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24 May 20:56

Just Two Sentence Make Americans As Pro-Welfare As The Danes

"He has always had a regular job, but has now been the victim of a work-related injury. He is very motivated to get back to work again."
20 Jan 12:20

Amelia Gray Responds to a Hater

by Jia Tolentino
by Jia Tolentino

In 2012, the wonderful fiction writer Amelia Gray published a novel called Threats. In 2013, a disgruntled man named Earl took a minute to sit down and write a letter expressing his displeasure:

Gray, in turn, composed a beautiful response. Dear Earl, Thank you very much for your response to my book THREATS. One of the reason I write is to make a connection with people, and it's humbling to me that a man in Crowley, Louisiana took the time to sit down and read upwards of seventy pages of my work. Here's her full letter back to him. 

A week later, Earl returned the voided check with a note that said A Time to Kill is indeed the type of reading that he preferred, and told the author that, although he appreciated her suggestion, he also preferred to do his reading on a Nook. Amelia Gray pronounced her time with Earl "a sweet exchange, all in all," and the rest of us sent her a complex sequence of high-fives and handshakes, as is typical with women, in our conversations among the insane.

[AG]

8 Comments
20 Jan 12:17

Our LGBT History and the People's History Museum

by noreply@blogger.com (Jen)
There are a lot of things I meant to blog about in 2013 but the raw doing things that need doing of tackling the most pressing problem got in the way. In the winter months I hope to write up a few of these, having made a start this week with the review of the year and writeup of the Charles Dickens talk at LGF. Today I'm going to look back to August 2013 and the Manchester People's History Museum LGBT Exhibition for Manchester Pride 2013.  This one will be decorated with photos as I was being a bit snap-happy with my camera at the time.



In March 2013, when planning the People's History Museum's summer events programme, it seems the suggestion came forward to run an LGBT history tour, to coincide with Manchester Pride at the August bank holiday weekend. The people's history of Manchester, after all, includes a whole series of stories of our place as a key city in the country's LGBT history.

But as a social history it is fleeting and ephemeral, with some of the tales of bars and battles captured by the rainbow plaques on our city streets and many more missing, let alone how they piece into the jigsaw of the battle for liberation and equality on a wider level. If you didn't live through it all back then, then in a 2013 where one of the six parliamentary divisions on same-sex marriage didn't even go to a vote because well it's obviously going to pass why bother, it's hard to imagine how things were for queers of all stripes twenty or forty years ago. It's something that didn't hit home to me until I had the good fortune to meet and spend time with Bernard Greaves, a magnificent gay (and later LGBT) rights activist who has been fighting the proverbial good fight longer than I've been alive.

As Catherine O'Donnell, one of the exhibition organisers, blogged at the time: "(As a straight woman) I knew that there had been a struggle, however I didn’t realise the lengths that campaigners had gone through to gain rights for something as simple and natural as kissing in public, let alone the repeal of Section 28 and equal marriage."
Most of the 'popup' LGBT history exhibition

Catherine got the plans for an exhibition included in one of LGF's regular circulars and that's where I picked up on it, as it landed the day after I'd had a conversation about archives and the many bi banners BiPhoria has made over the years.  Regular readers will know that I work a mixed week, and Wednesday is normally my day of beavering away at various bi volunteering projects at BCN Towers. By sheer chance the two LGBT history workshop afternoon PHM had planned were on Wednesdays, so I could take part without having to take leave from my paid working week.  If People's History Museum had picked Fridays for this project it would probably have passed me by.

When you only have two afternoons to bring a group of a dozen or so people together, get them to go through museum archives and their own materials from home, understand broadly how to select, label and present the most important things and turn it into a ready to roll exhibition that's a tough call.  While perhaps half of the volunteers contributing history and time to assembling the exhibition already knew one another from a group at LGF that the People's History Museum had done a targeted outreach evening with, the rest of us didn't know one another and there is quite a bit of needing to find a comfort level around strangers and learning to share stories and space. It worked well, though I was always worried I was hogging the floor with stories from twenty years of bi, trans and LGBT activism - or geekily correcting historical references. No, he was bisexual... of course at the time both of them were in the closet... the word dates back to the late 1800s... that's the wrong pronoun... I'll shush now.

Those exchanges of stories highlighted some of the limitations of the rapid recruit - prepare - present cycle. We had, from what I could tell, a skew toward cis lesbians and gay men among the volunteers. That's not to bemoan any of them being there, just that as so often, ideally there would have been more and different voices.  Thanks to my background and extensive if ill-filed bi archives I can hold up the B end well, but I think there was only me and one ally speaking up on trans issues and representation. There was at least some B and T in there though, which was one of the things that made me glad I'd taken part.  Especially seeing this little "bisexual corner" with two of my final three nominated items for the display, one of which reflecting the internal struggles within the LGBT umbrella:
"Dear Stonewall, you say you're LGB but you keep letting bisexuals down..."

It all came together and while it felt a little bit compact-and-bijou compared to a full museum exhibition areas, it was a grand feeling once the frenzy of Pride weekend was over to come in to the museum in September and see it in its polished final form. I got all self-referential and took photos of the projection wall where my own photos were among the rotating display running (many thanks to the kindly front desk people who noticed what I was up to and dimmed the main lights so I could get better snaps!). 
That's a photo of a projection of a photo I took of one of my teeshirts.
This blogpost may eat itself :)
I do hope PHM will run similar exhibits again, Pride week is an obvious date to hang things off, but so are LGBT History Month, IDAHOBBIT or Bi Visibility Day. Having started with a broad LGBT exhibition I naturally gravitate to thoughts of whether in years to come they could focus on areas within LGBT, such as the bi, or trans, or BME LGBT tales of the city.

Much kudos and congratulation to Harriet Richardson and Catherine O'Donnell from the museum's Play Your Part project, who steered the whole thing through to completion. It was great to see the finished exhibit there at the front of the museum to welcome all visitors, to be a part of make it happen. Further it filled me with thoughts of how to go about exhibiting bisexual community history in particular; but that's a story for another blogpost!
20 Jan 12:09

Textual Fardels

by Blake Stacey
12 Jan 12:10

From the British Library

by Michael Leddy


The British Library has made available through Flickr more than one million images from seventeenth-, eighteenth-, and nineteenth-century books. The image above comes from William Turner’s Journal of a Tour in the Levant (London, 1820). I like such stamps. I like circulation slips too.

This post from the British Library’s Digital Scholarship blog explains the project.

[Found via Boing Boing.]

You’re reading a post from Michael Leddy’s blog Orange Crate Art. Your reader may not display this post as its writer intended.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons 3.0 License.
07 Jan 10:01

A quarter of head and neck surgeons think Obamacare has death panels

by Sarah Kliff

Obamacare's death panels are alive and well -- at least among the imaginations of America's head and neck surgeons.

The journal Otolaryngology -- Head and Neck Surgery recently sent a questionnaire to to 9,972 head and neck surgeons that had 10 basic questions about the health-care law. It's one that Kasier Family Foundation created in 2010, which you can take yourself here.

The 647 responses that came back were ... depressing. Twenty-seven percent of respondents thought that the health-care law includes a "government panel [that] makes end-of-life care decisions for Medicare." This would be the so-called death panel rumor that ran rampant during the congressional debate over health care.

death panelsThe Affordable Care Act did initially include a provision that would reimburse Medicare doctors for having discussions about, but not necessarily recommending, end-of-life options. But that was taken out in early 2011 after a front page article in the New York Times highlighted the issue.

The researchers also sorted the responses by doctors' opinions on the Affordable Care Act. They found that those who oppose the health-care law were more likely to believe that these panels exist. Forty-one percent of those who "strongly oppose the law" thought the panels existed, compared to 13 percent of those who are strong supporters.

The head and neck surgeons did better on the end of pre-existing conditions (93 percent knew about that provision but worse on coverage for undocumented immigrants (30 percent thought they would receive financial assistance, which they will not). The article is gated but available here.

07 Jan 09:56

We need to talk about TED.

We need to talk about TED.
24 Dec 17:59

The Golden Era Of Spam Comments Has Ended

by Brendan O'Connor
by Brendan O'Connor

The search engine optimization community has spent the last two years in a panic. SEO people flood our Internet with spam links and fake Twitter bots and paid traffic, to help bad websites look more popular than they are, to deliver fake viewers to web ads.

They now spend their lives on the run, Google nipping at their heels. Their biggest project? Removing all the spam links on websites like this one—the spam links that they put there.

In early 2011, Google issued an update to its search algorithm—they called it "Panda"—that elevated social media and news sites. Sites both big and small, usually spammy and sometimes not, saw major decline in their Google traffic. Companies like About and Mahalo and eHow cratered. Google said they wanted for "the 'good guys' making great sites for users, not just algorithms, to see their effort rewarded."

In spring of 2012, Google moved on from Panda to Penguin, which further refined that goal, though still the updates sometimes had a negative effect on non-spam sites, cutting traffic to older and larger sites.

But it was the Penguin 2.1, released in October, that sent spammers to the bitter edge; now they can't repent fast enough for their spammy sins. 

