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March 31, 2004

Your Daily Moment of Ed

Your daily moment of Ed Wisdom:

"Real men don't make backups, they just "tar -cf OlsenTwinsNaked.avi /" and share it on Kazaa!"

Ed cited his sources. I think his version would probably be more effective. I mean, "hot tub" offers few guarantees for the valuable bandwidth invested.

Posted by mph at 12:07 PM

Anything to Stay Out of a Browser Text Box

I accidentally opened up the BBEdit "Default Worksheet" stationery today and discovered what a BBEdit worksheet actually is: It's a text buffer that processes shell commands.

So if you've got a command in the worksheet file like:

ls -l

you just press CMD-return and it kicks back the output as if it had been typed in the shell. The sample stationery page offers a bunch of examples, like:

find /usr/include -name "*.h" | grep exception | xargs bbedit

which feeds all the header files in /usr/include that contain the string "exception" into BBEdit for editing.

It was pretty simple to set up a worksheet to utilize mtsend.py as a blogging tool from within BBEdit. CMD-returning on a given line causes the output of the line to appear in the document. Passed through a little sed, the output is munged into another command. The document itself forms a sort of "blog editing pipeline checklist" to play around with.

Two nuisances:

  1. Python's whitespace/indenting requirements make it a real PitA for quick hacking if you're not a Python person anyhow. I have to run some of mtsend's output through a lot of sed munging because my attempts at hacking out the bits I didn't need ended up throwing syntax errors over unexepected indentation. My choice: Learn more python or just go to the CPU expense of passing the output through a familiar tool. sed and cut are my friends, Python is a chilly acquaintance.

  2. (and this is a much bigger nuisance) BBEdit, even though it's running a bash shell within the Worksheet document, doesn't inherit the user's bash environment, meaning that my attempts to stay neat and clean by putting mtsend.py in my own ~/bin were thwarted by BBEdit not understanding that ~/bin is in my $PATH. There's supposed to be a fix for this from Apple but it involves turning my .bashrc into a plist. Apple's document on the matter says "It is actually fairly simple process to set environment variables for processes launched by a specific user," which begs the question of why it doesn't just do that anyhow. If I'm smart enough to modify my .bashrc, I'd like to be trusted with e-z access to my labor without having to reconcile it with a plist.

I put my current blogging worksheet within the extended entry if you're dying of curiosity. Note the ugly need to declare where MTSEND is until such time as I can make OS X just honor my .bashrc (yes, yes, I could put it in /usr/bin and be done with it... I didn't want to).

Oh. And in answer to the question "Why?" Because it seemed like a thing to do.

Here's my current "is this thing on?" worksheet. Pressing CMD-Return on any uncommented line executes that line:

export MTSEND="/Users/mph/bin/mtsend.py"
export BLOG="puddingtime"
export BLOG="blogmarks"
export BLOG="sammich"

# List the five most recent posts from the selected blog
$MTSEND -q -L 5 -a "$BLOG"

#Get latest five from default blog and make them ready for e-z export:
$MTSEND -q -L 5|grep ^\|\ [1-9]|sed s/\|//g |cut -b 1-5,28-|sed s/^\ /export\ POSTID\=\"/g|sed s/\ /\"\ \#/2

# Retrieve the post id and feed it to BBEdit
$MTSEND -q -G $POSTID > $HOME/.reedit && bbedit .reedit

# Repost the contents of POSTID to the blog
cat $HOME/.reedit | $MTSEND -q -E $POSTID && echo "Done."

#Miscellaneous other things and under construction

#List of all available blogs
$MTSEND -B pbowl

Posted by mph at 1:02 AM

March 25, 2004

He's a Friend of Ours

(or "Damn it Feels Good to be a Gangsta: Web Nerd Edition")

kur05hin is moving to a "sponsored user" system:

The idea is this: someone creates a new account. They go through the normal email confirmation. At this point they cannot do anything. Before you have the privileges of a user, you must get an existing user to sponsor you. That just means that some user with the ability to sponsor others goes to a page and enters the new user's nickname. These two are now associated, and if a user gets kicked off the site, their sponsor does too.

Sopranos fans will recognize this as the virtual equivalent of Tony introducing someone to his co-mobsters as "a friend of mine." "Surely," you think, "he meant to say 'a friend of ours?'"

No. That's reserved for made guys. Until you become a made guy, you're just a connected guy, tolerated but not trusted:

Our hypothetical new user, after being sponsored, is now a full user of K5 in all senses but one. They can post comments and diaries, they can submit stories, they can vote and rate comments. The only thing they can't do yet is sponsor other users. The criteria for this are adjustable, but I'm leaning toward a requirement of 60 days of sponsored membership and 40 positively-rated comments before you can sponsor others. Yes, that is a high bar. I think it should be pretty high. Also, you will be restricted to a maximum of something like two users sponsored per week.

So once you've passed the two thresholds (time as a user, making your bones with positive comments), you become a made guy who can put in a word for others (and then you start getting introduced around as a "friend of ours" at all the best gangster parties.

The death penalty for both sponsor and wayward initiate will be familar to anyone who's ever seen the final reel of Donnie Brasco.

I'm guessing this is a massively overengineered version of what Phil says he'd like to see with TypeKey:

Depending on how it's implemented, TypeKey plus MT 3.0 might actually let me do that: since it's going to be possible to blacklist a TypeKey identity, it ought to be possible to instead whitelist the ones I know, and dump everyone else into moderation. Then, if I can get at moderated comments, I ought to be able to either display them as a placeholder, possibly linked to a hidden <div> with the comment, for the curious, or display them with HTML stripped until I've had a chance to look at them and see whether they are new friends or new unpersons.


I'll blanket whitelist anyone from auth.burningbird.net, since a friend of yours is a friend of mine.

Or, I suppose you could say, "A friend of ours."

I really like a web of trust model for commenting, less as a way of keeping people from participating (sites like kur05hin are in a different category from most weblogs, and they're faced with different issues) but as a way to create an identity online that's worth more than the two minutes it took to fill out a form and answer a verification mail. It's skewing far into the territory of "ez-echo-chamber," but no one ever said that a revolution in micropublishing would come bozo free.

For small fry like me, who can rattle off six other small fry with an equally small list of trusted friends and commenters, that's a way to create a blogroll that really means something, based more on implicit declarations of trust than simple acquisitiveness.

Posted by mph at 9:37 AM

March 24, 2004

Ben and the Gom Jabbar

Ben got some shots this morning.

The nurse they sent in to administer the shots was the most leathery, ancient nurse I've ever seen. I found myself thinking, at the height of the squalling, that Frank Herbert must have been around for one of his childrens' immunizations, because the whole thing could have been out of the first chapter of Dune.

"What's in the needle, Nurse Smith?"

"Pain, young Hall. Pain."

The main difference being that when one imagines a scary old Bene Gesserit crone, one perhaps imagines less hot pink lipstick and a distinct lack of smokers' rasp. Obviously the go-to nurse for this sort of thing. Efficient and pitiless, clearly convinced that the merely old nurse she pushed past to administer the shots will never get anything done when she's gone. I've never thought of any health care professional as a common street criminal, but Al watched the needles go in and it sounds fair to describe the process as a ganking.

Some quick Ben stats from the visit today:

The doc's pretty happy with everything and says he's clearly eating as much as he needs, so we don't need to worry about his ongoing habit of sleeping from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. or so.

Alison picked up a copy of What's Going on in There?, which appears to address some of my recent questions about memory and infants. I was interested to note, on a quick skim, that an idea I had about memory structures was close enough that I should have jotted it down so I could feel clever for thinking it up before I was told by a book. Anyhow, more about that later. I need to give the chapter a deeper reading.

Posted by mph at 12:28 PM

Equal Time

"Spammers are people too."

via BitRot

Posted by mph at 8:53 AM

Again with the Monkeybars

Again with the NBC Nightly News "terrorists on monkeybars" footage. Just saying.

Posted by mph at 12:35 AM

March 23, 2004

People Considered Harmful (TypeKey Edition)

Some quick "Post-TypeKey FAQ" linkage. I'm leaving aside the technical commentary:

I don't think TypeKey will prove to be quite the secret decoder ring exclusion deathray the hottest rhetoric is making it out to be. People truly horked about weblogs with maintainers they perceive to be too restrictive should consider putting up YAB (yet another button) next to the offending site's entry in their blogroll, like this one:

One Way

Use it to convey the one way street the prospective reader will be setting foot on when she follows the link. Bloggers with a censor's urge or two will be that way no matter what and regardless of the tools available. The most the rest of us can do is help each other steer clear of these conversational dead ends.

