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Prosthetic Conscience

Jason McBrayer's weblog; occasional personal notes and commentary

Wed, 13 Jul 2016

“What a Difference a Shade Makes”, by Saab Lofton

Black Superman

Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superman! Since his creation by Siegel and Schuster in 1933 and his debut in Action Comics in 1938, Superman has become the most widely-known superhero of all, and possibly the world’s best-known fictional character. Along the way, he has been interpreted in many ways by different writers, from the rough socialist crusader of his early Golden Age appearances, to the Silver Age’s protector of “Truth, Justice, and the American Way”, to the “big blue Boy Scout” of the modern era and the conflicted alien of the recent movies. Beyond these changes, there have been many “Elseworlds” takes on Superman, stories that place a different version of Superman in another setting, like the Old West or Feudal Japan. In most such stories, one thing that remains unchanged about Superman is his uncommon decency and humanity.

Which brings us to the subject of this review, “What a Difference a Shade Makes”, by Saab Lofton. In this independent Elseworlds story, a dusky-skinned Kal-El is sent from doomed Krypton to Earth, where he will be raised by the white Kents, who do their best, but are unable to love this son quite the way they were able to love the light-skinned Clark we’re all familiar with. The story details how this and other problems he faces due to racism in Smallville and beyond lead Kal-El to become a very different Superman, though no less a hero.

Lofton explains in a non-fiction piece associated with the story that he was inspired by twentieth-century journalist Stetson Kennedy’s infiltration of the KKK, which provided the material for Clan of the Fiery Cross, a story arc on the Superman radio serial in which the threatening mystique of the KKK was demolished, and their secret codes and rituals exposed to the nationwide radio audience. Lofton’s goal for this story is to “finish what that 1946 radio serial started and defeat white supremacy once and for all” by reaching a white audience as wide as the Clan of the Fiery Cross serial.

It’s a tall order. For one thing, Lofton doesn’t have the promotional resources of DC Comics, nor the homogeneity of the 1946 media landscape on his side. Technically, WADSM is fanfic, though there needs to be an alternate term for fanfic by professional writers, such as this, or Peter Watts’ acclaimed “The Things”. And fanfic has a tough row to hoe in finding an audience beyond fannish circles, partly due to legal hurdles on its distribution. To reach its one million readers, WADSM needs to reach the mainstream.

Lofton’s goal is also a tall order because white supremacy seems to be on an ascending trajectory in the US right now. As I write this, the top news stories are of two black men needlessly killed by white police, in different states, on or around the same day. White supremacist organizations demonstrate freely and with the protection of the police, and the Republican nominee for president has declined to repudiate his endorsement by white nationalist leaders. But maybe it’s not as strong as it looks. Maybe we’re seeing the desperate vigor of an ideology that knows it is dying. If so, maybe WADSM is the kick needed to put it down.

So all that said, how is the story?

It’s told as an origin story, mainly as a series of vignettes, spanning the time from his lifeboat’s launch from Krypton to his first meeting with Lois Lane. The path leading there is not quite as straight as “farm boy discovers his amazing powers and moves to the big city to use them for good”. Baby Kal-El is found by the white Kents, who, inspired(?) by Webster and Diff’rent Strokes, choose to adopt the ebony toddler they find in the crashed space capsule. Though they try to see him as their own, they are not able to overcome the social conditioning that makes them see him as different, and lesser, despite his very evident superiority. In a key passage, the Kents repeatedly impress upon young Clark, when they catch him floating over his bed after dreams of flight, that for a man to fly like an angel would be blasphemous, a lesson that sticks with him even after he leaves the Kents.

And leave, he does, after withstanding years of passive-aggressive comments from the people of Smallville, and, finally after being spurned by cheerleader Lana Lang (because, she insists, while she’s not racist, she has to please her “conservative” family)[^fn1], being told the truth of his birth by the Kents, and putting a violent end to a KKK cross-burning in his own yard. Not flying, but leaping as if to clear a tall building in a single bound. Unlike the regretful way we see canon Clark leaving his family, called away from his small town to the big city by a big destiny, but with plans to return often, this Kal-El (“Clark is my slave name!”) is glad to kick the dust of Smallville off his Doc Martens.

[^fn1]: Note that in the current DC continuity, mechanical engineer Lana Lang is dating scientist John Henry Irons, aka Steel, who is black. So it goes.

After this, we get a bit of an interlude telling how Kal-El gradually became known as a semi-fugitive protector of the downtrodden – not merely blacks, but Muslims, homosexuals, women and anyone else threatened by the more powerful. His uniform in this phase of his career recalls the costume of Superman’s early years as imagined by Grant Morrison in the New 52 reboot of Action Comics – work boots, blue jeans, and T-shirt with the S-shield. And both Morrison’s work and Lofton’s recall the Superman of the Golden Age of Comics, when he was a clearly socialist crusader.

This period ends when Kal-El, performing superhuman feats of relief work in Haiti after Hurricane Jeanne, is confronted with the fact that his limited scope of intervention in earthly society is not doing all he could do. This is a direct confrontation with a common theme in DC comics – the fact that were the godlike heroes to do everything in their power to help people, they would have to replace the world’s corrupt and/or ineffective governments, in effect ruling the world. In canon, the Justice League specifically rejects this burden, choosing to let humanity chart its own course, and only intervening to stop disasters, extraterrestrial incursions, and criminal acts.

In Elseworlds, this has not always been the case. For example, in the long-running video game spinoff Injustice, Superman is moved by the death of his family at the hands of the Joker to murder the villain and take over the world. But perhaps more pertinent to Lofton’s story is the acclaimed Elseworlds graphic novel, Mark Millar’s Superman: Red Son. Raised on a Ukrainian collective farm, Kal-El becomes “the Champion of the common worker who fights a never-ending battle for Stalin, socialism, and the international expansion of the Warsaw Pact.” After Stalin’s death, Superman initially declines the leadership of the Party, but faced with seeing a childhood friend in a Moscow bread line, he changes his mind, and decides that he can save anyone, and that there’s no reason he shouldn’t.

