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May 31, 2012
To find the hand of Franklin reaching for the Beaufort Sea
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 10:10 AM * 51 comments

I recently ran across this account of the search for the Northwest Passage. I was going to write something massive and clever tying it all in to global warming, but I didn’t see a really good way to do that. So, instead, I present this bit of history all raw.

Just a couple of notes: I thought that the reasoning Captain Vancouver used to deduce there was no water-route to the east coast of the American continent was clever and persuasive. I also note that Captain Vancouver (in a portion that I did not transcribe) was proud of the fact that when he returned to England after a four-and-a-half year voyage that he had not lost a single sailor to accident or disease. I also note (not from this account at all) that Captain Vancouver was the floggingest captain in the Pacific at the time. (By contrast, Captain Bligh was the most sparing of the lash.)

Also, when Vancouver called at St. Helena, he found the breadfruit trees that Bligh had planted there in poor condition, due to a prolonged drought. I couldn’t fit that in either, but thought it was interesting.

Thus, a shapeless and ill-formed post. But one, I hope, with some amusement value.

Annual Register, 1798, volume 40, pp 495-496

The labors of this voyage have much lessened the grounds of reasonable hope that any navigable water-communication exists, between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, through the continent of America:—but that they are ‘as conclusive as possible,’ will not, by many, be readily admitted. Whatever contempt may be shewn for closet discoveries, they have certainly some support, while there remain openings without any ascertained termination, for the indulgence of speculative fancies concerning a N. W. passage. It may likewise be argued that, as the river Columbia and Port des Fran├žais were passed by captain Vancouver, if not without being noticed, without being thought worthy of examination, so might other openings equally have escaped observation; and this may seem the more probable, as the entrances both into Columbia river and Port des Fran├žais are so narrow, that, at a very moderate distance from the land, their appearance would be too inconsiderable to attract notice. The river Columbia was found navigable, and appeared to continue so, at the most advanced station to which it was explored; and several navigable branches, or rivers, which fell into it, were seen; for the examination of which there was no opportunity. That this river may have communication with some of the lakes already known, is not very improbable. The natives reported that it extended to a great distance inland. There is, however, very little prospect, even if a depth of water sufficient should be found to continue, that it would be practicable for ships to navigate upwards, against so strong and constant a current.

The arm of the sea within Cross Sound, named Lynn Canal, though not navigable for large ships, had the appearance of continuing much farther navigable for small vessels; which, with the circumstance of its situation, (‘approaching nearer,’ captain Vancouver observes, ‘to those interior waters of the continent, which are said to be known to the traders and travellers from the opposite side of America, than we had found the waters of the North Pacific penetrate in any former instance,’) makes it an object of consideration. In the mention of unexamined openings, Port St. Francisco must not be omitted; and this, if we may judge from the account given in the narrative, is not among the least promising.

The strongest circumstances against the probability of a communication by water, through North America, is the following, noticed in the concluding paragraph of captain Vancouver’s account:

‘In all the parts of the continent on which we landed, we no where found any roads or paths through the woods, indicating the Indians on the coast having any intercourse with the natives of the interior part of the country, nor were there any articles of the Canadian or Hudson’s bay traders found amongst the people with whom we met, on any part of the continent or external sea-shores of this extensive country.’

On the whole, we must be allowed to repeat, that the prospect is considerably lessened, but, that, it is by no means yet proved that a N. W. passage does not exist.

May 25, 2012
“Felony Interference with a Business Model”
Posted by Patrick at 11:04 AM * 156 comments

Fox, CBS, and NBC have sued DISH Networks over its “Auto Hopper” feature, which allows viewers to auto-skip commercials in programs they record.

What’s wonderful isn’t that the TV networks are claiming that skipping commercials is “copyright infringement.” I mean, that’s insane, but no, there’s more. The networks are also claiming that if you record a bunch of shows intending to skip the commercials…and then, the next day, you watch the commercials anyway…you’re guilty of “copyright infringement” anyway, because you intended to skip the commercials back when you recorded the shows. They’re arguing that this supposed “infringement” (which is, of course, not actually infringement) inheres in the intent.

It goes without saying that the word “copyright” is here being used in ways that would be utterly unrecognizable to the people who originally devised the concept. Beyond that, this is Because-We-Say-So legal reasoning of the purest, most flamboyant kind.

The problem isn’t that these loopy arguments are going to win in this particular case. The problem is that the entertainment conglomerates have the resources to keep doing this kind of thing nearly forever, endlessly wearing away at the legal system and at our notions of what’s just and unjust.

Pretty much the same way the energy conglomerates have nearly unlimited resources to keep propping up the notion that there’s a “controversy” over whether we’re undergoing anthropogenic global climate change.

