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I've a long record in editorial work in book and magazine publishing, starting 1974, a variety of other work experience, but have been, since 2001, recurringly housebound with insanely painful sporadic and unpredictably variable gout and edema, and in the past, other ailments; the future? The Great Unknown: isn't it for all of us?

I'm currently house/cat-sitting, not on any government aid yet (or mostly ever), often in major chronic pain from gout and edema, which variably can leave me unable to walk, including just standing, but sometimes is better, and is freaking unpredictable at present; I also have major chronic depression and anxiety disorders; I'm currently supported mostly by your blog donations/subscriptions; you can help me. I prefer to spread out the load, and lessen it from the few who have been doing more than their fair share for too long.

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"The brain is wider than the sky,
For, put them side by side,
The one the other will include
With ease, and you beside"
-- Emily Dickinson

"We will pursue peace as if there is no terrorism and fight terrorism as if there is no peace."
-- Yitzhak Rabin

"I have thought it my duty to exhibit things as they are, not as they ought to be."
-- Alexander Hamilton

"The stakes are too high for government to be a spectator sport."
-- Barbara Jordan

"Under democracy, one party always devotes its chief energies to trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule -- and both commonly succeed, and are right."
-- H. L. Mencken

"Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves."
-- William Pitt

"The only completely consistent people are the dead."
-- Aldous Huxley

"I have had my solutions for a long time; but I do not yet know how I am to arrive at them."
-- Karl F. Gauss

"Whatever evils either reason or declamation have imputed to extensive empire, the power of Rome was attended with some beneficial consequences to mankind; and the same freedom of intercourse which extended the vices, diffused likewise the improvements of social life."
-- Edward Gibbon

"Augustus was sensible that mankind is governed by names; nor was he deceived in his expectation, that the senate and people would submit to slavery, provided they were respectfully assured that they still enjoyed their ancient freedom."
-- Edward Gibbon

"There exists in human nature a strong propensity to depreciate the advantages, and to magnify the evils, of the present times."
-- Edward Gibbon

"Our youth now loves luxuries. They have bad manners, contempt for authority. They show disrespect for elders and they love to chatter instead of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants, of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up their food, and tyrannize their teachers."
-- Socrates

"Before impugning an opponent's motives, even when they legitimately may be impugned, answer his arguments."
-- Sidney Hook

"Idealism, alas, does not protect one from ignorance, dogmatism, and foolishness."
-- Sidney Hook

"Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted."
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

"We take, and must continue to take, morally hazardous actions to preserve our civilization. We must exercise our power. But we ought neither to believe that a nation is capable of perfect disinterestedness in its exercise, nor become complacent about particular degrees of interest and passion which corrupt the justice by which the exercise of power is legitimized."
-- Reinhold Niebuhr

"Faced with the choice of all the land without a Jewish state or a Jewish state without all the land, we chose a Jewish state without all the land."
-- David Ben-Gurion

"...the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right; that it tends also to corrupt the principles of that very religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing, with a monopoly of worldly honours and emoluments, those who will externally profess and conform to it;[...] that the opinions of men are not the object of civil government, nor under its jurisdiction; that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty....
-- Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, Thomas Jefferson

"We don't live just by ideas. Ideas are part of the mixture of customs and practices, intuitions and instincts that make human life a conscious activity susceptible to improvement or debasement. A radical idea may be healthy as a provocation; a temperate idea may be stultifying. It depends on the circumstances. One of the most tiresome arguments against ideas is that their 'tendency' is to some dire condition -- to totalitarianism, or to moral relativism, or to a war of all against all."
-- Louis Menand

"The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis."
-- Dante Alighieri

"He too serves a certain purpose who only stands and cheers."
-- Henry B. Adams

"The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to beg in the streets, steal bread, or sleep under a bridge."
-- Anatole France

"When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle."
-- Edmund Burke

"Education does not mean that we have become certified experts in business or mining or botany or journalism or epistemology; it means that through the absorption of the moral, intellectual, and esthetic inheritance of the race we have come to understand and control ourselves as well as the external world; that we have chosen the best as our associates both in spirit and the flesh; that we have learned to add courtesy to culture, wisdom to knowledge, and forgiveness to understanding."
-- Will Durant

"Glimpses do ye seem to see of that mortally intolerable truth; that all deep, earnest thinking is but the intrepid effort of the soul to keep the open independence of her sea; while the wildest winds of heaven and earth conspire to cast her on the treacherous, slavish shore?"
-- Herman Melville

"The most important political office is that of the private citizen."
-- Louis D. Brandeis

"If we desire respect for the law, we must first make the law respectable."
-- Louis D. Brandeis

"We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both."
-- Louis D. Brandeis

"It is an error to suppose that books have no influence; it is a slow influence, like flowing water carving out a canyon, but it tells more and more with every year; and no one can pass an hour a day in the society of sages and heroes without being lifted up a notch or two by the company he has kept."
-- Will Durant

"When you write, you’re trying to transpose what you’re thinking into something that is less like an annoying drone and more like a piece of music."
-- Louis Menand

"Sex is a continuum."
-- Gore Vidal

"I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibit the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state."
-- Thomas Jefferson, letter to the Baptists of Danbury, Connecticut, 1802.

"The sum of our religion is peace and unanimity, but these can scarcely stand unless we define as little as possible, and in many things leave one free to follow his own judgment, because there is great obscurity in many matters, and man suffers from this almost congenital disease that he will not give in when once a controversy is started, and after he is heated he regards as absolutely true that which he began to sponsor quite casually...."
-- Desiderius Erasmus

"Are we to have a censor whose imprimatur shall say what books may be sold, and what we may buy? And who is thus to dogmatize religious opinions for our citizens? Whose foot is to be the measure to which ours are all to be cut or stretched? Is a priest to be our inquisitor, or shall a layman, simple as ourselves, set up his reason as the rule of what we are to read, and what we must disbelieve?"
-- Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to N. G. Dufief, Philadelphia bookseller, 1814

"We are told that it is only people's objective actions that matter, and their subjective feelings are of no importance. Thus pacifists, by obstructing the war effort, are 'objectively' aiding the Nazis; and therefore the fact that they may be personally hostile to Fascism is irrelevant. I have been guilty of saying this myself more than once. The same argument is applied to Trotskyism. Trotskyists are often credited, at any rate by Communists, with being active and conscious agents of Hitler; but when you point out the many and obvious reasons why this is unlikely to be true, the 'objectively' line of talk is brought forward again. To criticize the Soviet Union helps Hitler: therefore 'Trotskyism is Fascism'. And when this has been established, the accusation of conscious treachery is usually repeated. This is not only dishonest; it also carries a severe penalty with it. If you disregard people's motives, it becomes much harder to foresee their actions."
-- George Orwell, "As I Please," Tribune, 8 December 1944

"Wouldn't this be a great world if insecurity and desperation made us more attractive? If 'needy' were a turn-on?"
-- "Aaron Altman," Broadcast News

"The great thing about human language is that it prevents us from sticking to the matter at hand."
-- Lewis Thomas

"To be ignorant of what happened before you were born is to be ever a child. For what is man's lifetime unless the memory of past events is woven with those of earlier times?"
-- Cicero

"Hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue." -- François, duc de La Rochefoucauld

"Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it." -- Samuel Johnson, Life Of Johnson

"Very well, what did my critics say in attacking my character? I must read out their affidavit, so to speak, as though they were my legal accusers: Socrates is guilty of criminal meddling, in that he inquires into things below the earth and in the sky, and makes the weaker argument defeat the stronger, and teaches others to follow his example." -- Socrates, via Plato, The Republic

"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, represents, in the final analysis, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children."
-- Dwight D. Eisenhower

"The term, then, is obviously a relative one; my pedantry is your scholarship, his reasonable accuracy, her irreducible minimum of education, & someone else's ignorance." --
H. W. Fowler

"Rules exist for good reasons, and in any art form the beginner must learn them and understand what they are for, then follow them for quite a while. A visual artist, pianist, dancer, fiction writer, all beginning artists are in the same boat here: learn the rules, understand them, follow them. It's called an apprenticeship. A mediocre artist never stops following the rules, slavishly follows guidelines, and seldom rises above mediocrity. An accomplished artist internalizes the rules to the point where they don't have to be consciously considered. After you've put in the time it takes to learn to swim, you never stop to think: now I move my arm, kick, raise my head, breathe. You just do it. The accomplished artist knows what the rules mean, how to use them, dodge them, ignore them altogether, or break them. This may be a wholly unconscious process of assimilation, one never articulated, but it has taken place." -- Kate Wilhelm

"The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed."
-- Albert Einstein

"The decisive moment in human evolution is perpetual."
-- Franz Kafka, Aphorisms

"All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."
-- Samuel Beckett, Worstward Ho

"First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you."
-- Nicholas Klein, May, 1919, to the Third Biennial Convention of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (misattributed to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, 1914 & variants).

"Nothing would be done at all, if a man waited till he could do it so well, that no one could find fault with it."
-- Lecture IX, John Henry Cardinal Newman

“Nothing is more common than for men to think that because they are familiar with words they understand the ideas they stand for.”
-- John Henry Cardinal Newman

"Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives."
-- James Madison

"Those who are free from common prejudices acquire others."
-- Napolean I of France -- Napoleon I of France

"Our credulity is a part of the imperfection of our natures. It is inherent in us to desire to generalize, when we ought, on the contrary, to guard ourselves very carefully from this tendency."
-- Napoleon I of France.

"The truth is, men are very hard to know, and yet, not to be deceived, we must judge them by their present actions, but for the present only."
-- Napoleon I of France.

"The barbarous custom of having men beaten who are suspected of having important secrets to reveal must be abolished. It has always been recognized that this way of interrogating men, by putting them to torture, produces nothing worthwhile. The poor wretches say anything that comes into their mind and what they think the interrogator wishes to know."
-- On the subject of torture, in a letter to Louis Alexandre Berthier (11 November 1798), published in Correspondance Napoleon edited by Henri Plon (1861), Vol. V, No. 3606, p. 128

"All living souls welcome whatever they are ready to cope with; all else they ignore, or pronounce to be monstrous and wrong, or deny to be possible."
-- George Santayana, Dialogues in Limbo (1926)

"American life is a powerful solvent. It seems to neutralize every intellectual element, however tough and alien it may be, and to fuse it in the native good will, complacency, thoughtlessness, and optimism."
-- George Santayana, Character and Opinion in the United States, (1920)

"If you should put even a little on a little, and should do this often, soon this too would become big."
-- Hesiod, Work And Days

"Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free."
-- Eugene V. Debs

"Reputation is what other people know about you. Honor is what you know about yourself."
-- Lois McMaster Bujold, A Civil Campaign

"All that we have to do is to send two mujahidin to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written "al-Qaida," in order to make the generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic, and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note other than some benefits for their private companies."
-- Osama bin Laden

"Remember, Robin: evil is a pretty bad thing."
-- Batman


Gary Farber is now a licensed Quintuple Super-Sekrit Multi-dimensional Master Pundit. He does not always refer to himself in the third person.
He is presently single.

The gefilte fish is dead. Donate via the donation button on the top left or I'll shoot this cute panda. Don't you love pandas?

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Contents © 2001-2013 All rights reserved. Gary Farber. (The contents of e-mails to this email address of Gary Farber are subject to the possibility of being posted.)

And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself in another part of the world

[Blogroll now far below the sea line! Dive, dive, dive!]

