugh moves on
Posted by Teresa at 04:13 PM * 265 comments

I’ve tried to write about this a couple of times since I heard the story from Michael Bérubé, but I couldn’t do it justice because it makes my brain go all woozly. Patrick couldn’t deal with it either. To heck with artful journalism. Here’s the flat telling:

Dafydd ab Hugh, sometimes science fiction writer, has become a right-wing pundit.

No, really. They think he’s brilliant. They think he knows what he’s talking about. He subs for Michelle Malkin.

(We will now pause to give veterans of the old GEnie SFRT time to quit screaming, catch their breath, and wipe off their screens.)

(Patrick, peering over my shoulder, reminds me that Dafydd is still remembered by the veterans of several online SF discussion venues for having repeatedly trashed the discourse. When Dafydd gets into an argument, which he almost always does, his sheer personal obnoxiousness can be so prodigious that, years later, people still talk about it with awe.)

Moving on to the specific occasion of this post:

Dafydd’s quickly gotten the hang of his new gig. He was being truthless and abusive just yesterday at Big Lizards, doing freestyle smears of Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwen—both of whom are far better writers and political analysts than he is—on utterly specious grounds:

Let’s start with Patterico, since his case is the clearest—and the least important in the grand scheme of things, relating only to the execrable Amanda Marcott of Pandagon and Melissa McEwen of Shakespeare’s Sister—neither of whom contributes much if anything to the national discourse.
This is not a line Dafydd should pursue. After all, when Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwen landed paying gigs doing blogging for the Edwards campaign, everyone who heard the news and was already acquainted with them did not immediately phone half-a-dozen friends and scream, “YOU ARE NOT GOING TO BELIEVE THIS!” and “OH MY GOD THEY THINK HE’S SMART!”
Patterico is appalled that apparently, both Marcott and McEwen actually resigned because they received (they say) “threats” and “ugly e-mails and comments.” I use the word “apparently” accurately, because in fact, we have no evidence whatsoever that they really received anything, or at least not the e-mails seemingly quoted at Firedoglake.
I have many times seen Dafydd refer to having received communications in the mail, some of which were harder to believe in than the hate mail that’s lately been aimed at Marcotte and McEwen. I don’t recall him even once starting out from the assumption that he was required to physically prove that he’d received the mail.

I certainly don’t recall him—or anyone else, ever—arguing the principle that if someone says they’ve received mail, but they don’t immediately provide convincing externally certified proof that said mail was received, you’re entitled to call them a liar and launch into general smears of their judgement and character.

I guess it was all he could think of at the time. That’s the trouble with going pro: you have to keep cranking the stuff out, even when you’re short on inspiration.

What I do recall, quite clearly, is that Dafydd was notorious for making sweeping unsourced claims, and arguing at vast length—but almost never backing down—when the other people present took his assertions apart point by point, documenting their own arguments every step of the way. His usual response was to make more sweeping unsourced claims, and get hurt, angry, petulant, and loud when others were less than polite about them. It was one of the main ways he trashed conversations. Who knew it would turn out to be a saleable skill?

Lefties and liberals make almost a religious fetish out of claiming to have received death threats.
Malarkey. Dafydd hung out online with lefties and liberals for years, and nobody was slinging death threats. Well, okay, there was that one memorable incident where someone made one implicitly, and Yog Sysop actually lost his temper; but that was only a right-left thing if foreign nationals and royalists count. Outside the online SF forums, the main source of talk about death threats is the right-wing media, usually because they’re making them. This is sometimes discussed by leftists, almost all of whom illustrate their remarks by linking to specific quotations that were put up online by the people who made the threats.

But let’s take a more general look at Dafydd’s assertion. If leftists and liberals are constantly making a big deal about death threats, shouldn’t the subject show up on Google Trends? It does: one vertical spike, in April 2004, which is almost certainly the story about 9-11 Commission member Jamie Gorelick received death threats at a time when she was under attack by the right-wing media.

Purely by chance, while I was Googling on April 2004 I found this.


They use the claim as a truncheon to attack anyone who disputes any portion of what they argue: ‘here’s some of the mail I recieved from the Rethuglican hate machine — now whose side are you on?’

People who’ve argued with Dafydd have frequently been far more diligent, responsible, and hygienic than he has. I don’t recall a single one of them using death threats as an excuse.

Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwen got hit with truckloads of vicious hatemail after Bill Donohue and the Catholic League pretended to be shocked and offended by Marcotte’s language (yeah, right), and revved up the troops. It was a political hit; nothing to do with Christianity. The result? Both of them have quit their jobs with the Edwards campaign—and they and other bloggers will hesitate before speaking so freely again.

I’ve been the recipient of that kind of abuse, though not in that quantity. So has Patrick. You know the nursery rhyme about sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me? Not true. It does real damage. Has a PTSD feel to it. Joy is the engine of our spirits, and it takes it all away. You get depressed, and hurt all over. Your own words fail you. The damage can last for years.

That’s the intended effect. It’s meant to hurt—to be so nauseating and dispiriting that the person who’s the target shuts down and stops communicating. It’s not just a matter of triumphing (albeit by grossly unfair means) in the argument of the moment. The underlying message is: We don’t care about what’s right, or fair, or accurate. We care about winning. If you stand against us, you will lose, and we will hurt you as much as we can for having fought us. We will wreck your career, and hurt the people around you and the things you care for. If you cry out, we will hurt you for that, too.

To quote the invaluable Digby:

Now they’ve got Bill “anal sex” Donohue working the NY Times like it’s a cheap whore, braying in faux outrage that he’s “offended” by something that Marcotte wrote in the past about Catholicism. Please. This game has gone on long enough.

Republicans write books calling Democrats traitors and calling for the internment of all American Muslims. They have hate radio shows with listeners in the millions, in which they call liberals cockroaches and compare them to terrorists and child molesters. These same radio show hosts are invited to the white house for strategy sessions and are feted by the conservative press as if they are heroes.

