Sasquan/Worldcon and a round up mostly of SF blogs

Posted by Sappho on August 2nd, 2015 filed in Blogwatch


First, on a note unrelated to Sasquan, I have opened up comments on my Harper Lee post, until they autoclose, which will probably happen in a matter of days. If you choose to comment on that post, please keep your comments literary. If you don’t get there before the comments autoclose, please don’t add Harper Lee related comments on this post instead. Thanks.

On Sasquan, all Hugo voting has now closed. So I guess we’ll get to find out, once the votes are counted, just who made up the big wave of new supporting memberships this year. I got my votes in on time, though I didn’t wind up voting at all on podcasts or short dramatic works.

For those of you who will actually be at Sasquan, some new amendments are being proposed at the business meeting. Here’s the agenda of new business. Included are a couple of proposals that would change the way nomination slates are constructed.

Now, I’m going to do a blog round up, mostly of SF related blogs (with both SF related and less SF related posts), but some not.

George R. R. Martin reviews Ant Man.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden on “You’re asking me to agree that my great-grandparent and great-great-grandparents were monsters.”

John Scalzi Backstage at the Concert Against Humanity.

Kary English on Puppies: please talk about what you love. (Kary English, btw, is one of my new favorite writers.)

File 770 has the 2015 Mythopoeic Awards.

Not SF related directly, but an interesting reflection on the value of bad characters, is Eve Tushnet on What’s a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Movie Like This?

Also not SF related, but included particularly for its last sentence, Thoreau on November Reign (go ahead, take a look, it’s short).

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Breaking: Finished novel is better than rough draft

Posted by Sappho on July 19th, 2015 filed in Books, Race


Thoughts about Go, Set a Watchman, or, rather, since I haven’t read the book (or even the first chapter), about the many reviews that have come out, before most of the public reads it.

First, it seems that most reviewers consider it mediocre by comparison with To Kill a Mockingbird. This should surprise no one, given that it’s said to be Harper Lee’s initial novel submission, before editors convinced her to take the flashback portions and write To Kill a Mockingbird instead.

Second, it sounds as if anyone disappointed to find St. Atticus in later life as a segregationist has an out. True, finding Atticus of all people, everyone’s civil rights hero, as a flat out racist defending segregation, decades after he served as lawyer to Tom Robinson, suggests that he has morally dwindled, a thing considerably worse than a discovery that the Atticus of To Kill a Mockingbird had repented a racist past. But you’re free to consider rough draft Atticus a racist, and finished product Atticus a hero, or, given that apparently some significant points of the trial changed from one book to another, to consider the new Atticus as Mirror Universe Atticus, living in an alternate timeline from the good and honorable Atticus.

Third, what’s masterful about To Kill a Mockingbird is its compelling portrayal of a child’s point of view: of Maycomb, of Atticus, of Scout’s first awareness of racism. As such, it has always been a white child’s view of racism. Despite the presence of adult Jean Louise telling the tale in flashback, we don’t really see the adult’s view. Atticus is a hero because he does a genuinely honorable thing (defending an accused black man whom others in the town would prefer to lynch), but he’s also a hero because that’s how his innocent young daughter sees him. The black people in the story mostly fade into the background of Atticus’ heroism because that’s the view of Atticus’ young daughter Scout. So, though you could hope for a different grown up Scout to confront a different older Atticus, the adult story would never have had the same innocence as the child’s story.

Years ago, I read one of the many critiques that have come out, from time to time, of To Kill a Mockingbird. What caught my eye in this particular one was a remark that it was too convenient, in TKAM, that Tom Robinson was killed while trying to escape. The reviewer said, that was always the excuse when a black prisoner died. I thought a moment, and said to myself, “But, do we actually know that Tom Robinson was killed while trying to escape?” What the book tells us is that Atticus tells Scout, that he heard from the sheriff, who presumably got it from the guys who shot Tom Robinson, that Tom was killed while trying to escape. Are all of the links in that chain reliable? Even Atticus might lie, this time, to protect the innocence of his daughter.