You Like Me, You Really Like Me

Gary Farber! Jeez, the guy is practically a blogging legend, and I'm always surprised at the breadth of what he writes about.
-- PZ Meyers, Pharyngula

...Darn: I saw that Gary had commented on this thread, and thought: oh. my. god. Perfect storm. Unstoppable cannonball, immovable object. -- Hilzoy

...I think Gary Farber is a blogging god. -- P.Z. Myers, Pharyngula

...writer[s] I find myself checking out repeatedly when I'm in the mood to play follow-the-links. They're not all people I agree with all the time, or even most of the time, but I've found them all to be thoughtful writers, and that's the important thing, or should be.
-- Tom Tomorrow

‎"Gary Farber is a gentleman, a scholar and one of the gems of the blogosphere." -- Steve Hynd,

"Well argued, Gary. I hadn't seen anything that went into as much detail as I found in your blog." -- Gareth Porter

Gary Farber is your one-man internet as always, with posts on every article there is.
-- Fafnir

Guessing that Gary is ignorant of anything that has ever been written down is, in my experience, unwise.
Just saying.

-- Hilzoy

Gary Farber gets it right....
-- James Joyner, Outside The Beltway

Once again, an amazing and illuminating post.
-- Michael Bérubé, Crooked Timber

I read Amygdala...with regularity, as do all sensible websurfers.
-- Jim Henley, Unqualified Offerings

Okay, he is annoying, but he still posts a lot of good stuff.
-- Avedon Carol, The Sideshow

Amygdala - So much stuff it reminds Unqualified Offerings that UO sometimes thinks of Gary Farber as "the liberal Instapundit."
-- Jim Henley

...the thoughtful and highly intelligent Gary Farber... My first reaction was that I definitely need to appease Gary Farber of Amygdala, one of the geniuses of our age.
-- Brad deLong

Gary is a perceptive, intelligent, nice guy. Some of the stuff he comes up with is insightful, witty, and stimulating. And sometimes he manages to make me groan.
-- Charlie Stross

Gary Farber is a straight shooter.
-- John Cole, Balloon Juice

I bow before the shrillitudinousness of Gary Farber, who has been blogging like a fiend.
-- Ted Barlow, Crooked Timber

Favorite.... [...] ...all great stuff. [...] Gary Farber should never be without readers.
-- Ogged

I usually read you and Patrick several times a day, and I always get something from them. You've got great links, intellectually honest commentary, and a sense of humor. What's not to like?
-- Ted Barlow

One of my issues with many poli-blogs is the dickhead tone so many bloggers affect to express their sense of righteous indignation. Gary Farber's thoughtful leftie takes on the world stand in sharp contrast with the usual rhetorical bullying. Plus, he likes "Pogo," which clearly attests to his unassaultable good taste.

One of my favorites....
-- Matt Welch

-- Virginia Postrel

Amygdala continues to have smart commentary on an incredible diversity of interesting links....
-- Judith Weiss

Amygdala has more interesting obscure links to more fascinating stuff that any other blog I read.
-- Judith Weiss, Kesher Talk

Gary's stuff is always good.
-- Meryl Yourish

...the level-headed Amygdala blog....
-- Geitner Simmons

The only trouble with reading Amygdala is that it makes me feel like such a slacker. That Man Farber's a linking, posting, commenting machine, I tell you!
-- John Robinson, Sore Eyes

...the all-knowing Gary Farber....
-- Edward Winkleman, Obsidian Wings

Jaysus. I saw him do something like this before, on a thread about Israel. It was pretty brutal. It's like watching one of those old WWF wrestlers grab an opponent's face and grind away until the guy starts crying. I mean that in a nice & admiring way, you know.
-- Fontana Labs, Unfogged

We read you Gary Farber! We read you all the time! Its just that we are lazy with our blogroll. We are so very very lazy. We are always the last ones to the party but we always have snazzy bow ties.
-- Fafnir, Fafblog!

Gary Farber you are a genius of mad scientist proportions. I will bet there are like huge brains growin in jars all over your house.
-- Fafnir, Fafblog!

Gary Farber is the hardest working man in show blog business. He's like a young Gene Hackman blogging with his hair on fire, or something.
-- Belle Waring, John & Belle Have A Blog

Gary Farber only has two blogging modes: not at all, and 20 billion interesting posts a day [...] someone on the interweb whose opinions I can trust....
-- Belle Waring, John & Belle Have A Blog


Gary is certainly a non-idiotarian 'liberal'...
-- Perry deHaviland

Recommended for the discerning reader.
-- Tim Blair

Gary Farber's great Amygdala blog.
-- Dr. Frank

Isn't Gary a cracking blogger, apropos of nothing in particular?
-- Alison Scott

Gary Farber takes me to task, in a way befitting the gentleman he is.
-- Stephen Green, Vodkapundit

My friend Gary Farber at Amygdala is the sort of liberal for whom I happily give three cheers. [...] Damned incisive blogging....
-- Midwest Conservative Journal

If I ever start a paper, Clueless writes the foreign affairs column, Layne handles the city beat, Welch has the roving-reporter job, Tom Tomorrow runs the comic section (which carries Treacher, of course). MediaMinded runs the slots - that's the type of editor I want as the last line of defense. InstantMan runs the edit page - and you can forget about your Ivins and Wills and Friedmans and Teepens on the edit page - it's all Blair, VodkaP, C. Johnson, Aspara, Farber, Galt, and a dozen other worthies, with Justin 'I am smoking in such a provocative fashion' Raimondo tossed in for balance and comic relief.

Who wouldn't buy that paper? Who wouldn't want to read it? Who wouldn't climb over their mother to be in it?
-- James Lileks

I do appreciate your role and the role of Amygdala as a pioneering effort in the integration of fanwriters with social conscience into the larger blogosphere of social conscience.
-- Lenny Bailes

Every single post in that part of Amygdala visible on my screen is either funny or bracing or important. Is it always like this?
-- Natalie Solent

You nailed it... nice job."
-- James Lileks

Gary Farber is a principled liberal....
-- Bill Quick, The Daily Pundit

December 2001 January 2002 February 2002 March 2002 April 2002 May 2002 June 2002 July 2002 August 2002 September 2002 October 2002 November 2002 December 2002 January 2003 February 2003 March 2003 April 2003 May 2003 June 2003 July 2003 August 2003 September 2003 October 2003 November 2003 December 2003 January 2004 February 2004 March 2004 April 2004 May 2004 June 2004 July 2004 August 2004 September 2004 October 2004 November 2004 December 2004 January 2005 February 2005 March 2005 April 2005 May 2005 June 2005 July 2005 August 2005 September 2005 October 2005 November 2005 December 2005 January 2006 February 2006 March 2006 April 2006 May 2006 June 2006 July 2006 August 2006 September 2006 October 2006 November 2006 December 2006 January 2007 February 2007 March 2007 April 2007 May 2007 June 2007 July 2007 August 2007 September 2007 October 2007 November 2007 December 2007 January 2008 February 2008 March 2008 April 2008 May 2008 June 2008 July 2008 August 2008 September 2008 October 2008 November 2008 December 2008 January 2009 February 2009 March 2009 April 2009 May 2009 June 2009 July 2009 August 2009 September 2009 October 2009 November 2009 December 2009 January 2010 February 2010 March 2010 April 2010 May 2010 June 2010 July 2010 August 2010 September 2010 October 2010 November 2010 December 2010 January 2011 February 2011 March 2011 April 2011 May 2011 June 2011 August 2011 September 2011 October 2011 December 2011 January 2013

Blogroll is Always In Progress:

Roger Ailes
Alas, A Blog
The American Street
The Aristocrats
Avedon Carol
Between the Hammer and the Anvil
Lindsay Beyerstein
The Big Con
CantBlogTooBusy The Center for American Progress
Chase me Ladies, I'm in the Cavalry
Doghouse Riley
Kevin Drum
Fables of the Reconstruction
Gall and Gumption
Gin and Tacos
House of Substance
The Hunting of the Snark
If I Ran The Zoo
Lawyers, Guns & Money
Lotus: Surviving a Dark Time
Matters of Little Significance
Nancy Nall
Charlie Stross bastard.logic
Daniel Larison
American Conservative
American Footprints
Andrew Sullivan
Angry Bear
Balloon Juice
Beautiful Horizons
Bitch Ph.D.
Brad DeLong
Crooked Timber
Cunning Realist
Daily Kos
Debate Link
Democracy Arsenal
Edge of the American West
Ezra Klein
Glenn Greenwald 13th Floor
Hit & Run
Juan Cole
Kevin Drum
Lawyers, Guns and Money
List Project (Helping Iraqis who worked with us get out)
Marc Lynch
Mark Kleiman
Katha Pollit
Market Square
Matthew Yglesias
Megan McArdle
Metro Green
Pam's House Blend
Paul Krugman
Philosophy, et cetera
Radley Balko
Sadly, No!
Southern Appeal
Stephen Walt
Steve Clemons
Ta-Nehisi Coates
Taking It Outside
Talking Points Memo
The Poor Man
The Progressive Realist
The Sideshow
U.S. Intellectual History
Unqualified Offerings
Volokh Conspiracy
Washington Monthly
William Easterly
Newsrack Blog
Ortho Bob
The Poor Man
Prog Gold
Prose Before Hos
Ted Rall
The Raw Story
Elayne Riggs
Sadly, No!
Texas Liberal
Think Progress
3 Weird Sisters
Tristram Shandy
Washington Monthly
Ian Welsh
James Wolcott
World o' Crap
Matthew Yglesias
Buzz Machine
Daniel Larison
Rightwing Film Geek About Last Night
can we all just agree
Comics Curmudgeon
Dum Luk's
Glenn Kenny
Hoarder Museum Juanita Jean
Lance Mannion (Help Lance!
Last Words of the Executed
The Phil Nugent Experience
Postcards from Hell's Kitchen
Vanishing New York
a lovely promise
a web undone
alt hippo
american street
city of brass
danger west
fierce urgency of now
get fisa right
great concavity
happening here
impeach them!
kathryn cramer
notes from the basement
talking dog
uncertain principles
unqualified offerings
what do i know
crooked timber emptywheel
ezra klein
The F-Word
glenn greenwald
schneier on security
ta-nehisi coates
talking points memo
tiny revolution
Roz Kaveney
Dave Ettlin
Henry Jenkins' Confessions of an Aca-Fan
Kathryn Cramer
Monkeys In My Pants
Pagan Prattle
As I Please
Ken MacLeod
Arthur Hlavaty
Kevin Maroney
MK Kare
Jack Heneghan
Dave Langford
Onyx Lynx Atrios
Rittenhouse Review
Public Nuisance
Scoobie Davis
Nathan Newman
Echidne Of The Snakes
First Draft
Rising Hegemon
Cab Drollery (Help Diane!
Southern Beale
The Kenosha Kid
Culture of Truth
Talk Left
Black Ag=Q< Report
Drug WarRant
Nieman Watchdog
Open Left
Meet the Bloggers
Dispatch from the Trenches
Crooks and Liars
Campaign for America's Future
Iraq Today
Daily Kos
Lefty Directory
News Hounds
The Brad Blog
Informed Comment
UN Dispatch
War and Piece
Glenn Greenwald
Schneier on Security
Jim Henley
Arthur Silber
Julian Sanchez
The Agitator
Balloon Juice
Wendy McElroy
Whoviating (LarryE)
Scott Horton
Tennessee Guerilla Women
Looking Glass
Charles Kuffner
Brad DeLong
Busy, Busy, Busy
Oliver Willis
The Carpetbagger Report Shakesville
Down With Tyranny
Professor B
Monkey Media Report
The Grumpy Forester
Ian Welsh
Pacific Views
Booman Tribune
Matthew Yglesias
The American Street
Media Bloodhound
Liz Henry's Composite
The Heretik
Arizona Eclectic
Sisyphus Shrugged
Interesting Times
Talking Dog
Liberal Desert
Under the Lobsterscope
Seeing The Forest
Sean Paul Kelley's The Agonist
King of Zembla
Mark Kleiman
Liquid List
Elayne Riggs
No More Mr. Nice Blog
Fanatical Apathy
Blue Gal
Mark Evanier
Roger Ailes
Suburban Guerrilla (Help Susie with money!)
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People I've known and still miss include Isaac Asimov, rich brown, Charles Burbee, F. M. "Buzz" Busby, Terry Carr, A. Vincent Clarke, Bob Doyle, George Alec Effinger, Abi Frost, Bill & Sherry Fesselmeyer, George Flynn, John Milo "Mike" Ford. John Foyster, Mike Glicksohn, Jay Haldeman, Neith Hammond (Asenath Katrina Hammond)/DominEditrix , Chuch Harris, Mike Hinge, Lee Hoffman, Terry Hughes, Damon Knight, Ross Pavlac, Bruce Pelz, Elmer Perdue, Tom Perry, Larry Propp, Bill Rotsler, Art Saha, Bob Shaw, Martin Smith, Harry Stubbs, Bob Tucker, Harry Warner, Jr., Jack Williamson, Walter A. Willis, Susan Wood, Kate Worley, and Roger Zelazny. It's just a start, it only gets longer, many are unintentionally left out. And She of whom I must write someday.

