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September 30, 2009
Jon Singer turned 60 today
Posted by Teresa at 10:02 PM * 51 comments

It hardly seems possible, but there it is.

That must mean it’s also D. Potter’s 60th birthday.

Woo! Happy birthday, guys.

September 29, 2009
Massive Anglo-Saxon hoard found
Posted by Teresa at 11:45 PM * 79 comments

Srsly, everyone’s saying “bigger than Sutton Hoo” and “biggest Anglo Saxon hoard ever found” and “It will redefine the Dark Ages.” They’re calling it the Staffordshire Hoard. It already has its own website.

Specifics: Metal detector, farm field, Staffordshire (Mercia!). The Crown has called dibs on it: v. good thing.

The BBC version of the story. Sample quote:

“Swords and sword fittings were very important in the Anglo-Saxon period,” Dr Leahy added.
The Guardian’s version. Sample quote:
Delicate ornament, stunning craftsmanship and gold were like Kalashnikovs in the battle for land and loyalty. Now, 1,300 years on, they command our intellect and our awe. “It’s going to shake up all our ideas,” says [Anglo-Saxonist Leslie] Webster. “And what fun that will be!” The Mercian flag is on the march.
Why the difference: The Guardian sagely got Mike Pitts, editor of British Archaeology magazine, to write their article for them.

Since these are modern times, there’s a Flickr set where you can look at all 644 photos thus far. Some of the stuff I liked best:

A Fish and Eagles zoomorphic mount reminiscent of the eagles on the Sutton Hoo purse lid and shield mount.
A crumpled gold cross, plus jewelry fittings.
Something they’re calling a gold plaque with entwined stylised arms.
A hilt fitting with inlaid garnets. A whole bunch of sword fittings. Some pyramidal sword finials.
A black-and-white-checked enamel gem in a cloisonne frame. Get up close and look at the tiny fine gold beading around its edge.
And an interesting strip of gold with a biblical inscription.

Medievalist B. Hawk has it pegged:

As pointed out in the hoard catalogue, “The inscription reads: ‘surge d[omi]ne [et] disepentur (for dissipentur) inimici tui et fugent (for fugiant) qui oderunt te a facie tua’ (‘rise up, o Lord, and may thy enemies be scattered and those who hate thee be driven from thy face’).” The catalogue also notes that this passage comes from Numbers 10:35; it has been noted, however, that (given biblical transmission) the passage more likely derives from Psalm 67:2, which includes the same passage.

A search of the Fontes Anglo-Saxonici database reveals that only one text (or set of texts, as will be revealed) known in Anglo-Saxon England also quotes this passage from Numbers 10:35/Psalm 67:2: Felix’s Vita S. Guthlaci. This Vita was written in c.730-49, and, according to E. Gordon Whatley, the text was present in Anglo-Saxon England in at least eight extant manuscripts, one of these (a fragment) from the late eighth or early ninth century. The corresponding use does appear in the Old English prose Life (which corresponds closely to Felix’s Latin version), but not in Vercelli Homily XXIII or Guthlac A or B.

What is interesting about the passage in which this verse is used is that it is not merely a quotation; instead, Guthlac himself uses the Psalm to ward off evil spirits. According to the Old English prose version, Guthlac “þone sealm sang: Exurgat deus et dissipentur, et reliqua. Sona swa he þæt fyrmeste fers sang þæs sealmes, þa gewiton hi swa swa smic fram his ansyne” (“sang the psalm: Exurgat Deus et dissipentur, et reliqua. As soon as he had sung the first verse of the psalm, they departed like smoke from his presence”). What we find, then, is an act of warding off evil, a use of the psalm to achieve victory over one’s enemies.


Addendum: Michael Drout at Wormtalk and Slugspeak has an interesting short entry. He calls it a treasure-hoard, not a funeral offering like Sutton Hoo; also:

One of the most intriguing finds is a strip of gold inscribed with Latin:
[.] I R G E : D N E : D I S E P E N T U // [.] F I N I M I C I T U I [:] E/T
[.] U G E N T Q U I O D E R U N // T T E A F A C I E T [U] A (…)

It has not yet been determined what the inscribed strip is, though it may have been part of a shield or helmet. Michelle Brown … dates the script to the eighth or ninth century. There is already some speculation that the hoard could be part the immense treasure supposedly paid to King Penda of Mercia by King Oswiu of Northumbria, but there really isn’t any specific evidence at this stage.

How to lose a war
Posted by Patrick at 10:52 AM * 38 comments

Commenting on the Washington Post’s new “guidelines” for their employees’ use of services like Twitter and Facebook, New York Times media blogger David Carr observes:

Mainstream outlets who gag social media efforts are unilaterally disarming in the ongoing war for reader attention.
The same could be said about, for instance, New York book publishing conglomerates that restrict what parts of the internet their employees can look at from their desks, a subject Farhad Manjoo touches on here.

As I’ve said a whole bunch of times, the “competition” for those of us in traditional media industries—book publishing, broadcasting, newspapers and magazines—is no longer other book publishers, broadcasters, or newspapers and magazines. Instead, our “competition” is now the plain fact that, even if you stipulate that 99.9% of the for-free internet is worthless nonsense, the remaining 0.1% is large enough to absorb anyone’s attention full-time for the rest of their life. For anyone with an internet connection, running out of interesting things to read is completely a thing of the past.

Like it or not, that’s the world we live in now. Media companies that make it hard for their workers to get up to speed in it are, as Carr says, unilaterally disarming. I’ve been to Google’s New York City offices. They don’t tell their employees what they may and may not do with social media tools, and they don’t impose net nannies on their internet surfing, either. They’re also winning.