If lying to us has become an industrial process, so has verbal bullying and abuse. That’s the field in which Dafydd is now writing. There’s no question that Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwen took a bad hit from Donohue and his fake-Christian minions. They said so when they quit the Edwards campaign. Big Lizards/Dafydd ab Hugh is going after them because they said they got hurt:
The idea, dim as it is, is to contrast the bile the Left spews out with the even more wretched and revolting vile supposedly spewed out by their enemies on the Right,
I’m about as bilious right now as anything Dafydd runs into, and I’m being nicer to him than he was to Marcotte and McEwen. His column is, in fact, wretched, revolting, and vile.

I didn’t use to think he was this bad. I was willing to believe he was such an inept thinker and debater that his wholesale slaughter of formerly interesting conversations was unintentional, and his angry splutterings the habitual ill-judged reaction of a man who was in over his head. I don’t recall Dafydd being this deliberately malign. I think it’s a learned thing he’s picked up from the context in which he now operates. I don’t think he understands that over the long run it’s going to cost him his soul. He really is kind of hapless.

February 14, 2007
Matthew 6
Posted by Patrick at 10:38 PM * 153 comments

Atrios highlights this bit from “religious left” spokesperson (and former Kerry campaign “director of religious outreach”) Mara Vanderslice:

I’ve never been more on fire for the work that I’m doing. I hope that I’ll find a way to continue to pioneer this path for the Democrats. I’d love to be involved in continuing to build up the voices of faith in the party and providing the training and infrastructure on the ground to state parties, to future candidates, to reach out to these constituencies, because I just believe that the religious community can be the conscience and the soul of the Democratic Party, and the more we bring that back in, I believe, the stronger our party will be, the better we’ll be able to represent our positive vision for the future, and I think it’ll help us start winning elections again.
Atrios, not a religious person at all as far as I know, takes exception to the arrogance implicit in Vanderslice’s assertion that “the religious community can be the conscience and the soul of the Democratic Party”. Observes Atrios: “[T]his is part and parcel with the basic messages people like me get regularly from people all over the spectrum, that atheists and agnostics lack a conscience and a sense of values, and these things only come from religion and the religious.”

Atrios is right. Theologically, too. Vanderslice’s unselfconscious remark, meant for her own brand of religious insider, reeks of the same kind of spiritual vanity we’ve seen all too often from the self-anointed “religious left.” “The religious community can be the conscience and the soul of the Democratic Party”? As in, nobody else has a conscience, or a detectable soul? Amazing how much unearned snottiness, to say nothing of bad theology, can be encapsulated in just a couple of definite articles.

I’d like to take all these hustlers, Jim Wallis, Mara Vanderslice, Brian O’Dwyer, and the rest of them, roll them up in a paper bag, and toss them into a room with nothing to read except the archives of Slacktivist. There’s what actual religious seriousness looks like. Meanwhile, speaking as a religious person, I’ll take Pharyngula and The Rude Pundit over the lot of them.

Open thread 81
Posted by Teresa at 08:33 AM *

And whan this werk al brought was to an ende,
To every foul Nature yaf his make
By evene acord, and on here way they wende.
And, Lord, the blisse and joye that they make!
For ech of hem gan other in wynges take,
And with here nekkes ech gan other wynde,
Thankynge alwey the noble goddesse of kynde.

But fyrst were chosen foules for to synge,
As yer by yer was alwey hir usaunce
To synge a roundel at here departynge,
To don Nature honour and plesaunce.
The note, I trowe, imaked was in Fraunce,
The wordes were swiche as ye may heer fynde,
The nexte vers, as I now have in mynde.

“Now welcome, somer, with thy sonne softe,
That hast thes wintres wedres overshake,
And driven away the longe nyghtes blake!
Saynt Valentyn, that art ful hy on lofte,
Thus syngen smale foules for thy sake:
Now welcome, somer, with thy sonne softe,
That hast thes wintres wedres overshake.
Wel han they cause for to gladen ofte,
Sith ech of hem recovered hath hys make,
Ful blissful mowe they synge when they wake:
Now welcome, somer, with thy sonne softe,
That hast thes wintres wedres overshake,
And driven away the longe nyghtes blake!”
And with the shoutyng, whan the song was do
That foules maden at here flyght awey,
I wok, and othere bokes tok me to,
To reede upon, and yit I rede alwey.
I hope, ywis, to rede so som day
That I shal mete som thyng for to fare
The bet, and thus to rede I nyl nat spare.

“We’ll make it … BLINK.”
Posted by Teresa at 07:57 AM * 21 comments

The last word on the Great Boston Mooninite Scare.

February 13, 2007
In Which I Kiss Off Any Remaining Chance Of Ever Being A Kool Kid of the “Netroots”
Posted by Patrick at 12:04 AM * 70 comments

Chris Bowers of MyDD:

[N]o matter how many presidential candidates, members of congress, Democratic Party leaders, or other national figures I meet and talk with, my favorite moments in political campaigns are always large rallies (preferably those organized by volunteers, or those convened to celebrate an electoral victory). I want to be there at the moment when history happens, when the world changes, when consciousness shifts, and when the people rise up and throw off the shackles of the elite, the status quo, and the comfortable. I have wanted that for a long time. Before that happens, I want to be an active member of the small clique, coterie or circle that identified the possibility for massive change and precipitated its manifestation.

Okay, he’s young.

Nonetheless: ew.

February 12, 2007
Unaccountable violence
Posted by Patrick at 04:15 PM * 343 comments

Ezra Klein has been blogging, repeatedly and well, about rape in American prisons, and American acceptance of the idea that it’s perfectly okay for prisoners to be subjected to it. As Ezra observes, “We spend a fair amount of time talking about detainee treatment and Guantanamo. But there are no greater, or more common, human rights abuses in America than those occurring in our overcrowded, constantly expanding jails.”

Robert Farley of Lawyers, Guns, and Money adds some excellent points:

[O]ne of the most irritating aspects of CSI (which, sadly, I have been unable to break from) is the common, almost offhand manner in which the heroes threaten suspects with the prospect of rape in prison. It suggests to me that the public at large has simply concluded that a) rape is an integral part of prison life, such that a five year prison sentence automatically includes five years of rape, and b) that anyone who goes to prison is irredeemably besmirched, and thus deserving of constant rape.

