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May 31, 2007
See Whisperado and save!
Posted by Patrick at 03:52 PM * 25 comments

As the twelve of you who ever look at already know, Whisperado will play Desmond’s Tavern on lower Park Avenue this coming Saturday at 8 PM. Admission is a sturdy $10, but if you’re planning to show up, post in the comment section saying so and we’ll add your name to the Guest List so you can get in for $5 instead.

Sample some of the big-beat sound of Brooklyn’s phenomenal pop combo here. Sample review from Jim Henley: “The musicianship is excellent and varied and the songwriting solid. It doesn’t waste time with homage to the American roots music tradition. It just goes about adding to it. ‘Some Other Place’ is the kind of song Greg Brown might write if he weren’t annoying as shit.” Sample head-inflating praise from an actually good professional guitarist here.

New songs! Old songs reworked! Shoutouts to attendees who drop in from BEA! Free Boeing 757 to our 100,000th customer! Desmond’s Tavern is at 433 Park Avenue South, between 29th and 30th Streets, N Y F C. Close cover before striking. This release contains statements that are not statements of historical fact, but instead are forward-looking statements within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995.

May 30, 2007
If it weren’t so blatant, I’d think it was plagiarism
Posted by Teresa at 11:18 AM *

Look quick, before the culprit can take them down:

Glenn Greenwald, in Salon, After everything we’ve done for them.

Mark Mitchell, in Embryoyo, After everything we’ve done for them.

Word for word, photo for photo, it’s Glenn Greenwald’s article. Only the byline is different. I found it because I couldn’t remember where I’d seen Greenwald’s article posted, but I could remember a line from it. Imagine my surprise. I sat and stared at Mitchell’s version for a long time, thinking “It can’t be intentional plagiarism. It’s too blatant.”
Tim Grieve, in Salon, A three-way presidential catfight.

Mark Mitchell, in Embryoyo, Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!

It’s Tim Grieve’s article with a change of title, illustrated with a picture of a catfight.
Glenn Greenwald, in Salon, Major troop reductions imminent—again.

Mark Mitchell, in Embryoyo, Fool me forty-nine times, shame on me…

Same article, different title, different first line. (Susan spotted this one as well.)
PZ Myers, in Pharyngula, Another Christian Science Fair embarrasses itself.

Mark Mitchell, in Embryoyo, “Creation Wins!”

Same article, different title. This particular borrowing was a serious misjudgement on Mitchell’s part. Salon will just sue you.

Special thanks to Jim Macdonald for helping hunt down the further instances of plagiarism, and for saving screenshots.


Amber wonders whether it’s the same Mark Mitchell who’s written up in Chronicle writer fired for plagiarism, in the Daily Utah Chronicle.

Susan spots Andrew Leonard in Salon, Wolfowitz agrees to quit; Mark Mitchell in Embryoyo, Hungry like the wolf.

Fade Manley spots Devin Faraci,, Seriously, they’re making a f&@#ing Sims movie?; Mark Mitchell, Embryoyo, Seriously, they’re making a fckng Sims movie?

Jim Macdonald notes that Mark Mitchell’s very first post on Embryoyo, Cocksucker Blues :: Little Girls And The Unhealthy Way They Love, is very similar to this piece at MySpace, posted by Mark in Salt Lake City.

Aaron M. says that the second-oldest entry at Embryoyo is lifted from Bob Harris at This Modern World.

Dom says the essay Jim found at Embryoyo and MySpace was written by Cintra Wilson, and published in her book, A Massive Swelling : Celebrity Re-Examined as a Grotesque Crippling Disease, in 2000.

Update, 1:00 p.m.: Sometime in the last half hour, Embryoyo went down.

Abi Sutherland, on Catz
Posted by Teresa at 09:42 AM * 579 comments

Posted in the current open thread:

I in ur sonnet, doin ur ritin.
How do this hapn? I just a kitty.
Main job of catz are just 2B pritty!
(‘Cept with the doggies, then us be fitin.)
Course back in da old days catz was workin
Eatin ur mouses an axin fr milk…
Now giv me treatz or me clawin ur silk!
An bring em here fast, none of ur shirkin.
U humanz r comin under r powr
Uzin ur money to pamper n feed us,
Learnin from websitez how much u need us.
R clvr planz is comin to flower!
Now mousie are safe in his tiny holz
Nless u go catch him. I da boss. LOLz
Speaking of poets, Bruce Cohen, Speaker to Managers, now has his own website. Some sections are still under construction, but he’s put up the Star Trek Cycle and his miscellaneous sonnets—one of which, to bring the circle round, is about Abi.

Addendum: The thread has turned into a game of poetry and pastiches in LOLcat and 1337. This is from Ajay’s LOLcat for the Makers, after Dunbar:

I that in heill wes and gladnes
Am trublit now with great sicknes
My sicklie stait is no surprise:

Death sovran is of all the tubez,
Of rich, of poor, of l33t, of n00bz;
No mortal shal escaip his eyis:

Ajay and Jakob have done the Infocom Divine Comedy. Kathryn from Sunnyvale has done the Creation and Fall. Mary Dell, Dan Layman-Kennedy, and Larry Brennan have successively reduced “This is just to say” to shorter and shorter transformations. Dan also gets Prufrock down to two lines. Fragano Ledgister renders a very creditable Chaucer:
… As sone as youngstre on the net doth logge
bot thatte hee (or shee) doth make an blogge,
opon the uuiche the bratte doth lightlie write
of matteres simple and of svbjectes trite:
howe one beth lamer, yet another leet,
and howe they never shalle knowe defeat. …
Mary Dell does Sandburg. Adamsj does Shelley. Julie L. does Blake:
I iz tyg4r burn1nz br1t3
In yr f0r3stz 0f t3h n1t3
WHUT da m4x l33t h4ndz 0r 3y3z
Fr4m3z0rd mah f33rfl 5mmtryz?

In yr sekr1t d33pz n skyz
In yr b4s3 pwnin yr guyz
C4n iz I t3h w4r3z b1n h4xt?
C4n I h4z sum pr0n plzthx?

Tyg4r iz l33t burnz0r d00d
1ns1de yr b4s3 34tin yr f00d.

Come down and have a look. We’re having a good time.
Addendum II by JDM (Because it’s never too late to promote genius)
From Smurch
Some e.e. cummings:

NEkitteh livd in pritteemeowtown
(wit up!ball up!& rubberbandown!)
flowrbulb dedmaus leafdrop sunnipane
kitteh pur he didn’t kitteh rub he did

kittehz dey all (tiny&sm)
kehrd 4 NEkitteh not@all
I be scratchin ur litter & likkn ur viz
warmnap cuddlegleam twinklesleep hiss

litterkittehz gest (but sumz not allz
& furgetz dem laterz as upgrow tall
leafdrop leafbare leaflite leaful)
dat 0kitteh heart him morXmor

wenXnou & treXlef
she lolziz joi she yaoldiz greef
chikkyXbol & boksXscratchz
NEkitteh’s NE b in hr allz

sumkittehz mated wit ur evryk@s
mewd ur purrnz & wiskrd ur leapz
(nap stretch scratch & den) dey
mioud ur nomorz & napt ur dremz

twinklefar hatewet warmpatch facensky
(& only coldbite kn xplainz
how kittenzeez r furgetn 2 remmbr
wit up!ball up! & rubberbandown)

1 day NEkitteh di i ges
(& 0kitteh down 2 lik hiz viz)
bizzy kittehz cvrd dem sidXsid
ltlXltl & wzXwz

allzXallz & depeXdepe
& morXmor & dreemz dey sleep
0kitteh & NEkitteh littrXshowrztim
wskrXspirit & ifXpurr

kittehshes & kittehhes (perr & pirr)
dedmaus leafdrop sunnipane leaflite
sowd in ur reapin & cam in ur went
warmpatch facensky twinklefar hatewet

That, all by itself, refutes the idea that there is any language unsuitable for poetry.

