30 November 2005

Ascot

I just wanted to get this into print, so later I can say I told you so.

The ascot is due for a comeback. I give it a year or two.

I'm not quite sure why I think this. I have a general sense that the plain open collar has played itself out and is getting stale, and there's too much resistance to a necktie comeback --- it's too symbolic of bourgouis '50s conformity --- so there aren't a lot of places to go.

Maybe the ascot will surface by way of hip-hop bling; it's got the right sort of fancy cartoonish aristocratic feel to go with the homburgs and the canes. Maybe we'll get a hit movie set in the 1920s with Jude Law looking good in one. Maybe some fashion designer will just decide it's time.

But it's coming. You heard it here first.

404

Ha!

29 November 2005

Joss on Mal

I have another interview with Joss Whedon for y'all, if you're interested. This one is quite long, and focuses on Serenity.

I want to share one quote with you, because it speaks directly to something that struck me about the Firefly pilot episode. I started out quite disliking Malcolm Reynolds, and when I watched it a second time, I realized why. He's rude to both Inara and Book in an early scene, when Inara is introduced, and finds more opportunities to disrespect them as the episode progresses. I recognize that it's a bit peculiar of me, but in my values system, priests and prostitutes are at the top of the list of folks who deserve polite, respectful treatment. And given what I know about Joss, I presume that he feels the same way. I figure that part of his plan was to earn the audience's respect for Mal the hard way. Which he did.

In the interview, he affirmed my guess about how he felt about Mal, and took it somewhere else.

Mal is somebody that I knew, as I created him, I would not get along with. I don't think we have the same politics. But that's sort of the point. I mean, if the movie's about anything, it's about the right to be wrong. It's about the messiness of people. And if you try to eradicate that, you eradicate them.

Which is food for thought. Elsewhere in the interview, Joss underlines that the Alliance isn't an evil empire. But if you love the show, some moral complexity in Joss' thinking about it should come as no surprise.

28 November 2005

Opportunity

Astonishing Ann Koi is looking for an artist to work from a comics script she has. Her description makes it sound as provocative, challenging, and interesting as the intense Ms. Koi herself. She provides a long list of disconcerting things which "the illustrator must be comfortable with" which may entertain folks who have no interest in taking the gig. And the artist will even get paid.

If you are good at this sort of thing, or know someone who is, drop her a line. I want to read the book when it's done.

LOL WTF

I'm a fan of gratuituous use of ligatures --- as my recent post about encyclopædias demonstrates. Via Monkeyboy's Linkblog, I find a discussion of ligatures for some common abbreviations of the digital age.

Encyclopedias

I'm sure that many of my readers already know about Wikipedia, the online encyclopædia. But some of you might not, so let me introduce you to it, because it's one of the most useful things on the web.

Wikipedia is an encyclopædia built using a set of web authoring tools called a wiki, authored by countless volunteer contributors. First and foremost, it's a pretty good encyclopædia, so if I need to know when and where Harry S Truman was born, I can look it up there. If you need an encyclopædia-style précis on something, it's usally a much better source than a general web search like Google.

The article coverage is astonishingly broad. Most justices to the Canadian Supreme Court, for instance, have at least a brief listing. But the depth of articles can be a little random, and subjects of nerdy interest tend to get better coverage. For instance, the entry for the trumpeter swan is good enough, but quite brief, while there's rather more about using reverse polish notation for arithmetic, and the page on Gundam is very elaborate, with links to numerous supporting pages.

Gundam is one of the longest running meta-series of anime featuring giant robots. Gundam is the collective term for the Universal Century (UC) series like Mobile Suit Gundam and series in alternative timelines, such as Gundam Wing, made by Sunrise Inc.. The name "Gundam" itself stems from a variety of theoretical sources, most commonly attributed to a need to conform with common giant robot naming conventions during the 1970s.
This is one consequence of the fact that anyone can create or edit any page. Subjects that draw the attention of folks with obsessive interests, time on their hands, and a willingness to dig into web authoring tools are more likely to get more material --- hence the completeness of nerd-oriented entries.

Another, more important, consequence of this shared authoring is how Wikipedia handles controversial subjects. You would think that if anyone can edit any page, some subjects would be intractable. Who's going to write the entry on abortion? Surprisingly, it turns out that Wikipedia is actually a very useful resource on those kinds of subjects, because it becomes a place where folks can agree about the nature of the disagreement. This is a result of some clever structuring of the editing process, which keeps articles from collapsing in the face of rapid churn from partisans, and because of a philosophical commitment to what wikipedians call the "neutral point of view."

Articles should be written without bias, representing all majority and significant minority views fairly. This is the neutral point of view policy.

The policy is easily misunderstood. It doesn't assume that writing an article from a single, unbiased, objective point of view is possible. Instead it says to fairly represent all sides of a dispute by not making articles state, imply, or insinuate that only one side is correct. Crucially, a great merit of Wikipedia is that Wikipedians work together to make articles unbiased.

Writing unbiased text requires practice. Contributors who have mastered the art of NPOV are invited to help develop the neutrality tutorial.

It may be tempting at times to 'balance' a perceivedly biased article by creating an additional article on the same subject but biased the other way. Such articles are often referred to as "POV forks". Please do not do this. Instead, consider joining discussion (or requesting comments) on the biased article to make it represent all sides fairly.

This approach has big advantages and big disadvantages. The advantages are pretty obvious, but the disadvantages are serious. This approach is the root of the "Opinions on Shape of Earth Differ" problem in the press corps. Wikipedia's vigorous statement of this as policy is a kind of strategic retreat on the question of objective fact, and I leave an analysis of this being a reflection of the postmodern condition as an exercise for the reader.

I find that the upshot of this is that Wikipedia does not deliver the last word on controversial subjects, but it provides a very useful first word for getting yourself oriented. When I encounter folks who have just stepped into the dangerous waters of the history of Israel, I point them at the now-legendary Wikipedia resources on the Arab-Israeli conflict and Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

There are other group web encyclopædia efforts, of course, though none so successful. I'm a bit of a fan of Everything2, which started at an attempt at an encyclopædia but quickly evolved into a forum for odd personal essays about things like sea monkeys, the low-intensity conflict between the sexes, and the virtues of soy. There are lots of serious essays, too, but it just doesn't function an encyclopædia.

