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July 31, 2011
Two Westerns
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 01:38 PM * 34 comments

Captain Stanley: Do I need to introduce myself?
Charlie Burns: I know who you are.
Captain Stanley: Good. I know who you are.

I want to talk about a couple of movies I saw recently (on DVD). Both Westerns, for some value of the word “Western.” One good, one bad. Both ugly. For some values of the word “ugly.” [The Proposition]

The first is The Proposition, directed by John Hillcoat, written by Nick Cave (yes, that Nick Cave). The film is set in the Australian outback in the 1880s as morally ambiguous police interact (“fight” is the wrong word here) with morally ambiguous bushrangers. Morally ambiguous, hell. Downright evil and psychopathic bushrangers. Evil, psychopathic bushrangers who believe that life is improved by a touch of poetry. Third leg of the wobbly triangle are the “wild” aborigines.

Your main protagonist (“hero” is the wrong word) is Captain Stanley (played by Ray Winstone), a police officer who is intent on “civilizing this place.” Your main antagonist (“villain” is the wrong word) is Charlie Burns (played by Guy Pearce), who wants to protect his simple-minded younger brother. In order to do that, however, he has to deal with the proposition of the title: Kill his entirely-too-clever elder brother. That elder brother is crouched out in the hills, not three days’ ride away. The elder brother is balanced by Captain Stanley’s wife, a proper Englishwoman with a porcelain tea set, rose bushes, and a white picket fence. An unspoken character is the blazing heat of the Queensland summer. The events of the story explicitly take place over nine days; we see a lot of beautiful sunsets.

The film starts in media res with a gunfight, and, as bullets puncture the walls of the tin-sided hut our men are in, the harsh light enters. It reminded me of the gunfight in the vampire film, Near Dark, where the beams of light pose a danger to the vampires that the bullets do not. It’s that kind of light.

Two other unspoken characters besides the heat and light: Dust, and flies. Those aren’t just ordinary flies. They’re Beelzebub, the Lord of the Flies. The dust, I suspect, is the dust of “dust thou art.” There are lots of literary references. It’s all richly nuanced, deeply layered, and wonderfully performed. It’s a classical tragedy, with the ending both surprising and inevitable. It talks about a lot of big themes: family, and love, and racism, and imperialism, and civilization.

The Proposition won a lot of awards. E.G. AFI Awards for Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Original Music Score, and Best Production Design. Critical response was generally glowing.

It sank without a trace, earning back $5 million world-wide, on an estimated $20 million budget.

[Jonah Hex]

The other film I saw (again on DVD) was Jonah Hex (directed by Jimmy Hayward, written by a list of seven different guys). Critical reaction was a bit lot less glowing.

It too is a Western. It too has a morally ambiguous protagonist. That protagonist is offered much the same deal as Charlie Barns was in The Proposition; a pardon in repayment for killing a particular man. That’s pretty much where the similarities stop.

Jonah Hex (played by Josh Brolin) is a bounty hunter, an ex-Confederate soldier who has been hired by President Grant to stop an ex-Confederate general who is planning to blow up Washington, D.C. with glowing-orange super-padoopie cannonballs. To this end, there’s quite a lot of running around, from the dusty-desert of the West, to New Orleans, to Virginia, to Washington. Unity of place is out the window. So’s unity of time—I couldn’t figure out how long anything was taking, or (with the web of flashbacks) when many of the events took place. The female with the speaking part, (Lilah, the hooker with the heart of gold, played by Megan Fox) could have been removed from the plot entirely without anyone missing her. Her only function seemed to be as an underwear model.

Jonah’s big talent is being able to speak to the dead. Any time he needs some exposition, he knows right how to get it.

Aside from an incoherent plot, jumping around in time and space, and characters no one gives a damn about, is there anything to like in this movie (other than Ms. Fox’s PG-13 T&A)? Not really.

