TNH's Particles
* Three pieces from an anagama firing.
* John Scalzi's worst date in five words.
* The whale oil myth.
* Animated knots by Grog.
* Antique lamp supply.
* Wow. I'm actually shocked. That's cool.
* Harry Christophers' "Sacred Music" BBC documentaries.
* How politics and power work, by Pablo Iglesias.
* Interactive Album of Mediaeval Palaeography.
* The Anagram Hall of Fame.
PNH's Sidelights
* No, we don't have a problem with police culture in this country. How could anyone possibly think that.
* Manhattan DA Cy Vance, you're a disgrace.
* The luxury homes that torture built.
* Also: Our justice system isn't broken. It works exactly as designed.
* Torture isn't "contrary to who we are."
* MTA to humans: It's your fault we keep killing you
* Rules for black people in America
* "Wanderers": a stunning short film about real places in our solar system
* NYPD's 5th Precinct: pants on fire
* Stu Shiffman, RIP
Abi's Parhelia
* This Old House Erotic FanFic (SFW)
* Lap Sangsouchong
* Stain Solutions
* The Jon Snow Trough
* Grumpy Cat Disney
* Sewing Machine Sculptures
* Have you ever wondered where books come from?
* Why aren't the British middle-classes staging a revolution?
* Japanese Maple
* Labour Pains, Labour of Love
Jim's Diffraction
* Angelus ad virginem 14th century Irish carol
* Christmas on the Theremin
* Kinect eye patch for Xbox One will protect what's left of your privacy
* Real-Time Wind Map
* IS-907: Active Shooter: What You Can Do
* Smithsonian museum artifacts can now be 3D printed at home
* PunditFact
* A Display You Can Reach Through And Touch
* The Craigslist killers: the full story
* Proposed Museum of Science Fiction
Avram's Phosphenes
The Triumphant Rise of the Shitpic
The Categories Were Made for Man, Not Man for the Categories
The secret to the Uber economy is wealth inequality
How the Media Destroyed Gary Webb
The Underdog Myth
On Weev, Fascism, and the Free Internet
The First Female Gamers
“Every man is Responsible for his own Soul” (context)
We’re Our Own Family Now
fMRI Study of Inconceivable Cosmic Horror
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“We are prophets of a future not our own.” (Oscar Romero)

“Peace means something different from ‘not fighting’. Those aren’t peace advocates, they’re ‘stop fighting’ advocates. Peace is an active and complex thing and sometimes fighting is part of what it takes to get it.” (Jo Walton)

“You really think that safety can be plucked from the arms of an evil deed?” (Darla, “Inside Out”)

“Forgiveness requires giving up on the possibility of a better past.” (unknown)

“The whole point of society is to be less unforgiving than nature.” (Arthur D. Hlavaty)

“You don't owe the internet your time. The internet does not know this, and will never learn.” (Quinn Norton)

“Great writing is the world's cheapest special effect.” (Teresa Nielsen Hayden)

“Everyone gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense.” (Gertrude Stein)

“Very few people are stupid. It’s just that the world really is that difficult and you can’t continually be careful.” (Quinn Norton)

“Armageddon is not around the corner. This is only what the people of violence want us to believe. The complexity and diversity of the world is the hope for the future.” (Michael Palin)

“Just because you’re on their side doesn’t mean they’re on your side.” (Teresa Nielsen Hayden)

“The fact that ‘there are only a handful of bad cops’ cuts no ice with me. If ‘only a handful of McDonald’s are spitting in your food,’ you’re not going to McDonald’s.” (Ta-Nehisi Coates)

“Young men and women, educated very carefully to be apolitical, to be technicians who thought they disliked politics, making them putty in the hands of their rulers, like always.” (Kim Stanley Robinson, Red Mars)

“The poor have been rebels, but they have never been anarchists; they have more interest than anyone else in there being some decent government. The poor man really has a stake in the country. The rich man hasn’t; he can go away to New Guinea in a yacht. The poor have sometimes objected to being governed badly; the rich have always objected to being governed at all. Aristocrats were always anarchists.” (G. K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday)

“When liberty is mentioned, we must observe whether it is not really the assertion of private interests.” (Hegel)

“History is the trade secret of science fiction.” (Ken MacLeod)