The pivotal scene from Superman: Red Son

WADSM Superman comes to the same conclusion as the Soviet Superman – that his power and knowledge would enable him to create a utopia, and that this is the most effective use of his time and abilities. Although originally planning to save Haiti, he instead chooses to build New Krypton in the Congo, so that the sale of coltan can fund the social development.

We see New Krypton through the perspective of reporter Lois Lane, who comes to the Congo to cover the new benevolent dictatorship. We don’t get a full picture of New Kryptonian society, but technologically, they appear to be based on sustainability (solar power, industrial hemp, biodiesel). Culturally, freedom of speech is protected, even for enemies of the state, but pacifism is enforced for all social movements. Gay marriage and womens’ empowerment are protected. In terms of law enforcement, New Krypton has police, who are armed only with tranquilizer darts, but no prisons. Severe offenses are dealt with by exile or administration of ibogaine, a hallucinogen which renders violent offenders harmless. We do not see much of the economic organization of New Krypton.

Lois Lane is initially very skeptical of Kal-El’s achievements, but is gradually won over by his openness and their growing mutual attraction. Their private interview is interrupted by an attack by Metallo, sent by General Sam Lane to enact regime change and restore the low-wage tantalum market, and so we get the one supervillain fight of the story. I won’t spoil the thrilling conclusion of the story, except to note that it moves forward the themes of the story as well as the plot.

What a Difference a Shade Makes is not the first story about a black Superman, but it is distinctly different from its predecessors. In the Silver Age, Krypton was shown to have had an island continent, Vathlo, inhabited by a technologically advanced civilization of black Kryptonians, but no black Kal-El. In and around the Crisis on Infinite Earths (1985-85), two black versions of Superman were shown in the multiverse. First was the Superman of Earth-D, a world similar to the main DC universe, Earth-One, but where the heroes were more ethnically diverse. The second was the extravagantly Afroed Sunshine Superman of Dreamworld, a psychedelic/hippie flavored universe. Neither was a major character.

Post-Flashpoint, there have been two black Supermen, both of which are moderately significant recurring characters. Kalel of Earth-23 actually first appeared in Final Crisis, but starred in a story arc in post-Flashpoint Action Comics, and in the Multiversity miniseries. As Calvin Ellis, he also serves as the President of the United States. Most of the major superheroes of Earth-23 are black, and Kalel is confirmed to have been born on Vathlo Island. Unlike WADSM Kal-El, Earth-23 Kalel does not appear to have faced notable difficulties due to his color while growing up. He was raised by the loving Ellis family, about whom I was unable to find any information. With a Superman based on Barack Obama, and a Wonder Woman based on Beyoncé, Earth-23 reflects the way modern America would like to see itself, a liberal, postracial society where our black heroes absolve us of any responsibility for our structural racism.

President Calvin Ellis, the Superman of Earth-23

The second Superman of post-Flashpoint Earth-2, Val-Zod, is in some ways more interesting. A childhood friend of Kara Zor-El (Power Girl), Val-Zod was raised mainly by the systems of his space capsule, and upon arriving on Earth-2 as a young adult, was kept in seclusion with limited access to sunlight by Terry Sloan (of Earth-3, it’s complicated). Based on his belief that violence is the stupidest solution to any problem, Val-Zod is a pacifist. He will rescue people from danger, and put his near-invulnerable body in harm’s way for others, he will not use force against any sentient being. This is a very significant deviation from the norm in superhero comics, where most problems are solved by punching them in the face, and especially so given that he has taken up the mantle of Superman. In contrast to the previous black Supermen, who are not political in any sense except inasmuch as their blackness in mainstream media is inherently political, Val-Zod is both black and explicitly political. However, it’s not clear how Val-Zod’s blackness relates to his politics. His upbringing was not racialized in the way that WADSM Superman’s was, being mostly isolated from humans and their prejudices. If anything, his philosophy appears to be shaped by his alienness, rather than his blackness, something that is explicitly rejected in WADSM.

So while a black Superman is not new, a Superman who is significantly shaped by his blackness is. This is, in my opinion, the main and significant contribution of What a Difference a Shade Makes, and one that could not, at this time, be made in a work oficially released by DC Comics. After the election of Barack Obama, and before Ferguson, the story of Super-President Calvin Ellis was a tellable story. It didn’t threaten the social order (i.e., white supremacist capitalist patriarchy), because it presents the liberal picture of an assimilated black hero who can work within the system, and, indeed, administer it. It is interesting to note the congruence between Obama’s “Hope” campaign slogan and the interpretation of the crest of the House of El as meaning “Hope”.[^fn2]

“What a Difference a Shade Makes” deconstructs this story, pointing out the shortcomings of even well-meaning whites, and explicitly making the point that even a non-human alien that “fits the description” will be coded as black by the system of white supremacy.[^fn3] Kal-El is shaped by his trials and upbringing, but also by his character, which is substantially the same as the Superman we all know. This is the way in which WADSM most strongly resembles Superman: Red Son; regardless of where his path leads him, Superman is a hero.

Ultimately, “What a Difference a Shade Makes” succeeds as a Superman story and as a challenge to white supremacy, clearly distinguishing itself from its canon forebears through its radicalism and its cultural realism. Whether it will be successful as a political action ultimately depends on its readers.

[^fn2]: The 2015 Supergirl TV series describes the crest of El as meaning “Stronger Together”, which has apparently been picked up as a campaign slogan by Hillary Clinton. The first time as tragedy, the second as farce.

[^fn3]: I’m reminded at this point of the awkwardness of language in the media and fan-media regarding Tuvok, the black Vulcan Starfleet Officer on Star Trek: Voyager. He was frequently referred to as “African-American”, despite the character not being American, not being of African descent, nor, indeed, being Human.

[ Posted: 23:08] | [ Category: comics] | Permalink | Comments: ]

Sat, 02 Aug 2014

Mobile Emacs with MessegeEase

A while ago, there was a video posted of a mockup of Emacs for the iPhone. This got a lot of positive attention, even though the proposed interface was not really all that good. It was essentially graffiti with gestures for modifier keys. Many people pointed out that it was already possible to run emacs on an Android device with a full keyboard, such as Hacker’s Keyboard, which is what I’ve been doing for some time.

