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July 29, 2013
Trauma and You, Part Six: Blast Injuries
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 03:04 AM * 79 comments

As promised in Trauma and You Part Five: Burns this is the entry on injuries caused by explosions. Blast injuries are challenging: Practically any kind of traumatic injury is possible. The scene may be unsafe. There may be HAZMAT. It is possible that you’ll be facing a multiple-casualty incident (MCI). It is also possible that you’ll be operating inside a crime scene.

The first important thing to do is stay safe yourself. The second most important thing to do is get help rolling.

Before we start talking about your first-aid response to blast injuries, I want to talk a bit about explosions in general (in such a general way that it will have professional chemists, physicists, and firefighters rolling their eyes). I’m going to be talking about non-nuclear explosions here. For nukes — all this plus radiation.

You have a couple of different kinds of explosions: You have your steam explosions, where steam pressure exceeds the strength of the container. These can be referred to as mechanical explosions. You have your low explosives, such as gunpowder, which can be understood as very rapid burning, where the combustion produces gas pressure inside of a container. These (and many others) are chemical explosions. And you have your high explosives, such as dynamite where the energy comes from chemical bonds being broken. An open pan of water over heat will just boil away. A pile of gunpowder in the open will burn with a rapid Whoosh. Neither will explode without being confined in a container. A block of TNT in the open will still explode. “Brisance” is the shattering power of an explosion. Gunpowder has low brisance: when you’re digging tunnels in hard rock black powder will turn the rock into boulders. TNT has higher brisance: in the same tunnel TNT will turn the rock into gravel. Some explosives, for example HBX (for High Brisance eXplosive) are noted for their brisance.

The common elements in explosions are generally rapidly-generated/rapidly-released high-pressure gasses.

Regardless of the source of the explosion, some items are common from a responder’s point of view: pressure wave, heat, projectiles, and personnel displacement.

Your typical explosion begins with rapidly expanding, often hot, gas. In the cases of dust, gas, or aerosol explosions, the explosion doesn’t have a point of origin, but rather an area of origin. The rapidly-moving molecules strike other molecules, setting them in motion. They strike others, in turn, in an expanding sphere of pressure. Energy moves outward, rapidly. This is your pressure wave. It is generally just slightly faster than the speed of sound. Regardless of what Hollywood may show, you can’t outrun an explosion.

When the pressure wave strikes a person, the wave continues through that person’s body. Solid, and liquid-filled, organs and tissues are generally unaffected. Hollow structures, including the lungs, sinuses, auditory canal, and bowels, can sustain significant damage. In general, a mere 15psi overpressure can be fatal. Once the compression/decompression of the shockwave passes, that part of the explosion is done. It is fast, and brief. (In this video of the PEPCON explosion, you can actually see the pressure wave as it travels across the desert floor.)

The next item of concern is heat. You have hot gasses, and you have radiant heat. A human body is mostly water; the very brief heat of an explosion is unlikely, by itself, to create more than superficial burns. However, other flammable material (including but not limited to the patient’s clothing) may ignite, and that secondary fire may produce life-threatening burns.

The third mechanism of injury is projectiles. Fragments of either the explosive’s container or bits of scenery can be propelled with great force over long distances. Broken glass, masonry, gravel, wood — whatever was near the source of the explosion — will be moving through the air at high speed. This can produce either blunt-force or penetrating trauma if it strikes a person. Explosive fragments generally don’t penetrate deeply, but larger/heavier fragments can cause significant damage.

The last major source of trauma is personnel displacement. Following behind the pressure wave, the expanding gasses from the explosion form a blast wind that can pick up and move people, causing them to fall or strike other objects. You can get any kind of injury in this way; someone knocked into a body of water may drown.

The combination of pressure wave and blast wind may weaken structures. Building collapse can give you patients with crush injuries, along with the other blunt-force trauma, penetrating trauma, barotrauma, and burns that they have already suffered.

Fires may complicate rescue efforts. Weakened structures may complicate rescue efforts. Confined-space rescue, common in building collapses, is a specialty which requires equipment and training most folks don’t have. Stay safe yourself.

For examples of all these kinds of injuries, see The Fiery Keel of Antwerp’s Bridge.

The pressure wave and the heat of the explosion cause the primary injuries.

From The Fiery Keel::

The page, who was behind him, carrying his helmet, fell dead without a wound, killed by the concussion of the air.

