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Weblog Archives for May 2002

Wednesday, 1 May 2002

James Lileks on Marvel comics, the upcoming Spiderman movie, and the legal the theological implications of The Mighty Thor:

Here’s a living incarnation of an ancient creed. Flying around. In broad daylight. Imagine the anguish: we’re all waiting for an incarnation to appear, and it’s THAT religion? Like, the God of SWEDEN? I would suggest that this would cause a meltdown in Western society, especially once Thor’s interviewed on TV. “Well, yes, Greta, I am immortal, as you put it." (Easy, gleaming smile.) "I have mastery over the elements - that’s not the same as being responsible for them, however; my lawyers want to make that point clear, because we’ve had some class-action suits from trailer-park residents who think I have something to do with tornadoes.”

At times I feel like a bit of an outsider among comics fans. I was a DC geek in my youth, not really discovering Marvel till my teens and the Dark Phoenix plotline in the X-Men, circa 1980. On the other hand, that means I appreciated the hell out of Grant Morrison’s JLA. Deep down there’s a part of my that thinks religion is a crutch for people who can’t bear to face the fact that the Justice League doesn’t exist.

Thursday, 2 May 2002

Warning: Post written in anger.

A few words here on the matter of the term “Judeo-Christian”. Lots of my Jewish friends and relatives have a kneejerk dislike for this term. That’s because they’re coming from two different worldviews. Christians come from a world in which “Christian” has often been used as a synonym for “civilized”, so for them, extending this umbrella to another group seems like a compliment. Jews come from a world in which they’re a select group with unique responsibilities, charged by God to keep themselves separate from the rest of the world, so naturally they’re not inclined to look favorably on what looks like an attempt to gloss over the differences between the two religions.

The reason I bring this up is this recent piece on therapeutic cloning by Orinn Judd, brought to my attention by Gary Farber and Glenn Reynolds, in which Judd claims (among other things) that “nonbelievers [...] are practically by definition amoral”. Gary’s got a good comment on Judd’s use of “Judeo-Christian”:

And one might as well quit this "Judeo-Christian" usage; if everyone else is a foul amoral non-believer, it's silly to pretend that the under 5% of the population that is Jewish, the overwhelming majority of whom are non-religious, have much in common with the Truly Moral People, and that this won't be noticed once a proper cleanup is under way.

...and I’ve realized that there’s another reason a narrow-minded Christian like Judd might want to use the term. See, Jews have built up a certain kind of symbolic charge over the past few decades. Among the more enlightened people of the west, it’s well-known that Jews have undergone a tremendous amount of persecution over the past few centuries, much of it at the hands of Christians and in the very name of Christ, and the persecutors have come to be seen (quite rightly) as Bad Guys. The Nazis, after all, are practically the archetypal Bad Guys of the 20th century. So aligning oneself with the Jews appears to set one in opposition to the Bad Guys, and therefore, by the crude photo-op symbolism that underlies much of politics, make one a Good Guy.

What that means, of course, is that the narrow-minded Christians, the ones I can’t help but suspect would be happy to go back to playing Kick The Christ-Killer, also want to get in on this contagious appearance of enlightenment. “Look at me,” they purr, slime dripping from under their cuffs as they sidle over and slide their arms around our shoulders, “I’m so enlightened I’m actually willing to put up with Jews!”

Yet another reason for the term is the historical link between the two religions. Christians are well aware that Judaism is an ancestor of their faith, and I guess some of them figure that there]s this big chunk of pre-Jesus stuff the two must have in common. This ignores the many differences that have come along in two thousand years, as I mentioned above. Judd’s case, as with so many of the One True Way branch of those who claim to be doing what Jesus would want, he hasn’t even bothered to find out where actual Jews stand on the issue he’s discussing. (Or perhaps he has, and he’s just ignoring it.) Here he is pimping his personal opinions as “Judeo-Christian morality”, when (as Virginia Postrel pointed out) the major organizations in all three branches of Judaism have made statements supporting therapeutic cloning.

(Gary Farber’s written to tell me that he had links to the Jewish therapeutic cloning decision a week before Virginia did. I’m too lazy to hunt for them right now.)

Sunday, 5 May 2002

Friday, 3 May, in the year 2002 by the Gregorian calender, 137 years after the end of the Civil War and the passage of the 13th Amendment, 132 years after the passage of the 18th Amendment, 38 years after the passage of the US Civil Rights Act, Taylor County High School in Georgia had its first integrated prom.

I wonder if Gene Ray is going to sue these guys.