The downside of that approach is that it’s not very comfortable or effective to type on a mobile device with a full layout QWERTY keyboard, especially with no auto-completion available in the terminal app. I found myself switching back and forth to an input buffer with SwiftKey and completion for writing text, and Hacker’s Keyboard for editing. This was not a unified solution.

Lately, I have been using a more “mobile-first” method. MessageEase is a non-QWERTY keyboard for Android that is a surprisingly good fit for Emacs. The basic input method is a grid of common letters that are entered by tapping, and less frequent letters around them that are entered by sliding. The smaller space taken up by this layout reduces finger travel. The learning curve is steep, comparable to learning to touch-type on a new keyboard layout, if not to learning to touch-type in the first place.

The reason I find MessageEase to be a good fit for Emacs is that it is fast enough to type without auto-completion, and it allows you to type a full set of characters including modifiers and directional keys with simple gestures. For example, C-x C-s is up-right from space, down-left from i, up-right from space, s. Which sounds a little complex, but quickly becomes second nature. The important bit is that typing Emacs keybindings feels the same as any other typing on this keyboard.

As to speed. Some people have achieved remarkable speeds with MessageEase, comparable to a full-size physical keyboard. I am not one of those. Right now, I’m just fast enough that I don’t feel the sting of not having auto-completion in the terminal, and I don’t feel the need to switch keyboards for different purposes.

One downside other than the steep learning curve: compatibility of the modifier keys with various apps. Control and Escape work fine in ConnectBot, but Alt doesn’t, which is not entirely unexpected. But neither Control nor Alt work in bVNC, which is disappointing.

To sum up, though MessageEase has its drawbacks, I haven’t found any other input method that works as well for Emacs on mobile. I recommend that you try it out, but be prepared to put in the hours to learn to use it effectively.

[ Posted: 13:52] | [ Category: computing/emacs] | Permalink | Comments: ]

Mon, 25 Mar 2013

Permaculture in Columbia, SC

My good friend and neighbor Matthew Kip has just put up* a new website on permaculture, a kind of applied ecology that uses naturally occurring vegetation patterns to produce a sustainable crop yield whie minimizing waste, labor, and energy input.

He will be teaching classes on permaculture, and hosting wild edible plant walks. You can register for classes and workshops on his website, and see lots of great pictures of Matt and Emily’s garden, which willl give you some kind of feel for what they’re doing. At our house, we’re not really exactly doing permacuture, but Matt and Emily have really motivated us to incorporate some permaculture principles in our garden, such as an emphasis on perennial species.

If you’re in Columbia, SC, and you’re interested in permaculture, organic gardening, or just reducing your yard and garden workload, you should give the site a visit. It’s pretty bare-bones right now, but there’s enough to get started with.

* Web work actually done by Emily McCravy, the person behind fox and grapes hand silk screened organic apparel.

[ Posted: 12:00] | [ Category: local] | Permalink | Comments: ]

Thu, 08 Nov 2012

Penne with Radicchio and Goat Cheese

This recipe originally comes from NoTakeout.com. I’d normally just post a link to it with commentary, but their site appears to be very, very dead, so I am taking the liberty of reposting it here.

Served with a crisp winter salad Serves 4

Prep time: 10 minutes Total time: 30 minutes

Shopping List

Pantry Items



Wine: Chianti

Dessert: Frozen yogurt

Game Plan:

When you walk in the door

Fill the pasta pot 2/3 with water, add 2 tbsps. salt and put over high heat

Preheat the oven to 350F

Get out Pantry Items

Get out Tools

Assemble the ingredients

Open the wine and pour yourself a glass


Peel and finely chop the onion.

Trim off outer leaves from the radicchio and chop into small (1/2-inch) pieces.

Rinse and pat dry the parsley. Pluck 1 1/2 cups leaves.

Strip 1 tbsp. leaves from the rosemary.

Peel and dice 1 clove garlic.

Put the walnuts on the sheet pan and in the oven to toast. They’ll take 7-8 minutes.

Start Cooking

Heat 2 tbsps. olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, and cook, stirring often until it is softened, about 7 minutes.

Remove the walnuts from the oven.

Mince the parsley and the rosemary together.

Add the radicchio to the onions, stir and cook until it has softened, about 5 minutes.

Stir in 2 tbsps. balsamic vinegar and the parsley and rosemary mixture.

Season to taste with salt and pepper and transfer to a bowl large enough for the pasta.

Break up the goat cheese into the bowl and mix it lightly into the radicchio mixture.

Put the pasta in the boiling water, stir and cook until it is al dente, 7-12 minutes.

While the pasta is cooking, trim the endive (remove the stem end and any leaves that are blemished.)

Cut the endive into 1/2-inch thick rounds.

Squeeze 1 tbsp. lemon juice into a bowl. Whisk in the garlic and a pinch of salt and pepper.

Whisk in 1/4 cup oil, then add the endives and toss. Taste for seasoning and adjust.

Check the pasta. If it is al dente, drain it, reserving some cooking liquid.

Add the pasta to the radicchio and goat cheese and toss, toss, toss. If the pasta is dry, add cooking water 1 tbsp. at a time until it is the texture you like. Taste for seasoning.

Coarsely chop the walnuts and sprinkle them over the endive salad. Take it and the pasta to the table. Don’t forget the wine!

[ Posted: 12:52] | [ Category: hobbies] | Permalink | Comments: ]

Thu, 19 Jul 2012

Running Emacs on an Android tablet

One of the things I’ve always wanted in a portable computer is the ability to run Emacs. The main reason is that since 2005 or so, my whole life has been run in org-mode, and, slightly before that, in howm. So, of course, when I got a low-end Android tablet, an Archos 70, of course, I…didn’t install Emacs on it. As EmacsWiki implies, there’s no perfectly obvious way to do so. And, there’s MobileOrg-Android. When I first got my tablet, MobileOrg-Android was pretty bad. But it got better. Today, it’s got a great user interface, syncing is fast and generally reliable, and there’s an active core group of developers who are constantly adding features and contributing back to org-mode itself.

