In memoriam, Robert Sheckley

While he had been sick for a while – anyone who followed sf knew he had been seriously ill – still, his passing is a huge sadness.

While I'm not sure it was the first Sheckley story I read, I can still recall, vividly, reading "Warm" when I was in college; it was one of those moments where you think, 'my god, this guy really is inside my head.' Yeah, an experience that most fans are oh, so familiar with; his haunting and yet playful voice, one of those experiences where you surface from the text, and nothing in the 'real' world is ever, really, quite the same again. One of the highest compliments you can pay to an sf author is that they can do that to you. And man, he could.

We'll miss him.

Sheckley's official site

BoingBoing "How News is Made," with some prior art...

In a wonderful BoingBoing post, Dale Dougherty exposes how the pandemic Black Friday shopping story was manufactured by a retail trade group via uncritically recycled press release.

How News is Made, by Dale Dougherty
There should be a book titled "How News Is Made," a book that could be for journalism what "The Jungle" was to the meatpacking industry. My version would offer no conspiracy theory, but I'd point out the preponderance of sloppiness and lazy thinking coupled with a herd mentality..
[Boing Boing]

Yeah, sad to say, this is nothing new. Fortunately, there already many such books; a rich literature over in the media criticism area. One of my favorites, a bit dated now, but still powerful, is How to Watch TV News by Neil Postman and former TV journalist Steve Powers. (Penguin, 1992). As they said then...

Many stories are originated by press secretaries issuing press releases ("handouts") to the news media...TV Guide in its February 22, 1992 issue, documented story after story in which video supplied by lobbying groups, product manufacturers, and policital candidates was used in news programs without labeling the source.(p.79)

And for those who aren't afraid to be seen reading "subversive" literature, Michael Parenti's classic Inventing Reality is a higher-level systemic critique. I taught this book back during the first Gulf War, and my students thought I was a communist. Sigh.

NYTimes Tierney's faux Iraqi rejection letters for Pentagon "news"

In the most biting take on the fake news stories planted by the Pentagon in Iraqi papers, NY Times columnist John Tierney shows quite clearly why BushCo had to pay for the coverage: he got his hands on a bunch of the copy.

With rip-roaringly delusional titles like, "The Sands Are Blowing Toward a Democratic Iraq" and "Iraqi Forces Capture Al Qaeda Fighters Crawling Like Dogs," you can see how Iraqi editors would have needed a ارتش to find a space for these.

Tierney has serious fun imagining the rejection letters; it's almost worth the cost of a subscription to Times Select. (Add Maureen Dowd and it's a gimme...)

Via NY Times Select
There is much to admire in your article on the Iraqi Security Forces. You memorably describe them "moving across the desert sands like the wind." But you do not introduce us to any of these "heroic" figures or describe their activities beyond a list of the weapons they seized.

You write that these soldiers "fight for freedom, wherever there is trouble," a revelation that would indeed be newsworthy to our readers across Iraq, not to mention the American military advisers. But our readers would remain skeptical unless you could provide more evidence.


Okay, okay, not everyone will be as excited as I was. I yelled "YAAAY" only to have Karen peer over her glasses at me with that patronizing "my god what a geek" expression, but this is SO much better than the e-mail version, if you're trying to keep up with all the shit in the world that's trying to kill us.
MMWR feeds page

An early Thanksgiving at Plimoth

Karen and Jack aim the Plimoth cannonJack – like most kids – has been learning about the first Thanksgiving all week, and today we decided to make the quick hop over to Plimoth Plantation and get the experience. He liked the Wampanoag village the most, although he was fascinated by the chamber pots in the Plantation. "You mean you didn't have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night?" Said Karen, "Have you seen bathrooms in any of these houses?" And that sudden look of dawning awareness of just how different those times were.

I kept checking out the strategically placed books -- mostly Psalms and Biblical commentaries, and couldn't help noticing that the meeting house/church was the one with the cannons upstairs. Also, pretty much the only building with mostly finished lumber. No matter what age you're in, God likes right angles and big guns...

In memoriam, SCI FICTION

You've no doubt read it elsewhere, but it is still stunning, the headshaking sadness of losing one of the freshest, most interesting venues in the field.

