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November 26, 2008
Bad faith arguments from Jonathan Chait
Posted by Patrick at 06:40 PM *

I hope that if I’m ever tempted to take Jonathan Chait seriously about anything, someone will remind me of this. I’m not sure what’s more offputting, Chait’s initial routine about what a kee-razy contradiction it is for Ezra Klein to eat meat and be concerned about the way we treat our livestock and poultry…or Chait’s ingenuous “update,” in which he quotes his target’s (quite reasonable) response while clumsily trying to frame it with an “aw, you take this too seriously” routine. Either way, Ezra Klein comes across as sensible and serious, while Jonathan Chait comes across as a prick.

Note also the comments following Chait’s post, which begin with someone deriding “Pretty boy Klein” and pretty much stay in that mode. Classy operation, the New Republic.

I eat meat, but I don’t think that disqualifies me from being concerned about how it gets to my plate. Klein observes that Chait’s riff here is the equivalent of those people who attack Al Gore for being a global-warming crusader even though he rides in cars and uses light bulbs. Of course it is; the point of such attacks is, first, to deride anyone who says anything that makes us feel uncomfortable, and second, to establish that we need listen to radical truths only if they’re spoken by people who live lives of saintly renunciation. Since such people are very rare, this guarantees we won’t be frequently disturbed.

November 23, 2008
Open thread 116
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 05:15 PM *

Dhammapada chapter 9, on evil, verse 116:

Be quick in doing
what is admirable.
Restrain your mind
from what is evil.
When you’re slow
in making merit,
evil delights the mind.

Commentary by Buddhaghosa:

In Savatthi there lived a poor brahmin with his wife. They had only one piece of outer garment, so only one of them could go out at one time. They were lay disciple of the Buddha and wanted to hear as many of his discourses as possible. So the brahmin would go to the monastery at night and his wife during the day. Once the brahmin was listening to the Buddha and he felt very strong wish to perform meritorious deeds. He wanted to offer his only piece of cloth to the Buddha. But he realized that he and his wife would have nothing to wear then. So his mind wavered and he hesitated. Finally during the last hours of the night he offered his cloth to the Buddha, saying, “I win!”

The king of Kosala, Pasenadi, was also present, and when he heard the brahmin he sent messengers to ask why he shouted, “I win!” When he learned the brahmin’s story, he was very much impressed and decided to give him a reward. He ordered the brahmin be offered a new piece of cloth. The brahmin gave that piece also to the Buddha. The king gave him two pieces of cloth, which were again offered to the Buddha. Pasenadi again doubled the number of clothes; the brahmin again gave them to the Buddha. So at the end the king gave him thirty-two pieces of cloth, the brahmin kept one for himself, one for his wife, and remaining thirty he again offered to the Buddha.

The king was so much impressed that he decided to reward the brahmin further. He gave him two pieces of very expensive velvet cloth. The brahmin made two canopies out of them, kept one for himself and his wife and the second one he offered to the Buddha. The king then saw the canopy in the monastery and realized that the brahmin has done a meritorious deed again. So he decided to reward him even more.

Some monks wondered how it was possible that in this case a good deed brings good results so quickly. The Buddha replied, that had the brahmin offered his garment immediately when the idea occurred to him, his reward would have been much greater. He then added this verse, saying that if one wants to perform meritorious deeds, one should do so quickly, without hesitation. If one thinks about it too long, then maybe it becomes impossible to do anything at all, because the mind delights in evil.

Translations of the Dhammapada here, here, here for language learners and here, in rhyme.

More detailed version of the commentary here.

Although the story bears superficial resemblance to that of Saint Martin of Tours, the details and meanings of the two stories are sufficiently different that there is probably no cross-cultural influence.

Now go forth and do good, quickly.

Kennedy Assassination
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 03:10 PM * 239 comments

Yesterday was the 45th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Less than half of the people now alive in America remember the day. I was standing in the bus line at St. Patrick’s Parochial School, ready to go home, when I heard.

Since then there’s been a minor industry centered around proving there was some kind of conspiracy to kill Kennedy. I’ve heard Mark Lane give a live presentation (he showed the Zapruder film; that was the first time I saw it). There’ve been a ton of books, including Lane’s Rush to Judgment. Milton Halpern, the retired NYC chief medical examiner, couldn’t resist putting a chapter speculating about Kennedy in his memoir about his adventures in New York. Jim Garrison, a prosecutor in New Orleans, actually brought a man to trial. (In my opinion, what Garrison uncovered wasn’t a conspiracy to kill Kennedy—I think he ran into the New Orleans gay underground, and found, without realizing it, that prominent businessmen would rather have folks think they were in Dallas shooting the president than that they were in a motel banging their boyfriends.)

Okay. Let us now dispose of most of the Kennedy Conspiracy theories:

1. The CIA did it!
A. No, Kennedy’s dead.

2. There was a second shooter behind the fence at the railway yard!
A. No, that location was under constant observation from the switching tower. There wasn’t.

3. Someone was firing from the Grassy Knoll, firing at the same time as the shots from the Book Depository so no one would hear them!
A. This ignores that sound travels slowly; far more slowly than bullets.

4. Oswald couldn’t possible have known the parade route, which was changed at the last minute!
A. The route was published in the newspaper the day before. How do you think Zapruder and everyone else knew where to stand?

5. No human could load and fire that many times in that short a space of time!
A. The weapon was already loaded long before the first shot. After the last there was no need to reload. There was plenty of time.

6. The magic bullet! It stopped in midair, changed direction, and it was undamaged!
A. It only looks good when photographed from one angle And the timing of which shot went with which bullet strike is unknown. The two bullet hits were from two different bullets.

7. The telescopic sights were misaligned! Oswald couldn’t possible have hit a target!
A. He was using the iron sights. (Lots faster that way, too.)

8. Where did the rifle come from?
A. Oswald bought it, and he brought it to work that day. He carried a long package wrapped in brown paper. He told the folks he was riding with that it was curtain rods. Oswald’s apartment didn’t have curtains and no curtain rods were ever found, but a rifle was.

9. All of Jack Ruby’s strippers died! He must have told them the truth and they were killed to silence them!
A. Being a stripper in Dallas in 1963 was a high-risk occupation for people on the way down. Jack Ruby’s brother lived a long and healthy life. Why assume that Jack told his strippers but didn’t tell his brother?

10. And so forth, and endlessly on.
A. All of the conspiracy theories depend on conspirators making plans that rely on split-second timing in which nothing could possibly go wrong, including random events under no one’s control, else the entire plan would fall apart.

On the other hand, Lee Oswald, acting alone, fits all known facts.

Among the conspiracy theorists, I particularly like the one who found that Oswald, while he was a Marine on Okinawa, got VD and it was recorded that he got it in the line of duty and not due to his own misconduct. The theorist then speculates that therefore Oswald had been assigned to catch VD, making him some kind of Super Spook. The reality is that any time a military person is sick or injured, you have to do a LOD investigation. The usual result is that the person is found to have gotten sick in the line of duty and not due to his own misconduct. “In the line of duty” merely means that the person was either on duty, or on authorized leave or liberty, at the time. If the guy was anything other than AWOL when he got VD, it’s Line of Duty. And the misconduct thing is asking whether the person was violating any lawful order or general regulation at the time of the injury. If there wasn’t an order against getting VD, or if he wasn’t frequenting an establishment that had been placed off limits, or he didn’t get VD while committing rape or adultery, then the finding “not due to own misconduct” is automatic.

