Riba Rambles:
Musings of a Mental Magpie

About the author: Elisabeth in early 2007, photo by Todd Belf
Elisabeth "Lis" Riba is an infovore with an MLS. This is her place to share whatever's on her mind, on topics both personal and political. [more]
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Friday, January 16, 2004
Liberty and Justice for all?
Posted by Lis Riba at 5:20 PM

A few more briefs regarding our current system of justice that I've meant to blog. [I originally was going to concatenate this with Marcus Dixon's case, but thought that deserved a post of its own for more easy forwarding.]

1. This week, the Supreme Court ruled random police roadblocks are a constitutional means of obtaining information about a crime that was conducted a week earlier. The opinion included language about "reasonableness" as judged by three factors: relevant public concern, whether the roadblock (or other steps) advanced that concern, and that it "interfered only minimally with liberty" protected by the Fourth Amendment. But as a "defense lawyer who has analyzed the opinion" wrote to TalkLeft:

Post 9/11 and the Patriot Act, where does that leave us ? Is it now OK any time there is a loss of life for the "minimal intrusion" of being stopped, observed and potentially questioned ? Leave aside for a moment the potential for abuse. Are we as citizens required to participate in the State's investigations ? What happens when the police start asking for ID to "verify" who they have already spoken to ? This "minimal intrusion language [which I trace back to at least Mendenhall (1979)] is growing.

2. This week, the Court also heard oral arguments regarding the extent of the Americans with Disabilities Act, based upon an event that I thought would be an open-and-close case. Paraphrasing Fredrick Lane of Demagogue, "George Lane, the lead plaintiff in the case, was summoned to appear as a defendant in a criminal case. In 1975, the Supreme Court ruled in Faretta v. California that every American has 'a right to be present at all stages of the trial where his absence might frustrate the fairness of the proceedings.'" Lane is also a paraplegic. Continuing with Dahlia Lithwick's summary, "Since the Polk County courthouse in Tennessee had no elevator, he was forced to crawl up two flights of stairs on his hands and knees while court workers chuckled. He refused to crawl up again for a subsequent appearance, or to be carried, and was arrested for failing to appear." He sued the state under the ADA, and Tennessee claimed it was immune from suit.

On the face of it, it seems pretty clear that Tennessee ought to accommodate the disabled who are required to appear in its courthouses, which is what the ADA requires.

Unfortunately, news reports of the questions asked by the Supreme Court justices sound like it's going to go the other way, further weakening the ability to enforce the law and ensure equal access for all. Lithwick's account is well worth reading, but only if you have a strong stomach. Scalia's comments are particularly heartless.

Remember, even if you're not disabled now, diseases and accidents can strike at any time, causing permanent or temporary impairments. Not only that, but you're getting older even as you read this, and disability is a function of age. So it's in your own benefit to support accessibility efforts. The law's been in effect for 14 years now; it was passed during the first Bush administration, and his fellow Republican Bob Dole was a major proponent of the legislation.

3. You can find political activism and sense in the most surprising of places. JoeSentMe.com is a website for business travellers. In the latest column, Joe Brancatelli takes on the current state of airport security, and suggests a complete overhaul. A few relevant points:

What if everything we're trying to do with airline security is wrong? I don't mean any particular procedure or an isolated policy. I mean the basic concept, the entire approach to security.
What if trying to keep the skies safe by proactively pre-screening passengers before they board a flight is just wrong? Wrong because it takes too long, annoys too many and misses too much. Wrong because it costs too much and catches too little. Wrong because, in point of absolute fact, it just doesn't work.
And what if there is a better way, a tried-and-true way that law-enforcement officials around the planet use successfully every day of the week.
<snipped for length and fair use, but please, read it all!>
So why not mothball all the checkpoints and the X-ray machines and the phalanx of security screeners peering into security monitors? Why not put two armed, uniformed marshals on every flight and try and get back to something like the old normal. Have the air cops police the aisles during every flight just like they walk a beat on the ground.
This tin-stars-in-the-sky approach would undoubtedly be cheaper than what we're doing now. It would rightfully assume that 99 and 44/100 percent of passengers mean no harm, even if they are carrying a few bullets or a knife or, heaven forfend, a pointed stick. It would guarantee that we wouldn't have to strip down in public just to board a plane.

Please, read the whole article! For both civil liberties and practical purposes, he makes a lot of sense. [Also, this approach would distribute the money spent on airport security around to lots of individuals in law enforcement and security (better paying white collar jobs), rather than concentrating it in high tech companies and depending upon low-paid screeners on the front lines. And that's better for the economy overall, spreading the wealth.]

4. Running short on time, but I just want to draw people's attention to the excellent essays and surprising news on our rapidly dwindling civil liberties over at Warblogging. His January 8th post, Secretary Ridge on Civil Liberties is a must! Las Vegas tourism uses the slogan "What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas" but that's as far from the truth as can be. Shortly before New Years Eve, the FBI visited all the "major" Vegas hotels, demanding the guest lists. They did not have a subpoena! A subpoena requires a judge's approval, which generally means presenting probable cause to some authority. The FBI just went around with their own national security letters, which require no outside approval. And all but one hotel handed over the requested data. Read the rest of his story, for a glimpse at just how much data Ashcroft's Justice Department is gathering on innocent Americans.

I also recommend two other related and recent Warblogging stories: Your bank account, your liberties and The Fourth Amendment and You for more information about these expanded and unchecked FBI powers.

And that's about all I have time for. A mass of links about the Mars proposal will have to wait until after the con. I'd wish you all a good weekend, but I wonder how much today's posts will put a damper on that. [You see, that's why I haven't been newsblogging so much of late. It's all so depressing!]

And the hits just keep on coming
Posted by Lis Riba at 3:35 PM

Last month I blogged the following quote:

"The relentless and prolonged assault by politicians and the public on the competence and motives of their government bureaucracies is slowly but surely undermining democracy in the Americas and Europe."

Unfortunately, our government is currently being run by a pack who keep finding new reasons for citizens to distrust them.

