April 30, 2002Movable Light
She's also been posting some excellent stuff. My current favorite is this, which contains an insight into the literary antecedents of a certain Prince of the Church.
Cory Doctorow comments on television corporados who think viewers are thieves:The role of the technology industry is to blaze new trails that create new opportunities for Hollywood. The role of Hollywood is to seek injunctive relief from those opportunities.
The always-stimulating Chris Bertram of Junius has a thoughtful post that will confuse and annoy (1) American right-leaners who don't grasp that Marx was in favor of bourgeois technological progress and (2) American left-leaners who think any and all Green positions are automatically "progressive," that great all-purpose political weasel word.
I was reminded of Ken MacLeod, the great politically-heterodox Scottish science fiction writer, in some of whose novels future Greens are creepy barbarian bad guys. (Typically for MacLeod, he then wrote a novel in which those same Greens go on to evolve a very attractive far-future society. One of MacLeod's abiding virtues is that he doesn't reserve all the good lines for characters who agree with the author.) MacLeod is a product of that Left that knows that technology and industry are achievements worth fighting for.
Back to Chris Bertram, here's his summing-up. (But read the whole post anyway.)The problem isn't that the far right is adopting leftist themes, but that the left, still as hostile to capitalism as ever but lacking a clearly articulated modernist alternative of its own since the failure of the Soviet experience and the Hayekian critique of central planning, has been drawn into adopting traditionally reactionary and conservative positions and a celebration of the very "idiocy of rural life" that Marx condemned. That doesn't mean that we should be passive in the face of environmental destruction, but it does mean that we should think harder about how to combine a modern urban and diverse civilisation with greater social justice.
Jamie Kellner is chairman and CEO of the Turner Broadcasting System. Here are his views on devices like TiVo, that allow viewers to skip past television commercials:It's theft. Your contract with the network when you get the show is you're going to watch the spots. Otherwise you couldn't get the show on an ad-supported basis. Any time you skip a commercial or watch the button you're actually stealing the programming.This is the voice of someone who has lost track of the distinction between morality and his business model. If it inconveniences the way he does business, it's "theft."
This is the voice of Big Content: shameless, resourceful, everlastingly mendacious. Small-time prose writers who rush to ally themselves with these Lords of the Flies will find themselves next on the menu. Just because you're on their side doesn't mean...okay, you've heard it.
UPDATE: Avram Grumer remarks on this, commenting as he does that I neglected to provide a link to the Kellner interview. Oops. I seem to be going through some kind of Screwup Zone when it comes to URLs lately, as my correspondents have kindly pointed out.
April 29, 2002Check it out
Blogger Ted Barlow is back after a brief absence, and he's cooking.
Lower than room temperature
And, on the other hand, some Americans will always have the intelligence of plants.
From today's Toronto Sun:Just hours after Canadians shed tears at a memorial service for four soldiers killed by a U.S. bomb in Afghanistan, American hockey fans booed our national anthem at last night's playoff game on Long Island. [...]I'm not an anti-sports snob, but I do think it would have been appropriate and educational to, when the American fans started booing "O Canada," simply stop the event and have someone (say, an Islanders' manager) come out and say a few words on precisely what variety of assholes the Americans were being. Before starting the game.
The few Toronto fans who braved the trip to Uniondale, N.Y., were harassed in the parking lot, including a couple with a big Canadian flag and a smaller Maple Leafs pennant hanging out their car windows. Both were torn off and set on fire in front of the shocked visitors. [...]
Last night, Andy Bathgate, a New York Ranger and Leaf star of the '60s and '70s, said he doubted many New Yorkers were even aware that four Canadians were killed when a U.S. fighter dropped a bomb on a Canadian training exercise in a "friendly fire" accident in Afghanistan on April 17.
Sometimes the notion that "the show must go on" isn't admirable.
April 27, 2002A brief detour into wild generalizations
There's been a lot of talk about growing differences between liberal-minded Americans (I use the word "liberal-minded" in its broadest and most inclusive sense), and Europeans of similar outlook, regarding the Middle East and related issues. How it seems to me: After decades of nodding along with endless assertions that Europeans understand things about the world and international affairs to which Americans are dense; that there's something inherently narrow and provincial about the American outlook; that our politics are more prone to outbreaks of antidemocratic Babbitry...a lot of Americans like me have reached a point where we're saying No. No, the European media and the European commentariat are no more insightful, or foresightful, than ours. No, European voters are just as prone to elect short-sighted nitwits. No, our democracy has spectacular problems, but it's hard to imagine anything in recent American history to compare with (for instance) Margaret Thatcher's comprehensive destruction of autonomous local government bodies, or the widespread European surrender of regulatory power to unelected transnational officials. No, the US is not a big dumb cowboy superpower that needs to talked down by softspoken European diplomacy. No, Europe is not Athens to our Rome. In fact, sometimes it's as provincial as Peoria.
We'd like to stay friends. But the European and British intelligentsia, by and large, is like a friend who's been allowed to be condescending for so long that he literally can't see it any more. Even those of us in America who oppose this Administration and the right-wing apparatus to which it reports are no longer inclined to put up with unearned claims to greater European and British intellectual, cultural, and moral sensibility. In 1956, even in 1976 and 1986, the idea that somewhere outside America was a West that understood more about the world than Americans did was something that gave alienated Americans heart. (As Tom Wolfe so accurately characterized it: "Europe, where they have the art of living.") So, as often happens between friends, we let bad habits grow: Europe's habit of condescension, and America's habit of putting up with it.
It's not 1956, or 1986. It's a different world. It's not time to stop criticizing America. It's not time to stop listening to Europe. But it's time to stop the superiority dance and the cultural cringe.
Please talk me out of this
Who's right? I don't know. But I'm an American liberal who's been a lifelong Europhile and Anglophile, and very mistrustful of right-wing Israeli leaders like Begin, Netanyahu, and Sharon, and yet I find I'm deeply creeped out by much of what I'm seeing of Europe and Britain lately. Like any sovereign state, Israel is capable of being brutal and shortsighted, and the settlements policy is obviously insane, but over and over again, commentators on the other side of the Atlantic seem to strain at Israeli gnats while swallowing Palestinian camels. As Robert N. Hochman points out in the New Republic:All civilized people agree on the premise of the Palestinian leadership's argument about Jenin. There is a vast moral difference between targeting civilians and combatants. It is wrong, even during a war, to target civilians intentionally.Just as we saw in the first flush of comment after 9/11, when some people use violence, we're to understand and sympathize with their aspirations no matter how brutal, unhinged, and sheerly disproportionate their actual acts. But when Americans--and, now, Jews--fight, we're to understand that they're wicked unless their behavior as combatants is morally spotless in every respect.
But this is an odd principle for terrorists, and those who harbor them, to preach. After all, terrorists seek to obliterate the distinction between civilian and combatant. And, remember, it is the Palestinian terrorist groups that send human sacrifices as bombers into Israeli restaurants and shopping malls, where the murder of innocent civilians is not just a consequence but the very explicit goal. And it is the official Palestinian leadership--with the apparent support of the vast majority of Palestinians--who hail these bombers as heroes. If targeting civilians is a crime, as the Palestinian leadership now suggests, then the Palestinian terrorists and their supporters have been guilty of it for years.
Given the European news media's widespread embrace of this kind of thinking where Israel is concerned, and their evident obliviousness to critiques of it, it's hard not to come to the conclusion that a fair number of people in Europe simply don't like Jews, certainly not Jews who, you know, fight. (This will get me email explaining that criticism of Israel is not the same as prejudice against Jews, a point I find works better when European Jews aren't being attacked on the streets and their synagogues vandalized, while local police suggest that perhaps the Jews in question could help by not being so darned Jewish.) I'd like to agree with Nick Denton that my alarm over this is a "crock," but I'm not sure my powers of negative capability enable me to ignore elephants quite this large and smelly.
Ick, girl cooties
ABC News reports that someone went to some trouble to make sure Prince Abdullah's incoming plane wasn't handled by a female flight controller. And to keep the order deniable, too.When Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah met with President Bush this week to discuss the violence in the Middle East, someone asked air traffic controllers to keep female flight controllers from handling his plane.Remember, it's wimpy, morally equivocal "cultural relativism" if liberals are so much as courteous to people from non-Western value systems, but it's admirable, hard-nosed realpolitik when a Republican administration scrambles to cater to a jumped-up prince's neurotic fear and hatred of women. Don't forget that this is the same royal whose clerical pals at home call for Palestinians to "enslave" Israeli women. Lick the boot harder, George, you missed a spot.
