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February 2007

"The Dow plunged 200 points in a matter of minutes . . ."

I am marvelling at the scale of the virtual disaster: the Dow Jones industrial average had it's biggest plunge since 9/11, and financial analysts are scrambling to explain it. There is this fascinating passage from the AP story:

When the Dow Jones industrial average plunged to its low of the session Tuesday, it happened with incredible swiftness — a matter of seconds — because of a computer glitch that kept some trades from being immediately reflected in the index of 30 blue chip stocks.

Dow Jones & Co., the media company which manages the flagship index, said around 2 p.m — just two hours before the New York Stock Exchange was to close — it discovered computers were not properly calculating trades. The company blamed the problem on the record volume at the NYSE, and switched to a backup computer.

The result was a massive swoon in the index that happened in the seconds it took Dow Jones to switch to its secondary computers.

I am not buying the seat-of-the-pants explanations. (Let's not even get into a discussion of whether the Cheney thing had anything to do with it.) They can explain why the Dow went down, but not why it did this.

My pet theory is that the large-scale preprogrammed selling requires feedback to function properly, and that the glitch in communications was key, in that it interfered with any braking systems built into the software.

(I personally plunged about $3,500 into the market the first day of trading after 9/11 to help save the market from a crash. I ended up making money on the investment, though that was not what I anticipated.)

Kathryn Cramer complains about conventions and childcare, part 463

It says a lot about American conventions and conferences of all types that Harry Brighouse had to write this sentence:

The topic was Rethinking Gender Egalitarianism, and I was leaving my wife at home much of the weekend with a 4-week-old baby and the girls.

There was aparently much discussion of the issue of society & childcare which followed once he'd arrived at the conference. But, speaking as a wife who these days frequently stays home from events she would have preferred to have attended, I do wonder which voices in this discussion did not show up to be heard because the problem is not adequately addressed by our cultures' public gatherings.

Conservapedia vs. Wikipedia

Did you know that there exists a "Conservapedia," a conservative reaction to Wikipedia? I discovered this fascinating fact via the Liberal Avenger, which was making fun of their entry on the Moon. My favorite page on Conservapedia is their entry entitled Examples of Bias in Wikipedia. Here are a few choice bits:

  • Wikipedia allows the use of B.C.E. instead of B.C. and C.E. instead of A.D. The dates are based on the birth of Jesus, so why pretend otherwise? Conservapedia is Christian-friendly and exposes the CE deception. . . .
  • Wikipedia often uses foreign spelling of words, even though most English speaking users are American. Look up "Most Favored Nation" on Wikipedia and it automatically converts the spelling to the British spelling "Most Favoured Nation", even there there are far more American than British users. Look up "Division of labor" on Wikipedia and it automatically converts to the British spelling "Division of labour," then insists on the British spelling for "specialization" also. Enter "Hapsburg" (the European ruling family) and Wikipedia automatically changes the spelling to Habsburg, even though the American spelling has always been "Hapsburg". Within entries British spellings appear in the silliest of places, even when the topic is American. Conservapedia favors American spellings of words. . . .
  • Wikipedia has many entries on mathematical concepts, but lacks any entry on the basic concept of an elementary proof. Elementary proofs require a rigor lacking in many mathematical claims promoted on Wikipedia. . . .
  • The Wikipedia entry for the Piltdown Man omits many key facts, such as how it was taught in schools for an entire generation and how the dating methodology used by evolutionists is fraudulent. . . .

Oh, goodness. I wonder which mathematical claims were felt to be unchristian or subject to liberal bias.

Conservapedia is aparently a project of Andy Schafly, son of Phyllis.

(Notably absent from the Conservapedia entry on algebra is a discussion of the Arabic origin of the word.)

