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January 31, 2012
January 30, 2012
Zwischen Ehre und Treue
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 05:57 PM * 32 comments

racheschwur

Die atemberaubende Reise zu den Sternen geht weiter

Beka Rosselin-Metadi hat den Verantwortlichen für den Mordanschlag auf ihre Mutter aufgespürt. Doch Ebenra D’Caer hat sich in die Magierwelten geflüchtet, wohin Beka ihm nicht folgen kann, ohne zu riskieren, den nächsten galaktischen Krieg auszulösen. Beka folgt ihm dennoch - und entdeckt, dass sich die Magierwelten längst auf einen Überfall auf die Republik vorbereiten. Sie sind bereits viel zu stark, als dass die Republik diesen Krieg für sich entscheiden könnte. Es sei denn, eine einzelne Frau schafft das Unmögliche!

Kaufen Sie es jetzt!

Zwischen Ehre und Treue

Intrigen, Raumschlachten und eine umwerfende Heldin

Die Armada der Magierwelten hat die Welten der Republik überrollt, koordinierter Widerstand ist nicht mehr möglich. Beka Rosselin-Metadi versucht es dennoch, obwohl ihre Feinde zahllos und ihre Freunde zu wenige sind, um einen Unterschied zu machen. Mit nichts als einem berühmten Namen und einem nicht weniger berühmten Schiff, der „Warhammer” ihres Vaters, sammelt Beka die Rebellen um sich. Da erfährt sie, dass einige ihrer Feinde offenbar in Wirklichkeit auf ihrer Seite stehen - und dass in den eigenen Reihen der Verrat lauert …

Das Finale der packenden Space Opera.

Dieser Titel erscheint am: 20. August 2012

January 28, 2012
But what were they doing in Crobuzon?
Posted by Patrick at 08:46 PM * 146 comments

Have you visited (or lived in!) both $PLACENAME and New $PLACENAME? Extra points for Nova, Nuevo, and other non-English forms of “new.”

Off the top of my head, I’ve been in both:

  • York and New York
  • London and New London
  • Mexico and New Mexico
  • Zeeland and New Zealand
  • South Wales and New South Wales
  • Hampshire and New Hampshire
  • England and New England (okay, a gimme for lots of us)
  • Utrecht and New Utrecht (the latter is just six subway stops south of here)
  • Laredo and Nuevo Laredo (hey, they’re just across the border from one another)
Alas, I have yet to visit Orléans, or Nova Scotia. Anyway, discuss.

Wrong on So Many Levels
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 11:36 AM * 155 comments

I was reading a sign high on the wall behind the bar: ‘Only genuine pre-war British and American whiskeys served here.’ I was trying to count how many lies could be found in those nine words, and had reached four, with promise of more …
—Dashiell Hammett, “The Golden Horseshoe”

January 27, 2012
Misleadingly Named Recipes
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 05:47 PM * 48 comments

In honor of National Chocolate Cake Day (27 January, and no, I’m not making that up): From the Old Family Recipe bin, Scotch Chocolate Cake and Seven-Minute Frosting.

Scotch Chocolate Cake contains no Scotch. (The name is actually an ethnic slur: The cake is supposedly inexpensive.) Seven-Minute Frosting takes way longer than seven minutes to make. You will, however, be beating it for seven straight minutes.

So:

Scotch Chocolate Cake

(2 and 1/2 dozen cupcakes, or 2 9” round pans greased and lined on the bottom with wax paper)

  • Melted together and cooled:
    • 2 1-ounce squares baking chocolate in
    • ½ cup hot water
  • 1 and ½ cup sugar
  • ½ cup shortening (e.g. Crisco)
  • 2 eggs at room temperature, well beaten
  • 2 cups cake flour, sifted before measuring
  • 1 tsp baking soda, sifted with the flour (second sifting)
  • 1 tsp vanilla plus a few drops almond extract
  • ½ cup buttermilk

Cream sugar and butter well.
Add cooled chocolate mixture
Add eggs; blend well (fold-over method).
Add flour mixture alternately with buttermilk, a little at a time (begin and end with flour). Mix about 500 strokes.
Add flavoring.
Bake in moderate (350°F) oven until surface springs back when pressed with a finger.