Friday, June 30, 2006
BY ALL THAT'S UNHOLY. Not your usual puppies and kittens.

Small version:
View The Rest Scale: oh, g'wan. Give the larger version some hits.

Via John Robinson, who labels it "Peter Venkman was right!"

6/30/2006 02:38:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 1 comments

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This will be shorter than I'd prefer, because a) I got very little sleep, because b) the gout flared up last night, and owww, I'm hobbling -- well, no, I'm sitting, but can barely hobble -- and I'm all with the owwwiiieee. (Also fill in here usual pathetic and boring mutter about little money for food, none for meds, yadda.) (ADDENDUM: To be a bit more precise, and anxious, I have $43.55 to get to the end of July. END ADDENDUM)

But USA Today has a large update y'all will hear about.
Members of the House and Senate intelligence committees confirm that the National Security Agency has compiled a massive database of domestic phone call records. But some lawmakers also say that cooperation by the nation's telecommunication companies was not as extensive as first reported by USA TODAY on May 11.

Several lawmakers, briefed in secret by intelligence officials about the program after the story was published, described a call records database that is enormous but incomplete.


• Nineteen lawmakers who had been briefed on the program verified that the NSA has built a database that includes records of Americans' domestic phone calls. The program collected records of the numbers dialed and the length of calls, sources have said, but did not involve listening to the calls or recording their content.

• Five members of the intelligence committees said they were told by senior intelligence officials that AT&T participated in the NSA domestic calls program.

AT&T, asked to comment, issued a written statement Thursday. "The U.S. Department of Justice has stated that AT&T may neither confirm nor deny AT&T's participation in the alleged NSA program because doing so would cause 'exceptionally grave harm to national security' and would violate both civil and criminal statutes," it said. "Under these circumstances, AT&T is not able to respond to such allegations."

• Five members of the intelligence committees said they were told that BellSouth did not turn over domestic call records to the NSA.

Asked about BellSouth's denial, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said, "What they said appears to be accurate."

Still, BellSouth customers' call records could end up in the NSA database, he said. "Obviously, a BellSouth customer can contract with AT&T (for long-distance phone service). There is a possibility that numbers are available from other phone companies."

• Three lawmakers said that they had been told that Verizon did not turn over call records to the NSA. However, those three and another lawmaker said MCI, the long-distance carrier that Verizon acquired in January, did provide call records to the government.

While Verizon has denied providing call records to the NSA, it has declined to comment on whether MCI participated in the calls database program.

"The President has referred to an NSA program, which he authorized, directed against al-Qaeda," Verizon said in a written statement May 12. "Because that program is highly classified, Verizon cannot comment on that program, nor can we confirm or deny whether we have had any relationship to it." The statement also said the company was now "ensuring that Verizon's policies are implemented at that entity (MCI) and that all its activities fully comply with law."

In the weeks since the database was revealed, congressional and intelligence sources have offered other new details about its scope and effectiveness.

"It was not cross-city calls. It was not mom-and-pop calls," said Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, who receives briefings as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Defense subcommittee. "It was long-distance. It was targeted on (geographic) areas of interest, places to which calls were believed to have come from al-Qaeda affiliates and from which calls were made to al-Qaeda affiliates."

Other lawmakers who were briefed about the program expressed concerns that gaps in the database could undercut its usefulness in identifying terrorist cells.

"It's difficult to say you're covering all terrorist activity in the United States if you don't have all the (phone) numbers," Chambliss said. "It probably would be better to have records of every telephone company."

"The database is not complete," said another lawmaker who was briefed on the program, speaking on condition of anonymity because the information is classified. "We don't know if this works yet."
There's a bunch more.

See also this from Wired News, which I've, er, sorta forgotten to blog for a week or two.
As new disclosures mount about government surveillance programs, computer science researchers hope to wade into the fray by enabling data mining that also protects individual privacy.

Largely by employing the head-spinning principles of cryptography, the researchers say they can ensure that law enforcement, intelligence agencies and private companies can sift through huge databases without seeing names and identifying details in the records.
And just to be really confusing (and short), Time has this further on Haditha on Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich's promotion, and its possible implications.
[...] Still, Wuterich, who has over seven years in the Corps but was on his first combat duty in Haditha, was officially promoted to the higher rank on January 1, 2006, six weeks after the incident took place. That has led some Marine sources to suspect there was at least a failure to report relevant details up the chain of command. Others, including Wuterich's attorney, Neal Puckett, argue that Wuterich acted appropriately under the rules of engagement in Haiditha and that if his superior officers had suspected otherwise, Wuterich's promotion would have been stopped.

The Marine Corps has been more careful with regard to two other promotions since Wuterich's. The Corps has kept two senior officers — a major general and a colonel — who were in command at the time of the incident, from moving into new positions until the report from Army Major General is complete.

Meanwhile, despite reports that Bargewell's report would be delivered weeks ago, it appears that Lt. Gen. Peter Chairelli, the ground commander in Iraq, who ordered up the investigation, is still reviewing Bargewell's detailed report.
Time also apparently has this coming up, but it's mostly behind the paywall for now. No, wait, I lie! A few hours ago, that was true, but now the long report is all there!

For that matter, the same was true yesterday of Jane Mayer's extremely long profile of David Addington. I should excerpt chunks, but my excuse: owwiiee. (Also, no Superman Returns today; possibly I may babble insanely in an attempt to distract myself, however; who the hell knows? Not me! Isn't the suspense going to be exciting!?)

The latter Time story, by Michael Duffy, Tim McGirk, and Aparism Ghosh, doesn't actually appear to have anything new in it, but is a longish summary of Known Stuff, with some added thumb-sucking.

The Mayer also recapitulates a lot, but also includes a lot of little detail on Addington that I've not seen before; I commend it to your attention.

Oh, and I keep forgetting to mention that Barbara Ehrenreich has a blog. It's substantive and good, though there's no comics page.

Read The Rest Scale: what are these "numbers" you speak of?

6/30/2006 06:10:00 AM |permanent link | Main Page | | 4 comments

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RIP, JIM BAEN. Following up on this, longtime sf editor and publisher Jim Baen passed away on June 28th.

Longer obit by David Drake here.

One of my stronger memories of Jim was sitting a few feet away from him in one of the public hotel areas at Boskone, 1978, when the news had just flashed that war had broken out between Vietnam and China; Jim projected the air that this meant that WWIII was beginning, and was considerably agitated, and exclaiming to anyone passing by as he (and I and many others) pored over the newspaper reports.

While not my favorite editor of all time, Jim had a tremendous influence on the field over the decades, and as I previously mentioned, he often published a lot of writers that people don't think of as in the usual post-Campbellian, military-sfish, somewhat Heinleinish, Pournellish, mold, that Jim tended to be best known for. He was both an editor with an extremely strong point of view and set of preferences, but one who also had considerable, generally uncredited, flexibility of taste and perceptiveness.

He'll be much missed.

6/30/2006 04:57:00 AM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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Thursday, June 29, 2006
THE EXTREMELY LIBERAL Ted Olson argues for a federal shield law for reporters.

You'll recall how infamous Olson's liberalism is.

President G. W. Bush's first Solicitor-General; President Reagan's Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel; argued Bush v. Gore before the Supreme Court for the Bush/Cheney campaign; represented Ronald Reagan during Iran-Contra; assisted Paula Jones' legal team in her sexual harassment suit against President Bill Clinton; helped out Richard Mellon Scaife's "Arkansas Project"; was married to Barbara Olson, conservative TV commentator who was killed on Septemeber 11th, 2001 aboard American Airlines Flight 77.

You just can't trust these ultra-liberal terrorsymps.

After all, he writes:
[...] Unfortunately, the rules regarding what reporters must disclose, and under what circumstances, remain a hopelessly muddled mess. Ask any reporter today, or his publisher, or his publisher's lawyer, whether a reporter must testify about his sources and you will get a litany of ambiguity.


That means that the journalist cannot tell sources whether promises of confidentiality have any teeth. And that, in turn, means that information vital to the public concerning the integrity of government, or of the national pastime, may never see the light of day.

It certainly doesn't have to be this way. Reporters do not expect to be above the law. But they should be accorded some protection so that they can perform their public service in ensuring the free flow of information and exposing fraud, dishonesty and improper conduct without being exposed to an unanticipated jail sentence. A free society depends on access to information and on a free and robust press willing to dig out the truth and spread it around. This requires some ability to deal from time to time with sources who, for one reason or another, require the capacity to speak freely but anonymously.


The Senate Judiciary Committee will soon take up a bill entitled the Free Flow of Information Act of 2006, sponsored by a bipartisan group of legislators and modeled in large part on the Justice Department guidelines. It does not provide an absolute privilege for confidential sources, but it does require, among other things, that a party seeking information from a journalist be able to demonstrate that the need for that information is real and that it is not available from other sources. Matters involving classified information and national security are treated differently. The current controversy over publications relative to the administration's efforts to deter terrorists does not, therefore, provide any basis for delaying or rejecting this needed legislation.
Radical, liberal stuff. I say we disgard this sort of defense of America-hating reporters.

And let's round up Olson for questioning; we don't know why he's turned to hating America, but aggressive interrogation should get us the answers we need; he sounds like traitor Bill Keller to me.

Read The Rest Scale: 3 out of 5.

6/29/2006 06:15:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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EYE, OI. Sketchy:
UK scientists claim to have found a way of making people behave more honestly in an experiment they say will have a knock-on effect on everyday life.

A team from Newcastle University found people put nearly three times as much money into an "honesty box" when they were being watched by a pair of eyes on a poster, compared with a poster featuring flowers.

Researchers say the eye pictures were probably influential because the brain naturally reacts to images of faces and eyes.
"UK scientists": good, detailed, reporting there, Scotsman. Okay, they're from Newcastle U.; methinks you could be a tad more specific.

In other skience news (sort of), good news if you crave a cane rat sandwich, or perhaps a nice baboon roast.

No word on whether it's transported by a freshman NYU Film School student.

Read The Rest Scale: 0 out of 5 and 2.75 out of 5.

UPDATE, 7/01/06, 2:37 a.m.: Better link and story here at the BBC with more details and names.
[...] Writing in the journal Biology Letters, the team says the findings could aid anti-social behaviour initiatives.


Dr Melissa Bateson, a behavioural biologist from Newcastle University and the lead author of the study, said: "We found that people paid 2.76 times as much money when we put a notice on the wall that featured a pair of eyes as opposed to when the image was of some flowers."


Professor George Fieldman, an evolutionary psychologist from Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College, said: "This paper beautifully demonstrates that people behave better when being watched.

"It would be interesting to know how one can apply these sorts of findings more generally in organisational structures and in society in general to maximise upon honourable and altruistic behaviour."
They have somewhat more there. Here is the abstract of the paper. It's very short, but you can buy it if you like, or maybe you otherwise have academic access.

