May 30, 2003

Flashback, Nevada Barr

Another thriller novel, with a series character overcoming physical trauma to hunt down a murderer. I think it's more catharsis than cathexis by my (possibly wrong, very probably oversimplified) definition: more pleasure from imagining oneself brave than from licking over the violence that required bravery. I was a little dubious that the adding-up of minor traumas to Anna Pigeon wouldn't have left her incapacitated; but that's what makes her Heroic.

Other good bits: cleverness and courage from minor characters, including some who could have been played just for comic relief; a dramatic setting, another of the National Parks; and a historical mystery, mostly good for adding color to the setting, but a respectable tragedy in itself.

ISBN: 0-399-14975-9

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Keeping Watch, Laurie R. King

Of course this is good. I think its predecessor Folly does more with less material, but ...Watch is impressive for handling more material tightly.

It's very suspenseful; is a Vietnam vet story and two kinds of thriller story; but puts its punch into describing fear, not violence itself.

The Okanagan University College defines, among other terms of art,

CATHARSIS: In Aristotle's poetics, the purgation of the emotions, as if exposure to an affective work of art could cure imbalance of the passions or psychological distress. There has always been debate as to whether this was what Aristotle actually had in mind. In any case, the idea crops up frequently in subsequent expression theory and the like.

CATHEXIS: A Freudian term designating the investment of libidinal energy (see fetish, libido) in an idea, image, object or person. Critics fond of discerning appetitive drives in a work of art might be inclined to make use of the concept.
I remembered an simpler comparison: that catharsis presents us with images of what we fear, and cathexis with images of what we want. I often feel that works about violence think of their presentation of violence as cathartic, but frame the presentation of the violence as though they were cathectic (sp?). I'm pretty squeamish, so it doesn't take much good camerawork to set this off in me; I stopped watching Buffy somewhere in the second season because it was making me feel icky. (Did Aristotle cover 'feel icky' in the Poetics?)

No icky from Laurie King, despite a string of fascinatingly-horrible subjects.

ISBN: 0-553-80191-0

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Kedrigern Chronicles, John Morressy

Flat. Flat prose, flat dialogue, flat challenges to the protagonist. If you're amused by representations of wizardry as being a bungee consultant in a two-career marriage in the exurbs, here's your joe.

Terry Pratchett could be said to do that, but if you translated Pratchett novels into mundanity they would still be funny and wry, like David Lodge crossed with A. S. Byatt. If I take the fancy-dress off one of these stories, what's left is a skeleton of description of office politics.

ISBN 189206577-0

Posted by clew at 01:18 PM | TrackBack

May 28, 2003

Engine Summer, John Crowley

I reread this because of some reviews of Atwood's new novel, which I haven't read yet. I was thinking about Novels, whether they are 'supposed' to be about character development with or without interesting action in the outside world. One pair for comparison, the Trollopes mother & son, the belief when she grew up that novels were an intrinsically frivolous form; I think the definition of the frivolous changed as much as the standard of what went into a novel did. Recently, Oryx & Crake has caused a small flurry of redefinitions; it is SF, it's a good novel so it can't be SF, all literature and no SF is about X or Y, etc etc. Margaret Atwood herself splits the hair delicately:
Like The Handmaid's Tale, Oryx and Crake is a speculative fiction, not a science fiction proper. It contains no intergalactic space travel, no teleportation, no Martians. As with The Handmaid's Tale, it invents nothing we haven't already invented or started to invent. Every novel begins with a what if, and then sets forth its axioms. The what if of Oryx and Crake is simply, What if we continue down the road we're already on? How slippery is the slope? What are our saving graces? Who's got the will to stop us?

I'd bet that Atwood knows perfectly well that "If This Goes On" is one of the classic forms of science fiction, but believes that saying "This is science fiction without BEMs; it invents nothing we haven't already invented..." would lose some significant part of her readers and reviewers in the first four words. Fair enough. In a generation or two everyone will notice that technological change is one of the defining experiences humans have in our age; just as the late Victorians finally noticed that social change, and individual redefinition in the shifting game, was a defining experience in theirs. The fact came before the fiction, and the fiction before the critical acceptance.

...And I haven't read O&C yet, though I notice with great pleasure that the electronic version is finally cheaper than the hardback.