Monday, 6 May 2002

Fans of Steven Brust’s books might appreciate the Devera FAQ. I totally missed her in Agyar when I reread it recently; I still have my doubts about whether it’s really her.

Jake Kesinger’s Dragaera page has lots of useful links along these lines, like a list of the animals in the Dragaeran cycle (derived from an introduction Brust wrote for Dzurlord, a non-canonical choose-your-own-adventure book), and some speculation about the origin of Sethra Lavode, and a Marx Bros. movie set at Morrolan’s Castle Black.

The link at the end to a Jhereg Diceless RPG is 404’d, sadly. Archive.org to the rescue!

Sigh. I want to run grep "watercolor block" livingroom.

[ Gargoyle ] Now I’ll probably get people asking me what a watercolor block is. Watercolor paper needs to be held tight, to keep it from buckling as it’s being used; buckling causes the paint to run in all kinds of ways that can really mess up a nice wash. People who buy their paper in loose sheets generally soak it, tape it down to a board, then let it dry. Lazy folks like me buy blocks of paper, which are sort of like pads, but they’re glued on all four edges, except for a small span on one edge. After you’ve finished a painting, you work a palette knife into the unglued span, and run it around the edges, cutting the top sheet loose from the block.

I’m in the mood to paint, using some watered-down acrylics, and I’d use illustration board if Pearl hadn’t been sold out of double-thick cold-press in reasonable sizes. I bought a block of watercolor paper a few months back, and I know it’s around here somewhere....

This gargoyle here was done in my sketchbook, with a woodless aquarelle graphite pencil.

This letter, supposedly from Peruvian Congressman David Villanueva Nuñez, addresses claims made by Microsoft’s Peruvian division, generating Microsoft’s boilerplate FUD about a bill circulating in Peru’s congress that would require use of open-source software throughout the public-sector. The letter is extraordinary; the author clearly Gets It. It’s notable for the degree to which it leaves Microsoft’s arguments dissected into bleeding chunks, the lies, faulty logic, and internal contradictions hanging out all over, and also for the foundation of Nuñez’s argument, that basic democratic principles require the use of open-source software by government agencies:

If the State does not use software with these characteristics, it will be weakening basic republican principles. Luckily, free software also implies lower total costs; however, even given the hypothesis (easily disproved) that it was more expensive than proprietary software, the simple existence of an effective free software tool for a particular IT function would oblige the State to use it; not by command of this Bill, but because of the basic principles we enumerated at the start, and which arise from the very essence of the lawful democratic State.

(via Boing Boing)

My sweetie’s gone a-bloggin’.

From the home office in New Haven, Connecticut, here’s Ernest Miller with a Top Ten list of new copyright crimes:

2. Watching MTV if you are older than 35 or Matlock reruns if you are younger than 40.
Advertisers buy ads to reach a particular demographic. If you aren't part of that demographic you are, effectively, a thief.

Via Hack the Planet.

Tuesday, 7 May 2002

Remember that energy crisis in California last year? Turns out Enron was creating artificial shortages:

Enron Corp. manipulated the California electricity market with such maneuvers as transferring energy outside the state to evade price caps and creating phony "congestion" on power lines, according to internal Enron documents released yesterday.

(via USS Clueless)

Wednesday, 8 May 2002

Eve Tushnet and Brian Lindsey are arguing about the meaning of life. Eve just said something that I think gets to the center of the matter:

I want to be right. This is crucial because I want to do right by those I love.

This reminds me of something a friend of mine once said, when we were talking about science, religion, and worldviews. My friend (a Hasidic Jew) said that the reason he found the scientific worldview unsatisfying was that new facts and discoveries were always coming along, often undermining the old ones, and what he wanted was to just know the truth and have it always be the truth, forever.

I think a lot of people feel that way. Matter of meaning and morality are immaterial, so they aren’t subject to empirical testing, but they affect how we act in the physical world, so they are important. Since human beings are pattern-finding animals, we like to believe that our beliefs fit into some kind of coherent pattern, and it’s therefore possible to undermine a competing argument by showing it to be inconsistent. That means that belief systems compete with each other on the basis of (among other things) internal consistency.

The problem with consistency (well, one problem) is that the best tool for checking consistency is logic, and all logical systems must rest upon axioms which cannot themselves be verified within the system. Ultimately, as you explore your belief system, you’re going to come to some point where you can’t shore it up with logic, and that’s the point at which the system is going to look vulnerable to attacks from proponents of competing systems.