To take this a bit farther, it’s interesting to compare modern conceptions of prison (sadly or no, I’ve never seen Prison Break) with the work of Johnny Cash or Merle Haggard. For Haggard or Cash, that a poor white family would have to deal with the prison system in some fashion was simply a fact of life, even if Cash himself only spent one night behind bars. Moreover, neither Cash nor Haggard dodged the question of guilt; even if the protagonists of their songs weren’t going away for life, they were usually guilty of something. At some point (probably as the War on Drugs saw a steady increase in the incarceration percentages of young black men) the idea that white people would have to deal with prison became alien. Is there music or other art today that deals with the possibility that guilty white folks might spend time in prison, and thus that prison should be made at least survivable?

Making a bigger leap, I think that the thread connecting 24, CSI, opposition to anti-bullying legislation, and in the past opposition to anti-lynching statutes is the conviction that society requires extra-legal violence in order to hold together. On 24 (as ably demonstrated by Jane Mayer; more on this later) elite agents of the state murder and torture in the darkness to keep us safe. The heroes of CSI are agents of the state working in the open, but their main job is to track down deviants killing other deviants in order to send the first group of deviants to prison so they can get raped. As Sarah Posner discussed, opposition to anti-bullying legislation is founded on the idea that, without bullying, our children will be recruited into gay cabals, and society will crumble. Conservative opposition to efforts to stem lynching were explicitly about how lynching was a necessary tool to defending the social order of the South.

I think the idea that “society requires extra-legal violence in order to hold together” is pretty much fundamental to the conservative outlook. Even more important, and useful as a tool of social control, is the idea that all wised-up people know and accept this. That’s the real message behind all those hectoring commands to smarten up, toughen up, get with the program, understand that “9/11 changed everything,” and so forth.

Both ideas are also deeply ingrained in science fiction and fantasy, including some of the genre’s most intelligent work; indeed, much of the genre works by appealing to our wish that the world’s extra-legal violence be under the control of the kind of smart people we admire. The Second Foundation and the X-Men—and, for that matter, the Scooby Gang and the Laundry—are all, to some extent, basically the Ku Klux Klan, except that the extrajudicial violence they carry out is (we’re assured) merited and just.

Universal Wiretap
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 03:36 PM * 39 comments

Action: Congress wants to monitor all emails, IMs, etc. (via The Seminal)

First, the proposed law itself, the so-called “SAFETY Act” (for Stopping Adults Facilitating the Exploitation of Today’s Youth Act), H.R. 837, February 6, 2007.


(a) Regulations- Not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this section, the Attorney General shall issue regulations governing the retention of records by Internet Service Providers. Such regulations shall, at a minimum, require retention of records, such as the name and address of the subscriber or registered user to whom an Internet Protocol address, user identification or telephone number was assigned, in order to permit compliance with court orders that may require production of such information.

As described here, this proposed law is:

A bill introduced to the US House of Representatives [that] would require ISPs to record all users’ surfing activity, IM conversations and email traffic indefinitely.

The bill, dubbed the Safety Act by sponsor Lamar Smith, a republican congressman from Texas, would impose fines and a prison term of one year on ISPs which failed to keep full records.

In addition to sweeping up and permanently recording all of the conversations and letters of terrorists and kiddie-porn purveyors, this would sweep up everything by everyone else as well — without a warrant, without probable cause, without recourse, without exception, and without reason.

As the folks at Ars Technica point out, there’s no reason to think that law enforcement and private companies will limit themselves to looking for terrorists and pedophiles. The music industry (for example) is also very interested in exactly who goes where and says what to whom on the Internet.

Please, drop over by The Seminal and read their entire post. They’ve got suggestions for what action individuals can take next.

February 11, 2007
A Marine in Iraq
Posted by Teresa at 12:49 PM * 43 comments

“A Marine in Iraq” was first published in September 06 in Larry Johnson’s weblog No Quarter. He vouched for it thus:

Received this today from an old Army buddy via a mutual friend who was both a Marine and a CIA ops officer. Seems legit. Points are spot on.
For what it’s worth, it sounds real to me.* It’s as if Sam Watkins had written a condensed high-points-only version of his memoirs.

There’s a more reader-friendly version of the piece in the archives at Dan Feidt’s Just scroll down a few clicks and ignore the bit about the page being obsolete and moved to Drupal. Larry Johnson reproduced the text verbatim, which I respect; but Dan Feidt added a bunch of missing punctuation, regularized the line breaks, and boldfaced the section headers. (He also boldfaced some passages for emphasis, but I’m leaving that out.)

All: I haven’t written very much from Iraq. There’s really not much to write about. More exactly, there’s not much I can write about because practically everything I do, read or hear is classified military information or is depressing to the point that I’d rather just forget about it, never mind write about it. The gaps in between all of that are filled with the pure tedium of daily life in an armed camp. So it’s a bit of a struggle to think of anything to put into a letter that’s worth reading. Worse, this place just consumes you. I work 18-20-hour days, every day. The quest to draw a clear picture of what the insurgents are up to never ends. Problems and frictions crop up faster than solutions. Every challenge demands a response. It’s like this every day. Before I know it, I can’t see straight, because it’s 0400 and I’ve been at work for twenty hours straight, somehow missing dinner again in the process. And once again I haven’t written to anyone. It starts all over again four hours later. It’s not really like Ground Hog Day, it’s more like a level from Dante’s Inferno.

Rather than attempting to sum up the last seven months, I figured I’d just hit the record-setting highlights of 2006 in Iraq . These are among the events and experiences I’ll remember best.

Worst Case of Déjà Vu - I thought I was familiar with the feeling of déjà vu until I arrived back here in Fallujah in February. The moment I stepped off of the helicopter, just as dawn broke, and saw the camp just as I had left it ten months before - that was déjà vu. Kind of unnerving. It was as if I had never left. Same work area, same busted desk, same chair, same computer, same room, same creaky rack, same … everything. Same everything for the next year. It was like entering a parallel universe. Home wasn’t 10,000 miles away, it was a different lifetime.