Taking a different tack, the Uncyclopedia harnesses that impulse toward whimsy in a parody of the Wikipedia, built using the same tools, that is nothing more than a massive edifice of pointless fiction. For instance, the entry on Lord Byron summarizes his career thus ...

George "Flash" Gordon Byron XII aka The Byronic Man, more commonly known as Lord Byron, was a landlord, poet, crack addict, dolphin trainer, cross-dresser, community college graduate, and, most notably, Oscar Wilde's fiercest rival.
... and goes on to explain the Byronic Hero ...
The Byronic Hero is two pounds of thinly sliced turkey, honey-glazed ham, cannabis, salami, marijuana, and cheese on rye and is typically served with some of those cute party toothpicks with little olives on the end. It is usually characterised by rebellion and a distaste for society, yet a haughty appreciation for tasty lunchmeats and hallucinogenic drugs.
Some people have too much free time on their hands.

Just as Wikipedia offers advice on the neutral point of view, Uncyclopedia offers some good advice on how to be funny and not stupid when creating a new article. But as with the Wikipedia advice, that this advice about humour is necessary is a sign of the issues which the Uncyclopedia is struggling with.

27 November 2005

T-Shirt

As you may recall, I keep an eye on conservative t-shirt iconograpy. I recently stumbled across another web retailer of conservative t-shirts, and there's the usual creepy stuff, including some spooky examples of the violent eliminationist rhetoric toward the left that is disconcertingly common on the right. But I have to admit, they did have one that I think is very witty.

26 November 2005

Swanwick

Michael Swanwick rules.

I first discovered him through his novel The Iron Dragon's Daughter. I was at the SF bookstore buying some Very Serious Stuff --- I remember Samuel R. Delaney in the mix --- and the clerk recommended Dragon. This was the original pocket edition, with cover art that just screamed "trashy fantasy novel" to someone versed in the nuances of such things. I was skeptical. The clerk described how it was set in a world of fairies who have a strange parallel to modern society, where college students take classes in Alchemy 101 and they sacrifice a virgin on the 50 yard line at the homecoming game. I was still skeptical. But I was a sucker, and bought the book.

I'm glad I did. It's dark, scary, smart, and has a wicked sense of humour. It's one of those things where every character you meet has a story to tell. And the "elves at the mall" shtick works much better than it sounds, especially if you know a thing or three about classical science.

Even better is his Jack Faust. I'm a guy with over a dozen Faust adaptations on his bookshelf, and this one is my favourite. It follows Gœthe's structure, with one major twist: when Mephistopholes reveals secrets to Faustus, central to them are the secrets of modern physics --- and technology --- meaning that Faust fast-forwards Europe through the industrial revolution back in the 14th Century.

Things don't work out so well for Faust.

I'm thinking of him because a little while ago, Teresa Neilsen Hayden posted a cool anecdote about him. And I've been meaning for quite some time to link to his online short short story collection The Periodic Table of Science Fiction. The doubled "short short" in my last sentence was intentional; you can read most of the stories in a minute or two.

But there's a hundred of them. Set aside some time.

25 November 2005

What do you mean "strategy," Kemo Sabe?

Today's wise comment on our President's muddled thinking about Iraq is from Mark A. R. Kleiman.
You know the noise machine is sputtering when the lies aren't even good anymore. In reaction to John Murtha's call for a phased 6-month redeployment in Iraq, the President said "as long as I am commander in chief, our strategy in Iraq will be driven by the sober judgment of our military commanders on the ground."

Let's put aside for the moment the fact that this is a lie: the "sober judgment" of Gen. Eric Shinseki was that we needed more troops, and he was fired for his sobriety.

Instead, let's assume it's true: it still demonstrates manifest incompetence. Military commanders do not, and should not, determine our "strategy in Iraq" that job is for those who purport to be our political leaders. Iraq is a political problem: if our strategy is being driven solely by the military, it shows that we do not understand it.

A major reason why the Bush-Cheney strategy is so criminally incompetent is that it assumes that if we just blow up enough people, then we'll win. The job of creating a stable Iraq so far transcends that that it's little wonder we have been so unsuccessful. The Marines entered Baghdad, the statue came down, and we figured it was over. There was no political strategy following up because everything was entrusted to the military.

This also points to the wisdom of Murtha's saying that the military has done everything it could do: his point is that the military cannot be expected to solve a political problem. The Administration does not understand this.

Clearly, military necessities have to be an element in developing a coherent political strategy. But the political strategy drives the military, not vice-versa.

It's kind of a one-two punch: it's a lie, and it's a lie claiming something that would actually be bad if it were true ... or even made sense.

24 November 2005

Turkey instructions

OK, one more thing today, for fun, in honour of Thanksgiving. President Bartlett's phone call with the Butterball hotline, from The West Wing

Operator: Hello, welcome to the Butterball Hotline.

Toby: What the hell is ...

Bartlet: Shhhh. Hello!!

Operator: How can I help you, sir?

Bartlet: Well, first let me say, I think this is a wonderful service you provide.

Operator: Well, thank you. May I have your name please?

Bartlet: I'm a citizen.

Operator: I'm sure you are, sir, but if I have your name I can put your comments in our customer feedback form.

Bartlet: [sighs] I'm Joe Betherson ... sen. That's one 't', and with an 'h' in there.

Operator: And your address?

Bartlet: Fargo.

Operator: Your street address, please?

Toby: [picks up another phone, into it] Zip code, Fargo, North Dakota, right now. [hangs up]

Bartlet: [with evident strain] My street address is 114 ... 54 Pruder Street, and it's very important that you put 'street' down there because sometimes it gets confused with Pruder Way and Pruder Lane. Apartment 23 R... Fargo, North Dakota ... [Charlie walks in with a piece of paper, Bartlet grabs it.] Zip code 50504.