While you may or may not choose to accept the new Atticus as the same man as the old, beloved Atticus, the presence of the new book suggests that that old hunch was right. Scout has always been an unreliable narrator. She’s an unreliable narrator for a reason opposite to the reason Humbert Humbert is an unreliable narrator. He is unreliable in his guilt, while she is unreliable in her innocence. But the result has never been a full view of Maycomb. It is, instead, a beautifully crafted Scout’s eye view of Maycomb. Atticus’ or Calpurnia’s or Tom’s view could never be the same.

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Always look on the bright side of life

Posted by Sappho on July 16th, 2015 filed in Greek News


This week has seen the conclusion to two high profile negotiations. One brought us an new treaty that balances Iran’s desire to be free of sanctions with the US’s desire to “trust but verify” when it comes to nuclear weapons, offering a peaceful way to keep Iran nuclear weapon free. Yay!

The other was a new Treaty of Versailles.

Unfortunately, the one on which I’m best qualified to comment is the one with the less joyful outcome. I read German and Greek; I’ve been following the German and Greek press through the debt crisis, and I’ve been following Greek politics since I was about 12. I’m less prepared to speak usefully about nuclear weapons and arms control. So, for the Iran deal, I’ll refer you to Cheryl Rofer at Nuclear Diner, who has supplied some useful links, and who now begins her own exploration of the treaty with The Fun Part Of The JCPOA, an exploration of the opportunities opened up for scientific collaboration.

Now, the Iran treaty is a genuinely bright spot in the news this week, so it’s obviously not the reason I titled this post with a sardonic reference to a Monty Python song. I was, of course, thinking of the treaty that piled humiliation on Greece, and Tsipras, the one that followed a conference in which Germany showed its teeth.

Is there a bright side to the #Agreekment? Dan Davies thinks so. He is, in fact, so amazingly bullish that I wonder what he has been smoking, suggesting that

Assuming that the leaked deal is about right, and that it can be passed by the Greek parliament (and the loans approved by Germany, Finland etc), it seems more likely than not that we’ll see a sharp rebound in economic growth in Q4 of this year.

I think he goes too far by a long shot (we haven’t seen a sharp rebound after the previous memoranda, so is it really likely that we’ll see one after the newest, harshest one?). But I’ll muster my thoughts to make a list of the bright side of the deal, such as it is.

  1. The banks are expected to reopen, possibly as soon as Monday. (They’ll still have capital controls for an unknown amount of time, but they’ll be open.) Since they have been closed for weeks now, this is good news indeed. It is, in fact, the major reason that Tsipras, and most of Syriza, in the end decided that a bad deal was better than none.
  2. Greece is still in the euro zone. To be sure, some both on the left and on the right would dispute that this is good news. But given that, a) switching back to the drachma is, let’s say, a high risk move, b) Syriza doesn’t seem (from Varoufakis’ account) to have had a lot of preparation for this Plan B, and c) the overwhelming majority of Greeks do still want to stay on the euro, I will put this in the “bright side” column.
  3. Debt restructuring has been admitted as a possibility. There’s even a time set to discuss it.
  4. Tsipras is still Prime Minister. Here it will, perhaps, be my conservative cousin on the American side (with whom I’ve been exchanging a lot of email about the Greek crisis) who will doubt that this is good news. But consider the alternative. The last time a Greek Prime Minister proposed a referendum on a bailout deal, Germany managed to ensure that he was pushed out in favor of a technocrat led unity government assembled to accept the deal (with the result that ND and PASOK support plummeted and Syriza support soared). And if yet another Prime Minister was not just weakened, but suddenly out of office in the wake of a referendum? We’d get either, a) a very short lived “technocrat” government, that wouldn’t last long enough to make any reforms (whether welcome ones or unwelcome ones), and that would be remembered as a further humiliation, or else ND, which is currently weakened by its failure to organize a “yes” vote in the referendum and led by an interim leader, would get to briefly take the helm, before losing it again (and being further weakened by having come to power in the middle of #ThisIsACoup, so I doubt they want the helm at the moment if they can arrange some sort of unity government instead). In other words, the current alternative to Tsipras is governmental chaos and instability. He may or may not last the year, but it’s a good thing if he lasts until Greeks, not Germans, decide they want someone else. As former Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, not really on Tsipras’ part of the political spectrum, put it,

    I personally hope that he is able to continue as prime minister, maybe in a politically different coalition, but I think it would be bad if the Greek and world public opinion had the impression that the crisis precipitated the change in government in Greece again.