The request, officials from the National Air Traffic Controller's Union said, was not made formally by the U.S. State Department or the Saudi government, but it came to the airport manager at Texas State Technical College Airport in Abilene, where Bush and others land when they stay at Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas. [...]
The FAA controllers apparently weren't sure how to react to the unusual request, but kept control of the plane in the hands of a man while they sorted it out. Normally, the controller scheduled to be handle the plane then would have a woman.
Our cunning plan
Charles Dodgson summarizes "Bush's defenders on the net":The true Bush diplomatic strategy, they claim, is deep and complex, and cannot be understood by simply taking the administration's public positions at face value. It is an elaborate series of bluffs, feints, and jabs, a kind of diplomatic blindfold chess, at once treacherous and Machiavellian in its methods, and nobly Jeffersonian in its outlook and aspirations--which just happens to require, at this point in time, in service of its recondite tactics, that the President appear to be a dim-witted rube who agrees with whatever he most recently heard from anyone with a manly voice and a firm handshake.
April 26, 2002The skiffy tax
Wired News has picked up the silly science fiction tax story I originally kited from War Liberal. Their story has quotes from me, Charlie Stross, and Cory Doctorow, and the net effect is of quite a lot of firepower being deployed on a flea, but it's amusing. (Although I do have to note that the best line attributed to me--that this proposal is "like asking people who like murder mysteries to subsidize the jury system"--was in fact originally Teresa's.)
Our friends, the...you know
From NRO Online. It's been mentioned on some other blogs, but it deserves plenty of coverage.
Shaikh Saad Al-Buraik is a prominent Saudi government cleric, and was the host of the recent Saudi telethon that raised $109 million for the Palestinian cause. He's apparently close to Prince Abdul Aziz Ben Fahd, the King's youngest son. He hosts a regular show on government-run television, "Religion and Life."
Speaking at an official government mosque, here the distinguished cleric demonstrates the moderation that, we're constantly told, we admire in the Saudis, our partners in the search for peace:Muslim Brothers in Palestine, do not have any mercy neither compassion on the Jews, their blood, their money, their flesh. Their women are yours to take, legitimately. God made them yours. Why don't you enslave their women? Why don't you wage jihad? Why don't you pillage them?Allegedly, the entire tape (presumably in Arabic; I'm travelling, and can't deal with streaming media just now) can be heard here.
Elsewhere, in today's New York Times:In what was billed as a personal visit between two old friends, Abdullah and Bush's father, the first President Bush, took a 90-minute train ride together from Houston to College Station, Texas, where Bush treated the crown prince to a private tour of his presidential library.Their official clerics call on the Palestinians to "enslave" Israeli women. And their leaders are "old friends" with the Bushes, invited to visit the ranch in Crawford and lecture us about how to make peace.
I'm sure this will be just another unfortunate lapse, like all the other unfortunate lapses. I'm sure that, ten years from now, when President Jeb Bush is arranging to resettle the straggling survivors of Israel in America's empty quarter, and negotiating the terms of the annual tribute we'll have agreed to pay the House of Saud, there will still be bloggers telling us what a deep game of "rope-a-dope" the Bushes are playing with the al-Saud.
And I'm sure there will still be older Bush relatives--possibly, this time, George W. himself--palling around with the Saudi leadership, going to international conferences with them, helping to arrange weapons transfers, and generally reminding us of what old friends they are. And how lucky we are that American foreign policy is in the hands of responsible, grown-up Bushes, not some kind of crazy liberal appeasers.
April 25, 2002Recessional
Today is Anzac Day. Here's the last living survivor.Alec landed on Gallipoli in late November 1915. Everyone was talking evacuation and it was heads down time. No-one wanted to be the last Anzac to die on Gallipoli. The hardened fighting men called the 16-year-old "The Kid" and did their best to protect him.Alec Campbell is 103 and doesn't remember much any more. Future remembering is up to us. (Via Natalie Solent.)
The savage winter and influenza was the enemy that brought him down. He was discharged from a field hospital on December 19 to join the general evacuation but later contracted mumps and then palsy and was shipped home medically unfit.
In later life, Alec Campbell became a spectacular late developer. He married twice, both times to women named Kathleen, who together gave him nine children, the last born when Alec was 69. He gained an economics degree at 50, built boats and sailed in six Sydney-Hobart races.
April 24, 2002Fifteen out of nineteen
Marshall Wittman, self-described conservative-progressive "Bull Moose", has some advice for the upcoming Crawford summit:The Moose has a modest proposal for the President. How about a lesson in religious tolerance for the Crown Prince? On Friday night, why doesn't the President take the Saudi royalty to Sabbath service at Temple Rodef Shalom in Waco? There, the President can ask the Crown Prince to take the opportunity to repudiate the embrace of suicide bombers by the Saudi ambassador to Britain.Good thought, but deeply unlikely. Might as well expect W to give Abdullah one of these.
It might be undiplomatic, but as they say in Crawford, "Don't mess with Texas." The Moose says, "Shalom y'all."
Sin is other people
Catholic, contrarian (comma optional) Eve Tushnet points out:When someone commits a horrible crime, we often leap to cast him out of the human race; we abandon all hope for him. We treat him as an alien, and, in fact, often use his crime and shame to feel better about ourselves. ("I'm nothing like him! I don't need mercy!") That's a self-righteous response, not a Christian one. The Pope is right to warn against it.
30 different shapes, colors, and flavors
A point made before on Electrolite: Iran is a more complicated, and more interesting, place than you might think.
Every so often you get shown the light
A remarkable short story in about 200 words. On Doc Searls's weblog.
April 23, 2002Thank you for clearing that up
Jim "Unqualified Offerings" Henley, of the Silver Springs Offerings, writes:Reminds me of the old days, he said, propping his feet on the porch rail and spitting on the dog. Was running the Waldenbooks at 17th and Penn, across from the Old Executive Office Building. Robert Dallek's biography of LBJ was out, and so was Joseph "I have since morphed into the devil" Califano's. We were having Califano for a book party and had big displays of both titles. We got used to referring to "Joseph Califano's Johnson" and "Robert Dallek's Johnson." Of course, we recognized, "The one they like best is Robert Caro's Johnson, because it's nasty."
Another interview with history
Oriana Fallaci is back. And boy, is she pissed.I find it shameful that almost all of the left, the left that twenty years ago permitted one of its union processionals to deposit a coffin (as a mafioso warning) in front of the synagogue of Rome, forgets the contribution made by the Jews to the fight against fascism. Made by Carlo and Nello Rossini, for example, by Leone Ginzburg, by Umberto Terracini, by Leo Valiani, by Emilio Sereni, by women like my friend Anna Maria Enriques Agnoletti who was shot at Florence on June 12, 1944, by 75 of the 335 people killed at the Fosse Ardeatine, by the infinite others killed under torture or in combat or before firing squads. (The companions, the teachers, of my infancy and my youth.) I find it shameful that in part through the fault of the left--or rather, primarily through the fault of the left (think of the left that inaugurates its congresses applauding the representative of the PLO, leader in Italy of the Palestinians who want the destruction of Israel)--Jews in Italian cities are once again afraid. And in French cities and Dutch cities and Danish cities and German cities, it is the same. I find it shameful that Jews tremble at the passage of the scoundrels dressed like suicide bombers just as they trembled during Krystallnacht, the night in which Hitler gave free rein to the Hunt for the Jews. I find it shameful that in obedience to the stupid, vile, dishonest, and for them extremely advantageous fashion of Political Correctness the usual opportunists--or, better, the usual parasites--exploit the word Peace. That in the name of the word Peace, by now more debauched than the words Love and Humanity, they absolve one side alone of its hate and bestiality. That in the name of a pacifism (read conformism) delegated to the singing crickets and buffoons who used to lick Pol Pots feet, they incite people who are confused or ingenuous or intimidated. Trick them, corrupt them, carry them back a half century to the time of the yellow star on the coat. These charlatans who care about the Palestinans as much as I care about the charlatans. That is not at all.Fallaci has taken a lot of hits for her immediately post-9/11 comments about the poor state of Islamic culture. As I drink my coffee and play my guitar, it seems to me that Fallaci probably knows more than most Westerners about what Arabs and other Muslims have given the world. With her background--the woman who took no shit from Kissinger or General Giap, who told Khomenei she'd had enough of wearing this "medieval garment"--she ain't easy to dismiss.
