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March 28, 2013
Open Thread 182
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 12:12 PM *

Born today in 1515, Saint Teresa of Ávila, (Teresa Sanchez Cepeda Davila y Ahumada) after whom our own Teresa is named.

Died, amid the smell of roses, in 1582, canonized in 1622, named a Doctor of the Church in 1970, St. Teresa is patron saint of bodily ills, headaches, chess, lace-makers, the loss of parents, people in need of Grace, people in religious orders, people ridiculed for their piety, the city of Pozega in Croatia, sick people, sickness in general, and Spain. Her feast day is October 15.

Considered (along with St. John of the Cross) founder of the Discalced Carmelite Nuns of the Primitive Rule of St. Joseph. On the day St. John of the Cross knocked at her door, St. Teresa (who was exceedingly tall, and known to her friends as “Long Teresa”) remarked to St. John of the Cross (who was exceedingly short), “God be praised! He has sent me half a monk!” St. Teresa also remarked to God, in her prayers one day, “If this is the way You treat Your friends it’s no wonder You have so few.”

St. Teresa’s books, The Interior Castle, The Way of Perfection, and autobiography Life Written by Herself, are still in print. Her collected letters are also available.

St. Teresa is famous for her religious ecstasies, during which she was embarrassed to levitate. She was also an avid gardener.

In her youth she delighted in reading romance novels, which she shared with her mother, but kept secret from her father on the grounds that he would not approve of such frivolity.

March 14, 2013
Pi(e) Day
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 12:58 PM * 128 comments

Today is 3.14 (coming in two years: 3.14.15….) In celebration, Boskone is having Pi(e) Day. And there we read (reprinted with Jen’s kind permission):

Jennifer Pelland’s Free Pi(e)

Here’s a recipe for my favorite kind of pie — Free Pie.

Step 1: Tell your sister/coworker/rabbi, “Hey, tomorrow is Pi Day! We should celebrate with fresh pie. Too bad I don’t live near a bakery. I suppose I could just get some from the grocery store.”

Step 2: Watch as a look of horror crosses their face. Repeat your offer to go to the grocery store for pie. “I’m sure they made it sometime this week. It’ll be fresh enough.”

Step 3: When they offer to bake a pie from scratch that night, say, “Oh, you shouldn’t go to all that trouble. I’ll just go to the grocery store at lunch tomorrow and bring some pie to the office.”

Step 4: The next morning, at your sister’s house/place of employment/synagogue, enjoy some nice Free Pie with your coffee.

Jennifer Pelland is the author of the novel Machine as well as several dozen published short stories. Because spare time is for the weak, she’s also a performing belly dancer and occasional radio theater actress.

March 07, 2013
Posted by Patrick at 09:59 PM * 155 comments

I am now mostly back on the job at Tor. Except not tomorrow. Spare a thought for TNH, who goes in at 10 AM EST for surgery to reconstruct her several-ways-abused left foot. I’ll be with her, or nearby, throughout.

It’s not actually a gigantic medical deal in the greater scheme of things, but FOOT. KNIVES. BONE. Ay yi! Wish us well.

March 04, 2013
Posted by Patrick at 05:59 PM * 68 comments

I’ve been sick for nearly three weeks now—first with the evil norovirus, then with a viral lung-and-sinus thing which went bacterial. Teresa has had much the same stuff, in slightly different order. We wound up canceling on Boskone, much to our regret.

I was in the office for some partial days last week, but basically I’m completely behind on everything. If it seems to you that I’m taking even longer than usual to answer your email, return your call, issue your contract, read your story, think about your proposal, write your convention bio, generate your catalog copy, or whatever else it is you’re waiting on me to do, you’re not wrong. It’ll all get done eventually, but service is definitely delayed due to circumstances beyond our control.

I am now taking a course of antibiotics, and reflecting, not for the first time, on the fact that “antibiotic” basically means “poison we take on purpose while hoping it kills only the bad stuff.” Microbial civilizations are dying inside of me. I have no brain.

I’m very tired of this. It can stop any time.

Keeping track of the fact watching them watching back
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 05:00 PM * 136 comments

A tweet of mine from today:

It’s a thought that arose when I was reading a review and came across this passage:

At one point during my time with Glass, we all went out to navigate to a nearby Starbucks — the camera crew I’d brought with me came along. As soon as we got inside however, the employees at Starbucks asked us to stop filming. Sure, no problem. But I kept the Glass’ video recorder going, all the way through my order and getting my coffee. Yes, you can see a light in the prism when the device is recording, but I got the impression that most people had no idea what they were looking at. The cashier seemed to be on the verge of asking me what I was wearing on my face, but the question never came. He certainly never asked me to stop filming.

