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Friday, December 31, 2004
11:02 PM
"...when to be on it and when not."

What the sea gypsies know.

4:16 PM
The Canadian government, until January 11th, will match any donation to major relief operations working from Canada.

In other words, you double the size of your donation if you send money this way, rather than by sending it directly to an affected country or donating in your own country.

Donations to Oxfam Canada, the Canadian Red Cross, World Vision Canada, UNICEF Canada, Care Canada, Doctors Without Borders, World University Service of Canada , Salvation Army, Canadian Food for the Hungry International, Save the Children Canada, and SOS Children's Villages will all be doubled by the Canadian government -- but only until January 11th.

Best wishes to everyone for the new year.

Friday, December 24, 2004
11:13 AM
In the night of 12/24/07, though sensors woven through the very fabric of the house had thus far registered a complete absence of sentient bio-activity, I found myself abruptly summoned from a rare, genuine and expensively induced examples of that most priceless of states, sleep.

Even as I hurriedly dressed, I knew that dozens of telepresent armed-response drones would already be sweeping in from the District, skimming mere inches above the chill surface of the Potomac. Vicious tri-lobed aeroforms that they were, they resembled nothing more than the Martian war machines of George Pal’s 1953 epic, “The War of the Worlds”.

And while, from somewhere far above, now, came that sound, that persistent clatter, as though gunships disgorged whole platoons of iron-shod mercenaries, I could only wonder: who? Was it my estranged wife, Lady Betty-Jayne Motel-6 Hyatt, Chief Eco-Trustee of the Free Duchy of Wyoming? Or was it Cleatus “Mainframe” Sinyard himself, President of the United States and Perpetual Chairman of the Concerned Smart People’s Northern Hemisphere CoProsperity Sphere?

“You’re mumbling again, big guy,” said Memory, shivering into hallucinatorily clear focus on the rumpled sheets, her thighs warm and golden against the Royal Stewart flannel. She adjusted the nosecones of her chrome bustier. “Also, you’re on the verge of a major fashion crime.”

I froze, the starched white tails of an Elmore of Shinjuku evening shirt half-tucked into the waistband of a favorite pair of lovingly-mended calfskin jodhpurs. She was right. Pearl buttons scattered like a flock of miniscule flying saucers as I tore myself out of the offending Elmore. I swiftly chose a classic Gap t-shirt and a Ralph Lauren overshirt in shotgun-distressed ochre corduroy. The Gap t’s double-knit liquid crystal began to cycle sluggishly in response to body-heat, displaying crudely animated loops of once-famous televangelists of the previous century, their pallid flanks streaked with the sweat of illicit sexual exertion. Now that literally everything was digital, History and Image were no more than Silly Putty in the hands of anyone with a BFA and a backer in Singapore. But that was just the nature of Postmodernity, and, frankly, it suited me right down to the ground.

“Visitors upstairs, chief,” she reminded me pointlessly, causing me to regret not getting her that last chip-upgrade. “Like on the roof.”

“How many?” And this was Samsung-Sears’s idea of an “expert” system?

“Seventeen, assuming we’re talking bipeds.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“That Nintendo-Dow micropore sensor-skin you had ‘em stretch over the Realistislate? After those Columbian bush ninjas from the Slunk Cartel tried to get in through the toilet-ventilators? Well, that stuff’s registering, like, hooves. Tiny ones. Unless this is some kind of major Jersey Devil infestation, I make it eight quadrupeds – plus one definite biped.”

“It can’t be Sinyard then.” I holstered a 3mm Honda and pocketed half a dozen spare ampules of gel. “He’d never come alone.”

“So maybe that’s the good news, but I gotta tell you, this guy weighs in at close to one-forty kilos. And wears size eleven-and-a-half boots. As an expert system, I’d advise you to use the Mossad & Wesson bullpup, the one with the subsonic witness protection nozzles—“ She broke off, as if listening to something only she could hear. “Uh-oh,” she said, “I think he’s coming down the chimney…”

[Originally published as "Cyber-Claus", in The Washington Post Book World Dec 1, 1991. A very merry Christmas to all, and may Memory and President Sinyard rest easy upon you.)