And I would be remiss if I didn't mention one of my favorite stories of the last few years which appeared there, Christopher Rowe's awesome The Voluntary State.

Sympathies to Ellen Datlow and the whole team.

Blood on the Tracks

Well, the hammer finally came down on former Amtrak CEO David Gunn, as the Republican-dominated board took advantage of a bad GAO report last week as the air cover to fire him. In truth, it was more likely his resistance to the Bush plan to privatize the Northeast Corridor that put the final nail in his coffin. Or, as one of his colleagues put it in his blog:

Via Joel Peskoff ...
So here we have the head of a government organization fired because he just didn't get it. His bosses wanted to run Amtrak into the ground, not improve service and increase ridership. Gunn finally got it though, "Obviously what their goal is, and it's been their goal from the beginning, is to liquidate the company," he told the media.

I lay the blame entirely on the Amtrak board. You don't send a seasoned professional to do the job of a rank amateur. The Board should never have hired Gunn in the first place. They should have selected someone with a proven record of failure; perhaps a failed head of an Arabian horse sporting group.

KOKO Association Needs Help

Klutching Obsolete Krabs of Ownership (KOKO) is petitioning libraries, bookstores, individual humans, etc. to allow copyright owners to exercise their legal right to control the texts which they have sold to publishers for dissemination via systems like printed books & magazines. They propose the KOKO Protocol as the vehicle for that control.

Copyright owners use it to say, "Only allow people who have purchased my book to let people look at *this* many pages" — be that 100%, 99%, 75%, on down to 0%. (Compare to the current choices of whatever you want to read.)

The result will be not just legal access, but access to far more copyrighted material than now. War is Peace. Freedom is slavery. Everyone wins.

KOKO requests your help in moving these behemoth corporations:

1) Please SIGN THE PETITION — worded for elliptical comprehensibility — at:
[URL deleted at the request of the copyright holder]

2) Please SPREAD THE WORD: Urge others to abdicate their responsibility to think through the issues for themselves, learn only about KOKO, and likewise encourage others to do the same silly shit, and urge yet others to, u.s.w.

Please post on your blogs (or codices, or clay tablets, or whatever antique media you prefer), tell journalists who won't laugh you off the phone, put links on your web pages last updated in 1998, tattoo it on your ass, etc. You may copy this article in full if you like (You'll need a large ass.) And hey, how's that for a non-self-reflexive position. I could have told you to only use the first 250 words, but I didn't. Pretty fucking generous, no?

The KOKO Association is a (humble, foot-shuffling, shy) non-profit organization established by representatives from a number of groping authors, punishers, and punishing industry "experts." It serves as a central point (in an otherwise decentered information cosmos) for information on KOKO and distribution/authentication of KOKO records. KOKO was crafted by people ranging from "completely brain dead" to "persistently vegetative," giving widespread appeal to this consensus design.

Thanks for your help! Please sign 'Mike eats green shit'! Please spread the word! Use exclamation points!

Code: Bushco... the virtual Judge Aelito

Okay, to tell you the truth, I haven't really thought through the metaphysics of this.

I mean, is Chuck Schumer X.A.N.A.? Or would that be Harry Reid?

Anyway, I just thought I'd try seeing the world as a huge Republican virtual reality, with Bush and his valiant gang (hmm. Dick Cheney is Jim, surely, and perhaps Karl Rove is Odd...) trying to bring poor Aelito to earth and defeating the evil supercomputer that's trying to thwart them...

The empty roll of film...

Image under erasureWhen my friend Tavis died last month, a group of friends pitched in to clean out his apartment. One of the things we found, tossed in a jar with coins, guitar picks, dead batteries and the like, was a roll of film. I volunteered to take it in to get it processed, but it sat, strangely inertial, on my desk for the past month.

What the hell would be on there? Vacation shots? Pix of the last concert he went to? There was no way to even tell how old it was; could have been sitting there for years.

Finally summoned up the courage to take it in to the local CVS, and I must admit, I was actually nervous, breathless, at the thought of getting a final message, some weird communication.

"Sorry," said the guy behind the counter. "Blank film. Nothing on there."

Of course. No closure, no messages, just the "blind white light" and these empty, frameless strips of 35mm enigma.