I find it shameful that many Italians and many Europeans have chosen as their standard-bearer the gentleman (or so it is polite to say) Arafat. This nonentity who thanks to the money of the Saudi royal family plays the Mussolini ad perpetuum and in his megalomania believes he will pass into history as the George Washington of Palestine. This ungrammatical wretch who, when I interviewed him, was unable even to put together a complete sentence, to make articulate conversation. So that to put it all together, write it, publish it, cost me a tremendous effort and I concluded that compared to him even Ghaddafi sounds like Leonardo da Vinci. This false warrior who always goes around in uniform like Pinochet, never putting on civilian garb, and yet despite this has never participated in a battle. War is something he sends, has always sent, others to do for him. That is, the poor souls who believe in him. This pompous incompetent who playing the part of Head of State caused the failure of the Camp David negotiations, Clintons mediation. No-no-I-want-Jerusalem-all-to-myself. This eternal liar who has a flash of sincerity only when (in private) he denies Israels right to exist, and who as I say in my book contradicts himself every five minutes. He always plays the double-cross, lies even if you ask him what time it is, so that you can never trust him. Never! With him you will always wind up systematically betrayed. This eternal terrorist who knows only how to be a terrorist (while keeping himself safe) and who during the Seventies, that is when I interviewed him, even trained the terrorists of Baader-Meinhof. With them, children ten years of age. Poor children. (Now he trains them to become suicide bombers. A hundred baby suicide bombers are in the works: a hundred!). This weathercock who keeps his wife at Paris, served and revered like a queen, and keeps his people down in the shit. He takes them out of the shit only to send them to die, to kill and to die, like the eighteen-year-old girls who in order to earn equality with men have to strap on explosives and disintegrate with their victims. And yet many Italians love him, yes. Just like they loved Mussolini. And many other Europeans do the same.
I find it shameful and see in all this the rise of a new fascism, a new nazism. A fascism, a nazism, that much more grim and revolting because it is conducted and nourished by those who hypocritically pose as do-gooders, progressives, communists, pacifists, Catholics or rather Christians, and who have the gall to label a warmonger anyone like me who screams the truth.
I see it, yes, and I say the following. I have never been tender with the tragic and Shakespearean figure Sharon. ("I know youve come to add another scalp to your necklace," he murmured almost with sadness when I went to interview him in 1982.) I have often had disagreements with the Israelis, ugly ones, and in the past I have defended the Palestinians a great deal. Maybe more than they deserved. But I stand with Israel, I stand with the Jews. I stand just as I stood as a young girl during the time when I fought with them, and when the Anna Marias were shot. I defend their right to exist, to defend themselves, to not let themselves be exterminated a second time. And disgusted by the antisemitism of many Italians, of many Europeans, I am ashamed of this shame that dishonors my country and Europe. At best, it is not a community of states, but a pit of Pontius Pilates. And even if all the inhabitants of this planet were to think otherwise, I would continue to think so.
All we wanted was something worth it
Richard Just, writing on the website of the liberal American Prospect:At about 1:30 on Saturday afternoon -- with a pro-Palestinian rally on the White House ellipse ending and a crowd of several thousand protesters, mostly Arab-Americans, preparing to march down Pennsylvanian Avenue -- a middle-aged white woman exclaimed, "I like that!" and pointed excitedly at a sign bobbing above the crowd. It was a drawing of the American flag, but without the usual 50 stars. In their place was a single blue Star of David; the bottom of the sign read simply, "Free America."I find myself thinking back, too.
"Free America from the Jews," the woman said contentedly. "Yeah."
[...A]s I left the Mall around 4:30 p.m., I found myself thinking back to a poster I had seen on the ground in the middle of the pro-Palestinian rally earlier in the day. On one side was written: "Save America, Change U.S. Foreign Policy." And on the other side was written: "Bethlehem After 2000 Yrs. Same Killers." Two apparently different sentiments. Same sign.
Back over thirty years ago. Vietnam Moratorium Day, 1969. Earth Day, 1970. I was eleven. We may not have known everything. We may not have grasped every nuance. (Humans rarely do.) But we weren't...this.
I find myself thinking of an Oyster Band lyric:In the middle of a good time
Truth gave me her icy kiss
Look around, you must be joking
All that way, all that way for this
Karl Rove Unleashed!
A White House source said Hughes's departure also will increase the already wide latitude enjoyed by Bush's senior adviser, Karl Rove. "She is the brake," the source said. "Karl always says, 'Let's just do it,' and she says, 'No, no, no.' For good or bad, she prevents precipitous action. There have been missed opportunities, but there haven't been crash-and-burn fumbles."Small knots of highly-placed sources were seen to be unsure whether to laugh or cry. Electrolite's advice: Do both. Also, commence drinking heavily.
Well, just so long as they don't flaunt it
Reported by Reuters:[P]olice have given informal advice to Jewish people to avoid wearing skullcaps after recent anti-Semitic attacks [...]Where? Why, in Berlin.
Police were advising Jews to refrain from displaying their faith through identifiable outward signs, he said, acknowledging that orthodox Jews might take offense at this.
[A police spokesman said:] "We said it was possible to tuck away identifying objects, but insisted it was a person's own decision whether or not to do so."
Remember the first couple of weeks after 9/11? When everyone in Europe knew that America, bug-eyed with rage, was surely going to go on a violent rampage against its Muslim citizens?
Europe. Civilized Europe. Ever so ahead of us rude, bigoted, ugly Americans.
(Noted by U.S.S. Clueless, who drily adds "Oh, and by the way, please redecorate your synagogues so that they look like McDonald's restaurants.")
Why I am not a peace protestor
Writing about this weekend's protests in Washington, DC, James Lileks--a man who is indubitably to the right of me, but in whose veins runs the warm blood of common sense--nails it:They preach an end to war, but include in their number people who wish to destroy, violently, a democratic nation. They agitate against racism, but include in their number people who wish to exterminate the Jews of Israel. They rage against globalism, but support the work of terrorists who operate in every hemisphere. They are the useful fools who end up on the wrong side of concertina wire a year after the revolution; besotted by their communal self-regard, enchanted by the allure of the flame, they have thrown in their lot with the enemies of civilization. And this will be the death of their cause.It's a commonplace in these circles that we're all complicit in some kind of wickedness for being members of broadly-defined classes who, you know, benefit from the hidden evil of the system. If individuals among us happen to get killed by terrorists, well, you "have to see their deaths in the broader context. You have to learn that no one is innocent any more." You hear this kind of thing a lot from college-age anti-globos. (I overheard a lengthy example of it on the subway the other day. I felt like Woody Allen longing for his large sock full of horse manure.)
Like a sharp-minded dialectician from the heroic age of the Left, Lileks points out who benefits: "This is the apotheosis of the notion that the personal is the political: it gives the fascists a rationale for killing anyone."
Venezuela watch, continued
From the Nation, Marc Cooper on recent events in Venezuela. Bloggers who dismiss the Nation entirely for its dopier pieces (while often subjecting, for instance, the National Review to no similarly stringent standards) might be surprised at the measured approach of this piece:Although the coup was denounced by nineteen Latin American heads of state as a violation of democratic principles, the Bush Administration publicly countenanced the military takeover. Not only did Washington demonstrate a radically selective view of the rule of law; it left itself starkly isolated in a hemisphere that has been subject to endless US lecturing on democracy. [...] The leading US papers of record so shamelessly parroted the White House in their initial editorials that the New York Times had to apologize. By midweek, Chavez back in power, the Times recanted: "Forcibly unseating a democratically elected leader, no matter how bad he may be, is never something to cheer." [...]
That said, no one should confuse Hugo Chavez with Salvador Allende, the democratically elected Chilean president overthrown thirty years ago by a similar US-supported alliance of the economic upper class and the military. Chavez has failed to produce much of the radical change he promised. He showed little of the respect that Allende did for authentic democratic institutions. Unlike Allende, whose public support increased before his overthrow, Chavez has seen his original 80 percent support drop to just over 30 percent. And Allende never turned police and armed supporters against peaceful protesters as Chavez did, provoking a shootout that injured scores and killed more than a dozen. [...] Chavez's undeniable charisma flirts with megalomania, his denunciations of all opposition borders on the paranoiac and his antidote to the hollower forms of democracy is often ham-fisted demagogy. Corruption within his regime, an increasingly autocratic style and an inability to make much of a dent in poverty have swollen Chavez's opposition far beyond the ranks of the pro-American economic elite.