Related Pudding:

Posted by mph at 6:57 PM

March 22, 2004

I Would Prefer Not To: More on TypeKey

SixApart released a FAQ related to TypeKey tonight.

I'm pretty satisfied with most of the answers, to the extent I'm from Oregon and we've got that snazzy new "We Love Dreamers" slogan here.

My satisfaction is largely limited to the technical answers they provided: It's single sign-in for weblog commenting, the user's "handle" seems to be detached from his/her actual "identity" (meaning there can be many, many Capt. Zaftoids instead of consigning users to an AOLesque "Zaftoid593" lameness of handle), and they promise to work really, really hard to make sure it's up most of the time, and that when it's not, they'll have some sort of fallback. We'll see how it all works out once they throw the switch and the infernal machine roars to life.

All in all, it seems Movable Type 3 will have a much more fine-grained comment management system, too. Almost all of MT-Blacklist's functionality seems to be there, with the exception of expression-based blacklisting, which I really don't want to see go:

In the past 12 days, the regexp-based blacklist has stopped 27 spam comments, while domain blocking has stopped 36. I'm surprised at how often one domain turned up in the logs (all but two of the domain-based rejections), but that tells me that blog spam, unlike e-mail spam, is still just warming up. When I see the same spam comment come in from twelve different "people" and as many different domains, we'll know comment spam has hit the big time.

The regexp-based blocking, once you discount the serial attacks from one offending domain, was more effective at sparing anyone on the puddingbowl server (there are eight blogs and seven users) from having to remove a single spam. I really hope MT-Blacklist continues to be maintained, even if it's just a supplement to what looks to be a much better set of tools in Movable Type 3.

All that said, I have my doubts that many (if any) of the eight weblogs hosted here will adopt TypeKey as a sole means of authentication: Requiring registration with a central service will mainly guarantee that casual commenters won't bother. My sense of things from the responses I got when I wrote users on this system and described TypeKey to them indicates that they believe a central sign-on would probably lower the number of comments they get, which are more valuable than worrying about the occasional troll or spammer.

More interesting to me will be how many other weblogs limit authentication to TypeKey.

In the mixed news department, it looks like SixApart's learning a lot from the TypeKey matter. The FAQ announcement went from something written by people to something slightly more flattened out. Click the thumbnail for the diff'd version :nnw: spat out at me:

Posted by mph at 11:26 PM

March 21, 2004

Saruman Vows Revenge on Israel

Hmmm... Curumo, Curunír, Sharkey, yes, but I don't think Saruman went by the name "Yassin," so I'm assuming he's one of the people in the group vowing revenge:


See? The purists were right when they said Peter Jackson didn't wrap that character up very well.

Seen on Google News

Posted by mph at 10:40 PM

We the Gaming

Last week's trip to the game & comic shoppe happened in the midst of a power outage that blacked out a chunk of Portland's Hollywood District. The store was reduced to using an old fashioned credit card swiper, and people were standing around squinting at the comics along the walls. Despite the murk, a group of gamers in the back were still playing.

"We're surrounded by nerds!" I hissed at Al. Then I thought about it for a moment and remembered we were there hoping to find a pair of Buffy trading card game starter decks. The clerk told us those come and go at odd intervals. We were there for a game, though, and that particular shop does either trading card games or assorted RPG systems. So we punted and went with Magic, which has the disadvantage of being popular (no cool-kid points for us), but the advantage of being popular (which means booster packs are everywhere).

Magic's fun, but on the "imagining the action" level, it's got some odd issues. The bestiary of "charging goblins" and "giant octopii" feels stitched together in the same way TSR's first Monster Manual managed to feel, only without the benefit of a selective dungeon master to smooth the weld lines between the hodge-podge of mythoses. (For my money, Fiend Folio was a better piece of work. It felt like there was a theme. Maybe it was just the consistent artwork, or maybe it was because the Drow and Githyanki were cool.)

I know: It's just a card game. But part of the fun is imagining something is happening besides people comparing numbers.

I think we'll still be looking for a Buffy set, or I'll just give up and order one even though I hate buying things like that without getting to hold them first and let the ad copy on the back of the box get me all worked up.

All Time Favs
So while I'm in a gaming chat mood, I might as well toss out my fav game list:

Traveller: A SF RPG from Game Designer Workshop which seems to still be around, though I'm not sure if it's as it was in the '80s. I dug Traveller because it was the first RPG I got into after AD&D, it was my discovery among our gaming group, the character generation was pretty cool, and there was a good hard SF feel to the rules and backstory: The designers understood that ballistic weapons will probably never go out of style.

Boot Hill: Pure nostalgia. Dad bought it for me for Christmas and we played one-on-one games a few times. Thin rule book, simple combat, reasonable "wound to part of body" system instead of just "you took 10 points to wherever and your, uh, core body temperature dropped." The Old West setting was a fun break from D&D, too. I don't know enough about early TSR games to place this one, but it seemed to come out of the same generation as Gamma World. Well before the TSR Glut Orgy of licensed RPGs like the Indiana Jones RPG, the Conan the Barbarian RPG (what the hell was wrong with just using AD&D besides scaring your fundamentalist parents?) and perhaps the worst of that era:

The Marvel Superhero RPG: It's a fav because it was so freaking silly.

GM: O.k. The rocket smashes into your jetpack and you fall 50 stories. You take, uh, 100 points of damage and pass out.

>Player:  Is anyone else nearby?

>GM:  Yeah, Jax the Mutant Piglet Boy sees you hit across the street.

>Jax: I'm going to render aid.

>GM: O.k. He lives.

Mighty like a comic book, I suppose.

Moving out of RPGs:

Cosmic Encounter: I first read about this game in Starlog 12, the same one with the complete Prisoner epsiode guide. That was, I think, 1977, which means I was eight or nine years old at the time.

The game's best described as something akin to "poker with alien powers." Every time I've introduced it to people, they've loved it. One of the few games where I set aside all decorum and start talking serious trash. And one of those games where getting inside the other guy's head can make a big difference, especially when you're playing double powers and you're packing a Chronos/Sorceror combo.

I finally got a copy of my own (after obsessing about it for years but never turning it up anywhere) in the late '80s at a KayBee Toy store for $5. Sadly, my copy (a West End edition) was destroyed in a move. I ended up replacing it with the inferior Avalon Hill version. It's still a fine game, but AH isn't interested in doing much more with the property than letting it sit in the catalog, so there are less alien powers and less "stuff." And no more than four people can play. Bleh. A six- or eight-way CE brawl would be a blast. Fortunately, links to versions of a better vintage remain available, and CE enthusiasts are still actively hacking older versions, so I might get around to making a good set with more expandability than AH is offering.

I should make obligatory note of the online version, but playing CE online is about as satisfying as any other game of wit and bluff online. Your opponent misses the benefit of your steely gaze as you Cosmic Zap his blustering Macron into a sad little one-ship attack force that dashes itself against your defenses. It's also a little slow, and the AI is still willing to allow "group wins" a little too readily. Humans are generally more cussed, and that's nothing but good for a game like CE.

Ogre: This is another classic game from the '70s. Steve Jackson was producing "Microgames," super-cheap ($5) games that came with fairly simple rules and super-portable playing pieces and boards. It's a tactical wargame, which turns a lot of people off, but it's a blast if you like that kind of thing. The premise is pretty engaging: The Ogre is a 50-meter-long robotic tank vs. a small mixed force of infantry and armor plus a few (expensive) artillery pieces. The game is really well balanced and can end with some nail-biting moments of suspense as the defenders whittle away at the Ogre's treads to slow it down and the Ogre tries to get close enough to pop off a rocket at the defender's command post (the destruction of which is the only way the Ogre can win in the basic scenarios).

Ogre was designed to be a "quick over-lunch" sort of game, so a pair of competent players can run through one of the basic scenarios in 30 minutes or less. I had some fun designing Ogre scenarios using the boards of Avalon Hill wargames my dad had on the shelf, which provided a huge field in which to pit Ogre-supplemented task forces against each other.

It's good to see this one is still around and healthy.

