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September 25, 2013
Open Thread 188
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 10:43 PM *

Jack the Ripper mystery solved by top detective after 125 years

“Hullo, Miss, I’m here to say I solved the Jack the Ripper case.”

“Solved it, you say?”

“Indeed I have.”

“Right, then. Are you one of the nobleman-gone-wrong lads, Duke of Clarence and all that? Room 27.”

“No, Miss. Disproved that one right in my first chapter.”

“Oh, so you’ve written a book?”

“Oh, yes, Miss. Would you care to purchase a copy? Happy to autograph it.”

“That won’t be necessary. Are you one of the blokes says it was a conspiracy; Bavarian Illuminati, Freemasons, Learned Elders of Zion, or suchlike? Room 18, ‘round the corner and down the stairs.”

“No, Miss. That’s just silly. In my lectures—”

“You give lectures, then?”

“So I do. Rent halls all across the country; pack ‘em in. I have slides…..”

“I’m sure you do. Is your theory that it was some unlikely famous historical character? Charles Dodgson, Gilbert & Sullivan, Louis Pasteur…. That’s room 8.”

“That would be daft, wouldn’t it? No, my solution is far more clever.”

“Something more outrĂ©? A time-traveler or a space-alien perhaps?”

“Please, Miss, this is sober police science, not science-fiction!”

“What is it, then, some poor sod no one’s ever heard of, perhaps a merchant sailor, a butcher, a bawdy-house keeper?”

“No, I’ll tell you who he was! There’s no such person as Jack the Ripper. Made up by the newspapers, took a bunch of unsolved crimes, gave ‘em a catchy name, and hey presto! the headlines wrote themselves. Sold a lot of papers, too.”

“Ah, that one. You’ll want to join the fellows in Room 34, in that case. Someone will be along presently to take your statement.”

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. ***SPOILERS***
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 09:34 PM * 945 comments

For the new ABC show from Joss Whedon. This thread contains SPOILERS.

Those who wish to avoid spoilers can either a) Not Read This Thread, or B) Watch the Show, Streaming, Right Here.

Did I mention that there would be spoilers?

September 21, 2013
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 10:56 AM *

John Kennedy delivered his inaugural address on Friday, 20 January 1961. For those who don’t remember those times, the Cold War was pretty darned cold right then. The Military Assistance Command in Vietnam would be established a bit over a year later, in February of 1962, while the Cuban Missile Crisis came around about six months after that, in October of that same year.

Against that backdrop: Two days after Kennedy asked not, just after midnight on 23 January 1961, a B-52 carrying two thermonuclear devices broke up over North Carolina. We now learn that one of the bombs came close to exploding.

This isn’t new information: Dr. Ralph Lapp told the story in his book, Kill and Overkill: The Strategy of Annihilation in 1962 (a used copy goes for about three bucks these days).

What is new is this: the story has been confirmed. Thanks to the automatic declassification schedule, what was Secret then is unclassified fifty years on. And due to a Freedom of Information Act request, someone has found other documents relating to this event. The Guardian has the original document: It’s commentary by Parker Jones, the gent who was responsible for the mechanical safety of US nuclear bombs. He nitpicks Lapp’s book. It wasn’t an “incident,” it was an “accident.” It wasn’t a 24 megaton device, it was a 2.4 megaton device (silly bugger slipped a decimal point!). And it wasn’t five out of six safety interlocks that failed, it was three out of four, and one of those four wouldn’t have functioned in the air anyway. Lapp claimed that the sequence of tripping the interlocks was important. Not true.

Not that a 2.4 megaton device is inconsequential. That’s a crater a third of a mile across and full-thickness burns out to nine miles.

My guess is that this is the classified document that Daniel Ellsberg claimed, back in 1981, that he had seen that confirmed Lapp’s claim.

So. Good thing they used four interlocks instead of just three. As Parker Jones says:

“Lapp’s report lacks objectivity and accuracy. His sources of information are patently erroneous, or he chooses to misuse them for his own benefit. But the central point is correctly stated. One simple, dynamo-technology, low voltage switch stood between the United States and a major catastrophe!”
(Exclamation point in the original.)

Jones’ conclusion:

If a short to the “arm” line occurred in a mid-air breakup, a postulate that seems credible, the Mk 39 Mod 2 bomb could have given a nuclear burst.

Now imagine that it’s just after midnight on 23 January 1961: John Kennedy gets a phone call: Someone just nuked Goldsboro. What’s Kennedy’s next sentence? “Count all our nukes to make sure it isn’t one of ours,” or “Launch!”?

Dysfunctional Families: Forgiveness
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 08:00 AM *

It’s that time again. The seasons are changing. Family holidays lurk on the calendar like, well lurking things. But on the upside, today is the fifth Dysfunctional Families Day. I’m awed and humbled at what these conversations and this community have done in that time.

In addition to continuing our current conversations (which I do read and witness, even when I haven’t the wherewithal to post), I wanted to open up a topic we’ve dealt with in the threads over time, but never really tackled head-on: forgiveness.

So often, the social expectation is that someone who suffers harm will forgive the perpetrator. One is supposed to work toward forgiveness, choose to forgive, be forgiving. If the sufferer doesn’t forgive fast enough, this lack can become a stick to beat them with. Holding grudges. Unforgiving. Hard. Bitter. Angry, with a subtext of unjustifiably. Indeed, sometimes the topic becomes a way to blame the sufferer and make the perpetrator the victim: why haven’t you forgiven them? How can you do that to them?

Forgiveness can be prescribed like a medicine. If you forgive, you’ll be able to heal. Then a failure to heal becomes the fault of a sufferer who is “refusing to forgive”. (That feels like a Catch:22 to me, because pressuring someone to forgive too quickly shuts down the necessary process of figuring out what actually happened.)

As a society, we have a pretty muddy view of how to actually forgive someone. Some people expect the emotional transformation of forgiveness to just happen, perhaps after the sufferer says, “I forgive you” or lets some time pass. Others have a vending-machine model, where the perpetrator puts their apology in and forgiveness pops out.*‡ Some people expect that forgiveness comes hand in hand with forgetfulness, and suggest that the sufferer should, rather than learning from their experiences, pretend that they did not happen.