Due to the incompressible nature of water, underwater explosions have very damaging pressure waves. Generally speaking, an underwater explosion’s pressure wave is damaging out to three times the distance as an in-the-air explosion, given an equivalent explosion. The pressure wave can be highly lethal. On the plus side, the pressure wave rapidly attenuates with distance, so your overpressure patients will generally be those quite close to the explosion. Nevertheless, underwater explosions and gas-cloud explosions can affect large areas.

The pressure wave moves perpendicular to the surface of the explosive. A person’s orientation to the pressure wave has a large effect on the resulting injuries. The severity varies directly with the surface area exposed. The worst injured will be those standing, facing directly toward, or directly away from, the point of origin. Those least injured are generally those lying on the ground, with their heads, or their feet, pointing to the point of origin. The same is true underwater, with the provision that overpressure effects are greater with greater depth.

Explosions are often associated with intense heat. While the burns received from the flash itself are generally superficial, other flammable materials ignited by the explosion may produce extensive and serious burns. A comparatively small explosion can spread flammable material over a wide area. Burns by themselves are seldom rapidly fatal. Do not be distracted by them from other, more critical, injuries. See Trauma and You Part Five: Burns.

The most common, and most serious, injury in blasts is lung injury. This may not be instantly obvious. Damage to the lungs may result in the lungs filling with blood, or may result in air entering the circulatory system or the chest cavity. Be alert for anyone showing signs of shock, labored breathing, coughing up blood or pink sputum, breathing unusually rapidly or unusually slowly, or who has unusual lung sounds. These may develop over time. Just because someone looks fine now doesn’t mean that they aren’t seriously injured. Any pulmonary symptoms make the patient a red tag (i.e. immediate transport).

Be prepared to perform artificial respiration if the patient stops breathing. Use oxygen if you have it, and use the least pressure necessary; ventilate only to moderate chest rise.

A patient with ruptured bowels does not require any special immediate treatment on-scene beyond basic life support. These injuries are rarely rapidly fatal; let a trauma center deal with them.

Do not overlook the possibility of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), especially Diffuse Axonal Injury (DAI). The symptoms may be quite subtle, and may not manifest immediately. Anyone who has been in or near a blast merits prolonged observation. Other than basic life support there are no special first-aid actions. See TMI about TBI.

Ear injuries are seldom life-threatening. Your patients may have hearing loss, which may make it difficult for them to answer questions or follow directions. They may be disoriented, and may go into psychogenic shock even in the absence of other injuries.

Secondary injuries are those created by blast projectiles. These can be parts of the explosive’s container, or a structure, or other parts of the environment propelled by the explosion. They travel rapidly, with great energy, although usually slower than bullets, and without bullets’ aerodynamic properties. They can cause serious injuries outside of the zone of the blast’s pressure wave.

From The Fiery Keel:

Parma himself was thrown to the ground, stunned by a blow on the shoulder from a flying stake.

Treat projectile injuries as you would any penetrating trauma. Assuming the patient has an airway and is breathing, control bleeding and treat for shock.

Some injuries caused by projectiles can be quite grotesque, up to and including traumatic amputation. Do not be distracted by grotesque injuries from more serious underlying injuries or conditions. See Trauma and You, Part Four: The Squishy Bits

Tertiary injuries are caused by personnel displacement and structural collapse.

From The Fiery Keel:

Houses were toppled down miles away, and not a living thing, even in remote places, could keep its feet.

Another young officer of Parma’s body-guard … rose like a feather into the clouds, and, flying quite across the river, alighted on the opposite bank with no further harm than a contused shoulder.

Traveling just behind the pressure wave is the blast wind. This consists of the actual heated-and-expanding gasses of the explosion. The blast wind has less strength but greater duration than the pressure wave. Its primary mechanism of injury is through picking up people and throwing them into fixed objects. People who are being propelled through the air by the explosion become projectiles themselves, and may cause injuries to other patients. Just because you find a patient at some distance from the explosion, do not assume that he or she was not far closer to the center of the event when it happened.

Compared to injuries from the pressure wave and projectiles, personnel displacement creates fewer and less serious injuries, but serious injuries are possible. These are mostly blunt trauma. See Trauma and You, Part Three: Sticks and Stones

The pressure wave and blast wind can cause structural damage in nearby buildings which may lead to their collapse. Don’t assume that just because a building didn’t collapse immediately that it is structurally safe.

If there was one explosion, assume that there will be more. With explosive events the hot zone is 1/2 mile (about five city blocks) in all directions, including vertically.