Globbo: Another Steve Jackson game. Almost all premise: A planet has children so evil they have to be left in a nursery with a cybernetic nanny/assassin (the Globbo). The children take three forms: blips, yeasts, and biters. You have to combine two blips and a yeast to form a biter. The Globbo is a collection of giant hands (slaps) and rayguns (zaps) along with a head. The biters try to kill the Globbo by biting off parts, the blips try to kill the Globbo by running into him and exploding, and the Globbo tries to slap or zap the children, who explode into blips and yeasts that then attempt to reform into more biters. People are still selling this one here and there. I'll have to look for a copy. Silly fun.

And here's a list of games I haven't played enough, but sure liked:

Paranoia: I feel inadequate for not playing this more. Just never had a crew that was into it.

Space Opera: Another SF RPG with (as I recall) a much more complex combat system than Traveller. The character generation was the big attraction to me: All sorts of variations in terms of species and homeworld types made for a lot of variety.

Guillotine: A simple card game I've played a few times at Leopoldo's. It involves French aristocrats standing in line for the guillotine. Morbid fun.

Instinct: Another Leopoldo find. Light diversion.

Point of Curiosity
I've read mention of "designer" or "German" games as a genre. A few recommended examples (besides Settlers of Catan, which I'm already curious about) would be welcome.

Second Point of Curiosity
Recos of two player games (or games well suited for two players) are welcome, too.

Posted by mph at 5:22 PM

Passport Comes to Frogtown? Quick Jotting on Discussion Censors, etc.

A lot of people are weighing in on SixApart's recent announcement of TypeKey, a service meant to provide a way for people who like to comment on weblogs to register with a central service for one identity to use on all the weblogs they frequent.

The most thorough response I've seen so far comes from Burning Bird, where the inherent problems with centralized services are well covered.

Those objections are just one flavor of the issues raised. As a strictly small-time blog, our big issue here at Puddingtime! is dealing with spam bots who happen through to deposit herbal viagra comments, but our issue is just one piece of the comment puzzle.

My response was to tweak our page design so comments stopped appearing in a popup and ended up inlined in the entries they're part of. That knocked out most of our problems, but there are several other weblogs on puddingbowl.org and I wasn't fond of the idea of going through and rejiggering their design. About the time I was going to fold and do that anyhow, Jay Allen came out with the very righteous MT-Blacklist plugin, which offers outstanding spam removal tools on top of a decent blacklist to keep the same old offending spams from coming back because the spammer changed IP addresses.

Unfortunately, when Movable Type 3.0 comes out its plug-in architecture will have changed enough that MT-Blacklist won't work anymore, and Jay says he might not care to continue working on it because he's been testing MT 3.0 and finds himself pretty enamored with its features.

Some time tomorrow, the folks at SixApart will be releasing a FAQ that covers many questions being asked all over the place. I hope they'll also go ahead and tell us the complete feature list for Movable Type 3.0's spam-fighting functionality: banning/deleting by IP is a useful tool for after-the-fact spam removal, but MT-Blacklist does that one better by including a decent database of problematic content to keep the offending party from coming back under a different IP and doing it all over again.

Who Am I?

Classic "herbal viagra" spam is just one part of the problem, though. Outside the world of Puddingtime!, where the biggest problem we have seems to be the occasional appearance of more than one Nate in the same thread, people are very concerned about the key issue of identity as a matter of self-representation and as a predictor of usefulness to any given discussion.

The self representation issue comes down to two flavors: People who want to be the one and only "Captain Zaftoid" in the blogosphere because damnit, they think Captain Zaftoid is a really kewl name; and people who are legitimately concerned about their name being associated with words that aren't their own.

The former case comes complete with the smell of burning plastic in whatever circuitry is driving the concerned party's need to be the one and only Captain Zaftoid. The latter is more serious, especially as weblogs become a primary conduit through which people actually try to get stuff done. Again, not an issue at Puddingtime!, but certainly more pressing among technical communities.

The predictor issue is the one that's really unfortunate, because it's going to be used to silence people.

Who the Hell Are You?

Snappy the Clam has some good things to say about the use of authentication as a way to ban commenters from discussions:

This is the web, kids. The things that make it so good are also the things that make it a pain in the ass and high-maintenance at times. That whole deal about 'emergent democracy?' Remember that? Part of that means that people with absolutely nothing to say get to talk too. Free speech is not limited to the things you find useful, or you agree with, or you deem sufficiently serious to allow publication. That's that whole top-down journalism we love to deride over here in counterpublishing (oh, sorry, 'personal publishing') so much.

He forms one end of the argument, and states his case clearly from a perspective of each weblog being a mini public square with a soapbox upon which anyone (in an ideal situation) should feel welcome to climb.

The other side of the argument comes from people like Jack Bogandanski, a Portland blogger, who recently banned two commenters for serial obnoxiousness, and cited Glenn "Instapundit" Reynolds' argument about comments:

InstaPundit doesn't have comments; its author notes that he also doesn't have a wall in his house on which he invites guests to leave graffiti.

For two years, I had the responsibility (partial for one year, total for another) of cleaning up the comments at LinuxToday. I came under heavy fire for taking my moderation responsibilities seriously: The guidance I had from my bosses was to ensure that people posting to the board weren't libeling each other, posting links to offensive material (e.g.: goatse & tubgirl), or dragging the discussions off-topic (such as a free-for-all over Eric Raymond's habit of including politically charged signatures in every missive he sent us).

All I can say about my part in the moderation game is that I'm glad I don't have to do it anymore: It undermined my generally sunny outlook on human interactions. When I was doing it, I looked at myself as an activist party host. The worst drunks would get a timeout in the back room until they could stop waving (figurative) cutlery at the other guests. We never banned anyone, though some users did find themselves scrutinized pretty closely.

There's a certain kind of person who will want to make all dissent go away, and there will be webloggers who will get in the habit of banning people who make them look like asses. The beauty of e-z web publishing is that we all get an opportunity to be a stuffed shirt, jackass, or ignoramus for very little money and with none of the hurdles very wealthy stuffed shirts, jackasses, and ignoramuses faced when it took a printing press, radio station, or actual paying gig to blast their words out to the teeming masses.

The nature of stuffed-shirt jackass ignoramuses is such that when confronted with their status as blowhard du jour, they either fight back harder or figure out a way to make all the people laughing at them stop. Some of these people, hunkered down in their blogs, will take to banning and blacklisting people with TypeKey. It's an unfortunate, censorious impulse, but there are two things that mitigate its overall damage to the Republic:

  1. These same people are erasing comments they don't like anyhow.

  2. More importantly, there's a reason free and open exchange of ideas is rated as a good thing: It's invigorating and enriching to the people who participate in it, and salutary to the perceived quality of the discussion where it happens.

There's a certain personality type that enjoys walking into a discussion where everyone agrees with everyone else. The consensus-seeking personality is comfortable with everyone just getting along, and maybe even wants a sense that there aren't really any objections to the groupthink on a particular issue. Dissent will bother these people. They'll be comfortable posting to blogs where "me too!" echoes through the discussions.

Fortunately, these people aren't everyone. Many of us like rambunctious give and take (even if we aren't rambunctious ourselves -- lord knows I'm not), and gravitate to boards where people have something to say to each other besides "spot on!" and "well put, my good man." At the level of weblogs, that takes the form of my more-than-daily check-in on Snappy to see what he has to say: He frequently calls bullshit on the cloying, back-slapping, chummy, back-atcha incestuousness of a lot of bloggers, most of whom I've stopped reading because their smugness is so god-damned boring. It's more entertaining to read someone engaged in the mere act of objecting to their groupthink.

So it will go with censorious weblog maintainers. They'll stave off ego-implosion by making all the bad thoughts go away, and they'll find themselves kings of the most boring discussions in the blogosphere, pleased as punch with the total consensus achieved among all three of their regulars. Better yet, they'll find themselves surrounded by weblogs with better discussions and their capacity to stifle much of anything will diminish as people ignore them and spend their valuable time elsewhere.

Loose Ends

That leaves unanswered the issue of webloggers who, like Instapundit, refuse to allow any reader comments. What to say? They're another test for the democratic values that might or might not take root in the micropublishing world. I know my own, subjective reaction to commentless weblogs: I find myself asking "who the hell is this guy?" A few of the good ones get my return traffic because what they're peddling makes sense to me, or because what they're saying doesn't always make sense, but is well stated, others I might write off because I think they're delusional stuffed-shirt jackass ignoramuses, or because there's somewhere else I can go talk about whatever they're pointing at. In the end, it's their blog. The most the rest of us can do is mock them openly when they pontificate about "free and open discussion" while making sure to insulate themselves from it on their own pages.