Operator: Thank you. Your voice sounds very familiar to me.

Bartlet: I do radio commercials for ... products.

Operator: And how can I help you?

Bartlet: [sits down] Stuffing should be stuffed inside the turkey, am I correct?

Operator: It can also be baked in a casserole dish.

Bartlet: Well, then we'd have to call it something else, wouldn't we? [Toby sits down and puts his hand under his chin.]

Operator: I suppose.

Bartlet: If I cook it inside the turkey, is there a chance I could kill my guests? I'm not saying that's necessarily a deal-breaker.

Operator: Well, there are some concerns. Two main bacterial problems are salmonella and camplyobacter jejuna.

Bartlet: All right. Well, first of all, I think you made the second bacteria up, and second of all, how do I avoid it?

Operator: Make sure all the ingredients are cooked first. Sauté any vegetables, fried sausage, oysters, etc.

Bartlet: Excellent! Let's talk temperature.

Operator: One hundred and sixty-five degrees.

Bartlet: No, see, I was testing you! The USDA calls for turkeys to be cooked to an internal temperature of 180 to 185 degrees.

Operator: Yes, sir, I was talking about the stuffing which you want to cook to 165 to avoid health risks.

Bartlet: Okay. Good testing!

Operator: Do you have an accurate thermometer?

Bartlet: Oh yeah. It was presented to me as a gift from the personal sous chef to the King of ... [Toby raises his hand] auto sales in ...

Toby: [whispering] Fargo.

Bartlet: Fargo. Phil Baharnd. The man can sell a car like ... well, like anything.

Operator: Very good, sir. You have a good Thanksgiving!

Bartlet: And you do, too. Thanks a lot! [hangs up the phone] That was excellent! We should do that once a week.

Sorry. I've had dialogue screenwriting on the brain lately. Back to regular scheduled programming tomorrow.

Thanksgiving

I have lots to be thankful for. To spread it around, I won't be posting anything depressing about politics today.

23 November 2005

Jeffy, Lord of Chaos

Via EricRed, who observes that this re-captioning trick is an old one, H. P. Lovecraft's Family Circus.

Sorkin

Warren Ellis has dirt on Studio 7, the series Aaron Sorkin is working on about a Saturday-Night-Live-ish comedy show.
The whole thing comes wrapped, of course, in that wonderful dialogue. Sorkin has a few phrases he loves the sound of, that I suspect come from his family or friends: "I hate his breathing guts" is a phrase that’s turned up in Wing (with a "your" in there), that always leaps out at me because I’ve never heard anyone else say it. Every writer has a few of those. It’s a nice little signature on the work, to be honest; it says there’s a single voice on the work, not a committee.
I'd actually never noticed that one. For serious Sorkin fans --- you know who you are --- a little Googling on that phrase reveals a lot of tiresome fan fiction, but also episode citatations.

In the Sports Night episode "April is the Cruelest Month," Natalie says

I hate Jeremy's breathing guts, but I love him like I've never loved anyone.
In The West Wing episode "17 People," we get this exchange, which I will reproduce for you because I'm a big fan.
Donna: Hello.
Josh: How ya doin'?
Donna: Fine.
Josh: Did you get the flowers?
Donna: Yes I did.
Josh: Did you like them?
Donna: They were very pretty.
Josh: Do you know why I sent them?
Donna: I know why you think you sent them.
Josh: It's our anniversary.
Donna: No it's not.
Josh: I'm the sort of guy who remembers those things.
Donna: No, you're the sort of guy who sends a woman flowers to be mean, and you're really the only person I ever met who can do that.
Josh: I'm really quite something.
Donna: Yes.
Josh: I sent them to mark an occasion ...
Donna: Are we really going to do this every year?
Josh: ... for I am a man of occasion.
Donna: I started working for you in February, this is April, and you are an idiot!
Josh: Well, you started working for me once in February and you stopped for a while.
Donna: Yes.
Josh: Then you started working for me again in April. That's the one I choose to celebrate, because its the only one were you started working for me, and it wasn't followed by not working, but rather going back to your boyfriend, and how in comparison to that and him you can call me mean is simply another in a long series of examples.
Donna: Oh shut up! Honest to God, do you ever get tired of the sound of your own voice?
Josh: No. No ... no.
Donna: Wha --- Where are you going now?
Josh: Sam am I are going to punch up the thing for tomorrow. Hey! We need funny people.
Donna: Yeah?
Josh: Do you know any? See, right there is a joke, it's the oldest joke in the book.
Donna: I'll say.
Josh: You know what, Ado Annie? I sent you flowers. I think what you are trying to say is, "Why Thank you Josh! They're beautiful! How very thoughtful of you! Not many bosses would have been that thoughtful!"
Donna: Really, because what I think I was trying to say was shove it!
Josh: OK, well then I guessed wrong.
Donna: (sigh) Do you want help with the thing?
Josh: Yes I do, because you are such an hysterically funny person. Did you notice how I used "an" there properly?
Donna: Yes I did.
Josh: You crack me up.
Donna: You know there are times ...
Josh: Yeah?
Donna: When I put it quite simply, I hate your breathing guts.
Josh: So the flowers really did the trick, huh?
Donna: Oh, yeah.
I was able to figure this out because some people are even bigger fans that I am, and maintain a list of parallel dialogue between The West Wing and Sports Night.

22 November 2005

Procrastination

Not as cool as my superhero form, but being a South Park character offers its own amusements.

You can make your own, of course.

Blog Against Racism

Chris Clarke at Creek Running North has a proposal
declaring December 1, 2005 --- the 50th anniversary of Rosa Parks' heroic act of civil disobedience on that Montgomery bus --- "Blog Against Racism" day, in which people post something on the very broad and complex subject of racism. You don't need to have a political blog to participate. Race, after all, affects almost every aspect of life in one way or another. Your post might be literary in nature, or historical, or concern current issues in need of political attention. You might take the opportunity to debunk scientific racism, or write poetry or essays about personal experiences, uplifting or depressing.

