31 January 2008


Warren Ellis has been following closely the recent series of spooky little propaganda videos posted on YouTube from the mysterious web anarchists Anonymous. The good people of Anonymous have taken exception to the Church of Scientology, and are initiating an anti-Scientology propaganda war.

The videos are incredibly compelling on every level—as crafty filmmaking, as propaganda, as cunning use of web technology. Warren Ellis observes ...

One of the things fascinating me about these video communications from Anonymous — aside from the obvious, an anonymous organisation of internet users communicating only through YouTube, which has implications and resonance of its own — is the sense of foreboding they manage to create. Contrast that to, say, the Yippies and the retarded gibberish they spouted every time they got near a camera. There’s a sense of control here, and, clearly, of threat.
The videos so far, which I encourage readers to check out:

Message to Scientology
Dear News Organizations
Call to Action
GLaDOS guide to february 10th

(I should observe here that Mr Ellis also links to a video from a major anti-Scientology activist who disapproves of Anonymous' approach.)

I bring this up because that last video has something of general interest to many of my readers, whether or not they care about the social effects of the web, Scientology, or film as an art form: the bulk of the video is an excellent guide to effective public protests.

I have a transcript of the complete rules for conducting an effective protest ...

These rules do not represent the writings and ideas of any one person. Rules may vary depending on your location.

The following video is intended as guide for Anonymous preparing to engage in their first real-life public demonstration. It will also provide a refresher for those of you who have experience with this modality of petition.

The purpose of the demonstration in a modern Western society is to convey a message to the public. In keeping with this objective, Anonymous has drafted 22 rules that Anonymous can follow in order to assure epic win and no loss of hit points on your part.

Rule #0: Rules 1 and 2 of the internet still apply. Your memes are not, at this juncture, something that the real world can appreciate. Although meme speak between fellow Anonymous is acceptable, focus on the target and keep it to a minimum.

Rule #1: Stay cool.

Rule #2: Stay cool, especially when harassed. You are an ambassador of Anonymous. Although individuals trying to disrupt your demonstration will get on your nerves, you must not lose your temper. Doing so will harm the protest and tarnish the reputation of Anonymous.

Rule #3: Comply with the orders of law enforcement officers above all else. Doing otherwise is harmful to the demonstration as a whole and may compromise your performance as a human being. Do not request badge numbers unless you are being treated in a very abusive manner, as doing so will anger officers.

Rule #4: Notify city officials. Most jurisdictions either have rules about public protests, or would prefer to be notified that they are taking place. Know the rules for your jurisdiction and abide by them.

Rule #5: Always be across the street from the object being protested.

Rule #6: In the absence of a road, find another natural barrier between yourself and the target of protest. Doing so will make it more difficult for individuals hostile to your cause to come and harass you.

Rule #7: Stay on public property. You may be charged for trespassing if you do not.

Rule #8: No violence.

Rule #9: No weapons. The demonstration is a peaceful event. “Your weapons; you will not need them.”

Rule #10: No alcohol or pre-drinking. Violating this rule may easily precipitate a violation of rules 1 and 2.

Rule #11: No graffiti, destruction, or vandalism.

Rule #12: If you want to do something stupid, pick another day.

These should be self explanatory. Violation of these rules during a demonstration will tarnish the reputation of Anonymous, harm the demonstration itself and leave you vulnerable to attention from law enforcement.

Rule #13: Anonymous is legion. Never be alone. Isolation during a protest marks you as a target for hostiles who wish to provoke an angry reaction from you and other hostiles. In keeping with this principle ...

Rule #14: Organize in squads of 10 to 15 people.

Rule #15: One or two megaphones per squad. A megaphone is helpful for maintaining the overall cohesion of a demonstration and spreading your message. However, too many will confuse the public and render you hearing impaired.

Rule #16: Know the dress code. Forming a loose yet reasonable dress code for protest members will help to maintain cohesion and get the public to take you seriously.

Rule #17: Cover your face. This will prevent your identification from videos taken by hostiles, other protesters or security. Use scarves, hats and sunglasses. Masks are not necessary, and donning them in the context of a public demonstration is forbidden in some jurisdictions.

Rule #18: Bring water.

Rule #19: Wear good shoes.

Following these rules will assure your comfort during the demonstration. Keep in mind that demonstrations may often be quite lengthy.

Rule #20: Signs, flyers, and phrases—have yours ready. Make sure that signs are large enough to read. Also ensure that the text on your signs and your phrases are pertinent to the target of the protest.

