Mon 27 February 2006
Goodbye, Octavia Butler. I'll miss going to book events in Seattle and scanning the audience for your gorgeous tall self with your queen's posture, and reveling in the feeling that we were graced to have a person, and a writer like you in our midst.
It is a cliche to say that she was too good a soul, but it's true.--Tananarive Due
When I was in Driver's Ed, I lived in terror that this would happen to me:Student driver, instructor killed in crash.
A car driven by a 15-year-old student driver turned into oncoming traffic and was broadsided by a van, killing the student and his instructor.
Dan Brown (The DaVinci Code) is being sued. And no, not for subjecting the world to a mega-bestseller with cardboard characters, barely servicable prose, and a conclusion that was both disappointing and obvious. He is being sued by Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, authors of the 1982 non-fiction book The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, for breach of copyright. Since UK copyright law does not protect ideas, the suit claims that Brown copied the "architecture" or narrative structure of their work. Which is going to be very hard, and expensive (lots of lawyer time) to prove. I really hope they don't win this case -- it would set a dangerous world precedent, one where Jared Diamond (author of the non-fiction Collapse) could sue me for writing a post-apocalypse SF novel based in part on the failures of the Norse Greenlanders.
On the other hand, being sued by Jared Diamond might be just the thing to boost sales of this hypothetical novel.
On the subject of The DaVinci Code, I just wanted to point out something -- the Big Secret that drives the plot through a series of ultimately arbitrary historical puzzles, is that Jesus had a child with Mary Magdalene, and their descendants have been protected by secretive Roman Catholic sects for 2,000 years. (Hope I'm not spoilin' it for ya.) So the whole big deal, this toweringly important thing, is -- what, exactly? I know there are some Christians whose faith would be shattered by the notion that a guy who actually had sex could be the perfect sinless Son of God. So doctrinally there would be a reason to suppress the knowledge of any Jesus/Mary babies. But the actual genetic descendants? What's the big deal? Is there supposed to be some kind of magic Jesus-gene that makes people better or something? If so, the book doesn't state that, it just takes it as a given that it is really special to be a genetic descendent of Jesus. (Of course, being played by Audrey Tautou, the most adorable human since Audrey Hepburn, makes anybody seems special.)
Permalink : Zeitgeist 060227
Thu 23 February 2006
The abortion showdown
By now you have probably heard that South Dakota is trying to ban abortions. They know it is, according to previously established precedent, unconstitutional. Their goal is to have that precedent challenged. Two Bush SCOTUS appointees, I guess, and they're feeling cocky. House Bill 1215, which would ban nearly all abortions in South Dakota, has just passed the state Senate. Now it goes back to the House, which passed an earlier version and must now decide whether to accept changes made by the Senate. Then it will go to the governor, who vetoed a similar abortion bill two years ago, saying he feared it would wipe out existing state restrictions on abortion while a court fight waged.
Oh, and the Supreme Court is busy reviewing Gonzales v. Carhart, the case in which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit struck down the "Federal Abortion Ban of 2003" (nicknamed, by the pro-side, "Partial-Birth Abortion Ban" to refresh your memory.)
So it seems like somebody out there is trying to prompt the fabled abortion showdown. You know, Roe v. Wade overturned, goes back to the states, etc. Now, I'm disgusted by their actions, because I see all anti-abortion fights waged from the criminalization side as anti-woman and anti-child -- but I don't actually think this will work out for them. I don't think it is what you would call a shrewd move. Because I don't think anti-abortion activists will actually enjoy the outcome of the abortion showdown. Even if they win -- that is, overturn Roe v. Wade -- I think it will turn out to be a pyrrhic victory.
For years, abortion has been the big red perpetually pressable button that Republicans use to win elections with a certain demographic. If they manage to "deliver" on the anti-abortion promise, how will they win the next election? By trying to ban contraception? How well do you think that'll go over with the middle? Mainstream America is conflicted about abortion: a majority favors it remaining legal, but they tend to be uncomfortable with it anyway. This gray area of opinion allows the anti-abortion activists some play. But mainstream America isn't really at all conflicted about contraception. They like having it.
Anti-abortion legislation also doesn't tend to prevent actual abortions. Even now, with abortion technically legal, women in situations where abortions are difficult to acquire still sometimes resort to knitting needles and Drain-o. There were abortions, routinely, before Roe v. Wade. Some of them were legal and safe, some of them were medically safe but of shady legality, some of them were done in Mexico, some of them were done by the 50s back-alley equivalent of Dr. Nick (Hi, half-formed body!). The difference is that, back in the 50s, people didn't know about abortion unless it touched them personally. I suspect that most people with anti-abortion feelings -- not so much the leaders of the movement, but the millions of sincere, misled people who fill out those pro-fetus marches -- really just don't want to hear about it anymore. They want to pretend it's not happening. They seem to have a fairly unexamined belief that overturning Roe v. Wade will magically make abortions stop happening -- or at least, get it out of the news and allow them to pretend it's not happening.
