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21 Dec 12:58

The Elegance of Uncertainty

by MarkCC

I was recently reading yet another botched explanation of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, and it ticked me off. It wasn't a particularly interesting one, so I'm not going disassemble it in detail. What it did was the usual crackpot quantum dance: Heisenberg said that quantum means observers affect the universe, therefore our thoughts can control the universe. Blah blah blah.

It's not worth getting into the cranky details. But it inspired me to actually take some time and try to explain what uncertainty really means. Heisenberg's uncertainty principle is fascinating. It's an extremely simple concept, and yet when you realize what it means, it's the most mind-blowingly strange thing that you've ever heard.

One of the beautiful things about it is that you can take the math of uncertainty and reduce it to one simple equation. It says that given any object or particle, the following equation is always true:

\sigma_x \sigma_p \ge \hbar


  • \sigma_x is a measurement of the amount of uncertainty
    about the position of the particle;
  • \sigma_p is the uncertainty about the momentum of the particle; and
  • \hbar is a fundamental constant, called the reduced Plank's constant, which is roughly 1.05457173 \times 10^{-34}\frac{m^2 kg}{s}.

That last constant deserves a bit of extra explanation. Plank's constant describes the fundamental granularity of the universe. We perceive the world as being smooth. When we look at the distance between two objects, we can divide it in half, and in half again, and in half again. It seems like we should be able to do that forever. Mathematically we can, but physically we can't! Eventually, we get to a point where where is no way to subdivide distance anymore. We hit the grain-size of the universe. The same goes for time: we can look at what happens in a second, or a millisecond, or a nanosecond. But eventually, it gets down to a point where you can't divide time anymore! Planck's constant essentially defines that smallest unit of time or space.

Back to that beautiful equation: what uncertainty says is that the product of the uncertainty about the position of a particle and the uncertainty about the momentum of a particle must be at least a certain minimum.

Here's where people go wrong. They take that to mean that our ability to measure the position and momentum of a particle is uncertain - that the problem is in the process of measurement. But no: it's talking about a fundamental uncertainty. This is what makes it an incredibly crazy idea. It's not just talking about our inability to measure something: it's talking about the fundamental true uncertainty of the particle in the universe because of the quantum structure of the universe.

Let's talk about an example. Look out the window. See the sunlight? It's produced by fusion in the sun. But fusion should be impossible. Without uncertainty, the sun could not exist. We could not exist.

Why should it be impossible for fusion to happen in the sun? Because it's nowhere near dense or hot enough.

There are two forces that you need to consider in the process of nuclear fusion. There's the electromagnetic force, and there's the strong nuclear force.

The electromagnetic force, we're all familiar with. Like charges repel, different charges attract. The nucleus of an atom has a positive charge - so nuclei repel each other.

The nuclear force we're less familiar with. The protons in a nucleus repel each other - they've still got like charges! But there's another force - the strong nuclear force - that holds the nucleus together. The strong nuclear force is incredibly strong at extremely short distances, but it diminishes much, much faster than electromagnetism. So if you can get a proton close enough to the nucleus of an atom for the strong force to outweigh the electromagnetic, then that proton will stick to the nucleus, and you've got fusion!

The problem with fusion is that it takes a lot of energy to get two hydrogen nuclei close enough to each other for that strong force to kick in. In fact, it turns out that hydrogen nuclei in the sun are nowhere close to energetic enough to overcome the electromagnetic repulsion - not by multiple orders of magnitude!

But this is where uncertainty comes in to play. The core of the sun is a dense soup of other hydrogen atoms. They can't move around very much without the other atoms around them moving. That means that their momentum is very constrained - \sigma_p is very small, because there's just not much possible variation in how fast it's moving. But the product of \sigma_p and \sigma_x have to be greater than \hbar, which means that \sigma_x needs to be pretty large to compensate for the certainty about the momentum.

If \sigma_x is large, that means that the particle's position is not very constrained at all. It's not just that we can't tell exactly where it is, but it's position is fundamentally fuzzy. It doesn't have a precise position!

That uncertainty about the position allows a strange thing to happen. The fuzziness of position of a hydrogen nucleus is large enough that it overlaps with the the nucleus of another atom - and bang, they fuse.

This is an insane idea. A hydrogen nucleus doesn't get pushed into a collision with another hydrogen nucleus. It randomly appears in a collided state, because it's position wasn't really fixed. The two nuclei that fused didn't move: they simply didn't have a precise position!

So where does this uncertainty come from? It's part of the hard-to-comprehend world of quantum physics. Particles aren't really particles. They're waves. But they're not really waves. They're particles. They're both, and they're neither. They're something in between, or they're both at the same time. But they're not the precise things that we think of. They're inherently fuzzy probabilistic things. That's the source uncertainty: at macroscopic scales, they behave as if they're particles. But they aren't really. So the properties that associate with particles just don't work. An electron doesn't have an exact position and velocity. It has a haze of probability space where it could be. The uncertainty equation describes that haze - the inherent uncertainty that's caused by the real particle/wave duality of the things we call particles.

16 Dec 12:01

The Business Rusch: Storytelling

by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Business Rusch logo webI really hate the term “writer.” It’s not accurate. Yeah, I’m a writer. But honestly, what I really am is a storyteller.  I tell stories, and I use fiction on the page (digital or paper) as my medium.

I mention this, because for the past few weeks, I’ve been doing a lot of reading and I’ve also been doing a lot of teaching. I’ve helped Dean with some homework for the online classes, and I recently taught a science fiction workshop in October. The science fiction workshop is my second craft workshop of the year. The first, mystery, took place in June.

Craft workshops always teach me something. Usually, they get me to think about what I do, why I do it, and how I can improve. They also teach me about my own reading biases. There are just some things I don’t want to read—ever. Workshops force me to read those things, and while I may not like what I’ve read, I often appreciate it.

Confession time: I adore beautifully crafted sentences. The ideal novel for me is written in a clear, somewhat unique voice, one that startles me with its originality—while (and the while is important)—telling me a fantastic story. Given the choice—beautifully crafted sentences or a good story—I’ll pick the good story every time.

A year ago, I wrote a series of blog posts on the problems that writing workshops taught by people who do not make a living at their writing have caused the writing profession. Those people, very few of whom know how to capture and hold an audience, focus on the words, the sentences, the metaphors, and the “craft,” of writing, ignoring—or failing to understand—the importance of storytelling.

These teachers, some of whom have sold one or two things (or a handful) and some of whom have not, teach incorrectly as well. They teach by critique, how to deconstruct, how to disassemble.

No one ever learned how to build a house by taking one apart. Sure, you can learn a lot by taking a house apart—what the builder did, but not how the builder did it. And by the time the house is in ruins, you can’t exactly remember what it looked like or the elegance of its lines—how it flowed from one room to the next. All of that got destroyed.

Try to rebuild a house after tearing one down. Just try. You won’t even know how to use a hammer, let alone when you need one instead of a Phillips screwdriver.

I dealt with all of that in the earlier blog posts, which became my book, The Pursuit of Perfection. (You can still get the blog posts for free on this site. Start with this post, and be sure to read the comments.)

Storytelling is a craft. It’s something that can be learned. Some people have more of a gift for storytelling than others, but you’ll find that those people who display an early gift usually had exposure to stories and good storytellers earlier than others.

The teachers I mention above don’t teach storytelling because they don’t know it’s important. They don’t understand how the words and structure that William Faulkner uses in one of my favorite stories, “Barn Burning,” reinforce the story, and that Faulkner did not choose the words consciously nor did he figure out the structure consciously. It came from his subconscious in service of the story.

The preponderance of these writing schools, in universities, colleges, and even some high schools, has created an airless room filled with lovely things. This has led to a literary culture that praises those lovely things, and appreciates those airless rooms.

For example, last spring, I read a highly acclaimed novel that I won’t name. The sentence-by-sentence writing was so astonishingly good that there are still things I know my subconscious will learn from it. The prose was vivid, the details crisp, the scene setting tremendous.

But I slowed down in the middle of the novel, and forced myself to the end, which was even  more dissatisfying than I had thought it might be. The novel’s story was simple: set half in the present, half in the past, a character hides a secret from one of the other characters. That secret, known to a third character, was going to get revealed as this third character made his way to the other two.

We readers knew that the reveal would happen. We waited for the moment of revelation, and then we wanted to see the fallout. How would these characters survive something that vast, that awesome, something kept secret for nearly fifty years that changed all of their lives?

Well, honestly, we’re still wondering. The reveal happened in final chapter and then—get this—everyone went to bed (and not to have sex). To sleep and live another day. The end.

I damn near threw the book across the room. The entire novel was just a beginning. All the writer had was a conceit, and he wrote to the end of that conceit, and no farther. What happened next? How would everything resolve?

Apparently we were supposed to guess. Or write our own damn novel. Because this author—this highly praised author—had two-thirds of a novel left to write.

However, in the rarefied world of literary fiction, this author’s book was called one of the best of the year. Not because his story was any good. Because his prose was so stellar, no one called him on the lack of story.

Hollywood has come calling because one of the characters in the book is Hollywood itself (the film industry likes fiction about the film industry), and you can bet if this thing actually gets made into a movie, the movie will go waaaaaaaay past that little opening section. Or will pad the front. Or will add a storyline.

Otherwise, there can be no movie. Screenwriters—especially screenwriters who focus on big budget movies—have to include a story or the audience will disappear.

This novel is not unique. I’ve read dozens just like it, with a good idea buried under lovely prose, with good characters (albeit characters who suffer from the author’s contempt of their actions) and some marvelous setting.

Such stories abound in the literary mainstream.

They also exist in science fiction and women’s fiction. The demands of both the mystery genre and of the romance genre prevent such things from happening there. In both, a plot is essential. Something has to happen, whether the author’s prose is lovely or not.

The writers who write such things will never be remembered. Their work won’t be considered art one hundred years from now. If anything, they’re the Bulwer-Lyttons of the future, the writers whose style is so dated that future generations make fun of it.

We read Jane Austen and Edgar Allen Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne even though, their work is also stylistically dated, because all three of them told great stories. We’re reading for the story, not for the sentences or the beautifully constructed metaphor. Hell, most of those metaphors are lost on us because they refer to things that are no longer part of our every day lives.

Technically, these writers aren’t remembered because they wrote “art,” but because they wrote “story.” Compelling stories, even now, which hold our attention despite the antiquated style.

Just like so many bestsellers hold our attention despite the thinness of the prose. I’m not saying all bestsellers will be remembered 100 years from now, but some will. The storytellers whose books get handed from adult to child—like J.K. Rowling—will survive much longer than the writer with a mountain of accolades and not a memorable story in her oeuvre.

For years, Dean and I have taught professionals whose careers have plateaued. Mostly, we teach business, because most careers stall when business intrudes. But every now and then, a writer’s career stalls because something is wrong in the craft.

I have devised a series of exercises that have to be done fresh as stand-alones, things that look at each aspect of the writing from character to dialogue to detail. These exercises pull a person’s writing into its individual parts. I do this so that I can tell a professional writer what he does well and what he needs to work on.

The reason I had to devise the exercises was this: professional writers are great at hiding what they don’t do well. They’re like the Wizard of Oz. A good professional writer can get the crowd in the room to look Oz the Great And Terrible, and ignore the curtain in the corner.

That’s great when stories about Great and Terrible Ozes sell, but if the market for G&T Oz stories disappears, the writer might not have the chops to write something else. Chops can be learned, but sometimes it takes someone to pull the curtain back and look at the levers before the learning can begin.

Just think of me as Toto.

I’ve done this for years, and the exercises are edifying. Mostly, though, professionals have all the skills. They’re just better at some things than they are at others.

I use the exercises with professionals to take them to the next level, to an aspect of craft they might not even know exists.

But recently, Dean and I have used these exercises to help newer writers, folks who haven’t been at it long, or folks who have tried repeatedly to sell their work and keep failing for some indefinable reason.

And I learned something that is, to me, a bit horrifying.

To a person, these writers have learned how to imitate the features of a story without learning how to tell a story. For the first time in the 14 years I’ve been using these exercises, I’m seeing beautifully written prose pieces devoid of character or real setting or any hint of voice.

A couple of writers wrote lovely, lovely, lovely sensory detail without ever sinking into a character’s head. Great word usage, wonderful thesaurus work, but no living breathing character and without a character, no story at all.

Dean and I are seeing things like this from writers all over the country, and it’s worse in writers with a pedigree. If they have an MFA or if they had been to the weeks-long summer writers workshops taught around the country, the writers can dash off beautiful prose with the best of them.

What they can’t do is tell a story.

And worse, they don’t understand that they need to. They have no idea what story components are.