And for my next trick
[Michael] Williams proposes a 1 percent "NASA tax" on science fiction books, science fiction comic books, space sciences books and any other space-related literature.Yes, let's take a cause's most loyal supporters, and reward them by imposing a special tax just for them.
The tax would also apply to "space, space-related, and science fiction toys, puzzles and games," Williams said in a listing of his platform.
I suppose this approach might be endorsed by those who think no one should have to pay taxes save for programs they personally support, but it's hard to see how anyone could imagine this was (1) possible, (2) politically smart, or (3) likely to survive more than a nanosecond of constitutional scrutiny. (I do like the idea of the government having to rule on what is and isn't science fiction. And just after we lost Damon Knight, too.)
Williams "holds a master's degree in political science from the University of Alabama in Huntsville." I do so regret being a high-school dropout. Not!
Where do you want to...?
Addressing public schools that might be considering accepting donated PCs, Microsoft's face writhes, its tongue forks, and this comes out:It is a legal requirement that pre-installed operating systems remain with a machine for the life of the machine. If a company or individual donates a machine to your school, it must be donated with the operating system that was installed on the PC.As Cory Doctorow points out, this is a shameless lie, designed to frighten the vulnerable.
Microsoft likes teachers: they're easy to bully. Here's another case. Note the details: you don't have to be an advocate or defender of software piracy--or uncritical of the public schools!--to be struck by the might-makes-right thuggery of Microsoft's behavior here.
Just as I'd like to see more "liberals" take note when liberal institutions commit illiberal acts, it would be nice to see more "conservatives" remark on the spectacle of the town billionaire shoving the schoolteacher off the sidewalk just because he can. Hello, traditional values.
April 22, 2002Pointy-haired President
J. Bradford de Long quietly points out what ten platoons of synchronized neoconservative intellectuals can't handwave away:Defenders of Bush say that the fact that he is a slow study with a weak general knowledge base who doesn't crack the books too hard and doesn't think too fast doesn't matter. Why not? Because Bush has smart people to do his thinking for him: Condi Rice, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, et cetera.Anyone with ten minutes' experience in business knows this. Most of the neocon pundits retailing the myth know this. You know this.
[...E]ven the smartest group of subordinates will not generally produce good policy out of their mutual tug-of-war. You need somebody at the top smart enough to harmonize--to have a policy of his or her own into which the talents of subordinates can be fit. If you don't have a smart boss, then decisions about the views of which subordinate should prevail on which issue are made randomly as the boss chooses one over another on a case-by-case basis for no good reason. What emerges is not a policy, but an incoherent mishmash.
Thus Colin Powell tries to isolate Iraq through diplomacy. Karl Rove drafting the State-of-the-Union address wins Iraq two new allies--one of which, Iran, hated Iraq more than anything else up until the State-of-the-Union address gave them powerful interests in common. Colin Powell persuades Bush to call for Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. Donald Rumsfeld blocks Bush's words from being backed by any deeds to put more than verbal pressure on Ariel Sharon. Karl Rove pushes the nice rhetorical line that the sponsors of terror are as guility of it and are as much enemies of the United States as the terrorists themselves. Donald Rumsfeld points out that the Saudis who financed Al-Qaeda and who finance Hamas today are necessary allies in any campaign against Iraq.
The net result? No one, anywhere in the world, has any idea of what American policy actually is. No one, anywhere in the world, thinks that they can trust American words to be backed up by American deeds. Neoconservatives like Michael Kelly try to assure us that this is all part of some deep, cunning plan. But it isn't. It is the inevitable result of having a dumb boss.
The horror, the horror
Separated at Birth!
Forrest J Ackerman Jean-Marie Le Pen
The persistence of foo
I didn't expect to be entirely absent from Electrolite and e-mail over the weekend. Teresa and I went on a small trip, early in which my notebook computer decided to stop working. Now we're back and it's liable to be a really hectic work week, so don't expect much posting here for a few days.
A small exercise. You are a major American airline. Your flight from St. Louis to Milwaukee is being held up for hours by torrential thunderstorms in St. Louis. What do you do with the passengers' checked luggage? If you are the major American airline called, er, American Airlines, apparantly what you do with that luggage is leave it out in the downpour, perhaps under the impression that passengers will appreciate the extra service of having their clothing, papers, and other effects soaked through. It's the little touches that make the difference. (Aside from airline foo and Computer Death, though, it was a pleasant weekend with older and newer friends.)
April 19, 2002A brief subcultural phillipic
I'm a finalist for science fiction's Hugo Award, in the Best Professional Editor category. (Here's the whole list.)
For those not in the SF world, the Hugos are our big-deal award, given out since the 1950s and named after Hugo Gernsback, the Luxembourgean immigrant who founded the first mass-market science-fiction magazine, thus either (1) brilliantly establishing science fiction as part of American popular culture or (2) consigning it eternally to a ghetto of pulp trash. (The argument continues.) It says something about the persistently egalitarian SF world, where even now bright teenagers can go to conventions and get into lively arguments with famous writers, that our Oscars are also our "People's Choice" awards: the Hugo is awarded by vote of the membership of the annual World Science Fiction Convention, and anyone can buy a membership and vote if they're interested enough.
The Best Professional Editor Hugo, like a lot of the Hugo categories, has an odd history, shaped by the sorts of accommodations-with-circumstance that happen in democracies. From their inception in 1953 to 1972, the Hugos honored the best SF magazine of the year. Then, in view of the increasing importance of books and anthologies, it was decided to change the award to "Best Professional Editor." But magazine editors have dominated the award nonetheless--unsurprisingly, since book editors, save for anthologists, are rarely credited on the books they edit. A trickle of book editors have been nominated. The Hugo has actually been awarded to a living book editor once (Terry Carr, 1985) and to a book editor immediately following their untimely death twice (Judy-Lynn Del Rey, 1986, declined by her husband Lester Del Rey; and Terry Carr again, 1987). Otherwise, it has gone entirely to magazine editors; since 1988, it has gone to Gardner Dozois, the (very fine) editor of Asimov's SF, every year save one. It has become a mordant joke among SF book editors that the only way to win the Hugo is to die. (Or, as I said to David Hartwell once when I was expressing concern about his health, "We don't want you to win the Hugo.")
Nonetheless, it's an honor to be a finalist, and delightful to see several other things on the ballot I was involved in publishing: in the Best Novel category, Ken MacLeod's audacious, funny, and deeply intelligent Cosmonaut Keep and Robert Charles Wilson's spooky, evocative, and unforgettable The Chronoliths, both of which I acquired for Tor; in Best Novella, Vernor Vinge's "Fast Times at Fairmont High," the single new story in the Tor collection The Collected Stories of Vernor Vinge; and, in Best Novelette, Ted Chiang's stunning "Hell is the Absence of God" from my own anthology Starlight 3. Voted on and awarded along with the Hugo is the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer; among this year's finalists are Alexander C. Irvine (author of a smart, sharp, Powersesque debut novel forthcoming from Tor, A Scattering of Jades), and Jo Walton (author of the gritty, gripping, remarkable debut novels The King's Peace and The King's Name, both of which I acquired for Tor).
For those keeping count, this is my eighth Hugo nomination, and my fourth time up as Best Professional Editor. I'm grateful. I think there are other deserving book editors as well. For instance, despite editing several Hugo-winning novels (including my own candidate for best SF novel of the 1990s, Vernor Vinge's A Deepness In the Sky), Jim Frenkel has never been nominated for a Hugo. I could go on, but this is overlong as it is.
One more piece about Damon Knight
By far the best newspaper obit, and I'm sorry I missed it until now: John Clute in the Independent.
April 18, 2002Venezuela overdrive
More and more of what we've been told about the failed coup in Venezula doesn't add up. Gregory Palast asks some tough and highly appropriate questions here. People who automatically dismiss criticism from the left will have little trouble brushing aside Palast with the usual ad hominems. This won't work on the questions being raised by sharp-eyed centrist Joshua Micah Marshall, who's been paying close attention to the careful shifts, misdirection, and contradictions in the national papers' coverage of this story. (Don't miss his early post on this subject, either, from April 17--it's further down, but the permalink is broken.)