So, why so many theories? I call it the Kennedy Conspiracy Delusion. Lots of people (80% by one poll) think there was a conspiracy. I speculate this is because it’s too terrible to believe that no one is in control. Momentous happenings must have momentous causes.

Alas, the world is not so.

November 19, 2008
Want to Buy an Ambulance?
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 04:05 PM *

Type III ambulance. 1996 Ford E-350 with a McCoy-Miller box.

Write to 45th Parallel EMS, PO Box 404, Colebrook, NH, 03576.

 Interior, from the rear.  Left front exterior  Right side view exterior  Driver's seat


This unit is a 1996 Ford E-350 McCoy/Miller Ambulance with a 7.3 V-8 Turbo Diesel Power Stroke Engine and an automatic 4-speed transmission. This vehicle starts and runs excellent. Body is in good condition. All emergency lights and siren are included with the exception of the radio equipment. The interior is grey cloth with a factory FM/AM radio. The vehicle has cruise control, tilt steering & air conditioning. The truck also has dual air bags, power windows, power locks & power steering. Vehicle has had regular maintenance every 3,000 miles. Priced to sell at $ 11,995 or BRO. Call or email for further details

[UPDATE: See Also (for our Latin American friends)]

Cooking With Light (Recipe Index)
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 02:47 PM * 151 comments

An index to the recipes at Making Light.

Thanksgiving in particular:

Parties in General: Salad: Soup: Entrees: Savories Sides Desserts: Breakfast: Beverages: Bread: Mormon cooking:
  • La cuisine du Nouveau Sion (incl: Funeral Potatoes (two versions), Pretzel Jello, Quick and Creamy Fruit Salad, Pistachio Salad, Orange Sherbet Salad, Mormon Pioneer Salad, Jello Plum Pudding (a Christmas dessert), and Missionary Dessert (Bishop’s Dessert))
  • Stuffed Squash Deseret
Ingredients: Links: Related Interest

November 17, 2008
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 06:46 PM * 25 comments

I am stunned into near-silence. Nudist Colony of the Dead is a musical.

Joe the Author
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 06:33 PM *

So Joe the Plumber has a book in the works, entitled Joe the Plumber: Fighting for the American Dream. It’s coming out on December 1, 2008.

Joe’s coauthor, Thomas N. Tabback, has also written a book called Things Forgotten (2008, $19.95, but available at $9.95 here). It’s a novel about an amnesiac Bronx policeman who relives events in Canaan more than 3200 years ago through the eyes of one Nahar, son of Nahath.*.

Both books are published by a company called PearlGate Publishing, based in Austin, TX. I can find no further reference to them on the web. I presume that they use some other company for the physical production of the books.

Joe’s book can be pre-ordered for $14.95, or you can get a signed copy thrown in for free if you buy a one year Freedom Membership in Joe’s new website/forum/blog for $19.95.

My read on this? Tabback has written a book and self-published it, and is looking for some publicity. He has the bones of a decent website, but must not have been getting the traffic or the consequent sales. I trust that the additional eyeballs will lead anyone who might be interested in the book to buy it.

Meanwhile, I think Joe was looking for someone to help him with the mechanics of getting a book together and out the door while he launches his online community and citizen movement (old version of the site here). I’m sure the site will stand or fall on its value to its members.

* You can view sample chapters by clicking on the image of the book on this page. (Note the highly appropriate title font.) I would class it as well-researched, but not gracefully written.

November 16, 2008
Poison: It Isn’t Just For Breakfast Any More
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 07:40 PM *

What cheerful thing shall we talk about today? How about poison!

Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren’t lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.
Dorothy Parker

Two, maybe three, of those things can be classified as poisons. (For the others: direct pressure, high volume oxygen, treatment for shock, and rapid transport to the closest appropriate facility are the keys. Your friends at 9-1-1 are waiting to hear from you!)

We remember poison from Altered Level of Consciousness, when O=Overdose was one of the items in our mnemonic. You might think of any poisoning episode as an overdose. What’s the recommended dose of hydrogen cyanide? Zero? Did someone get more than that? Woo! Overdose!

If you suspect poisoning, call the National Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222. That’s a toll-free call. If you can’t get to them, call 9-1-1.

NOTE: If the patient collapses, or stops breathing, or starts convulsing, or you can’t wake him/her up … skip Poison Control. Save a couple of minutes. Go directly to 9-1-1.

Okay, so. Let’s classify acute poisoning, then see what to do about it.

There are four basic kinds of poisons:

  1. Ingested poisons
  2. Inhaled poisons
  3. Injected poisons
  4. Absorbed poisons

The best treatment for all kinds of poisoning is prevention. Please don’t put the bleach into an old Pepsi bottle and store it where Junior can get at it. Please put a carbon monoxide detector in your bedroom. Please don’t leave the chicken lying out on the kitchen counter at room temperature for a couple of hours. If you’re an artist working with arsenic-based pigments, don’t put the brush in your mouth. Y’know. All that simple stuff.

Okay, ingested poisons. Stuff that you swallow. Deliberately or by accident. This can be medicines (your classic is a nice young lady who breaks up with her boyfriend, swallows every Tylenol in the house, pukes, decides the boyfriend wasn’t worth it, and dies a month later of liver failure), or rat poison, or lye, or what may have you.

Here’s what the nice folks at the Poison Control Center, or at 9-1-1, or the nice EMTs who come to your house, or the nice nurse at the ED, will want to know:

What was it?
This is your starting point. We can figure a lot of things out … ringing in the ears, think aspirin … but it’s nice if we don’t have to play Sherlock Holmes. You should be aware that lots of drug names sound similar (e.g. Xanax vs. Zantac). If it’s possible, and it’s safe to do so, take the original packaging with you.

In a work environment you’ll find information on every substance in the place in the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheets) that are stored at some known and accessible location (e.g. by the front door, in the custodian’s office, in the supervisor’s desk). They’re required by OSHA. Know where the MSDS for your workplace are stored.

When did the patient ingest the substance?
Two minutes ago, an hour ago, a week ago … what (if anything) we can do about the situation can be time-critical. If you don’t know the exact time, a range (e.g. sometime after 2:00 pm but before 4:00 pm) is the next best thing, and is often the only thing you’ll know if it was a toddler getting into the cardiac meds in Granny’s purse.
How much was ingested?
Count the number of pills left in the bottle, or see how much lye was in the bottle, or your best guesstimate. What’s the most it could have been? That’s the number we’re going with.
What was the time-frame?
Chronic exposure? Eating paint chips vs. drinking the bottle labeled “Drink Me.”
What are the signs and symptoms?
Practically everything has nausea and vomiting. What else? Slurred speech? Jaundice? Slow pulse? Rapid pulse? Sweating? Diarrhea? Drowsiness? Hyperactivity? Don’t forget to check for things like burns around the mouth and unusual odors.
How much does the patient weigh?
For figuring out doses of both poisons and antidotes. The same amount of substance ingested by a 20 kg patient and a 100 kg patient can have a very different prognosis.
What treatments have already been given?
Did anyone already do any first aid? What? With what results?