May 25, 2007
Held Without Charges
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 07:11 PM * 65 comments

… or access to an attorney:

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) — An Iranian-American woman detained in Tehran is being held illegally and has been repeatedly denied access to an attorney, Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi told CNN on Friday.

Ebadi said that Haleh Esfandiari and other Iranian-Americans held in Iran are political prisoners.

“Iran doesn’t observe laws,” she said through an interpreter in an exclusive interview while visiting the United States.

Iranian officials have said Esfandiari, a scholar with dual citizenship, is being held in prison in Tehran while under investigation for “crimes against national security.”

Ebadi, one of Esfandiari’s attorneys, said her client is innocent.

The Nobel laureate said that two of her colleagues went to try to see Esfandiari but officials at a judge’s office would not let them in.

When they asked to read Esfandiari’s file, they were denied access, she said.

“And when they asked what the charges were, they did not get an answer,” she said.

Who do those wacky Iranians think they are? Americans?

This is not about “intellectual property”
Posted by Teresa at 01:34 PM *

1. You should read Thomas Macaulay’s speeches on copyright.

These were conveniently quoted by SF writer and firebreathing blue-collar intellectual Eric Flint in Prime Palaver #4. Here’s Flint’s introduction:

These are two speeches given by Thomas Macaulay in Parliament in 1841, when the issue of copyright was being hammered out. They are, no other word for it, brilliant—and cover everything fundamental which is involved in the issue. (For those not familiar with him, Macaulay would eventually become one of the foremost British historians of the 19th century. His History of England remains in print to this day, as do many of his other writings.)

I strongly urge people to read them. Yes, they’re long—almost 10,000 words—and, yes, Macaulay’s oratorical style is that of an earlier era. (Although, I’ve got to say, I’m partial to it. Macaulay orated before the era of “sound bytes.” Thank God.)

But contained herein is all wisdom on the subject, an immense learning—and plenty of wit. So relax, pour yourself some coffee (or whatever beverage of your choice) (or whatever, preferably not hallucinogenic), and take the time to read it. The “oh-so-modern” subject of “electronic piracy” contains no problems which Macaulay didn’t already address, at least in essence, more than a century and a half ago.

I should note that Macaulay’s position, slightly modified, did become the basis of copyright law in the English speaking world. And remained so (at least in the US) for a century and a half—until, on a day of infamy just a few years ago, the Walt Disney Corporation and their stooges in Congress got the law changed to the modern law, which extends copyright for a truly absurd period of time. Which—those who forget history are doomed to repeat it—is a return to the position advocated by Macaulay’s (now long forgotten) opponent in the debate.

2. Packbat boils down Macaulay.

Packbat has summarized Macaulay’s speeches on copyright as five bulleted points:

The copyright is not an innate right, but a creation of human government.

A copyright is a form of monopoly, and therefore effectively a tax on the public—thus, it should be restricted to precisely as long a term as would make equivalent the harm done to the public by monopoly and the good provided by encouraging the creation of new works.

The prospect of income from a property a long time after one’s death is no incentive whatsoever to the creation of new works.

The probability that the persons for whom the author might have concern will own the copyright a long time after one’s death is minute.

The probability that the copyright owner might suppress the works, for whatever reason, is great.

Do make sure you read Packbat’s surrounding material.

The next two pieces are via The Lyorn’s Den.

3. Cesperanza: from Dear Fandom: Could You Please Stop Saying That?

I keep hearing fans say that they themselves think fanfiction is an illegal/infringing activity, and I don’t think that it is. There’s been no legal ruling that says that it is (and in fact, quite the opposite: whenever unauthorized literary rewrites or retellings have gone to court, they’ve been declared transformative, and these were for-profit works, not even our not-for-profit pleasure zone.) I think when/if fanfiction goes to court—if it ever does, which I don’t think it will—it will be declared to be transformative. There’s a huge difference between fanfic—where all the words are mine, that I put down in a unique order to convey a message that came out of my brain, even if the message is as simple as “Rodney and John are in love,” and something like music or video piracy, where the mp3 someone gives me is the exact thing that I would have paid for, and all mp3s of a song are identical. Now vidding is a trickier case, because the visual source is theirs and the music is theirs and the uniqueness is in the conjunction/editing, but even then I’m personally optimistic that the effort put into creating the unique message of the vid would be enough to get us a transformative ruling. And these arguments are being made right now about vidding and other forms of DIY filmmaking, by people who really do want to see this creative work legitimized. But fanfic—fanfic’s a much easier legal sell, IMO, and slash fanfic even more than gen (because the message is more transformative of the original source; i.e. I am rewriting and transforming work to better accord with my sexual orientation.) Now let me be clear when I say that the arguments I’m making are not about a right to profit, which I think is more complex (though not inconceivable; I think of Poppy Brite’s Beatles RPS novel Personal Jesus, for instance, or other literary rewritings like The Wind Done Gone, but never mind for now) but about our right to exist and write and share our work with each other as we’ve done for thirty-plus years now, and I don’t really think that’s legally assailable in any way.

…There has been no legal ruling on the matter. There’s a hella strong case for transformative use.

This race has not been called, and so IMHO we shouldn’t act like it has until it HAS.

4. Legionseagle on Keith DeCandido and amateur law.
It would, of course be disingenuous not to admit that this essay was inspired by kradical’s recent essay on the difference between fanfic and profic. And the first thing I would like to make clear is that I have no quarrel with kradical.

He has every right to express his opinion—indeed, from his perspective, in some of the areas where he works—tie-in novels—he is in one of the fields where fanfic does actually risk damaging his livelihood. That makes his opinion highly relevant. Mostly I do not subscribe to the view that fanfic damages profic—for reasons I expand upon below—but this is one area where, hand-on-heart I can say that I’m honestly, both as a lawyer and a fanficcer—definitely not sure. As to which, again, more below. …

[Omitted: remarks on the average quality of tie-in novels.]
I’m about to disagree violently and publicly with one part of his argument, but then, that’s my job. I’m a professional lawyer specialising in intellectual property law. You can, of course, claim I’m making this up, and that actually I’m a small cavalier King Charles spaniel called Hector living in Dortmund. As this is the internet neither us can prove anything one way or the other. But it will be simpler if you take on trust that I’m a professional IP lawyer living in England, just as I believe he’s a professional writer producing (inter alia) Buffy tie-in novels based in the US.

And now we get to the bit of his argument about which I feel strongly:

“First off, fanfic is illegal and profic isn’t. This is not an irrelevant concern—we’re talking about the theft of intellectual property.”
[Omitted: remarks on the complexity of the laws relating to fanfic.]
…I’m going to start by agreeing—mostly—with this part of his argument:
Secondly, profic has professional oversight. While it’s true that there are good fanfic beta readers and that there are bad tie-in editors (and also bad tie-in editing jobs, which are often due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control), in general, I’m going to trust the judgment of a professional in the field. Nine times out of ten, you’ll get a better result from the pro than the amateur (which is why you generally hire plumbers to fix your toilet instead of doing it yourself). And way too much of the fanfic I have read is so obviously unedited it makes my teeth hurt—and I’m not talking about typos and minor grammar mistakes, I’m talking about global writing problems that no pro editor worth her salt would let fly for half a second. …
Agreed. Pretty much completely agreed. … I’ve also got a lot of time for the point of view that says that there is some completely superb, spine-tingling, wonderful fanfic.

But I agree that in general and overall the average quality is generally higher in works which have had professional oversight.