Matt Welch says that one post-9/11 possibility that's worried him is "a return to a Cold-War style realpolitik, with its potential bad side-effects; specifically, that the U.S. would, in the name of coalition expedience, begin looking the other way in places like Russia’s Near Abroad...and that it would embrace a cavalier Ollie North attitude toward meddling in the affairs of other countries. [...] I sincerely hope the U.S. is not re-developing a taste for engineering elections and coups in Latin America." Too right.
For readers in the science-fiction world who want to track the media's coverage of Damon Knight's death earlier this week, here are links to the major stories I know about:
It's been striking how much attention Damon has received--and it was a strange and new experience to have several different media outlets phoning me. I wasn't a protege or close associate of his, just one of many people in the SF world who knew and admired him. Yes, I was the in-house editor on his last two novels, but it's not like they needed some kind of major editing; most of my efforts went to packaging and promoting them.
Anyway, Electrolite will presently return to its regular mixture of cranky cultural and political commentary. Contents may settle in shipping. Reg. Penna. Dept. Agric. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.
April 17, 2002Good grief
I've just been phoned by someone from NPR, who wants me to come to their New York studio to talk about Damon Knight for All Things Considered.
Life is full of new experiences. (Sometimes, of course, we'd rather those new experiences came at a slightly lower cost.)
April 15, 2002Damon Knight, 1922-2002
Damon Knight, author of science fiction classics like Hell's Pavement and "To Serve Man," has died.
He was an absolutely central figure of the science fiction world. As a teenager in 1941, he travelled from his home in Oregon to New York City, where he became part of the Futurians, the group of fans and writers that also included the young Frederik Pohl, Donald Wollheim, Isaac Asimov, C. M. Kornbluth, and many others; his book-length memoir of this period, The Futurians, remains one of the most entertaining works of SF history ever published. He was the first reviewer to subject science fiction to the standards of ambitious mainstream fiction; his collection of essays and reviews, In Search of Wonder, is the founding document of modern SF criticism. With Judith Merrill and James Blish, he founded the Milford series of writing workshops, which led to the creation of the Clarion SF and Fantasy Writers' Workshop, at which he and his wife Kate Wilhelm taught for decades--helping to raise generation after generation of some of the field's best writers. His book Creating Short Fiction remains one of the best how-to texts for the any aspiring fiction writer. He founded the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) and served as its first president; he was a tireless defender of authors' rights and critic of bad publishing practices. He edited dozens of important anthologies, most notably the "Orbit" series; in that capacity, he discovered many writers who later rose to prominence, including R. A. Lafferty, Gardner Dozois, and Gene Wolfe. (Wolfe's classic The Fifth Head of Cerberus is dedicated "To Damon Knight, who one well-remembered June evening in 1966 grew me from a bean.")
With a tremendous sense of non sum dignus, I served as editor on his last two novels, Why Do Birds (1992) and Humpty Dumpty: An Oval. I'm proud to have been involved in publishing them. Humpty Dumpty, in particular, is a novel I believe the SF world and the literary world will eventually catch up to; it is a great humming elegy for the world, told at the moment of death.
Damon was annoying, brilliant, lyrical, irascible, funny, patient, generous, and one of the people who created the modern science fiction world. In the great cosmic index of Homeric epithets, his is one word: "Teacher."
April 14, 2002Remaking light
Speaking of Electrolite's Spousal Unit, she points out that her blog was on the "hyperlexia" story months ago.
"It was?" I said.
"Yes," she said, bringing up her browser to show me. "And I'll show you why you've forgotten it, too."
The date on her entry that discusses it: September 10, 2001.
She posted a bunch of other good stuff that day, too, exactly none of which got any response. Instead of complaining about reading about the Larsen B ice shelf for the last month, Spousal Unit's fans on five continents might consider re-reading her remarks from 9-10-01 and responding to them now. Otherwise, the terrorists will ha-- *bang*
Faces of the screen
It is with considerable relief that I find someone else who notices this stuff in movies:[Chocolat] is set in a small town in provincial France, mid-1950s. About halfway through the film, the town's mayor puts up notices forbidding anyone to eat anything but bread and weak tea during Lent (which of course coincides with the opening of the new chocolaterie). I almost laughed when they showed a close-up of the notice. The headline was set in ITC Benguiat, a typeface which debuted in 1978 and was mainly popular in the '80s.Laugh all you like. But this stuff constantly throws me (albeit briefly) out of movies I'm otherwise absorbed in. The Coen brothers, whose movies I generally love, are notable offenders, probably because they do in fact use a lot of stylish typography. (The author of the piece above goes on to critique The Hudsucker Proxy in terms embarrassingly similar to those I myself used in a post-theater rant to several bemused but tolerant friends.) It's reassuring to see that someone who's not me (or my wife, my graphic-designer parents, or John D. Berry) nonetheless suffers from this tragic condition. Give generously for a cure.
Not only that, they used big words, and made the weaker argument defeat the stronger
I have the unsettling sensation that my childhood is now being defined as a disease. From ABC News, the nightmare of "hyperlexia":[A]t 3 1/2 years old, Kyler can read just about anything his mother Alma puts in front of him. He taught himself the letters, numbers and shapes without any help. [...]"So absorbed in a book." Truly, the horror never stops.
Most parents would have been proud of their child's incredible intellectual gift. And at first, Jimmy's and Kyler's parents were. But they soon discovered that their boys' astounding fluency for shapes and numbers was shadowed by problems.
Their dazzling ability to read is in fact a rare syndrome called hyperlexia, which means excessive reading.
The illness, which affects mostly boys, is so unusual no one is sure how many kids it affects. It is accompanied by significant delays in language, and an inability to interact normally with others. [...]
When Kyler turned 2, his mother realized that his desire to read voraciously was not a choice he made.
"It seemed like an obsession for him," said Alma. "Basically he ignored his environment and he would just look at signs and letters … He was not interested in associating with other people."
For Jimmy, too, his reading ability had serious drawbacks. "He wouldn't do anything that didn't have to do with letters and numbers," said his mother.
Margie, another mother of a hyperlexic child named Alex, remembers when her pride turned to concern. One Thanksgiving, Alex was so absorbed in a book that he refused to join the family.
I'd like to think these people would be equally as concerned about a small child who took it into his head to refuse to come in to Thanksgiving dinner from an outdoor game of catch. But I have my suspicions.
This post from The Poor Man, a blog I haven't previously followed, also seems to me smart and wise.
April the 14th, part II
Things I bookmarked but couldn't bring myself to write about. A progression.
One: Anger. Ron Rosenbaum in the New York Observer:The first time, when the Jewish people were threatened by someone who called for their extinction, they trusted to the "enlightenment" values of the European people, as Philip Roth's character put it.Two: Despair. Little girls wear toy dynamite around their waists. A demonstration on the "Arab Street"? In Cairo? Damascus? Karachi? No, Berlin, this past Friday. Where better to celebrate killing Jews?
Civilized people wouldn't let something like that happen. Pogroms, well yes, but death camps, extermination? Never. They're transporting us to camps, yes, but what could it be, labor camps at worst? The world wouldn't let such a thing happen.
Well, the world did let it happen--with extraordinary complacency, a deaf ear, a blind eye and not a little pleasure on the part of some. And it's clear from the reaction of Europe today that the world is prepared, is preparing itself, to let it happen again. [...]
As a secular Jew, I've always been more of a diasporist than a Zionist. I've supported the Jewish state, but thought that it was a necessary but not ideal solution with a pronounced dark side: The concentration of so many Jews in one place---and I use the word "concentration" advisedly---gives the world a chance to kill the Jews en masse again. And I also thought that Jews flourished best where they were no longer under the thumb of Orthodox rabbis and could bring to the whole world--indeed, the whole universe--the exegetical skills that are the glory of the people: reading the universe as the Torah, as Einstein and Spinoza did, rather than the Torah as the universe, as the Orthodox do.
But the implacable hatred of Arab fundamentalism makes no distinction between Jewish fundamentalists and Jewish secularists, just as Hitler didn't. It's not just the settlements they want to extirpate, it's the Jewish state, the Jewish people.
This is the way it is likely to happen: Sooner or later, a nuclear weapon is detonated in Tel Aviv, and sooner, not later, there is nuclear retaliation---Baghdad, Damascus, Tehran, perhaps all three. Someone once said that while Jesus called on Christians to "turn the other cheek," it's the Jews who have been the only ones who have actually practiced that. Not this time. The unspoken corollary of the slogan "Never again" is: "And if again, not us alone."