Carr’s conclusion is also pertinent:

There will be stumbles and missteps on the way to a hybrid future, but if you can’t trust the women and men who put out your newspaper to use their keyboards wisely regardless of platform, what are they doing working for you?
A point that could be extended to other media outfits as well.

September 28, 2009
The Prisoner’s Dilemma
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 05:00 PM *

One of the areas of ongoing controversy in the UK is whether prisoners should be allowed to vote whilst incarcerated. The EU says they should, and the UN has just weighed in to agree. The British government has promised a consultation (the traditional means of kicking an issue into the long grass), but hasn’t got round to saying when they’ll have it. In other words, no action any time soon.

The latest salvo in the discussion is an article by convicted murderer Ben Gunn. He wanted to post it onto his blog (which he can only do by sending snail mail text to friends). In this case, however, the Ministry of Justice blocked the text sent as a blog entry but permitted another copy to be go through as a letter.

The fact that Gunn is subject to these labyrinthine, inconsistent and political restrictions (as opposed to straightforward, consistent and impartial restrictions) would normally be a matter for him to take up with his Member of Parliament. Unfortunately, of course, he can’t, because as a prisoner he hasn’t got one. I stand corrected; he does. However, his MP has no vote from him, or other prisoners, to chase. I contend that this makes him less well-represented than a free citizen.

Having lived a good decade and a half in Britain, I think that Gunn has a telling point about the reason external pressure is not only ineffective, but possibly counterproductive in this affair. The introduction of concrete human rights legislation into British law hasn’t led to the kind of affirmation of Traditional British Wonderfulness that many people expected.

Britain has one of the worst records before the European Court of Human Rights. And that disturbs us, for we are not used to having our liberality questioned. Instead of using these realities to wonder about the nature of our political system and the power of government we prefer to complain about trivia - foreign judges, for instance. Rather than embracing our new rights we handle them as if they are an unexploded grenade.

Comparisons to the US are left as an exercise for the reader.

September 27, 2009
Boing Boing commenters party like it’s October 2001
Posted by Patrick at 10:26 PM * 384 comments

Boing Boing invites Muslim-Americans to guest-blog about culture, sensibility, faith, and everyday life. Inane controversy ensues. Nielsen Haydens weigh in. Holy crap, there are a lot of people out there eager to collect on debts not owed to them.

To repeat what I said here, I think that one of the necessary first steps to making a better world is getting to know the one we’ve got.

Open thread 130
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 09:04 AM *

Hadrian is my favorite emperor1.

I’d have loved him for the Pantheon alone, with its soaring, unprecedented, unmatched dome. It’s still the largest unreinforced concrete one in the world. But better than the engineering is the psychology: the entire building was designed as a surprise. Given where it stood, we think that visitors couldn’t see that it wasn’t an ordinary temple with a rectangular cella until they were inside. The street level, lower than the present one, plus the buildings all around blocked any view of the dome from the outside.

Imagine the dropped jaws, the O’s of mouths matching the oculus above. Imagine a mind that could design2 such a jest.

And he’d done it before, with the Temple of Venus and Rome. In his design, the two cellae for the goddesses stood back to back, matched half-domes separating the palindrome: ROMA )( AMOR. The guy was a playful intellectual.

But that’s not why I fell for him as a historical figure. Stone is all very well, but I love story more. And the story that hooked me, when I heard it in my Topography and Monuments of Ancient Rome class in college, was that of Antinous.

Hadrian’s marriage to Vivia Sabina was wretched3. Instead, Hadrian lavished his devotion and his tenderness on a handsome boy he’d met while traveling in Bithynia, and whom he brought with him everywhere. Was their relationship sexual? We will never know. Was it abusive, since Antinous joined Hadrian’s entourage at 13? Probably, at the very least in the sense that the emperor had no equals, so that his wishes ever become his commands. Was it, for Hadrian, transformative, electrifying, inspiring, obsessive? Yes, very much. I don’t know that I approve, but I understand.

And then, in 130, the twenty year old Antinous drowned in the Nile.

Hadrian was devastated, and determined to seed the entire empire with the memory of the young man. He named cities after him, commissioned statues, struck medals. He had Antinous deified (he became associated with the cult of Osiris in Egypt) and built a shrine to him in his villa at Tivoli. He even placed him in the heavens.

And the loss broke some part of Hadrian forever. Except for those memorials, the only thing he designed after Antinous died was his own tomb.

I’m sure it’s all a farrago of spin and speculation, but as Philip Larkin says of another story told in statues:

Time has transfigured them into
Untruth. The stone fidelity
They hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazon, and to prove
Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.
  1. Despite his monstrous treatment of the Jews
  2. Contra recent hypotheses, I think the evidence trends toward Hadrian as the designer rather than Apollodorus of Damascus. The Pantheon, after all, is just such a pumpkin dome as Apollodurus mocked Hadrian about.
  3. One of the little touches in the Capitoline Museum in Rome is that their busts, though next to one another, face apart.

September 25, 2009
Brooklyn pwns Westboro
Posted by Patrick at 02:09 PM * 87 comments

Noting that representives of the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church (the “God Hates Fags” people) are currently visiting Brooklyn in order to denounce godlessness and fagitude at such institutions as Brooklyn Technical High School and Congregation Beth Elohim, an editorial in the Brooklyn Paper offers some sound advice:

One of the dozens of commenters on our online story about the Westboro bigotry said counter-protesters at a similar hatefest once dressed as pirates, held stuffed toy parrots and yelled out “Arrrgh, mateys” every few minutes. The media ended up covering the pirates more than the bigots.

