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July 31, 2005
Into something rich and strange
Posted by Patrick at 07:17 AM * 163 comments

Via Metafilter, a page at Snopes detailing a certain kind of question intermittently received by the managers of that site.

Most are on the order of “does urinating on a lemon tree make it grow quicker,” but a few appear to be part of a longer and more mysterious narrative:

I’ve heard that it is impossible to take a lightbulb out of your mouth once one puts it in, without either breaking the bulb or dislocating the jaw.

Do you know if this is true? I’m counting on you—my husband is really curious, and I don’t want to have to drive him to the hospital…

One can only imagine this particular query was emailed from the middle of a one-act Ionesco play in progress.

July 29, 2005
New York subway searches
Posted by Teresa at 04:49 PM * 47 comments

In the wake of the London bombings, people using the NYC subways are now subject to random bag checks. This is stupid and useless—the appearance of security, not the real thing—but it could be worse.

Some days ago, Patrick observed a couple of NYPD officers in our subway station. One had a little handheld counting-clicker. Day before yesterday, I observed the same thing, so I stopped and asked the officers about it. They confirmed my suspicion: the NYPD is making an effort to make the bag checks genuinely random.

Granted, it’s not perfect. There are holes. And in a sufficiently busy station, it would still be possible to do racial profiling. But someone in the NYPD understands why non-random random checks are a problem.

July 25, 2005
Memo to British fandom
Posted by Teresa at 07:25 PM * 96 comments

You’re all to KEEP AN EYE ON PATRICK and see that he COMES TO NO HARM.

And please send him back afterward.

Ain’t No Use in Goin’ Home
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 09:09 AM * 60 comments

Ain’t no use in goin’ home Jody got your girl and gone
Ain’t no use in feelin’ blue
Jody took your auto too.
Lost your car in a poker game
Left your gal for another dame
Now she’s down in New Orleans
Sells her ass to earn her beans.

And so on. Endlessly on, for miles of marching.

Via Atrios:

Shrapnel From Home

KILLEEN, Texas—Most of the men in 4th Squad, Charlie Battery, fought two wars while they were in Iraq. There was the war against the insurgents that had them patrolling for roadside bombs and raiding houses at all hours. Then there was the war back home, which had them struggling, over phone lines from 7,000 miles away, to keep their marriages and their bank accounts intact.

They say they eventually got used to the bombs. The crazy possibility of dying any minute didn’t haunt them so much. But that other war, that was the one that tore them up in the downtime spent in Sgt. Cox’s trailer at Camp Victory. It would get quiet, and then one or another of them would ask: “So, how are things going at home?” And they would begin to brood.

They all knew about “Jody,” the opportunist of Army lore who moved in on a soldier’s girl while the soldier was off fighting a war. They had sung hundreds of cadences in basic training deriding the name. But it had always seemed like a joke, something that happened to other guys.

A joke? Happens to other guys? Well, actually, no. It’s so common that marching cadences in general are called “Jodies.” Before the long (six page) article is over, we learn that since Mr. Bush’s war began, Army divorces have risen 80%.

For some in the 4th Squad, the tensions played out nightly in Camp Victory’s “Internet cafe”—the Army trailer with rows of computers where soldiers flocked to contact their families. Some found more pain there than comfort. [SGT] Cox’s wife was five months pregnant when she announced she was leaving him and going back home to Lawton, Okla.

There’s even a verb: to be Dear Johnned. That’s the “Dear John” letter, which apparently got its name during WWII.

A big part of the problem, I think, is that the Army isn’t used to long deployments. The Army wives used to complain about two-week field exercises. The Navy wives would just look at them like “get a grip.” The Navy had six- to nine-month deployments every year. You coped, or knew very soon that you couldn’t.

There are six men in the squad, and five of them saw their marriages or relationships come under severe pressure. One relationship survived and three didn’t; the fate of the fifth is unresolved.

Concentrating on the mission became hard. Sitting in a Humvee, waiting for orders to roll out, the men would think about how life at home was falling apart and they could do little about it.

“When we go outside that gate and into Baghdad, you’ve got to have your head straight,” said Cox, who now lives alone in an apartment at Ft. Hood. “You’re trying to stay alive, but your mind goes to back home. Whatever problem you had before you left escalates, because you’re not there. … I just wish she would have talked to me.”

Another thing we’d see a lot of were marriages just before we sailed, and the same guys getting divorced as soon as they got back. I expect the Army is seeing the same thing—get married before you deploy, even it it’s rushing things.

In wartime, that isn’t totally unreasonable: If you get your head blown off there are benefits for Army widows. There aren’t any benefits for girlfriends.

Peacetime, I used to tell my troops, “Listen, don’t get married. If it’s real it’ll still be real when you get back. If it isn’t real, it still won’t be real when you get back but there’ll be a lot less paperwork.”

I remember the movie Fatal Attraction, where the Michael Douglas character can’t handle having his wife away over the weekend and so picks up with a book editor. I saw that with a bunch of my brother officers. Many of us hadn’t seen our wives in a year or so. We just laughed at him.

Any time you got back from cruise, the first week would be real tough for everyone. It’s like, “Who are you?” You develop coping mechanisms for this, but if you’ve never done it before, and it’s not anything anyone you know has done before, you’re trying to make it up as you go along—not the best way to get an optimum solution.

The Navy has the opposite problem than the Army does in this story. Our divorce rate shoots up after the guy retires or gets permanent shore duty and he’s hanging around all the time. I think that the underlying problem isn’t deployment, or lack of deployment; it’s change in routine.