But…after quite a bit of trying, I still haven’t made the MobileOrg workflow work for me. I keep my org files in a Mercurial repository on my home machine, and carry a clone with me. I run org-mobile-push and org-mobile-pull from the home repository, which requires it to be up to date, which usually can be done without manual intervention, but not always. And both pushing and pulling can make changes, which have to be committed. And you really have to sync on the mobile device twice: once before you push/pull, and once after, if you want the desired effect of pushing all your changes and captures to the repository, and having them all reflected on your device. The MobileOrg workflow is based on the idea that your mobile device doesn’t have the horsepower to compute agendas on the fly. But is that true these days? I’ll return to that issue later.

After seeing that some people had successfully run an Ubuntu user environment in a chrooted loopback filesystem on a similar tablet, I decided to try to get my Emacs that way. It didn’t exactly work out right a way, and it took me quite a while to make time for the yak-shaving involved. Finally, I did, but with my preferred GNU/Linux distribution, Fedora.

Overview (the short version, aka tl;dr)

My sdcard is formatted ext3, and has the Fedora 13 rootfs unpacked into it. From a root prompt in ConnectBot, I bind-mount some required special filesystems under Fedora’s root, then chroot into it, and start sshd. Then I can ssh into localhost with ConnectBot and run Emacs (and other things).

Longer version

Don’t take this as a step-by-step instruction guide. What works and doesn’t work on my device is likely to be quite different from what works and doesn’t work on yours (unless yours is an Archos Gen8). This is really more to give you an idea of the kind of yak-shaving involved in getting this working.

First I rooted my tablet. I would have done this even if I weren’t planning on running Emacs. For reference, the tablet is an Archos 70, running the latest version of the stock (Froyo) firmware, with a rooted initramfs.

Then, I tried installing the Ubuntu loopback images mentioned above. This didn’t work for me, because the stock Archos kernel doesn’t include the loop device, and for some reason, even when I built custom kernels with the loop device enabled, I couldn’t get it to work.

Fortunately, my device has a microSD card slot, which is above and beyond the internal storage that the Archos firmware treats as an sdcard for the purposes of App2SD and so forth. I formatted a card as ext3, and tried to unpack the Ubuntu image onto it. This should have worked, but for some reason, my tablet didn’t like having so much data pushed onto it over USB, and I lost the enthusiasm I needed to work on it.

Later, I unpacked the Fedora 14 ARM root filesystem more successfully, and tried chrooting into it, only to find that my kernel was too old for the version of glibc in Fedora 14. This also tragically sapped my motivation, causing me to stop working on it again for a while.

When I got another round tuit, I started with the Fedora 13 ARM root filesystem, and it worked pretty straightforwardly. This is what I did:

# umount /mnt/storage/sdcard
# mount -o noatime,nodiratime /dev/block/mmcblk2p1 /mnt/storage/sdcard

The sdcard is mounted with the options nodev,noexec,fmode=0666, and several other options that would make running it as the root filesystem of a normal linux slightly inconvenient. Some of the other parameters could be reset with mount -o remount,blah,noblah, but there doesn’t seem to be a way to do that for fmode and dmode, so unmount and remount it is.

# cd /mnt/storage/sdcard/fedora
# mount –bind /dev dev
# mount –bind /dev/pts dev/pts
# mount –bind /proc proc
# mount –bind /sys sys

Now mount the various special filesystems that Fedora is going to need, that are provided by the kernel.

# chroot . /bin/bash -
# service sshd start

Now chroot into the Fedora environment, and start sshd. I’ve omitted some other stuff, like setting a (new?) password on the root account, and so forth. Technically, even starting sshd isn’t necessary. You can just chroot into Fedora and run what you want to. Having sshd running makes it easier to reconnect to the Fedora environment without having to go through the process of cd’ing and chrooting to the Fedora directory.

From here on out, it’s just installing stuff with yum. I’ve tried to avoid installing anything except what I particularly need.

# yum install -y emacs-nox git mercurial aspell aspell-en \
  diffutils patch man screen

What works

What doesn’t work well


I haven’t tried the next logical step, which would be to install Xvnc and its dependencies, and to run a local X session, to be displayed in an Android VNC client. I may not do so, because it looks like the keyboard situation in the main free Android VNC clients is not much better (if at all) than in the terminal, in terms of having the full set of keysyms available. And it is worse, in that in ConnectBot, Emacs’s screen gets resized to accommodate the soft keyboard, whereas in VNC, the soft keyboard sits on top of part of the display area, which is not resized.

On the whole I’m happy with this experiment. I don’t think it will replace my use of Jota for note taking, because of the text auto-completion and auto-correction issue. I’m not sure whether it will completely replace MobileOrg for me. I’m enjoying finding out.

[ Posted: 21:50] | [ Category: computing/emacs] | Permalink | Comments: ]

Mon, 18 Apr 2011

Instapaper client for Emacs

I’m a serious user of Instapaper, a web site that describes itself as “a simple tool to save web pages for reading later”. It’s rather more than that, though: it will also reformat pages for distraction-free reading, much like the now-defunct Readability bookmarklet, it works as a social bookmarking service (though I don’t really use this functionality), and it will bundle your pending reads into an ePub or Mobipocket ebooklet. There is an official freedom-hating iOS app, and several unofficial Android apps; the one I use is iPaper, which is still a little freedom-hating, but provides offline reading, which just using the website doesn’t, barring a strict ePub export/sync routine or some futzing around with wwwoffle or similar.

