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September 27, 2011
Scandinavians on Scandinavians
Posted by Teresa at 07:05 PM * 93 comments

1. A Danish comedian contemplates Norwegian swimming rules. (You’ll want to read the expanded version of the liner notes.) Also: the same comedian talks about his trip to Norway to see the end of the world.

2. Scandinavia and the World is a web comic starring Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, with guest appearances by other Northern European geopolitical entities. Everyone wears their national flag as a shirt. Their heights are determined by the highest point of elevation in their country. It’s livelier than you’re imagining right now.

Basically, it’s about national stereotypes as seen from Denmark, with lots of explanatory comments and a fair amount of yaoi action. Iceland is sparkly and conceited. Finland is a semi-mute knife-wielding depressive in a Jayne hat.* Germany lives in a funk of perpetual guilt. Denmark is laid back, constantly horny, a clueless racist, and phobic about nature, and has a beer bottle glued to one hand. Netherlands is much like Denmark — tolerant, easygoing, polymorphously perverse, and crazy about bicycles — but has a joint rather than a beer bottle. The Baltic States are like the Bronte Sisters on a really bad day. The United States is clueless, bullying, and wears Canada as a hat. And so forth.

My favorite line: “You made an alcoholic out of sand!”

The cartoon I have to link to: Tiny Giant Monsters.

To read them all in order, start at the bottom of the page and work your way up. Some samples:

The brotherly north: Nordic Brothers, The Law Is the Law, Raising Children, Nuclear Power, Ungodly Surprise, Swedish Politics, The Clock Is Ticking, Drama Bear, Mean Names, Good to See You, England.

The cult of the bicycle: N00bs off the Road, This Is Bikeland.

German guilt: Not a Yahtzee, Evil Flag.

Food and drink: Nordics Love Fish, Exotic Food, Coffee, The Circle of Beer, The Scariest Ghost Ever.

Unlovable America: King Europe, America Has Spoken, Sister America, The Day the Iraq War Started, Gay Eggs.

The Further Highly Random Adventures of Denmark: Making Friends, They Grow Up So Fast, Denmark the Artist, Clothes Confusion, How to Keep Friends.

Miscellaneous weirdness: Nothing Is Perfect, Drunken Party, Christmas Traditions, Coat of Arms.

Thanks to Jim for introducing me to the site.

September 23, 2011
Urban arrivals
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 11:47 AM * 344 comments

A story starts when somebody comes to town.

  • If they’re a long-lost denizen of the town, it’s a Thomas Hardy novel.
  • If they’re a long-lost denizen of the town whom no one recognizes until someone dies of spontaneous human combustion, it’s a Charles Dickens novel.
  • If they leave town again, it’s a Cory Doctorow novel.
  • If they are in want of a wife, it’s a Jane Austen novel.
  • If they come to town in the company of a strange set of locals and go to meet the guy in charge, it’s Shane. Or possibly The Wizard of Oz.
  • If the denizens of the town are not of their species, it’s a first contact novel.
  • If it was their destiny to come to the town in quest of a magical artifact which will cause them to defeat a great evil upon the land, it’s heroic fantasy.
  • If they meet a lot of vampires there, it’s urban fantasy.
  • If there are plums involved, it’s Making Light.
  • If their ethnicity is mentioned, it’s a joke.

September 21, 2011
Dysfunctional Families Day: Tangled Emotions
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 09:49 AM *

You know, one of these years I would love to come to Dysfunctional Families Day and have nothing to say. I’d love to have a whole year pass by without seeing anything that makes me twitch in that peculiar way.

This is not that year. Because this is the year Tangled came out.

Plenty of Disney films have wicked stepmothers; they’re quite ordinary villains in the genre. They do things like banish the heroine to the kitchen or send her out into the forest to be murdered. There may be rags and neglect involved. But Tangled’s Mother Gothel is much worse than that. She uses love like a poisoned apple or a witch’s curse, as a tool to achieve her own ends. And she’s clearly written by someone who knows, bone deep, how that works.

It’s well done, too. The song where she persuades Rapunzel not to try to leave the tower is a virtuoso tour of emotional manipulation. The first verse is designed to isolate Rapunzel from the outside world; the second loads her down with emotional debt, and the third belittles and diminishes her. And the end is the purest dysfunction of all: the exchange of I love you’s turned into a contest, so that Gothel can win.

But that’s not the tell. That’s not the sign that someone in the film’s production team has lived this, right down to the bitter dregs of emotional damage. Rapunzel’s range of emotions at escaping the tower is the real shibboleth. That ambivalence, that cycling back and forth between joy and guilt? That’s the detail that makes it ring true.

The only weakness in this portrait is that Rapunzel seems to escape the damage of this formative relationship. Her reunion with her parents is unshadowed. There is no hint of the struggle she’ll face after the closing credits, learning how love, generosity and sacrifice really work.

