Nov 15 27 2015


Well, I said that I’d drive my Accord until the wheels fell off. Eventually, one did. In a 21-year-old car, some infirmities are to be expected. So, I have a cute little new car.

I waited too long. Buying cars all the time is a terrible waste of money, but I internalized that to mean that putting up with unreliability, discomfort, and a certain amount of hazard was a good idea. It’s not. The new thing moves better. It brakes a lot better. When you turn it on, it just turns on: no muss, no fuss. It’s got airbags, and it’s got airbags for the airbags, and it’s got a color TV camera so you can admire your parking prowess. In the morning, it sees my cell phone in my pocket, they have a brief chat while I'm fastening my seatbelt, and they arrange to pick up my audiobook where I left it last time. (I know, you folks know this, but nobody told me!)

Buying a car is a pain in the neck. I spent eight weeks learning too much about cars, and noticing cars. I don’t usually notice other cars, but now I see Fits and iAs and Mazda 2s and Yaris’s. The other day coming home from Eastgate, I paused in Medford because a car was parking outside the pizza joint – a boring white car, actually, doing a very timid and poor job of parking, except this time I noticed that the car was a Maserati and if I were parking a Maserati en route to picking up a pizza in Medford Square, I might not make a stylish job of it either.

I don’t know anything much about cars, but I do know a bit about computers. If the computer you use every day is more than 3 years old, it’s time to start thinking about replacing it.

by Vladimir Nabokov

Linda’s been reading Proust, and Michael Dirda extolled Jeremy Irons’ reading of the audiobook, so Lolita has been accompanying me in the car for the last few weeks. I’ve started the book any number of times, dating back to high school; this time I made it through.

Time has changed Lolita. It’s clear that, in 1955, this was meant to shock: now, it’s disturbing, but not a lot more disturbing than any number of contemporary mysteries. Formally, this is a thriller; it might actually be more difficult today to get literary recognition for the thriller than it was when On The Road was still two years into the future.

by Nick Hornby

In 1963 or so, Barbara decided to enter the Miss Blackpool beauty contest on a whim. She has won, and faces a year of opening stores and parking lots. Barbara doesn’t want to be Miss Blackpool: she wants to be the Lucy of I Love Lucy. So, she resigns the honor and catches a train to London, where she sells perfumes.

If this sounds like the setup for a 30-minute sitcom, you’re catching on.

One thing leads to another, as things do. Eventually, she meets two gay writers who have pitched a series about Modern Marriage to the BBC. They succeed. One thing leads to another. A jolly good time for everyone: Hornby has a voice, it's a terrific voice, and this is all a ton of fun.

Nov 15 18 2015

Birthday Supper

  • ifs and buts (candied nuts) ❧ grissini ❧ onion focaccia
    • purple basil smash
  • Savory Dutch Baby pancake
    • Cotes de Gascogne
  • Carrot ginger soup
    • Chardonnay
  • Pastrami and cole slaw
    • Champagne
  • Roast beef ❧ Lamb heart posole
    • Gigondas
  • Salad
  • Cheese
    • Côtes du Rhône
  • Milk and Cookies and Juice (basil ice cream, cookies, port)

by E. F. Bension

A very strange book about the social life of a provincial British town between the wars, and the bitter contest between Lucia Lucas and Daisy Quantock for social preeminence. The arrival of an opera singer, a young woman of real accomplishment and genuine seriousness, throws the silly social life of Riseholme into confusion, and many parties are required before things work themselves out.

The events and attitudes depicted in this witty but unreal book would, in fact, be entirely real and far more interesting if translated to the environment of a contemporary middle school. Times change.

This was highly praised by Michael Dirda, and I picked it up in my search for a path to understand and really enjoy Wodehouse. It's pleasant enough, but it looks like I need a different path.

Nov 15 15 2015

Sons Of Martha

Up at 8 on birthday morning, doing tech support for people, not all of them notably polite, who don’t explain their problem in a way that would let someone help.

Simple service, simply rendered” may have been a mistake. I’m beginning to understand the wisdom of, “your call is very important to us.” Too soon old, too late smart.