So the time has come to think about the Second Holocaust. It's coming sooner or later; it's not "whether," but when. I hope I don't live to see it. It will be unbearable for those who do. That is, for all but the Europeans--whose consciences, as always, will be clear and untroubled.
Three: A Little Light. Tarek E. Masoud writes some clarifying observations in the Wall Street Journal. I know nothing about Mr. Masoud, but at the moment I wonder if we shouldn't find out his vices and make them mandatory.[T]he choice before the Palestinians is not between liberty and death. Israel's leaders long ago accepted the logic of a Palestinian state; they put forward proposals for what that state would look like, and they haggled with the Palestinians over these proposals. Whatever one wants to say about the quality of Israeli proposals or the personal commitment of Ariel Sharon to a Palestinian state--and I happen to think both were fairly low--surely the Palestinians were not in a hopeless situation, the kind of situation which, we are told, causes sane men and women to fall into murder and suicide? [...]
It is by now the received wisdom that Palestinians deserve better leaders. We are offered an example of the kind of leadership they need by the esteemed British historian Martin Gilbert. In 1948, the U.N. mediator in Palestine, Count Folke Bernadotte, was assassinated by members of the Stern Gang, a Jewish militant group that included a future prime minister of Israel named Yitzhak Shamir. In the half century since then, Arabs have often pointed to the episode to justify their own acts of terror.
But what Arabs seem to forget--and what Palestinians would do well to remember--is how David Ben-Gurion, the father of modern Israel, responded to that murder carried out in the name of the Jewish state. According to Mr. Gilbert, when Ben-Gurion learned of the assassination of Count Bernadotte, he thundered: "Arrest all Stern gang leaders. Surround all Stern bases. Confiscate all arms. Kill any who resist." Yes, the Palestinians deserve better leaders. What they deserve is a David Ben-Gurion.
April the 14th
Ruination day(--Gillian Welch)
And the sky was red
I went back to work
And back to bed
And the iceberg broke
And the Okies fled
And the Great Emancipator Took a bullet in the back of the head
April 11, 2002Detecting intelligence
There are now dozens of Amazon rank spiders that will help authors keep track of their book's Amazon rank. We have a very powerful one at O'Reilly that provides many insights valuable to our business that are not available in the standard Amazon interface. It allows us to summarize and study things like pricing by publisher and topic, rank trends by publisher and topic over a two-year period, correlation between pricing and popularity, relative market share of publishers in each technology area, and so on. We combine this data with other data gleaned from Google link counts on technology sites, traffic trends on newsgroups, and other Internet data, to provide insights into tech trends that far outstrip what's available from traditional market research firms. [...]
Eventually, these inefficient, brute-force spiders, built that way because that's the only way possible, will give way to true Web services. The difference is that a site like Amazon or Google or MapQuest or E*Trade or eBay will not be the unwitting recipient of programmed data extraction, but a willing partner. These sites will offer XML-based APIs that allow remote programmers to request only the data they need, and to re-use it in creative new ways.
Why would a company that has a large and valuable data store open it up in this way?
My answer is a simple one: because if they don't ride the horse in the direction it's going, it will run away from them. The companies that "grasp the nettle firmly" (as my English mother likes to say) will reap the benefits of greater control over their future than those who simply wait for events to overtake them.
Stupid reviewer tricks
[...T]he provocateur best known for the documentary "Roger and Me" is now the author of a sporadically funny populist rant that is the best-selling book in America...As we learned in the 1990s, when a flurry of vicious best sellers from strident right-wingers helped paralyze a presidency, inanity is no bar to influence. Over-the-top screeds -- written in a highly charged narco-prose that stimulates sensations rather than thoughts -- often influence our political and cultural life.But speaking of over-the-top, when did Stupid White Men become "the best-selling book in America"? For some weeks now, Stupid White Men has been the number-one non-fiction hardcover on the New York Times bestseller list. Other "number one" titles on this coming Sunday's Times list include Everything's Eventual by Stephen King (#1 fiction hardcover), Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling (#1 children's paperback), The Villa by Nora Roberts (#1 fiction paperback), A Beautiful Mind by Sylvia Nasar (#1 non-fiction paperback), Self Matters by Phillip C. McGraw (#1 "Advice, How-to, and Miscellaneous" hardcover), and The Wrinkle Cure by Nicholas Perricone (#1 "Advice, How-to, and Miscellaneous" paperback).
Are all of these, in fact, books? Surely. Is Moore's book outselling all of them? Maybe so, although I sincerely doubt it. More to the point, such a supposition cannot be derived from the data given us by the New York Times.
There are no public, auditable figures from which book-industry "best-seller lists" are compiled. The Times's own methods are closely guarded. USA Today's weekly list is probably just as full of hidden assumptions and odd biases as anyone else's, but they take an interestingly different approach: they simply list all books, fiction, nonfiction, hardcover, paperback, in order by what they believe to be their sales. According to USA Today, the "best-selling book in America" this week is the paperback edition of Nora Roberts' The Villa. Stupid White Men comes in at...wait for it...#19.
Okay, it's a fine point. But it's dumb to assume that being on top of any newspaper's best-seller list is the same as being "the best-selling book in America." And it's particularly and obviously dumb to claim that a book that's listed by the New York Times on top of one of their seven different lists is the "best-selling book in America," or even the best-selling book in New York. This is kindergarten stuff, and anybody who writes book reviews--to say nothing of people who link to hundreds of book reviews, like the editors of Arts and Letters Daily--should know it. Speaking of "lazy."
April 10, 2002And another thing
Ray Davis's Bellona Times:Even more irritating, given the popup ads on every page, was the Ethical Philosophy Selector which after a tedious questionnaire selected "Sartre" as my ideal thinker. Which is merely to say that the questionnaire showed me to be no philosopher. It's like testing my singing voice and then telling me that my favorite musician must be Mark E. Smith. Philosophy isn't a genre of belief, but of discussion.
That's what's always been wrong with all this automated matching crap, and why search engines, library browsing, and meeting folks at parties still rule supreme:
What's required in a friend isn't resemblance but recognition.
Being careful what you ask for
Oh yeah, and one more bit from Jim Henley. Why isn't this guy more widely recognized as one of the "blogiverse's" stars? Okay, enough embarrassing praise, just read the damn piece.It does matter, however some deny it, how you win your independence. Algeria prevailed over France by adopting a Fanonist strategy. Their enthusiast, Jean-Paul Sartre famously said that "to shoot down a European is to kill two birds with one stone, to destroy an oppressor and the man he oppresses at the same time: there remain a dead man, and a free man; the survivor, for the first time, feels a national soil under his foot."
Things have worked out real well for independent Algeria. It's been suffering a vicious civil war between Islamist radicals and the aging socialist revolutionaries Sartre and Fanon so celebrated since the Algerian Army nullified the election of 1992. The Islamist parties turned, of course, to terrorism. The government to brutal counterinsurgency. But one of the things that hamstrung the government in the "hearts and minds" battle was its own genesis. Algeria was birthed in terrorism. Its founding myth necessarily reified that "dead man and free man" stuff. Its civic education stressed the rightness of terroristic violence in the nation's struggle for "freedom."
And their civics lessons bit them in the ass. Because while the religious radicals may have despised the Old Guard, they also took it as their model. And the Old Guard had no moral case to make over the heads of the terrorists to their people.
Palestinians who want the West Bank and Gaza for some reason other than the chance to engage in factional bloodletting unmolested should think about the Algerian example long and hard.
April 09, 2002Let us be your eyes and ears
If you don't have time to read sixty-eleven bloggers thrashing one another (or, arguably worse, agreeing with one another), read these:
Disclaimer: The editorial staff of Electrolite neither endorses all the views expressed in the above blog posts, nor warrants that they do not contradict one another. The editorial staff of Electrolite is assuming that you, Our Reader, have been issued your very own Two-Way Negative-Capability Wrist Radio. The editorial staff of Electrolite also wishes to clarify that it enjoyed many other posts in the blog world in the last couple of days, and that the posts on this brief list were selected for special attention by a staff of independent auditors working to a scientific formula provided in advance. Also, if you believe that, the editorial staff of Electrolite would like to talk to you about real-estate opportunities in Electrolite's home borough of Brooklyn, New York.
I gotcher go-to-market strategy right here
San Jose Mercury News columnist Peter Delevett collects, from his readers, business buzz phrases we're all sick of now.For starters, I suggested "at the end of the day'' -- a bit of nonsense favored by tech investors to say things like, "At the end of the day, we decided selling pet food online was a really stupid idea.'' [...]We are all guilty.