Wednesday, December 22, 2004
10:28 AM
Meanwhile, join this Ukrainian enthusiast as she gears up for the Dig.

8:04 AM
With the Solstice spam flying fast and thick, and starting to cling to St. Nick's beard, my friend Eileen Gunn notes:

"I just got an email from Ineducable M. Melting, who says that he has women who have their own webcams. Some of these women have pics, and will send them to me if they like mine. This seems auspicious, does it not? Most of my pics are of graffiti on the Regent's Canal, however. Do you think this will interest them? Will they have equivalent graffiti from Belarus? This would interest me very much."

Tuesday, December 21, 2004
10:40 AM
From Chicago, news of

interstitial living.

Thanks to Bruce Sterling

Sunday, December 19, 2004
10:00 PM
Lego Gitmo in Brixton.

Saturday, December 18, 2004
10:17 PM
This is probably one of the last places you expected to get pitched yet another charity at Christmas, but I urge you to consider Modest Needs.

If you've ever had your bacon saved by a someone giving you a few hundred dollars when it looked like nobody else would, and not making a big deal of it, you'll understand the concept behind Modest Needs.

Thanks to Kevin Kelly for introducing me to this excellent and genuinely modest charity.

2:32 PM
Roughly half of Americans are in favor of restricting the rights of their Muslim American fellow-citizens, according to this recent poll.

FRANK: The way I see it, unless we each conform,
unless we obey orders, unless we follow our leaders blindly,
there is no possible way we can remain free.
--"The Novocaine Mutiny," M*A*S*H, 27 Jan. 1976 [thanks to Green Arrow]

Friday, December 17, 2004
5:58 PM
From Lord Hoffmann’s remarks in the judgement by the House of Lords that the British government is wrong to detain foreign terrorist suspects indefinitely without trial:

This is a nation which has been tested in adversity, which has survived physical destruction and catastrophic loss of life. I do not underestimate the ability of fanatical groups of terrorists to kill and destroy, but they do not threaten the life of the nation. Whether we would survive Hitler hung in the balance, but there is no doubt that we shall survive Al-Qaeda. The Spanish people have not said that what happened in Madrid, hideous crime as it was, threatened the life of their nation. Their legendary pride would not allow it. Terrorist violence, serious as it is, does not threaten our institutions of government or our existence as a civil community….

Such a power in any form is not compatible with our constitution. The real threat to the life of the nation, in the sense of a people living in accordance with its traditional laws and political values, comes not from terrorism but from laws such as these. That is the true measure of what terrorism may achieve. It is for Parliament to decide whether to give the terrorists such a victory.

Thursday, December 16, 2004
2:04 PM
Bobby Inman, oldest of the old school, in his particular field.

This is the conclusion of an absolutely fascinatining interview in Slate:

Inman: If Rumsfeld were to be there for the next four years there will be a lot of my military colleagues who will be very unenthusiastic about it. But as much as they dislike Rumsfeld, they would not want to see a change in this immediate period. With the run-up to the Jan. 30 election in Iraq, you don't want to disrupt the chain of command.

Slate: After the elections, your military colleagues might welcome a change at the top?

Inman: They would not be greatly disappointed if he did not turn out to [serve] a full four years.

Slate: One assumes they feel the same about Paul Wolfowitz; we saw a lot of him and the neocons in the Iraq war run-up. They have virtually disappeared. Why is that?

Inman: They don't want to take the blame. … They were willing to take credit for things earlier; they don't want to take blame.

Slate: Who is going to take the blame?

Inman: I think we'd better stop there.

Slate: We're can't go opining about certain members of the administration?

Inman: No, no. Not gonna do that.

Slate: And the administration has sealed most of their documents for years to come.

Inman: Yeah, the historians are going to have a field day in 30 or 40 years.

1:47 PM
And then there are those episodes of history that unravel with the breathtaking and utterly unexpected abruptness of a cashmere miniskirt catching on a chainlink fence... The ever-burgeoning subterranean history of Mr. Kerik being one of those, now.

How refreshing -- post-election reality having seemed nothing so much as soldering in space.

So does/did the White House know there was/wasn't a nanny?

