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December 31, 2007
Old-time Snowmobiles
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 03:07 PM * 20 comments

If you happen to have a stock vintage snowmobile (for our purposes, that means “1973 or earlier”), and have the urge to race it, this weekend would be a perfect time to come to Pittsburg, New Hampshire, and do just that.

The race site is the Farr Road gravel pit, accessible from US Route 3 (turn left on Day Road, north of Pittsburg village), or from Snowmobile Corridor 140.

Details and contact information here.

While you’re in Pittsburg you can go a little farther north on Rt. 3 to see the eighteen inches between the US and Canadian customs houses that don’t belong to either country (thanks to 19th century surveying error). If you go a little farther north on Rt. 3 into Quebec, you come to Magnetic Hill, where a car left in neutral will roll uphill. (The customs guys can tell you exactly where it is.) Do it now before you need a passport to see it!

If this weekend is already booked, you can come to Colebrook on February 2nd instead. The race in Colebrook will be at Northern Tire, which isn’t too far from where I live.

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December 29, 2007
A poetry-writer’s reference
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 07:01 PM * 112 comments

Quoth Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers):

Would it be helpful to put together a list of poetry resources for those who want to versify but may not have extensive google-fu?

But of course, Bruce. My three favorite reference sites are detailed below.

The writers of metrical verse
Who swither and fumble and curse
And search for a site
To get their forms right
Could go further yet and fare worse.

But meter, a lot of the time,
Is less of a worry than rhyme.
When stuck on your own
Just go to the zone
And soon your line ends are sublime.

Though edit-wars oft make it seedier,
Among all the Interweb media
On poetic forms,
Historical norms
Are often best found on the ‘pedia.

Further suggestions, anyone?

We Give Thanks for Peace on the Border
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 05:47 PM * 221 comments

We’ve talked about this before, here and elsewhere: The sheer insanity of building our own Iron Curtain along the US/Canadian border.

You all know the saying, “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it”? Well, the open border between the US and Canada ain’t broke. It’s worked fine since 1814, with no sign of wearing out.

Up until recently you could have read a book in two countries at once: the public library in Derby Line, Vermont had the border run right through it. Sit in the right chair and there you’d be, half in Derby Line, half in Rock Island, Quebec. Not so much any more: Now Main Street in Derby Line is a permanent traffic jam.

A friend of mine, Claudette Hebert, had a grandfather who owned a “Line House” during Prohibition. The front door was in Pittsburg, New Hampshire, the bar was in East Hereford, Quebec. Prohibition wasn’t enough to close the border. But now phantom terrorists, the bugaboos of Tom Tancredo’s fantasy life, the all-purpose excuse for the Homeland Security folks who need to come up with ever more ridiculous schemes lest they not be Seen To Be Doing Their Jobs, want that to destroy commerce and tourism and just plain friendship.

To what end? None visible. Not one single terrorist has entered the US by slipping across the Canadian border. But I can name dozens of terrorists who entered with valid passports (the entire 9/11 crew to start) or who didn’t need passports (Timothy McVeigh and Eric Rudolph being only a couple of the more notorious ones).

Can we afford three thousand miles of minefields, barbed wire, and unmanned drone aircraft to stop a non-existent threat? Can we afford to do it and cut taxes at the same time? Aren’t the neo-cons aware that smoking that stuff is illegal?

So. To the point. Another story from my local newspaper, a paper that doesn’t run its stories on-line, a story that you’d never otherwise read.

Passport Requirement Delayed Possibly Until 2009
By Donna Jordan

When President George Bush signed the 2008 Omnibus Appropriations Bill—approved by both the house and senate last week—there was a provision written into the bill by U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont which extended the land travel passport deadline which will be of interest to those attempting to figure out what new requirements will be necessary when traveling back and forth across the nearby Canadian border.

The deadline for passports is now three months after the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security have certified that the technology and personnel are in place to handle the new passport rules—or until June 2009, whichever comes first. The original deadline for needing passports was June 2008, but the delay of one year has been welcomed by New Hampshire and Vermont senators and representatives.

However, most people from the United States, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean will still need to present to the U. S. customs officers with a birth certificate or some other document establishing their citizenship when they enter the United States on or after Jan. 31, 2008. (Senator Leahy has opposed this requirement as well.)

In an interview with CNN recently, Senator Leahy said that terrorists are “not going to come across with a valid passport” and that that the passport requirement is “really insulting to Canada.” In New Hampshire and Vermont, U.S. and Canadian citizens have long crossed from one country into the next with little concern. “All this is going to do is stop the people who want to come to the United States to spend money and the people who want to involve themselves with business or travel, education, heathcare—whatever—between the U.S. and Canada,” said Leahy. “It won’t deter a single terrorist.” Leahy also said that Canada was the “closest friend” the United States has.

In New Hampshire, U.S. Senator John Sununu said that he welcomed the measure to extend the deadline, saying, “Travel between the United States and Canada is routine for thousands of New Hampshire residents, as it is for our northern neighbors. Federal rules requiring every man, woman and child to have a passport for such travel represents an over-sized solution that does not reflect the way of life in the border states. Mandating that residents and visitors purchase costly passports will inevitably lead to fewer cross-border trips, ultimately discouraging the flow of commerce.” Sununu also said that the amendment provides more time to explore the concept of using secure drivers licenses for land travel between the Unites States and Canada.

“I’m glad that Vermonters now will have one less thing to worry about for awhile,” Leahy said in a statement. “This buys breathing room to try to find better and more sensible answers for northern Border security. The passport requirement is the wrong answer to the wrong question. It creates major hassles for law-abiding citizens and communities all across the longest peaceful border in the world. It adds nothing to our security while costing Vermont and our national economy billions in lost commerce. Instead, for only a fraction of that expense, we could and should be beefing up our intelligence and working with Canada to seek out potential terrorists long before they even get near our borders.”

By June of 2009 we’ll have a new president. We’ll have a new congress. With any kind of luck the Department of Homeland Security will have been dissolved. Maybe Senator Leahy has bought us enough time that this security-theater insanity will miss us entirely.

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December 27, 2007
More Push-polling
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 10:47 PM * 166 comments

Tonight’s hilarity was another robo-call, an anti-McCain/anti-Thompson push-poll, purportedly from a group called “Citizens for Fair Taxes” (or something similar to that). Their robot claimed that they aren’t affiliated with any campaign….

My question is, why anti-Thompson? He isn’t polling well enough for anyone to worry about him. Or was including him just a smokescreen?

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The root of all evil
Posted by Avram Grumer at 09:43 PM *

It was through one of O’Reilly’s books on perl (camel or llama, I’m not sure which) that I first encountered the Three Great Virtues of Programmers: laziness (which makes you write useful programs to save repetitive effort), impatience (which makes you write your programs so that they’ll anticipate your needs), and hubris (which makes you write programs well so you won’t be embarrassed later).

