Thursday, March 30, 2006

ebay fraud: do not buy Parma Endorion

Once again, eBay is allowing someone to run fraudulent sales listings for Parma Endorion: Essays on Middle-earth, 3rd Edition. Once again, I have reported the fraud to eBay. I fully expect them to reply with the usual, "We at eBay take your intellectual property rights seriously. Just fill out this unscrupulously long 4-page DMCA form and we'll investigate the listing" (as soon as they get around to it). The present listing expires in less than 4 days, and so far no one seems to have bid on it.

The real issue, however, is not that my (and Rich Sullivan's and Anke Eissmann's) intellectual property rights have been violated. The real issue is that the sales are fraudulent. The first time I reported such a sale to eBay, they replied by saying, "Well, anyone who buys an eBook has the right to resell it." True. The problem is, these thieves aren't buying the book. There is nowhere in the world where you can legally buy Parma Endorion. I haven't authorized anyone to sell copies, and my word has the force of law behind it.

eBay continually drags its feet and acts stupid whenever I report these fraudulent sales. Maybe they just haven't trained their operators correctly to read basic English. It doesn't seem to matter how much depth and detail I go into with respect to the fraudulent nature of the sales, the eBay responders always send a copy of their incredibly long and infuriating 4-page DMCA form.

I do not fill out DMCA forms. There are too many places on the Net where my material has been improperly used for me to be filling out DMCA forms. Most companies comply with my requests to have illegal materials removed from their sites within a reasonable time (usually within 24 hours). Even Google, who made me jump through some legal hoops, complied with my request to remove illegal material.

In my opinion, eBay are the biggest fraudulent crooks on the Internet. They know they'll get their money if they leave the listings online long enough. If they want to sue me for libel, let them show up in court with documents showing that they have made every reasonable effort to take down the fraudulent sales of Parma Endorion when notified. They have never acted on a notification to my knowledge.

Their continued insistence that I fill out a DMCA form in order to put a stop to fraudulent sales underscores just how much they are willing to tolerate obviously illegal activity.

Fraud is clearly defined in American legal literature:
All multifarious means which human ingenuity can devise, and which are resorted to by one individual to get an advantage over another by false suggestions or suppression of the truth. It includes all surprises, tricks, cunning or dissembling, and any unfair way which another is cheated.

Source: Black’s Law Dictionary, 5th ed., by Henry Campbell Black, West Publishing Co., St. Paul, Minnesota, 1979.

I am pretty sure that if eBay's corporate counsel is ever advised of these sales, they'll say, "The dude is right. These sellers are suppressing the truth" (that is, they fail to disclose to potential buyers that they have neither been authorized to sell copies of the book -- as no one has been so authorized -- nor have they paid for it). Furthermore, the failure to disclose the fact that the book is freely available for download is obviously intended to mislead people into believing that the eBook is available for sale and resale when in fact it is not.

If eBay wants to come after me for pointing out that they have been advised repeatedly that these sales are fraudulent, let them.

If eBay wants to come after me for pointing out that they have no legal basis on which to stand if they want to argue that they were unaware of these fraudulent sales, let them.

Until such time as eBay properly acknowledges that I have been reporting fraud and not simply violations of intellectual property rights, I will continue to share my opinion of them, that they are the biggest fraudulent crooks on the Internet. They are willing, knowing abettors in fraudulent activity.

Let them prove otherwise.

Better yet, let them put a stop to these fraudulent sales. It's not like they haven't been advised on several occasions over the past few years.

If you want a copy of Parma Endorion, download Parma Endorion for free.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Don't get me started...

I keep thinking that maybe I should share some political opinions here, and then I think, why? I'm sick to death of political opinionating. To believe all the ranting and raving, you have to accept that everyone involved in politics is a liar, a cheat, and a braggart, and I don't trust any of the liberal or conservative propagandists. Why should I? They don't talk about me, after all.

And then I think, maybe I should say something about the recent shootings and murders that have flooded our news headlines. But what can I say that hasn't been said by someone else? And if I try to write something light-hearted and uplifting about those events, I'll offend someone.

Of course, I offend some people just because I breathe, so some of you may think, "Hey, Michael, don't let that stop you."

About the most politically significant thing I have done in my life was move to Florida for a few months in 2004. I tell my friends (many of whom voted for the other loser in the election) that I moved there just long enough to help President Bush secure an uncontested block of electoral votes from the Sunshine State. I haven't heard from some of those friends in a while. Can't they take a joke?

Of course, I did write a letter to Time Magazine about our exit strategy (or lack of one) in Iraq at the end of last year. It's not that I agree with the decision to go into Iraq. It's that I disagree with the stupidity of leaving before the job is done. Can we do the job? Well, I suppose that depends on how many more stupid things we do while we're there. You'd think a few more people would have realized that letting certain religious groups use the police force to form death squads would not help calm things down.

So, there remains a lack of intelligence in Washington despite a change in regimes. About all we can hope for now is that Al Qaeda continues to get chased out of every Arab and Muslim country the way the Iraqis ran them out. Every time I hear about a new Al Qaeda tape or message promising more suicide bombers, I think of George C. Scott's monologue at the beginning of "Patton": "No soldier ever won a war by giving his life for his country. You win wars by making your enemy give his life for his country." Someone, perhaps my father, told me that every sentence or nearly every sentence in that monologue was actually uttered by Patton himself.

And crass though it may sound, Al Qaeda's bizarre strategy seems to be to make the American soldiers suffer by slaughtering as many innocent Iraqi children as they possibly can. About the only people more stupid than Al Qaeda's surviving strategists are our anti-war movement. I'm proud to say that Hispanic Americans got out in force and mounted a much larger protest against proposed anti-immigration legislation than people have shown support for the anti-war movement. We may want to leave Iraq as soon as possible, but we ain't quite yet got another case of the total national stupids.

Although if I were running the government, I'd be giving serious consideration to running some major television ads in Iraq which say, "Dear Insurgents: The sooner you stop killing Iraqi children, the sooner we can go home and leave you in peace. Then you can destroy each other for all we care." Can the message be made any more clear than that? I dunno. But maybe it's too late for common sense now. Still, one fact that the American government has failed to convey to the Muslim world is that when you attack Americans, you attack Muslims and Arabs, too. The blood of every nation on Earth runs in our veins. The creed of every faith is spoken here.

