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May 27, 2010
Open thread 141
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 06:44 PM *

On August 12, 2000, the Russian submarine K-141 Kursk sank in the Barents Sea. Investigators later concluded that a quantity of hydrogen peroxide propellant leaked and caught fire in the torpedo room. The fire then detonated all of the ammunition on board. Although 23 of the 118 men on the sub survived both blasts, none lived to be rescued.

It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly ten years. I remember those tense days, dancing with frustration that the Russian government didn’t ask for help with the rescue sooner, hoping that the rumors of tapping sounds from inside the sub were true, feeling crushed when that hope proved false.

We focus so much on these disasters and the people caught up in them: the woman who ran back toward a tsunami to reach her children, the last survivors pulled from the rubble after earthquakes, missing miners and office workers. Safety experts call it rubbernecking and tell us not to do it where we might become casualties ourselves (and they’re right). But there’s more to this pull than just the hunger for the dramatic.

Our capacity to care about these stories, these people, is part of what it is to be human. It’s what makes us love and makes us lovable. And though of course I would rather that the Kursk had not sunk or its crew died, I would not trade my ability to grieve for them for any treasure you could name.

May 26, 2010
Samen leven
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 05:14 PM * 293 comments

It occurs to me that, while we have this quiet time on Making Light, I could do a few background posts on life in the Netherlands. And one of the most important concepts of the culture here, one that keeps surprising and educating me, is samen leven.

The term literally means “to live together”. It’s one of the core values of Dutch culture: the concept that no matter how much we differ, we all have to find a way to not just coexist but actively cooperate. The simplistic folk-sociological explanation of this is that it’s a crowded country with a shared objective: keep our feet dry, keep the sea back. And I suspect there’s more than a grain of truth in that, though there are similarly crowded cultures that have used other strategies, such as reticence, to the same effect.

But the Dutch are famous for their bluntness; I think they could give up cheese more easily than they could speaking their minds. So the samenleving is a safety net, a guarantee that even the most extreme views* will be tolerated†.

Samen leven, like all forms of tolerance, is challenged by the existence of intolerance. In the Netherlands these days, that clash is usually between conservative immigrant groups, particularly some (but not all) communities who trace their roots to Muslim countries‡ and right-wing politicians such as Pim Fortuyn and Geert Wilders. Whether the Muslims are being intolerant or their opponents are is hotly debated on all sides of society (with, of course, due attention to and consideration of all views).

In any case, Rush Limbaugh would not get much of an audience here.

But the Dutch are good-humored about their passion for tolerance. My bike is not the standard Dutch bike; it’s a rams-horn touring bike. A colleague said that I wasn’t really living the Dutch lifestyle with a bike like that. My only reply was, “Samen leven.” And he laughed, and withdrew the allegation.

More seriously, samen leven is as deeply rooted in Dutch culture as an explicit love of liberty is in America. Like liberty, like any cardinal value, the single-minded pursuit of that kind of tolerance is probably more of a weakness than a strength, but it’s an interesting and challenging mindset for an American to encounter and live together with.

* There are exceptions. The culture is also passionately committed to both caring for its children and granting them freedom from an early age. Harming children is not tolerated.
† The word usually translated as “tolerance”, gedoogbeleid, is used in the context of Dutch drug law rather than the exchange of views. But it’s all part of the same picture.
‡ The native conservative Christian community is as committed to live together with people it disagrees with as the rest of the country. Pretty much, anyway.

May 18, 2010
Today’s literary pop quiz
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 05:05 PM * 153 comments

The New Testament is to the Old Testament as the Aeneid is to the Iliad and the Odyssey: discuss.

May 14, 2010
Explosion in a gunpowder factory
Posted by Teresa at 03:47 PM *

Jim Macdonald called to say he’s okay, he was first on the scene but he’s not injured; so if any of you catch a news story about the MDM Muzzleloader gunpowder factory exploding in tiny Colebrook, New Hampshire, word is that there are two dead so far, but neither one is Jim.

WMUR says about a thousand pounds of black powder exploded, the factory is on fire, and somewhere in there is another room full of black powder. Jim says that he’s standing well back from the site.