Seven Minute Frosting

Ingredients:

  • 5 tablespoons water
  • ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 ⅓ cups sugar
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Whisk water, cream of tartar, sugar, egg whites and corn syrup together in a large stainless-steel bowl. Set the bowl in a wide, deep skillet filled with about 1 inch of simmering water. Make sure the water level is at least as high as the depth of the egg whites in the bowl. Beat the egg whites with an electric mixer on low speed (or a hand mixer if you’re a masochist with arms like Popeye) until the mixture reaches 140°F on an instant-read thermometer. Do not stop beating while the bowl is in the skillet, or the egg whites will be overcooked. If you cannot hold the thermometer stem in the egg whites while continuing to beat, remove the bowl from the skillet just to read the thermometer, then return the bowl to the skillet. After the egg-mixture temperature reaches 140°F, beat on high speed for exactly 5 minutes. Remove the bowl from the skillet and add the vanilla. Beat on high speed for 2 more minutes.

Use immediately: This sets up fast.


Cooking with Light (recipe index)

January 24, 2012
January is Zombie Month
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 12:10 AM * 61 comments

If you do it twice, it’s a tradition!

Following the shamblerun-away success of Zombies On My Shoulder and Dead On Arrival….

When nibbeling on brainstems and men’s eyes
Such nourishment betrays uneasy state:
Not dead, nor living, summoned by the cries
Of those whose hearts beat yet, bewailing fate
Which makes them prey to us, who lack all hope.
Perhaps we are ensorcelled, or possess’d
By demons who can have no further scope
Than tempt despair, of all our sins the least,
And waken in our minds our own despising.
We were the same as you, of mortal state,
Once buried and once mourned, arising
To shamble through the lich-yard’s rusting gate.
We eat of meats unclean; one truth that brings:
A poor man’s offal tastes the same as king’s.

January 23, 2012
Can’t you hear beyond the croaking?
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 05:41 PM * 298 comments

You know the management-seminar myth about boiled frogs?

If you put a frog into a pot of boiling water, it says, the frog will hop out of it. But if you put said frog into a pot of cool water and slowly turn the heat up, it’ll stay there till it’s boiled. It’s not true, not for realistic frog cooking times at least. But it’s a useful metaphor for the tendency to endure much worse conditions if they come upon us gradually than we would accept in a sudden imposition.

What’s interesting and valuable, though, are those frogs who suddenly stick their heads out of the increasingly warm fluid and say Actually, you know, it’s too hot in here. Enough, already.

These musings are apropos of a movie review I found linked on Twitter. The reviewer, Drew McWeeny, was watching The Divide before writing it up when he found himself hitting the pause button.

Over the course of my life, I’d wager I’ve seen at least 10,000 movies. Maybe more. I’ve had years where I’ve mainlined as many as 500 movies, many of them older catalog titles. I have a voracious appetite for all types of movies, both high art and low. I love smart sophisticated movies, I love experimental films, and I love genre junk. I love any movie that offers me a genuine experience of some sort, where there’s something that moves me or that I recognize as true and well-observed or where someone just plain surprises me. I am open to pretty much anything when I sit down to a new film.

But at the age of 41, at about 94 minutes into “The Divide,” I reached a breaking point, and I realized that I am pretty much incapable of sitting through one more cheap, pointless, exploitative rape in a movie.

McWeeny goes on to point out that an explicit rape in a film may give it an R rating—but a consensual sex scene will trigger an NC-17, or force the film to go out unrated1. He theorizes, and I think he’s right, that many directors use rape as a way to get nudity or sex into movies without losing too much of their potential audience. This has a cost, of course, both to the actors (a rarely-cited thing, but important) and the increasingly jaded audience.

You push your actress, you brutalize the character, and you have a couple of actors play the absolute worst of humanity turned up to “cartoon,” and it means nothing. It is empty shock. It is without effect because of just how hollow a gesture it is. How can you justify asking an actress to bare herself both physically and emotionally for something as grimy as that without any real point to the scene? It can’t just be one more item on a checklist of atrocity. If that’s what you’re doing, then ask yourself why. What do you think any audience will get out of that? Are you doing it to horrify them, or do you feel like that’s what the audience wants and you need to give it to them? And if that’s the case, do you really want to feed that appetite?

As a film critic, McWeeny is focused primarily on the ways in which writers and directors have used rape to get a movie audience’s attention. But his reaction reminded me of a recent piece by Jim Hines in Apex Magazine. Hines, who is one of my favorite internet menschen, tackles the role of rape in storytelling rather more broadly. He points out the degree to which it’s clichéd, frequently unnecessary, and usually badly written to boot.

Story after story in which rape is a quick, thoughtless way to motivate a woman to set off in search of revenge (“Red Sonja Syndrome”), or else it’s lazy shorthand to show how evil someone is, like having them kick a puppy. Or worse, it’s written in such a way that the writer seems to be reveling in the act him- or herself, glorifying and celebrating every graphic detail.

The whole article is worth a read.