I’d always thought this notion was original to Larry Wall, till just a moment ago, when I discovered that part of it is a centuries-old Christian idea. According to Wikipedia, a 16th-century theologian named Peter Binsfeld associated each of the Seven Deadly Sins with a demon. The demon for sloth was Belphegor, who was believed by demonologists to help people make discoveries and suggest to them ingenious inventions.

A Death in the Family
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 05:31 PM *

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has been assassinated during a rally in Rawalpindi. She was shot by a motorcyclist who then blew himself up. Current reports estimate that 20 others were killed in the explosion.

Politics has been the death of that family; her father, ex Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was hanged in 1979, and both of her brothers, Shahnawaz and Murtaza, were politically active before they died (one death was suspicious, one outright murder).

The murder of the main opposition politician puts the elections scheduled on January 8 at risk, just when the military president has become a civilian. A nation with a troubled history of democracy, two simmering wars on its borders, a growing pressure toward religious extremism, and a nuclear arsenal now has to find some measure of unity.

Meanwhile, a mother has lost her third child and a sister her last sibling. A husband is flying to the province of Sindh to bury his wife, and three children have lost their mother. In the midst of this public tragedy (in the classical sense of the term), they must be experiencing an intense and private grief.

Where, as they say, do we go from here?

December 26, 2007
Whisperado, live, tonight
Posted by Patrick at 12:08 PM * 9 comments

Better late than never, I mention that Whisperado will be playing a new venue tonight, the R-Bar at 218 Bowery (between Prince and Spring). $8 cover, open bar from 7 to 8, Whisperado on at 8. New covers, new original songs, new wrong notes on the old ones! Help us celebrate our fifth anniversary as a live band. (Our first gig was the evening of December 25, 2002—close enough.)

December 25, 2007
Texts, 2007
Posted by Teresa at 12:00 AM *

Luke 2:1-14, Anglo-Saxon (via):

Soþlice on þam dagum wæs geworden gebod fram þam casere Augusto, þæt eall ymbehwyrft wære tomearcod. Þeos tomearcodnes wæs æryst geworden fram þam deman Syrige Cirino. And ealle hig eodon, and syndrige ferdon on hyra ceastre. Ða ferde Iosep fram Galilea of þære ceastre Nazareth on Iudeisce ceastre Dauides, seo is genemned Beþleem, for þam þe he wæs of Dauides huse and hirede; þæt he ferde mid Marian þe him beweddod wæs, and wæs geeacnod. Soþlice wæs geworden þa hi þar wæron, hire dagas wæron gefyllede þæt heo cende. And heo cende hyre frumcennedan sunu, and hine mid cildclaþum bewand, and hine on binne alede, for þam þe hig næfdon rum on cumena huse. And hyrdas wæron on þam ylcan rice waciende, and nihtwæccan healdende ofer heora heorda. Þa stod Drihtnes engel wiþ hig, and Godes beorhtnes him ymbe scean; and hi him mycelum ege adredon. And se engel him to cwæð, Nelle ge eow adrædan; soþlice nu ic eow bodie mycelne gefean, se bið eallum folce; for þam to dæg eow ys Hælend acenned, se is Drihten Crist, on Dauides ceastre. And þis tacen eow byð: Ge gemetað an cild hræglum bewunden, and on binne aled. And þa wæs færinga geworden mid þam engle mycelnes heofenlices werydes, God heriendra and þus cweþendra, Gode sy wuldor on heahnesse, and on eorðan sybb mannum godes willan.

Luke 2:1-20, tr. John Wycliffe, 1382 (via)

And it was don in tho daies, a maundement wente out fro the emperour August, that al the world schulde be discryued. :: This firste discryuyng was maad of Cyryn, iustice of Sirie. :: And alle men wenten to make professioun, ech in to his owne citee. :: And Joseph wente vp fro Galilee, fro the citee Nazareth, in to Judee, in to a citee of Dauid, that is clepid Bethleem, for that he was of the hous and of the meyne of Dauid, :: that he schulde knouleche with Marie, his wijf, that was weddid to hym, and was greet with child. :: And it was don, while thei weren there, the daies weren fulfillid, that sche schulde bere child. :: And sche bare hir first borun sone, and wlappide hym in clothis, and leide hym in a cratche, for ther was no place to hym in no chaumbir. :: And scheepherdis weren in the same cuntre, wakynge and kepynge the watchis of the nyyt on her flok. :: And lo! the aungel of the Lord stood bisidis hem, and the cleernesse of God schinede aboute hem; and thei dredden with greet drede. :: And the aungel seide to hem, Nyle ye drede; for lo! Y preche to you a greet ioye, that schal be to al puple. :: For a sauyoure is borun to dai to you, that is Crist the Lord, in the citee of Dauid. :: And this is a tokene to you; ye schulen fynde a yong child wlappid in clothis, and leid in a cratche. :: And sudenli ther was maad with the aungel a multitude of heuenli knyythod, heriynge God, :: and seiynge, Glorie be in the hiyeste thingis to God, and in erthe pees be to men of good wille. :: And it was don, as the aungelis passiden awei fro hem in to heuene, the scheephirdis spaken togider, and seiden, Go we ouer to Bethleem, and se we this word that is maad, which the Lord hath maad, and schewide to vs. :: And thei hiyynge camen, and founden Marie and Joseph, and the yong child leid in a cratche. :: And thei seynge, knewen of the word that was seid to hem of this child. :: And alle men that herden wondriden, and of these thingis that weren seid to hem of the scheephirdis. :: But Marie kepte alle these wordis, berynge togider in hir herte. :: And the scheepherdis turneden ayen, glorifyinge and heriynge God in alle thingis that thei hadden herd and seyn, as it was seid to hem.

Luke 2:1-20, tr. William Tyndale, 1530

And it chaunced in thoose dayes: yt ther went oute a comaundment from Auguste the Emperour that all the woorlde shuld be taxed. :: And this taxynge was ye fyrst and executed when Syrenius was leftenaut in Syria. :: And every man went vnto his awne citie to be taxed. :: And Ioseph also ascended from Galile oute of a cite called Nazareth into Iurie: vnto ye cite of David which is called Bethleem because he was of the housse and linage of David :: to be taxed with Mary his spoused wyfe which was with chylde. :: And it fortuned whyll they were there her tyme was come that she shuld be delyvered. :: And she brought forth her fyrst begotten sonne and wrapped him in swadlynge cloothes and layed him in a manger because ther was no roume for them within in the ynne. :: And ther were in the same region shepherdes abydinge in the felde and watching their flocke by nyght. :: And loo: the angell of ye lorde stode harde by them and the brightnes of ye lorde shone rounde aboute them and they were soare afrayed. :: But the angell sayd vnto them: Be not afrayed. For beholde I bringe you tydinges of greate ioye yt shal come to all ye people: :: for vnto you is borne this daye in the cite of David a saveoure which is Christ ye lorde. :: And take this for a signe: ye hall fynde ye chylde swadled and layed in a mager. :: And streight waye ther was with the angell a multitude of hevenly sowdiers laudynge God and sayinge: :: Glory to God an hye and peace on the erth: and vnto men reioysynge. :: And it fortuned assone as the angels were gone awaye fro them in to heven the shepherdes sayd one to another: let vs goo eve vnto Bethleem and se this thynge that is hapened which the Lorde hath shewed vnto vs. :: And they cam with haste and founde Mary and Ioseph and the babe layde in a mager. :: And when they had sene it they publisshed a brode the sayinge which was tolde them of that chylde. :: And all that hearde it wondred at those thinges which were tolde the of the shepherdes. :: But Mary kept all thoose sayinges and pondered them in hyr hert. :: And the shepherdes retourned praysinge and laudinge God for all that they had herde and sene evyn as it was told vnto them.