Is everyone going to react like me? No. But I'm certain they'll suffer for it on some level, and anyone happening by this entry is welcome to try to disabuse me of that notion down in the comments.

Posted by mph at 3:08 PM

"He's done a terrible job"

Tonight, 60 Minutes is airing an interview with Richard Clarke, who has been the top shaper of anti-terrorism policy since the Reagan administration, retained by Republican and Democratic presidents. The interview, and Clarke's new book, Against All Enemies, should dramatically alter Americans' opinion about President Bush's handling of his war on terror both before and after September 11, 2001.

In addition to blunt statements about the Bush administration's inattention to the increasingly specific terrorist threat through 2001, Clarke states that, after 9/11, President Bush personally confronted him and demanded that he produce a report linking the attacks to Iraq, though Bush knew that experts who'd been on the case for years believed that none existed.

When the White House was evacuated on 9/11, Clarke remained in the White House Situation Room and orchestrated the government's response. He served at the Cabinet level as terrorism czar during the Clinton administration, but President Bush downgraded his position and, despite strong warnings from outgoing Clinton officials and from Clarke's office throughout 2001, did not actually meet with him until after 9/11.

Clarke is an expert, and he's a hawk. If his opinion of President Bush's handling of terrorism doesn't hold weight, no one's does.

"Frankly, I find it outrageous that the president is running for re-election on the grounds that he's done such great things about terrorism. He ignored it. He ignored terrorism for months, when maybe we could have done something to stop 9/11. Maybe. We'll never know."

Post cribbed from the CBS story linked above. Just doing my bit to spread this around. Watch 60 Minutes tonight and see the last pillar holding up Bush's claims to deserve reelection kicked away.

Posted by pk at 9:47 AM

March 20, 2004

Ben Sleeps Against the Occupation

We started the day with the idea that we'd make it down to the anti-war march downtown around 1 or 1:30, perhaps in time to miss the preliminaries, which usually seem to involve a lot of speechifying and shout-outs between the groups that organize that sort of thing.

As I noted (obliquely) over in the blogmarks, there was some posturing going on between assorted self-styled radicals over where to congregate. I don't pay much attention to sectarian radical types anymore, so I'm not really clear on what the issues were, except I caught mention of "The Radical Spokescouncil" and the word "pigz" plus some apparent attempts to marshall all the self-styled "radicals" at the "opposite corner" of Pioneer Courthouse Square. Opposite of what, I'm not sure. I'd assume they meant "opposite of where all the liberals planned to gather." There was quite a bit of scuffling over what a "true" radical should be doing. Evidently picking a fight with police is the only way to show you're "worth your salt as a radical," but the debate also seemed to involve whether "liberal marches" will ever change anything, anyhow. I'm not clear on the efficacy of getting bonked on the head with a billy club except, perhaps, as an act of martyrdom/vanguardist example-setting. It seems, in some circles, to be preferable to walking down the street unmolested and under the aegis of a permit. I think they should avoid concussions until the revolution, when they'll need all their wits to build barricades, form collectivist bakeries, and argue with the Trotskyites over the Kronstadt Rebellion. The Trotskyites will also, most likely, end up trying to bonk them on the head with billy clubs, too. Might as well put that off now.

One thing that has changed in the years since I hung out with anarchist types is the ascendancy of the word "liberal" into the anarcho-demonization phrasebook. Poor liberals: bashed from the right for being no better than Lenin, bashed from the wannabe autonome axis for being no better than Franco. We experimented with saying "liberal" with a sneer when I was a young whippersnapper coming up, but it didn't take with the vigor it's pursued among the Indymedia set.

Anyhow, we didn't make it downtown in time for the march kickoff, so we settled on a late lunch at a tacqueria. Ben was in a mostly pleasant mood for most of the meal. After lunch we headed to a toy store to look for a mobile. He's not very interested in the one we have for him right now. I think it's too pastel. As with everything to do with children, the mobile choices are bewildering. The one common denominator seems to be that red, black, and white, which work very well for most socialist realism posters, also stimulate infant brains the best. We couldn't make up our minds, though. The one with a remote control that offered a selection of perennial WASP favorite classical tunes was tempting, but we're also pretty down with the Whoozit line of stuff because the Whoozit toy we've got is the one thing guaranteed (besides me throwing my head around and lolling out my tongue while substituting "Whoozit" for "human" in that Smiths song) to make Ben smile.

Once we left the toy store, we were just a block from the square and there was still a lot of activity, so we walked over to take a look. Apparently, to judge from the black-clad, masked autonome wannabes, we'd found "the opposite corner." It was a pretty mixed bag of folks. There was some drumming, and a lot of signs. One sign tried to make a nuanced argument for total withdrawal from Iraq, but not without making sure there were some safeguards in place in the form of a stronger UN presence and a working government, plus strong guarantees of regional assistance. Nuanced arguments don't make for good placards to wave. I got slightly nauseated trying to read it all as it bobbed around. Ben was doing pretty well through all this. The stroller (the Graco® LiteRider™ LXI previously written about) provides for a complete canopy over his head, and he usually just falls asleep in there, unless he's feeling sociable. Then he responds like any sentient being with a need to interact with others might when stuck in a sensory deprivation chamber: He yells at us until we open it. In this case, he was out cold.

Besides the black-mask wearing anarcho-kiddies, a contingent of Wobblies, and a few heavily pierced peaceniks there were lots of good liberal types milling around. Nothing too exciting, though. Certainly no armed clashes with police or teargas or anything. I snapped a few shots and we headed down to Powell's where I picked up a copy of "Fray," a graphic novel set about 200 years in the future in the Buffyverse.

Pretty good stuff, for the most part. I'm not really clear on how it all fits in with the last season of "Buffy" considering the way every single potential Slayer in the world supposedly got the full Slayer package of powers and accessories, and in a manner (I thought) that would pretty much activate every Slayer Potential from then on. Something I'll have to look up. I think I remember Gretchin mentioning the apparent discontinuity. Fun read, though: Clearly from Joss Whedon's typewriter, with a bit of "Transmetropolitan" tossed in (or maybe comics about dystopian futures just all look like that) and a distinctly noirish story line. Maybe they'll do more.


Posted by mph at 7:38 PM

March 19, 2004

Spanish Bombs

If you have access to Salon, I found this article very instructive in putting into perspective the terrorist event and subsequent political event that occurred last week in Spain. I don't know jack about Spain or its politics. Until the bombing(s), I don't think I even knew they were having an election. (I was hearing a lot more about Putin; of course, I'm not worried about his authoritarian streak or his growing consolidation of power, because George Bush has looked into his soul.)

So, I've been catching up, and trying to decide if the American right's response to the exercise of Spanish democracy merited a thought-out argument, or if it was such utter nonsense that it wasn't worth it. They've almost certainly moved on from this week's hit-and-run response to Spain's election, since their point is never to have a rational, sustainable position, but to simply win each news cycle and leave viewers with an inchoate sense of their "strength" and "virtue." But what the hey:

All the hand-wringing that the Spanish have "appeased" al-Qaeda with their vote is predicated on some highly debatable if not demonstrably false premises. First is that Spain's Popular Party was a beloved government set to win a comfortable victory until the bombs panicked everyone. The race was in a statistical dead heat. The bombs, and the government's dubious and criticized reaction, did awaken and motivate many voters who might've otherwise stayed home, so the results were surprisingly lopsided, but the PP was not cruising to victory. As the above article states, though Aznar was not the party's PM candidate this time, he was still its face, and he is an extremely polarizing figure in Spain, for reasons that include but go beyond his staunch support of Mr. Bush's war in the face of strong opposition.

Then comes the assumption that throwing out the government that didn't protect you from terrorists means you have surrendered to terrorists. This is ridiculous. The Spanish haven't cloaked their women in burlap and set all their binderies to printing Qurans. Spain's government got behind the war in Iraq. Spain just suffered the worst terrorist act in its history. The war in Iraq didn't stop terror in Spain. The Spanish want a government that will.

