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June 2004

I See a Pattern Emerging

I look at the blog calendar (on the left) of the month of June, and I see an emerging pattern. About the time Peter got out of school for the summer, my blogging became much more sporadic. This should not come as a surprise to me. But each summer finds its own pattern and this summer's pattern is that it seems to be necessary to take David to the train when I leave to take Peter to camp, thus making breakfast a half hour earlier, lopping a chunk off my morning thinking time. Also, Peter's marvellous nature camp is not close. It takes me about 22 minutes to drive each direction, and with the time it takes to deliver him to and retrieve him from his camp group, that's two hours out of my day right there. Meanwhile, Elizabeth is home with me full time.

Also, further eroding my blogging time, but probably all for the good: I am hard at work on a creative project during some of what was my blogging time. So often, I write stuff and then don't show it to you! (I actually feel a little misplaced guilt about that, as though I really owe it to the audience of this blog to share.)

So for a while I'm going to be a bit less on the ball about matters that normally interest me.


See Dick swear. Swear, Dick, swear.

Maureen Dowd is really funny this morning on Dick Cheney's expanded vocabulary. (Admittedly, as the Bush administration disintegrates under pressure, Dowd has been given a lot of material to work with.)

Here are a few of my favorite bits:

Even as Tom Daschle proposed bipartisan family retreats to heal the harsh mood, even as the Senate passed the "Defense of Decency Act," Mr. Cheney profanely laced into Mr. Leahy for criticizing Halliburton's getting no-bid contracts.

"I felt better afterwards," he told Neil Cavuto during a no-bid interview with Fox News. Hey, if it feels good, Dick, do it.

Is the Vice President of the United States really going around promoting the therapeutic value of using profanity? I felt much better afterwards. He says.

See Dick swear. I think. Swear, Dick, swear. Do not underestimate the importance of bringing your liberatory message to all the viewers of Fox, no matter how small. (Is this in the GOP platform yet?)

After disastrously dividing the world into the strong (Bush hawks) and the weak (everyone else), Vice turned his coarseness into another macho, tough-guy moment against a Democrat considered a pill by many Republicans. "I think a lot of my colleagues felt that what I had said badly needed to be said, that it was long overdue," he preened.

The conservatives defending Mr. Cheney are largely the same crowd that went off the deep end because of a glimpse of breast on the Super Bowl, demanding everything from fines to new regulations to protect red states from blue language.

I really like the saidbookism, "he preened" used in this context. Imagine if Janet Jackson had had a little more gall. Imagine her going on Fox to position her mistake as a much-needed feminist gesture, a confrontation with the viewers of the Super Bowl: women have nipples; get used to it. "I think a lot of my colleagues felt that what I did badly needed to be done, that it was long overdue," she preened. (As a nursing mom, and therefore someone who regularly confronts the world with this fact, I really wish JJ had been divinely inspired to say something like that.)

But the ending is my favorite, the part that made me click on New Entry in MT. [UPDATE: I see Patrick was struck by the same impulse.] Cheney walked right into a Damon Knight joke, and Dowd, bless her heart, catches him at it:

Mr. Cheney assured Fox's anxious viewers that he would stay on the ticket and in the White House until January '09. (No four letter words, dear Democrats.) Vice said of W., "he knows I'm there to serve him."

Mr. Bush must have missed that classic "Twilight Zone" episode where the aliens arrive with a book entitled, "To Serve Man." It turns out to be a cookbook.

The Twilight Zone episode is based on Damon Knight's 1950 story of the same title. I imagine Knight rising from the grave to administer a smackdown to the Vice President: Will you serve him fried, grilled? Or on the halfshell?


Dramatica: The Strangeness, Charm, & Spin of Character

I've been exploring the creativity tool and writing program Dramatica. I am working on something, trying to organize and take stock of a large amount of material, and it seemed to me that it would be useful to play with something that would make me focus on plot, since I am taking an assemblage of notes on stuff that really happened and trying to convert them into a smooth narrative that didn't happen. And I didn't want to get snagged on the real story at the expense of the fictional one.

I had expected that Dramatica would be a program designed from a perspective different from my own, but, wow, I had no idea how different it would be. Think of the Scott Meredith plot outline married to the idea that all literature is character-driven; think deep affection for really trashy movies; think terminology so abstract as to make descriptions of the fundamental particles like quarks sound colloquial, homey, down-to-Earth; such terminology deployed in the service of a theory of pulp psychology. And combine this with the faith that these elements can be combined into a Grand Unified Field Theory of Story; throwing out old techniques like motif indexes and replacing them with abstraction; co-opting old words like genre and archetype into entities that can be given numerical values that a computer can understand. The hubris of the enterprise is astonishing.

