Looking for Mars?

It’s hard to believe there’s any hoax e-mail or spam that misses my inbox, yet before today I’d read nothing about Mars looking as big as the Moon this week until I read msnbc.com today.

The orbits of Mars and Earth bring the two planets as close to each other as they ever get approximately every 26 months. Mars never looks very big, much less the size of the Moon, though it can regularly be seen glimmering in the evening sky. (Basic Marswatching info can be found at a site maintained by JPL’s Jane Houston Jones.)

According to Snopes:

[The] 2007 version of this e-mail is commonly headed by the line “Two moons on 27 August.” An amusing irony is that some parts of the world won’t even see one moon the following day, as a total lunar eclipse is slated to occur on that date.

Right now Mars is on the other side of the Sun. So this is one night you won’t need to “keep watching the skies!”

Salman Rushdie Scores Court Victory

Salman Rushdie has won an apology from the writers and publishers of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, subtitled “My Incredible Life in the World’s Most Dangerous Close Protection Squad,” for fase statements in Ron Evans’ account of Rushdie’s time under protection by police. Rushdie was effectively condemned to death by a fatwa issued by the late Ayatollah Khomeini after his book The Satanic Verses was ruled blasphemous against Islam, and spent a decade in hiding.

As reported by the Guardian, the statements admitted to be false included:

· That Rushdie was locked in a room by protection officers because of his objectionable attitude towards them;
· That protection officers who asked Rushdie if they could buy alcohol from him were charged for the drinks;
· That Rushdie sought to profit from the fatwa inviting Muslims to kill him for insulting the prophet Muhammad;
· That he sought and was advised by the Intelligence Services not to publish a book about his experiences;
· That safe houses were provided for Rushdie at Government expense, rather than having to provide them himself at great personal expense;
· That the relationship between Rushdie and his protection teams was unprofessional, hostile and unfriendly;
· That Rushdie was unhygienic;
· That Rushdie was suicidal and was being supervised or examined by a police psychiatrist;
· That Elizabeth West became his girlfriend and then his wife because of Rushdie’s wealth.

Ron Evans, through a statement made in court by his solicitor on August 26, apologized for the falsehoods. Rushdie did not seek any damages. However, as part of the resolution, publisher Evans and Thompson will pay Rushdie’s legal costs, estimated at around £15,000. Also, John Blake Publishing has destroyed the first print run of 4,000 copies of the book, and is correcting two chapters.

The victory was accompanied by an great deal of spin. Rushdie not only wanted vindication, he and his attorney wanted to take extra credit for supposedly doing nothing to impede freedom of speech. As the Courant reports:

Rushdie said Tuesday before the hearing that there was no parallel between the Muslims’ attempt to suppress his work of fiction and his legal action against Evans.

“There is a straightforward difference between the statement of opinion and the perpetration of untruth,” the Booker Prize-winning author said before the hearing. “Had he written a novel, there would have been no case. He would have had the defense of his imagination.”

Rushdie’s strategy of demanding an apology — without seeking a large financial award — is unusual for a celebrity-driven libel case in Britain, where plaintiff-friendly laws encourage the rich and famous to seek financial redress for attacks on their reputation. Rushdie said he sought to set the record straight while skipping damages that could impede free speech.

On the same principle, former President Theodore Roosevelt sued a newspaper over a 1912 story that said he was a heavy drinker and frequently issued torrents of “lies and curses” when drunk, receiving a retraction and apology, and a court award of six cents in damages. Rushdie was certainly entitled to defend his reputation, and probably could have imposed far greater economic consequences on the defendants, but as to his deserving praise for preserving freedom of speech, I’m inclined to save that praise for someone who shows Roosevelt’s forbearance.

Vinge Interviewed by NYT

Vernor Vinge

The New York Times has interviewed Vernor Vinge about the coming world of post-human intelligence foreshadowed in his fiction and nonfiction:

[A group of characters in Rainbow’s End], [c]alling themselves the Elder Cabal… conspire to save the paper library while they’re trying to figure out what, if anything, their skills are good for anymore.

Dr. Vinge, who is 63, can feel the elders’ pain, if only because his books are in that building. He took me up to the Elder Cabal’s meeting room in the library and talked about his own concerns about 2025 — like whether anyone will still be reading books, and whether networked knowledge will do to intellectuals what the Industrial Revolution did to the Luddite textile artisans.

Con Anti-Harassment Project

I’ve been interested in the discussion about the Con Anti-Harassment Project on the Smofs list and Cheryl Morgan’s blog

The Con Anti-Harassment Project is a grass-roots campaign designed to help make conventions safer for everyone. Our aims are to encourage fandom, geek community and other non-business conventions to establish, articulate and act upon anti-harassment policies, especially sexual harassment policies, and to encourage mutual respect among con-goers, guests and staff.