Year's Best Fantasy 7 selections

Here are the stories that David Hartwell and I selected for inclusion in the Year's Best Fantasy 7. They are listed alphabetically by author, rather than in the order that they appear in the table of contents:

"Hallucigenia" by Laird  Barron 
"Four Fables" by Peter S. Beagle
"Yours, Etc." by Gavin Grant
"Sea Air" by Nina Kiriki Hoffman
"I'll Give You My Word" by Diana Wynne Jones
"The Bonny Boy" by Ian R. Macleod
"Ghost Mission" by L. E.  Modesitt, Jr.
"The Roaming Forest" by Michael Moorcock
"Show Me Yours" by Robert Reed
"Christmas Witch" by M. Rickert
"Pol Pot's Beautiful Daughter" by Geoff Ryman
"The Lepidopterist" by Lucius Shepard
"The Double-Edged Sword" by Sharon Shinn
"Pimpf" by Charles Stross
"An Episode of Stardust" by Michael Swanwick
"The Osteomancer's Son" by Greg van Eekhout
"Thin, On the Ground" by Howard Waldrop
"The Potter's Daughter" by Martha Wells
"Build-a-Bear" by Gene Wolfe
"Bea and her Bird Brother" by Gene Wolfe

You can compare contents in various year's best volumes at (The selections for our Year's Best SF 12 are here.)

The Locus list of 2006 SF & Fantasy books by Editor

Locus has published a list of 2006 Books by Editor, but the coverage is spotty. The list seems to be missing Jim Baen, Toni Weiskopf and any other Baen Books editors; Jennifer Brehl, Diana Gill, and any other Harper editors; any Pocket books editors; any Dragonlance, etc. editors; any DAW editors; any Warner editors; and probably more.

UPDTAE: Mark Kelly has updated his list to include info on many more editors.

So. Do we think people will stop asking where the women bloggers are?

Following the right-wing group assault on Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan for having the audacity to take jobs on a Democratic presidential campaign and Michelle Malkin's video proving that Malkin is descended from a screech owl, do we think, maybe, people will stop asking where all the women political bloggers are?


Nah. I doubt it.

By the way, screech owls are descended from dinosaurs you know.

PS: Can someone explain to me why William Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious & Civil Liberties is getting paid over $300,000 a year to use a 501C3 corporation to harass Amanda Marcotte and Melissa Ewan?

(His employment history does not seem to justify this level of compensation.)


UPDATE: See also Melissa's tale in the Guardian. And do read the comments for the Republican Rape Machine you have and orifice so we can fill it; you were begging for it girl mob psychology.

See also Jesus General. (Just why does loyalty to Catholicism make men think about what they could do to women bloggers with their penises? I missed that part of the Bible. If her blog offend thee, send her lewd sexual suggestions via email.)

How to survive your own beheading

SurvivebeheadingI can't tell you how, but if you give these guys in Las Vegas a bunch of money & three days of your life, they'll teach you how.

Perhaps there are prerequisites for the course. Such as thinking with some other part of your anatomy. I wonder if the course is guarenteed and whether they've actually tested the technique. Did they get a celebrity endorsement from Ted Williams or Ichabod Crane?

Can you learn to survive your own beheading? I guess you never know until you try!

Heisenberg might have been amused.

An unintentionally funny passage from the AP story Scientists dubious of quantum computer claims:

[ D-Wave Chief Executive Herb Martin] said all the evidence the company has indicates that the device is performing quantum computations, but he acknowledged there is some uncertainty.

Here is the D-Wave press release, World’s First Commercial Quantum Computer Demonstrated.

The Onion is on its game today

OnionThe Onion is in particularly good form today: Bush Cuts Off Diplomatic Relations With Congress

"Our administration no longer recognizes the authority of this rogue body," said Bush in a televised Oval Office address. "The hostile new leadership has a political agenda in direct opposition to our own. They have no concern for my national interests, and have left me no choice."