Let’s talk about the possible first aid now. Beyond maintaining an open airway and treating for shock, I personally wouldn’t do anything without talking to the Poison Control Center. There are millions of substances out there; the treatments are changing all the time based on research. You can’t possibly memorize them all. The nice folks at the Poison Control Center have a huge database with all the most recent information. Use them!

Having said that, what are the possibilities? First, doing nothing may be the best course. Second, you may be advised to give the patient some activated charcoal to drink. Activated charcoal absorbs various substances so that they aren’t available to pass through the wall of the patient’s intestines and into their body. You may want to have a bottle of activated charcoal (it’s a slurry of charcoal and water) around the house, so that if the Poison Control Center tells you to administer it, you’ll have it. Activated Charcoal comes both with and without Sorbitol (a laxative) mixed with it. The usual dose is 12.5 to 25 grams for children and 25 to 50 grams for adults.

Activated charcoal is contraindicated and/or useless in some cases:

  1. Heavy metals
  2. Caustics (strong acids or bases)
  3. Hydrocarbons (e.g. gasoline)
  4. Narcotics
  5. Alcohol

Oh yeah — if the patient is unconscious or otherwise unable to swallow (say he’s convulsing), don’t give anything by mouth, okay? The guy’s already poisoned—you don’t need to fill his lungs with charcoal.

Activated charcoal is nasty. It tastes horrible, it’s thick and has grotesque mouth-feel. Someone who downs a glass of the stuff is pretty likely to vomit. So: before you give ‘em the charcoal, take a big plastic garbage bag, cut a slit along one top edge, and put it around the patient’s head like a big lobster bib. That way, when they hurl, you just open the bag, they barf into it, and your clean-up situation is greatly eased.

Please don’t add anything to the charcoal before the patient drinks it. Mixing in chocolate syrup, for example, won’t make it taste any better. What will happen is that the charcoal will absorb the chocolate, leaving less charcoal to absorb whatever nasty the patient ate or drank.

Next stuff that Poison Control may tell you to do is give the patient milk or water to drink. “The solution to pollution is dilution,” as the saying goes. The usual dose is one-half to one glass of milk or water for children, one to two glasses of milk or water for adults.

Okay, how about Syrup of Ipecac?

If you have any in your house, get rid of it. Really. Flush it down the toilet. Yeah, I know it’s sold all over, and you can get it in commercial Poison Kits and Babysitter Kits and whatnot. Dump it.

Here’s why. First, the purpose of Syrup of Ipecac is to induce vomiting. When you get that vomiting going, you’re inducing the chance of aspirating fluids into the lungs. Second, it takes about 20 minutes for the stuff to work. So all that time the ingested poison is sitting there, moving down into the intestines where vomiting won’t touch it. But in 20 minutes the patient could be in the ED, where the correct treatment might involve charcoal (which the patient will promptly vomit all over the nice nurses), or the treatment might involve an oral antidote (the treatment for Tylenol ingestion is NAC (N-acetylcysteine) (which smells so bad that it can clear out an entire ED)) which the patient swallows, then promptly barfs up, meaning that the patient doesn’t get treated. Oh, yeah—the other thing about Syrup of Ipecac: At its best it only evacuates about one-third of the stomach contents, so why bother?

One more note about ingested poisons: If you find yourself in a situation where you have to give artificial respiration to an ingested poison patient, you’d better be using a pocket face mask. You don’t want to get whatever it was into your own mouth.

Now let’s look at inhaled poisons.

The first and most important thing is to stay safe yourself. You breathe. Stuff in the air can jump out and get you too. So that may require you to wait for properly trained and equipped people to come and haul the patient out of where-ever he/she was lying.

Signs and symptoms of inhaled poisons may include headache, dizziness, shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting, or cyanosis (blue tinge to the lips or nail beds). Be aware of the situation! Be alert for unusual smells (e.g. rotten eggs, new-mown hay, almonds, fruit, where those items aren’t present). If you suspect that you may possibly be in a poisonous atmosphere and you aren’t personally wearing a self-contained breathing apparatus, friggin’ get out of there right now!

Some examples of inhaled poisons include carbon monoxide (you do have a CO detector, right?), various other by-products of combustion, paints and thinners (when the label says “Use only in a well-ventilated space” freakin’ believe it). Your various war gasses mostly fall into this area. The treatment for accidental, deliberate, and terrorist-based inhaled poisoning is the same: Get the patient away from the source of the gas, provide high-volume oxygen if you have it, keep the airway open, provide artificial respiration if necessary, and transport to an appropriate facility. If you ever lose your place, drop back to airway, breathing, circulation. Your friends at 9-1-1 are waiting to hear from you. Again, you’ll want to know what the material is; if there’s any way of finding out (bottles or cans present; MSDS) the ED will want to know.

Information you’ll want to gather, for Poison Control, 9-1-1 and ED staff:

  1. What was the exact substance?
  2. When did the exposure take place (earliest and latest possible times)?
  3. How long were they breathing it?
  4. What are the signs and symptoms?

If a fire was involved, you may have burns in the airway. The world has just started to suck. Get professional help, right now.

Now we come to injected poisons. These move through a break in the skin. One of your classics is the bee sting. Or, the snake bite. Or, recreational drugs. (Overdose of insulin … diabetic shock … is covered elsewhere. Short version: oral or IV sugar.)

A swarm of bees may make the scene unsafe for you. Keep your eyes open. Same for snakes in the grass. The situations where you come on an injected narcotic overdose may be generally unsafe for reasons other than the poison itself.

Here’s what to do with bee stings. First, remove the stinger. When a bee stings you, the stinger (which is barbed) remains in the skin, with the little poison sac attached, pumping more formic acid into you. This is painful (and for people who are allergic, potentially fatal). Here’s how to remove the stinger: Don’t try to use your fingers or a tweezers. All you’ll do is squeeze the poison sac and put more poison into the patient. What you do is scrape along the skin with a credit card, a drivers’ license, or a knife held perpendicular to the skin. That’ll remove the stinger without squeezing that sac.

Speaking of bee/wasp stings, those are the only kinds of venoms where you’ll want to put ice on the injury site. Don’t ice spider bites or snake bites. What else to do? Put the limb lower than the heart (gravity is your friend!) to keep the poison out of central circulation, and put a constricting band (not a tourniquet) between the site and the heart. A constricting band limits the movement of lymph. When it’s tight enough you can still slip your finger under it. (Don’t be cutting snake bites and trying to suck out the poison. Okay? But it is okay to use a Sawyer Extraction Device on snakebites.)

The treatment for injected narcotics is lots of fun: Narcan. That is, naloxone. This is a narcotic antagonist. It reverses the effects of the narcotic, instantly. You should be very careful with this: The patient may wake up pissed off that you took away the high that he paid good money for. Or, you could induce instant withdrawal. So go slow. (Note: Narcan can be used by just about every route except oral, so the only folks who get to play with it are your EMTs. Sorry, guys, if you want to do this, take the course and join a squad.)

Last we come to absorbed poisons. These are poisons that move through intact skin. Again, use caution when you suspect absorbed poisons. Like inhaled poisons, these too can reach out and nail you. Don’t come into contact with the material yourself.