One thing that everyone comments on when reviewing The Proposition is the violence. It’s rated “R” for “strong grisly violence, and for language” (the characters say “fuck” a lot). But the violence is necessary to the plot. Jonah Hex (rated PG-13 for “intense sequences of violence and action, disturbing images and sexual content”) contains far more violence; the first ten minutes of Jonah Hex yield a higher body count than the entire running time of The Proposition. That’s even before the bad guys (“villains” is the wrong word) blow up a train full of innocent civilians for no apparent reason. The violence in Hex is what the word “gratuitous” is meant to convey.

Jonah Hex, too, sank, although with a bit more trace. It earned $20 million worldwide on an estimated $40 million budget.

It didn’t win any awards.

Red Mike says check out The Proposition. (Trailer, possible spoilers.) Leave Jonah Hex right there on the rack. (Trailer, nothing worth spoiling.)
One more note about Jonah Hex. After renting it, I tried to watch it on my computer (as is my wont, when viewing films that no one else in the household is interested in seeing). The picture was jerky, with annoying pauses. So, I downloaded another freeware DVD viewing program. Same problem, herky-jerky video. Downloaded another. Locked up entirely. The disk looked okay, no obvious dirt or scratches… so I kicked the kids off the couch and tried it out on the actual DVD player attached to the TV. It worked! And lo-and-behold, right there, first thing up, a title card informing me that this disk had “advanced anti-piracy techniques” embedded in it! Thanks, guys. Love you, too. What are the bets that I can’t go out on the web right now and in less than two minutes find a copy that I can watch on my computer without paying you a dime? All that DRM does is annoy your honest customers.

July 29, 2011
The soft and unmistakable sound of a gauntlet landing on the dusty ground
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 02:41 PM * 277 comments

One of my real pleasures1 on Google+ has been interacting with people with whom I rarely overlap otherwise. High on the list is writer Chris Clarke, whose moral clarity I have admired from afar for a fair few years. What I did not know is that he is also a wicked wordsmith, though a bit more browsing over at his place would have made that clear.

So he made a brief, faintly vexed post on Thursday:

Chris Clarke: Just read an accusation that a writer made a particular political argument only to “score points.” I’ve had this said of me, especially with regard to feminism but on other issues as well.

Two questions occur to me.
1) Are people really so cynical that the notion of taking a political position because it’s the right thing to do is hard to grasp?
2) These “points” I’ve scored — can they be redeemed for cash?

After someone else left a somewhat serious answer, I’m afraid I came in and derailed the conversation. I’m not entirely sure Chris was being a gentleman and following my lead or whether I fell into a clever trap; in either case, our interchange2 went rather..astray from there.

Abi Sutherland:
2) The implication is that you can redeem them for sex, of course. Because everything’s a transaction, right?
Chris Clarke: It’s a lot harder to find trans action in Palm Springs than it was in West Hollywood, I’ll tell you what.
Abi Sutherland:
Well, that’s just the fault of the American attitude toward mass transport. You can find lots of trams action here in Amsterdam!
Chris Clarke: Is it true that in Amsterdam you can also get around easily in cheap taxis or below decks on crowded ferries? I seem to recall hearing, from the people of the town, about your jitneys, trams and steeves.
  (24 hours pass)
Chris Clarke: Well, that killed the thread.
Abi Sutherland:
Ok, I confess, I couldn’t parse it.
Chris Clarke: Cher - Gypsys Tramps And Thieves
Abi Sutherland:
One hates to make age comments, but…I’m reasonably certain I wasn’t toilet trained when she sang that.
Chris Clarke: Stupid arrow of time.
Abi Sutherland:
May I serve you a peach, sir? I do like the way you’re wearing those white flannel trousers; rolling them definitely suits you.
The beach? Why, it’s this way.
Chris Clarke: this is just to say
I have fenced
the lawn
that was in my yard
and which you were probably hoping to be on.
Abi Sutherland: “You are old, Mr Clarke,” the woman said, stunned,
“And your music has gone out of style;
Yet your circles are full and your comments +1’d
Have you been on the net a long while?”

“In my youth,” Mr. Clarke replied to the lass,
“Our flamewars used genuine fires.
I still carve my zeroes; my ones are hand-cast.
They barely fit through the wires.”