My first reaction was…not good. They were told to stop filming, and they didn’t? Pretty damn intrusive. But I wondered if I was overreacting, so I let it slide. Then I saw (and Parheliated) this much-linked article. It expresses a slightly different problem, equally valid but rather more generally interesting (and a little less fraught). That one’s no longer “a feature that no one’s talking about”.

It made me revisit my earlier discomfort. The resultant tweet’s been much retweeted, and I’ve had some interesting conversations as a result. A few thoughts arising from them:

  • It looks like it would be harder to enforce a ban on creepshots than on copyrighted material.
  • This is partly because we already have the technological infrastructure in place around copy protection: watermarks, automated comparison algorithms, all that gubbins.
  • The technological infrastructure is in place because it’s been worth people’s money to overcome technical obstacles and set up systems. Smart people have been well-paid to do so.
  • We also have the cultural and legal infrastructure in place. We’ve made the choice (not me, and not without protest, but we as a society have done) that fair use is acceptable collateral damage in the protection of copyrighted material. Hollywood has lobbyists and legislation.
  • There’s no money in limiting creepshots.
  • No money means no history of effort put into dealing with the obstacles, either technical or social.
  • No history of effort put into overcoming them means the obstacles look insurmountable.

Various solutions floated around my Twitter stream, some serious, some not: facial recognition tied to a Do Not Photograph database; a lapel pin broadcasting a signal that disables the camera; dazzle camo. Giving up and licensing images for a fee. Pretty good notions for a bunch of amateurs spitballing in their spare time. But, as @awa64 pointed out during a really interesting exchange:

That’s one of the serious social (rather than technical) problems to limiting the Google Glass’ ability to photograph people in public. There are others. For instance, any solution—technical or legal—that a woman on the subway can use, a misbehaving police officer can use as well. Is that a more or less acceptable sacrifice to make than fair use? I honestly don’t know. I think there’s a hard discussion to be had there.

But I have the weary suspicion that what we will end up doing is nothing, because that’s the way our technological innovations generally work: implement first, dismiss the consequences later. Still, somewhere in this wide-ranging discussion, I caught a glimpse of a world where the safety and respect of real human beings got the same kind of innovative, problem-solving attention that Steamboat Willie does. It was just a glimpse of a possibility, but it intrigued me.

March 03, 2013
Help us, Fluorosphere
Posted by Teresa at 09:55 PM *

Behold the film documentaire, Histoire de l’amérique - La conquête de l’ouest.1:

We cannot make sense of it. Why does American history apparently begin with a giant meteor striking the Appalachians? What’s up with Daniel Boone et les Shawnee? And for ghod’s sake, why is there an interview with Donald Trump?

March 02, 2013
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 03:19 AM * 113 comments

Like many of us on Making Light, I am much intrigued by myths and how we retell them as times change. One I’ve been tracking for some time is the myth of the Finding of the True King (or Queen). We don’t go in much for swords in stones any more, and scrofula turns out to be treatable by antibiotics—at least until the drug-resistant strains take over. But we’re still telling the stories.

I caught a whiff of the myth while I was watching Tangled. There’s a scene where Flynn the thief, trying to scare Rapunzel, takes her to the wretchedest hive of scum and villainy he knows: the Snuggly Duckling tavern, where all the brigands and murderers hang out. It doesn’t work out quite how he expects. By the time she’s done with them, these scary men have told her all of their secret dreams and hopes. She gives them the encouragement to be their true selves, their best selves, whether that’s a stage pianist or a mime. Having been transformed, they then rescue her later on in the film. She’s their queen long before even she knows it.

But Tangled was about other things for me, so I filed the observation and moved on.

The thought resurfaced this past Christmas when I watched a Dutch film, Koning van Katoren (King of Katoren). It’s about a young man named Stach who decides to apply for the vacant position of king of his (modern) European country. The ruling junta set him a bunch of Herculean tasks—curing diseases, fighting dragons, defeating wizards*—and settle back to wait for him to give up or be killed. But in each case, this rather gormless party boy works with the locals to solve the problem at hand. He demonstrates a number of useful traits for a modern king: taking on powerful corporations for the sake of ordinary people, tactical planning, physical courage, and a willingness not only to sacrifice himself, but to choose wisely among the opportunities to do so. Then he gets given the final task. He’s told to throw himself off of a tower into the courtyard below.