I’m certainly with both Hines and McWeeny here: there are books and films that use rape and sexual violence so badly that I’ll never be able to deal with them again (Lord Foul’s Bane springs to mind). And I’ve also seen them written extremely effectively, so much so that the character’s experience is the reason I own and reread the book (Deerskin, by Robin McKinley, which I find cathartic about once a year).

But there’s something that they both skip over, which I really think is important. The pervasive depiction of violent rape in movies and books isn’t just cardboard storytelling and a way to sneak nudity into a film. It’s also teaching viewers and readers what rape is: violent sexual assault, usually by a stranger.

And that definition is wrong, dangerously so. It’s the reason that between 6 and 8% of men are willing to admit to behaviors that fit the real definition of rape or attempted rape—but don’t call it by that name. Because they know what rape is. It’s what happened in The Divide, or The Road Warrior, or Thelma and Louise. It’s not that time they used a little too much force with a girl, or got her drunk or stoned enough that they didn’t have to worry about her saying “No”2.

I don’t have any answers here. I just wanted to join Hines and McWeeny in pointing out that the water’s rather painfully hot in here, and wondering if there were somewhere slightly more comfortable we could go instead.

Nota Bene: I am aware that women rape, and men get raped, as well, both in real life and in the stories we tell. But the vast majority of the incidents and depictions are male-on-female, and since I’m talking about popular culture here—peak of the bell curve stuff—I’m deliberately focusing on that subset. I do think that a more enlightened attitude toward violence and consent would improve even the rarest of edge cases, so though these other circumstances are neglected here, they are not forgotten.


  1. This echoes the fact that Herman Cain was able to survive several credible allegations of persistent harassment, but was finally out of the Presidential race because he’d had consensual sex with someone. As though the element of force, social or physical, had some kind of redemptive effect on the sexuality. As though the most obscene word in the English language were “Yes”, particularly when spoken by a woman.
  2. These are based on the survey questions used by Lisak & Miller, as cited by Yes Means Yes.

January 21, 2012
Life imitates Friz Freleng
Posted by Avram Grumer at 09:34 PM * 13 comments

For the recent Winter Economic Reinvigoration Holiday I got Chris a copy of Liaquat Ahamed’s Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World, about the worldwide economic collapse that led to the Great Depression. She’s enjoying it tremendously, and the other day picked out a paragraph to read to me, from a section on the World Economic Conference in London in 1933, describing with one of the American attendees.

Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce Key Pittman, Democratic Senator from Nevada, Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations, and Yosemite Sam impersonator:

At an official reception at Windsor Castle, he broke with all social convention by wearing his raincoat and a pair of bright yellow bulbous-toed shoes while being presented to King George V and Queen Mary, greeting them with the salutation, “King, I’m glad to meet you. And you too Queen.” He was usually drunk but even then amazed everyone by his ability to spit tobacco juice into a spittoon from a great distance with remarkable accuracy. One night he was discovered at Claridges sitting stark naked in the sink of the hotel pantry, pretending to be a statue in a fountain. Another night, he amused himself by shooting out the streetlamps on Upper Brook Street with his pistol. Pittman did take one subject seriously—the remonetization of silver, of which Nevada was a major producer—an issue about which he was so passionate that one evening when one of the American experts expressed a contrary opinion on its merits, Pittman pulled out a gun and chased the poor man through the corridors of Claridges.

Open Thread 169
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 07:14 PM *

War had come to an end, but famine came in its place. There were three men who each stole a sack of corn from different owners, but they were all caught. The first owner brought his thief to the judge, and the maidens said everywhere that he had done right. The second owner took the corn away from his thief and let him go in peace. The maidens said he has done well. The third owner went to the thief’s house, and when he saw what misery was there, he went and brought a waggon-load of necessaries to relieve their distress. Frya’s maidens came around him and wrote his deed in the eternal book, and wiped out all his sins. This was reported to the Eeremoeder, and she had it made known over the whole country.

(From The Oera Linda book: from a manuscript of the thirteenth century. Cornelis Over de Linden, Jan Gerhardus Ottema. Trübner & Co., London, 1876)

January 19, 2012
SOPA and PIPA: Where we are. What they want.
Posted by Patrick at 11:28 AM * 69 comments

SOPA, PIPA, and other laws and proposed laws like them claim to be about “piracy,” but don’t be fooled. Smart people have repeatedly debunked the idea that “piracy” is anything like the threat that Big Content says it is, and that its costs to the economy are anything like the gargantuan sums routinely claimed. The entertainment and publishing conglomerates pushing these bills have developed a practiced set of techniques with which to terrify legislators into believing that IP “piracy” costs the US eleventy-jillion dollars a year and LOST JOBS JOBS JOBS. If this comes as news to you, get out more.