Two stories that deserve to be seen in conjunction:

The first comes from CalPundit, who summarizes it succinctly:

Congress mandates that HHS produce an annual report on healthcare disparities related to race and poverty. The most recent version was released a month ago, but it turns out that the final version released by the political troops was dramatically different from the initial draft written by HHS scientists. Upon learning of this, Bush heckler-in chief Henry Waxman commissioned a report comparing the scientists' draft with the final draft. Here's my favorite part:
The scientists' draft concluded that "disparities come at a personal and societal price," including lost productivity, needless disability, and early death. The final version drops this conclusion and replaces it with the finding that "some 'priority populations' do as well or better than the general population in some aspects of health care." As an example, the executive summary highlights that "American Indians/Alaska Natives have a lower death rate from all cancers."

You think that's bad, it's only going to get worse. The second story was reported in the St. Louis Post Dispatch:

Under a new proposal, the White House would decide what and when the public would be told about an outbreak of mad cow disease, an anthrax release, a nuclear plant accident or any other crisis.

The White House Office of Management and Budget is trying to gain final control over release of emergency declarations from the federal agencies responsible for public health, safety and the environment.

The OMB also wants to manage scientific and technical evaluations - known as peer reviews - of all major government rules, plans, proposed regulations and pronouncements.

Currently, each federal agency controls its emergency notifications and peer review of its projects.

In my U.S. Government on the Web class, we discussed recent attempts to eliminate, or at least diminish, the Government Printing Office (GPO). The GPO was founded in 1861 to separate the government's printing work from political patronage. But in the last decade, Republicans have tried to privatize their service, preferring each agency to arrange printing and dissemination on their own, rather than having one centralized service with expertise in handling government documents. [Have none of these cost-cutters ever heard about discounts for buying in bulk?]

And now the White House wants even broader control for itself and its subordinates.

Earlier this week, I read a quote which I cannot find now for the life of me (gratitude to anyone who replies with the wording and/or source!) But it asked 'why we were giving our government the tools of a police state?' As has been said about other recent moves by this administration: if they don't need these powers they shouldn't have them; if they do need these powers, that's highly suspect. And even if you like and support everything this administration is doing, they won't be in power forever. Think of your least favorite politician and imagine them with these tools at their disposal... And if that fills you with dread, then maybe you ought to think twice about allowing this administration to have them.

And what was I just writing about encouraging a diversity of voices, rather than stifling or censoring dissenting views?

Faster blogger, kill kill kill
Posted by Lis Riba at 1:52 PM

I so concur with RJ's sentiment -- Margaret Cho r0xx0rs:

Ms. Cho spoke at the event announcing the winner of the MoveOn.org's "Bush in 30 seconds" ad contest and as a result got a lot of hate mail sent to her.

Margaret, being into that whole free-speech thing, published them. With e-mail addresses attached and names showing (no additional research was done; this is just what was sent to her) and in at least one case, the person's company, business phone and fax.

Now, as Margaret Cho writes in her followup post,

People be trying to beg us to take their email addresses off the site because they have been deluged with hate mail in response to their hate mails to me. I want to say, "You reap what you sow," but now I have all kind of love for the because it is out of my hands. They spit their shit all over me, but they don't realize I have a global posse ready to roll. That was unexpected, there was so much support out there for me, but actually it was not for me personally, just the disenfranchised voiceless people out there who truly have concern for the world. We are in jeopardy, baby, in a Greg Kihn way. If our nation is to stay truly free, and not be a police state, we need the ability to voice our opinions in any way, without repercussions, or at least, reasonable repercussions. I have been held accountable for all my actions and words, and you know, I am really proud of them, my actions and words I mean, not the reactions really. It is just so odd and inappropriate. People have said the darndest things.

Like I've written in the past, I prefer letting good speech drown out bad speech, rather than resorting to censorship or legislation. And this is the second time in recent months I've seen that happen, the first being the hasty death of the Dean - Israel spam, where the debunkings (multiple, now) outrank the chain letter on Google.

Margaret, You go, girl!

(In)justice in Georgia!
Posted by Lis Riba at 12:45 PM

Via the new group blog, The American Street, I found this horrific conviction. Why don't I just quote directly from the site:

There is an 18 year old African American honor student -- Marcus Dixon -- in Rome, Georgia who is spending ten years in prison for having consensual sex with a white classmate who was just three months shy of 16 yrs old at the time they had sex. Although a jury acquitted Marcus of rape and three other counts of violent acts, the prosecutor also charged him with "aggravated child molestation." Consensual sex with a virgin fits into the technical reading of this Georgia statute. The statute has never been applied to consensual sex between two teenagers with less than three years age difference, until now.

This sure sounds like a travesty of justice. Even though few of my friends were involved in athletics, surely many of you can relate to a high school senior with "a 3.96 grade point average, a 1200 on his SATs." He should be planning for college right now (after numerous scholarships, he accepted at Vanderbilt), but instead is facing a decade in jail! I've seen some comments that the victim's father is extremely racist, so the girl may have lied to protect herself from his anger.

Both Act4Justice.com and HelpMarcus.com are dedicated to this case, and have further information, including a petition and ways to donate.

Emmett Till was murdered nearly 50 years ago.
Martin Luther King's 75th birthday was yesterday, with the observed holiday on Monday. It's 2004. How have things gone so far astray?

Economic news remains ugly
Posted by Lis Riba at 12:13 PM

Magpie blogged the Economic Policy Institute snapshot on unemployment. Two quite eloquent graphs (click to enlarge):

Number of unemployed persons per job vacancy
Number of persons unemployed 27 weeks or more

And, I keep reading other articles on how the "official" unemployment rate is artificially lowered by excluding certain large categories of workers. Dave Johnson's post is just the latest example. Even pessimistic economists are "stunned" by the numbers. As the EPI study notes, "The unemployment rate fell in December 2003 only because people gave up looking for work, not because more people were finding jobs."

Meanwhile, it's been widely reported that the Department of Labor -- the branch of government whose mission statement says they "foster and promote the welfare of the job seekers, wage earners, and retirees of the United States by improving their working conditions, advancing their opportunities for profitable employment, protecting their retirement and health care benefits, helping employers find workers, strengthening free collective bargaining, and tracking changes in employment, prices, and other national economic measurements" has been telling employers how they can save money with the new overtime regulations. "Among the options for employers: cut workers' hourly wages and add the overtime to equal the original salary, or raise salaries to the new $22,100 annual threshold, making them ineligible."