Mr. Bush is a very stupid man if he thinks Americans would be more generous. (Or maybe he'd be right--see, this is where living in America right now kinda creeps me out.) Regardless, he and his supporters hope we all buy the next assumption: That his is the only way to combat terrorism, and that if you do not support his way, you are surrendering to terrorists. His war on terror is now the only thing politically working for him, so he needs to keep us safe from terrorism but terrified of terrorism and convinced that if we fail to vote for him then the terrorists have already--

Which brings us to the faulty assumptions that a) We know what the terrorists want, b) The Spanish gave it to them, and c) They now know terrorism works.

What the terrorists want is for us infidels to die, and live in fear and chaos until we do. They don't care who our leaders are, although they may say they do until they give another reason for killing us. To the extent their agenda is rational and predictable, what the terrorists want is exactly what Mr. Bush wants to give them, because then World Holy War IV is on, motherfuckers! The sooner they can die making us die, the sooner they can get their 79 Black-Eyed Virgins in Paradise.

In the short term, Mr. Bush needs the same conditions to prevail as the terrorists do (though presumably with the actual attacks happening elsewhere). Absent these conditions, even his supporters admit that he has little argument for reelection. In the long term, of course, Mr. Bush wants to eradicate the terrorists, by killing, incarcerating, or controlling them with authoritarian governments that are friendly to the U.S. and have a veneer of democracy, or at least a lack of overt brutality, which will satisfy neutral observers. In other words, precisely the conditions that produced the terrorists. Unless you believe that the war in Iraq represents a dramatic sea change in U.S. policy.

Which brings us to what many have apparently forgotten is still an entirely open question: whether the war in Iraq is a logical part of any war on terror. Considered in light of the deep historical roots of the problem and America's allies in the region, reasonable people may differ. Time will tell whether the administration is sincere in it its new commitment to supporting difficult democracies rather than convenient authoritarians. For now, it is being charitable to say that Mr. Bush's war in Iraq was undertaken even though Saddam Hussein, for all his despicability, represented no imminent threat in either WMD or terrorist ties, and that it has been handled with a marked lack of knowledge of or respect for the people, history, and realities of the region. Hundreds of Americans and thousands of Iraqis are dead, and the war appears for now to have only fired more hatred, which the terrorists have been predictably quick to exploit. Just ask Spain.

One right-wing scribe declared that the Spanish election demonstrates "European decadence." What hypocrisy. For nearly a century, black oil greed and ideological paranoia have kept America in vile coitus with cheap, brutal gangsters, from the Middle East to Latin America. It doesn't make me an apologist for or supporter of the terrorists to note that the United States and its client states have often made justice and human rights secondary to political and economic expedience. That, more than anything else, is the cause of the bitterness and resentment that fuel terrorism. Those who are already terrorists are eager for us to keep it up, and drive more of their people into their religion of death. As for whether terrorism works, they already knew that it does. It works every time.

Posted by pk at 2:22 PM

March 16, 2004

O.k. They're Very, Very Agile... I Get That...

With the possible exception of news anchors referring to Al Qaeda like a thing that might have letterhead, a post office box, and a line of t-shirts it only sells to members, I think the most grating sub-meme of the post-9/11 media world has to be the "terrorists on monkey bars" training footage. It's like every news producer in the land has decided nothing is more menacing than the terrorists' skill on playground equipment. I mean, yes, we had monkey bars during Army basic training, but everyone gets through basic training. If you want to use monkey bar training as a benchmark for proficiency in the black art of killing, then the terrorists are up there with every single National Guard records clerk or reservist generator mechanic who made it through the confidence course. To assess their real training value, you have to see if they turn up in the tougher courses: Monkey bars were conspicuously absent during airborne school, and none of the Rangers I knew ever mentioned them as part of their training. And the point is, even if the Rangers are keeping that little secret to themselves, I knew an actual National Guard records clerk who handled them fine, and he cried on my shoulder like a baby the last night our training company was out in the woods because the drill sergeant didn't recognize his contributions to the team. Not a stone killer.

Anyhow, tonight's specimen courtesy Tom Brokaw and the NBC Nightly News. Now that you're sensitized you're not gonna be able to escape the damn terrorist monkey bar footage. Films in the future seeking to depict the hardened battle-readiness of terrorists in training will no doubt treat "terrorist troop in background hanging from monkey bars" much the same way any movie with a scene of football practice seems to want to show a line of players doing the thing with the tires.

Separate Note: I'll donate $50 from my next paycheck to Josh Marshall if he'll promise to quit responding to Andrew Sullivan with anything other than a link to the offending article next to a smallish gif of a horse's ass. Yes, Andrew represents a "current of thought" out there, but it's a tepid, weak current in a filthy stream, bubbling forth from dubious origins and trickling over the falls to form a browish, foamy scum that dissipates in whatever hapless breeze cruel fate presses into blowing over it. It's just not a current to splash around in.

Seriously, leave Sully to people who seem to like taking out the trash.

Posted by mph at 12:45 AM

March 14, 2004

Eight Good Things

One more baby-blog entry as the weekend wraps up:

In the midst of all the "what's he know and how does he know it and will he remember it?" fretting and anxious anticipation of the end of good sleep habits are some things that are very good about Ben:

  1. Al bringing him to bed to wake me up in the morning.
  2. Getting a smile from him when he first wakes up from a nap.
  3. The way his eyes lock on mine when I feed him a bottle.
  4. Watching Al give him his nightly massage, because his funny little arm and leg motions give way to a deep stillness, and he stares up at her, rapt.
  5. Giving him his nightly massage myself, for the same reasons.
  6. Taking him for walks in the baby carrier and realizing he's fallen asleep with his head on my chest.
  7. Seeing a look of puzzled shock give way to curious engagement when we put him in the tub for his nightly bath.
  8. Remembering that I once thought I could somehow keep myself walled off from some part of this experience, and realizing now that I can't and wouldn't ever want to try.

Posted by mph at 11:59 PM

Blogmarking with MovableType

Update: Since typing this up, I took a cue from Phil Ringnalda's take on this and dropped the cutesy icons in favor of a (c) for comments I'm tracking and a simple text (via) for sources.

My blogmarks are powered by MovableType.

There are three kinds of information I want to be able to track about each entry: The link to the resource itself, where I got the link, and whether I'm engaged in some sort of conversation involving that resource. What I've got set up was pretty simple to do and it takes advantage of all the little bookmarklets and tools I already use to put Puddingtime! together.

Here's the layout for the basic blogmark template. It's generated within its own blog under MovableType (because I didn't want to go through the hassles of separating out "blogmark" entries from all the others, and to preserve flexibility with the design during its early stages) and used as a php include in the pages of PuddingTime proper.

<MTEntries lastn="10">
<div class="blogmark">
<MTIfNotCategory name="conversations">

<MTIfCategory name="conversations">
    <img src="/images/conv.png" align="left" />  


<MTIfNotEmpty var="EntryExcerpt">
  <a href="<$MTEntryExcerpt$>">
  <img src="/images/via.png" border="0" 
  align="absmiddle"  alt="via">


And a sample blogmark entry under MovableType looks like this:

Entry Body:
<a title="Find Your New Imaginary Girlfriend Today!" 
href="http://imaginarygirlfriends.com/">Imaginary Girlfriends</a> 
Or just target someone's marriage for destruction.



If the excerpt field is left empty, nothing happens. If it has a URL, as with the entry above, it plops down a little via icon () and wraps the URL and icon in an anchor tag. I've preserved the extended entry field (where the 'via' info went when I first set everything up) for additional comments I don't want cluttering up the part that was meant for PuddingTime's sidebar. I don't use that much and probably won't. Pithy's fun.

I also like to keep track of places I've left a comment or sent a trackback ping, so with the use of the supplemental category tag plugin and the creation of a "conversations" category, this code:

<MTIfCategory name="conversations">
    <img src="/images/conv.png" align="left" />  

puts a little dialog icon (conversations) next to the entry so I can have a quick reference to conversations I'm trying to keep track of.

The rest is just an exercise in fiddling around with the design for the blogmark index, archive index, and monthly archives pages.

What I'd really like to work out is a way to have each day of blogmark entries include an index of links to the stuff that went up on Puddingtime! that day, as well. My head's not quite working around that yet.

Posted by mph at 3:39 PM

Tabula Somethin'-or-'nother

Ben wants Phil to know there is no spoon.