Engine Summer is postapocalyptic in a prelapsarian way; the survivors decided what to forget as much as what to remember. (They are also gardeners again.) We get no comprehensive explanation of the last days of the tech world, nor of the disasters that brought it down; but surviving objects, and rumors about the odd way things used to be, are precise: like Homer's clear descriptions of a few artworks, which stand out from the much more stylized descriptions of the deaths of the heroes and their age.

I wasn't very far into Engine... before I had stopped thinking about Novel of Character vs. Novel of Ideas, etc., and that's more because the voice of the narrator is so intriguing, and the truths and half-truths and unintentional misdirections by other characters are so interesting. I don't think it matters that he loses his first love because of a personality difference that, in this book, is reinforced by a preposterous machine. I find a lot of Henry James' characters incredibly stylized and mechanical; it doesn't matter to me whether the force making them so is the weight of French aristocratic custom, or a crystal sphere and a silver glove: what matters to me is whether the personalities are coherent and their interactions resonant inside the novel. James and Crowley both have it so.

(edited slightly 2003-05-30 15:18:30)

ISBN: 0-385-12831-2

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May 21, 2003

Accidental Creatures, Anne Harris

If ever we do create a race of mutants, it's a pity the script is so well-known: hated as children, a few turn against humans, and the rest form uneasy alliances to save ungrateful humans from their own kind. What is that a metaphor for? Childrearing? Racism? Fear of beef cattle?

Harris does a good job with a story close to that outline. Her setting and details are pleasing: hollowed-out Detroit, with a steady trickle of praise for the beautifully detailed Fischer building, surviving in a society with 50% unemployment; a few corporate sharks and a lot of labor getting driven down the scale to temps. Birth of a union, birth of an Overmind, subtle assumptions about the relation between embodiment and cognition. If Eric Raymond's screed about shrill economic-libertarian tracts always selling to SF readers didn't convince you either, try this.

ISBN: 0-312-86538-4

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May 20, 2003

eskers

Steep ridges of sand and gravel; usually left by streams that ran under glaciers.

Surprisingly useful.

Posted by clew at 01:33 PM | TrackBack

Beloved Lady, John C. Farrell

I am not going to get through this, alas. It is above my upper bound for dryness in writing.

Jane Addams' ideas are not a dry subject. Thing the First that annoys me in this book is that it doesn't seem to be about her ideas, or the history of her ideas, as much as the social context of her ideas - exactly when she talked to John Dewey about ideas credited to one or the other of them, for instance.

The ideas are interesting: the interrelation of social justice, social engineering, democracy, education, the assimilation of immigrants, religion, pacifism, labor rights. It's not as though any of these questions are settled yet. I am still looking for a book on what Addams thought, and not what her committee-members said about it in private correspondence. (After I get a grip on the ideas, this history would probably be much more interesting.)

ISBN: none.

LCCCN: 67-16916

Copyright 1967 by the Johns Hopkins Press. Copyright by a US press, printed in the US, & the dustjacket gives a price only in shillings: "in U.K. only". Publishing and copyright are very odd.

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Reefer Madness, Eric Schlosser

Three related researches on aspects of the illegal or contested market in the US. Evidently the black market in the US economy has gotten much bigger in the last thirty years, and - in a free-market nation - must be taken to represent something real about the state of the nation.

Schlosser argues that

  • the War on Drugs against marijuana is more damaging than successful;
    • the laws are unequally applied to rich and poor,
    • confiscation is unfair - and feeds law department budgets, which is a perverse incentive;
  • on balance of evidence, marijuana is no more harmful than various accepted legal habits; and
  • nations that have decriminalized possession have not suffered by it.

Mj wasn't criminal until the '30s in the States, and the rhetoric around it associated it with Mexicans coming across the border to take scarce jobs.

That loosely connects to the unfair position of illegal immigrants, especially in US ag, which depends on them but will not treat them as the rest of us expect to be treated by our employers.

The last section isn't on pornography as much as pornography publishing. Its main character had an enormous conglomerate, and was finally brought down when his tax evasion was discovered.

ISBN: 0-618-33466-1

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May 19, 2003

Fanny Trollope, Pamela Neville-Sington

Subtitle: The Life and Adventures of a Clever Woman.