    So I’ll put this in the “bright side” column.

  5. It’s possible that, having lost the austerity fight, Tsipras can move on to the “combat tax evasion and corruption” fight. Maybe he’ll have better success there. At least the fact that he’s no longer fighting on the austerity front (even if the reason is the fact that he lost) will give him more time for that other front.
  6. “Tomorrow is another day.”

That exhausts my personal “bright side” list. And, in principle, if everything breaks the right way for Greece, it could be a considerable bright side indeed. A combination of really useful reforms and sufficient restructuring to make Greece’s debt sustainable would indeed be a win.

But that’s assuming a lot. Besides all the immediate pain, there are so many ways for things to go wrong over the long haul. What happens if the Greek economy plummets, the automatic destabilizers built into the deal kick in, and Greece has to cut and plummet some more? Is Greece really in the euro zone to stay, or might it happen that, having incurred some of the cost of leaving in the form of a bank run, and then incurred the cost of staying again in the form of a particularly harsh bargain, Greece will, not too far down the road, have to incur the cost of leaving the euro zone after all? And, if so, will it be any better prepared than it is now? Can we actually expect enough government stability that any Greek government can last long enough to own things like tax reform and anti-corruption efforts, and follow through on them? Will we ever get to that debt restructuring talk, given that it depends on a successful completion of the first review, and that, for Germany, a successful completion of that review may well mean acceptable progress on a privatization effort that Germany thinks is feasible and that Greece doesn’t consider workable at all?

As New Democracy’s leader put it (no doubt scoring political points, but still telling the truth), it’s a bad deal, but now it has Alexis Tsipras’ signature on it. And the Greek Parliament has passed the deal. So, assuming that all the other relevant parliaments pass it, Greece has to make the best of it, and I have to hope that the “bright side” list I gave actually does break in Greece’s favor. I’m not going to kid myself, though, by joining Dan Davies in anticipating a sharp economic improvement before the end of the year.

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OXI

Posted by Sappho on July 8th, 2015 filed in Greek News


I thought till the votes were actually counted Sunday that it would be close; the last pre-election polls had showed the gap narrowing. As I don’t imagine a “shy Tory” effect caused an underestimate of the “No” vote, I can only guess that the polls were skewed for another reason. Perhaps young people were under counted; with youth unemployment in Greece at over 50%, young people were especially eager to vote No.

In the days since, I’ve been reading the articles, and blog posts, and comments about the vote, and where Greece goes from here. Some writers, whether they thought the “No” vote on the referendum was a good idea or not, at least understood why Greeks had come to this pass. And then there were the others. The writer at National Review who referred to a “temper tantrum.” The comment, in response to a blog post at American Conservative that was sympathetic to Greece, who pronounced that Greece wasn’t really part of Europe, but of the Middle East, and that there was a reason “levantine” had a bad connotation.

That reason would be the fact that you’re a bigot. Let me tell you something. Is Greece the Middle Eastern part of Europe? Sure. We have always been thus. Back in the days of the Agora, of early Athenian democracy, of Sophocles and Thucydides, back when we gave you so much of your culture, who do you think we were? Look at the statues, and look at the pottery, and the same faces look back at you that you can see in Athens and Thessaloniki today. Look at the map, and you’ll find that we were in the same place. Who did the 300 fight? Persians. And if you look at Thucydides’ history, you’ll see how much the Persians interacted with the city states of Greece even after that victory. And do you think ancient Greece had nothing to do with ancient Egypt? Where was Byzantium, the eastern capital of the Roman Empire? On the same site that became Constantinople, and then Istanbul. Yes, we have always been, to some degree, the Middle Eastern part of Europe. That is the nature of Europe and the Middle East; they mingle into each other, without any sharp line between the two. And we are also, as we have always been, European. Europe has a south, as well as a north, and an east, as well as a west. And if you think the southern and the eastern parts of Europe are somehow worse, and stupider, and less worthwhile than the northern and western parts, well, you only reveal your own bigotry.

