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, July 16, 2004
Are all librarians this much trouble?
Posted by Lis Riba at 3:50 PM

Hee. This afternoon, I found myself in a discussion on how the Hogwarts library might be organized. And I just realized that several people on my friends list really need to join SLOF.

Meanwhile, thanks to our downstairs tenant, we may finally have enough bookshelves not only to get every book in the house shelved, but we have enough shelf space to actually put our library in some semblance of order. He's already brought four bookcases in and two more are on their way.

So, just to document what we're doing, here's how I hope to organize our library (pending Ian's approval -- I've discussed much of this with him, but modifications may occur) along with some peeves about library organization schemes in general.

A few basic principles: We are limited by our existing space as to how many bookcases and where they go.

  • Cookbooks are already stored in the kitchen; gaming books are all together in the downstairs bay. Everything else we are dividing into two groups: fiction and not. [I'd call the second group nonfiction, but this includes literature and some anthologies. I'll go into that in a moment.]
  • The fiction will be stored downstairs, and everything else will be upstairs. This is because our computers are upstairs. When I'm writing on the computer and need to look something up, I'm more often referring to something nonfiction. So let's keep it convenient. Also, I suspect more people will be interested in browsing and possibly borrowing our fiction, so we're making that more accessible.
  • Fiction: For those who have seen our house, picture the entire foyer lined in bookcases. Books are sorted alphabetically by author. We are not dividing the books by age level (children's, YA or adult) nor by genre (no separate section for mysteries or SF&F). [Ian originally suggested that, but it means more judgment calls in shelving, having multiple places to look for borderline titles, and possibly splitting up some authors' works.] The shelves are fixed and tall enough for us to interfile paperbacks and hardbacks. Media tie-in books will be shelved together at the end of the alphabet. [I'm more likely to look for a Star Trek book among other Star Trek books, rather than recalling which author wrote what.]
  • The remaining books will stay on our current bookshelves, which should now have enough room to hold them all. We will sort them into a simplified/modified Dewey Decimal Classification. Basically, we will group books by the hundreds' digit (religion in the 200s, languages in the 400s) and have no predefined sort order planned within those classifications. That may be dependent upon size (if we have a few oversized and many paperbacks), or perhaps we'll come up with our own order (I'll spare you my rant on the DDC 200s). On the whole, books probably won't have a specific shelf location, but rather belong 'anywhere in these shelves.'
  • We are filing biographies with the related subject matter, rather than having a separate biography section. I often find it both illogical and a huge nuisance when (for example), books on a monarch are kept separate from books on hir reign. Or that something called "Eminent Elizabethans" would be separate from a biography of Raleigh alone.
  • Fiction vs. literature: Basically, we are distinguishing fiction from literature (which stays upstairs) as follows: Literature is anything written before about 1700 (when novels were invented), and anything since then written as verse (poetry) or script (drama). Graphic novels are still a bit of a grey area. Multi-author anthologies are divided according to a Justice Potter Stewart standard ("I know it when I see it"). It feels pretty obvious to me that Norton's Guide to 19th Century Short Stories is literature, whereas a mass-market paperback Chicks in Chainamil is clearly fiction. Ian thinks there may be room for the literature downstairs along with the fiction. While there certainly will be more shelves downstairs than fiction will account for, I'm leaving the matter of what other groupings we shelve down there open for the moment, until we can compare the available space with our categorized collection.
  • Books whose classifications aren't immediately obvious will be sorted by a combination of judgment call and comparison with other libraries' web-based OPACs. Even though cryptozoology may belong in 001.944, I might put those books in with the folklore in the 300s. Finding an order that makes sense to us, a system we can use more-or-less intuitively is more important than rigid adherance to somebody else's organizational scheme.

That's about all the guidelines I can think of off the top of my head. After we finish all this, I'd love to get a program like Readerware and catalog it all. But that's probably a long way off. Let's just get everything shelved and organized first.

Finally, speaking of librarianship, several people I read have pointed out this New York Times article about a chain letter used book exchange. Sounds somewhat interesting, and as we're going thru our library I can certainly see books I wouldn't mind weeding in exchange for a potluck selection...