Many people deal with this by trying to shove the axioms off into the realm of things that are more difficult to question. Religious worldviews often claim that their axioms come from a supreme deity; they often also claim that the actions of the deity are beyond human comprehension, and therefore cannot be questioned logically. Ta-dah, instant attack-proof worldview, as long as you don’t watch the dealer palm the cards. (There are materialistic worldviews that do this as well, but I haven’t witnessed it done often enough to be able to summarize it well; Your Materialism May Vary.)

The end result of this is that people want certainty and finality in matters of meaning and morality. To which I can only reply with the immortal words of the Rolling Stones: “You can’t always get what you want”. Which doesn’t stop people from trying, of course.

The other problem with consistency is that sometimes it’s just wrong. Consider heat. People need heat to live, right? You’d die if exposed to a temperature of -40° for a few hours. But change that to, say 75°F, and you’d probably be fine. So heat must be good, right? So exposing you to temperatures in the vicinity of 5,000°F must be better! Oops, sorry about that carbonizing. Turns out there’s a narrow range of temperatures within which human life is viable — go too far outside this band on either side and you’re toast (or an ice sculpture). You can’t take a simple fact like heat is necessary for human life, and extrapolate out to the more heat, the better.

But many people try to do just that. Low taxes are better for the economy than high taxes, so no taxes must be better still. A new born infant has all the rights of a human being, so a blastocyst must have all the rights of a human being. The war fought while I was growing up was unjust, so all wars must be unjust. Sex is used for reproduction, so sex must be inherently reproductive in function. All attempts to trace a few principles out to their vanishing points, so as to be able to make new moral decisions without the troubling and difficult process of evaluating new situations on their actual merits.

Thursday, 9 May 2002

Eve also linked to an article by US Rep. John Hostettler of Indiana, who (pissed off by an episode of Law and Order) is trying to argue that supporters of abortion rights have committed more acts of violence than opponents of abortion rights. He starts out by listing examples that have nothing to do with abortion, such as a doctor who provides abortions murdering his wife. (I think it’s indicative of Hostettler’s worldview that he refers to such doctors as “abortionists,” as if their committing that one act somehow defines their entire professional careers.) This is hardly fair or useful. If every murder committed for any reason is to be counted in such a fashion, then it would hardly be surprising if we were to find more murders in the pro-abortion-rights column, since most Americans support some form of abortion rights. If we were to discover that the pilots of the planes that hit the World Trade Center all thought abortion should be criminalized, would we then include the 3,000 people who died in that event as victims of anti-abortion violence? I certainly wouldn’t.

Anyway, let’s look at some numbers. Hostettler’s article lists two cases of outright intentional murder by abortion providers, neither having anything to do with abortion, one case of an abortion-providing doctor molesting patients. He also lists three cases of doctors who’ve accidentally killed their patients through incompetence, and claims there are “countless” more. He mentions the weird case of Allan Zarkin, a doctor who carved his initials into a patient’s body after performing a Caesarean section. Then he lists the cases that might actually be relevant to his case: three men who killed women for refusing to get abortions, and one case where a pro-abortion-rights activist (Eileen Orstein Janezic) killed an anti-abortion-rights minister (Jerry Simon). So, by my reckoning Hostettler’s got four cases; by his own he’s got 11 (plus the nebulous “countless”).

The other side of the argument has better documentation. According to the National Abortion Federation, which keeps statistics , opponents of abortion rights have committed the following acts of violence against abortion providers during the years 1977-2002:

That’s 537 violent crimes against abortion providers. And I’m not even counting the crimes which didn’t result in actual attempts of violence against people — the 981 acts of vandalism, the 654 anthrax threats, the 352 death threats, the 9,519 harassing calls and letters, etc. And these aren’t estimates, these are actual reported incidents; there may be many more unreported incidents. And the murders, bombings, and arson were cases classified as such by law enforcement authorities — this tally doesn’t include inconclusive or accidental cases.

Friday, 10 May 2002

Ever wonder what Vegemite is made of?

The yeast extract spread we all know and love first appeared on our shelves in 1923. It was made from many essential ingredients apart from yeast extract.

One of the main ones was Fred Walker - a man before his time.

(via NTK)

Saturday, 11 May 2002

According to this RegisterUS article on Jaguar (the codename for version 10.2 of MacOS X, currently in pre-alpha according to Steve Jobs), the new release will be substantially faster, which will be a welcome relief. Also, Finder font sizes will be changeable, and spring-loaded folders will return.

Jobs apparently calls the project “Jagwyre” privately. The Reg’s British edition carried this article too, but didn’t change the spelling to “Jag-yoo-ar”.