(If you think that all of these countries shouldn’t have joined the same currency zone, well, I might agree with you, but it’s done, and exiting the zone is a lot messier than not having joined it. But if you want to look down on a whole culture for that, screw you.)

And as for the talk of temper tantrums and the like, could people cut it out already with the moralizing about Greece? Yes, Greek governments screwed up, taking on all of that debt. No one denies that. And Greeks bear some responsibility for electing those screwed up governments. But ordinary Greeks were not, actually, in a better position than the lenders to figure out that their governments were fiddling with the figures, so this responsibility isn’t entirely one sided. And at a certain point, people have to place their responsibility for the future of their own children over their responsibility to their creditors.

That’s not to say that you have to think that “No” was the right vote on that referendum. I’m not sure whether I think “No” was the right vote. Greece is now perilously close to exiting the euro, without, as far as I can see, either Tsipras or many of the “No” voters actually wanting that result. You can make the case that “Yes” would have been the best of Greece’s bad choices.

But, here’s my young cousin, Born on 28th October (that would be Ohi Day, Greece’s holiday of No), writing just before the referendum on why she favors a “no” vote (but won’t be able to make that vote herself, because she is no longer in Greece). You don’t have to agree with her. I just ask that, before you dismiss the position of people like her as some kind of feckless tantrum, you think for a moment about what it’s like to leave your home because there is simply no work there, pick up and move away from your family to England, and then to learn that your father, the one who was so passionate about his work, and so honest with his own taxes, and so basically honorable a man (and he is – my father always said the same of him), is now reduced, not to withdrawing even 60 euros a day, but 50 euros a day from the bank, because the bank ran out of 20 euro bills so that it’s not possible even to pull out the legally allowed limit. And at least understand how, at a certain point, “no” could look reasonable, whether you agree with it or not. Because Greece has gone so long now, with such a ruined economy, and so little light at the end of the tunnel.

Now, I do get that, just as Greeks resent moralizing about their fecklessness, Germans (who aren’t, after all, the only ones growing impatient with Greece, just the ones with the largest economy) resent repeatedly having their Nazi past thrown back in their face, when current German leaders are the grandchildren of the Nazi generation and are, from their point of view, giving Greece money and trying to help Greeks fix their country, and don’t deserve ingratitude. I get that, just as Greeks fear a combination of an unending depression and an unending micromanagement of their country by others, with no time when they can really look forward to release (since the debt is too large to pay), Germans, and Finns, and Dutch, and others fear an indefinite commitment to support a country that won’t be able to get its act together and stand on its own (and, worse, the prospect that larger countries, like Spain, will do the same). I get that, just as Greece’s government needs to be accountable to its people, other countries, as their leaders keep saying, have their own electorates to which they need to be accountable. And I get that the other governments have particular complaints, about reform proposals submitted too later, and structural reforms not undertaken, and so on. (And, if truth be told, being Greek-American rather than Greek, I sometimes find myself more in sympathy with German views about privatization than Greek ones. Greece seems to me to have an awful lot of things state owned some of which might work better in the private sector.)

And maybe the answer, this time, will be that, after all, the positions can’t be reconciled. I hope and pray that that’s not the case. I scan the live blogs for each sign of hope, from France perhaps or Italy, that somehow way can be found to pull the sides together. I remember what Argentina, now everyone’s poster child for what a “good” exit from the euro would look like, went through at the time (I had a co-workers whose sales territory was Argentina, right at the time they collapsed). I don’t wish that for Greece. And it could go so much worse than it did with Argentina. For all that Greece probably shouldn’t have been in the euro zone to begin with, I can’t share Paul Krugman’s relative optimism about a #Grexit.

But there is one thing more important than keeping Greece in the euro zone, and that’s democracy. Yes, democracy for the other EU countries as well as Greece, but also democracy for Greece as well as the other countries. There was a referendum. It wasn’t a mandate to leave the euro zone; only the KKE, within Greece, wants that. But everyone who voted that “no” had heard the warnings, that “no” would mean leaving the euro, and voted “no” anyway. I take that to mean, “yes to the euro, but not a deal at any cost.” And maybe those on the other side are also saying, “not at any cost.” Maybe it will, after all, come to “Alors, c’est la #Grexit.”