Luke 2:1-14, King James Version, 1611

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem (because he was of the house and lineage of David), to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, she being great with child.

And so it was that while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered; and she brought forth her first-born son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes; and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not; for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: That ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Also: The same thing in Greek, from Nick Whyte.

The Vulgate, from Sisuile.

Gothic, from Lisa Spangenberg.

Lowland Scots, from Lee Sandlin.


Swedish, from Mikael Johansson

December 24, 2007
Open thread 98
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 06:46 PM *

One does not keep a dinosaur in the attic for comfort.

Words to live by, don’t you agree?

(Consider this a break from Christmas. And yes, I know there is a race to post the sixth comment.)

December 23, 2007
Wrapping Redux
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 10:32 PM * 96 comments

Last minute wrapping?

Missed last year’s discussion of same?

Today was Sunday. You should have the color comics section from your newspaper lying around. Who needs wrapping paper when you have color comics?

Bubble wrap. You have bubble wrap, right? Just cover the thing with bubble wrap. Even if the present is a dud, who doesn’t like bubble wrap?

Unusual-shaped thing? Tie it in a bandanna. Two gifts in one!

If you’d started earlier, you’d have had time to tie-dye tissue paper. But it’s not too late! Put off your gift giving until Twelfth Night (January 5th), claim it’s traditional (because it is), and you have plenty of time. Old Christmas is January 6th (for another reason entirely).* Use that as your gift-giving day.

A ribbon makes anything festive. A ribbon on a brown-paper grocery bag is Plenty Good Enough.

Cookies do not need to be wrapped.

*The calendar reform of 1751 moved everything forward by 11 days. What had been called 25 December was now called 6 January. Old Christmas is still a magical day, and the spirits walk abroad. Lots of evidence of this in American folk ballads.

On ghosts walking on Christmas: Halloween is mostly an American holiday. Christmas has long been a time when the divide between the world of the waking and the world of the dead has been thin. See, for example, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. M. R. James wrote a ghost story every year for Christmas. It’s another tradition.

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December 22, 2007
Yet More Cookies
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 02:39 AM * 58 comments

Moravian Cut-Outs

  • 2 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 cup butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups cake flour
  • 2 Tablespoon brandy
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs singly, beating after each. Add flour, sifted with salted nutmeg, alternately with liquor. Store in refrigerator several hours. Roll out very thin and cut. Brush with egg white or whole beaten egg mixed with water and sprinkled with ground nuts mixed with sugar, or colored sugar. Bake in moderate (350° F) oven.

Rum Balls

  • 2½ cups crushed vanilla wafers
  • 1 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 2 Tablespoon cocoa
  • ½ cup walnuts, finely chopped
Mix well.

Add gradually:

  • ¼ cup white corn syrup
  • ¼ cup rum

Add more rum if balls don’t press together easily. Powder hands with powdered sugar to stop sticking. Keep in an airtight container.

Q. Why was Santa’s little helper so sad?
A. He had low elf-esteem.

Q. What did Santa say to his wife when he looked out the window on Christmas morning?
A. “Looks like rain, dear.”

Q. How is the Christmas Alphabet different from the regular one?
A. It has no L.

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[Recipe Index]

December 21, 2007
Sour Cream Cookies
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 03:12 PM * 34 comments

These were the traditional Christmas Cookies when I was growing up. The cookie cutters were a bell, a star, a circle, a Christmas tree, a candle, and a Santa’s head.

These have been field-tested under a wide variety of conditions, including shipping them to the South Pacific during WWII, where they arrived in good condition.

Herewith, the recipe.

Sour Cream Cookies
(makes circa 5 dozen)

  • 1 cup shortening*
  • 2 cup sugar (scant)
  • grated rind of 1 lemon
  • ¼ tsp lemon or orange extract
  • 3 eggs, slightly beaten
  • ~5 cups flour
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp nutmeg
  • 1 cup sour cream

Blend shortening and sugar; add citrus extract, lemon zest, and eggs. Sift together flour, spices, baking powder and baking soda. Add sifted dry ingredients alternately with sour cream. Chill, roll out, and cut. Bake on greased cookie sheet in 375° F (moderate) oven for 8 to 12 minutes.

May be frosted with a shortening, powdered sugar, and evaporated milk frosting. Putting egg white in the frosting gives shine.

Or, you could sprinkle them with colored granulated sugar before baking.

*Traditionally Crisco, but I suppose you could use anything.
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[Recipe Index]

The Solstice Episode
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 05:15 AM * 252 comments

Nature is the original storyteller.

She can do it all, from the comedy of newborn rabbits to the tragedy of myxomatosis. She uses symmetry and repetition in due measure. Winter snow foreshadows the cherry blossoms of spring, and Indian summer flashes back to true summer. Her pace is impeccable: measured and stately, but punctuated with the most incredible surprises. She recasts the same stories in different contexts and makes them new again.

And story arc? She invented the idea, had it perfected it while we weren’t sure each daily episode was part of the same narrative.

We’ve taken what she gave us and built on it, of course. We adapt her plots, adding characters that suit us and dialog that sounds right. But nature the ultimate source of our storytelling, just as the sun is the source of all our food. And whatever else we’re reading and watching at present, this is a narrative that everyone around us shares.

I’ve been following the Northern Hemisphere series for a number years now, and we’ve reached a key turning point in the current subplot. It’s the dark time, when everything seems hopeless. Lydia has fled with Wickham just as Lizzie falls for Darcy; Han is frozen in carbonite; Théoden and Éowyn lie side by side on Pelennor Fields. We’re ready for the turning to the light.

So as the season finale draws near, what do you think of the story so far? What do you have planned for the last episode, when we celebrate our hope for the coming of the light? What are you looking forward in the next season?*

(Southern Hemisphere readers, who are at a different point in their story arc, feel free to update us as well.)

* If anyone can think of a spoiler surprising enough to ROT-13, I will be seriously impressed.

December 18, 2007
Great moments in law enforcement
Posted by Patrick at 02:46 PM * 247 comments

In New York City, police are putting out decoy purses and wallets, and then arresting people who pick up the objects and fail to immediately give them to a cop.