Oh, and take a look at what Greenspan recently said, and what that really means.

There's much more I could and would like to write, but I've taken long enough on this and there are other topics I want to mention...

Call it like it is
Posted by Lis Riba at 10:59 AM

The discussion of CBS's refusal to air MoveOn's ad reminded me of something I'd been meaning to post for months now.

I was IM'ing with my father back in December, and he raised an important point.

We still hear the ultracons harping on the "liberal media." Shouldn't we co-opt that message? Let's straight-out call it the "conservative media" to make the point how unfair and unbalanced they really are.

Some people have coined and use the phrase mighty Wurlitzer for the phenomenon, but that takes too long to explain. Eric Alterman has written What Liberal Media and many bloggers use the acronym SCLM -- but those still use (and thus reinforce) the "liberal media" phrase. Not only is the language defensive, rather than offensive, but, as my father pointed out, "double negatives don't stick. What Liberal Media, implies "liberal media" -- you need to hang CONSERVATIVE MEDIA out there or some other buzz phrase. The libs are always defending, while the conservatives are always on the offensive. OFFENSE is always more effective than DEFENSE. Until the liberals learn that simple message ..."

In related news, the latest Altercation notes:
Columbia Journalism Review will be monitoring media coverage of the election here. We can't have too much of that.

CampaignDesk.org. From what I've read in other blogs, it's already worth watching.

This morning's wire stories include another media watchdog group, the Center for Media and Public Affairs, reporting:

  • Dean Versus the Dems -- Only 49 percent of all on-air evaluations of former Vermont governor in 2003 were positive while the rest of the democratic field collectively received 78 percent favorable coverage.
  • Networks Tune Out Campaign -- The networks spent 5 hours and 20 minutes covering the election's preseason in 2003, a 32 percent drop in coverage from the 2000 campaign (7:49), in which both party's nominations were contested -- and a 62 percent drop from 1996 (14:02), the last time only one party's nomination was contested.
  • NBC Hardest On Democrats -- Nearly two out of every three on-air descriptions of the Democratic candidates were positive on ABC (64% positive) and CBS (63% positive), while NBC painted a more negative picture of the candidates in 2003 (46% positive assessments).

So what the hell are we waiting for?

"say it often enough, say it loud enough and people will start to pick up -- CONSERVATIVE MEDIA or ULTRACONSERVATIVE MEDIA."
Glutton for punishment?
Posted by Lis Riba at 9:35 AM

During the 1997 Boskone, I participated in a Punday contest MC'd by filker Tom Smith. I did not win -- I finally wiped out late during the elimination round of "politicians." (I think I was about the sixth from last before my mind just went blank. Of course, once I took my seat, I immediately thought of three others... Them's the breaks.)

At any rate, after the last man standing won his award, somebody said they should also vote on audience favorite. So they brought everybody back up on stage, and I won by overwhelming audience applause. I was touched. Really.

Of course, they didn't have a formal award planned for audience favorite, so Tom Smith gave me one of his business cards, and handwrote on the back of it:

Reedemable for one (1) tape or CD of Tom Smith: Plugged
Audience Award, Boskone 1997

I never got around to mailing it off to him, but he's the filk guest of honor at Arisia, which starts tonight. And, impressively enough, I still have and was able to find the card. It's sitting in front of me right now. I almost don't want to turn it in, because it's the only actual evidence of my victory that night (maybe I can get him to just write "redeemed" and let me keep the card...)

By the way, two of my favorite quips in that long-ago Punday competition:

  • The topic was "music" and the person immediately before me used the old canard about "too much sax and violins on television." I turned to him, and said, "What, like cello wrestling?"
    It was at that point Tom Smith suggested suspending the contest and moving it to his hotel room. :)
  • The other one I'm proudest of was also an ad-lib. The previous contestant said, "Architects have been hired to redesign the UN building. They're adding flying Boutroses." And I replied completely off-the-cuff with a Gomer Pyle "Well Gha-a-ali!

I'm good at puns, I enjoy punning, but I'm honestly not sure if I'll ever participate in a punday competition again. Not only are they hard (in a good way) but they mess up my mind. As I said, they did a long, long elimination round on "politicians", weeding down from 20-40 contestants to a final three. And, eventually I blanked and dropped out. [Couldn't even think of a lame answer, like some people had used, just went totally blank; complete wipeout.] And, as I also said, the moment I sat back down, I thought of an appropriate one that hadn't been used. [I still remember it -- "Waldheim want for Xmas is my two front teeth." Hey, I didn't say it was very good; we'd long since used up most of the easy names.] Problem was, my mind kept coming up with puns for the rest of the weekend. It was like a switch had been flipped in my processing and it took me a good day or two to come down. I really don't need that going on in my head, nor do those around me need to hear it from my mouth.

Anyway, I've got a backload of links I've been meaning to blog that I'm going to try to get off my desktop today. Last night, I tried switching styles to quicker, briefer posts. One side-effect of that was that I frequently found additional information shortly afterwards that I needed to append. May be fine for folks reading it on this site or on LiveJournal, but folks whose aggregators pick up the posts once and never refresh old links may have missed stuff. So, I'm just wondering, how did last night's posts work for you?

Thursday, January 15, 2004
Under duress (and a lot of warm clothes)
Posted by Lis Riba at 8:11 PM

Ian told me I simply had to blog this. Leslie just posted:

A friend writes, "On January 10, during the day, the coldest temperature that Spirit found on Mars was -15 Celsius. That's 5 F. It's actually colder here than it is on Mars."
Do you not know I am a woman?
Posted by Lis Riba at 8:00 PM

Flipping through the Arisia Program Schedule, I spy:

Shakespeare and SF
Beyond the Forbidden Planet, the Bard still affects us all. Were Shakespeare's treatments really that universal, or are authors trying to impress their high school English teachers?
Michael Anderson, Sarah Smith (tentative), Abigail Weiner

I'm wondering whether I should attend, or if I'm just too much of a smart-aleck on the subject for the panelists' own good...