What the news reports are saying: The initial explosion happened a bit after 1:00 this afternoon, seriously damaging nearby buildings, shaking other buildings blocks away, and filling the air with heavy black smoke. A town spokeswoman, Mia West, said “exploding ammunition” made it impossible for the firemen to get in and fight the fire until around 3:00. Bridge and Gould streets have been closed, 40 homes have been evacuated, and a shelter is being set up at the town office.

The New Hampshire State Emergency Operations Center was activated just before 3 p.m. They’ve pegged the incident at Level 2 on their scale of one to four, which ranges from “normal business” to “major disaster.” New Hampshire Fire Marshal Bill Degnan has confirmed the two fatalities, but says he didn’t know how many other people were injured, or how many people were in the facility at the time.

Reported as being on scene: fire crews from Colebrook and from Beecher Falls, Vermont; state and local police; the Fish and Game Department (a big deal in those parts); the Border Patrol; and the 45th Parallel EMS.

An update from, timestamped 4:38 p.m. EDT:

Rescuers Seek 3 After Explosions Rock Colebrook
Explosions Reported At Muzzleloader Plant

Emergency officials said they are looking for three people who were in a building that exploded in Colebrook on Friday.

Officials said the three were at the MDM Muzzleloader plant when three explosions shook the town just after 1 p.m. Friday.

Officials said the explosion occurred at Black Mag Industries, a subsidiary of MDM Muzzleloaders. The facility makes synthetic gunpowder for certain types of firearms. The material is less explosive than regular gunpowder.

People said they heard the explosions from miles away and saw heavy black smoke coming from the area.

Fewer than 20 people work in the office, according to the fire marshal’s office.

WMUR has a slideshow of the smoke plume. They’re not the best photos of the event. However, if I’m not mistaken, the building in the foreground is Jim and Debra’s local grocery, which is within walking distance of their house.

Update, 5:20 p.m.: a report from inside the debris field

Jim just called. He said the explosions happened around 1315 (1:15 p.m.), when he and Debra were driving downhill — that’s in the direction of the explosion — to go to the hardware store. There were three initial explosions: a big one, a much softer one, and then one so big that it literally moved his car. Jim said the explosions sounded like shellfire.

Apparently today was the day that Black Mag Industries was packing black powder into pellets. The explosions blew the entire back wall off the building, and threw major pieces of equipment into the air. There’s shrapnel lodged forty feet off the ground in trees. The building is still on fire. There were explosives inside the building that have not yet been accounted for. The accident scene’s perimeter is a half a mile across.

The building also held a warehouse and the River of Life Worship Center.

The emergency services there are rigging lights and bringing in cots for emergency personnel, so they expect to be there for a while. Jim says he’s tired and will be a lot tireder before it’s over.

To the list of organizations on scene, add: Pittsburg Fire & Rescue, Grafton County Sheriff, OSHA, the BATF, the Department of Homeland Security, PSNH, Fairpoint Communications, the state police with their helicopter, and representatives from the governor’s office.

Update, 6:30:

Jim called again. The fire is out, the explosives are accounted for, and the firemen are rolling up their hoses, though they’ll be keeping an eye on the building for a while to make sure the fire doesn’t start up again.

The two additional missing persons didn’t exist. They were accidentally generated by earlier reports persisting into later news stories. Two people got out of the building, two didn’t.


Other local reports: Charlie Jordan, editor of the Colebrook Chronicle, reports the story on YouTube.

Vermont’s interviews Charlie Jordan at greater length. Lots of interesting details, including part of the plant “going airborne.”

WMUR has continued to collect photos for their slide show. Last I looked they had twenty-eight of them.

Finally, an anonymous comment posted to the story at

i was on my computer when i thought my apt building was going to fall down from the shakes and blasts i was terrified saw the smoke black filling the sky i am not even a mile away the people in the rite aid came running out one lady almost balling this has been a very frightening day for me as i did not know what to do
Other coverage:

Manchester, NH Union-Leader: Explosion rocks downtown Colebrook. Photos and local detail.
NECN Network: Explosion at manufacturing plant in Colebrook, New Hampshire. More photos; rudimentary story.
Associated Press: Explosion, fire at northern NH gun factory. Standard dehydrated compressed AP version.
Fox News: Emergency Crews Rush to Scene of Three New Hampshire Explosions. Scanty story, but at least it isn’t copied from AP.

