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February 27, 2011
Open thread 154
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 05:06 PM *

The last of them, but not the least of them:

The little Love-god lying once asleep
Laid by his side his heart-inflaming brand,
Whilst many nymphs that vow’d chaste life to keep
Came tripping by; but in her maiden hand
The fairest votary took up that fire
Which many legions of true hearts had warm’d;
And so the general of hot desire
Was sleeping by a virgin hand disarm’d.
This brand she quenched in a cool well by,
Which from Love’s fire took heat perpetual,
Growing a bath and healthful remedy
For men diseased; but I, my mistress’ thrall,
Came there for cure, and this by that I prove,
Love’s fire heats water, water cools not love.

Link back to Open thread 153

February 26, 2011
What changed
Posted by Patrick at 10:43 PM * 81 comments

Mark Bernstein guestblogs for the very distinguished James Fallows:

Lamentations for the bookstore are the background music of our time, but the picture is far more complex.

Bookstores and their discontents are at the center of Jo Walton’s stunning new novel, Among Others. It is the story of Morwenna Phelps, a Welsh girl who, having been crippled in a domestic accident in which her twin sister was killed and for which her mother may have been at fault, is sent to boarding school. She is very lonely, and finds refuge in reading. We hear about each book she reads and what she thinks of it. If you have read a lot of fantasy and science fiction, you’ll have read these books too. You and Morwenna can compare notes.

Morwenna has a terrible time getting books. She reads everything in the school library, she reads everything in her uncle’s study. On Saturdays, she’s allowed to walk into the village where she haunts the small library and the indifferent bookstore. Finding a new book by a favorite writer takes enormous time and effort.

That used to be the way books worked. If you lived in a great city, you might have a great bookseller and that was a fine thing indeed. In Fargo or Abercwmboi, where Morwenna grew up, things might be dicier. Even great booksellers have real limits: Stuart Brent built a fabled Chicago store around literary fiction, art books, and psychoanalytic texts, but if you were looking for differential geometry or electronic design, that wasn’t going to be much help.

Dan Chiasson reviews Keith Richards’ Life for the New York Review of Books:
Anyone reading this review can go to YouTube now and experience Muddy Waters, or Chuck Berry, or Buddy Holly, or the first Stones recordings, or anything else they want to see, instantly: ads for Freshen-up gum from the Eighties; a spot George Plimpton did for Intellivision, an early video game. Anything. I am not making an original point, but it cannot be reiterated enough: the experience of making and taking in culture is now, for the first time in human history, a condition of almost paralyzing overabundance. For millennia it was a condition of scarcity; and all the ways we regard things we want but cannot have, in those faraway days, stood between people and the art or music they needed to have: yearning, craving, imagining the absent object so fully that when the real thing appears in your hands, it almost doesn’t match up. Nobody will ever again experience what Keith Richards and Mick Jagger experienced in Dartford, scrounging for blues records. The Rolling Stones do not happen in any other context: they were a band based on craving, impersonation, tribute: white guys from England who worshiped black blues and later, to a lesser extent, country, reggae, disco, and rap.

When the situation changed in part because the Stones changed it, and suddenly you could hear (and even meet and play with) Chuck Berry or Bo Diddley, the band lost its way. They depended, for their force, on a body-memory of those early cravings for music they knew only by rumor and innuendo. Other cravings, for drugs and fame, were not sufficient, and had much more dire downsides. The early Stones were in a constant huddle, dissecting blues songs in front of the speakers and playing them back for each other and then for their few fans. They thought of themselves, not even as a band, really, but as a way of distributing music the radio never played.

February 23, 2011
US to stop defending DOMA
Posted by Avram Grumer at 05:46 PM *

Statement of the Attorney General on Litigation Involving the Defense of Marriage Act:

After careful consideration, including a review of my recommendation, the President has concluded that given a number of factors, including a documented history of discrimination, classifications based on sexual orientation should be subject to a more heightened standard of scrutiny. The President has also concluded that Section 3 of DOMA, as applied to legally married same-sex couples, fails to meet that standard and is therefore unconstitutional. Given that conclusion, the President has instructed the Department not to defend the statute in such cases. I fully concur with the President’s determination.


Update: Also, Maryland may be getting marriage equality, and Rhode Island has been thinking about it.

