|log (2004/02/20 to 2004/02/26)|
Thursday, February 26, 2004
"Extension 3625, please."
I'm riding on a train again, facing forward this time, after University Heights and before Spuyten Duyvil. Somewhere in the train car there's someone talking into a cell phone; as I sit here with my head back against the seat, looking sleepily out the window, his voice drifts into my ears.
"I was in the military, overseas, for quite a few years."
The conductor passes by on the aisle, checking tickets.
The world of secrets, now on the Web: the Grey Lodge Occult Review and even (wait for it) the official website of the Vatican Secret Archives. Kind of takes all the mystery out of it.
Of course, that's what they want you to think.
"Say that again?"
I think that one's a different voice; a different person on a different cellphone. Although it's hard to be sure.
Fascinating URL from the referer log: does shouting make a difference when lifting weight? Do you think?
"Yeah, no, I got your email."
Next station stop is Ludlow.
Our next installment in the series "Ancient Reader Input That You Were Sure I'd Forgotten All About Long Ago" is Thoughts in a barn:
Shep was amazing, far before his time. Flick lives! (Did this drop into the bit bucket the first time?)
Greystone Station; this is Greystone.
I was driving back from dropping off the little daughter at ballet yesterday, and as I approached the traffic light at the corner by the firehouse, it changed from green to red.
But in between the green and the red, it changed briefly to another color. It was an amazing color, not red and not green and not blue and not purple. It was bright and luminous in the gathering dark, and it struck my eyes in a remarkable way; a kind of light not like any other light. It was -- well. How do you describe a color, after all?
Was I exaggerating yesterday, or being intentionally inflammatory, memorializing bookstores, comparing them to carriage inns and public stables?
I dunno. Mostly I was sad that three of our favorite bookstores have closed; the generalization to the rest of the world seemed natural. I'm not predicting that all bookstores will vanish; there are still carriages and public stables, after all. Just not very many.
But hey, if this turns out to be just a transient, or if my words incent someone to go out and reinvent the standalone bookstore and prove me wrong, so much the better!
There are of course lots of bookstores; there are Barnes and Nobleses and Borderses and B. Daltonses all over the place. They're even pretty good; they have friendly little coffee shops attached, and they have a good selection of books. They have a far lower fraction of good stuff than Salmagundi, but they have so much more stuff period that in absolute terms they probably have more good stuff, even. And they're nearby, and keep longer hours.
I wonder how long even those bookstores are for this world, though. The owner of Salmagundi has great taste in books, but she can't make a living off of that taste anymore, because I can hook up with people who are willing to share their good taste in books with me online, for free. And just the fact that she has a nice building with the books in it isn't enough to make the difference.
Barnes and Noble has good (or not awful) taste in books, and a nice building, and they're close by. But is that enough to pay the bills? Will it continue to be?
The big news is of course Bush's endorsement of a Constitutional amendment to get him re-elected. Everyone in the weblogging world has been posting good links about this, and I won't try to match them. On a personal level I have this problem again, redoubled. It's heartening (if sad) to see Andrew Sullivan (in his weblog) and the Log Cabin Republicans (on the news) finally realizing how badly they've been used by this administration, and turning their backs on it. (Some of the letters that Sullivan posts are especially cheering.)
To some extent this latest Bush thing frightens me, because I don't understand it. It looks like he's caving to pressure from the religious right, of course, but just how did they pressure him? I doubt they threatened to vote for Kerry! Maybe they threatened not to vote at all. Or maybe Bush just thinks God wants him to do this; I do think he's that simple-minded, but I don't think his handlers are. So I'm afraid that they know of some reason that this is actually a good thing to do (good in terms of "keeping the Bush people in power"), and that's not a cheerful thought.
Just because I haven't said it lately, I'll restate my own position on all this: I'm against state-endorsed same-sex marriage, but I'm also against state-endorsed different-sex marriage. The government should not be in the marriage business at all. Marriage is a concept that belongs to culture and tradition and religion, and the government has no business imposing some single definition of marriage on the entire populace. In this area, the only proper role of government is to enforce contracts. Is it permissible for the government to say that it will enforce certain contracts only if the parties are of different genders? Of course not.
