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June 30, 2009
Elf Help, a Parlor Bookstore Game
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 04:10 PM * 212 comments

Oh, dear. The tough economic times have hit the chain bookstore where you work, and the orders have come down from Head Office: cut the SF&F department (possibly Horror as well).

Your store manager is a fan, however, and she’s made a stealthy swap. She stopped buying Self-Help books instead, changed a few shelf labels, and kept the entire SF&F section.

Unfortunately, people keep coming into the bookstore looking for self-help books, and all you have are genre. To cover for your manager, you’re going to have to find SF&F (and Horror, if desired) books to help these poor folk who are looking for guidance on their personal problems.

  • For instance, when that driven woman comes in looking for help raising her Indigo Child, suggest a copy of Ender’s Game.
  • And that gentleman who’s having height issues will no doubt benefit from a copy of The Warrior’s Apprentice, yes?
  • No doubt that bloke still dealing with the loss of his parents at an early age will find The Graveyard Book of great use.

Have I mentioned that your job is at stake here?*

* Yes, The Princess Bride would make a great study of different management styles.

Two things
Posted by Patrick at 01:40 PM * 77 comments

One! We’re aware that all comments were going straight to the moderation queue for a while today. Something is wonky about our spam filters. It’s been happening to everyone. We think we’ve fixed it for the moment.

Two! Some people have complained about ML moderators silently deleting their own posts. This happens occasionally, usually when one of us gets sufficiently torqued to say something we then immediately regret. I realize many of you are astonished, but it happens, even to the shimmering disembodied beings of pure dispassionate rationality that moderate Making Light. And unlike the rest of you, we don’t have anyone to come along and lovingly tell us we’re currently being the butthead; we have to do that for ourselves. (Lengthy, tearful self-pity scene excised here.)

Anyway, just to be clear, in the rare cases where this happens in the future, we won’t do it invisibly—we’ll leave the comment and its comment number in place, merely replacing its text with something appropriate like “[self-deleted by moderator]”.

In other news, there are enormous jets of water vapor and ice shooting out of Saturn’s moon Enceladus. Also, here’s a free amusing toy.

June 29, 2009
Two smart things amidst the global Michael Jackson mediagasm
Posted by Patrick at 07:43 AM *

From Robert Rossney, the best single piece I’ve read about Jackson’s life.

Meanwhile, a few hours after Jackson’s death, Amanda Palmer covers “Billie Jean.”

June 28, 2009
Sometimes Violence Is the Answer
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 09:13 AM *

Today is the fortieth anniversary of the raid on the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street in New York City.

At 1:20 on the morning of Saturday, June 28, 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn, a standard tactic at the time against gay bars. This time, instead of lining up quietly and showing ID (with men in drag and women who weren’t wearing at least three pieces of feminine apparel being arrested, for in those days cross-dressing was illegal), the patrons of the bar refused; a crowd gathered, turned violent, and the police had to be rescued by their Tactical Police Force.

Rioting continued for several days.

One year later, on 28 June 1970, America’s first Gay Pride march took place. Within two years there were open gay rights groups in pretty-much every major city.

In December 1973, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from the DSM.

Ten years before the Stonewall Riots, homosexual acts, even between consenting adults in private homes, were illegal in forty-nine states and the District of Columbia. (It became fifty states when Hawaii joined the Union in August of ‘59, back down to forty-nine when Illinois decriminalized sodomy in ‘61.) In those days homosexuals could be imprisoned for life in mental institutions. In seven states they could be castrated.

Now, things are different.

June 26, 2009
Time makes strange bedfellows of us all
Posted by Avram Grumer at 11:43 PM * 143 comments

Via Arthur Hlavaty, I see that a British appeals court has ruled that a London Orthodox Jewish school that gave admissions priority to Jewish students is engaging in a forbidden “test of ethnicity” if it uses the traditional Orthodox definition of Jewishness — matrilineal descent. (The school has a PDF FAQ about the decision.)

But that’s not what prompted me to post. What got me typing was, while searching for more details, discovering this angry editorial criticizing the decision — from the British National Party, aka the British Fascists, who have apparently been courting the Jewish vote, perhaps inspired by Pat Buchanan’s famous success with Jewish voters in Florida. Welcome to the 21st century.