Be highly alert to your surroundings; gas leaks, downed power lines, weakened structures, fires, sharp metal, broken glass, or other hazards may make getting to your patients challenging. If you have patients in the hot zone, do what you have to in order to get them out of the hot zone.

You may be in an MCI. For more on that, see: Triage for Fun and Profit

A brief note on crime scenes: Follow the same path out that you followed on the way in. Touch nothing that you don’t have to touch to provide patient care. If you do have to move something, remember what it was you moved, where it was, and what you did with it. Take nothing with you that you don’t have to. Don’t clean up after yourself. If you must cut a patient’s clothing off, and there are holes in that clothing, cut around rather than through the holes. Don’t throw the clothing out. Immediately afterward, write up your recollections fully.

Okay, here we are at the end. There’s an explosion. What do I do, standing there in my shirtsleeves?

  1. Stay safe. If you’re that close hit the dirt until after the blast wind passes.
  2. Get help rolling
  3. Triage if circumstances require it.
  4. Provide basic first aid as appropriate (See Trauma and You, Part One: The Basics and Trauma and You, Part Two: Shock)
  5. Stay safe.

Copyright © 2013 by James D. Macdonald

I am not a physician. I can neither diagnose nor prescribe. These posts are presented for entertainment purposes only. Nothing here is meant to be advice for your particular condition or situation.

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Trauma and You, Part Six: Blast Injuries by James D. Macdonald is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License.

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Index to Medical Posts

July 20, 2013
Naughty Little Booze Hound
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 11:22 PM * 124 comments

Let me recommend a book to you: Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails by Ted Haigh. The subtitle is “100 Rediscovered Drinks and the Stories Behind Them.” Quarry Books, Beverly Massachusetts, 2009. ISBN 1-59253-561-3

This is a beautifully-produced book, spiral bound, board covers, glossy paper, illustrated with gorgeous color photos of the drinks themselves, and assorted period pamphlets and paraphernalia. The list of drinks runs from the Alamagoozlum Cocktail to Don The Beachcomber’s Zombie, with stops along the way at the Moscow Mule, the French 75, the Leatherneck, and the Fred Collins Fiz.

Besides the illustrations, the text includes long and learned disquisitions on the differences between a cocktail, a highball, and a vodka buck, the history of cocktails (originally a morning drink), and two centuries of general social history.

Some of the Prohibition-era cocktails have names like The Twelve-Mile Limit and the Scofflaw to give you an idea of who was drinking them, where, and why. Many of the drinks have exotic ingredients: Maybe you have gomme syrup, Crème de Violette, and Amaro Cora on the shelf but I sure don’t. Helpfully, there’s an appendix listing sources for many of the more exotic ingredients, and even a recipe for making Boker’s Bitters1 (which is no longer in commercial production). Other parts of the appendices include recipes for the drinks mentioned in passing, some in quite interesting variations.

1   Unfortunately, the Boker’s Bitters formula makes well over a gallon of the stuff, which is probably more than a lifetime supply. I can imagine getting a good number of small pressed-glass bottles, some corks, printing some labels, and thus having unusual holiday presents for all your historical-cocktail-drinking friends.

Measurements are helpfully provided in ounces, gills, and centiliters.

Let me show you how this book reads: This is the text for “The Secret Cocktail”:

Just so you know, the real name of this drink is not the Secret Cocktail. I will eventually reveal its rightful title, but be forewarned, it has two characteristics that scare people to death: its name—it is enough to send virtually all men and most women running away, screaming—and that darned egg again. See the Alamagoozlum Cocktail (page 28) and the Delicious Sour (page 104) for my stance on egg in drinks.

First of all, this is a forgotten cocktail in the truest sense, but it is cloaked in familiarity because you can walk into virtually any bar and order one, if you have a mind to, but they will all be wrong, incorrect, not even close. ALL of them. First concocted in the early twentieth century, the Clover Club Cocktail was named for the venerable Philadelphia men’s club, created at the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel, and was consumed in copious quantities by its estimable members (financiers, attorney, captains of industry and traditional literary sorts).

The Secret Cocktail is not a Clover Club, but I must tell you what a Clover Club contained so you will understand the insanity surrounding the not-yet-unnamed cocktail of our discourse. It contained gin, lemon juice, and egg white, and a bit of grenadine. It was an opalescent, light-rose hue. Very fetching. Our Secret Cocktail contains the ingredients you see:

  • 1-½ ounces (½ gill, 4.5 cl) dry gin
  • ½ ounce (⅛ gill, 1.5 cl) applejack
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • 1 egg white
  • 2 dashes real pomegranate grenadine

Shake it up with all due vigor in an iced cocktail shaker, strain into a cocktail glass, and serve with a cherry.