Back here in the real world, the kind of childhood Rapunzel survived has consequences. They’re not always permanent: some people manage to unpick the hurts and habits and build up new emotional structures that work. But sometimes the tower is harder—or impossible—to escape. Then victory doesn’t look like the satisfying resolution of a children’s film. It looks like a happy day, a good relationship, a healthy child, a satisfied nod at the face and figure in the mirror. It looks like a good night’s sleep and a good day’s work, the confidence to take risks, and the emotional energy to recover from failures.

May all who strive for these victories achieve them, and more.

Some administrative notes for this thread: Just like on previous observances of the day, I’m running this under very tight moderation. Please note that:

  • Anonymity and the use of a second identity is explicitly welcome.
    To disassociate your comments from your usual identity, change the email address you post under. Then your comments won’t show up under “view all by” along with those of your mainline identity.
    If you blow it, don’t worry. I’ll be patrolling the back end and cleaning up anything that looks like a failed attempt at anonymizing.
  • Conversely, one-off identities and blurred identity are discouraged.
    Pick a handle in the thread, and make an email address (it doesn’t have to work) that matches it, so that all of your posts are associated with one another, and so that others can tell that they’re conversing with one person.
  • Some kinds of advice are not advisable.
    If you’ve never been in these discussions before, it’s sometimes tempting to advocate for the impossible. Comments like, “but they’re the only parents you’ve got,” or “give it one more try” are more than mere noise in threads like this: they’re active agents of damage. I’ll be dealing fairly harshly with them.
  • I love you guys.
    Some serious shit goes down in these threads. The situations we’re discussing give rise to powerful emotions, not all of which are considered “appropriate” to either hold or express. It’s OK. This is the place to talk about what is, not what should be, no matter how dark and difficult and awkward it is.

By the way, these relevant comics came up in a recent Open thread. It’s the fullest assortment of Clarissa comics I’ve seen on the web (click on the “Monstrar Spoiler” links to reveal them.) If you’re familiar with Clarissa, you know what to expect. If not, this is a trigger warning: these deal with the effects of sexual abuse in an explicit and unsparing fashion. Some people find it healing to see the matter discussed openly; if this is not you, do not look.

September 19, 2011
The greatest enemies of mankind
Posted by Avram Grumer at 03:50 AM * 79 comments

We all know about the Tuskegee syphilis study, right? How, starting back in the 1930s, the US Public Health Service allowed allowed hundreds of poor black men in rural Alabama to believe they were receiving free health care so that they could study the long-term effects of untreated syphilis? How this all came out when Peter Buxton leaked the story to The Washington Star in 1972, resulting in not only the end of the study, but new federal laws requiring informed consent for studies on human beings, to keep such a thing from happening again?

Turns out we don’t know nothin’. The New York Times, last week (via Nicole LeBoeuf):

A class-action lawsuit was filed Thursday against a prominent Baltimore medical institute, accusing it of knowingly exposing black children as young as a year old to lead poisoning in the 1990s as part of a study exploring the hazards of lead paint.

[…] David Armstrong, the father of the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, David Armstrong Jr., said that after his son, age 3, was tested for high levels of lead in 1993, he went to a Kennedy Krieger clinic for help. The father said the family was provided state-subsidized housing by Kennedy Krieger and was told they would be part of a two-year research project. Mr. Armstrong said he was not told that his son was being introduced to elevated levels of lead paint dust.

This is the first I’m hearing about it, even though the investigation started in 2001, maybe because it was shortly before 9/11.

Update: See comments below, where’s it’s looking like things might be more complicated. (Especially Ginger’s comments, but there’s been some back-and-forth, and I’m not sure who’s got the right of it.)

September 16, 2011
Air Crash in Reno
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 09:10 PM * 27 comments

A multiple casualty incident in Reno, Nevada, 1615 PDT. Plane crashed into crowd at Reno Air Races multiple injuries, and fatalities. Video here. Story at CNN here. Photos here.

Live Police/Fire/EMS scanners here. Special Events scanner here.

It is given to no man to know the day or hour.

September 15, 2011
Open Thread 164
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 01:22 PM *

  • NEW - Different color from previous design.
  • ALL NEW - Parts are not interchangeable with previous design.
  • EXCLUSIVE - Imported product.
  • UNMATCHED - Almost as good as the competition.
  • FOOLPROOF OPERATION - No provision for adjustments.
  • ADVANCED DESIGN - The advertising agency doesn’t understand it.
  • IT’S HERE AT LAST - Rush job. Nobody knew it was coming.
  • FIELD TESTED - Manufacturer lacks test equipment.
  • HIGH ACCURACY - All parts fit.
  • FUTURISTIC - No conceivable reason for it to look the way it does.
  • REDESIGNED - Previous flaws fixed—we hope.
  • DIRECT SALES ONLY - Manufacturer had a big argument with distributor.
  • YEARS OF DEVELOPMENT - We finally got one to work.
  • BREAKTHROUGH - We finally figured out a use for it.
  • MAINTENANCE FREE - Impossible to fix.
  • MEETS ALL STANDARDS - Ours, not yours.
  • SOLID-STATE - Heavy as hell.
  • HIGH RELIABILITY - We made it work long enough to ship it.
  • NON-REFUNDABLE - We couldn’t make it work long enough to ship it.

