The purpose of art is to delight us; certain men and women (no smarter than you or I) whose art can delight us have been given dispensation from going out and fetching water and carrying wood. It's no more elaborate than that. — David Mamet

Nov 19 11 2019


This was, for the city of Malden where I live, a disastrous local election: not because the outcome was bad — it wasn’t— but because it may well have poisoned Malden politics for years to come.

As the election approached, the dishonesty and unscrupulousness of the mayoral challenger’s campaign increased. Bigotry came into the open, with Facebook allegations that a city council candidate wasn’t a citizen and suggestions that he be reported to the FBI. That gem came from the President of Malden Youth Soccer, and as a result he is the former President of Malden Youth Soccer. Yet nothing at all happened to those who started the smear, or those who cheered him on. They ran exactly the same play two years ago against another Muslim candidate, and again there were no consequences.

There were no consequences when a candidate used Facebook to assert without evidence that a private citizen was mentally ill, just as in an earlier election there were no consequences when a sitting Councillor denounced a Democratic convention delegate for her Wiccan beliefs. There were no consequences for the candidate who praised the white supremacists of Charlottesville, and now he’s ensconced on the School Committee.

We say, Malden is a welcoming city, but we condone bigotry. Bigotry works.

Infamously, after his complaints about a proposed addiction recovery center were roundly denounced by City Councillors, the challenger withdrew his opposition only to revive it just before the election. Even more infamously, illegal campaign literature trying to tie the incumbent Mayor to abortion was cravenly distributed in church parking lots during Mass. Campaign operative shrugged, saying “it might have been anybody!”

A central mystery of this campaign was, how did the challenger expect to govern if he were elected? Facing a City Council that had already repudiated a central argument of his campaign, facing the natural outrage of those whose religion had been smeared, what possibly could be accomplished?

Now we will hear calls for civility and insistence that we all just get along. The left will meekly comply while the right polishes its daggers and perfects its methods. We will be told to “let it go” and we will, while they continue to use local Facebook pages to spread anti-Semitism, to smear their Muslim neighbors, and to slyly warn that new housing will bring more Asians to Malden. It is, of course, proverbial in these circles that adding more Asians to Malden would be a very bad thing.

Great damage has been done — quiet damage, damage that we can pretend to ignore for a few years, but damage nonetheless. If we cannot stand up to lies and to bigotry, we cannot be trusted. Without that trust, we are not a community.

by Leigh Bardugo

A superb urban fantasy. Alex Stern — her name is “Galaxy” but she goes by Alex — is a troubled teen who has been mixed up with drug dealing and was found overdosed at the scene of a ghastly drug murder. Her core problem: she sees ghosts, and sometimes they see her. Word gets out, and she gets a scholarship to Yale on the strength of it.

Why? Because magic is real. The Yale secret societies perform magic to ensure the wealth and success of alumni. There’s an additional, even more-secret society that regulates all the others, and they want Alex and her unique talent.

Alex has a chip on her shoulder. She’s a poor kid, and the ghosts have driven her nearly ’round the bend. She doesn’t like the sort of kids who wind up in secret societies. She’s way over her head at Yale, and her patrol duties leave her almost no time to study properly. She’s not the sort of girl who will accept this state of affairs. A terrific book.

Nov 19 2 2019


The Paranoid Style Of Malden Politics

The sour grapes of Maldens city elections are a bitter harvest, and the voters’ teeth are set on edge.

One Malden homeowner has found her campaign signs torn down, not once but day after day. Last night, someone broke up a campaign meeting for Mayor Gary Christenson by discharging a fire extinguisher and pulling a fire alarm before fleeing the scene. It’s not just Malden — someone set up a network of fake sites for a Somerville newspaper in order to spread fake campaign rumors — but Malden is especially bad. It’s not just this year — Malden’s 2014 State Representative primary was similarly bitter — but this year is even worse.

The constantly-iterated cry of right-wing Malden is: all our problems stem from outsiders. A former city councillor complains on Facebook about “stack and pack” apartment buildings, because those apartments might attract people who are Not From Here. Many election-season controversies have been variations on this this call to keep outsiders away, to block new housing in which they might live, to tear down the bike lanes they might use, to get Lime Bikes off our lawn. Systematic efforts to avoid renting to immigrants just cost one Malden apartment complex a fine of more than half a million dollars; that fine is scarcely mentioned by the campaigns, but social media attacks on outsiders appear daily. Muslim and Wiccan progressives are routinely ridiculed for their faith by local wingnuts.