Riddle me this
Posted by Lis Riba at 10:15 AM

Okay, everybody who submitted a guess in last week's Old English riddle was pretty much correct. The answer was bread dough. According to the commentary that accompanies the answer, "In playful fashion the riddle is also an elaborate and punningly obscene etymological joke since the Old English word for 'lord' means literally 'guardian of the loaf,' and the word for 'lady,' literally 'kneader of the dough.' The lady in question is presumably making more than cakes." So I guess that one was easier than I thought.

It's tough figuring out which riddles to post. I'm trying to find something that will actually be a challenge but is also fair for a modern audience. I mean, how many people know what a harrow is well enough to recognize it when disguised with a riddle's description? At any rate, here are two more, one of them blatantly unfair (in a fun way).

I am the lone wood in the warp of battle,
Wounded by iron, broken by blade,
Weary of war. Often I see
Battle-rush, rage, fierce fight flaring--
I hold no hope for help to come
Before I fall finally with warriors
Or feel the flame. The hard hammer-leavings
Strike me; the bright-edged, battle-sharp
Handiwork of smiths bites in battle.
Always I must await the harder encounter
For I could never find in the world any
Of the race of healers who heal hard wounds
With roots and herbs. So I suffer
Sword-slash and death-wound day and night.

and

A weird creature came to a meeting of men,
Hauled itself in to the high commerce
Of the wise. It lurched with one eye,
Two feet, twelve hundred heads,
A back and belly -- two hands, arms,
Shoulders -- one neck, two sides.
Untwist your mind and say what I mean.

Well, there you go. Give me your best guesses. I'll post the solutions next Friday.

Also, please let me know what you think of this feature and whether you wish me to continue it. And do you prefer the more straightforward riddles (if there is such a thing) or should I just stick to the naughty double entendres?

Thursday, July 15, 2004
A word in the hand?
Posted by Lis Riba at 5:20 PM

Two phrases worth getting into the public lexicon to combat some of the existing GOP-favoring memes:

Link salad
Posted by Lis Riba at 11:42 AM

Lots of little things catching my eye that I don't feel like writing lengthy posts about. So instead, I'll offer one lengthy post covering them all:

I'll close with some humor. Selections from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Vent column (via corrente):

  • The Republicans don't want the FBI to know whether I buy assault weapons, but they do want them to know which books I check out of the library. I guess the pen is still mightier than the sword.
  • President Bush should remember that a trial lawyer helped make him president.
  • Kerry and Edwards kind of remind me of Batman and Robin. Bush and Cheney remind me of Pinky and the Brain.

Narf!

Which is worse?
Posted by Lis Riba at 8:30 AM

The fact that they're introducing Dazzler into the next X-Men movie, or that she'll be played by Jessica Simpson?

Added later: Fark recently held a photoshopping contest in honor of I, Robot for other ways Hollywood might butcher good books. Somehow, the scariest entries are the real ones.

Added yet later: 20th Century Fox is denying the Dazzler story as a rumor, saying that they don't yet have a finalized script for X-Men 3 and nobody has been cast yet. Given the number of false rumors about who will be playing Voldemort in the fourth Harry Potter movie (including Rowan Atkinson, Ralph Fiennes and John Malkovich), I probably should've known better. [Credit to Alex Knapp for pointing this out.]

Wednesday, July 14, 2004
Natural election?
Posted by Lis Riba at 8:45 PM

The concern seems to be what to do if something (an attack or natural disaster) happens on Election Day, preventing a large portion of some population from reaching the polls to cast their ballots.

Crazy question, but why do we need to have an Election Day? Why not an Election Week or something longer than 24 hours? It's unlikely that any disaster would force the polls closed for an entire week. Plus, this would also be a boon for people who might have busy schedules or personal emergencies that might keep them from the polls on an election day. Again, one is more likely to be able to find some time within a weeklong timeframe than in one particular day.

This system might make it harder for exit pollsters to predict the results of an election, as voters would probably be trickling in at a slower pace over a longer period of time. [And, frankly, I don't think that's such a bad thing.] Might also benefit general "get out the vote" efforts -- if you need to drive (frex) senior citizens to the polls, you can schedule it over a whole week, rather than trying to cram them all in on one day.