And Wes Felter pointed to a 400k QuickTime movie of the new, improved, slick and Aqua-ish Jaguar version of the spinning beachball that indicates that the computer wants you to go make a cup of tea while it‘s doing something important and processor-intensive like rendering a menu, which is also apparently something Jaguar does less often than the current release.

Sunday, 12 May 2002

On Through the Looking Glass, some speculation about what the months-long conversations between Bush administration officials and Venezuelan coup-plotters might have sounded like:

"So, if we staged a coup..."

"We cannot support a coup."

"What was that about Musharraf?"

"Well, he's the guy in power, so he's who we have to deal with."

"And if we were in power?"

"We'd deal with you, of course. But we cannot support a coup."

Tuesday, 14 May 2002

Microsoft was convicted of software piracy in France last September, a story that went unnoticed due to certain other events occuring that month, but which has been brought to light thanks to mention by Peruvian congressman Edgar David Villanueva Nuñez in his recent open letter:

According to the article, the Commercial Court of Nanterre fined Microsoft because it had illegally included another company's proprietary source code in SoftImage 3D, a top-level animation package that it acquired from SoftImage in 1994.

(via Bump)

Wednesday, 15 May 2002

I’m slowly being tempted to join LiveJournal. I’m already checking Mimi’s journal frequently (and leaving comments there as an “anonymous” user, though I do sign my name there manually). Now I find out that Vicki’s using it too, even though she‘s got her own blog. Some other friends, too.

Vicki mostly uses her blog for short, traditionally bloggish things, while I’ve been folding journal-like entries in, which means LiveJournal is less useful to me. And it’s another thing that’d tempt me to spend time in front of the Infernal Device instead of doing productive things like smearing various surfaces with finely ground pigments in a suspension of water and acrylic resin (or even occasionally honey and gum arabic). Maybe I could get an account just for the sake of making it easier (and in some cases, possible) to add comments to my friends’ LiveJournals; I wonder if that’s what Patrick’s doing.

Speaking of journal-like stuff, I’ve lost four pounds in the past five days. Pretty damn cool. I’ve been going to the gym a lot these past couple of weeks, and I’ve added a few pounds to the amounts I can lift in all my weight routines. Viscerally satisfying, that is. I’m at the point where, in the evenings, I’m actually eager for the next day to start so I can go to the gym and work out some more. (In the actual mornings, of course, I’m grumpy and lazy and have to badger myself into going — Morning Self is changeless and eternal as the Tao.)

And I’ve been working on a site redesign. My latest Panix bill made a move over to Blogomania look cost-effective, so I need to rewrite some of the bits of my PHP to change the hard-coded paths I put in when I had less of a programming clue than I now have, and while I’m at it, I’m implementing a redesign. (I’ve also got a cool mechanism for automatically using new page templates at the subdirectory level ... but now I’m drifting off into realms of neepery that I doubt any of you care about.)

Thursday, 16 May 2002

OK, I’ve gone and done it.

Friday, 17 May 2002

The editor of the Weekly Standard argues that the Empire are the good guys of the Star Wars saga:

Make no mistake, as emperor, Palpatine is a dictator--but a relatively benign one, like Pinochet. It's a dictatorship people can do business with. They collect taxes and patrol the skies. They try to stop organized crime (in the form of the smuggling rings run by the Hutts). The Empire has virtually no effect on the daily life of the average, law-abiding citizen.

While on Slashdot, a slightly different parallel is drawn:

The attack on the Death Star came shortly after the Empire's destruction of Alderstaan, a planet whose government was known to harbor terrorists. Responding to criticism over the total annihilation of the planet, Vader stated, "There is no middle ground in the War on Terror. Those who harbor terrorists are terrorists themselves. Alderaan was issued ample warning. The fight for continuing Freedom is often burdened by terrible cost."

This is an astonishing story. Stéphane Breitwieser, a young Frenchman, stole valuable works of art from European museums and galleries, and stashed them in his room in his mother’s house. When he was arrested in Switzerland for stealing a bugle, his mother destroyed the artwork.

Sunday, 19 May 2002

Salon’s Aaron Kinney summarizes the last two years of The X-Files (and he wrote it before seeing tonight’s final episode, so you don’t have to worry about spoilers):

Doggett: "I think you've got something to hide, Skinner."
Mulder: "Aaaaaggghhhhhhhhh! You're stretching my face with hooks!"
Cigarette-Smoking Man: "Look at me! I'm smoking through my trachea! Oops, now I'm dead. Maybe."
Scully: "Don't touch my baby!!"
Doggett: "All right, already. Jeez. But if I hear one more thing about alien bounty hunters, I'm going to crap my pants."