In Rancho Cordova, California, police are pulling over law-abiding motorists in order to surprise them with $5 Starbucks gift cards, supposedly in order to “promote the holiday spirit and enhance goodwill between the traffic unit and the motoring public.”

Who thinks this stuff up? Are they retarded? Do we have a nationwide problem recruiting people of normal intelligence for police work?

I don’t know about you, but if I found a wallet on the sidewalk, the first thing to occur to me would probably not be to pester a scary-looking, armed-to-the-teeth New York cop about it. I have in fact found valuables, such as wallets and phones, and I’ve generally managed to return them to their proper owners. I’m appalled to discover that this behavior will now get me arrested in my home town. (Not that the NYPD’s little program has any valid basis in law. As a judge in Brooklyn noted, New Yorkers actually have ten days to return found property, and there’s no requirement that it be turned over to a police officer. Will this fact affect anything? Gosh, interesting question. Since evidently Presidents and Vice-Presidents no longer have to worry about silly “laws,” I can’t see why police will.)

As for Rancho Cordova, sure, good idea, what could possibly go wrong? I can’t wait for the first time one of these jolly holiday pull-overs results in a driver panicking, a scared cop who thinks someone’s reaching for a weapon, shots fired, and a passerby suddenly dead. Does Starbucks know about this little tie-in? Are they on board for it?

On the Boing Boing thread about Rancho Cordova, one commenter observed that it’s “like the bully ruffling your hair at break.” Quite right. It’s the kind of country we’re becoming. We’ve created a culture in which the stupid are consistently triumphant, and the rest of us just keep our heads down.

December 17, 2007
Anti-Giuliani-Pro-Huckabee Push Poll
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 05:21 PM * 102 comments

From a robot!

I just got a push-poll with a voice-activated robot-voice recording thingie, asking me if I were going to vote in the Republican primary. It went on from there, asking me if I knew that Giuliani was pro-abortion would it make me less likely to vote for him? And if I knew that Huckabee was for lower taxes would I be more likely to vote for him? And so on. It was all pro-Huckabee, anti-Giuliani.

I answered “yes” or “no” pretty much at random at first, then switched to all “no” answers, just to see where it would go. No human being was involved on the other end of the line. (Hey, Huckabee guys! This kind of nonsense makes it less likely that I’m going to vote for your clown!)

No candidate name was given at the end, revealing who paid for this particular push-poll. It was something like “Paid for by Public Survey 07. 703 378-2990.” (That is the real number the call came from. The area code is Arlington, Virginia.) I believe that failing to reveal the candidate the push-poll favors is illegal under New Hampshire law.


This how it went: Phone rings. Caller ID says SP 07.
Me: Hello.
Caller: This is a brief political poll from Public Survey. Are you going to vote in the Republican Primary on January 7th?
Me: Yes.
Caller: Which of these candidates do you favor? [Gives list of Republicans.]
Me: Giuliani [Because I wouldn’t vote for Giuliani if you held a gun to my head and offered me a hundred bucks in cash at the same time].
Caller: If you were to learn that Giuliani [negative thing] would that change your vote?
Me: No.
Caller: If you were to learn that Giuliani [negative thing] would that change your vote? [Iterate many times, with me answering “No” each time (along with making other remarks about push-polls)]
Caller: If you were to learn that Huckabee [positive thing] would that change your vote?
Me: No.
Caller: If you were to learn that Huckabee [positive thing] would that change your vote? [Iterate many times, with me saying “No” each time]
Caller: If the vote were held tomorrow would you vote for Mike Huckabee?
Me: No
Caller: Thank you for participating in this poll. Paid for by Public Survey 07. 703 378-2990

That was it. I expect that there was a script worked out for every candidate mentioned at the start. I’m pretty sure they didn’t say “Tancredo” or “Paul,” since I might have used one of them if they had—y’all already know my opinion on both those gentlemen. I’m also pretty sure that Huckabee wasn’t in the initial Republican roll-call, the only major who wasn’t mentioned.

As to who really paid for it, who knows? It was plainly pro-Huckabee. Pity that a Baptist Minister has to resort to dirty tricks to slime his opponents.

The group was apparently something called “Common Sense on the Issues.” Who’s funding them, I don’t know. But it does look like dirty tricks from Huckabee. Unless it’s Tancredo playing a deep game….
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December 15, 2007
Ða Engliscan Christmas Carol Quiz
Posted by Teresa at 12:00 AM *

Ða Engliscan Gesiðas Gegaderung is an online forum for Anglo-Saxonists. In 2003 and 2004 they ran a Christmas carol quiz. The game is simple: identify the Christmas carol (or seasonal recording) from its first line in Anglo-Saxon. Both years’ quizzes are reproduced below, with permission of the authors.

Ruth did it the first year, saying “Here are a few Christmas carols to guess. If you want to improve or add, please do (some of them match the tunes, and some don’t). As before, try to strike the balance between lofgeorn and downright grædig …”

1. Eall se ðe me is niedþearf on Geole bið twegen teð…

2. Hwæt, cumaþ, ge treowlic, eadig, and sigefæstan…

3. Se forma Noel se þe sungon se ar…

4. Cwæþ se lyttel lamb to se sceaphyrde-cniht, Hærest þu se ðe ic hiere?

5. Forstig, se snawceorl, wæs se gliwgeorn, eadig mann…

6. O halig niht! þa tunglu beorhte scinaþ. Seo niht is cennes ure leofan Nergendes.

7. On geardagum on Beþleheme, swa cweðeð se halig æ, Mara lyttle cniht-cild wæs geboren on Cristenmæsse dæge…

8. We of eastfolcan cyningas þrie giftberende faraþ feorr…

9. Hwonne sceaphyrdas weardiað heord nihterne, gesettan eall on grunde…

10. Se holen and se ifig, þonne hie beð full geweaxen, of eall treowum on wudum, se holen bereþ corona…

Horsfreond (Philip?) did it the year after:
1: Ic seah ðreo scipu segliende in, on Cristesmaesse daegum, on Cristesmæsse daegum.

2: Ic seah modor cyssan Sanct Niclas …

3: On Cristmæsse forman dægum, sende min deorling me …

4: Ymbhoþ þa healla mid holenes twige
Fa la la la la la la la la
Hit is se sæl to beonne bliþe
Fa la la la la la la la la

5: Hlim, hlem myriglice on heanese; ða Geolan bellan hlynnaþ

6: Aweg on binne. ne crib for His bedde
Se lytel Cristdryhten dunlæg His swete heafd

7: Wynn to ðære worulde; her is se Dryhten;
Sceal eorðe hire cyning onfon.

8: Hwæt! þa engelbodan singaþ; tir biþ to þæm niwcendum cyninge.

9: Ic swefnie of hwite Cristmæsse, mid ælcum Geoles runstæfe ceorfe ic.

10: Engelas from wuldores rice, lacaþ eower lyftgelac ofer middangeard.

“To strike the balance between lofgeorn and downright grædig” is to balance greed against desire for fame; i.e., if you can read these all straight off, go ahead and post a few solutions, but leave the rest to be prizes for those who have to work harder, or who aren’t on line right now.