We think Brooklyn can do even better. Here are some suggestions:

* Buy an ice cream cone and eat it really messily—so messily that news photographers can’t help but take a picture of the disgusting scene. Say you are protesting the tyranny of neatness in America today.

* Dress up in antebellum garb and hold signs indicating your contempt for the Tariff of 1833. If asked, say you are a Whig.

* Wear a black-and-white-striped shirt, a beret and white face paint and perform a mime piece in protest of the widespread hatred of mimes worldwide.

* Dress up as Mr. Met and wear a huge “Kick me” sign. (OK, that’s not a counter-protest. That’s reality.)

Aside from the fact that it’s startling to see the techniques of street theater being matter-of-factly discussed in a newspaper editorial, these are also good approaches because, like the website God Hates Shrimp and the Chicago anti-Westboro demonstrators who held up signs reading “God hates the new Facebook,” they wrench the frame. They remind everyone that the world is larger than the dismal mutterings of a tiny family cult.


Addenda (compiled by TNH):

Many thanks to Charlie Stross for posting a link to that invaluable work, Fred Phelps is a Con Man:

Fred Phelps does not believe what he is doing. This is a scam.

It’s a business. They travel the country, set up websites telling you exactly when they’ll be there, and using the most inflammatory statements all over the place, just to get someone to violate their rights for profit. Then they sue the military, the police force that was to protect them, and everyone that is around them for money. This is a sham, and it is a trap to get people sued. Every member of his family is an attorney. Phelps does not break the law. What he does is try to make you break the law by trying to punch your sensibilities about everything you hold dear, and then sue you and everyone municipality around him to the max.

This is a scam. Whether he believes his posters or not is irrelevant. He’s using this as a moneymaking scheme. Lay one finger on him, do one thing that violates him, and he will sue you, and more importantly, the city, the police department, the US Military, and any private property owner he happens to be standing on to make money off of it.

Thanks also to Avram Grumer, for providing supporting documentation:
[A]ccording to this timeline from the Southern Poverty Law Center, Phelps filed about 400 lawsuits during his 25-year legal career (1964-1989), mostly against the federal government, including a 1984 lawsuit against then-President Reagan for sending an ambassador to the Vatican. Phelps’s estranged son Nathan claimed that Fred would deliberately file frivolous suits hoping his targets would settle to avoid having to pay for an expensive legal battle.

More relevant to the matter at hand are 1993 award of $43,000 to Phelps’s WBC arising from complaints about his picket lines; the 1995 case where Phelps’s grandson spat on a passer-by during a picket, was sued, and the WBC counter-sued; and the 1997 filing of a $7 million lawsuit against the city of Topeka, for failing to protect his picketers.

That timeline ends in 2000, so it doesn’t include the more recent lawsuit against the state of Missouri, over a state law limiting the right to protest at funerals.

The Fred Phelps timeline is the work of those lawful good paladins, The Southern Poverty Law Center. They published it in the SPLC Intelligence Report as an accompaniment to their article about Fred Phelps’ abuse of the city of Topeka:
All concerned agree that the WBC really does hate gays. But at least one church member has said openly that if all homosexuals disappeared, congregants would find some other reason to picket.

And Suzanne James, who recently resigned after eight years in the Shawnee County District Attorney’s office as director of victim services, says Phelps’s opposition to homosexuality obscures a deeper purpose—promoting himself and hurting others.

“I’m so tired of people calling him an ‘anti-gay activist’,” James told the Report. “He’s not an anti-gay activist. He’s a human abuse machine.”

Another sidebar, On the inside, discusses Fred Phelps’ abuse of his family.

I’m not sure who came up with the link to About Fred Phelps on the God Hates Fred Phelps website. It’s a good link.

Finally, one of our readers, posting pseudonymously in the comment thread as SuedByAWBCMoppet, comment #21, has written about his or her own experience of having “…been sued by a member of WBC for violating their civil right to protest.” I recommend it.

September 23, 2009
A wild and crazy idea: giving the public access to public data
Posted by Patrick at 01:57 PM * 54 comments

Streetsblog has a good post about the clear benefits of public agencies providing public access to their data:

If you live in Portland [Oregon], there are dozens of mobile applications that help fill gaps in transit information. You can check your phone to see when the next bus is supposed to come. You can plan a trip from one unfamiliar part of town to another. You can even have your mobile device buzz if you fall asleep before reaching your destination. For the basic stuff, there’s no iPhone necessary (although that certainly helps for information luxuries). Anyone who has a plain old cell phone with text messaging can ride the train or the bus with greater ease thanks to these apps.
You’d think this was obvious, but in fact lots of public entities are much more withholding, for no good reason. For instance, if you live in New York City, where a far higher percentage of the population depends on public transit than in Portland, no such wealth of useful applications is available:
Simply put, the MTA makes it difficult to create applications using its data, even for a behemoth like Google with enormous reach. Developers have to acquire information from hard copies—CDs—that can quickly become out of date. Google’s own online transit tools are riddled with information that went defunct months ago, like bus routes down Broadway’s pedestrian plazas.

Licensing agreements get hammered out one by one, and the MTA seeks a 10 percent royalty for any application that’s both sold at a profit and uses its maps and symbols. When talks break down, the resulting legal battle can turn ugly. Just ask Chris Schoenfeld, a developer and Metro-North rider who tussled with MTA intellectual property lawyers over the terms for distributing his mobile app, StationStops. A major point of contention: licensing fees and royalties.