Given how ubiquitous the act of Googling something has become, it is easy to forget how much goes into returning search results. "Google's algorithm takes into account dozens of criteria," wrote the New York Times in 2011, after J.C. Penney was penalized for having paid a search-engine optimization firm to place incoming links around the web. "But it has described one crucial factor in detail: links from one site to another."

Essentially, the more your site is linked to across the web, the higher Google will rank you, and links from sites that are similar to your own are better than links from sites that have nothing to do with anything. Over time, the quality of those links has become more and more important. (This 43-page PDF from Google is more specific, if you're really interested.)

Those links, in part, have an effect on one's placement in search results. Many of the J.C. Penney spam links were published on web sites that seemed to exist solely for that purpose: as a space for spam links to live. Out of the way, they never intruded directly on the experience of the average internet user (who may or may not be a robot anyway).

But: what's the easiest way to place a link on a site you don't own? Why, it's blog comments.

Hairpin user "michaeljohn," you will see, has a lot of substantive contributions to make to the conversation, like "buy bongs." (Fun!) We call this "black hat" linking. Web publishers—even as they pine for Google's affections, or at least play by Google's rules—are besieged by such comments.

So the black hat spam folks who spread these links across the Internet have reversed course. The Awl, and other websites like it, receive email after email each day from companies requesting that we help them clean up their presence in the comments, deleting links posted by fake accounts, the log-in information for which has long been lost or never recorded.

This isn't only happening in The Awl's inboxes, either. "The funny thing is, we don't actually want that spam lurking around in old comments," Boing Boing's Rob Beschizza wrote to me in an email. "But we obviously like seeing the spammers suffering as a result of their own misbehavior."

"So we just leave it up," he wrote, "even though we don't want it, in the hope that Google may penalize them further."

And exactly what form do those penalties take?

"For 500 keywords that we track, 90% of them were on page one," Or Hillel told me over Skype. ("Keywords" are usually the words associated with the linked site; if your link is to a gambling website, well, "gambling" is a good keyword.) Hillel has worked in SEO for the past eight years and was, a few months ago, hired to be the Inbound Marketing Manager at MyCurrencyTransfer.com—tasked to protect the brand. As is often the case, one SEO person is undoing the previous work of long-gone SEO people.

"The average drop was from page one to page five in Google," he said. In some cases they even dropped as low as page ten. How often do you find yourself on the fifth—much less the tenth—page of Google results? If you've gotten that far, you're better off just refining or revising your search terms.

"We needed to delete all of the bad links," he said. "It was a big list—a few thousand, even ten thousand links. We just moved one by one: this is a toxic link, we need to delete it; this is a good, natural link."

"We had links from the Daily Mail, Huffington Post, and we had links from profiles in shitty forums or small websites that we didn't want to get the link from," he said. Apparently by that he meant… us. So the goal clearly isn't to remove all spam links. Just the least-good ones.

This is very sneaky, what they had done here. They made a commenter profile—and then put the spam link in the commenter profile's description. Clever.

I asked Hillel whether they considered hiring the SEO company who had placed those links to begin with to clean up the mess they'd made.

"That's a problem. It's a freelance company that no longer exists," Hillel told me. "I don't know the name of the company. Is it important?"

A few minutes after I hung up with Hillel, his boss, Dan Abrahams, one of the co-founders of My Currency Exchange, called me on my phone. He asked about the article, and whether I could keep his company's name out of the story. They're very protective of their brand's identity, he said, and didn't want to be associated with these kinds of shady practices. Which is why, presumably, they paid a bunch of spammers—"freelancers from the Philippines"—in the first place.

Abrahams wasn't able to find any records of his company's business with the (allegedly) now-defunct SEO firm, either. You think there'd be a receipt somewhere.

My Currency Exchange isn't the only B R A N D to reach out to The Awl, asking for links that they paid for to be removed. (Also, not every SEO company has figured all this out! There are still people paying people to place spam comments on sites like this one.)

My favorite are the emails from OneFlare.com.au.

"We have discovered that a company we hired to help promote our website have used a variety of questionable techniques to secure links," Selena Le wrote on October 20th. "These links were placed purely for SEO purposes, with the intention of manipulating search rankings."

"We have discovered that a company we hired to help promote our website have used a variety of questionable techniques to secure links," Nick Chernih wrote on December 5th. "These links were placed purely for SEO purposes, with the intention of manipulating search rankings."

You don't say.

"The presence of these links is harmful to our site's good standing with search engines," the good people from Oneflaire.com.au each wrote. "Unfortunately, retaining them may also be potentially harmful to your own website's reputation.

Very threatening! And fairly hilarious: If you do not delete these comments that we paid to have placed on your site, Google will punish you.

That's possibly true. "Generally, it's fine for sites to have paid links as long as they're clearly labeled as ads and don't pass PageRank," a Google spokesperson wrote to me via email. "We may take action on sites that don't follow our quality guidelines."

Beschizza isn't worried. Google, he wrote, has said "they're not going to penalize users or disavowed links."

"I would hope there are still implicit consequences for asking Google to do this," he wrote. "It is a rather obvious admission of foul play, and while Google may forgive, it surely does not forget."

"www.theawl.com has a number of links pointing to our site," wrote a man named Ben, who identified himself as the owner of Identity Theft Protection dot org. "We would appreciate it if you removed them as soon as possible. We would be happy to provide you with a full count and list of the links if you would like."

"We understand that you may have not been responsible for building the link(s)," wrote "Jobs in FMCG," "but we would really appreciate it if you could remove the link(s) from where it appears on the page(s)."

Indeed, The Awl certainly was not responsible. Who was? "The excuses are always choice," Beschizza wrote. "My favorite one is that a competitor put their spam there. You know, as if a competitor would have thought, in 2007 or so, "Let's put out spam promoting our rival’s site, just on the off chance than in five years Google will penalize them!"

What then, is an SEO firm to do? "The best way to get other sites to create high-quality, relevant links to yours is to create unique, relevant content that can naturally gain popularity in the Internet community," Google says. Simple enough! If you build it, they will come, and all that. Still, even if you build it, they still need to be able to search for it, which is why they have this nice, 32-page Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide.

So the new SEO tactic is to email hustling for links—good links, not obvious spam links. "I noticed that you mentioned a page on the FDA's website—I'm not sure if you heard, but the FDA stepped down from a lawsuit with the tobacco companies earlier this year that required the graphic warning labels," a Sarah Green emailed us to say recently. (Real name? probably not.) She goes on to offer a link to an anti-cigarette lobbying group. (Barking up the wrong tree, as they say.) She closed: "Just wanted to give you a heads up :-) ."

The other, more fascinating method, is that offered by the online marketing manager who identified herself only at "Monika" when she emailed The Awl. Now, Monika ain't no dummy. Homegirl knows what the score is.

"SEO is dead as we know it," Monika wrote. "The old math of increased back links and stuffing keywords is now a target to identify your site and bury it in the search results."

"SEO is no longer a math problem," she wrote. "It's a human one. Social indicators are becoming key to Ranking and link algorithms are being retired."

"It's time for you to see the truth about SEO and adjust accordingly."

I have seen the truth, and it's Monika's THIRTY-SEVEN POINT PLAN to get The Awl to the "1st Page at Google." (That was actually the subject line of her email.)

Here below is the content marketing activities "Monthly Task and responsibilities"
1. 200 Press Release Submissions (20 press release x 10 press release websites)
2. 20 Press releases, 400+ words written
3. 5 Unique Articles will be written
4. 5 Web 2.0 Properties will be made
5. 5 Unique "how to Articles" will be written
6. 5 Face book Pages will be created
7. 5 Twitter channels will be created
8. Will increase twitter followers?
9. 1 YouTube channel will be created
10. 10 YouTube videos will be created by Animoto.com (paid)
11. Will likes, shares, tweets, reedits, and 1+ in order to get natural back links
12. Anchor text diversity (will not use exact keywords for back links).
13. Will get Natural back links by link worthy articles
14. Will draft & submit 5 articles to Ezinearticles.com
15. Will create Google+ page for your business
16 will distribute 15 posts daily via Google+ Page
17. Will participate in Forum
18. Will create blog for your website
19. Will make 1 post daily on your blog
20. Will bookmark real content to leading 150 Social Book marking sites as dig, delicious
21. Will submit your website to 10 leading Web directories as Dmoz.org On-Page work activities "Follow only first month".
22. Meta tags/Title tag changes
23. Keyword research/Analysis
24. Competitor Analysis
25. Analysis by our Paid Seamus Program
26. Heading tag changes
27. Alt tag changes
28. Interlinking wherever required.
29. Keyword density in site content.
30. HTML Site Map
31. XML site map and Submission in webmaster tool
32. Ror.XML File creation
33. Robots.Txt File creation Extra work activities
34. Google Webmaster tools
35. Google Analytics
36. Html to text ratio optimization
37. Keyword Prominence

Sounds interesting? Feel free to email us or alternatively you can provide me with your phone number and the best time to call you.
Many Thanks
Monika

How exhausting. But I think we should go for it, honestly.

Brendan O'Connor is a writer in New York. Photo by Dan Foy.

