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Sunday, August 31, 2008

Good Gustav coverage at Weather Nerd and blogofneworleans.com.

For the first time in recorded history, the North Pole is an island. Man, it's a good thing global warming is a myth.

College basketball as the key to politics. Obama : McCain :: UNC : Duke?

More and more evidence mounts that the McCain camp didn't actually vet Palin at all. They didn't read a single article in the Wasilla newspaper, and they didn't talk to Walt Monegan, the man at the center of her still open abuse of power ethics investigation—nor, apparently, did they talk to anyone else. They've been pushing as one of her few notable accomplishments her opposition to the "Bridge to Nowhere," which has turned out to be, well, bullshit. Nearly recalled as mayor, she left the small town of Wasilla over $20 million dollars in debt. That's after she tried to censor the town library and fire long-time town employees without cause for "not fully supporting her efforts to govern."

Oh, and her husband works for BP, one of the largest employers in Alaska, which is not in any way a conflict of interest.

And those are just the highlights. Given all this, I get a sinking feeling when I see how much attention the already ubiquitous, totally moronic baby smear is getting. Even Andrew Sullivan is pushing it now, though he's careful to hedge his bets. That's just not a basket in which I want to put Barack's eggs; it's the raw irresponsibility of John McCain's cynical and poorly thought-out VP pick—a roll of the dice from a chronic gambler—that we should be talking about, not whether a seventeen-year-old girl does or doesn't have a "baby bump" in a given photo.

The Juno/Juneau parody poster on Gawker made me laugh, but that's the only upside here. I don't think we'd want anything to do with the baby thing even if by some impossible chance it all turns out to be true.

John McCain says he made this decision because he looked into Putin's Palin's eyes the one time they met and saw a soul mate. The only thing we should be saying about Palin is that this is not the way to make the most important decision of your candidacy. The Palin pick is stone-cold proof that John McCain has neither the judgment nor the temperament to be president.

So leave her kids alone. Keep your heads on straight, netroots.

Monday night of the Republican National Convention has been canceled in anticipation of Gustav, with Tuesday-Thursday up in the air. Only essential business will be conducted...

MetaFilter has a huge, link-filled look at the explosive growth of the 47-day-old 'Dr. Horrible' fan community.

I don't think I've ever understood Žižek better than I do after reading this long but pithy Q&A in the Guardian. A few select highlights:

What makes you depressed?
Seeing stupid people happy.

What do you owe your parents?
Nothing, I hope. I didn't spend a minute bemoaning their death.

What does love feel like?
Like a great misfortune, a monstrous parasite, a permanent state of emergency that ruins all small pleasures.

What is your favourite smell?
Nature in decay, like rotten trees.

What is the worst job you've done?
Teaching. I hate students, they are (as all people) mostly stupid and boring.

If you could edit your past, what would you change?
My birth. I agree with Sophocles: the greatest luck is not to have been born - but, as the joke goes on, very few people succeed in it.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
That life is a stupid, meaningless thing that has nothing to teach you.

(via Jesse)

Salon's indispensible Glenn Greenwald is all over the RNC "thoughtcrime" arrests.

There is clearly an intent on the part of law enforcement authorities here to engage in extreme and highly intimidating raids against those who are planning to protest the Convention. The DNC in Denver was the site of several quite ugly incidents where law enforcement acted on behalf of Democratic Party officials and the corporate elite that funded the Convention to keep the media and protesters from doing anything remotely off-script. But the massive and plainly excessive preemptive police raids in Minnesota are of a different order altogether. Targeting people with automatic-weapons-carrying SWAT teams and mass raids in their homes, who are suspected of nothing more than planning dissident political protests at a political convention and who have engaged in no illegal activity whatsoever, is about as redolent of the worst tactics of a police state as can be imagined.
Firedoglake has a lot more. They're talking about this at Boing Boing and MetaFilter, too.

The famous basketball rivalry has bubbled over into war: UNC's dreaded paratroopers have invaded Duke. (Thanks, Steve!)

Secret Service Emergency-Response Protocol 1127B: If the President Falls Down a Well.

The nine U.S. presidents with the worst environmental records. The top name may just blow your mind.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Midnight links.

* A mandatory evacuation has been ordered in New Orleans—and Gustav is looking very ugly.

* Somebody shut up Michael Moore. This guy, too.

* Apparently you can now arrest people for intent to protest. Good to know.

* Flowers for Algernon: The Blog. Via MeFi. See it now before the DMCA takedown.

* Steve Benen has a good roundup of shocked reactions to the Palin pick from both Alaskans and Republicans. (Apparently Romney and Pawlenty are not happy either.) Or take this from an off-the-record Bushite:

If it said something admirable about President Bush that he chose a running mate who would be more helpful in governing than in campaigning, what does it say about Senator McCain that he did the opposite? One of the most loyal Bushies calls the selection “disrespectful to the office of the presidency.”
And this, from the Politico:
Whatever you think of the pick, here are six things it tells us about McCain:

1. He’s desperate.
2. He’s willing to gamble — bigtime.
3. He’s worried about the political implications of his age.
4. He’s not worried about the actuarial implications of his age.
5. He’s worried about his conservative base.
6. At the end of the day, McCain is still McCain.

The key to all optical illusions discovered, and it's simple: Humans can see into the future.

Changizi now says it's our visual system that has evolved to compensate for neural delays, generating images of what will occur one-tenth of a second into the future. That foresight keeps our view of the world in the present. It gives you enough heads up to catch a fly ball (instead of getting socked in the face) and maneuver smoothly through a crowd. His research on this topic is detailed in the May/June issue of the journal Cognitive Science.

Last words for a while on Palin.

* Andrew Sullivan of all people has been absolutely brutal, all day, hitting just about every objection to Palin in order. He's also pushing the gambling meme, which I'm convinced is the key frame through which to view this very reckless, lunatic choice.

* More gambling: Dan Gerstein, a former adviser to Sen. Joe Lieberman, in the New York Daily News:

"In picking an unknown, untested, half-a-term woman governor from Alaska to be his running mate, John McCain is following in a long line of reckless men who have rolled the dice for a beauty queen. Except in this case, McCain is taking one of the biggest, boldest gambles in modern American political history."


Sometimes you have to roll the hard six?

* Sullivan and Ben Smith together point out the worst vetting lapse I've heard thus far, that Palin supported Pat Buchanan for president in 1996 and 1999. That's mind-boggling. Was she vetted at all?

* Maybe not: as of Sunday, he'd still wanted Lieberman, and the final decision was only made last night.