The first chapter is slow, as it would very much like to establish an actual meeting between Jane Austen and Fanny Trollope, but can get no farther than showing that it's not unlikely there was one. Thinking of Trollope as a character in an Austen novel is also a okay approximation until her marriage. But if it were common for a woman's life to expand after marriage the way Trollope's did, not even comedies could justify ending with wedding-bells.

She married a barrister Thomas Anthony Trollope; she was thirty, nearly old by the marriage-standards of the day. Their letters are charmingly literate. They had six children,built a big house on rented land, and it all started going wrong.

Thomas Anthony was depressive or something very like it: he antagonized most of the people he knew and couldn't finish, or even start, necessary work. He irritated an elderly uncle into marrying to get an alternate heir, was too attached to his expectations of genteel inheritance to work himself out of the hole, and late in life turned out to have failed to put Fanny's marriage settlements in order, so that he had squandered her money as well as his. As a barrister, he should have known better. No-one implies that he had planned to take advantage, merely that he always took the laziest route, hoping gloomily that it would come right.

Fanny had an opposite temperament, adn generally put two plans in motion to attack any single problem. In 1827, partly to cover their need to rent out their expensive house, she set sail for a new utopian community in the United States. She took three children, two servants, a wagon of furniture, and optimistic hopes that she would help build a truly free society in the republican idyll of Tennessee.

That particular idyll, Nashoba, was a muddy failure - and certainly Fanny had had no idea what pioneering was like. Fanny took the children away promptly, traveling with a young French painter Hervieu who had hoped to be an artist of the New World. They landed in Cincinnati, nearly penniless, with no letters of introduction. Society, such as it was, did not recognize her, especially because Hervieu's earnings (scant) were often supporting the whole crew.

Fanny developed another plan: she was the brains behind two sensationalist and successful waxwork shows - like Haunted Houses, with her children working the special effects. Emboldened by this success, she decided that Cincinnati needed an entire new building of preposterous style, to rent out meeting-rooms and lecture halls and symphony performances. Letters to her husband asked for investment; he sent ill-chosen shop goods instead of capital. Between that, and getting rooked by the builders, and general inexperience on her part, the Trollopes lost their shirts on the venture.¹

After struggling back to England under a cloud of suspicion (that French painter²), she wrote up her disappointed views of the United States in Domestic Manners of the Americans. I think she's unfair in comparing her experience as a penniless nobody in the US to her experience of society as a well-connected, if indebted, woman in England; but she was probably accurate in showing up the pretentious manners and coarse habits of the new republic³, and she was vividly condemnatory of slavery. It was, politically, a receptive moment for such a book in England, and both Tories and abolitionists took it up. It sold well. It sold even better in the States, but she didn't get any royalties from that.

Next, a potboiler novel set in the States, to reuse her notes while making more money; after that, twenty years of success and incredibly hard work as a writer. She was an equal of Dickens in some ways - output not least - she could keep several serialized novels going at a time, she wrote about Issues that reviewers considered improper for a lady, she has some minor 'firsts' for the English novel; sequels, an ex-policeman private eye. She churned them out like plain sewing while nursing her husband and three children through their deaths (TB), while running away from creditors to the Continent, while traveling around revolution-haunted Europe to find cheaper living or material for books.

Her son Anthony Trollope is the better writer, but not quite as much better as he thought he was - he was so Victorian in his conventionality and expectation of ease, where she was still a bit rough and clear-spoken like the late Georgian she was. They both have novels that are easy to read as versions of each other's lives; he resented her for leaving for the States (he hadn't gone, and was extra sympathetic to his father), she could tell he was shy and ambitious even before he began to write. She didn't live long enough to read his Autobiography, which was particularly dismissive of her.

Neville-Sington chooses to believe that the unkind representation of the writing woman in Anthony's The Way We Live Now is not like Fanny, maybe not even like what Anthony finally remembered of the mother who supported him. Instead, she quotes a bit of his description of Glencora Palliser: "...in her disposition and temper she was altogether generous. I do not know that she was at all points a lady, but had Fate so willed it she would have been a perfect gentleman."

¹ The building seems to have been a modest success once it existed, though.

² There doesn't seem to have been any romance between them, but they were loyal coworkers for decades.

³ Mark Twain thought so.