Most Surreal Moment - Watching Marines arrive at my detention facility and unload a truck load of flex-cuffed midgets. 26 to be exact. I had put the word out earlier in the day to the Marines in Fallujah that we were looking for Bad Guy X, who was described as a midget. Little did I know that Fallujah was home to a small community of midgets, who banded together for support since they were considered as social outcasts. The Marines were anxious to get back to the midget colony to bring in the rest of the midget suspects, but I called off the search, figuring Bad Guy X was long gone on his short legs after seeing his companions rounded up by the giant infidels.

Most Profound Man in Iraq - an unidentified farmer in a fairly remote area who, after being asked by Reconnaissance Marines (searching for Syrians) if he had seen any foreign fighters in the area replied “Yes, you.”…

Best Piece of U.S. Gear - new, bullet-proof flak jackets. O.K., they weigh 40 lbs and aren’t exactly comfortable in 120-degree heat, but they’ve saved countless lives out here.

Best Piece of Bad Guy Gear - Armor Piercing ammunition that goes right through the new flak jackets and the Marines inside them. …

Greatest Vindication - Stocking up on outrageous quantities of Diet Coke from the chow hall in spite of the derision from my men on such hoarding, then having a 122mm rocket blast apart the giant shipping container that held all of the soda for the chow hall. Yep, you can’t buy experience. …

Favorite Iraqi TV Show - Oprah. I have no idea. They all have satellite TV.

Coolest Insurgent Act - Stealing almost $7 million from the main bank in Ramadi in broad daylight, then, upon exiting, waving to the Marines in the combat outpost right next to the bank, who had no clue of what was going on. The Marines waved back. Too cool.

Biggest Hassle - High-ranking visitors. More disruptive to work than a rocket attack. VIPs demand briefs and “battlefield” tours (we take them to quiet sections of Fallujah, which is plenty scary for them). Our briefs and commentary seem to have no affect on their preconceived notions of what’s going on in Iraq . Their trips allow them to say that they’ve been to Fallujah, which gives them an unfortunate degree of credibility in perpetuating their fantasies about the insurgency here.

Biggest Outrage - Practically anything said by talking heads on TV about the war in Iraq, not that I get to watch much TV. Their thoughts are consistently both grossly simplistic and politically slanted. Biggest offender - Bill O’Reilly - what a buffoon!*

Best Intel Work - Finding Jill Carroll’s kidnappers - all of them. I was mighty proud of my guys that day. I figured we’d all get the Christian Science Monitor for free after this, but none have showed up yet. Talk about ingratitude.

Saddest Moment - Having the battalion commander from 1st Battalion, 1st Marines hand me the dog tags of one of my Marines who had just been killed while on a mission with his unit. Hit by a 60mm mortar. Cpl Bachar was a great Marine. I felt crushed for a long time afterward. His picture now hangs at the entrance to the Intelligence Section. We’ll carry it home with us when we leave in February.

Biggest Ass-Chewing - 10 July immediately following a visit by the Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister, Dr. Zobai. The Deputy Prime Minister brought along an American security contractor (read mercenary), who told my Commanding General that he was there to act as a mediator between us and the Bad Guys. I immediately told him what I thought of him and his asinine ideas in terms that made clear my disgust and which, unfortunately, are unrepeatable here. I thought my boss was going to have a heart attack. Fortunately, the translator couldn’t figure out the best Arabic words to convey my meaning for the Deputy Prime Minister. Later, the boss had no difficulty in conveying his meaning to me in English regarding my Irish temper, even though he agreed with me. At least the guy from the State Department thought it was hilarious. We never saw the mercenary again.

Best Chuck Norris Moment - 13 May. Bad Guys arrived at the government center in the small town of Kubaysah to kidnap the town mayor, since they have a problem with any form of government that does not include regular beheadings and women wearing burqahs. There were seven of them. As they brought the mayor out to put him in a pick-up truck to take him off to be beheaded (on video, as usual), one of the Bad Guys put down his machinegun so that he could tie the mayor’s hands. The mayor took the opportunity to pick up the machinegun and drill five of the Bad Guys. The other two ran away. One of the dead Bad Guys was on our top twenty wanted list. Like they say, you can’t fight City Hall.

Worst Sound - That crack-boom off in the distance that means an IED or mine just went off. You just wonder who got it, hoping that it was a near miss rather than a direct hit. Hear it every day.

I left out a lot. Go read the real thing.

February 09, 2007
Chinese Panini
Posted by Teresa at 09:21 PM * 112 comments

If I had the money to collect naive art, I believe I’d be tempted by this painting, found on the website of All Oil Paint/Masterpiece Oil Paintings Reproduction/Beijing Star Works. All Oil Paint are in the business of copying paintings. For a three-figure sum (or the low four digits, if you want something elaborate by Alma-Tadema), you can buy yourself a copy of a painting your friends and relatives will never in a million years believe you actually own (or, in some cases, want on your wall—All Oil Paint is splendidly indiscriminate that way). At least they don’t copy famous paintings except all the people’s heads are replaced with cat or dog heads, or everyone’s turned into a Botero-balloon—really, they exist, I’ve seen them. And since the only living artist I’ve spotted All Oil Paint ripping off is Thomas Kinkade, their product line bothers me not at all.

On the other hand, it doesn’t tempt me, either. If I wanted to hang Starry Night on my wall, I’d buy an art print of the original. The dubious joys of owning a bad replica of a famous painting are unconnected with the sense of glee I felt on beholding the painting in question—which, to do both it and its original an injustice, might loosely be described as a copy of Giovanni Paolo Panini’s Picture Gallery with Views of Ancient Rome.

I like it because you’d have to be blind to mistake it for the original. The artist has really gotten his teeth into the subject, which isn’t surprising, given that it’s a painting about art and artists. I like the odalisque who’s been turned into a sheep, the gentlemen whose white linen shirt has turned into muttonchop whiskers, the drapery at the foot of the giant urn that’s become a looped-back overskirt worn (with knee breeches) by the guy carrying the box, and the unapologetic way the statues in the hallway have been transformed into chubby adolescent louts. Also, the artist has no idea what’s happening to Laocoon & Sons. The Dying Gaul has simply disappeared. And I think that’s Chinese calligraphy on the prints in the foreground.