As for the immigration issue, yes, I was born in the United States and I don't speak very good Spanish. But my father is an immigrant, my mother's father was an immigrant, her maternal grandfather was an immigrant -- every generation going back to the 1800s in my family married an immigrant.

Maybe we should just pack up all the anti-immigration people and put them on the first boat back to Europe where their pure-blood families came from. We don't need their kind here. They're probably the people who sent all the tech jobs overseas to Asia anyway. Have you tried to call customer service for a company you do business with lately?

I've been to India. There are some very, very nice people there. And their poverty rate is extreme. I paid a guy 50 rupees (not very much money at all) to carry my suitcase 25 feet in an airport. I could have carried it myself. In fact, it had wheels on it. I was dragging it just fine. But he looked me in the eye and said with all the pride any man can muster, "I support my family by doing this for you. Is that so wrong?"

No. It's not wrong. And I didn't need the 50 rupees where I was going (home) anyway. On the other hand, India has so many people, they have as many (if not now more) college-educated and technically trained people as the United States. And they are very smart, very capable people.

Unlike Bill Gates who, instead of lobbying for programs to retrain thousands of American programmers who can no longer find jobs here because their industry segments have become obsolete, keeps asking the government to increase the number of work visas so he can bring more Indian programmers over here and train them to work for Microsoft. What, they don't ask for as many stock options as we do or something? Sheesh!

Well, anyway, like I said, don't get me started. I'm just not going to devote my precious blog space to these kinds of rants.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Living the good life on the big screen

Have I missed something, or has Hollywood failed to waste money on big screen remakes of classic shows like Green Acres and Petticoat Junction? And where is the Gunsmoke homage-flick? I couldn't care less whose mountain has a broken back. I want some quality schlock entertainment. Give me more "bullets didn't kill the beast; it was beauty killed the beast".

And while we're at it, how about a remake of, oh, Leave it to Beaver -- without Jerry Mathers? The Beav should now be a Hispanic barrio kid whose only refuge from the crewl world of older brother Tony's street gangs is a Hip Hop class taught by Jessica Alba (I'll watch Jessica hop in just about anything).

The Green Acres remake can be placed in east Texas, where the countryside is green and lush. But Mr. Haney should be Mr. Jaime. Mr. Douglas will come from Dallas, and Lisa will have to come from India. India is more relevant to American racial sensitivity today than Hungary. I'm not sure most American students can place Hungary on the map, but they all know where India is because that's where all the tech jobs seem to be going these days.

When Mr. Douglas needs to buy a new plow, Mr. Jaime can show up in his white pickup truck. "Jaime, I need a plow."

"What for, Mr. Douglas?"

"To plow my field with."

"Why would you want to do that?"

"Because I'm a farmer."

"Shoot, Mr. Douggie. You ain't no farmer. You're a big city lawyer come out to the country. Let me round up a few friends and we'll plow your field for you."

"I don't want you to plow my field for me. I want to do it myself."

"But you'll get your suit real dirty, Mr. Dee. How about I sell you some jeans?"

"You have jeans in your truck?"

"Oh, sure. I bought them for my cousin Orlando, but he won't need them for a while."

"Why won't he need them?"

"Because he's driving a semi down to El Paso and his girlfriend has loaned him her pants."

"He's wearing his girlfriend's pants?"

"They're big enough for both of them."

Douglas rolls his eyes.

"How much are the jeans?"

Jaime walks around to the back of the truck and pulls out a box. "Um, $500."

"$500 for a pair of jeans?"

"Oh, you're not buying a pair, Mr. Dee. You're buying a case."

"Why would I want to buy a case of jeans? What would I do with a case of jeans?"

"I dunno, Mr. Dee. They're your jeans. But that's still $500."

And it will go downhill from there as Oliver takes the case of jeans into the farmhouse and sees Lisa answering the telephone, "Hello. Customer service center. I'm sorry sir, I am speaking English. And I am in the United States. Well, that's not very nice. I don't think you want my service either. Good-bye!"

Of course, ethnic rights groups around the world will be up in arms. But a little controversy could sell quite a few tickets. So maybe Mr. Drucker should be a Native American running a casino with a dry goods store out back. Instead of playing checkers all the time, he'll always be cleaning up a jackpot from a slot machine. When Mr. Douglas isn't looking, Drucker will slip into the back and work on a science experiment that is sure to win him a Nobel prize.

"Mr. Drucker, I need to buy some groceries."

"Mr. Douglas, there is a grocery store right up the street."

"Where up the street?"

"About ten miles north of here."

"That's ten miles!"

"Well, have it your way. But it's right up the street."

"Just tell me what you have to sell this week. Got any chicken soup?"

"Sold out."

"What about bread."

"None of that, either."

"How can you call this a store if you don't have any food?"

"People keep buying it."

"I don't see how, since you never have any!"

"Well, they don't stand around yelling at me, Mr. Douglas. When they see I'm out of something, they just go up the street to the next store."

"Ten miles up the street."

"Saves time."

"But not gas."

"Well, I can sell you some of that."

"How much per gallon."


"$5? That's outrageous! I can get it for half that up the street."

"Say, while you're out, would you mind picking up some bread for me?"

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Beowulf and Tolkien

Last year someone on the Endor Mailing List suggested we discuss the poem "Beowulf". Feeling at a loss for more interesting topics (I have actually enjoyed the poem since I was in the 4th grade), I agreed it might spur some lengthy debates and discussion.

After many months of being too ill, too busy, too distracted, too whatever to start the project, I finally launched it late last Summer. I think by then people on the list had come to understand that when I say I'll do something, I take the Elven point of view. I have a few years to accomplish the most expeditious tasks.

We're up to Section XX of the poem, now. Beowulf has just jumped into the mere to find the lair of Grendel's mother and take revenge on her for taking revenge on Hrothgar's men for killing Grendel.

It's all so very sectarian, in a way. You have the humans on one side and the monsters on the other side, and they are just in a gleeful killing spree, each side knowing that its cause is just. Sound familiar? Yes, I immediately identified it with Homer's "Iliad", too.

I cannot imagine hearing the entire poem recited in one session. It is just way too long for even my Stoic patience. And I've been known to sit through four-hour movies without making that much needed run for relief, if you know what I mean.

"Beowulf", it seems to me, would have been one of those classic community events. A scald comes to the village and declares, "I shall recite the tale of Beowulf for the lord and his lady. All are welcome to attend."