[Omitted: remarks on the quality of some professionally published works.]
So, given we agree that the the professional is “superior” over the amateur any day, perhaps it might be nice if an amateur writer and a professional lawyer got to look at the statement
First off, fanfic is illegal and profic isn’t. This is not an irrelevant concern—we’re talking about the theft of intellectual property.
Bollocks, is my professional opinion of that.

The first thing this depends upon is the term “illegal”. One of the distinctions between the fan lawyer and the pro lawyer is that the pro lawyer is sensitive to precise uses of language. And “illegal” is a very sensitive word. …

[Omitted: recollections of an excitable client.]
The difference between tort—breach of private rights—and crime—commission of an offence designated as such by the State—is one of the key legal concepts which the pro lawyer understands and the fan lawyer does not—not unreasonably, given that a minimum of three years of undergraduate degree, a year professional training and one or two years on the job go to make a pro lawyer. Professional oversight, you see. Which means that we understand the difference between tort—a civil wrong—and criminal law. Fan lawyers often don’t. Which is why they come out with complete absurdities like “the theft of intellectual property”.

Pro lawyers also understand that laws are territorial in character. That is, they differ from place to place. What is illegal (ie contrary to criminal law) in one territory may be perfectly legal or even conceivably mandatory in another (about the only examples I can think of where things are mandated in one territory and forbidden in others relate to food additives, but quite conceivably other lawyers will come up with others).

[Omitted: a discussion of sodomy laws in the state of Georgia.]
kradical talked about fanfic being “theft” of intellectual property. I don’t think—for reasons I’ll explain below—that it’s generally true in the US, certainly not in the UK. But talking about legality needs caution. Are you a sex criminal? Very probably—under the law of Georgia.

All intellectual property rights are negative in character. That is; they are the right to forbid someone to do something which, without your possession of the right, would not be forbidden. So, conceptually and under English law the “theft” of intellectual property means “to permanently deprive someone of the right to deprive you of the right to do the acts circumscribed by the right”. Got that? No; I thought you hadn’t.

The basic point is that you cannot “steal” an intangible right. You can—given a following wind—deprive someone of all or part of the economic benefit appurtenant to a right, but where’s the fun in that? More to the point, one has to prove both the benefit and the loss. There is—possibly a relationship with tie ins, though I think tie-in authors would have difficulty proving that their loss of income was as a result of fanfic rather than …

[Omitted: further remarks on the average quality of tie-in novels.]
For all the reasonableness, ultimately things come down to economics. Which economic rights will the law protect?

Mostly, intellectual property is not primarily protected by the criminal law (there are some criminal offences of counterfeiting and the like. Fanficcers don’t do them through fanfic, though “fans” may do (the two groups overlap inevitably, though are not contiguous) eg sharing episodes not yet available in their area via peer to peer), which is why referring to things as “illegal” immediately distinguishes the pro lawyer from the fan lawyer. Fan lawyers cannot apparently draw the distinction between public law—the one where the public interest is key—and private rights. The infringement of public rights is a crime and the State is interested. The infringement of private rights is a tort, and the State isn’t interested in doing more about torts than giving its citizens access to a more-or-less functioning … court system to allow them to slug such matters out privately between each other.

Private rights—those one sues to protect—are the issue in most fanfic cases. The Law is not, in fact, interested in enforcing IP rights by and large, and people like MPAA who claim they are are lying to you (I am increasingly reaching the point of view that I will not go to movies until MPAA and its affiliates stop being idiots. Tonight at the cinema—after, I hasten to add, I had paid—there was a sign “Camcorders …are illegal. Odeon reserve the right to randomly body and bag search for the above items”. No, I’m sorry. “Reserve” implied they had the right in the first place. Well, they bloody don’t have it by the general law and if they were trying to get it by contract we were in before the notices came to our attention, so too flaming late, mate. Not that I was planning to record the film—and if they’d told me I couldn’t do that, I would have concurred. It’s just that I see a difference between someone saying ‘Please don’t take a camcorder into this theatre’ and someone shoving a latex-gloved finger up my arse to check I hadn’t put one there, and MPAA apparently don’t. It reminds me of a bar in Manchester—happily now defunct—which used to have a sign at the door saying “To ensure customer satisfaction customers may be randomly body-searched.” Now, I ask you; how satisfying would you find it to be randomly body searched while sitting having a quiet drink?) …

[Omitted: something-or-other involving the Duke of Devonshire.]
…You can compare copyright infringement to trespass but not to theft. You might as well compare it to other criminal offences as to theft: “Fanfic is illegal. This is not an irrelevant concern. It is the keeping of an unlicensed slaughterhouse of intellectual property.”

Pro law has professional oversight. We are required to read books on law, pass exams, work with our peers. Admittedly, that still doesn’t stop a awful lot of pro lawyers sounding like muppets, but at least they’re trained muppets. I realise, of course, that I am not a published author of fiction. And that may make my views on the fanfic v. profic debate less valid than it would obviously be. But kradical is not an IP lawer. His views on that aspect of the debate are, by the same token, less valid than mine. In fact, I’ll make a fair offer. If professionally published writers will stop publishing (on the internet) absolute God-awful nonsensical bollocks about law, I’ll stop writing fanfic. Deal?

5. Me, on the wording of disclaimers.

This is my own nominee to the list of habits fanfic writers should break: I want them to stop sticking badly worded disclaimers onto their stories. The samples below are grouped by error. Nothing is implied by the fact that they’re all Joss Whedon-related. I arbitrarily used those because I already knew where to find them.

I. Who owns this story?

Sample disclaimers: None of this stuff belongs to me. :: Everything related to Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Angel is owned by Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy Productions, FOX, UPN, and their partners. :: All things Buffy belong to Joss Whedon/Mutant Enemy. :: I don’t own anything, this is strictly for fun, Joss and someone else owns all this. :: Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy own all. :: The usual. All belongs to Joss and Mutant Enemy, and naught to me. :: I don’t own anything. Joss owns it all, damn him! :: I own nothing.

The fact that a person or organization owns the copyright to a work doesn’t mean they own everything related to that work. It just means they have the legal right to keep others from making use of it. If some third party writes a new story which uses material covered by that copyright, the new story can’t be published or filmed or made into a game (unless the copyright holder grants them a license to do so.)

However, contrary to all-too-common belief, the copyright holder has no claim on that new story. The story itself—that specific configuration of words—belongs to the author. So does the plot, if it doesn’t infringe on the copyright. So do any other non-infringing original elements. So if you’re a fanfic writer, please stop saying you don’t own your own work.

I’m not sure disclaimers have any use or legal standing to start with, but if you must use one, consider saying something like:

The BtVS characters belong to Joss Whedon and associated companies. The story itself belongs to me.

None of these characters belong to me. Only the words do.

What’s Joss Whedon’s is Joss Whedon’s, and the same goes for Mutant Enemy; but what’s mine is mine, including the original elements in this story and the words I’ve used to tell it.

II. Noncommercial status

Note: I’m less sure of myself on the rest of these topics than I am on the question of who owns what.

Sample disclaimers: I do not own any of the characters in this story and make no money off them. :: I own nothing of Buffy and receive no profit from this story. All belong to Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. :: All original Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel the Series characters belong to Joss Whedon and ME (Mutant Enemy). I don’t own anything but the characters I create and the twisted plots these stories are set in. I’m not gaining any profit from these stories and no copyright infringement intended. :: None of these characters (with the exception of original ones) belong to me—I’m just borrowing them, and am making no profit from doing so. This story was created without permission as fan fiction, for entertainment purposes only.
As far as I know, that’s legally irrelevant.

Here’s how it was explained to me: Copyright infringement is copyright infringement, whether or not you’re making money from it, or intend to make money from it, or intend to commit copyright infringement, or intend anything beyond entertainment. What matters is that you used, without license or permission, material that’s covered by someone else’s copyright.