With luck, the discussion engendered will endure past midnight on December 2.

To participate, announce the date in your blog sometime soon to encourage others to take part. And then on December 1, 2005, Blog Against Racism!

Count me in.

21 November 2005

Torture roundup

I hate being a broken record on this, but news and commentary keep on coming. I hate saying periodically that there's new developments in the story of the United States torturing people.

Let's start with yet another damning article about the US sponsoring torture from Talking Points Memo. In it, I find this from the Report of the United States to the UN Committee against Torture on 15 October 1999. (UN Doc. CAT/C/28/Add.5, February 9, 2000, para. 6.)

Torture is prohibited by law throughout the United States. It is categorically denounced as a matter of policy and as a tool of state authority. Every act constituting torture under the Convention constitutes a criminal offense under the law of the United States. No official of the government, federal, state or local, civilian or military, is authorized to commit or to instruct anyone else to commit torture. Nor may any official condone or tolerate torture in any form. No exceptional circumstances may be invoked as a justification of torture. US law contains no provision permitting otherwise prohibited acts of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment to be employed on grounds of exigent circumstances (for example, during a "state of public emergency") or on orders from a superior officer or public authority, and the protective mechanisms of an independent judiciary are not subject to suspension.
Not much wiggle room there. Now hold that thought, and consider this an article from the Washington Post. There's a lot to it, but let me focus on this little piece.
Two Iraqi men who were arrested in Iraq in 2003 but never charged with crimes say that U.S. troops put them in a cage with lions
Lions.

Now the language in the Post article is very cautious; they evidently see the story as solid enough to run, but not confirmed. To my mind the real story is that this is even a plausible accusation of the United States of America. In our current situation, having sponsored our Freedom Archipelago, there will be bogus stories that surface, and it will be very hard to tell fact from fiction. And you can be sure at this point that there will be plenty of people in the Arab and Muslim world who will believe every story they hear now. If you doubt that they have good reason to, then you need to take another look at the pictures from Abu Ghraib.

Jeanne at Body and Soul reports that CNN has a skeptical piece on the lion story. I can't get the video to play, so I'll have to take Jeanne's summary of their reading of the story:

If a man was sodomized and refuses to talk about it on camera, in front of millions of people, he must be lying.
Yeah. That liberal media.

Meanwhile, the London Times reports that there is a secret prison right in Baghdad. And yes, there are allegations of torture and abuse. It's another cavalcade of bad news.

some had their skin peeled off various parts of their body
What the hell is wrong with us?

Digby has a terrific post about where this comes from that chills the blood.

the DOD had decided to use the SERE techniques to "interrogate" prisoners. This NY Times article reveals something about this I didn't know before --- the SERE techniques were developed for special forces to learn to resist the harsh torture techniques of the totalitarian communist regimes
...
The most amazingly thing about this (Commie) torture regime is that it's specifically designed to extract false confessions for propaganda purposes. Dear gawd, can they really be so incompetent that they didn't understand the difference between creating propaganda and gaining intelligence?
I truly fear that the answer to this question is no. Atrios notes that for an administration busily cooking the books on intelligence to justify the war, this is not a bug, it's a feature.
Bush administration needs evidence to support their war. They use torture techniqes designed to extract false confessions to obtain that "evidence," which they then use to sell the war despite knowing full well of the lack of reliability of the information.
(If you go check out what Digby has to say --- and you should, he covers a lot of ground --- then you may also want to check out my observations about how the argument that "if we leave Iraq, then the terrorists win" which he criticizes is a pernicious misreading of the lessons of the Vietnam War.)

And if you follow none of my other links, go check out Larry Beinhart's gendankenexperiment. He starts here.

Imagine if it had been a naked marine on a leash held by an Iraqi woman.
Then he walks up the chain of accountability ... even further than you would guess.

20 November 2005

You cannot make this stuff up

Crispin Glover as Grendel

(That's the monster in Beowulf, not Hunter Rose, for those who might wonder. And Neil Gaiman's doing the screenplay.)

Tricky

If you know who wore a good Republican cloth coat and had a dog named Checkers, then you may want to read these quotes from DeLong about now that speech came to be.

19 November 2005

Joss & Neil

Whaddaya know. Time magazine has published an interview / dialogue with Joss Whedon and Neil Gaiman. Yeah, Time, not The Believer. Needless to say, it's great fun. A fair bit of it is about how strange it is that they're doing stuff like getting interviewed in Time. Says Joss:
I miss a little of that element, the danger of, oh, I'm holding this science fiction magazine that's got this great cover. There a little bit of something just on the edge that I'm doing this. That's pretty much gone. Although when I walk into a restaurant with a stack of comic books, I still do get stared at a little bit.
And Neil adds:
Anansi Boys is coming out, and it's a funny fantasy novel, and it's being published as a mainstream thing. It should have been 10,000 copies just to people who love them, who would have had to go to a science fiction specialty shop with a cat in it just to find it.
There's other stuff, too: Time summarizes it as "their work, their fans, their Klingon bodyguards and, of course, Timecop," which leaves out National Goth Month and Kazuo Ishiguro.

18 November 2005

Cheney

Somehow I had swallowed the conventional wisdom that though President Bush is an incompetent executive, Dick Cheney is a smart and capable man, if dedicated to very different principles from my own.

Ever-wary Digby seems to have known better, and argues vigorously that Cheney is actually an idiot, supporting this rant with numerous good links, most the best of which is an old article from Joshua Michah Marshall.