Those models really don’t match my reality.

From what I have seen and experienced, forgiveness is a product and symptom of the healing process. It’s one (but, note, not the only) possible outcome of moving beyond the hurt: a way to close the accounts**. It may involve trusting or interacting with the person again, or it may be a separate peace. In either case, it’s a recognition that the incident is now (primarily) in the past, notwithstanding any ongoing repercussions.

Given that, it seems to me that asking whether someone has forgiven yet is like asking them if their bleeding wound has scabbed over yet. Telling them to forgive is as effective as urging them to grow a scab.†

What’s the consensus? Is my mental model of these things useful? Are there better analogies? Do people have other experiences and models, whether they’re compatible with what I’ve written or not?

ETA: For additional perspectives on the topic, pease do read the comment thread. That’s always implicit, but I think I’d like to make it explicit here. Really, do, especially if none of the above works for you.

* Please note that I am not denigrating apologies. They matter a lot. But they’re part of the process of apportioning blame justly, which, while often a step toward healing, is not a guarantee of forgiveness
‡ Also, a taxonomy of related communications, in my vocabulary: an apology is an acknowledgment of blame by the perpetrator to the sufferer and an expression of sorrow for it. An explanation is a setting-out of the reasons behind an action, and may or may not include an apportionment of blame. An excuse is a setting-out of the reasons that the perpetrator is not to blame. Feel free to disagree, correct, or compare your own taxonomies.
** Christianity urges its followers to forgive as we wish to be forgiven. I take that to be a command to strive to do those things that will allow me to heal to the point where forgiveness happens. Alas, it’s still neither quick nor easy.
† Mind you, it is perfectly possible to keep picking at an injury, and it’s perfectly possible to choose to hold onto hurts. People vary widely. But the accusation of refusing to heal from emotional damage is, in my experience, far more common than an actual choice to do so.

This is part of the sequence of Dysfunctional Families discussions. We have a few special rules, specific to the needs and nature of the conversations we have here.

  1. If you want to participate but don’t want your posts linked to your contributions to the rest of Making Light, feel free to choose a pseudonym. But please keep it consistent within these threads, because people do care. You can create a separate (view all by) history for your pseudonym by changing your email address. And if you blow it and cross identities, give me a shout and I’ll come along and tidy it up.
  2. On a related note, please respect the people’s choice to use a pseudonym, unless they make it clear that they are willing to let the identities bleed over in people’s minds.
  3. If you’re not from a dysfunctional background, be aware that your realities and base expectations are not the default in this conversation. In particular, please don’t do the “they’re the only family you have” thing. Black is white, up is down, and your addressee’s mother may very well be their nemesis.
  4. Be even more careful, charitable, and gentle than you would elsewhere on Making Light. Try to avoid “helpiness”/”hlepiness” (those comments which look helpful, but don’t take account of the addressee’s situation and agency). Apologize readily and sincerely if you tread on toes, even unintentionally. This kind of conversation only works because people have their defenses down.
  5. Never underestimate the value of a good witness. If you want to be supportive but don’t have anything specific to say, people do value knowing that they are heard.

Previous posts (note that comments are closed on them to keep the conversation in one place):

September 20, 2013
Phun with Phishing
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 12:33 PM * 20 comments

My goodness! Look what showed up as a pop-under in a new window as I went cruising around the web this morning!

This had opened in a new window. I didn’t notice it right away; who knows what page had it hitching along like a lamprey. (I’m told that things like this infect the ads that are served by legitimate ad-servers that are installed on legitimate pages.)

It seemed bogus to me: For one thing I’d just updated Firefox, and Firefox’s update notices don’t appear in anything even close to this format.

The full text reads:

Outdated Browser Detected
You are currently using - Firefox 24 - which is now outdated Please Update The Latest Browser Version (Recommended)

1. Security

1.1 The newest browser version protects you better against scams, viruses, trojans, phishing and other threats. They also fix security holes in your current browser!
2. Speed

2.1 Every new browser generation improves speed
3. Compatibility

3.1 Websites using new technology will be displayed more correctly
4. Comfort & better experience

4.1 WIth new features, extensions and better customisability, you will have a more comfortable web-experience

The file it asks you to download is called “Firefox_setup.exe.” What that is, according to AVG, is adware plus a trojan dropper.

Naturally I reported this to Google’s “Report a Web Forgery” site.

This is a pretty good malware site, as such things go. At least all the words were spelled right. Only one capitalization error. I have no doubt that it will fool some of the unwary.

September 17, 2013
Literary history of the slashtastic kind
Posted by Teresa at 09:20 PM * 37 comments

I recommend to your attention Mallory Ortberg’s Literary Trysts It Gives Me Great Joy To Think About: Oscar Wilde and Walt Whitman:

Because mine is an evil and a petty mind, suitable more to wallowing in the sordid sexual goings-on of literary giants than in reading their work, I take every opportunity I can to inform people who may not have known that Walt Whitman and Oscar Wilde almost certainly had sex in 1882.
“Old news,” I hear you saying. “Next you’ll be telling us about Isherwood and Auden, or that unfortunate passage at arms between Melville and Hawthorne.”

I shall do no such thing. Read on.

All you need to know: The Whitman/Wilde incident took place at the home of John Marshall Stoddart, a publisher, when Wilde was on a speaking tour of America. Wilde was a great fan of Whitman’s poetry. Single-indent quotations are from Mallory Ortberg. Double-indented quotations are from Neil McKenna’s The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde.