What the creators of this strange program really seem to want is AI technology. But lacking that, they have tried to hack their way around this absence, creating abstract ways of talking about how characters interact that a less that fully sentient computer can manipulate. The software tries to literalize the notion that literature is character-driven, give the computer an algebra of character that can be solved for plot, or at least story structure. (Or you can work from the other direction, starting with your "story form" -- one of exactly 32,768, no more, no less -- and solving for character.) I am being a little simplistic in my description. So let me assure you that what goes on in this program is much much more complicated than what I have described.

Nonetheless, I will continue to enter information into the program's various screens, since it is extracting from me information about the project that's in my head but is not yet written down. The various directions the program seems to want to take me do not seem to me where I want to go, and I am having difficulty parsing many of they questions it asks, but I'm trying not to let that distract me. Ten years ago or so, in the right context I might have tried to design something along the lines of a program like this, except using my own notions of the dynamics of fiction; as I enter information, I'm trying to recapture for myself how mine might have worked had I had the opportunity to take my thoughts further. But I don't think I would ever have gone so far as to try to define the equivalent of strangeness, charm, and spin for character. And yet I can see its necessity for the realization of their vision. Dramatica also provides an interesting perspective on the models an AI might use to evaluate how people behave and anticipate further actions.


Weekend Notes

It was a NYRSF work weekend, and Judith Klein-Dial, a book seller, was here to help out with the magazine. She was telling me about an unpublished essay she wrote which is somewhere on her hard drive about how to get more money for used books you wish to sell to a book store. Her suggestions included such things as bringing your books in a clean box (as opposed to garbage bags, for example) and removing any live or dead animals before presenting the books for inspection. Apparently such things often don't occur to people looking to cash in their old books.

I took the kids to the church picnic today, which was fun. The most memorable moment was when the cotton candy machine malfunctioned, releasing whisps and streamers of cotton candy into the air.


SEC Investigating Alledged Cheney-Era Halliburton Bribes

You may well be wondering what news is being papered over by the all Reagan all the time coverage recently. Well, here's an item of interest from the AP via the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

HOUSTON -- The Securities and Exchange Commission is formally investigating allegations that a Halliburton Co. subsidiary was involved in paying $180 million in bribes to get a natural gas project contract in Nigeria. Vice President Dick Cheney was head of the oil services conglomerate at the time.

Most of the news stories tactfully refrain from mentioning Cheney, but these seem to be the very same allegations the French government took an interest in a while back.


Extinction & the First Grade

Wednesday morning, Peter and I give a presentation on extinct species to his first grade class. Peter's been looking forward to this for months, and did some fine drawings that we could use. Topics of our previous presentations for his class include:

  • frogs (I brought our Australian White's tree frogs to school);
  • fossils (David bought someone's collection of fossils at a yard sale, which I have augmented);
  • the human brain (we have a model brain and I even made up a version of "Head, shoulders, knees, & toes" that begins cerebellum, frontal lobes, frontal lobes . . .);
  • and last time my dad, John Cramer, taught the kids about electricity and magnetism and told them about why he decided to become a scientist, resulting in several of the kids afterwards saying they wanted to be scientists when they grow up).
The schools around here benefit from a lot of this sort of thing, since there are a lot of high-powered parents out here. Looking through photos in the lobby of the kids' preschool, I saw pictures of one of the other parents, children's book author and illustrator Matthew Van Fleet, in a preschool classroom showing the art from one of his books and telling a story.

At Readercon last year, I moderated a panel (that I had also suggested) about the joys and challenges of intellectual life with small children:

[#45]Sat 10:00aF
Does Your Baby Make You Smarter? Kathryn Cramer (M), Samuel R. Delany, Alexander C. Irvine, James Morrow, Kit Reed, Katya Reimann. Kathryn Cramer says: "The conventional wisdom is that having a baby wrecks your career and halves your I.Q., but I think the reality is much more interesting." The pitfalls are often discussed, but what are the benefits to the creative process of having a small child in your life? Can simply talking and reading with a child on a regular basis change the way you approach your art? Do such activities actually change your brain as well as your child's?

It went very well and several people told me that it had really affected them. A male author who had been reluctant to have children despite his wife's desires had decided to agree that they should start trying.

When he was about two, and already very interested in animals, Peter got hooked on the subject of extinct species by the book Gone Forever!: An Alphabet of Extinct Animals. My mother was visiting and we went to Borders with Peter. We were shopping for books for him when he brought us, one by one, every copy of Gone Forever in the store. We took the hint and bought him the book. He loved the book but wanted more information on the animals in it, some of which -- the quagga, for example -- I'd never heard of.