Year's Best SF 12 selections

Ybsf12_1 Here are the stories that David Hartwell and I selected for inclusion in the Year's Best SF 12. They are listed alphabetically by author, rather than in the order that they appear in the table of contents:

“The Lowland Expedition” by Stephen Baxter
“Applied Mathematical Theology” by Gregory Benford
“Brother, Can you Spare a Dime” by Terry Bisson
“Silence in Florence” by Ian Creasey
“When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth” by Cory Doctorow
“Counterfactual” by Gardner R. Dozois
“Quill” by Carol Emshwiller
“Dawn, and Sunset, and the Colours of the Earth” by Michael Flynn
“Damascus” by Darryl Gregory
“Speak, Geek” by Eileen Gunn
“Expedition, With Recipes” by Joe Haldeman
“The Women of Our Occupation” by Kameron Hurley
“Nano Comes to Clifford Falls” by Nancy Kress
“This Is the Ice Age” by Claude Lalumière
“Just Do It” by Heather Lindsley
“Taking Good Care of Myself” by Ian R. MacLeod
“Dead Men Walking” by Paul J. McAuley
“Heisenberg Elementary” by Wil McCarthy
“Rwanda” by Robert Reed
“Tiger Burning” by Alastair Reynolds
“Home Movies” by Mary Rosenblum
“Preemption” by Charlie Rosenkrantz
“Chu and the Nants” by Rudy Rucker
“Tin Marsh” by Michael Swanwick
“Moon Does Run” by Edd Vick
“The Age of Ice” by Liz Williams

You can compare contents in various year's best volumes at

Fashion During War Time: Let's play Cossacks

I usually don't even read reviews of fashion shows, let alone write about them. But this killer review in the Fashion section of The New York Times captures the essences of what has been most repulsive about American consumer culture during the Bush wars (the fad for Hummers, the Blackwater apparel line, etc.). So, here is the voice of NYT fashion writer Cathy Horn:

Any time a fashion designer goes off in the direction of the Russian Revolution, he or she might as well issue a disclaimer that says don’t take me seriously. The romance of that period has been well covered — another babushka, another bushy eyebrow, what’s the difference — and the real terror is too ghastly to trivialize with a nicely cut gabardine jodhpur.

Ms. [Vera] Wang’s stylized Russian story was fairly lugubrious. In a way, her problem is that she has too much information, and at the same time, she is not an original-thinking designer. Everything interests her: workers’ tunics, Russian constructivism, military insignia.

Yet she lacks the imagination and courage to create something wholly original in ready-to-wear. She is continually defeated by her own eye, which is a magazine editor’s eye. This is wonderful for creating visual effects, like pairing models in their sweet-looking Cossack wear.

(I have no idea whether I would agree with her assessment of the clothes; but the social criticism is interesting.)

Anna Nicole Smith coverage: How low can it go?

I was going to utterly ignore the Anna Nicole Smith story; the story of her life and those around her was bad enough. But the media buzz around her death . . . oh, my goodness. So how much lower can it go than this: Zsa Zsa Gabor's husband: I could be Smith baby's father

Von Anhalt, who is Gabor's eighth husband, said he and Smith first met in the 1990s when Smith was still married to elderly oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall II. He said Smith approached him and Gabor at the Plaza Hotel in New York.

"She was a very big fan of Zsa Zsa and wanted to be like Zsa Zsa," he said. "She wanted to be a princess."

He said the two started an affair soon after, meeting over the years in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York. For much of that time, he said, Smith urged him to make her a princess like his wife.

But short of divorcing the actress, he said the only solution would have been adopting Smith. Von Anhalt said he did consider that and even filled out adoption papers, but Gabor refused to sign them.

So Zsa Zsa has a stroke, so he tries to adopt Anna Nicole Smith? I can understand wanting, maybe, a pet, but wow. How loathsome. I feel diminished as a human being just reading about it.

So how low will it go?