I’m reluctant to beat up on the MTA, because doing so always means you wind up getting agreement from people who are simply opposed to mass transit, or who think the MTA’s problems stem from being unionized. (They don’t.) And I’m sure there are people inside the MTA who would love to make their agency’s data freely available to developers, the way Portland does.

I hope these people get their way one of these days, because it’s really dumb for public agencies to try to squeeze a few extra nickels and dimes out of selling data like this when, instead, they could be making it easily available to the public (as publicly-funded entities bloody well should), letting individuals devise ways to use it to enhance the services which are those public agencies’ reason for existing in the first place.

Porn turns you gay: the implications
Posted by Teresa at 12:12 PM * 119 comments

I know you’ve probably read this story, but it’s irresistibly dumb. Yesterday, from Eric Kleefeld, at Talking Points Memo:

Coburn Aide: If Boys Knew Porn Will Turn Them Gay, They Won’t Want Playboy

In an infamous moment at the Values Voter Summit over the weekend, captured on video by Dave Weigel, Sen. Tom Coburn’s (R-OK) chief of staff Michael Schwartz made the case against pornography. “All pornography is homosexual pornography,” said Schwartz, quoting an ex-gay friend of his,

Ex-gay ‘winger. Check.
“because all pornography turns your sexual drive inwards.”
I am astounded. Turning your sexual drive inward—that is, processing it internally, on your own—causes homosexuality! We’re going to have to rethink our attitudes to gays in religious orders and the clergy. Thanks to Michael Schwartz, we can now understand that they probably started out straight, and were turned gay by the requirements of continence and celibacy. We have to respect that. They’ve taken one for the team.

Onward. Since sexual energies have to go somewhere, and since heterosexuals continue to exist, it must follow that directing your sexual energies outward, in sociable fashion, ideally without doing a whole lot of thinking about it, must turn you straight. This has striking implications. If you’re a secular gay, your only responsible course of action is to have lots and lots and lots of sex. You’ll know you’ve reached an appropriate level when you suddenly turn heterosexual. Short of that point, you’ll just have to keep trying harder.

We should also recognize the threat posed by unrecognized pornography. If all porn is homosexual porn, that must include the kinds that appear to be all about feet, rope, rubber rain gear, spanking, bodily wastes, model train layouts, tentacles, or Roy Orbison wrapped in clingfilm. Some sneaky homosexual conspiracy could do a lot of damage by getting straight citizens to look at gayness-inducing porn they can’t recognize as having anything to do with sex.

Finally, note that Michael Schwartz’s revelation explains the well-documented taste that some men have for lesbian erotica, and that some women have for slash: If those two keep going at it like that, they’re secretly thinking, any minute now they’ll turn heterosexual—and hey! There I’ll be, in a fetching pose, with a rose in my teeth! I can’t lose.

Schwartz then explained the side benefit of this finding—that if boys know pornography will make them gay, they’ll never touch it, taking advantage of what Schwartz sees as a natural homophobia. “And if you tell an 11-year-old boy about that, do you think he’s going to want to get a copy of Playboy?” he said. “I’m pretty sure he’ll lose interest. That’s the last thing he wants!”
Is he from this planet? If threatening kids with blindness, permanent physical debility, and death didn’t keep them away from pornography and masturbation, bizarre threats about turning gay aren’t going to do it either. And if what Schwartz is saying is that he was never tempted by het smut, I’m not going to take his word for it that this proves he’s straight.

Addendum: Jon Stewart was amazed too.

September 21, 2009
Bike blogging spreading like kudzu
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 06:20 PM * 52 comments

Patrick, referencing my sequence of bike commute photos, did a much more expansive photoset of his own, including two different routes, one there and one back again.

Not to be outdone, I’ve now photographed the other of my two usual cycle routes for yet another commute photoset. It, too, was created by simply stopping every 50 pedal strokes or so (depending on safety) and taking a photo.

I’ve tagged both Flickr photosets with bikecommute. I’m going to get Patrick to do the same. Does anyone else fancy doing a set, so it’s not always the same hands showing? Because friends, we could make it a movement, and all you gotta do to join it is to sing it when it comes around on the guitar photograph your commute and post a link here.

With feeling.

These sets of 27 8x10 colored glossy photos with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back* from our readers are a delight and a fascination:

* Yes, OK, enough with the Alice’s Restaurant references, I get the hint. (Wanders off singing “I don’t want a pickle…”)

Dysfunctional Families Day: Inversion Experience
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 12:00 AM *

When I was twenty, two of my friends took me to Gay Day in San Francisco (I gather it’s now called SF Pride). And I had the perfect inversion experience: suddenly, instead of being in the majority, I was the exception to the general rule of sexual orientation. My attraction to men was something I could express futilely or hide. The women flirting with me didn’t attract me: should I react or not?

It was just for a few hours, and I wasn’t in danger of getting straight-bashed or anything, but it was still an enlightening experience.

One of the most difficult things about trouble at home, both when you’re a kid and ever after, is that it’s invisible. The pressure to hide family dysfunction is enormous, both from those inside the situation and from society at large. And that magnifies the problems a hundredfold. Secrecy is the abuser’s friend. Meanwhile, it isolates you, blocking off any chance of help or solidarity.

So today, here, we’re going to invert it. This is the space to be open about damaging childhoods and screwed up adult relationships. Those of us on speaking terms with our families can quiet down and listen. There’s a lot to learn of love and growth, strength and courage, even among the wreckage that people can make of one another. We did something similar last year, and the word I got back was that it was worthwhile.