June 24, 2009
Peeling the onion
Posted by Avram Grumer at 11:58 PM * 90 comments

Has it occurred to anyone else that maybe a whole bunch of right-wing Republican moralists are engaged in some sort of weird nefarious covert political plot, and the adultery stories are a cover? ’Cause at this point, I think it’s either that or the orbital mind-control lasers.

So, any guesses as to what the plot is?

Page Rank
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 09:55 PM * 37 comments

So, anyway, here’s a cute little button that shows Making Light’s current Google Page Rank. Scores range from 0 (the worst) to 10 (the best).

PageRank Checking Icon

Here’s Google’s explanation of what Page Rank means:

In general, webmasters can improve the rank of their sites by increasing the number of high-quality sites that link to their pages.

That Google page leads off to other fascinating discussions of How To Make A Good Webpage (or at least avoid making a bad one), such as this:

Little or no original content

One of the most important steps in improving your site’s ranking in Google search results is to ensure that it contains plenty of rich information that includes relevant keywords, used appropriately, that indicate the subject matter of your content.

However, some webmasters attempt to improve their page’s ranking and attract visitors by creating pages with many words but little or no authentic content. Google will take action against domains that try to rank more highly by just showing scraped or other auto-generated pages that don’t add any value to users. Examples include:

  • Thin affiliate sites: These sites collect pay-per-click (PPC) revenue by sending visitors to the sites of affiliate programs, while providing little or no value-added content or service to the user. These sites usually have no original content and may be cookie-cutter sites or templates with no unique content.
  • Doorway pages: Pages created just for search engines
  • Auto-generated content: Content generated programatically. Often this will consist of random paragraphs of text that make no sense to the reader but that may contain search keywords.
  • Scraped content: Some webmasters make use of content taken from other, more reputable sites on the assumption that increasing the volume of web pages with random, irrelevant content is a good long-term strategy. Purely scraped content, even from high-quality sources, may not provide any added value to your users without additional useful services or content provided by your site. It’s worthwhile to take the time to create original content that sets your site apart. This will keep your visitors coming back and will provide useful search results.

…And so on.

One could look at that set of pages as a contemplation on original sin. Or one could compare it with the ideals set up for moderation and community that Miss Teresa has expounded.

June 23, 2009
Domestic Terrorism
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 11:05 AM *

The terrorist threat in America remains the same as it has always been.

The typical America terrorist is a white right-winger. Not just James W. Von Brunn, not just Scott Roeder, now along come Shawna Forde of Buena Vista, Arizona; Jason Eugene Bush of Kingman, Arizona; and Albert Robert Gaxiola of Tucson, Arizona.

These folks are from the Minutemen American Defense, a splinter group from the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps. After they got kicked out of the main group for being even crazier than the average Minuteman, they apparently financed their freelance border patrols with armed robbery, home invasion, and murder.

The story just popped up at CNN.under the headline Rogue Minutemen leader held in fatal home invasion.

Raul Flores thought federal agents had barged with guns drawn into his home in Arivaca, Arizona, in the middle of the night.

The woman and two men wore uniforms and identified themselves as U.S. Marshals. They claimed the house was surrounded. They said they were looking for an escaped prisoner, Flores’ wife told a 911 dispatcher.

But there was no backup waiting outside, and no fugitive. The marshals were imposters.

They had targeted Flores because they suspected he was a drug trafficker and they wanted to rob and kill him, according to the Pima County Sheriff’s Department.

As the intruders searched his home, Flores asked one of the men why his handgun was taped. The man responded by shooting and killing Flores.

“Someone just came in and shot my daughter and husband,” Flores’ wife frantically told 911. She tells the police operator that she was shot and left for dead with her husband, Raul Flores, 29, and daughter Brisenia, 9, who were both shot in the head.

When Guns Are Outlawed
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 10:20 AM *

[Note: This is not the place for the Gun Control Argument, nor for the What Would You Carry? dick-measuring contest.]

I read on CNN under the scary headline “People on terrorist watch list allowed to buy guns” that

From February 2004 to February 2009, 963 background checks using the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System “resulted in valid matches with terrorist watch list records; of these matches, approximately 90 percent were allowed to proceed because the checks revealed no prohibiting information,” the GAO report says. About 10 percent were denied.