Drink Notes

Note the similarity to the Clover Club? Same production, same proportions. Men, however (and now women) would not be caught dead ordering our little Secret Cocktail … the original Pink Lady. All the Pink Lady did was to add some applejack, which made the drink immeasurably tastier, but not one whit sweeter. It was also just a tad stronger,and the two cocktails were equally pink. Now you tell me: Who was smarter, the guys or the dolls? Jury is in. The women win. So make this drink correctly for all your friends, but don’t tell them the name of the drink until after they’ve tasted it.

I’d also like to add that the best place to order either the Clover Club or (shhhh) the Secret Cocktail is at the Clover Club bar in Brooklyn, New York. This place is the brainchild of one of the great visionaries of the bar, Julie Reiner. I wish I was there right now.

So, how did I happen to come upon this marvelous little book?

There I was, walking through a real doors-and-windows bookstore, looking for a book on interpreting EKGs. (I wanted to see what they had on the shelf, y’see, and compare it to my needs.)

And, as one does, whilst walking through a bookstore, I cast my eye onto the other shelves. And there this was. One look and I knew that it would be mine. It’s pretty, it’s full of history and trivia, and the recipes look Darned Good.

Why do people buy books? Mostly because they’ve read and enjoyed something else by the same author. In this case I’d never heard of Ted Haigh before. A second reason is because a trusted friend recommended it (as I hope I stand in relation to y’all: You do want to buy this book if what I’ve told you of it so far seems at all interesting). In this case, nobody had mentioned the book, either. There’s a third class of sales: The ones that come from a reader Seeing Something Interesting on the Shelf.

Now the serious part of this post:


Listen up.

If I want a toy, I go to a toy store. If I want candy, I go to a candy store. If I want electronics I go to an electronics story. Do you know what I want when I go to a bookstore? Any guesses? Well, it isn’t toys, candy, or electronics. I want books.

Not just books: A good selection of books. And that includes midlist and backlist. Say I see the third volume of a series on the shelf, a series I’d not encountered before. It looks interesting. I want to buy the first couple of volumes too. They came out a few years ago. If they aren’t there, what’s the message? You want me to order ‘em from Amazon? If I’m doing that I might as well order all three and get free shipping.

I know it sounds like Dreadful Business Speak, but what you need to do is get back to your core competence: Selling books. To people like me. I’m here, I’m eager to buy books. I’ll drive three hours to get to a well-stocked bookstore. And that does not mean well-stocked-with-sports-jerseys-coffee-cups-and-calendars.

For the Love of Benji, all those books are fully returnable. I bet the candy isn’t. Stock books. Give people places where they can sit, good light, ample parking, and Sell Me A Book, kay? Not just the book I was looking for. The book I wasn’t looking for, but knew, the minute I saw it, that I had to have it.

That’s what you need to do.

July 19, 2013
What profiling actually entails
Posted by Patrick at 02:51 PM * 23 comments

This hidden-camera video (sorry, can’t embed it) was actually made several years ago. It’s been linked to a lot in the last few days. Honestly, if you haven’t seen it, take the four and a half minutes and do so.

As Quinn Murphy observed on Twitter the other day, in its pared-down essence, racism is about who we mistrust, and who we give the benefit of the doubt. This video dramatizes the arbitrariness of that—spectacularly.

July 18, 2013
Things I Learned from Sharknado
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 12:02 AM * 69 comments

Things I learned from Sharknado:

  • You can dissipate an EF-4 tornado by dropping a bomb made from a blowtorch tank and a highway flare into it from a helicopter.
  • In the middle of a hurricane roads will be dry and outdoor light will be strong with well-defined shadows.
  • Water flows up hill.
  • When a shark falls from a thousand feet in the air onto pavement, not only will it survive it will be hungry and rush toward the nearest humans and attempt to eat them.
  • Tough as sharks are, a single shot from a short-barreled revolver will kill any shark.
  • Nothing can knock out electric power in Southern California.
  • Having a shark bite your leg will not in any way limit your ability to run, jump, climb, drive a car, or otherwise maneuver.
  • LA drivers are so blasé that when a Ferris wheel rolls across a highway and smashes into a building in front of them they will continue to drive normally on the street below the wreckage.

July 17, 2013
New England Hurricane Awareness Week
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 11:02 PM *

The National Weather Service has declared the week of July 15th through 19th, Hurricane Awareness Week in New England.