One thing I skipped over in last night's entry is probably the most interesting part of having a baby in the house, which is the realization that there's a new consciousness dawning in there. The baby books are, at least, good for keeping you busy thumbing for answers while you get through the fourth trimester, waiting for some indication that the little dude's going to wake up to the world around him.

It's made me wish I knew people in cognitive psychology so I could get a few questions answered that I know there probably aren't definitive answers for, like how tied our ability to remember is to our ability to hang symbols on our memories, whether sense memory is eventually overwritten by symbol memory, or whether it's just pushed aside. It seems like "pushed aside" is about right, considering the powerful effect a sense-memory smell can have even when we can't quite hang words on it.

Or there's the time mom put together an album for me that had a half-remembered picture from my childhood of my grandmother and I on the beach (either Corpus Christi or Galveston). Before I saw the picture again, I knew it involved me, my grandmother in a dress, the beach, and her maroon car. I remembered the car being completely in frame and I remembered all the pertinent elements and color tones correctly. What I didn't remember correctly was the depth of the frame and how much of the car was in the picture. Since it's impossible for to remember the shot as it was framed (I was in it, not framing it), it seems pretty clear that I remembered the picture as part visual sense-memory and part a collection of symbols loosely held together with rough details. The nose of the car, which is all you can really see in the frame, became the complete car, which seems to mean that my symbolic memories had an awful lot to do with my composite memory of the photograph since I had to extrapolate a complete car from just the nose.

So consider this an open call to whoever reads this that might also have some cog-sci chops or can at least recommend a good book on the topic of memory. I've seen one called "What's Going On in There?" that looks promising. Other recommendations (or simple "Michael, you ignorant slut! Everyone knows the freenabular nexus drives the parietal leeloofrinkles, which has the sum effect of coagulating sense-symbol proximalations in the first three years!" commentary) welcome.

Posted by mph at 11:47 AM

March 13, 2004

Good Advices

Time for some babyblogging:

We've got something that kind of looks like a routine now, so I think I'm going to jinx it by mentioning it in something other than a hushed voice with my fingers crossed.

Some time around 8 p.m., we get a bottle into the lad. Food has the useful effect of making him slow-witted and compliant. Then we break out the Burt's Bees Baby Oil and give him a rubdown, which chills him out even more. We follow the massage with a bath and swaddling. IMG_2213.JPG Ten or fifteen minutes in the rocking chair with him, and he's ready to go down. We usually have him in bed by 9 p.m., and he stays down until around 6 a.m. This has been going on for something like seven or eight nights straight, and he's even tolerated small variations in the routine without going insane and making us pay until 2 in the morning.

Stuff You Can Know
Coming back from the game and comic shop today, we were talking about the New Routine and what an insane blur the first month of Ben's life was. Two things we agreed on readily enough:

  1. Any book that deals with anything besides how to feed, clean, or otherwise maintain basic life functions is useless. Books with advice about making the little nipper sleep regularly, learn a second language, communicate his needs with a babyfied ASL, program in ALGOL, or learn to not be ashamed about his poop may as well stay on the shelf because the kid's just not in the same room with you most of the time, and when he is, he's like a sloshing pink plastic bag of old nitroglycerin. They'll have their time, but even the books centered around early, early issues (like sleep habits) pretty much back off even pretending that they can offer worthwhile advice before three months. The worst just gloss the issue.
  2. Once you're willing to pull a book down off the shelf and consult it, it's a crapshoot. If the author happened to have some kids like your own, the advice will work most of the time, sort of. Otherwise, you'll either waste time reading something that stops making sense the second you try it, or you'll realize a few pages in that the author just had a different sort of kid.

Realizing the second thing was a real blow to someone who's as book-oriented as I am. IMG_2214.JPG There's not room in the apartment for all the books I've gone out and bought to solve a simple problem or deal with a minor and passing curiosity about the way a thing works. Should have taken my own advice when I wrote:

"[...] it just seems like hanging so much on "Dr. X's Guide to Making Your Baby Y and Z" is a good way to guarantee future misery when the child proves him or herself to be a human, and not a deterministic system."

I can let myself off the hook a little, because the things I was reacting to then were more generalized "child rearing" texts as opposed to the practical texts we were trying to consult. All the same, when people say "every baby's different," I'd go so far as to say "different enough that you just shouldn't try to find the book that'll happen to cover yours." Best to just ask around and keep an ear out for advice that feels right and doesn't run contrary to a basic maintenance book you've picked less for methodology than apparent scientific soundness.

More prickly than blowing off a book is the issue of how to deal with all the advice that friends, family, and loved ones have to offer.

I'll make no comment on the quality of the preponderance of that advice, or single any particular bit of advice we got as good or bad. IMG_2219.jpg I'll just note that everybody has an opinion based either on experience, preconception, or preconception shaded by some knowledge of someone else's experience, and that few of the people who have something to say agree with each other. The most comforting thing you can hope to hear isn't "Oh yeah, just do X,Y,Z and the kid'll be golden," but "Yeah, I remember it being kind of like that. We tried..." Mercifully, as the shock of the first few days and weeks wears off, some of that can be culled instantly as contrary to what you think you should be doing, and some of it makes sense enough to try because it squares up with how you think things ought to be but you just hadn't thought to try that particular thing.

IMG_2224.JPGI'm writing this with some worry that someone among the many people we've talked to about this challenge or that will think I'm thinking about them when I use words like "blow off" and "cull." And that makes me think of Jon Leonard, who once said the most useful thing anyone's ever said around me: "Hey! I'm full of shit, too! We're all full of shit!" But that doesn't make the care and patience people have shown for our little family any less important, even when it was expressed in the form of advice that was dead wrong for our particular bundle of entropy.

Posted by mph at 11:09 PM

March 12, 2004

Separate But Equal But Despised

The Massachusetts legislature has gone ahead with approval of a "separate but equal" amendment to its constitution, making same-sex marriage forbidden, but same-sex civil unions with "entirely the same benefits, protections, rights and responsibilities that are afforded to couples married under Massachusetts law" available.

For once, I agree with Andrew Sullivan:

"There's no possible reason to give gay couples something that walks, talks and squawks like a marriage but is called something else - except to maintain a purely semantic distinction, whose purpose is to reaffirm the inferiority of homosexual couples."

But the matter does have the benefit of driving home the point that semantics matter to the assorted stakeholders in this issue. They matter to the Massachusetts representative who describes the amendment as a lost vote as she wipes tears from her eyes and vows to fight on for real equality. They matter as much to the people who probably view the amendment as a last-ditch fireline defense against the potential encroachment of the state into their churches. Semantics are what mark this not as a victory for democratic values and pluralism, but a slap in the face that had to be begged and wheedled for.

Now, at least, there's a well-delineated line that should be easily discerned by even the least observant: On one side of it lies the almost-but-not-quite grudging acquiescence to equal protection tainted by bigotry and a pathological desire to exclude. On the other side is an opportunity to provide real equal protection by including everyone in a single, state-recognized institution and leaving the act of exclusion to benighted communities that will never do anything other than snarl at the proposition of a same-sex pair celebrating and affirming their commitment anyhow. If they want to corrupt their own sacraments with their bigotry, that's a matter best left to them, their fellow parishioners, and their god.

Link first found at Wonkette.

Posted by mph at 11:34 AM

March 10, 2004

Libertarians of Oregon Acknowledge the Two-Way Street

"Get the state out of marriage" says the Libertarian Party of Oregon:

"Under the Libertarian approach, the government would stop issuing marriage licenses, replacing them with civil unions for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation.

"Couples could then go to their churches to have their unions sanctified as marriages. Churches would determine which couples are allowed to marry.

"'Our approach lets churches control their marriage sacraments while ensuring that government doesn't sanction gay marriages,' state party Chairman Adam Mayer said in a statement."

The language in that last graf is pretty interesting, and reflective of the curious mix of cultural directions found among Libertarians. Whatever tooth-pulling it took to get folks from the more socially conservative chapters to sign on, at least they did it.

Via AboutItAll|Oregon.

Update: b!X has picked up on this resolution and several similar notions floating around out there (including my own) in a more comprehensive post.

Posted by mph at 9:54 PM

March 9, 2004

The Establishment Clause Dodge (Yet Again)

Pleasant to get a ping from b!X this afternoon that directed me to one of his latest entries on the queer marriage issue as it's playing out in Oregon. The entry centered around an opinion released by the State of Oregon Legislative Counsel, which asserts that as far as Oregon's constitution is concerned, the state can't deny same-sex couples marriage licenses.

