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September 27, 2012
Somewhere between Halleluja and Holy Sh-t
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 03:42 PM * 114 comments

From the commonplaces on the front page:

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

But what about those times when that abyss is not at the back of one’s life, but rather is opening up unexpectedly right under one’s feet? When one is invited to step into it, and fall like Alice down her rabbit hole?

What does one do when one is, as AnotherQuietOne quite accurately terms it, flailing around in the spiritual wilderness somewhere between “Hallelujah!” and “Holy Sh-t…”?

This is a space for continuing this conversation, and this one. Since it grows out of the Dysfunctional Families threads, some participants may not be their usual selves (but no one should participate under more than one name).

This is not, however, a space for trying to change others’ views for, against, or within. I’m sure we all know what I mean.

September 22, 2012
Driving around New Hampshire II
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 10:13 PM * 31 comments

In just a couple of weeks, three at the outside, we should be at peak fall color. So … what would you like to see?

Down in the Massachusetts border area there are some interesting things by the side of the road. Eighteenth-and-nineteenth century animal pounds, still standing. Pounds were built to be “Horse high, bull strong, and pig tight.” Dogs and goats … I don’t know. Cats, forget it. The pounds were used to corral straying animals or those that were creating a nuisance until their owners could come to claim them. “I’m sorry, farmer Jones, but your ox has been towed.”

Let’s go see some!

Take your best route to I-495 (the Blue Star Memorial Highway; the ring road around Boston). Get off at Exit 51B, Rt. 125, Main St., Haverhill, MA. Haverhill (pronounced “Averill”), interestingly enough, was the first town in the United States to erect a statue to a woman. (Hannah Dustin, of whom perhaps more later in another post.)

Go north on Rt. 125 (Main St.). When Rt 125 forks off to the right to become Plaistow Rd., take the left fork to remain on Main St. When Main St. crosses the New Hampshire line it becomes New Hampshire 121, and that’ll be our road for almost all of this trip. Welcome to New Hampshire! You’re now in the town of Atkinson.

The first pound you come to will be on the right (east side of the road, although the compass direction is north), on the corner of Rt. 121 and Stone Pound Lane (just north of and on the same side of the road as Feuer Lumber) 42.843012 N 071.161827 W. This pound dates to 1788, and is easily visible from the road.

Rt. 121 is a pound-rich environment. We’ll find two more along the way before we get to Manchester.

Continue north on 121, a nice winding two-lane blacktop country road. The road will take us through Hampstead (best known for its colonial-era homes along Main Street, dating from when Hampstead was a lumbering town on the edge of the frontier) and nip through the northwest corner of Hampstead where Derry (on the west, famous both for being where the first potato in Colonial America was planted in 1719, and for being one of the places where Robert Frost failed at farming) and Sandown (on the east, site of the first known labor strike in America in 1773) meet, and thus into Chester.

Chester was an important stop on the stage coach line from Haverhill, Massachusetts, to Concord, New Hampshire, up until 1830 or so. The railroad bypassed Chester (we crossed Depot Street in Hampstead; no such street here). The town has been in decline ever since.

The next pound we’ll come to along Rt 121 is at 42.967471 N 071.283339 W on Chester St., roughly two miles north of the intersection with Rt. 102 and Chester College of New England. (Chester College offers courses in creative writing and professional writing.)

The pound is on the west side (actually south by compass direction; left side if we’re driving north from Massachusetts) of the road, and is easily visible from the road. The dated carved on the lintel is 1804.

From Chester we pass into Auburn. Originally called “Chester Woods,” the town broke away from Chester in 1845 and was named “Auburn” from Oliver Goldsmith’s poem “The Deserted Village.” Just past Wilson Crossing Road (joining from the west on the left), we’ll find the Auburn Town Pound. It’s on the east side of the road (on your right as you drive north).

Like the others, this is a stone structure roughly thirty feet on a side. The date on the lintel, in Roman numerals, reads 1853. The second inscription below the date on the lintel is for the Women’s Club in 1905. The Auburn Pound is located at 42.986964 N 071.3355 W.