“You are old,” said the girl, “you once used AOL
As shorthand to mean ‘you are clueless’.
I’ve no doubt at all you were once on the WELL —
Are you awestruck by all the newness?”

“In my youth,” said the blogger, pausing his post,
“Discussions on Usenet were clever.
And here we are still, and I don’t mean to boast,
But I’m just as witty as ever.”

“You are old, said the girl again, “antedating
Both Napster and Wikipedia.
Are you really a part of the world we’re creating
With sharing and social media?”

“In my youth” said the writer, “we shared without fail:
The carbon would blacken our cc’s.
We guessed from their style which posters were male,
But often we doubted their species.”

“You are old,” said the girl, “I can scarcely believe
The time you have been wasting in chatter.
What famines and poverties did you relieve
What injustices did you shatter?”

“I have answered three questions, and that is enough,”
Said Chris; “Tell me how if you’re friendless
You expect you can change all of that crucial stuff?
The potential of wank is just endless.”
Chris Clarke: I

Among twenty spammy newsgroups,

The only moving thing
Was the yap of the newbie.

I was of three minds,
Like a tree
That was linked on Metafilter.

The noob mailed everyone he knew.

Text was a small part of the GIFs in MIME.

A man and a woman
Are one.
A man is a woman, and a newbie

I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of clueless yammering
Or the beauty of WTF,
The newbie tweeting
Or just after.


Giffy files filled my long window

With iterative trash.
The shadow of the LOLcat

Crossed it, to and fro.
The newb
Posted in shadow
An indecipherable meme.

O bloggers of Godwin,
Why do you bother with golden words?

Do you not see how the point
Flies over the heads

Of the newbies about you?

I know mobile access
In lurid, inescapable schisms;

But I know, too,

That the newbie is involved
In [FOO]FAIL 2012.

When the newbie ran out of words,

It made for glee
In one or many circles.

At the sight of newbies
Flying in a green light,
Even the pages of Geocities
Would cry out sharply.

He blogged about Lieberman
In a glass house.
Once, a fear pierced him,

That some had mistook

The outlines of his quippage
For a newbie’s.

The cursor is moving.
The newbie must be lying.

It was September all year.

They were posting
And they were going to post.

The newbie sat

In the Cheeto-crumbs.
Abi Sutherland: Raging and raging in the lengthening thread
The mood will not heed the moderator;
Rules sprout loopholes; the FAQ cannot answer;
Mere trollery is loosed upon the site,
The lambent prose is loosed, and everywhere
The assumption of good faith is crumbled;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some resolution is at hand;
Surely Going Viral is at hand.
Going Viral! Hardly are those words onscreen
When a vast image out of Fandom Wank
Troubles my stream: somewhere in the wilds of the net
A community with zeitgeist and common purpose,
A cause right and pitiless as the sun,
Is searching for a forum, while all their LJs
Trail threads of the approving, supportive THIS’s.
The tweets move on again; but now I know
That 287 TLDs of peaceful sites
Were vexed to nightmare by a raging thread
And what rough horde, its cause come round at last
Slouches toward my website to be borne?
Chris Clarke: Shall I compare thee to a Summer’s Eve?
Thou art more trollish and intemperate:
Rough words don’t slake your need to vent your peeve,
And someone here is past their sell-by date:
Sometime too hot the heads of heaven, mind,
And finer posts than yours rejected, Jim;
And every rant from narcissists declined,
Or from their needless words their vowels betrimm’d:
But the endless Septembering you’ve brayed
Has lost possession of what slack I owest;
Nor would Death long bear the crap you’ve laid,
When in these endless threads manure you throwest:
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
Go back under your bridge, and eat my shorts.
Abi Sutherland: The way a friend
@replies to
The tweets I send
On days I’m #blue

Tells my heart
I’m never going to give you up
I’m never going to let you down
Never going to run around and desert you