A different article now:

“Dear John,” the letter began. “I have found someone else whom I think the world of. I think the only way out is for us to get a divorce,” it said. They usually began like that, those letters that told of infidelity on the part of the wives of servicemen… The men called them “Dear Johns”. (Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, August, 1945)

There’s been a fair amount of speculation on the origin of the term:

Several subscribers have mentioned a song on the theme of receiving a “Dear John” letter, suggesting it was the origin of the phrase. However, online sources say it appeared only in 1953, several years after the phrase had become established. A more plausible source was suggested by Dick Kovar, in a pre-World War Two radio programme called Dear John, starring Irene Rich, which was presented as a letter by a gossipy female character to her never-identified romantic interest and which opened with these words. Proving a link is likely to be impossible, but it’s conceivable this played a part in the genesis of the term.

Where shall we go from here? How about the classic “Dear John Letter” legend:

The soldier serving overseas, far from home was annoyed and upset when his girl wrote breaking off their engagement and asking for her photograph back.

He went out and collected from his friends all the unwanted photographs of women that he could find, bundled them all together and sent them back with a note saying……….. “Regret cannot remember which one is you—please keep your photo and return the others.”

All you deployed guys, take a word of advice from a fellow who’s been deployed more times than he can count: Don’t ask your sweetie questions if you don’t want to know the answers.

And you Jodies? Do me a favor. If you’re banging a soldier’s spouse, please put one of those yellow “Support Our Troops” magnetic ribbons on your SUV. Just so everyone will know you’re doing your part.

July 21, 2005
Have a Salem?
Posted by Teresa at 02:53 PM * 17 comments

Liz Marcs observes that Senator Rick Santorum has pointed an accusing finger at the Black Man from Boston. (Thanks for the link, Doyle.) It’s not a good move; as Liz notes, “…when you cry out on the Black Man from Boston, you wake Nicholas Scratch, and he will surely come to call on you.”

More London Tube bombings
Posted by Teresa at 10:27 AM * 117 comments

Happened right around the time I left for work. Just heard about it. Three stations have been evacuated: Shepherd’s Bush, Warren Street and Oval Tube. There was also an explosion on an East London bus at the intersection of Hackney Road and Columbia Road. No reported fatalities yet. Looks like smaller bombs and much less damage.

There’s a report of a detonator-size explosion going off in some guy’s rucksack in a tube station—that is, there were reports of said explosion, and it was estimated to be the size of a detonator going off. Don’t know what’s up with that. I expect we’ll hear more.

Addendum: Kathryn Cramer recommends Alex of The Yorkshire Ranter, who has world-class attitude about this stuff:
Thursday, July 21, 2005: Thursday Terror Blogging - Reports of small explosions at The Oval, Shepherd’s Bush and Warren Street tubes, plus an “incident” on a bus in Hackney. Maybe I should make that last one clearer—they’re now reporting a small explosion on a bus in Hackney. Buses in Hackney probably experience dozens of incidents a day. One injury reported so far. Witnesses say they saw someone leave a large rucksack on a Victoria Line tube train before running like hell. Which puts the suicide bombing did-they-didn’t-they in another light. It is being suggested that the police are looking for someone on the surface at Warren Street…which is even closer to my office than Tavistock Square was.

But on the other hand, Australia are six down for 175 and Steve Harmison has been bouncing the ball off their heads all day. Convict captain Ricky Ponting copped one…

In other news, University College Hospital has apparently been “sealed off by police”. Part of it is just across the road, but it looks normal enough. Oh, that should read armed police, and someone says they’ve seen men in chemical protection gear, although you never know and they could be Ronald McDonalds.

Just to round off, I’ll say this: at the end of the Dutch wars in the 1600s, De Ruyter and Tromp’s ships sailed up the Medway to burn the fleet at anchor, taking a complacent government by surprise and incidentally boosting Samuel Pepys’s career. In 1941, not far off three hundred years later, a Free Dutch warship collided with the anti-submarine boom across the Medway. The admiral in charge—the Flag Officer C-in-C, Nore—signalled “What, again?” …

Update, 1526: Apparently, staff at UCH have been told to look for a 6ft 2in black man with wires sticking out of a rucksack. Not like he’s going to merge into the background. Wonderfully, there are multiple reports of someone fiddling with a bag, hearing a small bang or pop, and then either exclaiming something or looking “extremely dismayed”. It must be deeply embarrassing—you press the tit or pull the wire or push the button, expecting a blinding flash and then paradise, but all you get is an artificial fart and a tubeful of people staring at you. Terrorism’s answer to premature ejaculation. Darling, this doesn’t usually happen to me…

The bombing news is interspersed throughout with the much-more-important cricket news. Next time NYC has a disaster, we have got to log some cooler soundbites.

July 20, 2005
Note to self
Posted by Teresa at 10:38 PM *

1 lb. orecchiete pasta, cooked drained & cooled
1 C. French lentils, ditto
several ripe peaches
the same again in tart nectarines
1 large sweet Vidalia onion, chopped fine
2-3 Hungarian wax peppers
1 fresh ancho chile
1 large or 2 smaller cucumbers, peeled
3 substantial tomatoes
1 packet Best Foods dry Italian salad dressing mix, plus
herbed cider vinegar enough to turn it to slurry
balsamic vinegar
hazelnut oil
olive oil
white pepper, black pepper, dried basil

Do the lentils and pasta in boiling salted water. Blanch the peaches but not the nectarines. While the peaches are cooling, mix the salad dressing mix with the herbed vinegar, then stir the slurry up with the finely chopped onion. Finish peeling the peaches. Cut them up and toss them into a big bowl. Stir in some onion mixture until it seems well balanced. Follow with the cucumber, nectarines, wax peppers, and well-drained lentils, in that order, mixing gently with each addition. Add more onion. Chop the ancho quite fine. Mix it with the remaining onion and dressing. Add some. Cut up the tomatoes. Mix them in. Add pepper, pepper, salt, and basil. Stir. Temper with a little balsamic vinegar. Stir in the cold cooked pasta. Add more ancho and onion, if appropriate. Dress with hazelnut and olive oil. Stir again. Serve.