Great feasting and celebration should have ensued. The ancient Germanic peoples loved their feasts (actually, I understand they still have an affinity for food -- I know I do and I am part German through my mother's father). Maybe the poem would have been recited only at special times of the year. Perhaps when a new lord took up the rule of his people. Perhaps after a great victory in battle. Perhaps when special holidays were celebrated.

So our Germanic lord and lady would open their hall to their village folk, and everyone would come settle in around a great fire -- or maybe they set up a bonfire near the hall, and the villagers would gather outside and share food and gossip until the lord raised a toast to his honored guest, the Scald (also known as a Scop).

If people knew the story already, they would be packed with anticipation. I'm sure the boys would be running around, pretending to be Beowulf, fighting monsters, and generating all sorts of mayhem. The older boys and younger men would be predicting the great deeds they, too, hoped to do when fortune favored them with an opportunity. Maybe there would be talk of taking up arms against an ancestral enemy. Maybe there would be contests of skill and strength during the day.

But when the time comes for the Scald to speak, would not the mothers shush their children, the men grasp their horns of ale and beer, and the lord and lady clasp hands gently, and the crowd fall silent as the honored bard began to speak?

Entertainment has evolved through the centuries, but special peformances are always a time of great fuss and commotion. When I was a child, we set aside special evenings when all the kids would watch the rebroadcast of "The Wizard of Oz". CBS played that movie for something like 25 years in a row, and I never got tired of watching it. I'd cancel dates to spend quality time with Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, Billie Burke, and Toto, too. A friend of mine told me he once dated a girl who even up to the age of 21 or 22 would gather with about 20 of her friends to watch the show. She deferred dates, and Dave had to pick her up after the movie. All the girls came out of the house to see them off, very much like the people of Emerald City saying good-bye to the Wizard as he drifts off in his balloon.

When my brother and I were off from school during Summer vacation, we made the trek with some friends to downtown Miami Beach every Wednesday morning for a daylong movie-fest. They showed cheesy old black-and-white films, episodes from the "Our Gang" movie series, give away prizes, and finally show a western, comedy, or science fiction movie. I remember seeing "The Shakiest Gun in the West" (with Don Knotts), some movie about pre-Columbian Native American tribes, "Namu", "Journey to the Far Side of the Sun" (or something like that), and maybe a few others at those moviefests.

I still occasionally dress up to go see "The Nutcracker Suite". It's a big todo. Men in their fancy suits, women in their classy dresses, kids running around the crowd in excitement, teenagers shyly flirting with each other in their Sunday-go-to-meetin' clothes.

I just have the feeling that a performance of "Beowulf" would have been conducted in much the same fashion. Maybe it would have lasted over a period of several days. Robert Yeager wrote in 1999 that "The singers may have performed it when warriors gathered in meadhalls to celebrate their prowess at gatherings like those described in Beowulf. In fact, it is from this poem that we derive many of the details for our reconstructions of Anglo-Saxon social life."

Well, we can reconstruct ancient life in many different ways. Hardcore viewers of Xena: Warrior Princess know that ancient Greece apparently was the source for Napoleonic art. But I digress.

Would "Beowulf" have been heard only by warriors, or would it have been a communal form of entertainment? How old should a young man be before he could be initiated into the Rite of Beowulf? I think the poem, and others like it, would have been of such social significance that any special performance would have been opened to the whole community. It would have been more significant that way. Bringing friends and families together to enjoy a special performance of a beloved work strengthens the fabric of a society.

In several stories, Mark Twain demonstrated how a common Revival service or County Fair could become the focal point of a small-town's social structure for a very brief time. Anything that broke up the monotony of every day life, which provided a glimpse of the outside world, was an excuse for everyone to get together, eat cake, drink wine and beer, tell favorite old jokes, reshare old adventures, and rebuild the tribal spirit.

When studying "Beowulf", could J.R.R. Tolkien have failed to see the opportunity for communal celebration in its performance? Look at how story-telling is formalized in Tolkien's own worlds. When Frodo awakens at Rivendell, he is made the guest of honor at a feast which is followed by a night of singing and tale-telling. Bilbo recites his poem about Earendil in Elrond's Hall of Fire.

Story-telling in all its forms is the most popular form of human entertainment. We enjoy it more than we enjoy sports, trivia challenges, and even social activities such as dancing, playing games, and dining together. Many of these activities are often combined with the enjoyment of story-telling. We spend most of our lives hearing and relating stories about other people.

When the art of story-telling is elevated to a professional performance, we stop what we are doing and pay special attention to the story. It doesn't have to be a particularly good story. In fact, we sometimes love to complain about a particularly bad story. It's the air of anticipation that builds up to a crescendo just prior to the event itself which makes the event so special. We enjoy making a big fuss over some old guy blabbering on about a hero who does impossible things.

Does it matter if the hero is a hobbit, a Geat, or a young man from New York dressed up like a spider?

No. Not as long as we can make a big night out of the event, and take away from it a neat memory. That's the magic of "Beowulf", and it goes all the way back to "Gilgamesh", and it will never depart from the human experience.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Where Tolkien is taught in higher education

I have begun compiling a list of university/college-level classes that cover J.R.R. Tolkien at Tolkien Studies on the Web. There are many classes out there, and it will take me a long time to build a substantial resource. It will probably undergo several redesigns as the number of listings grow.

If anyone has information on a college-level course, please feel free to contact me through Xenite.Org's contact form. I'll appreciate your picking as the subject line, since I get a lot of other email about other topics.

The classes need to have a Web page on a university server. The page needs to be an official course description, provided either under the department section or under the instructor's personal pages. The page can be a syllabus if there is no formal description, but it needs to indicate who is teaching the class and what reading materials are required.

1-time seminars are not appropriate. That is, if a class is only taught once and will never be taught again, I don't think that will work. But I'll be glad to look at some as I may already have listed one on the site (it was a very interesting class and the Web site contained a lot of information). Special Studies and Senior Seminars where Tolkien or the Inklings are in a rotating pool of topics are acceptable.

The academic discipline can be anything: Religious Studies, Classical Studies, Medieval Studies, Modern Literature, Film, etc. The list is intended to be comprehensive.

Dr. Jane Chance mentioned to me that this kind of resource will help members of the academic communities get book contracts, as it will indicate what sorts of class sales potential such books will have. Frankly, I didn't think about that angle, but it's an important one and I am more than happy to do my part to help increase the academic literature on Tolkien and the Inklings.