Some examples include medicines like Duragesic patches, or insecticides like Parathion. You may or may not see skin irritation at the site of the poison contact.

What to do: Call Poison Control. Get 9-1-1 rolling. Support Airway, Breathing, Circulation. Treat for shock. Remove the patient’s clothing, bag it up (staying safe yourself while you’re doing this) and (after consulting with Poison Control) flush the skin with a copious amount of water.

Once more: The people you call for help will want to know…

  • The exact name of the substance.
  • When did the exposure take place?
  • How much substance was involved?
  • Over what time period?
  • What have you (or anyone else) already done?
  • What are the signs and symptoms?

Any time you see sudden-onset similar symptoms in two or more patients, you should start thinking about poisoning.

Stay safe, kids. More than anything else, poisons can hurt you, too.

Copyright © 2008 by James D. Macdonald

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.

Creative Commons License
Poison: It Isn’t Just For Breakfast Any More by James D. Macdonald is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

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Index to Medical Posts

November 15, 2008
The sticker that keeps on sticking
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 10:28 AM * 67 comments

So I got an envelope in the post yesterday, from the hoogheemraadschap Hollands Noorderkwartier (that’s an English language page link, there). It’s the local water board, which is an institution of huge importance here in the Netherlands, for both historical and pragmatic reasions. A nation that was created by its struggle against the sea puts a lot of emphasis on the management of water.

Inside the envelope was my ballot for the 2008 water board elections. It took me about 20‡ minutes to read the notes on the ballot, which were a general statement of How to Vote, Why I Should Vote, and Why Water is Important in Noord-Holland. The classic phrase “droge voeten” (dry feet, the stated goal of Dutch water engineering throughout the nation’s history) appears three times on a single page.

My first impulse, looking at the complexity of the issues that I’m going to have to grasp to vote was to say tl;dr and fold it back up. What use would my incomer’s ignorance be?

But my husband put the matter into focus for me. He said he had considered not putting the time in to figure out who was who on the ballot; we have very little background to build on, and we are both very busy. But that the recent US election had rearranged his priorities. “It’s worth spending the time to do this,” he said. “Voting is important.”

Note that he is not an American citizen.

The US election has symbolic effects that reach far beyond the nation’s borders. You know about the value of positive campaigning, and the impact of our President-Elect’s ethnicity. But don’t forget the impact of a (fairly*) clean election on the watching world.

I’ll leave you to contemplate that; I have a bunch of Dutch to read. Gotta earn the next layer of glue on my I VOTED sticker†.

‡ my reading speed in Dutch is just about exactly an order of magnitude slower than it is in English.
* The ACORN narrative never really gained traction in Europe
virtual sticker, I’m afraid, since I voted absentee.

November 14, 2008
Three approaches to Utopia
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 07:29 PM * 71 comments

1. First Contact

I’ve recently finished reading a first-contact story from one of the great names in SF.

It’s about a stranger who turns up, naked and starving, outside a slaughterhouse in a small California town. He cannot communicate with the people around him. The sheriff, uncertain what to do with him, puts him in a jail cell, where he is plagued with curiosity-seekers. News gets out of his appearance. A couple of young academics who have—by coincidence—been working on the stranger’s language, hear about the find and contact the sheriff. They establish communication and bring the him back to their museum.

The book then takes a break from the narrative and spends some time examining the stranger’s former world. It details the customs of its inhabitants, the nature of its landscape and its history, and the creeping disaster that doomed all but one of its people. This is the weakest part of the book, because the social structure it describes seems to exist without dissidents, without conflict, without mechanisms for dealing with misdeeds. I find the people’s death entirely realistic, but their life is too simple.

The final section of the story covers the stranger’s life in our society, and it is the most compelling part. He lives for a few years in a museum, teaching his new friends about his culture and his technology and learning a little about ours. His friendships with his hosts are lovingly and touchingly described. Sadly, in the end, he dies of a disease which, though common among his hosts, proves deadly for him. He is cremated after a brief autopsy, but his true legacy is the change that he has wrought in his hosts.

Sweet but formulaic, you say. But there’s a twist: it’s not fiction; it’s based on real events starting in 1911. I’m describing Ishi in Two Worlds, by Theodora Kroeber, published in 1961.

2. Broom Closet

Theodora Kroeber knew about Ishi partly because she married one of his closest friends, though she never met the last of the Yahi herself. One of the couple’s children grew up to write science fiction and fantasy. Ursula Kroeber Le Guin, has been one of my favorite authors* since my mother read me Rocannon’s World when I was 8.

Many of Le Guin’s early stories feel like meditations on Ishi’s experience as the lone representative of his culture in an alien world: Genly Ai on Gethen, for instance, and Shevek on Urras. Rocannon on his world. It’s not surprising, since that story will have been woven into her household culture throughout her childhood.

But equally interesting is how much her writing contrasts with the idealized picture of Yahi life that her mother presents. The utopian Always Coming Home includes characters who are shiftless and quarrelsome. Shevek’s anarcho-syndicalist society on Anarres is populated with a believable proportion of flawed, selfish and unjust people. And “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” is, of course, the ultimate rebuke to pastoral idealism: the vivid reminder that there is always a price for the smooth running of a society, and that if you don’t see it, that just means that it is hidden somewhere, starving in a broom closet.

3. Hillerman is dead

Skype conversation with my mother, edited for brevity:

11/4/08 10:28 PM	Did you hear that Tony Hillerman died last week?
11/4/08 10:46 PM	I did.  Well, he was in his 80's.
11/4/08 10:46 PM	I know, but he did such good work
11/4/08 10:47 PM	He did.  I finally got tired, though, of the idea that no Navajo
                        could ever do any bad thing, it always had to be the anglos.
11/4/08 10:48 PM	Yes, what would have been really interesting would have been to do
                        a Murder of Roger Ackroyd with Joe Leaphorn
11/4/08 10:48 PM	THAT would have been a neat book.
11/4/08 10:48 PM	yeah.  Or something outside of the Noble Savage mold.

I stand corrected on the above; Hillerman did have Navajo characters who chose to do serious wrong. I still would have loved to read a Leaphorn version of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, though.

- o0o -

These relatively disjointed meditations are brought to you by the Myth of the Noble Savage and its recent descendant, the Myth of the Small-Town Real American.

* Really. My teddy bear is named Ursula.

November 11, 2008
The Great War, ninety years on
Posted by Teresa at 01:55 PM *

Today we solemnly observe the 90th anniversary of the end of the Great War, an event so huge and consequential that we’re still struggling to comprehend it.

Previously on Making Light:

Ghosts of the Great War, 2002
Ghosts of the Great War, 2003
11/11/11/11, 2004
Ghosts of the Great War, 2004
Ghosts of the Great War, 2005
11/11/11, 2006
Remembering the Great War, 2007

The comment threads are, as ever, worth reading.

In the years since I started doing my annual 11/11 post, dozens of WWI memorial and resource sites have grown up on the web. Let me recommend a few:

The Heritage of the Great War. Striking, evocative, well-chosen material. If you only have time for one, go here.

The Great War in a Different Light. “Accounts and Galleries from Great War Period Books, Magazines and Publications, with more than 8000 Authentic Photos, Illustrations and Newsarticles.” A huge, beautifully realized site that tries to tell the history of the war using excerpts from primary sources. Includes a vast amount of visual material. Their links page is good too.