“But isn’t all of human history simultaneously a disaster novel and a celebrity gossip column?” (Anonymous LJ commenter)

“I see now that keen interest can illuminate anything, and that anything, moreover, has something worth illuminating in it, and that without that interest gates carved by Benvenuto Cellini from two diamonds would merely look chilly.” (Lord Dunsany)

“I grieve for the spirit of Work, killed by her evil child, Workflow.” (Paul Ford)

“The opposite of ‘serious’ isn't ‘funny.’ The opposite of both ‘serious’ and ‘funny’ is ‘squalid.’” (R. A. Lafferty)

“Ki is, of course, mystical bullshit. That’s why it works so well, both as a teaching idiom and a tool of practice in martial arts. It’s as nonexistent as charm, leadership, or acting. Humans are all about bullshit.” (Andrew Plotkin)

“We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to make us happy is something to be enthusiastic about.” (Charles Kingsley)

“Nobody panics when things go according to plan. Even when the plan is horrifying.” (The Joker)

“Hope has two daughters, anger and courage. They are both lovely.” (attributed to St. Augustine)

“Plot is a literary convention. Story is a force of nature.” (Teresa Nielsen Hayden)

“This movie has way too much plot getting in the way of the story.” (Joe Bob Briggs)

“If there is no willingness to use force to defend civil society, it’s civil society that goes away, not force.” (Teresa Nielsen Hayden)

“Always side with the truth. It’s much bigger than you are.” (Teresa Nielsen Hayden)

“Listen, here’s the thing about politics: It’s not an expression of your moral purity and your ethics and your probity and your fond dreams of some utopian future. Progressive people constantly fail to get this.” (Tony Kushner)

“I don’t want politicians who are ‘above politics,’ any more then I want a plumber who’s ‘above toilets.’” (Ta-Nehisi Coates)

“Plans are nothing; planning is everything.” (Dwight D. Eisenhower)

“People never lie so much as after a hunt, during a war, or before an election.” (Otto von Bismarck)

“Every organization appears to be headed by secret agents of its opponents.” (Robert Conquest)

“Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.” (Anne Lamott)

“Nothing makes one so vain as being told that one is a sinner.” (Oscar Wilde)

“Life isn’t divided into genres. It’s a horrifying, romantic, tragic, comical science-fiction cowboy detective novel.” (Alan Moore)

“See everything, overlook a great deal, improve a little.” (John XXIII)

“You will never love art well, until you love what she mirrors better.” (John Ruskin)

“They lied to you. The Devil is not the Prince of Matter; the Devil is the arrogance of the spirit, faith without smile, truth that is never seized by doubt. The Devil is grim because he knows where he is going, and, in moving, he always returns whence he came.” (Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose)

“I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half.” (Jay Gould)

“I’m a leftist. I don't argue with anyone unless they agree with me.” (Steven Brust)

“Adam was but human—this explains it all. He did not want the apple for the apple’s sake, he wanted it only because it was forbidden. The mistake was in not forbidding the serpent; then he would have eaten the serpent.” (Mark Twain)

“Details are all that matters; God dwells there, and you never get to see Him if you don’t struggle to get them right.” (Stephen Jay Gould)

“Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.” (Gustav Mahler)

“But this kind of deference, this attentive listening to every remark of his, required the words he uttered to be worthy of the attention they excited—a wearing state of affairs for a man accustomed to ordinary human conversation, with its perpetual interruption, contradiction, and plain disregard. Here everything he said was right; and presently his spirits began to sink under the burden.” (Patrick O’Brian, Master and Commander)

“Hatred is a banquet until you recognize you are the main course.” (Herbert Benson)

“For a Westerner to trash Western culture is like criticizing our nitrogen/oxygen atmosphere on the grounds that it sometimes gets windy, and besides, Jupiter’s is much prettier. You may not realize its advantages until you’re trying to breathe liquid methane.” (Neal Stephenson)

“‘There are no atheists in foxholes’ isn’t an argument against atheism, it’s an argument against foxholes.” (James Morrow)

“And after the fire a still small voice.” (1 Kings 19:12)

“The man who tries to make the flag an object of a single party is a greater traitor to that flag than any man who fires at it.” (Lloyd George)

“The United States behaves like a salesman with a fantastic product who tries to force people to buy it at gunpoint.” (Emma of Late Night Thoughts)