It will take a lot of time and work for me to make Tolkien Studies on the Web into the type of resource I want it to be. But my goal is to make it a definitive guide to Tolkien research resources on the Web. There will be other sections in the future. I just don't have enough time to do everything at once.

But any helpful suggestions people care to make for links to class sites will be appreciated. No one is off the list. So any academics who have argued with me in the past, no matter how acrimonious the arguments became, will be included provided they have class Web pages that meet the criteria.

Monday, March 13, 2006

I feel so old Web...

Didn't do any of the things I said I would do this past weekend. That's about the way my weekends go. Working on projects is too much like work.

So, tonight, instead of playing catch-up on all the stuff I was supposed to do, I started running random searches. I remembered I had downloaded some old backup CDs to my new 120 Gig hard drive and thought, "Hey, I used to have an old Bookmarks file -- I wonder how many of the links are still live?"


I'm not sure of when I actually saved those bookmarks but they have to go back to at least 2001 if not longer, so they are at least 5 years old. Some of the sites date back to the period of 1995-1997, because I bookmarked them when I was working for a software firm in Albuquerque.

Not even my own links are still active. I've changed all the URLs for Xenite.Org. And oddly enough, I had completely forgotten that Parma Endorion, the original site, had once been framed. I was so concerned about people whose browsers didn't support frames that I had created a non-framed version. I'd forgotten that people used to do that.

It's a lot like the Flash-versus-nonFlash alternatives we get today (and I still usually pick non-Flash when it's available).

There were some history Web sites that were pretty interesting, but they're gone. And I had a few celebrity sites bookmarked that are now gone (fan sites, I think -- probably bookmarked for research for articles and directories).

Back in the pre-Blog days I came across the Yale University personal home page of a girl named Ann Kim. She has long since graduated and become an attorney, but she was blogging about her college life years before Weblog software was even written. You can't even find the stuff on now, because Yale blocked the robot.

Well, who wants to read about other people's lives anyway?

RogueMarket is gone. You once could trade in celebrities like they were stocks. There was a chance to win a t-shirt and a few other dinky prizes. I learned about RogueMarket, I think, from Tom Simpson's Xena Fan Site. Tom has a blog now, but his Xena site was the grand-daddy of Xena sites. There were very few before it, and none quite like it. Tom once emailed me to compliment me on Xena Online Resources (which is no longer at the original URL). He mentioned as an aside that I might want to create some sort of index page for Xenite.Org.

Yes, Xenite was once an indexless domain, with several disparate Web sites that didn't mention each other or really indicate that they existed as part of a larger network. I've learned a few things about Web design and promotion since then.

Not that my Web design ever won any awards -- well, actually, it did win a few awards. Hey, most of those old award sites no longer exist, and even Britannica has stopped feeding the graphic for the award they gave us.

The Dead People Server is gone. I'd have thought that one would have no end of new listings.

The good news is that Genealogy and Heraldry in Slovenia is still around, but I have no idea of why I bookmarked the site. Obviously, I was doing research into heraldry. It may have been Tolkien-related but Slovenia is a bit far removed from Tolkien's usual sources.

The Keirsey Temperament Sorter - Jungian Personality Test is gone. I don't recall where I found out about that site, but I took the test and got for letters of the alphabet. Doesn't matter. I've lost the letters, thought the test was kind of crazy, and people don't mention whether they are MBRK or QRTS any more anyway, so what does it matter?

Internet Classics Archive is still active (sort of -- I got tired of waiting for the page to render -- did I really visit that dog when I was connecting at 33,600 BAUD?).

CJ's Xuxa archive is gone. I'm not sure, but he might have set up Xuxa-USA. At one time, he had the most extensive Xuxa archive on the Web. Xuxa, for those of you who don't know, is a Brazilian television star who rose to international fame and sputtered out in the United States. She actually is better known here for her appearance in the 1980s in Brazil's Playboy rather than her work in getting 90% of Brazil's children immunized against Polio. She had a children's television show with a ton of cute girls called Paquitas who helped her keep the packs of children in line. I suspect more adults watched that show than children, if only because men got hooked on Xuxa and the Paquitas instantaneously.

U.S. television shows can be so boring, when you get right down to it.

I used to link to some "cool" starter sites like Web Counter and Starting Point. They are but sad sorry shadows of what they once used to be. I doubt many people visit either site now, but there was a time when being listed on either one could drive thousands of visitors your way. is gone. I have no idea of what was so great about it -- maybe the Add-A-Link page.

I had a ton of science fiction and fantasy sites bookmarked, but most of them are gone now, too. Many were related to conventions, and conventions come and go. But some of those old sites were pretty interesting, like Myth & Magic, which was to do with science fiction and fantasy. It was interesting enough that I bookmarked it.

No idea of what L-Space Web was about, but someone suggested I had to see it and I bookmarked it. Gone.

K'Mel's guide to Klingon Cyberspace -- gone. Where, oh where are my Klingon sites?

Happily, Peder Langlo's Hobbit Site is still online. I know something about Peder that most people don't know. And if I told you, then everyone would know. But let's just say that Peder knew about a once very well-kept secret long before other people in the Tolkien world knew it.

Gothmog's Tolkien Archive is gone, too. I don't remember much about it, but apparently I was impressed enough to bookmark two separate pages from the site.

Incanus' home page is gone, too. The original Encyclopedia of Middle-earth (ETEP). The original Rolozo Tolkien. The original Other Hands. Gone. All gone. They have sailed over Sea and gone to that great Web archive in the -- well, maybe they are at The Wayback Machine, but it's not easy to find old content there.

A MEOW Primer is dead. I think I know what it was about, and probably it's just as well that it's gone.

Andrew and Julie's home page is gone. Who are Andrew and Julie? No idea, but the URL indicates it may have been Tolkien-related.

Kidz Game Connection -- gone. Don't know if I actually found anything useful there, but back when I had a kid running around the house it was helpful to know about such sites. She liked the Barbie Web site anyway.

Norwegian Writer's Web is gone. Someone please tell me why I bookmarked their site.

Tabnet's Reserve Your Name now! is gone. I wonder if I reserved mine and, if so, what it was and whether the reservation is still good.

Webthing was a pretty cool Web design tool -- almost as useful as WordPad, and then the designer "improved" it and added tons of features I couldn't use and didn't want to begin with. But it's gone. Wonder why....

Rocketmail, MailCity -- both folded into other free email services.

Venator's Castle is gone.

Maybe some of these sites have found new URLs. I don't know. I don't visit them any more, so why should I care?