“Under current law, there is no basis to automatically prohibit a person from possessing firearms or explosives because they appear on the terrorist watch list,” wrote the GAO’s director of homeland security and justice issues, Eileen R. Larence.

“Rather, there must be a disqualifying factor (i.e., prohibiting information) pursuant to federal or state law, such as a felony conviction or illegal immigration status.”

That is to say, to be denied the right to buy a firearm you had to be crazy or a criminal. I’m good with that.

However, that isn’t good enough for Senator Frank Lautenberg, (D-New Jersey):

In a statement Monday, Lautenberg said, “this new report is proof positive that known and suspected terrorists are exploiting a major loophole in our law, threatening our families and our communities. This ‘terror gap’ has been open too long, and our national security demands that we shut it down.”

The statement said Lautenberg is introducing legislation that would give the U.S. attorney general “authority to stop the sale of guns or explosives to terrorists.”

Which is pure moonshine. It’s proof positive that the Terrorist Watch List is fatally flawed. 865 individuals (per the story) got their firearms and yet there have been no terrorist attacks with them.

First, we already know that nothing whatever is required to get onto that list: whim, error, and accident seem to be as important as any other source for a name to go on the list. There is no judicial oversight or review.

Second, there is no mechanism for an individual to be informed that he/she is on the list.

Third, there is no mechanism for an individual who discovers he/she is on the list to challenge it.

If there are known terrorists out there, why haven’t they been arrested and tried? If convicted, then the current mechanisms click in and everything’s fine. If someone is merely suspected … well, I suspect Lautenberg of being a terrorist. Let’s put his name on the secret list.

[Note: This is not the place for the Gun Control Argument, nor for the What Would You Carry? dick-measuring contest.]

June 21, 2009
Happy Solstice
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 08:36 PM *

Today is the longest day (and shortest night) of the year.

Sunrise here was at 04:59:34. Sunset is … now … at 20:36:31 EDT.

June 20, 2009
Litchfield means “Graveyard”
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 06:38 PM * 155 comments

Via Skyfyre’s LJ, (linked from the Friends, Relations, Cronies, and Colleagues portion of Making Light’s Globally Useful blogroll), we find the account of the doings in Litchfield, New Hampshire, as related in the Union Leader:

LITCHFIELD – Schools Supt. Elaine F. Cutler is apologizing for the use of “inappropriate material in our schools” and said stories in a Campbell High School elective course will be immediately removed from the curriculum.

“Some of these stories contained explicit, vulgar and gratuitous language and school administrators have determined that these stories are not appropriate for a high school curriculum,” Cutler said in a statement to news media this afternoon.

She said the Short Story course will be reviewed and revised over the summer by a team composed of the curriculum director, teachers and parent representatives according to school board policy. Administrative review will occur before the curriculum is initiated.

“First, God created idiots. That was just for practice. Then He created school boards.” — Mark Twain.

Skyfyre has a long and detailed response of her own.

When a book list is made for a school, I don’t imagine that teachers go “I wonder how I can wreak havoc this semester! What kind of trouble can I cause and make my life as difficult as possible?” I imagine teachers ask themselves what their students can learn from the most. And, no, not to learn whatever the teachers own views are. I doubt teachers are actively trying to indoctrinate children into accepting homosexuality and I highly doubt that teachers are trying to impart the knowledge that drug use is not just good, it’s fun! What I think teachers are trying to teach is the ability to think and to read critically.

It’s irresponsible to try to keep children from controversial books. It’s not assigned to make children accept the issues at hand, but to let them know that the issues exist. It allows them to evaluate themselves and come up with their own views on it. Any parent that tries to stop that self-evaluation and personal growth that can come from a book is, I’m sorry, an idiot. All they’re doing is stopping their child from reaching their own decisions and their own potential. If you try to protect children from disagreeable subjects (“Oh, noes! Homosexuality and drug use exist! We cannot let our children know of these things!”) all you do is leave them woefully unprepared for the world outside their parents care. To do that, as [info]jenwrites said, does the student a great disservice. It also shows that the parent doesn’t trust their child to come up with the correct (or what they view as the correct) answer. Something that has always annoyed me is the distrust of the youth by the adults. I don’t agree with that distrust at all.

Notable in the Union Leader’s story:

As [objecting parent] Johnson quoted from the short story “The Crack Cocaine Diet,” there were gasps from the assembled parents and, at times, from members of the school board.

