May 4th, 2005


This Day in History, 1970: Kent State

On May 4, 1970, at Kent State University, 100 National Guardsmen fired their rifles into a group of students, killing four and wounding 11. This incident occurred in the aftermath of President Richard Nixon's April 30 announcement that U.S. and South Vietnamese forces had been ordered to execute an "incursion" into Cambodia to destroy North Vietnamese bases there. In protest, a wave of demonstrations and disturbances erupted on college campuses across the country.

At Kent State University in Ohio, student protesters torched the ROTC building on campus and Ohio Governor James Rhodes responded by calling on the National Guard to restore order. Under harassment from the demonstrators, the Guardsmen fired into the crowd, killing four and wounding 11. The Guardsmen were later brought to trial for the shootings, but found not guilty.

President Nixon issued a statement deploring the Kent State deaths, but said that the incident should serve as a reminder that, "When dissent turns to violence it invites tragedy." The shooting sparked hundreds of protests and college shutdowns, as well as a march on Washington, D.C., by 100,000 people. The National Student Association and former Vietnam Moratorium Committee leaders called for a national university strike of indefinite duration, beginning immediately, to protest the war. At least 100 colleges and universities pledged to strike. The presidents of 37 universities signed a letter urging President Nixon to show more clearly his determination to end the war.

In Memoriam: Allison Krause, William Schroeder, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer

For more information: (This Day in History) (The Kent May 4 Center) (Wikipedia entry on the shootings)

Reader Identification

Yesterday, in this post, sdelmonte brought to my attention a new project from Randy Cohen, a writer for the New York Times.

In his essay, We'll Map Manhattan (the link should work even without registration), Cohen explains that he wants to create a "literary map" of Manhattan, which will list the homes and other important locations associated with characters from literary works.

I'm personally fascinated and delighted by this project. On a self-serving note, I'm scouring my own minor bibliography to see what Manhattan locations my own characters used. On the other hand, I grew up in New York City and love reading about the city and its history, so such a project would naturally appeal to me. But on a broader scale, what delights me about this whole project is the concept of reader identification.

Lawrence Block discusses this concept in his essay "Mirror, Mirror on the Page," which can be found in his book Spider, Spin Me a Web: Lawrence Block on Writing Fiction. A bookstore proprietor recommended a book to him once set in Santa Barbara, with the promise that it was filled with local color. Block discovered that the book's story could have been set anywhere, but by identifying specific parts of Santa Barbara, the writer had managed to appeal to people from that city.

I think we all experience that in some way, and not just in books. I grew up in Forest Hills, Queens, and am bizzarely proud of the fact that so did Peter Parker (AKA Spider-Man). When gnomi and I went to see the first Spider-Man movie here in the Boston area, I jumped out of my seat when I saw Parker running through the intersection of Austin Street and Ascan Avenue, three blocks from where I grew up (and where, coincidentally, the first comic book store I patronized was located). I've often joked with people by saying that we used to see Spider-Man swinging through the streets on his way home from Manhattan.

Why does this identification with place resonante so vividly? Block suggests a few explanations, but the one that resonates most with me is this one: "...the presence of real parts of our own real world helps convince us that the writer knows what he's talking about... The more I can accept the idea that the author knows whereof he writes, the easier it is for me to believe further that the fictional story he's relating is true -- and it is upon this voluntary suspension of disbelief that fiction depends for much of its power to move us."

Time Traveler Convention: My Thoughts

I've been thinking about the Time Traveler Convention which is being organized by MIT graduate student Amal Dorai. For those of you who haven't heard yet, his plan is a simple one, which can essentially be boiled down to the well-known phrase "If you build it, they will come." (cf. the novel Shoeless Joe by W. P. Kinsella which got turned into the movie Field of Dreams, and yes, I'm misquoting). Dorai argues that if we can publicize this event as the one and only time traveler convention in history, time travelers from all throughout the timeline will make a point of attending. To make sure that happens, he's asking people to publicize the event in ways that will ensure the message gets through to the future.

gnomi and I are considering attending, although given the fact that festivities for present-time attendees are now scheduled to start on May 7 at 8:00 PM EDT (8 May 2005 00:00 UTC) instead of 10:00 PM EDT (8 May 2005 02:00 UTC), we might have to miss the beginning due to shabbat.

(For time travelers reading this post in the far future, the location is 42:21:36.025 degrees North and 71:05:16.322 degrees West. But you probably know that already.)

However, I won't be too upset if we miss it. The theory behind the convention is that time travelers will spontaneously arrive at 10:00 PM, and all the present-time attendees will get to see that happen.

But personally, I think the convention will fail to attract time travelers. My reasoning is as follows, based on three different possibilities:

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So does this mean that no one from the present should bother attending? Of course not! Even if no time travelers attend, it looks like it'll be fun; Dorai has organized speakers, music, and food. And one has to give credit to him for going to all this effort. It really is a low risk with the highest possible reward.

See you in the future.

I Suppose He Needs a Place to Keep His Hugos and Nebulas...

Presumably in response to the title of this post, stakebait wants to buy an island for Neil Gaiman:

Id: We could buy Neil Gaiman a Carribean island.

Super Ego: Well yes, technically, I suppose we could. If we had a lot of money and knew Neil Gaiman.

Id: You don't have to know someone to buy them an island.

Super Ego: But I bet if you don't, the real estate agent looks at you funny....

(Reminds me of what Morpheus says in the final issue of Sandman: "I my island...")

Time Traveler Convention Update

I just visited their webpage again, at, and found the following message:


So if you're planning to attend, hurry up and let them know. gnomi and I are planning to attend, probably arriving around 9:30 PM. Anyone want to meet us beforehand to head over?