6/29/2006 04:31:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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LESSONS OF HEPTING VS. AT&T. I think this has been previously clear, but expert testimony in an affidavit says:
[...] But last week's public court filing of a redacted statement by J. Scott Marcus is still worth reading for the obvious expertise of its author, and the cunning insights he draws from the AT&T spy documents.


* The AT&T documents are authentic.


* There may be dozens of surveillance rooms in AT&T offices around the country.


* The internet surveillance program covers domestic traffic, not just international traffic.


* The system is capable of looking at content, not just addresses.


Perhaps the most interesting -- and, in retrospect, obvious -- point Marcus makes is that AT&T customers aren't the only ones apparently being tapped. "Transit" traffic originating with one ISP and destined for another is also being sniffed if it crosses AT&T's network. Ironically, because the taps are installed at the point at which that network connects to the rest of the world, the safest web surfers are AT&T subscribers visiting websites hosted on AT&T's network. Their traffic doesn't pass through the splitters.
With that in mind, here's the 27B Stroke 6 guide to detecting if your traffic is being funneled into the secret room on San Francisco's Folsom street.

If you're a Windows user, fire up an MS-DOS command prompt. Now type tracert followed by the domain name of the website, e-mail host, VoIP switch, or whatever destination you're interested in. Watch as the program spits out your route, line by line.


The magic string you're looking for is If it's present immediately above or below a entry, then -- by Klein's allegations -- your packets are being copied into room 641A, and from there, illegally, to the NSA.
In case you wanted to know.

Read The Rest Scale: 3.5 out of 5. Other related news here and here.

Earlier NSA/Program-related posts include, but are not limited to, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, definitely here, and here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, particularly here, here, here, particularly here, emphatically here, here, here, here, here, particularly here, here, immensely emphatically here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Not that I've paid much attention.

6/29/2006 03:34:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 1 comments

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LET THERE BE LIGHT. LED architecture.

I rather like the M-Club:
The Blue M4 Tower is fairly striking:
But who doesn't like some old-fashioned phallic imagery, as in the Agbar Tower, in Barcelona?
View The Rest Scale: 3 out of 5 insofar as you feel enlightened.

6/29/2006 12:56:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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But it's a reasonably wacky story.

On top of it, feminist protests were made by City Controller Chick.

And the city euthanized the program to end euthanizing animals.

You can't make this stuff up. "Hooters for Neuters"?

I'm tempted to make a few other points, but I'm afraid someone would mistakenly think I was arguing in favor of sexism or against feminism, and that would be tiresome, as well as wrong.

"Animal activist Judy Cairns of San Pedro" may have had a fair notion, though.

Okay, one incidental point is that the whole point of businesses, and capitalism, is to exploit people, one way or another, and usually several ways, for money. This isn't to say, of course, that everything done for purposes of earning money is right or just, but that it's not precisely shocking.

Also, "every stone" means that, not "every stone except those that bother us."

Which still doesn't mean I'm arguing in favor of the original proposal in the least.

Read The Rest Scale: 3.5 out of 5. Ah, L.A., city of dreams.

6/29/2006 03:05:00 AM |permanent link | Main Page | | 1 comments

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Wednesday, June 28, 2006
THE RETURNS ON SUPERMAN. What's the single stupidest, biggest, least original cliche that can be found to say about Superman?

Yes, that's right, whatever it is, since it's a comic book movie, you can count on Anthony Lane to say it, dripping with condescension.

But we'll get to that.

As last time I looked over early reviews (of X3), I've not yet seen the film; maybe tomorrow or Friday afternoon, although right now even the $6.50 for a matinee is painful.

Let's start off on a positive note, with Stephen Hunter of the Washington Post:
The much ballyhooed movie, far from great and far from short (2 1/2 hours!), is still great fun. Best is its love for the traditions of the Big Guy: It reaches out to embrace all the previous iterations of the caped flyboy, even finding room for Jack Larson and Noel Neill to get giant close-ups and dramatic scenes of the sort they never got in previous TV cameos.
Right off, I have to quibble: first off, 99.999% of Superman's iterations are in comic book form. I realize this is out of the universe of movie critics, but, hey, your job is to not write ignorant sh*t; first, do no harm.

Superman started in the comics, and has lived as high a percentage as previously mentioned of his "life," in comic books; he's also inhabited comic strips, radio serials, movie serials, tv shows, toys, lunch-boxes, Halloween costumes, novels, short stories, dreams, imaginings, and, oh, yeah, pretty much never, with a handful of exceptions, movies.

So making the nonsensical claim Hunter does is like saying that if we discuss George W. Bush, we are discussing all the iterations of the U.S. President, ever (and obviously a few even quibble with that characterization, but never mind).

Of course, remarks like that from Hunter are typical of almost all movie critic responses to almost all films based on comic book characters, though at least he, like a smattering of occasional other reviewers as regards a handful of such movies, is positive, and not dripping with the usual personal superiority and contempt as predictably inevitable as from Lane.

In any case, in movie form, the Ur-Superman is the original: Max Fleischer's, made in 1941. (Another tic of dumb-ass movie reviewer comments as regards Superman is to -- incomprehensibly! -- refer to the Christopher Reeve/Richard Donner films of the late 1970s -- made nearly forty years after the original! -- as "the original.")

This can only be in the sense that "original" means "long after umpty other versions." (You can buy a DVD of the Fleischer cartoons, or another version here, by the way, and I'll get a few pennies, in theory; they're fun, in an extremely primitive way.)

A few years later came the various Kirk Alyn versions. We won't run through all the other history here, through George Reeves, the late Eighties Superboy, Dean Cain, and so on, because, again: Superman has had tens of thousands of appearances, in comics; the movie versions are a relatively trivial contribution, and none have really been remotely as interesting or well-written or characterized as any of hundreds of the better comics stories.

Back to Hunter.
[...] It's too bad George Reeves, the original TV tall-building leaper, isn't around to bask in a little afterglow.
Okay, I think I'm done making my point on that.
[...] More to the point, the young actor Brandon Routh seems chosen for the part not because he embodies Superman but because he specifically embodies Reeve's Superman, with dark good looks, a modest, even ego-less screen presence, a curiously muted sexuality and a sense of well-brought-up preppie's politeness and diffidence.
A point I'd long figured out.

But Hunter likes it fine:
[...] Yet at the same time, it's not an impersonation, it's a performance. In certain ways the director, Bryan Singer (of "The Usual Suspects" and the first two "X-Men" movies), has found new stylings to enable his leading man to make the part his own.

Flying, for example; Reeve and even Reeves were coached to see flying as athletic, an expression of strength and speed. To get airborne they took off, building up a head of steam, then (oof!) bounding into the air with a diver's gymnastics as he launches off the high board. By contrast, Routh is a much less athletic, much less muscular flier. For him, flight almost seems Zen. He doesn't have to put any muscle into it and when he's flying, he's not penetrating the atmosphere (his hair hardly moves) but rather transcendentally meditating his way through it. His landings aren't controlled crashes softened by super-strong muscles and ligaments (oof! again) but a kind of delicate settling. He's a Supe who's made peace with the air. I kept expecting him to break into, "Look at me way up high, suddenly here am I, I'm flyyyyying!"

That same glee seems to run through the movie's first half, when, since the story hasn't really started, there seems plenty of time to experience the sheer joy of Superman's return.
And so on. Next biggie, Manohla Dargis of the NY Times is not remotely so pleased.
[...] Last seen larking about on the big screen in the 1987 dud "Superman IV," the Man of Steel has been resurrected in a leaden new film not only to fight for truth, justice and the American way, but also to give Mel Gibson's passion a run for his box-office money. Where once the superhero flew up, up and away, he now flies down, down, down, sent from above to save mankind from its sins and what looked like another bummer summer.

The super-size (more than two and a half hours) "Superman Returns" was written by Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris, working off a story hatched by them and the director, Bryan Singer, after what appears to have been repeat viewings of Richard Donner's "Superman."


Mr. Singer's Superman, played by Brandon Routh, is a hero of rather different emotional colors, most muted.


The Daily Planet's star reporter is in turn played by Kate Bosworth, whose glum mien and curtain of brown hair suggests that blondes really do have more fun.


It's too bad that Mr. Singer and his colleagues don't really do anything substantial with the good-guy-bad-guy routine. Superman may be a super-creation, but it's his villains rather than his dual identity that have usually given him a kick. Unlike his brooding and angst-ridden rivals in the superhero game, his alter ego is only as interesting as the comic book artist or the actor adding shades of gray to Clark Kent's business suit.
Writers, apparently, in Ms. Dargis's universe, do not exist. I guess the artists just figure out what to draw on their own. (Needless to say, editors exist even less.)
[...] Given how securely Lois remains out of the romantic picture in "Superman Returns," now saddled with both a kid and a fiancé (James Marsden), it's no surprise that some have speculated that Superman is gay.
IJWTS that until the last couple of months, one pretty much, relatively speaking, never heard this. (Batman and Robin, sure -- ancient joke; Wonder Woman? -- absolutely; in the last fifteen years or so, Aquaman, too; Superman? Nope. I have to wonder if this is connected somehow to Bryan Singer's being well-known to be out, or what is the source, and why this trope suddenly started appearing so frequently only in the last few months.)

Anyway, Dargis disapproves, with the usual sneer at comic book movies:
[...] It's hard to see what the point is beyond the usual grandiosity that comes whenever B-movie material is pumped up with ambition and money. As he proved with his first two installments of "The X-Men" franchise, Mr. Singer likes to make important pop entertainments that trumpet their seriousness as loudly as they deploy their bangs. It's hard not to think that Superman isn't the only one here with a savior complex.
Premiere's Sara Brady, however, likes it:
Simply put, Superman Returns is as elementally old-fashioned and splendid as any fan could hope.

I won't proclaim to be a Superman loyalist. I've never read any of the comics and I've never seen the fourth Christopher Reeve Superman film.


But for a brief crush on Dean Cain in my misguided youth, I haven't followed Smallville or any of the character's latter-day incarnations. And unlike my mindset going into Singer's 2000 X-Men, I had practically no expectations for the Man of Steel's return, so it was surprising and pleasant to watch a movie recreate something I'd half-forgotten; the familiar and the new blend together to create a pastiche of nostalgia and awakening.
But enough about the movie: let's talk more about you.

Nah, I'm just messing with her.
[...] The story, by Singer and his X-Men collaborators Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris, is refreshingly straightforward. It's the kind of tale that doesn't rely on backtracking to find the double-cross or someone pulling off his face to reveal that actually, the Pope did it. Routh and Bosworth have a sweet and simple chemistry that's at its most poignant during a nighttime flight over Metropolis, even if Lois isn't the most convincing heroine (pouting and making idiotic blunders like wandering onto the villain's yacht might be a superhero-movie female lead's tradition, but that doesn't mean it's not annoying).

In a story this solidly retro and unironic, a healthy dash of snark might have lightened up some of the most canonical and unbelievable moments. Singer's X-Men films had the outsider Wolverine to comment on the action and remind viewers not to take all this too seriously; Superman lacks any sort of equalizing force. Maybe the movie doesn't need it, though—Singer's film takes period indicators spanning sixty years, like Lois's '40s fashions side-by-side with camera-phones and what look like 64-bit PCs, to create a setting that defies categorization. The whole effect is much like watching The Lord of the Rings: an entire world, created for the simple purpose of telling this story that at once feels huge and intimate.
That certainly sounds promising, though a) I find it difficult to believe the movie has one-fiftieth the depth of detail of Tolkien, and b) Premiere tends to be rather a suck-up to blockbusters, more than not.

David Edelstein, generally one of the more perceptive critics around, now at New York:
From the start, Superman Returns has a pall that it never shakes off: Even the superheroics seem like stopgap measures in a world slipping grimly into the abyss.