* Ezra's been good today too, particularly on the cable news coverage.

* Robert Elisburg's verdict: The Worst Vice-Presidential Nominee in U.S. History.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Throwing John McCain and Sarah Palin into the briar patch.

Stay away from misogynist trash.

Big numbers: Obama's speech at the DNC last night was seen by more than 38 million people.

Nielsen Media Research said more people watched Obama speak than watched the Olympics opening ceremony in Beijing, the final "American Idol" or the Academy Awards this year. Obama talked before a live audience of 80,000 people in Denver.

His TV audience nearly doubled the amount of people who watched John Kerry accept the Democratic nomination to run against President Bush four years ago. Kerry's speech was seen by just over 20 million people.

Obama's audience might be higher, since Nielsen didn't have an estimate for how many people watched Obama on PBS or C-SPAN Thursday night.

The quiet art of cartooning. By Seth—with bonus interview. Via Boing Boing.

Comics have such a simple little bag of tricks. Some tiny drawings in boxes, a few words contained in a bubble, a handful of rough-hewn symbols. Almost nothing to it. But the closer you look, the more you come to appreciate their almost endless possibilities.

And those drawings aren’t really silent either. There is implied noise within them. It’s hard to put your finger on why that noise is there, but it is. Just recently, I was drawing a comic book page that demanded a perfectly silent scene. Just leaving out the sound effects or word balloons didn’t do it. Even drawings of a character sitting alone in a darkened room did not imply total quiet. In the end, I was forced to letter in, at the top of the panels, the words “utter silence.”

A text message from an old friend raises a question about my last post, in which I called the Palin selection the most "cynically short-sighted, purely news-cycle-motivated choice in presidential politics history." Echoing Pat Buchanan, he asks:

Cynicism or risk addiction?
It's certainly not the first time questions have been raised about McCain and high-stakes craps.

I must confess, I find myself still pretty agog over the Palin choice. I'm hard-pressed to think of a more cynically short-sighted, purely news-cycle-motivated choice in presidential politics history, and given the events of the last eight years that's saying a lot.

Consider: John McCain picked Sarah Palin in a desperate bid to win the half news cycle two days before the start of his own party's convention. This is nothing more than a publicity stunt—except now the former mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, (population: 8,000, or about a third the size of my tiny suburban hometown) could be a heartbeat away from the presidency.

Really, has there ever been a more deeply unserious choice in the history of the vice-presidency? It's not as if they haven't shown it before, but these people just don't believe in governance, at all. It's lunatic. It's stunning. I am stunned.

I even, amazingly, find myself in agreement with Pat Buchanan:

Biggest political gamble I believe just about in American political history...that is not hyberbole. I can think of no choice of VP that approaches this.
Yes. But I think it's a bad bet, the sort you make when you're down $10,000 and trying to break even. The election isn't this Tuesday, it's 67 days away—even under the best of circumstances, with the best possible performance from Palin, I don't see the choice being a net positive for McCain after two months of scrutiny. No way.

Hell, I'm not sure this will still look like a good idea on Monday.

Matt Yglesias is having fun with facts about Alaska, but it's Kevin Drum who better speaks my shock over this:
Look, call me a partisan hack. Whatever. But I'm just stunned by the cynicism of the whole thing. I'm sure Palin is a fine person, loving mother, devoted wife, learning her way as governor, and so forth. But a heartbeat away from the presidency? Someone with virtually no serious political experience, and no serious experience of any other kind to make up for it? She's going to shake up Washington?

I don't know how she'll do on the stump or in the debates. Maybe she'll be great. Who knows? But a potential leader of the free world? You gotta be kidding.

John McCain has picked his VP, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, and the blogotubes are aflame with Google searches.

* The MetaFilter post immediately runs with the abuse of power scandal. Yglesias echoes.

* Ezra Klein commenter Anthony points out the first obvious line of attack: ...Palin's "selection could be used to attack McCain for being disingenuous when he says Obama lacks the experience to be commander-in-chief." It would be a bit hard to center the campaign on experience when you're a 71-year-old man putting an Alaska governor with two years in office a heartbeat away from the presidency.

* Steve Benen calls it "the strangest running-mate decision since Dan Quayle":

Sarah Palin spent a year working as a commissioner for the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, and has been governor for a year and a half. Now, she'll be the Republicans' vice presidential candidate, and if things go well for McCain, one heartbeat from the presidency. When it comes to being untested and unknown, Palin is in a league of her own.
* His predecessor at Political Animal, Kevin Drum, goes right for the joke: "Isn't Alaska a central front in the new Cold War?"

* Stephen Suh at Cogitamus is as shocked as me that McCain apparently honestly believes he can peel off significant numbers of Hillary supporters with a move like this. Even Kathryn Jean Lopez at the Corner doesn't believe that.

* Ambinder has a pro/con memo.

* And Kos keeps typing the wrong name.

I've decided to run with a reference to DC Comics hero Rene Montoya, who now operates as The Question under a mask that gives her a face without any features. Who is Sarah Palin? Good question.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The speech.

This country of ours has more wealth than any nation, but that's not what makes us rich. We have the most powerful military on Earth, but that's not what makes us strong. Our universities and our culture are the envy of the world, but that's not what keeps the world coming to our shores.

Instead, it is that American spirit – that American promise – that pushes us forward even when the path is uncertain; that binds us together in spite of our differences; that makes us fix our eye not on what is seen, but what is unseen, that better place around the bend.

That promise is our greatest inheritance. It's a promise I make to my daughters when I tuck them in at night, and a promise that you make to yours – a promise that has led immigrants to cross oceans and pioneers to travel west; a promise that led workers to picket lines, and women to reach for the ballot.

And it is that promise that forty five years ago today, brought Americans from every corner of this land to stand together on a Mall in Washington, before Lincoln's Memorial, and hear a young preacher from Georgia speak of his dream.

The men and women who gathered there could've heard many things. They could've heard words of anger and discord. They could've been told to succumb to the fear and frustration of so many dreams deferred.

But what the people heard instead – people of every creed and color, from every walk of life – is that in America, our destiny is inextricably linked. That together, our dreams can be one.

"We cannot walk alone," the preacher cried. "And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back."

America, we cannot turn back. Not with so much work to be done. Not with so many children to educate, and so many veterans to care for. Not with an economy to fix and cities to rebuild and farms to save. Not with so many families to protect and so many lives to mend. America, we cannot turn back. We cannot walk alone. At this moment, in this election, we must pledge once more to march into the future. Let us keep that promise – that American promise – and in the words of Scripture hold firmly, without wavering, to the hope that we confess.