0 Comments
20 Dec 10:21

Writer Unable to Use Important Words Correctly

by Jia Tolentino
by Jia Tolentino

Giving the Ross Douthat "Daughter Theory" column a run for its idiocy money is this other Times piece, written from deep inside a juice-cleansed Butt of Privilege. Here is exhibit #1:

Instagram — the highest achievement yet in social-media voyeurism — presents a new form of torture.

A new form of torture! Kids grow up so fast these days. Here are some other, older forms of torture that have the potent lexical advantage of being real: solitary confinement, incommunicado detention, the denial of medical treatment, the denial of safe abortion and post-abortion care, the denial of adequate nutrition, excessive use of force by law enforcement. Okay, here's exhibit #2:

Instagram envy may turn out to be an epidemic with no cure.

Here we also have the opportunity to mourn the human toll left by Instagram, truly an "epidemic with no cure." Diabetes, ebola, polio, cancer and HIV have all been outpaced by the vast swath of destruction left by a picture-based iPhone app. A memorial service for approximately 26 people at the apex of neurosis and urban wealth will be held tomorrow in a hollow echo chamber at the [NYTimes].

5 Comments
10 Dec 10:50

15 Glorious Vertical Panoramic Photographs of Churches

by admin

richardsilver church

As you walk into the amazing Cathedrals and Churches that dot our planet, your first reaction is to look up towards the towering ceilings, the amazing stained glass, and sculptures. Photographer Richard Silver took panorama and turned it on its side to capture the magic of the vaulted ceilings and glorious testaments to religion. These photos may make you feel dizzy as you scroll through them. You feel as if you are rolling your head back to look towards the ceiling, but instead of stopping, you keep bending over until your completely reverse your view. The images capture the entire beauty of the interior of these amazing churches including, St. Vince de Paul in California, Cathedral of the Holy Name in Mumbai, Dominican Church in Krakow, and St. Mathias in Budapest, just to name a few.

The images give a magical view of the churches providing the feeling of just walking into their glory.

Church of the Transfiguration in Krakow

richardsilververticalchurches15

St. Cajetan in Goa, India

richardsilververticalchurches14

The Church of Saint Augustin in Vienna

richardsilververticalchurches13

St. Andreas in Düsseldorf

richardsilververticalchurches12

Potosi’s Convent of Santa Teresa in Bolivia

richardsilververticalchurches11

St. Mary’s Church in Poland

richardsilververticalchurches10

St. Mathias in Budapest

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Bratislava Church

richardsilververticalchurches8

Hallgrímskirkja Iceland

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Iglesia de San Francisco in Mexico City

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Dominican Church in Krakow

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Cathedral of the Holy Name in Mumbai

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St Vincent De Paul in California

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Cathedral of Christ the King in Johannesburg

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Franciszkanska Church in Krakow

richardsilververticalchurches1

Via My Modern Met and Richard Silver Photo

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10 Dec 10:48

FOR MANDELA

by rkaveney@gmail.com
RESTRAINT

Some eulogize him who will never learn
from words or deeds or what he did not do.
-Six window bars, a sea more grey than blue.
White choke dust lime pit, where bright sun would burn

necks, and in winter hands numb from wet cold.
Told him the son he did not know was dead.
He wept. Three decades sitting on his bed
he taught young comrades still his comrades old,

who walked with him to freedom. Heard his voice
stern gentle. Helped him build. He gave his power
away and let successors have their hour,
yet bound their wills to this most anguished choice.

He was prepared to put men in their grave
whom, once they dropped their weapons, he forgave.
10 Dec 10:47

Tributes have flooded in

by Mark Steel

I wonder if it was like this two thousand years ago. If it was, when Jesus died, Pontius Pilate would have appeared on Sky News moments after the cross was taken down and said “The world mourns today a man of great integrity. It was an honour to have known him, and even when I sentenced him to crucifixion, he showed great forgiveness, and that shows what a great figure he was.”

On the BBC the newsreader would say “With me here is one of his closest associates. Judas, what memories do you have of Jesus?”

And Judas would say he always displayed dignity and humility, and most importantly forgave those that betrayed him, and finish with an amusing anecdote, about how pernickety he could be about which bread to break at supper.

On Radio 5 live the moneylenders at the temple would say he was a heroic figure, who may have thrown over the moneylenders’ tables in the temple, but said he was sorry for the mess that was caused, which is the main thing, then every newspaper would tell us “Tributes have flooded in from across the Roman Empire, led by King Herod who said ‘It is a sad day for Nazareth, and a sad day for Rome’.”

Many of the official tributes to Nelson Mandela, such as the one from David Cameron, have emphasised his ability to forgive, and his apparent rejection of bitterness is part of what made him extraordinary. But the reason his capacity for forgiveness towards the rulers of apartheid mattered, was that he’d organised opposition to it, took up arms against it and overthrew it. If he hadn’t, if his notable side was forgiveness, he would simply have been a kindly chap who’d passed away with no one outside his family taking much notice.

Few people now defend apartheid, but someone must have liked it at the time or it wouldn’t have been such a nuisance to destroy. Margaret Thatcher, idol of many who made tributes to Mandela, bragged with a fervour that actually made her look drunk, that she’d rejected sanctions against the regime, as the ANC was a “typical terrorist organisation.” Many sportsmen and musicians broke the boycott, repeating the sentiments of Dennis Thatcher who said “we play our rugby where we like”. There were the ‘Hang Mandela’ t-shirts, and countless commentators and politicians who belittled the demonstrations and boycotts.

I visited Robben Island prison, where Mandela had been incarcerated, in 2003. To get my ticket I visited an office in Cape Town, with glossy posters on the wall, covered in flowery lower case jolly African writing, exclaiming your trip to South Africa wasn’t complete without taking the unique opportunity of a trip to the famous island. I got on a catamaran with Americans and Germans, who smothered themselves in sun cream and took pictures of each other as they held out their arms and giggled.

Had they turned the prison into a theme park, I wondered, maybe with a water-canon-slide, and a helter skelter shaped like a giant Desmond Tutu?

But tours of the prisons are conducted by ex-prisoners. As we wandered round the cells our guide explained how he and fellow convicts had been allotted different amounts of bread according to their race, and how they were made to work sixteen hours a day on the land.

“One day”, he said, “As I was digging, on the day of the month my father was due to visit, a guard called my name. I stood before him on that spot there and he said ‘Your father won’t be visiting today as he’s been shot. Now get back to work’.”

His father lived, it turned out, but never walked again, and the guide told us the three responsible for the attempted murder were free under the rules of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, and were now wealthy businessmen.

To my left a woman in shorts and a bright silk top, put her camera away and started sobbing onto her sun cream.

On another day I was taken around Soweto, by a friend of the family I was staying with. We toured the roads from which its residents hadn’t been allowed to leave without a pass, met countless children running along dusty tracks selling water, as if auditioning for a film that Morgan Freeman will probably be in, and went round the museum built where the schoolchildren were massacred.

My host was fascinated by England and cricket and the Premier League, and overflowing with tales of his youth, of plantains and preachers, and pondering why after apartheid there were still hundreds of thousands living in squalor, in the camps outside each town.
“What a memorable day”, I said when I got back to the people I was staying with. “Marvellous”, they said, “but you were lucky today. That lad you were with was arrested in the 1980s, and tortured by the police in the station at John Foster Square. He made such a noise they called him The Screamer, and whenever they brought in new prisoners, they would torture him again, so his screams would terrify them and make them talk. Sometimes he’s still a bit jittery but he was on good form today.”

So it was indeed remarkable that Nelson Mandela endured this regime and yet displayed no malice. But the real reason he was remarkable is that he took on its wealth and weaponry and brutality, its distinguished friends and its air of impregnable authority, he became the figure of a global movement and he beat it. The kids of Soweto not legally allowed past their street, the protestor throwing flour at rugby players, the student taking their twenty quid out of Barclays, the pensioner leaving South African grapes at the checkout, The Specials, the prisoners and the screamers and Nelson Mandela were united in opposition to this heavily armed barbarity and they won.

During the campaign against apartheid Nelson Mandela was a distant figure, locked away but a name on mugs, posters and student union halls, barely more real than Batman. But the De Klerks and Bothas were alarmingly real, an air of menace in their presence, like the bouncer that orders around the other bouncers.

Now the hazy figure is revered above all, and the defenders of apartheid have to scramble in his shadow for a space to declare that really they admired him, and the people they helped to torture.

The precise nature of his legacy will be debated for centuries. His capacity for forgiveness was impressive, and perhaps it isn’t surprising if that’s emphasised by some paying tribute, rather than his role in overturning inequality, as they’re now arranging inequality of their own.

Because surely his most important achievement was to prove that bastards and their bastard regimes can be overthrown, against seemingly impossible odds, by all of us, as no one knows which unsold grape was the one that finally brought down a tyranny.

10 Dec 10:29

Scapegoating Nick Clegg is the lowest form of populism

by James Graham

Owen JonesMy ire was particularly roused yesterday by Owen Jones’s latest attack on Nick Clegg. Now, regular readers of this blog may be aware that Nick Clegg is not exactly my favourite person, I actually agree that Clegg is populist with little in the way of actual principles, and that this latest capitulation to crack down on virtually non-existent use of the UK welfare system by EU migrants is an apt if depressing example of this. But Jones’s analysis has one fatal flaw: he’s a member of the Labour Party.