As it turns out, the new guy, Brandon Routh, isn’t very good at all, and when he is, it’s because he’s channeling Reeve’s dithering, butterfingers Clark Kent and his sheepishly grinning Man of Steel.
Whoa. Talk about exactly what I was afraid of.
[...] There’s nothing wrong with tortured emotion in comic-book pictures. The genre’s writers and illustrators have kept their superheroes fresh by finding dark underbellies and kinky variations. (How about that gay Batgirl?)
I dunno. I'm thinking he's talking about the flurry of dopey news attention from non-comics sources about the revised Kathy Kane, Batwoman, but why bother getting such petty details right? (And the reason I ignored the story is because it was news a couple of decades ago when a comic super-hero was gay, but, you know, hey: not the mid-Eighties anymore; plenty of gay superheros since then.)
[...] No chance with this Lois, Kate Bosworth, the blonde surfer-queen of Blue Crush. She isn’t a bad actress, but she’s motorless, with guileless little eyes; and the hotshot investigative reporter is now an overprotective single mom with a frail boy and an earnest fiancé (James Marsden) whom she doesn’t have the wit to manipulate.

The bigger problem is that Singer’s weighty rhythms are disastrous for Superman, and the movie actually gets heavier in its last half-hour. Spacey’s Luthor—until now less a supervillain than a clammy businessman—mutilates Superman with sociopathic relish: The sequence is so ugly that Luthor’s lame, jokey comeuppance feels monstrously inadequate. But by then the audience has moved far ahead of Singer. A scene in which Lois tries to persuade her fiancé to turn his plane around and help the disabled superhero could have been compressed into ten seconds instead of dragged out to a minute, and the final scenes would make Wagner check his watch. It’s not that the movie is 157 minutes; it’s that it feels like 157 minutes.
I don't think he liked it.

But William Arnold at the Seattle P-I does:
[...] Superman also is a premise that has worked in virtually all media: comic books, comic strips, animation, the radio (where much of his back story was developed), four television series over 50 years and a big-budget movie cycle in the '70s and '80s.
Oh, look, someone who gets it right; be still, my beating heart.
He also works in "Superman Returns," an immensely satisfying revival and continuation of that Warner Bros. movie series [...]


It's not quite a runaway success, the casting is hit-and-miss and there's nothing hugely innovative in the story line or the effects. In an era full of superhero movies, it's not likely to have anything close to the impact of the '79 version with Christopher Reeve.

But the film is magnificently mounted, it moves like a speeding bullet and it's so respectful of Superman traditions that even the pickiest of die-hard fans should love it. After a lapse of two decades, it revitalizes the franchise and makes it seem fresh and alive.


It's a tough act to follow and Routh doesn't quite do it. Still, he's likable, he has charisma, he looks like a cross between Reeve and Tom Cruise, he mimics Reeve's charm well in several scenes and he's about the best we could expect in an impossible situation.

The same cannot be said for much of the rest of the casting, including Frank Langella, Parker Posey, James Marsden -- all surprisingly lackluster -- and Kate Bosworth, whose somber Lois has none of the spunky appeal Margot Kidder brought to the role.
Are we sensing a pattern about Bosworth? I've not seen a kind word yet.
[...] Effects junkies also may reasonably complain that, for all its mega-budget, the visuals of the first CGI-enhanced Superman do not exactly boggle the senses, advance the art form or seem that much more impressive that the non-digital work in "Superman" I and II.

But, while hardly groundbreaking, the visual effect of a man convincingly soaring through the air still imparts quite a thrill, and director Bryan Singer skillfully uses it to carry the movie and anchor several exhilarating action sequences.

And some of the film's weaker casting choices are made up for by Kevin Spacey, whose Lex Luthor strikes just the right chord of cheeky demented genius and gives the film an agreeable touch of comedy and anarchy. It's his best movie performance since "American Beauty."
Golly; quite a contradiction to those who think such words are incomprehensible about a "comic book movie."
Above all, the film works off the dedication of writer-director Singer ("X-Men" I and II), whose love of Superman tradition and the Superman movies is legendary[....]
And yet, strangely, we know that Singer never read a Superman comic in his life. Again, a reviewer goes off into some Never-Neverland of myth in a review. But what the hell: it's hard to find a movie review that doesn't do that.
[...] At the same time, the film has a life and pull of its own that comes from Singer's unique vision and desire to revitalize the character and make him relevant. It's a nice blend, and it gives "Superman Returns" a spark that few action blockbusters of its class can match.
Score another positive.

Kenneth Turan of the LA Times frowns:
"Superman Returns" is a hummingbird in reverse. The tiny beast shouldn't be able to fly but does, while the massive movie should soar but only sporadically gets off the ground.


The studio made a number of smart moves that should have led to something better than this unwieldy sprawl of a movie....


There are far too many situations, however, in this two-hour and 40-minute epic, when the big guy is not in the air, and, unfortunately, this cumbersome, overly long film doesn't quite know what to do with itself the rest of the time.

It's not that "Superman Returns" doesn't have any ideas, it's got too many; this is a film that tries too hard and wants too much. Absent the acting or the script resources to do all it would like, the picture's multiple agendas conflict with each other instead of cohering. And a rolling series of miscalculations cripple even its best intentions.


The wrench of having an emotionally important person coming back into your changed life is one of the things "Superman Returns" would like to deal with, but the film can't manage it convincingly. Bosworth is a game actress (as the surfing movie "Blue Crush" proved) but not noticeably more, and even superhero movies need performers with depth if they are to make emotional connections.
The Bosworth curse continues. If she reads reviews, she can't be feeling good today.
[...] The film's good-versus-evil subplot also lacks conviction. The nefarious scheme Lex Luthor has in the works is a long time coming into focus and is not particularly interesting once it does. "Superman Returns'" biggest miscalculation, it turns out, is having Spacey play the nominal villain. The actor and the director have an illustrious history (Spacey won his first Oscar for Singer's superb "The Usual Suspects") but giving him this role was simply a bad idea, especially when the results are compared with "Spider-Man 2's" Doc Ock or how brilliantly Ian McKellen created the villain in the "X-Men" films.

Unable to decide if Luthor is an amusing character (à la Gene Hackman, who played him in the 1978 "Superman") or one we should take seriously, Spacey tries to split the difference, with unhappy results.
So much for "his best movie performance since 'American Beauty.'"

Incidentally, my personal nomination for Worst Performance By An Excellent Actor In a Superhero Film is Tommy Lee Jones in That Film We Won't Acknowledge Exists, in which he was apparently directed to play Two-Face as if he were a bad clone (Bizarro?) of Jack Nicholson's Joker. "Just cackle like mad, Tommy Lee -- your character is CRAZY" seems to have been the operative instruction. (And, of course, the entire point of Two-Face, the thing that makes him interesting, and not the Joker is that he's one-half, and one-half of the time, sane, good old virtuous DA Harvey Dent, who will help Batman -- when the coin flip turns up the unmarred side; but you'd never know from That Movie.)

But back to Turan:
[...] That choice also makes it difficult to take Luthor seriously in the film's late stages when the story line insists we do. It's not till that point that "Superman Returns" works up any real tension or jeopardy for its title character, and even then the situation is so sadistic in tone its hard to take any pleasure in it.

Insufficient acting is a weakness throughout the film; when the ghost of Marlon Brando (as father Jor-El in a vintage hologram) gives one of your most memorable performances, you're in trouble. With so many agendas and the lack of a consistent tone, scenes of Superman actually rescuing people is a smaller part of this movie than it should be. Star Routh's presence and the joys of flight keep "Superman Returns" alive, but all those missteps dog its heels, holding it back like little touches of Kryptonite in the night.
Ooh. Little shiv of Kryptonite there, too, though at least not red or gold.

Peter Travers, well, I think this is a positive review, but it's so rambly and ambivalent that it's a bit hard to be sure.

Mostly he talks about how he prefers Batman. Which is very nice. Again, enough about the film, let's talk more about you, Peter. But I won't bother to quote. Also, was a law passed mandating that every reviewer compare Eva Marie Saint to the Virgin Mary, and Superman to the Big J? Apparently. Though at least only a few descend to The Biggest Superman Cliche Of All (you can guess it -- yes, Travers uses it).
[...] Singer's passion for the DC Comics superhero is never in doubt. And that passion extends to the 1978 Superman movie, directed by Richard Donner and starring Christopher Reeve, who made a humane Man of Steel and played his alter ego Clark Kent with a bumbling, bespectacled charm.
Here we see "extends to" in its little-known meaning of "is limited to." But we've already established that.
[...] But enough of the plot spoilers.
Too late; most critics seem to feel their job consists of describing all the twists of the plot at length. Once again, I feel like I've already seen a movie I've not yet seen. Thanks, guys! I realize it's a heck of a lot easier than actually having insight, and something to say, let alone saying it well, but, really, you're too kind. Meanwhile, on the character front, which way will the Spacey coin-flip go?
[...] Tossing his wig at a disappointed heir, baldy boy Lex snaps, "You keep this, the rest is mine." Spacey powers the movie with ripe, nasty fun. Parker Posey pushes too hard as Kitty, the chatty handmaiden to Lex's Satanic Majesty. And Bosworth (newly brunette and bland) underdoes it as Lois.
And it's a plus for the Space-man, and, well, will anyone say anything kind about Bosworth? How bad can she be?

The Boston Globe is a mostly positive vote:
[...] Superman is Version 1.0.

Which is how Bryan Singer treats him in "Superman Returns," the fine pop resurrection opening in theaters tonight. Unlike last year's "Batman Begins," this isn't a reinvention of a beloved franchise. It's a renewal, a continuation of what has come before.


The upshot of all this veneration is a generally thrilling entertainment that's not quite the grand slam you want it to be. "Superman Returns" travels from Metropolis to the North Pole, from outer space to the ocean's depths, but in the end it feels just a little Smallville . You don't mind terribly, but you're conscious of the missed chance.


The story line in "Superman Returns" never convincingly gels -- something about Luthor getting hold of magic crystals from the Fortress of Solitude and using them to seed a new continent off the Eastern Seaboard, with a bit of green Kryptonite to keep any stray superheroes at bay.
Incidentally, every single reviewer who has mentioned this -- which is all of them, save one, that I've read -- has used the precise phrase "magic crystals." Since last I looked, Kryptonian science isn't "magic" -- "magic" is, in fact, an entirely different, and extremely elaborate, if somewhat malleable, thing in the DC Universe, and the other major thing Superman has always been vulnerable to -- I have to wonder if there's something in a press release using that phrase, or whether everyone simply Magically uses the same cliche?
[...] What's missing from the film is the popcorn exhilaration you get from action scenes that build dynamically throughout a narrative. Mayhem junkies will be happy with an early sequence where Superman....


In general, though, the film never quite establishes the necessary momentum. Singer tends to his main characters while stranding gifted talents like Parker Posey (as Luthor's moll) and Kal Penn (as a henchman) on the sidelines, and he springs exactly one big plot surprise and doesn't do much with it. Presumably there'll be a payoff in the next film, but that leaves this one in the lurch.

So it's a good film but not a great one; at the very least, you can tell the people behind "Superman Returns" have an abiding fondness for this 70-year-old pop myth.
Sole mention of Bosworth here?
Kate Bosworth with dyed brown tresses and not enough edge....
It's the kindest thing yet.

Alright, I'm having trouble this afternoon getting to some sites I'd normally check (Village Voice, San Francisco papers, a few others), and we don't want this to run on forever. The big gun: Ebert hates it.
It's no fun being Superman. Your life is a lie, there's nobody you can confide in, you're in love but can't express it, and you're on call 24 hours a day. But it can be fun being in a Superman movie. The original "Superman" (1978) was an exuberance of action and humor, because Christopher Reeve could play the character straight and let us know he was kidding.
I seem to be the only person who thinks that, in fact, he hammed it up like mad, and was completely unconvincing, though not without a certain getting-the-character-all-wrong verve. Well, maybe me and David Edelstein.
[...] Now the Man of Steel is back in Bryan Singer's "Superman Returns," which, like its hero, spends a lot of time dead in the water.