I hope not. I might even, myself, have voted yes (without any fondness for that particular deal) to avoid that impasse. There may still be creative ways to bridge the gap, that trade breathing space for the Greek economy to recover for meaningful structural reforms.

But if there aren’t, whatever Tsipras’ faults, it really isn’t his obligation to accept something exactly like what the voters already rejected. The vote has been taken, and, for better or worse, Greece will live with whatever the result may be.

And I will keep praying that the result will somehow be OK.

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James Madison Moore: Lopping a branch off my family tree

Posted by Sappho on July 4th, 2015 filed in Genealogy


In around 1844, James Madison Moore was born in Brooklyn, Kings County, New York. I think it’s safe to assume that he was named for the Father of our Constitution, the then recently deceased former President James Madison, and that the patriotism of his parents, rather than an unknown Madison line, explains his middle name. But my current family tree for James Madison Moore is a warning against trusting assumptions too far.

Until this week, you see, I believed that James Moore’s parents were Peter Moore/Moose and his wife Elizabeth Weaver, a Pennsylvania German couple who had settled in Sparta, Livingston County, New York. A DNA cousin and I, and her cousin had found this pair by searching the records. They had a son James of the right age, born in New York as my James needed to be, and generally seemed to fit. They were not, however, the parents of my own great-great-grandfather, James Moore.

What blew away this branch of the family tree was the discovery, going through the records on FamilySearch.org, that there was, after all, a marriage record for James Madison Moore and Ella Frances Merchant. On 19 March 1870, James and Ella were married in Brooklyn, Kings County, NY. Ella’s parents are listed as Joseph and Caroline Merchant, who are indeed the parents of my own great-great-grandmother Ella, previously confirmed by census records that list both them and Ella, and by the fact that they continued to live near James and Ella in later census records that show James and Ella Moore as a family. James’ parents, however, are listed as Edward Moore and Mary Leonard.

There goes James Moore’s Pennsylvania German ancestry. Most Moore families in Brooklyn in the 19th century would either have come from colonial British stock, or be more recent Irish immigrants. I don’t know which was the case for Edward Moore, though from the family stories of how Alice Leonard Moore’s children teased her by singing “The Wearing of the Green,” I gather that she would have preferred not to find Irish ancestry (nor would such ancestry have been respectable when she was a girl). I do know that the name Mary Leonard solves the previously puzzling mystery of where Alice’s middle name came from. (Unlike Madison as a middle name for a son named James, Leonard as a middle name for a daughter does seem to call for an explanation.) And Mary Leonard may (but also may not) point to a solution to another outstanding puzzle, how my grandmother came to have French Canadian ancestry.

I know that she had some French Canadian ancestry because I have an abundant supply of French Canadian DNA cousins, and because I share some of those DNA cousins with a cousin on the Gooden side. I can infer that it was probably her mother, my great-grandmother Alice Leonard Moore, who had the French Canadian ancestry, because Alice’s husband, Robert Burton Gooden, immigrated to the US straight from Lancashire, England, not a prime spot for immigration from Quebec. But I haven’t yet found a line to Canada, as all French surnamed ancestors found so far on Alice’s line have been French Huguenot. In Mary Leonard, I finally have an ancestor who hasn’t been shown to be French Huguenot, with a surname that could plausibly come from Quebec. And I have found another marriage record, in the 1870s in Brooklyn, in which a Leonard from Montreal married a Moore. This connection is far from a sure thing, though, as Leonard can also be an English or Irish surname, and I still have a couple of female ancestors lacking a surname, either of whom could be the link to Quebec.

What do I know of James Madison Moore? Less than I knew a couple of weeks ago, but with the hope that now my knowledge is more accurate.
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Greek referendum 2015

Posted by Sappho on July 3rd, 2015 filed in Greek News


Tweet of the day in my Greece Twitter list:

Dimitris Bounias ?@DimitrisBounias 45 minutes ago
Young people dancing swing next to the ruins of ancient #Athens. Screw you cynical world, we’ll be alright. #Greece

Oh, I hope so, Greece, I hope so. Sure, I know that in the long run you will be all right. You have survived millenia, that included worse than this present moment. But in the long run, as Keynes said, we are all dead. The short run looks rocky.