That's bullshit!
Posted by Lis Riba at 6:55 PM

Though there were rumors of this on DailyKos last night, Atrios has the wire story:

Viacom's CBS today rejected a request from liberal group MoveOn to air a 30- second anti-President Bush ad during the Super Bowl, saying the spot violated the network's policy against running issue advocacy advertising.

What a load of crap! [The title of this post comes from my instinctive reaction upon reading the above paragraph.]

What about all those idiotic anti-drug ads the government wastes our money on every year?

Heck. Here's Ad Age's current list of Super Bowl advertisers. Let's just look and see:

  • American Legacy Foundation: a public health foundation focused on tobacco
  • Philip Morris USA, also running "anti-smoking" ads
  • yup, there it is: White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, which has among the lamest, least-effective and most intelligence-insulting ads on TV

Those are all advocacy ads. The only difference is, those are ads the current administration approves of. The ad MoveOn wishes to air has exactly one line of text: "Guess who's going to pay off President Bush's $1 trillion deficit?" And that's more objectionable than other memorable Super Bowl ads, such as mud-wrestling bikini-clad twins...

Remember a few months ago, how quickly CBS rolled over to Republican pressure to pull the Reagans miniseries and move it to Showtime?

This really sucks.

Posted by Lis Riba at 4:56 PM

If you're in the United States, head over to the Google home page and see what they've done to their logo today.
[On future dates or for those in other countries not showing the special logo, here is the URL to the image, clicking it links to these news stories, and it should shortly be available on their Holiday Logos page.]

Happy 75th birthday, MLK
Posted by Lis Riba at 4:19 PM

Quoting Sisyphus Shrugged:

Bush Plan to Honor Dr. King Stirs Criticism - he wasn't invited, he's using it to write off a campaign appearance, and he wants to preempt the planned activities

Julia's post provides two more links for further aspects of the story.

I'm not sure where he got his info from, but Atrios just wrote:

From what I've been told, there are people in Atlanta who are refusing to obey police and leave the area so that Bush can go lay a wreath at MLK's crypt without having to actually see anyone.
Apparently, CNN, based in Atlanta, is unable to get a camera there. Odd - they always have cameras at Bush's appearances.

I just want to remind people how Bush wants to be known for his compassion in these harsh times.

Speed blogging
Posted by Lis Riba at 4:09 PM

Trying to keep things brief and quick, so I'll start with Juan Cole's money quote:

So, the response of the Bush administration to the September 11 attack on the United States by a group of radical Islamist extremists has been to abolish secular law for Iraqi women and impose a fundamentalist reading of Islamic law on them. Yes, it all makes perfect sense.

Seen on Suburban Guerrilla, which linked to Brad DeLong. CalPundit also has the story.

Added later: More on this issue from Riverbend -- a female blogger in Iraq, who's in a position to know.
Via journalist/blogger Christopher Albritton, who's been to Iraq before and after the war, who's written about the issue here and here.

Survey says...
Posted by Lis Riba at 2:22 PM

A PhD candidate in the Sociable Media Group at MIT Media Lab is conducting a survey on ethics and blogging. If you're a blogger and have time, please fill it out.
It's longer and requires more thought than the Quizilla quizzes that go around, but it's also for a better cause. Upon request (the last question in the poll), the researchers will email you their results upon completion. Pass it on!

Copied from Joi Ito, via Cadence90
Two by two
Posted by Lis Riba at 1:30 PM

Two light amusements worth reading:

Now that the almanac scare seems to have passed, there's a new terrorist threat that you ought to read about: the al-Gebra Movement! [Be sure to read the comments!]

Seen this morning on Alas, a blog, Behind the Typeface: Cooper Black. It's a Flash movie giving the (surprisingly fascinating) history of a font, filmed in the style of VH1's Behind the Music.

And two excellent quotes:

If you decide in advance that the truth is always in the middle, it makes your life easier, but it cripples you with a jellified inability to respond effectively whenever one side or the other happens to be right.
Likewise, if you decide that they're all crooks, you become incapable of spotting crooks.
John Emerson, formerly of Zizka and currently at See the Forest
The Democrats were largely quiet in the lead-up to the war with Iraq, which is one excuse that reporters make for not probing Bush Administration claims. If there was no real opposition to Bush, they say, it is not our job to supply it. This is a fake argument. There were opponents of the war to be quoted. There were factual claims to be adjudicated as true or false. And journalism is not the same as a Ping-Pong match, where we just report the ping and the pong from each side. Our task is to try to sort out the objective truth as best we can.

There are lots of important news issues to blog about, such as Paul O'Neill's revelations about the Bush administration, their latest spacy proposal, some really ugly Supreme Court decisions/arguments... Unfortunately, they're all incredible downers, so I don't like dwelling on them, much less taking the time and thought to write them up.

Maybe I should just start listing links, like Sisyphus Shrugged has been. [BTW, if you're on LiveJournal and like the news I provide, befriend her LiveJournal. It's worth it!]

Meet the meat?
Posted by Lis Riba at 12:25 PM

Something I've been thinking about since watching Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy on New Year's Eve.

The matter of consent cuts across many different highly-charged debates around sex and death (particularly issues involving BDSM and the right-to-die). In particular, there's the question of whether people can (or should) consent to harming themselves, and if someone does, whether others should respect that decision or try to stop it.

Most recently, Alas, a blog raised the case for cannibalism, which seems most directly relevant to the point I've been pondering.

How many of y'all have seen/heard/read/played Hitchhiker's Guide?
Remember the Dish of the Day?
If you're at all fuzzy about it, here are a few excerpts from the scene that explain the concept:

    A large dairy animal approached Zaphod Beeblebrox's table, a large fat meaty quadruped of the bovine type with large watery eyes, small horns and what might almost have been an ingratiating smile on its lips.
    "Good evening," it lowed and sat back heavily on its haunches, "I am the main Dish of the Day. May I interest you in parts of my body?" It harrumphed and gurgled a bit, wriggled its hind quarters into a more comfortable position and gazed peacefully at them.
    "I just don't want to eat an animal that's standing here inviting me to," said Arthur, "it's heartless."
    "Better than eating an animal that doesn't want to be eaten," said Zaphod.
    "Are you going to tell me," said Arthur, "that I shouldn't have green salad?"
    "Well," said the animal, "I know many vegetables that are very clear on that point. Which is why it was eventually decided to cut through the whole tangled problem and breed an animal that actually wanted to be eaten and was capable of saying so clearly and distinctly. And here I am."