Thank you, God Bless you, and God Bless the United States of America.
One can't be cynical every day. And that man really is going to be president.

Amazing.

Obama about to take the stage.

Here's the speech, as prepared for delivery.

Return of the King: Whoever would have thought, way way back in the year 2000, that I would someday come to admire Al Gore this much.

Here's the text.

More convention scuttlebutt: Brian Schweitzer's well-received speech on energy was largely improvised after the Montana governor felt that the crowd hadn't been revved up enough.

Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer said his show-stealing speech Tuesday night, which brought the crowd in Denver to its feet and made him the talk of the convention, was a last-minute improvisation that departed from the prepared remarks he'd agreed on with the Obama campaign.

"We had a convention that went through the first day and didn't get anybody fired up," said Schweitzer, who spoke on the second evening after keynote speaker Mark Warner of Virginia. "We didn't have anybody stand up, and we didn't have anybody get excited," he said.

"Sometimes you go to the line and you say, 'Let's go,'" he said in a brief interview after appearing on a Politico/Yahoo!/Denver Post panel at the Denver Athletic Club.

North Korean propaganda posters, at California Literary Review.



Left: “Let’s drive the US imperialists out and reunite the fatherland!”

Right: “When we say we will, we will. We do not talk idly!”

Why Republicans are better at conventions.

But, to extend a point I raised last night, I don't think the definition of McCain has been sharp enough. Each speaker seemed to approach the task his/her own separate way (and sometimes not at all), leaving viewers with a kind of mish-mash of objections: too many houses, too unilateralist, too long in Washington, too close to right-wingers, too resistant to energy reform. The one person who distilled the objections into a single, pithy critique was Kerry, with his inspired "Senator McCain" versus "candidate McCain" riff. But I worry it'll get lost in the whirlwind.

Which brings me to my point: Had the Republicans stumbled onto such a worthy frame, their convention would have played it on a permanent loop. (I'm sure they'll do that anyway, with less inspired material.) Every no-name speaker would have repeated it, so that, even if you'd barely been paying attention, you'd be mouthing it unconsciously by the end of the week.
I'm becoming very curious about just what form that "less inspired material" will actually take. What are the smears that the Republicans are going to run with at their convention?

They seem to really like the whole "The One" meme a lot, but that's not going to take them very far, especially after a sizable chunk of Obama's highly publicized speech is devoted to praising the hard work of his disciples volunteers and laying the groundwork for the biggest voter registration drive in history.

After Paris Hilton and Housegate, the celebrity line of attack seems pretty stalled, too, and doesn't make a lick of sense at a shrine to Ronald Reagan attended by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. (UPDATE: Whoops. Looks like Arnold's afraid he'll get his skirt dirty.)

The Muslim thing seems pretty far past its sell-by date. Same with Rezko, despite the heroic efforts of my cousin to flog that dead horse.

So is it just going to be the infanticide smear? Is that the last bomb left to throw? Will they call him gay? Back again to Reverend Wright and Bill Ayers? The nation can't be this stupid, can it?

Random links in anticipation of the big speech tonight.

* Wikipedia's page on the crucial compound unobtanium. Via kottke.

* A brief history of tabloids.

* Geographically misplaced statues of pop-culture icons.

* McCain gets prickly with Time.

There's a theme that recurs in your books and your speeches, both about putting country first but also about honor. I wonder if you could define honor for us?
Read it in my books.

I've read your books.
No, I'm not going to define it.

But honor in politics?
I defined it in five books. Read my books.
* 9 very cool bridges.

* Have we hit Peak Tequila?

* And Banksy visits New Orleans.



What we need more of: stuff like this.

Lots of well-deserved praise on the blogotubes for John Kerry's speech last night.

Steve Benen
Matt Yglesias
Ezra Klein
Josh Marshall (and again)

But the best is from Jason Zengerle, who writes in The New Republic on "the strange resurrection of John Kerry":

For those who remember Kerry as a lackluster and ham-fisted presidential candidate, this emergence has come as a surprise. "There's a wholeheartedness to [Kerry speaking about Obama] and a total lack of hesitancy and calculation that he always seems to have when he's speaking about himself," says one Democratic consultant. "A year ago, if you had asked [Obama strategists] David Axelrod and David Plouffe if they thought Kerry would be an important surrogate, they'd have laughed. But he's been fucking good." Kerry is even winning compliments from across the aisle. "If Kerry had conducted himself like this four years ago," says Republican strategist John Weaver, "he might have been elected president."

Indeed, Obama's "clean break" from the national past, as Kerry called it in his endorsement speech, seems to be a clean break for Kerry as well. Which is yet another surprise. Given the abuse Kerry took from his party following his defeat, one might have expected him this time around to sit on the sidelines and sulk. Instead he's done the opposite, looking to Obama as a vehicle for his own rehabilitation. Which leads to the question: In trying to help Obama overcome Clinton and now McCain, will John Kerry at long last be able to overcome himself?

Or maybe they're doing everything right: PRINCETON, NJ -- Democratic candidate Barack Obama has gained ground in the latest Gallup Poll Daily tracking average from Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and now leads Republican John McCain among registered voters by a 48% to 42% margin.



Thus, the current three-day average would reflect any impact of Monday night's speech by Michelle Obama, and Tuesday night's speech by Hillary Clinton, but would not completely reflect Wednesday night's lineup of speakers, such as John Kerry, former President Bill Clinton, and vice presidential nominee Joe Biden, nor the appearance on stage at the end of the evening by Barack Obama himself.

As fladem at Open Left points out, this bounce (if it holds) is already a larger polling bump that Kerry received at any point during or after the DNC Convention in 2004.

Here is a chart of the RCP Poll of Polls from 2004.



The small, three-point jump for Kerry at the start of August was the Democratic National Convention, accompanied (oddly) by a concurrent small rise in Bush's numbers.

The five-point jump for Bush at the end of the month was of course the Republican National Convention, accompanied by a three-point drop in Kerry's numbers. You can see that gap start to narrow again almost immediately, but it was never enough.

Analogies between any two election years are almost always useless—but if I could link to the Three Guys politics blog I was doing in 2004 you would see how impressed I was with the Democratic National Convention, which seemed to quite literally do everything right. I left Boston feeling confident and completely energized, strongly behind a candidate who had been my third choice (at best) in the primary. But we lost, and we lost at least in part because the Republicans went to their convention, wore Purple Heart Band-Aids, and told the world what an asshole John Kerry is over and over again in every speech for four straight days.