Saying “This is just for fun, I mean no harm,” may influence a kindly-disposed legal department to send you a letter telling you to knock it off, instead of sending a cease-and-desist to your ISP, but it has little or no legal standing.

III. Oddities

Firefly is the intellectual property of Twentieth Century Fox and Mutant Enemy. This original work of fan fiction is Copyright 2004 Distraction. There is no profit being made, so it’s protected in the USA by the fair use provisions of the Copyright Act of 1976.
Whoever wrote that disclaimer had studied the Copyright Act of 1976, but I’m not sure the fair use provisions do what she thinks they do. If Charlie Petit’s around, we’ll ask him what he thinks.
I do not own the characters used within this story, nor the lyrics to the songs I use. The characters belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, etc. The songs belong to Sarah McLachlan and Will Jennings. Of the poems used within this story, the only one I wrote, is the one titled ‘If Only,’ which can also be found at this site. The poem Goodbye was written by Julia L., only a portion of it is used. She runs the Tangled in Destiny website, the poem Set it Free, does not belong to me, I got it off a collage someone sent to a list I subscribe to.
Acknowledgement is not permission. If you have permission, say so.

If you don’t have permission, consider not calling attention to the fact that you’ve used song lyrics. ASCAP’s a lot likelier to come after you than Hollywood. Even better, consider leaving the damn lyrics out entirely. I’ve seen maybe one in a hundred songfics that worked the way their authors intended, and those were parodies.

But before you do anything else, go and read Macaulay.

May 23, 2007
FanLib wholly exploded
Posted by Teresa at 06:28 PM *

Smart Lis Riba announced yesterday, here and in her own weblog, that she’s tracked down some very interesting info about FanLib at their parent company’s site. It’s a brochure aimed at backers. FanLib foolishly put it online and linked to it from their parent company’s site. Perhaps they thought that fans would never find it.

Here’s Lis Riba:

Given all the talk, I decided to look up the company founder’s history.

And that’s how I discovered his main website [via via IMDB] — and read a very different story.

Here’s how they’re pitching FanLib to industry:

Introducing the new, turnkey entertainment marketing service

That’s right, it’s not primarily geared towards fans, it’s a “marketing service.”

Read more in their 6-page PDF brochure, with revelatory quotes like:

—See How To: Grow Audience! Enhance Brand! and Increase Revenue!
[let] a mass audience collaborate democratically in a fun online game that you control. [Emphasis theirs.]
— Increase audience — if they build it, they will come
— Massive Viral Marketing
And how about Page 4, describing how their site is “MANAGED & MODERATED TO THE MAX,” including the following:
— As with a coloring book, players must “stay within the lines”
— Restrictive player’s terms-of-service protects your rights and property
— Moderated “scene missions” keep the story under your control
— Full monitoring & management of submissions & players
Yes, a restrictive TOS isn’t a bug — it’s a feature!

They conclude with the following B2B summary:

FANLIB TECHNOLOGIES (a division of My2Centences LLC) develops, markets and manages innovative social software and web services that unleash the creativity of the worldwide public and generate remarkable value for businesses.
Isn’t that interesting? It’s a perpetual motion machine — excuse me, an automatic content generator. This content generation will be done by fanfic writers, who’ll be moderated to an inch and made to color inside the lines. Their work will be used as raw material to be finished and exploited by professionals. And all shall be done for the profit of FanLib’s backers and customers.

That’s not exactly the song Chris Williams has been singing to the fanfic community. Of late he’s added some verses to it, asking us to give him our mercy, tolerance, and faith:

“hey everyone, I’m Chris one of the founders of FanLib. it’s really late and i have been working on the site all day. I’m exhausted but i just realized what was going on here and all of the commentsts are making me sick. we’re a small company with 10 emplyees who work 16 hours a day to try and make a great website. we’re real people! with feelings and everything! we have been working on this and dreaming about it for a long time and you are just here to shit on it without giving us a chance. i care deeply about what you think but this is crazy. we’re good people here and you make us sound like we’re an evil corporation or the govt. sending your kids to war or something. we really are all about celebrating fan fiction and fan fiction readers and writers. im sorry this is so short and please excuse the fact that i am cutting and pasting this across a bunch of ljs but i gotta get some sleep.”
Well before I saw that .pdf brochure (which truly is a remarkable document; do have a look at it), my instant reaction to Chris Williams’ plea was to say, out loud, “I don’t care.

It’s no secret that I lurk in the Bewares and Background Check forum at Absolute Write. Again and again, I’ve seen people posting there who’ve started up some hopelessly misconfigured, clueless, unworkable business plan (usually a publishing company or a display site), and then had it reduced to bloody collops and bone fragments by the analysts who hang out at Bewares. The would-be CEOs protest that they’re not villains, they only wanted to start a successful company that would do brilliant things, they’ve been working ever so hard on it, their enterprise is being condemned before it’s had a chance to prove itself, and it’s not fair!

Uh-huh. And if hopes, dreams, and hard work were enough, every theatre major in America would wind up working on Broadway. Most dotcom startups would have metamorphosed into successful businesses. Every wanna-be author out there would be professionally published, and would sell. But it’s not enough.

I have great sympathy for those who try but don’t succeed. I have no quibble with people who take risks when they’re the only ones affected. But the guys who cry it’s not fair! never seem to be thinking about the other people who’ll take a hit if their idea doesn’t work.

Other relevant links:

Henry Jenkins has written a long chewy essay about FanLib: Transforming Fan Culture into User-Generated Content: The Case of FanLib.

John Scalzi weighs in from the Ficlets website.

Meg Thornton nailed seventeen questions to FicLib’s door, and got answers to some of them.

Icarus Ancalion has been one of the anchor points for discussions of this issue.

Lizbee has written fanfic about the two guys in FanLib’s own site ad, demonstrating once again the mighty truth that neener-neener is a Word of Power.

An Urban Planet
Posted by Patrick at 01:45 PM *

According to a release from the University of North Carolina North Carolina State University:

There’s no big countdown billboard or sign in Times Square to denote it, but Wednesday, May 23, 2007, represents a major demographic shift, according to scientists from North Carolina State University and the University of Georgia: For the first time in human history, the earth’s population will be more urban than rural.
(Via James Nicoll.)

Al Qaeda in Iraq?
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 11:59 AM *

From CNN today:

WASHINGTON (CNN) — President Bush is expected to use declassified intelligence about Osama bin Laden to defend his Iraq war policy during a commencement address Wednesday.
Declassified because Bush is in trouble, with his approval ratings heading for places that not even Nixon got to.
The intelligence says that in 2005 bin Laden planned to use Iraq as a base from which to launch attacks in the United States, according to White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe.
Bin Laden planned to use Iraq in 2005. Bush started his war in 2003. How in the world does this show any kind of link between al Qaeda and Iraq? How can this possibly justify the Iraq war?
Johndroe said the intelligence was declassified so Bush could discuss it during graduation ceremonies set for 11:15 a.m. at the Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut.
How very convenient. And how very pathetic.
The speech will be aimed at defending a key part of the president’s war strategy — the contention that the United States cannot withdraw from Iraq because al Qaeda would fill the vacuum in the Middle East.
Oh, I see. Once you’ve started kicking the tar baby you can’t stop because that baby got tar on you.

Surely bin Laden noticed that the US was in Iraq in 2005? This presupposes that bin Laden thought that the ongoing occupation of Iraq wasn’t a reason for him not to use Iraq as a base from which to launch attacks in the United States. Presumably the continuing occupation (and the increasing chaos that goes with it) still isn’t a deterrent.