The problem is that in order to spur economic development, we created a class of human organizations that are sociopathic. Our army of killer robots has made it clear: they work for themselves, not for us, and they will break the world.

May 24, 2012
Now available: DRM-free pirate LOTR e-text
Posted by Teresa at 09:26 AM * 63 comments

The Flying Moose of Nargothrond’s Tolkien Sarcasm Page, already known for the first-rate synopses on its Tolkien homework page,* now offers a free pirate text version of the entire work.

To quote one of the perpetrators, “Anyone who has an interest in living authors, at least, should illegally copy this anyway because he’s already dead.”

May 23, 2012
English usage rant
Posted by Patrick at 07:33 PM * 308 comments

I realize that we’re all traumatized from having been corrected when we would say “Dad and me went to the store” at age five, and that we suffer from hypercorrection as a result. But holy cow, it boggles my mind when really good writers use “I” when they should use “me,” as in “Take a look at this picture of Melvin and I.”

Some of my smartest and most well-spoken colleagues at Tor do this all the time, too, and I often wind up biting off bits of my tongue to avoid being an annoying real-time grammar cop. But this is Making Light, where I can be an annoying timeshifted grammar cop instead! Seriously, folks, forget any technical grammar explanations you may have been forced to learn. Instead, whenever you’re making a sentence about yourself and another person and you’re not sure whether to say “I” or “me,” just cut the other person out of the sentence and see which one you’d naturally use:

Melvin and me immanentized the Eschaton.
WRONG, because would you say “Me immanentized the Eschaton”? You would not!
Melvin and I immanentized the Eschaton IS CORRECT.

The last survivors of the horrific massacre were Melvin and I.
WRONG, because you wouldn’t say “The last survivor of the horrific massacre was I”, now would you?
The last survivors of the horrific massacre were Melvin and me IS CORRECT.

(Disclaimer: I myself make all kinds of equally annoying usage and pronounciation mistakes. English is unruly. I’m just venting about the one that happens to get on my personal last nerve LIKE MAKING THAT SQUEAKY SOUND WHEN YOU RUB A BALLOON ARGH STOP. You know. How. It is. I’ll go lie down now.)

UPDATE: See “pronounciation”, above. This post is a self-demonstrating artifact. (H/t David Goldfarb in the comments.)

May 22, 2012
Remind me how it goes: fear, anger,…?
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 03:33 PM * 69 comments

I see that George Lucas has given up on his long-running battle to build more studio space on his Marin County property. His neighbors have blocked his plans to expand Skywalker Ranch for years, citing the area’s residential character. So instead, he’s proposing to use Grady Ranch for residential purposes…just not the kind that they are likely to approve of.

His new intent (pdf) for the land:

We plan to sell the Grady property expecting that the land will revert back to its original use for residential housing. We hope we will be able to find a developer who will be interested in low income housing since it is scarce in Marin. If everyone feels that housing is less impactful on the land, then we are hoping that people who need it the most will benefit.

Lucas claims that it’s not revenge that motivates him.

“I’ve been surprised to see some people characterize this as vindictive,” he said, adding that there was a “real need” for affordable housing here. “I wouldn’t waste my time or money just to try and upset the neighbors.”


The Twittersphere, also unconvinced, is abuzz with praise for Lucas for this shrewd move in the ancient game of Neighbor Go. And I was too, at first. Zing! With added social credit for helping people on low incomes! But the more I think about it, the less I like it.

Lucas is using the poor—or the specter of the poor—as a weapon. That’s a bad thing twice over. It’s harmful in the abstract: treating people as an inherent menace is never good, and doing so in a way that deepens the divisions between the classes is particularly pernicious in the Occupational Era. And it’s worse in the particular. Imagine moving into that housing, just down the road from people who use phrases like “sheer terror” about you and draw analogies with Syria.

He should have listened to the little green guy. Knows a thing or two, that one does.

Yes, another post that started as a Parhelion, and grew and grew and grew until the ceiling hung with HTML tags and the walls became the back end and a comment thread tumbled by…

May 21, 2012
“Ask for it by name!”
Posted by Avram Grumer at 10:12 PM * 54 comments

I had just been saying to Chris that someone’s gonna get a grad-school thesis out of diegesis in The Office (the US version, but maybe also the UK version, which I haven’t seen as much of) — I mean, we’re talking about a show where one character’s constantly looking at the camera and making a face to comment on the show’s goings-on, and then at one point another character actually asks the camera what’s up with that guy always looking at the camera and making a face, and yet because of the documentary framing device all of this remains plausibly diegetic — when Chris directs my attention to the Tumblr blog Fuck Your Noguchi Coffee Table:

Me: “Book stacks? We’ve got book stacks!”
She: “There’s apparently a brand of refrigerator called ‘Smeg’. Someone needs to redo the ‘Fluckers’ ad.”
Me: “Are they good fridges?”
She: “Like I said: Someone needs to redo the ‘Fluckers’ ad.”