It’s fearless, is what it is. The artist is getting stuff wrong because he doesn’t know what he’s seeing, but he’s plunging ahead confidently. The joy of it is that the artists in the painting are doing much the same thing: familiarizing themselves with a body of art by sitting down and copying it. I’m sure that if I could look over their shoulders, they too would be getting stuff wrong in interesting ways.

Besides, if Giovanni Paolo Panini’s original image had been all that singular and inviolate, he wouldn’t have painted it three times, the hack.

February 07, 2007
Lee Hoffman, 1932-2007
Posted by Teresa at 08:25 PM * 33 comments

LeeH is dead of a massive heart attack; this news via Geri Sullivan.

Some links:

A page about Lee Hoffman, with links to further material.
Geri Sullivan’s memorial essay.
The Wikipedia entry.
Lee Hoffman’s autobiography.
From the autobiography: Mimeo ink, fanac, and paperbacks.
In and Out of Quandry, a collection published by NESFA Press.
An online archive of Quandry.
An online archive of Science-Fiction Five-Yearly.

February 04, 2007
A few Boston updates
Posted by Teresa at 08:24 AM * 196 comments

There are rumors that charges against Sean Stevens and Peter Berdovsky will be dropped, but so far I haven’t seen anything official.

Sarmonster updates the Homeland Security terrorism advisory scale.

Wired points out an oddly similar case from April Fool’s Day, 2006, when five girls in the small Ohio town of Ravenna put out seventeen cardboard-box replicas of Super Mario Brothers question boxes. The police chief overreacted. The bomb squad and HAZMAT crews got called out to demolish them. Criminal charges were threatened, but then ultimately not filed. The splutterings of the Ravenna police chief sound remarkably similar to those of Mayor Merino.

My Signature Weapon! discusses the Massachusetts “hoax device” laws and opines that (1.) the men placing the devices broke the law only if a reasonable person would believe that they were bombs or some other comparable weapon; yet people in nine other cities had no problem recognizing them as non-bombs; and (2.) the suspects have to have intended to cause a panic (“with the intent to cause anxiety, unrest, fear or personal discomfort to any person or group of persons”) for the charge to stick. His conclusion: he wouldn’t want to be the prosecutor trying to make that case.

Wired’s Table of Malcontents cites what may be the signature quotation for this mess: Attorney General Martha Coakley on the obviously suspicious nature of the Mooninites:

“[The device] had a very sinister appearance. It had a battery behind it, and wires.”
The Register points out that Peter Berdovsky is a Belarusian citizen who’s in the process of applying for asylum in the United States, and that unless they’re dropped, the vindictive charges filed against him may screw that up

Majikthise firmly asserts that Guerilla marketing is corporate vandalism: Sam Ewen and Interference, Inc. are the real villains in the Boston Mooninite debacle:

One thing we do know is that Sam Ewen’s “guerilla marketing” firm Interference, Inc. needlessly terrorized a city and abandoned two twenty-something artists to face criminal charges that could wreck their lives. Interference knew about the bomb scare but didn’t tell the police. Instead, the firm pressured the two installation artists to keep quiet while chaos and fear gripped a major city.
The only reason I don’t agree is that I still think the Boston city government screwed up firster and worster; but Lindsey makes some very solid points.

When I first heard that some entity had let the bomb scare go on for hours longer than necessary, it was Turner Broadcasting that was being blamed. I didn’t think the alleged delay was altogether unreasonable. Turner is headquartered far from Boston, and they were one ad agency and two subcontractors removed from the action. It seemed to me that figuring out what was going on, sorting stuff out with the ad agency, and having a quick chat with their legal staff, could easily eat up a few hours of Turner’s time.

But as Lindsey points out, it wasn’t Turner at all. The ad agency, Interference Inc., figured out what was happening by midday at the latest, and could have stopped the panic hours earlier than it did. We know that Interference knew about the bomb scare before 1:25 p.m. on Wednesday, because that’s when Peter Berdovsky emailed several friends to tell them he’d already received email from Interference instructing him to keep quiet about the Mooninites. Turner Broadcasting found out about the bomb scare several hours later.

Sean Stevens and Peter Berdovsky were blindsided. By all accounts,* Stevens and Berdovsky are a couple of harmless art guys who perform and install video art, and are big fans of Aqua Teen Hunger Force. This past November, a man in Brooklyn recruited Berdovsky to do the work for Interference, and Berdovsky then recruited Stevens. They were supposed to be paid all of $300 each for the job.

For three hundred bucks, you’re not hiring wily guerrilla marketing operatives. You’re hiring a couple of guys to put up your Mooninites. What would Stevens and Berdovsky know about viral marketing emergency bailout procedures? When the agency that hired them told them to keep quiet, they did.

I’m grateful to Lindsey for pointing out that Interference, Inc. is Sam Ewen and crew, i.e. the doofs who ran Eisnor Interactive. They were on the loose during the dotcom boom, putting together ad campaigns that did unlovable stuff like spray-painting inscrutable ad slogans on public sidewalks. After the web ad market and Eisnor Interactive crashed, they reconstituted themselves as Interference Inc., and announced that:

…with buzz marketing all the rage, Ewen and former Performance Event Marketing president Michael Glickman are moving from stealth mode to launch Interference, Inc., a firm specializing in the guerilla marketing tactics that worked for dot-com clients like and

Interference, Inc. will use street corner messengers, product samplings, publicity stunts, branded hitchhikers and other “random acts of kindness,” anything to deliver a targeted message to a specific market.

The hell is that targeted. Their collection of strategies sounds to me like “channels you can use for advertising without having to pay for ad space or air time.” Think of it as real-world spam. A lot of the appeal of all this viral/buzz/guerrilla marketing stuff is that it’s dead cheap. The flip side: have you noticed how often you see headlines saying viral marketing campaign backfires? That’s an inherent property of the form. Viral marketing is volatile. If you want control, you make up advertisements and buy ad space and air time. If you’re going the viral route, you have to monitor your effects, and act quickly to mitigate the harm if your campaign unexpectedly turns sour.