Now, this creature isn't human, but is articulate and apparently consents to dying so it can be eaten.

Would it be ethical to eat such a creature? Would you eat of it? How does your answer in this scenario compare to your opinions regarding a person's right/ability to consent to extreme BDSM, suicide, euthanasia, cannibalism, etcetera? If there is a difference, what sets this apart?
And, taking things in the other direction, if you do object to eating a consenting creature, how do you feel about eating meat in general? For those who would refuse the Dish of the Day and aren't vegetarians, again, why the difference? Is it seeing it alive first (if so, how do you feel about lobster tanks)? Is it because it talks?

I'm not going to share my answers, because I'm intensely curious how others feel about this and don't want to bias matters further than I probably already am.

And on that note, it's lunchtime and I'm hungry.

Added later: I meant to tie this post on rights and who are entitled to them into this discussion. Unfortunately, I forgot until too late. Nonetheless, here's the link if you'd care to follow it over.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004
Geek trivia goodness
Posted by Lis Riba at 10:50 PM

Two great and subtle tidbits from tonight's WB shows (no spoilers)

  1. In Smallville a partially obscured newspaper headline said "Themysciran Queen Addresses Vatican."
  2. On Angel, an internal PR piece listed Yoyodine as among the clients of Wolfram and Hart.

[For those who don't get the references, Themyscira is the island home of Wonder Woman and the Amazons; Yoyodine comes from Buckaroo Banzai. Coolness!]

Added later: Via AICN (and Google), I was able to identify the other two companies mentioned in last night's Angel: Weyland Yutami, the company from the Alien films. And the third was News Corp. -- Rupert Murdoch's baby (that's what I thought I heard while watching the show, but I wasn't certain enough to post).
As far as I'm concerned, these were excellent examples of how these in-jokes should be done. For those in the know, they were delightful little rewards for paying attention. But not recognizing them didn't reduce enjoyment or understanding of the story one iota. Kudos to the writers! Well done.

Marlowe in modern fiction
Posted by Lis Riba at 5:59 PM

As promised (threatened?) earlier, here's a list of modern fiction about Christopher Marlowe.

To put these stories into context, I strongly recommend the following three nonfiction works:

  1. "Marlowe: facts and fictions" by J. A. Downie is the first essay in Constructing Christopher Marlowe, pages 13 -- 29. The full text is available online in PDF, though it is copy-protected to prevent printing or copying. This provides a very good overview of what is and is not conclusively known about Marlowe, separating the evidence from conjecture. Very worthwhile, and relatively brief.
  2. Christopher Marlowe: a Renaissance life by Constance Brown Kuriyama is an excellent biography: thorough, entertaining and does an excellent job at putting the facts of his life in context (I was particularly taken by her chapter on the colleges of the period and what his educational experience might've been like). Quite recent, meaning it includes all the latest research, although she completely dismisses any conspiracy theories surrounding his death.
  3. The Reckoning by Charles Nicholl, which is the definitive book on his murder. It's extremely obvious that most later fiction about Marlowe relies on this book heavily, so I strongly recommend it.
    [Mind you, once you have read The Reckoning, some of the Marlovian fiction becomes almost rote. There's that event, check, and now he's going to encounter... yup, check...]
I have also read In Search of Christopher Marlowe by A. D. ("Dolly") Wraight. Large book, lots of pictures, but too adulatory. Completely over-the-top in praising Marlowe's genius, including some dubious evidence (the handwriting analysis of a suspected forgery seemed particularly poorly done). The author later became (or outed herself as) a Marlovian (one who believes Marlowe wrote the works of Shakespeare). Make sure you have a strong stomach before reading this book, and take it with a hefty dose of salt.

And here's the fiction list, with my comments. I'm limiting this to English language fiction written and published within the last 25 years (plus a little leeway)*. The Library of Congress has two relevant subject headings -- "Marlowe, Christopher, 1564-1593 Fiction" and "Marlowe, Christopher, 1564-1593 In literature" -- which I used in searching for these works. I also relied upon What historical novel should I read next, which includes an index by historical figures. In compiling this list through various online library catalogs, I've discovered several other books I wasn't previously aware of.

Apologies in advance for not providing more detailed reviews; at this point I've read so many, and many of them were so long ago, that many of the details have run together in my mind. The Marlowe Society of America Winter 1995 book reviews critiqued several of the works listed below.

#TitleAuthorYearLis has read?Genre/Comments
1To be a kingRobert DeMaria1976Yes
2Will Shakespeare: the untold storyJohn Clifford Mortimer1977No
3Enter a spy: the double life of Christopher MarloweHerbert Lom1978No
4"Winter's Tale"Connie Willis1987Yesshort story: not immediately apparent it's Marlowe; collected in her anthology Impossible Things
5The Shadow of the earth: an historical novel based on the life of Christopher MarloweLee WichelnsNo
6The Armor of lightMelissa Scott & Lisa A. Barnett1988Yesfantasy, alternate history: both Philip Sidney and Marlowe survived
one of my favorite books
7The Scholars of nightJohn M. FordYesmodern espionage involving possible Marlowe manuscript: flashback/hypothesis to Marlowe's life and death
8Entered from the sunGeorge Garrett1990No
9Black SwanFarukh Dhondy1992No
10The School of nightPeter WhelanNoplay: dramatizing Marlowe's final days
Charles Nicholl's The Reckoning published in 1992
11Icarus flying: the tragical story of Christopher MarloweLiam Maguire1993No
12Nicholas Cooke: actor, soldier, physician, priestStephanie CowellNo
13Strange devices of the sun and moonLisa GoldsteinYesfantasy
14The Slicing edge of death: who killed Christopher Marlowe?Judith CookYesmystery
15A Dead man in DeptfordAnthony Burgess1995No
16Marlowe: being in the life of the mindAnne Weir1996NoI also see references to a 1996 book by Anne Weir titled Christopher's journey. Not sure whether these are different titles for the same book or something separate.
17The Players: a novel of the young ShakespeareStephanie Cowell1997No
18Shakespeare in loveTom Stoppard & Marc Norman1998Yesfilm: Rupert Everett plays Marlowe
19A Mystery of errorsSimon Hawke2000Yesmystery: 1st book in the Shakespeare & Smythe series; Marlowe appears near the beginning, many references to him
20Walk in moonlightRosemary LaureyYesmodern vampire fiction, romance: After Deptford, Marlowe was turned into a vampire; has sequels, which I haven't read; don't know whether Marlowe appears in them
21Ill met by moonlightSarah A. Hoyt2001Yesfantasy: Marlowe is primarily in indirect reference, but necessary reading for the sequel
22All night awakeSarah A. Hoyt2002Yesfantasy: Marlowe's final days and the circumstances of his death play major role
23Ruled BritanniaHarry TurtledoveYesalternate history: Spanish-occupied London nine years after the English lost to the Armada
24Mercheant of vengeanceSimon Hawke2003Yesmystery: 4th book in the Shakespeare & Smythe series; Marlowe appears mostly in reference and as competition, with only minor appearances
25Stratford Man (tentative title)Elizabeth Bearunpublished / futureNofantasy, alternate history
26"This Tragic glass"Elizabeth BearYesscience fiction short story