After some googling, she adds: “Their website says they’re ‘exuding style’, so they must be self-aware.”
Me: “That indicates either a modest amount of self-awareness, or a total absence of it.”

One Week Standby
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 10:52 AM *

This is your annual reminder that applications for the Viable Paradise writer’s workshop close June 15th.

Held annually on Martha’s Vineyard (a place worth visiting even without a workshop), we teach the Really Real Secrets of Writing Commercial Fiction. (That is, how to write stuff that folks want to read.)

It’s a week long, and we do novels as well as short stories. Also, Chili-dog Casserole.

May 20, 2012
Nebula Awards 2011
Posted by Patrick at 08:54 AM * 42 comments

Announced last night. Congratulations to all. Of course we’re over the moon about Jo’s novel winning. Kudos as well to SFWA president John Scalzi, toastmaster Walter Jon Williams, and the rest of the SFWA apparat for a well-run awards evening. (Although I definitely saw Scalzi undergo a full-body flinch reaction when WJW, at the podium, referred to him as “SFWA President-for-Life.”)

Among Others by Jo Walton (Tor)

“The Man Who Bridged the Mist” by Kij Johnson (Asimov’s, October/November 2011)

“What We Found,” by Geoff Ryman (F&SF, September/October 2011)

Short Story
“The Paper Menagerie,” by Ken Liu (F&SF, March/April 2011)

Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation
Doctor Who: “The Doctor’s Wife,” by Neil Gaiman (writer), Richard Clark (director) (BBC Wales)

Andre Norton Award for Young Adult SF and Fantasy Book
The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman (Big Mouth House)

Damon Knight Grand Master Award
Connie Willis

Solstice Award
Octavia Butler (posthumous) and John Clute

Service to SFWA Award
Bud Webster

Above: Jo Walton, Delia Sherman, Neil Gaiman, Geoff Ryman. Blurry figure of Liza Trombi in the background, herding cats winners to be photographed.

Above, seated: Jo Walton, Bud Webster, Cynthia Felice (for Octavia Butler), Connie Willis, John Kessel (for Kij Johnson); standing: Delia Sherman, Geoff Ryman, Neil Gaiman, Joe Haldeman (for John Clute), Jamie Todd Rubin (for Ken Liu).

May 18, 2012
Some Rules of Guidelines for Political Discourse
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 04:56 PM * 134 comments

I’m pulling this onto the front page from the most recent political thread, because election season is coming, and I for one can’t face the crap we’re already slinging around in this community. Which is a pretty sucky position to be in as a moderator. So, heads up, people.

We, as a community, have become sloppy in our political discourse. We’re painting with much broader brushes than is appropriate, and we’re calling each other out far too quickly and too harshly. So from this point forward, in all political discussions:

1. If you wish to denigrate a group of people of whom you are not a member, do it in as constrained a way as possible, allowing space for the mistaken, the misunderstood, and the misinformed. Do not take the loudest and most obnoxious members of that group as representative without well-sourced evidence that this is accurate.

2. Before you accuse another member of this community of being “disingenuous”, “dishonest”, “lying”, or any synonyms, broadly construed, I want the following:
(a) a clear, sourced and unambiguous trail of why you believe that this person has been inconsistent with either their own stated record or the widely-accepted facts of the matter,
(b) a chance already given to that person to square the account before you make this accusation

I will disemvowel violations of these rules.

I trust this is clear.

Comments are closed on this matter. If you have a problem with these guidelines, email me privately, at my comment username at this domain. On second thought, we might as well discuss it here, because otherwise it’ll clog up the other thread. But make it persuasive and, if possible, pleasant to read. Respectful is a bare minimum. I’ve had enough crabbing already.

Morning second thoughts: Perhaps the first of these rules is too harsh. It doesn’t allow, for instance, the occasional cri de coeur, the outburst of shock, the impulse to shout at the clouds. But what it also prevents, what I am thoroughly weary of, what I am heartsick at the thought of moderating for another election cycle, is the way that those cries and outbursts have turned into the base assumptions for discourse.

Given that, I’ll happily entertain proposed revisions which distinguish between the two. And I’m willing to not disemvowel on sight, if warnings will cause people to do better.

But let’s be clear: conversations where we repeat, unexamined and unspecified, our blanket assumptions at one another about Those Other People—whoever they are—do not make anyone smarter, wiser, or more joyful. Quite the reverse.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Collegium Iustitiae.
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 07:03 AM * 203 comments

One of the consistent problems with the policing of the Occupy movement has been the way that forces deal with being filmed. Not that Occupy is unique—the spread of affordable, good-quality cameraphones is a fundamental change in the dynamic of police-civillian relations. The “he said/she said” model of complaints against the police, where prosecutors and juries tend to trust the uniform more than the blue jeans (or hoodie), falls down when there’s video evidence. It’s been falling down for twenty years.