Embarrassed addendum:

Oh, damn. This post wasn’t supposed to go public. I must have misconfigured it. I put it into the entry queue months and months ago, back when I was trying to track down someone I could ask for permission to re-post the quizzes at Christmas. I hadn’t gotten anywhere with that search as of this past July, when life got busy and thereafter stayed that way.

There’s no use trying to unpublish an entry that’s grown a comment thread; as I know from experience, the “recent comments” list will still access it. Deleting the entry is worse, unless you leave an empty entry in order to preserve the comment thread.

So: I hereby tender my abject apologies to the authors of the quizzes, wherever they may be. (Does anyone know?) If this comes to their attention, I hope they’ll contact me. What happens after that can only be their call. My preference would be to heap praise and full credit on their heads; but it has to be their call.

December 14, 2007
Egregious Self-Promotion II
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 05:43 PM * 12 comments

Today’s mail included contributor copies of the February issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction, which has our short story “Philologos; or, A Murder in Bistrita,” a tale set in our Land of Mist and Snow universe.

Rush out to your news stand (O ye who do not yet subscribe) and buy a copy. Sure to be a collector’s item! (For certain values of “sure,” “collector,” and “item.”)

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Go, New Jersey!
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 12:23 PM *

New Jersey is banning capital punishment.

The legislature passed the bill. Governor Corzine has promised to sign it.

The arguments against capital punishment are these: It doesn’t actually prevent violent criminals from committing crimes, it’s barbaric no matter how you go about doing it, there’s no guarantee you got the right guy, and it sends the wrong message: Killing is wrong, and to prove it we’ll kill you. Most civilized countries banned capital punishment long ago.

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Open thread 97
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 11:19 AM *

We’re going through Open Threads like a toddler through Christmas chocolates. Munch on this Book Arts clicktrance, and don’t get fingermarks everywhere.

Some people have fun around bookbinders. No room for that in my bindery.

Brian Dettmer’s Book Autopsies.

The sad demise of the card catalog turns out to be proximate cause for art.

A gallery of end papers.

Six centuries of bookbinding.

December 13, 2007
Major Success in the GWOT
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 07:16 PM * 55 comments

The trial of the Seas of David group (the “Liberty City Seven”—the guys who tried to scam $50K out of an FBI agent provocateur to buy al Qaeda uniforms and boots) is over.

The Bush administration has racked up an impressive zero out of seven conviction rate on this one.

Boy, am I glad that the Department of Homeland Security is on the job. They’ve saved the Sears Tower from an imaginary threat. Just imagine how many more threats they can imagine!

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December 12, 2007
Pope Rat, Professor X, red-state politician sex
Posted by Avram Grumer at 08:42 PM * 453 comments

Kieran Healy wrote back in April about how he always asks his undergrad students what the earliest major news event is that they can personally remember:

When I started teaching at Arizona, most students could remember the Challenger disaster. Then it was the fall of the Berlin Wall. Then the first Gulf War. Then Bill Clinton’s first-term election. At the moment it is the Oklahoma City bombing. Soon it will be the death of Princess Diana.

The Oklahoma City bombing was in 1995, twelve years ago. Healy doesn’t say what year the undergrads are, so let’s assume that they’re freshman, about 18 years old. In 1995, they were about six.

The earliest news I can remember is the 1972 presidential election, when I was six. (I thought McGovern should win, since Nixon’d already had a turn.) I can also remember news about Watergate, and Skylab; those would have been ’73 and ’74. (As a young SF nerd, I was interested in the latter, and bored by the former.) I have memories going back farther than this, but they’re all of personal things in my life, not of news events. I can date them to age three or earlier only because my family moved around then, so any memory set in our old apartment, or my first nursery school, dates from that period.

Looking back over Wikpedia’s listing of events for 1971, and found one I thought I remembered: the Soyuz-Salyut docking. But I may be confusing it with the Apollo-Soyuz docking, which wasn’t till ’75.

I remember the World Trade Center being built, but I’m not sure exactly what stage of the process I remember. Tower One was finished in 1970, Tower Two in ’71, and the official ribbon-cutting was in ’73. This might be a memory from as early as age four (it goes with the new apartment), or as late as age seven (though it’s also entangled with a children’s show that I’d probably stopped watching by then).

I think I might remember the first flight of the Concorde SST, which was in 1970, when I was four.

Chris says she thinks she can remember Nixon’s resignation, right around the time of her sixth birthday. (How’s that for a present?) Is this common, that adults’ memories for current events start around age six? What’s the first news event that you can remember hearing about as it was happening, and how old were you at the time? Does anyone born after 1957 remember the JFK assassination happening?

Anyone have any twelve-year-old kids? Do they remember any news events earlier than 9/11?

Elevator pitches
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 03:45 PM *

We haven’t had a parlor game in a while. Let’s play Elevator Pitches.

You, a not very inspired writer, have the movie producer/TV studio exec of your choice trapped in an elevator. You know SF&F genre is hot these days, and after Bridget Jones’ Diary you know the classics of English literature are ripe for ripping off^H^H^H reinvention. What could sell better than a crossover?

Make your pitch: classic novel/play/movie/epic poem/whatever recast into an SFnial setting, real or generic. Here are a couple to start off.

- o0o -

“Lord Elléot, of the household of Kellinch in Lebennin, was a man who, for his own amusement, never perused any tome but The Lineage of the Great Houses of Gondor; there he found occupation in his idleness and consolation in his distress; there were his courage and his nobility roused by the deeds of former heroes; there were the trials of daily life turned to pity and contempt in the contemplation of the recent decline of the noble bloodlines of the White City — and there, if all other tales held no power, he could read his own praises with an interest that never failed…”

It’s the story of one of the noblest houses of Gondor, now fallen into disrepute. We follow the middle daughter, Einne, as the Ranger she once loved returns from the defense of the borders. About half of the action is set in the plains of Gondor, and half in the provincial capital of Osgiliath. There’s a very dramatic scene at the riverside pier at Pelargir as well - we could crowd in lots of dwarves and elves, maybe even a few orcs.


It was the best of times, it was the worst of times in a galaxy far, far away…

During the Rebellion against the empire, two men fall for the same woman against a backdrop of betrayal and mistaken identity.

Commander Sidney Carton of the Imperial Fleet and freighter pilot (and sometime rebel) Captain Charl Dar-nay, are both in love with the same Imperial senator. As the action shifts between the Imperial city of Coruscant and the spaceport at Mos Eisley, the two men contend for Senator Lu-Cie Manet’s affections. It ends with Commander Carton falling into the maw of the dread Sarlacc in payment for Captain Dar-nay’s debt to Jabba the Hut.


Weather outside: Frightful
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 01:19 PM *

But the fire is so delightful.

That’s a snowmobile burning on the trail, last March. The picture is taken from this page, photos from the Colebrook Ski-Bees, one of the local snowmobile clubs.