Suggestions and discussion are heartily welcome, including:
 - further information on entries in the list;
 - titles that need to be added;
 - scope -- what should be included or excluded:
    by format (should I include films and plays?),
    date (how far back? include future works?),
    and focus (how much Marlowe is sufficient?);
 - along with the format of the list itself (different metadata? better UI? room for your reviews?).

*Three other titles I found that were outside my intended range were:
   • Mermaid tavern: Kit Marlowe's story by George William Cronyn in 1937,
   • the 1947 German(?) work Dichterleben by Johann Ludwig Tieck, and
   • Shirley Barker's 1953 book, Liza Bowe.

I found reference to Marlowe as a character in several fictionalized accounts of the life of Shakespeare. I'm not sure how prominent Marlowe is in these books, nor am I entirely certain whether these possibly minor appearances should be included in this list.

I've considered writing a longer essay comparing and contrasting either Marlowe's portrayals in these works or the author's spin on his murder, but (a) I've read most of these through library loans, which would mean re-requesting them all over the same time period and (b) I haven't yet read Garrett and Burgess, which are probably the most famous titles and would thus be a necessity.

A related question I've been noodling with for a while is what makes Christopher Marlowe so appealing a character for modern writers and readers.

Christopher Marlowe was an Elizabethan James Dean, who died young and left not just a good-looking corpse, but also an air of intrigue and mystery. He was a poor boy made good: poet, playwright, and spy. His enemies accused him of atheism, and he was also possibly homosexual or bisexual -- negative traits until the last half-century, which now give him an even more modern appeal.

Alfred Lord Tennyson once wrote "If Shakespeare is the dazzling sun of this mighty period, Marlowe is certainly the morning star." [I wonder whether the Lucifer allusions were intentional in that.]

Marlowe as a character gives writers access to a wide swath of Elizabethan settings and notables: the theaters, espionage, nobility (his patrons), the court (the previous two, plus his rumored association with Sir Walter Ralegh)... From the dregs of the sewers to the upper echelons, there are enough holes in his biography that you can read any of those into his circle.

For mystery writers, the uncertainties surrounding Marlowe's death (let's face it, the official story in the coroner's report does not add up -- see Peter Farey for details, even if you disagree with his conclusions) provide a marvelous unsolved crime. Fantasy writers seem to have noted that Doctor Faustus is fantasy fiction, and springboard from that. And for alternate history buffs, he certainly left behind a lot of unfulfilled potential.

And, let's face it. One reason why Marlowe is so attractive to writers is simply that he was so... attractive. The portrait to the left is popularly accepted as Marlowe age 21, but the evidence is purely circumstantial. Still, it compares favorably with modern movie star looks:

Christopher MarloweJohnny Depp
Corpus Christi portrait reputed to be Christopher Marlowe  photograph of Johnny Depp
See also this illustration I made.
[Incidentally, one personal peeve of mine common to much of the modern Marlovian fiction is descriptions of Marlowe at 29 (his age at death) looking identical to the above portrait (age 20 or 21). As people age, their features change.]

But portrayals do vary. I've read of the expert swordsman not to be trifled with (at least as far as sidewalk duels are concerned) and the lover, who definitely isn't a fighter.

And fantasy ranges all over the map for how Kit interacts with whatever magical creatures inhabit his England:
   • Ill met by moonlight paints a picture of a "timid divinity student" turned reckless thrill-seeker by the love of an elven shapeshifter.
   • In Strange devices of the sun and moon, Marlowe is a Doubting Thomas, refusing to believe in faeries until confronted with undeniable evidence of their existence, and even then he's hard-pressed to believe his eyes.
   • Armor of light deals with demons, rather than faerie, and Marlowe not only accepts their existence, but actively practices magic.
And all of these can be supported by emphasizing different things Marlowe said and wrote (taking material from both his plays and the accusations against him).

Anyway, I could go on, and would probably enjoy doing so, though not without the books fresher in my memory (and preferably, on hand as reference).

I'll just close by pointing out that of the 26 fiction titles listed, I have read (or, for the film, seen) more than half of them. [Currently, that puts me at 14/26 or 53.8%. And I have read all the nonfiction works I mentioned in the beginning.]

This essay/list will be posted permanently to my site at http://www.osmond-riba.org/lis/MarloweBks.htm, which I will update as needed.

On books: Kings, queens, and royal bastards
Posted by Lis Riba at 10:25 AM

So, after flipping through the opening chapters of several works, my attention appears to have been captured by The Shadow of Albion. Having read through chapter five, it so far seems to be a blend of alternate-history, Regency romance and swashbuckler (of the Scaramouche/Scarlet Pimpernel style).