While I’m at it, the controversy over these bills isn’t a war between the “content industry” and the “tech industry,” either, despite the mainstream media’s fondness for this simplistic narrative, and the surprising weakness even some very smart people have for it. The MPAA and RIAA would love to see everybody frame these issues as nothing more than a spat between “industries.” But the tens of thousands of writers, artists, musicians, and filmmakers who spoke out yesterday against SOPA and PIPA aren’t the “tech industry.” They’re creators—actual content creators—who know perfectly well that censorship is a greater threat to their livelihood than piracy, and that a world with a crippled internet and a no-appeals, guilty-until-proven-innocent copyright-enforcement regime would be a world in which they would be unable to do their work and survive.

So where are we this morning? An increasing number of members of Congress say they can’t support the bills in their current form, and the White House has said that Obama won’t sign them as presently consituted. Good news, right? Well, better than being punched in the face. But hardcore supporters and sponsors like Lamar Smith and Patrick Leahy (and Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand) insist that all these little technical problems will be ironed out and that once we have versions of the bills that address everyone’s complaints we’ll be moving them briskly along to passage.

Here’s Ars Technica: Even without DNS provisions, SOPA and PIPA remain fatally flawed.

Both PIPA and SOPA feature inadequate judicial oversight, allowing injunctions to be granted after a single, one-sided court hearing. Both give the power to seek injunctions not only to the attorney general but also to private copyright holders. […] Both bills allow the attorney general (and, in some cases, private parties—more on that later) to request a takedown of an overseas site based on the legal fiction that the website, rather than its owner, is the defendant. Because a website owner isn’t technically a party to the case, the judge can issue an injunction before he has even heard the defendant’s side of the case. And the attorney general can have the target website cut off from access to search engines, advertising networks, and credit card payments.

Website owners can intervene to overturn an injunction, but the bill envisions this adversarial process happening after the injunction has been issued and the site has already been removed from search engines and had its funding cut off.

To see how this can burden free speech, we need only look at the case of rojadirecta, which was seized by the government last year. The Spanish sports site has been declared legal under Spanish law, but it has taken the site months to get a hearing in an American court. Whether or not the seizure of rojadirecta is declared legal or not, the site should have had its day in court before it lost its domain. SOPA and PIPA would make this problem worse by extending similar procedures to ad networks, payment networks, and search engines.

That’s just one of the features of these bills. Here’s another:
Any “qualifying plaintiff,” defined as anyone with standing to bring a copyright lawsuit against the target site, would have access to the same one-sided process to seek an injunction. And it could take that injunction to ad networks and payment processors to cut off the flow of funds to the target site. And all of this could happen before the target site had the chance to give its own side, to say nothing of appealing the judge’s decision.

This is important because major content producers don’t have a great record of restraint when it comes to exercising takedown powers. Last month we covered UMG’s claim that it has the power to take down YouTube videos it doesn’t own. And the month before that, Warner Brothers admitted that it had sent automated takedowns under the DMCA against content it didn’t own and that no Warner employee even looked at.

Neither SOPA nor PIPA have any penalties for copyright holders who abuse their new powers. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act provides for penalties (albeit fairly toothless ones) against copyright holders who abuse the powers provided by its notice-and-takedown rules. In contrast, websites targeted by bogus SOPA or PIPA injunctions would have no recourse.

Even with their most notorious bits removed, SOPA and PIPA would still be catastrophes, because at their core what they are about is dispensing with due process. As Clay Shirky points out in his excellent fourteen-minute talk recorded just before yesterday’s events, for the people pushing this stuff, that’s not a bug, it’s the essential feature. What they want is a private, global regime of censorship and prior restraint in which governments target whoever the big private copyright-holders tell them to target, free of any fussy nonsense about trials, hearings, or the rights of the accused.

Big Content got big and successful for a combination of reasons. Some of it was talent, skill, and creative brilliance—and some of it was cannily identifying the choke points implicit in distribution systems based more in atoms than in bits, and setting up toll booths on the those choke points. Now the choke points are changing, and bits behave differently from atoms. The old players are faced with a choice: do we find new ways to do business, or do we try to beat the world back into a shape in which our old ways still work? What all too many of them seem to be choosing is plan B: permanent war against the human race.