Now, we’ve just had one tough but relevant thread, but I’m not minded to move this day because of it. Just remember to go a little gentle on one another, in case someone’s already a little raw.

A note on anonymity: Not everyone is ready to talk about this stuff under their own name, for any number of reasons. Last year, we had a fair few regulars take on various anonymized identities, and I’m quite happy to have that happen again. Remember, if you do so, that our (view all by) function is keyed to email address. Change the email address as well as the username or your (view all by) will pick up your posts. (I’ll patrol the thread and make sure that any mistakes get cleaned up.) If you want to link this year’s identity to last year’s, I’d suggest posting a link to a comment from that thread in this one.

A note on advice: It’s tempting for people outside of the situation to give advice along the lines of, “you should reconcile with them; they’re the only family you’ve got.” To which, after the initial, “thank God,” most folks from dysfunctional families have very few civil answers. So let’s just skip that step, shall we, and presume that people who are estranged from their families have good reasons for so being?

September 19, 2009
More bikeblogging, and related subjects
Posted by Patrick at 06:29 PM * 180 comments

Since Abi photoblogged her daily bicycle commute, I’ve done the same for my own.

Not tangentially, I’ve recently been fascinated by the energetically polemical blog, which crackles with interesting and contentious assertions about the ways in which cycling has been gradually redefined, in most people’s minds, from a normal everyday activity to a dangerous “extreme sport.” Most recently they’ve been serializing a multi-part essay called “Fear of Cycling”—start here and follow the links to subsequent parts. If you aren’t shocked down to the soles of your feet by (for instance) the suggestion that there might be something to criticize about the movement to demand that cyclists always wear helmets, then you might find some of the other “articles of note” in the site’s sidebar interesting as well.

(What’s particularly interesting to me about the helmet argument is that it’s not another instantiation of the American nobody-tells-me-what-to-do personal rock opera. The argument is over what’s good social policy for everyone.)

I’m increasingly interested in examinations of the ways we’ve managed, in the last two or three decades, to convince ourselves that life is vastly more dangerous than it actually is. Of course, the trouble with discussions of this sort is that they tend to bring out people who want to abolish the Food and Drug Administration, or reinstitute public dueling. And yet it seems to me that one needn’t be the ranty libertarian in the con suite to suspect that, on some issues, a lot of people have completely lost perspective about what’s actually dangerous and what isn’t.

September 17, 2009
My very own Rota Fortunae
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 06:54 PM * 132 comments

Every working day, it’s the same thing. Get the kids to school, then off I go.

I mount the laptop pannier on the back rack and tie it down with a bungee for extra security. Left foot on the pedal, push, push, and bring the right leg over the bike seat in a long swing (or a more cautious forward move if I’m wearing a straight skirt). I ride off the curb with a bump-bump and make my way out of the throng of other parents leaving the school.

If the weather is good (and my definition of good weather is very loose), I take the southward path through Het Twiske, a local nature reserve. It’s a beautiful route. If the weather is really good and I have the time, I go north and take a longer route through ‘t Twiske. It’s a ride that pleases me in all seasons, with its bright waters and peaceful views.

If the weather is poor—rainy, snowing, or too bitterly windy—I take the narrow and bumpy cobbled road that runs straight from my village to Amsterdam Noord. But even this route, lacking bike lanes for a good half of its length, is attractive and safe.

The long route takes about half an hour. The medium one is a twenty minute ride. I can do the shortest in twelve minutes if I push.

I’ve been doing this for two and quarter years now. My daily commute averaged 15 km (9 miles) per day for the first year. Then we moved south within the village, and it’s now about 12 km (7 miles) daily. It isn’t a lot, but it does add up. Even with my insane socialist European vacation allowance, I’ve ridden about 5,300 km/3,300 miles since I started commuting by bike. That’s the distance between Augusta, Maine and Los Angeles, California.

I’ve ridden across the United States. Sheesh.

Biking to work has not turned me into a supermodel or superwoman. But I am in better cardiovascular shape than I have been in years, and the exercise and light have been useful in managing my SAD. And I arrive at work on an endorphin high; Monday mornings are really not what they were when I took the bus in Edinburgh.

But the best thing is what riding my bicycle does to my mental life. I used to read or study vocabulary on the bus. What I do when I bike is think. Sometimes I’ll tackle a complex work problem—the best object model for a set of testing plugins, for instance. Sometimes I’ll draft a blog post in my head. The spiral nature of Works and Days of Hands came to me on one such a ride. But more often, the realizations and ideas are subtler and less expressible, closer to wisdom than to knowledge.

When I was a teenager, I called my bike my seven-league boots. But now, I think, I’d consider it my jetpack: the transportation device of the future that’s changed the way I live my life.

September 15, 2009
Pierogi Pizza
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 11:39 PM *

Take pizza dough. Make it flat and circular in your favorite way.

Take a mess of sliced onion. Fry in a whole lot of butter. Place on the pizza.

Mix mashed potatoes with shredded white cheddar cheese. Cover the onion layer with a layer of mashed potato mixture.

Sprinkle the top with grated Parmesan cheese.

Bake at 500° F until browned.

Slice and serve it forth to great applause.

Cooking with Light (Recipe Index)

September 13, 2009
Rapture of the nerds
Posted by Avram Grumer at 01:04 AM *

Alex Lightman, writing for h+ Magazine, on “Sex and the Singularity”:

[W]e will be installing bioports into our body, a la The Matrix or Sleep Dealer, each of which can stimulate our nervous system. In heterosex, men penetrate women, but with this, men and women will interpenetrate each other, multiply, and, as with USB 2.0 daisy-chaining, so will men, women, and androids be able to multiply-interpenetrate, locally or remotely.