People hate being caught out. And groups with strong esprit de corps and a deep feeling of separation from the common community are always at risk of putting defense of group members over justice to outsiders. The natural, inevitable reaction in this case has been a police culture of intimidation, confiscation and deletion against citizen journalists.

The ACLU, unsurprisingly, has been on the case. On May 3 they, along with the EFF and a number of similar groups, wrote a letter (pdf) to US Attorney General Eric Holder, calling for federal intervention.

The First Amendment has come under assault on the streets of America. Since the Occupy Wall Street movement began, police have arrested dozens of journalists and activists simply for attempting to document political protests in public spaces. While individual cases may not fall under the Justice Department’s jurisdiction, the undersigned groups see this suppression of speech as a national problem that deserves your full attention.

And the DoJ has already been doing so, even before the ACLU’s letter. In January, they sent a Statement of Interest to the judge in a civil case in Baltimore, where police had deleted a bystander’s video of an arrest. The Statement of Interest essentially instructed the judge to find that the bystander had a constitutional right to film the arrest.

The right to record police officers while performing duties in a public place as well as the right to be protected from the warrantless seizure and destruction of those recordings, are not only required by the Constitution… They are consistent with our fundamental notions of liberty, promote the accountability of our governmental officers, and instill public confidence in the police officers who serve us daily.

The Baltimore Police Department revised their General Order J-16, which covers the topic. But the DoJ, not satisfied, sent a letter, which is both a critique of the rewrite and a broad statement of the federal government’s position on the matter. It’s sweet reading for those of us who have felt for some time like the walls are closing in.

Because recording police officers in the public discharge of their duties is protected by the First Amendment, policies should prohibit interference with recording of police activities except in narrowly circumscribed situations. More particularly, policies should instruct officers that, except under limited circumstances, officers must not search or seize a camera or recording device without a warrant. In addition, policies should prohibit more subtle actions that may nonetheless infringe upon individuals’ First Amendment rights. Officers should be advised not to threaten, intimidate, or otherwise discourage an individual from recording police officer enforcement activities or intentionally block or obstruct cameras or recording devices.

Policies should prohibit officers from destroying recording devices or cameras and deleting recordings or photographs under any circumstances. In addition to violating the First Amendment, police officers violate the core requirements of the Fourteenth Amendment procedural due process clause when they irrevocably deprived individuals of their recordings without first providing notice and an opportunity to object.

Nice, huh? How about this:

…an individual’s recording of police activity from a safe distance without any attendant action intended to obstruct the activity or threaten the safety of others does not amount to interference. Nor does an individual’s conduct amount to interference if he or she expresses criticism of the police or the police activity being observed.

And this:

The Supreme Court has established that “the press does not have a monopoly on either the First Amendment or the ability to enlighten….. Indeed, numerous courts have held that a private individual’s right to record is coextensive with that of the press. A private individual does not need “press credentials” to record police officers engaged in the public discharge of their duties.

There’s plenty more, too. I’d recommend reading the whole thing.

I find this emphasis on the right of citizens to supervise law enforcement a little surprising, considering some of the other things we get out of Washington these days. But, as Patrick would say, that’s how politics works: inconsistently, messily, gradually and surprisingly. So it gives me cause to hope.

(I’ve already Parheliated some coverage of this. But I thought it warranted pulling onto the front page.)

May 13, 2012
Driving Around Vermont
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 11:54 PM * 56 comments

Earlier this month Doyle and I found ourselves in mid-state New Hampshire quite early in the day. We had a few hours before we were to arrive at where we wanted to be next, so the thought came to us, “Why not visit Joseph Smith’s birthplace?”

Yes, we get thoughts like that more often than we’d like to admit.

So, from Lebanon, New Hampshire, where we happened to be, we went cruising up I-89 (Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial Highway), to Exit 2 in Vermont, for Joseph Smith was a Vermonter. At Exit 2 we headed south on VT-132 to its end (not terribly far away) in the town of Sharon, an entirely quaintly picturesque New England town (as almost anywhere more than 500 yards off the highway tends to be in these parts). At the end of the road we turned west, cruising along VT-14 along the banks of the White River (best known, perhaps, from a town a bit farther downstream called White River Junction, where the White River and the Connecticut River meet; a town that once boasted seven rail lines and four depots). So we passed from Sharon into Royalton, Vermont, still along the banks of the White River.