“This shows why we believe al Qaeda wants to use Iraq as a safe haven,” said Johndroe. He added the president will talk about al Qaeda’s “strong interest in using Iraq as a safe haven to plot and plan attacks on the United States and other countries.”
And how will staying in Iraq for another ten years and 50,000 US deaths help that situation? From al Qaeda’s point of view any chaotic failed state would do. Why do you suppose Iraq is a chaotic failed state today?
The decision also coincides with an ongoing push by the Democratic majority in Congress to force an end to U.S. involvement in Iraq.
Which majority was caused by, and which push is powered by, the overwhelming repudiation of Bush’s Iraq war by the American voters.
Bin Laden and a top lieutenant — Abu Faraj al-Libbi — planned to form a terror cell in Iraq in order to launch those attacks, Johndroe said.
Al-Libbi was a “senior al Qaeda manager” who in 2005 suggested to bin Laden that bin Laden send Egyptian-born Hamza Rabia to Iraq to help plan attacks on American soil, Johndroe said.
Or, possibly, a guy who once delivered pizzas to someone with a name similar to someone who may have belonged to al Qaeda. Notice that this is still 2005, two years after Bush started his war.
Johndroe noted that bin Laden later suggested to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, then leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, that America should be his top priority.
If I recall correctly, the word at the time was that bin Laden had sent to al-Zarqawi words to the effect of “Why are you shooting at Muslims? America should be your top priority.”
That was followed in the spring of 2005 with bin Laden’s ordering Rabia to brief al-Zarqawi on plans to attack the United States, Johndroe said.
Possibly by putting Lite-Brites on bridges in Boston.
Johndroe added the intelligence indicates al-Libbi later suggested Rabia should be sent to Iraq to carry out those operations.
Is Iraq really a good place for anyone to plan operations outside of Iraq? It strikes me that the international airport isn’t really in good order. That the embassies aren’t routinely issuing visas. Aside from getting combat training in operating against real US soldiers who are using real US tactics and real US equipment, from al Qaeda’s point of view what advantage does Iraq have over any other place in the world?
But al-Libbi was captured in Pakistan and taken into CIA custody in May 2005. After al-Libbi’s capture, the CIA’s former acting director, John McLaughlin, described him as bin Laden’s chief operating officer, the No. 3 man in al Qaeda.
Which means that this “intelligence” was almost certainly extracted under torture, which means that it’s almost certainly a complete fantasy. As in “nonsense.” As in not based on “reality” as you and I understand the term. Al-Libbi would have confessed to wanting to form a terror cell in Grand Fenwick if that’s what his questioners wanted to hear.

More desperation from the Bush White House as they attempt to defend the indefensible.

May 22, 2007
“The sky isn’t evil. Try looking up.”
Posted by Patrick at 05:07 PM *

What is wrong with women?

I mean wrong. Physically. Spiritually. Something unnatural, something destructive, something that needs to be corrected.

How did more than half the people in the world come out incorrectly? I have spent a good part of my life trying to do that math, and I’m no closer to a viable equation. And I have yet to find a culture that doesn’t buy into it. Women’s inferiority—in fact, their malevolence—is as ingrained in American popular culture as it is anywhere they’re sporting burkhas. I find it in movies, I hear it in the jokes of colleagues, I see it plastered on billboards, and not just the ones for horror movies. Women are weak. Women are manipulative. Women are somehow morally unfinished. (Objectification: another tangential rant avoided.) And the logical extension of this line of thinking is that women are, at the very least, expendable.

Joss Whedon posts a thunderous, prophetic rant.

Fanfiction, Monetized
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 12:15 AM *

Latest entry in the list of Gosh Wow ideas: Making money from fan fiction!

Seems that a group called FanLib (read their press release) is planning to Bring Fan Fiction into the Mainstream. They got $3 million from investors, and they’re off, as if the Dot Com Bubble had never burst.

This got the reaction from fanfic fandom that you’d expect: “Synergy is all well and good until someone stumbles upon that Shrek/Gandalf/Harry Potter threesome BDSM fic and has an aneurysm.”

May I invite your attention to the remarks of AngiePen and Caer in this thread at Mashable?

Somehow I am unsurprised that Simon & Schuster is involved.

My prediction? They’ll burn through their investors’ cash (just like did) and leave a smoking hole in the ground when they crash (just like did).

Making Light generally approves of fan fiction. See, for example, “Fanfic”: force of nature; Annals of short-lived phenomena: Star Wars fanfic on Amazon; Namarie Sue; Literary Diggers; and much else besides (Mike Ford Occasional Works, Pts. 1-8 being examples).

It strikes me that FanLib breaks no ground and fills no need (other than the need of its investors to make money). As such, it will not prosper.

May 20, 2007
Your Book In Print — Forever
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 11:45 AM * 64 comments

Before we begin, let me explicitly say that Making Light is not a Tor publication. Some people have been confused by this in the past. Don’t be confused now. Yes, I’ve been published by Tor. My most recent book is from Avon. (Making Light isn’t an Avon publication either.)

Next, I don’t know my co-bloggers’ opinions on this subject.

Now here’s the dirt:

Simon & Schuster has decided that they’re going to hold onto the rights to their books for the life of copyright. As long as a book is available via POD (i.e. Print-on-Demand/Publish-on-Demand), it won’t revert.

Here’s my opinion: This is a terrible idea, for authors. It may work well for publishers, but it’s terrible for authors. Tiny sales from a huge number of books is equivalent to huge sales from a tiny number of books. All the costs of acquiring and editing the book are already sunk costs. Nothing more need be spent on publicity and marketing; the book hangs out as a digital file costing next-to-nothing; if someone, fifty years from now, decides to buy a copy for some reason, hey! That’s income you didn’t have to work for.

But authors don’t have a huge number of books in them. The number of books they have is finite, and a small finite number at that. The ability to take back a book, to say to the publisher “Sell it or lose it,” is one of the few bits of leverage that authors have.

Here’s the Authors Guild notice on the subject:

Simon & Schuster Reacts; Agents Angry
Text of e-mail to Guild Members, May 18, 2007:

A quick update on Simon & Schuster’s rights grab: S&S has fallen back some, now saying they’ll negotiate regarding the reversion of rights clause “on a book-by-book basis.” They also accuse us of an “overreaction.” Their official statement follows.

Agents are angered by Simon & Schuster’s gambit, according to this piece in Publishers Weekly.

Here are links to other stories that have run:

1. AP (via Herald Tribune)
2. New York Times
3. Publishers Weekly (the other PW story on S&S)

We’ll keep you posted on further developments. Have a good weekend.

Feel free to forward and post this message in its entirety. The Authors Guild ( is the nation’s oldest and largest organization of published book authors.


Simon & Schuster’s official reaction, from Adam Rothberg, VP for Corporate Communications:

We are surprised at the overreaction of the Authors Guild to Simon & Schuster’s contract. We believe that our contract appropriately addresses the improved technology, increased availability, and higher quality of print on demand books, and reflects the fact that print on demand titles may now be readily purchased by consumers at both online and brick and mortar stores. We are embracing print on demand technology as an unprecedented opportunity for authors and publishers to keep their books alive and available and selling in the marketplace in a way that may not have been previously possible for many authors, and are confident in the long term it that will be a benefit for all concerned. We would also like the author and agent community to know that, when necessary, we have always had good faith negotiations on the subject of reversions, and will continue to on a book-by-book basis.

SFWA will apparently be supporting the Authors Guild in this.

Here’s what Writer Beware has to say about that:

What’s the purpose behind S&S’s new policy? I’m guessing that S&S is gambling that electronic rights will become hugely valuable at some point in the future. Right now they aren’t, and I don’t believe that anyone, even the most vigorous prognosticators, knows how or in what ways they may become so. But with its rights grab, S&S is hedging its bets, retaining control of books it may be able to exploit in new ways as times change and new technology becomes available. In this situation, authors are double losers—first, because they lose control of their rights forever, and second, because if S&S does exploit the rights at some future point, it will be doing so under old contracts. As the development of the ebook market has made clear, new technologies demand new terms and new negotiations.