A bunch of ways to get yourself in trouble with the IRS

For those looking for a little more excitement in their lives, here is a list of ways to get yourself in trouble with the IRS: IRS Announces “Dirty Dozen” Tax Scams for 2006. The IRS doesn't seem to have released the 2007 list yet. My favorite is the Frivolous Arguments section:

Promoters have been known to make the following outlandish claims: the Sixteenth Amendment concerning congressional power to lay and collect income taxes was never ratified; wages are not income; filing a return and paying taxes are merely voluntary; and being required to file Form 1040 violates the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination or the Fourth Amendment right to privacy.
Claiming immunity to taxation under the 5th amendment? That's essentially claiming that illegal income is tax free. Sorry guys. It doesn't work that way.

Also interesting reading is Publication 525, Taxable and Nontaxable Income.

Recommended reading for the kind of person who scrutinizes the long version of the Hugo Award voting tally

The LOCUS Index to SF Awards: Summary Results: Selected Editors & Publishers:

Honors for editors and publishers are usually indirect, via nominations for best magazine, best publisher, or best anthology. Furthermore, some awards designate nominees in best magazine and publisher categories, and some (like the Locus Poll) don't, so the figures here would not correspond to nomination counts for magazines and publishers themselves. (The Hugos, on the other hand, nominate editors directly with no specific magazine or publisher affiliation designated.) There was one professional prize that explicitly honors lifetime achievement in editing and publishing, the Milford Award, though it hasn't been awarded since 1997; its recipients are indicated in the first column.

Following columns indicate results for editing or publishing only for Hugo Awards, World Fantasy Awards, Bram Stoker Awards, Locus Poll results, and all other awards compiled in this Index, followed by Grand Totals for editing and publishing, and Grand Totals in all categories.

It's a tricky, quirky read. Does it give a real index of the relative importance of editors? Given that I rank ahead of, say, Jim Baen, I would say—ah—no. It's biased against editors from long ago, biased in forvor of hot new movers and shakers, it gives too much weight to the LOCUS Award (retrospecively redefining poll winners as award winners), and fiction awards get lumped in with editing awards in the final tally. Plus there are some people who make great contributions to editing, such as John Douglas, without ever getting nominated for anything.

Being an editor has become fashionable

But for those interested in SF stats, it's worth at least a half an hour of scrutiny.

Meanwhile, judging from our junk mail, being an editor has just become fashionable. (Although the kind of of editing intended by the ad seems to involve one's behind.)

An essay on an LJ: A Political History of SF

There is an interesting essay, A Political History of SF, on a Live Journal. Can someone enlighten me on the authorship? Is this the voice of Eric Raymond? (That's what it seems to be.) Is this an updated version? Or an earlier version of the essay?

Speaking of Raymond, poking around his site, I came across his essay How to Become a Hacker. The FAQ towards the end is hillarious:

Q:    Would you help me to crack a system, or teach me how to crack?

A:    No. Anyone who can still ask such a question after reading this FAQ is too stupid to be educable even if I had the time for tutoring. Any emailed requests of this kind that I get will be ignored or answered with extreme rudeness.

Q:    How can I get the password for someone else's account?

A:    This is cracking. Go away, idiot.

Q:    How can I break into/read/monitor someone else's email?

A:    This is cracking. Get lost, moron.

Q:    How can I steal channel op privileges on IRC?

A:    This is cracking. Begone, cretin.

Q:    I've been cracked. Will you help me fend off further attacks?

A:    No. Every time I've been asked this question so far, it's been from some poor sap running Microsoft Windows. It is not possible to effectively secure Windows systems against crack attacks; the code and architecture simply have too many flaws, which makes securing Windows like trying to bail out a boat with a sieve. The only reliable prevention starts with switching to Linux or some other operating system that is designed to at least be capable of security.

Q:    I'm having problems with my Windows software. Will you help me?

A:    Yes. Go to a DOS prompt and type "format c:". Any problems you are experiencing will cease within a few minutes.