Oscar desperately wanted to meet Walt Whitman, whom he and many others considered to be America’s living poet. …Whitman’s poetry spoke of the potency of friendship and love between men, particularly between working-class men, and positively oozed homoeroticism. Indeed, the ‘Calamus’ section of Whitman’s great poetic cycle Leaves of Grass was so intensely homoerotic that it gave rise to the short-lived term ‘calamite’ …
They meet at Stoddart’s:
When Oscar Wilde sees an opportunity to have sex with Walt Whitman, he does not hesitate. He goes.
Oscar was suitably humble in the presence of Whitman, greeting him with the words, ‘I have come to you as one with whom I have been acquainted almost from the cradle.’ The contrast between the two poets could not have been more marked. Oscar was young, tall, slender and clean shaven. Whitman was in his early sixties, but looked much older. He was shorter than Oscar and wore a long, bushy white beard. Oscar was highly educated, cultivated and still in his languid Aesthetic phase. Whitman was self-taught, and robustly masculine in manner.
Could his meaning be more clear? “Hello, Daddy,” says the young dandy as he lightly crosses the threshold.
Stoddart tactfully left the two poets alone. ‘If you are willing — will excuse me — I will go off for an hour or so — come back again — leaving you together,’ he said. ‘We would be glad to have you stay,’ Whitman replied. ‘But do not feel to come back in an hour. Don’t come for two or three.’ Whitman opened a bottle of elderberry wine and he and Oscar drank it all before Whitman suggested they go upstairs to his ‘den’ on the third floor where, he told Oscar, ‘We could be on ‘thee and thou’ terms.’
ASDF;LKAJSDF;ALKSJDF, as the saying goes. The next day, Whitman told the Philadelphia Press that the two of them had a “jolly good time” together. Did he get more specific? He did, reader. He did:
One of the first things I said was that I should call him ‘Oscar.’ ‘I like that so much,’ he answered, laying his hand on my knee. He seemed to me like a great big, splendid boy. He is so frank, and outspoken, and manly. I don’t see why such mocking things are written of him.
This is a gift. You do realize that, don’t you? History has reached out to you specifically and given you a gift. The gift is the knowledge that Oscar Wilde once put his hand on Walt Whitman’s knee and then they drank elderberry wine together; the gift is that the next day a reporter turned up and Whitman expounded at length on his big, splendid boy. Let this sink in a moment. This is like finding out Emily Dickinson once secretly stowed away on a ship bound for England and spent a weekend with Jane Austen at a bed and breakfast, doing it. …

Stoddart went on to say that ‘after embracing, greeting each other as Oscar and Walt, the two talked of nothing but pretty boys, of how insipid was the love of women, and of what other poets, Swinburne in particular, had to say about these tastes.’

Swinburne, whom we will recall as the author of “Our Lady of Pain,” disapproved of same-sex canoodling. He seriously needed more practice at saying “Your kink is not my kink.”

There’s more to the article, and the comment thread is lively. It takes eight comments for someone to post fanart, and seventeen comments for Tom Hiddleston to be invoked.

Supporting trans people
Posted by Patrick at 02:17 PM * 393 comments

I’m not really big on petitions or statements signed by hundreds of people, but I’ve also been seriously creeped out by recent upticks in hostility toward trans people:

There has been a noticeable increase in transphobic feminist activity this summer: the forthcoming book by Sheila Jeffreys from Routledge; the hostile and threatening anonymous letter sent to Dallas Denny after she and Dr. Jamison Green wrote to Routledge regarding their concerns about that book; and the recent widely circulated statement entitled “Forbidden Discourse: The Silencing of Feminist Critique of ‘Gender,’” signed by a number of prominent, and we regret to say, misguided, feminists have been particularly noticeable. And all this is taking place in the climate of virulent mainstream transphobia that has emerged following the coverage of Chelsea Manning’s trial and subsequent statement regarding her gender identity, and the recent murders of young trans women of color, including Islan Nettles and Domonique Newburn, the latest targets in a long history of violence against trans women of color. Given these events, it is important that we speak out in support of feminism and womanism that supports trans* people.
That’s from the introduction to A Statement of Trans-Inclusive Feminism and Womanism, a document to which a wide variety of writers and activists have appended their names. They’re still adding names; I emailed them earlier today to ask that they add mine. Some of the initial set of signers will be familiar to people in science-fiction or leftish-blogging circles. A couple of them, like Avedon Carol and Roz Kaveney, are old personal friends of ours. Anyway, I support this statement and I urge others to consider doing so as well.

September 14, 2013
Warrior Princess by Mindy Budgor: outdoing The Onion
Posted by Teresa at 09:59 PM * 166 comments

Josh Marshall mentioned this book on Twitter. It took me a while to believe it was real:

Warrior Princess! Inspiring new book reveals how a fashionista from Santa Barbara swapped Gucci for goat’s blood to become the first female Maasai fighter
— Mindy Budgor, 32, from California, left her comfortable life behind to live with a Kenyan tribe for three months

— Her book tells how she had to ‘learn the ways of the lion’ including drinking goat blood and throwing a spear

— Mindy’s determination paid off and she was the first woman accepted to be a ‘moran’ — a Maasai warrior — opening the door for other females

— But she never went without her Chanel Red Dragon lipstick to carry her through the hard times

Warrior Princess is impervious to parody. Three whole months to become, not just a Maasai warrior, not just the first woman to ever qualify as a Maasai warrior, but a Warrior Princess? Astounding! After such mighty feats as these, who can say what an affluent, attractive, self-deluding 27-year-old American woman may not achieve?

Mindy Budgor actually thinks she’s scored real achievements, and worthy ones to boot.The book she wrote about her experiences has been published by Globe Pequot. The sales copy calls it “inspirational.” Amazon’s “look inside!” option lets us get a look at the introduction:

Warrior Princess is the funny and inspirational memoir of Mindy Budgor, a young entrepreneur tired of having a job to have a job, who decides to make changes in her life. While waiting for her business school applications to go through, she decides to volunteer in Africa, helping build schools and hospitals in the Maasai Mara. When living and working with the Maasai, Mindy asks the chief why there are no women warriors. …

Mindy immediately realizes her calling and thus begins her adventure to become the first female Maasai warrior. As a result of this training and advocacy, the Maasai in Loita, Kenya, are leading the charge to change tribal law to allow women to become Maasai warrior. Mindy as a tribe member is ready to return to stand with her fellow warriors against whatever opposition they might face — be it lions, or elephants, or Western influence.

Uh-huh. I’ll bet all the Maasai women have her picture hanging on their walls, to help inspire them to try harder.

The Booklist review, which is otherwise depressingly positive, says “Because it was written so shortly after the unique experiences she chronicles, there’s little reflection …” Not surprised there.