Chris Clarke: Bent double, web designers without slack,
Ache-wristed, hacking with tags, we cursed each kludge,
Till on the table cells we turned our back
And toward semantic code began to trudge.
We did not sleep. Many hours lost, reboots
And trancing iPods. All went numb; the grind;
Drunk with caffeine; deaf even to the suits
Of Hi-Fived Two Point Ohs who then resigned.
Crash! Crash! Quick, boys! - An ecstasy of fumbling,
Finding the clumsy backup just in time;
While CTO was chilling out and Tumblring,
Websurfing with a Tanqueray and lime …
Dim, through the tinted panes and Aeron mesh,
As under a green sea, I saw him clowning.
In all my coding, after each refresh,
His comments in there, muttering, joking, clowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the bitbucket we flung them in,
And watch one-liners twinkling ‘cross his face,
His sad trombone and tiny violin;
If you could watch him drinking Jolt, the flood
Of banter as he climbed each corporate rung,
Obscene as goatse, bitter as the cud
Of stupid WHASSUP jokes from off his tongue,
My friend, you would not Greek without regret
For clients entre whom you would preneur,
The old Lie; Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet
Abi Sutherland: This ae site, this ae site,
So long as screen-light glowes,
Joke and jest and fire-fight,
The web preserve thy prose.

When thou from hence art AFK
To Ever September make thy way

If ever thou gavest a newbie grace
Here in comfort take thy place

If taunting newbies was thy thing
Lang may thou with griefing sting

From Ever September click away
To Blogosphere make thou thy way

If ever a stranger thou savéd from flame
Here will others for thou do the same.

If only thy friends were safe with thee
4chan is thy destiny.

From Blogosphere then click away
To Social Media make thy way.

If ever with links thou gavest credit
Thy posts and name be top on Reddit.

If links and credit thou oft left aside
Thy authorship be alway denied.

This ae site, this ae site,
So long as screen-light glowes,
Joke and jest and fire-fight,
The web preserve thy prose.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is what the internet is for.

  1. I know there are lack-of-pleasures on G+ too. I’d appreciate, if we want to discuss them, that we do so on the Open Thread, unless and until I get the gumption together to do a post on the matter.
  2. I’ve skipped a number of audience-reaction comments in the thread, not having discussed their inclusion here with their authors3.
  3. From which you can conclude that yes, of course, I discussed posting this with Chris.

July 26, 2011
Missing Child
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 08:59 PM * 45 comments

From the Colebrook Chronicle: Celina Cass poster

On Tuesday afternoon the N.H. State Police issued a request to the public for help in locating a missing juvenile from West Stewartstown.

Celina Cass, age 11, was last seen sitting at her computer by her parents about 9 p.m. on Monday night. When they went to wake her on Tuesday morning, she was not in her bed. A search began and state police were called in. Assisting in the search was N.H. Fish and Game and several K-9 units, as well as local police departments from nearby towns and the U.S. Border Patrol agents.

Celina lives with her family in an apartment building near the Spa Restaurant. Police have said there are no signs of a struggle in the house and that Celina does not have a history of wandering away

By 4 p.m. the state police had issued their request to the public for help in locating Celina, and an automated call system was calling phone numbers throughout the state notifying residents of the missing girl. Radio, television and newspapers throughout the state were uploading information about Celina on their websites and in newscasts.

Anyone with information is asked to call the state police at (603) 846-3333.

Video here.

See also:

Live updates from WMUR
As of noon Saturday there is a $25,000 reward for information leading to Celina’s location and the arrest and prosecution of a suspect, and a separate $5,000 reward for information leading to her location.
[Update 01AUG11] And it’s over. No longer missing.

Thanks to everyone for their support and prayers.

July 24, 2011
International Bog Day
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 12:18 AM * 0 comments

Today is International Bog Day.

No, really.

Today is the day to celebrate the beauty and diversity of bogs. Bog Day events are planned at many bogs worldwide. If there’s a bog in your area, you might want to see what they’re doing.

July 23, 2011
Software for Self-Publishers
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 09:43 PM *

I am by no means an expert, nor am I famous (nor rich) for (or from) self-publishing. But I have been doing it for a while, starting with a Xerox machine and a saddle stapler in 1978. I started POD publishing in 2005, and e-publishing for the various ebook readers starting in September of last year. I’m putting my backlist back into circulation, which is a perfectly dandy use of the technology.