So, in the rather muddy terminology of the moment, I'm for civil unions, and only civil unions, regardless of the sex of the parties concerned. We're so far from a properly modest government, though, that this almost doesn't matter. Given that the government is in fact meddling in marriage, it's obvious to me that it can't and shouldn't discriminate based on gender when it does so. Duh!
Oldies but excellenties: Almost done with...
typing in this field
Our readers are almost done with such interesting things! Aside from that webcam obsession, anyway.
the beginning of the end. Or is it the end of the beginning? Or the beginning of the end of the beginning? Bother.
Isn't that nice? I had that same problem: I did great on everything, with the exception of French, where despite having had N years of it in high school I did so badly on the placement test that my freshman year in college I was in pretty much the beginner's class.
(Psalm 139:5? No, no, I didn't say that.)
Oh, and the answer to that riddle is of course "The New York Times". Isn't it?
I'm sad about bookstores. I mean, it seems to be turning out that with the coming of various technologies, the general local bookstore as we know it isn't especially viable anymore; their advantages over the alternatives (Amazon, say) don't outweigh the disadvantages often enough for them to stay in business. The new things do a better job for us than the old ones, and the old ones are falling away.
This is how the world works, and I'm not railing against it. Lots of things have gone away over the centuries, and been replaced by things that filled people's needs better. It's an inevitable, and in sum a good, process.
But that doesn't mean that people who were fans of those old things, who appreciated their good points (albeit not enough to keep them viable), can't stop and mourn now and then, and memorialize.
There was a bookstore called "Books and Things" somewhere south of us. At first it was in a little outdoor retail mall, in a densely packed and creaking building that somehow managed to feel older than the mall it was in. Lots of books, mostly new, a good selection, a mix of friendly and surly staff. We'd go there and buy books (and sometimes things).
Later on they moved out of the retail mall, into a place further from the main road, that had more space and a more open and cleaner feel. They put together a reading area in the back, with comfy chairs and cookies and tea. There was a handicapped ramp ("accessibility ramp"?) in some place, and I remember having to restrain the kids from rushing noisily up and down it too much.
They're closed now.
There was Fox and Sutherland in Mount Kisco. Not only was it a great book store, it also had a good music section with lots of independent music, and a really amazing-looking camera section (I'm not a camera buff, but it looked like it would have been paradise if I was). Also good stationery, and a great toy department, with Steiff bears and lots of odd little things in bins. We'd go there and try not to buy too much.
They closed quite awhile ago (we saw something about it in the paper, and didn't believe it, and called their number and got a rather mournful phone message thanking their loyal customers). Some of the employees got together and started a new store down the street called (I think) the Mount Kisco Book Company. When that burned down (ouch) they opened it again in the same space that Fox and Sutherland had occupied. They had a great selection of books, nice shelving, a very good (if pricey) toy section. But later on they closed.
Salmagundi books in Cold Spring (the store in koob) was one of our favorite places in that little tourist town. The lady who owned the place has great taste in books of all kinds, as well as a couple shelves of completely random used paperbacks, odd versions of various magazines that M liked to buy, intriguing good editions of used not-paperbacks further back, and in the very back (with a window looking out on a back garden) a small but good selection of toys (more wood than plastic, nothing by Mattel); M and I would sit back there with the kids when the kids were tiny, while the other one of us looked around at the books. The owner was always friendly in a slightly stern sort of way, and liked to be paid in cash.
I looked at the headlines in the local paper in the paper machine outside the club yesterday. It said that Salmagundi Books is closing soon, because the owner can't afford to stay in business there. It also said that Salmagundi Books is (was) the last bookstore in Putnam County.
Hard not to be very sad about all this. I imagine it was hard not to be sad about what happened to the old passenger trains, and the carriage ways, and the inns, and the public stables, and the windmills, and the hand-operated printing presses.