I do find aspects of the premise troubling, however:

The introduction posits that on his deathbed, Charles II finally acknowledges his brother James really shouldn't inherit the throne, so confesses a marriage to his first love, legitimizing the Duke of Monmouth.
One thing that biographies of Charles and James remain quite clear upon is that their father drilled into them the notions of the divine right of kings and how nobody should interfere with the order of inheritence. I can't quite picture Charles lying either initially, denying his son and true heir, or later, denying his brother and true heir.
"Thus, upon Charles II's death, the Duke of Monmouth is crowned Charles III."
Wasn't the Duke of Monmouth's given name James? Maybe it would be confusing that both branches would have a James II succeed Charles II, but why the name change?
"The Stuarts continue their merry custom of producing bastards and granting them titles so the highest grade of the English peerage are frequently expanded."
Again, this rang false. Going quickly back through the line:
  • It is true that Charles II left a boatload of bastards (over a dozen, I believe).
  • His younger brother James II also was reputed to have gotten around, though I don't recall reading much about any illegitimate children of his. Considering he was stupidly trapped into marriage with one of his flings, that might've made him somewhat more careful.
  • In contrast, their father, Charles I, made his marital fidelity a point of pride. This was partly a reaction to his own father's example.
  • James VI & I (the start of the British line) had numerous affairs -- but all homosexual ones, leaving no bastards.
  • His mother, Mary Queen of Scots, was certainly flirtatious. Though she had three husbands, I think the rumors of her affairs are overblown slanders. Regardless, only the one live birth (and it's harder for a woman to hide illegitimate offspring).
  • That takes us back over a hundred years to the Stewart dynasty in Scotland. James V (Mary's father) did have numerous illegitimate children, and did place them with titles or church positions (thus rendering the politics of Mary's reign terribly confusing to read), but that's a century and several generations removed from Charles II, with fairly faithful offspring in between. Is that sufficient to call it a "merry custom?"
    [I don't know much about his predecessors, other than most of them were named James, crowned as children (ruling with regents) and died young (thus perpetuating that cycle).]

But those problems relate to the setup. The actual world they present, set 125 years later (in 1805), seems quite plausible and so-far entertaining.

Addendum: Just found this "defense" of James VI & I. Sir Henry Wotton, a contemporary, described him as chaste, "Contrary to the example of almost all his ancestors, who disturbed the kingdom with the great number of bastards which they left." I guess the Scottish side of the family did have a reputation...
The fact that all James' affairs were homosexual ones, and thus non-procreative, renders them invisible in this respect.

Mind you, most websites sharing this quote are Christian ones with a vested interest in presenting James as a faithful and heterosexual husband. I'm not entirely sure why this is so important to them. The King James Version of the bible is so-called because James commissioned it -- he didn't have anything to do with the writing of it, so his sexuality should be irrelevant...

In general, these sites seem to protest too much. I mean, pointing out that James had eight children with his wife Queen Anne does not mean he wasn't also queer. Besides all the modern examples of gay parents, even Oscar Wilde had two children, and few would deny his orientation...

Tuesday, January 13, 2004
Funniest thing I've heard all day
Posted by Lis Riba at 10:45 PM

From Mahablog, recounting last night's Bush in 30 seconds award show by MoveOn:

Apparently, Al Franken cracked up the sign-language interpreter for the deaf by saying "I heard Al Franken make fun of deaf people backstage. Let's kill him."

LOL. What do interpreters do under such circumstances? Aside from crack up, that is?

Words, words, words
Posted by Lis Riba at 9:55 PM

Ian went to bed last night with a sore throat, and woke me up middle of the night to say he thought he was coming down with a cold. Gave me some psychosomatic symptoms (after all, my head's on the pillow beside his, breathing in all his exhaled cold germs) and kept me awake part of the morning. I guzzled down OJ and hot tea with breakfast and seemed to escape the worst. Unfortunately, Ian's still unwell.
At any rate...

Started feeling intensely restless this afternoon, and decided I needed some bibliotherapy -- some good old-fashioned escapist fiction -- to tide me over. I've got too much nonfiction and not enough fun stuff checked out right now. Went online looking at UChronia and other historical fiction lists, and then scanning Amazon summaries/reviews to see which looked good and the online catalogs to see which were available.

In the hour-and-a-half from 7:30 PM until 9pm (when the libraries closed) I stopped at my local library and libraries in the neighboring two towns (all part of the same network, but all about a 10-15 minute drive apart -- fortunately, I came prepared with a list!). I returned more books than would fit in my canvas tote -- mostly nonfiction and books I'd finished with. And I came out with another half-dozen, plus several more ideas from perusing What historical novel should I read next (which really needs to be made available in electronic form, so I can cross-reference the time-period and geographical indices). Most annoying, five minutes to nine, just as all the libraries were closing, I looked up one last title... only to discover that it was in the first library I visited in the evening.

At any rate, here's what I walked away with this evening:

Now, I don't know how many of these books I'll actually complete, but hopefully this list gives you some idea of what I'm in a mood for. You can also look at my Books read lists to see what titles I've already read. Further suggestions along these lines would be most welcome. I was initially searching for lighthearted fiction, fantasy, and alternate history in and around Elizabethan and Stuart England or later. I prefer more recent works to older ones. After I got to the library, I started thinking about Faustian deal-with-the-devil stories (in a lighthearted vein), but didn't really have time to browse for those and get everything else I wanted. [A few other titles that sounded intriguing online, but I rejected upon flipping through them include Firedrake's eye, The Devil in velvet and Zulu Heart.]

It's odd, I'm getting so much of my reading from libraries these days, that I've started looking at the fiction section in our personal library and I'm wondering how much of it we could weed and just depend upon public libraries for... We could free up a hell of a lot of space. [I'm less interested in getting rid of our nonfiction, because I like having those on hand as ready reference.] I don't know how well that'd go over with Ian, though.

[By the way, I've been working on my long promised/threatened list of Marlowe in modern fiction. At last count, I had 20 books published since 1976 (of which I've read over half), and in my searches this evening, I just found several more. It's starting to get a bit long for a blog post, so it may eventually become a webpage of its own elsewhere on the site.]

Of course, my next challenge is figuring out which book(s) to read first. Every one is a hardcover, and it's far too heavy (and bulky) to bring them all in to work with me tomorrow...

Added slightly later: One other option I'm considering is just going back to find comfort among my favorite books (as listed last November and August). More books in these veins would always be quite welcome. And, of course, Arisia is this weekend, which will be a good shot at finding rarities, so rec(ommend) away!

Monday, January 12, 2004
An unquiet review
Posted by Lis Riba at 10:45 PM

Well, I just finished reading Library: an unquiet history. I know that many of my colleagues have read this book and were impressed, but it really didn't do much for me.