I use a Windows machine, so the programs I’m going to mention are Windows programs. Mac, Linux, and other versions of the same or similar software exist.

The price for all of these items is free.

So: A list.

  1. Open Office (Productivity Suite) writes MS-Word compatible files and converts them to HTML
  2. LibreOffice (Productivity Suite) writes MS-Word compatible files and converts them to HTML
  3. Notepad++ Reads and manipulates HTML/CSS files
  4. AceHTML Reads and manipulates HTML/CSS files
  5. Calibre Designed to manage your e-book collection, but will convert books to epub from a variety of formats
  6. MobiPocket Creator Makes .prc files. (Note: Crashes if you have MSIE 9 installed.)
  7. Sigil Edits epub files
  8. GIMP (Gnu Image Manipulation Program) A Photoshop work-alike for creating covers
  9. Threepress Consulting Epub validator to check epub files.
  10. Epubcheck Epub validator to check epub files.

Of these, all you really need is something that will create MS-Word compatible .doc files, and something that will create cover images.

Handy things to have read:

Things that you probably won’t do:

  • Get rich (divide income by hours to see what I mean)

Still, it’s good for a laugh. As hobbies go it’s cheaper than photography, safer than skydiving, and takes up less room than model railroading.

Doesn’t self-publishing violate Yog’s Law? No. Self-publishing is a subcategory of commercial publishing. The publisher is still paying for everything. The author is still getting the income. That the publisher’s pocket and the author’s pocket are in the same pair of pants is interesting but unimportant.

July 22, 2011
Explosion in Oslo
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 11:00 AM *

Reuters is reporting a massive explosion in downtown Oslo in the government center area at 15:26 local time (just before 9:30 AM US Eastern Daylight time).

The situation is evolving. The Atlantic Wire is providing updates.

The cause is unknown at this time. The casualty numbers are unknown at this time.

Our thoughts and best wishes are with those on the ground, both those at the site of the original event, and the first-responders, EMTs, fire personnel, hospital staff, and others who will be facing a very long and challenging day.

(Thanks to Steve C. who mentioned this.)

[UPDATE 11:26] ABC News is reporting two explosions, at least one of which was caused by a vehicle bomb. They are reporting two dead and “several” injured. Center city is being evacuated and the central train station has been shut down.

Now strikes me as a good time to link back to Miss Teresa’s Tips For an Apocalypse.

July 21, 2011
Armed and engined for the same
Posted by Avram Grumer at 08:58 PM *

There’s been a bit of a dustup on (a major online community for role-playing games). Kynn Bartlett, writing as Caoimhe Ora Snow, started a Kickstarter project (see the update below) to attract funding for an RPG she wishes to write and publish, called Heartbreak & Heroines. Y’know how most RPGs focus on men, and primarily depict male characters as agents of action (as opposed to sex objects), while grudgingly allowing you to play a woman if you want? Heartbreak & Heroines will focus on women, though you’ll be able to play a man if you want.

There’s a 60-page flamewar thread, but you can probably reconstruct most of it in your heads, sight unseen, based just on what I’ve told you, except maybe for the part where a guy claimed that the existence of “black clerics” in official D&D settings indicates that “D&D has gone to silly lengths to ignore racial and gender inequality”, and continued to defend that claim as people brought up North-African Islam and Ethiopian Coptic Christians. I didn’t see whether anyone mentioned Pope Miltiades.

Anyway, that argument makes this the perfect time for someone to have discovered that maybe half of the Vikings who invaded England around 900 AD were women. Turns out archaeologists had just been assuming that anyone buried with weapons and armor was a man. Osteological analysis showed otherwise. Six of 14 skeletons analyzed turned out to be female, and one more was indeterminate; the remaining seven were male.