You don’t have to agree with Martin Shapland’s equally flawed analysis that the fact that Labour have equally let down EU migrants and indeed the UK electorate that that somehow makes the Lib Dems’ own actions more acceptable to agree that Owen Jones and his cohorts are in no position to criticise.

If Clegg’s “scapegoating” of EU migrants (which is to ignore the fact that the Lib Dem position is far less coherent than simple scapegoating) is “unforgiveable”, then what does that make Yvette Cooper’s claim that the coalition are playing catch up behind Labour on this issue? Indeed, so behind the coalition were Labour on Tuesday that they set one of their lead attack dogs to smear Laszlo Andor, an EU commissioner who had the unmitigated gall to criticise the UK for adopting such a policy, wrongly claiming he was a fascist.

This isn’t the first time, and won’t be the last, that Clegg’s team has concluded that with Labour and the Tories united on an issue they might as well go along with it for fear of being singled out. It was the same reasoning that made Clegg so keen to not come out against the snooper’s charter. Clegg isn’t a liberal, although he wore that mask for a while, and his mission is to be seen to be in the centre of politics between Labour and the Tories, no matter where that centre happens to be (he’s only sticking with the party’s pro-EU stance because he knows that dropping it would lead to a split the party would not survive from). He’s pretty despicable. But does anyone really believe that is more despicable than the party leaders he is slavishly following? Miliband could have caused a split within the coalition by adopting a pro-migrant, and fact-based stance on immigration. Leaving aside his ethical and moral responsibilities, he had a responsibility to do so as the leader of the official opposition. Cringing in fear of how Lynton Crosby would respond, he chose not to.

I’m not suggesting the Lib Dems should be let off the hook, merely that they are irrelevant. Even if every single Lib Dem voted against these measures, the combined Labour-Conservative hegemony would get it through parliament. If Owen Jones truly had the principles he has pinned his professional career to, he would have chosen to lay into who is possibly the next prime minister for his cowardly stance, rather than the leader of a declining third party. Does anyone else see the irony in choosing to pull his punches on Miliband and ramp up the rhetoric on Clegg in an article denouncing the political practice of scapegoating? This is black propaganda indeed.

10 Dec 10:27

Another Doctor Who book that you should read

by Mike Taylor

I’m actually a fortnight late, but I just noticed that Andrew Hickey’s Doctor Who book is out. It’s available as in paperback, hardback, Kindle (US and UK) and other e-book formats. I just bought my copy: paperback for £10, with free shipping using the “FREESHIP” coupon code.

Fifty stories for fifty years -- Andrew Hickey

Andrew’s book is very, very different from mine (so, you know, you should buy both). While I focussed very tightly on the Eleventh Doctor (the clue’s in the title), and hardly touch on anything pre-2010, Andrew covers the whole half-century history of Doctor Who, from An Unearthly Child onwards. He also covers all media: not just the TV show, but also the various series of books and audio plays.

If you want to get a sense of what’s in the book before plonking down your tenner, you can find most of the material in Andrew’s series of posts at The Mindless Ones. You’ll see that he has a habit of veering off-piste to dig out the most esoteric nuggets of information and make the most fascinating connections. Highly recommended.


10 Dec 10:26

The Web Planet

by Iain Coleman

Why question me? Surely you can see our movements.

Each of us has a characteristic repertoire of movements. You can recognise loved ones just by the way they walk. Actors use different styles of movement to create different characters. Some of these can become iconic, instantly triggering off a complex of ideas, emotions and cultural signifiers. There are basic, gross movements that are common to they way any man walks down a street, but if one of them is Charlie Chaplin twirling an umbrella and the other is John Travolta swinging a paint can, the different personalities are immediately recognisable, and the emotional and cultural connotations are widely different.

It’s important in science fiction drama too. If human actors are to represent alien beings, then finding new styles of movement suitable to the extraterrestrial race in question is essential, if they are not to look simply like a scattering of awkward suburbanites at an unsuccessful fetish party. Wise producers will hire choreographers to work with the actors, giving each species its own palette of movements unique to itself, making each group of aliens seem coherent in itself but distinct from any other.

But what is a style of movement? We can all recognise it, but can we break it down into its elements? Quantify it? Analyse it?

Beauchamp-Feuillet notation (image credit: Judith Appleby)

Beauchamp-Feuillet notation (image credit: Judith Appleby)

The first project to have a go at pinning down the component elements of dance was commissioned by Louis XIV in the late 17th century. There had been dance treatises before then, elaborate descriptions of how particular dances should be performed (sometimes with stroppy comments about how they should certainly not be performed), but the notation that ballet master Pierre Beauchamp devised for His Majesty was the first to use abstract symbols instead of prose descriptions accompanied by realistic drawings.

This Beauchamp-Feuillet notation, as it became known after Raoul Auger Feuillet popularised it in his many published books of choreography, was an elegant, if initially forbidding, system of swirling lines and sudden angles that represented the motions and transitions of dance just as a set of dots and lines can describe the notes and rhythms of music. It remained in widespread use for a century, before being superseded by a variety of alternative systems.

Benesh Movement Notation (image credit: Juliette Kando)

Benesh Movement Notation (image credit: Juliette Kando)

There are two in wide use today. The Benesh Movement Notation represents body positions on a five-line stave similar to that used in standard musical notation, allowing music and dance notation to be more easily integrated, while Rudolf Laban’s “Labanotation” looks more like geometric abstract art than music, but does have the advantage that it can be used to describe any kind of bodily movement in space and time, not just dance moves.

Rudolf Laban and his Labanotation

Rudolf Laban and his Labanotation

This idea has been developed further, in Eshkol-Wachman movement notation. Like its predecessors, this breaks down movements into primitive elements, but it uses an elaborate system of three-dimensional polar coordinates to locate these motions in space, with techniques for rotating and translating sequences of movements so that they can be directly compared. This allows the truly invariant characteristics of movements to be calculated.

The applications go far beyond the world of dance. It has been used in a host of animal studies, allowing scientists to establish the movements that are characteristic of particular animals, study how these movements change due to illness or injury, and compare the ways different species of animal move. In one example, Tammy Ivanco and her colleagues from the University of Lethbridge, Canada, used Eshkol-Wachman notation to quantify the different ways that rats and opossums reach for food, and were able to relate the more complex movements of the rats’ hands and arms to their relatively more elaborate brains and nervous systems.

It may even prove useful in studying the human brain. Autism is not generally diagnosed until a child is around three years old, while Asperger’s Syndrome is diagnosed much later – typically around the age of six or seven, but it can remain undiagnosed into the teenage years. Osnat Teitelbaum and her colleagues at the University of Florida analysed video recordings of infants moving about, and by using the Eshkol-Wachman system were able to determine certain movement styles that were characteristic of children who would later be diagnosed with autism or Asperger’s Syndrome. These were things like asymmetric crawling, where the infant would not crawl in the efficient manner of most babies, moving diagonally opposite limbs together, but would instead move in clumsier ways, such as with one foot stepping while another crawls, or a particular way of falling forward or back from a sitting position without using the reflexive motions of the arms that neurotypical infants would protect themselves with. This work led them to develop a simple motion-based test for autism and Asperger’s Syndrome in infants, whereby the child is held and the waist and slowly tilted from side to side. If the infant does not manage to keep their head vertical, an autistic spectrum disorder may be present.

A much simpler form of notation was devised recently by Amy LaViers, an engineering postgrad at the Georgia Institute of Technology. (That’s Georgia the US state, not Georgia the former Soviet republic.) Eschewing the complexity and power of the Eshkol-Wachman notation, LaVier’s system represents two legs, each of which can adopt one of ten different poses. The sequence of poses, and the transitions between them, describe the dance.

These ten discrete states are not chosen arbitrarily. Ballet dancers perform their warm-up exercises at the barre, a handrail that they hold on to for stability as they exercise each leg in turn. The ten barre exercises are the building blocks of ballet, and it is these movements that are captured in LaVier’s finite state automaton, a computer program that moves through these different poses to create sequences of dance.

There are constraints on the movements the automaton can perform. Some of these are physical – it cannot hover with both legs off the ground like some Jedi Cossack – but others are aesthetic. Specific mathematical constraints define the style and content of the dance, and as the automaton improvises within these constraints the audience perceives the character of its motion.

The aim of this work is not to create a ballet-dancing robot. Rather, it is to find ways to make robots move with particular styles and qualities. Non-verbal communication is expected to become an important element of the human-machine interface, as machines become more mobile and autonomous. A Predator drone may have no need to appear friendly (though for PR purposes I can imagine one of its successors might), but as robots increasingly interact with humans in non-lethal contexts, their body language may be the critical factor in putting people at their ease.

In this way, the robot engineers face the same sort of challenge as a choreographer on a science fiction show. They each have to define characteristic styles of movement that their performers – actors or robots – can work within, generating arbitrary sequences of movement that remain within strict aesthetic constraints. The difference is that the choreographer wants to make the actors seem as inhuman as possible, moving with a sense of the strange and uncanny, while the engineer wants the robots to seem as human, friendly and familiar as an automaton of motors and software can be.