The experience with Peter and what I learned about recent extinctions and attempts to clone extinct species inspired me to write the story "Disextinction, Inc.," published in the Futures column in Nature in 2000 as part of their millennial series of science fiction short-shorts, and available on the web from Fantastic Metropolis.

It seems to me that there are two main approaches to maintaining an intellectual life while caring for small children: compartmentalization and a more go-with-the-flow & learn-from-the-experience way of doing things. For better or worse, I've taken the latter approach. And while it can be tremendously inefficient, I've found pursuing topics that emerge from the interests of my children energizing and illuminating.

So there we were, Peter and I, in his classroom with a box we brought full of stuff to teach them about. I didn't know exactly what we needed to cover, since I was so used to my own very knowledgeable child that I was no longer in touch with what ordinary bright first graders knew about extinct species. In addition to an assemblage of Peter's toys, I brought a pile of beautiful books, including:

  • Rosamond Purcell's Swift as a Shadow. Purcell is a museum photographer with a loving and compassionate eye for her subject matter. The book is a compilation of museum specimens of extinct and endangered animals.
  • A Gap in Nature: Discovering the World's Extinct Animals by Tim F. Flannery, Peter Schouten: A beautiful pictorial book with recent extinctions in chronological order.
  • Errol Fuller's marvelously obsessive The Great Auk, in which he compiles most of what it known about the great auk. He has, for example, photos of all the known stuffed specimens and all the extant great auk eggs. In an interview about the book that I can't lay hands on just now, Fuller remarks estimates he spent about $200,000 of his own money on work on the book, a sum he's astonished he was able to come by honestly.

Our presentation ended up being quite concise. From a first grade perspective, extinction was something that happened only to dinosaurs. Together, Peter and I changed that point of view, acquainting them with fascinating animals recently gone extinct: the thylacine, the great auk, the quagga, the moa. At the end, I asked what people could do about the problem of extinctions. One eager boy, raising his hand urgently until I called on him, answered "Form an angry mob!" Then I read them my story "Disextinction, Inc." and discussed with them that they could become scientists and work on the problem of extinctions. Earlier in the presentation, I had explained the difference between and extinct species (the thylacine) and an extinct subspecies (the quagga), and told them about the quagga breeding project, and how they were rebreeding an extinct subspecies. (Look at this picture to see what they've been able to do.) I told them about extinct species cloning projects, but also explained that the very best way to deal with extinctions was not to let animals become extinct in the first place. (And indeed, forming an angry mob might work better than some more scientific approaches.)

Overall, I found it the most satisfying of the presentations I've given. The message was clear and was not one they will forget. I left the books there for the class to look at over the course of the day.


Dead President Replaces Bush as 2004 GOP Presidential Candidate!

TIME
THE GIPPER in '04
Reagan Returns!

Ronald Reagan
Dead men
gather no moss.
Vistors the the Bush 2004 campaign web site (via) were astonished to discover that their candidate is to be replaced on the ballot by dead President Reagan -- this coming on the heels of Reagan replacing Vice President Cheney (via) on the ticket. (Cheney remains in an undisclosed location and the Bush Reagan campaign maintains he was not eaten by the zombie corpse.) The move comes at a time when President Bush's approval ratings have been hitting all-time lows under pressure from the Abu Ghraib torture scandal. The Onion reports that the recently deceased president is to be honored with a $5,000-a-head funeral. The campaign is also marketing a wide variety of tie-in rights.

Meanwhile, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan today called for the deployment of an advance team in Sudan to prepare for a future United Nations peacekeeping mission and denied rumors that he plans to step down in favor of the dead president.

(Magazine template from mandarindesign.com.)


Steamy Thursday Morning

This morning, we received Bantam's Advance Reading Copy of M. John Harrison's Light in the mail, so I guess it's finally going to appear in the US. The package is very black and white, and its most prominent feature is a serene white cat. Looking at the cover, you would think that Harrison was a cat fantasist or something. Only the sans serif type (is the font Avant Garde extra light? If not, it's one very similar) tips you off that it might be SF.

After weeks of not being able to get to yoga, I had really satisfying yoga class this morning. This morning's steamy heat was an advantage in a yoga class. And since I was the only student who showed up, I got an individual class. Meditating at the end of the class I visualized a nest of snakes and lizards in my right hip, which has been sore for months. Six weeks of extremely boring physical therapy this spring didn't do nearly enough to clear up the hip problem. What the image suggests to me is that I am clenching there, hence the soreness. This seems plausible. Meanwhile to my surprise my left ankle, accidently chainwhipped by a happy running dog two days ago, didn't cause me any problems during the class.