We decided it was worth the cost, but that doesn't mean we can't stop now and then, and remember.
Interesting article in The Nation about the neoconservatives, and their claim not to exist.
John Kerry makes a big point of his personal experiences as part of his qualification to run our nation. I think, based on the same qualification, that he has a real plan to improve the U.S. economy.
One nice thing about it is that the Republicans can't really use it, because the same joke about Bush is so obvious. For your edification:
Despite appearances to the contraty, George W. Bush does have a consistent economic plan for America, based on his own business experiences. The first part of the plan is going very well so far, although there is reason to worry about the second part.
There's this meme that scientists in general don't really believe all this "global warming" stuff. One component of the meme is "the Oregon Petition". Here's an interesting (if perhaps not unbiased) piece about the Oregon Petition.
A secret report prepared by the Pentagon warns that climate change may lead to global catastrophe costing millions of lives and is a far greater threat than terrorism.
(See also the MeFi thread.)
Spam subject line o' the day:
See Slutty Soccer Moms (nudity)
Whoa, thanks for the warning, there!
You gave your life to the military, you voted Republican for many years, you say you served in the Pentagon right up to the outbreak of war. What does it feel like to be out now, publicly denouncing your old bosses?
(And again the MeFi thread.)
So I've been cruising around the shady world of RSS and syndication and so on. Also my referer logs.
A scholarly study of The Image of Librarians in Pornography. (The things people will force themselves to read for the sake of science, eh?)
This led to a conversation with the little daughter about the complex and ambiguous role of schizomimetic sites on the Web (yeah, they're entertaining, but it's kind of sad that these people haven't gotten any help for their condition; and on the third hand maybe being able to post their ideas out in public is a great boon to them). We went and looked at Nash's autobiographical remarks on the Nobel site (see especially the last few paragraphs).
Unrelatedly, the little daughter has me playing Golden Sun lately (which has been soaking up time that might otherwise have been devoted to thinking and/or weblogging, but more likely to playing other games, watching Babylon 5 DVDs and so on). It's very nice; a whole intriguing little universe that fits in one's pocket.
A long time ago I played the Pokémon game on the GameBoy Color (I have Pokémon Red, for those who know what that means). It was fun; again, a whole little world to explore, a good selection of non-annoying puzzles, alot of open-ended play where you could do whatever you felt like, an interesting story, and so on. I've been wishing for something similar ever since. The little daughter got me to play Golden Sun a little many months ago, but (because I forged ahead too fast and didn't spend time training up the characters, I think) it got too annoyingly hard quite early on (before I really got into the story arc), and I stopped.
But now I've started up again, and made much better progress. She tells me I'm not that far from the end. The end of the first game, that is; then she says I have to start the sequel. *8)
I suspect the future of these little pocketsized (literally) universes will be interesting. Will they get tied significantly into the real world, or stay purely escapist? Will the AIs driving the non-player characters in them, or the laws of physics in them, become significantly richer and smarter? Will it become common to create one's own? (Something to keep an eye out for in Wired's "Japanese Schoolgirl Watch", maybe.)
New York's legal code may already be gender-neutral about marriage, which would be cool.
I've been reading various of my favorite weblogs through their syndication feeds in the last few days. It's convenient. It's also a little sad, somehow. The syndication feeds force separation of content and presentation, and make it (all too) easy to read the words all my themselves. But the web is (or is potentially) about more than just reading the words. If someone has spent hours getting the look of their page just right, it's sort of too bad if I read it only as comparatively raw text in the feed reader.
On Usenet, it's all about the text, and that has its attraction. But on the Web it can be about more than the text, if we let it. So I'm trying to use the feed reader mostly as a way into the actual pages, not as a substitute for them.
Orkut is boring. No new features seem to have been added; nothing changes. I can remind myself who my friends are. I can, by a painfully manual process, see what people are saying in the forums. But yawn! I'd think by now they'd at least have figured out how to syndicate the forums, or at least support server-side "show me only unread postings".