All of which is eloquently summed up by David J Prokopetz’s observation that: “Your average tabletop fantasy setting isn’t particularly medieval; the default setting of D&D itself […] culturally resembles your average early 80s Renfaire much more closely than it does any real-world society.” Real history is often far more surprising, complicated, and interesting then the simplified Ye Olden Tymes cartoon we’re fed in movies and TV shows. I don’t see any reason to constrain our imaginations to invented limits of our less egalitarian cultural forebears.

(USA Today link via The Mary Sue, via Ray Radlein, via Cat Rambo. I think I want a blogging app that can automatically track and construct a “via path” and wrap it up in a microdata block.)

Update: I’m leaving the Kickstarter link there for information purposes, but I can no longer recommend contributing due to the issues Jim Henley discusses on his group RPG blog, which I wish I’d found some happier occasion to link to.

Open Thread 161
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 12:01 AM *

Two words that end with -gry are angry and hungry. There are three words in the English language. What’s the third word?

Continued from Open Thread 160

Continued in Open Thread 162

July 20, 2011
The Persistence of Jerkdom
Posted by Patrick at 10:55 PM *

From The Unofficial Apple Weblog, a widely-respected news-and-comment site discussing Apple products, this gem:

And may I point out that the latest top-end $3,700 iMac, with its 3.4 GHz Quad-Core i7, 16 GB RAM (not to mention its lovely 27” display) makes many of the entry-point Mac Pros (no, I’m not talking about the $16,900 fully loaded 64 GB double-6 core Westmere version) look like little girls.
From the comment section:
Ian Wright: Erica, why use little girls as an object of scorn? It’s sickening. Don’t be such a little girl
Alastair Moore: Oh get a damn sense of humor!
Gee, I wonder why tech blogs are still, even in 2011, regarded as cesspools?

July 19, 2011
Will Emus Do?
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 06:23 PM * 62 comments

A spammer came through at the end of June, dropping various automated comments, using the name “answers yahoo.”

And it came to pass that in the course of sending all that spam to the Land of Oblivion, the posts were deleted … but ghosts remained. Ghosts which remain at the end of the comment thread, until a new comment is posted, at which point the spam magically vanishes.

I’ve been trying to remove the spam, by the only means that works … posting an on-topic reply on the thread. This is a challenge, as some of the threads are four or more years old. Then I asked myself, “Why should I have all the fun?”

“Because it’s fun,” I replied. But I shushed that clear little voice.

Here’s how to play the game. Google on the two-word group “answers yahoo,” with the site set to “” Find a spam comment. Post something on-topic, yet witty, to make the spam vanish! And resurrect a thread at the same time.

Last I looked there were around ninety of those phantom spams remaining, so there’s lots of room to play.

July 16, 2011
Maybe it’s my first time around
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 01:37 PM * 88 comments


For me, going to a new city is like going to a bookstore. Consciously or not, I’m looking for a story—a coherent intellectual skeleton to hang my experiences on and give them some structure. Every city has its own range of stories, in all genres: comedy, tragedy, horror, SF, romance. Walking around and thinking about what I see is a means of trying out different narratives, the way readers leaf through several books before buying one. I’m not just reacting to what I see; I’m also figuring out whether I am more convinced by the story that the faces in the the architecture bespeak a deep humanism than the one where they’re unattainable abstractions, or the idea that the amount of makeup the women wear denotes pride rather than that they are judged by their appearance, or where streetcars are a sign of freedom instead of poverty.

Sometimes I only understand the story I’ve told myself about a city after years of living there. Sometimes I don’t identify it until long after I’ve left the place. But since our narratives not only give a coherent shape to our perceptions but filter them as well, I’m increasingly prone to consciously seeking them out, identifying them, and questioning their value.

One of the best tools for doing this is a camera. When I take pictures, I’m asking the lens to show me the story I’m telling myself about what I see. What is my eye drawn to? What themes and patterns emerge? What is essence and what is detail?


All of this is apropos of my recent business trip to Łódź, Poland1, where my team’s sister office is located. Although I spent a good deal of the two weeks there actually working, I did make some time for walking around and looking up2. And, very shortly, I began to be afraid.