February 21, 2011
Babylon 5: Grail
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 02:33 AM * 58 comments

When he tugged off his belt, made a loop in it, and moved clumsily toward her, the unicorn was more pleased than frightened. The man knew what she was, and what he himself was for: to hoe turnips and pursue something that shone and could run faster than he could. She sidestepped his first lunge as lightly as though the wind of it had blown her out of his reach. “I have been hunted with bells and banners in my time,” she told him. “Men knew that the only way to hunt me was to make the chase so wondrous that I would come near to see it. And even so I was never once captured.”
The Last Unicorn

There’s a lot to dislike about this episode. It’s another Freak of the Week story, and its mix of bad acting and woo makes it hard to take at all seriously. It’s not the worst of Season 1, but coming so shortly after the series looked to be taking fire, its disappointments are magnified. Sometimes the doldrums are worse than disaster.

But the biggest problem with it is that it’s trying to tell two stories from two different genres, one of which is not native to the show. The subplot about discovering what is blanking people’s mind and applying pressure to the Centauri to get the information they need is standard B5: light science fiction plus diplomacy. But the quest of Aldus and the redemption of Jinxo is basic genre fantasy† transplanted out of its habitat. And genres are like typecast actors: they make awkward guest stars.

I’m not just saying this because it’s a quest story. Indeed, it’s the setting that really pushes the story over the genre lines. The Babylon 5 that Aldus and Jinxo travel through is less a diplomatic meeting-ground and military base and more a space-faring version of one of the intricate and crime-ridden cities I’ve been reading about since I was a teen. This is a story that could be set in Sanctuary or Lankhmar, Riverside or Adrilankha, or even later Ankh-Morpork.

Something like this:

Into the twisting corridors and darkened spaces of Babhylon, Fifth of the Name, where the law’s reach is tenuous and all who survive do so by their wits, comes a searcher. Although he does not find what he seeks, the power of his quest affects and transforms those he encounters: the overworked judge, the petty thief with a fearsome curse, the criminal leader using a terrifying and exotic beast to tighten his hold on the underworld, and even the police and ambassadors of the upper levels…

February 20, 2011
Legal Filings
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 12:05 AM * 117 comments

Last December, Rod Marquardt (Keller’s Den, PublishAmerica, 2002), sued Stephen King (Duma Key, Scribner, 2008) and Simon & Schuster for plagiarism. King and S&S replied this past week:

Thanks to Victoria Strauss and circlexranch in this thread.

February 18, 2011
Babylon 5: TKO
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 08:22 PM * 55 comments

I think this is the first episode of Babylon 5 that’s not lived up to my memories of it. I wouldn’t say the Suck Fairy’s done more than pop by it for a cup of tea, but the Meh Fairy seems to have settled in and put her feet up on the coffee table.

I’d remembered it as being an emotionally powerful journey, as Ivanova gradually came to terms with her father’s death and, to a certain extent, her own relationship with the religion of her childhood. It was interspersed with some pointless boxing subplot, but it was the sort of intense episode I wanted to deal with on its own, and maybe even hang some of my coalescing thoughts about religion and faith in the show off of.

But looking at it now, the Ivanova plot seems mechanical, while the fighting plot, for all of its own weaknesses, is a useful counterpoint to it. On the surface, the two of them are a meditation on the value of ritual; on a deeper level, they’re a compare-and-contrast study on friendship and influence.

It’s still not the intense story I remember from before, but there’s some food for thought here.

February 17, 2011
Keep Watching the Skies
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 07:03 PM * 13 comments

According to the Union Leader, tonight will be a grand night for seeing the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) here in New Hampshire.

Alas, tonight I’ve got rain and freezing rain forecast, so I’m not going to see much of anything. But those of you who live in places with a clear view of the northern horizon might get a show. These will supposedly be visible in much of North America, including the northern United States, following some goodly solar flares Monday and Tuesday.

February 16, 2011
Sorry, I don’t speak that language
Posted by Teresa at 07:28 PM * 70 comments

A business offer that came in today’s mail:

[Name of Company] Connects Communicators with Data to Demonstrate Value & Impact

Analysing traditional and social media with a flexible blend of human-based methods for nuance and depth with automation for volume and speed; delivered through both online dashboards and deeply analytical, custom-written reports.

Talk to us about your traditional & social media monitoring & measurement needs.