The Republican Party may be a cancer in the colon of American democracy, but it knows how to win presidential elections. Democrats really don't.

2004's convention gave us Obama and a lot of hope and excitement and a lot of great speeches, but we lost. I think it's fair to start to wonder whether we're managing to lose again with an aimless, largely messageless, far too bloodless convention that in every respect but the prime-time speeches was significantly more lackluster than 2004's. Only last night had any real bite, and even then I still heard in each of the major speeches that John McCain is an American hero we must all deeply admire.

I'll be the first to admit that whenever I've questioned Obama's strategy in the past he and his people have turned out to be right, or at least right enough—but suffice it to say a whole lot is riding on Obama tonight, and I hope to hell he's able to deliver.

Here's the Biden speech. I find that I'm happier and happier with this choice as time goes on, though I almost can't listen to Biden talk for fear he's going to say something stupid and completely ruin the election.



McCain VP selection said to be made, to be announced Friday morning...

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Tonight was the first night of the Democratic National Convention that was better in its entirety on C-SPAN than abbreviated on the networks. (Too bad I had to miss most of it.) Aside from the big, primetime speeches, the first two nights were fairly disappointing affairs—too much light, not enough heat—but tonight things at last began to come together. Clinton, Biden, and Kerry each in their own ways took the fight to McCain, and all three were extremely effective, and for the first time we finally look like a political party and not a Hatsfield/McCoy reunion.

After two weak nights, I'm feeling better.

Here's Clinton's speech. I'll try and put Biden and Kerry up as they appear on the blogs...



UPDATE: John Kerry—almost certainly the least-watched, but I loved the Senator McCain vs. Candidate McCain stuff. (He had definitely some fun with the "Talk about being for it before you were against it" line.)



It's almost cliché to ask of Kerry, "Where was this guy four years ago?" but seriously, where was he?



Climate Progress has your must-have PowerPoint slide of the day.

Here come cyanobacterial fuels. We're saved!

Dramatic progress has been made over the last decade understanding the fundamental reaction of photosynthesis that evolved in cyanobacteria 3.7 billion years ago, which for the first time used water molecules as a source of electrons to transport energy derived from sunlight, while converting carbon dioxide into oxygen.

The light harvesting systems gave the bacteria their blue ("cyano") colour, and paved the way for plants to evolve by "kidnapping" bacteria to provide their photosynthetic engines, and for animals by liberating oxygen for them to breathe, by splitting water molecules. For humans now there is the tantalising possibility of tweaking the photosynthetic reactions of cyanobacteria to produce fuels we want such as hydrogen, alcohols or even hydrocarbons, rather than carbohydrates.

Steven Benen of Political Animal also has more on the Ron Fournier Follies at the Associated Press. Go get him, MoveOn.

Everybody's raving about Brian Schweitzer, who managed to get the crowd fired up about energy and about Obama after Warner put them to sleep. (Everybody! Benen, Marshall, Kos, Giordano.)

One of the still-underappreciated stories of this election, I think, is the national hunger for a honest conversation about energy and the environment, something we've been entirely denied by coal-industry-sponsored debates in the primaries and Exxon-sponsored convention coverage in the general.



In the cheap seats, stand up!

Bruce won't be playing the DNC after all. Which is why I'm voting for McCain.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Plato's Allegory of the Cave, as Explained by Popeye to Bluto.

No Charges Over 'Obama Death Plot': Police in the US say there is "insufficient evidence" to charge three men who were allegedly planning to assassinate Barack Obama.

Politico has the full text of Hillary Clinton's speech, as good and as tough as I'd hoped it would be. Very moving, too, her evocation of Harriet Tubman standing out in particular:

This is the story of America. Of women and men who defy the odds and never give up.

How do we give this country back to them?

By following the example of a brave New Yorker , a woman who risked her life to shepherd slaves along the Underground Railroad.

And on that path to freedom, Harriett Tubman had one piece of advice.

If you hear the dogs, keep going.

If you see the torches in the woods, keep going.

If they're shouting after you, keep going.

Don't ever stop. Keep going.

If you want a taste of freedom, keep going.

So, Mark Warner kind of really sucked. There's nobody who could have hoped to follow Barack's 2004 barnburner, and anticipation for Hillary has sucked all the air out of the room—but that was a snoozer. I guess it's a good thing no one listens to me...

UPDATE: Rachel Maddow agrees: "Apparently Mark Warner visited us from the future, and in the future there is no Democratic Party." Spot on. Really, really, really really bad.

She also points out that Warner's failure ups the stakes for Hillary significantly. I agree: she absolutely needs to take the hammer to McCain tonight in a big way to regain her credibility with the Obama wing of the party. He's given her an opening by using her in this week's ads—that was a huge tactical error on his part—and now she can move both her die-hard supporters and the debate-at-large towards Obama by hitting McCain tonight and hitting him hard.

It's made-for-TV. It writes itself.

And for what it's worth, I think she will, if only because a nice and fiery anti-McCain speech tonight is just about the only way, in the unlikely event Obama loses, she could ever hope to have the support of someone like me in 2012.

UPDATE 2: Ezra Klein and Kevin Drum agree. Here's Ezra:

For what it's worth, my hunch is Clinton will own the convention. What she needs to do in this speech is so easy and so obvious and will be greeted with such gratitude by the Democratic Party and such rapturous coverage by the media that it's almost inconceivable that she'll pass up the opportunity to be the hero.

MP3 of the "Making 'The Wire' Panel" at the Museum of the Moving Image, with

David Simon, the series creator and co-producer; novelist and screenwriter Richard Price, who wrote several episodes; and four of the show's stars: Seth Gilliam (who played Ellis Carver), Clark Johnson (city editor Gus Haynes), Clarke Peters (Lester Freemon), and Wendell Pierce ("Bunk"), moderated by David Schwartz, Chief Curator.
Via Fiona and MeFi.

Earthquakes, volcanoes, and civilization: Eric Force argues in Geoarchaeology that major ancient civilizations tended to align themselves over major tectonic plate boundaries:

First, he mapped plate boundaries and what archeologists say are the birthplaces of 13 major ancient civilizations. They ranged from Rome and Corinth in Western Europe, to Memphis and Jerusalem in the Middle East, to historic sites in India and China. Then, Force calculated the probability that the sites were randomly located, given that plenty of suitable land was available for settlement. The number crunching suggests that 13 of the 15 sites aren't the product of chance. Instead, ancient people appear to have chosen to snuggle up close to a tectonic crack-- often within 75 kilometers--despite the risk of quakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions. (The exceptions were in ancient Egypt and China.) The analysis did find that civilizations farther from plate boundaries seemed to persist longer, perhaps because they had to contend with fewer natural disasters.