I met up with David at the Chappaqua Library Book Sale. He was dismayed to discover, when he arrived, that all the paperback sf had been indiscriminately interfiled with the children's paperbacks. Swinging by the post office where we picked up our copy of Light, I dropped David off at the train.

On the drive home, I passed by a comical sight. A really big truck had taken a wrong turn up a steep hill next to the newly-built elementary school. The front wheels and the back end of the truck were resting on the ground, but the back wheels were airborne. I can't imagine why the truck turned there, except maybe the driver had taken a wrong turn and was trying to get back to Bedford Road. I imagine that watching the removal of the truck from the side street will provide significant entertainment for the elementary school children of Pleasantville today. It was not obvious to me how anyone was going to get the truck out of there. If you live near there, you might want to take this opportunity to point and laugh.


The Center for Constitutional Rights Doing Ashcroft's Job for Him

Here is a terrific approach to the problem of what to do about errant private military firms. The Center for Constitutional Rights has filed suit. While it would have been nice if the Justice Department had made some effort to file criminal charges against civillian contractors involved in the torture scandal and maybe even make a few arrests, there are other avenues to justice. And even if the government chooses not to pursue it, laws against torture are on the books here. So I think this is an approach with some real teeth to it:

Two U.S. corporations conspired with U.S. officials to humiliate, torture and abuse persons detained by U.S. authorities in Iraq according to a class action lawsuit filed June 9, 2004, by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the Philadelphia law firm of Montgomery, McCracken, Walker and Rhoads. The suit, filed in federal court in San Diego, names as defendants the Titan Corporation of San Diego, California and CACI International of Arlington, Virginia and its subsidiaries, and three individuals who work for the companies.Ý It charges them with violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) and alleges that the companies engaged in a wide range of heinous and illegal acts in order to demonstrate their abilities to obtain intelligence from detainees, and thereby obtain more contracts from the government.

The lawsuit charges that three individual defendants, Stephen Stephanowicz and John Israel of CACI, Inc. and Adel Nahkla of Titan, directed and participated in illegal conduct at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.Ý Further it alleges that CACI International and Titan created a joint enterprise with a third party that became known as Team Titan.Ý The joint enterprise was hired by the U.S. to provide interrogation services in Iraq.

The action also brings claims under the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA), and the 8th, 5th, and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution as well as other U.S. and international laws.ÝÝ

According to the Complaint, the plaintiffs in the case suffered at the hands of Defendants and their co-conspiring government officials.Ý Plaintiffs endured the following:Ý
€ÝBeing hooded and raped
€ÝBeing forced to watch their father tortured and abused so badly that he died
€ÝRepeated beatings, including beatings with chains, boots and other objects
€ÝBeing stripped naked and kept in isolation
€ÝBeing urinated on and otherwise humiliated
€ÝBeing prevented from praying and otherwise abiding by their religious practices

The Financial Times has a story on the suit: Contractors in Iraq face class-action lawsuit

The suit is noteworthy . . . in that it accuses the companies not merely of being negligent in supervising its employees, but of using torture as part of their business strategy.

Let's all give CCR money to pursue this. DONATE HERE!

(See also my post John Israel Has Been Found. Will Ashcroft Prosecute?.)

UPDATE: Fox News makes an interesting point about the suit, namely that it makes use of laws previously used to prosecute organized crime:

The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in San Diego, where Titan, the larger of the two defendants, is headquartered. It alleges violations of theÝRacketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (search), the 1970 law that often is used by government prosecutors to go after organized crime.

As I have remarked before, it is very difficult to distinguish an errant private military firm from organized crime.

I do wonder why SOS, John Israel's employer was not named in the suit. They should be.

MEANWHILE, memorial services shown on a big screen TV in the elemenatry school cafeteria. Peter took a very pragmatic attitude: Well, if he died and he has a son, then his son can have his stuff. I replied that yes, he had a son and that his son grew up to be a ballet dancer. I Peter found this a truly fascinating fact.

(I wonder if this son is dead, since he doesn't seem to be part of this celebration. From the media coverage, one would think George W. Bush was Reagan's son.)

From the coverage on the CNN web site, I can only imagine what their TV coverage is like. I'm really glad we don't have cable. Why, exactly, are pictures of a plane taking off carrying Reagan's corpse or of people standing in line newsworthy?

But since the Reaganfest will be on all week, my friend Ken Houghton is taking suggestions for music to mourn Reagan by. Here is his list so far:

1. Bonzo Goes to Washington, "Five Minutes"
2. Don Henley, "The End of the Innocence" (may replace with "If Dirt were Dollars" for the Fawn Hall reference)
3. Earth, Wind, and Fire, "System of Survival"
4. The Ramones, "Bonzo Goes to Bitburg"
5. The Dead Kennedys's "California Uber Alles."