Here’s Lindsey again:

Interference did not contact the police. Turner Broadcasting claims that it didn’t hear from Interference about the uproar until 5pm that afternoon. Meanwhile, the city of Boston was paralyzed, federal officials were rushing to the scene, and US Northern Command was monitoring the situation at its Colorado Springs headquarters.

According to the Globe article, Interference didn’t even have the decency to post bond for Stevens and Berdovsky.

I doubt that anyone responsible for the Mooninites initially intended to cause a panic. But when there’s a citywide bomb scare blowing up and you sit on your duffs for hours, not telling the authorities and keeping other people from telling them—yeah, that starts to look like intent.

Finally: during a visit to Providence, R.I., George Foresman, Homeland Security Undersecretary for Preparedness, praised Boston officials for conducting “a very seamless and coordinated response.” What this tells us is not that Boston is smarter than we thought, but that the DHS is dumb, too.

Prayer in the schools: a modest proposal
Posted by Teresa at 01:53 AM *

I think the Department of Education plus the NEA should commission, or claim to have commissioned, a major study demonstrating that parents, grandparents, television, the internet, and the miscellaneous religious influences with which they come in contact, are failing in their task of teaching our children to pray. Therefore, the Dept. of Education and NEA are developing a comprehensive K-12 program to address this failing. They will not, they caution, be considering alternate program proposals.

Some months after this initial announcement, they should come out with samples of a prototype curriculum designed to teach students (in ways appropriate to their grade level) the different theories, uses, practices, techniques, and purposes of prayer. There will necessarily be a certain amount of discussion of different theories of God(s), the divine, the supernatural, deism, atheism, theurgy, thaumaturgy, intercession, redemption, ordination, fate, luck, free will, and election. Lessons will also address the role of the person praying, with attention to faith, works, location, position, physical action, offerings, meditation, devotions, recited vs. newly composed prayers, third-party prayers, the acquisition of merit, the achievement of enlightened states, and general efficacy. (Note: the latter will not be regarded as a lab section.) All schools, public and private, will be required to include this material in their core curriculum. There will be a section on it added to standard achievement tests.

Kits containing this sample curriculum, plus study guides, should be mailed to tens of thousands of denominations, dioceses, synagogues, religious foundations, independent congregations, evangelical networks, seminaries, religious studies departments, legislators, think tanks, school boards, educational consultants, testing firms, and news outlets. The kits should contain a cover letter which formally solicits the recipients’ comments and opinions.

The purpose of this discussion phase, the letter will say, is not to take suggestions; but rather, to arrive at a working consensus. Participants may submit written responses, but they are strongly encouraged to post their comments at an online discussion forum set up for that purpose, where they can discuss them with others who have posted their own contributions. The board will be staffed with moderators whose prime directives are to repress free-for-all general discussions in favor of engagement with the specific details of the proposed curriculum, and to make sure that every point of view gets heard on every subject.

I figure that within eighteen months, two years at most, they’ll all have turned into hardliners on the separation of church and state.

February 03, 2007
Penny Wise
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 11:10 AM * 31 comments

It’s time to compare and contrast:

9/11 security could cost $21 billion

WASHINGTON (CNN)—A bill to enact the 9/11 Commission recommendations—the first bill passed by the new Democratic-led House of Representatives—will cost $21 billion over five years if enacted into law, congressional budget officials said Friday.

Rep. Peter King, R-New York., the ranking member of the Homeland Security Committee, said the report validated his opposition to the bill.

“This bill was rushed to the floor without the Democratic leadership giving us any indication of its massive cost—and now we know why,” King said in a written statement. “Had we known [the cost] before the bill was brought to the floor, it would have been a different story.”

Democrats said the bill was needed to fulfill the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission.

Okay, got it. 21 billion over five years ($4.2B per year), for something that might make us safer, is way too expensive according to the Republicans.

So what do the Republicans love?

Bush administration seeks $245B for wars
Includes additional funding for 2007, $145B for 2008

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration will ask for another $100 billion for military and diplomatic operations in Iraq and Afghanistan this year and seek $145 billion for 2008, a senior administration official said Friday.

The requests Monday, to accompany President Bush’s budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, would bring the total appropriations for 2007 to about $170 billion, with a slight decline the following year.

$170B for a war that’s making us less safe is just fine with them. If $21B is “massive cost,” what the hey is $245B?

Here’s my solution: Take $4.2 billion out of the $170 billion that Bush wants for his wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (a bit under 2.5%) and fully fund the 9/11 commission recommendations for this year.

Here’s another plan: Forget the “Surge.” Use the money that it would take to send 21,500 combat troops (plus their support and logistics units) into the meatgrinder, an action that everyone outside of the White House gates agrees is going to fail, and use it to fully fund the 9/11 committee’s recommendations.

May I also note, in passing, that the National Intelligence Estimate has finally gotten around to agreeing with Making Light:

The Intelligence Community judges that the term “civil war” does not adequately capture the complexity of the conflict in Iraq, which includes extensive Shia-on-Shia violence, al-Qa’ida and Sunni insurgent attacks on Coalition forces, and widespread criminally motivated violence. Nonetheless, the term “civil war” accurately describes key elements of the Iraqi conflict, including the hardening of ethno-sectarian identities, a sea change in the character of the violence, ethno-sectarian mobilization, and population displacements….

That is to say, it’s a civil war with complicating factors that make it much, much worse.

February 02, 2007
Making Light on Technorati’s “Buzz TV”
Posted by Patrick at 02:49 PM *

True that!

Michael Chertoff responds in less than a week!
Posted by Teresa at 12:39 PM *

From a news story today in

Though some residents complained that law enforcement agencies overreacted, Menino said that Michael Chertoff, US secretary of homeland security, called him yesterday morning and congratulated the city for acting responsibly.
If he can respond that quickly to a trumped-up non-disaster, just think how fast he’ll be in a real emergency!

Why the Boston Police Department has no credibility
Posted by Teresa at 09:30 AM *

For purposes of comparison, Here’s what happened when Mooninites got put up in Seattle. Manhattan and Brooklyn also failed to be panicked by Mooninites—and we really, really do not want to be hearing from Boston about how we ought to be more serious about security.