This is farming and dairy country. Spring plowing (and fertilizing) was underway. Farther on we came to the junction of VT-14 and Dairy Hill Road (by no means a misnomer — the road had a section of 12% grade, and dairies lined the road on both sides). There, at the junction, we spotted a sign:

Mormon Prophet’s Birthplace. Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Lattter-day Saints, was born near here on December 23, 1805. A visitor’s center and a 38½ foot tall monument, considered the world’s largest polished granite shaft, commemorates his life and is located at the birthplace 2½ miles up Dairy Hill Road. The site is open year round.

Sounded like the right place, and who doesn’t want to see the world’s largest polished granite shaft? We went up (and up, and up, and up) the road.

Sure enough, a couple of miles farther on, off to the right we spotted LDS Lane. That was it, all right.

LDS Lane went back quite a way from Dairy Hill Road. Past a Mormon church. Past a small graveyard. Past a field. Past the bus parking. Past yet another welcome sign. Then, suddenly, without warning, there it was on the left: The tallest polished granite shaft in the world.

They don’t make ‘em like that any more.

It was still pretty early; we were the only ones there. Up at the monument itself, starting on the south face, the inscription reads:

Sacred to the memory of Joseph Smith, the prophet. Born here 23d. December 1805, martyred, Carthage, Illinois, 27th. June 1844.
On the north face, the inscription reads:
In the spring of the year of our Lord 1820, the Father and the Son appeared to him in a glorious vision, called him by name and instructed him.
Thereafter heavenly angels visited him and revealed the principles of the Gospel, restored the authority of the holy priesthood and the organization of the Church of Jesus Christ in its fullness and perfection.
The engraved plates of the Book of Mormon were given him by the angel Moroni. These he translated by the gift and power of God.
He organized the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints on the sixth day of April 1830, with six members.
He devoted his life to the establishment of this Church, and sealed the testimony with his blood.
In his ministry he was constantly supported by his brother Hyrum Smith, who suffered martyrdom with him.
Over a million converts to this testimony have been made throughout the world; and this monument has been erected in his honor, to commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of his birth, by members of the Church which he organized they love and revere him as a Prophet of God, and call his name blessed forever and ever. Amen.
An inscription around the monument, beginning on the south face and continuing onto the east, north, and west faces, reads:

It was still early; we hadn’t had any coffee. The welcome center wasn’t open yet (and I had a sneaking suspicion that even if it were coffee wouldn’t be on the menu). So we retreated back down the hill to the town of Sharon, where we’d seen a place that advertized breakfast. Given that this was a farming community, and given that they opened at 05:30, I expected that coffee would be available. And so it was that we came to Sandy’s Drive-In Lunch.

When we pulled up to Sandy’s we were the only folks there. There’s a small inside dining room, though mostly it’s set up to be an order-at-the-window sort of place. We went inside, and got our coffee. Which was good coffee.

Mostly it was just us: me and Doyle. A gent did come in and had breakfast while we were hanging out nursing our coffees, but not much other custom. So I had a chance to talk with the waitress, Cheryl. Sandy’s only re-opened in March of this year. They’d been pretty well devastated by Hurricane Irene. Cheryl brought out her photograph albums and we paged through them. The place had been a wreck. The water level had been even with the bottom of the roof. (She pointed out the line on the wall, above my head, that had been the high-water mark.) When you consider that the White River is across the road and, on the day we were there, the water level was about twenty feet below the street level … well, I was impressed. (Amazed that the building was still standing would be a better way to put it.)

The fire station, just up the road, had apparently been devastated. (The building with the red roof to the left of Sandy’s in the photo is the firehouse.)

Sandy’s didn’t have flood insurance, but that wasn’t a bad thing, I heard. The folks who did have flood insurance never got any money out of it. Going to year-round service rather than three-season was to pay off the loans they’d had to take out to rebuild.

Sandy’s is apparently right on the shake/frappe line: They advertised both shakes and frappes on the menu tacked to the wall, with different prices for each. The breakfast special omelet smelled pretty good. But Doyle and I had lunch planned for later on, so didn’t have anything to eat right then.

And so we departed, and carried on with the rest of our day.

May 09, 2012
Stepping up
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 03:15 PM * 139 comments

I have to tell you that over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together, when I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, at a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married.
President Barack Obama, today

The supposed depravity of cousin marriage: a moral panic we’d be better off without
Posted by Patrick at 08:50 AM * 222 comments

So last night North Carolina voters passed a dreadful amendment to their state constitution, declaring that “marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state.” In the wake of this I’m seeing a new upsurge of people finding it hilarious that many states ban same-sex marriage but allow cousins to marry.