More to the point, @NancyGoldstein (one of Josh Marshall’s Twitter followers) observes that for decades the Maasai have been hard hit by HIV, poverty, and land politics, and “have survived accepting $ from creepy spiritual tourists.” I’d been aware of the plastic shamans and spiritual tourism circuit in North America and the Amazon Basin. Call it a failure of imagination on my part that I hadn’t realized woo-woo culturally exploitive tourism exists in Africa as well. I expect you can find it all over the world. And if I had kids who were going hungry, and I belonged to a cultural tradition the affluent West finds exotic and intriguing, I’d be cooking up my own version of heat-and-serve woo-woo prepackaged spiritual tourism right now.

For your own further spiritual enlightenment, I recommend the nineteen one-star reviews the book has gotten on Amazon. To quote a few:

Jackson R. Pope III: Budgor combines American arrogance, millennial entitlement, cultural imperialism, white privilege and new age superficiality with a zesty dash of self-righteousness.

Tami “pinkboxcutter”: For all the people applauding this book, do you have ANY appreciation of how destructive and disrespectful the practice of using another people’s culture as a fun-cessory is? “Exotic” people do not exist to help you get over your first world existential crisis.

Nanette: Ms Princess went on a little set-up adventure and then confuses it with life. Then has the utter gall to claim she is doing Maasai women a favor and will change an ancient culture with her little vacation adventure. Ugh.

George “Hombre”: Barf. This sets the bar so vilely low. Join the Peace Corps. This is why the world hates us.

Ryan Caulfield: Please refrain from using indigenous brown people as a receptacle for your rich entitled existential crises. Has anyone checked the “facts” of this woman’s story? Her experiences can be purchased by anyone for about ten grand.

Y.: White appropriation at its grossest and most opportunistic.

Queen Mo: In case any American ever is perplexed why so many in other countries find us arrogant and ignorant…here is a perfect example. I despise the Americans who inject themselves in cultures like this is a Disneyland ride, and get as much out of it.

Schuyler V. Johnson: Mindy writes: “The blood was still warm as it slid down my throat. I furrowed my brow, curled my toes, clenched my butt, and continued to drink, while holding back the vomit. It took every ounce of my being to hold back the bloody throw-up. It felt like drinking warm whole milk, which I’ve always refused to do not only because of the obscene amount of calories — but also because I have always had an aversion to thick liquid substances.”

“She couldn’t stop herself and fell to her knees, buried her face in the tall grass and vomited it back up again.”

Mindy Budgor doesn’t swallow, and will never make Khaleesi.

I expect ol’ Mindy will either stay this stupid, which is its own penalty, or she’ll get smarter and more aware, and will consequently spend the rest of her life being hideously embarrassed by this book. I’m hoping for the latter.


Commenters SoManyBooksSoLittleTime and John Arkansawyer have spotted an article, The #Bullshit Files: Mindy Budgor, ‘the first female Maasai warrior’, and two interesting comments on the article by Maasai women, at

September 13, 2013
Victory to the People
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 08:02 PM * 316 comments

Those who love sausage and the scriptures shouldn’t watch either of them being made.

How shall I begin this?

There are three topics that one is not supposed to talk about in the wardroom: sex, politics, and religion. We’ve had recent threads about both sex and politics, so it’s time for religion. To that end, here we go.

Way back when, there was a popular show called Jesus of Nazareth. Unfortunately it was canceled by the network after just three seasons, leaving behind a small but very devoted fandom. The fandom spread. Some of the fans told and retold all the episodes of the show that they had seen. Others copied out samizdat versions of the tie-in novels. Yet others wrote original fanfic.

I pass lightly over the years, the times of persecutions, the Christians being thrown to the lions, the meetings by night in the catacombs (which is why, to this day, people entering instruction to convert to Christianity are called “catechumens” (actually this is a false etymology; the word comes from the Greek for “someone being instructed” but the other story is more fun)).

Back to the Bible: lots of Christian fic out there. By the time you got to a copy of a copy of a retelling of a conflation it was getting hard to figure out what had been an episode of the show and what was someone’s AU RPF.

The centuries passed. Much in this manner:

  • First century: Christ and the apostles are alive. People who knew Christ and the apostles are alive.
  • Second century: People who knew people who knew Christ and the apostles are alive.
  • Third century: People who knew people who knew people who knew Christ and the apostles are alive.
  • Fourth century: It’s anyone’s game.

So, the fourth century rolls around. We have Constantine. Ever since the Battle of Milvian Bridge (against Maxentius, one of Constantine’s co-emperors), Constantine had been using Christian symbols. (He’d seen a vision of Christ the day before, who said “In this sign (In Hoc Signo, abbreviated IHS) shall you conquer,” and went with it.) Constantine began carrying either a cross or a Chi-Rho (accounts differ). Constantine beat Maxentius and became Emperor of the West.

Then came the Edict of Milan, where the Emperor Constantine and his co-emperor Licinius (The Wicked Witch Emperor of the East), decided that Christianity was no longer illegal. The Church could come above ground. Hurrah!

But! Two heads can’t wear one crown. Constantine and Licinius got into a war against each other. We had the Battle of Adrianople. The Battle of Hellespont. Finally the Battle of Chrysopolis, and Constantine was sole Emperor. So, since Christ had delivered victory, Constantine said, “Okay, I’m a Christian now! By the way, what do you guys believe, anyway?”

To which the answer was, “Depends on who you ask. In which town. On what day.”

Constantine was a Roman emperor, and a military man. So he said, “Right. Figure it out and tell me. I’ll believe anything you say, but get it all in one sock.” He called NiceaCon One, and invited all the BNFs and SMOFs of the Christian world to have a business meeting and hammer it out.

So, all the bishops of the world went to Nicea. Depending on who you ask, there were either “more than two hundred” (Eusebius of Caesarea), or 318 (Athanasius of Alexandria). Athanasius may have been counting non-voting members since he himself was there as the secretary of Bishop Alexander of Alexandria.

Reportedly only five bishops from the Latin west attended, not including the Bishop of Rome (Pope Sylvester I — but he did send two priests as legates).