Here in New Hampshire we expect a category 1 hurricane once ever 30 years, a category 2 once every 150 years, and a category 3 once every 400 years. Notwithstanding that we’ve had two category 3 storms in the past century (the Hurricane of ‘38 and Hurricane Carol in ‘54).

National Hurricane Awareness Week was May 26 to June 1 of this year. NOAA has many useful links, including the Tropical Cyclone Preparedness Guide (.pdf) in English and Spanish. Notice where they say, for Category 3, “Devastating damage will occur” and for Category 4-5 “Catastrophic damage will occur.” They mean that.

I recall, back in the early ‘sixties, seeing a Civil Defense pamphlet for dealing with Nuclear War. A couple of illustrations in that showed a guy lying in a hammock, sipping a tall cool drink through a straw, captioned “Time, but No Plan.” On the facing page was an illustration of a fellow who had placed a door against the outside foundation of his house so that it formed one side of a triangular prism; he’s shoveling dirt onto the top of this arrangement while a mushroom cloud looms on the horizon behind him. This one was captioned “A Plan, but No Time.”

The threat of nuclear war made a big impression on anyone who remembers the ‘sixties. Nuclear war, it turned out, didn’t come. But I promise you that hurricanes and other damaging weather will come. This year. You’ve got time. Make a plan.

FEMA has a good webpage too: Among the links there is the one to Ready.Gov Hurricanes. That one contains specific advice for concrete action to take before, during, and after hurricanes.

FEMA recommends that folk know their risk, take appropriate action, and be an example to others. I concur. So, do that.

We’ve discussed hurricanes at Making Light before, particularly around Katrina, Irene, and Sandy. Here are some of those links:

As always, follow the links and read the comment threads.

If you don’t have your Weather Radio yet, for the love of Benji, why not?

Be aware that the highest winds are usually to the right of a hurricane’s track while the heaviest rains are usually to the left of track.

Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale
Category DefinitionEffects
1 winds: 74-95 mph (64-82 kt)  No real damage to well-constructed buildings. Damage primarily to poorly constructed buildings and unanchored Mobile homes, shrubbery, and trees. Also, some coastal flooding and minor pier damage is possible.
Examples: Irene 1999 and Allison 1995.
2 winds: 96-110 mph (83-95 kt)  Some damage to building roofs, doors, and windows. Considerable damage to vegetation, Mobile homes, etc. Flooding damages piers and small craft in unprotected moorings may break their moorings.
Examples: Bonnie 1998, Georges (FL & LA) 1998 and Gloria 1985.
3 winds: 111-129 mph (96-112 kt)  Some structural damage to small residences and utility buildings, with a minor amount of curtain-wall failures. Mobile homes are destroyed. Flooding near the coast destroys smaller structures with larger structures damaged by floating debris. Terrain may be flooded well inland.
Examples: Katrina 2005, Fran 1996, Opal 1995, Alicia 1983 and Betsy 1965
4 winds: 130-156 mph (113-136 kt)  More extensive curtain-wall failures with some complete roof structure failure on small residences. Major erosion of beach areas. Terrain may be flooded well inland.
Examples: Hugo 1989 and Donna 1960
5 winds: 157+ mph (137+ kt)  Complete roof failure on many residences and Industrial buildings. Some complete building failures with small utility buildings blown over or away. Flooding causes major damage to lower floors of all structures near the shoreline. Massive evacuation of residential areas may be required.
Examples: Andrew (Florida) 1992, Camille 1969 and Labor Day-Florida Keys 1935

Stay safe, everyone.

July 14, 2013
July 13, 2013
Posted by Patrick at 10:57 PM *

Cherry on top: Zimmerman gets back his gun.

No words.

July 09, 2013
Friends, Photons, Fluorospherians, lend me your sense-organs!
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 03:48 PM *

I’m going to be back in Northern California soon, seeing family, large pieces of rock, ghost towns, cinder cones, large mammals, medium-sized mammals, and old stomping grounds. It occurs to me that it might also be fun to see some of our community, if anyone in the area is game.

Unfortunately, my schedule has gone from merely complex to genuinely non-Euclidean, and it looks like the only day that would work for this exercise is Wednesday 24 July. (As an added bonus, this date also works for Serge, who will be in the area that week!)

So I was thinking we could get together at Breads of India on Clay Street in Oakland, where we had the last Gathering of Light. 6pm sounds like a reasonable time to gather, though we can shift things if people can’t come till later on.

Anyone interested? It would be useful if you so noted in the comments, so that we can give them an estimate.