By this time, it’s clear to everyone that Boston officials overreacted to the Mooninite Lite-Brites, let themselves be suckered by irresponsible journalism at Fox News, and threw judgement and common sense to the winds. They might still have gotten a certain amount of sympathy if they weren’t now playing the bully.

August J. Pollak lays out the case in Thomas Menino is an incompetent coward:

I have never lived in Boston, and I have never supported a Republican for any elected office. But I would send money to a Republican opponent against Boston Mayor Tom Menino just to get him out of office if he actually dares to do something as cowardly and abusive-of-power as this.
A furious Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino vowed yesterday to throw the book at the masterminds behind a guerrilla marketing campaign gone amok that plunged the city into bomb-scare pandemonium and blew nearly $1 million in police overtime and other costs.

As city and state attorneys laid groundwork for criminal charges and lawsuits, cops seized 27-year-old Arlington multimedia artist Peter Berdovsky, who posted film on his Web site boasting that he and friends planted the battery-wired devices, and Sean Stevens, 28, of Charlestown. Both were jailed overnight on charges of placing a hoax device and disorderly conduct.

“This is outrageous activity to get publicity for a failing show,” said Menino, referring to the battery-operated light-up ads for the Cartoon Network’s “Aqua Teen Hunger Force,” which sparked at least nine bomb scares in Boston, Cambridge and Somerville.

Menino promised to sue Turner Broadcasting Co., the Cartoon Network’s parent company, and criminally prosecute Berdovsky and anyone else responsible for the devices, and to petition the FCC to pull the network’s license.

Attorney General Martha Coakley was put in charge of the case and said the companies behind the promotion would be investigated. She said the felony charge of planting a hoax device could be broad enough to allow prosecution even if the stunt’s sponsors did not intend a panic.

Menino is going on TV and insisting he’s going to send a 27-year old artist to jail for not breaking any law, because his police department overreacted and wasted a million dollars feeding a media frenzy and terrorizing the population of his own city. That’s a cowardly act of self-preservation, and were he not threatening the life of an innocent young man it would be laughable.

Let’s get a few facts straight on the Aqua Teen Hunger Force sign fiasco:

1. Attorney General Martha Coakley needs to shut up and stop using the word “hoax.” There was no hoax. Hoax implies Turner Networks and the ATHF people were trying to defraud or confuse people as to what they were doing. Hoax implies they were trying to make their signs look like bombs. They weren’t. They made Lite-Brite signs of a cartoon character giving the finger.

2. It bears repeating again that Turner, and especially Berdovsky, did absolutely nothing illegal. The devices were not bombs. They did not look like bombs. They were all placed in public spaces and caused no obstruction to traffic or commerce. At most, Berdovsky is guilty of littering or illegal flyering.

3. The “devices” were placed in ten cities, and have been there for over two weeks. No other city managed to freak out and commit an entire platoon of police officers to scaring their own city claiming they might be bombs. No other mayor agreed to talk to Fox News with any statement beyond “no comment” when spending the day asking if this was a “terrorist dry run.”

4. There is nothing, not a single thing, remotely suggesting that Turner or the guerilla marketing firm they hired intended to cause a public disturbance. Many have claimed the signs were “like saying ‘fire’ in a crowded theater.” Wrong. This was like taping a picture of a fire to the wall of a theater and someone freaked out and called the fire department.

That pretty much nails it down.

Believe it or not, this story actually gets more appalling, because this is not the first time this has happened. The Boston city government has zero credibility on this issue. The Boston Police Department already pulled the “anything with wires sticking out must be a bomb” stunt. They did it to a nonviolent protester, Joe Previtera, in May 2006. Here’s the photo: a kid standing on a milk crate outside an Armed Forces Recruitment Center, with a black hood over his head and speaker wires dangling from his wrists, in imitation of the famous photo of a tortured prisoner at Abu Ghraib.

[Previtera later said] “We picked the location because we wanted to make people think about what they might be called or forced to do if they enlist in the military.”

But the demonstration didn’t go as planned. Previtera—along with four friends who’d come out to shoot photos and protect the blinded activist in case, as fellow BC student Nick Fuller-Googins put it, “some hyper-nationalist character came up and punched him in the stomach”—figured the cops would warn him before they tossed him in the clink. But they didn’t. First, Previtera’s friends say, someone came out of the recruitment office and told him to get down; when Previtera didn’t, the person went inside. (No one from the Armed Forces Recruitment Center could be reached for comment.) Soon after, the cops appeared and watched the spectacle from their cruisers; shortly thereafter, the Boston Police bomb squad rolled up. Less than 90 minutes after the protest began, the police began taping off the area around him, and when Previtera stepped down, they took him into custody for “disturbing the peace.” But Previtera had remained silent the entire time. “I was really trying to play the role as accurately as possible,” he says. “So I was not speaking with anyone, just trying to stay there as still as possible.” Any disturbance came from the crowd of gawking spectators that, witnesses say, assembled once the policeman showed.

At the precinct, Previtera discovered that in addition to the initial misdemeanor, he’d been charged with two felonies: “false report of location of explosives” and a “hoax device.”

“This was supposed to be more symbolic than anything,” says Previtera, who never imagined they’d nab him for a false bomb threat. “I never wanted to scare anyone into thinking I had a bomb. I just wanted to make people think about international affairs.” He adds, “I never uttered the word bomb or explosive.”

…[T]he same day of Previtera’s protest, a report in the Boston Globe warning of possible terrorist threats read: “Officials were urged to take note of people dressed in bulky jackets in warm weather … or trailing electrical wires.”

Which is bullshit. What are they going to do, stop every guy in Boston who has a beer gut, or loose ties hanging off the bottom of his windbreaker? It’s on a level with telling them to watch out for guys carrying black bowling balls with fuses sticking out of them. I contacted a knowledgeable person of my acquaintance and asked whether bombers tend to have wires dangling off them. He said:
What kind of bombers?

Doing what? How?