Karalahana Fotoğraf Galerisi is a Turkish site that collects rare photographs of the war.

The Western Front Association. A very worthy site, I’m sure.

The Wikipedia entry. A brave and reasonably successful attempt to render a concise summary of the war.

World War I: Trenches on the Web. An Internet History of the Great War. One of the older omnium-gatherum sites. It’s more accreted than designed, but they have added a site map, which helps. Their Index of Special Features on the site can eat whole days of your time, if you’re not careful.

The Great War Archive. “The Great War Archive contains over 6,500 items contributed by the general public between March and June 2008. Every item originates from, or relates to, someone’s experience of the First World War, either abroad or at home. Contributions were received via a special website and also through a series of open days at libraries and museums throughout the country. … The deadline for contributions has now passed. However, you can still share any images that you have by posting them to The Great War Archive Flickr Group.”

BYU’s World War I Document Archive. A plain, clear site full of serious information. Jim, check out the medical section.

First World A well-made site.

The Collections of the DHM. An English-language page about the WWI collections at the German Historical Museum.

WWW-VL: History: Military: WWI: The Great War 1914-1918. A humongous links list at the World Wide Web Virtual Library.

De Eerste Wereldoorlog 1914 - 1918. A rich compilation of material. Much of it is in Dutch, though some is in English. Go ahead—push the envelope and try it.

PBS: The Great War and the Shaping of the Twentieth Century. Like a PBS documentary, only it’s on the web.

The Index of Timelines. Includes some unusual timelines, like the Austria vs. Serbia Pig War.

Great War An interactive atlas of WWI.

Propaganda postcards of the Great War. Never again would propaganda be so unabashedly exuberant.

World War I Color Photos. One of the biggest archives of color photos. It includes the color images from Gallica: Bibliothèque numérique de la Bibliothèque nationale de France, which is useful if you don’t speak French.

The Black Vault Image Gallery. If it were possible to ask Google Images to search for WWI color photos but leave out every one in which someone’s smiling, this is what you’d get.

Photos of the Great War. Mostly b&w, sorted by category.

Sonnets of World War I.

Great War Fiction.

Ever noticed how often in Tolkien characters say “…and we will not forget them”?

A life
Posted by Patrick at 11:51 AM *

He was born on February 1, 1901, in Bethany, Missouri. In April 1917, sixteen years old, he lied about his age to enlist in the United States Army. He was sent to the war in Europe, where he drove ambulances in France and, after the armistice, escorted freed prisoners of war back to Germany.

After the war, he went to work in the steamship business: first for the White Star Line in Toronto, then for American President Lines in Manila. After the Japanese conquered the Philippines in December 1941, he spent over three years in their prison camps, finally freed by the 11th Airborne in February 1945. He suffers from the aftereffects of beriberi to this day.

He came home, married, and bought a farm in West Virginia, which he personally maintained up until only a few years ago. His wife passed away in 1999.

He has been honored by his country on several occasions. In 1999 he was awarded the Legion of Honor by French president Jacques Chirac.

Asked in 2007 by the Washington Post how he felt about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, he said “I’m no authority, but I’m not in favor of war unless it’s an emergency.”

He is 107 years old. He lives in Charles Town, West Virginia. And he is the last surviving veteran of American forces in World War One.

Happy Armistice Day, Frank Woodruff Buckles.

November 10, 2008
This Word ‘Centrist’ That You Keep Using….
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 03:26 PM *

From The Miami Herald.

Civil liberties lawyers launch a feet-to-the-fire campaign in Monday’s editions of The New York Times, a powerful ad urging President-elect Barack Obama to order the closure of the Guantánamo prison camps and war court on inauguration day.

”On day one, with the stroke of a pen, you can restore America’s moral leadership in the World,” says the full-page, six-figure ad purchased by the American Civil Liberties Union. The Miami Herald got an exclusive sneak peek on Sunday.

Half of the ad is a photo of Obama and recounts the president-elect’s campaign pledge to close the prison camps and abandon the military commissions established in response to the Sept. 11 attacks. The other half is an indictment of Bush administration detention policies.

It is a provocative message from a potential ally of the coming Obama administration.

ACLU Executive Anthony Romero called it ”a shot across the bow,” and said Sunday that his organization would invest up to $500,000 in the campaign that seeks to avert any appeasement to centrists.

“Appeasement to centrists”? Which flipping “centrists” are those? You don’t start finding people who think GTMO is a good idea until you’re a couple of miles to the right of the center.

November 09, 2008
Google is slightly evil
Posted by Teresa at 03:58 PM *

Dept. of Odd things you run into when you have a new, cookie-free computer:

While looking at the Wikipedia entry on egoboo, I noticed that the list of external references included a link to the earliest recorded online citation of the word: Usenet, 1982, net.sf-lovers/msg/988b7faf00af1308.

If you click on that link, most of you will wind up looking at a 26-year-old usenet message. What I got was the sign-in page for Google Groups. Which was odd. I tried googling with “groups” selected for any instance of egoboo. It said there were none. Then I googled on stuff I know is in the old Usenet message base, like “inaan obagn” “nielsen hayden”,* and again got zero hits. Which was very odd.

On a hunch, I reset Google to search the web, ran one of my search strings again, ignored the results, and reset Google to groups while leaving my search string in the query box. This was successful, insofar as it turned up a long string of links to those old messages I knew had to be there; but when I tried clicking through on one of the links, it sent me back to the sign-in page for Google Groups. No cookie, no Usenet.

I have three objections to this state of affairs, and one question about it.

1. Google ought not be running a system for newsgroup searches that returns a false answer—i.e., says there are zero hits on a search string—when they’re actually denying access to that part of their database to users who aren’t signed in on Google Groups.

It’s not the denial of access that bothers me; it’s that they tell you the data isn’t there. They don’t do that with web searches or image searches. Whether or not you have a Google account, they’ll tell you what web sites and images your search string finds. They ought not make the ability to know about Usenet search-string hits contingent on an unrelated function.

2. No one who wasn’t already aware of Usenet could infer its existence from looking at their Google Groups login page. All it talks about is how keen it is to create current groups. Here’s the text:

Create and share with groups of people
Along with familiar features like group creation and search, Google Groups has a new look and exciting new features. Now you can:
Create rich custom group web pages
Customize your group’s look and graphics
Upload files for your members to share
Share member profiles
And more…
Which is no doubt a swell thing; but nowhere does it hint that back behind that login page is a primordial internet archive stretching back to 1981, which in internet years is as one with Vinča symbols and Oracle Bone Script.

If you click on the small unobtrusive “Help” link at the bottom of the login page, it takes you to a Google Groups help page, which has a link to The Basics of Usenet, which has a link to How far back does Google’s Usenet archive go?, where it says:

Google has fully integrated more than 20 years of Usenet archives into Google Groups, which now offers access to more than 1 billion Usenet messages dating back to 1981. We believe this to be the most complete collection of Usenet articles ever assembled and a fascinating historical document.
(Twenty-seven years, but who’s counting?)