No one is teaching storytelling in these writing workshops. No one seems to believe it’s important. In fact, a lot of workshops ridicule the writers who tell great stories. Most of those writers are long-time New York Times bestsellers. Their prose might be plain, but their stories are phenomenal, which is why so many people read the books.

Right now, there are more stories being told in the culture than ever before—not just in books, but in movies, games, television, comics and more. When Dean first started live-blogging his daily routine, I bitched a little because I said it sounded like all I did was watch TV. He and I watch at least an hour of television per night. With the exception of The Voice, which is filled with business advice for anyone who wants (or has) a career in the arts, we watch stories. We don’t deconstruction them—that’s not the point. (See the house metaphor above.) We watch for enjoyment, and with luck, we watch to learn some storytelling techniques along the way.

I have several friends who are great verbal storytellers, and again, I often listen with a thought to picking up technique. I listen to radio pieces all the time, from news to puff pieces, again, searching for story.

Story is everywhere—except in so much of what passes for “quality” fiction.

So many people write to me to ask what they need to do to have a career in writing. I generally tell them they need to learn business.

But after this experience in the last nine months, I’m going to add one more thing: they need to learn storytelling. Storytelling is an art. It has patterns that have survived for hundreds of years, expectations that readers/listeners have that must be met. The old forms aren’t something to be sneered at; they’re something we should understand, because they go deep into the human psyche.

The more I try to help writers who feel trapped, stuck, or lost in their work, the more I want to break the red pencils of writing teachers everywhere. These teachers aren’t mean-spirited. They’re just misguided. They don’t know how to tell stories either, so they teach what they do know: sentences.

That’s like saying your house is only composed of boards. Houses built that way would have no foundation or wiring or plumbing or even shingles on the roof. They’d only have boards, sometimes nailed together in beautiful ways. They’d look like houses, but no one would want to live in them.

Some carpenters would create lovely shells, but no one would remember those shells years later. And most carpenters would slap up the imitation of a house that would leak and wouldn’t hold together in a windstorm.

I feel for these writers. So many of them have spent tens of thousands of dollars, sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars, to learn how to nail boards together. They’ve learned how to be “writers,” but they’re no better at storytelling than they were the day they handed over the first dollar for the first class.

Stories seem deceptively simple, and they’re not. The simplicity comes in the repetition.

Boy meets girl is still compelling, even thousands of years after the first couple met. We’re still interested in murder, betrayal, political intrigue, war craft—even though Shakespeare did it all and did it all better than any of us ever could. And what about those lovely Deal With The Devil stories? They still fascinate, hundreds of years after Goethe’s Faust stamped its mighty fist on the genre.

A lot of times people want to know why their indie-published ebooks aren’t selling, and often the answers are based in business: the cover is awful or it doesn’t brand the book by genre; the about-the-book blurb is passive or it isn’t written like ad copy.

Once a writer has repaired those things, however, then it’s time to buck up and face this possibility: the books aren’t very good.

Oh, the writing is probably lovely. The sentences are beautiful. The metaphors gleam and glisten. But the characters are thin or clichéd, and the setting non-existent. Mostly, though, the story isn’t compelling. Or, more likely, there really isn’t a story.

In the early days of e-publishing (all of four years ago), the bestselling indie book titles were novels riddled with spelling and punctuation errors. Sometimes the formatting sucked. But the storytelling by writers who generally had never gone to a single workshop was absolutely fantastic. Why would readers buy books two and three in a series? Not for the riveting prose, but to see what happened next.

If you finish a story or a novel, and everyone tells you how lovely the writing is, then you’ve probably screwed up. If they demand the next book, you’re doing a very good job indeed.

Stop calling yourself a writer. The label writer is a misnomer.

Call yourself a storyteller.

And then prove it—over and over again.

I’m in the process of telling a huge story, and taking time away from that project is actually painful. I haven’t missed a business blog post since the beginning of April, 2009, however, mostly because I know you folks will show up from week to week.

Many of you have commented or given me other incentives. The donations help as well, reminding me (and you) that this is part of my business, however much it pulls me away from the fiction writing part of my career.

So, thank you all for returning. And thanks for the support.

And please, if you learn something or value the blog, leave a tip on the way out.


Click Here to Go To PayPal.

“The Business Rusch: Storytelling” copyright © 2013 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.

SPECIAL NOTICE: I’d like to put out a call to those of you who are traditionally published. I need to update my Deal Breakers book for 2014. I have quite a bit of material, but I would like to see what I’ve missed.

So if you received a traditional publishing contract from a major publishing house and/or an agency agreement from an agent, please black out all the personal information and send it to me. I’m particularly interested in the contract clauses you negotiated away and/or that you walked away from.

I also would like to see the clauses you’re proud of getting. The ones where you feel you triumphed in your negotiation.

I need the entire contract, because a contract is a living document, and what it says on page 13 has an impact on what it says on page 2. Please black out your name, the name of your agent, the advances, etc., and send me the file.

I promise, I will not use your name or any personal information, except that I might say something like “a first-time author” or “an author who has published novels for fifteen years” or “a bestselling author.” I won’t even use a personal pronoun to give your secret away. And I’ll be the only one who looks at this.

If you want to see how I do this, look at the Addendums post from earlier this year. (And yes, that will be in Deal Breakers 2014.)

Thank you! I appreciate all of the help.


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06 Dec 15:38

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Advice to ambitious young Liberal Democrats

by Jonathan Calder
Advice to ambitious young Liberal Democrats

Here is a letter typical of those I receive from ambitious young Liberal Democrats; it asks me which book the writer should read to maximise her chances of becoming a Member of Parliament. My answer is always the same. In order to be selected for a half-promising seat you need a roadworthy bicycle and a copy of Wainwright’s West Country Marginals. Once you have been adopted, however, there is only one volume that will do: A Fortunate Life: The Autobiography of Paddy Ashdown (which is by Paddy Ashdown, incidentally).

I know of no book that sets out half so clearly what is needed to win an election campaign. I don’t mean the chapter on "The Winning of Yeovil" that was made available free on the electric internet recently, excellent though it is In Its Way: no, I am thinking about the section on jungle warfare in Sarawak where Ashplant explains how to mount patrols, the best way to lay an ambush and how to treat an open wound using red ants. It was no surprise to me when, armed with this knowledge, we took control of South Somerset District Council.

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South-West 1906-10

Earlier this week...

06 Dec 15:34

Lord Bonkers' Diary: An embarrassment at the Home Office

by Jonathan Calder
An embarrassment at the Home Office

I recognise this letterhead: it belongs to the Deputy Prime Minister. I have to confess that I wrote to him the other day in somewhat intemperate terms. You see, it had recently been drawn to my attention that someone who holds the most ridiculous views had been appointed to the Home Office and I let Clegg have both barrels for allowing it to happen. How can we possibly be taken seriously as a party when we allow such things to happen? I demanded.

Clegg, I see, has replied in emollient terms, saying that he agrees with my view of the matter but Cameron is adamant that Theresa May must be Home Secretary and there is nothing he can do about it. I suppose that is coalition government for you.

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South-West 1906-10

Earlier this week...
27 Nov 01:08

#980; In which Injuries are Internal

by David Malki !

by definition if something is 'not a problem' then it is also 'not fixable'. which is, uh, what I was afraid of all along

26 Nov 01:13

The Annual Years - Coming Soon

by (Paul Magrs)

From Stuart Douglas and


"“These extraordinary books are like weird, grotesque shadow-versions of the Show we recognise. They are mutations haunting the wilderness between the domed, protected cities of Canonicity. The world of the Annuals is odder, darker, madder, more psychedelic and surreal. These are adventures in a wilder, destabilized universe. The cosiness of what we recognise as Doctor Who has gone.” - Paul Magrs, from the Introduction

Continuing our recent tradition of doing Doctor Who titles, so long as they're the sort of thing we at in the Obverse Bungalow would like to read, next year will see the publication in hardback of The Annual Years, a serious and detailed look at that most maligned of Doctor Who storytelling, the World Distributors annuals.

From 1965 to 1986, from William Hartnell to Colin Baker, the annuals were weird and witty and wonderful, a big brother to TV Comic and second cousin to Doctor Who Discovers… - and all the more beloved by us because of that.

With cover art and internal illustrations by Adam Bullock, and commentary on every single story from Paul Magrs, author of Doctor Who fiction for Big Finish, the BBC and AudioGo, this is the celebration that the annuals have long been overdue!"

26 Nov 00:44

Box of Delights' 29th Anniversary

by (Paul Magrs)

It’s the 29th Anniversary of the broadcast of the first episode of the BBC TV adaptation of ‘The Box of Delights’.

All those years ago. Just six episodes. But episodes that I’ve watched many times over. A serial that looks a bit ropey now, to modern eyes, maybe – with its blend of live action, animation, camera trickery and Kirby wires. At the time, of course, the makers were very proud of the mind-boggling effects they’d achieved. Taxis turn into aeroplanes, boys become stags, toy boats run rapids and phoenixes appear at the calling of an old Punch and Judy man.

It’s one of those TV shows that seem to have magic trapped inside it. Somehow sheer glittery magic dust is caught up inside the very frames. Masefield’s is one of the most loopily illogical stories and, faithfully adapted, sometimes it’s hard to follow. I’m still not sure if all of it makes sense, but I think it mostly does. Perhaps its opacity is why it stands up to repeated viewings? Years and years after, it’s still yielding up echoes, connections and obscure plot points.

The other thing that repays the constant viewer – besides the crackle and dazzle of the mechanical effects and the strangeness of the storytelling – are the wonderful characters. Everyone in the cast gets their moment to shine and do a star turn. Each year I feel like applauding them when they arrive – especially Robert Stephens and Patricia Quinn as the horrible villains, both relishing every second of it. And especially Patrick Troughton as the old Punch and Judy Man – kindly and frighteningly ancient all at once.

I look forward to starting it again, one episode a week, each year at the end of November. It never grows dull. And there’s something about that eerie, tinkling theme tune – from Hely-Hutchinson’s ‘Carol Symphony’ - that summons up for me the very essence of the season.

So, really – I should be starting episode one tonight. But not yet, I think. First there’s the Doctor Who Anniversary to consider – and tonight it’s all about William Hartnell. A not-too distant relative of the wizardy wanderer Cole Hawlins with his box of magic tricks…

22 Nov 17:28

The Very Important Story

by (Lawrence Burton)

'He shalt be clad,' the voice hissed yet again in portentous close up revealing blackened bone beneath receding necrotic gums, 'in women's knickers.' The final syllables washed away on echoes of pseudo-Shakespearian eternity, fading, becoming one with the great ocean of the very important story arc. Then a blue square box appeared. It was not a box at all. It was TARDIS! The mysterious traveller in time and space known only as Doctor Who comes out and looks around. He frowns on his face and looked thoughtful.

'What is the matter, Doctor Who?' asked Amy. She was his friend and she had ginger hair. Just then Rory came out of the TARDIS. He imagined for himself a woman running, a woman with curly hair who looked like Dirty Den's second wife in the Eastenders show on television. The woman ran and roared, a great cricket bat held aloft ready for the killing swing, a great cricket bat just like the kind Tristan Farnam would have been into but with six inch nails driven through the end, become a weapon of death and harm. Tristan Farnam probably would not have liked that part, Rory thought to himself.

'Er um,' he said and shrugged.

The Doctor made his eyes go narrow as though he were suspicious of some fact. 'Very strange,' he commented quietly.

'I er...,' said Rory. 'I think...'

There was a noise, the noise of bells. It was the theme music from Are You being Served? mixed in with the grinding of gears and the wrench of a handbrake as the ice cream van drew to a halt. It had scary clown faces drawn on the side like in a Tim Burton film or an old video of a pop song by the Cure. The music sounded sinister as it tinkled away.

Rory pointed at the Doctor's head upon which was worn a girl's hat. The girl's hat was green.

'I wear girl's hats now,' beamed the Doctor. 'Girl's hats are cool.'

Amy stuck her chin out and made her eyes appear large and defiant. When she spoke it sounded like a person from Scotland or maybe from Edinburgh or one of those places. She sounded feisty and defiant. No man would tame this foxy yet independent wench.

'I would like an ice cream, if it's not too much trouble.'

'An ice cream,' the Doctor said wonderingly and his voice went up and down. He looked around then and saw the ice cream van. 'Well that is handy, and unusual.'

In the ice cream van there was Davros, but this was Davros from the future, a reformed Davros who had climbed over the great obstacle of genital confusion and was now secure in his sexuality and therefore no longer angry. He no longer wanted to get the Daleks to exterminate Doctor Who. 'Yoo hoo, Doctor,' he called out in his grating electronic voice waving his single claw-like hand. 'I must say, I do like your hat.'