We have twelve to fifteen inches of snow on the ground, and it’s snowing right now. Looks like this’ll be a good year. The last two years, we didn’t have much snow before Christmas. Given that the folks whose business depends on tourists make between a third and a half of their annual income in the week between Christmas and New Year’s, that was hard on the local economy. Think of it as a two crop failures back-to-back.

But this year, hurrah! Looks like it’s the snow that’ll stick. And if you check out the depth map (and the web cam pictures) on this page (where you can also hear The Snowmobile Song by Stompin’ Tom Connors), taken from the Pittsburg Ridge Runners website, you can see that we have some of the best conditions in New England.

The trails officially opened this past weekend. I expect that we’re going to see a pretty good number of folks starting next week. Come, snowmobilers! We love you!

Now to go shovel the driveway (again)….

Update: Useful Links

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December 09, 2007
Old Olympus’ Towering Tops
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 11:21 PM * 84 comments

The other day I was chatting with a chum, and the twelve cranial nerves came up.

The cranial nerves are the nerves that don’t come out through the spinal cord. They come directly through the skull. They’re important because (among other things) they can give you a pretty good idea if anything horrible is going on inside the brain, and where exactly that horrible thing is likely to be.

Now suppose you’re in your favorite bar and a big guy dressed in black leather, hung about with chains, walks over and bets you a hundred bucks that you can’t name the twelve cranial nerves. Here’s how you can conquer and win his hundred. Remember this little rhyme:

On Old Olympus’ Towering Tops
A Fat-Ass German Vends Some Hops.

That mnemonic reminds you of:

  • I Olfactory (Sense of smell)
  • II Optic (Sense of sight)
  • III Oculomotor (Eye and eyelid movement)
  • IV Trochlear (Turns eyes downward and to the side; controls superior oblique muscle)
  • V Trigeminal (Controls chewing; touch and pain in the face and mouth)
  • VI Abducens (Turns eye to the side)
  • VII Facial (Controls facial expressions; tears and saliva; sense of taste)
  • VIII Auditory (Sense of hearing; equilibrium)
  • IX Glossopharyngeal (Sense of taste; senses carotid blood pressure)
  • X Vagus (Sense of taste; senses aortic blood pressure; stimulates digestion; slows heart)
  • XI Spinal Accessory (Controls swallowing; trapezius and sterno-cleido-mastoid muscles)
  • XII Hypoglossal (Tongue movement)

Hah, victory! Now suppose that same big guy says, “Double or nothing: Which ones are sensory, motor, or both sensory and motor?”

Another mnemonic springs to your aid: “Some Say ‘Marry Money,’ But My Brother Says Big Breasts Matter More.” (S=sensory, M=motor, and B=both.)

Again you win the bet. You pocket the two hundred bucks. To show that he isn’t a sore loser, the big guy also buys you a beer.

If you want to perform a neurological examination on your Significant Other (kinky foreplay!) here’s how. If you want to see where the cranial nerves are located, what they all do, take a little quiz, and so on, go here.

Just a couple of notes on some of those nerves: Cranial Nerve III (Oculomotor), is the one that controls pupil dilation (among other things). That’s the reason dead people have fixed, dilated eyes. As the brain loses oxygen, the oculomotor nerve is no longer able to constrict the pupils. In a stroke, the pupil can be “blown” by pressure or lack of oxygen on the oculomotor nerve on the affected side. Same thing with head trauma—swelling affects the oculomotor. One pupil that’s sluggish, or fixed and dilated, is a bad sign. It can mean decreased oxygen or increased pressure inside the skull.

Next interesting one is Cranial Nerve V (Trigeminal). It’s both sensory and motor. As its name suggests, it has three roots. The trigeminal covers most of the sensation from the face. One of the most common nerve-pain disorders is trigeminal pain. When it occurs it usually affects women in mid-to-late life; it is usually felt in the maxillary (upper jaw) branch, next most commonly in the mandibular (lower jaw) branch. It’s a sharp, stabbing, sudden-onset pain; frequently mistaken for toothache. It’s often accompanied by a tic-like muscle spasm. Suspect trigeminal pain if the pain stops at the mid-line of the face. There isn’t really anything you can do about this at home: go see your doctor (particularly if the pain is bad enough and frequent enough to put you in danger of malnutrition or dehydration) to rule out other, more serious causes of pain. Trigeminal pain can be controlled with drugs if you catch it early.

Last of the interesting cranial nerves that I want to talk about tonight is Cranial Nerve X (Vagus). This is a long nerve and has a lot of functions, but the one I want to mention is that it controls the heart rate. Rubbing the carotid sinuses (in the carotid arteries, under the angle of the jaw) leads to stimulation of the vagus, which slows the heart (don’t try this at home, kids: if there’s a blockage in the area, and the massage breaks a soft clot loose, you’re looking at a stroke). If someone’s heart rate is too slow due to vagal tone you can whack them up with atropine, which blocks the vagus. (This won’t help with heart transplant patients—the vagus isn’t connected in them.) The last interesting thing is that the vagus doesn’t just innervate the heart: it also hooks up to various parts of the digestive system. Which works out to this: folks on the toilet who are bearing down can stimulate the vagus (which terminates down in the rectum). This has the same effect as carotid massage; the heart slows. Perhaps it slows down far enough that blood pressure plummets. The patient passes out (we call it “vagueing out”), falls off the toilet and cracks his head on the side of the bathtub. Or, the heart slows enough that the old, sick, tired heart says “Okay, I’m done,” and stops beating entirely. This is one reason why so many heart attacks happen while the patent is sitting on the toilet. (We call it “the Elvis presentation.”) If you’re prone to vagueing out (aka vaso-vagal syncope), please consider getting a medic alert tag that says so.

I am not a physician. I can neither diagnose nor prescribe. This post is presented for entertainment purposes only. Nothing here is meant to be advice for your particular condition or situation.

Index to medical posts
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Matthew Dowd: Dead center in the false middle
Posted by Teresa at 10:01 PM * 49 comments

The mighty Julia, now blogging at Firedoglake, has got the goods on Matthew Dowd, an unprincipled electoral technician who’s spent most of his career in the thick of things with Bush and Rove. Now that that position is about to be overrun, Dowd—the architect of Bush’s polarization strategy—has announced he’s had a change of heart.* Even more cynically, ABC is planning to foist him on us as a penitent centrist.

Julia knows better:

After a whirlwind highly-qualified-contrition* tour of the media, the man who credits himself with convincing Karl Rove to move all the way to the right because the center no longer exists has landed at ABC News. Predictably, he’s going to be providing us with his bipartisan view from the center.

Also predictably, from the first word quite a bit of it is, to put it charitably, less than thoroughly frank. To put it less charitably, it’s a mess of spin and bullshit.

Do have a look. It’s a solid piece of ass-kicking that left me wondering philosophically which has the least credibility: Matthew Dowd, or ABC.