Continued from Open Thread 163

Continued in Open thread 165

September 12, 2011
Fecal necessities
Posted by Avram Grumer at 10:19 PM *

Via a comment in Seanan McGuire’s LJ, I see that romance author Susan Andersen has discovered a typo in the digital version of one of her books:

He stiffened for a moment but then she felt his muscles loosen as he shitted on the ground.

Shifted — he SHIFTED! God, I am so appalled, not to mention horrified that anyone would think that’s what I wrote.

When Chris read this to me, I had to wonder:

Me: Do you think she’s horrified that people would think she wrote that her character took a dump, or that they’d think she wrote shitted instead of shat?
Chris: She’s a romance novelist. They generally don’t work blue.

We were both reminded of a (possibly apocryphal) story from decades back (which I think I first encountered on GEnie’s SFRT), in which a romance author not only named her hunky male sex object Drek, but opened her book with “Drek was hard and brown from long hours in the sun.”

Finding Books to Read
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 06:12 PM * 158 comments

Yet more of the thrash that is publishing, as folks notice that if the bookstores vanish, finding books you like will become harder.

The number one reason anyone buys a book is that he or she has read and enjoyed another book by the same author. The number two reason is that a trusted friend recommended the book. What some folks are looking for is an automated friend; the replacement for the friendly, helpful, knowledgeable bookstore clerk.

In The Economist:

Great digital expectations
Digitisation may have come late to book publishing, but it is transforming the business in short order

This week a British outfit called aNobii released a trial version of a website that it hopes will become a Wikipedia-style community of book lovers, with an option to buy. The idea has potential.

So, yet another Social Medium joins the party. This adds to the fragmentation of the on-line world. A thousand communities becomes a thousand and one, each a tiny bit smaller. It’ll be interesting to see how it all shakes out; I’m going to predict that this site will be over-run by self-promoters. It’s only minutes before they find out about it.

The Economist says “Wikipedia-like” (though that would in itself import a whole layer of known weaknesses), but I don’t see it. Where’s the ability to edit the reviews? And do we want anonymous others editing the reviews? That would end in a bad place.

aNobii is over here.

Meanwhile, you can find other Book Recommenders. e.g. What Should I Read Next. What criteria they use isn’t clear to me.

Way back when, there was a site where you’d be shown a bunch of titles and asked whether you’d read them, and, if you had, whether you liked or didn’t like it. I don’t recall its name (but it had an Ancient Greek theme, if that helps). After it had enough ratings from you, it would recommend new books for you. Sort of like Pandora Radio does for music now.

It’s long-since gone. But I think it may be time for it to make a comeback.

September 11, 2011
What is true, no two men know
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 12:00 AM * 95 comments

If history is with anybody, it is with those who are not sure where it is heading.
—Clive James, The Crystal Bucket

My mother read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings to me when I was four years old. I reread them many times over the subsequent years. I had, for a long time, my own visions of the places and characters of the books. I knew what the plains of Rohan looked like, and Minas Tirith of the seven circles, and Gandalf with his sword and staff. My Gandalf, I mean, the one I saw in my head when I reread the books, built up of my own impressions and imaginings. My own private Gandalf.

In the early 21st century, Martin and I were in the habit of going to near New Year’s parties at the house of a friend of ours who had taught Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse. The gatherings were full of fans and experts, and there was but one topic over the black bun and single malt: what do you think? Each year’s film was discussed, dissected, analyzed, and criticized; who was well-treated and who poorly? Was the divide between the lines Tolkien gave the characters and the ones Jackson did too painfully clear? Was Glorfindel’s absence a flaw? Tom Bombadil’s?

Although I liked the films, and enjoyed the discussions, that time was one of intangible loss for me. The pleasure was tinged with resentment, because they overwrote my private Gandalf. I can no longer remember him. It is an irretrievable loss.

So it is today, though against a darker and more painful background.

We each have our own private memories of September 11, 2001. I certainly have mine, wrapped up in the suicide the day before of someone in my then-online community*, the phone call from Martin while I was in the charity shop with my five month old baby looking for overalls, the bus ride home to the terrible images on the television. The comfortlessness of a candle in the window. The horror and anger of the people I was chatting with online.

Those are painful memories. I grieve again, writing this.