Richard Hofstader’s famous essay on “The Paranoid Style In American Politics” begins: “Althoug American political life has rarely been touched by the most acute varieties of class conflict, it has served again and again as an arena for uncommonly angry minds.” That anger always seems to come from the right, and today those winds still blow from those sorry, sordid regions.

And, goodness, these guys are angry.

Throughout the campaign, challenger John Matheson has promoted a series of screeds, alleging that Mayor Gary Christensen hired campaign consultants who live in neighboring suburbs, or that he blocked prosecution of a former city employee, that the development of the former Masonic building was in some way corrupt, or that the Mayor promoted an addiction treatment center that might attract some patients who don’t own property in Malden. All these claims were easily refuted. Almost all associate the Mayor with people who are Not From Here. Throughout, Mr. Matheson has claimed that Our Revolution is allied with the Mayor and that Our Revolution is Not From Here.

It’s not just Matheson. Joe Gray, a candidate for School Committee from Ward 6, campaigned for City Council two years ago in support of the Charlottesville “Unite The Right” rioters, the tiki-torch-bearing nazis who murdered Heather Heyer. Danyal Najmi, running for City Council in Ward 5, has been repeatedly required to assert his citizenship, presumably because his name isn’t sufficiently Irish. Much bitter debate has focused on the question of whether to turn Roosevelt Park near the Salemwood School into an astroturf field for organized athletics — perhaps serving neighboring private and charter schools; the earlier development of Howard Park led to a city park being (literally) locked away from use by its neighbors — mostly renters — and reserved for more affluent sports teams [3].

Right now, the Right owns the White House, the Senate, and the Governorship. They’ve largely stymied progressive causes in the State House. They often have a working majority in the City Council. Our city claims to be “welcoming” but it abjectly cooperates with ICE. The Malden right is doing just fine.

Nevertheless, the right is mad as hell. This campaign is nearly over, and with luck and hard work we may get through it. Are we doomed for Malden’s politics forever to be dominated by this strange parochial rage?

The cure is not forebearance or civility or waiting for things to calm down. They never do. The cure is certainly not appeasement. Our problem is vision: without a clear vision for the future of Malden, we drift from blue bags to parking to snow removal, mired in minutia and meaningless testimonials to every candidate’s wonderful character and superb children.

We cannot return to an imaginary past of Malden Minstrel Shows or a time when everybody knew your face and everyone knew their place. That fact is the ultimate source of Malden’s right-wing anger, and we need to counter that anger with intelligent vision backed up with ambitious plans.

I threw together a quick shrimp tempura last night. The store had a sale on some nice Florida shrimp, and I’ve doing scampi on the rare occasions I cook shrimp. It was time for a change.

Besides: I have a wok again, after a long hiatus. Tempura batter from Ratio, which might understate the necessary thickness. You want the consistency of Swedish pancake batter, not cream.

It was fairly easy and fairly good, and both will improve next time. Left the kitchen in a bit of a mess, but that wasn’t too hard to fix.

Served it in big bowls, on top of jasmine rice (left half) and garlic kale (right half), which looked nice and more bountiful than shrimp on a plate.

by Philip Pullman

Lyra is in her twenties, a postgraduate student at Oxford, and she and her daemon are not speaking to each other. That is to say: Lyra and her soul (spirit? Genius?) have fallen out. It’s a profound and thrilling premise, and Pullman explores it wonderfully.

Once again, I find myself reading Pullman’s exciting and engaging urban fantasy, always notable for the thoughtfulness of its characters even when they are children, and once again I realize that he’s doing something much larger and more serious than I’d thought. There’s lots here: a bravura attack on aspects of postmodernism, a thoughtful response to Karl Ove Knausgaard. There’s even a hypertext fiction vignette!

Oct 19 16 2019

Tinderbox 8.1

Tinderbox 8.1

A new version of Tinderbox, Tinderbox 8.1, is out now.

You need Tinderbox 8.1 if you're using Catalina. But you don’t want to install Catalina if you don’t need it — not yet. This goes against my usual advice, because usually upgrading right away make everything better. Catalina has headaches. They’ll get fixed. And there's important stuff in Catalina, too, for the future. But if you don’t have to upgrade right now, wait a few weeks.

Tinderbox 8 has a big speed bump, especially if you're working with big and complicated documents. Opening documents, saving documents, adding new notes — it’s all faster. There are dozens of other improvements, too.