Rory coughed and fell over, but no-one noticed.

Amy studied the display at the side of the window, allowing her feisty Scottish eyes to linger upon the representation of a Fab lolly with all hundreds and thousands on the end. 'I'll take one of those.'

'I'll have a vanilla cone please,' the Doctor beamed grinningly as he pulled some psychic space money out of his magic pocket.

The red electronic eye set into the forehead of Davros glowed faintly. 'Can I interest you in my nuts, Doctor?'

'No thank you.' The mysterious traveller in time and space known only as the Doctor winked at Rory to show that he had fully understood the joke and that it wasn't prejudiced or nothing. The joke referred to the nuts Davros might sometimes sprinkle over the ice creams he sold, although of course it sounded a little like he might be referring to male testicles. That had been deliberate. It was a joke.

'And what would you like,' - the Doctor Who Man paused to remember correctly the name of his friend - 'Dave?'

'I'll have a raspberry ripple, please.' Rory sadly shook his head and there was a sad trombone sound. What a loser! Ha ha!

'Och! Do ye remember those?' Amy laughed defiantly. 'I used tae love me a raspberry ripple, me! Do ye remember Spangles too?'

Everyone laughed nostalgically.

Rory laughed too, but his laughter was tinged with sadness.

'No!,' Mrs. River Song shouted as she came running out of nowhere in slow motion, but it was a long no with a lot of Os - more like noooooooooooooooo like in a film with Matt Damon. She swung the cricket bat with nails that Tristan Farnam would have regarded as blasphemous. She swung the bat and went through the air but you could see all the detail like it was one of those games or something. It was awesome. Doctor Who looked around in slow motion just as the wizened claw of Davros thrust forward from the ice cream van clutching a raspberry ripple. Amy was feistily diving to save Doctor Who with her arms but she accidentally got hold of his trousers and pulled them down instead of simply pushing him out of the way of the cricket bat that Mrs. River Song was swinging at his head and as they all fell over it was revealed that the Doctor Who was clad in women's knickers.

'I wear women's knickers now. Women's knickers are cool.'

'Um,' said Rory apologetically.

'Hello Sweetie,' said the annoying woman with the cricket bat.

'You will not move,' ordered the grating metallic voice. 'Woof. Woof.'

The robot was low to the ground, almost like an iron dog but with technological bumps on its side. It was not a Dalek, because all of the Daleks had been destroyed forever in Pagga of the Daleks. It was more like a dog version. It was a Doglek.

'Dogsterminate!' chanted the growing group of Dogleks all spinning around sniffing each other's computer interface bottoms. 'Woof. Woof. Woof.'

'He shalt be clad,' the voice hissed yet again in portentous close up revealing blackened bone beneath receding necrotic gums, 'in women's knickers.' The final syllables washed away on echoes of pseudo-Shakespearian eternity, fading, becoming one with the great ocean of the very important story arc.

They all looked at the Doctor turning red-faced in his women's knickers. Everyone moved his or her head up and down just a little bit then looked at each other with their eyes narrow as though to suggest that something hitherto regarded as confusing had begun to make sense.

'They're comfortable.' The Doctor shrugged like a small child with eyes full of wonderment and magic.

It started to snow. It was cold. It was really serious like in a song by Fields of the Nephilim. It was seriousness like when no-one understands you and you have a frozen soul and that.

Davros grunted like a grunting electronic machine as he reached forward from the rectangular serving orifice set into the flank of his ice cream van. He tried to reach forward but his one arm was not up to the task. It was much too short for what he was trying to do. There on the ground was his Dalek - Time Lord English translation dictionary, laying open as it had fallen at the page for the Dalek words Dav meaning Doctor and Ros meaning Who.

'My God!' Rory stared with his accusing eyes at Mrs. Song. 'You're him! You are the Master!'

22 Nov 17:07

The Flowers "Scandal" Is Just Moralising Nonsense

by (Jae Kay)
Now there is some real debate to be had about Paul Flowers suitability for the chairmanship of the Co-op Bank. And there is some investigating to be done by the police, whether one feels it is right or wrong, into alleged criminal activity (drug dealing etc.) by Mr Flowers. But these two things are actually quite unconnected.

Paul Flowers oversaw the rather serious decline, and near collapse, of the Co-op Bank. The fact he admits he was put in charge due to a "power struggle within the co-operative movement" is something that really beggars belief (even if it is all too common). Questions must be asked.

Alas. Instead of asking these important questions the media is obsessed with a man choosing to do drugs (OH NOES!) and, heaven forbid, pay for sex with some young scally type (all a bit sad really, but then I'm not a big fan of drugs nor scallies so I'm just being judgmental). Yes. Awful stuff indeed. The dodgy political motives of his appointment and his terrible legacy at the bank pale into insignificance compared to what he puts in his body (or puts in others, depending on his preference). Well they do if you are more interested in puerile gossip stories about some silly aspects of a more serious scandal.

Worse than his role in bringing a bank to its knees, he broke the rules by watching legal adult material on a council laptop and had to resign from being a councillor and then, shock horror, became a governor of a school!
BBC has learned that Paul Flowers was appointed as a LEA school governor after resigning from council for adult images on a laptop -
— Gary O'Donoghue (@BlindGazza) November 20, 2013
Yes, a man who once looked at porn was allowed to be a school governor. Imagine. Let us ban all people who've looked at porn from having any such connection, no matter how far removed, with children!

He also once sent a smutty joke around as an email. This man needs to be locked up...


In other shocking news:

David Cameron's official Prime Ministerial Twitter feed followed an escort agency! Won't somebody think of the children?? Hopefully his Twitter feed will be blocked by the Great Firewall of Cameron.
21 Nov 12:16

Could Miracles Happen?

by mikethicks

Another great article on Aeon magazine this week is about why no one should believe in miracles, by Lawrence Shapiro.  Shapiro takes a tasty stock of Hume’s argument against miracles, adds a dash of Bayesian epistemology, and rounds things off with a nice discussion of the base-rate fallacy—surely worth a read.  But after reading it, I wondered why we don’t use this much simpler argument against supernatural intervention:


  1. Miracles violate the laws of nature.
  2. The laws of nature are exceptionless—that is, they are (expressed by) true universal generalizations
  3. Conclusion: There are no miracles.

The argument is valid, and both of its premises have a claim not merely to truth, but to conceptual truth. The first premise is a characterization of what makes God’s miraculous action supernatural: miracles contravene or override the natural laws which govern the world.  The second premise is guaranteed by most views about the laws of nature, but anyway here’s a quick argument for it: the laws of nature are nomically necessary, and necessity implies truth.  So the laws are true.  Unless something has gone wrong, we don’t merely have inductive reasons to doubt that miracles have happened (as Hume and Shapiro claim) but a priori reason: the very idea is conceptually incoherent. But of course this argument is too quick: though we may have good reason to doubt that miracles have happened, that reason is not conceptual incoherence.  What went wrong?

We could deny premise 1: perhaps there’s a way of characterizing supernatural intervention that doesn’t rely on it’s being above the petty rules which govern mortal mechanics.   We’ll return to this idea in a bit.  First, though, I’d like to look into relaxing the second premise.  Could a law of nature be false?

Some people think so—Nancy Cartwright chief amongst them.  But she’s an outlier, and most theories of natural law back premise two.  Foremost amongst these is dispositional essentialism: According to this view, advocated by Brian Ellis and Alexander Bird, the laws express the essential natures of the properties they involve.  So if Coulomb’s law is a law of nature, it’s an essential property of charge that charged objects obey Coulomb’s law.  Since things have their essential properties at every world in which they exist, charged objects must—and do—conform strictly to Coulomb’s law.

Humeans, on the other hand, take laws to be mere regularities, not backed by essences or necessity.  Now these regularity theorists have some explaining to do: why are some generalizations laws, and others mere accidents?  What is the difference between “Like charged particles repel one another” and “all of my coffee mugs are dirty”?

The regularity theorist’s answer is pragmatic: laws are tools used to organize our knowledge into a deductive system. “like charged particles repel one another” is inferentially very useful; “all of my coffee mugs are dirty” is not.  This insight leads us to the Best Systems Account of laws (BSA), associated with John Stuart Mill, Frank Ramsey, and David Lewis:  the laws of nature are those true generalizations which, taken together, form the simplest, strongest axiomatic system of all of the truths of the world—where a system is simpler if it has fewer axioms, and stronger if it implies more truths.

We can imagine assigning a score to each potential lawbook: points are gained by having true consequences, deducted for having more axioms.  The group of true generalizations which scores highest is the lawbook of our world.

This characterization of laws gives regularity theorists more room to maneuver than dispositional essentialists.  The dispositional essentialist held that laws are true because they are metaphysically necessary; the Humean holds that laws are true because true generalizations better organize knowledge than false ones.

So it’s not against the spirit of Humeanism to relax the truth condition if adding some false generalization to our deductive system would yield a simpler system from which very many truths and very few falsehoods could be inferred.  We’d just need to tweak our scoring rules a bit: a potential system of laws gets points added for each true consequence, points deducted for each axiom, and points deducted for each false consequence.  Presumably, these will be weighted—one false consequence should remove many more points than each true consequence.  Call this the Good Enough System Account of laws (GESA).  The laws of the Good Enough System can have exceptions, provided the exceptions are few, and the laws are otherwise quite useful.

Now, if the GESA of laws is right, we shouldn’t be so sure of Premise 2 of the a priori argument.  We might have good reason to think that miracles don’t happen, but they aren’t ruled out by fiat.

Of course, we might also want to deny premise 1.  Remember, Premise 1 sought to express what was miraculous about miracles: God’s direct interventions violate the laws that govern mortal mechanics.  But God’s interventions must be interventions, that is, they must really cause things.  And causation requires subsumption under laws.  So while in order for divine intervention to be divine, it must break the natural laws, in order for it to be intervention, it must obey some law.  What gives?

Here, I think, we should distinguish between fundamental and nonfundamental lawhood.  Even in mortal contexts, we are willing to countenance not-strictly-speaking-true nonfundamental laws (read: the special sciences) but not false fundamental laws (read: physics).  This makes the GESA more closely aligned with how we think of special sciences, and the BSA—with its stipulation that the laws must be true—closer to how we think of fundamental science.  (The view we’ve arrived at is similar to Craig Callender and Jonathan Cohen’s Better Best System account, but allows us to distinguish the fundamental laws from the nonfundamental: the fundamental laws are true, whereas the nonfundamental laws may not be).

The believer in miracles, then, takes the fundamental law to be divine: “what God intends comes to pass”.  But this doesn’t leave her bereft of mortal mechanics: instead of being strictly true, the natural laws of physics are nonfundamental laws: most of their consequences are true, but their usefulness to us isn’t impugned by those miraculous occasions when they lead us astray.

Don’t get me wrong, though—while I think the a priori argument is unsound, denying it shouldn’t make us more willing to countenance miraculous intervention.  Hume’s argument, and Shapiro’s, should remind us that believing miracles actually happen is, nearly always, irrational.

21 Nov 11:43

shouts out to all the hotties who really really believe statehood is very important

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One year ago today: the back to the future font is called "back ttf" and i JUST got the joke

– Ryan

21 Nov 11:42

but i put up alley signs and everything

21 Nov 11:41

What autism really is.

by Neurodivergent K
So Suzanne Wright from Autism$peaks sent out more of the same hatemongering that was tired before her grandson was even born, about how autism is terrible because the faaaaaaaaaaaamilies and we might eat food from the fridge or something and that's the worst thing ever.

That is not what autism is.

This is autism:

one very fair skinned female presenting person with light brown hair & a pink hoodie and a pink and purple haired fair skinned person with glasses, an orange shirt, and a white shoulder riding cat

Autism is friendship, the kind you can only have when you meet someone who is like you. Allistic people don't so much understand what that is, because they expect that most people are on their wavelength. But Autistic people know how special that is, because it is rare and it is precious. Someone who understands intuitively, who speaks your language, is worth their weight in something way more valuable than gold.

And autism is community that comes together. There's this idea that we can't do that, but that idea is wrong. Never have I ever seen another community that takes care of its own so much. We have our issues, as all communities do, but we also have fierce loyalty and ferociously fight for and care for our own. We know what it is to not have that. Again, we know how beautiful that is once we find it.

Autism is adventure. Or craving it at least. Jumping into that freezing cold water because it was there. And then jumping in again and again because it was freezing but it was a delight every single time. It may not be the normal thing to do, but it was better than normal. It was exhilarating.

