Previous month:
August 2007
Next month:
October 2007

September 2007

Bruce Sterling a closet sympathizer of "Mundane Science Fiction"

Further to the subject of Geoff Ryman's "Mundane Manifesto" — which recently inspired Rudy Rucker to write a counter-manifesto — Bruce Sterling has today made a confession! On his Wired blog, Beyond the Beyond, he writes:

(((I'm a closet sympathizer.)))
Stay tuned for the next gripping episode of As the Mundane Turns!

PS: See also Bruce's post on the Night of the Living Audience.

PPS: This is of course how the game of genre is played, and good game it is. Here's a nice quote from other (relatively) recent genre gamesmanship, the New Weird discussion in 2003:

New Weird is more like playing with a net that jumps into the game and starts playing both sides at the same time. 

--gabe chouinard
(Choinard's doing a riff on Greg Benford's claim that hard sf is sf with the net up.) So, just what does the Mundane Manifesto do with the that net?

The continuing Blackwater saga: You don't need a weather man to know which way the wind blows

The National Review -- yes that National Review as in NRO online -- has just run an article by Mario Loyola which essentially explains why Blackwater and the other PMC should leave Iraq, and even uses the word "mercenaries" right there in its title: Mercenaries vs. Counterinsurgency: Blackwater could be a worse problem than you think.

The best way to protect your forces in a war is to the win and get them out. If, in the meantime, that requires that soldiers throw themselves at certain death on the beaches of Normandy — or on Haifa Street in Baghdad — then that is what they are expected to do.

And today in Iraq, that is exactly what they are doing. In countless situations, they fight against their survival instincts and lower their guard so the population feels safer. They refuse to return fire when fired upon if they cannot positively “ID” the shooter. They offer their lives so the insurgents don’t find a way to take advantage of their firepower. Their willingness to give their lives for the mission is what the military is all about — and it is what the counterinsurgency strategy presumes most vitally.

The problem with security contractors is pretty clear: Central Command isn’t even sure how many there are — according to one source in the Post article, there could be as many as 50,000. They are heavily armed, and use their best judgment of what is necessary for their own protection — not for winning the war. The COIN [counterinsurgency] strategy doesn’t apply to them. But because neither the insurgents nor the Iraqi people distinguish between contractors and soldiers, what you have in Iraq today is a situation in which perhaps 25-percent of the perceived coalition "force" is operating outside the chain of command, and in violation of the stated strategy.

That means that in the neighborhoods of Baghdad, our soldiers are exercising deadly restraint to win over the population, day after day, for months and weeks on end — and all of their work can unravel, all of their sacrifices thrown to the wind because of just one shooting incident carried out by private mercenaries. This is unacceptable — not least because the resulting effect is an increase in risks for our soldiers.


UDPATE 9/28/07: From The New York Times:

Participants in a contentious Baghdad security operation this month have told American investigators that during the operation at least one guard continued firing on civilians while colleagues urgently called for a cease-fire. At least one guard apparently also drew a weapon on a fellow guard who did not stop shooting, an American official said.

A Visualization of the Effect of the Fed Rate Cut

Jason Cawley, whom I know through Wolfram Research, has created a neat visualization of the various effects of interest rate cuts by the Federal Reserve. I have discussed various financial news with Jason in the past, and he has written me long interesting letter. So I'm particularly pleased to see his analysis of this one on the Wolfram corporate blog.

Here's the link to his detailed blog post, "Analyzing the Fed Rate Cut in Mathematica," and here's a link to his interactive visualizations on the Wolfram Demonstrations site, entitled Macroeconomic Effects of Interest Rate Cuts.


UPDATE: Congrats to Jason, who made the Wall Street Journal blog!

So Bill Maher is a reptile, right?

After my many years of very public breastfeeding, I would like to think that the war is over and WE won, and there's nothing more than need be discussed, because moms feeding their babies in public are just moms feeding their kids.

However, the fight goes on. Go read Melissa McEvan discussing Bill Maher making a complete fool of himself on the subject. Did he, like, skip 5th grade or something? Good gracious.

(Via Making Light.)

"Write a Blog Post & Win a ,000 Scholarship!"

Reading my spam this morning,  followed a link to a site for a commercially organized blogging "expo" that claims the event will be jam-packed with famous bloggers and will teach me all  kinds of important blogging tricks (monetization, for example). I was looking for their guest list, which the site promises to reveal but which is nowhere in evidence. (However, the preliminary program, which I did manage to find, lists Glenn Reynolds and Arianna Huffington.)

Instead, I found something else to amuse. My favorite bit of their website is shown in the screenshot below:


This seems the most reality-based thing I saw there.

Iraq bans Blackwater? US State Dept turtle to operate without its shell?

Wow. Iraq has banned Blackwater, icon of the boom in military privatization, from operating anywhere in Iraq following a shootout involving some of its contractors in which civilians were killed.