It amazes me that so few liberal-minded Americans know this, but in fact anxiety over cousin marriage is a peculiarly American thing, the product of the same nineteenth-century anxieties about supposed backwoods degenerates and “corruption of our racial stock” that led to the early-twentieth-century boom in “eugenics.” First-cousin marriage is illegal in thirty states, and an outright criminal offense in five. By contrast, first-cousin marriage is legal in all of Europe save for Romania, Bulgaria, and Croatia, and legal as well in Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Canada, and most of Latin America. Although concerns over cousin marriage have occasionally surfaced in modern European political rhetoric—usually as a coded or not-so-coded way of stigmatizing immigrants from Muslim countries where cousin marriage is common—in law, among Western countries, the US is a complete outlier on this issue.

(Yes, citations needed. In fact I’m writing this from memory; I don’t have time to find all the links I’d like to embed, though maybe I’ll add some in the comments later.)

There are genetic risks in first-cousin marriage, but they’re fairly marginal, and can mostly be addressed by getting genetic counseling before having children. For marriages of second cousins and the like, the risks are nearly imperceptible. In fact, if the consequences of first-cousin marriage were as calamitous as many Americans seem to think, the human race would have died out tens of thousands of years ago. For most of history, most humans have lived in small communities and not traveled very far from home; cousin marriage has been extraordinarily common, and yet has somehow failed to yield a planet full of shambling six-fingered freaks.

The problem with finding it hilarious that some states ban same-sex marriage but allow cousin marriage is that you’re basically trashing those states for having laws which are progressive. And when you slam a state like North Carolina with this stuff, you’re participating in a long American history of using cousin marriage as a way of imputing that poor rural people, particularly poor rural people in Appalachia and the South, are depraved, terrifying, and other. Their physical infirmities aren’t products of poverty, malnutrition, and abuse; they’re because something’s fundamentally wrong with them as organisms. It’s not a rhetorical tradition to be proud of.

Disclaimer: Teresa and I are not cousins, nor were any of our immediate forebears, although both of us can certainly find first- and second-cousin marriages among our ancestors some generations back. This is overwhelmingly likely to be true of you, too. You freak.

Breaking Rings
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 04:35 AM * 43 comments

Proposed: a drama about a respected member of the Shire community who discovers that he is afflicted with a magical item whose effects (particularly the heavy-breathing black-cloaked figures) are likely to kill him. While maintaining his veneer of normality, he addresses the problem by introducing into his neighborhood the deadliest of addictive agents, one for which he has an especial expertise. (I refer, of course, to adventuring.)

Soon he has become the despair of his gardener (who is already dealing with the effects of unexpectedly falling in love), as he begins the process of steadily leading his former associates astray.

Merry and Pippin ending sentences with “Yo” and “OK?”! Tom Bombadil as Tuco Salamanca! If Aragorn is Hank, does that mean Arwen has a shoplifting problem? What do you think?

We’re only partway through watching Season Two, so I’m going to need help fleshing out the cast in the light of later developments. Do note that I’m spoiler-immune. I suggest anyone reading this who is not up to date with Breaking Bad be so too.

May 08, 2012
Grilled Pizza
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 10:50 AM * 38 comments

This recipe is courtesy of, and with the permission of, my friend Alice Loweecey, an ex-nun who writes mysteries. (He’s an ex-cop with a dirty mouth and a soft heart, she’s a former nun with a big secret … they fight crime!)

Grilled Pizzas

1 lb. store bread dough OR here’s my bread machine recipe:
1½ cups water
2 Tbl oil
2 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
4 cups flour
4 tsp yeast (regular, not the “bread machine” kind)
1 Tbl gluten

1 lb. shredded mozzarella cheese
1 jar sauce if you don’t have any homemade handy
1 lb. roll sausage, cooked, cooled, and crumbled
1 pkg sliced pepperoni
½ green pepper, sliced thin
(or any other toppings you might prefer)

When dough is done, spray grill with cooking spray and turn it on to its highest setting. Split dough into 8 pieces. Roll each piece into circles, more or less. (I use a rolling pin because it’s easier than hand-tossing.)

Depending on the size of your grill, set 2-4 circles on it, and lower the heat to medium-high. Cook till they bubble up, usually one huge bubble. Pop bubble and check the bottoms. you should see nice brown grill marks. This will take about 4 minutes. Take them off and put the next batch on. Repeat till all the circles are cooked on one side.

Bring them back inside and turn them over so the grill marks are face up. This prevents burned bottoms and soggy tops. Spread 2 Tbl. of sauce on each pizza, leaving ¼” edge bare. place desired toppings on each. Cover completely with a thin coating of cheese.

Re-spray the grill and put them on 2-3 at a time, cooking till the cheese is melted and the bottoms have nice brown grill marks, about 4 minutes.

Cool a bit, cut into halves or quarters, and nom.