Further suggestions are welcome.


Looking at Surftrail

I got around to calling Mark Bernstein at Eastgate this afternoon to talk about what I had in mind to do with Tinderbox on my blog to regain some internal hypertextuality, and he directed me to Anders Fagerjord's blog Surftrail.

I have poked around enough to know that I need to take a much closer look at what's going on there. Let's all go see, and then talk about it. This is his category archive list . . .

. . . although he calls them indicies, not categories.


bin Laden's Numbers Lookin' Good

I have better things to do this morning than blog CNN, but I couldn't pass this up. Saudi poll: Wide support for bin Laden

In terms of approval rating, Osama bin Laden polls better in Saudi Arabia than George W. Bush does in the US.

So, if invading counties is a good strategy for the War on Terror (a notion Bush has been busily debunking, I think), why did we invade Afghanistan and Iraq, but not Saudi Arabia, the coutry of origin of the majorityof the hijackers?

[lots of eye rolling in the background]


CSS Rollover Footnotes?

I have an idea of something I would like to implement here that I suspect can be done with CSS rollovers, but I don't know how to script it. So I'm going to describe it and see if someone out there knows how to do this.

I want to be able to use anchors on certain words or passages on text such that when the mouse is over the text in question, CSS reveals a piece of text which is essentially a footnote positioned on the screen where the cursor is. How do I do this? Also these pseudolinks should be color-defined but should be a different color than regular links. My initial thought is that they would not be clickable.

(Looking around for examples, I've seen various fancy menus using CSS rollovers, but I didn't find anything that worked like this.)

A more advanced version of this might involve such rollovers on clickable links that give a little more info, i.e. a very brief passage or some such, from the place linked to.


Minor Site Changes

As some of you may have noticed, I've been making many small changes to this site. I finally gotten around to putting up category archive links, though my category labelling was never very rigorous, so I have to clean up a bit. The one people were clamoring for a while back, concerning mercenaries and private military firms, is up but I haven't gone back and labelled all the entries yet. The first post on that topic was on March 10th but the category archive only goes back as far as April 10th. I'm hoping to get that straightened out soon.

Also, the blue squares at the beginning of posts has a link on it to the individual archive of the post so you don't have to scroll down to the end of the post to pull up the individual post with accompanying comments. I find this handy. I hope you do, too.

I've made a number of other changes, such as loosening the leading on the sidebar to make it easier to read.

Do let me know if I've broken anything during these revisions.


N4610 Full Circle

Just when I think I won't see much new about the N4610 plot any time soon, Charlie Stross sends me a link to a Guardian/Observer story that circles around from tales of civilian contractors in Iraq right back to N4610 just as neatly as a Garrison Keillor anecdote:

Mercenaries in 'coup plot' guarded UK officials in Iraq: Shocked MP demands a rethink of the way government awards its security contracts. Special report by Antony Barnett, Solomon Hughes and Jason Burke

Mercenaries accused of planning a coup in an oil-rich African state also worked under contract for the British government providing security in Iraq, raising fears about the way highly sensitive security work is awarded, The Observer has learnt.

The Department for International Development (DfID) signed a ��250,000 deal last summer with the South-African based Meteoric Tactical Solutions (MTS) to provide 'close protection' for department staff, including bodyguards and drivers for its senior official in Iraq.

Two of the firm's owners were arrested in Zimbabwe last March with infamous British mercenary and former SAS officer Simon Mann. The men are accused of plotting an armed coup in Equatorial Guinea.

MTS is based in Pretoria and run by former members of South African special forces. Its owners are Lourens 'Hecky' Horn, Hermanus Carlse and Festus van Rooyen. Horn, the firm's Iraq contact when the contract with Britain was signed, is now in Chikurubi prison in Zimbabwe with Carlse.  . . . 

MTS director Festus van Rooyen, who is based in Iraq, confirmed his company's contract with the department and the arrest of his former partners, but denied all knowledge of alleged wrongdoing. He claimed that MTS had worked for Nelson Mandela, Tony Blair and the Queen.

His fellow directors were on leave when they were arrested. 'I was shocked when I heard of their arrest. Activity like that is totally against company policy,' he said. 

Horn was in charge of the company in Iraq, including the British contract, until last February when he returned to South Africa to 'chill out on a hunting farm'. 