[UPDATE—JDM] A second report from Charlie Jordan.

Video … and moreand more from WCAX

Video from WMUR

Video from my front yard by my elder son. The two vehicles which pass by at the very bottom of the screen are two of the three ambulances that responded.

The Colebrook News and Sentinel (the other weekly paper) with some more photos. Some we’ve seen before (the initial explosion, shot from about three miles away), but some we haven’t, including the back of the building while the Beecher Falls VFD personnel are setting up their hoses.

Posted by Patrick at 02:52 PM * 51 comments

STS-132, originally uploaded by pnh.


May 11, 2010
Open thread 140
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 11:18 AM *

RT @Shakspere RT @Polonius since brevity is the soul of wit & tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes, I will be brief #selfcontraction

May 09, 2010
Shadow Boxing
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 01:31 PM *

Via Fandom Wank (whose content and link density I won’t even attempt to match), I hear that Wikimedia Commons is having a bit of a controversy over porn and things that look like porn.

The brief timeline is something like this:

  • April 7: Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger sends the FBI an email stating that he believed that Wikimedia Commons “may be knowingly distributing child pornography.” In the email, he states that his reasons for reporting it are (a) that he has a moral and legal obligation to do so, and (b) “they [Wikimedia Foundation] purport to be a reliable source of information. Moreover … some school district filter managers are not filtering such smut from the view of teachers and students.”
  • April 27: Fox Advocacy News picks up and elaborates on the story.†
  • May 7: Fox follows up with a report that Wikimedia Commons is “rapidly purging thousands of explicit pornographic images from its websites.” This appears to be because it (FoxNews) is “in the process of asking dozens of companies that have donated to Wikimedia Foundation…if they were aware of the extent of graphic and sexually explicit content on the sites.” It then helpfully enumerates some of the larger donors for the benefit of its readers.

Now, Wikimedia Commons holds images for Wikipediae in languages spoken all over the world, including in places with substantially different standards of decency than the US. And suddenly their articles (NSFW‡) found themselves missing illustrations (the last one in that link was removed but has been restored.)

It being Wiki, discussions ensued, on Wikipedia and on Wikimedia Commons. There’s much to discuss in terms of process (were images deleted in a way that is difficult to review and restore?), wider implications (why delete porn-by-American-standards but not images of Mohammed?) and still more process (Jimmy Wales deleting things in advance of an agreed standard, using his own judgement; should he lose his privileges?).

The matter’s winding down now. The Wikimedia Foundation has issued a statement reaffirming its existing policies (“We encourage Wikimedia editors to scrutinize potentially offensive materials with the goal of assessing their educational or informational value, and to remove them from the projects if there is no such value.”). Jimmy Wales announced that he has surrendered most of his powers to defuse the controversy about his own actions.

The porn aspect of this matter doesn’t really interest me; there’s much more interesting pornography available elsewhere on the internet, if that’s your thing. What’s really interesting is how the practical implications of the matter—images missing from articles, long discussions both on Wiki sites and Wiki-criticism sites, Fox stirring trouble and competitors waiting in the wings—are merely shadows on the cave wall, cast by interpersonal conflicts dating back years or decades.

It makes me look again at the other conflicts of the moment: the scandal in the Catholic Church, the Greek crisis, the British coalition negotiations. How many of them are just the external projection of old enmities? What historical events boil down to that (World War I, for instance, which could be considered a squabble among royal cousins)? And what quarrels among currently unimportant people will blow up in unexpected and interesting ways in the future?

(Also, peripherally, I love the description of this picture as “young woman after sex with bird, in front of naked kiddies”.)

† There is also a subthread here about Erik Moeller, a member of the Wikimedia Foundation’s staff, and things he has said about children and sexuality. Not touching that matter with a bargepole going into that here, but Russell Coker has a place to start if you’re curious.

‡ ITUS and other countries with similar attitudes toward nudity

May 04, 2010 A rare, hard-to-find actual “market report.” No, really.
Posted by Patrick at 02:58 PM * 51 comments

[Cross-posted from] has been a venue for original SF and fantasy since 2008, but we’ve never formalized our process for submissions. Indeed, for a long time, we were totally winging it. I was buying and editing almost all of our original prose fiction, but I resisted giving excessively specific information to various “market report” organs, because I was reluctant to deal with the explosion of submissions that would be generated thereby.