I use Instapaper to push articles that would otherwise cut into my productive time into my less productive time: adding them from my browser, syncing with iPaper once or twice a day, and reading mostly in the evenings. For saving articles, I mostly use the Firefox add-on Instaright, which is handy because I can add links without following them. Most of the articles I save for later come from Google Reader, which I use mainly from Firefox, so that works well. What didn’t work so well was my other main source of linkspam: identi.ca. I use identica-mode for my microblogging needs, so saving a link from identi.ca means a trip from emacs -> follow link to dent or site in Firefox -> Instaright. Obviously this is far too much opportunity to be tempted to read the article now rather than later, so I wrote an Instapaper client for Emacs.

The code is on bitbucket, and the instructions for using it are in the source header. It should be fairly self-explanatory. It saves URLs to your Instapaper account, and can get them either manually, by url-at-point, or, if you have w3m installed, from the current w3m page’s URL or selected link. It doesn’t provide any services for reading from Instapaper (offline or otherwise), and because of the terms of service on the official API and my lack of desire to do screen-scraping in Emacs Lisp, I don’t plan on adding any. A combination of w3m and wwwoffle or polipo is probably your best bet if you need to read Instapaper in Emacs.

Edited to add: Naturally, when I released this, it contained a significant bug, to whit: due to changes in url.el, it only worked in Emacs 24. This has been fixed, though if you byte-compile it under Emacs <= 23, you will get a compile warning.

[ Posted: 17:00] | [ Category: computing/emacs] | Permalink | Comments: ]

Tue, 04 Jan 2011

Todochiku notifications in identica-mode

Just a quick response to Gabriel Saldaña’s recent post on identica-mode notifications: the code for using todochiku for identica-mode notifications is as follows:

(add-hook 'identica-new-dents-hook
  (lambda nil
    (let ((n identica-new-dents-count))
      (todochiku-message "Emacs Identica-mode New dents"
                         (format "You have %d new dent%s." n (if (> n 1) "s" ""))
                         (todochiku-icon 'social)))))

The advantage of using todochiku here is that you can let it handle talking to different notification systems (KDE vs. Gnome vs.Growl on MacOS vs Snarl on MS Windows), and have the same configuration everywhere.

[ Posted: 12:00] | [ Category: computing] | Permalink | Comments: ]

Wed, 07 Apr 2010

iw8 ridiculousness

OHAI. This has been sitting in my Commonplace Book since mid-Februrary waiting for me to publish it. Now I have enough of a morning routine that I may be able to do a few computer things before work again once in a while, so this is getting spit out.

So, I got an invitation to a group on Facebook called iw8. The invitation comes from an elementary school friend and high school acquaintance who has joined some kind of cult of evangelical WASPs who for some reason believe they are Jewish. The group itself seems to be dedicated to teaching youth to wait until marriage to have sex.

This is so insane that I lack the vocabulary to describe it. I’m not going to go into the details of why abstinence-only sex education doesn’t work. Instead, I want to talk about the basic social context of chastity-before-marriage.

In a society where the median age at first marriage is 14-16, like in most peasant agricultural societies, abstinence until marriage is no problem, almost a no-brainer. It’s a cultural norm that hardly even needs to be enforced in order to be effective.

In a society where the median age at first marriage is more like 18-22, like in post-WWII America, abstinence before marriage is still ideologically tenable, but is starting to bump up against biological realities, so that you can expect to see widespread hypocrisy and double standards emerging. In the US, this mostly took the form of most of the boys having premarital sex with a few “bad girls” and then going on to marry the “good girls.” Exactly how well this worked is depicted in the film Splendor in the Grass.

But when the mean age at first marriage is well over 25, and pushing towards 30, it is full-on, reality-denying, flat-earth, batshit, bugfuck insane to expect people to wait for marriage before they have sex. Indeed, it’s almost impossible to construe a literal meaning from iw8’s message. Do they mean that you should wait until you’re 26 to have sex? Or that you should marry at 18? The first is simply ridiculous to expect of anyone who’s not axsexual and does not have a calling to a celibate religious order. The second is incompatible with a society in which both men and women look to an extended period of higher education as the basis of economic opportunity. Teenagers are not stupid, and they have a lower tolerance for hypocrisy than adults. If you give them an abstinence-only message, they will correctly deduce that you are either an idiot or a hypocrite, and will tune out everything you have to say.

Sex education is essential to preventing unwanted pregnancy, and the transmission of STDs. And sex education has to be premised on the fact that teens are going to have sex. We must teach young people the facts, with a focus on safety, responsibility, and communication. The two goals have to be preventing young people’s first sexual experiences from having damaging consequences, and building a strong foundation for their later, mature sexual relationships. An abstinence-only approach doesn’t help achieve either of those goals.

[ Posted: 07:00] | [ Category: politics] | Permalink | Comments: ]

bbcode-mode.el: a simple emacs mode for editing bbcode

A couple of years ago, I looked for a bbcode mode for Emacs, and, not finding one, wrote a very simple derived-mode for it. For some reason, syntax highlighting only worked intermittently, which I didn’t have time to put too much effort into trying to fix, and so I didn’t actually release the code for public consumption. Recently, though, I saw on Planet Emacsen an explanation for why it wasn’t working; I’ve tried to find that post to link to it and credit the author, but unfortunately, I can’t.

Anyway, having fixed the font-locking issue, I’ve released bbcode-mode.el at bitbucket. In the process of releasing it, I searched for other bbcode modes to make sure I wasn’t taking a name that was in use. It turns out that in the meantime while I wasn’t releasing my bbcode mode, Xah Lee released another, xbbcode-mode. The two modes are rather different in design, so depending on your tastes, you might reasonably prefer either one or the other.

A side note: I wish bitbucket supported org-mode README files like github does.

[ Posted: 06:43] | [ Category: computing] | Permalink | Comments: ]

Sun, 29 Nov 2009

Fedora 12 upgrade

So, I upgraded from Fedora 10 to Fedora 12 over Thanksgiving weekend. I had skipped the Fedora 11 upgrade because of a bug in either preupgrade or the F11 install images used by preupgrade. By the time I got a round tuit to try upgrading to F11 again, F12 was a week from being out, so I just waited, then used the F12 preupgrade. It went very quickly, and fairly smoothly. These are the problems the upgrade caused me, sorted into fixed and not-yet-fixed.