ISBN: 0-670-85905-2

Posted by clew at 09:31 PM | TrackBack

Low Life, Luc Sante

Here are 356 pages of enjambed facts on New York City's low criminal life from 1840 to 1919, laid out neatly by subject (theater, drugs, police, orphans, riots). Figurative and specific characters repeat from subject to subject, as do waves of immigration, unrest, graft, fiscal panic, and fire after fortuitous fire. Everything happens three or four times, getting bigger and more professional and dirtier by the half-generation. All the specifics are horrible: brass eye gougers, child-gang saloons with child-prostitutes, riots the size of battles, disease, crowding.

Edith Wharton wrote about "Old New York" at the end of Sante's period. Two books could be made of the border between his version and hers. One could be on the power relations between the people they described - nothing is made in Low Life; death rates are terrific; all the money, and most of the people, have to come from some marginally more stable world.¹ Another could be on the difference and similarities of their nostalgia. Sante's was both for the abandoned cheap Lower East Side he lived in in the 1970s, and the shreds of neighborhood and myth it had; and those myths were half post-WWI radio and movie plays made of scraps of memory of the late Bowery and gangland and immigrant days; and their loyalties and turfs dated back to Civil War stresses.

Petty error of fact: he gets the intent and itinerary of Fanny Trollope's visit to the States wrong. He cites the 1949 edition of her Domestic Manners of the Americans; maybe she obfuscated it herself. More oddly, he writes that "...about the rest of America she is remarkably unsnobbish, and her book was something of an advertisement for the young country." That isn't what the Tories in England thought; it isn't what she meant; and I don't think it was the received view in Cincinnati in Trollope's day. More on that later.² Sante, drenched in accounts of bloodshed and immiseration, might not have taken her descriptions of the unmannered provicials as she meant them.

¹ See Fat of the Land, Benjamin Miller, for how the working poor lived in and on garbage.

² A biography of Fanny Trollope says "...wax figures of Mrs Trollope appeared in the form of a goblin; she was portrayed as an ugly harridan talking to a black devil... and satirized... One American reviewer commented on the 'curious coincidence of her name' (p. 174; Fanny Trollope, Pamela Neville-Sington.)

ISBN: 0-679-73876-2

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May 15, 2003

The Affluent Society, J. K. Galbraith

In wartime this debate [over taxes] can to some extent be evaded by invoking the doctrine of equality of sacrifice - the rich man can be told that his sufferings at the hands of the tax authorities are roughly the counterpart of those of the soldier under shellfire. Despite much concentrated thought, no entirely suitable reply has ever been devised by men of means.
(ch. 17, sec. III)

...but they are getting better at evading the question.

In 1942 a grateful and very anxious citizenry rewarded its soldiers, sailors, and airmen with a substantial increase in pay. In the teeming city of Honolulu, in prompt response to this advance in wage income, the prostitutes raised the prices of their services. This was at a time when, if anything, increased volume was causing a reduction in their average unit costs. However, in this instance the high military authorities, deeply angered by what they deemed improper, immoral, and indecent profiteering, ordered a return to the prevous scale.
(ch. 15, sec. VI)

How many layers of hypocrisy there? (I set aside, mostly from squeamishness, the economic question of how a prostitute should calculate the costs of production, which I suspect Galbraith is oversimplifying.) It seems unlikely that access to commercial sex increased sailors' efficiency proportionally - quite the converse, when treatments for STDs were primitive- so there wasn't a military readiness excuse. Even if prostitution was legal, I doubt that prostitutes enjoyed the protections of commercial and civil law that the rest of the country submitted to wage & price controls in return for. It woudl also be fair to ask if prices in general hadn't gone up. But it's easier to charge costs against people without political power. (Classical Athens had a low maximum price for street prostitution, and did prosecute men for paying too much, according to Courtesans and Fishcakes.)

ISBN: none
(on this copy, even though it's new enough still to be copyright.) An example of why I think the ISBN is a bad choice of ID for printed books, let alone its total failure for online texts. A universal catalog of books should certainly support lookup by ISBN, but it's hardly sufficient now.

Posted by clew at 01:04 PM

May 13, 2003

unavowable

I took this down with a note that it seemed to be an English legal term about debt. Google does not immediately succor me; 'unavowable' isn't in its dictionary.