December 06, 2007
The inner lives of small rodents
Posted by Teresa at 08:55 PM *

Patrick’s away this evening. I was sitting on the sofa with my computer when I heard a soft squeaking noise from the dining room. Hiro’s waking up early, I thought. (Hiro Frumentius is my hamster. He’s gone from being a little ash-spotted dab of a thing to a large and respectable full-grown hamster who, from certain angles, looks like a miniature badger.) Then he started squeaking in earnest, and I ran for the dining room.

Hiro’s predecessor, Porco Bruno, was extraordinarily voluble for a hamster. Hiro’s much more normal: i.e., he doesn’t vocalize unless he’s in real distress. By the time I got to his cage, there were unprecedentedly emphatic squeaks, strange hiccupy sounds, and scrabbling noises coming from his igloo. My god, I thought, he’s dying in there. He’s seriously ill. This is going to be awful.

I took the big rock off the top of his igloo, tipped up the entrance so I could see in, and made the “tsk-tsk-tsk-tsk-tsk-tsk-tsk” noise that variously means hello, want to come out and play?, please come out from behind that bathtub, and I have a snack for you. After a moment a small quivering nose appeared from the bedding, and then Hiro emerged: eyes glued nearly shut with sleep, ears folded down, trembling all over.

Without thinking, I said “You’re all right now. It was just a dream.” Hiro’s eyes snapped open. He sniffed my fingers, looked around, and hesitantly walked out of his cage. Aside from being scared out of his small wits, he looked perfectly healthy.

I’ll never know what nameless hamster horror had been threatening him. I went on talking softly to him for a while, and petted him and gave him some Wasabrod; but he still had to run an inspection tour of his entire cage, nosing up under the edges of the computer mousepads that serve him as floor padding, and climbing the walls to sniff at unaccustomed corners.

December 05, 2007
Open thread 96
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 05:36 PM *

If sixty-nine is an intimate number, lover and beloved curled up together, yin and yang, light and shadow, all of that…then what can we say of ninety-six? A number of estrangement, back to back and curled up in silence, lovers who no longer speak?

For me 96 is not like that. There is a song I heard once, years ago, from a group called the Whammadiddle Dingbats, but it’s originally by a chap named Dillon Bustin. It begins thus:

There is a highway, runs to the country.
There is a gravel road through the hills.
There is a small lane, winding through a meadow.
There is a footpath into wilderness.
There I found a log house, built by a settler.
I found a big barn there, built by his sons.
I found the orchard, abandoned by their children,
All forgotten by everyone.

California Highway 96, which runs from Willow Creek up to I5 out past Happy Camp (where everyone is a Happy Camper as long as you don’t make that joke), passes through Weitchpec on its way. Just north of town lies a certain turnout, from which a gravel road winds its way past an old ranch house and through a disused corral filled with rusting fridges and washing machines. If you unlock the chain across the road (closed with the rancher’s trick of interlocking padlocks, so everyone has his own key) and drive on up the mountain, taking the correct turn at every fork, you come to a turnout on the right, with a flat spot to park your car. The old road, cut long ago by a drunkard, has washed out in a dozen places: walk it now, don’t drive. Peer over the side of the bank at the concrete blocks, still shaped like the bags that got left out in the rain. Beware the rattlesnakes and the black widows, and don’t step in the poison oak or the bear scat. At a certain place, unmarked, turn left and head into the trees. The path, barely traceable under the fallen leaves, descends sharply through close-grown Doug firs and tan oaks before emerging at the edge of a landslide. If you’re lucky, you can just see a cabin in among the trees to your left. Come on a winter evening, and maybe the smoke will be drifting out of the tin chimney. Maybe the kerosene lamps will be shining in the windows.

It is always thus in my dreams.

The snake in the cellar, the mouse in the cupboard,
The swallows in the sleeploft, the frog at the spring:
We’ll be a-waiting, we’ll have the lamps all burning
We’ll be a-yearning for what you will bring.

Much later, it occurs to me that I should supply the name of the song. It’s Moonshine in the White Pines.

Keep Your Head Down
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 04:10 PM * 608 comments

As many as five people have been shot at a shopping mall in Omaha, Nebraska; police are searching for a gunman, CNN affiliates report.

That’s all there is right now.

In honor of the election season, though, I’ll make some predictions about the perp, when he’s caught. I bet that (a) he isn’t an illegal immigrant, (b) his name isn’t Mohammed, (c) he isn’t associated in any way with foreign terrorists, and (d) throwing out the entire Bill of Rights (except the Second Amendment) wouldn’t have stopped him.

Now some advice: If you hear gunshots in a public place and they’re nearby, seek cover and concealment. Stay there until uniformed police officers tell you it’s safe to move. If they’re distant, get moving in the opposite direction, provided you can do so safely.

Oh, yes: If someone you don’t know calls you by name, make yourself one with the pavement.

Cover: something that bullets won’t penetrate. Solid walls, sandbags, engine blocks.
Concealment: Bullets will go through them, but they hide you from view. Interior walls, bushes, auto doors.

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December 03, 2007
The object produced through suggestion
Posted by Avram Grumer at 10:58 PM *

Apparently, in the movie Idiocracy (which I haven’t seen) there was an energy drink called Brawndo: The Thirst Mutilator. Adam Lisagor, filling in for Jason Kottke, says that someone’s actually going to be making Brawndo as a real-world product.

Chris reminded me that this isn’t the first product to have escaped into reality from the world of fiction. The Holiday Inn hotel chain was named after a 1942 movie, and the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company restaurant chain comes from Forrest Gump.

I propose that we call such products tlonian, after the Borges story “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”. (I was going to suggest tertian, but that’s already a term in music theory.) Uqbar itself, a browser being developed for reading Project Gutenberg e-texts, is one such.

Egregious Self-Promotion
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 12:31 AM * 66 comments

If you already blew four hundred bucks on a Kindle, what the heck! Waste another six-and-a-half to get one of my books to read on it!

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December 02, 2007
The sinople planet
Posted by Avram Grumer at 07:19 PM * 152 comments

Has anyone else here been wondering about the color-blind synesthete?

You know about synesthesia, of course, the neurological condition in which one sensory phenomenon invokes other, separate phenomena. In one common form, letters or numbers invoke the perception of colors.

So there’s this guy, he’s got synesthesia. But he’s also got color-blindness. So some of the colors that get conjured up in his head when he sees certain numbers are colors that he’s never seen in the external world. He calls them “Martian colors”.

I’ve been wondering about the implications of this for the philosophy of consciousness. If you read people arguing about whether consciousness can be explained by physical processes, you run into a lot of thought experiments about color perception, like the Inverted Spectrum, Mary’s Room, and the whole issue of qualia. Because I’m a physicalist, I don’t believe in qualia unentangled from neurology, so I’m interested in this quote from VS Ramachandran, the neuroscientist who wrote about the color-bland synesthete:

The effect is most obvious and pronounced in the colorblind synesthetes, but occurs in “regular” synesthetes as well. The colors evoked by cross activation in the fusiform gyrus “bypass” earlier stages of color processing in the brain, which may confer an unusual tint to the colors evoked. This is important for understanding the phenomenon of synesthesia, because it suggests that the qualia label — that is, the subjective experience of the color sensation — depends not merely on the final stages of processing but on the total pattern of neural activity, including earlier stages.