This is a glum, lackluster movie in which even the big effects sequences seem dutiful instead of exhilarating. The newsroom of the Daily Planet, filled with eccentricity and life in the earlier movies, now seems populated by corporate drones. Jimmy Olsen, the copy boy, such a brash kid, seems tamed and clueless. Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) has lost her dash and pizzazz, and her fiance, Richard White (James Marsden), regards her like a deer caught in the headlights. Even the editor, Perry White (Frank Langella), comes across less like a curmudgeon, more like an efficient manager.

One problem is with the casting.
Gee, Rog, I'd never have gotten that idea from what you already said.
[...] It's strange how little dialogue the title character has in the movie. Clark Kent is monosyllabic, and Superman is microsyllabic.


Superman is vulnerable to one, and only one, substance: kryptonite. He knows this. We know this. Lex Luthor knows this.
Here's a typical example of how Roger pretty much always makes major errors when talking about comics, a form he's mentioned many times that he never read as either child or adult. As I previously noted, Superman is, in fact, completely vulnerable to magic.

And, in fact, he's been vulnerable to all sorts of energies and forces over the years, from technology from Apokolips to Phantom Zone projectors, to red sun energy, to being whaled on by guys like Mongul, to Black Mercy plants, to the Parasite, to, well, the list goes on through hundreds of items. Superman would be really boring if he weren't vulnerable to lots of stuff.

Yeah, that's what lots of people say he actually is. They're not impaired by actually knowing what the eff they're talking about. Like Roger.
[...] There is I suppose a certain bottom line of competence in "Superman Returns," and superhero fans will want to see the movie just for its effects, its plot outrages and its moments of humor. But when the hero, his alter ego, his girlfriend and the villain all seem to lack any joy in being themselves, why should we feel joy at watching them?
But, then, only on rare occasion does Roger like or get a superhero film.

So, we finish with the writer with the greatest contempt for comics and science fiction of all, ladies and gentlemen, Anthony Lane.
[...] Dotted here and there will be Supermaniacs—some of them sporting red underpants, others in panty hose of royal blue, none of them happily married.
I've known a lot of happily married Superman fans over the years, but let's not miss a chance to dismiss as childish fools anyone who doesn't share Mr. Lane's taste, shall we? And rumor has it that Alex Ross, about as big a "Supermaniac" as there is, is very happily married (if maybe, granted, a bit of a goof over superheros -- but, hey, he's made how many hundreds of thousands of dollars [or more?] out of that interest, so who gets to laugh?).
[...] Last, and quite alone, will be a weary cinéaste, submitting himself to two and a half hours of blockbuster because, and only because, it represents a final chance to witness the union of Eva Marie Saint and Marlon Brando.
Lane has to give some excuse for seeing the movie; hard to explain that he'd otherwise lower himself.
[...] Brando resumes the role of Jor-El, which sounds to me like a failed airline but is in fact the Kryptonish name of our hero’s father.
What a card. Hilarious, eh?
[...] ...moviegoers will be asking why, if the director, Bryan Singer, was hellbent on resurrecting a Brando performance, he had to pick this one.
Because, clearly, that's why Singer chose to do the film. The director of The Usual Suspects, and Apt Pupil couldn't otherwise want to work with sh*t, right?
Why not bring back Terry Malloy, from “On the Waterfront,” mumbling reassurance from a bloodied mouth? Who wouldn’t take advice from Stanley Kowalski? Or Colonel Kurtz? One scene with him and even the Man of Steel would snap.
Slightly amusing, that, I'll grant. It doesn't make any sense, but it is slightly amusing.
[...] Superman, we learn, has been AWOL for five years. He claims to have been visiting his native planet, now a ruinous wasteland.
Claims? Does Lane know something we don't know?
[...] Hell hath no fury like an earthling scorned.
One of the many things that annoys me about Lane is that I'm completely convinced that he sits in his seat, thinking how bored he is, and how brilliant everyone will think he is for writing such lines.
[...] With his band of merry thugs, he grabs magic crystals from Superman’s arctic hideout, which is wondrously framed as a kind of frozen cathedral. What these are I never really gathered....
Apparently there's a consensus that they're magic crystals. (Although Ebert claims they're made out of Krytonite; I suspect neither is correct, and that they're part of the crystalline growth of the Fortress of Solitude we saw in the two Donner pictures, which is to say, Kryptonian technology; obviously Superman's Fortress is Kryptonian in origin (in modern incarnations; in earlier versions he just built it), and obviously not made out of Kryptonite, but, hey, maybe I'm wrong. And maybe Superman can shoot forcebeams out of his hands and give kisses that induce amnesia; who the hell knows?)
[...] Picture my disappointment as I realized that, for all the pizzazz of “Superman Returns,” its global weapon of choice would not be terrorism, or nuclear piracy, or dirty bombs. It would be real estate. What does Warner Bros. have in mind for the next installment? Superman overhauls corporate pension plans? Luthor screws Medicare?
Well, sure, after all, we've never seen a film in which the threat is terrorism, or nuclear warheads, or dirty bombs; if the movie went that way, we'd be awe-struck by the originality, and what a mighty threat it would present to Superman, wouldn't we? Clear thinking, fer sure.

Archetypical Lane:
The actor may toy with his lines, but you feel a glazing of ennui as he realizes that the whole movie is stuck in toytown, where depth is against the law.
As is you showing any in your reviews of comic book or sf movies.

And get this:
The fact is that the only first-rate work to have fed off comic books was done by Roy Lichtenstein forty years ago....
Makes me want to haul about the dialogue about "tracers" from one of my favorite films, Chasing Amy. (My guess: Lane is not a big Kevin Smith fan.)

Let's cut to the chase: Bosworth critique?
The new Lois Lane, Kate Bosworth, is not a patch on Margot Kidder...
Man, I'm so surprised.

But wait, what's the rest of that sentence?
...or, for that matter, on Teri Hatcher, in the TV series....
Okay, caught: Anthony Lane watched The Adventures of Lois And Clark.

Oh, Anthony! How could you?

Oh, and the Biggest Superman Cliche Remark Of All Time?

Yes, you guessed it:
[...] Mind you, if Superman is such a paragon, how come he wants to save a species so universally dumb that not a single member of it recognizes him when he puts on a pair of glasses?
Because. No one. Ever. Thought. Of. That. Before.

Read The Rest Scale: well, hell, do as you wish.

ADDENDUM, 10:36 p.m.: I hadn't realized that Roger has apparently just had cancer surgery again last week. My best wishes for the best possible recovery go to him.

6/28/2006 02:30:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 4 comments

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SPOUSES AS EXOTIC ANIMALS. They can respond to training, claims Amy Sutherland.
[...] For a book I was writing about a school for exotic animal trainers, I started commuting from Maine to California, where I spent my days watching students do the seemingly impossible: teaching hyenas to pirouette on command, cougars to offer their paws for a nail clipping, and baboons to skateboard.

I listened, rapt, as professional trainers explained how they taught dolphins to flip and elephants to paint. Eventually it hit me that the same techniques might work on that stubborn but lovable species, the American husband.

The central lesson I learned from exotic animal trainers is that I should reward behavior I like and ignore behavior I don't. After all, you don't get a sea lion to balance a ball on the end of its nose by nagging. The same goes for the American husband.

Back in Maine, I began thanking Scott if he threw one dirty shirt into the hamper. If he threw in two, I'd kiss him. Meanwhile, I would step over any soiled clothes on the floor without one sharp word, though I did sometimes kick them under the bed. But as he basked in my appreciation, the piles became smaller.

I was using what trainers call "approximations," rewarding the small steps toward learning a whole new behavior. You can't expect a baboon to learn to flip on command in one session, just as you can't expect an American husband to begin regularly picking up his dirty socks by praising him once for picking up a single sock. With the baboon you first reward a hop, then a bigger hop, then an even bigger hop. With Scott the husband, I began to praise every small act every time: if he drove just a mile an hour slower, tossed one pair of shorts into the hamper, or was on time for anything.

I also began to analyze my husband the way a trainer considers an exotic animal. Enlightened trainers learn all they can about a species, from anatomy to social structure, to understand how it thinks, what it likes and dislikes, what comes easily to it and what doesn't. For example, an elephant is a herd animal, so it responds to hierarchy. It cannot jump, but can stand on its head. It is a vegetarian.

The exotic animal known as Scott is a loner, but an alpha male. So hierarchy matters, but being in a group doesn't so much. He has the balance of a gymnast, but moves slowly, especially when getting dressed. Skiing comes naturally, but being on time does not. He's an omnivore, and what a trainer would call food-driven.

Once I started thinking this way, I couldn't stop.
I won't give helpful info here on my problem areas -- TMI.

And I don't know just now when I'll get my next chance to put this theory to work. But it does have a certain surface plausibility. On the other hand, it seems to me that some people do seem relatively impervious to outside feedback and change.

Of course, that's the view from the outside, even if at times the close outside.
[...] On a field trip with the students, I listened to a professional trainer describe how he had taught African crested cranes to stop landing on his head and shoulders. He did this by training the leggy birds to land on mats on the ground. This, he explained, is what is called an "incompatible behavior," a simple but brilliant concept.

Rather than teach the cranes to stop landing on him, the trainer taught the birds something else, a behavior that would make the undesirable behavior impossible. The birds couldn't alight on the mats and his head simultaneously.

At home, I came up with incompatible behaviors for Scott to keep him from crowding me while I cooked. To lure him away from the stove, I piled up parsley for him to chop or cheese for him to grate at the other end of the kitchen island. Or I'd set out a bowl of chips and salsa across the room. Soon I'd done it: no more Scott hovering around me while I cooked.

I followed the students to SeaWorld San Diego, where a dolphin trainer introduced me to least reinforcing syndrome (L. R. S.). When a dolphin does something wrong, the trainer doesn't respond in any way. He stands still for a few beats, careful not to look at the dolphin, and then returns to work. The idea is that any response, positive or negative, fuels a behavior. If a behavior provokes no response, it typically dies away.

In the margins of my notes I wrote, "Try on Scott!"
There are certainly many possible strategies to experiment with, though some might provoke unforseen responses. But also:
[...] I adopted the trainers' motto: "It's never the animal's fault." When my training attempts failed, I didn't blame Scott. Rather, I brainstormed new strategies, thought up more incompatible behaviors and used smaller approximations. I dissected my own behavior, considered how my actions might inadvertently fuel his. I also accepted that some behaviors were too entrenched, too instinctive to train away. You can't stop a badger from digging, and you can't stop my husband from losing his wallet and keys.
The lack of blame notion strikes me as very beneficial to discouraging unnecessary explosions of anger and fighting.

It also fits well with one of the great, if banal and obvious, lessons of my life.

As a child, my most prized possessions were my books, largely all paperbacks, mostly science fiction and science fact, painfully accumulated from weekend shopping trips to the then-extant many used books stores of NYC, particularly several in Coney Island, just off the El. I saved my allowance and small earnings carefully to buy those paperbacks, largely for $.25 and $.35, but sometimes for $.50, $.75, and on rare and special occasions, $1 or $1.25.

Later, by age 12-13, I could afford occasional new paperbacks, largely bought at the WaldenBooks at the then-new King's Plaza shopping mall, a three-bus trip.

Added to my cherished books, carefully arranged in alphabetical order by author, than title, was my small but burgeoning collection of prozines; I subscribed to all six then ongoing (Analog, F&SF, and twins Galaxy & Worlds of If, and Amazing & Fantastic [little realizing that at age 15 I'd start reading slush for the latter two]).