Just a little bit more commentary:

1. No one wants to wake up to discover that they’ve gone out of business.
2. No one wants to be the first bastard. It draws negative commentary.
3. S&S apparently decided to be the first bastard anyway. Notice the negative commentary. The second publisher to follow suit won’t get anywhere near as bad a rap. By the time the third one flips, it’ll be the standard business practice.
4. The first-tier authors will have to lead the charge to stop this change, because the second-tier authors and all the newbies will get screwed if they don’t.

May 19, 2007
Reassessing Ron Paul
Posted by Patrick at 08:57 PM * 53 comments

Okay, maybe I was a bit quick to apostrophize Ron Paul. As Mona observes at Unqualified Offerings (home of the Henley Doctrine that “Hayek does not stop at the water’s edge”), Paul is certainly scaring the crap out of the people who deserve it the most. All right, so he’s got a record of the kind of thoughtless trash-talk you often hear from people who’ve been boiled in the culture of right-wing resentment, but what do you expect from a Republican congressman from Texas? Yes, this is the “soft bigotry of low expectations” you’ve heard so much about; step up and see the show, see the show. Paul’s past tomfoolery makes it all the more striking that, on Iraq, he’s making luminously good sense.

Like Henley, I think the best Paul can hope for is to last a little while into the primary season, but that would be worth it just for the extent to which he would force other candidates to defend the absurdity of the dominant Middle Eastern foreign-policy narrative. It’s certainly impressive to see the impact he appears to be having in places you wouldn’t necessarily expect it. As Teresa pointed out in conversation, if you’re a one-percent Presidential candidate with no money, there are worse strategies than getting up in front of God and the world and telling the truth.

May 15, 2007
Not just an alternate version of the VFW
Posted by Patrick at 11:01 PM *

Remembering who the American Legion are, and what they come from: Digby, Jonathan Schwarz, and Rick Perlstein.

Perlstein bonus: a reminder of why many good people couldn’t bring themselves to vote for Hubert in ‘68.

Jerry Falwell
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 10:50 PM * 317 comments

Is dead.

In the grand tradition of Your Homework Done For Free, MSNBC used information from a parody site in their on-air obituary.

Details, and video, at Crooks and Liars.

May 12, 2007
If the Terrorists Didn’t Exist…
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 09:19 AM * 300 comments

… we’d have to invent them.

By now we’ve all heard how the FBI, at the conclusion of a year-long investigation, has thwarted a bunch of Islamic terrorists who were intent on machinegunning soldiers at Fort Dix, New Jersey.

CHERRY HILL, New Jersey (AP) — Six Muslim men suspected of plotting to massacre U.S. soldiers at Fort Dix were ordered held without bail Friday.

Prosecutors argued that the men, all born outside the United States, pose a flight risk. They are being held at a federal detention center in Philadelphia.

The men were arrested Monday night during what the FBI said was an attempt to buy AK-47 machine guns, M-16s and other weapons.

They targeted Fort Dix, a post 25 miles east of Philadelphia that is used primarily to train reservists, partly because one of them had delivered pizzas there and was familiar with the base, according to court filings. Their objective was to kill “as many American soldiers as possible,” the documents said.

The men have lived in and around Philadelphia for years, worshipped at moderate mosques and worked blue-collar jobs installing roofs, driving a cab, delivering pizzas and baking bread. Four are ethnic Albanians from the former Yugoslavia, one is from Jordan and one is from Turkey.

Much like the Seas of David group in Florida, who tried to scam $50,000 out of an undercover FBI man to buy al Qaeda uniforms, these guys seemed unclear on the concept. How unclear?

… one of the men, Tatar, called a Philadelphia police officer in November, saying that he had been approached by someone who was pressuring him to obtain a map of Fort Dix, and that he feared the incident was terrorist-related, according to court documents.

The “someone” he’d been approached by was one of the two paid informants who

…railed against the United States, helped scout out military installations for attack, offered to introduce his comrades to an arms dealer and gave them a list of weapons he could procure, including machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.

That’s right, one of the alleged “terrorists” was so alarmed by what the FBI’s undercover man was saying that he called the cops.

About the earlier “Seas of David” group, the Washington Post editorialized:

Does it matter? Yes, it does. It matters because the Bush administration has already lost almost all credibility when it comes to terrorism. It said there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and there were none. It said al-Qaeda and Iraq were in cahoots and that was not the case. It has so exaggerated its domestic success in arresting or convicting terrorists that it simply cannot be believed on that score. About a year ago, for instance, President Bush (with Gonzales at his side) asserted that “federal terrorism investigations have resulted in charges against more than 400 suspects, and more than half of those charged have been convicted.” The Post looked into that and found that the total number of (broadly defined) “terrorism” convictions was 39.

Or, as Talking Points Memo says about the current crop:

Writing about these domestic terrorism busts is always a delicate task. Living in Manhattan terrorism is not an abstract issue to me. And so long as they are operating within the bounds of the law, I certainly hope the FBI and CIA have their ears and eyes on the look out for the next terror plotters. But the real jokers they actually bust turn out to be such hopeless goofs that it’s hard to know whether to feel reassured that if Islamic terrorism is catching on in the US that it’s only doing so among the deeply stupid or that these are the only ones our guys can catch.

May 07, 2007
Engaging in congress
Posted by Teresa at 10:16 PM *

I’m not going to be at the Nebulas this year. Instead, I’m going to the International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, with MacAllister Stone and Lisa Spangenberg. (Thank you, Mac; thank you, Lisa.) I gather Sisuile, Tracie, and Susan are also going. Who else should I be watching out for?

Addendum: I’m not sure yet what my schedule will be in Kalamazoo, but Dr. Virago of Quod She is organizing a blogger breakfast on Friday morning, and when last seen was trying to get Master Geoffrey to attend.

I feel like a neo about to go to my first worldcon.

The scent of astroturf
Posted by Teresa at 07:00 PM * 62 comments

Miniver Cheevy, who has a pretty good sense of smell, thinks there’s something dubious, astroturfy, and tort-reformish about the sudden emergence of a news story about a guy who’s suing his drycleaner for $65 million after the drycleaner lost the guy’s pants.

It smells funny to me, too. Here’s the beginning of the press release the American Tort Reform Association either rushed out or already had prepared when the story broke:

Reappointment to New 10-Year Term, at Taxpayers’ Expense, Could Start Tomorrow

Washington, DC, May 01, 2007 — The American Tort Reform Association yesterday delivered a letter to four District of Columbia officials, urging them to consider carefully the “judicial temperament” of an administrative law judge who is seeking reappointment while suing a local dry cleaner -– over a lost pair of pants -– for more than $65 million.

“His pants were found long ago and are readily available to him,” explained ATRA president Sherman Joyce. “What may no longer be available to him, unless he withdraws his lawsuit, is a reputation as a jurist with appropriate judicial temperament.”

As recently reported by The Washington Post, FOX News Channel and other local and national media outlets, D.C. administrative law judge Roy Pearson Jr. has sued Custom Cleaners in Northeast D.C. under the District’s Consumer Protection and Procedures Act, alleging among other things that window signs advertising “Satisfaction Guaranteed” and “Same Day Service” fraudulently deceived customers.

“The District’s consumer protection act and many others in states across the country are well-intentioned but loosely worded,” Joyce continued. “They were crafted largely in the late-1960s and into the 1970s, before personal injury litigation was industrialized by the trial bar in the 1980s, and Judge Pearson’s lawsuit appears to be a somewhat typical, if wholly outrageous example of the exploitation such laws are increasingly subject to these days.

That press release is so full of code that it ought to be run through a compiler. Meanwhile, if you don’t know why Miniver Cheevy and I both pronounce “tort reform” as though it were a bad word, read this post.