I did find flights of Swinburnian swooning delight in despair on the topic - no, probably topos - taproot? Tipoff - of "unavowable communities"; as in a discussion of thing.net which heads itself with

"..the community of those who do not have a community." --Georges Bataille

"There is hope--but not for us." --Kafka

The Unavowable Community is a node of these discussions; much suggests that it is impenetrable French literary philosophy, except this comprehensible summary:
The Unavowable Community is an inquiry into the nature and possibility of community, asking whether there can be a community of individuals that is truly "communal." The problem, for Blanchot, is that the very terms of an ideal community make an "avowal" of membership in it a violation of the terms themselves.
As I understand this, if we really belonged, we couldn't choose to; and if we can't choose we can't vow. Religions attack this head-on, by confirmation, for instance; most families fail to (one hopes not to need to); in practice, I think states avoid the issue too: there's no alley-oop-in-free for treason committed by someone under the legal age of consent, is there?

Back to the original possible legal term: Dictionary.com does define 'avowable', in a straightforward way, as something that can be openly acknowledged. 'Avow' is etymologically related to 'advocate', vocation, call to the bar: there's a reference to Donne, who uses the term of doctors in Meditation IX:

They consult, so there is nothing rashly, inconsiderately done; and then they prescribe, they write, so there is nothing covertly, disguisedly, unavowedly done.
But where is the reference to debts? Better hint in the 1913 Webster, because it cites Blackstone:
Avowry....

2. (Law) To acknowledge and justify, as an act done. See Avowry. Blackstone

Avowry finally has something clearly to do with debt, and specifically with taking goods under Distress:
4. (Law) (a) The act of distraining; the taking of a personal chattel out of the possession of a wrongdoer, by way of pledge for redress of an injury, or for the performance of a duty, as for nonpayment of rent or taxes, or for injury done by cattle, etc. (b) The thing taken by distraining; that which is seized to procure satisfaction.
So perhaps an unavowable debt was one the creditor couldn't prove, if asked why he was making off with the furniture. I can't remember where I ran across the word, but it seems about right for (say) loans made to a minor, against a possible inheritance, with nothing written down. I found it in some Victorian novel, probably. I know I haven't been reading Donne's prose.

Neither the OED (1st ed.) nor Black's Law Dictionary (Abridged 7th Ed.) are much more specific about 'avowable' although the latter does subdivide 'distress', for instance to

distress damage feasant. The right to seize animals or inanimate chattels that are damaging or encumbering land and to keep them as security until the owner pays compensation.
Posted by clew at 10:43 PM | TrackBack

Hacker Cracker, Ejovi Nuwere with David Chanoff

One man gets out of a bad block of Bed-Stuy by becoming a grey-hat hacker. The escape narrative is similar to others mentioned here. One interesting difference is that hacker circles gave Nuwere an egalitarian kind of mentoring. I 'm going to remember it as a benefit of anonymity in the next argument about anonymity destroying community.

Nuwere's writing (whoever "with") has a pleasant echo of ringing spoken rhetoric, and he seems basically pragmatic rather than idealistic or tough.

Now suddenly - except it took a ton of work to get here - you're a programmer. And you're still only 14 years old. This is 1994, 1995 and there is no frenzy yet over Internet IPOs and stock options. But you're a rudimentary programmer and you've got a whole universe out there that's just waiting for you to conquer it. (p. 108)
A hacker is like what I imagine other voyeurs are. ... In a way it's about being someone other than who you really are, who I really was. (p 151)
What drew me into security rather than going deeper into the underground was that I realized it was much more difficult to fix things than to break them. (p. 190)
When contemplating anonymity and community, I should remember that on the same page he writes:
Besides, I thought that the best way for me to carve out a place in the security community would be to establish myself in my own identity. As I did that, people would respect me for who I am as opposed to my having the shadowy recognition of some code name.
Nuwere also is a serious competitive martial artist, which partly leads to an ambiguously heroic scene. As he and his most educated, least violent uncle are leaving his mother's deathbed, they walk into a hospital-corridor fistfight with a bunch of thugs. Nuwere finds a mop; it's a safety mop, the head won't come off. He knows the pragmatic thing to do is to run for help when badly outnumbered; the nurses don't call security, and leaving even for moments is unpleasantly like abandoning his uncle in the fight. On the other hand, he and his uncle live.