I’m sorry if this is hasty and rather terse. I’m swamped at work right now, and very much looking forward to a vacation. I’ll look forward to it even more if you’re there. Please come if you can.

July 06, 2013
Peach Pie
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 07:08 PM * 35 comments

Since it’s the season (and the perfect dessert for a nice summery dinner):

Peach Pie

  • 2 lbs ripe peaches
  • ½ cup light brown sugar
  • ½ cup unsifted all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup butter
  • ½ cup granulated (white) sugar
  • ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 egg
  • 2 Tbsp half&half or light cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 9” unbaked pie shell in pie plate

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Wash, peel, and slice the peaches.

Combine the brown sugar and flour in a bowl. Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter to form a coarse crumbly mixture.

Place about ½ cup of the brown-sugar-flour-butter mixture evenly into the bottom of the pie shell. Add the sliced peaches (you should have roughly 4 cups).

Mix the white sugar with the nutmeg. Sprinkle on top of the peaches.

Put the egg, half&half, and vanilla into a bowl. Stir until combined. Pour over the peaches.

Spread the rest of the brown-sugar-flour-butter mixture evenly (or as evenly as possible) on top of the peaches. Put into the oven and bake for 40-45 minutes. The top should be golden-brown all over.

Allow to cool. Serve it forth.

Cooking With Light (recipe index)

July 03, 2013
“Dear Twelve Rabid Weasels of SFWA, please shut the fuck up.”
Posted by Patrick at 12:03 PM * 343 comments

[ATTENTION CONSERVATION NOTICE: Insider stuff about the professional science fiction world.]

Mary Robinette Kowal is an SF and fantasy writer who recently served two terms as an officer of the Science Fiction Writers of America, an organization of nearly 1800 members. Along with her many other virtues, she is notable for her patience and unimpeachably good manners.

This is what happens when a truly patient and well-mannered person gets to the end of their rope with idiots.

I spent four years in [SFWA] office and the first year I almost quit because I got so tired of getting hate mail. Then I realized that it was coming from the same dozen people, every single time. All the other members were lovely. It was easier to shrug off being called “impertinent,” or “wannabe” (did I show you the Hugo I won since then?), or “Nazi,” when it became clear that the vitriol didn’t represent all of SFWA, just a dozen rabid weasels.

However, I am sick to death of putting out the fires that you people start.

Please quit. And by “quit” I mean, please quit SFWA in a huff. Please quit noisily and complaining about how SFWA is censoring you for asking you to stop using hate speech. Please quit and complain about the “thoughtcrime” of asking people not to sexually harass someone. Please quit and bellyache about the good old days when people could be bigoted jerks. I want you to express your opinions clearly so that everyone knows them and knows that you are quitting because the other members of SFWA want you to Shut the Fuck up.

It will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with organizational politics, or with human beings for that matter, that almost nobody in SFWA will have any problem immediately recognizing who Mary is talking about.

July 02, 2013
Cocoa-Guinness Cake
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 02:10 AM * 40 comments

Doyle found this somewhere, some years back. The original was in a metric form. I translated it into English (más o menos; I regret that I do not have a kitchen scale), and now that I’ve made it a couple of times with Great Success and to Universal Acclaim, figure I’ll share it with you.


  • 175g (7/8 cup) plain flour
  • Pinch baking powder
  • 5 mL (1 tsp) baking soda
  • 100g (scant half-cup) butter
  • 250g (1 1/4 cups) dark brown sugar
  • 2 eggs, well beaten
  • 200 mL Guinness stout (I am happy to report I have a glass measuring cup marked in metric on one side)
  • 60g (1/3 cup) cocoa (preferably Dutch-process)

Prepare a 20cm (8 inch) cake pan. To prepare a cake pan: Take some wax paper. Lay it on the table with the pan on top of it. Score around the pan with the point of a pair of scissors, then cut out the circle of wax paper along the scored line. Grease the inside of the cake pan, then dust it with flour, then lay the wax paper in the bottom of the pan.

Pre-heat a medium (350° F) oven with the baking rack about in the center.

Beat the heck out of the room-temperature eggs. Make them very fluffy.

In another bowl, take the flour, baking soda, and baking powder. Sift them together three times.

In yet another bowl, cream the butter and sugar together.

In one last bowl, put the cocoa. Add the Guinness a little at a time to make a paste, then add the rest and stir well.

Now: Add the eggs to the creamed butter, beating well. Then add the cocoa/Guinness mixture to the butter/sugar/eggs mixture, alternating with the flour mixture.