January 17, 2012
And now, a word from the Unblinking Eye
Posted by Patrick at 05:37 PM * 59 comments

The Motion Picture Association of America, chief sponsor and financier of SOPA and PIPA, addresses Wikipedia, Reddit, and other major sites going dark tomorrow, accusing them of “abuse of power.” “It’s a dangerous and troubling development when the platforms that serve as gateways to information intentionally skew the facts to incite their users in order to further their corporate interests.” In related news, the mutilated body of Irony was found washed up against a pier in the East River. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

Not incidentally, what a dreadful end for former Connecticut senator Christopher Dodd, once an idealistic young congressman of the Watergate-era “Class of ‘74,” to end his public life as the spokesmodel for a corrupt and frequently hysterical organization of fantastically wealthy media conglomerates, distinguished in American history for having attempted to persuade Congress to ban videocassette recorders.

Meanwhile, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) says that SOPA markup will continue in February, reports of the bill’s death or “shelving” notwithstanding. These people are players. Don’t get played.

Making Light to go dark against SOPA and PIPA
Posted by Patrick at 10:36 AM * 86 comments

Tomorrow, from 8 AM to 8 PM EST, Making Light will go dark as an expression of our opposition to SOPA and PIPA, the bills making their way through Congress which, if passed, would create an American apparatus of censorship, liability, and prior restraint in which Making Light will, quite simply, be unable to continue to exist.

By “going dark,” we mean that all links to content on nielsenhayden.com will return a 503 error message explaining why we’re doing this, and linking to sources and tools pertinent to the fight against these bills. It will not be possible to read or post comments to any part of our normal site. In doing this, we are joining a long list of sites that will be similarly powering down tomorrow, including Wikipedia (which will go offline for a full 24 hours beginning at midnight EST tonight), Reddit, Boing Boing, Tucows, and many others. A substantial list can be found at sopastrike.com. Another site involved in coordinating this action is americancensorship.org.

Make no mistake: These bills are an existential threat to this site and to the entire internet, whether or not you live in the United States. Although opponents of this legislation have won some significant skirmishes in the last few days, the bills as presently constituted are still catastrophically bad; the EFF has a very good roundup, posted just yesterday, of exactly how.

On Boing Boing, Cory Doctorow explains just what these bills would do to that site. We would be affected in exactly the same ways. Quoting Cory:

[I]n order to link to a URL on LiveJournal or WordPress or Twitter or Blogspot, we’d have to first confirm that no one had ever made an infringing link, anywhere on that site. Making one link would require checking millions (even tens of millions) of pages, just to be sure that we weren’t in some way impinging on the ability of five Hollywood studios, four multinational record labels, and six global publishers to maximize their profits. […] If we failed to take this precaution, our finances could be frozen, our ad broker forced to pull ads from our site, and depending on which version of the bill goes to the vote, [and] our domains confiscated.”
Cory further notes that since Boing Boing’s servers are physically in Canada, once they were shown to have linked to a site that itself linked to an “infringing site,” their IP address would be added to a US-wide blacklist that every ISP in the United States would be required to maintain. So relocating Making Light’s server to someplace outside the US would do us no good.

A critical fact about these bills is that they completely replace the existing rules for dealing with genuine copyright infringement. There’s a lot to dislike about the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, but at least it provided a framework (albeit a widely-abused one) in which sites such as ours had some protection against being held liable for content posted by our users. If passed, SOPA and PIPA will change all that. We will be completely liable for ensuring that nothing posted to our comment threads infringes anyone’s copyright or links to a site on which someone, somewhere, infringes anyone’s copyright. In addition, under SOPA, the Justice Department would be mandated to target and punish any site, domestic or foreign, that provides technical information about ways to circumvent the bills’ censorship regimes. We would be required to continually monitor user-generated content, not just for copyright infringement, but for links to—or discussions of—anti-censorship browser add-ons, anonymization software, VPNs, TOR (The Onion Router), and many other tools used by activists to fight tyranny and injustice in China, Syria, Iran, and around the world. (Wonderfully, some of these tools owe their existence fully or in part to support and funding from organs of the United States government; The Onion Router, for instance, was originally sponsored by the US Naval Research Laboratory, and other such tools have been spread worldwide by the State Department.)

As the EFF has pointed out, a further aspect of SOPA and PIPA that hasn’t been discussed enough is the immunity it offers to US ISPs if they “overblock” users and sites that they suspect of infringing activity, based on the ISP’s own “good faith” and possession of “credible evidence.” This immunity will allow ISPs large and small to institute private censorship regimes, free of judicial oversight or due process, with little or no fear of being held liable themselves. Of course, we can count on the telephone companies and cable operators who supply internet connectivity to most Americans to handle this responsibility with sensitivity, judgement, and the unswerving commitment to free speech and fairness for which they are renowned.