Cheney's White House energy task force produced an all-drilling-and-no-conservation plan that failed not just on policy grounds but as a political matter as well, saddling the administration with a year-long public relations headache
...
Cheney's security task force did nothing for four months, lurching into action only after terrorists actually attacked America on September 11.
...
Last March, he went on a tour of Middle Eastern capitals to line up America's allies for our war against Saddam. He returned a week later with the Arabs lining up behind Saddam and against us --- a major embarrassment for the White House.
...
Remember those corporate scandals that came close to crippling Bush? .... The president was scheduled to deliver a big speech on Wall Street in early July .... The president took Cheney's advice .... The day after the president's speech, the Dow shed 282 points, the biggest single-day drop since the post-terrorist tailspin of Sept. 20. Within days the president was backpedaling and supporting what Cheney had said he shouldn't.
...
Over time, people in the White House have certainly had to deal with enough examples of Cheney's poor judgment. It's fallen to the White House's political arm, led by the poll-conscious Karl Rove, to rein in or overrule him. Yet the vice president has apparently lost little stature within the White House.
Well, if John Dean is right, or other rumours are true, we may not have Dick Cheney to kick around much longer after all.

17 November 2005

Adventures in Engrish

Of course, everyone knows about Engrish.com, your source for the English language as mangled for decorative or instructive purposes by product manufacturers in southeast Asia. (Remember, it's only okay to think this is funny if you also mock Western kanji abuse.)

Now, thanks to Contentlove, I offer you excellent active super amusive play, with your host Hello Wagner™.

16 November 2005

Commandments

Content Love passes on the Ten Commandments, had Coyote written them instead of Adonai. The first is:
Thou Shalt Have As Many Gods and Spirits and Personal Trainers and Gurus As You Like Before Me, But You Shalt Not Let Them Block the Exits, and More, You Shall Not Permit Them To Take the Last Beer, For That Beer Is Mine. Seriously. Don't.
Not that Coyote is really the sort for a top ten list. It's an Adonai style thing. Heck, Jesus sweated it down to two in Mark 12:28-31.
And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all? And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.
Those are pretty good. And most folks miss that lurking in that second part is the injunction that you gotta love yourself.

And doing a little web search on those two, I stumbled into a lovely Christian sermon which reads these as the root principles lying behind all of the commandments --- not just the top ten, but the 613 identified by the Talmud.

The summary of the law, as simple as it may seem, is actually complex. Jesus ingeniously combined love of God (Deut. 6:5) and neighbor (Lev. 19:18). Jewish scholars had devised other summaries of Torah, but Jesus' summary is unique, and his assertion that the two laws are inseparable is also distinctive.
...
We cannot avoid the dialectical relation of love and law: in fulfilling one we will possibly sacrifice the other. We can only apply the summary with the awareness that as Christians we live with the tension, that each one of us will have proclivities toward one pole or the other.
Mmmnnn. Love and law. I have a hunch I have some not-so-Christian readers of mine will like that last bit.

15 November 2005

2069

A much less funny story from Indigo.
I sat across the plaza from him for almost an hour as he lit one match after another, after another, after another. Each time he lit one, he would hold it for a moment, as if considering it's individuality, and then he would carefully, deliberately blow it out.

The ground around him was scattered with matchsticks, like the chaff from the threshing of one of Eliot's Hollow Men.

The matchsticks made sounds like rat's claws on the polished plaza floor.

I watched for almost an hour. He only went through part of one box in all that time.

By the way, my town isn't like this every day. But close enough.

Best product codename ever

Amazon Mechanical Turk provides "artificial artificial intelligence" for applications by employing actual human beings.

Metaparanoia

Would that Robert Anton Wilson were alive for this item. I am sure that Robert Anton Wilson, who is alive and well, would love this item.

Via Mind Hacks, I learned that researchers at MIT have done research to determine if tinfoil hats protect against government mind control rays and have come to some disconcerting conclusions.

Among a fringe community of paranoids, aluminum helmets serve as the protective measure of choice against invasive radio signals. We investigate the efficacy of three aluminum helmet designs on a sample group of four individuals. Using a $250,000 network analyser, we find that although on average all helmets attenuate invasive radio frequencies in either directions (either emanating from an outside source, or emanating from the cranium of the subject), certain frequencies are in fact greatly amplified.
Uh oh.
These amplified frequencies coincide with radio bands reserved for government use according to the Federal Communication Commission (FCC).
!!!
Statistical evidence suggests the use of helmets may in fact enhance the government's invasive abilities. We theorize that the government may in fact have started the helmet craze for this reason.
Aha!

14 November 2005

Bush approval ratings

Sure, he hasn't got book learnin', but people really like him.

So much for that theory. It actually looks like Bush got a big, big bounce from 9/11, a smaller bounce from invading Iraq, and otherwise folks have steadily grown to dislike him the longer they're exposed to him.

From Political Arithmetik, which explains the provenance of these graphs: full term and 2005

13 November 2005

White phosphorus

On Daily Kos, I learn that the military admits to using white phosphorus in Iraq. Just lovely.

Webkultur

I don't know if they really qualify for the title 100 Best Internet Moments, but they are an entertaining list.

12 November 2005

O'Reilly

So you may have heard about how here in San Francisco we passed Proposition I, opposing military recruitment.
Resolved, that the people of San Francisco oppose U.S. military recruiters using public school, college and university facilities to recruit young people into the armed forces. Furthermore, San Francisco should oppose the military's "economic draft" by investigating means by which to fund and grant scholarships for college and job training to low-income students so they are not economically compelled to join the military!
I find this style of breathless lefty anti-military rhetoric a little tiresome, but I respect where it comes from in these trying times. I'll certainly agree that it would be better on both a moral and a practical scale if people weren't joining the military in pursuit of the social and economic rewards of a college education that are made inaccessible to them by other means. The proposition isn't binding legislation, it's symbolic, and it's a symbolic gesture I can respect.

It seems that Fox News' Bill O'Reilly feels differently. It seems that he thinks we've seceeded from the Union, so he's invited terrorists to come attack us.

Hey, you know, if you want to ban military recruiting, fine, but I'm not going to give you another nickel of federal money. You know, if I'm the president of the United States, I walk right into Union Square, I set up my little presidential podium, and I say, "Listen, citizens of San Francisco, if you vote against military recruiting, you're not going to get another nickel in federal funds. Fine. You want to be your own country? Go right ahead."