10 Dec 10:24

Civil Partnerships: 8 Years Old Today

by noreply@blogger.com (Jae Kay)
Let's face it... I've never been very nice about civil partnerships. Even now I feel the bubbling of rage just beneath my skin at the mere thought of them. They were introduced by Labour because of the obvious need for some sort of partnership rights for same-sex couples. That can, really, only be seen as a good thing. But the fact is that, at the time of their introduction, the debate internationally had already moved on to marriage equality. Civil partnerships were, in hindsight, doomed to be considered obsolete within a few years of their introduction. 

And that is what really rankles me. In the years after their introduction Labour acted as if the matter was closed. My attempts to discuss equal marriage with LGBT Labour members were dismissed. Chris Bryant called me a numbskull for asking why he didn't even mention marriage as an option during the debates (and why he argued against equal marriage during them). Stonewall were so pleased with civil partnerships that they fought, briefly, tooth and nail to protect their uniqueness against any attempts to pursue marriage itself. And that was despite the multiple problems civil partnerships have

And now here we stand... the last anniversary of the introduction of civil partnerships that will fall before same-sex marriage comes into place in England and Wales. Isn't it time I just let it go? Forget it ever happened? I wish I could. 

But in their weird ideological defense of the obsolete Stonewall and Labour showed that LGBT freedom is nothing but a political game to some. Our attempts to seek liberty will be stymied by the self interest of political organisations and parties. We must never settle for second best and, when we accept second best as better than third best, we must at least state "this is not what we really want". No more politics, no more muddles like the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act, we must continue to argue for what is right. 

Civil partnerships were a sham. And whilst some may argue they were a stepping stone to same-sex marriage, I'd say that by becoming an idol (one that was to be defended at all costs) of the Westminster LGBT set it actually served to make this years hard won victory just that little more difficult.
10 Dec 10:23

JB: ‘How extremely expensive it is to be poor’

by Fred Clark

Here’s a bit from James Baldwin’s essay “Fifth Avenue, Uptown,” (collected in his 1961 book of essays, Nobody Knows My Name). If you want to understand what’s wrong with Dave Ramsey’s victim-blaming ideology of poverty, Baldwin is a good place to start.

And the others, who have avoided all these deaths, get up in the morning and go downtown to meet “the man.” They work in the white man’s world all day and come home in the evening to this fetid block. They struggle to instill in their children some private sense of honor or dignity which will help the child to survive. This means, of course, that they must struggle, stolidly, incessantly, to keep this sense alive in themselves, in spite of the insults, the indifference, and the cruelty they are certain to encounter in their working day. They patiently browbeat the landlord into fixing the heat, the plaster, the plumbing; this demands prodigious patience; nor is patience usually enough. In trying to make their hovels habitable, they are perpetually throwing good money after bad. Such frustration, so long endured, is driving many strong, admirable men and women whose only crime is color to the very gates of paranoia.

… Now I am perfectly aware that there are other slums in which white men are fighting for their lives, and mainly losing. I know that blood is also flowing through those streets and that the human damage there is incalculable. People are continually pointing out to me the wretchedness of white people in order to console me for the wretchedness of blacks. But an itemized account of the American failure does not console me and it should not console anyone else. That hundreds of thousands of white people are living, in effect, no better than the “n—-s” is not a fact to be regarded with complacency. The social and moral bankruptcy suggested by this fact is of the bitterest, most terrifying kind.

The people, however, who believe that this democratic anguish has some consoling value are always pointing out that So-and-So, white, and So-and-So, black, rose from the slums into the big time. The existence — the public existence — of, say, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. proves to them that America is still the land of opportunity and that inequalities vanish before the determined will. It proves nothing of the sort. The determined will is rare — at the moment, in this country, it is unspeakably rare — and the inequalities suffered by the many are in no way justified by the rise of a few. A few have always risen — in every country, every era, and in the teeth of regimes which can by no stretch of the imagination be thought of as free. Not all of these people, it is worth remembering, left the world better than they found it. The determined will is rare, but it is not invariably benevolent. Furthermore, the American equation of success with the big time reveals an awful disrespect for human life and human achievement. This equation has placed our cities among the most dangerous in the world and has placed our youth among the most empty and most bewildered. The situation of our youth is not mysterious. Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them. They must, they have no other models. That is exactly what our children are doing. They are imitating our immorality, our disrespect for the pain of others.

All other slum dwellers, when the bank account permits it, can move out of the slum and vanish altogether from the eye of persecution. No Negro in this country has ever made that much money and it will be a long time before any Negro does. The Negroes in Harlem, who have no money, spend what they have on such gimcracks as they are sold. These include “wider” TV screens, more “faithful” hi-fi sets, more “powerful” cars, all of which, of course, are obsolete long before they are paid for. Anyone who has ever struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor; and if one is a member of a captive population, economically speaking, one’s feet have simply been placed on the treadmill forever. One is victimized, economically, in a thousand ways — rent, for example, or car insurance. Go shopping one day in Harlem — for anything — and compare Harlem prices and quality with those downtown.

The people who have managed to get off this block have only got as far as a more respectable ghetto. This respectable ghetto does not even have the advantages of the disreputable one — friends, neighbors, a familiar church, and friendly tradesmen; and it is not, moreover, in the nature of any ghetto to remain respectable long. Every Sunday, people who have left the block take the lonely ride back, dragging their increasingly discontented children with them. They spend the day talking, not always with words, about the trouble they’ve seen and the trouble — one must watch their eyes as they watch their children — they are only too likely to see. For children do not like ghettos. It takes them nearly no time to discover exactly why they are there.

10 Dec 10:23

A Requiem for Molly, The "Archived" American Girl Doll

by Anne Helen Petersen
by Anne Helen Petersen

I’m not, strictly speaking, a Molly. I had a Samantha and a Kirsten, and both of them spoke volumes about who I wanted to be (privileged, so well dressed, urban) and who I was (Scandinavian, solidly built, rural). Chiara Atik has already written the definitive statement on what your doll says about you, and I don’t disagree with her assessment of Molly-owners:

If you had Molly, you probably wanted Samantha instead, but contented yourself with Molly because you too wore glasses, liked books, were bad at math, and would concoct various schemes to get attention. (Oh, Molly.) If you were a Molly, and had a Molly (as opposed to being a Molly and aspirationally owning a Felicity), you were imbued, then and now, with an immutable sense of self. At least Molly could tap dance, which is frankly more talent than any of the other girls exhibited.

Truth: Molly was the least showy and, at least of the original, lily-white, middle-class American dolls, the only one with any sort of class consciousness. It was a consciousness enforced by the war, but still, the book’s renderings of thrift were my introduction, other than A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, to what it meant to sacrifice, and how to substitute the feelings of resentment with those of purpose and solidarity.

It was, of course, propaganda—the sort of retrospective rendering of World War II and the role of the greatest generation, and their children, within it that allows us to continue allocating money towards the military industrial complex, etc. etc. But in comparison to the equally ideological and nationalistic tales of Felicity, Kirsten, and Samantha, Molly suggested, somewhat ironically for a doll that costed over $100, that the key to survival and family happiness wasn’t consumption, but the lack thereof.

As children, we papered over that contradiction, lusting after the “simple party dress” that cost (our parents) $20. And I read all of Molly’s books, even if my devotion was reserved for Kirsten and Samantha. In some ways, I think of that devotion as a personal failing: an aversion to Molly’s glasses, I think, that said more about the crippling knowledge that I was a nerd and always would be than any identification with Samantha.

But my Grandmother Helen was an actual Molly. She was a young woman during the war, but she was Molly’s age during The Depression, and that experience—a second generation Norwegian-American, second sister of three, living in rural Minnesota and, along with her older sister, tending house and caring for her baby sister after her mother passed away—would inflect the rest of her life. She never had the privilege of going to college or had a career that would grant her a pension, and spent the last thirty years of her retired life scraping by on social security. When I obliviously asked for items from the glossy American Girl catalog, all above the Christmas budget she split between six grandchildren, she did what Molly would’ve done: she made them. 

My grandmother made me a fur muff for Samantha, an ACTUAL Scandinavian costume (as opposed to the cheap St. Lucia costume they sold for $20), bedding for both (why do dolls need beds, and why did I want someone I loved to pay for them?) She also taught me how to braid and pin Kirsten’s hair the way it actually would have been done and, you know, spent time with me which, at the time, I didn’t quite understand as just as valuable, if not more so, than a factory-knit set of faux-Scandinavian mini-mittens.

Grandma Helen was, after all, a Molly: she understood that time with loved ones was ultimately much more valuable than goods. She made what I thought I wanted, and she used it as an opportunity to spend more time with me.

The American Girl Company pretends like it’s about history, connection, and play, but those are all secondary and incidental to the primary goal of compelling young girls to desire as many goods as possible. Molly’s narrative provided a rupture to that narrative of celebrated consumption in a way that the original doll’s stories did not, which is part of the reason I’m so surprised that Kirsten and Samantha both went into the vault before Molly. But logistics of doll “retirement,” in which the company compels young girls into buying a soon-to-be rarified product, tantalizing them with its unavailability, and then reintroduces her to great acclaim, are so in keeping with the war-time black market, so blatantly anti-Molly, that the whole process revolts and disappoints me in a way that the retirement of Samantha never did.