The last episode did contain a recap that spelled out the backstory behind the long-term plot for folks like me who just couldn’t keep track of what the deal was with the black oil. But it didn’t really resolve things. It wasn’t a real endgame, it just scooted some of the pieces around.

MacStumbler — a wireless network scanning tool for Macs equipped with AirPort cards — is purely for educational or auditing purposes, and not meant for use in war driving, nosiree.

Aiieee!! I’m posting to LiveJournal!

Aiieee!! I’m the d20 system!

Which RPG system are you?
by Mr. Vimes

Monday, 20 May 2002

I’d been reluctant to blame the Bush administration for 9/11 — even with the recent revelations about what was known when it still seemed to me like the FBI dropping the ball, not the Bushies. But an article Robert Parry wrote, pulling together a bunch of different stories, put together with a recent piece by Josh Marshall about how Bush left the office of FBI Director unoccupied during crucial months (oh, wait, here‘s a second one worth looking at, about how Ashcroft and Rumsfeld were making counterterrorism a much lower priority than Clinton had), makes me think that things might indeed have gone differently under a competent president.

Via Doc Searls, I found an article about Microsoft’s Jim Allchin telling a court that some Microsoft software is so flawed that information about it cannot be shared without threatening US national security!

"It is no exaggeration to say that the national security is also implicated by the efforts of hackers to break into computing networks," Allchin testified. "Computers, including many running Windows operating systems, are used throughout the United States Department of Defense and by the armed forces of the United States in Afghanistan and elsewhere."

Unlike the states' proposed remedy, the federal settlement proposal that Microsoft and the Department of Justice agreed to in November contains a carve-out that permits Microsoft to withhold API and protocol disclosures if such disclosures would compromise security. The provision is designed to address hackers, viruses and piracy, according to Allchin.

This approach — clamming up about software security holes and hoping that nobody notices — is called security through obscurity, and it never works. Our security is already compromised; Microsoft’s approach just makes the problem less likely to get fixed.

Wednesday, 22 May 2002

I’m 11% Canadian.

Thursday, 23 May 2002

Why did John O’Neill quit his job as New York head of counterterrorism for the FBI? In August 2001 he left his FBI job and took a position as security chief for the World Trade Center; he was seen running back towards Tower 2 shortly before it fell, and his body was found a week later. (New York’s Metro site has a pretty good three-page bio.) This is interesting because O’Neill had a bit of information few others did — according to the New York Times, he was one of the few people who saw the Pheonix memorandum before 9/11. This is a document written by Kenneth Williams, an FBI agent in Phoenix, Arizona, and emailed to FBI headquarters on 10 July 2001. It warns that al Qaida members were training at American flight schools, but the FBI seems to have sat on it till after the attacks.

French authors Guillaume Dasquié and Jean-Charles Brisard are claiming O’Neill quit in disgust because the Bush administration was more interested in furthering the interests of the oil industry than in fighting terrorism. Newsday claims that he retired over an embarassing incident in which a case of classified documents in his care (which he wasn’t supposed to have taken from his office) was stolen in Florida in 2000. CNN claims that O’Neill had been “ contemplating retirement for a year or more”. New York suggests that it might have been a conflict with Barbara Bodine, the US ambassador to Yemen, about investigating the Cole bombing; it also mentions that O’Neill was living beyond his FBI salary, and that the WTC security position paid three times as much.

Friday, 24 May 2002

The fine folks at Google are making public some experimental features: a glossary, a phone-based search with voice recognition, a search with keyboard shortcuts, and (my favorite) a set builder where you can enter some items and Google will try to figure out what category they belong to and list some more items.

I started by entering “bagel”, “croissant”, and “bun”, and Google was unable to construct a set, but when I knocked “bun” off the list, Google returned a list of bread items including kinds of buns, so clearly there are still a few bugs in the system.

The Register tested the set builder with what may be the best possible example, and it performed like a champion.

Sunday, 26 May 2002

Cory Doctorow was at Baycon, and was on a panel with Harlan Ellison (and others) about copyright. Danny O’Brien of NTK was in the audience with a wireless-equipped laptop, funneling the discourse into (and out of) a chat channel:

malaclyps over DMCA and "Son of DMCA" --- weirdly, Harlon's dead against the DMCA ...
wmf doesn't he use it against ISPs?
malaclyps because he says that it stops him suing AOL for allowing his text to appear on their newsgroups
wmf ah
AccordionGuySend in the ARMY OF THE REPUBLIC
malaclyps Wait - Harlon's revealed his Sith Master - AIiiiieee
Loki Zerotheos "I pulled over a thousand feet of cat5 cable scraps out of my school's dumpster recently. A crimper and a few handfuls of rj-45 plugs later, my apartment is a neon-blue rat's nest of network love. I have a cable going from my fridge to my coffee maker just because I can!"
malaclyps and Cory plays the "Brewster Kahle" trump card Harlon mutters that Brewster Kahle is "arrogant", pots and kettles walking out in protest

The “‘Brewster Kahle’ trump card” is probably a reference to the Internet Archive.