Patrick really likes this one.

July 19, 2005
Dead is Dead
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 05:36 PM *

From CNN:

The Iraq Body Count — a London-based group comprising academics and human rights and anti-war activists — said on Tuesday that 24,865 civilians had died between March 20, 2003 and March 19, 2005.

The group said 42,500 injuries were recorded as well.

The report also said that “U.S.-led forces were sole killers of 37 percent of civilian victims” and that “anti-occupation forces were sole killers of 9 percent of civilian victims.” It added that “criminals killed 36 percent of all civilians.”

“Our data has been extracted from a comprehensive analysis of over 10,000 press and media reports published since March 2003. Our accounting is not complete: only an in-depth, on-the-ground census could come close to achieving that,” the group said.

“But if journalism is the first draft of history, then this dossier may claim to be an early historical analysis of the military intervention’s known human costs.”

To what should be no one’s surprise, the US military and the Iraqi government disputed the findings.

Attack of the Giant Hogweed
Posted by Teresa at 12:45 PM *

Photos of Giant Hogweed fascinate me because it always looks like an obvious Photoshop retouch job. It’s nasty toxic invasive stuff, by the way; don’t touch it with your bare skin.

July 18, 2005
Posted by Patrick at 10:16 PM * 38 comments

Lisa Goldstein, commenting on The Coming Race, reports on one:

I had this feeling recently, when I went to a convention masquerade. I don’t usually go to masquerades, but in this case I was urged to go by a friend, and I have to say I was pretty bored. Then, after the program, a DJ started playing music, and everyone started dancing, including the people in costumes. Cartman from South Park danced with Johnny Depp’s character from Pirates of the Caribbean, someone from a Lois McMaster Bujold book danced with a large shaggy dog. It was one of the most enchanting things I’d ever seen. It reminded me of a bit from The Man Who Was Thursday (another trait of geeks, I guess, is that they’re always being reminded of parts of books)—“Syme seemed to see every shape in Nature imitated in some crazy costume. There was a man dressed as an elephant, a man dressed as a balloon…There was a dancing lamp-post, a dancing apple tree, a dancing ship…And long afterwards, when Syme was middle-aged and at rest, he could never see one of those particular objects—a lamp-post, or an apple tree, or a windmill—without thinking that it was a strayed reveller from that revel of masquerade.”

Any group of people that can make me feel as if I’m in a Chesterton book is all right with me.

July 17, 2005
“I also feared she would judge my life and find it wanting”
Posted by Patrick at 08:37 PM *

There’s an entire novel of manners lurking under the surface of this, particularly when paired up with this response.

For some bloggers, of course, the only point of the story is that it’s foolish to be too forthcoming with an employer about your personal stuff. (A point readily acknowledged by the blogger herself, in the comment thread here.) Other bloggers seem to grasp that there’s a bit more going on. Atrios highlights Pandagon commentor Jeff’s wry observation that evidently “an employee writing about her employer in a blog is enough to get her fired, but an employer writing about her employee in the New York Times is just journalism.” Jeff suggests we may be in the presence of something called “class issues”, which is of course impossible since America doesn’t have cla—, I mean cl—, I mean, you know, that word I can’t even type.

Interestingly, while you might get the impression from Helaine Olen’s Times piece that her former nanny was placarding the intarweb with overt discussions of Olen and her family, in fact the nanny never named any of them; indeed the blog didn’t even contain the blogger’s own full name. (In retrospect, the nanny/blogger appears to have been writing about the Olen clan rather less than Olen and her husband thought she was, but that’s a comic subplot.) By contrast, Olen was nowhere so circumspect:

I told my friends about the blog, and even my childless acquaintances were riveted. They called, begging for more details. “Did she wear the rose negligee, the pink see-through slip or the purple Empire-waisted gown?” demanded one after perusing a post on the proper outfit for first-time sex.

For a smart and nuanced discussion of all this, which digs past the obvious What-Did-You-Expect harrumphing into the much more interesting complicities, check out Bitch Ph.D. Do read the comments; they’re worth the extra time. Unsurprisingly, the nanny/blogger is a participant in that discussion, reacting reasonably to criticism and adding some interesting details to her own side of the story. It would be particularly interesting if Helaine Olen were to show up the conversation as well, but of course that’s never going to happen, and that fact is at the heart of all that’s transpired.

UPDATE: How did I miss these two killer posts from Majikthise?

Of course, Olen wasn’t really interested in friendship. She didn’t want to be the stodgy boss, but she didn’t want to be a real confidante either. What she really wanted was a pseudo-relationship that was all about her. When her manipulative pose got her into uncomfortable emotional territory, she eliminated the source of her discomfort without a second thought. Then she wrote a “reflective” essay about the situation in which she congratulates herself for recognizing her own motives, while taking for granted that her self-centered manipulative behavior was acceptable.