It goes one step further and points out that creating two categories of marriage (one we call "marriage" and reserve for straight people and one we call "civil unions" and provide as the only means by which same-sex couples can be "wed') is not a suitable alternative: "Providing same-sex couples with a separate civil contract, such as civil union, is not sufficient; separate is not equal."

The last third of b!X's post quotes the part that really made me perk up:

There may also be another alternative: Instead of giving opposite-sex couples a "marriage license" and same-sex couples a "civil union license," the Legislative Assembly could authorize clerks to issue "commitment licenses" (or whatever designation the Legislative Assembly chooses) to all couples. This system would leave "marriage" to religious organizations, with the state authorizing the issuance of the license and the religious organization performing the "marriage." Each religious organization could then decide for itself whether to perform "marriage" ceremonies for same-sex couples.

As b!X notes:

Making the distinction -- as, we're told France and Mexico have already done -- would not only be the more proper thing to do from a church/state separation point of view, it would serve to rid the debate of the distraction of what we'll call semantical overlap. It would also help reveal just who it is that truly is opposed to same-sex unions of any kind, regardless of whether they are at all touched by a "religious" term.)

It's good to see the state Legislative Counsel throwing this out for discussion. I'm not really into the declaration of one of Multnomah County's recent newlyweds, who said the county is merely "riding the tide of history," because faith in inevitable progress (which always seems to mean "things going your way") is just another way of tacking "and a pony" onto your program and waiting around to get your heart broken. Rather than banking on historical inevitability, we need to be framing this debate in a way that's fair and equitable, and in a way that helps the benighted souls who think their church doors are going to be forced open understand that this is a secular policy issue, not one that will impact their right to worship as they see fit.

I promise to harp on this as assorted policy bodies, lawyers, advocates, and politicians throw the idea around.

Related Pudding:

Posted by mph at 10:33 PM

Dishpan Theology (Updated)

If you aren't up for more queer marriage ruminating, here's a table of contents:

First things first:

A few posts back I advocated what we could call the "Establishment Clause Dodge" to resolve the queer marriage issue. In a nutshell, I argued it's best to simply secularize the process so people with a big bone in their throat over calling marriage between two people of the same sex "marriage" could quit the field with honor and retreat to whatever congregations they attend, where they aren't forced to acknowledge that kind of union.

Some friends we had over for dinner expressed a concern that this approach would protract the process of recognizing queer marriage because of a need for case law to accrete around the recognition of a civil union as a marital equivalent, but that's not what I was proposing. I was arguing that the act of being in a marriage should be acknowledged as "religious" enough that the state shouldn't have a say in it, but that the act of being in a domestic partnership with all the benefits of marriage should be considered secular enough that the church folk shouldn't have a say in that. I believe the most practical, constitutional way to resolve the debate is to break civil marriage off from "holy matrimony," and call it something that doesn't imply anything so much "holy" as pragmatic and contractual.

One of the reasons I thought it'd be a good idea to de-religiousize the contract the state recognizes as marriage was to defuse a potential misunderstanding on the part of folk afraid that their churches would be forced to perform queer marriages. It was just a guess on my part that those fears would exist, largely because you can't be a minister's kid without being exposed to a lot of well-intentioned (or not so well-intentioned) fear-mongering from a portion of the population that feels radically alienated from the secular culture around it. Every subculture passes around "outrage of the week" tales, whether they're "atheist boy sat on by principal until he acknowledges god" stories from the backwoods of Alabama or "Methodist martyr girl forced to eat her own bible in front of jeering school assembly" tales from somewhere in the suburbs of Babylon.

As it turns out, at least one local weblogger (Tammy, at Dishpan Dribble) expressed exactly that fear:

"And don't tell me that the rights of Christians are not going to be infringed upon by gay marriages. How long do you think it will be before our churches will be forced to marry these people under some twisted version of the Constitution?"

There are a few people in the comments to that entry trying to disabuse her of that notion (including a good delineation between religious and civil marriage by b!X, who's doing ace coverage of the local news on this issue), but at least one other commenter who apparently left gratified that Tammy had pointed out an angle she'd never considered.

It seems clear to me, though, that the Establishment Clause Dodge is doomed.

Tammy's convinced queer marriage is a homintern ploy to get at tax exemptions, and folks who aren't against queer marriage are split on how eager they are to accept a less objectionable term for their marriage contracts than "marriage." I think I'll just be showing up wherever licking stamps or demonstrating to fight the remaining anti-marriage measures takes place, because it's clear the debate has been framed around the words "gay marriage," regardless of how uselessly inflammatory that is to a defensive and self-marginalized portion of the population.

And now to our Theology Minute:

The Theology Minute: Once Saved Always Saved? Says Who?

Outside of coming from a denomination that had a fairly long tradition of not bothering with the secular world's laws except to get the secular world to leave it alone (which fuels a lot of my discomfort with the people in front of the Multnomah Co. Courthouse waving scripture signs... why wake the beast that is the state and get it to renege on a century of honoring, for instance, conscientious objection), I don't think my baptism preparation class had a lot to say about the nature of salvation outside "Get saved and be good." I always assumed that my salvation wasn't dependent on a single act of submission to God/acknowledgement of Christ as it was on my ongoing acknowledgement of Christ and continued attempts at acting like him. But a commentor on Tammy's site notes:

"Tammy believes in a doctrine that is colloquially know as "once saved, always saved", which means that even if [someone] were to become a consort of the devil, so long as he once accepted Jesus as his personal savior he's got an express ticket to heaven when he passes away."

I found that positively novel. I know I've got at least one minister who checks in here now and then as well as a friend or two who are pretty up on a few variations of mainline protestantism in the US. Exactly where do we find this doctrine in use? I've gotta say I'm not buying it. As much as it might be a nice escape clause, I'm not real thrilled with eleven-year-old me being allowed to make binding deals with any particular team, regardless of the debauchery this doctrine would seem to allow for.

Update: Tammy was kind enough to show up in the talkbacks and point out that the "once saved always saved" school of thought is more often referred to as "eternal security."

osas_devil.jpg Googling has yielded a boatload of results, including an unfortunate preponderance of damnation talk from some decidedly unhappy folk and a few attempts to compare/contrast the belief with the Calvinist "Perseverance" doctrine, which Ed helpfully summed up as such in a quick IM session:

The Reformed (Calvinist) Perspective says: God decided long ago whether you were going to be saved or not. Things that happen in your life, like Sinners' Prayers, are at best evidence of that decision. You can do nothing about it. Get on with your life and do what's right without trying to earn salvation by it.

Oh, a corrolary: If you're worried about whether or not you're elect, you're probably elect. Stop worrying about it.

As Lenin said to Trotsky, it makes the head swim.

Posted by mph at 2:06 AM

March 8, 2004

Mac App Watch: Get PixelNHance While You Still Can

I've been back in the world of the iBook for a few weeks now, gradually reacquiring/reconfiguring assorted apps I used quite a bit. One I tracked down again today borders on indispensable. Caffeine Software's PixelNHance is the answer to 90 percent of the work I do with digital images in Elements, and it's free (as in beer, not speech).

It doesn't have the fancy filters of Photoshop, doesn't allow the user to add text or do a lot with the image in terms of cropping or heavy-duty manipulation, but it does offer a fine collection of basic color correction tools that clean up a lot of basic photo problems quickly and easily. The very best part is the way it handles change previews: The preview screen commonly seen in apps like Photoshop and the GIMP is integrated into the main window (click that screen shot thumbnail for a full-sized example). So as you make changes, they're reflected in real time by a selectable preview area you can drag around the window.

This time around, my use of PixelNHance has unearthed an added bonus: It has noise reduction that rocks. I hate shooting with a flash, and I'm lucky to have a digital camera that offers a simulated ISO 400 setting so I can do a lot more available light shooting than my old Canon S10 allowed. But the G5's ISO 400 setting also involves a ton of noise. PixelNHance cleans a lot of that out without the dramatic blurring and fogging that other apps create.

iPhoto offers a configuration option to select which app gets opened when a photo thumbnail is double-clicked. PixelNHance is my default app: Fast, simple, effective, and it handles most of what I need on the spot.

The closest thing there is to a catch is that Caffeine Software has "suspended operations," which might mean the software's on the endangered species list. The company site points to a 56MB archive of the company's offerings. Worth every second of the download.