The big question was the Creed, or What Do We Believe, Anyway? (Other questions included “What Do We Do With the Christians Who Supported Licinius?”, “What Do We Do With Christians Who, Faced With Persecution, Said, ‘Sacrifice To Zeus? Hoo Boy Yeah! Me an’ Zeus, We’re Tight!’”, and “Can Guys Who Have Been Castrated Be Deacons?” But I’m going to skip all of those to get to the main event.)

In coming up with a creed, the biggest question was “What is the Nature of Christ?” One side, led by the pious and scholarly Arius, held that Jesus was the first and greatest of God’s creations (that is, essentially, Top Angel). The other side, championed by Athanasius, held that Jesus was actually Totally God Since Forever. Both sides had copies of old fanzines to support their views.

(When Constantine heard this he said, “Can’t you guys just get along? Why not agree to disagree like every other friggin’ philosopher since Plato was a pup, and get on with your lives?” to which both sides answered “No!!!!eleventy!!!” and thus Nicea.)

At the time Athanasius was best known for his blog, Athanasius Contra Mundum. (The top of every page was marked with a flashing icon labeled “Breaking!” while the bottom of each page said, “Must credit Athanasius!”)

Much of what we know about Nicea comes from Eusebius of Caesarea, who live-blogged the whole thing.

High points of the con included the day when Nicholas of Myra (yeah, that St. Nick; AKA Santa Claus) punched out (some say slapped) Arius. Nicholas was promptly hauled off, stripped of his episcopal rig, and thrown in jail for breach of the peace. St. Nick, though, had been imprisoned and tortured under Diocletian. This was a walk in the park for him. While he was sitting in jail that night, Jesus and Mary arrived to visit. Jesus said, “Nick! Why are you in the hoosegow?” To which Nicholas replied, “It’s for love of You, lord.” So, Jesus said, “This won’t do,” and gave Nicolas back his stuff and a prayerbook. Anyway that was Nicolas’s story and he stuck to it.)

Then there was the day when Eusebius of Nicomedia proposed his own Creed. Eusebius of Caesarea reported that it was “hooted” by the rest of the delegates, and only got seventeen votes. Eusebius of Nicomedia got all butthurt over this, and remained pissed off for the rest of his life. (As it happened, Arius and Eusebius of Nicomedia had both been students of Lucian Martyr in Antioch. Anytime in Church history you see the words “of Antioch” stand by for things to be … odd.)

What with this and that the Council of Nicea eventually did come up with a creed, and it pretty-much followed Athanasius’s ideas, even though it included one word, homo-ousios, meaning “of the same substance,” that had occurred nowhere in Christian or Jewish religious writings up to that point.

When the council voted on a final creed, all but two signed on. (Speaking of signing on, the lists of who did sign exist, but having been copied and recopied variously number 218 or 220 bishops.) Eusebius of Caesarea, who had been an Arian up to then, became an enthusiastic Athanasian.

Some time after that, Constantine went to Eusebius of Caesarea and said, “Yo, Pamphili!” (Eusebius’ friends called him “Pamphili”), “You’ve got the biggest collection of fanzines in the world. How about you put together the teaching anthology?”

Eusebius of Caesarea said, “Right on it, boss!” and set to work. This was to be a bible (that is to say, “book”) containing all the same works in the same words in the same order for the fifty churches in Constantinople so that they could all quite literally be on the same page.

Earlier, Eusebius of Caesarea had written a history of the church (for which he was, centuries later, roundly smeared by Edward Gibbon). In that he’d included a list of Christian writings which he organized into Accepted, Disputed, and No Way. So he took his accepted list, removed the Arian books, the Gnostic books, and anything else that didn’t match the Nicene Creed, and filled up the gaps with Disputed books which, similarly, weren’t Arian, Gnostic, or otherwise unorthodox (orthodox = straight belief), and thus had his canon (canon=measuring stick).

So, how to organize them? Fortunately, Eusebius had a model to follow. So it’s time to drop back to the second century to look at the first Christian bible.

This was produced by Marcion of Pontus (sometimes called Marcion of Sinope), AKA The Pontic Rat. Marcion was the first to notice that Christians needed an orthodox canon. Marcion was also a strict literalist. So when it said in Genesis that God was walking in the Garden, and asked “Where’s Adam?” it meant that God had a physical body, and wasn’t omniscient. Therefore, the God of the Hebrews wasn’t the same as the Heavenly Father of Christ.

Marcion decided that only Paul was authentic, so his list of orthodox scriptures included only the Gospel of Luke (which he attributed to Paul) and ten letters of Paul. Since, according to Marcion, the Hebrew material was inauthentic, he removed all references to Hebrew scriptures from his bible, and, since he viewed Christ’s earthly body as purely symbolic, removed the Nativity story from Luke.

In one of the great examples of second-century fanwank, Tertullian of Carthage wrote five different books against Marcion, including in one of them the classic line, “Shame, shame, shame upon Marcion’s eraser!”

On another occasion, Marcion went all fanboy on Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, and said, “Do you know who I am?”

(A brief digression: Polycarp had been ordained by John the Apostle, knew Philip the Apostle and possibly other apostles; the Blessed Virgin Mary had lived in his diocese until her death, dormition, assumption. Polycarp had been a strict Trinitarian from way back, and would eventually be martyred.)

Anyway, there’s Marcion saying, “Don’t you know me?” And Polycarp answered, “Yes, I know you! You’re the first-born of Satan!”

Right. Marcion’s bible had been deprecated, but the organizational format was there, and Eusebius used it; Gospels in front, then the other stuff. Every book that was in Marcion was also in Eusebius. So we can draw a straight line from Marcion to Eusebius of Caesarea.

Of Eusebius’ fifty bibles, none, two, or maybe four copies or partial copies survive. The exact table of contents is a matter of … some dispute. Which isn’t to say that sometime next week, in some castle on the Rhine, someone will find an old book propping up the back leg of a wardrobe that hasn’t been moved since the fifteenth century and there it’ll be, one of Eusebius of Caesarea’s original bibles that great-great-grandad brought back from the Fourth Crusade.

(Despite a later claim by St. Jerome that the Council of Nicea had come up with a list of orthodox books, no one else, including people who had been there, ever mentioned such a list.)

In a minute we’ll get to some of my favorite apocryphal (apocryphal = “secret” or “hidden,” as opposed to apocalyptic, that is “revealed”) works. But first the rest of the history of the canon.