And if Al Qaeda comes in here and blows you up, we're not going to do anything about it. We're going to say, look, every other place in America is off limits to you, except San Francisco. You want to blow up the Coit Tower? Go ahead.

Given that the Bush adminstration --- and Bill O'Reilly --- evidently believe that when the US suffers a terrorist attack, the right thing to do about it is to torture people and invade an unrelated Arab country, I for one would like to come out in support of Mr. O'Reilly's plan. If Al Qaeda blows up Coit Tower, if that's "doing something about it," then please don't do anything about it.

11 November 2005

Good nerd gifts

Just in time for the holidays, cool science toys from Raven Hanna's MadeWithMolecules.com. My favourite item is the necklace pictured above, a sterling silver diagram of a serotonin molecule. It's the perfect thing for either science nerds or amateur psychopharmacology researchers. The matched GABA and glutemate earrings are also witty. There are also cool holiday cards, testosterone boxer shorts, keyrings, and more.

While we're at it, let me plug the amazing math sculptures of Bathsheba Grossman. (I think my favourite is Holly, though some days I prefer Soliton or the 24 Cell.) Ms. Grossman also makes pendants of her own, and some cool laser-etched crystal sculptures of scientific images. As soon as I finish building my starship, I'm gonna get a three dimensional map of local stars. I already gave my biochemist father one of these with the structure of DNA as a keychain; this product seems to have disappeared from her website but is still available on a DNA art store site where you can also get other cool stuff including a spiffy DNA bracelet or--- I kid you not --- a Jim Watson bobblehead.

Anniversaries

Today is Armistace Day, the anniversary of the end of the First World War. The consequences of modern warfare on the global scale were so terrible and shocking to the people of that era that many imagined that Armistace Day would forever be a world holiday, marking the conclusion of the last war.

So much for that hope.

Via Atrios, I learn about this comment from a Washington Post article about the future of Iraq.

The [Iraqi] ambassador [Zalmay Khalilzad] argues that U.S. policy is finally on track. "We do have the beginning of adjustments that I think puts us on the right path," he told Gwen Ifill of PBS in one of his few on-the-record interviews. In addition to his own diplomacy, which has persuaded Sunni parties to compete in upcoming elections and Shiite and Kurdish parties to agree to post-election negotiations, there is, at last, a concerted counterinsurgency campaign underway, aimed at clearing areas of militants and then holding them. Khalilzad believes Baghdad should now be systematically secured, starting with the airport and then moving into the city. But the process will be slow and hard: Just pacifying the capital could take a year.
A year. Not for Iraq, mind you, just Baghdad. I'm not sure where Post reporter Jackson Diehl gets this quote from Khalilzad about securing the Iraqi capitol starting from the airport. But looking at the Gwen Ifill interview which he quotes, I do find this description of the ambassador's predicted timeline for the next year.
Within 12 months, one can begin to adjust by reducing forces, but still there will be needs in Iraq that will necessitate US support and involvement, including some military presence beyond 12 months.

But I believe within 12 months, Iraq will be well on its way towards success, will have made significant progress from where we are today.

So in a year, he says, we can hope to start to reduce US presence in Iraq.

Let me offer some perspective on that span of time. Germany declared war on the United States on 11 September 1941, and the war concluded in Europe 1335 days later, on 8 May 1945. The United States invaded Iraq on 20 March 2003, and 1335 days after that will be 14 November 2006. One year and three days from today.

10 November 2005

Goth fu

If you are prepared to be charmed, rather than disgusted, by some industrial-strength self-importance and a few too many flip popkultur references, then check out Indigo's recent tale of goth clubbing.
If you haven't been a part of the Goth culture since that fateful day on which we gathered together and invented the color black, you may not be aware that Gothic club dancing is more than just a dance, and more than simply a mating ritual. Gothic club dancing is actually a relic of an ancient time, a time before Hot Topic, a time when Goths actually had to fight in order to survive and hang out at the mall. Goth club dancing is actually descended from an ancient martial art; an art whose lethality and effectiveness is comparable only to the martial arts style of "Gun-Kata" demonstrated in the film Equilibrium.
And since he's on the subject, I'd add that Equilibrium is a perfect sci-fi dystopian pastiche, with "gun fu" even more delightfully silly than The Matrix.

09 November 2005

Pardon

Via Mark A R Kleiman, I learn that the Anonymous Liberal has very lucidly explained why we must demand a pledge from the President that he not pardon Libby.
If anyone in the White House even so much as hinted to Libby prior to his departure that, if convicted, he might receive a pardon, that's arguably obstruction of justice. Fitzgerald clearly believes that Libby has gone to great lengths to obstruct his investigation. Because Libby is not cooperating, that obstruction is ongoing. If the White House has suggested to Libby that he might eventually be pardoned, that might well be construed as an attempt to encourage Libby not to cooperate with Fitzgerald's investigation.
...
Because this is such a real concern, it's important that reporters ask the President whether he or anyone on his staff has ever discussed the topic of a pardon with Libby. I don't expect the White Houses would admit to such a discussion even if it happened, but it's nevertheless important to have a denial on the record.
Thanks to this article, I've discovered that the Anonymous Liberal is focusing heavily on the Plamegate story, and doing a cracking good job of it. If you're a Plamegate addict like me, check it out.

08 November 2005

Today's spam subject line

Append considerable spiciness to your life!

Nicknames

Via Apostropher, I learn that a few of our President's nicknames for folks are kinda witty: George Will is The Commissioner and Karen Hughes is The Enforcer.

07 November 2005

Initiatives

Californians, vote early, vote often, vote no.

The ballot initiative process is not your friend. The ballot inititiave process is a spawn of Satan. Consider this from a review of Paradise Lost: California's Experience, America's Future.

An apparently unstoppable cycle set in, in which initiatives limiting government would be followed by initiatives ordering government to do things that were popular. Between 1911, when the initiative system was created by reformers to circumvent the Southern Pacific Railroad's iron grip on the state legislature, and the time of Proposition 13, Californians passed 42 initiatives. Since then, 40 initiatives have been passed, almost as many as in the 67 years from 1911 to 1978. A big-money signature-gathering and ad-producing ''initiative industrial complex'' has grown up, and it is probably more controlled by special interests (trial lawyers and environmentalists on the left, the familiar business groups on the right) than by the legislature.