By contrast, the DNS provisions of SOPA and PIPA have been much discussed, possibly because their mere mention has a tendency to cause anyone who understands the actual architecture of the global internet to jump out of their seat and run down the street screaming with their hair on fire. Under these bills, the Justice Department would be empowered, upon receipt of a court order and with no guarantee of a proper hearing for the affected sites, to inject changes into the DNS system in order to cause sites accused of “infringement” to disappear from the Internet as seen from the US. Leaving aside the insane level of injustice here, tantamount to burning down an entire apartment building because someone living there has unpaid traffic tickets, implementation of these DNS-poisoning provisions would fatally undermine DNSSEC, the longstanding global project to repair security flaws in DNS and improve its security overall. In recent days, the Obama Administration has urged Congress to remove the DNS provisions from both versions of this bill, and various online and offline news sources have reported that these parts of the bills are being set aside. Don’t be fooled, says Donny Shaw of Fight For the Future, parent organization of americancensorship.org:

All that the bills’ sponsors have said is that they are willing to study the issue before it gets implemented. Even if the DNS requirement was taken out of the bill, messing with DNS is still the only reasonable technical solution for ISPs to implement the bills’ provisions. Furthermore, without the DNS language, the bill would still target financial transaction providers, online ad services, and “information location tools” (defined so broadly that it includes all sites that allow users to post hyperlinks).
Techdirt has more.

Finally, I want to note that Teresa and I feel a particularly urgent need to make our opposition to this legislation completely clear, because among its publicly-listed supporters is Macmillan US, the publishing conglomerate of which Tor Books is a part. Intentionally or not, in a very real sense our employer is trying to destroy our web site. As Cory Doctorow points out, the Hollywood studios and Big Six publishing companies are behaving in a manner precisely described by the legal term “depraved indifference.” Cory continues:

Big Content haven’t just declared war on Boing Boing and Reddit and the rest of the “fun” Internet: they’ve declared war on every person who uses the net to publicize police brutality, every oppressed person in the Arab Spring who used the net to organize protests and publicize the blood spilled by their oppressors, every abused kid who used the net to reveal her father as a brutalizer of children, every gay kid who used the net to discover that life is worth living despite the torment she’s experiencing, every grassroots political campaigner who uses the net to make her community a better place — as well as the scientists who collaborate online, the rescue workers who coordinate online, the makers who trade tips online, the people with rare diseases who support each other online, and the independent creators who use the Internet to earn their livings.

The contempt for human rights on display with SOPA and PIPA is more than foolish. Foolishness can be excused. It’s more than greed. Greed is only to be expected. It is evil, and it must be fought.

It must be fought. Learn more. Get involved.

EDITED TO ADD: NY Tech Meetup plans a rally against SOPA and PIPA, tomorrow from 12:30 to 2 PM, at the New York City offices of Senators Schumer and Gillibrand, both of whom support PIPA and both of whom have, so far, refused to personally meet with opponents of the bills. This will take place at 780 Third Avenue, near 49th Street. NY Tech Meetup is a pretty substantial organization with a lot of reach, so this should be interesting.

January 15, 2012
As you are, once was I; as I am, you will be
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 09:38 PM * 66 comments

Somewhere in the hyperactive panopticon that is my Twitter stream, I appear to have happened upon a clump of “ruin porn” links. I think they cluster around an Atlantic article on the psychology of ruin porn, which seems to have inspired a number of bloggers to write things they’d been chewing over for some time, or at least bring up relevant posts they’d seen of late.

The Atlantic piece starts out as an interesting taster article: an introduction to a topic that readers may not have spent much time thinking about before clicking to it. Then, for some reason, it wanders into the disagreements between standoffish ruin photographers and more-involved urban explorers. It’s a turn that makes me wonder if the author thought that expository writing, like short stories, needed conflict to be complete.

But I digress. For those of us who are already ruin-bibbers, randy for antique, the interesting word is the term “porn”. As this article (which references the one from the Atlantic) points out, ruin porn is the depiction for an uninvolved audience of the photographer’s physical experience of ruined places and consequent perceptions of the past those ruins represent.*

Through the experience of the space, explorers and photographers (and blends of the two) break out of a conventional experience of the present and into a space where the artifacts of history feel at once fresh and new, and ancient and decayed. Imagination is key to the atemporal experience of these places: One can exist in an abandoned, ruined space and see shards of a dead past on which one can construct a live imagining - who were the people who lived and worked here? What were their lives like? What were their stories? What happened to them? What happened to them in these spaces?

This is as good an explanation of the lure of ruin porn as I’ve found. It’s like a story prompt, the visual equivalent of a Mad Lib gone melancholic, and the topic is our own lives.