“I’m a fuzzy-headed warm-hearted liberal, and I think fuzzy-headed warm-hearted liberalism is an ideological stance that needs defending—if necessary, with a hob-nailed boot-kick to the bollocks of budding totalitarianism.” (Charles Stross)

“The real test of any claim about freedom, I’ve decided, is how far you’re willing to go in letting people be wrong about it.” (Bruce Baugh)

“As with bad breath, ideology is always what the other person has.” (Terry Eagleton)

“Only he who in the face of all this can say ‘In spite of all!’ has the calling for politics.” (Max Weber)

“No, it’s not fair. You’re in the wrong universe for fair.” (John Scalzi)

“I don’t understand death, but I got hot dish down pretty good.” (Marissa Lingen)

“Skepticism is the worst form of gullibility.” (John “adamsj” Adams)

“We have a backstage view of ourselves and a third-row view of everybody else.” (Garrison Keillor)

“The Reign of Sin is more universal, the influence of unconscious error is less, than historians tell us.” (Lord Acton)

“All human progress, even in morals, has been the work of men who have doubted the current moral values, not of men who have whooped them up and tried to enforce them.” (H. L. Mencken)

“Tomorrow never happens. It’s all the same fucking day, man.” (Janis Joplin)

“Words are always getting conventionalized to some secondary meaning. It is one of the works of poetry to take the truants in custody and bring them back to their right senses.” (W. B. Yeats)

“It is a little embarrassing that, after 45 years of research and study, the best advice I can give to people is to be a little kinder to each other.” (Aldous Huxley)

“Never believe in a meritocracy in which no one is funny-looking.” (Teresa Nielsen Hayden)

“Probably no man has ever troubled to imagine how strange his life would appear to himself if it were unrelentingly assessed in terms of his maleness; if everything he wore, said, or did had to be justified by reference to female approval [...] If he gave an interview to a reporter, or performed any unusual exploit, he would find it recorded in such terms as these: ‘Professor Bract, although a distinguished botanist, is not in any way an unmanly man. He has, in fact, a wife and seven children. Tall and burly, the hands with which he handles his delicate specimens are as gnarled and powerful as those of a Canadian lumberjack, and when I swilled beer with him in his laboratory, he bawled his conclusions at me in a strong, gruff voice that implemented the promise of his swaggering moustache.’” (Dorothy L. Sayers)

“Grown ups are what’s left when skool is finished.” (Nigel Molesworth)

“If you don't like the ‘blame game,’ it’s usually because you’re to blame.” (Jon Stewart)

“Slang is for a war of signals.” (Unknown semiotician/palindromist)

“Science fiction is an argument with the world. When it becomes (solely) an argument within science fiction, it breathes recycled air.” (Ken MacLeod)

“All worthy work is open to interpretation the author didn’t intend. Art isn’t your pet—it’s your kid. It grows up and talks back.” (Joss Whedon)

“I really don’t know what you do about the ‘taxes is theft’ crowd, except possibly enter a gambling pool regarding just how long after their no-tax utopia comes true that their generally white, generally entitled, generally soft and pudgy asses are turned into thin strips of Objectivist Jerky by the sort of pitiless sociopath who is actually prepped and ready to live in the world that logically follows these people’s fondest desires.” (John Scalzi)

“So whenever a libertarian says that capitalism is at odds with the state, laugh at him. It’s like saying that the NFL is ‘at war’ with football fields. To be a libertarian is to say that God or the universe marked up that field, squirted out the pigskins from the bowels of the earth, and handed down the playbooks from Mt. Sinai.” (Connor Kilpatrick)

“True religion invites us to become better people. False religion tells us that this has already occurred.” (Abdal-Hakim Murad)

“There is a machine. Its program is ‘profit’. This is not a myth.” (Joss Whedon)

“There's always romance at the top of a system.” (Will Shetterly)

“Power always thinks it has a great soul and vast views, beyond the comprehension of the weak.” (John “Second US President” Adams)

“There is a document that records God’s endless, dispiriting struggle with organized religion, known as the Bible.” (Terry Eagleton)

“There comes a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part, you can’t even passively take part; and you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop, And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, the people who own it, that unless you’re free the machine will be prevented from working at all.” (Mario Savio)

“Racism is not merely a simplistic hatred. It is, more often, broad sympathy toward some and broader skepticism toward others.” (Ta-Nehisi Coates)