MORE HOT STUFF! Phil Carter discusses a new DoD memo in the hands of The Wall Street Journal:

Normally, I would say that there is a fine line separating legal advice on how to stay within the law, and legal advice on how to avoid prosecution for breaking the law.  DoD and DoJ lawyers often provide this first kind of sensitive legal advice to top decisionmakers in the Executive Branch (regardless of administration) who want to affirm the legality of their actions.  Often times, memoranda on these topics can be seen both ways, depending on your perspective.  I tend to think that the Yoo memorandum and Gonzales memorandum leaned more heavily towards providing advice about how to stay (barely) within the bounds of the law — not how to break the law and get away with it.  But this DoD memo appears to be quite the opposite.  It is, quite literally, a cookbook approach for illegal government conduct.  This memorandum lays out the substantive law on torture and how to avoid it.  It then goes on to discuss the procedural mechanisms with which torture is normally prosecuted, and techniques for avoiding those traps.  I have not seen the text of the memo, but from this report, it does not appear that it advises American personnel to comply with international or domestic law.  It merely tells them how to avoid it.  That is dangerous legal advice.

(Via Atrios.)


Grasping for Hypertextuality

Notes
You may be curious why the window to the right has appeared (at first, on its own with no text). I'm trying to figure out how to write an essay/ blog post on what I really want this weblog to do. I have been digging through my old files, finished and unfinsihed hypertextual projects; maybe I'll even find some old notes, but what I said about hypertext back then is much less important to me than what I did. So the pictures are crucial.

The window to the right was a piece of the interface of an unfinished project, stilll under contract to Eastgate. You can tell the vintage from the fact that it's a black & white gif, and it goes with a lot of other cunningly designed black and white gifs. I paid a lot of careful attention to transitions. Also, you may notice that my window is a handy visual metaphor.

I'm going to go back to digging through my archives now, and will post more later.

But I will leave you with this image which I created when thinking about what I wanted a hypertextual node to be:

[I found what I was looking for, so the Note continues. The forsythias were placed directly on the scanner. The salt marshes are on Cape Cod in Brewster. The bird is from Cape Cod, but from elsewhere. I think the sky is from Photoshop and the sky-egg definitely is. I was groping for something here, using imagery from other hypertextual stuff, and trying to sort out the rhetoric.]

OK, I found an important one: a sketch of a node as I envision it conceptually. In 1995 or '96, I had an explanation of the drawing to go with the picture. I remember saying something about nodes as easter eggs. The image of the egg was central to the thematics of it, I remember.

And quilting was important to it, too: assembling meaning from contrasting pasrt, cut into fragments and pieced back together in a different order. (Certainly, we do this when we blog.)

Back when I was in the thick of it, I found myself mostly unable to write conherently about hypertext theory. Others seemed not to share this problem, but my sense of hypertextual structure seemed to me to be preverbal, almost, as though it had more to do with the feel of fabrics on my fingertips or with sensations on my tongue than with critical terminology. I still feel that way. Satisfying hypertextuality is for me a synesthetic experience. (This is why, I think, the name Purple Numbers is such an apt one.)

But, OK, so here I am trying to talk about it. And I feel the need to because there is something deeply unsatisfying to me about linear blogging -- even if we get to make lots of links to news sites and to each other -- that I need to fix. And if I can't articulate, at least to myself, what I want changed, I'm going to have a hard time changing it.

(FYI, pix in this post copyright by Kathryn Cramer. Do not reproduce without permission.)


Women's Weblogs

Reading the discussions of gender and blogging at Feministe, I compiled for myself a set of links to good blogs by women recommended in discussion or whose authors participtaed in the discussion. I looked over these blogs, none of which I'd read before, and it is a pretty good group. Enjoy:

I'll be adding these to my blogroll. (There are many other fine blogs by women already in my sidebar.)

And please do suggest more in the comments.


The Web Though Purple-Colored Glasses

I'm trying to visualize my perfect version of blog hypertextuality and am casting around in a number of directions. I'm trying to figure out how to install something along the lines of Purple Numbers here, but the installation is going to have to wait for a day when Elizabeth is not home sick. My brain is tired enough as it is without help from perl stuff. Meanwhile, via Radio Free Blogistan, I came across a tool called Purple Slurple that asigns purple nubers to individual parapraphs of any web page you designate. Suppose I want to cite this paragraph from the recent New Yorker article on Chalabi:

Similar allegations have been made about ChalabiÅfs Ågde-BaathificationÅh program, a policy he says he devised to bring justice to those in the Sunni ruling class who had been complicit in SaddamÅfs crimes. The Defense Intelligence Agency credits ChalabiÅfs forces with rounding up more than half of the fifty-five Baathists placed on a Most Wanted list by the Pentagon. However, two reliable sourcesÅ\a former American diplomat and a former member of ChalabiÅfs militiaÅ\said that de-Baathification had devolved into the confiscation of Sunni assets, including houses that were expropriated by ChalabiÅfs aides. Newsweek reported that an Iraqi official claimed that half a million dollars allocated for de-Baathification had disappeared. Chalabi denied there was any corruption in the program.