The Coming Race
Posted by Patrick at 03:03 PM *

Patrick Farley, a seasoned shadow-shifter amidst the subcultures, attends the San Diego Comic-Con:

At first, when you immerse yourself in the geekdom of Comic-Con—usually around the time you first encounter your first Furry-ocelot Legolas discussing the all-day Dual Masters Stompatron Booster Draft with a Jedi warrior wearing Woody Allen glasses—you suffer a momentary shock, as if your lungs are filling with fluid. You panic; you struggle; you convulse and claw for the surface. (“These… these can’t be my people!…”) But soon, the convulsions subside, your dormant Nerd-Gills open up and begin rippling smoothly, and once again you are in your element, this great celebration of the imagination. That’s right, Bud. Your body remembers!

(Farley is no doubt tired of people telling him to finish Spiders and Apocamon, so I won’t bother.)

An Important Announcement
Posted by Patrick at 07:51 AM * 23 comments

Memo to Jim Henley, John Scalzi, and anyone else setting out to feature posts from multiple authors on a single blog:

Put the freaking author-credit line on top of the posts.

That is all. You may resume going about your normal lives.

July 16, 2005
Open thread 46
Posted by Teresa at 03:15 PM *

First, would I have you know, for every gift Or sacrifice, there are—or there may be—
Two kinds of gratitude: the sudden kind
We feel for what we take, the larger kind
We feel for what we give. Once we have learned
As much as this, we know the truth has been
Told over to the world a thousand times;—
But we have had no ears to listen yet
For more than fragments of it: we have heard
A murmur now and then, and echo here
And there, and we have made great music of it;
And we have made innumerable books
To please the Unknown God. Time throws away
Dead thousands of them, but the God that knows
No death denies not one: the books all count,
The songs all count; and yet God�s music has
No modes, his language has no adjectives.

—Edwin Arlington Robinson

A small puzzle
Posted by Teresa at 11:00 AM * 130 comments

I ran across a nice puzzle, posted by one Bernard Guerrero in a comment thread on Halfway Down the Danube:

Puzzle: Person x and y have the following conversation:

x: I forgot how old your three kids are. y: The product of their ages is 36.
x: I still don’t know their ages.
y: The sum of their ages is the same as your house number.
x: I still don’t know their ages.
y: The oldest one has red hair.
x: Now I know their ages!

What are the kids’ ages?

Shush, JVP. We know you can solve this one.

Making Light of other days
Posted by Teresa at 05:18 AM * 73 comments

We’re now into the season of nectarines, blackberries, and prodigious quantities of tomatoes, so:

Bread and tomato salad.

Peppered nectarine salad.

Midsummer cocktails.

Making liqueurs, especially blackberry.

As ever, watch the comment threads; other recipes turn up there.

Joyful cooks (and fans thereof) should keep an eye on Looka!, Chuck Taggart’s weblog, which is part of his knowledgeably hedonistic Gumbo Pages. He’s my source on this site, Gunther Anderson’s page on making liqueurs, which some readers may find a more methodical introduction to the subject than my in medias res narrative recipes.

Plus two new recipes:

Avocado & pummelo salad

one large ripe pummelo
one or two ripe avocados
a scant palmful of chopped green onions or finely chopped red onion
balsamic vinegar
olive or hazelnut oil
salt, freshly ground black pepper

Peel the pummelo, then separate and peel the segments. If they’re big, pull them in half. (This is a good thing to do while you’re watching TV, or reading stuff online.) Cut the avocado in half, hoick out the pit, make a series of cuts one way then the other to the avocado in its skin, then turn the skin inside-out to pop them out. Loosely and gently mix the pummelo, avocado, and onion, give it a scant dressing with oil and balsamic vinegar, then salt and pepper to taste.

(Note: in a pinch, a good big mellow grapefruit can substitute for the pummelo.)

High-octane limeade concentrate

To do this right, you really need to afford yourself one of those wicked brilliant new microplane graters, justly hailed as the best graters and zesters ever. Here’s the microplane story:

It started out in 1990, merely as a new type of woodworking tool with hundreds of tiny stainless steel razors designed to shape or to file wood.

The big moment came in 1994, when Lorraine Lee, a homemaker in Ottawa, Canada, was making an Armenian orange cake. Out of frustration with her old grater, she picked up a new tool her husband, Leonard, had brought home from their hardware store, Lee Valley Tools. She slid the orange across its blades and was amazed. Lacy shards of zest fell from its surface like snowflakes. The Lees marveled at the tool, ate the cake, then promptly changed the product description in their catalogue. The Microplane™ grater had earned permanent space in the kitchen. …

Microplane™ graters’ tiny razor-like edges are formed by a totally different process called photo-etching in which holes are dissolved with a chemical, leaving edges that finely slice the food (or wood!) instead of tearing or shredding.
It’s all true. You take one of these babies and stroke it across the surface of a citrus fruit, using no force, and the zest comes off in perfect thin dry shavings, cut rather than ripped or gouged from the underlying peel. I haven’t been so surprised by the efficacy of a blade since the day I played pop-up baseball with a bowl of withered half-dry apples and a katana.

If microplane grater thou canst none, use a conventional grater and do your best to leave out the white bits.

Here begins the recipe proper:

granulated white sugar
Everclear, other high-proof neutral grain spirits, or vodka

Wash and drain as many limes as you feel like processing. Finely grate off the zest and deposit it in a bowl, setting aside the denuded limes. (This is a good thing to do while you’re watching television.) Mix the grated peel with a generously equal volume of sugar, and gently rub it together. Let it sit.

If your limes are susceptible to being peeled, take the remaining white peel off them. If not, not. Slice them into roundels a quarter to a half inch thick, piling them into a bowl as you work, and periodically strewing sugar over them.

Pause partway through this process to have a look at the sugar and peel mixture. If it’s interacting—that is, if the sugar is extracting the peel’s vital bodily fluids—let it sit. If it’s still dry and inert, squeeze enough lime juice over it to dampen the whole. When you’re done slicing and sugaring your limes, give the peel-and-sugar mixture a squeeze of lime juice even if it is interacting.