Posted by mph at 10:38 PM

March 7, 2004

Freak Eye for the Easily Scared Guy

So, I'm sitting here catching up on my e-mail, celebrating the fact that Ben has slept as close as you can get to "through the night" with a six-week-old baby for three nights in a row, and watching SciFi's Mad Mad House out of the corner of one eye.

It's a reality show, so we're already in dangerous territory considering the semi-official ban we've imposed on those. But it's on SciFi, so we're giving it a break.

The premise is that there's this house and it's populated by an assortment of people-who-are-weird. One's a witch, one's a voodoo priestess, one's a "naturist," which seems to mean walking around nekkid and eating only raw food because in nature, apparently, there is no fire. Oh, there's also a body-mod dude (who makes me think of Queequeg), and there's a "vampire." The other side of the cast is a collection of "normals" who have been brought to the house because being around all the "alts," as the weirdos are called, will freak them out so badly that they'll gradually have to be winnowed from the house.

The winnowing involves wallering around in blood and other stuff with a touch of the sort of interpersonal nastiness that makes the reality tv world go 'round. They've already started psychoanalyzing the chubby girl.

madhousevamp.jpgThe "vampire" looks sort of like Butthead, only in Marilyn Manson drag. Seriously. Imagine every Saturday Night Live skit with Chris Kattan as the little basement-dwelling gothboy and you've got this guy's vibe.

And Avocado, the fire-shunning "naturist," makes smoothies with a blender.

I'm left with the sense that if I were put in that house, I'd end up feeling responsible for maintaining the weirdness the "alts" are trying to project about themselves. I mean, there's the Zaphob Beeblebrox quote, a sort of preemptive counter-cool, "I get weirder things than you free in my breakfast cereal." Then you just end up being threatened with blood-drinking or consumption by some eldritch power and you're a big, fat spoilsport (and having crashed a seance, lemme tell you, it's no fun being the Grinch to an erstwhile medium). Or there's just playing along so the blender-using naturist and Queequeg the Pierced can maintain whatever fragile sense of self they need to get through the day.

And on top of that, how is it that a death-worshiping vampire and a life-affirming Wiccan cohabitate in some sort of Axis of Weird and even gang up against the normals? Shouldn't they be fighting all the time?

I should also toss a few darts at the Normals, but I'm not sure what to say about a group of people who'd knowingly sign up for a reality show that plays on their apparent inflexibility and lack of imagination. The producers picked them for their likelihood to just not be able to deal with a naked Queequeg lookalike with mangled earlobes or a Wiccan with big boobies.

Oh, we also just got to see inside the deliberative process, wherein the Alts try to decide who to throw out. In classic altie-cultie fashion, people who aren't instantly freaked out by them are "walled off" and "unaware." So if you don't maintain their sense of specialness for them, they just decide you must really not get them and kick you out.

Here's the rundown of reasons they've tagged normals for eviction:

Executive Summary: This is like being kidnapped by goths and forced to attend a scary haunted house where they get mad if you don't scream over sticking your hand in a bowl of peeled grapes they've told you are eyeballs.

Posted by mph at 4:10 PM

March 5, 2004

Show Us Your Fishing Hole

For some reason, a Slashdot editor bemoaning blogger "plagiarizing" strikes me as a hair goofy. Slashdot isn't a blog according to most of the current crop of self-appointed blog experts, but it's not a wild act of generosity to include it in the same branch of the web publishing family tree. One thing it definitely has in common with the "link blog" leaf of that branch is its almost completely derivative nature. It has a few reader-contributed reviews, yes, but not much in the way of reportage even though its editors frequently use the phrase "we reported on this earlier" to mean "we once linked to a story about this same subject." It's fair to say that the real creative spark on that site is the software that drives it, and perhaps the efforts of trolls to disrupt it. Beside the point.

The article he was citing is at WIRED, and it discusses how a team at HP, analyzing the flow of information and links around the blogging world, discovered that there's good reason to believe about 70 percent of bloggers fail to mention where they found a link. One manifestation of this seems to be more prominent blogs cherrypicking interesting links from their lesser-known confreres without citing them as the source.

At the risk of making Ed gnaw his tongue in half with anguish, this issue reminds me of a distinction Eric Raymond made during his "papers" phase between hacker culture and warez-d00d culture: Hackers (in the good sense of the word) tend to share source and methodology, crackers don't. It's a question, I guess, of different kinds of payoff. A skilled programmer writing open source code receives approbation for both his skill and his generosity, while a skilled cracker prefers his payoff in a lump sum comprised entirely of acknowledgement that his skillz are the maddest. The warez dude will eventually undermine his aura of elite competency if he acknowledges outside help or helps others figure out how to do what he does.

It's not hard to imagine that these two personality types have homes in other areas of endeavor, even if it's something as trivial as aggregating links. Some people prefer to teach you how to fish, others prefer to sell you a box of fishsticks. Sadly, the latter are acting like the Web is a small pond with a limited supply of fish they need to hold some sort of monopoly on. That makes their attempt to throw up a "Fishstix for Free or an Amazon Tip" booth look pretty laughable when we pan out and realize it's bobbing in the middle of a near-bottomless sea teeming with fish.

One thing I've consistently admired about Doc Searls is his near-compulsive transparency in terms of where he gets his links from. He always seems to toss in a "via" qualifier of some sort, which makes him a connector as opposed to a terminal end. BoingBoing is similarly generous and has source attribution wired into its design. These two sites are much better go-to reads for just this reason: Perhaps 25% of their links are of real interest, but they provide a way to sharpen my reading list by tracking down their sources, who might provide a slightly sweeter ratio of interesting/non-interesting stuff.

From my perspective, if a generalist blogger wants my return traffic, it'll happen when his/her blog shows itself to be a nexus as opposed to a dead end. There's nothing magical about finding a good link. The value add is helping me find more like it.

Posted by mph at 12:15 PM

All Together Now for Unison

Unison gets a big, fat "where have you been my whole life?" for making syncing directories between a laptop and a server a little easier than rsync, which I was using in the long-ago dark ages of up until about 3:30 this afternoon.

The thing with rsync, (as near as I've ever been able to wrap my head around it, and I'll confess that this sort of thing involves a kind of blockstacking I'm just awful at) is that it doesn't provide simultaneous reconciliation of two filesets: it syncs one over the other. That's jim-dandy for backups (e.g. I'm getting ready to head out the door with the laptop, I better dump it to the server in case it gets run over by a bus), but not so hot for what I think of when I think "synchronize," which means not having to remember which fileset is fresher point by point.

Unison, like rsync, can use ssh as a conduit, and it uses a URI-style syntax (ssh://server/directory).

Works (and often comes pre-built) for a scad of Unixen and also does Windows. The Debian Woody package is currently at version 2.9.1, which is (miraculously) the actual stable version of the project. It's important, evidently, that the versions of Unison on each end of a sync match.

It doesn't handle OS X resource forks, so for my purposes it's going to be limited to syncing up my mostly-plain-text work folders. To build it, it also requires OCAML, which is available via fink (or Debian's packages if you just can't live with the prebuilt binary).

Mac people who want a binary without the pain of building it for themselves can feel free to drop me a line.

Posted by mph at 1:32 AM

March 4, 2004

I Promise to Call if My House Burns Down

O.k.... so I probably wouldn't like the average literary magazine editor, but this little rant about the social burdens non-bloggers bear was pretty worth my time:

"There was a time when my friends and I got together to chat about our lives, a time when any problem could be resolved in the warm light of our camaraderie and beer. And then my friends became bloggers. These days, I do not even hear about the stupid stuff that's going on-- 'I got a haircut' or 'My apartment burned down' -- because the bloggers assume that I have read about it on their blog. Which I have not. And then I wonder why they are not answering their home phone, and immediately assume we are in a fight."

I hereby pledge to never, ever refuse further comment in a meatspace conversation by saying "I blogged about it, so..."

Maybe I should expand that pledge to promising to never use the word "blog" ever again. At 2:03 in the morning, having just rocked the boy to sleep, sitting here listening to DirecTV's jazz channel while I wait to see if bottle, blanket, and bouncing will stick, the thought of never hearing that word again as anything other than, perhaps, an exclamatory bit of dialogue in a caveman movie seems sort of pleasant.

Posted by mph at 2:12 AM