Ruins serve as a kind of spatial memento mori for people embedded in a culture marked by production and consumption (and prosumption) of the new and by the invisibility of the discarded: They are gentle reminders of our own transience. They lead us to questions just as the imagining of the past did: What will our contemporary structures look like in fifty years? In a hundred? Who will remember us? Who will stand in our abandoned spaces and wonder about us?

The risk, of course, is that what we are led to imagine may not be real. When we see grim bare walls, do we really know that they weren’t covered in cheerful posters? We could easily look at the remains of The Chrysalids and mistake them for The Lord of the Rings. Watching dramatizations of historical events, even knowing that they’re inaccurate, we get the the gut-deep feeling that we understand things better for having seen them. How much, in the same spirit, does ruin porn encourage us to see the past as something faded, shabby, and threadbare?

I love ruin porn, personally, but I try not to mistake it for genuinely knowing history.


* It’s worth pointing out that the article is the first in a not-yet-completed series. I’ve no idea whether the author will duplicate or diverge from my musings here. I suspect that my observations and hers are more like two trains that run briefly in parallel than that what I’m talking about is of much use or challenge to her theses.

January 10, 2012
Live from Dixville Notch 2012
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 12:03 AM * 47 comments

It’s the New Hampshire State Primary! Dixville Notch reports First in the State for the First in the Nation primary.

Republicans:

  • Michele Bachmann -
  • Bear Betzler -
  • Timothy Brewer -
  • Herman Cain -
  • Mark Callahan -
  • Randy Crow -
  • Hugh Cort -
  • L. John Davis, Jr. -
  • Keith Drummond -
  • Newt Gingrich -1
  • Stewart J. Greenleaf -
  • Christopher V. Hill -
  • Jon Huntsman - 2
  • Gary Johnson -
  • Fred Karger -
  • Jeff Lawman -
  • Benjamin Linn -
  • Andy Martin -
  • Michael J. Meehan -
  • Ron Paul -1
  • Rick Perry -
  • Joe Robinson -
  • Buddy Roemer -
  • Mitt Romney - 2
  • Kevin Rubash -
  • Rick Santorum -
  • Joe Story -
  • Linden Swift -
  • James A. Vestermark -
  • Vern Wuensche -
  • Write-in -
Democrats:
  • Ed Cowan -
  • Bob Ely -
  • Craig Freis -
  • Bob Greene -
  • John D. Haywood -
  • Robert B. Jordan -
  • Barack Obama -3
  • Cornelius Edward O’Connor -
  • Edward T. O’Donnell -
  • Darcy Richardson -
  • Randall Terry -
  • Aldous C. Tyler -
  • Vermin Supreme -
  • John Wolfe, Jr. -
  • Write-in -

See also:
Making Light: Live from The Balsams and Making Light: Live from The Balsams 2—Electric Boogaloo

January 05, 2012
Schokoladenpudding
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 11:51 AM * 37 comments

Chocolate Pudding
(serves 6, once around)

(Yet another Old Family Recipe)

  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 5 T flour
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • pinch of cornstarch
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 3 1-ounce squares unsweetened baking chocolate
  • 1 T vanilla (or ½ T vanilla and ½ T rum, orange, or almond extract)

Combine sugar, flour, cornstarch, and salt in top of double boiler, mixing thoroughly.

Add milk gradually, stirring well.

Add chocolate.

Place over boiling water; cook and stir until thickened (wire whisk meets distinct resistance from the liquid). After thickening has occurred, cook 10 minutes longer, stirring occasionally.

Take off heat; add vanilla.

Chill (if the howling hordes will let you); serve with optional milk or cream. It’s only fair to note that — at least at our house — the pudding is seldom around long enough for anyone to serve it thoroughly chilled.

(Note: Peppermint extract also works. So will various liqueurs, such as Frangelico.)


T = Tablespoon = 15 mL
tsp = teaspoon = 5 mL

Cooking with Light (recipe index)

January 04, 2012
Politics open thread 1
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 03:30 PM * 579 comments

It is the privilege of the moderator to pull excellent comments onto the front page. In that spirit, I direct your attention to this contribution by John A Arkansawyer in the Open Thread:

I’ve been thinking about something since giving a talk at the local Occupation about lessons from the Civil Rights Movement for Occupy, and this is, I think, the place I have to share it.

There were three great rights movements in America with material causes stemming from World War II: the human rights of Blacks, women, and gays and lesbians. There’s a working consensus, ranging from a huge majority to a bare one, for equal rights for those classes in principle; in practice there’s still a fight, but now it’s about how to get what’s right, not what is right.

At the same time, the relative prosperity of the post-war labor truce allowed a more comfortable living for more Americans. Eventually, that truce broke down and economic inequality began its rise.