As I aged, I continued to collect and cherish my book collection, and when I finally made contact with fandom at age 12, I added collecting fanzines, rapidly proceeding to make as many buys of old fanzines as I could, and on notable occasions, making huge buys of many boxes, from old fans getting rid of theirs, until in a few short years, I had managed, through contacts, skill, luck, and absolutely dogged dedication, to amass an sf fanzine and convention memorablia collection that was without doubt among the top ten held in private hands in the world (and universities were just beginning to amass collections at this time in the middling Seventies).

Long story short, for many years thereafter, my books and fanzines were my most prized possessions, including many rare, and some entirely unique and irreplaceably valuable, items.

I started doing displays of the zines and con stuff at sf conventions, institutionalizing (as much as anything is), such a display (combined for a few years with a separate track of fan programming, and a Fanzine Fan Lounge), at the Worldcon, in 1977, following the inspiration of a proto-display called the "All Our Yesterdays" room at Midamericon in 1976, created by the late Susan Wood.

And for years afterwards, I continued to be ever-more of a collector and packrat.

All of which was interrupted by the fire in my Washington Heights, Manhattan, apartment building in 1991, which burned up a serious part of my collection. Then destruction was completed by a couple of later losses, the most serious of which was the loss of everything in a later apartment I had in Midwood, Brooklyn (I'd swum upstream, though not to spawn), in the mid-Nineties, when in the midst of dire clinical depression, I'd been unable to keep affording the apartment, put everything in paid storage, and then not coped with paying the bills, and not realized that I'd had far less time to do so before all was auctioned off, and not found out that everything was gone until months too late.

As I've previously mentioned, this final loss of all of my stuff, save some still in storage at a friend's, and two suitcases of basics, was so emotionally devastating to me, and my conception of myself, and the importance of my books and fanzines (which by then also included my personal library of books I'd worked on, innumerable books I'd gotten from other publishers for free, many inscribed works, many proofs, a few manuscripts, my Wall 'O Dictionaries and reference books, and much else), that I pretty much ceased coping with life at all for more than another year.

And I continued to feel emotionally crippled by the loss of That Stuff for years to come.

Eventually, finally, though, the banal and obvious lesson: it's all just stuff.

The experience, combined with a couple of near-death experiences, variously by fire and medical crisi and bad diagnoses of fatal illness, finally, slowly, taught me what many have known for millenia: it's all just stuff, it's all perishable, you can never truly possess it or keep it forever, and you'll always, eventually, have to let go of it all, anyway.

Those who die with the most toys, do not, in fact, win.

Having the most toys when you die, or even are very sick, is, in fact, completely meaningless.

When you're dead, you don't have them anymore, and you. Don't. Care.

Hey, Gary invents Buddhism! (Ya'd think maybe that my fascination with Zen and Taoism in my adolescence might have gotten this across to me, but, no, really, it was, until long experience of great loss, and finally moving on and dealing, all intellectual, not at all emotional, or truly absorbed, knowledge.)

So nowadays, I still miss my former books and fanzines (and my photo collection, and other irretrievable personal items and mementos), but I think I finally get that it's all ultimately meaningless and unimportant.

Yeah, like I said, this is about as deep as the end of your average inspirational tv episode. A Very Special Post from Amygdala.

But it does fit in with accepting that there's not much you can do, either, to change a loved one, and certainly direct confrontation, and anger, and nagging, aren't useful tools.

Still on the agenda: sometime or other, when the time is right, again finding a good person to make use of this knowledge with.

But I know it'll happen when it happens, and that pushing that won't help, either.

Soon: more politics and usual wacky hijinks here. Watch the skies.

Or your monitor. Same Bat (or Supes) channel, etc. But watching the skies is always good, too. (Besides, beware the pods.) (For those who want a start on more substance, less me: geo-engineering.)

Read The Rest Scale: 3.5 out of 5.

6/28/2006 10:18:00 AM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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Saturday, June 24, 2006
JEEPERS. Hailstorms the size of my fist banging on my two little skylights, admidst this huge rainstorm.

The noise is huge. Pongs and pounds and pops and bangs. Large ice smashing down, admidst a formerly warm summer day.

Bash, even.

I opened the front door, and it's frigging Wizard of Oz out there. Fist of God. Flash flooding in the street. Lightning cracking, and thunder crashing. It's all pounding. Leaves stripped from trees. "Severe weather alert" says my computer alert, and also the tv.

More rain smashes down. Fricking awesome.

I frantically slide the windows close, as the water floods in.

The hail slams down harder on the skylights, like machine guns.

Holy crap, it's getting worse.

I've never seen anything like this.

UPDATE, 6: 01 p.m.: Yikes, the damn balcony (I'm three stories up) is flooding.

UPDATE, 6:30 p.m.: It's pretty much stopped, but not before tons of flooding; the ground floor apartments look like they've got inches, and the streets are pools; had a long talk with neighbor Curley, who it turns out has been here for thirty-odd years. And he's pretty much never seen a storm this fierce before, either.

ADDENDUM, 6/27/06, 2:22 p.m.: Okay, so maybe another day or so on the break; I'm on a book-reading, movie-watching, games-playing kick. Back soon, as always.

6/24/2006 04:52:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 9 comments

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Wednesday, June 21, 2006
I'M POINTLESS. I quit. Read Atrios. He does what I do.

See here.

Everyone read the Shovel Man, the Haditha, the Dark Side, stuff, at Atrios, before you read it here, I assume.

We don't need little guy blogs.

For now, anyway.

UPDATE, 6/23/06, 10:51 p.m.: Okay, I don't quit. Fit of temper. Sorry about that.

But I'm going to take a day off, and try to get less cranky.

UPDATE, 6/24/06, 4:44 p.m.: Okay, maybe I'll take the weekend off. You want me refreshed and invigorated, to return to blogging, right? Right?

Meanwhile, gee, thanks, sort of, kind of, maybe, a bit, to those who linked to this, but linking a post with substance might have been better?

Okay, I was unbecoming, and in bad form, so I deserve any implicit spanking. Bad me. I blog, I live large. Meanwhile, better posts below.

6/21/2006 08:48:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 13 comments

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Military Charges 8 With Murder of Iraqi

Seven marines and a Navy corpsman were charged today with murder, kidnapping and conspiracy in connection with the shooting death of an Iraqi civilian in April.

The men, all members of the Third Battalion of the Fifth Marine Regiment, have been confined to the brig here at Camp Pendleton since May, when a preliminary inquiry concluded that there was enough evidence to warrant a criminal investigation.

Officials here disclosed little information about the case itself. But earlier this month, Marine officials and members of Congress who had been briefed on the case said the eight men appeared to have dragged a 52-year-old Iraqi man from his house in the town of Hamdaniya, west of Baghdad, on April 26, and shot him without provocation.
I said it bore further investigation. I'm very glad the system is getting somewhere on this. (I won't say "the system works"; whether it works depends on outside pressure, and other factors, and it works rather sporadically, shall we say.)

I've gone on about the "man with a shovel" for a bunch of posts.

Of course, this is also always a possibility:
[...] The parents of one of the marines, Private Jodka, told The Los Angeles Times earlier this month that they thought their son was being punished out of a desire by Marine officials to rebut criticism that they were slow to react to evidence in the Haditha case.

"It appears to me that this is the reaction of some senior people to show 'we're in charge, we're cleaning up our act,'" John Jodka Jr. told the newspaper. He said he believed that the generals figure, "If a few privates and corporals have to take it, that's the price of keeping my stars."
Previous war-crimes-related posts include here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Read The Rest Scale: 4 out of 5.

6/21/2006 05:12:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 4 comments

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DARK SIDE, PT. III. Part I is here. Part II is here. I'll probably have more to come, though not immediately.
Richard Clarke:
The Rumsfeld-Cheney relationship made it very difficult, I think, for the national security adviser, because for one thing, the vice president was sitting in meetings where vice presidents had never been before. So here's the national security adviser, Dr. Rice, who should be the most senior person in the room, chairing the meeting -- and she is chairing the meeting, but sitting right there is the vice president of the United States at the table, inches away, who is more senior than she is. That was difficult.

Then you combine the fact that the vice president is really personally close to the secretary of defense; that they've been working together, playing together for decades. And you have a secretary of defense ignoring the national security adviser -- not taking advice, not taking suggestions, because he talks to the White House at a higher level. That made it difficult for Dr. Rice, too.

And the effect of all of this?

I think the effect of all of this is that you have this wiring diagram that we all know of about national security. But now there's a new line on it; there's a line from the vice president directly to the secretary of defense, and it's as though there's a private line between those two. The secretary of defense, therefore, is insulated. He's given broad instructions: "You go out and solve this problem, and we'll cover you. Don't worry; the national security adviser is not going to micromanage you. Secretary of state's not going to get in your knickers. You're in charge; go take care of it."

And the director of central intelligence? Where does he fall in that circle?

[He] is regarded pretty much as an employee in that circle. He's fine as long as he doesn't say something that is not consistent with what they want to do. He's fine as long as he doesn't try to fight the secretary of defense over the assets that they jointly manage. When he tries to take on the secretary of defense, he's out of line.
Daniel Benjamin was on the NSC from 1994-1997:
You write about how [the administration] really wanted to go war in April of '02, the secret meeting that happened --

Yeah, we know from several participants that there was a meeting in the Old Executive Office Building on Martin Luther King Day weekend of 2002. Now, remember, this is just four months after the attacks on New York and Washington. And we still have things going on in Afghanistan, the war is not over there. There's still a lot to be done, and there is a meeting, at which only one or two people attend from each agency.

It appears that it was chaired by Wayne Downing, who had been Deputy National Security Adviser for Counterterrorism; he had taken over from Dick Clarke. And it appears as well that the briefing papers had been produced by the Office of the Vice President, and this is a fairly strange thing to some of those who were there. One of them, who was a very senior official, said to me, "It really was not clear at this period who was in charge of the U.S. Government," which is a very striking thing. ...

I think it really meant that no one knew whether the national security adviser was playing her traditional role as the coordinator of all the different agencies involved in the national security process, or whether the vice president's office had slipped into that role. Remember, there were a lot of questions about who was going to be chairing the meetings, if the vice president was going to be regularly attending principals committee meetings? And there were a lot of uncertainties as to who was really running the show.

Cheney has built up an enormous staff, much larger than any previous vice president. And he clearly has the president's ear on foreign policy issues, at a minimum in a way that no other vice president has ever had. And so, the papers at this meeting are circulated. ... They discussed just what would need to be done to go to war in, essentially, four months' time. And obviously, in meeting like this, you don't come to conclusions, you throw out all the problems that need to be assessed.

Well, at some point after this, [National Security Adviser] Condi Rice, who apparently didn't know about this meeting, got wind of it. And she insisted that all the papers be destroyed, and that there would be no further meetings along these lines.

What was her reaction to not being invited to the hearing, or the meeting?

According to those who were involved, she was aghast. She was furious. And frankly, for a national security adviser not to be invited to a meeting on whether the United States was going to go to war, and what it would take to do [so], is mind-boggling.

What does it tell you, or what did it tell your source?

Well, those people who were involved in this, and many others who didn't know about this meeting, but when told about it, said, "Yes, that's just further evidence of the extent to which a government within a government was driving foreign policy." That the traditional statutory process of a National Security Council that brings together the secretaries of state and defense, and all the other agencies sitting around deliberating, that that was no longer where the action was. That the meetings were happening, but they weren't necessarily the meetings that mattered. ...
Lt. Gen. Michael DeLong, (Ret.) Deputy Commander, CENTCOM, 2000-2003:
There was a lot of information that was coming up out of [then-Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas] Feith's office, raw intelligence ... moved up through the secretary and even over to the vice president. Were you privy to that information, the stuff about yellowcake, about Al Qaeda, all the weapons of mass destruction? Was that coming your way, too?