Monday, 27 May 2002

Shamed chimes in on a US News article on teen sex that Glenn Reynolds linked to; I saw it because I was reading a different Shamed post that Eve Tushnet linked to. And here’s a totally irrelevant link to my LiveJournal, for no reason but that I wanted even more links in this paragraph.

Anyway, Shamed has two complaints: one, that the article doesn’t mention Clinton and Lewinsky, who Shamed blames for the widespread belief that oral sex isn’t necessarily sexual activity, and two, that widespread acceptance of oral sex “works against keeping abortion ‘safe, legal and rare’”.

First, the belief that oral sex isn’t “really” sex was pretty widespread before cum-stained blue dresses ever hit the network news. A Gallup poll taken in 1998, when the pseudo-scandal was fresh, found that 20% of adults believed that oral sex did not constitute “sexual relations”. I suspect this view is even more common among younger people; a 1992 survey of 600 students at a midwestern university found that 59% didn’t consider oral sex to be sex, with women slightly more likely to hold this view.

Second, and I really shouldn’t have to point this out, but oral sex doesn’t make anyone pregnant, and non-pregnant people tend not to get abortions. Perhaps Shamed is arguing that oral sex inevitably leads to coitus, but if so, he should say so. I know otherwise — a woman I once dated was quite willing to give head, but considered coitus something to be saved for marriage. According to current statistics reported in the very US News article paragraph Shamed is quoting, the percentage of graduating high school seniors who’ve engagned in intercourse has decreased slightly, even while oral sex becomes more popular among teens.

The general counsel of the FBI’s Minneapolis field office, Coleen Rowley, has written a letter claiming that the FBI’s internal culture prevents effective law enforcement. The FBI botched their investigation of Zacarias Moussaoui (the “20th hijacker”), and the FBI upper management is trying to cover this up.

Tuesday, 28 May 2002

Shamed has responded to my criticism of his post about Clinton, oral sex, and abortion. So, right back at ya, Shamed:

While it is true that one of my citations was to a poll taken after the Clinton/Lewinsky matter hit the news, another was to a poll of college students (with far more dramatic results) taken in 1992, before Clinton ever took office. Here’s some more: In September 1995, Vanity Fair published an article about Anne Manning, a woman who had an affair with Newt Gingrich in 1977. She said:

"We had oral sex," Manning revealed. "He prefers that modus operandi because then he can say, 'I never slept with her.'"

And ABC news cites a 1991 Kinsey Institute survey of college students in which 60% said that they would not consider themselves to have “had sex” with someone if the most intimate thing they’d done has oral sex. (I suspect that this is the same study my earlier source gave as having been done in 1992, but the ABC News page gives more details.) (Oh, by the way, “When queried about their political position, 78.5 percent classified themselves as moderate to conservative”, just in case anybody thought that this position was wishy-washy liberal thinking.)

This oral-sex-doesn’t-really-count opinion was even widespread enough to have been used as the punchline of a science fiction story I read at over a decade ago! (“UF0” by Michael Swanwick, in the Sep-Oct 1990 issue of Aboriginal Science Fiction.)

Shamed relies on “anecdotal evidence, including that from articles like the one in U.S. News” to support his claim that teens are more likely now than five years ago to consider oral sex not really sex, and calls the conclusion that Clinton caused this change a “common-sense observation” that needn’t rely on actual, factual data. My own anecdotal evidence (conversations with my peers back when I was a teen in the ’80s) tells me that this position was common in my generation long before Clinton even became a presidential candidate, and my common sense tells me that the big change is that, in the aftermath of the sex scandal, it’s become more permissible to talk about oral sex in popular news fora like US News, and so people who once would never have encountered this belief are now hearing about it.

Shamed goes on to address the matter of whether Clinton’s claim was correct (an argument I don’t actually care much about). He asks:

If only vaginal intercourse were considered sex, wouldn't we have to downgrade any other type of activity that we now consider rape?