I found Henry Petroski's The Book on the bookshelf more interesting and entertaining (and I was able to talk both my husband and father-in-law into reading it, and they enjoyed themselves too). And Fred Lerner's The Story of libraries (which I own but haven't yet completed) looks to be far more thorough.

Battles' book felt incredibly scattershot and disjointed, giving a few interesting tidbits in different periods, but without really unifying them into one whole. Some nifty trivia, some amusing quotes and anecdotes, but I have trouble with a library history that doesn't even mention Cutter. [Personal bias, I know!] The bibliography (excuse me, "Notes on sources") was in a narrative format that may make easier reading for others, but made it impossible for me to quickly determine whether he referred to any particular sources for his research.

Finally, it felt as though the book spends as much time on the destruction of libraries as he does on their construction, use and evolution. While "biblioclasms" are an important part of library history ("They got the library at Alexandria--they're not getting mine"), the extent of his focus on them makes it seem almost inevitable. Every great library is eventually destroyed. Irreplaceable collections are lost, accidentally or intentionally, destroyed in an instant or due to the ravages of time. After a while, all these accounts make librarianship feel almost futile. And for that impression in the end, I really can't recommend the book. Try one of the other two titles I recommend above.

More randomness from my life
Posted by Lis Riba at 5:30 PM

Got my Renaissance Library Calendar in the mail Saturday. Some really beautiful photos in there. I'm getting decorating ideas for our house...

Sunday's Boston Globe included a profile of Dubuque, Iowa, where my family lived during part of my childhood. Apparently, the town is doing well. I'm particularly amused by this paragraph:

One thing the town lacks is diversity. Only 3.8 percent of the population is nonwhite, up from an anemic 1 percent 10 years ago. More than half the citizens are Catholic. When an Irish Catholic weds a German Catholic, it's considered a mixed marriage. Dubuqueland boasts five convents and a monastery and, with the possible exception of Vatican City, may have more nuns and priests per capita than any city in the world.

This weekend Ian and I will be attending Arisia. For anyone else attending or considering it, the schedule has been posted, along with the gaming schedule. I don't tend to play long games at cons, since I'd much rather attend panels, but this one sounds entertaining:

Diana, Warrior Princess
Imagine our world, as seen by someone as remote from us as we are from the ancient Greeks, and with as many gaps in their knowledge. Then imagine it converted into a TV series by a production company showing the loving attention to historical accuracy we have come to expect from such series. Throw realism out the window. Join Diana and her friends: Fergie, Red Ken, and Wild Bill Gates as they battle the evil War God Landmines, Thatcher the Sorceress, and other nefarious villains in a world of rampant anachronism based on the 20th Century.

Unfortunately, I'll be working the day after Arisia, instead of getting MLK day off as usual. [We got the day after New Year's off instead.] So I'll have to be a little more careful to pace myself appropriately.

Random fun stuff over the weekend
Posted by Lis Riba at 10:05 AM

First of all, a correction to my previous television scheduling post. This Wednesday there will be new episodes of both Smallville and Angel. My previous information source was incorrect in listing a rerun for Smallville. I apologize for the misinformation. Please correct your calendar/VCR/TiVo accordingly.

Friday night in the car, Ian and I were discussing Apples to apples for the soul and some of the comments it engendered. Three thoughts:

  1. The desirability of strip poker would depend upon (a) how attractive a form/body the devil assumed, and (b) how much clothing the devil actually wears. I mean, if it's one of those cases where the devil walks around nude anyway, that might make victory real easy for me. Whoops, you're alread naked; I keep his soul!
  2. In response to the suggestion of roleplaying games, I imagined Paranoia (a game with a very high PC-death rate). Naturally, the devil would be playing Lucif-R-Hell.
  3. Then, Ian came up with the absolute perfect system for playing against the devil. The system is Hybrid RPG. Here are the rules, you figure out how to run them...

Over a very delicious Shabbos dinner, we briefly talked about our various dietary restrictions, including those religious and ethical, health and allergy, and basic matters of taste and preference. One of the hosts recently conducted a lengthy poll on the subject trying to be exhaustive of all the options. I suddenly imagined writing a murder mystery built around such a survey, in which the host kills people by feeding them inappropriate foods. Fall of the House of Kosher, anyone?

Haven't been writing about politics too much lately, because frankly I find most of it too depressing to discuss. This post by Emma over at Skyedreams really sums matters up for me, and why I keep considering whether the most prudent course is to leave this country before it's too late:

I am afraid.

I am afraid for the future of a nation where we seem to have lost the ability to compromise. That's the essence of democracy, the ability to find common ground between opposing viewpoints; it often builds rickety gangplanks over abysses, but it works as long as people agree about the basics.

I don't think we agree about the basics any longer. We seem to be re-fighting all the major issues of the last two hundred years, from the Civil War to the New Deal. There is an influential movement to replace our secular Republic with a fundamentalist Christian nation, and a closely allied one that wants to roll back all social and economic progress and return to the wonderful days when a small, closely allied social group controlled most of the wealth in the country. They are influential and ruthless, and they have won over a large swath of the American population by playing on their fears and frustrations. The two institutions designed to protect the public, the Supreme Court and the press, seem to be asleep at the switch.

Mostly, I am really afraid of the amount of violence, or tolerance of it, that seems to be entering the discussion. The ease with which some people can suggest and sometimes demand the extermination of the other side, disguised as "fantasy" or "daydreaming" or "joking". Make no mistake: this is conditioning to violence, so that when it actually happens it seems expected and acceptable, somehow. Have you ever noticed how often words are used to prepare people for violence? That's the way of the mob; and that is these folks' intention.

If people can reassure me that we're not as close to the brink as we appear through my reading, or people can show me ways of pulling our nation back from the abyss, I'd really appreciate it.

Otherwise, I spent most of the weekend reading. Ian and I often disagree over how to spend weekends in ways that leave us both dissatisfied. Since I'm working full-time all week, I prefer to just veg out and read and do little. Ian (a) likes to make the most of the time we have together, and (b) has discovered that unless he actually accomplishes something, he feels his day has been a waste. Cross-purposes.



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