Eusebius of Caesarea had his bible, promulgated all over Constantinople. Meanwhile, down in Alexandria, Athanasius had become the bishop. He continued to be a … controversial … figure. (He managed to get exiled five times by four different emperors.) But he also had an important job in the Church. Alexandria had the best astronomers so it was his job to determine the date of Easter every year, and let all the rest of the churches know. So every year Athanasius sent out a Paschal Letter naming the date of Easter. Since he was going to the expense of creating and sending these letters anyway, and since “Easter this year is on the 15th of March, pass it on” doesn’t take up a lot of room and he had an entire sheepskin to fill, Athanasius took the opportunity to let the world know what else he was thinking. And one year what he was thinking was what books should be in the Bible. So he listed them. Where Eusebius of Caesarea had eighteen books in the New Testament (and may or may not have included earlier Hebrew books as an Old Testament), Athanasius listed twenty-seven books. And he included an Old Testament. His criteria for selecting books for the Old Testament were these: Since he didn’t read Hebrew, they had to come from the Septuagint (a bunch of Hebrew religious writing that had been translated into Greek by seventy scholars, hence its name). The books he selected were those that either a) included the genealogy of Jesus, or b) contained prophecies that were fulfilled in the New Testament.

So when you hear someone say that the New Testament must be true because of all the prophecies from the Old Testament that are fulfilled in it, the answer is, “Well, yeah.”

Despite these (now three) bibles, there still wasn’t an official list. So later still, at Carthage-Con 3, end of the fourth century, the bishops came up with a final list. Folks who had already put together a bible based on Athanasius were all “Dude! We just spent a whole bunch of money getting those other books! Are we going to have to do it all over again?” and the answer was, “Nope, we’re just making it official.” Which is why Athanasius got to define scripture. (Also at the end of the fourth century: CONstantiople, where the Nicene Creed was expanded and finalized.)

Another digression: Arius hadn’t just dropped off the face of the earth after Arianism was declared a heresy. He went to live with his old pal Eusebius of Nicomedia and wrote endless letters setting forth his position, apparently believing, as is so common in on-line discourse today, that if he just explained it one more time everyone would agree with him. Eusebius of Nicomedia proved that he, himself, wasn’t an Arian by claiming that he was a bishop, while Arius was only a presbyter, so there was no way he was going to follow that guy. Eventually Eusebius of Nicomedia was the guy who baptized the Emperor Constantine. As for what happened to Arius, he was one day short of being fully reconciled into the Catholic Communion when, on his way to church up in Constantinople, he felt a bout of diarrhea coming on. He asked where he could go to move his bowels, and was pointed to one side of the forum. Once there, he shat out his dung, and his intestines, and his liver, and his spleen. Thus was God’s justice rendered on the wicked heretic.

Now, finally, the fun part.

Among the books that Eusebius of Caesarea was considering were the Apocalypse of Peter and the Apocalypse of John. He had to have an apocalypse, the end of the world, because he’d started with the Gospel of John at “In Principio.” Nice symmetrical bookending. But he had several Apocalypses in his Disputed list and none in his Accepted list. What to do?

He had many objections to the Apocalypse of John, starting with What Was He Smoking, and moving on to Too Many Contemporary Political References and I’m Not 100% Sure John Was The Guy Who Wrote This. Eusebius preferred the Apocalypse of Peter, where Jesus takes Peter on a long tour of Heaven and Hell. And after Christ explains all the tortures of the damned, according to category (quite Dantesque), Peter says, “Hey, Josh. You and me go way back, went fishing together, been out drinking, talking philosophy ‘til dawn, and the whole time You’ve been all peace and love and forgiveness and mercy. Isn’t this a little dark for You?” And Jesus replies, “Yeah, Pete. I know. I’ve got to have a hell because it’s a logical necessity, but I never liked the place. Let me tell you a secret, just between you and me: I’m not going to actually put anyone in here. I’m going to save everyone.”

So Eusebius of Caesarea thought about this and said to himself, “If everyone gets saved why will anyone bother believing in Christ and being good and doing good works and loving their neighbor?” so he went with the Apocalypse of John with the seven seals and the great beast and 666 and all that instead.

Speaking of tours of Heaven and Hell, there’s the Book of Enoch. This is in the Old Testament of the Ethiopian Church, but didn’t make it into Athanasius’s list. (Since Ethiopia didn’t belong to the Empire they didn’t care.) Enoch himself gets about one line in Genesis. But it’s in the Book of Enoch, all about his adventures after being taken up to Heaven by the angel Uriel and told the secret history, that we get the story of the Watcher Angels. Angels, as I’m sure everyone knows, get all turned on when they see human women’s hair and they go on and seduce and boink those women. The women then have children who turn out to be man-eating giants (don’t you hate when that happens?) Which is where the “giants in the earth” come from in Genesis (right before the story of the Flood). Didn’t make the cut because it doesn’t include the genealogy of Jesus or any New Testament prophecies but this story, the Book of Enoch, would have been known to Paul and he’d have no way of knowing that it would be left out of orthodox scripture a few centuries later; that’s why he admonishes women in church to cover their hair, because angels hang out around churches and you don’t want them to pull out the flowers and chocolates, do you?

But every woman praying or prophesying with her head not covered, disgraceth her head: for it is all one as if she were shaven. … Therefore ought the woman to have a power over her head, because of the angels.
1 Corinthians 11:5-10

Enoch inspired the 16th century con artist Edward Kelley, Dr. Dee’s running buddy, to come up with the Enochian Alphabet for communicating with angels. (What the angels said was “Edward Kelley should totally boink Mrs. Dee.” Dr. Dee was all, “Well, if the angels say so we don’t have a choice.” What Mrs. Dee thought of this I don’t know.)

Let’s see: other fun books. There’s The Adventures of Superboy The Infancy Gospel of Thomas. This one didn’t even come close to making it into the bible. It consists of three sets of three miracles and three lessons, and has the child Jesus throwing one of His little friends off the roof of His house then raising him from the dead (among other astounding things).