Skyfyre comments:

When I read that line, I took it as a big hint that none of them had actually read what was being protested.

You can read the beginning of “The Crack Cocaine Diet” here.

Revenge Drama
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 03:26 PM * 41 comments

Those who have been reading Girl Genius right the way along already know this. Those who have read sporadically may not. Those who have never read the comic near-certainly do not. But we are now in Part Three of the astounding adventure, Revenge of the Weasel Queen.

This is a mini-adventure that is providing a break in the action of the main story line.

June 16, 2009
Fun, Making Of Own
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 05:21 PM * 44 comments

Well, folks. Some filmmakers are in town. They’re making a movie up in Pittsburg.

I can make some guesses about what happened to the people of Friar:

  1. Froze to death? Sounds about right
  2. Eaten by black flies. Hate when that happens.
  3. Went to Coaticook to see the hootchie-kootchie show.

Iran revolution
Posted by Avram Grumer at 01:45 AM * 240 comments

Everyone’s aware of the news from Iran, right? The election, the probably-fake official results, the rioting in the streets?

I don’t have anything original to say, but here’s a link roundup:

Andrew Sullivan has been on top of things. Obsessively, even. Pretty much every post for the past few days.

The Twitter #iranElection filter has been a firehose of comments and links since the results were announced. While CNN couldn’t be bothered to follow the story, Twitter users took up the slack, to the extent that Twitter rescheduled some planned maintenance downtime.

Nate Silver and the other number-crunchers at have been talking about the statistics behind the election results. Here, Silver debunks a chart that’s been cited by various people as strong evidence of election fraud. And Renard Sexton talks about some “fishy numbers” that show up in more detailed statistics.

Cartoons! Matt Bors. Iranian cartoonist Nikahang Kosar.

(And yes, green is the official Mousavi solidarity color. Or maybe the official fair-elections solidarity color; I’m not sure.)

June 14, 2009
In Brooklyn, about a mile south of us
Posted by Patrick at 03:09 PM *

Like everyone else, I wonder what Lutheran halal cuisine would entail. Doner kabab hot dish?

I won’t say “only in New York,” because that’s a lazy cliché. But it’s nonetheless very New York.

June 13, 2009
Service Advisory
Posted by Patrick at 01:59 PM * 84 comments

We’ll be implementing the long-awaited upgrade to Movable Type 4 tomorrow morning. As a result, for about three hours, commenting will be disabled. The front page and individual archive pages should all remain readable.

Assuming all goes well (knock wood, touch a belaying pin, throw a goat over one’s left shoulder, bury a statue of Giordano Bruno upside down) (the best superstitions are the ones you make up yourself), the no-commenting period should last about three hours. It’ll begin at 9 AM European summer time, which is 8 AM in the British Isles, 3 AM on the east coast of North America, and midnight on the west coast. The rest of you can work out the time differences for yourselves. Don’t forget the goat.

Update from Martin at 12:30 CET: This is not going as well as I had hoped. Commenting is still down; investigation ongoing.

Update from Patrick at 8:30 EDT: While Martin investigates, he’s reverted us to MT 3.33, and commenting has been re-enabled. We’ll try again when he’s reasonably sure it will work. Carry on…

The shoes of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe
Posted by Teresa at 09:00 AM *

Given that Zazzle lets you sell custom-designed Keds, it naturally follows that there’ll be seven different vendors offering fifteen different shoe designs featuring the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Kaeggles’ Mary of Guadalupe is definitely the best. If I had the money, I’d buy a pair right now, and Patrick would envy them. Runner-up is Suzettas’ Our Lady of Guadalupe 2. (Other designers: 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.)

Don’t make too much of it. There are a lot more shoes that have Obama on them.

June 12, 2009
In de gloria
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 06:38 PM * 38 comments

Anne Frank would have been 80 years old today.

Here in the Netherlands, the usual birthday song is not related to Happy Birthday to You. Instead, they sing:

Lang zal je leven
Lang zal je leven
Lang zal je leven in de gloria,
In de gloria.

Long will you live,
Long will you live,
Long will you live in glory
In glory.

She did not, of course, live long. But as the news tonight said, as a voice against anti-Semitism, racism and fascism, she is even now in glory.

