Day: April 15, 2004


So, we’re all preoccupied with how Google wants to store and index all your life’s email for you; now Amazon wants to store and index your search history for you, for better or worse. A beta of the new search portal went live yesterday. Some of its more interesting features, if you use your log-in and accept cookies:

  • Each entry in the results page of your search includes a notation of the date and time you last clicked on that link.
  • There’s a tab to simultaneously show you the results of the same query performed on Amazon’s book database.
  • Most Google search syntax works.
  • If you rerun a search you have previously done, the results page tells you which hits are new.

If you want to search in privacy, you can use instead, which promises not to recognize a9 or amazon cookies. John Battelle discusses some of the implications of the ‘history server ‘ concept here.

Clearing Up The Confusion

“Science-fiction author Neal Stephenson’s latest 800-page dispatch, The Confusion, arrived in stores this week. But Stephenson fans hoping for another brain-wracking, cryptographic puzzle to solve will find a surprise instead: A central scene in the book provides a long, detailed description of the mechanics of 17th-century bills of exchange. Pivotal themes in the book involve the emergence of a cashless market at Lyon, France, and Sir Isaac Newton’s 30-year stint at England’s national mint.

The Confusion, which consists of two 400-page novels interleaved (literally ‘con-fused’) with one another, is the second of three volumes in The Baroque Cycle, a nearly 3,000-page opus that fictionalizes the exploits of Newton and the Royal Society of scientists to which he belonged.

In an interview with Wired News, Stephenson, who rose to fame on cyberpunk-themed novels including Snow Crash and Cryptonomicon, said his interest in money and markets dates back to 1994, a time when crypto hackers and Citicorp/Citibank CEO Walter Wriston were equally likely to expound on the concept of money as an information technology.”

Supreme Court to Hear Indefinite Detention Case

Can the Rights of People Simply Disappear by Presidential Order? “What does it mean when the President of the United States can on his own designate a citizen in the U.S. as an ‘enemy combatant,’ and order the military to hold that person incommunicado, indefinitely, and without charges? The U.S. Supreme Court is now deciding whether the courts even have the right to question the President’s action.

What does it mean when the U.S. military internationally can literally snatch people off the street, designate them as ‘enemy combatants,’ and assert that they are beyond the reach of either U.S. or international law? Many are transported to a facility under total U.S. control and funded by Congressional appropriations, where they are held incommunicado, indefinitely, without charges and some are threatened with trials before a military commission that falls short of basic standards of justice.

If the Supreme Court upholds these actions, it will condone the President’s claim of virtually unlimited ‘wartime powers’ without a formal declaration of war by the Congress, and with no or extremely limited oversight by the courts or the Congress.

On April 20 the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on the President’s alleged right to create a ‘law free zone’ at the Guantanamo detention center in Cuba. And on April 28, the Court will hear oral arguments on the President’s asserted right to designate citizens as ‘enemy combatants,’ hold them at the U.S. Navy base in Charleston, SC, and deny them the ability to challenge the lawfulness of their detention.

We believe that the President cannot be allowed to create a ‘legal Black Hole’ into which people are dropped with no recourse to the courts or to international law. Among us we hold many varied views on how and why this situation has arisen and what is ultimately needed to ensure justice. But we all agree that this dangerous new presidentially-designated category of ‘enemy combatants’ who have no legal rights is unjust, illegal, and immoral, and cannot be allowed to stand.

The silence over this perilous issue must be broken, and public opposition must be manifested. Join us in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on April 20 and April 28 to declare a resounding NO! Legally permitted, non-violent demonstrations will occur on both days from 9:30 am to 12:30 pm with a program of speakers beginning at 11:am.” —Not In Our Names

Did Nabokov Suffer From Cryptomnesia?

“An intriguing development on the Nabokov front, a crypto-scandal widely reported in Europe, but not much here: Lolita is causing trouble again. At least, that’s been the way it’s been portrayed in the European press, which has overheatedly raised the specter of “plagiarism”: Did Vladimir Nabokov lift the controversial plot, indeed the very name of Lolita, from a 1916 German short story called “Lolita”?

But more interestingly, there are fascinating implications for understanding Pale Fire, which followed Lolita seven years later. And then there’s “cryptomnesia.” —Ron Rosenbaum, New York Observer

Future Cred

The Science Fiction Museum frames the past and present of glitzy and gritty futures. ‘Seattle sci-fi insiders call it “Siffumhoff”: Paul Allen’s new Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame. When it opens in June, it will be more commonly known as SFM. Right now it’s under noisy construction in the Blue Potato section of EMP—the space formerly occupied by the Funk Blast ride at Experience Music Project. “All of these cases are just gonna be filled!” exults the jovially ursine Greg Bear, raising his voice above the shrieking saws and banging hammers inside the Potato. He is SFM’s board chairman, an adviser to Microsoft and the CIA, and a quintuple Nebula-winning author. “E.T. has just arrived. We’re gonna have the Alien Queen [from Aliens], all 18 feet of her, kinda hunkered down.” Since the case is 12 feet high, she’ll be crouched as if to pounce and devour visitors. Expect Harrison Ford’s Blade Runner spinner car, but not Anakin Skywalker’s podracer—it was too big. “Probably the centerpiece is Spacedock—you’re gonna have 25 spaceships from films and books . . . all lined up in glorious 3-D!” Viewers will be able to manipulate the digital models in virtual space, compare them for size, armaments, fuel capacity, top speed. “You’re in the viewport of the space station, and you’ll be watching Rama,” Arthur C. Clarke’s alien spacecraft, “90 kilometers long, the size of an asteroid!”’ —Seattle Weekly: News

One Nation, Underperforming

Bill McKibben: “Modern environmentalism can fairly be described as an American invention. It got its rhetoric from John Muir, its fighting savvy from David Brower, its sense of the world from Rachel Carson, and its institutional framework from the Congress of the Nixon years, which bowed before the loud will of the American people in the years after Earth Day I. The rest of the industrialized world followed, its NGOs patterned on the Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth, its laws modeled on ours. We paved the road; we drove innovation.