Guess what? That's not going to happen. Abortions won't stop, and coverage of them won't stop either -- it'll just get increasingly ugly. And you might be able to convince yourself you're the good guy when it looks like you're saving the poor little fetus baby on your poster, you know, the human-tadpole thing bathed in a rosy glow and sucking its microscopic alabaster thumb. But when the poor rural teenage girls are bleeding to death in cheap hotel rooms with wire coathangers, will you still be able to think you're the good guy? How about when you find the babies in the dumpsters on prom night? Or when the thirteen-year-old incest victims die of pregnancy-related complications after delivering a premature collection of birth defects?
Believe it or not, the reasons that women have abortions don't go away simply because you make abortions illegal. And as long as you're talking about hypothetical babies, maybe you can imagine that every single unwanted pregnancy is happening to a healthy white woman who will bring a healthy baby to term. You can believe that for each one of those babies there are dozens of sane, comfortably well-off (and, if you're a member of the religious right, non-gay) couples eager to adopt it. And you can be sure that every mother who originally wanted an abortion because she didn't have the material or emotional means to care for a child, will either happily give that baby up for adoption to one of those dozens of ideal parents, or, perhaps, find reserves she didn't think she had, turn her life around, and raise a happy non-criminal productive citizen who at the age of thirty writes a heartwarming article special to the Reader's Digest about how he, and his mother, are glad that she didn't abort him.
But when things don't work out that way -- and they won't -- what are you going to do then?
In a post-Roe world, South Dakota doesn't look so good. It has a high crime rate, a low literacy rate, and a high poverty rate -- all things related to a plethora of unwanted children. It has declining revenue from mainstays like tourism (boycotts) and technology (smart women, and the smart men who love them, move to civilized states).
It's not the promised land. Making abortion illegal will never deliver the promised land. And when it doesn't...I expect backlash. Not only from wishy-washy abortion supporters, but also from remorseful abortion opponents.
Permalink : The abortion showdown
Wed 22 February 2006
The Splendiferous Zeppelin Escapades of Filliam H. Muffman
Now, I'm no friend of Hollywood, but even stars have love problems. And thankfully there are three celebrity relationships strong enough not only to last but to teach the rest of us: Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Benn Afflick and Jennifer Garner, and William H Macy and Felicity Huffman. From their example I have created Stephen's Laws of Love.
Law number one: find someone whose name can be merged with yours to form a marketable nickname. Just like: Brangelina -- Bennifer II -- or -- Filliam H. Muffman.
(At this point Stephen Colbert can no longer keep from laughing and has to put a piece of paper over his face.)
In case you hadn't heard, Vice President Dick Cheney shot a 78-year-old Texas lawyer in the face. Then, after having a heart attack, from his hospital bed, the shooting victim apologized to CHENEY.
"My family and I are deeply sorry for all that Vice-President Cheney and his family have had to go through this past week. We send our love and respect to them as they deal with situations that are much more serious than what we have had this week."
Yes, sir. I'm sorry my fist collided with your face, sir. I know if only I didn't make you so mad, you wouldn't have to hurt me. I'm sorry. I'll try to do better.
John Dickerson is kind of...well named, it seems, in this Slate piece where his point seems to be that only Republicans have Bush-bashing cred -- because, you see, they used to like him and now they don't. Because if you always hated something, you have less integrity than if you jump on the popular bandwagon when it goes rolling by? Riiiight.
On the other hand, it does mean that Bush-bashing is a bandwagon.
But how to choose among the Bush-haters? Many of the books were pasted together from the clip files of partisan hacks. (These generally read like Mad Libs: "George Bush [adverb] lied every time he opened his mouth about [noun] and asserted a link between [noun] and 9/11.")
It's easy, Dickerson. No Mad Libs required. "George Bush lied every time he opened his mouth." And I don't think that because I'm a partisan hack, I think that because I've seen the words that come out of his mouth. And it seems to me that only a partisan hack would think otherwise. You partisan hack, you.
Proof that Mac OS X has really arrived: it has attack worms. Malicious shell scripts are stored in ZIP archives, which becomes a problem because the Safari web browser is set by default to open ZIP archives. The official recommendation is that Mac users should use Camino or Firefox -- I mean, disable Safari's automatic processing of ZIP archives and other "safe" files.