Heart Attack Casserole
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 04:40 PM * 235 comments

Take a bag of frozen steak fries. Bake them in the bottom of a casserole pan until nearly done.

Take a mess of boiled ham, cut into ¼” cubes. A mess of green onions, finely sliced, stems and all. A red pepper, chopped, with seeds and stuff discarded. A pound of bacon, fried and crumbled (or cut up with kitchen shears, if that’s the way you roll).

Divide the ham, onion, pepper, and bacon into two equal piles. Sprinkle one pile over the potatoes. Pour on one bottle of Cheez Whiz, nuked enough to make it pourable. Spread the cheese-like material out over the potatoes and stuff.

Take the other pile of chopped stuff, and sprinkle on top of the Cheez Whiz.

Bake until it’s all hot and friendly (350°F for thirty minutes or so).

Serve with sour cream.

Listen to your arteries scream.

[Recipe Index]

June 08, 2009
Fixing Light
Posted by Patrick at 07:22 AM *

First, thanks to the literally dozens of people who answered our cry for help fixing and upgrading this site. Thanks to John Scalzi for sending even more kindly volunteers our way. And thanks for all the excellent and informative advice in the discussion following our appeal. We are astonished and humbled; we are not worthy. (We also want to see Michael Roberts’ basement.)

Second, yes, various fixes are underway. Thanks to Martin Sutherland—who’ll be helping migrate us to Movable Type 4—we now see how our ancient “View All By” script, dating from 2002-or-so when MT-based blogs might have 2,000 comments in their database, has been more or less beating our server to death, since it’s now 2009 and that same database now contains over 300,000 comments. To address this, Martin has implemented a bunch of sensible fixes which we’ll explain in more detail down in the comments. In addition, comments from people who don’t enter a personal URL no longer default to showing their declared email address. This is part of a larger effort to keep our commenters from being spammed by email-address-harvesters. Yes, we should have dealt with this a while ago.

The various changes rolled in this weekend have quick fixes to urgent problems. Sometime in the next little while, we’ll actually migrate the whole site to MT 4.25, and then start rethinking aspects of the way the place looks and works. Not on the agenda: threaded comments, personal avatars, or a quick sale to mobbed-up Russian “businessmen.” Of course, we would say that.

June 06, 2009
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 11:01 AM * 68 comments

Sixty-five years ago today:

Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force!

You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.

Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle hardened. He will fight savagely.

But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man-to-man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our Home Fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to Victory!

I have full confidence in your courage and devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full Victory!

Good luck! And let us beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.

SIGNED: Dwight D. Eisenhower

An astounding misuse of the word “lynch”
Posted by Teresa at 10:20 AM * 166 comments

Talking Points Memo, on the misdeeds of Tom Tancredo’s aide Marcus Epstein:

Tancredo Aide Pleads Guilty to Karate Chopping Pedestrian, Calling Her ‘Nigger’
By Brian Beutler - June 1, 2009, 11:23AM

Remember how Tom Tancredo went on CNN last week and called Sonia Sotomayor a racist, accusing her falsely of being a member of a “Latino KKK”? Well, if racism so offends him, how does he explain this?

On July 7, 2007, at approximately 7:15 p.m. at Jefferson and M Street, Northwest, in Washington, D.C., defendant was walking down the street making offensive remarks when he encountered the complainant, Ms. [REDACTED], who is African-American. The defendant uttered, “Nigger,” as he delivered a karate chop to Ms. [REDACTED]’s head.
That defendant is named Marcus Epstein—a former Tancredo speechwriter who now works as executive director of Tancredo’s political action committee.

Epstein pled guilty to the charge, but, according to Dave Weigel of The Washington Independent, he’ll remain on the job “until he leaves for law school in the fall.”

My goodness.

Here’s TPM’s followup:

Bay Buchanan: After Assaulting Black Woman, Calling Her ‘Nigger,’ Epstein Was ‘Lynched’
By Brian Beutler - June 5, 2009, 4:12PM

Bay Buchanan has once again responded to critics of her karate chopping employee Marcus Epstein. This time, though, she’s taken it to the website of the conservative magazine Human Events.

In the piece she acknowledges both that she knew all along about Epstein’s crime and that she nonetheless kept him on staff at both of the anti-immigrant organizations which she chairs—facts which she more or less conceded when I interviewed her earlier this week.