Cover both mixtures and let them sit in the refrigerator for an hour or so. At the end of that time, the limes should have yielded up a good deal of their juice, but you want the rest of it, so now you squeeze them. If you have a ricer or one of those nice cast-aluminum juicers, they’ll work here; if not, wash your hands well and do it by fist. (Actually, if you have one of those juicers, you could skip the slicing and sugaring part, and just juice them; but I have a superstitious belief in the superiority of sugar extraction. If you don’t share my belief, you’ll need to add sugar to taste when you’re done squeezing.)

Take your lime juice and mix it with the peel and sugar mixture. Put it back in the refrigerator for an hour or more, then strain it. Juice goes back in the fridge. Take the peel, put it in a lidded (only not lidded just now) container, and pour in enough Everclear to cover it. Put the lid on, shake it up, and let it macerate—but not for very long, say an hour or so at most. Strain it. The peel should now be a faded and feeble green, and the Everclear should be a potent extract of lime peel. Throw away the peel.

Add the lime-flavored Everclear to the sweetened lime juice. Temper it up with additional Everclear, but stop before the taste of the alcohol becomes too obtrusive. (If you want, you can add a drop or so of vanilla, though I wouldn’t. Vanilla’s better with oranges, lemons, and kumquats.)

You now have your basic high-octane limeade concentrate. If you’re having a party, want to increase the quantity, and don’t mind the adulteration, you can throw in a can of frozen lemonade or limeade concentrate and increase the alcohol accordingly. Either way, keep the concentrate in the freezer. It probably won’t freeze solid. It may not freeze at all.

How to use it: The operative word here is “dilute.” Drinking this stuff straight is not good for you, and besides, you won’t get the full flavor. Put it in a shaker with crushed ice, or trickle it over shaved or finely crushed ice, or just add water till it’s civilized and then serve it on the rocks. I expect it could be mixed with Jamaican ginger beer to produce a truly lethal Moscow Mule, but I haven’t tried that yet.

This same extraction procedure works with oranges, lemons, sour oranges, and grapefruit. With kumquats, just slice them up or lightly mash them, macerate them in sugar until they yield up their virtue, soak the carcasses in alcohol for a couple of hours, and proceed as described. If you use vodka instead of Everclear, you may want to increase your maceration times. Monitor the process. I assume this recipe would work with tequila or cachaça, but I’d be more inclined to go with neutral spirits, then use the limeade concentrate as a mixer.

(If you mix Everclear and cachaça, and omit to take two ibuprofen and drink a liter of water before going to bed, do not come crying to me next morning.)

[Recipe Index]

July 15, 2005
Posted by Teresa at 06:53 PM * 67 comments

Tomato. Tomato tomato tomato tomato tomato. Tomato. More tomato. Whoo.

Also blooming spikes of gladiolus that come up to my eyebrows. Beautiful shiny purple-red onions, tight-layered and crisp. The elephant-ear caladium, a.k.a. taro root, which looks increasingly surreal even though I planned in advance for it to look surreal. And Oriental lily blossoms the size of large salad plates, that smell amazing.

Crooked Timbre
Posted by Patrick at 05:35 PM * 203 comments

I’m sure this will earn me some carefully-calibrated putdowns, but I have no tolerance for online conversations like this.

Not for the first time, I’m reminded of the great quote attributed to R. A. Lafferty: “The opposite of ‘serious’ isn’t ‘funny.’ The opposite of both ‘serious’ and ‘funny’ is ‘sordid.’”

July 14, 2005
Pushing Up Dumbledores
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 10:00 AM * 136 comments

The people who know aren’t Up until the 16th instant, no one beyond a small sworn-to-secrecy group knows who takes the big sleep in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. But we know someone’s number is up and the Vegas line says it’s Dumbledore’s turn for the long goodbye.

To celebrate that, or something, the Guardian is running a contest: Write the death of Dumbledore in the style of some writer other than J. K. Rowling in 300 words or less. Entries will be accepted until the 14th.

Here are some of the entries they’ve had so far.

Ernest Hemingway:

We sat, our backs against Hogwarts’ wall. Ron, Hermione and I. Looking out over the lawn towards the Forbidden Forest. Death Eaters had taken the school. In the evening gloom it was impossible to know if we had already been overrun. We could hear spells going off in the distance.

“I’m tired of this war, Harry,” said Ron.

“We’ve got to keep fighting, Ron” replied Hermione. “We can’t let Voldmort win.”

“Fighting! This war won’t be won through fighting. He who can’t be named has already come back from the dead once. Let’s stop fighting. What could be worse than this?”

“Defeat, Ron. Defeat is worse than this,” I said. “Here, we need to eat.” I handed out the last of the cauldron cakes. We ate them hungrily, biting off big chunks. We washed it down with Butterbeer, straight from the bottle.

Out of the darkness came Albus Dumbledore. “Come on, children. We must get to Hagrid’s cottage.” Emboldened by Dumbledore’s presence we skirted round the lawn, next to the Forbidden Forrest. Half way to the cottage, spells were fired from the school. Two passed between us with a whoosh. A third hit Dumbledore. Ron and I manhandled the injured wizard into the forest and we hid behind a tree. Dumbledore was pale and feebly gripped my arm. “Do something, Harry!” cried Hermione. It was too late. The Avada Kedavra spell had hit him in the chest. Dumbledore’s grip slackened and he was gone. I closed his eyes with my hand.