So. Anybody have any idea what’s going on there? I’m guessing there’s either more to the story, or the guy’s simply gone dotty. Either way, ATRA’s pumping it for all it’s worth.

Live in New York City, it’s Whisperado
Posted by Patrick at 04:41 PM *

Tomorrow, Tuesday May 8, eight PM at the Parkside Lounge, 317 E Houston St, between Avenues B and C.

New venue, new songs, new onstage patter. Seriously, it’s by report a “good listening room,” so it would be nice to pull enough of an audience to get rebooked. Hope to see you there!

May 05, 2007
Grep that spool
Posted by Teresa at 11:57 PM *

That’s it. I hereby give up on Wikipedia. It’s doomed.

What did it was their article on Kibo. Right there at the top is a notice that says:

This article or section is not written in the formal tone expected of an encyclopedia article.
What half-educated stuffed shirt came up with that dictum? I worked for years as a literary criticism reference series editor without once hearing about yon “formal tone expected of an encyclopedia article.” The editors in our department weren’t slangy—it wouldn’t have been proper—but Wikipedia’s current article about Kibo would have been well within our standards. It’s certainly better written than most professionally produced encyclopedia entries.

Toodles, Wikipedia. You were fun while it lasted.


Classical music composer, critic, and professor Kyle Gann has written a fascinating blog post about his own experiences with Wikipedia. “The problem is that Wikipedia forces its contributors to come to a consensus, and building consensus with a crank is a fool’s errand.” Thanks to commenter Scott Spiegelberg for the link.

Graydon Saunders, in comment #40: “Google and Wikipedia have the same fundamental problem—distributed mechanisms intended to label information quality function as mechanisms of apportioning social status, at which point the incentive to hack them is functionally infinite.”

Cory Doctorow, in comment #75, makes a lengthy and thoughtful case for Wikipedia optimism.

Teresa rants, comment #89.

Andrew Gray, comment #93, gives us the view from inside Wikipedia.

And Dave Luckett writes a villanelle, comment #104.

CBS surrenders to racist commenters
Posted by Teresa at 06:50 PM * 61 comments

Via Orcinus and Majikthise, word is that CBS has disabled comments on stories they publish about Barack Obama: does sometimes delete comments on an individual basis, but Sims said that was not sufficient in the case of Obama stories due to “the volume and the persistence” of the objectionable comments.

There has been a fierce debate about how news outlets should handle reader comments.’s Jim Brady, whose site, like, does not have the resources to filter comments in advance, told Howard Kurtz that he’d “rather figure out a way to do it better than not to do it at all.”


Now, I don’t doubt for a minute that CBS is getting hit with all kinds of vile garbage. Fox, Limbaugh, and the rest of the great right-wing noise machine have been breaking new ground in suggestively code-worded racist propaganda. And as usual, the wussy, unpatriotic fraction of the population who spend their lives waiting to be told whom they can hate have responded with enthusiasm. But CBS is hardly the only forum where those guys have been making themselves felt. We can’t shut down every discussion of Barack Obama that turns septic. It’s a perversion of the public discourse. It makes it much easier for the media to lie about Obama. And it’s exactly the result that the right-wingers are hoping to get.

But this claim that CBS and the Washington Post don’t have the resources to moderate their forums? Malarkey. For a few thousand bucks a month, CBS could have one of the most talented and experienced large-forum moderators* I know, plus trained secondary staff, riding herd on their comment boards. For that deal, plus someone already on the CBS payroll volunteering to keep an eye on any interns who want to learn how to run a genuinely open, civil, responsive public news forum, CBS could have comment boards that were the envy of the journalistic world.

I’m not holding my breath while I wait for them to call.

As for the Washington Post, their organization has the resources to employ the worthless Deborah Howell: crooked journalist, blatantly incompetent ombudsman, a complete disaster at dealing with readers who can talk back—and, apparently, proud of it. God knows how she even got hired for that job, unless it was done under the provisions of the Full Employment for Someone’s Old College Roommate Act. In terms of lost credibility, missed opportunities, and reader goodwill in exactly the demographic groups where newspapers are hemorrhaging readership, she’s cost the Washington Post dearly—and she’s still on the payroll.

These are the organizations that don’t have enough resources to manage their own online comments? Spare me. They can do it any time they want.

Haven’t we lived through enough years of having the public discourse distorted beyond all recognition by small groups of noisy right-wingers who pretend they’re the voice of the people, and an irresponsible, collapsing news industry that indulges them in that deceit? There’s not a single structural problem here that wasn’t known to Usenet when Kibo was a sprat.

¡Viva el Cinco de Mayo!
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 06:38 PM * 61 comments

Cinco de Mayo celebrates the day (5 May 1862) when 4,000 Mexican troops under General Zaragosa defeated 8,000 mixed French-and-Mexican troops of Emperor Napoleon III at Puebla, Mexico, 100 miles east of Mexico City.

While the French cavalry went out chasing the Mexican cavalry (and being cut to ribbons by them), the French infantry attacked the Mexican lines across a muddy field and through a cattle stampede. The results weren’t good for the Hapsburgs.

The roots of the battle were back in 1861, when President Juarez suspended payment of the foreign debt. The English, Spanish, and French objected, and the French sent an army. The Hapsburg army landed at Vera Cruz and marched west toward Mexico City.

Despite the defeat, the Hapsburg forces took Mexico City a year later, and installed Maximillian I as Emperor. Maximillian and the Hapsburgs ruled until 1867.

Mexico’s Independence Day is 16 September. (Mexican independence from Spain dates to 1810.)

El Cinco de Mayo is a minor holiday in Mexico. In the United States, however, it’s got the same sense among the Mexican-American community as St. Patrick’s Day has with Irish-Americans and Oktoberfest with German-Americans. It’s the day on which more avocados are sold in the US than on any other day.

Today everyone is Mexican.

We Can Regurgitate It For You Wholesale
Posted by Patrick at 11:48 AM *

At last, Philip K. Dick ascends to literary Parnassus: a handsome omnibus volume in the Library of America. In the New York Times, Charles McGrath commemorates the occasion by collecting the entire canon of cliches about Philip K. Dick and carefully stacking them in the middle of the floor. PKD was a “prince of pulp” who is now “legit at last,” he took lots of amphetamines, he was paranoid, his prose was uneven, he was different from other sci-fi writers because he wasn’t interested in futurism, in the end he was a “visionary,” and so forth. Terry Carr’s famous joke about how Don Wollheim would retitle the Bible is misquoted. We’re informed in an aside that the reason to read writers like Asimov and Heinlein is “for the science.” And of course no such extrusion would be complete without a classic Conquestism: Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, considered by many to be his best work, is—

barely a sci-fi book at all but, rather, what we would now call a “counterfactual”; its premise is that the Allies lost World War II and the United States is ruled by the Japanese in the west and the Nazis in the east.
Dick is definitely a major SF writer, very much worth reading, and some of the standard cliches about him are surely true. But McGrath’s essay is an impressive example of the kind of normative blather dubbed “bookchat” by Gore Vidal, writing whose main purpose is to explain to anxious readers whether it’s socially acceptable to like this stuff or not.