During this period, those rights movements were still able to make progress, but this progress came at a price. More and more, some of us found ourselves defending the rights of people to enter, on a non-discriminatory basis, an economic and social elite which we considered illegitimate in the first place. Is it progress when Empire is furthered by Colin Powell or Hillary Clinton?

The logic of equal rights under an unfair system means exactly that. I personally find the end result distasteful, but then, that’s how I felt about the result of the N*z*s marching at Skokie. Human rights are absolutes. If defending that principle means some people who benefit from it do bad things with those rights? That’s on their conscience and a new addition to my fix-it list.

Defending those human rights comes at a personal and political cost, and I’ve been happy to pay it over the years, especially during the ones when it seemed nothing would end plutocracy and war.

Now, right now, there is suddenly, for whatever reason, a resurgence of unrest which has broken the frame of market fundamentalism. Through that break, other things than an awareness of economic inequality have come through. Some of them are just plain bad, some are trivial, and a few are fundamental. Civil liberties in a broad sense is one and ending the endless war is another.

Right now, those appear to be possibilities, items on the agenda, that haven’t been there for some time. Those three biggies—economic inequality, civil liberties, endless war—are no less important to me than the rights movements (for which I will also continue to fight) and no less important to others. I want those on whose side I’ve put myself, for good, in this with me.

This is a time to take risks.

There is no one piece of progress, I think, so precious that it may not be risked for any other.

The historical example making that point in my talk was the Birmingham civil rights battle of 1963, where a depleted leadership sent children onto marches and into attack dogs, fire hoses, beatings, and jail. It was a terrible thing to risk, and taking that risk was the right decision, both tactically and morally. It has become one of my touchstones when I am troubled.

I would ask those of you who focus yourselves on various worthy causes you and I both support to consider what changes you might be willing to risk at this remarkable time in history.

On the one hand, I agree with John: this does appear to be a chance for some of the big issues of our day to make it back into the national discourse. But my agreement is balanced by a concern for the fate of reforms left half-completed. As I said in the ill-fated Ron Paul thread:

…there’s no reform deader than a half-completed and abandoned one.* If we lose this stuff now, we lose it for years. There are people who already make it their electoral platform to ensure that we do.

It would have to be a pretty iron-clad guarantee of tangible progress in the other issues [genuine engagement with the wider world on an equal basis, the reining-in of corporatocracy, and reversing the steady erosion of civil rights for the population as a whole] to make me risk what we have and what we are building. I probably would, though, if it were in the offing. But I don’t know that other liberals would, particularly not gays, not at this stage of things.

But I’m not seeing that kind of chance in any candidate, not even Paul.

——-
* ERA, anyone? And health care was an order of magnitude harder because of Clinton.

In my more pessimistic moments, I think that the tension between these two concerns is the civics equivalent of trying to choose between predestination and free will: if they’re not both true, we’re screwed anyway, so why pick?

In a more optimistic turn of mind, I know that it is choices like these that make politics more of an art than a science. Furthermore, since the pursuit of excellence in art is one of the classical roads to wisdom, these are the moments that show us not just what we are, but what we can become.

January 03, 2012
Keep Watching the Skies
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 07:43 PM * 10 comments

The skies should be clear over most of North America tonight. The moon will have set by four in the morning, eastern time, tomorrow. And that’s good, because a brief, but intense, meteor shower will hit, coming out of the north-east (just a little below the handle of the Big Dipper), between 0300 and 0500 zone time tomorrow morning, 04 January 2012.

These are the Quadrantids, what’s left of a comet that broke up around 500 years ago. We’re passing perpendicularly through the debris field, which accounts for both the brevity and the intensity (up to 200 meteors per hour) of the shower.

This timing favors North America with local peak times ranging from 02:30am EST on January 4th to 11:30 PST on January 3rd. The eastern half of North America will be more favorable as the radiant will lie higher in the sky at the time of maximum activity.

January 01, 2012
AKICIF: old Analogs and Astoundings
Posted by Teresa at 03:16 PM * 48 comments

Pat McGee has posted a query in the forums at Tor.com:

I’ve got several boxes of old Analog (and Astounding) magazines, with about a quarter of the ones from the ’50s, most of the ones from the ’60s, and almost all of the ’70s forward. I’m moving to a smaller space and won’t have room for them.

What might I do with them?

What I care most about: getting them into the hands of people who might read them.

What I don’t care about: getting paid for them, throwing them away, giving them to the local library (which I see as just a long way of throwing them away), getting a tax deduction (I don’t itemize).

Thanks,
Pat

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