Stiglitz knows just how he would vote in the Greek referendum (that would be NO). I confess I have no idea how I would vote. By this I partly mean that both choices are darn hard. But I also mean that, even if I can reason out which looks wiser, from where I sit, that doesn’t mean I know how I would vote if I were actually living it. We aren’t, after all, creatures of pure reason. How would a 26% unemployment rate look if I were actually living it? Would I trust that I could vote YES and actually hope, at some point in the not too distant future, to actually escape this long depression, and maybe, yes, get some control back over my country’s policies? And how would it feel to see the banks close, and strict limits on how much I could withdraw? Would I trust that I could vote NO and actually hope for something better than a disastrous plummet off of the Euro zone?

One of my young Greek cousins (from London, where she has found work) urges courage, and passes on a link urging Greeks, whether they vote yes or no, not just to vote their fears. I suspect, if I were actually there, I would not be very brave at all, and would mostly be voting my fears (but which fear would loom largest, if I faced them up close and personal, rather than observing at a distance?).

I do know this. After Sunday’s vote, we will get an answer, either yes or no. I pray that it will be the right answer, but it may well be exactly the wrong answer. Either way, at least some of you, from a distance, may shake your heads. Perhaps you will wonder what is the matter with Greece. If so, suppress that urge. If no one has solved Greece’s problems yet, maybe that’s not because other people are so much less intelligent than you, but because these problems are darn hard to solve, short of a Tardis that would let you go back and warn people that those budget figures weren’t what they seemed.

And so, right now, for all that I’ve read, in Greek and English and German, about Greece’s problems and best solutions, and for all that I’d like to be able to write the blog post that would explain them all and point the way to a solution, all I can say is, Greece, I’m praying for you, and praying that you vote wisely. And if any of my readers are inclined to prayer, I ask that you do the same.

Yes, you’ll survive this, Greece; the ruins of ancient Athens tell me that. But please, may things look up for you soon. I have family who could use a break.

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Fire at a black church in Charlotte, NC is ruled arson

Posted by Sappho on June 24th, 2015 filed in Race


Crap. Just crap.

On another note, Southern born and raised conservative blogger Rod Dreher has joined the opposition to the Confederate battle flag.

Liberal Yankees didn’t do this to the Confederate battle flag. Dylann Roof did. Look at that picture if you want to know who finally drove this flag from public life. That young man revered the Confederate flag and invested it with his devotion to white supremacy. He murdered nine black men and women in a Bible study, out of loyalty to what that flag represented to him. Maybe the flag represents something more noble to you. It is impossible for many of us to see the nobility through the blood stains on the floor of the Mother Emanuel AME, and through the curtain of strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Like Josh Marshall, I’m surprised at how quickly the tide seems to be turning in Southern Republican attitudes toward the Confederate flag. On the one hand, the arson at the church in Charlotte makes me fear Dylann Roof copycats. On the other hand, as Josh Marshall points out,

As a distinct but obviously related point, purely as a matter of incentives, can we get the message out to nutball racists and similar monsters that no, your horrific race massacre will not trigger a race war. We hear this line again and again and I know at some level it’s more a statement than an actual prediction. But no, your mass murder will not trigger a race war. We now sadly have enough examples to have statistically significant data to confirm that your race massacre will not trigger your race war. In fact, I think that Dylann Roof’s attack will likely be remembered, for better or worse, as much for this watershed as for the deaths of the innocents he killed.

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Charleston thoughts

Posted by Sappho on June 24th, 2015 filed in Race


I have waited a week to post about this topic, not so much because I’m still not fully recovered from the cough from hell (though I do still need my inhaler), as because I felt the need to have my first conversations on Facebook, among friends. And I’m still going to turn comments off on this post (people who want to respond can post on their own blogs and send trackbacks if they want).

We’ve seen a horrific terrorist hate crime. And it’s not possible for me to separate this act from the whole #BlackLivesMatter conversation that has been going on ever since Trayvon Martin’s death. Still less so now that we have Dylan Roof’s manifesto saying that he was radicalized precisely by Trayvon Martin’s death.