Theories abound about why tectonic zones might have boosted the growth of early civilizations, says Force. Geologists know that plate boundaries often have ample water supplies that might have attracted early settlers, for example. And volcanoes can help create rich soils. But no factor explains the pattern, Force says. He is intrigued by a psychological explanation: "Maybe the elders are telling the kids that they'd better be prepared to cope with a lot of risk and change," he says--spurring the next generation to develop more sophisticated quake-resistant architecture, for instance, or create better ways to store food.

That idea appeals to archeologist Geoff Bailey of the University of York in the United Kingdom. "It could be that a certain level of geological instability demands organizational responses from the societies that live in such areas," he says, calling it "a sort of challenge-and-response theory of social development." In his own work, he's even speculated that similar tectonic challenges, and not just factors such as climate change, could have spurred the evolution of humans in Africa. A little shaking up, he suggests, isn't necessarily a recipe for disaster.
There's a pretty convincing takedown at Dienekes' anthropology blog, but still it's food for thought.

Via MeFi.

Bob Casey does better in two sentences than just about anyone I've seen at the DNC: "John McCain calls himself a maverick, but he's voted with George Bush over 90% of the time. That's not a maverick, that's a sidekick." Hell yes. The four-more-months chant was pretty good, too—too bad no one's watching yet.

perspctv.com: your source for copious election charts and graphs. (Via my dad.)

Letter from 1865: Jourdon Anderson, an ex- Tennessee slave, declines his former master's invitation to return as a laborer on his plantation. At Digital History. Great find from Cynical-C.

Dayton, Ohio, August 7, 1865

To My Old Master, Colonel P.H. Anderson, Big Spring, Tennessee

Sir: I got your letter and was glad to find you had not forgotten Jourdon, and that you wanted me to come back and live with you again, promising to do better for me than anybody else can. I have often felt uneasy about you. I thought the Yankees would have hung you long before this for harboring Rebs they found at your house. I suppose they never heard about your going to Col. Martin's to kill the Union soldier that was left by his company in their stable. Although you shot at me twice before I left you, I did not want to hear of your being hurt, and am glad you are still living. It would do me good to go back to the dear old home again and see Miss mary and Miss Martha and Allen, Esther, Green, and Lee. Give my love to them all, and tell them I hope we will meet in the better world, if not in this. I would have gone back to see you all when I was working in the Nashville hospital, but one of the neighbors told me Henry intended to shoot me if he ever got a chance.

I want to know particularly what the good chance is you propose to give me. I am doing tolerably well here; I get $25 a month, with victuals and clothing; have a comfortable home for Mandy (the folks here call her Mrs. Anderson), and the children, Milly, Jane and Grundy, go to school and are learning well; the teacher says grundy has a head for a preacher. They go to Sunday- School, and Mandy and me attend church regularly. We are kindly treated; sometimes we overhear others saying, "The colored people were slaves" down in Tennessee. The children feel hurt when they hear such remarks, but I tell them it was no disgrace in Tennessee to belong to Col. Anderson. Many darkies would have been proud, as I used to was, to call you master. Now, if you will write and say what wages you will give me, I will be better able to decide whether it would be to my advantage to move back again.

As to my freedom, which you say I can have, there is nothing to be gained on that score, as I got my free- papers in 1864 from the Provost- Marshal- General of the Department of Nashville. Mandy says she would be afraid to go back without some proof that you are sincerely disposed to treat us justly and kindly- - and we have concluded to test your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we served you. This will make us forget and forgive old scores, and rely on your justice and friendship in the future. I served you faithfully for thirty- two years and Mandy twenty years. At $25 a month for me, and $2 a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to $11,680. Add to this the interest for the time our wages has been kept back and deduct what you paid for our clothing and three doctor's visits to me, and pulling a tooth for Mandy, and the balance will show what we are in justice entitled to. Please send the money by Adams Express, in care of V. Winters, esq, Dayton, Ohio. If you fail to pay us for faithful labors in the past we can have little faith in your promises in the future. We trust the good Maker has opened your eyes to the wrongs which you and your fathers have done to me and my fathers, in making us toil for you for generations without recompense. Here I draw my wages every Saturday night, but in Tennessee there was never any pay day for the Negroes any more than for the horses and cows. Surely there will be a day of reckoning for those who defraud the laborer of his hire.

In answering this letter please state if there would be any safety for my Milly and Jane, who are now grown up and both good- looking girls. You know how it was with Matilda and Catherine. I would rather stay here and starve and die if it comes to that than have my girls brought to shame by the violence and wickedness of their young masters. You will also please state if there has been any schools opened for the colored children in your neighborhood, the great desire of my life now is to give my children an education, and have them form virtuous habits. <>P.S. -- Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me.

From your old servant,

Jourdon Anderson

Source: Cincinnati Commercial, reprinted in New York Tribune, August 22, 1865.

Monday, August 25, 2008

MoveOn has been largely silenced by Obama's decision to financially cut off the 527s, but they're found a way to make themselves useful: getting AP Washington bureau chief Ron Fournier, who was nearly hired as a senior adviser to McCain in October 2006, fired.

In other media criticism news, it has once again fallen to Jon Stewart to tell reporters how to do their jobs.

I'm glad somebody said it:

NBC News’ strategy in hiring young Luke Russert is now clear: whenever anything happens, Brian Williams can ask Luke what his dead father thinks about it.

Michelle Obama finished speaking not too long ago. She's been called Barack's secret weapon, and she clearly is—that was one of the better-delivered political speeches I've ever seen, especially given the difficult dual contexts of rehabilitating Michelle's public image and winning over still-suspicious Hillary voters. She was quite literally perfect.

I was almost too nervous to watch the Ted Kennedy tribute and speech; contrary to the way I saw it described on television, it seemed to me that Kennedy was extremely frail and liable to collapse at any moment.

But perhaps the most serious news tonight is the revelation of an apparent assassination plot: at first it seemed to be merely two meth addicts with rifles, but now "at least" four people are under arrest...

Jersey ascendant: Both Springsteen and Bon Jovi are reported to be playing the DNC on Thursday.

"But I'm putting it on the credit card." Via Climate Progress.