But I still feel a little nostalgic looking at those bookmarks. And I feel like Xenite.Org is kind of special, having outlived thousands, perhaps millions of contemporary Web sites -- many of them created with the backing of venture capital.

Nowadays people are blathering on about Web 2.0, which as far as I am concerned looks really sucky. I can't wait for Web 3.0. Maybe it will bring back sensible design quality and useful content.

Then again, maybe I'll just have to persevere and keep maintaing my Web .90 site just so people can see how grandpa used to do Web sites back when they were still something special.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Being a fan in a whirling world of words

The Inklings Roundtable of Houston held its monthly meeting at the Black Labrador tonight and our guests were members of the Houston Costuming group. The discussion and presentation were both lively and interesting. One hears all sorts of interesting anecdotes at costuming presentations. At one point, Kim Kofmel -- who gave the presentation -- held up a copy of a LoTR book with a picture of Gandalf and the Fellowship of the Ring standing outside the West-gate of Moria. I've seen copies of this printing through the years but haven't really paid much attention to it as I always disliked the blue border around the cover image.

Nonetheless, when Kim said she didn't know when the book was printed, I blurted out, "1983!" It was only a joke, but after the meeting a couple of us looked at the book out of curiosity and saw that the print date was March 1984.

When I blurted out "1983!", most of the people in the room looked at me as I was being an insufferable know-it-all once again. The regulars are used to it and I saw a few eyes rolling, even though I think they understood I was just joking. Nonetheless, when the subject of what to do next month came up, someone suggested a trivia contest. We've done trivia contests, and they can be fun, but...well, I am probably one of the few people in the world who is barred from every Tolkien trivia contest.

I kid you not. I have been publicly excluded from LoTR trivia contests at more than one convention or fan gathering. It gets old, people. I don't really know all that stuff by heart, no matter how good some of my guesses may be.

Okay, I do sometimes criticize Trivial Pursuit for getting details wrong, but that's beside the point. I mean, on the movie-related trivia version, any 10-year-old can pretty much whip my butt and make me look like an idiot.

It's not easy being an insufferable know-it-all, as many Tolkien fans well know. During her presentation, Kim said that there are some fans who will point out every flaw in a costume without taking into consideration the fact that sometimes it's just not possible to recreate a costume the way it was done in a movie.

In fact, she launched into a lengthy sidebar discussion about the fact that movies often use multiple costumes designed for different tasks. Aragorn had a costume for walking around and a costume for riding a horse. Part of the movie magic is convincing the audience that the people in the story don't really have a change of clothes between every scene (or between every take) and that some fabrics really can sparkle in the moonlight.

I didn't know that.

It was an enjoyable evening. I'm sorry I objected so strenuously to the suggestion of a trivia contest, but no one likes to be excluded, not even insufferable know-it-alls. So now I have to think of something to do that will keep people interested and motivated.

In other news tonight, I have decided to expand Tolkien Studies on the Web to include a section on university-level Tolkien courses whose instructors post their syllabi and reading materials on the Web. I'll try to start it this weekend. I've been recovering from a bad case of bronchitis and told my friends I don't intend to go anywhere this weekend. Much as I hate to sit at home and rest, I'd rather get over the bronchitis once and for all. So expanding the Tolkien Studies content will at least be productive.

I'll also be working on a feature article about Matt Tinaglia, the gentleman who edited Parma Endorion: Essays on Middle-earth, 3rd Edition and Understanding Middle-earth: Essays on Tolkien's Middle-earth. Matt has other interests than just Tolkien and Middle-earth and he won a contest on the Endor Discussion List where one of the prize choices was a feature article about the contest winner.

Maybe I should have excluded Matt, but at the time, it didn't occur to me to do so. Besides which, I don't like contests where people have to be excluded just because they may know someone involved with the contest. Matt won it fair and square.

Going back to the Inklings Roundtable meeting, we had a special visitor tonight, a Tolkien fan from Argentina. He brought copies of a magazine called Mathoms, a Tolkien journal/fanzine which is published by the Argentinian Tolkien Society. These are annual journals and I must say they are amazingly impressive. I mean, I was just wowed by the quality of the work, both in designing the magazine and in its content.

I don't speak Spanish, and I don't write it very well, but I do read it and some of the articles were very well-informed. I didn't even know Argentina had a Tolkien Society, but it makes sense.

At least some of the artwork was done by Vladimir Rikowski. This is professional quality stuff and, to be quite honest, it's among some of the best Tolkien-inspired artwork I have ever seen. He is not necessarily the best artist I have ever seen, but his sense of composition and his attention to detail are just mind-blowing.

I don't know how much crossover there is between English-language Tolkien research and other language-based research. My own research has, of course, been translated into quite a few languages: Spanish, Portuguese, Hungarian, Hebrew, Polish, Italian, and Greek to name a few. But how many other Tolkien researchers have been covered in multiple languages? There are whole schools of thought out there I really haven't heard of, much less had the opportunity to look at. I can muddle my way through Spanish and sort of figure out Portuguese and maybe grasp some Italian but that's about it.

I know that some of the English-language Tolkien journals reprint articles from each other, but translation presents a whole set of challenges you don't normally encounter in normal Tolkien research. Think about all the disagreements people have over the meaning of Tolkien's words in English. Now think about their varying opinions over the translations of his words. How faithful are the translations?

I can offer some examples of how difficult this kind of exchange of ideas is from my own experience. A few years ago, I began publishing a Glossary for Andre Norton's Witch World on Xenite.Org. I had compiled a lot of notes when I was in college and decided it would be an interesting project for the Web. Andre herself looked at it and reportedly was very flattered.

Alas! The project was just too time-consuming and I never completed it. But another Andre Norton fan from Poland offered to help me with the project. I decided to give it a shot, but he was using the Polish translations of Andre's books and I was using the English originals. We agreed we would use the English text as the primary text and he would offer a note for Polish fans explaining any discrepancies.

But there turned out to be enough discrepancies that I eventually just let the project die. I didn't have time to figure out how to reconcile the English and Polish books. My collaborator agreed that most of the problem came from the Polish translations, but sometimes a translator has to cope with idiom (expressions) that just doesn't work in another language. My Hebrew translator ran into this problem with a couple of my essays. He retitled "Is Your Canon On The Loose" -- an English-language pun making a play on the old "loose cannon on deck" joke -- as something equivalent to "Choir of a thousand voices". The meaning was faithful to my intent, but the humor was lost.