There’s a certain messiness to the #BlackLivesMatter discussion, as we move from one report to another of an unarmed black man (or sometimes a lightly armed black man, like the mentally ill man in Ferguson who ambled toward police with a knife and got shot, or sometimes an unarmed black woman) who gets killed by police, or killed by some civilian who is either taking on a quasi-police role (George Zimmerman taking his neighborhood watch duties to the point of pursuing Trayvon Martin with a gun), or who claims to be acting in self-defense, either at home (someone bangs on the wrong door after a car accident or some other mishap), or in public (Michael Dunn, who insisted that in the midst of his argument about loud music, he totally saw a gun). There’s a larger pattern here, but not all the cases individually fitted to the pattern are alike.
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Round up on anti-vax sentiment, the Eurasian steppe, pink, and other things

Posted by Sappho on June 18th, 2015 filed in Blogwatch


On a personal note, I’m an aunt again! No details, to preserve the privacy of the family and especially the child involved (and remember, I’m one of nine children, who live all over the place). Also, I’m still recovering from that nagging bronchitis, but am back to being able to sing again, do my morning exercises again at reduced reps, and climb the stairs to the fifth floor again (though I still need the inhaler several times a day). That said, I’m going to give you a link post today (you’ll have to wait for a thinking post).

Statistician Emma Pierson, at Obsession with Regression, on So Maybe I Am (Partly) An Affirmative Action Admit.

Colin, at Violent Metaphors, on No, Seriously, Don’t Politicize Anti-Vax Sentiment.

DNA Explained on a DNA Testing Strategy for Adoptees and People with Uncertain Parentage.

Dienekes Pontikos on new data from ancient Eurasians showing evidence of migration from the Eurasian steppe to Europe.

Jamelle Bouie writes that Hillary Clinton Should Go Full Nerd and show voters “her authentic, geeky self.”

In fairness, there are reasons people may not like works in which all the fictional characters are awful, besides a desire for simple morality plays. And I haven’t seen Goodfellas myself, and so have no opinion on it. But, whether you agree with Scott Lemieux’s taste in movies or not, he’s amusing in Good Art is Not a Self-Help Manual.

So Berlatsky concedes that GoodFellas is not presenting us with role models, even if Scorsese assumes that the audience can draw the conclusion that robbing and killing people for a living is immoral on its own. He even seems to concede that Scorsese sees this conception of masculinity and the horrible behavior of the characters as being linked. But where is the constructive alternative? Why can’t this movie about Brooklyn mobsters tell us how to live?

The post is more than a month old, but as I never linked it at the time, I’ll link it now. My college friend Andrew Shields explains why “The more specific you are, the more general it’ll be.”

Echidne of the Snakes on Pink Thoughts. Or The Weak Version of the Sapir–Whorf Hypothesis.

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Ideas Whose Time Has Come?

Posted by WiredSisters on June 14th, 2015 filed in Bipolar Disorder, Economics, Health and Medicine, Iraq War, Peace Testimony


My mother, of blessed memory, had a way of formulating problems that I have always liked:

What do we need?
What do we have too much of?
How do we turn what we have too much of into what we need?

Which is probably how the ancient alchemists got their start, having too much lead and not enough gold. Today, of course, we have a much better grasp of chemistry and physics, and can actually come up with ways to transmute dog excrement into power tools, should we choose to do so. Unfortunately, many of the things we now have too much of, and a lot of the things we need, are immaterial in nature, and thus not susceptible to chemical solutions. But it’s still a useful approach.

For instance, take drug dealers. Please. We definitely have too many of them, and merely taking the current cohort of them off the street and locking them up doesn’t help much. A new cohort is likely to replace them almost instantaneously, and the ones we lock up will merely move their operations into their new habitation, where (informed consumers tell me) drugs are as readily available as they ever were on the street.

So instead of locking the drug dealers up, how about finding them a new, socially useful line of work, utilizing many of the same skills they have already perfected? Which requires looking at the other side of the equation: what do we need? Among the things we need is some way to make mental patients (and also people with highly contagious physical diseases such as TB) take their medications. Who is better qualified to market pharmaceuticals than these street corner entrepreneurs? And (even better) who is better qualified to tinker with the official versions to make them fun to take? A version of Haldol that makes the patient happy and energetic, for instance—who could ask for more?