But that barn door has sailed. (As we professional “wordsmiths” say. Don’t try this at home.) gets more submissions all the time, and I’ve gotten farther and farther behind at dealing with them. Some people have been awaiting responses for over six months—a few, for embarrassingly more than six months. Clearly something must be done. If only…if only I had an editorial colleague at so smart, energetic, and discerning that just this year she’s become the youngest editor ever honored with a Hugo nomination. Oh, wait.

Going forward, then,’s original fiction will henceforth be co-edited by me and Liz Gorinsky. Submissions should henceforth be sent via email, not to my personal or work email addresses, but to the newly-created (If you already sent a submission to one of my addresses, please don’t resubmit. We can cope.) welcomes original short SF and fantasy, broadly defined. We’re particularly interested in stories under 12,000 words, although we’ve made exceptions in the past and will do so again. We pay 25 cents a word for the first 5,000 words, 15 cents a word for the next 5,000, and 10 cents a word after that. Although we try to employ common sense in dealing with edge cases, “original” means original—not previously published. Contrary to some previous reports, we do not want you to query first; to submit to, just send us your story. Stories should use standard manuscript format and be emailed as Word, RTF, or plain-text attachments. Stories sent inline in the body of an email will be ignored. Questions? Send them to

Your Government Will Kill You
Posted by Patrick at 03:00 AM * 139 comments

RIP Allison Krause, Jeffrey Glen Miller, Sandra Lee Scheuer, and William Knox Schroeder. Killed by the Ohio National Guard forty years ago today.

Krause and Miller had participated in antiwar protests. Scheuer and Schroeder were merely walking from one class to another. Nine other students were wounded; one was permanently paralyzed. The volley that struck them all consisted of 67 bullets fired by 29 Guardsmen over a period of 13 seconds.

The previous day, Ohio Governor James Rhodes, responding to riots in downtown Kent, had described Kent State antiwar protesters as “the worst type of people we harbor in America, worse than the brownshirts and the Communist element” and promised that “we will use whatever force necessary to drive them out of Kent.”

Minutes before the shooting, a number of the Guardsmen were seen conferring in what was described by onlookers as a “loose huddle.”

None of the people hit by bullets were closer than 71 feet to the Guard unit. Of the people killed, the closest, Miller, was 265 feet away. Later, several of the Guardsmen who fired their weapons claimed to have been in fear for their lives.

May 03, 2010
Chicken with brown things
Posted by Teresa at 11:00 AM * 63 comments

2 - 3 chicken breasts
3/4 - 1.0 lb. Israeli couscous (the big kind)
2-3 onions
1/2 C. chopped blanched hazelnuts
1 small handful (1/3 C. if chopped dry?) mixed dried mushrooms
sage, oregano, basil, salt, pepper, other spices to taste
a pinch of smoked sweet paprika (optional)
butter or olive oil or both
1/2 C. dry sherry

Put the mushrooms in a bowl and pour a couple of cups of boiling water on them. Let them soak. Later, when they’ve softened and cooled, chop them up. Don’t throw out the water they’ve soaked in.

Put a little oil in a reliable frying pan and toast the dry couscous until it’s lightly browned. Turn it out and do the same to the hazelnuts. If you have two burners and two frying pans, cut up the chicken and start browning it. Meanwhile, chop up the onions and fry in a little butter until they start browning.

When the chicken has been browned, deglaze the frying pan(s). Throw the chicken, mushrooms, mushroom broth, and hazelnuts in together. If the onions are done yet, add them too. Add some water, or some chicken or vegetable stock if you have it. Simmer 30 - 60 minutes, depending on your chicken. Season to taste while it’s simmering. When it starts looking and tasting like it’s close to done, add the dry sherry.

Adjust the amount of liquid in the pan. There needs to be some. Israeli couscous takes a while to cook, and it soaks up stock while it does it. Don’t be surprised if you find you have to add more water before it’s done. When the couscous is reasonably tender all the way through, it’s ready to eat.

Two notes. First, this goes well with preserved lemons, sharp olives, tapenades and their relatives, or jalapeƱo harissa. Second, it’s a surprisingly filling dish. We got three meals out of it.

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