I can feed the URL to PurpleSlurple and it will spit out a New Yorker page with purple numbers allowing me to link to the specific paragraph, not just the page. Neat trick.

UPDATE: Maybe I'm not as brain-dead as I feel. Click on the Purple Numbers links below to see Purple Numbers implemented on a blog without perl and only by tweaking the templates. I'm feeling really pleased with myself. There are, of course, drawbacks to this implementation. For example, incoming links to Purple paragraphs will not show up on Technorati. But nonetheless, I got the full functionality without unwanted visual clutter and without tearing my hair out. Thank you, Matthew A. Schneider.


Republican "Census"

David's a registered Republican, so we sometimes get Republican campaign mail. I opened a piece of his junk mail that purported to be "the official CENSUS OF THE REPUBLICAN PARTY." The questions are written so that the answer they want is always yes and most are rather hard to answer no to (i. e., "should studnets, teachers, principals and administrators be held to higher standards?") But there was one that caught my eye: Do you think U.S. troops should have to serve under United Nations' commanders? Is Bush running on leaving the UN or something? Are we declining to participate in UN peacekeeping forces?

Apparently, this UN question has appeared on previous such mailings.


Sudan: The Passion of the Present

I had been vaguely working on a grumpy post on the shallowness of some recent news coverage on Sudan and how the article that set me off much too neatly positioned Sudan in Cold War II, i. e. the war on "terror." But, via American Dynamics, I discover a blog devoted specifically to the subject of Sudan with links to more information on Sudan than I could possibly assemble: Sudan: The Passion of the Present. Go take a look.

Also, Madeline Drohan has a fine chater on the role of oil in Sudan's political violence in her book Making a Killing: How and Why Corporations Use Armed Force to Do Business. (Buy the book from Amazon Canada; it's not out in the US yet.) Talisman, the Canadian oil company she discusses was forces by public pressure to pull out of Sudan and a scandanavian company followed. Their interests were bought up by Chinese and Malaysian state companies, which I suspect continue or expand upon the same lethal practices.


Tenet Out as CIA Director

This just in from CNN: Bush: Tenet resigns as CIA director. I wonder what this is about. Did Tenet take the fall for Rumsfeld over Abu G? Or is this about the Chalabi-Iran code-breaking thing?  Or is this just another clearing of the decks for W part II? (CNN mentions something about pre-war Iraq intelligence. But if that is the real issue, a whole lot more resignations ought ot be forthcoming in short order, which I doubt.) Personally, I'm glad to see Tenet go. But this administration needs a bottom-to-top housecleaning. Can we have Rumsfeld next? (Pretty please? With Cheney on top?)

According to CNN's update a couple of minutes ago, Dep. Director John McLaughlin will be the interim director.

ALSO from CNN: Flashes and booms over Puget Sound, but CNN does not report them as UFOs. There is no truth to the rumor that the flashes were caused by the Bush administrations plans for a democratic Iraq burning up in the atmosphere as they returned to Earth.

UPDATE: Here's an interesting passage from the Financial Times, May 16th (by subscription):

The New Yorker magazine on Saturday quoted several intelligence officials blaming the Pentagon's political leadership for setting up a clandestine interrogation programme, first used in Afghanistan and later in Iraq. . . .

The story points to long-standing resentment within the CIA at the rival intelligence operations cultivated by Mr Rumsfeld, which has begun to undermine the US military's efforts to blame the Abu Ghraib scandal on a few errant soldiers.

Hmm. Maybe Tenet's camp was perceived as being a bit too chummy with Sy Hersh.

MEANWHILE, The Yorkshire Ranter has run several good posts on arms dealer Victor Bout and his associates.


I'm Tired of Writing on a Roll of Paper Towels

In her Wiscon coverage of Monday at the con, Cheryl Morgan remarks:

The only programming I went to claimed to be a session on blogging technology, but if you had looked in on us you would have assumed that Kathryn Cramer was reading Tarot cards for Bill Humphries.

I took full advantage of Wiscon's spontaneous program item track, signing up two of them myself, the first on blogging and politics, followed on Monday by one on technology and political blogging. In the scene Cheryl describes, I had arranged index cards and torn bits of index cards too represent individual pages in a blog and pages linked to, and the small bits representing subsidiary arguments I would like to include as separate nodes within an individual blog posting.