The more initiatives pass, the more hamstrung the state government becomes. As Schrag puts it, ''there is no give left in the system,'' even in boom times. The less legislators can do, the more unpopular they become, and the unpopularity fuels more initiatives. In 1990 Californians registered their disgust by passing Proposition 140, which not only imposed term limits on elected state officials that are among the nation's most restrictive but also cut their staffs by 40 percent and severely curtailed the analysis of pending bills. The legislature now, as Schrag describes it, is practically vestigial, thanks to erosion by a torrent of initiatives. No out-of-town television station any longer maintains a state capital bureau.

Consequently, my blog is endorsing voting no on all ballot initiatives. This is especially true this time around, when most of the initiatives are bad news all around. Check out DeLong on Ezra Klein's endorsement of the LA Weekly endorsements. He says the only one worth voting yes on is 79.

Decision '08

General Zod has emerged from the Negative Zone to run for President.
Q. I have seen that another hopeful candidate for the 2008 elections is Christopher Walken. I have been a great supporter of his, but I have much respect for your authoritarian regime. I am unsure which of these two great evils I should vote for. Is there any chance for a political debate during campaign time between you and Mr. Walken? — Beth R.

A. Yes, but can Walken promise you cruel oppression and harsh totality? Why allow him to coddle you with platitudes, only to be disappointed years after the election? I promise you a future of darkness. And it's only in darkness that you see light. I promise you ascent, and elevation, living the life of austerity as you relegate your possessions and lives. Warmed in that monastic aura you shall find enlightenment and happiness. To this I say: Give me your vote, and kneel before Zod!

I say: why vote for the lesser evil?

I also note that the General has taken a very appropriate position on responding to spam.

06 November 2005

God and the Brain

My colleague Chris tells me that the famous depiction of God reaching out to Adam on the Sistine Chapel ceiling is actually a diagram of the human brain, and that the painting has some spooky correspondences to brain function.

Cool. Seems like the kind of thing Michaelangelo would do.

05 November 2005

Cultural appropriation

I've had a long post about white cultural appropriation stuck in a half-finished state for some time now. I'll get to it. But it certainly won't be as good as the introduction to Everything But the Burden. It won't even be as good as this half-sentence from it:
hip-hop culture and the hip-hop marketplace, like a quantum paradox, provides space to all Black ideologies, from the most anti-white to the most pro-capitalist, without ever having to account for the contradiction
That's going to have my head hurting for weeks.

04 November 2005

Chicago

I have a friend visiting Chicago at the moment, and for reasons I cannot explain, I somehow got imprinted with the phrase "Chicago! Hog butcher for the world!" when we got Carl Sandburg in American Lit in high school. So I just searched up the poem --- God bless the web --- and it is pretty damned good.
Chicago

    Hog Butcher for the World,
    Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
    Player with Railroads and
      the Nation’s Freight Handler;
    Stormy, husky, brawling,
    City of the Big Shoulders:

They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I have seen your painted women under the gas lamps luring the farm boys.

And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to kill again.

And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the faces of women and children I have seen the marks of wanton hunger.

And having answered so I turn once more to those who sneer at this my city, and I give them back the sneer and say to them:

Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.

Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job on job, here is a tall bold slugger set vivid against the little soft cities;



Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning as a savage pitted against the wilderness,
    Bareheaded,
    Shoveling,
    Wrecking,
    Planning,
    Building, breaking, rebuilding,
Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth,
 laughing with white teeth,
Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing
 as a young man laughs,
Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs
 who has never lost a battle,
Bragging and laughing that under his wrist
 is the pulse. and under his ribs
 the heart of the people,
        Laughing!

Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of Youth, half-naked, sweating, proud to be Hog Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.

People do not write poems like that about suburbs.

Trek

I'm not embarassed to admit that I grew up loving Star Trek. I've been to a small fistful of Trek conventions, and there was a time when the original series was so fresh in my mind that I could come into any episode somewhere in the middle and identify it by name within seconds. No, I was never the sort of fan who owned a Starfleet uniform, but do have a bit of Trek stuff kicking around somewhere; I think I still have a copy of the original writer's guide for The Next Generation, for instance.

I still have some love left for it. The original show can be great fun, and there is some good stuff about The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, which were sometimes very cunningly written. But the steam went out of my relationship with Trek long ago. I think I saw all of half a dozen episodes of Voyager, and maybe three episodes of Enterprise. I like babes in spandex as much as the next guy, but I don't want them to be the best thing about my Star Trek.

Is it just that I'm not a kid any more, or did Trek just wear out its original conceit? In his review of the last Star Trek film, Nemesis, Roger Ebert expresses the way I feel and suggests the latter.

I'm sitting there during Star Trek: Nemesis, the 10th Star Trek movie, and I'm smiling like a good sport and trying to get with the dialogue about the isotronic Ruritronic signature from planet Kolarus III, or whatever the hell they were saying, maybe it was “positronic,” and gradually it occurs to me that Star Trek is over for me. I've been looking at these stories for half a lifetime, and, let's face it, they're out of gas.

There might have been a time when the command deck of Starship Enterprise looked exciting and futuristic, but these days it looks like a communications center for security guards. Starships rocket at light speeds halfway across the universe, but when they get into battles the effect is roughly the same as on board a World War II bomber. Fearsome death rays strike the Enterprise, and what happens? Sparks fly out from the ceiling and the crew gets bounced around in their seats like passengers on the No. 36 bus. This far in the future they wouldn't have sparks because they wouldn't have electricity, because in a world where you can beam matter — beam it, mind you — from here to there, power obviously no longer lives in the wall and travels through wires.