When I published Flying Away On A Wing And A Prayer... on MERP at the end of December 2005, Elfa Arwena of Elfenomeno's Spanish-language community asked for permission to translate the essay for their archive. Elfenomeno is the only Spanish-language site authorized to translate my work, so I agreed. She published Volando sobre un ala y un pelo... on February 6.

The translation is, I feel, very faithful -- and my opinion is only based on my limited knowledge of the Spanish language. But Elfa also published a review of Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull's Reader's Companion -- which inspired my essay -- and Elfa and her collaborator took the opposite position to my own regarding the Balrogs.

They looked at the citation I provided from Christopher Tolkien's letter to someone who had asked him an undisclosed question and concluded that Christopher was implying that the Balrog did not have wings. That is not what Christopher's text says. He doesn't offer an opinion one way or the other. But Christopher uses such a formalized style of English in his writing that I am not surprised some people -- even native English language speakers -- may derive a different meaning from his words than I do.

When you consider that this disagreement cuts across linguistic boundaries, however, how much of a disadvantage are both sides experiencing in not being able to fully communicate in each other's native idiom? The exchange of critical ideas is hampered by the limit of our knowledge of each other's native expressions.

As much as I would like to see more exchange between the international groups, such exchanges would be fraught with peril, as Tolkien might say. Many non-English papers no doubt look at the texts which are most readily available to and understood by their readerships -- the translations. If the translations have made sacrifices or alterations in idiomatic points, the two reading audiences are seeing different stories.

Tolkien himself expressed frustration with some of the translations undertaken in his lifetime. He was a man far more qualified than I to comment on the decisions made by the translators, but many bi-lingual fans have through the years shared with me their views of the complex changes that Tolkien's stories underwent at the hands of these translators. Sometimes, the fans show less consideration to the translators than Tolkien did.

Translation is no easy task. Tonight, one of the Roundtable members jokingly suggested I might translate the Mathoms articles for the group. She knows I don't speak Spanish, but I did point out that I can read Spanish far better than I write it. I also mentioned how my relationship with the community at Elfenomeno was established.

When we published the Parma Endorion eBook in 2002, I wanted to have it translated into several languages. I used Altavista's Babelfish site in 2001 to write letters in French, Spanish, and one other language (I think it was Italian), inviting fans with a knowledge of English to work on the translations. Three teams were set up. In the end, only Elfenomeno's group completed their task, and that required a year's more work than originally anticipated.

To recruit the Elfenomeno team, my letter said I was looking for Tolkien fans to work with. "Fan" is a perfectly good English word, being shortened from "fanatic". Of course, "fan" also refers to a device with several blades extending outward from a central motor. We use fans to blow air and cool ourselves and devices.

Altavista's Babelfish substituted "ventiladores" for "fans" and I missed that when I proofread the translation. Of course, nothing could have made my need more clear. When the Spanish "ventiladores" (ventilators) stopped laughing, Leandro Pascual offered to put together a team of translators for me. And thus was the Spanish translation of Parma Endorion born.

I think that, as I expand the content on, I'll be sure to include resources for the non-English Web as I discover them. I already know about a few good ones for several languages. I am sure there are many more out there. But it's important that we Tolkien ventilators remember our friends in other languages. They surely will not forget us.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

When fandom speaks, do trees fall in the forest?

I was contacted by a major media organization last week for information on upcoming science fiction conventions. I used to stay on top of convention listings and news because as a convention operator I needed to be sensitive to trends in the industry. But since I stopped working with conventions (and, who knows? I may do it again), I have really fallen out of the loop.

So I was quite surprised to learn two things about the health of the SF convention circuit in the United States. First, many conventions seem to be reporting declining attendance. And I mean, a LOT of them appear to be suffering from shrinking memberships. That's not a good sign for the long-term prospects of the fan-run convention tradition.

The second thing I learned was that convention Web sites look like drug-laced holdovers from the 1960s. And we didn't even have a World Wide Web in the 1960s.

Can SF Web design possibly get any worse? I probably shouldn't ask, because more-than-likely it will do just that.

Conventions don't report very good information about themselves on their Web sites. Nor do they make their sites very visible. It's hard to find convention Web sites. You pretty much have to know the names of the conventions and/or the organizations behind them. The old resource guides aren't helping because they are either gone or they just aren't what they used to be.

I've been threatening to open a fan sites forum at SF-FANDOM for months, but have delayed doing so because our moderators don't have the kind of experience that would help fan site operators. Well, I do, but I don't have that much time for forum moderation. I'm already missing in action for very long periods of time. If I could find a few experienced Web site forum mods with science fiction interests, I'd be set.

Well, that's neither here nor there. The online science fiction community has been left behind by the professional marketing community. People need to realize that even their non-profit conventions have to be operated as functioning businesses. You need to make it easy for people to find your Web site, your Web site needs to be informative, and you need to make it easy for people to contact you.

Far too many conventions offer a non-descript email address with no guarantee of response time. Folks, you need to put someone's phone number on the Web. Rent a cell phone with voice mail on the convention's budget if you have to, and pass it around the concom every week so each person takes some responsibility for answering phone calls.

And way too many Web sites get caught up in emphasizing the size of their staffs. You need to tell people how many attendees/registrations you have. Does that embarrass small conventions? Maybe. But you're not fooling anyone when you say you hold your event at the Holiday Inn Suites Express Motel in beautiful downtown Nowheresville on the outskirts of MegaCityOpolis.

Attendance numbers are especially important because there are media companies out looking for conventions to work with. They want to promote their books, shows, movies, whatever.

Deadlines and advertising rates also tend to get buried in the B.S. Put all that stuff in a very simple page that is clearly and obviously linked to from your front page.

In fact, I've concluded that convention Web sites need to take most of the garbage off their front pages and just put up their logo and a few links to the internal pages. The rest of the front page should say, "We are WhateverCon being held in OurCity on Dates-to-Dates. Our focus is literary / media / comics / anime / costuming / roleplaying / gaming / whatever."

That's it.

Your front page should tell people who you are, where you are, when you do your thing, and how to click through to deeper more detailed content.

Keep all that garbage about whose parties are being held for the party page. Stuff all the guest names (including the GoH's) on your GUESTS page. Don't blab endlessly about who your ConCom members are -- put their biographies and pictures on the Management and/or Team and/or Staff page.