You see, my life as a perpetual migrant3 is heavily dependent on my ability to find something wonderful, some sustaining joy, in every new place that I go. I’ve never been in Central Europe4 before, and my first impression was one of decay and loss. Łódź’s golden age was the century before the Second World War, and every aesthetic movement in that timespan is exuberantly displayed on its facades. But the buildings are crumbling and grubby, with peeling plaster and flaking ornamentation. Historic structures that would be the pride of another city stand gutted and abandoned, or worse yet, crumbling but still inhabited.

It was an awful few days. I didn’t want to see that narrative. Even my side-obsession of photographing the range of faces I was seeing on the buildings was no real comfort: they looked the sadder for the ruin they witnessed.


But then I noticed another persistent image, another feature that drew my lens. The buildings in central Łódź may vary in age and style, but most of their facades have one common characteristic: a central opening at street level, leading to a passageway into the back streets or open courtyards beyond. Many of them are gated, either at night or all of the time, but most are active thoroughfares. Each one is a glimpse into its own separate world5: garden spaces and industrial yards; restaurants and shops; places for children to play or cars to park.

I have no place in these worlds; I don’t speak the language or share the culture of the people who belong in them.

Still, unlike the bleak and ruined buildings, these are places I can understand people loving, quietly or passionately, the way Chesterton talks about such things:

The point is not that this world is too sad to love or too glad not to love; the point is that when you do love a thing, its gladness is a reason for loving it, and its sadness a reason for loving it even more.
Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton6

Seeing the place as lovable—even if I do not love it myself—gives me the closure I need for my narrative of the city. I can take this story home with me7.

  1. PNH: All the cool kids are going to Poland this year.
    Abi: Yes, and me, too!
  2. That’s how you tell a tourist from a local, of course. Tourists look up; locals look down.
  3. One day I will deliver my Expat Rant. But the short version is: I’m not one; I’m a migrant.
  4. The terminology is pretty fraught in this area. For the purposes of this discussion, I’m defining “Central Europe” as countries formerly under Soviet control, but not part of the USSR, and saving “Eastern Europe” for former Soviet Socialist Republics. The economic and cultural impact of the two conditions is what’s substantially relevant here.
  5. Were I to write genre fiction set in the city, it would be about characters stumbling on passages that were gateways to genuinely different worlds
  6. Thank you again, Brother Guy, for bringing that quote to my attention.
  7. Indeed, it is now a part of me. Suddenly the Dutch custom of building alleys between buildings, like something they are ashamed of, seems notably less welcoming than including them in the facade.

July 15, 2011
A Dance with Dragons, with Spoilers
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 01:21 AM *

Smaug looked down at the wilting bunch of flowers in his claw, then up at the door in front of him. “I don’t think this is a very good idea.”

“Go on,” urged Yevaud. “Just ring the bell. When she comes out, say she looks beautiful in that dress and give her the corsage.”

“We could go burn a village or something instead,” Smaug countered brightly. “That would be fun. That would be much more fun than this.”

“She asked you to the prom. You said yes. Now you have to go through with it. And can you hurry it up? We still have to get my date, and figure out where Maur is. He was supposed to…” Yevaud’s voice trailed off.

Smaug, having rung the doorbell, turned to see what had struck his friend dumb. He was still staring when his date came out of her door and stopped dead in her tracks.

Maur sauntered toward them, enjoying the attention. Around his neck, lying rather crooked between his great dorsal spines, was a long strip of red satin. The ends met in a neat bow at the front. “Hey, guys, how’s it going? Do you like my tie?”

By the end of the evening, Yevaud will have lost his date to the griffin doing security at the door. Maur will be kicked out of the prom for knocking over the chaperones’ table with his tail while trying to break dance. The ordinarily quiet Oolong will fly off with the homecoming queen, to the ruin of her reputation on campus. And Smaug will ask his date to go steady with him. She will say yes, and one day they will marry. Her parents will come round eventually.

OK, but seriously, as requested: a thread to discuss A Dance with Dragons (and the entire Song of Ice and Fire series) without needing to ROT-13.

Obviously, this thread will be full of spoilers. Don’t like ’em, don’t read further.