Shadows of Death Eaters moved towards us across the lawn. We’d never make it to the cottage. Not that it concerned Albus Dumbledore now, his war was over.

Jane Austen:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that an old wizard in possession of a big secret must be in danger of his life.

However little known the existence of this secret, or the views of a such a wizard may be on his first entering Hogwarts, it takes little time for minds of surrounding magicians to consider it the rightful property of themselves or one of their number.

“My dear Dumbledore,” said Hermione one day, “have you heard that there is a dark cloud brooding over the castle?”

Dumbledore mumbled that he had not.

“But there is,” returned she. “Ron Weasley has just been outside and told me all about it.”

Dumbledore made no answer.

“Do you not want to know what is causing it?” she cried impatiently, turning to face the old wizard.

Again, Dumbledore was provokingly silent.

“You must know that Ron says that it is caused by Voldemort. He came down on Monday on a broomstick to view the place and was so much delighted with Harry’s absence that he immediately called in… Dumbledore, do you not wish to hear the remainder?

Dumbledore slumped forward over the pianoforte at which he had been sitting. A discreet trickle of blood began to darken the keys.

Dumbledore? Dumbledore, my dear! You have delighted us at the piano long enough. Really. Now do tell me what you think, Dumbledore.

And what would pastiches be without William Carlos Williams?

This Is Just To Say

I have killed
the wizard
who was in
your novels

and whose death
you were probably
for book seven

Forgive me
he had it coming
so beardy
and so old

Others include James Joyce, P. G. Wodehouse, and H. P. Lovecraft. The full list is here.

July 12, 2005
Sleep testing
Posted by Teresa at 02:38 PM * 73 comments

I’m back from another overnight sleep study; i.e., a stint as a temporary cyborg, with electrodes and monitoring bits stuck all over me. My assigned task was to manage to sleep while wearing all that gear, in an uncomfortable hospital bed, knowing that I was being watched via night-vision cameras.

This time they threw in a new wrinkle. After they’d wired up all the face and head electrodes, they put a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) mask on me. Basically, a CPAP is a loathsome device that pushes air down your nose. Wearing one feels like you’re being continuously molested by an octopus vacuum cleaner salesman.

If the pressure’s set high enough, you have to keep your mouth clamped shut (hard enough to make your jaw ache later) the whole time you’re asleep. Otherwise, as I discovered at some point in the middle of the night, the air rushing in through your nose and out through your mouth generates a mild Bernoulli effect that tugs on whatever air is already in your lungs. This was not actually dangerous—if I’d truly been unable to breathe, I would have panicked and torn off the testing gear—but it did prompt my reptilian hindbrain to have its customary calm, measured reaction to the possibility that something might be interfering with my ability to breathe.

I mewled, flailed around, managed a few breathless repetitions of “hello,” and waved my flippers at the cameras. No one came. (As it happened, the lab tech was briefly busy with another patient.) I hazily knew not to trash the test by peeling off all the monitoring gear, but I was three-quarters asleep and urgently wanted someone to Turn That Thing Down, so it seemed necessary that I Do Something.

The only alternate communication channel I could think of was that they were monitoring resistance to the CPAP’s airflow. I’m not looking forward to explaining to my neurologist why at one point the test data includes several repetitions of a Morse Code SOS signal, produced by raising and lowering my CPAP nosepiece.

I’m not sure what happened after that, so I probably went back to sleep.

July 11, 2005
Making Us Safer Every Day
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 11:26 PM * 0 comments

In an effort to keep terrorists from using cell phones to set off explosives:

NEW YORK (AP) — Cell phone service was disabled inside the four tunnels leading into Manhattan after the terrorist bombings in London, but Mayor Michael Bloomberg questioned Monday whether the move “makes the most sense.”

Cell phones have been used to detonate explosives in Madrid and elsewhere.

But cutting off cell service in tunnels beneath the Hudson and East rivers means drivers can’t dial 911 in an emergency.

That’ll thwart those terrorists. They don’t own watches, alarm clocks, or fuses. Nor would they send a guy along to set it off himself. The invasion of Iraq taught them that suicide bombing was a failed tactic. With them it’s cell phones or nothing. I can hear ‘em cursing in their caves in Pakistan even as we speak. “Darn those clever US authorities!” they’re saying. “Scratch New York tunnels off our target lists.”

That’s right — unattended backpacks in taxis going through the Holland Tunnel can no longer be detonated. It’s back to the drawing board for al Qaeda!

July 07, 2005
Tips for an apocalypse
Posted by Teresa at 10:14 AM * 145 comments

1. Contact your people.

1. When a disaster strikes, everyone who hears about it immediately starts worrying about friends and relations who might have been victims. As soon as you’re safe and reasonably comfortable, get word out that you’re okay. Do it even if you were miles from the event. Your people can’t be sure you were safely far away from the event until you tell them so.

Go easy on the phone lines. Don’t tie up the public pay phones with nonessential yakking. Also, if you’re reporting that everyone in your travel group is okay, make a list of their names and contact info and phone/e-mail/IM it to someone who’ll pass it around back home.

Here’s the general rule: Collect names. Swap lists. Publicize your results. And while you’re at it, keep an eye out for potential side-channels. Think like the Internet: route around the damage.

2. Beware of rumors.

People will be desperately trying to pull together a picture of the situation. They’ll grasp at scraps of information, theorize light-years beyond the data, inflate the importance of trifles, and find connections where none exist.

By all means, keep your head up and your ear to the ground. Good information is priceless. But if there’s ever a moment to look skeptically at unsourced information, this is it.