Most of those reading this probably don't know of my hypertextual past. In the fall of 1993, when I was a grad student in German and Comparative literature at Columbia (following a masters in American Studies and a B.A. in mathematics, also at Columbia) I skipped out for a week and went to Hypertext '93 in Seattle which hit me like a religious conversion. At the time I was writing a dark fantasy hypertext, In Small & Large Pieces, later published by Eastgate Systems. At the end of the semester, I dropped out of grad school and went to work for Eastgate. As far as I know S&L has the distinction of being the most heavily linked of Eastgate's hypertext fictions (by which I mean it has the highest link-to-node ratio). After about a year, a bad adult case of disease Fifth's Disease and a fire in the house I'd been living in Newton, MA knocked the wind out of my sails. After flailing around a bit, I took my computer skills and used them to get a real job (which I hated). But such is my evangelical hypertext past.

So here I am, a little over a year into blogging, having written on the electronic equivalent of a long roll of paper towels for far too long and I want the technological capabilities I enjoyed a decade ago: I want to regain a mode of expression in which I have some considerable technical skill. I feel I've been really up against the limits of the roll of paper towels in such entries as Iraq: The Secret Policeman's Other Ball. The possibility of subordinate nodes within a post would have made that entry ever so much easier and perhaps much better.

There are two components to the problem I face. The composition end. How do I compose and post a multi-node blog entry as easily as the single-node kind. And, secondly, how do I get people to read it the way I think it should be read. The answer to this first question seems to me to be most easily addressed by a hybrid approach, using both MT and Tinderbox, Eastgate's web heir to the legacy of Storyspace, the tool I used to write S&L. The reading problem is harder, but I have some ideas.

There are also a number of other directions Bill Humphries suggested in our discussions which I need to look into now that I'm home again.

Are there any blogs out there which use multi-node blog entries or extensive in-blog hyertextuality? I'm very curious.


Let's Talk about Israel

I read somewhere a while back in a pop neurology book that our political opinions are mostly formed in adolescence. My attitudes toward Israel were certainly formed then. As a matter of habit, I do not think about Israel very much as it presents me with an irreconcilable social conflict: I am a strong believer in the separation of church and state and to my strongly atheist mind in adolescence, Israel is a theocracy. The reality is of course more complicated than that, but any state founded on a religious identity is not something I can feel comfortable supporting. On the other hand, a larger percentage of my friends as a teenager were Jewish and were very sentimental about Israel. Such warm fuzzy feelings are contageous, and so I have a second-hand sentimentality about Israel with no particular cognitive basis. I suppose I felt a special obligation to share this sentimentality because of my German ancestry: I'm one quarter German, the product of 19th century immigration. While as an adult, I see that this ancestry is mostly irrelevant to what I ought to feel about Israel, as a teenager, that was not so clear.

The question of the Palestinians, their treatment, and their rights did not enter into this until I was an exchange student in Germany my senior year of high school, and discovered that the European media took a rather different view of Israel than my hometown newspaper. (That the German press should take a dimmer view of Israel that the American press will not seem like much of an argument to some; my point is that this was my first exposure to the Palestinian point of view.) That a theocracy would opress those who were not of its religion was completely consistent with my general suspicions about theocracies, so learning of the plight of the Palestinians did not alter my perceptions of Israel much.

The resolution of this conflict for me, on an emotional level, is to believe that Israel should be expected to behave in accordance with international law; that its status as a theocracy gives it no special rights or privledges regardless of the rationele for and special circumstances involved in establishing the state of Israel. Israel frequently violates these expectations, but because I retain the feeling, from adolescence, that it would be uncouth of me to say so, I don't say much about it and don't think much about it. But it was on this basis that allegations that, say, Jason Raimondo was rabidly anti-Israel cut no ice with me. I find myself entirely unable to be interested in such condemnations. I did, however, restrain myself from responding "so what?".

But it has been 25 years since I developed my basic take on Israel, and as a 42 year-old concerned with contemporary politics, I really ought not hide behind conflict avoidance mechanisms developed when I was seventeen. There are claims that Israel as a democracy. But I am unable to see it as a democracy both because I retain the suspicion that it is a theocracy and because a large portion of its population seems to be banned from participation in its democratic processes. Throughout my life, I feel I have been asked to see people moving to Israel as returning to their homeland. I persist in seeing them as settlers, whether their ancestors lived there a thousand-odd years ago or not. I cannot buy the argument that they are returning home. Finally, and most importantly, Israel is a showcase for the argument that extraordinary enemies require extraordinary tactics; tactics in frequent violation of the Geneva convention. This last point leads me to believe that if I took a sustained look at Israel or thought much about the Palestinians, I would rapidly lose the warm, fuzzy feelings toward Israel instilled in me as a teenager. This would cause me social problems, as some people would think badly of me for being anything but supportive of the State of Israel. I'm not sure how much longer I can avoid this confrontation.