How this virus works: normally shell scripts begin with a "shebang line" such as "#!/bin/bash" to indicate which interpreter should handle its execution. If the system encounters a script file with no shebang line, the system will automatically execute it using the Terminal. Which seems kind of dumb, actually. It makes me think the relative dearth of viruses attacking Macs has led the programmers to be lazy about that aspect. Further, a shellscript without a shebang line can simply be given a JPG or PNG extension, put into a ZIP file, and then when the ZIP is unpacked it also unpacks a binary administrative file that connects the file with the shell. The target Mac then "knows" automatically how to open that file if it receives that ZIP - it'll take it as totally normal to execute the "jpg file" with the shell. (That's why this particular exploit targets files in archives.)
So, an additional protective measure is to move the Terminal application from /Applications/Utilities into a different folder, because the exploitation data uses absolute paths. (Although if you update your OS you need to move Terminal back to its original location first.)
And, you know, in general, even if you're on a Mac, don't go around will-nilly opening files that come across the net. It seems kind of obvious. But I guess it always needs to be said.
Cartoons destroy the world follow up: Alternet interview with two cartoonists, Joe Sacco and Art Spiegelman, who come down on opposite sides of the issue. Spiegelman (creator of Maus) is the one I agree with.
I have spent a lot of time soul-searching and still come out on the same side of the equation. If there's a right to make cartoons, there has to be a right to insult, and if there's no right to make cartoons, well, I'm in big trouble. And I think America might be too.
Indeed. One thing that many of the "sensitivity" appeasers seem to have failed to notice, is that the original purpose of the cartoons was explicitly to speak out against the chill of self-censorship where Islam is concerned. They originally appeared in the 30 September 2005 edition of Jyllands-Posten accompanied by the following text (in translation from the Danish):
The Many Faces of Muhammad. Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten has asked members of the Danish association of newspaper cartoonists to draw Muhammad as they see him. 12 out of 40 replied, and we are printing them under their own names.
The modern secular society is rejected by some Muslims. They demand a special position, when they insist that special care is taken not to offend their own religious feelings. This is incompatible with a secular democracy and freedom of expression, where one must be prepared to face scorn or ridicule.
I'm wondering -- just wondering -- why I have to take off my shoes and leave nail clippers at home to fly on an airplane, but foreign governments seem to own all our ports. You know, those places where all those gigantic containers -- which could be full of nuclear bombs, or invading armies -- are stacked.
And furthermore, I'm wondering why Bush -- who seems to think that, in the interests of security, I should cheerfully give up my constitutional rights, torture is justified, and his executive power is without limits -- doesn't think this is a problem. He thinks it is so NOT a problem, in fact, that he has threatened to veto any bill Congress might approve to block the agreement involving the sale of a British port-managing company to a state-owned business in the United Arab Emirates.
And, even curiouser, this action comes after several years of Iraq war propaganda that has attempted to create a public perception that Arab state = terrorist state. And it has been pointed out that some of the September 11th hijackers used the UAE as an operational and financial base, and the UAE may have been a transfer point for shipments of smuggled nuclear components sent to Iran, North Korea and Libya.
So I'm wondering, why exactly am I taking my shoes off again?
Permalink : Zeitgeist 060222
Thu 16 February 2006
Rock & Roll Suicide
The first ten songs in my "Rock & Roll Suicide" mix. Enjoy. Or, you know, don't.
Mad World--Tears for Fears--The Hurting
A new wave 80s classic, and also one of the most depressing songs ever recorded! Strangely, the line that makes me choke up is not "The dreams in which I'm dying are the best I've ever had." The line that really gets me is "Children waiting for the day they feel good -- happy birthday, happy birthday--" Nothing is more depressing than happiness. I can't really explain it.
Waltz, No. 2 (XO)--Elliott Smith--XO
The song is from 1998, but I never really noticed it until last year, when a couple of KUGS DJs played it a lot. So I bought it. And I was shattered to learn that Elliott Smith was already dead, of apparent suicide. Which makes the refrain -- "I'm never gonna know you now / But I'm gonna love you anyhow" -- especially poignant. And it makes me cry if I sit and think about it. And it's a masterpiece of finely nuanced moping anyway. "It's okay, it's all right, nothing's wrong..."
I Will Follow You Into the Dark--Death Cab For Cutie--Plans
What you think the song is about, from the title? That's what it's about.
"I spend the afternoon in cars. I sit in traffic jams for hours. Don't push me, I am not ok." And then I jump off the Golden Gate bridge.
Siamese Twins--The Cure--Pornography
My favorite "oh God I'm so depressed I can't lift my head" song from college. "Everything falls apart...broken inside me it falls apart."
Yer Blues--The Beatles--The Beatles (White Album)
My favorite "oh God I'm so depressed I can't lift my head" song from high school. You know, I didn't stop liking the Beatles just because I discovered new wave. "Yes I'm LONELY...wanna DIE..."