Jumping into that water? I felt more alive than I think most people ever do. It was just me, the air, then the water. The sensation of my stomach rising? Stopped time until the water woke me up. It was actual perfection in an experience.

black and white photo of a dark haired fair skinned person doing a leap. their back foot is up by their head and their front knee is bent at an acute angle

Autism is focus. This leap is called a double stag. My focus was right on the sole of my foot, visually speaking. Internally speaking it was only on what I was doing. There was no thought as traditionally described. There was me, music, the mat, and movement. That's it. I can do that. I cannot meditate in the usual sense, but I can become one with movement. Everything else goes away.

So it is when I am focusing on something that I love. The way I love? It is deep. Autism is deep love. People write it off as special interest or obsession, but even if it's not something I can excel at, I can excel at loving what I love, loving what I do, loving who I love. Autism is being able to be consumed by love and interest, it is giving 100% because it is an insult to the thing one loves to give any less. Autism is going big or going home.

Autism is finding myself and losing everything else while jumping, flipping, spinning. And this is the best thing ever.

dark haired fair skinned adult female presenting person and dark haired fairer skinned boy presenting person on a couch. they are smiling and the boy is pressing his forehead and shoulder into the adult

And now we are back to autism is love and community. Autism is also sharing. Autism is knowing people because of autism. My young friend, Leo of Squidalicious fame, shared with me. He shared his iPad and his stims and his love. And he and his family are just a few of the many people I care about deeply who I would not have met if there was no such thing as autism.

No one ever said that being Autistic is easy. But we do say that it's worth it. We're okay. We love and deserve to be loved.
21 Nov 11:40

When After All, It Was…

by LP

Thank you for coming, ladies and gentlemen. As most of you are already aware, my reputation in the Kennedy assassination research community is that of a firebrand, a rabble-rouser, and a source of controversy; to be honest, I wasn’t even expecting to be asked here, let alone as the keynote speaker. But the truth will out, like murder, as John Milton, the Bard of Liverpool, told us, and that’s why I, alone amongst the luminaries in this field, have been chosen to stand here before you in the Lakeside Room of the Boca Raton West Holiday Inn Express.

You could have chosen any number of other researchers, all of whom have done excellent work. I see before me Alec Kowalchuk, who proved once and for all that President Kennedy’s motorcade contained a total of seven extraterrestrial corpses, instead of the four we had been taught to believe by the so-called authorities. In the back there, over by the boiled egg tray, there’s Marjorie Helmand-Böse, who did such outstanding research into bullet trajectories and how they relate to alternate climatology in post-revolutionary Cuba. And if I were to stop talking, I’m sure we could all hear the hooting and catcalls of Rupert Van Jackson, one of the most prominent Afro-American assassination researchers, who, despite his jealous attitude towards my own work, has contributed indispensable data to what we know about the Black Panther clonebot program that is now widely accepted to have been headquartered out of a post office box once owned by David Ferrie. But out of all these, out of all my peers who have worked so tirelessly to discover the facts behind that dark day in November when America’s innocence exited the back of John F. Kennedy’s brain pan at subsonic speeds, you chose me to deliver the summational speech of this, the 49st Annual The Warren Commission Is A Bunch Of Dirty Fibbers Society Convention And Ultimate Truth Indian Buffet.

And ‘truth’ is why you chose me. It’s the truth I’ve discovered, and the truth I’m trying tirelessly to spread across the country and throughout the world. (Indeed, it was just prior to coming to the TWCAABODFScon that I concluded a highly successful tour of Finland, Bolivia, Micronesia, and Botswana; in this last country, particularly, I was very well-received even after we cleared up the initial confusion about my not being Jeff Goldblum.) It’s the truth, the ultimate, cleansing truth about the death of America’s innocentest president, so long kept from us by deceivers in government, shadow government, crrypto-government, quasi-government, and private government, that I have come here to discuss.

I know the criticisms some of you have. I’ve read your rebuttals, I’ve responded to your e-mails, I’ve strained to hear your angry bellows from across the complimentary breakfast mimosa bar, I’ve narrowly avoided being hit in the face with your flicked golf pencils. I know how much so many of you have invested in counter-theories, and frankly, no one was as shocked as I was when I finally discovered the real story about JFK. Some of you believe that I slander the man; rather, by understanding the dark thoughts that led to his final drive, I seek to truly know him. Some of you say that I let the CIA, the mob, and Lyndon Baines Johnson off the hook, when in fact I go to great pains to mention their roles as enablers and co-dependents. Some of you argue that I ignore the role that Castro played in Kennedy’s demise, despite the rigorous cataloguing I have done of his innumerable crank phone calls to the White House, pretending to be a showgirl or a pizza delivery jobber and then telling JFK he was a big sissy Mary or cruelly mocking his Massachusetts accent. And there is at least one of you who maintains I unconscionably minimize the role of Black Panther clonebots in the death of our 35th president; to that I can only respond, Rupert, wait for my next book.

But the fact is, no one can argue away the truth. No one can yell loud enough to dispel forensic evidence, ballistic testing, psychiatric profiles, eyewitness accounts, illegal phone taps, and conversations I am 99% certain were not dreams.  No one can shout down the evidence that stands before you. And after I finish, I know that even the doubters among you will join me in mourning the man and celebrating the truth, because only then can we ensure that this horrible tragedy is never repeated.

And now, I present my PowerPoint monograph, My Camelot for a Hotline: John F. Kennedy, America’s Most Shocking Suicide.

21 Nov 10:41

by Andrew Rilstone
Today's Guardian essay about C.S Lewis contained all the usual distortions by all the usual suspects. If anyone but me is still interested in the Historical Lewis, the following may possibly be helpful:

Sam Leith (journalist)
Susan appears to be punished for entering adolescence and develping an interest in lipstick by exclusion from what in the Narnia mythos passes for heaven.

C.S Lewis
"Susan is interested in nothing nowadays except nylons and lipstick and invitations."
      The Last Battle


A.S Byatt
There was a terrifying moment in the Screwtape Letters where the devil is trying to tempt somebody into thinking milk is disgusting because it comes from somewhere in the cow quite close to excrement. I think that was a personal thing of Lewis's I think he didn't like milk because he didn't like females.

C.S Lewis
Then I dreamed that one day there was nothing but milk for them, and the jailer said as he put down the pipkin. "Our relations with the cow are not delicate, as you can easily see if you imagine eating any of her other secretions."

"Thank heaven! Now I know you are talking nonsense."

"What do you mean?" said the jailer, wheeling round upon him.

"You are trying to make us believe that unlike things are like. You are trying to make us think that milk is the same sort of things as sweat or dung."

"And pray, what difference is there except by custom?"

"Are you a liar, or only a fool, that you see no difference between that which nature stores up as food and that which she casts out as refuse...?"
     The Pilgrim's Regress


Phillips Pullman
He pours scorn on little girls with fat legs....among Lewis's readers will be some little girls with fat legs who find themselves utterly bewildered by this slur on something they cants help and are embarrassed and upset by already.

C.S Lewis
Then (Miss Pizzle) saw the lion, screamed and fled, and with her fled he class, who were mostly prim, dumpy little girls with fat legs.
     Prince Caspian


A.N Wilson
For 33 years he shared his life with the woman he called Minto, Jane Moore. She was the love of his life.

George Sayer
Some of those who have written about C.S Lewis regard his living with Mrs Moore and Maureen as odd, even sinister. This was not the view of those of us who visited the Kilns in the thirties...Like other pupils I thought it completely normal in those days that a woman, probably a widow, would make a home for a young bachelor. We had no difficulty in excepting her, even when we came to realise that she was not his mother.
     C.S Lewis: His Life and Times


A.N Wilson
C.S Lewis hated all poets because he was a failed poet. He hated TS Eliot. He hated Louis MacNiece. There's a very bad 'poem' by Lewis about reading The Love Song of J ALfred Prufrock and it just shows how stupid he was about modern poetry.

C.S Lewis
I am so coarse, the things the poets see
Are obstinately invisible to me.
For twenty years I've stared my level best
To see if evening - any evening - would suggest
A patient etherized upon a table;
In vain. I simply wasn't able.
     A Confession

This 1929 satire is not Lewis's last word on modernism, as Wilson very well knows: 

C.S Lewis
To read the old poetry involved learning a slightly different language; to read the new involves the unmaking of your mind, the abandonment of all the logical and narrative connections which you use in reading prose or in conversation. You must achieve a trance-like condition in which images, associations, and sounds operate without these. Thus the common ground between poetry and any other use of words is reduced almost to zero. In that way poetry is now more quintessentially poetical than ever before; 'purer' in the negative sense. It not only does (like all good poetry) what prose can't do: it deliberately refrains from doing anything that prose can do.
     An Experiment in Criticism

Modern poetry is such that the cognoscenti who explicate it can read the same piece in utterly different ways. We can no longer assume all but one of these readings, or else all, to be 'wrong'. The poem, clearly, is like a score and the readings like performances. Different renderings are admissible. The question is not which is the 'right' one but which is the best. The explicators are more like conductors of an orchestra than members of an audience.

In music we have pieces which demand more talent in the performer than in the composer. Why should there not come a period when the art of writing poetry stands lower than the art of reading it? Of course rival readings would then cease to be "right" or "wrong" and become more and less brilliant "performances".
     De Descriptione Temporum

I do not see in any of these the slightest parallel to the state of affairs disclosed by a recent symposium on Mr. Eliot's Cooking Egg. Here we find seven adults (two of them Cambridge men) whose lives have been specially devoted to the study of poetry discussing a very short poem which has been before the world for thirty-odd years; and there is not the slightest agreement among them as to what, in any sense of the word, it means. I am not in the least concerned to decide whether this state of affairs is a good thing, or a bad thing. I merely assert that it is a new thing.

if this sort of thing interests you then you could always buy my book on C.S Lewis, J.R.R Tolkien and related subjects....

21 Nov 00:02

Whoever you vote for the political class gets in

by Jonathan Calder
Nick Boles's idea of a National Liberal Party is, of course, a nonsense. As the Continuing SDP and the Pro-European Conservatives demonstrated, you cannot establish a successful political party from above. And if Boles is seeking to attract those Liberal Democrat members who think that Nick Clegg is too left wing, I hope he has not booked to large a hall.

What is behind the idea is surely an attempt to allow a few Liberal Democrat MPs - it may be significant that in his speech Boles praised both Jeremy Browne and David Laws by name - to join the Conservatives by stealth.

At the next general election they would hold their seats with the help of Conservative votes, beating the new Liberal Democrat candidate. When the National Liberal party folded a year or two later, they could quietly and regretfully join the Tories.

Stephen Tall (and sometimes this blog feels like a dialogue with him) has an article on Liberal Democrat Voice, where he tentatively reaches a tamer version of the same conclusion.

What interests me is what he goes on to say:
It’s a shame because there is an interesting speech to be made about the prospects for a National Liberal party, one which brings together the Orange Bookers, the Blairites and the Cameroons. There would be disagreements over civil liberties, but on the economy, public services, the environment and Europe they would have more in common with each other than with their current parties. Tribal loyalties, combined with our stultifying electoral system which inhibits new parties, means such an alliance is unlikely to come to pass.
To which I say is thank goodness for tribal loyalties.

Because this natural seeming confluence between large parts of the three main parties is based less on shared ideology than on a shared social background.

These days mainstream politicians are overwhelmingly likely to come from the same wealthy middle-class families, to have been to the same limited range of schools and universities, to have worked as special advisers (and perhaps in a more lucrative career  and then to have been selected to fight winnable seats.

The are all light on ideology and tend to buy in their policies from charities and think tanks. Their shared enthusiasm for "evidence-based policy" disguises a tacit, unexamined agreement about the nature of the problems we face. Where is the evidence-based policy for reducing income inequality, for instance?

I can see the idea of a party of sensible, moderate party that would unite people of good will and stay in power for ever will attract some politicos - especially exhausted Liberal Democrats. But the idea of institutionalising this social exclusivity and political timidity does not attract me.

Is the pejorative term "tribalism" - of which Liberal Democrat were accused in the 1990s when we stubbornly and unaccountably refused to join Labour when Tony Blair was so wonderful - just another way of describing what little distinctive thinking British parties still possess?
20 Nov 09:29

What David Cameron can learn from schoolgirls and soccer moms

by The Heresiarch
David Cameron comes in for a lot of criticism from libertarian and sex-positive types for his morally conservative attitude to internet porn, as shown in his determination to force IP companies to introduce opt-in smut filters. But perhaps he just doesn't have either the time or the inclination to do his own research, and is reliant on what campaigners tell him, or what he reads in the Daily Mail. If so, then he can scarcely be blamed for assuming that the entirety of "mainstream porn" is violent and misogynistic, encourages adolescent boys to hate women and abuse their girlfriends and irreperably corrupts the minds of young children who innocently go looking for pictures of kittens.