I know Molly’s just a doll. But those of us who’ve owned or coveted American Girl dolls know better: she’s a message, an attitude, a way of being in the world. You might not have endured World War II deprivation, but you were attracted, for whatever reason, to its dynamics. Maybe it was the simplicity, maybe it was the unity. Maybe it was because Molly’s personality somehow seemed to matter more than what she owned or didn’t. The doll was a commodity, but Molly’s narrative so conveniently made you forget it.

I wish I could’ve just been happy to sit next to my Grandmother and sew or do puzzles or make lefse. But capitalism inculcated me otherwise, which is why I not only wanted an American Girl Doll in the first place, but wouldn’t be satisfied with one. But even if I didn’t have a Molly, I had a Grandmother who subtly modeled her values, which, ultimately, was far more instructive than a doll and her six stories. The problem, then, and the real reason I’m mourning, isn’t that Molly is retired: it’s that my Grandmother, and the rest of her generation, is gone.

 

Previously: Internet Work and Invisible Labor: An Interview With the Fug Girls

Anne Helen Petersen is a Doctor of Celebrity Gossip. No, really. You can find evidence (and other writings) here, and you can read the Scandals of Classic Hollywood series here.

54 Comments
10 Dec 10:22

I met someone and they make me happy

by Geoffrey K. Pullum

When the delightfully cute UK Olympic diving star Tom Daley decided to come out as bisexual, he made a statement (see this news report) with a charmingly clever use of singular they:

"In spring this year my life changed massively when I met someone, and they make me feel so happy, so safe and everything just feels great," Daley said. "That someone is a guy."

His use of "they" for the first reference to his new romantic interest has "someone" as its antecedent, and rather than being a bound variable semantically (as in Everyone should look after their own gear), it's just a free pronoun meaning "he or she, as the context may dictate". He could have used he, as typical conservative usage advice books would have insisted. Except that it would have utterly ruined his rhetorical design.

That design (as pointed out by Ben Zimmer) was that he wanted the "big reveal" about dating a male to come at the end of the of the two-sentence paragraph, rather than be revealed by a pronoun choice early on.

His intuition was perfect: given modern usage (as exemplified here and here, for example), this was just the way to present his news.

P.S. Naturally, Daley's charming and praiseworthy openness about his love life prompted hundreds of fat, ugly, bitter, twisted, repressed, inadequate people to attack him in abusive fag-hating tweets. Thank you, homophobes everywhere, for continuing to come up with brand new ways to persuade me that my policy of not opening comments is a winner! Please use Twitter for your attacks; Language Log chooses not to be available to you right now.

10 Dec 10:22

Tom Daley

by Paul Magrs


The writer Nigel Robinson said it best, for me, yesterday, on Facebook:



"Nigel RobinsonWell, Jo and Linda, of course it shouldn't make the news in an ideal world. No one should care or report on what people get up to in their private lives. But Daley chose to be honest as someone who is in a loving and happy relationship with another man, and the fact that he is the only male Olympic GB athlete who is openly attracted to men (in a sports world which, I know, is still largely in the closet) , is an enormously courageous act. And that, unfortunately, is news. He has proved that loving whomsoever you want to love (whatever the sex or sexuality) is perfectly OK. Notice that in the YouTube video he doesn't say he's bi, he doesn't say he's gay, he says he's "just Tom". And that's how it should be. "Just me". "Just you". I believe he was also bullied at school, as were so many others, including me, presumably because of his perceived sexuality, and from that point of view, what this teenaged Olympian has just done is amazing. One of the biggest causes of death among gay teens in the UK is suicide, and if his coming out has stopped just one gay or bi boy or girl from killing or harming themselves, or, better yet, has given then the encouragement to believe in themselves and fulfil their potential, and give the two fingers to all the homophobes and doubters and Daily Mail readers in the world, then I don't even care if he wins a gold medal at Rio in 2016 or not: as far as I'm concerned, after what he did today, Tom Daley is a f**ing hero."




07 Dec 07:00

Astronomy's New Ice Age

One of the world’s strangest astronomical observatories, based on a cubic kilometre of Antarctic ice, has opened a new window on the universe.
03 Dec 06:04

Comedian Aamer Rahman on "Reverse Racism"

by Jia Tolentino
by Jia Tolentino


"I could be a reverse racist if I wanted to. All I'd need would be a time machine, and what I'd do is get in my time machine and go back in time to before Europe colonized the world and I'd convince the leaders of Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Central and South America to invade and occupy Europe, steal their land and resources… In that time I'd make sure I'd set up systems that privileged black and brown people at every conceivable social, political and economic opportunity…"

3 Comments
03 Dec 05:59

Maria Bello 'Comes Out' As A Modern Family

The actress pens a heartfelt Modern Love column on love and sexuality.
03 Dec 05:51

Here’s To The Fangirls

by feministaspie

Here’s to the fangirls.

Because fandom isn’t really an exclusive club which is entered only on the permission of other fans. And even if it were, what business does anyone else have to exclude you?

Because being a fan is about liking something. Not knowledge, or ability to afford merch or go to conventions, or whether or not you happened to be born long enough ago to remember the beginning. You just have to like the thing. That’s it.

Because female fans, especially teenage girls, are policed at every turn. But how many comics haven’t you read? How much trivia are you not yet aware of? People will try and trip you up.

They’ll assume you’re straight, and then they’ll assume you only like the thing because you like some attractive man that’s involved. Like everything a woman thinks revolves around men. Like it’s not possible to simultaneously like a fandom and be attracted to a person anyway. It’s usually only ever heterosexual women’s attraction to men that’s used to literally try and kick them out of the fandom. For instance, I didn’t see or hear a single remark from a teenage girl (or anyone) that Peter Capaldi was too old to be the Doctor,  but the Internet was full of people attacking teenage girls for this allegedly predominant opinion.

They’ll tell you that you’ve just jumped on a bandwagon,  you’re too late, if you weren’t there right at the beginning, you shouldn’t be there at all. Astoundingly, Whovians under 50 exist. They’re everywhere. If you’re reading this on the day it was written, that means you’re online today and THAT means you’ve probably already heard from several. Not many fandoms can claim to have existed for that long, so it’s probably not a fair example.  But still,  again,  why does it matter when you started?  You’re here now, and nobody can take that away from you.

You’ve probably heard “Are you really a fan or are you just wearing the T-shirt?” “Are you really a fan or are you just pretending?” And some of you will even be pop-quizzed on the fandom. Again, people will look to catch you out. People will presume you’re fake, something they would never presume of a man or boy.

For what? What do people gain from this, other than shutting women up and keeping them out?

And it’s often coupled with remarks about boybands and other fandoms dominated by teenage girls. These fandoms are constantly mocked and ridiculed. The “Tumblr-speak” often used by teenage girls online is mocked and ridiculed. Teenage girls in general are mocked and ridiculed. For being girls. “Fangirl” has almost become an insult.

Sadly, this fan-policing and general fangirl-hate can often come from other female fans trying to prove their own worthiness, trying to gain entry to this exclusive club by distancing themselves from this hated group; it’s for the same reasons that “you’re not like other girls” is seen as a compliment. “Not like other girls” is synonymous with “an actual human being”, and clearly there’s something massively wrong there. I get it, I’ve been there, but instead of competing for male approval the way we’ve been taught to, how about we challenge the rhetoric that’s led to this competition and elitism in the first place?

So here’s to the fangirls.

Whether you’re spending today being excited about the Doctor Who 50th anniversary special,  the One Direction livestream, or anything else in between.

With every “I CAN’T” and “MY FEELS” and “I SHIP IT”, you are finally making your presence known and inescapable.

Better yet, you can challenge the bullshit “feminists v fandoms” rhetoric by fighting for representation and respect from within the fandom.

And don’t you ever, ever, ever let yourself believe that you’re somehow not a worthy fan. Because you are.

Fangirls rock.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to dash to an appointment with the Doctor…


Tagged: doctor who, fake geek girls, fandoms, fangirls, feminism, geek sexism, misogyny, one direction, save the day, sexism
03 Dec 05:50

FAQs On Groundrules for Polyamorous Relationships

I regularly get asked variations on a theme of So, this poly thing, how does it work, then...? by people with prurient-yet-hopeful expressions on their faces. I suppose that because it's not (yet) a mainstream way of arranging things people are naturally curious. People are always curious about unusual things, as most minority groups find out to their frustration. I suspect it's also because most people can see the positives* but haven't really considered the negatives. The assumption from many people appears to be that because I'm both bi and poly, that means I will do anything to anyone with not a thought for the consequences. I'm kind of hoping to put that myth to rest with this post.

The problem with giving people a primer is that I can only do it for my relationships; everyone who does poly does it slightly differently. Poly is, at the end of the day, all about maximising freedom while minimising pain for all concerned, so every poly relationship starts with a negotiation of what each person involved is happy to do and not do.