Nov 15 14 2015


by Nick Harkaway

Joe Spork is a mild and middle-aged restorer of Victorian clockwork. His father was a criminal mastermind, and his grandfather was a legendary clockmaker. An old lady hires him to fix some toys; a somewhat shady friend puts him onto a strange and inscrutable automaton of doubtful purpose but immense sophistication.

Then the old lady is nearly the victim of an assassination attempt, and she turns out to be a retired but still very capable secret agent – Emma Peel in her late 80s. Our friend is murdered, Joe Spork is framed, and we’re off to the races.

Nice writing, nifty plotting, intricate world-building. What else could you wish for? As in The Gone-Away World, everything hinges on a super-villain, and while the nemesis is not quite as undeveloped as he was in Harkaway’s previous novel, Shem Shem Tsien is a bit too awful. Still, the uprising of all London’s thieves for one last glorious battle is a thing to behold.

Nov 15 5 2015

Wiki Storms

An ongoing case at Wikipedia’s high court, ArbCom, was triggered by a recent article by Emma Paling at The Atlantic about Wikipedia’s Hostility To Women. That article mentions Eric Corbett, the immensely popular and influential Wikipedian who told another editor that “The easiest way to avoid being called a cunt is not to act like one.”

Civility is a central tenet of Wikipedia and the entire reason ArbCom found it necessary to sanction every editor on Gamergate’s notorious hit list. In the aftermath of the “cunt” affair, the woman to whom Corbett addressed this charming and witty remark was banned from Wikipedia. Corbett was instructed not to discuss the topic. He violated that ban to rebuke The Atlantic, and was blocked for the violation. Another administrator promptly unblocked him, ArbCom stepped in to defrock the administrator, and we were off to the races.

You’d think this would be hilarity enough for any one case. Alas, no.

  • ArbCom can’t even settle on a name for the case; it’s changed three times so far, and the current name – Arbitration Enforcement 2 -- doesn’t tell us much.
  • One of only two women on the arbitration committee was originally named as a party to the case, in a cynical ploy to remove a feminist from the deliberations. Ostensibly, she was a party because she had been quoted in The Atlantic!
  • Though the arbitrator was removed as a party to the case, she still had to recuse herself, so the ploy worked.
  • ArbCom says it can only act on evidence provided by volunteers, but no one knows precisely what the case is supposed to be about, and so no one knows what evidence is pertinent. Yesterday, ArbCom erased reams of evidence that most observers consider very pertinent to the subject of Arbitration Enforcement, evidence that officials trying to enforce arbitration decisions are subjected to systematic harassment organized by anti-feminist zealots. But apparently that’s not the evidence ArbCom wants.

This strikes me as an irregular way to proceed. The arbitrators apparently know what this oft-renamed case concerns; we don’t. The arbitrators apparently know what evidence they want. We do not, and as ArbCom has said elsewhere that they rely entirely on volunteer-supplied evidence, the consequences may be undesirable. Others have speculated that the arbitrators already know what conclusion they expect to draw in this case; I myself doubt this, because that would be efficient if nothing else, and that seems inconsistent with ArbCom’s inclinations.

The underlying problem here is not an individual but an organized effort to subvert the project in support of right-wing opposition to “political correctness” and dangerous Liberals. The Wikipedia Community is unable to address the damage this organized effort does to the “five pillars” or principles that govern Wikipedia, especially neutrality and civility which the subversives despise.

The Community is also unable to accept the damage to those pillars. The result, plainly, has been that the pillars are much bruised while very great damage has been done to what Wikipedia calls “the Community” but which clearly has fallen into pieces.

Wikipedia is supposedly governed by consensus, but most Wikipedians, including the most influential and powerful officers, appear to have a very feeble notion of consensus. I fancy there are some really useful discussions of “consensus” in 18th and 19th century Quaker writing. Where should I look? John Woolman?

by Michael Dirda

A delightful collection of a year’s worth of brief notes about reading by a consummate bookman, originally written as a weekly Web column for The American Scholar. Dirda’s embrace of forgotten writers and, especially, old plot-driven adventures is instructive, and his central concerns – where to put all these book? how on earth to pay for them? – are refreshingly familiar. Dirda arranges his future reading by project, with piles and cartons of books all set for the day when some long-awaited project begins; makes sense to me!

Eric Raymond is worried about cold-war “honey trap” attacks run by feminists to discredit him.