Geoff Hartwell's scheduled gigs for this week


From my stepson, Geoff Hartwell:

Howdy folks!

We got some great music coming up this week, with a SPECIAL ELECTRIC performance in New York City on Friday February 9th! (And some good news about Radio Play!)

Friday Feb 2nd 8pm
Geoff and Rich Acoustic at the Kittle House
This is an awesome place!!! Really great food and atmosphere. CRAZY extensive wine list and reasonable drinks.

Sat Feb 3rd 9pm
Geoff Hartwell with Richie Castellano (from Blue Oyster Cult)
Opus 465 465 Main St Armonk, NY 10504
465 Main Street, Armonk, NY 10504
Phone (914) 273-4676

The Tuesday Blues Jam at Jackson & Wheeler, of course!


317 E. Houston St. btw Ave B & C
Price: $5
Never seen the Band in New York City? HERE'S YOUR CHANCE!
This is our FAVORITE place to play in NYC. We'll be doing an EXTRA-LONG EXPLOSIVE ELECTRIC performance of new and old! A Funky east side hang that starts at 8 SHARP (get there early and have a drink!) and we're done by 10 and out on the town!



Be there or be square!

CIA Got Too Cozy with the Bad Guys

There's a really intriguing story in The New York Times concerning the CIA's relationship to a major figure in the Afghanistan drug trade, Haji Bashir Noorzai: An Afghan's Path From Ally of U.S. to Drug Suspect by James Risen.

The best line: "In Afghanistan, finding terrorists has always trumped chasing drug traffickers," said Bobby Charles, the former top counternarcotics official at the State Department.

At times, there was confusion within the government about what to do with Mr. Noorzai. In 2002, while he was talking to the American officials in Afghanistan, a team at C.I.A. headquarters assigned to identify targets to capture or kill in Afghanistan wanted to put him on its list, one former intelligence official said. Like others, he would only speak on condition of anonymity because such discussions were classified.

The C.I.A. team was blocked, the former official recalled. Although he never received an explanation, the former official said that the Defense Department officials and American military commanders viewed counternarcotics efforts in Afghanistan at the time as a form of “mission creep” that would distract from the fight against terrorism. . . .

D.E.A. officials say . . . Mr. Noorzai was a major figure in the Afghan drug trade, controlling poppy fields that supplied a significant share of the world’s heroin.

. . . in January 2004, Mr. Charles, the State Department official, proposed placing him on President Bush’s list of foreign narcotics kingpins, for the most wanted drug lords around the world.

At that time, Mr. Charles recalled in an interview, no Afghan heroin traffickers were on the list, which he thought was a glaring omission. He suggested three names, including Mr. Noorzai’s, but said his recommendation was met with an awkward silence during an interagency meeting.

There is a subtext of symbiosis here; a deeply mutualistic relationship between the CIA and the Afghan (and even world) drug trade. The development of such relationships was obviously a big mistake.

Oh, by the way, this is Ground Hog Day.

Year's Best series news

"I will write lengthy, caring, and thoughtful comments on your work. You will read and consider those comments before you complain about your grade, lest you hurt my tender feelings"

A really good passage from a blog post on gender and coping with academia on The Valve, a Literary Organ:

On the first day, I like to create a disconnect between a hyperserious lecturing persona (marching around the room, brows knitted, with a syllabus full of dire warnings and contractual obligations) and deadpan declarations of my nurturing/feeling humanity ("I will write lengthy, caring, and thoughtful comments on your work. You will read and consider those comments before you complain about your grade, lest you hurt my tender feelings"). Some students laugh; others look concerned for my mental health. But there will be days during the semester when the conversation is warm, personally engaging, and fun, and other days when I’ll need to get serious or tough. I don’t want to risk damaging a reputation I’ve built up for one by pulling the other out of nowhere. In the end, my actual behavior is pretty reliable; it’s just the pose that changes.