I’ll grant that the Usenet archive is historically fascinating, but does no one at Google ever use it for current searches? It’s surprising how often subjects too obscure for Wikipedia and the Web can be found there; and the decades-old language of its earliest threads can still be understood by modern English speakers who know the trick of reading the difficult bits out loud.

Which leads to my third objection:

3. Usenet is still a going concern. The long tail it drags behind it may be a static historical archive, but its chronological front end is still alive and squawking. I believe this makes Usenet the only area of current internet activity that Google won’t search for you if you’re not logged in.

So much for my three objections. Now for the question:

While I honor Google greatly for the work they’ve done in searching out and compiling old archives from the frontier days of the internet, that doesn’t mean they own the old Usenet message base—does it? In all the publishing law I know, owning a copy of something doesn’t mean you own the rights to it, even if yours is the only copy in existence.

Electric Car
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 02:29 PM * 94 comments

New Hampshire’s own Dean Kamen (inventor of the Segway, among many other things), has an electric car in prototype and tooling around downtown Manchester.

The same day that Ford and General Motors announced catastrophic third-quarter losses, Dean Kamen was showing off his new electric car.

The prototype vehicle, a zippy two-seat hatchback designed with more than a passing resemblance to the Volkswagen Beetle, can go about 60 miles on a single charge of its lithium battery and with practically zero emissions.

The vehicle is an electric/Stirling Engine hybrid.

It’s already on the road, he’s got investors interested, and it looks like it’ll be commercially available in around two years.

Another passion is using his inventions — a water purifier and his Stirling engine — toward the betterment of some of the planet’s poorest people. Kamen calls it “a moral imperative that the poorest people of the world can at least access a little bit of clean water and power.”

It’s also in America’s self-interest to help them do so, Kamen insists.

“To me it’s pretty obvious … that becoming a source of knowledge and health and wealth in the world is in our economic best-interest, it’s in our security best interest, it’s in our moral and ethical best interest. There’s no downside in creating a world where all people can be happy.”

And the alternative is not acceptable, he said: “We don’t help four billion people out of abject poverty and disease, we don’t make them customers, we don’t make them suppliers … And they become desperate and angry, and people with nothing to lose and reason to hate — and there’s four billion of them.”

Back to that electric car? It’s all part of Kamen’s master plan.

“The car is a step along the way to be able to build, in high volume, high-quality, low-cost electric generation for a couple billion people,” he explained.

“If we can demonstrate the utility of the Stirling engine by putting it in a car … it will leave me with an engine that I can use to supply electricity to the world.”

November 08, 2008
Internet Time-wasters III
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 11:02 PM *

This logic puzzle was created by Raymond Smullyan (author of What Is The Name Of This Book?) and reprinted here: OpenCourseWare on critical thinking, logic, and creativity:

Three gods A , B , and C are called, in some order, True, False, and Random. True always speaks truly, False always speaks falsely, but whether Random speaks truly or falsely is a completely random matter. Your task is to determine the identities of A , B , and C by asking three yes-no questions; each question must be put to exactly one god. The gods understand English, but will answer in their own language, in which the words for yes and no are “da” and “ja”, in some order. You do not know which word means which.

Triangle Puzzle

While we’re looking for puzzles, here’s one that requires only elementary geometry to solve: World’s Hardest Easy Geometry Problem. Find angle x.

sliding block puzzle

A sliding-tile puzzle. Move the green block to center-bottom. Who knew that the old Wordstar Diamond was still in play?

This graphic puzzle-game involves code-breaking: Notpron, the hardest riddle available on the Internet

November 07, 2008
No fries with that
Posted by Avram Grumer at 01:35 PM * 23 comments

Fort Collins, Colorado voters opt for an Atkins-compatible State Senate:

Bacon 63%, Fries 37%

(via John Gruber)

November 05, 2008
The content of his character
Posted by Avram Grumer at 04:27 PM * 455 comments

Lots of people seem to have thought McCain’s concession speech last night was “classy” (that’s the word I’m seeing a lot), perhaps because of the way he tried to silence his audience’s booing at Obama. This part soured me on it:

A century ago, President Theodore Roosevelt’s invitation of Booker T Washington to visit — to dine at the White House was taken as an outrage in many quarters. America today is a world away from the cruel and prideful bigotry of that time. There is no better evidence of this than the election of an African American to the presidency of the United States. Let there be no reason now — let there be no reason now for any American to fail to cherish their citizenship in this, the greatest nation on Earth.

As proud as we feel, this election doesn’t mark an end to racism in the US. I fully expect to get sick of hearing coded racial slurs in criticisms of Obama over the next few years. I’m already seeing comments in various blogs about how the Obama victory means liberals “don’t get to play the race card anymore” (whatever the hell that means). But I was a bit surprised to hear quite so blatant a slur quite this soon, quite this high up the media food chain. Ladies and gentlemen, here’s our old buddy Ralph Nader, pissing in the punch bowl:

To put it very simply, he is our first African American president; or he will be. And we wish him well. But his choice, basically, is whether he’s going to be Uncle Sam for the people of this country, or Uncle Tom for the giant corporations.

Watch the video to see Shep Smith of Fox News give Nader multiple opportunities to crawl back up out of the ditch, and Nader refuse them all, and call Smith a bully for offering.

In other political news
Posted by Avram Grumer at 01:46 AM * 190 comments

Kevin Maroney reports that it looks like the Democrats will take control of the NY State Senate for the first time in 43 years. This will likely lead to same-sex marriage arriving here, as both the Governor and the State Assembly backed such a law last year; it was killed by the Republican-controlled Senate. (Update: Crain’s has more on the NY Senate race.)

CNN’s list of state ballot measures shows generally bad news on the gay rights front. Arizona seems to have passed a ban on same-sex marriage, and Arkansas a ban on the adoption of children by gay couples. California’s and Florida’s marriage bans are displaying as unresolved yet at the moment, but the Yes sides are leading.

California, South Dakota, and Colorado all had anti-abortion measures on their ballots, and they all seem to have been defeated.

Massachusetts and Michigan have both done their bits to ease up a bit on the drug war, the former by decriminalizing possession of marijuana possession, the latter by passing a medical marijuana law. Let’s see how an Obama Justice Dep’t deals with that. California’s Prop 5, which would have expanded programs to divert drug addicts from prison to rehab seems to have failed.

November 04, 2008
Signed, Sealed, Delivered
Posted by Patrick at 11:09 PM *

It’s done.

I’m speechless.

Watching the election with Bruce Schneier: part two
Posted by Patrick at 09:56 PM * 349 comments

(1) Sorry about the slow response times. We knew MT3 was hard on our server in higher-traffic situations; now we’re really convinced.

(2) OHIO!

(3) Making Light officially projects that Barack Obama will be the 44th President of the United States. Yes, we can.

Reports and False Reports
Posted by Teresa at 06:37 PM * 30 comments

From Daniel Nasaw, The Guardian, “McCain campaign distributing reports of ‘Election Day irregularities’”:

The McCain campaign is collecting reports of “Election Day irregularities” in swing states and distributing them to reporters. I cannot help but wonder if they are preparing a case to contest the legitimacy of the election, should Obama win by a 2000-like narrow margin.

The irregularities include “black panthers” who are “intimidating Voters By Standing Outside Of A Polling Station While Holding A Night Stick” in Philadelphia.