That passage I’ve emphasized reinforces my belief that there is no perception of color that doesn’t rest on neural activity. As I see it, it refutes the premise of the Mary’s Room argument, by establishing the only way for Mary to have full knowledge of how the color red is subjectively experienced would be for her to also have full knowledge of how that experience is physically generated by neural activity, and that knowledge would itself refute the non-physicalist conclusion that the argument tries to advance.

A savory pie for the first day of winter
Posted by Teresa at 03:47 PM *

Sausage, leek, and apple pie

4 large or 6 smaller leeks
2 large or 3 small tart Granny Smith apples
1 modest celery-root
a dab of chanterelle mushroom, if feasible
a pound or more of breakfast sausage or sweet Italian sausage
a generous pinch of saffron
several tbsp. of fine-gauge tapioca
a splash of dry sherry
butter, flour, salt, coarse pepper
pastry for a two-crust pie
Brown your sausage, chunking it into bits as it cooks, or slicing it up afterward if you’re using breakfast links.

While the sausage is browning, wash your leeks well, cut them lengthwise, and slice them into segments a third to a half inch long. Pare your celery-root and slice it finely. Wash and chop up your hoped-for bit of chanterelle. Put all three into a pot with just enough lightly-salted boiling water to barely cover them, and cook just a minute or two past the point where they wilt. Dump them into a colander, taking care to save the vegetable broth you strain off.

Peel and core your apples, then slice them into nice uniform slices about a quarter-inch thick. Meanwhile, when a fair amount of the vegetable broth has drained off, remove it to a small saucepan, crumble in a generous first-joint-of-your-thumb pinch of saffron, and leave it to steep over a low fire. As further broth drains off the vegetables, add it to the pot.

(Requisite maddeningly imprecise direction: If it looks like you have enough broth to fill a piepan, turn the fire up so it’ll reduce.) (Also: this is a good moment to start your oven at 425 F.)

Lay your bottom crust in the piepan. Scatter a couple of teaspoons of dry tapioca into the bottom of the pie. When it’s convenient, add two or three generous tablespoons of dry tapioca to the cooked vegetable mixture and stir it in gently. This is a good moment to correct the salting of the vegetables, if you need to do that.

Melt 3 tbsp. butter in a pan, sprinkle in 3 tbsp. of flour, and make a roux. If you’re getting a lot of broth and you have a big piepan, you can take it up to 4 and 4. When the roux is roux’d, whisk in the broth, yadda yadda, salt and coarse pepper, splash of sherry, yadda. Should be middling thick. Take the sauce off the fire and stir in the vegetables. If you have a cold spot on the floor underneath a loose-framed window, set it there—the crust will fare better if the filling isn’t too hot.

Dredge your apple slices lightly in flour and arrange them in compact overlapping circles in the bottom of the pie shell. One clinker-built layer is enough unless your piepan is deep; if not, and you have more than that, leave them out.* Top the apples with a well-packed layer of half of the leek mixture, or half as much as you’ll be using if you’ve made a lot. Lay on the sausage, pressing it in a bit. Top with the rest of the leek mixture. Mounding is good. Put on your top crust, crimp it well, cut a vent in the center, and put the pie in the oven.

Bake at 425 F. for fifteen minutes, then turn the oven down to 350 F. and continue baking until the edges of the crust haven’t burned yet. Avoid bending or torque when you take it out. Let it cool and set up a while, unless you’re too hungry to care about the filling being loose. Goes well with a chunk of sharp cheese and some chilled white wine.

(Soundtrack: First Snow on Brooklyn, from the Jethro Tull Christmas Album.)

[Recipe Index]

Webcomics follow-up
Posted by Avram Grumer at 01:49 AM * 48 comments

Since I had that link last post to that old LJ post about webcomics, here are the webcomics I’ve added to my bookmarks file in the past year:

First, has everyone here read Sugarshock, by Joss Whedon and Fabio Moon? ’Cause hey, Joss Whedon, y’know? I haven’t actually bookmarked this, since it’s a finished story. Go, read and chuckle.

Hate Song: Not for the easily offended. This strip (which hasn’t updated in a while) focuses on a small family who are pretty much just horrible people in just about every way you can imagine. It’s like South Park without the moral center. And yet, there’s something entertaining about a comic being that creatively transgressive on a consistent basis.

Kukuburi: Hip young woman in some weird parallel dimension or something. Gorgeous artwork.

La Muse: Long-form science fiction about a young woman with godlike powers trying to remake the world. Some reviewers have complained the the protagonist is a Mary Sue; it seemed to me that this was rather the kind of story that spends some time showing you how awesome the protagonist is before hitting her with something she can’t easily overcome. Sure enough, recent updates have shown her getting hit with just some such thing.

Minus World: Promising comic about a video game company, but it seems to have stalled out after just a few entries.

North World: Swords-and-sorcery story set in something like the modern world.

Octopus Pie: Comedic slice-of-life comic set in NYC. (Yes, being set in NYC makes everything better. Extra points because the creator lives in Brooklyn.)

Pictures for Sad Children: Melancholy stick figure comic. Or maybe just one notch above stick figures. By John Campbell, who also did that 50 Answers series of comics that Teresa linked to.

Princess Planet: I haven’t actually read all of these yet; there’s a lot archived there. Comedy strip set on a world of fairy tales and space opera, where every girl is a princess.

The Superest: Two cartoonists daily challenging each other to come up with a superhero/villain who can beat the previous one.

Three Panel Soul: What Ian McConville and Matt Boyd have been doing since putting Mac Hall to bed.

We the Robots: Daily comedy strip about a world populated by robots who are all too human. It manages something like the tone of Peanuts, but with occasional swearing.

And I continue my recommendations for Dresden Codak (almost as nerdy as xkcd, but with real artwork), Templar, Arizona (full of alternate-historical subcultures observed in sarcastic detail), and Scary Go Round (the dialog is even funnier if you imagine the British accents).

My next post will be about something other than comics, I promise.

December 01, 2007
The fire, the dog, the lake
Posted by Patrick at 12:13 PM * 13 comments

Longtime Making Light pal Julia (of Sisyphus Shrugged) is now posting at popular lefty group blog Firedoglake. The Lake itself is undergoing a metamorphosis as it expands to encompass even more of the progressive blog universe—first David Neiwert and Julia, with more startling additions to come. Meanwhile, Julia’s first FDL post is full of entertaining background on our favorite former New York City mayor and would-be American dictator, the politician memorably described by Jimmy Breslin as “a small man looking for a balcony.” Dodge the falling plaster and send Julia a hello.

Smaller type (our default)
Larger type
Even larger type, with serifs

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