Tell people how many programming tracks you'll have. Tell people how many rooms in your facility. Tell people where secondary accomodations can be found. Tell people what restaurants and other entertainment are in the area. Tell people where you'll be having pre-reg room parties at other conventions.

Many conventions do some of these things, few conventions do all of them.

I could have helped send some major bucks to a few conventions this week, but I decided that since I couldn't learn enough about what they are doing and how large they are and what their focus is, there was no point mentioning them to the media company asking for my help.

Like Jerry Maguire said in the movie, "Help me to help you." Make it easy for me to find out what I need to know the next time a Fortune 1000 company asks me how to find appropriate conventions for its big bucks publicity campaign. I'm not the only person who gets asked for help. I'm sure other people find it equally frustrating to deal with the amateurish standards of convention Web sites.

Most fan fiction sites are better designed than the majority of convention Web sites.

Most fan directory sites are better designed than the majority of convention Web sites.

Convention site operators need to stop playing around with stupid glittery animations and put the information where it needs to be.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Tolkien in One Dimension

I don't yet have a blog at Tolkien Studies on the Web (Dixie) but this would not be an appropriate entry for it anyway.

I just finished reading an interesting blog entry titled To Survive, We Must Kill Our Father: The Wretchedness of Tolkien. Tolkien lovers should not read this blog with any hope of persuading the writer to change his mind. I say that because he is very right about one thing: Tolkien's heroes tend to be one-dimensional. They have to be so, or else the quality of the heroic epic fails.

Fantasy writers today, while emulating Tolkien stereotypes in every way possible, try to depart from Tolkien's path by creating flawed, angst-ridden characters. Frodo may have been a self-sacrificing monologuer, but he was not riddled with angst, self-doubt, or pretentious teenage flaws stemming back to his father-hating childhood.

There is no child abuse in Tolkien. There is almost no sexual abuse in Tolkien (and people debate what exactly the nature of the torment that Elrond's wife suffered at the hands of the Orcs may have been, but I feel confident it was intended to be sexual). Tolkien's characters don't come with any of the corny flaws that permeate modern fantasy fiction.

And TheFerrett is right about another thing: many die-hard Tolkien fans do not know Tolkien's work very well. Most people gloss through portions of the book that they don't find to be very interesting. After 300 reads of The Lord of the Rings, I was still finding details I hadn't noticed before. Just how riveting can a story be if you have to read it 300 times to realize that Tolkien described over a dozen types of flowers in one scene where characters pass through a landscape the reader never sees again?

I nitpick many so-called Tolkien experts to death because they miss the gravest details with ease. It's a mistake everyone makes, it's a flaw we all share. Tolkien in his deepest depths is not well-suited to the average reader.

So why do millions of people enjoy reading The Lord of the Rings over and over again? I think, in part, it's because the book is so overwhelming that the human mind simply cannot encompass it all at once. People who are into sensual experience more than intellectual experience may be turned off by the length and detail. Sensual people can be every bit as intelligent and intellectual as non-sensual people, so it's not that Tolkien appeals to an elitist snobbish subset of society. Rather, it's that Tolkien appeals more to people who feel with their imaginations than to people who feel with their senses.

There is a balance we all strike in our self-contained worlds, and some people feel more with their thoughts than with their actions, and some people think more with their actions than with their thoughts. Both types of people lead society forward in different ways. One cannot be both a thinker and a doer of equal capacity. One develops a tendency to favor one capacity over the other.

The level of balance we achieve for ourselves affects our likes and dislikes a great deal. Hence, there are people who dote on the battle scenes in The Lord of the Rings more than on, say, the high-falutin' courtly language. Frankly, I couldn't stand to read Frodo and Sam's journey through Mordor for many years. I forced myself to do it but I think it's one of the most boring passages in the book, perhaps in modern fiction.

Nonetheless, I probably know that section of the story as well as anyone now if only because of all the arguments I've had over tedious little details such as the Ring's speaking on Mount Doom (there are still people who unreasonably argue that it must be Frodo speaking -- so all my arguing may be for nought, and I've paid my penance by rereading some very boring prose).

Why is the prose boring? Because it's an endless gluttony of suffering. Quite frankly, I don't like suffering prose. You can have it. Me, I like the uplifting stuff, and there is nothing uplifting about the journey through Mordor, not even when Sam looks up into the sky and sees the star of Earendil and starts talking about how he and Frodo are in the same story that began thousands of years before. It's an extremely depressing storyline and it has no real happy conclusion. I would not want to be in Frodo's shoes for anything in the world.

People don't have to like Tolkien. He doesn't expect everyone to enjoy the kinds of stories he writes. Tolkien noted that he didn't necessarily enjoy the drivel his detractors praised. It cuts both ways.

But regardless of how boring or exciting people may feel Tolkien is, one fact inarguably stands out from all the rest: he moves people to express their thoughts. He inspires some sort of feeling in his audience. TheFerret has been affected by the Ring and he may not like the fact that he has been affected, but he has to live with it. He cannot erase that chapter of his life.

That is the power of Art. Art moves the audience.

Anyone can write a fantasy novel. Many people have. Most fantasy stories never generate the kind of drama that Tolkien's Middle-earth, Rowling's Harry Potter, and even Jordan's endless Wheel of Time books have drawn. That is why Terry Pratchett will forever be knocking Tolkien and claiming to be the better writer -- because people don't dwell on the Discworld books the way they dwell on Tolkien, Rowling, and Jordan.

It doesn't matter who finds the works boring. What matters is that they find them worth commenting on, one way or another.

So Tolkien wins. In fact, we all win. Otherwise, what a boring society we would have, if we didn't have something to disagree over. We need Yin and Yang, up and down, right and wrong. We don't need to know that Frodo's favorite food was sausage-on-a-stick, or that he might have had sexual fantasies about some Hobbit-girl who broke his heart. Leave that drivel for the lesser writers, the ones whose books we don't argue over.

Friday, March 03, 2006

How we teach our kids to behave badly online

I don't write about everything that happens either online or offline. In fact, I don't say much about most things that happen in my life. But it has occurred to me that were I to attempt to document every little detail, things would gradually stop happening because I'd spend all my time at the computer typing about increasingly meaningless moments in an otherwise wasted existence.

As it is, I go out and do things, sometimes particularly interesting things, and I just sort of keep them to myself. The Internet-connected world has deprived us of too much privacy as it is. I don't mean privacy in the sense of everyone knowing everything about you -- people tend to just make up stuff about other people as it suits their nefarious purposes anyway. Rather, I mean we have fewer and fewer moments of quiet, personal reflection.