I finished Alexa Albert's "Brothel". It was good. Here are the book notes I just posted on it. They're sort of "seventh grade book report" quality, but hey. A poor thing but mine own, you know?
While doing research into condom use and effectiveness, Alexa Albert got access to the Mustang Ranch, one of Nevada's leading legal houses of prostitution. She found the people, the institution, the setting so interesting that she spent some considerable period of time there, getting to know the prostitutes, the support staff, the history and politics of the institution. In this book, she tells us what it was like, and what she found. For anyone interested in sex-work, in the issues surrounding its criminalization and its proper place in society, this is an essential source.
The book is most worthwhile as a first-person account. When it goes significantly beyond that, it sometimes strays into oversimplification or confusion.
For instance, I wish there was as strong a consensus among feminists as is suggested here:
And this is a terribly confusing sentence:
Clearly that's just wrong: cabdriving, hair styling, dentistry, and food service are all "decriminalized", but all are more or less tightly regulated by the state. I'm sure there are radical libertarians who would abolish all state regulation of prostitution (probably it was from talking to one of them that Albert got this sentence), but even in that world there'd be private organizations that would, Underwriters Labs style, perform essentially the same function, albeit voluntarily.
But these are quibbles (in fact they're both on the same page). The rest of the book is full of interesting stories, obscure history, authentic portraits, and tragedy. It books ends with the seizure of the Ranch by the federal government, after its owner is convicted for bankruptcy fraud. The owner, an impressively shifty character on the run in Brazil, gets away essentially scot-free. The people who live and work at the Ranch, on the other hand, have their lives turned upside down.
This book won't necessarily change anyone's opinion about the place of prostitution, legal or not, in society. While Albert does come out with a positive impression of the institution and the people, she is not proselytizing so much as she is providing primary evidence, good and bad, on what it's really like in practice, as practiced today (or in the late 1990's) in Nevada. Most people's opinions on the subject (mine included) are probably based on very little actual information; this book can help fix that.
Today we're almost entirely about marriage-equality stuff (a nice ideological term that I greatly enjoy using).
While it seems to be still on in SF, and being considered in Chicago, as well as praised by the King of Cambodia (guess he doesn't have to pander to the intolerant), a brief attempt to make it happen in New Mexico also seems to have run afoul of a Governor who does feel he has to pander to the intolerant:
"The governor has always been a champion for human rights. He supports equal rights and opposes all forms of discrimination. However, he is opposed to same-sex marriage," said Marsha Catron.
The governor also announced that he opposes the death penalty but favors executing criminals, favors abortion rights but thinks that abortions should be illegal in all circumstances, and supports public libraries but opposes funding them. The governor has apparently not yet collapsed into a semantic black hole, more's the pity. Those folks'll just have to go to San Francisco. For now, anyway.
If you buy the poster (a page worth visiting for all the photos, not just the poster), six dollars will go to these folks, working against the Hate Amendment. Or you could just give them some money straight out. But it's a pretty poster.
Luckily I remembered reading about Joan Jett freaking out the Republigoons who crashed a Dean rally in Iowa by leading the crowd in the National Anthem, so I started singing. Sure enough, the entire crowd waiting to get married to joined in and the sounds of the Star Spangled Banner rang through City Hall. The best part was the look on the protesters' faces - they didn't know how to react. You're probably not going to read about that in any of the papers but it was one of the coolest moments of the Day.
In other news, Iran is having an election, and the feelers of the Internet are trying to worm their way in and bring us out some ground-level data:
I'm trying to encourage Iranian blogger to go out tomorrow, the election day, and report what they see and hear in their city and blog it. I also plan to gather all posts related to it in one place either in my own Persian blog or in Sobhaneh, the collective news blog.
I don't know if we're actually at a place yet where this will work well, but at least tonight I'm idealistic enough to think that we will be before too long.
(And more mundanely, I've now got (I hope) the autodiscovery tags for all three syndication feeds correct in the log here. Thrills, eh?)