And commenters, of your courtesy, don’t let the thread drift.

July 14, 2011
Happy Bastille Day
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 01:29 PM * 21 comments

Storming of the Bastille

We’ve got new generals
Our leaders are new
They sit and they argue
And all that they do
Is sell their own colleagues
And ride upon their backs
And jail them and break them
And give them all the axe
Screaming in language that no one understands
Of the rights that we grabbed with our own bleeding hands
When we wiped out the bosses and stormed through the wall
Of the prison they told us would outlast us all….

July 09, 2011
Amazon versus California
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 09:54 AM * 156 comments

Old news, from June the 29th, but I hadn’t heard it. From the Los Angeles Times: dropped about 10,000 California-based associate sales partners late Wednesday so that it would not be forced to collect California state sales tax on purchases made through them. The tax is new and was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday as part of a plan to close a gap in the 2011-12 budget.

As passed, the law requires large out-of-state retailers to collect sales taxes on purchases that California customers make on the Internet. Those taxes were lowered by 1 percentage point to ease the implementation.

What Amazon expects to gain from cutting off its sales partners is “not entirely clear,” the San Francisco Chronicle writes.

Later in the article we read, “Connecticut, Illinois, New York, North Carolina, Arkansas and Rhode Island have all passed similar laws requiring Internet retailers to collect sales tax — sometimes called an “Amazon tax” — and Amazon responded by dropping its associate partners in those states, CNN Money reported.”

July 07, 2011
“You know nothing of my work!”
Posted by Avram Grumer at 11:39 PM * 77 comments

Marshall McLuhan said that “the medium is the message”, meaning that a new communications medium is itself at least as worthwhile of attention as the messages sent through it. History has borne him out: Every new communications medium that comes along is initially dominated by discussion of that same medium. It’s the nature of that discussion that changes.

Remember the days when someone would get their first email account, and their first email message said “Hey, I just got an email account!”? Or when airplane phones were new, and every flight was full of people saying “Guess where I’m calling from! — The plane!”? Life on the cutting edge of technology! The future coming into being around us! Exciting!

We should have known the bloom was off the rose when everyone’s first LiveJournal post basically said “Yeah, OK, I finally got a LiveJournal, but I’m just using it to comment; I’m not gonna actually post or anything.” And man, Facebook! So many people I know — myself included — were (are!) resentful of the felt necessity of getting a Facebook account. “Alright already, I signed up! Happy??”

Google opened Google+ up for new members for a while today. I snuck in before they pulled the drawbridge back up, to find Patrick, Teresa, Abi, and Jim already there. Perhaps because of a high proportion of technologically sophisticated folks among the early wave of users (at least among my circles), the early discussion there seems dominated by detailed discussions of the services shortcomings. The early G+ user is neither excited nor curmudgeonly, but sophisticatedly critical. There’s something relentlessly self-referential about the fact that we’re not just using the service to criticize the service, but complaining most about the feature we’d like to use to bring more of our friends in, so they can experience for themselves exactly what we’re complaining about.

(And, of course, I’m writing this post so I can try linking to it through Google+.)

(Edit: No, Jim’s not there. The little icon representing him has an envelope on it, meaning it’s an email address from my gMail contacts list, and Google’s encouraging me to invite him. See what I said about the interface problems?)

July 04, 2011
In Congress, July 4, 1776
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 01:05 PM *

The Unanimous Declaration
of the Thirteen United States of America

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. —Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

July 03, 2011
Shame on you, Google
Posted by Patrick at 08:57 PM *

This is incredibly shitty of you. Fix it now, please.

At the very least, give Abi and Martin the chance to retrieve their kid’s email archive before you delete it. There’s no excuse—legal or moral—for failing to do that.

I’m not someone who engages in elaborate displays of sarcastic incredulity whenever Google does something less than perfect. It always seemed to me obvious that “don’t be evil” was an aspirational sentiment, not a guarantee of perfection. But this isn’t just failing to live up to one’s ideals. This is evil. Fix it.

July 01, 2011
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Making Light copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022 by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.