Don't Fear the Reaper--GUS--Scream soundtrack
Yes, I bought the soundtrack specifically for this song, a moody acoustic version of the overplayed classic-rock original. In case you have somehow managed to avoid classic rock, the general storyline: boy talks girl into suicide pact. Girl goes through with it. Boy watches her make out with Death, kind of.
Gloomy Sunday--Billie Holiday--Ken Burns Jazz
A 1930s classic of the suicide genre. The song was originally Hungarian -- unsubstantiated legend has it causing a rash of actual suicides, but apparently people kill themselves a lot in Hungray anyway. The composer DID kill himself in 1968. The "it was all a dream" last verse was added for Billie Holiday's version, and you can really tell.
Rock 'N' Roll Suicide--David Bowie--Ziggy Stardust
What can I say? It's Bowie. I love Bowie. I love this song. "You're not alone."
My Old Haunts--Dream Syndicate--Ghost Stories
I think this is the most...bitterly disappointed...song I know of. "These dreams are best forgotten, passed on from ripe to rotten..."
Permalink : Rock & Roll Suicide
Wed 15 February 2006
Cartoons destroy the world
I keep trying to write about the "Muhammad Cartoons Row" and I get lost in just how many different groups of people I want to yell at.
To the protesters -- what on Earth could be going through your minds? Do you honestly think that a bunch of cartoons published in Denmark constitute the most dire threat facing the Islamic world today? And what do you think the outcome of your protests could possibly be? Do you expect the rest of the world to declare "freedom of speech -- except where Islam is concerned!" Because they're afraid that you'll bomb their embassies and slaughter their cartoonists? And this leads to a better world how?
(Oh, and great job convincing the world that Islam is a peaceful religion and Muslims aren't violently unhinged bomb-throwing terrorist loonies.)
To the right-wing anti-Muslim racists -- just shut up. Your sudden dedication to the cause of freedom of speech isn't fooling anyone. Next December, when you're suddenly all upset over "anti-Christian persecution" just because not everybody in the world is Christian or wants to say "Merry Christmas," I'm going to remember this -- I'm going to remember how righteously offended you were when a bunch of fundamentalist Muslims copped the same attitude. Okay, yeah, you guys haven't bombed anyone over this particular issue -- yet. But I think you would, if Bill O'Reilly told you to. I think you've got more in common with those protesters than with me.
(And as an example, Iran has started calling the pastry formerly known as Danishes "Roses of the Prophet Muhammad." Hmm...does that remind anyone of anything? Perhaps..."freedom fries"?)
So, just shut up.
To the left-wing appeasers -- seriously, what is WRONG with you? Suddenly freedom of speech is less important than cultural sensitivity? Because it's Muslims? Violence and oppression are now a valid alternative lifestyle choice? Since when? Is your collective guilt over the Iraq war so diffuse, so blinding, that you fail to recognize that these protesters are protesting on behalf of oppression? They are protesting against free speech and for fundamentalist religion dictating the behavior of secular government and press? Don't try to tell me that the violence, death threats, and wholesale destruction are somehow justified because the cartoons might be considered racist. Our own ACLU defends the free speech of those most of us find repellent: neo-Nazis, the KKK, Rush Limbaugh. Because their speech is our speech. Just think for a moment how you'd react if the protesters were nominal Christians being led by James Dobson.(And Alternet, thank you for bucking the trend and speaking out about the dangers of creeping self-censorship.)
To the official governmental spokesmodel appeasers -- if you say "sensitivity" one more time I'm gonna hurl. (My lunch. Not a bomb or anything.) Your stated position makes not one bit of sense. Freedom of speech is important, but publishing the cartoons was wrong because it turned out they really offended some people? What part of "freedom of speech and of the press" do you not understand? You might think you're being diplomatic, but it doesn't look like diplomacy to me -- it looks like you're violating the basic principle of a secular government by giving one religion special treatment, a special dispensation not to be offended by anything. And further -- it looks like cowardice. Like you're giving one religion special treatment because that religion happens to have a certain violently outspoken contingent.
Way to go, really, way to set an example. Now the fundamentalists from other world religions will see how well the technique works and start bombing things in the name of Jesus, or Yahweh, or Buddha, or whoever. See, these people have made their position very clear -- like fundamentalists everywhere, only more explosively -- they do not respect our right to have values different from their own. So appease them all you want, they won't be happy until their values have swallowed our values whole, digested them, and...
You know the rest.
And someday when schoolchildren read that World War III was started by "a bunch of cartoons" they'll be as confused as we were when we read that World War I was started by "the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand."
Oh, and curious to see the offending cartoons? You can see them here: God bless The Stranger, never afraid to offend anyone for any reason!
Permalink : Cartoons destroy the world