She also writes this: “What happened next was a modern day lynching by a faceless, angry, ignorant mob who reveled in the collective assault on their victim.”

That’s premium-grade BS. The blogosphere didn’t have it in for Marcus Epstein. They picked up on the story because it’s colorful and newsworthy. A rising right-wing politico who works for Tom Tancredo and Bay Buchanan went out in public drunk on his ass, made offensive remarks while walking down the street, and then committed an unprovoked assault on a passing black woman while addressing her as “nigger.”

It takes a truly remarkable sense of entitlement, and zero sense of history, for Buchanan to label the perpetrator of this racist hate crime as the victim of “a modern day lynching,” and the act of writing about it as a “collective assault.” Buchanan’s anger has nothing to do with affronted principle. It’s all affronted privilege: one of her people has been disgraced. If positions had been reversed, and that nameless black woman had randomly assaulted Marcus Epstein and called him a racist epithet, I’m sure she’d have a very different take on it.

Buchanan’s tearjerker in Human Events is a real piece of work. It’s all about what a terribly troubled and talented young man Marcus Epstein is. (Funniest line: “I write this story not as an excuse for Marcus’ actions.”) Apparently he’s got a severe problem with alcohol. He also suffers from depression, which is not surprising if he’s drinking that much. I’m sorry to hear he’s having such a hard time, but Buchanan’s special pleading does nothing to alter the story or its significance.

Here’s the crux of it: Epstein was stressed out and drunk at the time. That is, he was disinhibited. Anyone might behave badly under those circumstances. What’s pertinent is the way in which he misbehaved. Disinhibition doesn’t put ideas into your head. It lets the ideas that are already in there escape.

What came out of Marcus Epstein was racist hate speech plus an unprovoked attack on a passing black pedestrian. If Tom Tancredo and Bay Buchanan think those are acceptable sentiments for political operatives they employ—well, that’s news.

June 04, 2009
Sixth In the Nation
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 11:37 PM * 110 comments

New Hampshire has become the latest state to legalize gay marriage.


CONCORD - New Hampshire became the fifth state in New England yesterday and the sixth in the country to allow same-sex marriage, as lawmakers approved and the governor signed revised legislation designed to balance personal and religious freedom.

Hang-ups over the wording had threatened to kill the bill multiple times this spring, but in a flurry of activity yesterday, Senate and House lawmakers approved a final version acceptable to Governor John Lynch


Have I mentioned what a nice place The Balsams would be to have your wedding? And you could see the Ballot Room while you’re here.

June 02, 2009
Open thread 125
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 04:21 PM *

In April of 1971, excavators on the Putgraaf in Heerlen (a city in Limburg, the southernmost province of the Netherlands) uncovered some second century (AD) Roman pottery ovens. One of them had exploded, and among the remaining stones were found the shards of a pot with the following inscription:

ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ. Lucius made this jar for Amaka. I dedicate it to the good god of Ferenio, my birthplace. Lucius, called Meticius, made this in his business.

The only explanation I’ve seen of the (nearly) complete alphabet is that it had some sort of magical significance.

The Latin in the rest of the inscription is quirky. The writer uses II in place of a long E (fiicit, Fiiriinius and Miiticius rather than fecit, Ferenius and Meticius) and K for C (diko for dico). I suspect that this is phonetic spelling, and that the local pronunciation differed greatly from that of Rome.

This is all we have of a man’s life: Lucius Meticius Ferenius. His date of birth is reckoned to be about 125 AD, but I can find no reasonable basis for that guess. Roman Feresne is modern Dilsen in Belgium, about 22 miles to the northeast of where the pot was found. If he was born there, he clearly moved to Coriovallum (now Heerlen) and set up a pottery business. We don’t know who Amanka was.

When the city of Heerlen struck a coin to celebrate its second jubilee, they chose Lucius Ferenius to be on it. The reverse has a picture of the jar, with the label “kruuksjke”. That’s a Limburg dialect word for vase or pot (the Dutch is kruikje), which is somehow appropriate for someone with such idiomatic spelling.

In the end, the message of Lucius is this: Remember me. I lived.

  1. Wikipedia article on Lucius Ferenius
  2. Heerlen Rijkheyt, a local history website (Dutch)
  3. Latijn van Lucius (PDF, Dutch)

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