(An amusing project: if you’re stranded by transit shutdowns and have nothing to do, try collecting reports, rumors, and speculations. Don’t pass them on, but do write them down, because once consensus reality has sorted out What Really Happened That Day, they’ll be much harder to remember, and people won’t want to cop to them. Trot them out as a curiosity a few weeks or months later.)

3. Brace yourself: the idiots are coming.

Over the next few weeks, you’re going to get hit with a spate of false alarms. It’s because everyone’s on edge, which means false alarms will produce exaggerated responses. Some sh*t-for-brains types find that amusing. If you stay calm, they’ll die down faster.

Another thing to watch out for are scammers taking up collections on behalf of the victims. These guys always pop up in the wake of major disasters. For example, a bunch of scammers toured small-town America, taking collections that never reached the victims, after the Titanic went down.

4. Hang in there. Take care of yourselves.

See also: jump bags.
And: Encoding emergency contact info on your cellphone.

Wouldn’t It Be Great
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 09:42 AM *

I see on the news this morning that there were multiple simultaneous explosions with multiple casualties in London, with an al Qaeda group claiming responsibiity.

Wouldn’t it be great if, after the 9/11 attacks, George W. had turned his attention to al Qaeda? We know that by that afternoon our pals Rumsfeld/Bush/Cheney were already planning to go to war with Iraq, with what results we’ve seen.

Wouldn’t it be great if, back in spring 2001 that George W. and Condi Rice had gotten serious about al Qaeda as Richard Clarke was urging?

Wouldn’t it be great if the right-wingers had let Bill Clinton go after al Qaeda when he wanted to rather than yell “Monica! Monica! Wag the dog!” every time he tried?

Wouldn’t it be great if someone in the US and British governments realized that al Qaeda was and is the threat?

You can’t fight a war against terrorism. Terrorism is a tactic: You’d have as much success fighting a war against ambushes, encirclements, and covering fire. You can fight a war against specific organized groups that use terrorism as a tactic.

Don’t you think it’s time we started?

July 06, 2005
Nutted by futurity
Posted by Patrick at 08:59 PM *

It’s official. As of today, science fiction is officially incapable of being remotely as weird as the present. Don’t even get me started on the future.

Sell is a recent graduate from Nanjing University. At 24, he’s a manager for Vpgamesell, a large SWG Chinese farming center that wholesales to popular resellers. He started off by selling gil in Final Fantasy XI, but his farming days are over. He’s moved up to manager status, helping with marketing and delivery. His many farmers work 10-hour rotations and are paid $121 a month. Sell gets $180 a month and works closer to 14 hours a day because he lives at the office, which is a fairly common practice at farming centers�if you lose your job, you also lose your home. Sell negotiates with resellers online to determine the amount of credits they promise to purchase from Vpgamesell. While chatting with me, he’s messaging five different people and making contracts for 5 million credits for each server per day.

Gothic novels. That’s the ticket. Or…maybe…Magic-realist cozies! Religious chick-lit! Woman-and-child-in-danger technothrillers! [Here the legible portion of the manuscript ends. Forensic analysis of the last scrawled lines is pending.]

Open thread 45
Posted by Patrick at 01:10 PM *

“You know as well as I do we all go around in disguise. The halo stuffed in the pocket, the cloven hoof awkward in the shoe, the X-ray eye blinking behind thick lenses, the two midgets dressed as one tall man, the giant stooping in a pinstripe, the pirate in a housewife’s smock, the wings shoved into sleeveholes, the wild, racing, wandering, raping, burning, loving pulses of humanity decorously disguised as a roomful of human beings. I know goddamn well what’s out there, under all those masks. Beauty and Power and Terror and Love.”—James Tiptree, Jr.

July 05, 2005
Things I have learned so far this year
Posted by Teresa at 12:44 PM *

1. It is possible to have too much mint.

2. My garden wasn’t always a severely repressed arrangement of a few shrubs amidst a sea of mulch-topped landscaping fabric. As soon as the soil was exposed to air, it sprouted a thick crop of weeds plus the occasional portulaca, catchfly, or purple wave petunia. Also, the tradescantia that’s popped everywhere spreads by root not seed, so someone planted it; and it’s not a common perennial. I think there was a real gardener, and a garden that went badly to seed at the end, and that it all got mowed flat and mulched-over when the house went on the market. I can’t reconstruct it. Perhaps I’ll run into someone who knew it back when.

3. Don’t buy bulbs that are priced significantly below the average market price. The difference in survival rate and performance will be all too apparent.

4. It’s possible to screw up with basil. Who knew?*

5. Bachelor’s button, cosmos (bipinnatus and sulphureus), scarlet runner beans, nasturtiums (especially Empress of India), yay rah go. Plonk down some seeds in the spring, discourage the weeds as needed, and by the middle of summer they’ll be flowering their heads off.

6. My neighbor the very organic gardener back on Staten Island was wrong about “lots more ladybugs” being an automatic corollary to infestations of aphids. Those progeny-crazed little monsters have romped through my nasturtiums, but the incidence of ladybugs in my garden is no greater than it was before the aphids appeared. However, I notice that the hot pepper plants next to the nasturtiums haven’t been touched, so I’m going to try that trick next.

7. At least once in every gardener’s year comes the moment when you discover where the Really Big Slugs are hiding this time around. This will never, ever be happy news.

8. When clumps of tradescantia decide it’s too hot to do anything but flop over and pant, no support system will keep them satisfactorily upright. If you decide on wholesale slaughter, a large serrated kitchen knife used about an inch above the ground can be surprisingly effective.

9. Don’t bother spreading the oriental and asiatic lilies around. They’re inconvenient to have mixed in with other plants, and the spacing blunts their impact. Just group them in a very prominent place and watch them go off like slow-motion fireworks.