Unlike the others, this one isn’t easy to see from the road (although it’s right by the road), so I’ve supplied recognition photos.

Rt. 121 is called Chester Road here. About two miles north-west we’ll come to the village of Auburn itself, on the shores of Massabesic Lake. If you look at the swampy area beside the road on the west you’ll often see beaver lodges.

In Auburn, Rt. 121 makes a sharp left and becomes Manchester Road as it continues around the north end of Massabesic. It continues then to its end at the Auburn Circle. Hurrah! You’ve driven NH Rt. 121 from end to end; 22 miles of two-lane goodness, and seen three animal pounds! Rt 101 west (an easy entrance from the Auburn Circle) takes us to I-93 South at Manchester and thus back to Massachusetts. If that’s where you came from. (If you headed north on I-93 to Boscawen we could see the other statue of Hannah Dustin.)

By now I’m sure you’re feeling peckish. What can I offer? Typical American roadside food. If you go through the Auburn Circle and continue to the west paralleling 101 (the road is called Candia Road now), soon we’ll come to the Goldenrod Drive-In Restaurant on your left (south). (If we get to Anderson Equipment we’ve gone too far.) 42.996448 N 071.401273W We’re talking burgers, fries, and ice cream level of tech. Order at the window, they call your number when it’s up. They have a pinball machine to play while you’re waiting.

If you’re interested in something a bit more upscale than Dinner in a Styrofoam Box (though they do have inside tables where you can eat rather than go back to the car), may I recommend the Airport Diner?

Jump onto 101 West at the Auburn Circle. Continue on 101 as it co-locates with I-93 south, then co-locates with I-293 around Manchester. Get off on Brown Avenue (Exit 2), and head south, toward the airport.

The Airport Diner is on the right, built into, but not part of, the Holiday Inn. (42.945338 N 071.453083 W) I expect the Holiday Inn was built around the diner. This is your typical American trucker food. Very good, very plentiful.

If you want to fire a machine gun, the Brown Avenue Range isn’t far away. If not, head on home.

Watch the New Hampshire State Foliage Tracker to see when we’re having peak color along the trip. The regions you’re looking for are Seacoast and Merrimack Valley.

This trip starts an hour from Boston or three hours from New York City.

Election 2012
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 09:26 AM * 275 comments

With just eight weeks or so until the election, things are heating up on the poll front. New Hampshire is a Swing State, they say, and in play for its four electoral votes. Why’s this important? Because neither candidate has a lock on the state. The swing states could go either way, and with them the election. Everyone expects Texas will go for Romney and New York will go for Obama. No surprises. But the swing states, now:

When asked about the investment of man-hours and advertising dollars in a state with only four of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency, advisers to both campaigns here point to the 2000 election. George W. Bush won the presidency after weeks of uncertainty and a Supreme Court decision — and after winning New Hampshire by a narrow margin. Democrats point to the fact that third-party candidate Ralph Nader received more than 22,000 votes that year in New Hampshire, more than three times Mr. Bush’s margin of victory in the state.

“All of a sudden, people started to realize those four electoral votes, in a very close election, can be the deciding four electorals,” said Jim Demers, a member of Mr. Obama’s New Hampshire steering committee and co-chairman of his 2008 campaign in the state. “That was the beginning. There is no doubt in my mind that if the Gore campaign had had an aggressive effort and targeted New Hampshire, most of those Ralph Nader votes would have gone to Al Gore, and it would have made the difference. He would have been the president.”

The tipping point states this time around, drawing from Nate Silver’s 538 blog, are:

  1. Ohio
  2. Va.
  3. Fla.
  4. Wis.
  5. Nev.
  6. Colo.
  7. Iowa
  8. N.H.
  9. Pa.
  10. Minn.
  11. N.C.
  12. Mich.
  13. N.M.
  14. Ore.
  15. N.J.

New Hampshire is half-way down the list of (swing/tipping point/battleground) states. We’re at #4 on the list for states where a single voter could make the biggest difference in the outcome of the election.

But this also means that we’re getting sometimes three or four telephone poll calls per day. “As you are aware, a presidential election will be held this November. How likely are you to vote in this election? Certainly won’t vote, probably won’t vote, may not vote, may vote, probably will vote, certainly will vote. If the election were held tomorrow, who would you vote for? The Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, the Democratic candidate, Barack Obama, some other candidate? Did you vote in the 2008 Presidential Election?….”

Something else Silver notes: At about 1:30 on Wednesday afternoon, I tweeted in exasperation: “The. Polls. Have. Stopped. Making. Any. Sense.” I could have told him that: I’m the guy answering them.

Today’s mail brought two flyers from the Romney campaign. One shows a bunch of worried-looking white women, and a black-and-white photo of Mr. Obama (so you’ll know who they’re worried about). In large sans-serif type they say, “Some of what he said is what we wanted, but it’s not what we got.”

No mention of Republican obstructionism.

The other flyer shows Romney and Ryan in a side-by-side Tweedledum-and-Tweedledee pose (in full color), while on the other side, ripped from yesterday’s headlines, various sentence fragments about jobs (e.g. “Job Losses Persist For The Less Educated”). Romney and Ryan are identified as “America’s Comeback Team.”

But this is not the most bizarre thing to come in the mail lately. The bizarre thing is an actual paper-and- pencil poll from the Institute on Voter Attitude & Public Policy. The National Critical Issues Poll. This, they say, is “A Project of the Free Enterprise Institute.”

So, who are these clowns?

First, there’s darned little about the Free Enterprise Institute of Fairfax, Virginia, on the Web. They’ve been apparently mailing out these surveys since at least 2007. From the name you’d think they were some kind of right- wing/libertarian group but even the Ron Paul people don’t know who they are. They’ve allegedly been involved in telephone push-polling. Beyond that? They have assets of zero. Income of zero. Where their poll results are published is unknown. Who’s running the shop, who supports them, what they do when they aren’t sending polls around … all unknown.

Their poll isn’t very savvy. Take question 10: Compared to the services you receive, how is the level of taxes you pay to your state government in NEW HAMPSHIRE? Would you say they are:
Way too high?
Too high?
About right?
Too low?

Given that there’s no state income tax or sales tax in New Hampshire, I don’t know what they’re asking. (“New Hampshire” is in a different typeface from the rest of the document, BTW.)

They seem fascinated with gun control.

Even though they sent me a pre-paid return envelope and a sheet of peel-off return address stickers as a reward for taking their poll, I don’t think I’ll send it back.

September 21, 2012
Dysfunctional Families: Everybody lined up for the parade?
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 04:31 AM *

Today is Dysfunctional Families Day, September 21.

It’s the day we put those members of our community first who were always given last place in their families’ consideration. It’s the day we celebrate the presence in our community of the people who were unwelcome in their homes. We rejoice in the people who were resented, believe the people who were dismissed, and listen to the people who were perpetually shushed.

And the people whose parents resented them for being takers, and burdens, and nuisances? The people who were told that they were worthless and useless, failures and good-for-nothings? Today we get to thank them for the great gift that they have given all of us on Making Light over the last four years. Who else could have created the resources that these threads have become, not just for one another, but for otherwise-troubled folks? If that’s failure, I don’t ever want to be a success.

And those threads really are a treasure. Even I, who am not rightfully one of the community, have gained a great deal from them. They make me a better parent, a better daughter (now I can parse my mother’s stories from her childhood), a better friend and colleague, a better moderator. I’ve heard the same from many people who don’t post in the threads (that I know of—I don’t track which pseudonyms map to which regular commenters.)

Those people—you people, as it were—are a joy to this community every day, but today we get an excuse to say it. Thank you for your presence here. Thank you for your courage and your openness, your generosity and your wisdom. We are immeasurably richer for you being here.


If you want to participate but don’t want your posts linked to your contributions to the rest of Making Light, feel free to choose a pseudonym. But please keep it consistent within these threads, because people do care. You can create a separate (view all by) history for your pseudonym by changing your email address. And if you blow it and cross identities, give me a shout and I’ll come along and tidy it up.

Continued from here. Continued here.

September 18, 2012
Open thread 177
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 05:26 PM *

Here’s a neat thing. A team at Harvard Medical School has used DNA to encode the text of a book. They’re playing around with the very high storage density that the medium provides.

The researchers claim that the cost of DNA coding is dropping so quickly that within five to 10 years it could be cheaper to store information using this method than in conventional digital devices.

They used a draft of a book they’d written themselves, and didn’t involve living organisms. While both of these are logical for a first attempt at something, questioning those choices opens up intriguing worlds of possibilities.

What if we could make DNA storage “compile”, as it were, and live inside our bodies? What book or books would you carry around encoded in your very cells? My well-stocked Kindle would suddenly seem bulky and inconvenient, if my library could be encoded in my fingernails. (Assuming I could find a reader that would work with that format, of course.)

Or would we start with a shorter text? How about the name of a beloved, set as a seal upon our nuclei? Smaller and more pervasive than a sailor’s MOM tattoo, less visible than the phoenix on my upper arm, more permanent than exchanged rings?


Continued from Open thread 176.

Continued in Open Thread 178.

“To live is to war against the trolls.”
Posted by Patrick at 03:48 PM * 18 comments

Gawker on Newsweek’s ridiculous “Muslim Rage” cover.

As James Fallows remarked, “In the ‘evolution of journalism’ chronicles, it must signify something that the proudly tabloidish and amoral Gawker is positioning itself as conscience-of-the-industry in this case.”

Indeed, Newsweek’s whole survival strategy these days seems to be to position itself as a paper-and-ink version of the classic Internet troll. As Paul Waldman highlights here.

September 17, 2012
Steal your face right off of your head
Posted by Patrick at 12:46 PM * 52 comments

Neil Gaiman knows one of the people who were deceived into acting in the movie now known to the world as “Innocence of Muslims.” She tells her story in a letter on Neil’s blog:

People who were tricked into believing that we were making an adventure drama about a comet falling into a desert did nothing but take part in a low budget indie feature film called the “Desert Warrior” that WAS about a comet falling into a desert and tribes in ancient Egypt fighting to acquire it.

It’s painful to see how our faces were used to create something so atrocious without us knowing anything about it at all. It’s painful to see people being offended with the movie that used our faces to deliver lines (it’s obvious the movie was dubbed) that we were never informed of, it is painful to see people getting killed for this same movie, it is painful to hear people blame us when we did nothing but perform our art in the fictional adventure movie that was about a comet falling into a desert and tribes in ancient Egypt fighting to acquire it, it’s painful to be thought to be someone else when you are a completely different person.

Not much to say, except that I can barely imagine how it must feel to have your likeness kidnapped like this, for this kind of purpose.

September 11, 2012
Air travel, theft from baggage, bad security
Posted by Teresa at 12:00 AM * 225 comments

This is primarily a collection of news stories I’ve been accumulating on theft and related problems in the air travel industry, the inadequacy and complicity of the TSA, and what this tells us about the real state of airline and airport security. The main data stash is behind the fold, so if you want to start there, click on the link at the bottom of this entry.

Some themes to watch for as you read:

Thefts by TSA employees during security inspections. Other harassment.

Rate of theft by airline baggage handlers exacerbated by TSA ban on decent luggage locks; also, collusion between TSA scanners and baggage handlers; also, increased difficulty in tracking theft when more than one entity has control of checked luggage.

Theft in consequence of non-negotiable last-minute gateside check for carry-ons. (Idea: take real locks with you to put on your carry-on luggage after you go through security.)

TSA’s perpetual insistance that they have “zero tolerance for theft” when they’re doing squat to combat it. TSA’s perpetual attempts to downplay problems, minimize statistics, and deny that these are anything but isolated incidents: “There is no problem, and the problem is getting better.” TSA’s truthlessness in general.

Huge budgets and hierarchies in support of an airport security system that never catches terrorists. The tendency over time to shift priorities and procedures in ways that serve the needs of airlines and airports, rather than addressing security issues.

Crooked employees misroute luggage to obfuscate theft. Airlines combine theft and lost luggage data to obfuscate the extent of the problem. I recommend cultivating the habit of automatically doubting anyone who talks about what a tiny percentage of suitcases or travelers get robbed.

Thefts from luggage, bribe-taking, and drug trafficking as indications of bad security. Systems set up to facilitate one criminal activity can be used to facilitate others.

Thefts from baggage carousels. Personnel who used to check baggage claim checks were pulled off and reassigned elsewhere to save money. Results: predictable.

Deluxe luggage attracts thieves. Anonymous black proletarian luggage also attracts thieves. No luggage is proof against thieves if a baggage scanner has spotted something that he or she wants.

Recovery strategies that occasionally work: involving local law enforcement agencies; watching eBay and Craigslist; setting up tracking systems on eligible devices.

No airline will reimburse you for lost electronics. All airlines will try to get out of reimbursing you for anything. Options: buy insurance. Ship your luggage via FedEx.

Opinion:

We should all stop telling the victims that it’s their fault they were ripped off — they should have known not to put their valuables in their checked luggage. No one deserves to be robbed.

Not everyone is a savvy traveler. For those that aren’t, the semiotics of air travel don’t say “danger”. When they check their baggage, they’re dealing with someone in a natty airline uniform. They have to show ID. There’s paperwork and receipts. Immediately after that, they have to go through a security check conducted by federal employees. They take all those things as signals that they and their checked luggage are safe.

The air travel industry couldn’t function if some customers weren’t willing to check their luggage. TSA security checks wouldn’t work, or wouldn’t run smoothly, if travelers demanded that their belongings remain in line of sight at all times.

Those who depend on a system’s working in a certain way, and who perpetuate it, have no right to criticize the victims who get caught in it.

September 08, 2012
The subway incident, 1964
Posted by Teresa at 12:35 PM *

Entry: Subway Incident, from Dr. Gafia’s Fan Terms:

It was in the early a.m., after a meeting of the New York Fanoclasts, just a few days after a young woman named Kitty Genovese had been knifed repeatedly outside her apartment in Long Island. To her screams of terror and pleas for help, her neighbors had locked their doors and closed their windows, doing nothing because they Didn’t Want To Get Involved — so her attacker, initially run off by her screams, had been able to keep coming back until he killed her.

Dave Van Arnam had been particularly vehement in his condemnation of “those scumbags who pass for human beings” at that Fanoclast meeting. On their way home, Dave, Earl Evers, Mike McInerney, Steve Stiles, rich brown and perhaps others were all in a subway station as a train pulled in, and a knife-wielding man inside one of the cars was seen chasing a terrified woman.

Dave stepped in, simultaneously shielding the woman with his body and holding the man at bay by threatening him with his balled up fist. Van Arnam kept the door of the car open with his shoulder until the motorman — who simply wanted to leave — called the police. Earl Evers kept the man with the knife wondering by going into a low karate crouch and sidling around behind him, while the rest tried to look like they would back Dave up.

After the police came and took the man away, everyone urged Dave to write up the incident. He started doing so the following week but always digressed before telling the full story — this is probably the only place it’s been told in this detail — in his fanzine First Draft.

I was struck by the entry on the Subway Incident this morning when I was leafing through Dr. Gafia’s Fan Terms. This is a story about a story that didn’t happen.

The mythic version of Kitty Genovese’s murder, inaccurate but unforgettable, is the story by Martin Gansberg that ran two weeks later in the New York Times: Thirty-Eight Who Saw Murder Didn’t Call the Police. Gansberg reported that many of the neighbors in Genovese’s highrise saw or heard the attacks, but did nothing because they “didn’t want to get involved.” Her attacker stabbed her, then was driven off by her screams. When no one responded, he returned, stabbed her repeatedly, and raped her as she lay dying.

Since rich brown’s account of the subway incident quotes a line from Gansberg’s story, I think it took place a few days after the story was published, rather than a few days after the murder — not that that makes much difference. The story of Kitty Genovese that mattered was the one that happened inside everyone’s head, as they wondered what it said about human beings, American society, and the loneliness and alienation of cities. It’s been reverberating ever since.

We don’t know anything about the knife-wielding man on the subway. Maybe he was a copycat made bold by Gansberg’s story. Maybe he’d have been waving knives at women anyway. What’s easy to see, though, is that if he had knifed the woman, and if the motorman had pulled out of the station rather than calling the police, news reports of the incident so soon after Kitty Genovese’s death would have been seen as confirming every dark, ugly, alienating speculation stirred up by Genovese’s murder. That would have been a different universe.

Only that didn’t happen, because a bunch of Fanoclastsunlikely heroes — saw what was happening, and succeeded in obstructing the crime and obfuscating the situation until the police arrived.

You could make jokes about the fannish martial arts of obstruction and obfuscation, but it worked, and it was the right thing to do; and because they did it, we live in a slightly better world.

September 02, 2012
Regarding a Hugo Award category for YA fiction
Posted by Patrick at 06:30 AM * 405 comments

ATTENTION CONSERVATION NOTICE: Arcane arguments over science fiction award categories.

Here at Chicon 7, the 70th World Science Fiction Convention, the business meeting—open to all attendees—entertained and narrowly voted down a proposal to create a Hugo category specifically for YA science fiction and fantasy. Works published as “YA” are already eligible in the existing categories, and in fact have won on occasion; the issue wasn’t whether YA fiction is eligible, but whether there should be a Hugo Award (or awards) specifically reserved for it.

I wasn’t present and didn’t vote. (I had other obligations.) But I have followed some of the discussion, both before and after the vote was taken, and this seems to me an argument where it’s entirely possible to come to either conclusion out of concern over the graying of traditional SF fandom and a sincere interest in attracting new readers and participants.

There were certainly people who opposed the proposal because they don’t care about YA fiction or young readers. But I was struck by the fact a number of those against it were people who care a great deal about both, but feel for one reason or another that a new Hugo category would be an ineffective or even counterproductive way to address the problems to hand. Some of them opposed the proposal because they’re proud of the fact that, even without a special category, a number of YA works have been finalists or winners right alongside everything else in the Hugo Awards. Others felt—and this is an argument that I think merits particular consideration—that the existing Hugo electorate (the membership of each year’s World Science Fiction Convention) is simply not well-enough versed in the burgeoning and diverse world of modern YA publishing to do a particularly good job nominating finalists and choosing winners for such an award. It’s possible, some have argued, that such a category would be dominated, not by the best and most innovative works of YA fantasy and SF, but by whatever works of YA fantasy and SF happened to be published that year by people better known for their adult fantasy and SF.

As I said, I didn’t attend the business meeting, and I don’t have a strong commitment to either side of this argument. What I do want to point out is that, contrary to some rather bitter commentary posted to Twitter last night, this isn’t a simple case of pigheaded old-guard science fiction people being blind to the importance and diversity of modern YA fantasy and SF, or being unable to grasp that the graying of SF institutions like the Worldcon is a problem. To repeat myself, this is an argument where smart people of good will can come to opposing conclusions from initially similar premises.

Which is why it seems to me that fulminating against the supposed “willful blindness of the old guard” is liable to be an ineffective approach, unless you really believe that the only way to win the argument is to abuse your opponents until they go away. I don’t know if I’m a member of this alleged “old guard,” but I’m entirely open to being convinced that the actually-existing-Worldcon could do a non-disastrous job administering a YA Hugo Award. When I say that I think the argument to the contrary merits consideration, I don’t mean I’m convinced by it, I mean that it merits consideration. In the other direction, I’m equally struck by author Cat Valente’s point, also posted on Twitter last night, that there may be a lot more actually-existing-Worldcon attendees who are genuinely knowledgeable about modern YA than we perhaps realize. What I am suggesting in this post is that there are more effective ways of arguing for a YA Hugo than implying (or flat-out asserting) that everyone arguing against it is stupid, reactionary, or evil.

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