Top 25 SF
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 09:48 AM * 447 comments has a list of the top 25 SF TV shows and movies from the last 25 years. They are:

25. V: THE MINISERIES (1983)
24. GALAXY QUEST (1999)
Should be ranked much higher.
23. DOCTOR WHO (1963-Present)
Should also be ranked higher.
22. QUANTUM LEAP (1989-1993)
I keep hearing about it, but I don’t know anyone who’s wildly fond of it.
21. FUTURAMA (1999-2003)
20. STAR WARS: CLONE WARS (2003-2005)
Maybe if they were trying to put together a list of the 25 worst movies of all time….
18. HEROES (2006-Present)
Heroes is in fact splendid, but this seems a little premature.
I’m not 100% sure this is SF at all.
16. TOTAL RECALL (1990)
It had some moments.
15. FIREFLY/SERENITY (2002/2005)
Firefly didn’t work? Bite me. It worked fine. It also got cancelled, which is not the same thing.
14. CHILDREN OF MEN (2006)
Just shows they aren’t familiar with the core literature.
11. LOST (2004-Present)
They ranked Lost above Firefly? No judgement at all.
10. THE THING (1982)
Okay. (You can always tell Rob Bottin mechanical effects.)
9. ALIENS (1986)
Alien was more than 25 years ago.
Okay, but where’s DS9 and Babylon 5, either of which was better?
7. E.T. (1982)
E. farkin’ T? No judgement or taste.
6. BRAZIL (1985)
Brazil, yay! A genuinely brilliant movie.
The list turns painful again.
4. THE X-FILES (1993-2002)
Not disgraceful.
3. BLADE RUNNER (1982)
Also not disgraceful.
Gets a boost from being recent.
1. THE MATRIX (1999)
Well, that fits in with the rest of their choices.

May 03, 2007
Framing the DMCA
Posted by Patrick at 11:16 AM * 169 comments

Ed Felten on the AACS’s attempts to legally suppress a 128-bit integer that happens to be used as part of a proprietary encryption scheme:

While it’s obvious why the creator of a movie or a song might deserve some special claim over the use of their creation, it’s hard to see why anyone should be able to pick a number at random and unilaterally declare ownership of it. There is nothing creative about this number—indeed, it was chosen by a method designed to ensure that the resulting number was in no way special. It’s just a number they picked out of a hat. And now they own it?

As if that’s not weird enough, there are actually millions of other numbers (other keys used in AACS) that AACS LA claims to own, and we don’t know what they are. When I wrote the thirty-digit number that appears above, I carefully avoided writing the real 09F9 number, so as to avoid the possibility of mind-bending lawsuits over integer ownership. But there is still a nonzero probability that AACS LA thinks it owns the number I wrote.

When the great mathematician Leopold Kronecker wrote his famous dictum, “God created the integers; all else is the work of man,” he meant that the basic structure of mathematics is part of the design of the universe. What God created, AACS LA now wants to take away.

Which gets at what needs to be said, over and over again, about the post-DMCA legal regime: this isn’t a storyline about “copyright radicals” trying to overthrow the established order. The DMCA was the radical change, and the people using it to slap “takedown notices” on anyone who inconveniences their business model—those people are the crazies. The people pointing out that it’s nuts to claim ownership of an integer—those people are traditionalists.

May 02, 2007
Posted by Teresa at 02:40 PM * 111 comments

Patrick made the appointment.

Thank you all.

Cryptome loses its ISP
Posted by Teresa at 01:33 PM * 29 comments

Via BoingBoing comes the news that the controversial website has been given notice by Verio/NTT that the ISP will no longer host the site after Friday. As noted on Slashdot:

Cryptome, a website concerned with encryption, privacy, and government secrecy, has received two weeks’ notice from Verio that its service will be terminated for unspecified “violation of [its] Acceptable Use Policy.” Cryptome has a history of making publicly available documents and information that governments would rather keep secret.
There’s a longer article at Computerworld/IDG. If you can get through, there’s a heap of material at Cryptome Shutdown by Verio/NTT on the Cryptome site. And here’s an odd bit from the fairly good Wikipedia entry on Cryptome:
Young claims that Cryptome has attracted the attention of government agencies. He reports being visited by two FBI agents from a counter-terrorism office and describes having a casual discussion with the agents. He further describes how on another occasion two FBI agents spoke with him on the phone. During this conversation, he claims, one agent warned of “serious trouble” if a published account of the conversation contained the agents’ names.

In March 2005 the Reader’s Digest published an article with a highly critical view of Cryptome in its regular feature “That’s Outrageous”. It asserted that Cryptome is an “invitation to terrorists” and claimed that Young “may well have put lives at risk”.

On 20 April 2007 the website received notice that the site would be shut down by its hosting company Verio on May 4 for breaches of their acceptable use policy. The nature of these breaches were not specified by Verio.

You know, I haven’t thought of this in years, but some while back I got into a conversation with a guy on a train (or maybe we were in a bar; I don’t recall) who said he had an intelligence background, and sounded like the real thing. (The real thing is distinctive. I’ve talked to other guys who genuinely did have intelligence backgrounds. Nobody else sounds like them.)

Anyway, what this guy said was that Reader’s Digest has deep old connections with the intelligence community, and that they use it to launch ideas and articles they want to have in circulation. I have to say that isn’t the sort of thing I expect to see written about in Reader’s Digest.

I expect there’s nothing to it.

The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction
Posted by Teresa at 12:16 PM * 37 comments

Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction is a delightful book, even if they do misspell my name in the list of works cited. Much I care. How can I dislike an OUP dictionary where the first entry is actifan, and the definition’s first citation is to Jack Speer?

In just a few minutes’ flipping through, I spotted citations of Mike Ford (atomics), Doyle and Macdonald (outplanet), David Moles (on-planet), and me (fanac). Naturally, I also spotted words that had been left out. The list thus far: fout, the transcend, and the non-music-related use of filk to mean folk.

What I didn’t find were errors. I’m sure there are some; just not many, if my initial assay is anything to go on.

Highly recommended.

May 01, 2007
Report on the Current Cultural Status of Our Beloved Genre
Posted by Patrick at 11:22 AM *

The good news: Even unblinking, homunculus-like Republican presidential candidates, asked for their favorite novel, cite works of modern SF!

The bad news: Mitt Romney’s professed “favorite novel” is Battlefield Earth.

Google Trends
Posted by Teresa at 12:29 AM * 57 comments

These days I can’t begin to keep track of all of Google’s specialized search functions. I think they’re plotting to take over the world by being useful. Anyway, I want to recommend one of their odder consumer products: Google Trends. To cautiously quote Wikipedia on the subject:

Google Trends is a tool from Google Labs that shows the most popularly searched terms from the beginning of 2004 to now.

Google Trends charts how often a particular search term is entered relative to the total search volume across various regions of the world, and in various languages. The horizontal axis of the graph represents time (starting from some time in 2004), and the vertical is how often a term is searched for relative to the total number of searches, globally. It also allows the user to compare the volume of searches between two or more terms. An additional feature of Google Trends is in its ability to show news related to the search term overlaid on the chart, showing how new events affect search popularity.

It isn’t all that useful for basic research. It casts too coarse a net. Ask it how D. H. Lawrence stands in the ratings, and it’ll tell you they don’t have enough search volume to show graphs. What it’s brilliant for is tracking right-wing disinformation campaigns. They stand out like so many sore thumbs.

Check out some search strings:

Illegal immigrants: That one was the subject of a disinformation campaign, but it looks like those big protest marches made ’em back off.

Iran nuclear weapons: I take this to mean that George was pushing for it, but he’s got too many other problems on his plate so he’s letting it slide.

If you enter more than one search string, and separate the strings with commas, Google Trends will compare them.

George Bush drinking: that’s right around the time I saw the tabloids start talking about it.

And my favorite:

Bipartisan. Doesn’t that just speak for itself? You can tell exactly when the Democrats came back into power.

Seeking a westward route to the Crunchberry Islands
Posted by Avram Grumer at 12:19 AM * 31 comments

Cap’n Crunch’s full name is apparently Captain Horatio Magellan Crunch. Maybe this will turn out to be official, unlike the one about Ernst Choukula (“By twenty-four, he appeared in his first ‘barrelled cereal’ endorsement, as the Choukula family debuted ‘Ernst Choukula’s Golden Wheat Muesli’, a packaged mix that was intended for horses, mules, and the hospital ridden”).

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