Sunday, December 12, 2004
8:25 PM
In1851, Dr. Samuel Cartwright, a prominent Louisiana physician and one of the leading authorities in his time on the medical care of Negroes, identified two mental disorders peculiar to slaves. Drapetomia, or the disease causing Negroes to run away, was noted as a condition, "unknown to our medical authorities, although its diagnostic symptom, the absconding from service, is well known to our planters and overseers." Dr. Cartwright observed "The cause in most cases, that induces the Negro to run away from service, is such a disease of the mind as in any other species of alienation, and much more curable, as a general rule." Cartwright was so helpful as to identify preventive measures for dealing with potential cases of drapetomania. Slaves showing incipient drapetomania, reflected in sulky and dissatisfied behavior, should be whipped -- strictly as a therapeutic early intervention. Planter and overseers were encouraged to utilize whipping as the primary intervention once the disease had progressed to the stage of actually running away. Overall, Cartwright suggested that Negroes should be kept in a submissive state and treated like children, with "care, kindness, attention and humanity, to prevent and cure them from running away. "

Dr. Cartwright also diagnosed Dysaethesia Aethiopica, or "hebetude of the mind and obtuse sensibility of the body-a disease peculiar to Negroes called by overseers -- Rascality." Dysethesia Aethiopica differed from other species of mental disease since physical signs and lesions accompanied it. The ever-resourceful Dr. Cartwright determined that whipping could also cure this disorder. Of course, one wonders if the whipping were not the cause of the "lesions" that confirmed the diagnosis. Not surprisingly, Dr. Cartwright was a leading thinker in the pro-slavery movement. Dr. Cartwright, in his article "Diseases and Peculiarities of the Negro Race", chided his anti-slavery colleagues by noting "The northern physicians and people have noticed the symptoms, but not the disease from which they spring. They ignorantly attribute the symptoms to the debasing influence of slavery on the mind without considering that those who have never been in slavery, or their fathers before them, are the most afflicted, and the latest from the slave-holding south the least. The disease is the natural offspring of Negro liberty -- the liberty to be idle, to wallow in filth, and to indulge in improper food and drinks."

--Thanks to RoBW.

Saturday, December 11, 2004
3:41 PM
So when you slip a megadose of dioxin into your opponent's borscht, it makes them look like an old-school Politburo hack with an IV Stolly drip and a liver the size of a suitcase!

That's like something out of a Bruce Sterling novel!

Friday, December 10, 2004
11:39 PM
Some exerpts from SOUTHERN SLAVERY, AS IT WAS:

"To say the least, it is strange that the thing the Bible condemns (slave-trading) brings very little opprobrium upon the North, yet that which the Bible allows (slave-ownership) has brought down all manner of condemnation upon the South." p. 22

"As we have already mentioned, the 'peculiar institution' of slavery was not perfect or sinless, but the reality was a far cry from the horrific descriptions given to us in modern histories." p. 22

"Slavery as it existed in the South was not an adversarial relationship with pervasive racial animosity. Because of its dominantly patriarchal character, it was a relationship based upon mutual affection and confidence." p. 24

"There has never been a multi-racial society which has existed with such mutual intimacy and harmony in the history of the world." p. 24

"Slave life was to them a life of plenty, of simple pleasures, of food, clothes, and good medical care." p. 25

"But many Southern blacks supported the South because of long established bonds of affection and trust that had been forged over generations with their white masters and friends." p. 27

"Nearly every slave in the South enjoyed a higher standard of living than the poor whites of the South -- and had a much easier existence." p. 30

6:57 PM
Meanwhile, down in Raleigh Durham, kids are learning that slavery wasn't half as danged bad as those Yankee liberals have had it fired up to be.

"'Doug Wilson and Steve Wilkins have essentially constructed the ruling theology of the neo-Confederate movement,' said Mark Potok, editor of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Report.

Potok said people who argue that the South should secede again have latched onto the writings of Wilson and Wilkins, which portray the Confederacy as the last true Christian civilization."

Lordy. Lordy me.