"'The reality is,' because it denotes any other view or opinion as a fantasy." -- Gary A.
"'I don't disagree.' I first started hearing this phrase at a dysfunctional dot-com. It's weasel talk. The person is leaving themselves an out, so they can later recall that they didn't agree with what you said." -- David P.
April 07, 2002Blog parents
Since Glenn Reynolds is waxing proud about the many weblogs that acknowledge having started because of his--and well he should--I just want to note the blog that stands in that relationship to Electrolite. Which is, in fact, Avram Grumer's fine Pigs and Fishes. Still going; still kicking against the received wisdom on any number of subjects; still notable for poise, style, and a sense of humor; and still very much worth your time.
And the horse you rode in on
From WAFA, the official Palestinian news agency. (English translation theirs.)We recognize the capability of the modern technology and its precision of enabling unlimited control, but simultaneously we notice that the individuals and the small groups are developing amazing parallel capability of confronting such attempts of control, registering remarkable achievements, aren’t the 11th of September considered as a blow to the technological advance?Murdering thousands of my neighbors: "a remarkable achievement."
Funny, the sympathy I had for the Palestinian cause--and there was some, as recently as five minutes ago--just came to an abrupt end.
Boring technical notes from all over
I've changed a couple of things about the comment sections.
First, it's no longer necessary to fill in an email address in order to post, so those of you who are convinced that offshore porn spammers harvest email addresses from the comment sections of obscure blogs can stop making up non-functional email addresses. (I do still dislike anonymous posting, and reserve the right to take a particularly dim view of anonymous posts that make snarky remarks about the non-anonymous. So far I've deleted exactly one post for that kind of thing. I reserve the right to be capricious, arbitrary, and generally powermad.)
Second, the poster's name and the timestamp now precede the post, rather than following it. This just seems sensible--you shouldn't have to scroll down before you find out who you're reading.
And now, from David Brooks, the Order of Stakhanov
Deploying my null-A-trained double brain, I divine that many bloggers will be linking to and agreeing with--or arguing with--this piece by David Brooks.
Me, I read every word, and it's an important and interesting argument. I also think Gary Farber has a good point here: "Is it so indivisibly wonderful that Americans have the shortest vacations and longest working hours of anyone on the planet? It does wonders for the GDP, but for the individual? Y'know, that person American ideals are supposed to be all about, rather than the collective?" Indeed.
April 06, 2002Native and narrative
From "Nation and Narration", by Michael Berube:The fissure on the left that began in 1989-90 and became visible in Kosovo is now a chasm. In retrospect, Kosovo didn't have quite the impact on the left it might have, partly because conservatives also opposed that operation on the grounds that Clinton had ordered it (by 1999, Clinton could have launched a campaign against childhood diseases and House Republicans would've responded by declaring measles a vegetable and bundling it into school breakfast programs), partly because of Monica, and partly because it was shrouded in murk from Srebrenica to Rambouillet. But many of the most vocal opponents of the U.S.–led NATO intervention in Kosovo are now the most vocal opponents to the U.S.–led intervention in Afghanistan, which suggests two things: first, that the fact of civilian deaths on U.S. soil is in an important sense immaterial to their position on U.S. policy, and second, that on the grounds they offer today, they will never support another American military action of any kind. Permanently alienated by Vietnam, by Chile, by Indonesia, or by Reagan's deadly adventures in Central America, they're gone and they're not coming back, not even if hijackers plow planes into towers in downtown Manhattan.Sorry for the long quote. Wait a minute, that's milquetoast liberal-speak. Not sorry for the long quote! Go read the whole article.
The right is just gleeful about this, of course, because it needs the Chomskian left for effigies, hate minutes, election-year fundraising and general vituperation. Christopher Hitchens seems pretty happy as well, since he gets to settle a bunch of old scores and coin acerbic new phrases like "the Milosevic left" and "the Taliban left." But for all my sympathy with Hitchens, I cannot share his sense of exhilaration; instead, as I watch that shard of the left sailing away, I modulate between relief and sorrow. Relief, because the break is decisive and clarifying, highlighting all those who cannot use the word "heroes" without scare quotes, all those who cannot bring themselves to utter anything about freedom and democracy if doing so will make them say words that might also have come from the mouth of a conservative. Sorrow, because there will soon come a time when I am going to miss these people, when I am going to wish they had some clout in domestic politics. Not because I will agree with them, necessarily, but because--unlike liberals--they do not make compromises, and they know how to get mad. Liberals are good at patient deliberation and stress abatement in the Mister Rogers mode, which is why conservatives simply tear them from limb to limb whenever anything important--like, say, a Presidential election recount in southern Florida--is at stake: while the liberals hold a seminar on the lessons of 1876, Tom DeLay flies in a bunch of goons to stop the recount by force. Liberals like that image of themselves: so what if those firebreathing yahoos run the country? At least we've got our sanity and our Birkenstocks. But for precisely this reason, liberals are not very good at organizing demonstrations and mass protests when the President announces the creation of military tribunals or the abrogation of client-attorney privilege in cases where the client has an Al- in his last name. How many liberals stood up and shamed John Ashcroft when he appeared before the Senate on December 6 and impugned the patriotism of civil libertarians? How many liberals voted against the USA-PATRIOT act? How many liberals took to the streets when Bush issued Executive Order 13233, overturning the Presidential Records Act and closing the archives on the Reagan-Bush years? Who's kidding whom? This is just not the kind of thing liberals do these days.
But there's still plenty of mobilizing to do on the domestic front for everyone who prefers democracy to mild totalitarianism, and this should include everyone from William Safire to Katha Pollitt. The narrative of that struggle will doubtless be experimental and self-reflexive and full of postmodern historiographic metafiction in the mode of Ishmael Reed and E. L. Doctorow, but if it's going to be a narrative any of us will want to tell our children at night, first we're going to have to remind liberals how to get good and mad.
April 05, 2002Is China growing?
Brink Lindsey wonders:Taiwan's GDP grew a cumulative 49.7 percent during 1967-1971; that growth was matched by an 85.2 percent increase in energy consumption, a 17 percent rise in employment, and a 20.6 climb in consumer prices. In South Korea during 1977-1981, a very similar story: GDP up 21.6 percent, energy consumption up 33.6 percent, employment up 9.4 percent, and consumer prices up 111.7 percent. Yet in China during 1997-2001, while GDP supposedly grew a total of 34.5 percent, energy consumption actually shrank by 5.5. percent, employment budged upwards only 0.8 percent, and consumer prices fell 2.3 percent.As Lindsey points out, China's rulers have every reason to put out fraudulent growth figures; the idea that China's economy has been growing at a rapid clip is about the only claim to legitimacy they've got left. Uh oh.
I have no idea how substantial this is, but it's plenty intriguing. (Thanks to Erik V. Olson for spotting it.)
Postscript on Alterman
Instapundit has a letter from Eric Alterman in which he protests, among other things, that he has "no brief for the 'credentialed' media, much less the mainstream media," and that he thinks blogging is, by and large, a fine thing.
I still think that Alterman's recent Nation piece, discussed here a few days ago, strayed well over into insinuations about the form in general, but I'm willing to take him at his word on the subject. People are allowed to clarify themselves. (Or, if they're not, I'm in trouble.)
Alterman compares blogs to the work of I. F. Stone, and Reynolds agrees. I've had that thought myself. I. F. Stone's Weekly (later Bi-weekly) was a fixture in our house when I was growing up, and it used many of the same techniques: quoting the indefensible, questioning the received wisdom, digging for the real facts and figures, all in an irreverent, casual, and fast-moving manner. And there was something valuable about knowing it was all one guy's work, one quirky individual's point of view. Stone was indeed wrong on a bunch of stuff, but the world could use a thousand I. F. Stones, each with their own ferocious outlook. The blogiverse isn't that, yet, but it could be.
April 04, 2002No there, there
Matthew Yglesias has some sensible comments on why this Administration has been sounding so many contradictory and false notes lately, beginning with the apt observation that "in a very deep sense there simply is no George W. Bush in the White House."To get a sense of how much this administration lacks a strong center, consider the fact that you probably recognize the name of Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. Do you have any idea who Clinton's Deputy Defense Secretary was? Of course not. Can you even name all three of Clinton's Defense Secretaries? How much can you tell me about the disagreements between Madeleine Albright and Bill Cohen? Warren Christopher and Les Aspin? Nothing, right? Because when Clinton did something, for better or for worse, Clinton did it. Even a casual watcher of the Bush administration can detect which moves bear the stamp of Rove (steel tariffs), Hughes (axis of evil), Powell ("consulting" with allies), or Rumsfeld (letting the daisy cutters do the talking).