10. I surely do miss my dwarf gold-leafed spiraeas.

11. I’m starting to see that gladiolus is good for something other than inexpensive funeral arrangements.

12. If you’re a diligent gardener and you keep an eye on what’s coming up, sometimes fortune will send you a seedling Albizia julibrissin to replace the tree you had to leave behind in Staten Island.

13. Julia’s Ajuga reptans beats out mint. If it spreads any further, I’ll get to find out whether it beats out Houttuynia cordata.

14. While orange daylilies aren’t technically indestructible, the ones currently blooming their heads off in my garden were dug up out of Elise Mathesen’s garden and stored dry in a milk carton on her back porch, brought home from Minicon to Staten Island packed in Easter grass, callously tossed into a patch of dry semi-shade under a long-established maple tree (they bloomed a couple of months later), hastily rescued from the wreck of that garden, hastily rescued from the Union Street garden, stuck into the least promising corner of the front patch on Carroll Street, hastily rescued once again, and thoughtlessly relocated to their current spot because it was the only place in the garden where the soil wasn’t covered with fabric and mulch. Not only are they acting like this is exactly the location they’ve always hoped for; I couldn’t have picked a better spot to show them off, right in front of the dark-green weeping cherry.

15. There must be a corollary of Murphy’s Law that states that the tomatoes won’t get ripe until after the stakes collapse under their weight.

16. On a day when almost everything is blooming, and there’s enough overcast to get the fireflies lighting up early but there’s still enough daylight to see all the shapes and colors, a garden couldn’t possibly look any more beautiful.

July 04, 2005
The conventions of the field
Posted by Patrick at 03:37 PM *

Some upcoming Nielsen Hayden appearances, below the fold.


July 03, 2005
More on our “server errors”
Posted by Patrick at 11:43 AM * 0 comments

Please, if you get one of these when trying to post a comment, don’t keep reposting. Email me with the text of your comment (and which thread you tried to post it to) and I’ll make it appear.

Our hosting provider is in the process of implementing a workaround that should make this stop happening, at least for now, but it may be a while before they get to our particular server.

Internal Server Errors
Posted by Patrick at 08:45 AM * 4 comments

Several people are reporting 500-type “internal server errors” when trying to post comments to Making Light.

We’re getting them too. I’ve been trying to post a small update to an old post for over twelve hours, and getting nothing but 500s.

According to discussions at the Movable Type site and in the support area of our hosting provider, the problem appears to be widespread and to have something to do with MT installations on sites that run the “cpanel” maintenance interface. Presumably large brains are at work solving it. We hope so. Meanwhile: Your Patience Please.

July 02, 2005
Since Roving’s Been My Ru-i-n….
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 05:05 PM * 0 comments

This weekend there’s a huddle at the White House as George W. Bush gets together with his posse to select the next Supreme Court Justice:

The president learned of O’Connor’s plans Friday morning and spoke to her on the telephone — calling her a great American and telling her he wished he could hug her, according to the White House.

He then met with top advisers who are going to help him in the selection process, including Vice President Dick Cheney; Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby; Attorney General Alberto Gonzales; presidential adviser Karl Rove; counselor Dan Bartlett; and Chief of Staff Andrew Card, the White House said.

Among those gathered — did you check out Karl Rove? Rove’s in the news again. At long last Rove’s been fingered as the Valerie Plame leaker.

Okay, I grant you, none of the rest are clean. Rove’s got some competition for which one is the slimest. That’s Alberto “Torture’s Okay” Gonzales, Dick “GITMO? What GITMO?” Cheney, and George “I Want a War” Bush in the ring with him. But the Plame case has been a standing eight count for a long time. Michael Jackson was arrested, tried, and released in less time than it’s taken for the investigation into which one of George’s cronies COMMITTED A FEDERAL CRIME by revealing the identity of a CIA undercover agent.

Here is the text of what O’Donnell said on Friday:

“What we’re going to go to now in the next stage, when Matt Cooper’s e-mails, within Time Magazine, are handed over to the grand jury—the ultimate revelation, probably within the week of who his source is.

“I know I’m going to get pulled into the grand jury for saying this but the source of…for Matt Cooper was Karl Rove, and that will be revealed in this document dump that Time magazine’s going to do with the grand jury.”

Other McLaughlin Group panelists then joined in discussing whether, if true, this would suggest a perjury rap for Rove, if he told the grand jury he did not leak to Cooper.

Why did Rove do it? Just payback as usual — someone doesn’t give the answer you want, you ruin him and his family. That’s how the radical right does business. So ol’ Karl had better pick that Supreme Court nominee carefully. The Mystery Judge may be one of the folks hearing his final appeal.

Rewriting History
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 12:25 PM * 1 comments

Short version: Rev. Louis Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition is upset that the tourist video shown at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC is too liberal. Always eager to please constituents, the National Park Service is spending $20,000 to fix the tape (made by high school students in 1994). Via The Carpetbagger Report:

Here’s a classic example of how far conservative thinking has strayed from reality. In order to make the Lincoln Memorial’s tourist video more conservative, the NPS will add video of a 1997 rally held by the Promise Keepers and footage of a well-attended march in Washington after the 1991 Persian Gulf War. What’s wrong with these? Nothing — except they weren’t held at the Lincoln Memorial. For whatever reason, most of the major events at the memorial, throughout the 20th century, have dealt with progressive caucus (civil rights, opposition to war, gender equality, etc.). In the interest of “balance,” the right is demanding the addition of footage from events that took place elsewhere. In other words, to make the right happy, we’re supposed to ignore historical reality. Typical.

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