After all, it's common knowledge that in the age of the internet porn is pretty grim stuff. Even self-declared feminist pornographers proclaim as much, even while selling their own dream of a sex-positive, eco-friendly, non-exploitative alternative. Indeed, the essential violence and misogyny of the "mainstream" is as much an item of faith among "alternative" pornographers as it is for anti-porn campaigners such as Gail Dines, who has described online erotica as "a never-ending universe of ravaged anuses, distended vaginas and semen-smeared faces".

Not only does the alternative producers' business model depend upon the existence of an unspeakable mainstream (rather as the censors' does also) so does their self-identity - now buttressed by a global network of arty porn festivals and feminist award ceremonies. The existence of easy-access, free and often pirated porn is the common enemy of both professional porn producers and moralists, it must be said, so the confluence of interest in damning "mainstream porn" isn't surprising.

It's also common knowledge that only boys and men want to watch porn anyway. Even in households without children, Our Dave promises, "husbands will have to have a difficult conversation with their wives about accessing porn at home". Because all women everywhere are horrified by the very idea of sexually explicit material - and men, meanwhile, are so ashamed by it they will acquiesce in default filters that in the way of things will end up blocking a great many sites that aren't remotely pornographic anyway. So that's OK then.

Is there any actual research, as opposed to anecdote, about what "mainstream porn" really looks like? It's not difficult to do, after all - at least, not until the Cameron Cordon arrives some time next year. Here's some, conducted by three women at New Brunswick University in Canada, led by graduate student Sarah Vannier and her supervisor Professor Lucia O’Sullivan. Recently unveiled by Vannier at a science and sexuality conference in San Diego, it has a catchy title - Schoolgirls and Soccer Moms: A Content Analysis of Free "Teen" and "MILF" Online Pornography. Ironically, the content of this content analysis is not free, but if the abstract is accurate it does what it says on the tin.

Vannier's research interests include oral sex among teenagers and sexual compliance in committed relationships ("I’m pretty sure I picked one of the most interesting careers out there", she says.) She has also written a sex advice column for her student newspaper - in which she notes that "although watching porn for research sounds like a ton of fun, it does get boring after a while". Concentrating on free sites not only makes for low research costs (though was the research possible on the university's own computers, I wonder?) it's also the most useful place to start, given that they account for the vast majority of porn consumption.

And as the abstract says in somewhat self-contradictory terms, "viewing free online pornographic videos has increasingly become a common behavior among young people, although little is known about the content of these videos." Presumably the content of the videos is not little known to the many who view them. But you get the point - little is known officially and publicly (or in academic journals) about the content of the videos.

And perhaps (though perhaps not) little is known to the politicians making decisions about internet filtering about the content of these videos. It's an area where admitting ignorance is a positive asset to a politician or a pundit, where claiming to know what you're talking about might be held against you. "I've never seen the stuff myself, but I've heard it's revolting" is the safest line to take publicly. I suspect that several politicians who may find themselves having "difficult conversations" at home next year know more than they will ever say. But since coming out in opposition to the porn filter is as much as admission of guilt, that will have to remain in the realm of conjecture.

So short of informing yourself by actually visiting these sites, which no-one in their right mind would ever do, you'll have to rely on Sarah Vannier's research. And so, without further ado:

The current study analyzed the content of two popular female-age-based types of free, online pornography (teen and MILF) and examined nuances in the portrayal of gender and access to power in relation to the age of the female actor. A total of 100 videos were selected from 10 popular Web sites, and their content was coded using independent raters.

The focus of the research, then, was not only on the content of the videos but on the underlying socio-political message. Were these "popular" genres characterised principally by violence and perversion? Were the women involved portrayed as the degraded playthings of insatiable male lust? Not entirely:

Vaginal intercourse and fellatio were the most frequently depicted sexual acts. The use of sex toys, paraphilias, cuddling, and condom use were rare, as were depictions of coercion.

Control of the pace and direction of sexual activity was typically shared by the male and female actors. Moreover, there were no gender differences in initiation of sexual activity, use of persuasion, portrayals of sexual experience, or in professional status. However, female actors in MILF videos were portrayed as more agentic and were more likely to initiate sexual activity, control the pace of sexual activity, and have a higher professional status.

(My italics)

So there you have it. Older female performers were "more likely to initiate sexual activity" but even in "teen" videos the women aren't entirely or even predominantly passive. There were "no gender differences". This is of course strikingly at variance with the almost universal assumptions about the content of mainstream porn, even those articulated by alternative and feminist pornographers. So contrary are these findings to the accepted wisdom I'd be amazed if they were taken seriously or used to inform the public debate. Nevertheless, I suspect the research will come as little surprise to the majority of people who actually watch the stuff.

Truly, online porn exists in a parallel universe

© 2013 Heresy Corner, all rights reserved.
20 Nov 09:20

On Doctor Who, stories and ‘canon’

by Nick

(Or, ‘Nick’s writing complicated posts about Doctor Who again, so look away now if you’re only here for the politics)

First up, if you haven’t already, go read Teatime Brutality’s post ‘Canon and sheep shit: Why we fight‘ which explains why there’s no such thing as a Doctor Who ‘canon’. Second, if you haven’t seen The Night Of The Doctor yet, you probably should before you read further, as there will likely be spoilers.

So, The Night Of The Doctor features Paul McGann’s Doctor. In it, the Doctor mentions a list of companions from the Big Finish audio dramas. Thus, according to some people, this means those dramas are now ‘canon’.

In the same vein, during The Name Of The Doctor, the Doctor has a conversation with Madame Vastra. Because of this, The Talons Of Weng-Chiang is now a purple catfish called Brian.

Both these statements are equally nonsensical. To quote Teatime Brutality:

“you’re assuming a British mass-audience show from 1963 would work like American cult-audience show from the Nineties.”

The important thing to remember about Doctor Who is that it was created as a way to tell stories, not as a story in its own right. Go look back at the way the series was created and for you’ll see that it was, as Douglas Adams reputedly said, the only good thing ever created by a committee. The Doctor, the companions, the TARDIS – none of them were created with any complicated back stories in mind or with detailed stories of their own to tell. Instead, they were purely functional creations designed to facilitate a series that could tell stories of the past, future or sideways in time. It wasn’t intended to be about telling any bigger story, and no one envisaged the way it would develop. (The central joke of The Pitch Of Fear is that no one actually envisaged the series continuing in the way it did)

The people who were making and consuming Doctor Who in that period certainly had no concept of it having a ‘canon’ that they had to slavishly adhere to. Like most non-soap TV series of its time, each story was a separate event, with references back to previous stories only ever made to reintroduce old villains. They’d try and aim for some sort of consistency, but David Whitaker (Doctor Who’s first script editor) saw nothing wrong with completely rewriting how Ian and Barbara met the Doctor for the first novelisation of the series, and the whole thing was changed again for the film. The problem for us in comprehending this is that shows that are a collection of stories with no continuing elements are vanishingly rare on TV nowadays. Everything has serialised elements, plot arcs and character arcs and aspires to be one long story. (Hustle is probably the most recent series with the least arc-based storytelling – there are very few episodes of that making reference to others)

However, I would argue that the reason Doctor Who has survived so long – and will continue to survive long after we’re all dead – is because it resolutely resists any attempt to turn it into one story with a beginning, a middle and an end. To imagine that it should be like Star Wars, with its varying degrees of canonicity for different stories is to assume that they’re the same thing when they’re obviously not. Star Wars began as a single story by a single person, while Who began as a framework for telling lots of stories by lots of different people. Sure, you can imagine what you think is the beginning of the story, and it might be a great story, but it’s still just one story amongst many others, in the same way that Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood is just one version of the story, and not a ‘canonical’ telling of it.

There are millions of Doctor Who stories out there – some have been made for television, some are in books or on audio, some are comics, some on stage, some are words in internet archives, some are enacted by children in the playground and others only exist in their creators’ heads. Some are brilliant, some are awful, some redefine the character of the Doctor and the nature of the universe he inhabits, some take great pains to leave everything exactly as they found it and some feature characters you’ve never even heard of having adventures you (and possibly even they) don’t really understand or comprehend. But they all exist, and every one of them is just as real as all the others. Now, you may argue that some mystic process of canonicity makes some of them more real than the others, and doing that might make you happy, but I prefer to see them all as stories, all entertaining someone somewhere and for me, that’s far more important than whether it has some official stamp of approval. Just let the stories be told and the only category you’ll need is whether you like them or not.

20 Nov 09:18

No One Expects the Monty Python Reunion!

by evanier

The surviving members of Monty Python are reassembling for a stage show. I think those guys are great and I’d like to see the make all the money they can and I’d like more fans to be able to say, "I saw them live." But there’s been something a little sad for me the last eighty times I saw Cleese and Palin do the Parrot Sketch. And it’ll be sad to see them perform with someone missing.

19 Nov 18:20

Ich Bin Ein Bullshitter

by LP


“Eh? Who’s this?”

“Happy birthday!”


“No, grandpa. It’s me, Kenny. I wanted to wish you a happy birthday!”

“Leave me alone.”

“Ninety-six years young! How are they treating you at the retirement community?”

“It’s a nursing home, you cockeyed son of a bitch. Your rotten bastard father put me in a home.”

“Man. Watch the language, huh, grandpa?”

“He was a bastard. I’m serious. I had dozens of them. Your grandmother was a Copa girl.”

“Have you been hitting that bourbon again, grandpa? Because it’s a commemorative bottle. I know how much you like history. You’re not supposed to drink out of it.”

“I was drinking before you were swimming around in your bastard father’s guts, Kenny, you four-eyed stoolie. Don’t tell me what to do.”

“So you have been drinking. You know what Dr. Zwickoff says about your liver.”

“Dr. Zwickoff can blow me. Those back pills didn’t kill me. That sack of crap Oswald’s bullet didn’t kill me. A little Kentucky bourbon isn’t going to kill me.”

“You’re drunk.”

“You’re damn right I’m drunk. That’s the only reason I’m telling you this. God help you if you ever let it slip. Men have died to protect this secret. Do you know who you’re talking to?”

“Oh, man. Is this going to be the story about how you’re really John F. Kennedy?”

“Have I told you this before? I forget. You’ll forget things too, when you get to be my age. I don’t know how I told you this much and you’re still alive.”

“Because I don’t believe you, grandpa. No one believes you. Not even Aunt Mildred believes you and she believes in those cross-shaped magnets she got from the back of Parade Magazine.”

“Kids today don’t believe anything. We were the best and the brightest. You’re all just a bunch of nitwits. I’ve got proof.”

“Your ‘proof’ is that you sign your name ‘Jack’ instead of ‘Mike’ and you own a robe you claim is from Air Force One. That doesn’t convince anybody. Even the people at the home don’t believe you.”

“They’re a bunch of goddamn Republican dupes. When I think I faked my own death to secure a safe future for them and their asshole grandchildren.”

“Kennedy’s death wasn’t fake. It was on national TV.”

“So was the moon landing. You believe we really landed a guy on the moon? When we couldn’t even make pocket calculators? Grow up, you sorry fuck.”

“Grandpa. Your blood pressure.”

“I wouldn’t even have done it if that cocksucker Hoover wasn’t always breathing down my neck. What was I supposed to do, piss away my legacy?”

“What legacy? The Cuban Missile Crisis? The Vietnam War? Huge budget deficits and tax hikes?”

“How about civil rights and the goddamn Peace Corps, you miserable little turd?”

“That was mostly LBJ. Anyway, it doesn’t matter, because you’re not John F. Kennedy.”

“What makes you so goddamn sure? I have the same birthday.”

“I remember you from when I was a kid, in the early ’70s. I have pictures. You don’t look anything like Kennedy.”

“You think those doctors who switched the coffins were just screwing around, boy? They were trained professionals. You think it’s been easy, living in another man’s face while I get played in the movies by a bunch of hacks and Jackie marries some fat Greek asshole? You think it’s easy having an airport named after you and not being able to get free drinks in it? And I can’t even remember the last time I saw a half-dollar in circulation.”

“You’re not even Irish. Our family name is Wolfram. We’re Protestants.”

“Sure. Assumed. I’m not going to stick my neck out and risk the mob or Castro coming after me.”

“After fifty years?”

“They have long memories.”

“I wish you did. You’ve told me that story about how the guy in the motorcade was a furloughed sex criminal like a hundred times.”

“It’s a good story.”

“It was a good story the first eight times I heard it. Look, I gotta go, grandpa. Happy birthday. I’ll, uh, I’ll call you again soon.”