I believe Oregon has implemented something similar -- ballots are mailed out to all registered voters, which they can fill out at their own leisure and either mail back or drop off at designated places. Votes aren't counted until the end of "election day," even though people have been casting ballots for most of the week. Anybody closer to Oregon able to say how well that worked for them?

And if that is a feasible plan, what would it need to implement it nationwide?

Now here's an amendment I can support!
Posted by Lis Riba at 3:21 PM

Just noticed on Boston.com that the State Legislature approved a new constitutional amendment that actually expands citizens' rights, rather than taking rights away (as most recently proposed amendments attempt to do). The text of the amendment goes as follows:

Upon ratification of this amendment and thereafter, it shall be the obligation and duty of the Legislature and executive officials, on behalf of the Commonwealth, to enact and implement such laws as will ensure that no Massachusetts resident lacks comprehensive, affordable and equitably financed health insurance coverage for all medically necessary preventive, acute and chronic health care and mental health care services, prescription drugs and devices.

Wouldn't it be nice if health care were among our constitutionally protected rights? The amendment was introduced by a citizen petition. For more information, see the Health Care for Massachusetts Campaign, which has loads more information. [Apparently the wording is modelled after the clause in the Massachusetts constitution that makes education the responsibility of the state. And if it's the state's duty to encourage healthy minds among its citizenry, how much moreso for healthy bodies?]

BTW, the Boston.com article also points out that another proposed amendment, making judges elected officials instead of appointees, was defeated. I was actually worried about that one, because elected judges become beholden to the majority, weakening the ability of the judiciary to stand up for minority groups.

L33tspeak
Posted by Lis Riba at 10:45 AM

Saw this quiz on somebody else's LJ and thought it looked cute.

Book and language snob
You speak eloquently and have seemingly read every book ever published. You
are a fountain of endless (sometimes useless) knowledge, and never fail to
impress at a party. What people love: You can answer almost any question
people ask, and have thus been nicknamed Jeeves. What people hate: You
constantly correct their grammar and insult their paperbacks.

What Kind of Elitist Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

Not entirely true, but close enough. [By the way, do people like these quizzes? I've seen several others I've been taking, but I'm not sure whether to post the results, or if it will just bore the heck out of you all.]

My writing plan for this morning didn't work. I polished up the conclusion, but that one scene still escapes me. I can visualize it, but I just can't seem to write it. I wish I could do like Terry Moore and just have the story switch from prose to comic-style illustration for a scene and then back again. Meanwhile, the rest of the story has reached the point where it's starting to feel like overworked bread dough. I shouldn't tinker with it any more. But nyarrgh! <gnashes teeth? And I can't focus on that any more for the day, since I need to continue jobhunting.

Finally, through that Jay Leno quote I posted yesterday, I discovered that Associated Press runs a daily column, Comedians on the political campaign with excerpts from Leno, Letterman and Craig Kilborn (no Jon Stewart, alas, but he usually puts at least one video segment from the Daily Show on the website). At any rate, this link will take you to Google News where you can conistently get the latest day's column. Enjoy!

Write away
Posted by Lis Riba at 8:56 AM

It's Wednesday, so time for this week's Free Will Astrology horoscope:

To pump up their volume above the prevailing human din, some nightingales in big cities have learned to unleash 95-decibel songs, matching the loudness of a chainsaw. I'd love to see you make a similar push, Cancerian, because let's face it: If your output remains at its current level, you'll continue to be half- invisible, never making the impact you should. So raise your intensity, please. Whatever you've been doing to express your uniqueness, do it louder. However you've been contributing your beauty to the world, do it bigger.

The Courage to write: how writers transcend fear suggests overcoming hesitation by writing first thing in the morning, before one is fully awake and capable of putting the brakes on one's creativity. I'm hoping that might help me get past the blocked scene in my current story. Can't quite do it first thing, since I'm sharing a computer with Ian, but I can spend the first hour of my "work day" on it. In which case, I should really stop writing this post and get on with it. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, July 13, 2004
Humor is truth
Posted by Lis Riba at 7:15 PM

Jay Leno (via Janis Cortese):

"I love that the Department of Homeland Security always tells Americans if you don't fly commercial airlines, 'the terrorists have won.' If you don't hold the Super Bowl or the World Series, 'the terrorists have won.' If you don't get out to the mall and do your Christmas shopping, 'the terrorists have won.' Comes time for the election, 'Oh, let the terrorists have that one.'"