ISBN: 0-06-621079-8

Posted by clew at 08:01 PM | TrackBack

May 09, 2003

shippon

A cowshed.
Posted by clew at 09:03 PM | TrackBack

The Unix Haters' Handbook, Simson Garfinkel, Daniel Weise, and Steven Strassmann, eds.

Plenty of good fulminating about places where UNIX is unfriendly in ways either
  • easily fixable, showing how careless its advocates are, or
  • completely unfixable due to careless development.

It added a fillip that, while I was reading this, the house UNIX expert wreaked a

rm  *
on himself. As the book suggests,
Some Unix victims turn this filename-as-switch bug into a “feature” by keeping a file named “-i” in their directories. Type “rm *” and the shell will expand this to “rm -i filenamelist” which will, presumably, ask for confirmation before deleting each file. Not a bad solution, that, as long as you don’t mind putting a file named “-i” in every directory. Perhaps we should modify the mkdir command so that the “-i” file gets created automatically. Then we could modify the ls command not to show it.
The pleasure of these criticisms is their UNIX-guru care; they're very specific about what the Better Way would be. I will be surprised if their prescriptions are possible, especially over forty years of development and use, but it would always be nice to see something better.

My mild schadenfreude about the rm error was repaid when something in the tree of user-friendly USB devices hanging off OS X ate my entire original review, slowly, so I could watch. (In hindsight, I should have pulled the whole USB chain. I am told often by lordly-patient Macheads that it 'all just works' and you can disconnect devices as you finish with them. Only, not a week ago, I disconnected a FireWire drive with insufficient etiquette. I might say that convincing users they should always go in caution is more honest than lulling them into hanging themselves. However, no permanent harm came from my recklessness, so maybe OS X is stout enough to carry off its vanity.)

URL:http://research.microsoft.com/~daniel/unix-haters.html

Posted by clew at 07:42 PM | TrackBack

May 08, 2003

autotelism

the belief that art is its own end.

(What would be the word for believing that only art is its own justification?)

Posted by clew at 03:10 PM | TrackBack

May 07, 2003

The Exploits of Engelbrecht, Maurice Richardson

Here's a demented companion piece to Lust over Pendle; another skew descendent of Wodehouse. It's very promising that Martin Rowson praises it, since his The Waste Land is also a brilliant work that slips the surly bonds of parody.

I'll never forget the time I met Engelbrecht, the surrealist boxer, and I don't suppose he will either. We were both staying down at Nightmare Abbey, old Iddesleigh's place, for the Walpurgis Night Witch Shoot.

Thanks to Gallowglass for mentioning it.

URL: http://www.abel.net.uk/~savoy/engel.pdf (first chapter, with illustrations)

ISBN: 0 86130 107 2

Posted by clew at 04:14 PM | TrackBack

May 06, 2003

excelsior

What puzzled me was the link between excelsior, the stuffing or packing material referred to in Victorian and Progressive era novels, and excelsior in

THE shades of night were falling fast,
As through an Alpine village passed
A youth, who bore, 'mid snow and ice,
A banner with the strange device--
Excelsior!

(also found in Victorian and Progressive era novels). Turns out the packing material is still available, used in upholsterery and old-fashioned teddy bears. This excelsior is fine wood shavings, especially from Germany. It was originally a trademarked brand name. (One of Edith Wharton's crasser characters is named Ondine or Undine; someone asks her if her parents named her after a mermaid or Rhinemaiden, but no, she assumes they were thinking of a kind of hair pomade.)

Excelsior, the Romantic cry from the Longfellow poem, means "more than excelling"; straightforward derivation.

Romanticism annoys me, but as a early induction to literature it seems very useful. I can quote Longfellow's poetry though I don't particularly like it; my grandfather can, though he learned it eighty years ago; and a student I used to tutor, who was painfully learning English in her early adulthood - she came from Somalia - was surprised and pleased that she could follow Longfellow's rhythm and meaning more easily than she could follow looser modern authors. (I was enormously curious what her teachers thought of a paper on Longfellow, but never found out.)

Posted by clew at 12:46 PM

adscititious

Not inherent; supplemental.