“To live is to war against the trolls.” (Henrik Ibsen)

“There is at the back of all our lives an abyss of light, more blinding and unfathomable than any abyss of darkness; and it is the abyss of actuality, of existence, of the fact that things truly are, and that we are ourselves incredibly and sometimes almost incredulously real.” (G. K. Chesterton)

“Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.” (Rainer Maria Rilke)

“It’s just a ride and we can change it any time we want. It’s only a choice. No effort, no work, no job, no savings and money, a choice right now, between fear and love. The eyes of fear want you to put bigger locks on your door, buy guns, close yourself off. The eyes of love instead see all of us as one.” (Bill Hicks)

“I don’t think we have a language, will ever have a language, that can describe transcendence in any useful way and I am aware that that transcendence may be nothing more than the illusory aspiration of a decaying piece of meat on a random rock. The thing is to be humble enough to be content with that while acting to other people as generously as if better things were true, and making art as if it might survive and do good in the world. Because what else are we going to do with the few short years of our life?” (Roz Kaveney)

“No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” (Samuel Beckett)

“Fuck every cause that ends in murder and children crying.” (Iain Banks)

“If it doesn’t connect with people around you who aren’t like you, it isn’t politics.” (Teresa Nielsen Hayden)

December 13, 2014
I’ll sing the anthem that banishes doubt
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 08:06 AM * 105 comments

I was all but crying with laughter after watching this video (via @mgedemin on Twitter). Astronaut Tom Marshburn has entirely forgotten about gravity—not as an intellectual concept, of course, but as an everyday physical reality. He unconsciously expects that an object placed midair will stay there. And when it doesn’t, his first searching glance is upward.*

In some ways, it reminds me of the excellent “Shtetl Days” by Harry Turtledove, with its subtle, clever examination of how practice shapes what we believe and who we are.

In other ways, it makes me ask again what habits of thought and behavior can make a police officer look at a person he’s supposed to protect and serve and see a demon. How many jokes, off-the-cuff comments, and casual slurs scoured those channels of his mind and created his immediate, unthinking reaction when the moment came?

And it makes me conscious of how much culture shapes a society’s attitudes toward torture: enabling it, believing it works, studiously ignoring it as long as possible, justifying it when it becomes unignorable. This is why all of the protestations that “this is not who we are” ring hollow: if it were not who we are, we would not have done what we did. Our unmindful behaviors reveal us.

But also, I think about a recent team-building session at work, which led me to explain how I use my blue light box to bridge the gap between developers and non-coders. My partner in the exercise, a fairly senior person in my company, has now asked me to come tell him more about the ways I experience these gaps. He wants to figure out whether they can be reduced.

Because the pen drops, whether you expect it to or not. The demon remains a person, and his community resents his death. The people you torture are thereby motivated to fight you. Actions have consequences.

And yet all is not lost. This may be who we are, but it is not who we must always be. We should choose our habits with care, for we will become them. We can be watchful and mindful and willing to change, aware that our beliefs and the actions that spring from them shape the world. This is a possible thing.

* Given that the channel is a satirical channel, this may be an act. I’d assumed the snarky link material was the channel’s contribution to the video, since there are so many context-dependent unconscious habits that we develop in our lives. But my point stands, even if this is an amusing riff on a human tendency rather than an expression of it.

December 07, 2014
Open thread 202
Posted by Teresa at 09:34 PM * 312 comments

Xandy Peters, a young industrial designer, invented a striking new stitch pattern she named Fox Paws. She put it up on Ravelry. A woman in Tottori, Japan knitted a beautiful version of it in yarns from a small factory in Ödeshög, Östergötlands whose F2F shop is open maybe two days a week.

The pattern has been knitted by people in West Yorkshire, Overijssel, Moscow, Lancashire, County Clare, NYC, Richmond, Tacoma, and Pittsburgh. Along the way it’s been translated into Polish, annotated in Cyrillic, charted by a construction manager in Queensland, and reworked as socks, a beanie, and a cardigan. Sixty-odd German-speaking knitters formed a support group about it. My guess is that pattern will be around as long as humans keep knitting.