Problems fixed:

Not fixed yet


Fedora 12 seems nicely put together, and the upgrade was, though not the smoothest, smoother than many others I’ve gone through in the past.

[ Posted: 10:00] | [ Category: computing] | Permalink | Comments: ]

Mon, 16 Nov 2009

Linkspam for the week of November 9–15

Manliness: The Baby and the Bathwater | The Art of Manliness

As probably the only person who enjoys both “The Art of Manliness” and “I Blame The Patriarchy”, I’d like to point out that this article sums up why that’s possible.

Source: 2009-11-10 Tue, Manliness: The Baby and the Bathwater | The Art of Manliness

Why You Should Never Talk to the Police : Law is Cool

Source: 2009-11-10 Tue, Why You Should Never Talk to the Police : Law is Cool

[ Posted: 07:00] | [ Category: web] | Permalink | Comments: ]

Sat, 07 Nov 2009

Links for this week

[ Posted: 18:10] | [ Category: web] | Permalink | Comments: ]

Tue, 27 Oct 2009

Lunchtime Linkspam

DeMint, Maddow and Honduras: Don’t Dare Call It Treason

Maddow prefaced her remarks with a long homily on how badly the U.S. government hated military coups, because they ran counter to everything the U.S. government stands for, were so abhorrent to American values that the U.S. government cut off all ties to such repugnant pariah regimes, and blah blah woof woof.

This is amazingly stupid…

Source: 2009-10-06 Tue, DeMint, Maddow and Honduras: Don’t Dare Call It Treason

FBI Investigated Coder for Liberating Paywalled Court Records | Threat Level | Wired.com

the feds mounted a serious investigation of Swartz for helping put public documents onto the public web.

The crime of making public documents public…

Source: 2009-10-06 Tue, FBI Investigated Coder for Liberating Paywalled Court Records | Threat Level | Wired.com

The First Counter-revolutionary

This is really a brilliant article, in that it does a very clear job of explaining Hobbes’s conception of liberty, and how that conception of liberty is still held by modern libertarians (and many modern liberals) and opposed by modern radicals. It really gets to two issues that had been previously puzzling me:

  1. Why some libertarians appear to prefer monarchy to democracy (see Democracy: The God That Failed for the canonical example)
  2. Why I can’t get along with agorists.

Agorists are basically a split of the anarcho-capitalist tendency who maintain most of that tendency’s theory, but have a leftist cultural identification (that is, they identify or attempt to identify with the working class) rather than the rightist (owning-class) identification of mainstream anarcho-capitalists, and a robust critique of actually-existing corporatist capitalism. I’d like to see them as allies. But they always rub me the wrong way, I think this is pretty much the reason: agorists have a Hobbesian conception of liberty that is at odds with my own radical-democratic ideals.

Source: 2009-10-07 Wed, The First Counter-revolutionary

Some Libertarian Socialist Fragments « Bowers of Paradise (Life After Authority)

A good explanation of what’s wrong with the homesteading theory of property.

Source: 2009-10-07 Wed, Some Libertarian Socialist Fragments « Bowers of Paradise (Life After Authority)

Ra’s Al Ghulah - Libya

Huh, how about that?

Source: 2009-10-09 Fri, Ra’s Al Ghulah - Libya

Cameron could well be the last ever UK prime minister | Jackie Ashley | Comment is free | The Guardian

Source: 2009-10-09 Fri, Cameron could well be the last ever UK prime minister | Jackie Ashley | Comment is free | The Guardian

Charlie’s Diary: Politics

Re: Scotland leaving the UK

Source: 2009-10-10 Sat, Charlie’s Diary: Politics

LENIN’S TOMB: The pitfalls of tolerance

A discussion of “tolerance” as it exists as a tool of colonialism or of dominance.

Source: 2009-10-13 Tue, LENIN’S TOMB: The pitfalls of tolerance

The Alexandrian - Misc Creations

Dissociated mechanics

Source: 2009-10-13 Tue, The Alexandrian - Misc Creations

A Little Help From Your Friends: How Common Security Clubs Can Mend Our Social Fabric | Corporate Accountability and WorkPlace | AlterNet

Source: 2009-10-14 Wed, A Little Help From Your Friends: How Common Security Clubs Can Mend Our Social Fabric | Corporate Accountability and WorkPlace | AlterNet

Meet the New Healthcare Boss

How liberal tinkering with the payment system doesn’t solve the basic factors that make health care unaffordable.

Source: 2009-10-15 Thu, Meet the New Healthcare Boss

Wired 11.09: PowerPoint Is Evil

An oldie, but a goodie.

Source: 2009-10-19 Mon, Wired 11.09: PowerPoint Is Evil

Worldchanging: Bright Green: Tragedy of the Commons, R.I.P.

Over many decades Ostrom has documented how various communities manage common resources – grazing lands, forests, irrigation waters, fisheries— equitably and sustainably over the long term. The Nobel Committee’s recognition of her work effectively debunks popular theories about the Tragedy of the Commons, which hold that private property is the only effective method to prevent finite resources from being ruined or depleted.

Source: 2009-10-19 Mon, Worldchanging: Bright Green: Tragedy of the Commons, R.I.P.

Schneier on Security: The Commercial Speech Arms Race

Source: 2009-10-19 Mon, Schneier on Security: The Commercial Speech Arms Race

The 5 Most Popular Safety Laws (That Don’t Work) | Cracked.com

Via Free Range Kids.

Source: 2009-10-23 Fri, The 5 Most Popular Safety Laws (That Don’t Work) | Cracked.com

Worldchanging: Bright Green: Transition Towns or Bright Green Cities?

I basically agree with the argument here, except for the negativity about the transition movement. The problem is that a bright green future is ideal, but the chance that we will fail to bring one about is significant. I don’t begrudge anyone trying to achieve a “soft landing” on the (hopefully false!) assumption that a crash is the only alternative.

Source: 2009-10-27 Tue, Worldchanging: Bright Green: Transition Towns or Bright Green Cities?