Or The Adventures of Paul and Mary Sue Acts of Paul and Thecla, in which the beautiful and virtuous Thecla is more apostolic than the apostles. Everyone (including a long string of pagan Roman officials, lions, the weather, and God) loves her the minute they see her. Christ needed John the Baptist to baptize Him. Thecla baptizes herself. After escaping from many perils she returns from Alexandria to Rome by digging a tunnel under the Mediterranean.

Tertullian pinched the bridge of his nose and shook his head, and said, “O for heaven’s sake, would you stop reading that thing in church?”

The Acts of Paul and Thecla was widely translated, and at least one real, historical martyr took Thecla as her inspiration to stay strong when facing her own death.

More seriously, there’s the Gospel of James. The Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) was clearly familiar with this book, since he used a big chunk of it in writing the Koran. The Blessed Virgin Mary is mentioned by name more often in the Koran than in the Bible (Miriam is a very popular Islamic girls’ name), and she is a perpetual virgin there. The Annunciation is in the Koran. Jesus gets a virgin birth in the Koran; it’s an article of faith among the Muslims.

I know you’re wondering how that worked, seeing as Jesus’s brothers and sisters are mentioned by name in the Gospels. According to some the Blessed Virgin didn’t stay a virgin, so get over it. According to others, the same word could be used for “cousin” as well as “brother,” so they were cousins. Totally cousins. But the Gospel of James has an ingenious explanation, which I really, really like.

Okay, so there’s this nice young lady named Mary. She’s “in trouble” (if you know what I mean) so the local honchos go to a duffer named Joseph, known for his piety and learning, has a good business, and say, “Hey, Joe. This kid, pretty girl, good family, is all pregnant and won’t tell anyone who the father is. Your wife is dead, your kids are grown, how about you prevent a scandal. Want to be a mensch and marry her?” And Joseph replies, “I don’t know if I’ll be able to do her any good. Like you said, I’m old and Viagra won’t be invented for another two millennia.” But Mary says, “I’m good with that!” So they get married. Thus Jesus’s brothers and sisters are really His half-brothers and sisters from Joseph’s first marriage, and Mary stays a virgin. Problem solved!

(James was one of Jesus’s (half) brothers, so he would have been in a position to know.)

So why didn’t this one get into the Bible? Because … it’s like this. When you’re writing Tom Swift novels Tom Swift has to be in every chapter. In the Gospel of James Jesus doesn’t show up for a long, long time. It starts, not with Mary, but with Mary’s parents. Then it gets around to the Immaculate Conception (that is, Mary herself is of miraculous birth so that she doesn’t have Original Sin (the Sin of Adam) on her soul. (The Immaculate Conception is one of the two times the Pope has claimed infallibility.) Since she didn’t have Original Sin, and she never sinned afterward (the nuns were fond of showing pictures of Little Girl Mary helping her mother sweep the house and wash the dishes), she would never die, since death is the punishment for Original Sin. Therefore Mary must have never died. But where is she? Answer: She was assumed, still living, into heaven. And the Assumption is the other time the Pope has asserted infallibility.

Joke Digression: Jesus is teaching, and the people bring before Him a woman caught in adultery and ask Him what to do with her (hoping to catch Him ignoring the Law). Instead He says, “Let the one among you who is without sin cast the first stone.” Suddenly this big old boulder comes flying out of the back of the crowd. And Jesus says, “Mom! Stay out of this!”

Anyway, the Gospel of James doesn’t make it into the book because it would unbalance the anthology. But that doesn’t stop everyone from acting as if it were part of the Bible.

Next fun book: The Shepherd of Hermas. This may have made it into Eusebius of Caesarea’s bible; at least one surviving 4th century bible contains it. But Athanasius didn’t list it, so out it goes. But do we still believe it? Any time you see a little devil sitting on a person’s left shoulder whispering temptations into their ear, and a little angel sitting on their right shoulder, that’s out of the Shepherd of Hermas. (Note: The shoulder-angels and devils also made it into the Koran.)

I skip over a ton of other works: The Acts of Peter, where we have a magical duel with Simon Magus, the perils of preaching chastity, and the answer to the question “Quo vadis?” The Gospel of Mary Magdalene (Gnostic.) The Very Secret Diary Gospel of Mark (which answers the question “Who was that young man wearing nothing but a linen cloak?”)

Which brings me around to my all-time favorite apocryphal Gospel: the Gospel of Nicodemus. Eusebius of Caesarea didn’t even mention it. Athanasius passed it right by. But as far as influence, you can’t beat it.

Nicodemus includes the Acts of Pilate, which is the report that Pilate sent back to Caesar in Rome (“You won’t believe the shit that just went down!”) It includes a great deal of detail found nowhere else on the Crucifixion. What kind of stuff? Well, the names of the two thieves crucified beside Jesus. They’re mentioned in the synoptic gospels but we get their names from the Gospel of Nicodemus: Gestus and Dismas (Greek for “Goofus” and “Gallant”). (Note: There is a St. Dismas Parish in Waukegan, Illinois.)

Six of the fourteen Stations of the Cross (which you will find in just about every Catholic church in the world) come out of the Gospel of Nicodemus (I live about a mile and a half from an outdoor drive-through Stations). These include Christ falling the first, second, and third time, Jesus meeting His mother, Jesus meeting the women of Jerusalem, and, most famously, meeting St. Veronica. That’s her first appearance. Veronica wipes the blood, mud, and spit from Jesus with her veil, which miraculously gets a picture of His face on it.

Even more important from the Gospel of Nicodemus, we get the Harrowing of Hell. Fanfic fills in gaps in the stories, and this one answers the question, “What was Jesus doing between His death and resurrection?” Answer: He went to Hell, and released all the virtuous dead. David, Moses, the prophets, and everyone else who would have been saved if only they’d have had the chance to hear about Christ. With Christ’s death salvation was now possible, and so they’re saved! (I’m not going to go into the ransom theory of redemption or the guaranty theory of redemption or the satisfaction theory of redemption or the recapitulation theory of redemption and whatnot. Just be aware that they exist.)

There probably isn’t a cathedral in Europe that didn’t at some point have a Harrowing of Hell stained glass window, sculpture, painting, or other representation.

So that’s Nicodemus, a minor character in the Gospel of John, who in his own book gives us St. Dismas, St. Veronica, the Stations of the Cross and the Harrowing of Hell.