So thank you, internet. Twenty years ago, that couldn’t have happened. While we’re at it, thank you for for propagating Twitter, cellphone videos, non-mainstream porn, Wikipedia pages about still-happening events, blog posts about absolutely anything, a zillion galleries on DeviantArt, and the many-to-many voice.

It’s easy to get dispirited. Flamewars we have with us always, and they’re always a downer. But the important fact to remember is that the same internet that can’t tell whether you’re a dog can eventually figure out that Theodore Beale and Requires Hate are monsters. They don’t own the net. Online culture has never been made in their image. They’re just a couple of the bugs you’re sure to get in a lively and diverse ecology. Screw them. Let a thousand flowers bloom.

November 21, 2014
Pages like the petals of a red carnation
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 05:07 PM * 185 comments

For the past year or so Tiemen Zwaan, the SF/F and YA buyer at my favorite local bookstore (the delightful American Book Center in Amsterdam), has been doing what he calls Blind Book Dates. As he explains in a blog post on the subject:

I discovered that if you wrap a book and just put a few keywords with cryptic descriptions on it, suddenly something mysterious started to happen. People were drawn to this unknown book. They started to try to guess the obscured title. Interestingly enough, not knowing the title and the author made people more likely to try a new read. All the great (but not widely known) books suddenly started to fly off the shelves. And people came back for more Blind Book Dates. They tried new books, novels that they usually wouldn’t have picked up, and they really liked them.

I’ve seen the Blind Book Dates in the store, and the ones I’ve recognized have been well-chosen and well-described. I’m not surprised that people like them.

Tomorrow, the ABC in Amsterdam is hosting a Blind Book Date party, where people can bring their own wrapped and labeled books and try them out on other attendees. I’ve got other things to do and can’t go, but it does sound like a fun idea. I thought we might play along here on Making Light.

Of course, on the internet we can only “wrap” things with our words. So I’m suggesting a wrinkle on Tiemen’s rules: try to describe the book in about three points, but write them out in the style of another writer. I’ve included a couple of examples in this post, using fairly guessable books and styles. But I’d really love to hear about things I haven’t run across before. (Christmas is a-coming, and my wishlist is looking kind of thin.)

  1. For the first, this book is the story of a revolution—or perhaps it might be more precise to say, a rebellion. The terms are, alas, often used interchangeably by lesser historians, which has led to a not uncommon degree of confusion among readers of history. Therefore, rather than mislead, I shall merely state that it contains one or the other, depending on the reader’s understanding of the matter at hand.

    As a second clue, one of the characters in this book is not, in fact, human (nor, and I state this to once more be precise, is the character an Easterner). In short, he (or she, for the matter is not so much indeterminate as it is ambivalent) is not made of flesh at all.

    The third hint that I will produce is this: the greatest proportion of the events that the author does us the honor of narrating take place not on the soil of our own native planet, but on, or rather principally underneath, that of a satellite of said planet.

  2. He has painted
    the sigil
    her forehead

    with which
    she can probably
    the night god.

    But what is
    The meaning of
    the silver
    apricot stone?
  3. It is a truth universally acknowledged that a demon-hunter desiring to retire must be in want of a final challenge.

    However little he himself may wish it as he sips cardamom tea in his beloved city, this truth is so well fixed in the mind of the All-Merciful, that he is considered the rightful pursuer of any jackals and falcon princes that may appear.

Usual parlor game rules apply, please: it’s OK to duplicate books and authors, because everyone’s interpretations are interesting; ROT-13 your guesses. And do feel free to pick examples from outwith our usual genres and authors.

November 04, 2014
In defense of non-voters
Posted by Patrick at 10:11 AM * 202 comments

I vote in every election, even funny little off-year ones. And I’m very sympathetic to the argument that if voting didn’t matter, certain factions among the powerful wouldn’t be going to so much trouble to reduce the number of people allowed to do it.

But there’s an argument I’m not sympathetic to, and I’m seeing it everywhere I look online today. It’s the one that goes “If you don’t vote, you have no right to complain.”

It’s bullshit. Everybody has the right to complain. People who disagree with you and me about the value of voting have the right to complain. Monarchists and anarchists have the right to complain. The foolish, the feckless, and the chronically annoying have the right to complain. People who forgot about the election have the right to complain. People who were too tired to get out of the house have the right to complain.