John Milton, on arguably the same topic:

Whatever pure thou in the body enjoyest,
(And pure thou wert created) we enjoy
In eminence; and obstacle find none
Of membrane, joint, or limb, exclusive bars;
Easier than air with air, if Spirits embrace,
Total they mix, union of pure with pure
Desiring, nor restrained conveyance need,
As flesh to mix with flesh, or soul with soul.

(Lightman link via Andrew Sullivan.)

September 12, 2009
The Bully Pulpit
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 10:25 AM *

We began a discussion last week on another thread. I called time on it with the promise that I’d pull it to the front page. So here we go.

The questions before the assembled multitudes: What, if any, is the distinction between a bully and a person who bullies? Can a [bully/person who uses bullying tactics] ever say anything of use to the conversation? Can such a person be redeemed, or should they be written off and excluded from further conversations?

This is the classic Heisenbergian tension between knowledge of the moment and knowledge of the trend. On the one hand, it is entirely possible, according Bruce Baugh’s theory of the phenomenological internet, to define one’s self as a troll within the space of a single blog comment. And all it takes is one really bad comment to sour the conversation and hurt one’s interlocutors. On the other hand, people are more complex than that. The same person can start a really good conversation and degenerate into spittle-flecked ranting later on. Even within the space of a comment thread, they may go back and forth several times. (Perhaps there’s some Schrödinger in my pseudo-scientific analogy. Can someone be both troll and not-troll until they hit the submit button?)

I’m playing about, but there are two serious matters here, one abstract and one practical.

In the abstract, I find myself growing increasingly allergic to the tendency to blur the lines between what people do and what they are. Because these labels don’t just sit there in the air. The next step after labeling is writing off. Fandom, like any group of people, is full of little lists of people whom all right-thinking people must disapprove of, exclude from con panels, and excoriate at every opportunity. And it can be like the TSA’s No-Fly List: no appeal, no removal. But that process ignores the complex reality that people learn and change; that people are misinterpreted and multifaceted, and that even generally bad people can do good things. I think this kind of labeling is damaging, and I will not participate.

But there’s no denying that there’s a serious practical matter here. How much can we tolerate people who use bullying tactics (or are bullies)? How much should we give them the space to come back and behave well, and promise ourselves that if they cross the line we’ll deal with them then? Every time we do that, we risk excluding the more fragile members of our community and our conversation. And that is expressly against the charism of this site.

I have my own opinions: I try to keep a wide door but good bouncers. The wide door is because I’ve been shunned in the past for excessive mouth-footery; thus will I not shun others. I’ve screwed up in my life and learned to do better; thus will I give others the chance to redeem themselves.

And the good bouncers are a fact of this community, to whom we owe the greater part of the pleasure of this site.

September 11, 2009
September 11
Posted by Patrick at 01:46 PM * 19 comments

Today marks a grim anniversary, a day when a few fanatics, equipped and secretly encouraged by foreign ideologues, struck a violent blow against normal, civil, democratic society. In the years that followed, the events of that day led to further tragedy, as a once-civilized country turned to the widespread practice of torture. Perhaps now at last we can gain some perspective on this history, and better understand what the defense of a democratic society demands of us.

Today is also the anniversary of an attack on New York City and Washington, DC.

September 10, 2009
A different kind of Turing test
Posted by Patrick at 08:22 PM * 75 comments

There’s plenty to criticize about UK prime minister Gordon Brown, and if we start listing the sins of “New Labour” we’ll be here all day.

For a moment, never mind that and read this: an official statement from Brown, on behalf of the United Kingdom, straightforwardly and without euphemism acknowledging that the British mathematician Alan Turing, a hero of World War II, was subjected after the war to grotesque injustice, leading to his death; and that, moreover, this was part of a pattern in which uncounted numbers of gay Britons lived in constant fear of prosecution and ruin.

Turing was a quite brilliant mathematician, most famous for his work on breaking the German Enigma codes. It is no exaggeration to say that, without his outstanding contribution, the history of World War Two could well have been very different. He truly was one of those individuals we can point to whose unique contribution helped to turn the tide of war. The debt of gratitude he is owed makes it all the more horrifying, therefore, that he was treated so inhumanely. In 1952, he was convicted of ‘gross indecency’—in effect, tried for being gay. His sentence—and he was faced with the miserable choice of this or prison—was chemical castration by a series of injections of female hormones. He took his own life just two years later.

Thousands of people have come together to demand justice for Alan Turing and recognition of the appalling way he was treated. While Turing was dealt with under the law of the time and we can’t put the clock back, his treatment was of course utterly unfair and I am pleased to have the chance to say how deeply sorry I and we all are for what happened to him. Alan and the many thousands of other gay men who were convicted as he was convicted under homophobic laws were treated terribly. Over the years millions more lived in fear of conviction.

[…] It is difficult to believe that in living memory, people could become so consumed by hate—by anti-Semitism, by homophobia, by xenophobia and other murderous prejudices—that the gas chambers and crematoria became a piece of the European landscape as surely as the galleries and universities and concert halls which had marked out the European civilisation for hundreds of years. It is thanks to men and women who were totally committed to fighting fascism, people like Alan Turing, that the horrors of the Holocaust and of total war are part of Europe’s history and not Europe’s present.

So on behalf of the British government, and all those who live freely thanks to Alan’s work I am very proud to say: we’re sorry, you deserved so much better.