Cooking with Light (recipe index)

May 06, 2012
Open Thread 173
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 01:27 PM *

Trail mix (sometimes called Gorp) is an ad-hoc snack made from mixed dry ingredients including (neither necessarily nor limited to) dry cereal, roasted peanuts, chocolate chips, raisins, small pretzels, and/or similar items.

The ingredients are mixed by stirring them together in a large bowl, then divided into individual plastic bags and given to children to carry on hikes.

Neither particularly good-tasting nor good-for-you, it is popular because it’s inexpensive, easy to make, lots of above-said and afore-mentioned children can safely participate in its production, and, besides, it’s traditional.

May 05, 2012
Face front, true believers!
Posted by Avram Grumer at 05:40 PM * 158 comments

We (Chris and I, and a bunch of local friends) saw The Avengers last night. It was a lot better than I was expecting based on this trailer:

Seriously, if you see it, stay through the credits. Even the long, boring text credits where they list the key grips and secondary unit accountants. A dangling plot thread is resolved!

Feel free to rant and/or rave about the movie in this thread; avoid if you hate spoilers and haven’t seen it.

Everything You Know is Wrong
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 11:36 AM *

And here I thought I wrote science fiction.

“Every stock owner should read this book.”
— Allan H. Meltzer, professor of political economy, Carnegie Mellon University

* A radically new way to determine what stocks are really worth
* Why the Dow is still poised to zoom
* Why the financial establishment is wrong
* Why stocks are actually less risky than bonds
* How to build a maximizing portfolio and invest without fear

“One of the hottest business books around… . It has wonderfully clear explanations of financial theory [and] excellent advice on general investing approaches.”
— Allan Sloan, Newsweek

“It may sound like headline-grabbing sensationalism, but the scholarly and punctilious authors make a persuasive case … the book is highly readable and witty.”
— Arthur M. Louis, San Francisco Chronicle

Dow 36,000 is a provocative and well-written treatise that cannot be dismissed… .”
— Burton G. Malkiel, Wall Street Journal

Dow 36,000: Everything you know about stocks is wrong.”
— Jim Jubak, Worth magazine

The book, as you may have gathered, was Dow 36,000: The New Strategy for Profiting from the Coming Rise in the Stock Market . It was published on 01 October 1999, reissued in paperback on 14 November 2000. In proving beyond the shadow of a doubt that the stock market would only rise, and rise more sharply than ever before, authors James K. Glassman and Kevin A. Hassett confidently predicted that the Dow would hit 36,000 by 2005.

1999 was the very height of the stock market bubble. Dow 36,000’s basic message was that stock prices would keep going up forever. As to how this would happen, it was because every economist who had written since “economist” became a profession was wrong.

You know the cartoon where the business plan has a block labeled “Then a miracle happens” just before the block labeled “Profit!”? That’s what was being presented in three hundred pages of witty and provocative prose, and what engendered such wonderful pull quotes from reviews. The authors were … vague … about the exact process by which the wonderful results would come to pass.

“They laughed at Galileo. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.”
—attributed to Carl Sagan
Glassman and Hassett’s particular discovery relied on people suddenly (and for no discernible reason) acting differently than they had since the invention of the stock market. This falls squarely under Sign #7 of the Seven Warning Signs of Bogus Science: 7. The discoverer must propose new laws of nature to explain an observation.
Blackadder: Look, there’s no need to panic. Someone in the crew will know how to steer this thing.
Captain Rum: The crew, milord?
Blackadder: Yes, the crew.
Captain Rum: What crew?
Blackadder: I was under the impression that it was common maritime practice for a ship to have a crew.
Captain Rum: Opinion is divided on the subject.
Blackadder: Oh, really?
Captain Rum: Yar. All the other captains say ‘tis; I say ‘tisn’t.
Blackadder: Oh, Ghod; Mad as a brush.

As we now know, the Dow-Jones high of 11,700 on 14 January 2000 has yet to be exceeded (once one adjusts for inflation). Far from hitting 36,000 by 2005, the market collapsed (as will happen with bubbles) to a closing low of 7,286.27 on 09 October, 2002, less than two years after the paperback edtion of this book hit the streets. Worse was to come: the Dow closed at 6,547 on 09 March 2009, a 12½ year low. As it turned out, everything that anyone who wasn’t Glassman and Hassett knew about stocks was right.

Nothing that you will learn in the course of your studies will be of the slightest possible use to you in after life, save only this, that if you work hard and intelligently you should be able to detect when a man is talking rot, and that, in my view, is the main, if not the sole, purpose of education.
—John Alexander Smith, professor of moral philosophy at Oxford, 1914,
Dow 36,000 was serialized in the Atlantic Monthly; it was a Money Book Club main selection and a Book Of The Month Club alternate selection; the authors got a five-city tour. Glassman went on to found the George W. Bush Institute, “an action-oriented organization focused on independent, non-partisan solutions to America’s most pressing public policy problems.” Hassett remains an economist at the American Enterprise Institute.