I don’t want to get too far into the philosophical weeds of what “rights” actually are, which ones are “inherent” or “natural,” or what any of that actually means in the real world. But to put it plainly, if there are fundamental rights to justice and equity, to fair treatment, then we’re born with them. We don’t earn them by voting, or by participating in any other specific political transaction that’s evolved from the contigencies of history. To argue that “if you don’t vote, you have no right to complain” is basically to frame fundamental human rights as a grant, not an entitlement. And it’s to assert that you, O virtuous voter, have the right to revoke that grant to someone because they didn’t value voting as highly as you do.

It’s a bullying assertion of unearned moral superiority. Voting is fine. Go, vote. But stop saying that people who disagree about this should be stripped of their rights. Alternately, if you keep saying it, well, we have a pretty good idea of how much you respect the idea that fundamental rights are for everyone, not just people you happen to like and agree with.

November 03, 2014
Two memorial events for Velma Bowen
Posted by Patrick at 08:15 AM

One in Seattle. Vicki Rosenzweig writes:

We are planning a memorial gathering for Velma on Saturday, November 8, at 1:30 PM, at Washington Hall in Seattle. Everyone is welcome.

There’s no formal officiant. Instead, this is an opportunity for her family and friends to get up and share our memories of Velma. We’re still working on the details of the planning. If you know you’ll want to get up and speak, please tell Vicki Rosenzweig, by email at Or if you just want to be with people, please let Vicki know you’re likely to attend so we can get a head-count for food and drink.

Washington Hall is in the Central District, at 153 14th Ave., Seattle, 98122. We will be in the Lodge Room. The space is wheelchair-accessible and easily accessible by mass transit; there is also a parking lot. We have the room from 1:00 PM until 5:00 PM, including set-up and clean-up time; if you want to come early and help with set-up, please let Vicki know.

RSVPs to Vicki at, please; I’m trying to reduce the burden on Scraps.

And one in New York City. Elise Matthesen writes:
A memorial service for Velma deSelby-Bowen will be held Tuesday, November 18, in the theater of St. James Presbyterian Church, 409 W 141st St. (corner of 141st St. and St. Nicholas Ave) in Manhattan. The service will begin at 6 PM and will be followed with a light repast.

NOTE: If you plan to attend, please confirm by email to, so that adequate preparations can be made to accommodate everyone at the service. (If you forward or repost this notice, please include this information as well. Thank you.)

To repeat: Please email Vicki if you plan to be at the Seattle event, and email Elise if you plan to attend the event in New York. Comments are closed on this post.

November 01, 2014
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 10:00 AM * 101 comments

You know what? I miss the non-political relief threads we had back in 2008. I really enjoyed reading what was rattling around in the mathom-houses of everyone’s mind. So does anyone fancy another?

Today, after all, is a great day for such a thread. Not just because it’s (at least in the Northern Hemisphere) a gathering-in and hoarding time, but also because it’s All Saints’ Day. In the Catholic tradition, today is kind of the catch-all feast for the saints who didn’t make the Calendar, or who made it and were then superseded by some more recently beatified whippersnapper. It’s a good day for thinking about quirky, eccentric figures and their forgotten histories.

So tell me. Who, among the neglected and misunderstood figures of the past, inspires you? In whose story do you find delight and inspiration? (They don’t have to be Catholic, Christian, or religious at all. Just, you know, awesome in their own ways.)

I’ll start with kind of a gimme: Joshua Norton, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico.

I mean, yes, it’s fairly clear that the loss of his fortune, and the loss of the subsequent court case, contributed to a fundamental departure from consensus reality. But, like alcohol, that kind of delusion is a real test of character. We’ve certainly seen other people who have suffered such reverses and become their darkest selves.

So what did Norton do when he’d slipped his moorings? What true self did he reveal? He made a number of proclamations, which seem to have ranged from “a good idea but impractical” to “wait a century or so and we’ll have it” (he called for a bridge across the San Francisco Bay and a tunnel under it). He spent his time inspecting the infrastructure of his demesne and paying attention to the activities of its public servants. He stopped a riot from becoming violent. He pardoned the policeman who arrested him for insanity and consistently thanked his benefactors.

If the proof of his life was in the ending of it, he proved out well: his funeral was paid for by well-wishers and attended by a reported 30,000 people. He’s an icon of the Bay Area, but really, he belongs to us all: a man who lost his mind, perhaps, but never his heart.