And Jay Bookman also shares some wise words:

It seems like the primary objections to same sex marriage invoke the slippery slope to sex with animals. Rick Santorum's concern over man's best friend, and this bizarre analogy by Texas Senator John Cornyn are only two examples of the widespread Republican concern over bestiality. Therefore...

If the real, underlying issue in this debate is the fear that human beings will someday be allowed to marry animals -- if Smoltz, Dailey and others are honestly and truly worried by that prospect -- then let's address that issue head on. Let's pass a Federal Animals, Relationships and Marriage amendment to the U.S. Constitution that outlaws all interspecies marriages, period.

The FARM act would have two other important advantages over the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment. First, this is a deeply divided nation, and the last thing we need is something to get us even angrier at one another. What we need instead is something that will unite us, a cause that all of us can rally behind. And surely all Americans ? can get behind the FARM act and thus protect human-to-human marriage from this dire threat.

By championing the FARM act, President Bush could finally make good on his promise to be a uniter, not a divider. And John Kerry could use the amendment to demonstrate yet again that there are some issues too important to compromise on. As far as I know, he is now and has always been opposed to human-animal sex, even during the '60s.

Doesn't that sound like a fine proposal? Perhaps we should suggest it to our Congressmen when/if we call them about the Federal Marriage Amendment. (first seen on Wampum)

Run DNC?
Posted by Lis Riba at 2:25 PM

Looking at the list of bloggers invited to cover the DNC, I almost wish I had applied for the program. I know why I didn't -- I really need to be employed full-time before the convention, and if not, will need to be spending most of my time trying to get a job. Still, it's a diverse crowd of amateurs. By the time 2008 rolls around, I'm sure blogging will be much more formal and structured, and I wouldn't have a chance. [Not to mention, the next convention won't be local to me, and thus much less accessible.] Not one single out-of-town blogger has responded to my suggestion of a Boston gettogether. Either they're not interested, they haven't seen my invitation, or there's some other event scheduled that I'm not aware of.

If I don't have a full-time job by then, am I crazy for actually wanting to go into Boston during the DNC Convention to sightsee or (more to the point) people watch? I probably wouldn't bring my purse (due to both shoplifting and MBTA security reasons), just a fannypack with a few essentials, and possibly my notepad for anything I wish to record (autographs?).

BTW, for people who will be in Massachusetts during the DNC and have free time, the Massachusetts chapter of the National Lawyers Guild is looking for legal observers to impartially witness and document events during demonstrations. Their website includes an explanatory brochure, application to be a DNC observer, and a "comprehensive" manual.

For anybody planning on getting involved in the protests, they also offer a Massachusetts Demonstrators' Manual, describing your legal rights and general guidelines on dealing with police. Probably worth a look if you're going to be anywhere in or near demonstrations.

Good Eats
Posted by Lis Riba at 1:45 PM

Since I know several friends who idolize Elton Brown, I thought I should share this eBay auction for an Atlanta house containing the kitchen where Good Eats was filmed. The buyer will also get a dinner for eight personally prepared by Alton Brown himself.

There are seventeen days left on this thirty-day auction, and not a single buyer (or even any married ones). Of course, the starting bid is $850,000... Well, a girl can dream, can't she? [via Dirac Angestun Gesept]

Paper cuts?
Posted by Lis Riba at 12:56 PM

On the front page of the online Boston Herald, I found this article:

Vending machines for Boston area publications, from freebies to big dailies like the Herald, will be banned on many city streets during the convention.
And the ban will be made permanent in or near MBTA stations, due to security concerns, officials said yesterday.

A few years back, the Back Bay Architectural Commission voted to ban newspaper boxes from the area. I remember following the legal battles over this in the Phoenix and Editorial Humor, and other small papers that depended on such boxes for a significant portion of their sales. [I haven't been able to find the final ruling, but the judge allowed newspaper boxes to remain until he issued an opinion. Boxes are still there, so either he ruled in favor of the papers, or he hasn't ruled yet after eighteen months...]