You can download a copy here.

by Michael Ruhlman

A new Michael Ruhlman! It’s nice to see one of the best food writers (and bloggers) back in harness, writing convincingly that it makes a lot of sense to cook your own food. Ruhlman takes a close look at ten recipes — roast chicken, BLT sandwiches, lasagna — and looks at different ways you can make them from scratch. For the BLT, you can cook the bacon. If you like, you can bake some nice bread, too. While you're at it, you can whip up your own mayonnaise. Or you can go for broke and grow some home-grown tomatoes!

It’s just a matter of planning a little bit ahead. If you want roast chicken, buy a chicken so it's already in your refrigerator. If you want beans tonight, soak them in the morning.

The key idea is that you can have fun, and have good food, but you don't need to go overboard if you don’t want to.

An excerpt from the closing chapter of Intertwingled, a reflection for my colleagues on 30 years of research in hypertext and new media.

Hypertext And The Age Of Trump

The future is not what it was.

Ted Nelson concludes Dream Machines with the peroration, “Yours for a better world, before we have to settle for Any.” We now see he was too optimistic.

The prophetess says:

Virginia Woolf wrote in her journal, “The future is dark, which is on the whole the best thing the future can be, I think.” Dark, she seems to say, as inscrutable, not as in terrible. We often mistake the one for the other. Or we transform the future’s unknowability into something certain, the fulfillment of all our dread, the place beyond with there is no way forward. But again and again, far stranger things happen than the end of the world. [Rebecca Solnit, Hope In The Dark]

The future of serious writing lies on the screen. But there may be no future of serious writing, because it seems increasingly probable that there will be no future.

The December day the wittiest friend I’ve ever had had come home from the hospital. I brought her homemade soup and instant lies. Both offerings were meant to comfort (me as well as her); neither could be swallowed with ease any more. I found her sitting at her living room window, watching the melting snow. ‘I’m sitting here in a blaze of optimism, planning my garden,’ she said. We both laughed, an astonished burst, and then stared at each other in shocked recognition of what had been unspeakable between us, that maybe she wouldn’t live to see the garden’s blossoming. She didn’t. [Judy Wax, Starting Life In The Middle]

We built tools that would permit legislators to understand the laws on which they voted. The legislators did not want to understand. They wanted to win the next election, or to receive a lucrative sinecure if they lost.

WHERE are Elmer, Herman, Bert, Tom and Charley,

The weak of will, the strong of arm, the clown, the boozer, the fighter?

All, all, are sleeping on the hill. [Edgar Lee Masters, Spoon River Anthology]

Together, we built textbooks that could adapt themselves to readers of disparate backgrounds, inclinations, cultures. The readers did not want such textbooks; they wanted credentials.

We attacked a problem that had plagued storytellers since Plato: how can a story be true when you tell it once, in one way? We made new media: clumsy, brutal, stumbling as new media are, but new. People didn’t want new media: they wanted to monetize their cellphone videos, and they wanted to write (but not to read) conference papers about them.

We built social media platforms to bring people together. “People” did not particularly want to be brought together. Nazis wanted to meet other Nazis, though, so we helped with that. Con artists wanted to meet more victims, and we helped them, too.

The PR agencies of thieves, extortionists and murderers wanted to improve their clients’ image. We gave them Wikipedia and didn’t ask for a receipt.

We built research platforms, scholars’ workbenches, digital libraries and crisis management systems so that, when we needed an answer, we’d be ready. When the day came and the planet was catching on fire, people decided they’d rather watch a reality television personality own the libs.

Mark Bernstein,
Intertwingled $29.95

You can always remove it later.

Paperback, 130 pages. isbn 1-8845-1156-2. Available now.

by Anne Aguirre

Liv Burnham is riding with her date in a car, heading home. In the back seat, her best friend Morgan is canoodling with her date’s scary but handsome older brother. The car swerves; there’s a terrible accident. She wakes up in the hospital, in Morgan’s body.

This enactment of multiple childish fantasies (you’ll be sorry/you’d be happier if I was someone else/I wish I was part of my friend’s family and not this disaster) is a lovely setup for a problem novel, which Aguirre pulls off with style and without more mystic nonsense than the premise absolutely requires. Liv is smarter than Morgan, which is both an opportunity and a challenge. Liv liked science, and Morgan liked art and fashion: who, now, are her friends? If she dates Morgan’s boyfriend, is she cheating on Liv’s? Morgan is rich but her single-parent father is distant; is it her duty to resent him, or is that yet another betrayal? The book’s framework is sometimes flimsy, but there’s some plain, fine writing here.