I've also had it with the force shield that protects the Enterprise. The power on this thing is always going down. In movie after movie after movie I have to sit through sequences during which the captain is tersely informed that the front shield is down to 60 percent, or the back shield is down to 10 percent, or the side shield is leaking energy, and the captain tersely orders that power be shifted from the back to the sides or all put in the front, or whatever, and I'm thinking, life is too short to sit through 10 movies in which the power is shifted around on these shields.

Maybe it's that it's hard to suspend disbelief that long, or maybe it's that Trek itself can't withstand that kind of attention. And I just stumbled across something that makes me think it's the latter.

One of the things I have followed about Trek has been the career of David Gerrold, the writer who most memorably did “The Trouble With Tribbles.” He also wrote the best book about how Trek works, The World of Star Trek, and he wrote that writer's bible for Next Generation. (While I'm at it, let me plug his War Against the Chtorr novels, which have hokey alliterative titles like A Rage for Revenge; they're my favourite pulp guilty pleasure.) Gerrold left Next Generation after a couple of years, and at the time was doing the polite not-explaining-why which makes one suspect that he actually left with a lot of animosity and was biting his tongue. There were rumours that it was something like Harlan Ellison's famous anger toward Trek creator and producer Gene Roddenberry for rewriting “City on the Edge of Forever.”

My recent discovery is an article about the long, unsuccessful struggle to see gay characters on Trek. It includes Gerrold explaining about how wrote a script, “Blood and Fire,” which was an allegory of AIDS. He tells the tale of how it languished in the Trek production organization, and how he tried to bring it to the screen.

Recalled Gerrold, “He [writer/producer Herb Wright] was complaining that he had six rewrites to do. I said, ‘Let me do the rewrite on “Blood and Fire” for you.’ He said, ‘Well, go get Gene's permission.’ I went downstairs, stuck my head into Gene's office and said, ‘Look, I know Herb Wright has to do a rewrite on “Blood and Fire.” Let me do it for you guys. I'll take some of the load off.’ And Gene replied, ‘Gosh, David, I knew I could always depend on you. You're such a good friend.’ Gene said, 'Go upstairs and see if it's all right with Herb Wright.’ Instead of telling him Herb had already said it was all right, I said, ‘Yes, sir.’ ”

“The elevator was real, real slow,” recalled Gerrold about trying to rush to the writer's office to give him the good news. “When I get to the top floor, he's on the phone. Herb holds up his finger Shh! — a sign not to make any noise. On the phone he's saying, ‘Right Gene. Yes, I'll tell him.’ He hung up and said, ‘That was Gene Roddenberry. He told me to tell you that it wasn't all right with me.’ Then Herb said, “I don't lie for any man.’ ”

Sausage, politics, and Star Trek. You don't want to know how they're made.

03 November 2005

Television

Much as I like The Daily Show and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I do think that, all things considered, we'd be better off if television were abolished. The main reason is political: it's corrosive to our political culture.

Today I have for you an essay by a smart cookie who argues that the Republic was founded on print, and faces grave dangers as print fades in importance.

In fact there was a time when America's public discourse was consistently much more vivid, focused and clear. Our Founders, probably the most literate generation in all of history, used words with astonishing precision and believed in the Rule of Reason.
...
Their world was dominated by the printed word. Just as the proverbial fish doesn't know it lives in water, the United States in its first half century knew nothing but the world of print: the Bible, Thomas Paine's fiery call to revolution, the Declaration of Independence, our Constitution, our laws, the Congressional Record, newspapers and books.

Though they feared that a government might try to censor the printing press --- as King George had done --- they could not imagine that America's public discourse would ever consist mainly of something other than words in print.

And yet, as we meet here this morning, more than 40 years have passed since the majority of Americans received their news and information from the printed word.

It's worth reading the whole thing. Though if you don't, let me share one more witty observation from the essay:
Soon after television established its dominance over print, young people who realized they were being shut out of the dialogue of democracy came up with a new form of expression in an effort to join the national conversation: the "demonstration." This new form of expression, which began in the 1960s, was essentially a poor quality theatrical production designed to capture the attention of the television cameras long enough to hold up a sign with a few printed words to convey, however plaintively, a message to the American people. Even this outlet is now rarely an avenue for expression on national television.
It's a pity that a commentator this sharp couldn't get elected President.

02 November 2005

Spreading freedom

The Washington Post reports new revelations about our freedom archipelago.
The CIA has been hiding and interrogating some of its most important al Qaeda captives at a Soviet-era compound in Eastern Europe, according to U.S. and foreign officials familiar with the arrangement.

The secret facility is part of a covert prison system set up by the CIA nearly four years ago that at various times has included sites in eight countries, including Thailand, Afghanistan and several democracies in Eastern Europe, as well as a small center at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, according to current and former intelligence officials and diplomats from three continents.

The hidden global internment network is a central element in the CIA's unconventional war on terrorism. It depends on the cooperation of foreign intelligence services, and on keeping even basic information about the system secret from the public, foreign officials and nearly all members of Congress charged with overseeing the CIA's covert actions.

The existence and locations of the facilities -- referred to as "black sites" in classified White House, CIA, Justice Department and congressional documents -- are known to only a handful of officials in the United States and, usually, only to the president and a few top intelligence officers in each host country.

How thrilling that prisons from the original gulag archipelago have been repurposed for freedom!

America's finest news source

Via Ericred I learn that the White House is concerned that Americans might mistake articles in The Onion for real news. I can't imagine why.

It seems that the White House will soon learn not to fuck with The Onion.

01 November 2005

Refreshing

From the situationists at the Center for Tactical Magic, I offer you the Tactical Ice Cream Unit.
The ice cream vendor has long been synonymous with a roving oasis --- a well-spring of refreshment; a reprieve from the heat; a cool intervention. In this regard, the Tactical Ice Cream Unit (TICU) is no different. The TICU emerges at a time when most channels of distribution, communication, and social interaction are mediated and constrained by the fervor of financial exchange. Incorporating an alternative strategy of utopian potlatch, the Tactical Ice Cream Unit is envisioned primarily as a mobile distribution center for ice cream and information.
Go check out the pictures.