The story is entirely based on this video. Fox News grabbed the story and ran with it. Conservative news outlets are playing it as “Black Panthers in full uniform are standing outside of polling places, intimidating voters.”

Now that you’ve watched both videos: The building there is the Guild House West, a subsidized rehabilitative assisted-living facility located at 1221 Fairmount Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19123. It’s one of three apartment buildings operated by the Friends Rehabilitation Program.* It is a polling place—I checked. And there is no earthly reason the New Black Panthers would have personnel stationed there.

Now for the really pertinent information:

The Office of the Philadelphia District Attorney says there have been no complaints about intimidation at polling places.

Next: Jacqueline Dischell, an Obama volunteer who’s been monitoring that polling place since 0630 this morning, says there have been no incidents of intimidation. Dischell also says that one of the two guys shown in the video is legit—an officially designated poll watcher. The guy with the nightstick, who left hours ago, is reportedly a friend of his who showed up to hang out with him. I recommend reading the rest of her account, from the multiple McCain operatives showing up to bait the two guys, to the police who showed up to check it out leaving without getting out of their car.

As minimal factchecking would have established, there is no basis for reporting this voter intimidation story as fact.* The interpretation being retailed by Fox News is not reliable, to put it charitably.* And that has to have set some kind of speed record for the McCain campaign picking up on an internet-native story, and getting a statement about it onto their website. I expect people will be taking a closer look now at the other “Election Day irregularities” McCain’s organization is reporting.

Discuss the election results…with special guest poster Bruce Schneier
Posted by Bruce Schneier at 05:00 PM *

This year was the year traditional polling collided with modern statistics. Most people I know watched, but I preferred the math at the Princeton Election Consortium. These sites both took every poll they could find, analyzed the data, and presented a better picture of the race than any single poll could. ( and, the site we all watched in 2004, also had some good data.) Right now all those sites are predicting an Obama victory, although they differ in some of the details.

Here’s how to quickly assess the electoral vote count. In 2004, Kerry won the northeast through PA and MD, the midwest states of MI, IL, WI, and MN, the west coast, and HI. He lost the EV count by 286 to 252, basically by losing OH.

For Obama to win, he needs to win all the 2004 Kerry states plus another big one. That big one could be OH, it could be VA, it could be FL. He only needs one. His firewall is IA + CO + NM; if he wins those three he doesn’t need to win a non-Kerry biggie. This is why his prospects look so good, he has many ways reach 269 EV.

For McCain to win, he has to basically run the table. He has put a lot of effort into winning PA, which is 1) large, 2) a Kerry state that could upset Obama’s math, 3) seems susceptible to racist attacks, and 4) has no early voting. But, of course, he has to win a lot more states that are polling for Obama in order to win.

I think we’ll have some idea what will happen early. The first polls close at 7:00 PM EST in GA, IN, KY, SC, VT, and VA. Pay close attention to IN, GA, VA, and SC. How these states come in compared to their polls will be indictave of the night. VA, GA, and SC will tell us a lot about how the South will go. In will tell us a lot about how PA and OH will go.

I predict an Obama blowout. His ground game is easily worth a couple of points, and the pollsters’ demographics are underestimating Obama support. Early voting seems to validate these points. Nationwide: +8.

He’ll win all the Kerry states plus FL, VA, NV, OH, IA, NM, CO, MO, NC, IN, MT, ND, GA. He’ll win GA by the smallest margin, and lose either AZ or WV by the smallest margin.

I also expect some serious Obama coattails, and that down ballot races will also do better. In the senate, Dem pickups in NM, CO, NH, OR, AK, MN, NC, and GA. No KY or MS.

In the house, 260 seats for the Dems.

For governorships, wins in OR, MO, NE, WV, HN, DE, and NC. NC will be the closest, but between Obama’s and Hagen’s coattails I expect Perdue to eke it out.

And California Prop 8 will lose, barely. Again, Obama’s coattails.

This isn’t enough. What I really want to lose is the Republican all-slime-all-the-time campaign strategy. I want McCain, Dole, Coleman and the rest to be so discredited that no one will try to run a campaign that way again. I want campaigns to be about ideas. Maybe that’s too much to ask.

But enough about me. Let’s see how the night goes. Chat amongst yourselves, and I’ll be back as soon as I can.

Election Night Cake
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 04:31 PM * 23 comments

Black coffee and bourbon. Oh, yeah. And chocolate.

This is an old family recipe from Texas.

Election Night Cake
  • 5 ounces (5 1-ounce squares) unsweetened chocolate
  • 2 Cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ cup powdered instant coffee or instant espresso
  • 2 Tbsp boiling water
  • 1 cup plus 2 Tbsp cold water
  • ½ cup bourbon
  • 1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 large eggs plus 1 large extra yolk
  • ¼ cup sour cream or buttermilk
  • cocoa or confectioners sugar optional

Generously grease a nine inch Bundt pan—10 cup capacity. Position rack in center of oven ans heat oven to 325° F.

Melt chocolate in the top pan of a double boiler over hot, not boiling, water. (Or melt the chocolate in your microwave.) Remove chocolate before it is completely melted and stir until smooth. Set aside.

Sift together the flour, salt and baking soda and set aside. In a two cup glass measure dissolve the instant coffee in the boiling water, stir in the cold water, and bourbon or other flavoring and set aside.

Beat the butter with vanilla and sugar in the large bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle beater until well blended and smooth. (Or use a hand-held electric mixer if that’s what you’ve got.) Beat in the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Beat in the extra yolk and sour cream. Scrape down the bowl and beater. Add the melted and slightly cooled chocolate and beat until the batter is smooth

Remove the bowl from the stand. By hand using a spoon or rubber spatula stir in small amounts of the flour mixture and the coffee-bourbon liquid. Beat until the batter is smooth; it will be quite thin. Don’t worry if the batter looks slightly curdled.

Pour into the prepared pan. Bake until the cake top is springy to the touch and slightly cracked looking and a cake tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean—about 65 to 70 minutes. Do not over-cook.

Cool the cake on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Top with another rack or plate and invert. Lift off pan. Cool completely.

Top with light sifting of confectioners sugar or cocoa. Serve with bourbon laced slightly sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream while sitting up with friends watching the late returns.

Serve it to compliment your Schadenfreude Pie.

[Recipe Index]

Voting-and-nervous-energy thread
Posted by Patrick at 10:05 AM *

For what it’s worth, our polling place—in the north end of Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighborhood, heavily Hispanic but with significant black and Anglo populations as well—was, when we voted at about 8:45, more crowded than I’ve ever seen it.

Also, when I woke up this morning, my Twitter feed had more new messages in it than I’ve ever seen stack up in a single night. Nervously talkative much, O my internets?


“This has been another edition of Simple Answers to Stupid Questions”
Posted by Patrick at 07:28 AM * 39 comments

The headline on this Salon story by Thomas Schaller reads:

The end of the satirical industrial complex?
For the past eight years, Jon Stewart, Tina Fey and other comedians have had us laughing through our tears. If Obama wins, will the laughter die?

First answer: Yes, if Obama wins, nothing foolish will happen in public life for the next four years. Right.

Second answer: No. This has been another edition of, etc., etc.