I’m nonplussed by firms that peddle communications-related services in language so opaque that I literally can’t tell what they’re offering to do for me.

Be Part of History
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 03:41 PM * 66 comments

You’ve laughed.

You’ve cried.

You’ve struggled to make it all the way through the book.

Now someone wants to make a movie of Atlanta Nights.

They’ve already paid an option that just about doubled the royalty income-to-date of the book. (All profits from the novel go to the SFWA Emergency Medical Fund.) Now the film makers are looking for backers.

I’ve always wanted one of my books to be turned into a movie. But I never thought it would be this one….

Tell all your friends. If just 25,000 people pledge a dollar, Bruce Lucent can drive down Peachtree Street again . [Includes video teaser!]

February 15, 2011
Scots Smot
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 11:38 PM * 58 comments

Yes, I know this is an old story. If you want up-to-the-minute, CNN is thataway.

Under the heading Politicians Are The Same Everywhere, it isn’t just American pols who get all upset (or pretend to) about arts funding going to scandalous projects. The Guardian (UK) reported, under the headline Ulster-Scots translation of Flesh Gordon rubs Member up the wrong way that David McNarry, from the Stormont culture, arts and leisure committee, was aggrieved that public funding was being spent on a program item planned for the 2009 Belfast Film Festival.

As the BBC reported:

“Porn is porn, is porn, is porn - and whether it is done Ulster-Scots-style, well, it really doesn’t come into it,” said the UUP MLA.

“This event has presumably been given funding and all this kind of thing does is make people look all the harder at an application the next time it comes round.

“The committee wasn’t aware of this but the department must have been.”

The offending event was Shockin’ly Spaiked O’er Smot (Badly Dubbed Porn), Live, featuring a live translation into Ulster Scots of 1974’s Flesh Gordon.

Porn, ha! I know porn when I see it, and this isn’t it. Flesh Gordon is, at worst, cheerfully bawdy. (The grand orgy scene at Emperor Wang’s wedding consists of a bunch of naked people doing the Bunny Hop.) And redeeming social value? Did you see the photo that illustrates the Guardian story? That’s Bronson Caves, where Captain Kirk fought the Gorn. [Update correction: Captain Kirk fought the Gorn elsewhere. But Bronson Caves sure enough was the Bat Cave.] Bronson Caves has been in movies from I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang to Mega Python vs. Gatoroid (with a special stop at Robot Monster). And that space ship? The modelwork was done by Greg Jein, who went on to doing the mothership for Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

One other note: It turns out that public funding wasn’t spent on this program item after all.


February 13, 2011
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 12:46 PM * 226 comments

There’s something that keeps cropping up in my Babylon 5 rewatches, both in the ways I find myself writing the posts and the ways in which people discuss them. It’s actually making it quite difficult for me to talk about the show—the more so because some of the people doing it are folks I’m quite fond of*. I want to bring it onto the front page, rather than tackling it in those threads, because not everyone with views on this topic will be following the series.

It’s the assumption that intelligent people always guess the surprises at the ends of stories. And implicit in that is the reverse case, that the people who don’t figure out whodunnit on page 3 of the mystery, Morden’s significance in Signs and Portents, and the identity of the Chairmaker upon reading the premise of Use of Weapons are…stupid.

And here’s the thing. I am not stupid. At the very least, I’ve been doing a credible imitation of being not-stupid for nearly 41 years. But I don’t guess these things on a reliable basis, because it’s not how I approach entertainment. What I really enjoy is sinking into the narrative and letting it carry me along to its end at its own pace and in its own way. I value how getting absorbed into a story makes me feel.

Then I walk around with it for a while and analyze it in retrospect. I flatter myself that I have, from time to time, come up with interesting insights by so doing.

So it bugs me rather a lot when my enjoyment of the suspension of disbelief becomes a negative trait. A willingness to break the fourth wall of the story to figure out the end ahead of time is not, in my view, strongly linked to intellectual ability.

I don’t want to be a curmudgeon about this. I know that there are more reasons to discuss how quickly one penetrates an author’s deceptions than simply to demonstrate one’s intelligence and perceptiveness. And I know there are some endings that are so clumsily hidden that it’s the critic’s duty to explain how easily they’re found. But underneath it all there’s this drumbeat of I’m smart. I’m smarter than the author. I’m smarter than anyone who didn’t guess this as quickly as I did.