The problems are real (I know cons that have had to deal with some of them.) What I’ve read here persuades me a basic policy statement can be a useful tool that benefits both con members and conrunners, provided there’s an intent to act on it.. Here’s a generic example of such a policy:

“All attendees at [name of con] are expected to treat other attendees, guests, staff, and the general public with respect. Physical and verbal harassment and sexual assault will not be tolerated.”

Simple enough. Policies are already being created to help manage such issues as weapons, smoking, and disabled access, so the concept announcing convention polities is long-established and familiar. Fans also know that the meaningfulness of a policy depends on whether there will be a response when it is violated. The CAHP website recommends:

Be clear about the consequences for transgressors. This, again, can vary according to the con and the severity of the individual situation. SakuraCon has a Three Strikes and you’re out rule for minor transgressions, but will strip membership at its discretion. WisCon has a zero tolerance anti-harassment policy. Readercon reserves the right to strip membership at its discretion.

CAHP doesn’t overrate the deterrent value of a verbal policy, it stresses that effective action needs to be taken when the crisis arises. What action?

FAQ number 12 (“What can I do if I see someone being harassed?”) advises:

If you feel safe doing so, step in — or, if you think it’s bigger than you can handle, grab a few friends or call con security or local law enforcement.

A common sense answer, it seems to me.

The FAQ’s answer makes a few other points, and speaks about “bystander training,” my first encounter with the term. The phrase’s meaning and some of its nuances are apparent in this quote from an academic paper linked from the CAHP site:

The sexual violence prevention program we evaluated uses a community of responsibility model to teach women and men how to intervene safely and effectively in cases of sexual violence before, during, and after incidents with strangers, acquaintances, or friends. The program varies from other prevention programs in that it does not address men as potential perpetrators or women as potential victims. Rather it approaches both women and men as potential bystanders or witnesses to behaviors related to sexual violence.

I felt that the inclusive strategy under discussion in the quote also informs the whole CAHP website. I’m sure that has a lot to do with why I’ve responded positively to the initiative.

TV Interview with Clark Rockefeller

On August 25, NBC’s Today show aired the first of a two-part question-and-answer session with the man who calls himself Clark Rocketeller. (The video is also posted at the same msnbc.com link.) The second installment will air on August 26.

“I wanted to change my life altogether,” Gerhartsreiter, 48, told NBC News’ Natalie Morales during an exclusive jailhouse interview airing Monday and Tuesday on TODAY. “I just wanted to live an obscure life.”

Earlier this month detectives identified Rockefeller, who was being held in Boston on unrelated kidnapping charges, as the man wanted for questioning in the 1985 disappearance and suspected killings of Linda, 28, and Jonathan Sohus, 26, both members of the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society.

Also today, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s homicide detectives announced they will use ground-penetrating radar to search the San Marino property where bones thought to be John Sohus’ were found in 1994.

Smith said ground-penetrating radar has not been used on the yard before, likely because the technology did not exist in 1994. Experts say more recent advances in associated computer software, also used for medical imaging such as X-rays and CAT scans, have made it more popular.

Experts say investigators have successfully used ground-penetrating radar to unearth remains in other cold cases.

Lawrence B. Conyers, a University of Denver professor of anthropology who has used ground radar on the La Brea Tar Pits and to aide homicide detectives in a San Luis Obispo cold case, said it can find long-buried bones several feet underground.

Pruning the Blogroll

The blogs I admire have these long lists of recommended links, and I’ve always assumed that given time and experience I will end up with my own long list. I suppose I need to think about the balance between blogs I frequently read, and the ones that look really cool but that I visit occasionally. I just clicked on one of these seldom-visited links and found Xcentric now belongs to some kind of CPA support service. No reason to keep that on the blogroll anymore. My professional experience is that CPAs generally like to work with verifiable facts. It’s mainly the attorneys who indulge their flights of imagination.

The Vibrating Ether of Monrovia

A visiting friend was sitting in our living room the other night powering up her laptop so she could copy a disc of Sierra’s photos. She turned to me and asked, “Oh, do you have wireless in the house?” No, I answered, looking expectantly for the explanation. She said, “My computer is picking up two wireless connections. Well, four actually, but two are encrypted.”

Lots of people have had similar experiences, just nobody seated in my living room, before now. I’m not about to make myself a tinfoil hat, though. Instead, I’m reminded of John W. Campbell’s speculation that some alien race could be transmitting channels of intergalactic entertainment all through our part of the galaxy without our knowing because we hadn’t discovered the technology to receive the signal.