Your basic suicide bomber has a pull-type detonator attached to his explosive belt, that he can access through his clothing.

Your basic demolition guy has a heck of a long wire going from his charge back to him and his hellbox.

Other needs, other configurations.

But wires sticking out of your clothes? I rather doubt it.

Then he sent me links to photos of actual detonators, some older designs, and the complete text of the Improvised Munitions Handbook. I hereby recommend the lot of them to the Boston Police Department.

He added:

The pull-type detonators I used to use were just metal tubes, painted green, with a pull-ring on one end.

You put your fuze wire in the opposite, open end, then crimped it in place.

You kept the whole thing dry by putting it in a condom: easy to pull the ring without even breaking the seal.

It’s nice to be able to consult someone with non-theoretical knowledge. Meanwhile, back to the story about Joe Previtera:
So if Previtera didn’t mention a bomb, what exactly constitutes a bomb threat? “It can be implied, with fingers and wires—especially in a heightened state of alert, as we are,” says Officer Michael McCarthy, Boston Police Department spokesman. And McCarthy thinks this is common knowledge, even if the wires are accessories to a costume. “Mr. Previtera should know better. He’s a young adult educated at Boston College from a wealthy suburb. I’m sure he knows wires attached to his fingers, running to a milk crate, would arouse suspicion outside a military recruiters’ office [when he’s] dressed in prisoner’s garb. If he has any questions as to why people think he may’ve had a bomb, then he needs to maybe go back to Boston College to brush up on his public policy.”
Standing outside a recruiting office in an Abu Ghraib prisoner’s costume, and studying public policy at Boston College, have nothing to do with whether you’re making a bomb threat, and everything to do with the police being irritated at Provitera’s political views. Which are none of their business. You can tell they didn’t think there was a bomb threat; they didn’t clear the area when they taped it off and called the bomb squad.

Here’s a second account of what followed:

“One of the police officers called me a sissy because I was putting my arms down, and he said if I was like the guy in the real picture I should keep my arms out,” Previtera says.

Then one of Previtera’s fellow protesters warned him that the police were beginning to get aggressive.

“I stepped down from the milk crate and took my hood off,” Previtera says. “There were four policemen right in front of me. I tried to walk away. They said, ‘You can’t go anywhere.’ They said I had to wait because the bomb squad was coming.”

To say the least, Previtera was not expecting this.

“I couldn’t believe it,” he says. “I just stood there in shock.”

The police proceeded to arrest him.

“I asked them for what. And they said they would tell me down at the precinct,” he says. “It was surreal.”

Down at the precinct station, “eventually, they fingerprinted me and booked me,” he says. “I was booked on disturbing the peace and making a false report of a location of explosives. And when I was in my cell I found out they added a third charge about a hoax device.”

The police alleged that the stereo wires dangling from his fingers constituted a bomb threat.

“The Boston Police Department made a judgment that he was committing certain crimes and arrested him for disturbing the peace, making a false bomb threat, and possession of a hoax device,” says David Procopio, press secretary for the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office.

Previtera was held overnight.

“The police woke me in the middle of the night and showed me pictures of U.S. soldiers with smiling Iraqi children,” says Previtera. “The officers told me these were pictures that I’d never see in the media, and that the Boston Globe and The New York Times were communist papers.”

No wonder these guys got suckered by Fox News. They’re already in the habit of it.
The next day, the district attorney asked for $10,000 cash bail, Previtera says. But after the protesters showed the DA pictures of the action, he reduced his request to $1,000. The judge had Previtera see a court psychiatrist and then released him on his own recognizance. …

On June 8, the District Attorney’s office essentially dropped the charges against Previtera. “We began a review of the facts to determine if any of the charges were warranted,” said [David Procopio, press secretary for the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office]. “We spoke to police officers and witnesses, and after several days of our investigation, we determined that none of the charges were appropriate, and we basically terminated the prosecution.”

The Boston Police Department clearly needs remedial education in what a real bomb looks like. Here’s a hint: it’s not just a thing that has wires hanging off it when you feel pissed-off and want to arrest someone.

Finally: An irresistible dialogue on the technology gap between newscasters and newswatchers, found via Lyorn

(See also: Boston menaced by cartoon promo; traffic grinds to a halt, 31 January 2007.)

Open Thread 80
Posted by Patrick at 08:08 AM *

You know the sheriff’s got his problems, too
And he will surely take them out on you
In walks the village idiot; his face is all aglow
He’s been up all night listening to Mohammed’s radio

February 01, 2007
Invoking the Lazyweb
Posted by Patrick at 09:25 AM * 29 comments

Okay, this shouldn’t be difficult, but it’s stumping me. We’d like to give our readers the ability to subscribe to RSS or Atom feeds of individual comment threads. Googling around yields a bunch of recipes for generating a single RSS feed of all comments to a given weblog, and a bunch more that purport to do what we want but which appear to have been designed for ancient versions of RSS, older versions of Movable Type, or different CMSes altogether. Nothing that’s both right and recent.

I realize only a small minority of our readers would find this functionality handy, but I’m one of them. Can anyone point us to a MT 3.33-compatible template that does this?

UPDATE: Thanks to Laura Lemay (man, does Making Light get the expert readers, or what?), our MT setup now automagically generates an XML file for each individual archive template. Thus, while the basic URL for the individual archive page for this post is:
—we now also have:
—which you can enter into your RSS reader in order to subscribe to the comment thread on this post.

What I can’t divine, in my ignorance, is the code I need to add to my individual archive template that will cause each archive page to display a link to the corresponding XML file—in essence, Movable Type template code that says “make a link to this page, but drop the ‘.html and add ‘.xml’ instead.” I’m pretty sure this will turn out to have been totally obvious, but at the moment I’m stumped.

FURTHER UPDATE: That’s solved too now, thanks to Christopher Davis. Individual archive pages now all feature RSS links you can plug into your favorite desktop aggregator or browser-based feed reader. For me the main point is to be able to have pointers for comment threads, and better yet, pointers that aren’t tied to a single computer; thus, web-based feed reading is a win for me. Your mileage may vary.

Smaller type (our default)
Larger type
Even larger type, with serifs

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