[P]ublishers will have to permanently remove vending boxes from MBTA property - both inside and outside of subway and bus stations - under new T anti-terrorism programs.
``Newspaper boxes as they currently exist are unacceptable,'' said T Deputy Chief John Martino.
Martino said the T will work with publication distributors to come up with alternatives that won't pose potential security hazards. He said clear boxes, where nothing could be hidden inside, would be acceptable. Free publications could use wire racks.

Of course, wire racks are less than worthless any place exposed to the elements.
And what will this mean for the Boston Metro, whose business model depends upon public transportation riders, with most of their copies distributed from boxes at the stations?

Once again, poor delivery turns what could be a possibly reasonable restriction into something objectionable. The MBTA could've publically announced, "we think opaque newspaper boxes are a security hazard" and worked with the newspaper vendors to reach an amicable solution. Instead, they announced "we're taking down a lot of boxes for this very big event in two weeks, and by the way, we're not letting you put many of them back after it's over." It feels sleazy and deceptive. The MBTA is using the DNC as an excuse for a longer-term policy change that has nothing to do with the Convention.

The system, working as designed?
Posted by Lis Riba at 8:59 AM

Whee! Sometime last night, I gained my 100th reader on the LiveJournal syndicated feed. Back in the days when LJ actually charged syndication points, I could view feeds ranked by number of subscribers. That's no longer operable, but I feel as though I just passed some kind of milestone. [Actually, I was hovering at 99 last month before my little syndication problem that resulted in reposting all entries twice onto friend pages. A few people dropped me over that, and I don't entirely blame them.]

At any rate, here is an idea I've now seen twice in two days, and I feel it bears repetition in these pessimistic times. First, from Fernwithy:

In praise of scorched Earth partisanism
You won't hear me praise scorched-earth politics very often, but I was reading an article this morning lamenting the fact that we've come to a place culturally where the parties are so much at war with each other that you can't get anything passed without a "super-majority," and I thought...

Well, duh.

It's apparent just looking at my f-list that people's minds are going in wildly opposite directions, that they're fearing radically different things, and that not only can they not agree on a stance on important issues, they also can't agree what important issues are. And when the public is divided this way, the system is, in fact, designed to have the gears jam up, and stay jammed up until the country calms down and gets in the mood for normalcy again. Then we can work on the things that nearly everyone agrees on in principle (space exploration, undersea exploration, research in alternative fuel, and so on), without the culture wars getting in the way of it. But right now, if either side gets its way, the other side is going to retaliate and scream until it gets its way on something, and the pendulum will just go back and forth. Even the issues that are actually neutral end up being polarized. (Alternative fuel--liberal concern, though conservatives who don't want foreign entanglements and anyone who lives on the planet probably ought to be paying attention to it; space exploration--how can we do it when people are starving in third world countries? Or the libertarian position, what's the government doing in this? So on and so forth.) Better that no one is getting his or her way right now.

These moods pass. The system is designed to not allow them to do too much damage while they still hold sway.

So, good. We're gridlocked. When we're in this mood, we're supposed to be gridlocked. I'm happy to let the system absorb it until it's, well, out of our system.

Mark Kleiman expressed similar sentiments, even more broadly:

Why the Republic probably isn't in grave danger
Jordan Peterson of the University of Toronto offered a hopeful and (I think) largely accurate [...] view. The following is a paraphrase, but the sense is largely unchanged:
The reason that the American Revolution created a republic that has done so well for so long, while the French and Russian revolutions degenerated so quickly into tyranny, was that the American Framers didn't try to create a government capable of doing great good in the hands of brilliant and well-intentioned people. Instead, they tried to create a government that couldn't do too much to ruin the country in the hands of a bunch of corrupt morons. And they did a pretty good job of it.

After I showed this quote to Ian, he replied with the old canard that American government was "designed by geniuses to be run by idiots."

My in-laws say they were just as worried about our country's future during the Nixon era. We survived that, and we will get through this period as well.

Monday, July 12, 2004
Let America be America again
Posted by Lis Riba at 6:54 PM

I did promise something more uplifting for this post, so here goes.