The result of all this is that when Bush makes a statement[,] that's primarily a job for Hughes and the speechwriting team [so] we get lots of tough talk both because she probably believes in it and also because mealy-mouthed appeasement makes for shitty oratory, but when day-to-day management of the situation passes to the State Department everything changes. Then Rumsfeld shows up and starts talking and it's not clear whether what he says is authoritative or not because it's not a DoD issue per se and if you ask Ari Fleischer he'll just deny that the administration's been contradicting itself all over town.
Matt Welch kicks ass, takes names, shows what's what, and reminds us once again that he's one of the best writers in blogdom. No excerpt. Just read it.
Update: I don't know why his permalinks are misbehaving, but what I mean is the post headlined "How Sympathy Can Become Apologia, in Two Easy Steps."
Abusing the commons
Harvard academic Charles Ogletree is spearheading a class-action lawsuit in Federal court, in his words, "on behalf of all African-American descendants of slaves. The lawsuit seeks compensation from a number of defendants for profits earned through slave labor and the slave trade."
Continues Ogletree, "Bringing the government into litigation will also generate a public debate on slavery and the role its legacy continues to play in our society. The opportunity to use expert witnesses and conduct extensive discovery, to get facts and documentation, makes the courtroom an ideal venue for this debate."
Liberal blogger "Charles Dodgson" responds:So Ogletree thinks that just about the entire experience of blacks in America is grist for assessing the damages. I guess he wants to be the first academic ever granted the power of subpoena to further his social research.It has to be said: to a certain kind of academic, everything looks like a lecture hall. And yet actual real-life courts have an actual real-life job to perform, with actual finite resources at their disposal. That job is: sorting out justice and injustice in the present day. Which living individuals will wait in line while Ogletree co-opts court time for his "full and deep conversation"? Who will ask them how they feel about it? Surely the heritage of slavery is one of the great vexed American issues. Just as surely, what Ogletree proposes is an abuse of the commons.
Civil courts do not exist to "generate public debate". They exist to adjudicate disputes on narrowly considered factual situations, according to relevant law. In fact, they have rules of evidence which are designed to exclude facts which are not directly relevant to the legal issues at hand. This is not a process which lends itself to "full and deep conversation". [...] A full and deep conversation on slavery and its legacy might be a good thing, but a civil court is not the right venue.
"Dodgson", whoever he is, is one of the sharper knives in the blogger drawer. Check him out.
Stupid white man
Spinsanity's magnificent dissection of Michael Moore's Stupid White Men, formerly available only to Salon "Premium" subscribers, is now available on Spinsanity's own site.In a discussion of Pentagon spending, he refers to the "$250 billion the Pentagon plans to spend in 2001 to build 2800 new Joint Strike Fighter planes" and states that "the proposed increase in monies for the Pentagon over the next four years is $1.6 trillion." To back this up, he refers to the Web site of the peace activist group Council for a Livable World. CLW's own analysis of the 2001 budget, however, shows that $250 billion is the total multiyear cost of the Joint Strike Fighter program, not the amount spent in one year. $1.6 trillion, meanwhile, was the total amount of money requested by the Pentagon at the time for 2001-2005. It covers five years, not four, and is a total budget request, not a "proposed increase" over previously requested budget levels. It shouldn't even take this much research, however, to determine that out of the total defense budget request of $305.4 billion in 2001, $250 billion was never intended to go toward one type of plane, nor that an increase of $400 billion per year in military spending was never proposed. [...]We've seen a lot about the echo-chamber nature of discourse on the right, the interlinked network of think-tanks, foundations, magazines, Web sites, and radio shows that endlessly repeat the same dreary stuff, impervious to debunking. Anyone who can't see that this is happening on the left as well simply doesn't want to see--and is the natural prey of a predator like Michael Moore.
Just how did Moore get so many of his facts wrong? Lazy cribbing from media outlets and the Internet seems the most likely culprit. [...]
For the bestselling nonfiction book in the country, "Stupid White Men" has received remarkably little scrutiny and few serious reviews. Moore is much beloved in Britain, and a review on a BBC show called his book "fantastic" with "loads of research." Unfortunately, he doesn't seem to have read much of it -- though the thousands of people who have bought his book surely don't know that.
Kim Newman got it right
Christopher Hitchens reminds us just what the dear old Queen Mother actually was: an unpleasant, rather ruthless, casually anti-Semitic defender of hereditary privilege, who worked as hard as she could in the 1930s to keep the appeasers in office and Churchill out. "In other words, if the sweet old lady had had her way, there would have been no 'finest hour' for her to illumine; no opportunity of touring bombed-out East Enders and pearly queens; no victory parades or regimental colours for her to patronise."It's two decades and more since we learnt of the fate of the Queen Mother's nieces, Katherine and Nerissa Bowes-Lyon who, both born somewhat retarded, were first covertly immured in a mental institution and then falsely reported--via the agency of Burke's Peerage--as having died. This is the sort of practice that one associates with the court of a demented tsar, or with the more antique barbarities of Glamis Castle, the Queen Mother's birthplace. However, there is also a sense in which such callous culling is inseparable from the hereditary principle. The breeding of a "master family" is not much different in principle from the breeding of a master race; it involves much the same combination of the ridiculous and the sinister, and is every bit as incompatible with democracy and civilisation.But she was such a nice old lady.
Except, well, not.
April 03, 2002The old ways are the best ways
L'Osservatore Romano, 1898 (quoted in James Carroll's Constantine's Sword:)"Jews can no longer be excused or rehabilitatated."L'Osservatore Romano, April 2, 2002 (reported by Reuters:)"Rarely has history been violated with this crudeness and pushed backward by a clear will to offend the dignity of a people...The land of the Uprising is profaned with the iron and the fire and is the victim of an aggression that wants to destroy."The words are more carefully chosen. The basic attitude hasn't changed a lot.
Palestinians? Why, theirs is "the land of the Uprising." But Israelis? That's different; theirs is "an aggression that wants to destroy."
And of course Israelis, unlike Palestinians, "profane." That's an important point, now: profane. Make a note.
After all, "The Jewish race, the deicide people, wandering throughout the world, brings with it everywhere the pestiferous breath of treason." That's more from L'Osservatore Romano, over 100 years ago. Isn't it reassuring to see traditional values upheld? (None of that liberal moral relativism stuff here).
Definitely, the Vatican, and their official newspaper, are exactly the people I turn to for a nuanced, thoughtful view of events, particularly tragic, complex, and morally difficult events, involving the Jews. Don't you?
Threat or menace?
An old recommendation repeated
Andrew Sullivan accuses him of being a "supporter" and "sponsor" of Michael Moore. Ted Rall calls him a "Bush aficionado." How many people can claim such vituperation from both sides? That alone ought to tempt you to read Brendan Nyhan and his collaborator Ben Fritz. Together,
they fight crimethey run Spinsanity, one of the most essential websites of our day, dedicated to exposing manipulative rhetoric and unreason in modern American political discourse. If you don't read it already, start.
I think most columnists lack the experiences and conceptual categories to understand "the blog." Like a one-year-old baby grappling with the idea of other beings, the average newspaperman scribbling about bloggers can describe "the other" only as an ersatz version of himself.Discussing the tendency to dismiss blogging for its chatty sociability, Copeland quotes this piece by Andrew Odlyzko, discussing the early days of the telephone:Sociability was frequently dismissed as idle gossip, and especially in the early days of the telephone, was actively discouraged. For example, a 1909 study of telephone service commissioned by the city of Chicago advocated measured rate service as a way to reduce "useless calls." Yet the most successful communication technologies, the mail and the telephone, reached their full potential only when they embraced sociability and those "useless calls" as their goal.What both Copeland and Odlyzko are getting at is that this is a social medium, not a plinth for Content. Like those city officials who couldn't grasp that the telephone was important despite the fact that users rarely used it for oratory of lasting value, some print-media critics of blogging can't get their minds around the idea that blogs aren't wannabe newspapers, but something else. Both Copeland's and Odlyzko's pieces are worth reading in their entireties.