[ Posted: 12:00] | [ Category: web] | Permalink | Comments: ]

Mon, 05 Oct 2009

A Fist Full of Links

The quagmire of masculinity

“But there is, of course, a way out. It’s called feminism. It offers men a way to understand the nature of this toxic conception of who we are.

Feminism is a gift to men, if we are smart enough to accept it.”

Source: 2009-09-25 Fri, The quagmire of masculinity

Language Log » Moving low-hanging fruit forward at the end of the day

“Going forward” is my particular bête noire. As commentator Nathan Myers says ‘it is meant as a sort of prayer, suggesting ‘please let everyone here forget all that has gone before’. I find this particularly true of political use of the phrase, and not surprisingly, it is a particular favorite of the Obama administration.

Source: 2009-09-28 Mon, Language Log » Moving low-hanging fruit forward at the end of the day

Why I don’t contribute to Wikipedia anymore - Where is Ploum ?

The actual problem with Wikipedia is how desperate its editors are for (academic) credibility — to the extent that they are willing to destroy any unique value it might once have had in pursuit of (academic) credibility. But the sad thing is that they will never convince their critics, and in the mean time are alienating their would-be supporters.

Source: 2009-09-28 Mon, Why I don’t contribute to Wikipedia anymore - Where is Ploum ?

LENIN’S TOMB: G20 Protests

One of the better comments I’ve seen about the repression of the G20 protesters points out that when the ‘Teabaggers’ inspired by Glenn Beck turned out to protest over healthcare reform, they could bring a gun and cite the second amendment, without being harrassed. G20 protesters get beaten up and exposed to top notch military technology if they just cite the first amendment.

Source: 2009-09-28 Mon, LENIN’S TOMB: G20 Protests

Senate Dems against public option come from states with near-monopoly insurance markets

Source: 2009-09-30 Wed, ISS - Senate Dems against public option come from states with near-monopoly insurance markets

Groklaw - On Mono, Miguel, Stallman and Fusion with Microsoft

The best article currently available on the subject. Lays out full evidence for Miguel de Icaza’s perspective and why it is incompatible with the Free Software movement.

Source: 2009-09-30 Wed, Groklaw - On Mono, Miguel, Stallman and Fusion with Microsoft

Memes strike back: Gerbils, gay blood elves, and Glenn Beck - Ars Technica

How many legal documents have you seen that throw circumspection to the four winds and tell a WIPO arbiter that “only an abject imbecile could believe that the domain name would have any connection to the Complainant.” And that’s before the “HOMOSEXUAL BLOOD ELF” even makes an appearance.

This is quite possibly the best legal brief ever.

In other news, Rick Santorum is be “dipping his toes” in the 2012 Iowa “waters”. Ew.

Source: 2009-09-30 Wed, Memes strike back: Gerbils, gay blood elves, and Glenn Beck - Ars Technica

Commentator who called for coup against Obama worked in Johnson, Carter administrations

This is basically blawg drama, and thus, SERIOUS BUSINESS, but it’s interesting in what it says about the right-wing mind (such as it is). Hasn’t been reported in the MSM, but possibly only because it’s blawg drama.

Source: 2009-09-30 Wed, ISS - Commentator who called for coup against Obama worked in Johnson, Carter administrations

Bluetile - a modern tiling window manager with a gentle learning curve

I like the idea of a project that tries to bridge the gap between traditional window managers and modern tiling window managers.

Source: 2009-10-01 Thu, Bluetile - a modern tiling window manager with a gentle learning curve

LENIN’S TOMB: Victory for neoliberalism in Ireland

Source: 2009-10-04 Sun, LENIN’S TOMB: Victory for neoliberalism in Ireland

Woman’s Shattered Life Shows Ground Beef Inspection Flaws - NYTimes.com

Many big slaughterhouses will sell only to grinders who agree not to test their shipments for E. coli, according to officials at two large grinding companies.


Source: 2009-10-05 Mon, Woman’s Shattered Life Shows Ground Beef Inspection Flaws - NYTimes.com

‘I’m not sure “bimbo” is the best translation’

The Conservapedia crew are busy rewriting retranslating the Bible to cleanse it of liberal bias. (Via.) Their talk page for the Gospel According to Mark is a record of stupidity and blundering that some day they are going to wish had never been there. They’ve had particular trouble updating the name of the Third Person of the Trinity (‘ghost is misconstrued as spectre or phantasm, rather than spirit (interestingly, they’re the same word in German, geist, from which I imagine we get the wording’, is one scholarly contribution) and after considering ‘Holy Force’ and ‘Divine Force’ have settled (for now) on ‘Divine Guide’. Which just makes the Third Person sound like some wandering swami.

Source: 2009-10-05 Mon, The Early Days of a Better Nation

[ Posted: 07:00] | [ Category: web] | Permalink | Comments: ]

Fri, 25 Sep 2009

Linkspam of the Ages

  • Charlie’s Diary: The future, Indian-style

    India is going forward with producing (and exporting) Thorium-fuel-cycle fission reactors. Compared to Uranium-fuel-cycle reactors, the Thorium fuel cycle:

    offers several potential advantages over a uranium fuel cycle, including greater resource abundance, superior physical and nuclear properties of fuel, enhanced proliferation resistance, and reduced plutonium and actinide production.

    The criticism by commentator heteromeles is relevant, of course.

    Source: 2009-09-22 Tue, Charlie’s Diary: The future, Indian-style

  • Singularity Salon: Putting the Human Back in the Post-Human Condition - NYC Future Salon (New York, NY) - Meetup.com

    From Jamais Cascio:

    With their unwavering focus on computing power and digital technology, leading Singularity proponents increasingly define the future in language devoid of politics and culture—thereby missing two of the factors most likely to shape the possibility the direction of any technology-driven intelligence explosion. Even if the final result is a “post-human” era, leaving out human elements when describing what leads up to a Singularity isn’t just mistaken, it’s potentially quite dangerous. It’s time to set aside algorithms and avatars, and talk about the truly important issues surrounding the possibility of a Singularity: political power, social responsibility, and the role of human agency.