If you are any kind of open-source leader or senior figure who is male, do not be alone with any female, ever, at a technical conference. Try to avoid even being alone, ever, because there is a chance that a “women in tech” advocacy group is going to try to collect your scalp.

This is wrong-headed, but not just for the reasons you think. You should not be alone with anyone at a technical conference – especially not if you’re incredibly famous and important. If you’re alone, you’re doing it wrong. You are at the conference to meet people and to spend time with them, and if you’re really prominent, you don’t have enough time to spend much of it alone with anyone.

Yes, you can be alone when you’re sleeping, and you can canoodle all you want with your partner. Conferences are not good places for canoodling with people you don’t already know really well – especially not if you’re famous and important – because everyone will be watching you. Romance is tricky; romance in front of an audience – an audience that’s going to remember anything that goes wrong, and we all know that something usually does – is an invitation to the clown caboose.

You can be alone for a time if you must. For example, you might need to close a deal – sell a company, set the terms for a speaking gig, negotiate the conditions for a job. A conference isn’t ideal for this, but conferences bring parties together and sometimes things can’t wait. Here are the rules.

  • Always wear your name badge. Yes, even if you’re a rock star, wear your name badge. When Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer came to Readercon, they wore their name badges; you can wear them too.
    • Don’t want to stick pins in your nice clothes? Bring a lanyard. It’s classy to have a lanyard that advertises your stuff. It’s very classy to have a lanyard that advertises your friends’ stuff. It’s really classy to have a lanyard from the same conference, ten or twenty years back.
    • Wear your badge where it’s comfortable and where people can see it. It’s fine to wear it on your hip, or on the strap of your purse or laptop bag.
  • If you need to talk to someone privately, find a semi-private space – a two-top in the bar, a pair of armchairs in the lobby. Take off your badges and put them on the table, or tuck them visibly in your shirt pocket.
  • Even then, be prepared for, and respond well to, casual greetings, quick questions, and similar conference-style interruptions. If someone asks a question you can’t answer quickly, arrange to meet them (specifically) at a specific place and time, or give them an effective way to contact you later.
  • If you need more privacy than this, you should leave the conference venue entirely. At minimum, you need to cross a street -- several streets for a big event. If you’re at Moscone, for example, crossing Third Street is not enough, but Sausalito is.
  • You go to conferences to meet people and exchange ideas. While you're there, you owe a reasonable amount of time and attention to everyone who wants it. If someone wants an unreasonable share, explain. If someone is being a jerk, you can ask them to stop. Ask the conference for help if you need it.
  • Feed the students, metaphorically and literally. Don’t limit this to students you are planning to employ.

One of my first great conference experiences was AAAS 1971 in Philadelphia. I needed to buy something – a bic pen? chapstick? – at the hotel pharmacy. There was a line at the cash register. The fellow in front of my had a time-consuming request. His name was Dr. Louis Leakey, he wanted to write a prescription, and it was complicated.

I was standing in line with Dr. Leakey of Olduvai!

Sure, I’d seen lectures by Carl Sagan and a memorable debate between Margaret Mead and Edward Teller, but I hadn’t been standing in line with Margaret Mead.

Dr. Leakey wasn’t there to offer a lesson in what greatness can and cannot accomplish, or in accepting bureaucratic impediments with grace and wit; he was there to get some medicine. I couldn't be of any possible use to him, but that wasn’t and isn’t the point. He did his errand and he did the other stuff, too; that’s also what conferences are for.

The American Right loves to pretend to be a victim. At Wikipedia, of course, the Gamergate right also loves to attack. At Wikipedia, one of their spokespeople suddenly does an about-face and endorses action against bullying -- especially my flagrantly patriarchal allusions to Shakespeare!

For example attempting to belittle another author's knowledge of Shakespeare as User:Mark Bernstein has done, is an exercise, and I would say an abuse, of power. Making accusations of criminal activity against other (blocked!) editors is an abuse of power.

So, I'm in the soup for mentioning Shakespeare and for mentioning to Gamergate’s rape and death threats. (I don’t know what incident got this fellow so hot and bothered, but I was probably alluding the Milton, anyway.)

Meanwhile, the Gamergaters have spread out to attack birth-control pioneer Margaret Sanger.