Actually, my personal rules for poly relationships are remarkably similar to the ones I had for monogamous relationships in the dim and distant, and they are all there for a reason. So I am writing this post because I am procrastinating several more important things I find myself in my brother's house in Solihull with the afternoon free and no real capability to do anything else. It might get long...

Why Do I need rules anyway?

I'm a Liberal, right? Rules are things for authoritatarians, right? Well, no. I have rules because, especially with my mental health issues, reduction of the potential for drama is an inherently good thing. I have broken most of these rules at one time or another** and a break in the rules always leads to emotional ructions sooner or later. Sometimes - rarely - it's worth it. Most times it isn't. Going all starry-eyed over a new squeeze is a wonderful and heady experience. But letting that make me relax the rules always leads to consequences for me, usually for other people, and generally it would all have been avoidable if I'd been sensible.

Sensible is not something I am good at, but that's another reason for having hard and fast rules. And of course, if I DO break a rule normally the consequences of that will remind me of why the rule was there in the first place...

The Rules
  1. Proactive Honesty. Honesty is rule number one as far as I am concerned, and not just in the narrow sense of if you get caught doing something bad, fess up. I call it proactive honesty because you need to tell people things as soon as they come up. This is because in poly it's not just two people's feelings you need to consider, it's however many people are in the relationship, plus however many people are in relationships with them, etc. If you upset partner A, and A has another partner B who has to pick up the pieces, and then B goes moaning to their other partner C about what a shit you are for upsetting A... One little white lie or failure to pass on information in a timely fashion can have knock on effects for a lot of people.

    My belief about proactive honesty is that it applies to any relationship with anyone, but it's utterly vital in poly: if you can't be honest with someone about how you feel about them (whether that's good or bad) or if they have hurt you or if you have news they need to know but you don't want to tell them it's impossible to have an effective relationship. Multiply that by however many relationships are involved in a poly set-up and you have the potential for enormous amounts of drama, pain, and heartache for lots and lots of people.

    Personally, I apply this rule to things like letting people down gently as well. If you tell someone you're not looking for a relationship with anyone else right now when what you mean is you're not interested in a relationship with them, for an example I witnessed recently, you're only going to end up causing more hurt than if you'd just been honest.

  2. Informed enthusiastic consent. I toyed with the idea of not putting this one in because it should be bloody obvious, but to some people it apparently isn't. Everybody involved has to be giving informed enthusiatic consent, not just to sexual stuff, but to every part of the relationship. It's one of the reasons why honesty is so important. You can't give informed enthusiastic consent to X if you haven't been told about Y.

  3. Safety First. Safe sex is important. We all know this. But again, it's multiplied in it's importance in poly. If you have a drunken hookup and pick up the clap, you're not just hurting yourself, you're potentially infecting your other partners, and their other partners, and THEIR other partners... etc. One needs to bear in mind also that condoms are not a failsafe, too. Get tested regularly, just to be sure. I have one former partner who is only a former partner precisely because of his inability to stick to this rule***

  4. Consider the consequences. Another one that applies to any relationship IMHO: don't agree to anything with anyone without stopping first for at least a nanosecond to consider if it might cause a problem further down the line. Once you have considered the consequences, I'm not saying don't do it, but you need to be aware that your actions affect more than just you. Again, in poly, this is multiplied by however many people you are connected to in the web of relationships. This can be the simplest thing, such as checking your diary before agreeing to a date with partner X to see you haven't already booked in with partner Y that day****; or it can be more complex (for example: "if I start seeing this person will they cause problems with my existing relationships?"). Wherever a decision lies on the scale of seriousness, whereas in a monogamous relationship you only need to consider the feelings of yourself and your partner, in poly you need to bear in mind the feelings of a lot more people.

  5. Not without permission 1. I don't start seeing anyone new without consulting my existing partners first. I loathe the primary/secondary/etc terminology for reasons too complex to go into here, but for logistical reasons in this rule I do only mean "primary" partners rather than on/off long distance people like the Duracell Bunny. If anyone else ever approaches the level of seriousness of relationship I have with Mat and James, I'll consult them first too.

  6. Not without permission 2. If a potential partner is already in a relationship I won't do anything, not even holding hands, without permission from their existing partner IN PERSON. Oh yeah, I spoke to my boyfriend and he's fine with it is not good enough for obvious reasons, but I prefer to do it face to face rather than over the phone/email as well. It's easier to be sure they mean it that way.

  7. Don't screw the Crew. Never, ever, ever have a sexual relationship with anyone you have to work with - and I apply this is the broadest sense of work too. This is the rule I have most trouble sticking to*****, but that's also why I know it's important. NRE is a wonderful thing, but once it wears off and you decide that actually you're not madly in love with your colleague, all the little rankles that come with a relationship dying have the potential to fuck up an entire office/business/political party. It's really not worth it. Usually.

    Also, as well as not starting relationships with people you work with, don't get someone you're in a relationship with a job at your workplace. The mechanics might be different, but the potential for drama is exactly the same.

Isn't this all a bit complicated?

Well yes. Yes it is. But human relationships are complicated, and poly ones exponentially more so. If you have rules to make negiotiating the trials of relationships easier it means that everyone involved can spend more time doing the fun stuff than worrying about problems. And the fun stuff in poly is absolutely worth it.

Poly is not for everyone, I freely accept that, but where the potential for hurt and drama is obviously multiplied by involving more people, so is the potential for good stuff too. There are more people to have fun with in good times and more people to help out in bad times. For me, it's absolutely worth it. YMM, as they say, V.



*yes, yes, lots of shagging. But also lots of people to snuggle and have mutual support systems with

**some of them very recently -_-"

***I also have people primed to keep an eye on me if I have beer when he's around because despite his irresponsibility and stunted emotional growth I am still incredibly attracted to him -_-"

****and, you know, USING your diary/google calendar/outlook/whatever is a GOOD PLAN (totally not aiming this at anyone in particular at all) (although, you know, I'm bad for this too)

*****quit it with the hollow laughter at the back there. QUIT IT.


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03 Dec 05:31

Exoplanet Neighborhood

It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood!
03 Dec 05:20

Sunday favorites

by Fred Clark

Carl Sagan, in Pale Blue Dot

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there — on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

03 Dec 05:12

Today is the feast day of St. Mark Twain

by Fred Clark

To celebrate Mark Twain’s birthday, here again is my favorite bit from Huckleberry Finn. This is, in my opinion, the greatest conversion narrative in American literature:

I about made up my mind to pray; and see if I couldn’t try to quit being the kind of a boy I was, and be better. So I kneeled down. But the words wouldn’t come. Why wouldn’t they? It warn’t no use to try and hide it from Him. Nor from me, neither. I knowed very well why they wouldn’t come. It was because my heart warn’t right; it was because I warn’t square; it was because I was playing double. I was letting on to give up sin, but away inside of me I was holding on to the biggest one of all. I was trying to make my mouth say I would do the right thing and the clean thing, and go and write to that nigger’s owner and tell where he was; but deep down in me I knowed it was a lie — and He knowed it. You can’t pray a lie — I found that out.

So I was full of trouble, full as I could be; and didn’t know what to do. At last I had an idea; and I says, I’ll go and write the letter — and then see if I can pray. Why, it was astonishing, the way I felt as light as a feather, right straight off, and my troubles all gone. So I got a piece of paper and a pencil, all glad and excited, and set down and wrote:

Miss Watson your runaway nigger Jim is down here two mile below Pikesville and Mr. Phelps has got him and he will give him up for the reward if you send. HUCK FINN

I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt so in my life, and I knowed I could pray now. But I didn’t do it straight off, but laid the paper down and set there thinking — thinking how good it was all this happened so, and how near I come to being lost and going to hell. And went on thinking. And got to thinking over our trip down the river; and I see Jim before me, all the time; in the day, and in the night-time, sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms, and we a floating along, talking, and singing, and laughing. But somehow I couldn’t seem to strike no places to harden me against him, but only the other kind. I’d see him standing my watch on top of his’n, stead of calling me, so I could go on sleeping; and see him how glad he was when I come back out of the fog; and when I come to him agin in the swamp, up there where the feud was; and such-like times; and would always call me honey, and pet me, and do everything he could think of for me, and how good he always was; and at last I struck the time I saved him by telling the men we had smallpox aboard, and he was so grateful, and said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the only one he’s got now; and then I happened to look around, and see that paper.

It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:

“All right, then, I’ll go to hell” — and tore it up.

It was awful thoughts, and awful words, but they was said. And I let them stay said; and never thought no more about reforming. I shoved the whole thing out of my head; and said I would take up wickedness again, which was in my line, being brung up to it, and the other warn’t. And for a starter, I would go to work and steal Jim out of slavery again; and if I could think up anything worse, I would do that, too; because as long as I was in, and in for good, I might as well go the whole hog.

03 Dec 05:03

Moon Bibles

by noreply@blogger.com (John Higgs)
This story appeared in The Times earlier in the week (many thanks to Steve Moore for sending me the clipping).

Microfilm moon bibles! What a wonderful snapshot of that brief moment in history when we were both an analogue civilisation, and also going into space.