The Big Picture is back with Big Olympic Pictures. Along the same lines is this, via MeFi, albeit with a somewhat more prurient interest...

Monk: "What is the greatest obstacle to enlightenment?"
The Buddha: "Laziness!"
Zen for yet another first day of school.
The human mind treats a new idea the same way the body treats a strange protein; it rejects it.
—Peter B. Medwar

The artist has to look at everything as though he saw it for the first time; he has to look at life as he did when he was a child.... The first step towards creation is to see everything as it really is, and that demands a constant effort.
—Henri Matisse

You are already complete. You just don't know it.
—Zen saying

The National Mall serves as a tragic metaphor for our nation, whose own infrastructure has been left to crumble. The irony is that the way that the National Mall has been allowed to crumble literally in front of the government is like how our nation has slowly crumbled while the government grows in size and power.

A sober tone is struck at the 40th annual conference on planetary emergencies.

This week's blog icon is a still from "The People's Mario," a Soviet-realist retelling of the first level of Super Mario Brothers.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

How fan fiction can teach us a new way to read Moby-Dick: Parts 1 and 2.

Keep circulating the tapes: the full run of MST3k, torrented and available for download.

This is the 2000th post since I switched over from the Backwards City blog in May 2007, which makes it something like the 7500th post overall.

The 1000th post was only back in February, the one about the original script for Groundhog Day...

Nuke Pop, a large archive of pop-culture images about nuclear war, is only one of many resources at Paul Brians's large collection of Science Fiction-Related Materials. Cool site. (Via Rob Latham)

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Just got my text message from the Obama campaign: it's Biden for sure. And no matter what happens I'll always be happy that they really did send the text to me at 3 AM.

Here come the oil wars.

American Stranger has your random advice from a samurai.

“The Way of the Samurai is found in death. Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily. Every day, when one’s body and mind are at peace, one should meditate upon being ripped apart by arrows, rifles, spears, and swords, being carried away by surging waves, being thrown into the midst of a great fire, being struck by lightning, being shaken to death by a great earthquake, falling from thousand-foot cliffs, dying of disease or committing seppuku at the death of one’s master. And every day, without fail, one should consider himself as dead. This is the substance of the Way of the Samurai.”

Will the next Superman movie reboot the franchise? A lot of people are taking recent statements from Warner Bros. President Jeff Robinov in the Wall Street Journal that way:

Warner Bros. also put on hold plans for another movie starring multiple superheroes -- known as "Batman vs. Superman" -- after the $215 million "Superman Returns," which had disappointing box-office returns, didn't please executives. "'Superman' didn't quite work as a film in the way that we wanted it to," says Mr. Robinov. "It didn't position the character the way he needed to be positioned." "Had 'Superman' worked in 2006, we would have had a movie for Christmas of this year or 2009," he adds. "But now the plan is just to reintroduce Superman without regard to a Batman and Superman movie at all."
I hated Superman Returns as much or more than anyone, but in the absence of a longer interview I find this an excessively optimistic reading of Robinov's statements. "Reintroduce" pretty patently doesn't mean "reboot"...

In honor of the Biden selection it's worth revisiting the fact that Delaware is easily the worst state in the country, by a wide margin. Jonathan Chait's "The Case Against Delaware":

Until one day several years ago, I, like most people, harbored no ill feelings toward the state of Delaware. I suppose in some vague sense I thought of it as harmless and even endearing, the way you tend to regard other small things, such as Girl Scouts or squirrels. But all that changed the summer day I moved to Washington, when, making my way down I-95 in a rental truck with all of my worldly belongings, I screeched to a halt in front of what turned out to be a two-hour backup in Delaware. Never having driven down the East Coast, I at first assumed the traffic jam must have been caused by some horrific accident. But as my truck crept forward I saw it was no accident at all but a deliberate obstruction--specifically, a tollboth on the Delaware Turnpike. Slowly the full horror of it sunk in: The State of Delaware had turned the East Coast's main traffic artery into a sweltering parking lot merely so it could exact a tribute from each driver crossing its miserable little stretch of concrete.

The practice of charging road tolls is an archaic holdover blighting much of the Northeast. But Delaware has taken it to a grotesque extreme. Whereas the I-95 tolls amount to less than five cents per mile in New Jersey and four cents per mile in Maryland, Jim Lange in Delaware they cost an exorbitant 18 cents per mile. Which isn't surprising because, in a deeper sense, Delaware's tolls epitomize the state's entire ethos. The organizing principle of Delaware government is to subsidize its people at the rest of the country's expense. While tolls represent the most obvious of the state's nefarious methods, Delaware also utilizes its appallingly lax regulation of banks and corporations to enrich itself while undermining its neighbors. Indeed, Delaware's image as small and inoffensive is not merely a misconception but a purposeful guise. It presents itself as a plucky underdog peopled by a benevolent, public-spirited, entrepreneurial citizenry. In truth, it is a rapacious parasite state with a long history of disloyalty and avarice...
Preach it, Brother Chait.

I've been stuck there myself, many, many times, which is why I still try to shunpike Delaware whenever I can...

Everyone who's still awake (Mark Ambinder, Think Progress, Ben Smith) seems to be running with the Biden news. I'm pretty lukewarm, to be honest—I don't think Biden (D-MBNA) is an interesting enough choice to justify the anticipation that's been built, and he doesn't do what Kaine or Warner might have done for us in a major swing state. And Ambinder's list of pros and cons hits a whole lot of big negatives:

Some liberals think he's a bully who got the Iraq war wrong (although Biden did try to pass a less bellicose resolution.) . But I suspect that the general response from Democrats will be "Great choice."

The criticism will focus on Biden's 1987 plagiarism bout, his support of credit card companies (he pushed the bankruptcy bill that Dems now hate), his comments about Obama, his racial obliviousness (the comment about Indian-Americans in 7/11).
Yeah, that about covers it.

(Though it should be said this so-called "racial obliviousness" actually plays as something of a positive in this context. The Biden choice in this respect is Obama ceremoniously returning the race card to the deck; it's a not-even-coded reassurance to white Americans that Obama isn't going to get hung up on race.)

And Biden's a pitbull, too, which will be nice for a change. His reputation for logorrhea is definitely a plus here as well—nobody will blame Obama when Biden inevitably runs his mouth off, because everybody knows that's just what Biden does.

So while on balance I would have preferred somebody else, it's not really an awful choice, and in any event I've said before that I'm not the target audience for just about anything that happens in American politics, which is as true of this as it will be of just about everything else Obama does between now and November.