This question seems to imply that, as it currently stands, the word “rape” includes forced sodomy, irrumation, and various other acts aside from coitus. I’m no lawyer (and further, I suspect that the technical definition of rape may vary from place to place even within the US), but I’m pretty certain that this is not the case. The discussion given in the ’Lectric Law Library’s Legal Lexicon (who named that, Stan Lee?) seems to assume that rape is a heterosexual coital act, and that the arguments revolve around relative ages, marital status, and the fact of ejaculation. But the LLLLL is largely derived from a source published in the mid-19th century; things will almost certainly have changed since then. FindLaw’s dictionary is more useful (I don’t know if that link is persistent, you may have to use the dictionary form):

: unlawful sexual activity and usu. sexual intercourse carried out forcibly or under threat of injury against the will usu. of a female or with a person who is beneath a certain age or incapable of valid consent because of mental illness, mental deficiency, intoxication, unconsciousness, or deception
(see also statutory rape)
Note: The common-law crime of rape involved a man having carnal knowledge of a woman not his wife through force and against her will, and required at least slight penetration of the penis into the vagina. While some states maintain essentially this definition of rape, most have broadened its scope esp. in terms of the sex of the persons and the nature of the acts involved. Marital status is usu. irrelevant. Moreover, the crime is codified under various names, including first degree sexual assault sexual battery unlawful sexual intercourse, and first degree sexual abuse.

So as you can see, it’s a bit complicated. To some extent, the law already does support the sex-is-coitus position. As to the matter of abortion, Shamed says:

But my contention wasn't that teen sex rates and abortion rates would necessarily increase as oral sex did--I only said that it doesn't help to make abortion "safe, legal, and rare," especially the latter.

Yes, technically this is true. Failing to help make something rare is, if one is being really picky about one’s language, not quite the same as making it more common. But then, so what? Clinton did any number of things — reducing the budget deficit, bombing Osama bin Laden — that weren’t likely to make abortion any more safe, legal, or rare. Why not criticize them as well? (I do believe, by the way, that there was an act of Clinton that has probably contributed to the rate of teen pregnancy — firing Jocelyn Elders for believing that contraception and masturbation are acceptable things to educate children about, and acting on that belief.) And wait, what was that about intercourse among teens becoming less common? Isn’t that an important part of making abortion less common? (Increased use of contraception would be another, and increased reliance on non-coital sex a third.) If the change is going to come, it’s going to come incrementally. It looks like what Shamed is actually complaining about is that Clinton didn’t wave a magic wand and cause the incidence of abortion to decrease by an order of magnitude or more:

In 1997, (before any of the oral sex changes would've taken place) while the rate of abortions in America was at its lowest since 1975, there were still 1.2 million abortions reported to the CDC, or 306 abortions per 1,000 live births. Pardon me for not considering that to be rare. And excuse me for thinking that a culture that can't get outraged about 12 year olds giving blowjobs out like Halloween candy won't be nearly as disturbed by the teen abortion rate as it should be.

Oh yeah, outrage. That’s always a great problem-solver. I don’t see what would be helped by becoming outraged at the idea that some twelve-year-old is getting oral jollies on with another young teen. I have friends who were sexually active — and I do mean coitus — at age 12, and I think they’d have been much better off giving up the coitus for fellatio and cunnilingus.

The NYC Bloggers Map is orgainized by subway stop. Turns out that one of the creators lives right near me. Also that Brooklyn is blogger central, with (so far) more entries than the other four boroughs put together.

I added myself, but the map wasn’t immediately updated to reflect my addition, nor have I yet received my email verification. I don’t know if it’s updated by hand, or maybe by an hourly cron script, or if perhaps the javascript-empowered form didn’t work with my browser (though it seemed to be working just fine).

Later: OK, now it’s working.

Wednesday, 29 May 2002

Eric Raymond makes a good point about the teen sex argument:

The traditional rationalizations for adult panic about teen sex are teen pregnancy and STDs. But if teen pregnancy really had much to do with adult panic, anti-sex rhetoric would have changed significantly after reliable contraception became available. It hasn't. Similarly, we don't hear a lot of adult demand for STD testing in high schools.

Eric says that adults are basically just jealous of sexualized teens. Of course, he frames this is a conservatives and liberals both want to control sex issue, because he’s a libertarian. From where I’m sitting, the desire to control other people’s sex lives is an inherently conservative impulse, and the desire to be sexually free an inherently liberal one, and leftward-leaning folks who want to control others’ sex lives have internalized a conservative belief, perhaps without realizing it, and are merely dressing it up in liberal clothes. (I’m probably not actually disagreeing with Eric here; I’m sure he’d happily say that libertarianism is what used to be called liberalism, and might even agree that much of the left-leaning mainstream has swallowed a lot of conservative fishhooks over the past few decades.)