I would have liked to think this was inevitable, but I am astonished. I'm told, however, that Blackwater doesn't need a license to operate in Iraq there since they work exclusively for the US State dept there. Wonder how this will play out.

One of the truisms of the private military industry is that everyone involved talks about the other guys being "cowboys" but describes themselves as professionals. The incident  that lead the Iraqi Interior Ministry to pull their license to operate in Iraq, as described by the AP, sounds like an Old West shootout.

The convoy carrying officials from the US state department came under attack at about 1230 local time on Sunday as it passed through Nisoor Square in the predominantly Sunni neighbourhood of Mansour.

The Blackwater security guards accompanying the convoy returned fire, killing eight people and wounding 13 others, Iraqi officials said.

Most of the dead and wounded were bystanders, the officials added. One of those killed was a policeman.

A spokesman for the US embassy in Baghdad later confirmed its security vehicles had been involved in the gunfight.

"They received small arms fire. One of the vehicles was disabled in the shooting and had to be towed from the scene," he said.

"The incident is being investigated by department of state diplomatic security service law enforcement officials in co-operation with the government of Iraq and multinational forces."

Blackwater has not yet commented on the incident.

Imagining how the US State Department would operate in Iraq without Blackwater is like imagining how a turtle would live without its shell.

Blackwater's website is only intermittently reachable this morning.

(Thanks, Rich. Also, thanks, RYP, for licensing info.)

See also Wired's write-up.

UPDATE: Apparently the work "inevitable" also came to P. W. Singer's mind. See Noah Shachtman's interesting piece Blackwater Ban "Inevitable." Looks to me like this is shaping up to be one of them there Historical Lessons.

"alternate universes have to be good for something"

Network Stephen Wolfram has written a few thousand words on the structure of universes which is, as might be expected, quite interesting. My favorite passage is this one:

A good friend of mine has kept on encouraging me not to throw away any even vaguely plausible universes--even if we can show that they're not our universe. He thinks that alternate universes have to be good for something.

I certainly think it'll be an interesting--almost metaphysical--moment if we finally have a simple rule which we can tell is our universe. And we'll be able to know that our particular universe is number such-and-such in the enumeration of all possible universes.

As a science fiction editor, I know what alternate universes are good for!

Is it possible to define literary genres by public consensus?

I have been watching and occasionally assisting in the development of the Wikipedia entries on Hard science fiction and Space opera. Neither of these entries are terrible, nor — having watched them progress for a while — do I anticipate that either is going to get much better.

Since there are not commonly shared theories of literary genre underpinning the evolution of these articles, they tend to devolve into something reminiscent of the end game of a game of life when the little groups of pixel enter a repeating pattern; cycles of argument about whether a work or writer is or is not hard sf, as if this was as easy to decide as something like nationality; creeping expansion of the list of Space opera games, suggesting that regardless of what the main text of the article says, this was all just a prologue to an explosion of computer games. Which is to say, because the nature of literary genres is for the most part poorly understood, the real action on such subjects is the exploration of tangents.

While in some ways, this is like the many sf convention panels on such subjects, at the end of the panel, people leave and go off to do something else, whereas this progresses with no end in sight.

What we end up with is a kind of mushy, common sense-based set of definitions that are probably endlessly reused in high school and college class papers, but which don't really get one very far. One reason for this is that genre definitions are partly a function of competing strong points of view by writers and critics; such disagreements are a key element of genre definitions, and for the most part aren't represented in the Wikipedia definitions of genre.

UPDATE: The Wikipedia entry on the New Weird is left as an exercise for the reader.

Disturbing reports on Hurricane Felix

The CNN headline on the front page read "Thousands missing after hurricane." The accompanying story explains:

Casualty reports have yet to come from at least 70 percent of villages and towns along Nicaragua's swampy jungle coast, where Felix slammed ashore with 160 mph winds on Tuesday, said disaster official Jorge Ramon Arnesto Soza.
. . .
About 11,000 Miskito Indians in the isolated region did not evacuate before the storm. Honduran officials had trouble getting to the remote region, but did manage to evacuate more than 3,100, according to regional army commander Col. Carlos Edgar Mejia of the 115th Infantry Brigade.

I don't have any good ideas of what might be done to help. I wish there were a means by which a clickable map with RSS feeds for press mentions of obscure locations in situations like this. I know how to do that by hand, but not programmatically.

the coastline hit by Hurricane Felix

UPDATE: Here's a rough Google Earth map of populated places on the east coast of Nicaragua and Honduras in the area where Hurricane Felix hit. The scariest feature is that a lot of the Honduras coastline in the area likely to be hit hard by Felix is villages on barrier beaches. Hurricanes can just plow right through barrier beach. (Download puerto_cabezas_pop_33625.kmz)

Here is an interesting Hurricane Felix photoset on Flickr showing damage at Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua.