December 13, 2014
I’ll sing the anthem that banishes doubt
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 08:06 AM * 97 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 07, 2014
Open thread 202
Posted by Teresa at 09:34 PM * 271 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  2. He has painted
    the sigil
    her forehead

    with which
    she can probably
    the night god.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One in Seattle. Vicki Rosenzweig writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


October 19, 2014
Velma Bowen, RIP
Posted by Patrick at 09:25 PM * 107 comments

velma.jpg As discussed in the current open thread: Velma Bowen de Selby died yesterday, in Seattle, 18 Oct 2014, at 3:30 PM (PDT). Her partner Soren de Selby was with her. Ave atque vale.

Roz Kaveney.

Jo Walton.

We will miss her forever.

Edited to add: New York memorial service details here; Seattle memorial details here. The organizers of both gatherings are requesting that people planning to attend get in touch.

Copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.