It’s rather like the use of the term easily amused as an insult. Embedded in that is the assumption that anyone worth respecting is difficult to entertain, and spends their days in a miasma of ennui. The whole phenomenon puts me in mind of Patrick’s comment on political cynicism.

* I reallyo, trulyo am not getting at anyone in particular here. This is about a tendency, a commonplace, not about any individual expression of it.

Babylon 5: Signs and Portents
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 07:12 AM * 54 comments

Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
The Hollow Men, TS Eliot

I’m a huge fan of roller coasters. And one of the best parts of every ride, for me, is when the cars have been cranked all the way up the long slope and sit poised at the top, with the entire track laid out beneath them. There’s just time for comprehension to sink in before the long, swift descent into what awaits.

This is that moment.

February 11, 2011
Today’s Joke
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 11:15 PM * 157 comments

So this musical chord walks into a bar, and the bartender says, “Hey, I can’t serve you.” And the musical chord says, “Why not?” And the bartender says, “Because you’re A Minor.”

February 08, 2011
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 08:35 PM * 39 comments

Believe it or not, you can do CPR on a dog, cat, or rodent. What works on people works on other mammals too (with probably about the same success rate, that is, while non-zero, it’s by no means a sure thing).

First, make sure the pet is unresponsive. Doing CPR on a dog that’s merely asleep can lead to unfortunate sequelae, including serious injury to you.

How to do animal CPR:

  1. Remove any airway obstructions. Open the animal’s mouth and make sure the air passageway is clear. If it isn’t, remove any physical blockages. Be very careful when removing things that you feel back in the airway. The tongue is supported by a horseshoe-shaped bone called the hyoid. (For those who want $1000 in “Mammalian Anatomy” on Double Jeopardy, the answer is, “It is the only bone in the skeleton that does not articulate to at least one other bone.”) It can feel like a bone stuck in the throat (mostly because it’s in the throat, and it’s a bone). But if you try to pull it out, the result will be unfortunate.
  2. Extend the head and give two rescue breaths. For a large dog, close the jaw and seal your mouth over the animal’s nose. Give a slow breath until the chest rises. Repeat. For smaller dogs and cats and rodents, you should be able to cover the nose and mouth with your mouth. Give two slow breaths to chest rise.
  3. Perform chest compressions. For large dogs, you may be able to place the animal on its back and give chest compressions just like for humans. For smaller dogs, cats, and dogs with funnel chests, you can place the animal on its side and compress the side of the chest. The landmark is behind the elbow of the left foreleg. For still smaller creatures, you can encircle the entire chest with your hands and squeeze circumferentially.
The rate of compressions is: For animals over 60 lbs (27 kg), 60/minute. For animals 11-60 lbs (5-27 kg), 80-100/minute. For animals 10 lbs (4.5 kg) or less, 120/minute.

Alternate breaths with compressions. The ratio is the same as for humans: 30 compressions to 2 breaths. Continue until a) the animal shows signs of life, b) someone of equal or higher training takes over, or c) you are too exhausted to continue.

The American Red Cross offers classes in Pet First Aid, including CPR, with nice manikins to practice on. Check with your local chapter to see where and when they’re given.

A list of useful links for pet CPR

This post is presented for amusement purposes only. I am not a veterinarian. I can neither diagnose nor prescribe. Nothing here is a substitute for a professionally-presented class, nor is it meant to be advice for your particular situation.

Copyright © 2011 by James D. Macdonald

Creative Commons License
Pet CPR by James D. Macdonald is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License.

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Index to Medical Posts

February 07, 2011
Open thread 153
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 01:30 AM *

153 is a triangular number, meaning that you can arrange 153 items into an equilateral triangle with 17 items on a side. It is also one of the six known truncated triangular numbers, because 1 and 15 are triangular numbers as well.

Like half of all triangular numbers, it is a hexagonal number, meaning that you can distribute 153 points evenly at the corners and along the sides of a hexagon.

It is the smallest 3-narcissistic number. This means it’s the sum of the cubes of its digits.

It is the sum of the first five positive factorials.

In the Dewey Decimal System, it is the code for mental processes and intelligence.

The connection with fish is more complicated.

Link back to Open thread 152

February 05, 2011
CNN Discovers the Tree Octopus
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 06:30 PM * 103 comments

No, the Internet doesn’t make us stupid. No matter what CNN thinks. The professor they’re interviewing tries valiantly to explain it to them, that Kids These Days aren’t more gullible that previous generations, but the interviewer won’t go off-script even after being corrected.