“Hey, don’t do me any favors, you stuck-up little prick. I’ve got plenty of things to do.”

“What can you possibly have to do?”

“I have to put my presidential papers in order. I have some executive orders I’m going to have covertly enacted. And my memoirs aren’t just gonna write themselves.”

“Sure, grandpa.”

“And there’s a nurse who comes in on night shift who’s been asking for it ever since I went on the heart pills.”

“Well, now I don’t know what to think.”

19 Nov 18:16

"Spare Room Subsidy": how I changed my mind

by Jock

I do believe that nobody, especially perhaps people who barely afford their own "compact and bijou" residence, should subsidise "spare" rooms for others through the tax system.  I believe this whether it's property rented from private landlords, where it is already outlawed, or social landlords (who arguably ought to be better at planning their estates to take account of demographic change).

I also believe there are places, as Oxford at least was a dozen years ago when I was a councillor, in which such a policy ought to help relieve overcrowding as the main problem rather than under occupancy which appears to be a bigger issue elsewhere.

And further, all Housing Benefit ultimately benefits landlords at the expense of *everyone* else, not just those renting.  The effect of Housing Benefit is to place a floor on housing costs and everyone's costs are increased by that, whether in the size of mortgage they have to take on to buy or the rent they hand over to their landlord.

So I have been half-heartedly in favour, generally speaking, of anything, including this so called "bedroom tax", that might reduce the dependence on and upward redistribution effects of Housing Benefit.  But I've changed my mind.  It's not that I am suddenly converted to the idea of paying surplus housing costs for other people.  But that, as in the back of my mind I knew all along, that this policy was attacking the wrong people and the wrong problem.  In an era of "little boxes…all made of ticky tacky" in a nation that has seen much economic growth over the past few generations, we all deserve some extra space.  No other developed nation has seen its average house sizes fall as we have in Britain as their countries became richer.

But when I have seen some of the victims of this policy, I see people who are already shunted around by the state and its partners in social housing provision, being penalised for relatively small amounts of money that pale into insignificance compared with the overall effect of land use policy and tax policy that maintains land values for those who have got some land of value and penalises everyone else, not just those caught in the bedroom tax.  It has exposed a lack of planning and investment on the part of social housing providers.  This may or may not be primarily related to government spending policies but is also affected by the land cost conundrum - it's difficult to justify "tear downs" with the land proportion of any property so high.

Instead of the paltry few hundred million the "bedroom tax" might save, whilst penalising people with no other options, a sensible government would have done something to alleviate the multi-billion land cost burden faced by every last one of us, except those with homes to spare.  That they haven't shows that they care more about the Daily Express house-price hawks than the costs of living facing real people every day.  They are no better than the last lot, which isn't saying much.


read more

19 Nov 17:55

Updates: Temperature Conversion Table

Temperature Conversion Table

  • Since we posted this in 2010, we’ve been measuring our temperatures in Kelvin (not the Kelvin scale, but a guy named Kevin whose name we misspell around the lab).
  • Bees, they still exist. Don’t be unprepared.
  • Having trouble talking about weather with strangers? Browse our collected science and make new friends (who you only talk about the weather with).
18 Nov 16:32

Tell It To The Moron

by evanier


Christmas Day of 1963, a new TV show debuted on CBS. It was produced by Allen Funt, whose Candid Camera was then riding high in the ratings for that network. It’s not so much the practice any more but it used to be kind of understood that if you had a hit on a network, that network would buy another show from you. Mr. Funt came up with Tell It To The Camera, which reversed the principle of his other series. Instead of catching ordinary people on a hidden camera, the new show put ordinary people in front of a non-hidden camera and invited them to say anything they wanted. They could recite a poem, sing a song, tell a joke, express an opinion…anything. Crews were dispatched across America to film people on the street in different cities.

Does that sound like a great idea for a show to you? It doesn’t sound like a great idea for a show to me. And after I saw one episode, I couldn’t fathom how it sounded like a great idea for a show to anyone. It was one of the most boring things I ever saw on television and America agreed with me. CBS yanked it after thirteen weeks, by which time there were probably more people on an episode than were watching it.  I wonder if before it went on, anyone at CBS said, "You know, this is the perfect time for a series like this, so soon after the President was assassinated.  The people of America feel a crying need to express themselves and to speak out."  And like we need more proof that TV doesn’t learn from its mistakes: In 1980, producer George Schlatter used his clout from Real People to sell NBC on Speak Up, America…same premise as Tell It To The Camera, same short run.

Mr. Funt’s show was pretty obscure. As far as I can tell, there’s no mention of it over in the Internet Movie Database. If you do a Google search for "Tell It To The Camera Funt," all you’ll find are a lot of articles in newspaper libraries like the one above. Mostly, you’ll find terrible reviews.

I remember the series for an interesting reason.  When I was in high school, I had this friend named Mike. He called me one day and had me help him on a secret mission. A friend of his had tipped him off that CBS was cleaning out its library. If one went at a certain time to a certain set of dumpsters in a public alley alongside CBS Television City, one could fish lots of 16mm prints of old TV shows out of said dumpster. This we did, taking home about, I’d guess, 100-150 cans of Amos & Andy, General Electric Theater, The Jack Benny Program and many others. There were several episodes of Tell It To Groucho, the short-lived series Groucho Marx did as a follow-up to You Bet Your Life. There was also an amazing film — an hour of You Bet Your Life from when it was on radio. They hauled cameras into the studio and filmed a broadcast, apparently as a test to gauge how the show would look or should look when it was transferred to television.

Mike and I showed some of these films around our school and at local groups and then at some point, Mike sold them all to a collector. A lot of these shows are available in the home video market and I wonder how many, if any, are transfers from the prints we rescued from the garbage.

One thing we picked up — and I’m not sure why — was all thirteen episodes of Tell It To The Camera. We had to act fast to get the films because there were studio guards to shoo us away. I think we quickly sorted film cans into "take" and "leave" piles, put the Funt shows into a "leave" pile, then accidentally took one of those stacks. Later, we watched about half of one episode. It was a great print but a terrible show…but still, we couldn’t bring ourselves to throw them away.

I cannot explain why but a thought came to me: Maybe Allen Funt would want these. I don’t know why but I found the number of his production company in New York and made a phone call to his office. This was back when "long distance" phone calls were not inexpensive. I explained to the receptionist that I had some of their films they might want and she put me through to an officious gent who didn’t give me his name but I’m pretty sure was not Allen Funt. I got as far as explaining to him what I had when he interrupted, half-yelling, "How did you get those? Those are our copyrighted property!"

I explained that a friend of mine and I had fished them out of a trash dumpster. He half-yelled, "What were they doing in a trash dumpster?"

I said I didn’t know but we’d saved them from being burned or dumped in the ocean or whatever would have happened to them. I then told him, "I’d be glad to ship them back to you if you’ll pay for postage." I thought that was damned nice of me but instead, he began full-out yelling, "WHAT? YOU WANT US TO PAY RANSOM FOR OUR OWN PROPERTY?"

I said it wasn’t ransom. I was going to go to a lot of trouble to get them to him and I wouldn’t make a dime on the deal. He shouted back in all caps, "YOU WILL HAVE THOSE FILMS IN MY OFFICE IN 24 HOURS OR I WILL CALL MY FRIENDS AT THE F.B.I. AND HAVE YOU ARRESTED!!!"

Since I hadn’t given anyone there my name and since I didn’t figure he had the capacity to trace the call, I hung up on him. Later, I gave the films back to Mike and I think he finally threw them away or gave them away or something. A few years ago, I met Allen Funt’s son Bill and I told him the story. He sighed and told me their company didn’t have any copies of those shows. Well, that’s why.

15 Nov 15:31

Security Tents

by schneier

The US government sets up secure tents for the president and other officials to deal with classified material while traveling abroad.

Even when Obama travels to allied nations, aides quickly set up the security tent -- which has opaque sides and noise-making devices inside -- in a room near his hotel suite. When the president needs to read a classified document or have a sensitive conversation, he ducks into the tent to shield himself from secret video cameras and listening devices.


Following a several-hundred-page classified manual, the rooms are lined with foil and soundproofed. An interior location, preferably with no windows, is recommended.

15 Nov 14:57

The revolution will not be hand-stitched

by Charlie Stross

Every so often a news item grabs my eyeballs and reminds me that I'm supposed to be an amateur futurologist, because of course SF is all about predicting the future (just like astronomy is all about building really big telescopes, and computer science is all about building really fast computers, and, and [insert ironic metaphor here]).

Via MetaFilter, I stumble across the latest development in 3D printing (now that 3D printed handguns have gone mainstream). Mad props go to another printing startup, although that's not what they're marketing themselves as: Fabrican ...

Fabrican is a unlikely-sounding spin-off of the Department of Chemical Engineering, at Imperial College (which in case you're not familiar with it is one of the top engineering/science colleges in the UK; formerly part of the University of London)—at least, it's unlikely until you begin thinking in terms of emulsions, colloids, and the physical chemistry of nanoscale objects. It's basically fabric in a spray can. Tiny fibres suspended in liquid are ejected through a fine nozzle and, as the supernatant evaporates, they adhere to one another. If at this point you're thinking The Jetsons and spray-on clothing, have a cigar: you've fallen for the obvious marketing angle, because if you're trying to market a new product and raise brand awareness among the public, what works better than photographs of serious-faced scientists with paint guns spray-painting hot-looking models with skin-tight instant leotards? (Note: the technical term for this sort of marketing gambit is, or really ought to be, bukake couture.)

The real marketing value pitch is less ambitious, and buried further down the page. Fabrican currently amounts to spray-on felt; a loose mat of unwoven fibres that adhere to one another and naturally entangle. This is brilliant if you're an auto manufacturer, who wants to do away with the laborious hand-fitting of carpets in your cars (just have the paint shop spray the carpet on the floor panels), or a furniture manufacturer who wants to soften the image of those cheap plastic chairs you sell for lecture theatres or buses and commuter rail.

But the implications go much further, because this is just step one. What we're looking at is the first sign of the shift to 3D printing of clothing (and no, Victoria's Secret doesn't count, other than for novelty value, any more than the Honeywell 316/Nieman Marcus Kitchen Computer of 1969 was a sign of the personal computer revolution to come).

Here's the thing: we live in an age of plenty when it comes to clothing—but it relies on a dirty little secret. Clothing has gotten much, much cheaper over the past century; if you ignore the brand premium on Levi's jeans (which have risen in price in real terms, due to going from cheap workware for manual labourers to premium brand name fashion item), a pair of workman's trousers today cost less than a quarter of the equivalent price in 1900. But this fall in prices is local to us, in the developed world. Fabric is woven on mechanical looms, as it has been for a couple of centuries, and garments are still largely cut and entirely sewn by human hands—the greatest enabler of increased productivity was the sewing machine in the 1850s (and, later, the overlocker/serger and other specialised industrial sewing devices). Our cheap clothes are made in sweatshops by underpaid developing world workers, and as Bangladeshi wages rise, the factories migrate to cheaper nations.

A side-effect of separating garment manufacture from consumers (us) is that they don't fit well, either. There are legends of Chinese clothing factories whose first batch of sized-for-western-girth produce has to be rejected by the buyers because nobody on the shop floor believed that the people they were making clothes for could be so fat. Nor do we, in general, have our cheap clothes adjusted to fit. While it's worthwhile to have an expensive suit or formal gown tailored, who would bother fitting a $10 tee-shirt or a $20 pair of jeans? Yes, we have easy access to cheap clothes at prices that make them all but disposable. But we also have cheap clothes that don't fit particularly well and fall apart rapidly.

So, where does spray-on fabric come into this?

We are used to wearing clothes made out of woven (or knitted, or crocheted) fabric—lengths of spun yarn that are interlaced in two dimensions to form a flexible mesh. The individual fibres in cotton or wool or linen or silk may be quite short, but when spun they adhere to each other and this allows us to create thread or yarn many orders of magnitude longer than a fibre.

Right now Fabrican's spray-on felt relies on very short fibres in a liquid carrier that form a matted felt when the solvent dries. (I infer that the strands are probably quite weak, individually, requiring the matting to provide some additional tensile strength.) But I'd like you to imagine the same technology refined so that instead of coming out of a spray-can it comes out of an ink jet printer nozzle. And I'd like you to imagine the same print head also having a different "ink" to print with—a waxy masking substance that can dissolve in an oily dry cleaning fluid and be washed out of the finished garment. Print alternate layers of fabric and mask and the layers of fabric won't adhere to one another. Dry clean after printing and you have separate layers. Give it ink jet printer resolution and you should be able to "print" woven fabric, complete with the warp and weft in situ (separated by the mask layer). The rest of this picture is about ten billion dollars and ten years' worth of fine tuning, and then luxury fibres (synthetic spider silk, anyone?): but the basic premise is that we are between 5 and 20 years away from being able to 3D print woven fabric.