In recent campaign speeches, John Kerry has been using the phrase "Let America be America again." It comes from a Langston Hughes poem. I was unfamiliar with the poem until Chaiya posted it earlier this afternoon. And I thought I'd share it with you folks as well:

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed--
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?


I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek--
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean--
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today--O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That's made America the land it has become.
O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home--
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
To build a "homeland of the free."

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay--
Except the dream that's almost dead today.

O, let America be America again--
The land that never has been yet--
And yet must be--the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine--the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME--
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose--
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath--
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain--
All, all the stretch of these great green states--
And make America again!

Now, some people have been highly critical of this poem, but I like it. America is based on an idea and on ideals. We haven't always lived up to them, and we shouldn't try to whitewash away those faults, but we keep striving. That's a worthwhile message; one I feel is worth sharing.

Sock the vote?
Posted by Lis Riba at 4:22 PM

Following up to yesterday's post, I agree there are some sensible reasons for wanting an election policy in case of the unthinkable. But the people involved and the process they're using do not inspire confidence.

Suburban Guerrilla points out that in the 1980s, Cheney and Rumsfeld were involved in a top-secret program "for keeping the federal government running during and after a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. The program called for setting aside the legal rules for presidential succession in some circumstances, in favor of a secret procedure for putting in place a new "President" and his staff. The idea was to concentrate on speed, to preserve "continuity of government," and to avoid cumbersome procedures; the speaker of the House, the president pro tempore of the Senate, and the rest of Congress would play a greatly diminished role."

Further undermining confidence, Jack O'Toole points out, is the way this was released. Why are we getting this information from a leak filtered through Newsweek, rather than a more open bipartisan announcement? That does not inspire trust.

Jack Balkin considerately provides current constitutional and federal law on elections. And the Moderate Voice has provided a lengthy list of links to other sites and points out such a plan "would create a SELF-FULFILLING PROPHECY: What better way to sandbag U.S. democracy then a massive attack on the eve of elections or on election day if you know that it's going to result in the election's postponement, unprecedented political controversy and perhaps actual turmoil within the United States? In the end, the U.S. would be more divided than ever in the war against terror -- no matter who was in power."

Finally, over on Seeing the Forest, John Emerson has refined the terms of his wager. He's currently set odds at 30 to 1 that no disruptions (greater than Florida 2000) will occur to undermine the legitimacy of the election. Interestingly enough, so far nobody has been willing to take those odds. John says he'll keep lowering the odds until he finds a taker. Many commenters to his earlier posts have offered 10 to 1 odds, which shows most people have less confidence in this election than he does.

I wasn't intending to be this much of a downer. I'll try to make my next entry more cheerful.

You can't win if you don't compete
Posted by Lis Riba at 3:40 PM

An article in yesterday's Boston Globe business section posits an interesting reason for the "entrepeneureal gap" between the high tech industries of Massachusetts and California: Noncompete Clauses.

Noncompete clauses are frequently shoehorned into the employment contracts of managerial and executive hires, ostensibly to protect a company's trade secrets or intellectual property. Over the past decade, and especially during the high-tech boom of the late 1990s, many employers sought to add language to broaden the definition of ''noncompete" to include more general know-how, enabling them to wield the clauses as leverage to blunt employee turnover and protect their own competitive position.
<snip>
While this contract-language creep occurred on both coasts, the different way noncompetes are treated in the Massachusetts and California legal systems has made the clauses more effective and punitive here. California prohibits such clauses, except to protect trade secrets. In Massachusetts, courts rely on case law that enforces noncompete clauses to the extent they are deemed reasonable.
The distinction is subtle, but Chow sums it up as follows: ''In California, the presumption of the courts is that noncompetes are not enforceable," he said. ''Here the presumption is they are enforceable."
Chow, a patent attorney appointed by Governor Mitt Romney to the Massachusetts Uniform Law Commission, contends the bias in favor of enforcement bottles up talent in established companies and inhibits entrepreneurship. He thinks Massachusetts would be better off passing a law more in line with that of California. He has helped to draft a bill before the Legislature that would define trade secrets in a way that is uniform with 45 other states and the District of Columbia.
AnnaLee Saxenian, dean of the School of Information Management and Systems at the University of California at Berkeley and author of the ground-breaking 1994 book, ''Regional Advantage: Culture and Competition in Silicon Valley and Route 128," said the noncompete clause is one of many factors influencing the different cultures of the two high-tech centers. ''It's allowed people to move more freely here in California than they've been able to do in Massachusetts," she said.