(...unless it's all an elaborate head-fake. No text yet...)

Eight years after the Recount, the voting machines still don't work. Via MeFi.

Elsewhere in the Obama nation: Springsteen to play at Obama's acceptance speech? The real question is, what song?

So I guess we still don't know. Rumor has it the notification will come tomorrow, though with Clinton, Bayh, and Kaine all ruled out it's sure looking a lot like Biden:

The United States Secret Service has dispatched a protective detail to assume the immediate protection of Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., a source tells ABC News, indicating in all likelihood that Biden has been officially notified that Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, has selected him to be his running mate.
I can't remember where I saw the idea first, but I think it'd be hilarious if they send the text out at 3 AM. How many chances are you going to pull something like that off? A bit like that'd be worth losing the election over.

PS: Well played, Something Awful.

Friday, August 22, 2008

I guess today's the day for the final, final, actually final veepstakes prediction. On a long-term strategic level I still favor the Virginia strategy, and so when I was throwing down my predictions in the Edge of the American West thread last night that's what I went with: Warner / Romney, second choice Kaine / Romney.

But the longer this goes on and is dragged out the more it seems to me they need a huge name, and there's really just a handful people on that list: Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, maybe a wildcard like Colin Powell or Chuck Hagel. Expectations are at a fever pitch; the fact that's it's the Friday before the convention and I expected a Kaine announcement Tuesday or Wednesday (if not weeks ago) makes me think it may actually be Hillary.

If that's the way Obama's behind-the-scenes geniuses think it has to be, I guess that I'm at peace with it, but good lord if it going to be a crazy famous superstar I hope that it's Al Gore.

More veepstakes: Is it Galactus?

Galactus, Eater of Worlds

Pros: Balances out Obama's troublingly semi-dovish past with tough, muscular "eat the world" policy.

Cons: Will eat the world.

The headline reads: 'Satellite images show continued breakup of two of Greenland's largest glaciers.'

What worries Jason Box, an associate professor of geography at Ohio State, and his colleagues, graduate students Russell Benson and David Decker, all with the Byrd Polar Research Center, even more about the latest images is what appears to be a massive crack further back from the margin of the Petermann Glacier.

That crack may signal an imminent and much larger breakup.

"If the Petermann glacier breaks up back to the upstream rift, the loss would be as much as 60 square miles (160 square kilometers)," Box said, representing a loss of one-third of the massive ice field.

Meanwhile, the margin of the massive Jakobshavn glacier has retreated inland further than it has at any time in the past 150 years it has been observed. Researchers believe that the glacier has not retreated to where it is now in at least the last 4,000 to 6,000 years.

Is it Mitt? Mark Halprin says so, which can't be making the McCain camp happy in light of yesterday's potentially game-ending gaffe.

But it sure makes john happy.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Game theory in The Dark Knight. Fun article analyzing the Joker's opening heist in the context of the pirate game, an interesting situation with a nicely counter-intuitive result:

Three pirates (A, B, and C) arrive from a lucrative voyage with 100 pieces of gold. They will split up the money according to an ancient code dependent on their leadership rules. The pirates are organized with a strict leadership structure—pirate A is stronger than pirate B who is stronger than pirate C.

The voting process is a series of proposals with a lethal twist. Here are the rules:

1. The strongest pirate offers a split of the gold. An example would be: “0 to me, 10 to B, and 90 to C.”
2. All of the pirates, including the proposer, vote on whether to accept the split. The proposer holds the casting vote in the case of a tie.
3. If the pirates agree to the split, it happens.
4. Otherwise, the pirate who proposed the plan gets thrown overboard from the ship and perishes.
5. The next strongest pirate takes over and then offers a split of the money. The process is repeated until a proposal is accepted.

Pirates care first and foremost about living, then about getting gold. How does the game play out?
If everyone acts maximally rationally, A comes away with 99 of the 100 coins, which is pretty fantastically unexpected.

I spoke recently about the importance of accurate and informative product labeling—so I'm very glad to see Japan putting this idea into practice with carbon footprint labels on food and consumer products. Unfortunately for now at least it's only voluntary, which is to say useless. Via e360.

Not a great day for John McCain, which makes it a pretty great day for America. In addition to the whole can't-remember-how-many-houses-he-owns fiasco, he also seems to have finally crossed the Giuliani threshold with regard to the political exploitation of his time as a POW.

Can't say I'm displeased.

Polygamists live longer.

Premise Ten: The culture as a whole and most of its members are insane. The culture is driven by a death urge, an urge to destroy life.
The premises and other excerpts from Derrick Jensen's anarcho-primitivst tract Endgame are online, a polemic that quickly leapfrogs past the ecotage tactics of groups like ELF to essentially call for open, final warfare against capitalism.

I think we all know that goes.



Jon Rynn at Gristmill looks at Obama's energy plan and finds it wanting. Click the link, there's a long list of trouble-spots before we get to this summation:

Obama supporter Joe Romm, quoted at the beginning of this article, has said about Obama's plan: "This is an aggressive, achievable, and most important of all, a necessary energy plan. Kudos to Senator Obama and his energy team. Maybe he is The One."

I align myself with 1Sky, Al Gore, James Hansen, Lester Brown, Ross Gelbspan, Bill McKibben, and others when it comes to what I think is necessary if we're to avoid catastrophic climate change, and because of that I don't agree at all with Romm's conclusion.

Let me be clear: There is no question that Obama's energy plan is better than McCain's and a very big improvement over Bush. But I am convinced by my close reading of his energy plan that it is essential that efforts like the 1Sky campaign need to keep ramping up the pressure for a truly science-based program to deal with the climate crisis. We have an extremely short time-frame in which to do so. Obama (and McCain) needs to be pushed now and pushed if he is elected to revise a number of elements of his program.
Yeah, pretty much.

Who owns the Watchmen? We're about to find out.

A judge has denied a Warner Bros. motion to dismiss 20th Century Fox’s lawsuit over Warners’ right to make a film based on the graphic novel "Watchmen."

Ruling is potentially a huge victory for Fox, which could wind up as a profit participant in the film, and could cost Warners millions considering the film’s box office prospects. However, Fox’s legal team says it isn’t looking for monetary compensation and instead wants to prevent the big-budget film from being released altogether.

Guernica interviews Ursula K. Le Guin. Via Enter the Octopus.

Guernica: Do you ever feel that the way your work has been cordoned at times as science fiction is a deflection by the mainstream of the very serious critiques these novels contain of our society?