What are the implications?

If you don't think printing woven fabric is a big deal, DARPA beg to differ; DARPA is pumping serious money into robot sewing machines. But automating garment assembly from traditional fabric components turns out to be a really hard problem (as this possibly-paywalled New Scientist article on a €23M project to build a sewbot explains). Cloth is slippery, changes shape if you drop it, wrinkles, and has to be stretched and twisted and folded as it is sewn. Note that final word: sewn. If you can print fabric in situ out of fibres in a liquid form, you don't need to sew components to shape—especially if you can print more than one type and colour of fibre at a time: you can fabricate your "stitches" (inter-layer connections) as part of the process, with minimal hand-finishing to possibly add fasteners (zips or buttons).

Add in a left-field extra: the rapid spread of millimeter wave scanners for airport security. These devices caused a bit of a to-do, earning them the nick-name "perv scanner" in some circles, because of their ability to see through clothing to the skin beneath, in order to check passengers for hidden contraband. But if you put the same machine in a clothes shop, it allows the establishment to obtain extremely accurate measurements of its customers without requiring a strip-tease and manual measurement of all the relevant saggy, lumpy bits and pieces. By use of surface-penetrating wavelengths (possibly high-intensity laser light, or infrared) it may also be possible to automatically distinguish between fatty tissue, musculature, and underlying bone structure. All of which are relevant to the construction of clothing.

So here's my picture of the chain store of the future. You go in, go to the scanning booth, and do the airport-equivalent thing in a variety of positions—stretch and bend as well as hands-up. You then look at the styles on display on the shop floor, pick out what you like, and see it as it will appear on your own body on an avatar on a computer screen. You buy it, and a machine in the back of the store (or an out-of-town lights out 24x7 robotic garment factory) begins to print it. Some time later—maybe minutes, maybe hours or a day or two—the outfit you ordered comes to you. And it fits perfectly, every time. Some items are probably still off-the-shelf (socks, hosiery, maybe even those cheap tee shirts), but anything major is printed, unless you can afford to go to the really high end and pay a human being to make it for you out of natural fibres. Oh, and the printed stuff doesn't have seams in places that chafe or bind.

Now, here's the down-side.

The fabrics on offer to start with will be fugly. Maybe not as bad as the bri-nylon shirts and terylene and other crappy synthetics of yesteryear, but it's still going to be fairly obvious (at first) what you're wearing. Figuring out how to make a sprayable matrix that uses cotton or silk or wool fibres has a multi-billion dollar pay-off at the end, so I expect it to happen eventually, but at first the stuff is going to look and feel like felted nylon. The styles on offer at first will also be fugly. I've spent a few years watching my spouse make her own clothing, and it's worth noting that dress patterns are complex and don't scale linearly: going from a size 12 to a size 18 isn't just a matter of blowing every dimension up by 50%. Clothes that are some variation of a simple tube or tubes will be easier than, say, a pair of jeans (with pockets and decorative seams) let alone an underwired bra or a sports jacket. Nor are there going to be many chain stores left to buy this stuff from. The job of a high street store in this scenario is to take measurements with a scanner and handle order fulfilment. Maybe also to act as a showroom. Today they have changing rooms and act as edge-of-network distribution centres. Tomorrow? Expect tumbleweed where the likes of Macy's or Primark have their bigger stores. Let alone T[J|K] Maxx—that business model is on the way out.

But back to the product itself. The first printed garmets aren't going to eat into the high end fashion market. Rather, they're going to displace sweatshop low-end produce. No, scratch that: initially this stuff is going to be something you spray on conference seats and car body panels (and maybe horrible 70s style flock wallpaper). But sooner or later it'll get good enough for really cheap, semi-disposable clothing. And then the pressure to improve the processes and recapture some of that $100Bn imported-from-China garment market will be irresistible.

So I expect 3D printed clothing will take time to catch on. But as it catches on, a lot of developing world factory workers are going to find their jobs are as obsolete as the half million men who used to work down British coal mines, or the million who worked in iron and steel foundries, or the other countless millions who used to pick crops and plough fields by hand and by horse. People who use sewing machines for a living will find their jobs have gone the same place as people who used to work in office typing pools with carbon paper and manual typewriters. Low status jobs, mostly women, with negligible social safety nets to catch them when they fall. On the other hand, this will hopefully be as much a thing of the past as this.

When garment manufacturing returns to the countries where they're consumed, the pace at which fashion trends turn over may actually accelerate: currently, there's a limit on how fast high street fashion can change imposed by the time it takes to send pattern blocks to a factory overseas, verify that the product is of satisfactory quality, then ship the loaded TEUs to market. It'll be like going from batch processing of punched cards on a mainframe in a computer bureau to using a time-sharing terminal: expect flash fashion trends to take off like a rocket once the tech gets cheap enough and good enough to fit the budget and taste of the vital high street 14-24 year old female demographic (and once the design software gets accessible enough).

It'll take a while longer (if ever—there are strength/durability/flexibility issues here) for 3D printing to revolutionize footwear (but, oh my aching feet, I can't wait).

The hand-sewn couture market (which still exists) will be joined by the not-as-high-end machine-sewn-by-real-people somewhat-more-durable market in the middle end. But it won't be a mass employer.

Now. What am I missing?

15 Nov 12:13

Childe Labor

by LP

“Janet, I’m not trying to tell you how to raise your child.”

“Oh, really? Because that’s what it sounds like to me.”

“I’m only telling you this because I love you. Because I want to help you.”

“This is ridiculous.”

“You know I’m right. If you would just look at it objectively, you know I’m right.”

“I knew this would happen. You told me when we started dating that you didn’t have a problem with my having a daughter.”

“I don’t have a problem with it. Grace is a wonderful kid. You know I care about her. But I care about you more. And she’s a drain on you.”

“A drain? How would…how can you say such a thing?”

“She’s taking advantage of you, Janet.”

“She’s a child.”

“She’s a child as long as you treat her like one. She’s getting older every day. And she never even talks about working or getting her own apartment or even going back to school.”

“It’s summer!”

“Sure, it is now. And how many more semesters are you going to let her lounge around here, buy her all of her food, let her do whatever she wants? The other day I asked her what she wanted to do with her life, and do you know what she told me? She said she wanted to be a princess.”


“A princess, Janet. Talking like that, she’s going to be borrowing money from you when she’s 35.”

“So what are you suggesting? Since you know everything about child-rearing?”

“Well, getting a job would be a good start.”

“She’s too young.”

I had a job when I was her age.”

“You did not!”

“Yes I did!”

“Oh, doing what?”


“What does that mean? You mowed your dad’s lawn?”

“I don’t know who you think you’re going to score points off of, denigrating a whole profession.”

“She doesn’t need a job. I make plenty of money.”

“It’s not about the money. It’s about responsibility. Lots of people are working at her age.”


“Southeast Asia. Africa. In some countries she could join the Army.”

“You’ve got to be kidding.”

“Look, I’m not saying she should join the Army. It’s just an example.”

“Martin, she’s six.”

“It’s not like I’m suggesting she should work in a factory or anything.”

“Yes you are! You did just yesterday!”

“First of all, Helm isn’t a factory. It’s an assembly plant. They don’t make things there, they just put them together. Second, it’s a union shop. She’d get great benefits, vacation, the whole deal.”

“Just let this go, Martin. I’m serious. I don’t want to hear any more about building character, or taking responsibility, or how little girls grow up fast these days. Just let it go.”

“All right, Janet. She’s your daughter.”

“Well, I’m glad we agree on something.”

“I just wonder who’s going to pay for that pony she’s always talking about.”

15 Nov 10:57

AEP files plan saying only solar and wind from now on for new electricity generation

by Tobias Buckell

Wow. An interesting sign of a rapidly changing utilities market:

“On Nov. 1, AEP, one of the other five biggest coal-fired electric utilities, filed a plan to Indiana and Michigan regulators saying that the only new generating capacity it would need over the next decade would be wind and, starting in 2020, solar. The company said it ‘expects that utility-scale solar resources will become economically justifiable by 2020.’”

(Via Tennessee Valley Authority to close 8 coal-fired power plants – The Washington Post.)

AEP is still a dirty energy producer (they supply my energy, I used to buy their carbon offsets for their green program, until they shut that down, I’ve been trying to figure out how to hop over to a new provider that uses the wind power from the nearby wind farm but customer service on this front has been rather atrocious and I’ve been so busy I’ve been lax in follow through) but it’s an interesting marker to watch.

15 Nov 10:56

How a journalist faced his fears and learned to be good at maths.

How a journalist faced his fears and learned to be good at maths.
13 Nov 17:10

Shit I can’t believe needs to be said: Liking problematic stuff doesn’t make you a bad person

by stavvers

In a desperate attempt to get past the tedious arguments that keep hampering our progress in actually Getting Shit Done, I’m going to say this, and then every time it crops up again I can whap this out and be all like “ta-da! Here’s my opinion, now I’m going to go back to bed.”

Today it’s Lily Allen putting out a music video that women of colour feel reflects another manifestation of white supremacy. Yesterday it was some other music video, the day before it was a newspaper column, and before that it was a thing on telly, and basically what I’m saying is these arguments happen again and again. It goes like this:

  1. Pop culture thing happens.
  2. Privileged people like it.
  3. People without privilege criticise it from their perspective and call it problematic.
  4. Privileged people who like it get upset.
  5. Privileged people who like it think the criticism is some sort of personal attack.
  6. Privileged people who like it declare the thing to be Not Problematic.
  7. Ranks close. Nothing changes.

I was once one of the people who lathered, rinsed and repeated steps 4-7, so I can see exactly how it happens. It’s nice to enjoy something. It makes you feel good. And you’re a nice, good person. Also, racism and transmisogyny and sexism and ableism and bourgeois dickholery are generally pretty awful. So, it logically follows that because you and the way you feel are good, and oppression and supremacy are bad, the thing you like can’t be any of those things.

Except that’s not how it works. That thing you liked? It’s not a part of you. You almost certainly, in fact, had no creative control over it. Instead, it was created by rich and privileged people, far far away. Chances are, they’re not big evil hood-wearing KKK members either. They fucked up, because privilege kind of does that.

The people who are criticising it are those who have to experience oppression. This means they’re a hell of a lot better at spotting it than privileged people. They are probably right here, far more likely to be right about this than you, the fan.

So do you need to stop liking that thing you like? Hell no. I recommend you read this excellent guide: “How To Be A Fan Of Problematic Things”, which guides you through the process of actively critiquing pop culture, starting from this position:

Liking problematic things doesn’t make you an asshole. In fact, you can like really problematic things and still be not only a good person, but a good social justice activist (TM)! After all, most texts have some problematic elements in them, because they’re produced by humans, who are well-known to be imperfect. But it can be surprisingly difficult to own up to the problematic things in the media you like, particularly when you feel strongly about it, as many fans do. We need to find a way to enjoy the media we like without hurting other people and marginalised groups.

So please, please, please let’s stop having this wearing argument. While liking something problematic doesn’t make you a shit, having this argument pisses people off. It pisses off the marginalised voices we need to hear more of in feminism. It pisses off people who are subject to oppressions. It pisses off everyone who’s had to sit through this nonsense more than once–on both sides.

Let’s just listen to what’s being said, understand it and engage with it, and then enjoy our favourite things with a more critical eye.

13 Nov 08:49

Terror Incognito, or, the Haze of War

by LP

Let me tell you a little something about myself.

Today, I am a fat, out-of-shape, and devoutly unathletic middle-aged man. But once, in my youth, I was a fat, out-of-shape, but modestly athletic teenager; and during that time, I played football (as a nose tackle for my high school team) and baseball (as a relief pitcher in both high school and college).

My experiences of the two sports were wildly different. As a baseball player, I was moderately successful; I was a lefty with a funky delivery and a handful of ‘trick’ pitches, which made me valuable for getting key late-inning outs provided the coach had the good sense to pull me before hitters could catch on to my syrup-slow arsenal of junk. My teams were also pretty good; in high school we were contenders if never winners, and in college, I played (albeit deep from the bench) for one of the best programs in the region. I was also largely accepted by my teammates, despite being overweight and bookish; relievers in general, and lefties in particular, have always been considered freaks, and most of the other players accepted my nerdy personality in a tolerantly indulgent way, provided I didn’t fuck up too often. (Since I could throw accurately, though with little velocity, I was also called on to be the team’s designated plunker, a role I relished and which endeared me to the coach and my teammates alike.) I played for three years, and though my inability to break 70 on the radar gun along with general ineptitude as a fielder ensured I’d go no further than the varsity bench, I enjoyed most of my time as a baseball player and remember those days fondly. They’re part of the reason I grew up to be a baseball fan and a devotee of sports despite my status as a doughy geek.