Thursday, 30 May 2002

Avedon to the rescue! My favorite anti-censorship crusader and expert on matters of sexual politics puts in her two cents on the discussion I’m having with Shamed:

For most of my adult life, talking and writing about sex has been a substantial part of what I do. And one thing I know from long experience is that when heterosexual people say "sex" without any qualifiers, they almost always mean penis-in-vagina intercourse. "Did you have sex last night?" "No. ... Well...we did do 69." People say stuff like that all the time.

Friday, 31 May 2002

What a nightmare! MacSlash is a website devoted to news about the Macintosh; until very recently it was located at MacSlash.com. A few days that domain suddenly became the property of a Spanish domain hijacker, Vicente Peiro Crespo. For now, MacSlash is at macslash.net and macslash.org. How did this happen? Read on....

As you may know, Apple offers mac.com email addresses and webspace to Mac owers (for free, I think; I never bothered to sign up for mine). The macslash.com domain was registered with Dotster (the same registrar I use for pigsandfishes.org). As the domain started to get close to expiring, Dotster sent notifications by email to the listed contact for the macslash.com domain. Mac.com, as it turns out, spam-filters email without the users’s knowledge or consent; what’s worse, Dotster had gotten on their list as a spam source, so the expiration notifications were getting filtered out before the MacSlash people ever saw them.

As most of my tech-savvy readers already know Bob, Ted Nelson inveted hypertext. He did his first work on the idea back in 1960, before he even coined the word, and in his 1974 book Dream Machines he claimed that “Xanadu”, his wonderful hypertext software framework, would be ready in 1976. In a 1988 magazine interview, he claimed it would be complete in 1991. In 1999 the source code to the Xanadu project was released and Nelson demoed some kind of more-or-less working apps at the O’Reilly Open Source Convention in Monterey. I memorialized the event on a techie mailing list with a short (and somewhat unscansional) poem:

In Monterey, did Ted Nelson
Some hypertext software display:
Where the transcluded docs can span
Address space measureless to man,
And links can go both ways.

Xanadu was supposed to be a utopian system, where links are bidirectional, updates of excerpted material are updated automatically, and all changes are recorded and trackable. But after almost twenty years, it’s still not complete, not even what would normally be called an alpha release.

In 1991, Tim Berners-Lee (a software engingeer at CERN) released his hypertext system, the World Wide Web. It had grown from ideas he’d had as long ago as 1980 for organizing notes on a computer system, but his ideas were much less ambitious than Nelson’s. It was simple enough to actually work, that just about anyone could use it.

Nelson’s clearly jealous. Dave Winer recently reposted a short rant of Nelson’s, which dismisses the Web as mere “decorated directories” and “the vacuous victory of typesetters over authors”. Nelson wrote the original rant as plain text, which (for some unknown reason) on my browser doesn’t text-wrap, so that the lines run off the right edge of my browser window, which is probably symbolic of something. But Nelson misses the real victory of the Web: It works. It’s simple, anyone can use it, and Berners-Lee actually shipped working code! It’s not perfect, but the perfect is the enemy of the good.

Which ties in with the discussion Brink Lindsey and Junius are having on libertarianism, principles, and slippery slopes. (Hmm, I should probably elaborate on that, but the Cartoon Network is running a Powerpuff Girls marathon, and the Sci-Fi Channel a Farscape marathon, at the same time! Choices, choices.)

Kevin Maroney pointed out a recent Peggy Noonan piece acknowledging that FBI screw-ups may have kept them from preventing the 9/11 attacks. Lots of people across the political spectrum are coming to approximately the same conclusion. But, politics in America being what they are, there remains an important question — How do we blame this on whichever of the two major parties we dislike?

In the earlier essay she quotes at the beginning of the more recent one, she makes clear where she puts the blame:

I will never, ever forget the important Democrat who told me over lunch why Bill Clinton (president of the United States, January 1993 through January 2001) had never moved and would never move in a serious way to deal with the potential of nuclear and biological terrorism. Because it doesn't show up in the polls, he said. Because it doesn't show up in the focus groups.

Kathleen Parker is setting up the backup plan, penning a a brief of alternate history story to blame the FBI’s high-level bumbling on civil libertarians.

At the blue end of the spectrum, it’s been pointed out that the Bush administration left the position of FBI Director unfilled for the crucial months, that it made counter-terrorism a lower priority than the Clinton administration had, and that the Bushes have always been overly solicitous of the Saudis.

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