His girlfriend (daughter of one of the junta members, whom he has won over as he’s done the other quests) sends out a message on Facebook: come to the capital, and bring your pillow. All of the people he’s helped in all of his previous quests come, and create a pile of cushions large enough to catch him. He leaps, he lands, he is king.

The common thread between those two children’s movies is the idea that the True Monarch is not just one who does great deeds, nor even one who leads others to do great deeds. The True Monarch inspires people to do great deeds that neither the Monarch nor the people themselves would have dreamed of doing. Monarch as catalyst. It reminds me of the last paragraph of an otherwise hilarious rant about the Elfstedentocht (the Dutch Eleven Cities’ ice-skating race) that I Parheliated last year:

First across the line will be a mysterious giant, a seven-foot tall stranger whose eleven-stamped card identifies him only as a Mr. W.A. van Buren of Wassenaar, and a nation will stand and weep, each and all with the exact exalted grace as did his royal bride those ten long years ago, but this time, the theme to Soldier of Orange will play as a people realizes the true nature of its sudden hero, who will then be crowned king, right then and there on the Bonkevaart all frozen over, on the Twenty-First day of the Second month of the year Two Thousand and Twelve, king glorious King William IV, before the eyes of all of Leeuwarden and all of Freezeland and all of the shining Nation, to be august King of all Dutch, for all Dutch, and all will be well again, all will be well we will not be so angry anymore, and not be so tired, and maybe, just maybe, not so greedy or callous, but noble and caring and quiet and strong, and all will be well, for a thousand triumphant years.

All will be well again, all will be well. We will not be so angry anymore, and not so tired, and maybe, just maybe, not so greedy or callous, but noble and caring and quiet and strong. What is that but the heartfelt cry of longing for the True King, and chance to be the people that he could make us into?

And we Americans aren’t immune from that hunger for someone to make us our best selves either. We just call them Presidents and go through them faster. “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.” Yes, you can. Si se puede. Remember the heady days of Obama’s first campaign? That was a real thing: the hunger to have a True President, at least for a while. We hoped he would make us our best selves.

As it happens, two of my three monarchies are in transition at the moment. The monarchy of my residence is easy: Willem-Alexander will be a perfectly adequate king, just as his mother was a perfectly adequate Queen. We’ll sing the Wilhemus and wear orange for his birthday; there may be drinking and flea markets. All will be pretty much OK. May my second-passport monarchy (Windsor) do as well.

But my first monarchy is the one that concerns me right now. The organization is in deep, structural trouble. The holder’s sudden choice to vacate the throne is worrying, and I am torn between curiosity and dread to hear (what we will ever hear of) why he really stepped down. And although I’m sure the Conclave is intending to vote for the Pope who will make us all our best selves, I don’t think they’re the right electorate to identify him. I think they, and the entire hierarchy, have forgotten (or never knew) what it is to be a Catholic in the world. I don’t think they will elect a Pope who will make us our best selves (or them their best selves), and when he does not, I think they will continue to blame everyone but themselves.

I wish it were not so. I’d love a Pope who renewed the church, and turned us from an engine of politics and condemnation to one of love and healing. That’s what I hope for. But I know better than to expect it. Because the True Monarch is a fairy tale, no more real than its cousin-myth of the Philosopher’s Stone. The Conclave will choose someone in scarlet robes who won’t, even if he wants to, be able to turn the rumbling Juggernaut of the hierarchy from its course. In the same way, Willem-Alexander will open hospitals, kiss babies, and change nothing. And Obama will send out more drones.

But the fact that fairy tales don’t come true doesn’t rob them of their value. The problems they describe are real, even if the solutions that follow aren’t. There are no True Monarchs, but the hunger to be our best selves endures. In the end—as in the beginning and the middle—we turn ourselves into those best selves, every day, piece by piece and act by act.

* My favorite task doesn’t really fit the list of classic quests. Stach has to stop four houses of worship that travel endlessly though the streets of Uikumene: a Catholic church, a Protestant church, a synagogue and a mosque. They grind along the roads accompanied by dust and deep rumbling noises, steered by deacons using great wheels behind the pulpits, and worshipers have to run alongside them and hop aboard. It’s wonderful imagery. Stach plots four courses that bring them together in the central square, so that their ceaseless magical momentum holds them in dynamic stasis. He and the mayor use a shared choral performance to coordinate the movements, meaning that the magnificent endeavor is completed to the strains of Ode to Joy. Because, Europe.

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