As a football player, though, I was utterly miserable. The finer points of the game, which I had never enjoyed, escaped me, and my dad more or less forced me to try out for the team in a doomed effort to drill some machismo into me. The position I played was given to me not because I had any true aptitude for it, but because I was the biggest and tallest player on the team; I simply happened to fit a standard physical requirement. Our team was terrible; we had a lousy offense, no overall game plan, and a coach who was frustrated and incompetent. We won but a single game the whole time I played, and I sure as shit didn’t help; I was slow, confused, and not very aggressive, and while I never lost us a game, I was little more than dead weight on the field. The rest of the team – which comprised the alpha jocks of the school, as football attracted the best athletes even though the baseball and basketball teams had more winning ways – despised me. They hated my mental weakness, my intellectual tendencies, my awkwardness, my lack of masculinity and aggression and intensity, and I hated them right back. I was mercilessly bullied, both mentally and physically: I was stripped naked and thrown out of the locker room. I was tossed under the collapsing bleachers of the gym and trapped there for hours; I had to choke myself from crying when I called out to the dean to rescue me. I was beaten with soap bars stuffed into socks. I was called a pussy and a faggot on a daily basis. On our last game of the year, I was plowed into by the hulking Mexican kid who played center for the opposing team and injured my back quite badly; I never played again and looked on my injury as a blessing that allowed me to escape football forever. I still can’t stand football, and I look upon my experiences playing it as a big factor in my loathing for the institutionalized abuse, bogus manliness, and relentless bullying that’s endemic to sports culture.

While I grew up into a man who is almost entirely pacific, I was never a pacifist. I came from a military family, and I was expected to do my time in the service, as every male member of the family had done up until that time. I respected the military (and I still do, despite my deep hatred of war, warrior culture, and the way militarism has strangled our society), and I planned on doing a stint in the Navy. I joined the Naval Junior Reserve Officer’s Training Corps in high school – again, pressured to do so by my ex-Army dad, but I went along willingly, hoping to get my college tuition paid for, as we were a working-class family. My experiences, again, were twofold.

I took easily to some aspects of the ROTC program. I was adept at military history, strategy and tactics; I was mechanically clever; I learned drill and other aspects of military protocol easily; and I earned ribbons for rifle marksmanship. But I was a wash-out at most of the swimming exercises, a fatal blow for anyone hoping to do time in the Navy, and worse that, I bristled under the strict discipline required. I was a natural at drill, but my uniform was never quite squared away; I always lacked one or another vital skill that would let me make rank. Our instructor was an intelligent man who treated us with respect, but he was also a strict disciplinarian who looked the other way when his selected leaders behaved like martinets, ignoring what the cadets were good at and punishing them for minor infractions of rules I found arbitrary. Even so, I might have done well enough, but my senior year – a time when, not coincidentally, I was developing some serious ethical concerns about military service in general – we were shipped off to a mini-boot camp in San Diego. I relished the training and the chance to familiarize myself with actual naval transports and equipment, but our drill instructor was a bloviating maniac who screamed non-stop abuse at us and handed over the everyday running of the platoon to the usual bullying goons. I flunked out, faked an injury to escape one particularly egregious group punishment – for which I received a beating later that night – and came back embittered at the whole program. I became the first man in my family (though, thankfully, not the last) to eschew military service. I don’t think my dad ever quite forgave me.

Despite his wishes, neither football nor the military instilled in me much of a sense of discipline. In fact, it was quite the opposite; they taught me to distrust and fear authority, to despise officially sanctioned brutality, to hate the standard presentation of maleness in our culture, and I let those qualities make me cynical and lazy. I became quick to look for corruption inside any organization, and keenly sensitive to the fact that people in power would often excuse the bad behavior of their trusted underlings. I didn’t grow up entirely weak or unfocused; I was (to my shame) quite a brawler for much of my late 20s and early 30s, and have often struggled with certain violent tendencies despite my dislike of institutional violence. I found discipline internally, through my art and a somewhat muddled self-image. I even picked up on some elements of American macho culture that I’m not especially proud of and have struggled to overcome: an over-focus on self-reliance, a hostility to people outside of my peer group, a reluctance to ask for help, and a tendency to swallow my emotions. But I never embraced the values my old man hoped I would get out of the organizations that had made him into who he was, for better and for worse.

All this is, of course, prelude to a discussion I’ve been having with myself about the situation with Richie Incognito and the Miami Dolphins – not only his brutal hazing of a teammate, which went so far that the teammate simply walked away from the team, but the way the Dolphins organization handled it, and how that handling has been reacted to in the press and in the court of public opinion. Much of what has been said about the case has come from people who have found it appropriate to heap scorn on Jonathan Martin, the victim of Incognito’s bullying and abuse, and much of what they have said has come from a very familiar position: that Martin should have toughened up. That he should have been a man. That he should have dealt with Incognito, at best, by attacking him in kind, and at worst, by going “in-house” rather than making his case to the press. That he should have nutted up and stood up for himself. That the behavior to which he was subjected – including racist insults and threats to his family – were meant only to build team unity and bring him closer to the group. That football is like the military, and it’s only through the heat of the forge that you make strong steel. That Martin was a pussy. That Martin was a faggot.

The personal anecdotes were offered by way of entrée, because it seems like, particularly in discussions of these pervasively macho areas of American life, individual experience – usually pretty worthless as a means of analyzing a complex situation – is the only way in. How can you judge, if you’ve never played the game? – that’s the question always asked. How can you understand, if you’ve never been in the trenches? And it’s not entirely unfair, that question, though we are all too willing to accept it from others who likewise never strapped on a helmet, either in football or in war. But it highlights some deeply problematic aspects of the issues at hand, which I think inform why the conversation about Incognito and Martin in miniature, as stand-ins for the greater issues of hazing and bullying and the purpose to which they are applied, has gone so disastrously astray.

For one thing, the preference for personal anecdote, and the hostility to statistical analysis and the overall study of trends, points to a disturbing anti-intellectualism in sports. Numbers are just fine so long as they confine themselves to on-field performance, but should they tell us something about the games beyond the games – about economic inequality or racism or sexism or about the NFL’s serious problems with criminal behavior or head injuries – all of a sudden they take a back seat to individual opinion and the nebulous grand traditions of manly striving. No one is more fond of analysis than a sports booster defending his favorite player, and no one is more hostile to it than that same booster being told his sport of choice is institutionally dysfunctional. Eggheads are just fine for predicting VORP and WHIP but keep them away from our fun.

For another, even personal experience is tainted by circumstance. In reading all the defenses of the Dolphins management by men who suffered humiliation, derision and abuse at the hands of their own teammates and coaches, the stink of rationalization wafts off the screen; it is impossible not to wonder if they have simply chosen to believe their debasement had some improving quality because the alternative is to realize that it was all for nothing, just an empty exercise in sadism. How many of these men played for losing teams? How many of them were, as I was, shamed and bullied to no good end, as the numbers increased in the L column and the realization that they were being forged, not into a victorious brotherhood, but into a collection of warped failures? Even if they’d been winners, that teaches us nothing; Jim Bouton famously mocked the idea of team unity in his classic memoir Ball Four, noting that it was always the winning that came first, with team chemistry the effect rather than the cause.

And in some circumstances, personal experience is entirely beside the point. Richie Incognito, widely recognized as one of the dirtiest players in the sport before the Martin revelations, is such a universal type he needs no explication. Everyone has known a Richie Incognito, on their team, at their school, with their unit, in their workplace: he is the kind of casually sociopathic egomaniac for whom the phrase “clubhouse cancer” was invented. Far from instilling team unity, he sows divisiveness everywhere; his relentless abuse draws no one together, but leaves them hoping he’ll suffer a career-ending injury just so the torment will cease. The party line amongst the boosters is that he’s the kind of guy you’d want to share a foxhole with, when in fact he’s the kind of guy who’d get scragged by his own men. He lacks even the demented leadership qualities of a Captain Queeg, or the savage defiance of a Ty Cobb. No one will ever remember fondly having spent time with a shitbag like Richie Incognito; he will be as warmly recalled when his career is over as a prison guard or a hangman.

It is this fact that strikes at the very heart of the issue of hazing, of bullying, and of bonding. The difference between these words may be precariously thin, but it is also dangerously sharp, and crossing it always draws blood. The point of this kind of bonding has always been to draw a group with little in common together, to eradicate their individuality just to the point where they are able to function seamlessly as a whole to achieve a mutual goal. Soldiers are meant to fight and win in wars; athletes are meant to point themselves inerrantly at a championship. The ultimate goal in both cases is to make a man willing to sacrifice himself for his comrades’ sake, not to make him willing to go out of his way to humiliate them. It is a mistake to think you must break men down and dehumanize them and build them back up to men again; what is sought is taking human men and making them greater than they were before. Treating your teammates like shit doesn’t make them want to bond with you and carry you along to glory; it fills them with resentment and makes them want to see you fail. It is a recipe not for victory, but for spite.

This is the reason that every branch of the military has instituted anti-hazing policies. This is the reason that the greatest leaders have depended on respect and not fear. And it is the unwillingness to recognize this, not any inherent flaw in the structure itself but a stubborn refusal to admit that parts of it can rot over time, that has poisoned the atmosphere in both sports and the military. Chicago Bears receiver Brandon Marshall, a bright and outspoken player who’s refused to bow to the prevailing attitudes when discussing his mental health issues, talked about the culture of the NFL and how it reflects one of the most damaging facets of machismo: “A little boy falls down and the first thing we say as parents is ‘Get up, shake it off…don’t cry.’ When a little girl falls down, what do we say? ‘It’s going to be OK’. We validate their feelings. So right there from that moment, we’re teaching our men to mask their feelings, don’t show their emotions…you can’t show that you’re hurt, you can’t show any pain. That’s a problem. And that’s what we have to change.”

The effects of this widespread cultural taboo against men behaving like humans instead of like “men” – effects I have too often invited myself because I am no more immune than anyone to the air I was raised breathing – is obvious to see in football and in military culture. When we discourage athletes from seeking help, when we stack the front office and the ‘leadership’ positions with people hostile to the very idea that there might be something wrong with the institution, you not only get a dozen, a hundred Jonathan Martins; you get a century of players whose brains were scrambled inside their skulls and sought no aid because no aid was offered. When you train a soldier to not let his experiences of war take an emotional hold, when you teach him that silence equals strength, you get the agonizing situation we are in now: an overburdened armed forces in which the pleasures of unity, service and achievement are eclipsed by the horrors of sexual assault, domestic abuse, and a terrifyingly high prevalence of suicide. It is not too much speculation, I think, to reckon that many of the servicemen who took their own lives had been told that seeking help for changes in their minds and hearts they could not fathom, let alone articulate, was a sign of weakness. Of a pussy. Of a faggot.

But it is not just that the perpetrators of this toxic culture, the Richie Incognitos and their toadies and their bosses, are wrong only in a climate of modern mores and changing standards of sensitivity. They are wrong in theory and they are wrong in practice, for it is unity and not divisiveness, cooperation and not resentment, strategy and not tactics, inclusion and not cliqueishness, that wins both ballgames and wars. They would have you believe that they are men of the old school, and that the Jonathan Martins of this world are modern-day sob sisters who pass their malingering off to a sympathetic press as sensitivity of a sort that stands to destroy the grand old game by robbing it of its very masculine essence. They’re wrong, though, and they know it. They know it when they look at the teams in the winning locker rooms, and at the names in the almanacs of past champions. They are kicking downwards on their own because when they kick outwards, they get kicked back and it hurts. If a sea change comes to sports culture, they will be viewed in the same way as were coaches who believed that drinking water on a hot day caused a player to become weak and soft.

I am no Jonathan Martin. He has the goods; he started every game for years in one of the most dangerous positions in the sport. And I am not my father. I intentionally avoided military service, while he lied about his age so he could go fight in Korea before he was 16 years old. But I think I know a little about how Martin feels, and I think it’s enough to know that his is not the weak link in his team’s chain. And I know what happened to my dad, and how the values he was taught by men in the Army who were unfit to lead nearly ruined him later in life, when the physical and psychic wounds he suffered in the war built up and overwhelmed him, but he was too taken with a false notion of manly self-sufficiency to seek help until it was almost too late. Neither sports nor the military lost anything of value by losing me; but if they continue to avoid the problems that drove me away, they will lose more and more men that they desperately do need, until no one is left but the Richie Incognitos.