Thursday, December 09, 2004
8:58 AM
Re computational re-purposing of rat brains, science fiction's earliest and best shot at this idea, as far as I know, was taken by Cordwainer Smith (AKA Paul Linebarger -- the *other* pseudonymous, complexly tormented Beltway spook who led a largely secret second life as a genius sf writer). Smith, in the 1950's, provided "laminated" rat brains as standard equipment, using them for lots of the things we do with PCs. As I recall, these were whole brains that had been resinated somehow, then microtomed into millions of extremely thin sheets, the "wiring" of which could then be task-adjusted before reassembly and plug-in in your favorite Warthog.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004
3:32 PM
Psst: "Rat brain flies jet". Pass it on!

Rat Brain Flies Jet

Those poor fools out there obsessing over how to prevent stem cell research? They've got a rat brain driving a Thunderbolt II "Warthog" in their future:

"Avionics equipment includes communications, inertial navigation systems, fire control and weapons delivery systems, target penetration aids and night vision goggles. Weapons delivery systems include head-up displays that indicate airspeed, altitude and dive angle on the windscreen, a low altitude safety and targeting enhancement system (LASTE) which provides constantly computing impact point freefall ordnance delivery; and rat brain friendly Pave Penny laser-tracking pods under the fuselage. The aircraft also have armament control panels, and infrared and electronic countermeasures to handle surface-to-air-missile threats.

"The Thunderbolt II's 30mm GAU-8/A Gatling gun can fire 3,900 rounds a minute and can defeat an array of ground targets to include tanks. Some of their other equipment includes an inertial navigation system, electronic countermeasures, target penetration aids, self-protection systems, and AGM-65 Maverick and AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles.

"Thunderbolt IIs have Night Vision Imaging Systems (NVIS), rat brain compatible cockpits forward of their wings and a large bubble canopy which provides the rat brains all-around vision. The rat brains are encircled by titanium armor that also protects parts of the flight-control system. The redundant primary structural sections allow the aircraft to enjoy better survivability during close air support than did previous aircraft. The aircraft can survive direct hits from armor-piercing and high-explosive projectiles up to 23mm. Their self-sealing fuel cells are protected by internal and external foam. Their redundant hydraulic flight-control systems are backed up by manual systems. This permits rat brains to fly and land when hydraulic power is lost."

Tuesday, December 07, 2004
7:39 AM
There are days in which contemporary American history seems merest zombie lockstep, and days when someone manages to articulate the truth of that history. Yesterday, thanks to James Carrol, at the Boston Globe, was one of the latter.

I am reminded again, as I often am these days, of W.S. Merwin's poem (1967):


When the forests have been destroyed their darkness remains
The ash the great walker follows the possessors
Nothing they will come to is real
Not for long
Over the watercourses
Like ducks in the time of ducks
The ghosts of the villages trail in the sky
Making a new twilight

Rain falls into the open eyes of the dead
Again again with its pointless sound
When the moon finds them they are the color of everything

The nights disappear like bruises but nothing is healed
The dead go away like bruises
The blood vanishes into the poisoned farmlands
Pain the horizon
Overhead the seasons rock
They are paper bells
Calling to nothing living

The possessors move everywhere under Death their star
Like columns of smoke they advance into the shadows
Like thin flames with no light
They with no past
And fire their only future

Monday, December 06, 2004
8:55 PM
"On the wall was stencilled the Army's most enforceable antiterror edict:


-- Ambient

5:02 PM
December *is* Jack Womack Month here, and, yes, that was really him, giving us our marching orders:

"Random Acts
Heathern (these roughly concurrent, the former @six months ahead of the latter)
Ambient (@thirteen years later)
Terraplane (@six years after that)
Elvissey(@sixteen years after that)
Going Going Gone (@fourteen years after that)"

If you haven't already gone Ambient, I'm not sure what it'll do to you to read these today. They have come, to put it mildly, all too terribly into their own (as is the way with works of a certain splendid remorselessness).

The audio (CD) version of Random Acts, by the way, is so powerful as to constitute a whole other experience in its own right.

8:16 AM
'One reward Bollaert did collect from BzzAgent was, of all things, the William Gibson novel ''Pattern Recognition'' -- an actual paranoid science-fiction novel about a future in which corporations have become so powerful they can bribe flunkies to infiltrate your life and talk up products. ''It made me think, when somebody says something about a product - I wonder. That gave me a little pause,'' she said. Earlier in our conversation, I touted my iPod. Wouldn't she feel differently about my comments, I asked, if it turned out that I'd gotten it from Apple or a BzzAgent equivalent? ''That's true,'' she said. ''But you know what? If you start questioning everyone's motives, then you'll be in a home with tinfoil on your head.'''