Third answer: As I’ve noted before, whoever writes Salon’s headlines and teasers has a nearly preternatural ability to find the angle on the story that’s most insulting to the reader’s intelligence. It’s a real talent. I just wish they were using it on some site I never want to read.

Not directly relevant to the above, I note that loading the story in question brought up an ad that instantly started playing loud brass-band music, even though I’m a signed-in Salon subscriber. Leaving aside the question of whether ads should ever start playing sound before the user clicks on them (simple answer to stupid questions: “no”), it’s unbelievably self-destructive for Salon to do this to their paying subscribers.

Live From The Balsams 2—Electric Boogaloo
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 12:14 AM * 94 comments

Ten months and four days ago Making Light scooped CNN when we reported the results of the New Hampshire Primary, live from this room. Now we’re back with the first report on the first-in-the-nation election results, as they’re being announced.

Here are those results:


  • Barack Hussein Obama/Joseph Robinette “Joe” Biden, Jr. (Democratic): 15
  • John Sidney McCain, III/Sarah Louise Heath Palin (Republican): 6
  • Robert Laurence “Bob” Barr, Jr./Wayne Allyn Root (Libertarian): 0
  • Ralph Nader/Matthew Edward “Matt” Gonzales (Independent): 0
  • George David Joseph Phillies/Christopher “Chris” Bennett (Boston Tea): 0
Not on the ballot but running as write-ins:
  • Charles Obadiah “Chuck” Baldwin (Constitution): 0
  • Cynthia Ann McKinney/Rosa Alicia Clemente (Green): 0
  • Frank James Moore/Susan Marilyn Block (no party affiliation): 0


  • John H. Lynch (incumbent) (D): 15
  • Joseph D. “Joe” Kenney (R): 3
  • Susan M. Newell (L): 1

U.S. Senator

  • Jeanne Shaheen (D): 12
  • John Sununu (incumbent) (R): 6
  • Kenneth E. “Ken” Blevens (L): 2

Representative in Congress (District 2)

  • Paul W. Hodes (incumbent) (D): 12
  • Jennifer M. Horn (R): 7
  • Chester L. Lapointe, II (L): 1

Reporting live from The Balsams in Dixville Notch, New Hampshire, this is Jim Macdonald for Making Light.

November 03, 2008
Good News / Bad News
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 04:15 PM * 102 comments

The good news is that Disemvoweling is on Time Magazine’s list of the 50 best inventions of 2008 (debuting at the #42 spot).

The great thing about the Internet is that people can say whatever they want on it. Which is also the terrible thing about the Internet, because comments on blogs and in other online forums can be incredibly annoying, not to mention hate-filled and obscene. How can moderators walk the line between unregulated anarchy and oppressive censorship? Some have begun discouraging problem commenters by simply removing the vowels from their posts, a process known as disemvoweling. The offending message is rendered less obnoxious, but it’s still possible for other readers to decipher it — f thy rlly wnt t.

The bad news is that they didn’t credit Disemvoweling to Ms. Teresa Nielsen Hayden, who invented Disemvoweling as a moderation technique at or about 2:53 PM on November the 21st, 2002.

Teresa devised the method in order to deal with persistent troll Philip Shropshire in this thread.

The name “Disemvoweling” was coined by Arthur D. Hlavaty shortly afterward.

In the six years since then Disemvoweling has spread all over the Web as moderators noticed its many advantages.

We’ll forget the tears we’ve cried
Posted by Patrick at 02:20 PM * 65 comments

Having surmised (probably correctly) that “sometime around early afternoon tomorrow, tens of millions of liberals will begin a process of complete and total panic over the possibility of Obama losing,” Spencer Ackerman and Megan Carpentier present a fine compendium of reasons to calm the fuck down. Favorite bit:

MEGAN: It does warm the cockles of my heart that the majority of white people aren’t stupid racists. One more blow to the Southern Strategy, Republimorons. Yeah, we noticed you thinkin’ we’re all racists, it might only have taken 40 years, but many of us are sort of peeved that you think we’re so stupid. Those that aren’t, well, those are the people yelling the n-word at your rallies and the rest of White American would like to disavow them. We’d like to be Peach America, or Light-Brown America, which is a more accurate description of our skin tone, and they can be White America, as in the hoods they’ll likely take up wearing again on November 5th. Actually, maybe we can just tag ‘em with a big white “R” on all their clothes, so we know the Krazy is Komin’ Kwik.
SPENCER: Do Crayola crayons still call the peach-colored crayon “flesh”? If so, THAT ALL ENDS UNDER PRESIDENT OBAMA. [LOL -Ed.]
MEGAN: No, they stopped doing that ages ago. Maybe they can make an special Obama pack, with ALL THE COLORS OF THE RAINBOW.
John Scalzi, of course, was on this beat days ago.

Damn, they’re good
Posted by Patrick at 12:15 PM * 54 comments

Barack Obama’s final rally before Election Day will be held at 9 PM tonight…in Manassas.

When I found this out, all the hairs went up on the back of my head. That’s campaign craft, electoral strategy, and historical symbolism—all in one.

A reminder
Posted by Patrick at 07:59 AM * 31 comments

Tomorrow, November 4, Bruce Schneier will host Making Light’s election-results thread. Join us as we “dissect the exit polls, debate statistics, ridicule pundits, advance theories, and—hopefully—repeatedly celebrate.” We’ll begin at 5 PM EST.

November 02, 2008
All Hail Macbeth!
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 12:00 PM *

ACT 1: SCENE III. A Starbucks near Brooklyn.

Sound of a modem connecting. Enter three Moderators.

First Mod
Where hast thou been, sister?

Second Mod
Killing trolls.

Third Mod
Sister, where thou?

First Mod
A right-wing nut had posts from NRO,
And spamm’d, and spamm’d, and spamm’d:—
‘Stop it,’ quoth I:
‘Amendment, First!’ the astroturfer cries.
His IP’s to McClatchy gone, with three diff’rent screen names:
But with my Mac I’ll thither wend,
And, faster than the troll can send,
I’ll ban, I’ll ban, and I’ll ban.

Second Mod
I’ll give thee Chai.

First Mod
Thanks, guy.

Third Mod
And I another.

First Mod
I shall nail the mother-lover.
I can recognize his style,
Though false IPNs beguile,
Seeing him’s not hard.
His sockpuppets shall be washed;
Snarky postings shall be squashed
Though response from him be loony:
Threaten me with a cartooney.
Weary night-time posting’s lame;
He’ll attempt then me to flame:
Though his bark’s worse than his bite,
I’ll not put up with his shite.
Look what I have.

Second Mod
Show me, show me.

First Mod
Here I have a netkook’s vowels,
Pluck’d from out his latest howls.

Windows chime within

Third Mod
A post, a post!
Macbeth is toast.

The weird sysops, we command,
Posters of the sea and land,
Thus do go about, about:
Filter snot, and filter bot,
Filter ads for chicks who’re hot.
Peace! the board’s caught up.

November 01, 2008
Good listener
Posted by Patrick at 07:57 AM *

All he did, really, was get people to tell their stories. The results were astonishing.

I don’t think I realized before that he didn’t even begin his real career, the interview work he’ll be remembered for, until he was in his mid-fifties.

Studs Terkel, 1912-2008. Good overview here.

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