Ursula K. Le Guin: Yes. I do.

Guernica: Or is it sexism?

Ursula K. Le Guin: Yes. It is.

Guernica: Was there a moment when you realized the shift in the way you were being treated, when you became taken more seriously by the literary establishment, and do you remember it precisely? To an outsider, it appears recent.

Ursula K. Le Guin: Actually, I haven’t felt a major shift. I am still mostly referred to (dismissed) as a “sci fi writer.” When Margaret Atwood writes a serious review of one of my books for the New York Times, it is printed under the title “The Queen of Quinkdom,” to make sure nobody takes it seriously. I am shortlisted for major awards, but the awards go to people like De Lillo and MacCarthy who also write science fiction, using the tropes and loci and metaphors of science fiction, but fastidiously keep their literary skirts from being defiled by the name of genre.

I admire Doris Lessing for calling her science-fiction books science fiction; I only wish I liked the books. Atwood herself has walked a very fine and sometimes wavering line trying to keep her science fiction books out of the genre ghetto without trashing the people who live in the ghetto. I can’t wait for people like Michael Chabon to finish chainsawing that damn thorn hedge and knocking down all the genre walls. Now, there’s a man with courage, Chabon. He just joined the Science Fiction Writers Association. He steps over the walls in both directions.

Most recently, my three books of the Annals of the Western Shore have been ignored by both the science fiction community and the literary critics, because they are published as “young adult.” The label YA actually means nothing except that the protagonists, or some of them, are young. Publishers like it because it is a secure marketing niche. But the cost of security is exclusion from literary consideration. The walls of disdain around any book perceived as being “for children” are much higher than they were when I began publishing the Earthsea books, forty years ago. Oh, Joshua, won’t you blow your horn?

Like many utopian visions that someone is crazy enough to attempt to realize, modernist architecture has always contained an element of fascism. It wasn’t just that a cuckoo notion like Le Corbusier’s “radiant city,” those celery stalks of lone skyscrapers surrounded by a verdant wasteland, was meant to simplify life, but that it was in some basic sense meant to replace it.
Charles Taylor considers contemporary architecture and its "starchitects" in the context of the controversy surrounding Frank Gehry's latest and largest project, the planned Atlantic Yards stadium in Brooklyn for the New Jersey Nets.
Gehry might have taken The Life and Death of Great American Cities as an anti-text. With its interior “public space,” its super-blocks, its potential for creating what Jacobs called “border vacuums” and the attendant crime that always accompanies such areas, in the way it cuts itself off from the neighborhoods around it and cuts them off from each other, Atlantic Yards represents the sort of thinking Jacobs discredited nearly fifty years ago.

Atlantic Yards is the largest project Frank Gehry, now seventy-eight, has ever undertaken. And if it proves to be his last large project, it will be a fitting capstone to a career utterly blind to the public function of architecture. For how better to assert your dedication to personal expression over context than to have your distinct visual style serve as the emblem for the death of two Brooklyn neighborhoods?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Best news I've heard all day: Wild monkey loose in Japanese subway eludes police.

I'm in training this week, which is why posting is so slow. Here's links.

* Hell is other people: A survey from the University of Georgia reports that students find bias and intolerance in their peers, not in their professors.

* I had a profile of a local academic couple in the Indy this week, NCSU's Marsha and Devin Orgeron, who have somehow managed to navigate horrible academic process after horrible academic process, together and simultaneously, without murdering each other.

* What things could one person do now to best progress human civilization in the long term (ie, millions of years)? The answer is "nothing," of course, but even if it weren't "nothing" it wouldn't have anything to do with having kids and/or raising them right.

* Wired profile of Neal Stephenson and his new book, Anathem.

Set on a planet called Arbe (pronounced "arb"), Anathem documents a civilization split between two cultures: an indulgent Saecular general population (hooked on casinos, shopping in megastores, trashing the environment—sound familiar?) and the super-educated cohort known as the avaunt, or "auts," who live a monastic existence defined by intellectual activity and circumscribed rituals. Freed from the pressures of pedestrian life, the avaunt view time differently. Their society—the "mathic" world—is clustered in walled-off areas known as concents built around giant clocks designed to last for centuries. The avaunt are separated into four groups, distinguished by the amount of time they are isolated from the outside world and each other. Unarians stay inside the wall for a year. Decenarians can venture outside only once a decade. Centenarians are locked in for a hundred years, and Millennarians—long-lifespanners who are endowed with Yoda-esque wisdom—emerge only in years ending in triple zeros. Stephenson centers his narrative around a crisis that jars this system—a crisis that allows him to introduce action scenes worthy of Buck Rogers and even a bit of martial arts. It's a rather complicated setup; fortunately, there's a detailed timeline and 20-page glossary to help the reader decode things.

...In a sense, the length of Anathem, as well as its challenges to the reader, are part of its theme. Despite the monastic trappings of the clock-tenders, the avaunt are not driven by faith. What binds them is a commitment to logic and rationality. The robes and rituals, Stephenson says, are not religion but "their way of glorifying and expressing respect for ideas and thinkers that are important to them." Outside the walls ("extramuros," as the term goes—by the time you're a couple of hundred pages in, this language thing begins to fall in place), people zip around in an ADD haze of fast-food joints, persistent gadgets (instead of CrackBerry, they are addicted to handheld "jeejahs"), and evangelical religion. Stephenson sees a parallel to the George W. Bush-era wars between science and religion, made possible because the general population is either indifferent or hostile to extended rational thought. "I could never get that idea, the notion that society in general is becoming aliterate, out of my head," he says. "People who write books, people who work in universities, who work on big projects for a long time, are on a diverging course from the rest of society. Slowly, the two cultures just get further and further apart."
* Howard Zinn for the high school classroom.

* And Joshuah Bearman has more on kill screens and arcade games.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

George Saunders explains realist and experimental fiction. (Thanks, Egan!)

Tuesday bits.

* Is it Tim Kaine? Staffers called in from all across Virginia for emergency meeting to discuss line of succession if Kaine steps down as governor.

* A Veronica Mars movie?

* Ten weird medical conditions, including the woman who can't stop orgasming, the girl allergic to water, and the boy who can't sleep.

* McCain goes after the Dungeons and Dragons lobby.

* Remember that whole Solzhenitsyn plagiarism thing? Turns out the original story was falsely attributed to Solzhenitsyn and actually came from a right-winger named Chuck Colson.

* And everyone is happy Rachel Maddow's been given her own show.