May 04, 2012
Talking it over
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 07:52 AM * 110 comments

SF sat at my dining room table, crying into a cold cup of coffee. It was oh-God late, and I was trying not to think about having to be functional in the morning. But Fic has been a friend since I was four years old and in love with Spock and Aragorn at the same time. I cherish it more than sleep. I met my husband and most of my friends in its clubs and parties. I’ve been with it through its identity crises (“Speculative Fiction now, please”) and it’s been with me through mine.

This was a long session. We’d been through denial: “Bear is just wrong about me. I can be funny. I can be light-hearted. For crying out loud, Randall Munroe is up for a Hugo this year. What more does she want?”

Then SF got angry, and it was personal. “What the hell is a matociquala anyway?”

“Don’t frakking complain about gorram made-up words to me, grok?” I replied. That got a laugh, or at least an amused snort. And Fic mercifully avoided the temptation to dismiss Bear because she’s a woman. I keep hoping it knows better than to pull that crap with me. But more than once, it’s been that friend who says the unspeakable and expects me to put up with it. Not tonight, though, which may be progress.

We kind of skipped bargaining and went straight to depression. “Nobody respects me. J.K. Rowling didn’t come to Worldcon back in 2005, even though it was right on her doorstep. Margaret Atwood gives me the cut direct, like we’re still in the Victorian era. But when I smarten myself up and play by literary rules, my friends turn around and tell me I’m too serious.”

Now we were getting somewhere. Now I could say what I’d been thinking the whole time. “I think Elizabeth Moon has a point in the comments, Fic. You’re acting like an outsider hoping to join a high school clique. You’ve filled your closet with the ‘right’ clothes and started hanging around the fringes of their groups at dances. You’re trying to use their slang and tell their jokes. But I’m not sure that’s really a good idea.”

“You’re leaving your real friends behind. You’re treating the people who like you for yourself like clandestine lovers. You’ll sneak out the back and play swords and rockets with us. But when it’s time to see and be seen, you come over all grimdark and serious, because you think that’s what the lit professors want.

“But here’s a thing I learned in high school. The people whose clique you’re trying to join? They all think they’re outsiders too, hoping if they act cool enough they’ll finally be accepted. Sure, prize-winning authors go on talk shows and sound like they knew from the start that they would make it in the literary world. But the truth is that they just wrote the stories they had to tell, then retrofitted their histories when their books became hits.

“And the really interesting people aren’t trying to be popular. They’re off somewhere else, making something because it’s fascinating and wonderful to them. Then they get good at what they’re doing, because what we enjoy, we do over and over again, and practice makes skillful. Then one day they look up and find out that they’ve accumulated a crowd. After all, nothing is so attractive as enthusiasm combined with skill.

“Look at John Scalzi. Look at Jo Walton, Neil Gaiman or Lois McMaster Bujold. Heck, how do you think Pratchett got so damned good? He started writing the Discworld books because they were fun and funny. Then after a while he was producing some of the most trenchant social and economic criticism in the genre.

“Also, did you ever notice how the popular kids at school turn into those self-absorbed twits who make reunions such a chore? This year’s best-sellers—and this decade’s university-level Modern Fiction texts—aren’t necessarily the books that will last.

“You’re chasing mirages. I really wish you’d quit.”

SF looked at me patiently as I wound down. “Wow. How long has that been brewing?”

“Long time, I guess. And I think most of your friends have similar rants. But look, I don’t think Bear means you can’t be serious, or even grim, from time to time. Hear this song?” I’d been playing my current iTunes mix in the background. Silence creates a pressure to talk, and Fic needed think time. But this track was a perfect segue into my next point.


“It’s about a girl who’s drowned by her sister, and about how a wandering fiddler makes a violin out of her corpse. Grimmer than grimdark. But I play it because it’s beautiful. And the blues are a valid musical form. Billie Holiday’s ‘Strange Fruitchanged the world.

“No one’s asking you to be all fluffy and cute. Just…you know, stop mistaking darkness for value. It’s a tool in the toolbox, not a measure of quality.”

“Right.” Fic drank a mouthful of coffee. “Hey, this is cold!” It stuck one finger in the mug and stared into space for a moment. Steam started to rise from the drink. It took another sip. “Better.”

“How did you…?”

“Burned a few calories from my waistline and transferred the thermal energy to the liquid. I’m Speculative Fiction, Abi. If I can explain it, I can do it.”

I laughed and pushed my mug across. “Sensawunda, baby! Can you do mine too?”

“Sure thing.”

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