The resulting batter will be quite liquid. Pour it into the cake pan, then place the pan in the oven. Be careful of walking heavily in the kitchen while the cake is baking lest it fall. Cook for 45-50 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.

Allow to cool for a while on a wire rack, then turn out the cake onto a plate. Carefully peel off the wax paper.

Allow to cool completely, then serve, dusted with powdered sugar, and accompanied by whipped cream and/or ice cream.

Cooking with Light [Recipe Index]

July 01, 2013
Two hundred yards to safety, death was fifty yards behind
Posted by Patrick at 08:30 AM * 37 comments

Nineteen firefighters died yesterday, fighting an out-of-control wildfire in Yarnell, Arizona.

Before yesterday, the total number of Arizona firefighters killed by wildfires since 1955 was 21.

First responders of all kinds are awesome. But firefighting is particularly terrible work.

In a decent society, firefighters would have yachts and country homes, while bankers would scrape from paycheck to paycheck.

ETA (by Abi) In the comments, this lovely tribute by Jo Walton:

And if death is the end, if death is all;
If there’s no God, no angels, and no souls,
Then still they died fulfilling human goals
Striving to help and answering the call.
Wanting to live, but knowing they could die,
They fought the fire, and saved all that they might,
The lives of friends, or strangers, as is right,
And died as heroes, here beneath the sky.
Nineteen of them, all different, all unique,
Making their human choice, to help, to stay,
For different human reasons, they came through
Were there where they were needed, were not weak,
But did the work required of them this day,
And died as well as people ever do.

A Ridge in Pennsylvania
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 05:12 AM * 38 comments

To begin with, you must understand that Cemetery Ridge, just south and east of the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, is beautiful defensive ground.

One hundred and fifty years ago today, at about five in the morning, two brigades of Harry Heth’s division in A. P. Hill’s corp of the Army of Northern Virginia stepped out toward Gettysburg to make a reconnaissance in force.

July first, 1863, was a Wednesday. The sky had been getting light for a while; by 05:12 the last stars disappeared, although the sun would not rise until 05:44.

The rebels had already taken Gettysburg. On June the 26th Jubal Early’s troops had occupied the town after driving off some local militia in a series of minor skirmishes, and laid the town under tribute. They did not take any significant supplies, however, when they pulled out the next morning.

On the 29th, Lee learned that the Army of the Potomac had crossed the Potomac. He ordered his army to concentrate at Cashtown, Pennsylvania, and in the meantime to avoid any general engagement with Federal forces. The next day, eight miles to the east of Cashtown, Heth sent a brigade back to Gettysburg to gather supplies — primarily shoes. As they approached the town, though, they spied a column of Federal cavalry, and declined to make contact.

That cavalry was a division under the command of John Buford. Cavalry was used, at the time, for scouting and security, and for fighting other cavalry. Buford was aware that the rebel army was somewhere up ahead, and as he scouted the ground on the 30th of June he noted the defensive properties of the ridges around Gettysburg.

Buford set up lines on McPherson Ridge, Herr Ridge, and Seminary Ridge to the north and west of town, intending to fall back slowly, to give the rest of the army time to come up and take position on Cemetery Ridge to the south of Gettysburg. They fought as dismounted cavalry — armed with breech-loading carbines — of every four men three in line spaced thirty feet apart and the fourth in the rear holding their horses.

Ahead of the lines, mounted vedettes — what we would call listening posts — waited for contact. At around 07:30 on July first, that contact came. Lt. Marcellus Jones, Company E. 8th Illinois, stationed out on the Chambersburg Pike, fired the first shot of the Battle of Gettysburg, intended as a signal that there was activity to his front, not actually firing at anyone.

The Confederates believed, at first, that they were facing more local militia, and came on in three ranks of skirmishers. Buford’s dismounted troopers, however, did not break, and instead poured on such effective fire (Sharps carbines; .52 caliber, rate of fire 8-10 shots/minute, effective range 500 yards) supported by one battery of artillery, that Heth, an experienced infantry officer, considered that he was facing infantry. He ordered his men into battle lines and brought up artillery, the maneuver taking about two hours to complete. Sometime between 08:00 and 09:00 the Confederate advance resumed.

The overwhelming numbers of the rebels pushed Buford’s men back off Herr Ridge. They took their next defensive line two hundred yards to the east, on Belmont School House Ridge. Another forty-five minutes and they were pushed back yet again, across a stream called Willoughby Run and up to McPherson’s Ridge.