    Source: 2009-09-23 Wed, Singularity Salon: Putting the Human Back in the Post-Human Condition - NYC Future Salon (New York, NY) - Meetup.com

  • Claudia Hart: A Child’s Machiavelli

    A Child’s Machiavelli began as a series of paintings, imaginary pages from what I envisioned as a first-grade primer instructing the uninitiated on how to seize and hold power.

    Source: 2009-09-23 Wed, Claudia Hart

  • Orson Scott Card, meet Alan Turing at Feminist SF – The Blog!

    Geek Feminism Blog writes:

    Yonmei over at Feminist SF writes a heartbreaking post about Alan Turing (who was convicted of gross indecency for homosexual acts) and Orson Scott Card (who supports such criminalisation).

    Source: 2009-09-23 Wed, Orson Scott Card, meet Alan Turing at Feminist SF – The Blog!

  • New York Post Special Climate Edition

    A “special edition” of the New York Post cooked up by the Yes Men.

    Source: 2009-09-24 Thu, New York Post

  • Scanning Dead Salmon in fMRI Machine Highlights Risk of Red Herrings | Wired Science | Wired.com

    “And if I were a ridiculous researcher, I’d say, ‘A dead salmon perceiving humans can tell their emotional state.’”

    Source: 2009-09-24 Thu, Scanning Dead Salmon in fMRI Machine Highlights Risk of Red Herrings | Wired Science | Wired.com

  • Operation Northwoods and the 9/11 Truthers

    It’s one thing to believe, as I and the author of this article do, that the 9/11 Truthers have not made their case, and that the “blowback” hypothesis is much more likely. It’s quite another to believe them crazy because “it is simply inconceivable that federal officials would ever do such a dastardly thing.”

    Source: 2009-09-24 Thu, Operation Northwoods and the 9/11 Truthers

[ Posted: 07:00] | [ Category: web] | Permalink | Comments: ]

Mon, 21 Sep 2009

Everyone Loves Link Spam

Everyone loves link spam, and I’ve been neither posting links here, nor sharing them on FaceBook, so here is a quick update of links, brought to you by org-protocol

[ Posted: 06:30] | [ Category: web] | Permalink | Comments: ]

Thu, 02 Jul 2009

Getting html articles in Gnus to obey browse-url-browser-function

I use Gnus for email, and frequently get emails with an html part. In some cases, I even want to receive emails with an html part, as with RSS feeds that have been translated to Gnus groups via rss2email, in which I sometimes want to see images inline so I don’t have to click through to the original article. Like most people viewing html emails in Gnus, I let emacs-w3m handle the translation of html to text. The problem with this is that then hitting return on a link will use w3m to follow the link, not the browser you have specified in browse-url-browser-function.

This little code snippet fixes that. I’m not sure it’s ideal in all ways. But it works for me currently.

(eval-after-load “w3m”
     (defun jfm/open-url-dwim (&optional url)
       (if (equal browse-url-browser-function ‘w3m-browse-url)
           (w3m-browse-url url)
         (if (equal (face-at-point) ‘w3m-anchor-face)
             (w3m-view-url-with-external-browser url)
           (browse-url url))))
     (define-key gnus-article-mode-map (kbd “<return>”) ‘jfm/open-url-dwim)))

[ Posted: 07:30] | [ Category: computing] | Permalink | Comments: ]

Thu, 18 Jun 2009

Random system beep sounds for Fancy beeper

Akkana Peck writes about her approach to using Fancy Beeper to provide random system beeps on a system with no built-in system beep. I’m thrilled to see that people are actually using Fancy Beeper in the wild and are building their own solutions around it.

[ Posted: 06:30] | [ Category: computing] | Permalink | Comments: ]

Wed, 17 Jun 2009

stockphoto on bitbucket

So, development of stockphoto, my Django-based photo gallery application has been languishing for a long time. Like, three years long. Like since Django 0.96 long. Mostly, that was kind of okay, because it is a tiny application, and it was working perfectly within its limited domain, until the release of Django 1.0. I had been wanting to fix it up before the Django 1.0 release, but never got a round tuit.

After my daughter was born, I needed to use it to show baby pictures to our family, so I had the motivation to at least fix stockphoto up to work with a current Django release. This is done; it mainly involved fixing up the model code, switching to forms from oldforms, fixing up the URLs, and fixing zipfile import to work with the new upload API. I have put the fixed code on bitbucket. If you pull from tip at that repository, or download a snapshot of tip from the downloads page, you will have a stockphoto package that works on Django 1.0.

This isn’t quite a release though; it needs a few cleanups before I can push out an 0.3 release:

  1. Update documentation
  2. Since there were some small model changes, I need to provide a way of migrating from 0.2.1. I am leaning towards South for providing this.
  3. Remove dead code

There won’t be any new features in stockphoto 0.3 except for non-browseable galleries (which is already in bitbucket, since I wanted it for my daughter’s site). I’m tentatively planning a 0.4 release that will have the features originally intended (since so many years ago) for 0.3, plus some suggested to me in email.

If you’re interested in using stockphoto, please follow it on bitbucket, and send me any patches you find useful.

[ Posted: 12:15] | [ Category: computing/django] | Permalink | Comments: ]

Sun, 14 Jun 2009

Why I haven’t been blogging

I haven’t blogged in a long time, mainly because I haven’t been in front of a computer very much for a while. I also haven’t wanted to write any political or technological posts before I wrote about the reason I haven’t been in front of a computer, my daughter Jubilee Fern McBrayer-Donath.

I announced her birth to friends and family by email, and set up a Django-based website for them to see her photos (password required; friends and family who got left off the email announcement, email me to get it). But other than that, I really didn’t get in front of a keyboard between her birth (April 9, 2009), and when I went back to work two months later (thanks to FMLA).

But anyway, she’s beautiful and strong, and I’m at a keyboard a bit more now, so the web-mediated part of my life is getting back on track, and a few articles should start to trickle out.

[ Posted: 12:10] | [ Category: personal] | Permalink | Comments: ]


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