... Feith wasn't somebody we enjoyed working with, and to go much further than that would probably not be a good thing. To be honest, we blew him off lots of times. Told the secretary that he's full of baloney, his people working for him are full of baloney. It was a real distraction for us, because he was the number three guy in the Department of Defense.

What was wrong with him, General?

He had some people around him that weren't very good. He thought he knew more than he did, which is dangerous. That's about it. I don't know anything else other than that, except that I had some knockdown, drag-out discussions with him.

What about?

Things that he was doing, things I didn't agree with. And he said, "Well, this is what we're going to do." And I said, "Well, if you do, we're both going to the secretary; we're going against you." He said, "Well, you're not going to --" I said: "Yeah, we are. We don't believe in what you say. You're full of baloney."

... There [were] a number of the things that we just didn't agree with: that he was pushing them to the secretary instead of running them by us first, which we always did to him -- run it by him. The secretary would say, "Well, what about this?" And I'd say, "Where'd you get that from?" "Douglas Feith." Well, yeah, of course Feith would always -- we never did anything behind anybody's back. We said: "We don't agree with him. Have Feith explain it to you. We'll walk through our reason why not; let him walk through his reason why."

The secretary was, again, even with Feith, was unmerciful. When Feith started to stumble, he said, "It's obvious you don't know what you're talking about; we'll go with Franks." ...
Unflattering to Mr. Feith, shall we say. I'm sure this shocks you.

Former Senator Bob Graham relates an interesting story from Tommy Franks:
...How did you hear about it, that they were headed in this direction [Iraq] in February of 2002?

Well, I heard about it during a briefing at Central Command [CENTCOM], which is located in Tampa, Fla., on the Afghanistan war. The briefing was very positive. Things were going well; victory appeared to be close at hand. Then I was told in a private meeting that no, that wasn't the case; that in fact, we were beginning to recede from the war in Afghanistan precisely to get ready for Iraq.

Who told you?

Gen. Tommy Franks. ... The general said, "Senator, I would like to speak with you privately." We went into his room, and he proceeded to tell me that they weren't fighting a war in Afghanistan; that they were, in fact, beginning to redeploy assets. He particularly mentioned special operations personnel and the Predator unmanned aircraft as examples of assets that were being redeployed from Afghanistan to get ready for Iraq.

He then laid out what he thought the strategy should be for victory in the war on terror: Finish the job in Afghanistan; move to other areas that had large numbers of cells of Al Qaeda -- Somalia, Yemen being number one and number two. He went on to say that Iraq was a special case, that our intelligence there was very poor, and that the Europeans knew more about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction than we did. ...

... Why do you think he told you this?

I think he told me this because he wanted to talk to somebody who he thought might have some ability to reverse the policies that he saw taking place. ... It was more a statement of "This is the reality of what's happening," and leaving to the listener to infer what the consequence of that would be. ...
Infer away.

Read The Rest Scale: 4 out of 5.

6/21/2006 03:16:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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THE DARK SIDE, PT. II. Part I here. More material from the Frontline documentary.

Carl Ford:
A 40-year veteran of U.S. intelligence work, Carl Ford worked on intelligence in the Pentagon under then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney during the first Gulf War (1991) and later was in charge of the State Department's Intelligence and Research Bureau (INR) from 2001-2003.


When the yellowcake investigation is under way, ... what did you tell [then-Secretary of State Colin Powell]? How were you sifting that information?

We saw the original reports. We went to several of the interagency meetings where this issue was discussed. And indeed, [one of my analysts was] at the meeting in which it was discussed about sending Ambassador Wilson out to Niger. ... One of my analysts actually wrote a memo for the record that outlined what happened at that meeting. ...

What did it say?

... The opinion of our Africa and our nuclear analyst was, you've got to be kidding me. This is garbage; this doesn't make sense, and that even if it is true, it can't be right, all the details. We've got to find out more about this, but we don't think there is anything to it.

That was based on several factors. One, it just so happened that one of the Africa analysts had served in Niger and had an understanding of what this country was like and what the uranium mines were [like]. This analyst's position was, listen, 500 tons of yellowcake is a big deal at this plant, and that if it had occurred, it couldn't have been done without someone noticing; that it doesn't necessarily mean that it would have been associated with Iraq, but ... people would have reported and talked about it. ... There would have been some notice. The fact is there was no evidence other than this report that anything was going on at the mine.

So when the alarm bells go off inside INR, what happens?

... If we had been larger or we had been doing our job better, we would have gone the next step and said: "Well, prove it to me. Let us come up with some sort of better answer than we have now." We just simply thought it was so bad, so off the mark, that we didn't want to spend a lot of time on it. If you have a few people and you have all the problems of the world, and this is clearly a bad call, why waste a lot of time on it? ...

We footnoted [it in the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq], and we said, "We think this is garbage," and why we thought it was garbage. And no one stopped us. [Then-CIA Director] George Tenet didn't say: "Carl, you guys in INR are wrong. You can't put that in there." He encouraged us to say our piece. The secretary [Powell] knew that we had a disagreement. ...


Now, did George have an influence on the president? I'm sure he did, because he had gotten access. He was providing the president with information from the intelligence community. ... Unfortunately for him, he got the access, but the crap he was giving him was not necessarily as good as it should have been.

Did Tenet know the intelligence was crap?

Best as I could tell, it wasn't that [he was] trying to give the president what he wanted to hear -- not in George's case, not in the senior intelligence group that I dealt with. ... They were honestly and sincerely trying to give them their best sense of what the intelligence community believed, and that judgment was wrong. The information that they provided them was, in many cases, not as good as I think it could have been, but that wasn't because they were weak or they were conniving. It was because they made some fundamental misjudgments about what the intelligence community could and couldn't do. They should have known better, but they didn't, apparently. ...


[What did you think at the time about the information coming from Curveball, the supposed Iraqi chemical engineer who gave the CIA information about Iraq developing weapons of mass destruction?]

I personally didn't know about Curveball, the name or the fact that there was this important source until I read it in the reporting of the [Silberman-Robb commission]. I knew that there was HUMINT reporting on the biomass, and I knew that there was some question about that, but I was never made aware of how much reporting was coming from one source and the disagreements that existed between the operators and the analysts. It was something that came as a huge surprise.

And if you would have known?

I was arguing against the [mobile] bio vans, and I didn't even know about Curveball. I was going on only the information I had. If I had known Curveball and all the problems there, I would have been even louder, but I was pretty loud as it was.

Remember that this was at a time when we were actually in Iraq. We actually had access to these trucks. The first time that people came out with the bio vans, after we got into Iraq, was when it came out on unclassified report. In 30 years in intelligence, I've never seen a case where the report first appeared as unclassified. It usually is classified and then you declassify it. In this case, this report was written first and foremost to be put out to the public. ...


Well, I don't know, other than the fact that, within a matter of a day or so, the administration was saying: "Now we have proof that there are weapons of mass destruction. We found one."


Go back and read what the president said in that famous conversation with George [Tenet]. Remember what he said first. He said, "Is this all we've got?" And the answer should have been: "Yes, sir. Unfortunately that is all we've got." His instincts were right. He saw that there wasn't a lot there. But I guarantee you, that is everything we had. We gave him our best shot, and the president said, "Is this all we've got?"

And what did George Tenet say?

"Slam dunk." That was the "slam dunk" conversation. ... And so at that point, the issue became not is the estimate right or wrong -- because George has said it is right -- but "We've got to find a way to say this so that it represents the community's confidence in their judgment"; so that at that point, we were committing ourselves to saying: ... "We are certain about it. This is a slam dunk." Now, that was probably a bad choice of words on George's part, and I'm sure he would probably want to take that back if he could. ...


If there is nobody else to say, "The emperor has no clothes" -- in this case, the people who were shouting were too small; we didn't make the sort of impact that we could have made or should have made. But I'm proud of my people. They at least tried. And if they weren't always believed, then we had at least told people. It was up to them to accept or not.

What about the intelligence reports that Iraq was ordering aluminum pipes that could be used to make centrifuges for making nuclear weapons? How did that intelligence hold up? What was the community reporting exactly?

... The intelligence community was telling them that these aluminum tubes can be used to make enriched uranium. ... We told them they had the tubes. We told them how they would do it. We even got one of those tubes and tested it and said: "See? We told you they could do it."

That was all poor, unacceptable tradecraft from my perspective. It should have never, ever gotten to the point that it did. From the very beginning, ... the people who actually know what aluminum tubes are, people at the Department of Energy [in its] national labs, said: ... "Of course you can use these aluminum tubes to make centrifuges, but we wouldn't. It's going to be very hard; it is going to be very complicated. In fact, we don't think that they would go that way because it's so uncertain."

My analysts chirped up and said: "Listen, every bad guy in the world knows how to get the right aluminum tubes. Why would you go out clandestinely, buy a bunch of tubes that don't work, making it that much more difficult? It doesn't make any sense." That was the basic judgment of the experts. There were people who didn't know that much about it who said: "No. Well, I think that they would." And based on "I think that they would," the people in the [intelligence] community began to say: "OK, you're an expert. If you believe they could, we will go that way." ...

But you were skeptical. ...

Who would suspect that trained intelligence officers would give them such a bad bit of information? And it was bad. It wasn't even close. This is one of those cases where everybody in the community should have just said: "Wait. Hold on. There is not enough evidence here."

Now, it's worse than that. The fact is that the INR analysts not only knew what the experts were saying about these tubes not being the right type of tubes, but we [also] knew that if Iraq wanted the right kind, they could buy them. North Korea did; Iran did; everybody did. Everybody knows what tubes to use. Why do something funny that makes everything much harder?

Secondly, we also knew that [the aluminum tubes they were using] were the right tubes for the tactical rocket launcher. ... So they were building these rockets, and they had aluminum tubes that would do very well. We weren't quite sure that they were working on nuclear weapons, but they had these aluminum tubes, so we said, "They are going to use them for that." It was one of those jumps of logic that there was no evidence for other than the fact that we think that this guy is a bad guy and he probably wants to build nuclear weapons, so that he must have this.

The other part was it got so bad in terms of tradecraft that the word went out that there was considerable discontent within the experts at the national labs and at INR over tubes. So some bright person over at CIA said, "We're so right; we'll get these tubes, and we will make centrifuges." They had become so much of an advocate, [so sure] that they had the right answer, that they went out and hired a contractor to prove that they could be used to build centrifuges.

They ran the tests, and they didn't tell anybody about the details. In fact, for a while, very few people knew that they had had this contract done. I'm sure they were waiting to find out what the answer was before they told people. They wrote a report that basically said: "See? We've proved it; they could." And the people at the national lab[s] and at INR who were so skeptical began to say: "What are they talking about? What do you mean it worked?" The [skeptics] actually went to the contractor. They didn't go to the CIA; they found out who the contractor was, and they went and asked him. Come to find out, the contractor had reported something quite different than what actually [was reported]. ...

The fact is that somebody said these things broke. They were not ideally suited for centrifuges. They only worked for a short period of time, and it was only one. If you thought about building an enrichment array, you are talking about 1,500 to 2,000 [centrifuges]. They couldn't even get one to work for any length of time.

But [the CIA] didn't say that. They didn't come out and say, "We didn't get this thing to work the way we wanted to." It wasn't that they didn't have the right information; in this particular case, they simply didn't tell the truth.

... Most of us believe that those people should no longer be allowed to be analysts because they went over the line. They broke the cardinal sin. They took and manipulated the data. And to my knowledge, nobody has been punished.
Strong stuff. Ford has tons more to say, as do all the people I'm selectively quoting. Read the whole interviews, and other material, if you can find the time. Site map.

More to come, though possibly not for a day or two.

Read The Rest Scale: 4 out of 5. Part III is here.

6/21/2006 02:38:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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