But what I resent, what makes me upset and angry in a helpless and unhelpful way, is the fashion in which pundits and politicians are trying to do to our memories of that day what those films did to my private Gandalf. It feels to me that the media wants to overwrite our own recollection, our own reactions and considerations, with their carefully packaged interpretations: clash of cultures, fanatics rather than faithful, they hate our freedom, they’re just like us, they’re nothing like us, they’re a ‘them’ rather than part of ‘us’…

Furthermore, this is not being done in the pursuit of art, or even of entertainment. Indeed, it is not being done for our benefit at all. We are being farmed for our anger, fertilized with the same images over and over again, that we may come ripe on election days and when the pollsters call.

I’m not interested in being part of that. I’ve lost enough already.


* /me misses hermetic, even now.

September 10, 2011
I got nothin’
Posted by Patrick at 06:15 PM * 85 comments

You think it’s an accident that the dates we chose to visit Abi, and Martin, and the generally sane and well-designed Netherlands, happen to include the date of the inevitable American mediagasm over 9/11? Okay, no, you don’t think it’s an accident. Because you’re smarter than the average bear.

People smarter than me have your definitive 9/11 posts. Charlie Stross has the right idea. Jim Henley is more honest about what it really meant, to a subset of us, than reality can perhaps bear.

And Jim is right that this is probably the greatest thing written in the immediate wake of the events. What some people (not Jim) don’t get is that the Onion wasn’t making fun of her. We were all her. Nothing since then has suggested that we’ve attained more insight into our true condition.

September 02, 2011
Ancient Near Eastern Valentines
Posted by Teresa at 04:00 PM * 31 comments

I’ve found (via Dig Girl) another site that, like us, celebrates an annual orgy of holiday language-geekery. Eisenbrauns is an academic publisher that specializes in ancient Near East and Biblical studies. For four years now, they’ve celebrated Valentine’s Day with an Ancient Near Eastern Valentine contest, viz.:

2008: Luwian hieroglyphics, a Hurrian-Hittite dialogue, verses in Sumerian and Hebrew, “The Cyprosyrian Girl” (downloadable as an MP3), “The Medinet-Hubbu Cippus: Towards a preliminary description” (my favorite, a Ptolemaic trilingual inscription), and a love song rendered into very pretty Egyptian hieroglyphics.

2009: Two Hittite and one Egyptian valentines, one verse I’m guessing is in Hebrew (but only because it’s written right-to-left), and—the obvious winner—a Ugaritic tablet.

2010: A clay cuneiform heart, the Balcony Scene as performed in Hebrew and Canaanite by Helomatt and Gerlab, an “Ode for Francis” in a script I can’t identify, Max Rogland’s “Song of the Four Locusts” in Hebrew (my favorite that year), and an Old Babylonian love poem on a baked clay tablet.

The first verse and chorus from “The Song of the Four Locusts”:

Have you said in your heart:
“My companion is lost forever”?
Yesterday I saw her!
Her heart is still (directed) towards you.
And she commanded me to declare:
She loves you.
Is this not a good thing?
Surely, she loves you.
Therefore you should rejoice!
She loves you.
Let us sing it twice,
Even three times:
She loves you.
2011: Two valentines in unidentified languages, a love song in Mandaean (which won), and the undaunted Max Rogland’s Ishah Yafah (“Pretty Woman”), attributed to Roi Ben-Orbi, with a video of Prof. Rogland’s Hebrew class performing it.

It’s pretty darn wonderful. All it needs is a comment thread and some plums.

Best Bibs and Tuckers, Everyone!
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 07:26 AM * 56 comments

Despite my manifold faults, I seem to have managed to convince Patrick and Teresa to come back to the Netherlands later this month. At first I suspected it was the cheese, or perhaps the windmills. But an even more plausible hypothesis is that it’s the small, select and charming set of people here who read Making Light.

Given that, I’d like to announce a Gathering of Light in honor of their visit. The plan is to meet at Cafe Ot en Sien (the same place we went last time), at about 6 pm on Friday, September 9*. Sometime thereafter, we will probably wander across the river and find something to eat†.

Ot en Sien’s website appears to have gone the way of all things, but here is a map. It’s easy to get to from Centraal Station:

  1. Go out the back (north, river-facing) side of the station. The ferries are by the northwest corner of the building.
  2. Take the Buikslotermeer ferry. They run every five minutes or so, and are free. Pedestrians, bikes and motor scooters are OK, but motorcycles are not allowed.
  3. Head north, away from the river. The second right turn takes you onto Buiksloterweg.
  4. The cafe is almost immediately on your left.

(Bibs and tuckers are actually optional. Instead, please dress up as someone who reads Making Light.)


* Yes, I am aware that that is only a week away. I apologize for the short notice.

† I’ll update this entry and tweet (I’m evilrooster) when and where we’re going on to dinner.‡

‡ Why, yes, I love living in the future with my smartphone.

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