But the story raises a number of questions. Every ounce in weight was precious to the Apollo programme, so taking books on microfilm appears sensible at first. Until, that is, you remember that there was no way a bulky microfilm reader would have been on board. Whatever reason they took those Bibles to the moon, it was not to read them. Their journey into space was for symbolic reasons, not practical ones.

Then there's the fact that they took 100 of them, as if the astronauts were intending to convert The Clangers.

Clangers: Not Yet Christian.
The answer, of course, is money. Those microfilm moon bibles can fetch over $10,000 a pop in auctions, so taking 100 will have made someone a nice little windfall.

But look again at what really happened - the proximity of the moon granted these old Iron Age texts an extra quality - they gained value. That is magical thinking. Money itself is magical thinking, as certain pieces of green paper are deemed to have value which other pieces of green paper do not, provided they have been blessed by the wizards at the Federal Reserve (as Robert Anton Wilson used to put it.)

So the Apollo Prayer League were using the power of the moon to take an old form of magic (sacred texts) and convert them into a more modern form of magic (dollars). That's an occult act, in anyone's book, and one performed for personal gain rather than the greater good.

Who knew that Christians were that ideologically flexible?


03 Dec 04:40

What scared H. P. Lovecraft

by Charlie Stross

(No, not unicorns.)

H. P. Lovecraft was born in August 1890 and died in March 1937. (And I have just experienced a queasy moment of realization: that I am now older than he was when he died.) He's remembered to this day mostly as an author of disturbing and fantastic fiction, and as the spark that ignited an entire sub-genre of horror, in which many other authors work (myself included).

But what exactly was it that fuelled his deep sense of paranoia and dread at the scale of the cosmos, and made his work so memorable?

I have a hypothesis.

We know that Lovecraft was fascinated by astronomy as a boy; and the formative years for this interest would have been approximately 1895-1910.

A trip to the McCormick Museum at the University of Virginia's online history of photographic astronomy may shed some light on Lovecraft's view of the cosmos. Prior to the development of photographic processes, astronomy was limited to what the human eye could see, with or without magnification. But from the 1840s onwards astronomers began to experiment with Daguerreotypes and later with improved photographic processes. By use of long exposure times, and telescopes on mobile platforms that kept the instruments aimed at the same point in the heavens despite the Earth's rotation, it was possible to gather far more photons than a merely human eye could sense, over a longer period of time, from fainter objects. During the 1880s the use of silver bromide emulsions revolutionized the field of photographic astronomy, and permitted the first photographic sky surveys.

(Incidentally, there's a lot more on the history of photographic astronomy and astronometry here—it's well worth a browse.)

Prior to the 1890s, our conception of the universe was very different from the cosmology we are familiar with today.

We measure the Apparent magnitude of an object to classify stars by how bright they appear to the naked eye, using a system dating to antiquity but formalized in the 1850s. (The higher the number, the fainter the object: anything with an apparent magnitude higher than roughly 6.5 is not visible to the naked eye.) There are roughly 5000 stars in the skies that are visible with the naked eye, and a scant double-handful of visible galaxies. Individual stars in other galaxies are not visible to the naked eye, and so these objects were commonly known as "spiral nebulae", to distinguish them from other non-stellar objects (which today are known to be gas and dust clouds). When we add telescopic assistance, many more stars are visible: there are about a third of a million above apparent magnitude 10.0.

So the universe into which H. P. Lovecraft was born consisted of the Milky Way, containing perhaps a million stars, and some irritating unidentifiable nebulous things.

But there's more! Remember that in 1890 we didn't know how the sun generated heat and light, or how old it was. Perhaps the best-remembered theory of the time was Lord Kelvin's paper from 1862: "the sun is now an incandescent liquid mass, radiating away heat, either primitively created in his substance, or, what seems far more probable, generated by the falling in of meteors in past times, with no sensible compensation by a continuance of meteoric action." Working backwards from this assumption, Lord Kelvin derived an estimate of the maximum age of the sun:

We may, therefore, accept, as a lowest estimate for the sun's initial heat, 10,000,000 times a year's supply at the present rate, but 50,000,000 or 100,000,000 as possible, in consequence of the sun's greater density in his central parts.

The considerations adduced above, in this paper, regarding the sun's possible specific heat, rate of cooling, and superficial temperature, render it probable that he must have been very sensibly warmer one million years ago than now; and, consequently, if he has existed as a luminary for ten or twenty million years, he must have radiated away considerably more than the corresponding number of times the present yearly amount of loss.

It seems, therefore, on the whole most probable that the sun has not illuminated the earth for 100,000,000 years, and almost certain that he has not done so for 500,000,000 years. As for the future, we may say, with equal certainty, that inhabitants of the earth can not continue to enjoy the light and heat essential to their life for many million years longer unless sources now unknown to us are prepared in the great storehouse of creation.

Remember, if you will, that the discovery of radioactivity did not take place until 1896. Lord Kelvin's speculation was based on the rigorously understood physics of the Newtonian era; working with the best information available, he placed the age of the sun at most likely less than 100 million years (and definitely less than 500 million).

So: the universe H. P. Lovecraft was born into consisted of a single galaxy containing about a million stars, and our own star was less than 100 million years old.

The universe Lovecraft died in was very different.

The first attempts at using parallax to determine the distance of stars and other astronomical objects from photographs took place in the 1890s. Instruments for comparing photographic plates taken at different times during the Earth's orbit around the sun were developed over the next couple of decades, and studies soon expanded from measurements of distance to proper motion and spectral analysis. At the same time, larger and larger mirrors were becoming available for reflector telescopes, aiding the observation of increasingly distant (and faint) objects. During the second decade of the 20th century, Edwin Hubble pushed back the distance scale of the observable universe to a dizzying extent. By studying Cepheid variables, a type of star characterised by its highly predictable variable luminosity (making them a useful standard candle), and comparing the brightness of Cepheid variables visible in "spiral nebulae" to nearer Cepheids whose distance could be calculated by parallax observation, Hubble was able to prove that the spiral nebulae were located far outside the milky way. Next, during the 1920s, Hubble used spectroscopic observation and distance estimates based on Cepheid variables to establish that more distant galaxies were receding faster, determining the Hubble constant—the rate at which the observable universe is expanding.

Finally, during the early decades of the 20th century it became obvious that the sun's radiation was powered not by gravitational collapse but by some other nuclear-related energy source. The precise mechanism was not determined until the 1940s, but in 1920 Arthur Eddington proposed that the fusion of hydrogen nuclei into helium was a likely candidate; subsequently the detailed theory of stellar nucleosynthesis emerged to support this hypothesis.

Today, in 2013, we live in the Milky Way galaxy; it is believed to contain between 100 billion and 500 billion stars. The Milky Way is part of a local group of over fifty galaxies, but the observable universe is believed to contain 100-200 billion galaxies (and possibly a lot more). Finally, detailed observations have determined that our universe is 13.8 billion years old.

At the time of Lovecraft's death in 1937, the universe was considerably smaller—but it was still vastly larger than it had been at the time of his birth; with over a hundred million stars in our own galaxy, and many tens or hundreds of millions of other galaxies estimated, and the upper limit on the sun's age raised to five billion years, the universe had expanded by two orders of magnitude in age and nine orders of magnitude in size (as measured by the number of stars) during Lovecraft's life. That's eleven orders of magnitude in just over four decades.

Let's look for a modern metaphor:

The cosmos expanded during Lovecraft's life at a rate comparable to the rate of expansion of available data storage during my life. I was born in late 1964. In 1973, the total manufactured fixed disk storage capacity in the United States was on the order of 100Gb. 40 years later, it's really hard to buy hard disks that small; hard disk storage currently costs on the order of 4 cents per gigabyte, giving our 1973 USA's installed hard disk capacity a value of around $5.

I am going to take it as so glaringly obvious that our computers' power has grown exponentially since 1973 that I'm not going to bother with figures, other than to note that my mobile phone in 2013 has over a thousand times the processing power, storage/memory bandwidth, and storage capacity of a Cray-1 supercomputer from 1976 (price: $8.86 million, in 1976 dollars—$36.46M in today's money.

Forty years of Moore's law and its cousins have given us an inflating, exponentiating bubble in computing power that compares eerily to the forty year marathon of cosmological discoveries that informed Lovecraft's later weltanshauung, as expressed through fictions such as "At the Mountains of Madness" (1931), "The Color out of Space" (1927) and "The Whisperer in Darkness" (1931).

I believe that Lovecraft's sense of cosmological dread emerged from the exponential expansion and recomplication of the universe he lived in—it eerily prefigures the appeal of today's singularitarian fiction, which depends for its dizzying affect on a similar exponential growth curve. Lovecraft interpreted the expansion of his universe as a thing of horror, a changing cosmic scale factor that ground humanity down into insignificance. Not all writers from his period took this approach; to many, the expanded universe was a playground of joyous imagination. Today, singularitarian fiction is frequently aspirational, a literature of transcendence (with theological taproots linking it to the early Russian cosmists). But the inversion of a sense of wonder is a sense of dread. Which leaves me asking, where is the singularitarian Lovecraft?