Rule #21: Prepare legible, uncomplicated, and accurate flyers to hand out to those who wish to know more regarding the motivations behind your actions.

Finally, Rule #22: Document the demonstration. Videos and pictures of the event may be used to corroborate your side of the story if law enforcement get involved. Furthermore, posting images and videos of your heroic actions all over the internet is bound to generate win, exhorting other Anonymous to follow your glorious example.

If you follow these simple rules, the success of your action is virtually assured. However, keep in mind that the success of the demonstration as a whole hinges on the good behavior of all those who participate. Ignore these rules at your own peril. Follow them, and victory will be yours.

We are Anonymous.
We do not forgive.
We do not forget.
And now, we are expected.

21 January 2008

Dr Martin Luther King, Jr

For more than a decade, I've been spamming people with this note every year. Now that I have a blog, I'm just sticking to re-posting every year. If you were here this time last year, read it again anyway.

Really. Take a few minutes. I think it's important ...

Most people have forgotten that at the civil rights march on Washington DC on 28 August 1963, Martin Luther King was not the featured speaker. He was not the icon of the movement that we think of today. He was a major player, yes, but there were others more famous, respected, and important at that time. The speech he gave --- the one you know --- changed that.

The importance of the speech is distinctively American. The United States, unique among nations, is a frankly artificial creation. France is the place in Europe where people speak French, but the US has no ethnic definition --- this place is full of immigrants who decided to be Americans, and their children. Japan is an island, but there's nothing natural about the borders of the US --- this place wound up a nation through a chaotic combination of war, purchase, legislative decisions, and (oh yeah) genocide. The US is an idea. Something we just made up.

This is why we have the peculiar veneration of documents that we do. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are the holiest of holies in our civic religion because they are made of words, made of ideas. Through acclamation over the years we have chosen a handful of other documents that tell us what the United States is, like Lincoln's Gettysburg address and Martin Luther King, Jr.'s I Have a Dream speech. In that speech, the power of King's rhetoric and ideas was so great that hearing it transformed our understanding of what the nation was about. I know, I know, that's a White guy thing to say: it's not like plenty of folks didn't know about American racial injustice. But on the level of shared understanding of shared destiny, King gave voice to ideas implicit in the American national promise that had too long been denied. And still are denied today.

In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.

This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.

Go read it right now. It will only take five minutes of your time. With no exaggeration, I think it's your duty as an American --- we have a lot of work left to do.

And while you're at it, take a little more time and read Letter from a Birmingham Jail. I know you did it back in school. It's worth doing again.

And if you really want extra credit, go read what he said on the last full day of his life.

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you ...

09 January 2008


My old employer wishes us all a Happy New Year using a tool I worked on designing.

07 January 2008

Pater familias

Ephraim “Frank” Korman
Scientist, teacher, father

Some of my readers know that for the last few years, I've been on “Dad patrol.” My father moved out to San Francisco to get away from the harsh weather of Washington DC and moved into a little apartment right across the street from mine. Sort of like a sitcom.

We have a family story about my g'g'great-grandfather on my father's side: he died in a terrible logging accident, crushed between two great trees he had felled that he was in the process of floating down the Dvina river to the mill. The interesting part: this happened when he was 87. Still working as a lumberjack.

We Kormans are tougher than we look.

But it turns out that we don't last forever. Just before New Years', my father was hit with a sudden high fever that apparently cut off oxygen to his brain for a few long minutes. I got to see him when his body was still breathing but his ruach was already gone. Three hours later, mercifully, his body gave up waiting for his spirit to come back.

Saturday my brother hosted a little memorial for him. Here's what I said:

The idea that I could say a few words to sum up either my father's life or my own relationship with him is absurd, but I find myself thinking of a story that comes as close as you could hope.

My father was drafted to serve in the Korean War. Horrified by the prospect of having to kill another person, he volunteered to be a medic, against the advice of other recruits who dreaded to be on the front lines, unarmed, with a big red cross-shaped target on their heads. He was accepted for medic training, and fortunately for his survival he was assigned to a M*A*S*H outfit.

When I was growing up, my father only told one story from that time in his life. He said that the only time after basic training when he held a rifle was on sentry duty, protecting the camp. He still didn't want to shoot anyone, so he pulled the bullets out of his M1 rifle and put them in his pocket.

My mother would always interject that had they caught him he'd have been court-martialed for sure, sent to prison, and given a dishonorable discharge.

Or, y'know, he could have been killed.

Guarding the camp with the bullets in his pocket. Fearless. Morally grounded. Totally irresponsible. That was my father.

Update: Okay, not totally irresponsible! My mother has more.