Let me get this straight: Because I imagined, without knowing that BzzAgent existed, that this sort of thing not only could but would be done, the fact that BzzAgent exists makes me "paranoid"? Or is it merely the imagining that makes me "paranoid"?

Pattern Recognition isn't "about a future", of course, and the present reality, judging by this piece, is one in which corporations have become so powerful that they can *recruit unpaid volunteers* to infiltrate your life and talk up products -- a twist I evidently wasn't quite paranoid enough to imagine.

Sunday, December 05, 2004
3:41 PM
I hadn't really thought of which of my own books would be pulled if they pass that law prohibiting libraries from offering anything that presents homosexuality as other than purely unnatural sin. Virtual Light -- for sure!

I remember wandering into A Different Light for the first time and discovering, to my delight, that I was included in their rather exclusive selection of science fiction. Made me feel kind of like an honorary homosexual!

Saturday, December 04, 2004
2:59 PM
And if we take yesterday's DoD gun-droids and combine them with these prototypes from Toyota...we've got the Gundam battle-suit!

Thursday, December 02, 2004
10:45 PM
Let's just hope they've told them to look for Osama, and not
John Conner

1:59 PM
Alabamastan Taliban

8:21 AM
Convincing American teenagers to embrace unswerving chastity... Holding elections in Iraq next month... Herding cats...

The Washington Post

Some Abstinence Programs Mislead Teens, Report Says

Ceci Connolly | December 2

Many American youngsters participating in federally funded abstinence-only programs have been taught over the past three years that abortion can lead to sterility and suicide, that half the gay male teenagers in the United States have tested positive for the AIDS virus, and that touching a person's genitals "can result in pregnancy," a congressional staff analysis has found.

Those and other assertions are examples of the "false, misleading, or distorted information" in the programs' teaching materials, said the analysis, released yesterday, which reviewed the curricula of more than a dozen projects aimed at preventing teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease.

In providing nearly $170 million next year to fund groups that teach abstinence only, the Bush administration, with backing from the Republican Congress, is investing heavily in a just-say-no strategy for teenagers and sex. But youngsters taking the courses frequently receive medically inaccurate or misleading information, often in direct contradiction to the findings of government scientists, said the report, by Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), a critic of the administration who has long argued for comprehensive sex education.

Several million children age 9 to 18 have participated in the more than 100 federal abstinence programs since the efforts began in 1999. Waxman's staff reviewed the 13 most commonly used curricula -- those used by at least five programs apiece.

The report concluded that two of the curricula were accurate but the 11 others, used by 69 organizations in 25 states, contain unproved claims, subjective conclusions or outright falsehoods regarding reproductive health, gender traits and when life begins. In some cases, Waxman said in an interview, the factual issues were limited to occasional misinterpretations of publicly available data; in others, the materials pervasively presented subjective opinions as scientific fact.

Among the misconceptions cited by Waxman's investigators:

* A 43-day-old fetus is a "thinking person."

* HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, can be spread via sweat and tears.

* Condoms fail to prevent HIV transmission as often as 31 percent of the time in heterosexual intercourse.

One curriculum, called "Me, My World, My Future," teaches that women who have an abortion "are more prone to suicide" and that as many as 10 percent of them become sterile. This contradicts the 2001 edition of a standard obstetrics textbook that says fertility is not affected by elective abortion, the Waxman report said.

"I have no objection talking about abstinence as a surefire way to prevent unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases," Waxman said. "I don't think we ought to lie to our children about science. Something is seriously wrong when federal tax dollars are being used to mislead kids about basic health facts."

Wednesday, December 01, 2004
8:00 PM
Welcome back to Ms. Yelena Virago of Toronto, Canada. But I should point out that she's reversed the players, in memory: "The Belonging Kind" is my rewrite of John Shirley's first draft, with some subsequent additional adjustment by Shirley.

It feels strange to see it discussed today, as it was, literally, only my second attempt at participating in a work of fiction that had a beginning, a middle and an end.