The purpose of the delaying action was to give time for the Federal infantry to arrive, to fight on a more equal basis of infantry against infantry. General Reynolds of I Corp was moving up rapidly.

As his men rallied on McPherson’s Ridge, Buford sent a dispatch to General Meade, commanding officer of the Army of the Potomac, fourteen miles away in Taneytown, Maryland:

The enemy’s forces are advancing on me at this point, and are driving my pickets and skirmishers very rapidly. There is also a large force at Heidlersburg that is driving my pickets at that point from that direction. General Reynolds is advancing; and is within three miles of this point with his leading division. I am positive that the whole of A. P. Hill’s force is advancing.

This was Meade’s first notice that a battle was happening. Meade had only taken command of the Army of the Potomac on the 28th of June when Fighting Joe Hooker resigned. He dispatched [his aide] [Correction:) trusted corp commander, Winfield Scott Hancock, to assess the situation, while he got the Army of the Potomac moving in the direction of Gettysburg.

Meanwhile, back at Gettysburg, about ten in the morning, an entire Rebel brigade under James Archer was pressing up the hill toward McPherson’s Ridge.

On the Union side, General Reynolds had ridden ahead of his troops, and met General Buford with the words, “What’s the matter, John?” Buford pointed out at Heth’s troops and replied, “There’s the devil to pay.”

What Reynolds had coming up behind him at the double-quick was the Iron Brigade, the “black-hatted bastards,” one of the toughest units in the Union army. Reynolds sent a message back to Meade:

The enemy is advancing in strong force, and I fear that he will go to the heights beyond the town before I can. I will fight him inch by inch, and if driven into the town, I will barricade the streets, and hold him back for as long as I can.

The message got to Meade about 11:20, and Meade remarked “Good! That is just like Reynolds, he will hold out to the bitter end.” What Meade couldn’t have known was that Reynolds was already lying dead on the field, shot in the head at about 10:45.

Reynolds had been personally leading his troops into position: the 24th Michigan into McPherson’s Woods, the 2nd Wisconsin to their right, moving up so rapidly that they didn’t have time to load their rifles before they were in a fight.

The fresh reinforcements reversed the Confederate advance for a time, and re-crossed Willoughby Run. General Archer, Heth’s brigade commander, was captured along with about two hundred of his men. But that was not to last. The numbers that Heth was now bringing up were too heavy. The Iron Brigade set up a defensive line inside the woods. When they could no longer hold, they fell back to a second prepared line, then to a third.

Heth knew that he was in a bigger fight than he’d anticipated, and that the morning hadn’t gone well. He brought up the 26th North Carolina, the largest brigade of either army at Gettysburg, to make a frontal assault on the Iron Brigade. About 14:30 they stepped off, supported by the rest of Pettigrew’s Brigade.

The Union forces could not hold. They were pushed back, step by step, until they reached the prepared barricades on Seminary Ridge. They held off the first Rebel charge, and a second, but it soon became clear that they would have to abandon this position too.

Buford wrote another dispatch:

A tremendous battle has been raging since 9:30 a.m., with varying success. At the present moment, the battle is raging on the road to Cashtown, and within short cannon range of this town. The enemy’s line is a semicircle on the height, from north to west. General Reynolds was killed early this morning. In my opinion, there is no directing person.

P.S.-We need help now.

On the right side of the Union line, the troops came under cannon fire from their own batteries up on Cemetery Ridge to the south and east of Gettysburg. Believing that the Rebels were behind them, rather than that this was a friendly-fire incident, they fell back through the town. With the flanks crumbling, the Union troops made a fighting retreat through Gettysburg, and up the sides of Cemetery Ridge.

Hancock, who had indeed assessed the situation, decided that Cemetery Ridge was “the strongest position by nature upon which to fight a battle that I ever saw.” He directed the positions and defenses, while awaiting the remainder of the Army of the Potomac.

For the Confederate side, Lee ordered Ewell, Heth’s superior, to take Cemetery Ridge “if practicable.” Ewell decided that it wasn’t — his men were exhausted, low on ammunition, and Lee had refused to send reinforcements — and by the next day, sufficient fresh Union troops had arrived that taking Cemetery Ridge was impossible.

Sunset on the first of July was at 20:41. The moon was full that night.

The 24th Michigan had taken 73% casualties in the fight; it was never the same again. The 26th North Carolina had taken 81% casualties, including their commanding officer and second in command. Those two units suffered the highest regimental casualties of their respective sides in the entire three-day battle

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