I reproduce this, not because I think it shows Brown to be a politician of unique courage and vision (he’s not), but because it’s interesting that in at least some parts of the First World, it’s now possible for even national leaders to speak sensibly and straightforwardly about homosexuality and homophobia without the sky falling in on them. I look forward to this spreading to the more backward parts of the globe, such as the United States.

Moral progress can be spurred by heroes doing heroic things, but we know it’s actually happened when everyday people, including everyday politicians, do the right thing because doing the right thing is simply normal.

September 09, 2009
A handful of dust
Posted by Patrick at 12:28 PM *

Teresa is re-reading Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and blogging about it on Here’s her introductory post, and here’s her just-posted look at issue #1.

Comments closed here—go comment over there!

September 08, 2009
Year’s Best Fantasy 9
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 12:30 PM * 25 comments

Just out today from Year’s Best Fantasy 9, edited by David Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer. Thirty stories, including one (“Philologos; or, A Murder in Bistritia”) by Dr. Doyle and me. Other stories include “Shoggoths in Bloom” by our good friend and fellow Viable Paradise instructor, Elizabeth Bear.

The book is being presented in a wide variety of electronic formats; a POD version is also available

Get it direct from Tor.

Get it from Barnes & Noble

MobiPocket E-book version

[Update 06DEC09]
Selected stories from this anthology are available at the site for registered users. Registration is free.

September 06, 2009
Works and Days of Hands
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 10:57 AM * 127 comments

Progress has not followed a straight ascending line, but a spiral with rhythms of progress and retrogression, of evolution and dissolution.

You know, it’s been a while since we’ve had a thread about making stuff. And, coincidentally, I’ve just finished my first serious quilt.

Fibonacci Quilt: front Fibonacci quilt: back

That’s a Fibonacci spiral there, but you knew that. The quilt is cotton, made for putting on laps and around shoulders in my living room, but it’s big enough for a single bed (146cm x 236 cm, or 4’9” x 7’9”).

The experience of creating a thing is always complex, if the work is undertaken attentively. My perception of the journey through making this quilt mirrors its design: it’s a pattern of steps of increasing scale, made up of memories and associations of varied tone and intricacy. And yet, somehow, it has transcended those elements and become a coherent whole.

September 05, 2009
Heigh Ho and Away We Go
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 11:37 PM * 22 comments

To see the agricultural show.

They’ve got things there to make you laugh
A three-legged sheep and a two headed calf….

Right around six p.m. today, we (Doyle, my elder son Brendan, and I) headed down to Lancaster to see the 139th annual Lancaster Fair. This is the Coos County fair, five solid days of fun, featuring local products and crafts, and such non-local things as deep-fried Oreos.

I didn’t ride any of the rides this year. Tonight wasn’t one of the All You Can Ride for Twenty Bucks nights. Tonight was full-fare.

What kind of local crafts, you’re asking? How about an entire New England Village in needlepoint? (Another view.) Local products included these blue-ribbon-winning Christmas trees. (Lots of tree farms in these parts.) Here you see some goats (separated from the sheep). Maple on ice cream and maple cotton candy.

A sleigh suitable for freezing Charlotte.

So, we wandered around, saying “Hi!” to people we know, munching Blooming Onions and deep-fried dough, and looking at stuff.

Then we went home.

“By gum!” we can hear you saying, “Too bad we missed it!”

No, you didn’t, there are still two more days, and it’s less than three hours north of Boston. Just get on Rt 3 through Lancaster—it’s a bit north of town.

What can you see tomorrow (Sunday)? Start at 8:30 am with the Class A Horse Show. The judging of the 4-H Beef Cattle. The Oxen Log Obstacle Course. At 11:00 the Midway opens (Funnel cake! Deep fried-Twinkies! The Ferris Wheel! Games of skill and chance!) At 1:00 pm the Big Rig Truck Pull! At the same time, the Draft Horse Show. Lots more stuff. The Guitar Hero Competition. The Horse Pull.

And on Monday, kids 12 and under are free with a non-perishable food item and accompanied by a paying adult. Monday we have the Farm Tractor Pull, the Sheep Block and Trim Contest, and even more fun things to see and do, ending up with a Demolition Derby. You don’t want to miss that!

This is the North Country. We make our own fun.

September 03, 2009
Robert M. Fletcher, Part V: The Hammer Comes Down
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 05:03 PM *

Attorney General Files Lawsuit Against “Literary Company”

TALLAHASSEE, FL - Attorney General Bill McCollum today announced that his office filed a lawsuit against a Boca Raton company that allegedly preyed on aspiring authors. According to the Attorney General’s lawsuit, Writer’s Literary Agency and owner Robert Fletcher used more than 20 websites and related companies to collect funds from potential authors, but misled victims about fees, costs, and promised results.

The Attorney General’s Economic Crimes Division received more than 175 complaints from around the world claiming Fletcher and his associates, who claimed to act as literary agents and publishers, allegedly collected money from victims anxious to see their work published. Potential writers paid anywhere from $89 for an initial critique to over $600 for various services including editing and marketing of a manuscript to publishers. Allegedly, Fletcher also told potential writers that fees were paid from book sales when in fact all costs of publishing were paid by the authors. According to the lawsuit, few books were ever sold as a result of the efforts of Fletcher’s companies.

Investigators determined Fletcher expanded into the field of publishing within the past year. Fletcher admitted to having no background as a literary agent and to using at least 10 aliases in his businesses.