I can't help wondering if this isn't one of the reasons why the recovery has been so slow in Massachusetts. Because people can't continue working in their areas of expertise for fear of running afoul of noncompete clauses.

I used to work for IBM, and I actually called the company lawyer for clarifications on the noncompete clause I had to sign in order to receive severance pay. I mean, IBM has its fingers in everything. Hard to think of any technology company that isn't competing with IBM in some way or other.

Talking this article over with Ian, he noted that in days when corporations did want employees to stick with the company for life, noncompetes may make more sense. But if a company is holding mass layoffs, is it fair for them to also shackle employees with further restrictions on where they may look for work? Perhaps noncompete clauses should be voided (or at least diminished) if the company forces an involuntary separation. Yes, companies need protection from employees who just want to learn trade secrets and then jump ship to use those against the parent company. But why hold the same standard against employees whom the company gives the boot?

Sunday, July 11, 2004
Okay, that's just freakin' cool!
Posted by Lis Riba at 9:45 PM

The Harry Potter books are being translated into Ancient Greek. Here are the translator's notes, including stylistic information, character names and other nouns [McGonagall becomes the homophonous Μαγονωγαλέα [Magonogalea](witch-sweetie - also contains γαλέη [galea] which is a word used for a small pet animal, like a cat?)], a sample page in translation (you may need to download a font to read it), and a link to an NPR appearance where he reads it aloud. Makes me wish I read the language. Really geekily cool.

By the way, a new survey claims that reading among Americans has dropped precipitously. Rivka explains why she disagrees with their findings. Kevin Drum takes on Harold Bloom's response to the announcement. You can't win with Bloom. He complains that there are too many nonreaders, yet he also slams popular authors like Steven King and J.K. Rowling as unworthy of being read in the first place. <shakes head in disbelief>

BTW, I did watch Kerry and Edwards on 60 Minutes. They work well together, and I got a good feeling from watching them.

A republic, if you can keep it
Posted by Lis Riba at 4:25 PM
"I deeply resent the way this administration makes me feel like a nutbar conspiracy theorist."
                     -- Teresa Nielsen Hayden

Tom Ridge's vague warning of terrorist attempts to influence the election have been the topic of a lot of chatter in the blogosphere.

Many bloggers are quoting this exchange from Scott McClellan's press briefing:

Q On Ridge's security warnings, can the President today guarantee Americans that no terrorist attack can upset the U.S. elections this November, that they will go ahead as planned?

MR. McCLELLAN: Ann, I don't think anyone can make guarantees. But the full intention is to move forward and hold those elections. I don't know specific information related to election day or any other of the high profile events that we have coming up. What we can guarantee to the American people is that we will continue to take strong steps to make sure that we are doing a better job every day of protecting the homeland and enhancing protective measures in certain areas of the country. And we will continue waging the war on terrorism, on the offensive, to defeat the terrorists. That's what we will continue to do.  These are threats that we need to take seriously, and that's why it's important to keep the American people informed.

Daily Kos and Dave Johnson have been carefully parsing these remarks and don't like what it implies, seeing it as possibly "testing the waters" for American reaction to such an event. Over at Suburban Guerrilla, Susan found this alarming tidbit in a Newsweek article:

Ridge's department last week asked the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel to analyze what legal steps would be needed to permit the postponement of the election were an attack to take place.

John Emerson points out that beyond ensuring elections are held, we must also ensure that the election is legitimate and is seen as legitimate. He points to quotes by right-wingers trying to discredit the results of the Spanish election because the electorate clearly couldn't be trusted to vote sensibly so quickly after a terrorist attack. And he feels so strongly that he's actually is willing to bet serious money on four possible scenarios involving delegitimization of the election or transition from the right.

These are not stupid people making these observations. I'm starting to wonder whether it might not be wise to cast an absentee ballot and be out of the country on election day, just in case.