So it is odd for American environmentalists to look up now and realize that we no longer play a leading role of any kind. If you spend much time at international conferences, you see that we are no more the center of gravity, the fount of new ideas. Long before President Bush ditched the Kyoto treaty, we were drifting toward the back of the pack.” —

New musical based on saga of German cannibal

Erika Shuch stretches to tell macabre tale: “‘Sweeney Todd’ redux this isn’t; Shuch uses the metaphor of consumption to investigate all forms of desire. Jesse Howell and Jennifer Chien retread the ‘eat me’ exchange as a tentative sexual proposition: ‘It’s gonna hurt. … It’s not safe,’ they warn. An ensemble dance to the old standard ‘All of Me’ takes on sinister shadings with the lines ‘take my lips … take my arms.’ Love appears ultimately a matter of consensual pain and unsatisfied appetites as Howell roams the stage like a rabid dog, begging, ‘Do you trust me?'” —SF Chronicle

Amid a Forest’s Ashes, a Debate Over Logging Profits Is Burning

“For 120 days in 2002, a colossal wildfire scarred a half-million acres of Southern Oregon and Northern California, leaving behind a charred landscape that has turned into fertile soil for a conflict over how to manage the public forests.

The Forest Service’s plan for a large salvage logging operation on the site of wildfire, called the Biscuit fire, is reopening old wounds and threatens to undercut the shaky truce between environmentalists and the timber industry.” —New York Times

The Epidemic

Mark Daims reviews The Epidemic: The Rot of American Culture, Absentee and Permissive Parenting, and the Resultant Plague of Joyless, Selfish Children: “Robert Shaw, a child and family psychiatrist, feels that today’s parents have been misled by parenting gurus into doubting their own instincts – instincts which he feels are their best guide. He is so alarmed by current parenting practices and the effects they will have on the coming generation that he describes his book as less of a parenting ‘How to’ book and more of a call to action. Children raised without discipline and moral leadership become selfish or worse. An ‘endless parade of childrearing experts’ confuse parents with contradictory and often counterproductive advise. This overabundance of advice can leave parents stressed and unsure about how to act. By not acting, the author cautions, parents also affect the child; as one paragraph heading states, ‘We determine our children’s future.’ Parents are ultimately responsible for their children, parents instinctively know best and they have an often overlooked parenting expert always at hand. ‘You have a live-in parenting expert who shows you every day the effects of what you are doing: your child. Anything that is not going well with your child is a sign that your parenting practices are not working.'” —Human Nature Reviews

WoT®’s up in Europe

‘Bin Laden’ offers Europe truce:

“Arab networks air a tape in which the al-Qaeda leader allegedly offers Europe a truce if it ‘stops attacking Muslims’.” [Note that the BBC puts ‘Bin Laden’ in quotes, hedging their bet about whether he remains alive.]

U.K. and Italy Reject Purported Bin Laden Tape’s Truce OfferBloomberg

Italian hostage is killed in Iraq:

“Italy is shocked by the killing of an Italian security contractor in Iraq – the first confirmed hostage death.” —BBC

Trust, Don’t Verify

William Saletan on Bush’s incredible definition of credibility:

One thing is for certain, though, about me, and the world has learned this: When I say something, I mean it. And the credibility of the United States is incredibly important for keeping world peace and freedom.

“That’s the summation President Bush delivered as he wrapped up his press conference Tuesday night. It’s the message he emphasized throughout: Our commitment. Our pledge. Our word. My conviction. Given the stakes in Iraq and the war against terrorism, it would be petty to poke fun at Bush for calling credibility ‘incredibly important.’ His routine misuse of the word ‘incredible,’ while illiterate, is harmless. His misunderstanding of the word ‘credible,’ however, isn’t harmless. It’s catastrophic.

To Bush, credibility means that you keep saying today what you said yesterday, and that you do today what you promised yesterday.” —Slate

And: Bush Makes Three Mistakes While Trying to Cite One: “While struggling unsuccessfully this week to think of a single mistake he has made since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, President Bush committed three factual errors about weapons finds in Libya, the White House said on Wednesday.” —Yahoo! News

Also: Standing Firm: “So far, Bush has the upper hand in this argument. Even as he and John Kerry muddle toward an awkward role for the United Nations in Iraq, Bush is doing so while maintaining the appearance of certitude about his course. Meanwhile Kerry hasn’t figured out how to define a clear alternative. Unlike his bold (but all too brief) call to honor the democratic process in Haiti, Kerry is trying to have it every which way but sideways on Iraq. Unfortunately, that sliver of Americans in the confused middle on this election are more likely to be swayed by certitude than caution. And you can’t beat something with nothing.” Micah L. Sifry is a senior analyst with Public Campaign. He is the author of Spoiling For A Fight: Third-Party Politics In America, (Routledge, 2002) and the web log, and recently co-edited The Iraq War Reader: History, Documents, Opinions (Touchstone, 2003)