Besides, the Northwest Pacific Tree Octopus is real.

February 04, 2011
Babylon 5: This Wooden O
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 07:40 PM * 114 comments

…can this cockpit hold
The vasty fields of France? or may we cram
Within this wooden O the very casques
That did affright the air at Agincourt?
Henry V, Act I, Prologue

You know, the problem Shakespeare’s referring to doesn’t go away when you move onto multiple sets and break out the CGI. At a certain point, you still end up with a bunch of actors hanging around on a sound-stage, twiddling the scenery and trying to sell the idea they’re standing inside two million, five hundred thousand tons of spinning metal, all alone in the night. There is no magic by Shakespeare or Straczynski that can turn the map into the territory.

But the problem of setting is deeper than mere staging. Even if you could film the show on a real, life-sized Babylon 5, the way Firefly did with the Serenity set, you still have to show your audience that you’re on a space station. It’s not merely some weirdly-shaped office building with insufficient windows and a bunch of very funny-looking tenants. Setting has to influence plot, affect characters, and create tension and interest, or it’s just backdrop.

Babylon 5 does pretty well at creating and using realistic setting. There are certainly areas that feel like office space, or a rather bland convention center: Blue and Green sectors, which are where the nice quarters are; Medlab; the Zocalo. But the station also has a darker side, which tugs at the plot from very early on. Soul Hunter includes two sequences in Brown sector, where the dregs and hull rats hang out. It’s clearly underheated; most of the people down there are shown wearing hats and gloves. It’s also underlit, complicated, and full of niches where murder can be done before help will arrive.

There’s an entire criminal underworld on the station, too, controlled by what appears to be a large preying mantis in the non-oxygen breathers’ area. Shady characters run strip clubs (Born to the Purple), own slaves (ibid), sell access to better areas (Soul Hunter), and hire out toughs (The Parliament of Dreams). Sinclair is aware of this underworld, and knows the names of some of the principal players (Born to the Purple), but he doesn’t have any illusions that he controls it, or could put an end to it. That tells us a lot about the size and complexity of the station population. (Can you picture Kirk allowing an underworld among the 400-odd people on the Enterprise?*)

I note in passing that this knowledge is the product of good exposition and incluing. No one asyouknowbobbed it into us. When characters buy access to the better levels from the underworld, we learn that levels are access-controlled as well as that the underworld exists. We see the vast green of the hydroponics section when Sinclair and Talia trade unrealistic dialog as they go through it in Mind War, but neither of them feels compelled to say, “Look! Hydroponics! Those plants give us food and oxygen.”

All of this musing is brought on by the next two episodes, whose plots are both shaped by various aspects of the setting of the show.

February 02, 2011
Weather outside: Still Frightful
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 06:40 AM * 140 comments

A snow-and-ice storm from New Mexico to Maine. We’re talking feet, here.

If you’re in the zone, stay safe.

February 01, 2011
Bill of Whats?
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 06:38 PM * 314 comments

New York State Senator Eric L. Adams (D, WF) who represents the 20th Senate District (parts of Brooklyn, including Flatbush, Crown Heights, Park Slope, Windsor Terrace and Prospect Heights), has a cunning plan. He thinks that parents should search their kids’ possessions for crack pipes and guns. Hey, let your conscience be your guide on that. That isn’t why I’m writing this.

Senator Adams has released a video on YouTube showing parents how to go about doing the searches, drawing on his 22 year career as a New York City police officer. As reported by WABC (and you can see him say it for yourself on his video):

“The first amendment does not apply to the right of parents to go through their homes to remove contraband or any other unsafe items,” said State Senator Eric Adams, of Brooklyn.

Dumbshit. Fool. Is that what they’re teaching cops about the Bill of Rights and allowing in the state house in Albany? The First Amendment says:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
He probably meant the Fourth Amendment:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
And it’s true: The Fourth Amendment doesn’t apply to parents in their own homes; it applies to government agents (such as, for example, police officers as he was, and State Senators as he is) acting in their official capacities.

What I find amazing is that neither he, nor anyone on his staff, know what is in the Bill of Rights, nor could they tell the differences among the first ten amendments to the Constitution.

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