(Tantalizing etymology, from the inchoative of scire, to know. What a promising name for a grammatical condition.)

Posted by clew at 12:13 PM

Burning the Ice, Laura J. Mixon

Good nearly-hard SF. There's too much action in cyberspace to judge it as really hard SF, but even there the resource-starved fight with entropy that drives most of the plot applies.

The main characters are semi-willing colonists, left poorly-supplied on a nearly uninhabitable moon by vicious shipmates. (Those villians are more credible than most irreparably evil villains: they are themselves the result of a generation or two of bad faith, bad decisions, and bizarre material circumstances.) Their society is mostly made up of clones, which has both technological and social effects. The main character is solitary, which helps drive the plot; it would have been interesting to see clones, less like us, as the main actor, but it is already a long book.

ISBN: 0-312-86903-7

Posted by clew at 10:43 AM

Ripley's Game, Patricia Highsmith

Depressingly plausible tale of an amoral man tempting a weak one into crimes against worse men yet.

ISBN: 0-679-74568-8

Posted by clew at 10:00 AM

May 01, 2003

HIPAA

Well. This is pushing the definitions of a book review, but it is about something I've read very carefully twice in the last month. Here's a paragraph from a "Notice of Privacy Practices" from my dentist:

We reserve the right to change our privacy practices and the terms of this Notice at any time, provided such changes are permitted by the applicable law. We reserve the right to make the changes in our privacy practices and the new terms of our Notice effective for all health information that we maintain, including health information we created or received before we made the changes. Before we make a significant change in our privacy practices, we will change this Notice and make the new Notice available upon request.
As I parse it, that comes down to a promise that they won't break the law, whatever that is. I thought I could assume that in any contract or commercial transaction. Maybe the new safe assumption is detailed in some Notice that I haven't been told I ought to request.

I am told by one who knows more that there are teeth to the law which required this Notice; denticles of several thousand dollars a day fine for incorrectly storing a citizen's medical data. Now, if that and the definition of misuse were published in the Notice, we'd see some spontaneous security testing. More than optimal, I'm sure; but what a sporting proposition!

Posted by clew at 07:35 PM

defalcation

Embezzlement.

Google turns up a Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary definition, from 1913, that partly describes this as "An abstraction of money". Half the people with whom I have ruminated on 'abstraction' as a possible opposite term for 'reification' read this blog; at some point we can now mutually enjoy a really dweeby joke.

Posted by clew at 06:05 PM

deutovum

"larvae enclosed in a membrane in addition to the eggshell"; definition from the Texas Ag Extension guide to Poultry Pest Management, which is impressive in its own right.

Or, from McGraw-Hill, an "incompletely developed larva that hatches from the egg of a chigger mite".

Are those the same thing?

Posted by clew at 06:00 PM

Free for All, Wendy Kaminer

Subtitle: "Defending liberty in America today". Essays, most or all republished, mostly on stupid attacks on Bill of Rights liberties. I do like her ability to point out logical inconsistencies.

While I often agree with her, & find her arguments cogent even when I disagree, it seems to me that she looks for unintended consequences one step further in the legal than the practical world. This slants the balance-of-possible-failures. It bothers me most in "The Root of All Evil", which is against campaign finance reform. Kaminer says outright "Money makes speech possible.", and is mocking the argument that "Money isn't speech", but those two statements aren't really opposites. Money amplificiaton can also make speech inaudible, much more effectively than unamplified speech can. The ability to add a decadecibel to a deafening din is nearly useless. In fact, I think most of her argument against campaign finance reform rests on the argument that campaign finance has always been crooked, which is an annoying copout. Every improvement has to be made for the first time once. Most improvements have to be made from scratch several times. You'd have to prove it was impossible to improve to show that it wasn't worth trying.

The last paragraphs of this essay are strong on practical as well as legal bad results. (If public groups can't buy airtime, then all the bloviation goes to the owners of the networks, who are usually the kind of concentrated money interest campaign finance reform was trying to counterbalance.) This still doesn't convice me that the campaign finance reform laws are in principle bad so much as that they're being undercut by the concentration of media ownership, which is another place where the free exercise of one big lump of money reduces the ability of many people to speak and be heard.

ISBN: 0-8070-4411-3

Posted by clew at 02:20 PM
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