Of course, if Al Qaeda does want to influence our elections, one important question is which side they're rooting for. A thread in Ian's blog looks at the options.

On the other hand, you can be reassured that the election won't be disrupted by domestic terrorists, because a federal judge has redefined terrorism to only include foreign plots.

A man who was accused of plotting to firebomb abortion clinics, churches, and gay bars was sentenced yesterday to five years in federal prison.
Stephen John Jordi, 36, pleaded guilty in February to a single charge of attempted arson of an abortion clinic.
Prosecutors had asked Judge James Cohn to sentence Jordi under a federal terrorism law and sought seven to 10 years. Cohn refused, saying federal sentencing rules require that plots have an international component to be considered terrorism.
"This crime was strictly domestic and in no way transcended national boundaries,"
Cohn said.
Jordi and a government informant bought gasoline cans, flares, starter fluid, and propane tanks the day he was arrested last November after casing several South Florida abortion clinics and talking about bombing one in Macon, Ga., according to the FBI.

But he's not a terrorist. Isn't it a good thing we don't have to worry about these heavily armed right-wing loonies stockpiling explosives to target Democrats, gays, and abortion clinics. That's not terrorism.

Then again, earlier this year the Secretary of Education called the National Education Association "a terrorist organization," and Karen Hughes referred to pro-choice movement as part of the "terror network." So I guess peaceful political organizations on the left are terrorists, but violent right wingers are not.

So who is watching the watchmen? Since the 2000 election, I've often heard comment about having impartial foreign observers for the next presidential election. Well, according to Elayne, the Homeland Security department has changed the rules for foreign journalists, such that

From next week the estimated 20,000 foreign journalists stationed in the US, who used to be able to renew their visas with ease in any major city, will be forced to leave the country to do so. Rather than applying to renew their visas in Washington or New York, they will be forced to leave the country and re-apply at a US embassy or consulate abroad, delaying their application for between four weeks and six months.

I can't remember on which blog I read this (sources, please!), but somebody pointed out that Bush is actually campaigning against the system, saying that a presidential transition itself would be too disruptive to the war in Iraq and war on terror. They're not mentioning that even though Bush v. Gore severely shortened possible transition time, there weren't any problems when they took over in 2000...

Pessimist on the Left Coaster notes that Ridge's vague warnings of violence against the American public may themselves fit the definition of terrorism. Threats of possible violence intended to intimidate and in pursuit of political objectives.
And if you want to get real paranoid, remember that President Bush has been very insistent that components of missile defense must be deployed no later than October 2004.

"Where annual elections end, there slavery begins" -- John Adams

A few other things on my mind:

  • The clever folks at corrente have found further examples of people being arrested for anti-Bush shirts and signs. Three cases this week in Pennsylvania, and the Donkey found two more cases from other Presidential visits.
  • Speaking of constitutional rights, this isn't really news, but the MBTA is hinting that they're not going to stop the heightened security measures (invasive searches of purses and packages as part of the cost of entry) after the Democratic Convention ends. It may be that the convention was the camel's nose excuse to implement the policy as an ongoing (permanent?) thing.
  • Even for supposedly apolitical scientific and administrative positions, the executive branch of the federal government is now blatantly hiring and firing along partisan ideological lines, rather than merit.
  • Finally, a big story among the foreign press that hasn't made the American TV/papers yet: Children were tortured in Abu Ghraib. Not by the Iraqis, but after our military took control of the prison. Balkin has a translated news story and further links. If you find this hard to believe, there are videos.
  • One good piece of news out of all this, Florida has told election officials not to use its flawed list of felons to deny voters their rights.

Hope this all didn't get you too down. Reassuring facts that contradict the inferences above and good news in general would be most appreciated...

Sunday morning
Posted by Lis Riba at 10:35 AM

I really enjoy watching CBS News Sunday Morning. From the opening trumpet fanfare through Bill Geist's folksy humor, I find it to be a nice, leisurely way to start Sunday mornings, accompanied by the Sunday paper. [Did you know today is the bicentennial of the Burr-Hamilton duel?]

Am I just an old fuddy-duddy, or do others also watch the program?

PS: Speaking of CBS News, tonight's 60 Minutes will feature a joint interview with Kerry & Edwards.

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