The lawsuit seeks injunctive relief against Robert Fletcher and his associates, as well as his many businesses, prohibiting further business activities in the field of literary agencies or publishers. The Attorney General is also seeking full restitution on behalf of all victimized consumers, civil penalties of $10,000 for each violation of the Florida Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act, and reimbursement for fees and costs related to the investigation.

A copy of the lawsuit is available online at:$file/WritersLiteraryGuildComplaint.pdf

Bobby has renamed his scam (again) to Strategic Book Publishing & Rights Agency (SBPRA), Publish On Demand Global, Best Quality Editing Services, and Best Selling Book Rights Agency, plus a dozen other names.

Four hundred years ago today
Posted by Patrick at 06:23 AM *

From Russell Shorto’s The Island at the Center of the World:

And so they continued north: misty mornings, bloody sunsets, a stretch of coast like a long smooth cut; surf eternally pounding the belt of sand; wild silence beyond. They were aware that they were shouldering a new world, impossibly dark, utterly unknown, of imponderable dimension, and with no clear means of access.

And then they felt something happening. Rounding a hooked point, they were startled at what they perceived to be three rivers; cliffs rose up—the land “very pleasant and high, and bold to fall withal.” They were in the outer reaches of New York Harbor, riding along the coast of Staten Island. Fish streamed thickly around them: salmon, mullet, wraith-like rays. They anchored and went ashore, marveling at primordial oaks and “an abundance of blue plums.”

Then, just like that, people appeared. They came at them frankly, dressed in skins, peaceable, and with an air of dignity, offering corn bread and green tobacco. In 1801 the Moravian missionary John Heckewelder interviewed a Long Island Indian and published an account of Hudson’s arrival from the Indian perspective. The story, supposedly handed down through generations of Delaware Indians, gibes with the account by Hudson’s mate Robert Juet of the first encounter: peaceable, wary, curious. The Indian told of sighting “a large house of various colors” floating on the water (Dutch ships were indeed vividly painted with geometric motifs). As in Juet’s version, the Indian story has the first meeting taking place on land, with several of the visitors, including their leader, rowing ashore. The Indian story adds that the leader of all the newcomers is dressed in “a red coat all glittering with gold lace”—a nice and by no means incongruous addition to the portrait of Hudson.

Out came the products. Hemp, dried currants, oysters, beans. Knives, hatchets, and beads. Over the next three days, as the ship explored an intricate mesh of islands, bays, and rivers, making the rounds of Brooklyn, Staten Island, and coastal New Jersey, there would be two violent encounters with Indians, which Juet claims were iniated by the Indians. People died. It’s ironic that immediately upon entering the watery perimeter of what would become New York City, these two things would take place: trade and violence.

Hudson then sailed his small, three-masted wooden vessel ito the coliseum-like interior of the harbor—“a very good harbor for all windes.” From his perch on the high poop-deck, looking down on his crew, he gave the order to proceed upriver. His heart must have quickened as the vista unfolded before him. “The River is a mile broad; there is very high Land on both sides,” wrote Juet—as likely a channel into the other side of the world as one could hope for. Upriver, they encountered more natives: “a very loving people…and we were well taken care of.” Hudson went ashore with them, visiting their circular house made of bark. “The land is the finest for cultivation that I ever in my life set foot upon,” he wrote. He and his men noted more offerings from the locals: furs.

Then it ended. The river grew narrow and shallow: no ship could pass through; Asia did not lie over there. They turned south again: more skirmishes with the Indians of the southern reaches of the river. It’s not certain that Hudson was aware that the land they “rode quietly” past one rainy night was an island—in the first written record of the name, Juet refers to “the side of the river called Manna-hatta.” In any case, while Hudson dutifully noted the possibilities for trade—the grandness of the harbor and the river, the toehold they would provide onto the continent—his own gaze never left the horizon of his obsession. He headed for home, empty-handed.

Hudson entered New York Harbor on September 3, 1609. He sailed past Manhattan for the second and final time, on his way back to the open sea, on September 11.

Recommended to me by Jon Sobel, The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America is one of the most interesting works of popular history I’ve read in some time. Shorto draws heavily on a trove of hitherto-obscure primary sources to elevate the story of New Amsterdam from half-remembered folktale to real history. While the English settlers in North America were still thundering at one another over finer and finer degrees of religious purity, the Dutch were planting the seeds of a city based on an unsentimental tolerance of difference and a single-minded devotion to trade. We live in that city today.

September 02, 2009
Book Wanted
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 11:14 AM *

Conexiones by Zayas-Bazan, Student Activites Manual, fourth edition. Don’t want the textbook, just the workbook.

Anyone have one?

Giving Christianity a Bad Name
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 09:23 AM * 113 comments

School wants student passwords (CNN)

One Georgia school says it has the right to demand access to any student’s Facebook or MySpace account. WJBF reports.

Among other problems with the policy is that it allows some deviant on the school staff to create an undetectable forgery, carry out identity theft, or go fishing for underage sex (and don’t tell me that no teacher or school administrator has ever done that). Could someone sell lists of teen girls’ passwords to perverts world-wide? Sure they could. Another MySpace Suicide hoaxer could use a real teen boy’s account.

The proper answer to this is either “Not only no, but hell no,” or, “Sorry, I don’t have a MySpace account,” or “Sure, here it is,” but hand over a false account created for the purpose of giving them account information.

The practical outcome of this will be to cripple the students as they attempt to enter the modern world after graduation.

The school that’s doing this calls itself “Christian,” though I don’t recall “Blessed are the jailers” in the Beatitudes, or anything in the Bible about the virtues of snooping. This policy seems to violate the tenth commandment, though it would facilitate the violation of the eighth as well.

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