This has rambled quite long enough. I do not pretend that I am speaking for the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, or even for serious scholarship.

Housekeeping note
Posted by Patrick at 11:26 AM * 16 comments

TNH and I have updated the home page, mostly to add something that was notably missing—a brief paragraph explaining what we’re generally looking for as acquiring novel editors.

Of course, “calling card” sites never get updated as often as they promise. And ours’s design is still straight outta Movable Type templates circa 2003. Do you figure if we leave it that way long enough, the look will cycle back into being icily retro-hip? Here’s hoping.

September 09, 2013
Twenty-First Century Science Fiction
Posted by Patrick at 08:40 AM * 31 comments

21stC-SF.jpg Edited by David G. Hartwell and me, a 576-page reprint anthology, coming from Tor on November 5, 2013, and in the UK, from Constable & Robinson on November 21.

“A bumper crop of 34 stories from authors who first came to prominence in the 21st century, compiled by two of the most highly respected editors in the business….Grab this book. Whether newcomer or old hand, the reader will not be disappointed.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
From our preface to the volume:
That phrase “came to prominence” explains our approach. Many writers publish their first work long before they come to general attention. William Gibson exploded into the consciousness of science fiction, and then the world, with Neuromancer in 1984, but he had been publishing short fiction for years before that. Likewise, there are writers in this volume whose first stories appeared as early as the 1980s, but nobody in this book came to wide notice before 2000.

The idea of an anthology showcasing the SF voices of the new century seemed like a natural project for the two of us. Our tastes are not identical, but we can fairly well agree on good writers and good stories. And we are both students of the history of SF without holding all the same opinions about it. Neither of us is especially interested in being genre policemen, dictating what is and isn’t proper SF. And yet, both of us emerge from the core SF audience of the twentieth century—the SF subculture, professional and fannish, that emerged from the earnest and urgent desire to defend and encourage quality SF in the face of a dominant culture that seemed to hold it in contempt. Decades later, many of the battles of those days have been won. Others have become irrelevant. One of the interesting things about the stories presented here is that they were written in a world in which SF, far from being marginal, is a firmly established part of the cultural landscape.

Twenty-First Century Science Fiction contains stories by Vandana Singh, Charles Stross, Paolo Bacigalupi, Neal Asher, Rachel Swirsky, John Scalzi, M. Rickert, Tony Ballantyne, David Levine, Genevieve Valentine, Ian Creasey, Marissa Lingen, Paul Cornell, Elizabeth Bear, David Moles, Mary Robinette Kowal, Madeleine Ashby, Tobias Buckell, Ken Liu, Oliver Morton, Karl Schroeder, Brenda Cooper, Liz Williams, Ted Kosmatka, Catherynne M. Valente, Daryl Gregory, Alaya Dawn Johnson, James Cambias, Yoon Ha Lee, Hannu Rajaniemi, Kage Baker, Peter Watts, Jo Walton, and Cory Doctorow.

Now open for pre-order as a hardcover or an e-book from the usual retailers.

UPDATE: From Publishers Weekly, September 9, 2013, signed review by Gardner Dozois:

In my more than 40 years working in the science fiction publishing industry, I’ve seen this notion crop up every 10 years or so: ‘Science fiction has exhausted itself. There are no good new writers coming along anymore. The genre is finished!’

Tor editors Hartwell and Nielsen Hayden thoroughly refute such claims….Twenty-First Century Science Fiction will certainly be recognized as one of the best reprint science fiction anthologies of the year, and it belongs in the library of anyone who is interested in the evolution of the genre.

PW reviews are usually three to five column inches long, on a three-column page, and unsigned. This signed review, detailed and generous, takes up two-thirds of a page. I’m still kind of agog.

September 06, 2013
Ann Crispin
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 11:00 AM * 40 comments

Ann Crispin, one of the founders of Writer Beware, died this morning.

Her death comes three days after she posted a farewell on Facebook:

“I want to thank you all for your good wishes and prayers. I fear my condition is deteriorating. I am doing the best I can to be positive but I probably don’t have an awful lot of time left. I want you all to know that I am receiving excellent care and am surrounded by family and friends.”

Newbie writers have lost one of the best friends they could ever have had.

Buy and read her books. Recommend them to your friends. Name and shame the scammers.

I’ll miss you, Ann.

September 05, 2013
Your encrypted information probably isn’t safe, either.
Posted by Patrick at 04:40 PM *

Because the NSA has been breaking most encryption on the net, as it turns out. The story is being jointly reported by the Guardian and the New York Times.

Two responses by Bruce Schneier, who has been to Rio to work with Glenn Greenwald and has seen many of the Snowden documents:

How to remain secure against NSA surveillance

The US government has betrayed the internet. We need to take it back

None of this is entirely surprising, but to have it so thoroughly confirmed is to move permanently into a different world.

September 02, 2013
Well, that didn’t suck
Posted by Patrick at 06:47 AM *

hugo2013.JPG To the right, my third Hugo Award for editing SF novels.

What I said, more or less:

I want to thank a long list of people for helping with my various editorial and publishing projects in 2012, but I can’t possibly read out the full list, so I’ll stick to thanking Tor’s publisher Tom Doherty and the many awesome writers whose novels I was privileged to help publish in 2012, including but not limited to John Scalzi, Jo Walton, David Weber, Hannu Rajaniemi, Steven Brust, Cory Doctorow, and the two-headed team of Cory Doctorow with Charles Stross.

Most of all, I want to thank Teresa Nielsen Hayden, my spouse, best friend, co-editor, and collaborator in pretty much everything. I’ve won a couple of previous Hugos, but as luck would have it, they were both presented at Worldcons that Teresa didn’t attend. I’ve been saying for some time that my one remaining major award ambition was to win one of these when Teresa was in the room. ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED.

Other winners here. Particularly chuffed over Scalzi’s Redshirts and the Campbell win for Viable Paradise grad Mur Lafferty. A good night. Hell yes.

(Aside from weighing a ton, it’s a pretty cool Hugo. Click on the image for a popup affording a closer view of the base, designed by Texas cast-bronze artist Vincent Villafranca.)

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