Time was, if someone took the time to set their thoughts down for others to read, they were almost assured a place in the literary hall of boring school assignments. Now schools are trying to prevent students from reading each other's shared thoughts. It's no longer appropriate for teens to think for themselves. Now they need to shut up and listen to the mediocre ambivalence that political correctness has injected into our school systems.

We'll produce a new generation of great thinkers by repressing free thought because those who feel repressed will rebel.

On the other hand, I can see why teachers and principals sometimes just want to tell the kids to stay quiet and listen. We've empowered our children to speak out and take action without showing them the purpose of meaningful action, the value of considerate action, and the consequences of ill-considered action. The ill-considered actions are most appealing not because they are acts of rebellion (in most cases they are simply acts of stupidity) but because they verge on the outrageous.

The Internet encourages, provokes, and nurtures outrage. Outrage is the desired method of interaction on the Internet probably because we can only glimpse the emotion other people feel in their online exchanges when they are outraged. Outrage elevates the impersonal keyboard to a facet of body language not previously explored.

How we type reveals a great deal about what we are feeling. Not the explicit, intentional emoticons, uses of CAPITAL LETTERS TO EMOTE SCREAMING, nor even the insertion of ^%^%#$#^%# non-alphanumeric characters to represent the self-imposed censorship of feigned propriety.

Rather, our typing style changes when we are feeling strong emotions. Perhaps we make more typographical errors, perhaps we simply are in such a rush to express ourselves through an inherently ineffective mechanical medium, perhaps we just want to spit it out. Whatever the reason, short and brief comments -- even strung together as long-winded drafts of emotional reaction -- tend to signify that someone is upset or excited. Excited posts tend to be more silly than insulting and upset posts tend to be more insulting than anything else.

But there are other typing styles that come out. Some people, when faced with the unknown, fall back on familiar catch-phrases and wind-speak. Wind-speak is what people resort to when they don't know what they are talking about. They just type in things they or others have said repeatedly as if someone is pumping a bellows and filling them full of hot air. Windspeakers usually inject themselves into arguments as "neutral third parties" (there is no such thing as a neutral third party because you inevitably favor one side or the other in your judgements, even when you're knocking heads together).

It is impossible to not communicate your emotional state. No matter how inspecific you try to be, no matter how ubiquitous your remarks are designed to appear, regardless of how much care you express in not appearing to dictate, you reveal something about your emotions through what you type. If you just type rhetorical aphorisms, you're probably in a numbed state of mind where you don't want to deal with what someone is saying. Why are you responding? Because you cannot get around reading whatever the other person is saying.

Forum moderators and site admins are subjected to a range of emotional ventings all the time. It's inevitable that they should want to vent for themselves on occasion. Some moderators are especially good at flouting the rules one way and enforcing the same rules another way. By doing so, they reveal their resentment of some discussion group members -- or at least their frustration with those people.

Tunnel visionistic moderation takes many forms, and most people practice it without realizing it. They zoom in on whatever annoys them and ignore whatever else is relevant. I recently subscribed to yet another mailing list only to find no less than 3 philosophical debates in raging progress. I have contributed to none of them. In fact, I unsubscribed from the list after several days because the fighting will obviously continue for many more days, perhaps weeks.

The so-called neutralists always attempt to restructure any argument they disagree with by rewording what another person says. They lose all semblance of neutrality in doing so because they openly reveal their hostility to the people whom they presume to speak for.

For example, if Dan writes, "I gave forty paragraphs of examples that Bob was using this list to promote his back-hoe rental agency", Shirley may step in as the self-appointed Voice of Reason with, "Dan, accusing Bob of selling worthless merchandise isn't helping the situation."

Dan doesn't have to express an opinion on whether Bob sells worthless merchandise. Shirley, who is tired of Dan's complaining about Bob, will attribute that opinion to Dan. These types of pseudo-attributions are common on the Internet. People are routinely infuriated by this approach (and there are people who have seen me go on a weeks-long bender after being subjected to this kind of nonsense myself).

The truth is out there, buried in B.S., but for a long time I've noticed that online discussions become more predictable because people really do use an online body language. The more hostile you are toward a point of view or another person, the more you reveal your hostility through your misguided attempts to mediate a dispute that really doesn't involve you.

The majority of flame war posts tend to be between people trying to end flame wars and people who would prefer not to involve themselves in the flame wars to begin with. It is an unwritten law of the Internet that every flame war will continue as long as there is at least one person who is sick of the flame war.

A small percentage of people actively encourage disputes and flame wars. Most people only say something, usually to the wrong person, when they are tired of wading through the flame posts. What's truly sad about the behavior of self-appointed neutralists is that they tend to favor the sides with the least moral credibility.

In the list that I referred to above, one of the three disputes regarded how effectively administrators in the community were fulfilling their duties. The self-appointed neutralist whose comments I read took the position of, "Criticizing the admins is counter-productive."

Not surprisingly, the person to whom that comment was directed had not actually criticized the admins. The person being reprimanded for criticizing the admins had only asked how effectively they can be expected to perform certain functions.

And that is pretty much why I unsubscribed. I've seen enough flame wars to know that this kind of misguided blind-siding attack reveals a level of hostility or stupidity that cannot be thwarted.

Hostility may go away in time if people leave each other alone. It doesn't always happen, but there is hope. There is no cure for stupidity, and plenty of people seem more than willing to inject themselves stupidly into arguments without considering the consequences of ill-considered action. Where I have used that expression before?

Oh, yes. I was speaking about how our teenagers are getting out of control with their online comments. The not-so-funny thing is, it's not really a problem that arises with teenagers. All children observe what the adults around them do.

The Internet long ago abandoned all sense of civility and considered action. Today, we share our thoughts in an environment where toxic remarks and duplicitous third-party interventions are used to assert dominance and control over undesired situations and people. That is, we tend to behave like uncivilized animals on the Internet because we have not learned about the consequences of ill-considered actions.

The consequences are rarely personal. Instead, they are communal, and when a community suffers more than an individual, few people tend to sit up and notice the pain. The community just lumbers along in oblvious ignorance.

Our schools will not rein in the kids who are running out of control on the Internet until everyone else starts behaving appropriately. And the kids don't have to be geniuses to see that people treat each other badly. All they have to be is sensitive to the subtle changes in the way we type our messages.

And you know what? Since they are growing up in an online world, they see these subtle changes sooner than most adults.