There are several problems with the current crop of psychoactive drugs.
Unlike the standard pharmaceutical model, in which the patient feels bad, takes a med, and feels better, the average mental patient (especially but not exclusively people on the upswing of bipolar disorder) may feel absolutely terrific, or at least reasonably okay, and is then required to take a med which will make him feel, at best, blah, and at worst, really awful.
Most psychoactive meds work on only some of the people with a particular diagnosis. There is no med that is universally effective in treating a particular mental health problem.
There are some patients (regardless of diagnosis) on whom none of the standard meds works at all.
Some medications work for a while, on some patients, and then stop working.
It’s really hard to calculate an appropriate dosage of any particular med for any particular patient, and this calculation may have to be repeated when, for whatever reason, the patient’s needs change (among the reasons for this are hormonal fluctuations such as those caused by puberty, pregnancy, or menopause, other medical problems, and just mysterious stuff out of the blue.)

Under the circumstances, it’s amazing that ANY patients comply with their medication regimen, and that any prescriber gets the medication and the dosage right for any length of time at all. So I’m not implying that this is entirely a marketing problem. But making psychoactive meds that create a mild euphoria, and having them marketed by people who have spent their most productive years having customers beat a path to their door, would certainly help a lot. In addition, of course, it gives a criminal population a socially useful way to earn a living.

So let’s look at another social problem: guns. More specifically, the NRA. The first thing we need to find out is the limits of their advocacy. Is there any kind of weapon they believe should not be available from willing sellers to willing buyers, anywhere in the world? Do they, for instance, have any problem with urban street gangs in the US having WMDs? Tactical nukes? How about street gangs in the rest of the world, like El Salvador or Syria, for instance? Why only street gangs—why not more official purchasers, such as militias? If, as I suspect, their aspirations have no limit, then why do we bother having (and, more to the point, why are we as taxpayers, supporting) a governmental defense complex, when the private sector is willing and eager to take on the job, and can, of course, do it much more efficiently? This has the added advantage that those taxpayers, like me and, I suspect, many of the readers of this post, who object to paying for weapons with their tax money, will be taken out of the process.

On the other hand, let us suppose that the NRA’s aspirations are relatively modest, and that they are looking purely at the domestic and individual market. Can their skills be directed to a socially useful purpose? At least in large cities, I suspect they can. Here in Chicago, for instance, we have between ten and twenty shootings a week, with varying degrees of fatality. And many of the victims are utterly unconnected to whatever conflict generates the shooting, except for the purely geographical connection of being in the wrong place (which may even be behind the four walls of their own unfortunately located home) at the wrong time. Why does this happen? Because many of the people doing the shooting can’t hit what they think they’re aiming at. Here’s where the NRA comes in—they regularly teach classes in gun use and gun safety for various community groups all over the country. Why not on the South Side of Chicago, and equivalent places in other cities? Gun safety (which many anti-gun activists consider an oxymoron anyway) would not be a major part of the curriculum. But accuracy—hitting what you think you’re aiming at—would be the major point of the classes. Presumably, this wouldn’t reduce the total number of shootings. It might even increase the number of fatalities. But it would significantly reduce the toll of cheerleaders, three-year-olds, and real estate agents getting shot by accident. Probably most of the people getting shot would, from the point of view of society in general, deserve it. And, as many criminal justice studies indicate, many of the shooters would eventually encounter their own karmic reward.

And if you like this approach to solving social problems, I’ve got a great proposal for dealing with famine in Ireland…

Red Emma

PS Sorry about your cough, Sappho.  I’ve got one too, plan to have it looked at (listened to, more appropriately) sometime this week. Probably got wished on us by the Chinese.

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Update on the cough from hell

Posted by Sappho on June 11th, 2015 filed in Daily Life


I saw the doctor last Friday, and got an antibiotic and an inhaler. I didn’t really want the antibiotic, but she said I did still have a bit of a fever after a week, so, maybe I needed it. The inhaler has been a great boon. It makes the difference between impossible coughing fits and just a low grade cough and fatigue. But the cough is still dragging on, so I haven’t been able to do a lot besides work. Plus the dog is sick. He needed a precancerous growth removed, and now is wearing the Cone of Shame, and needs to be carried up and down stairs. (At least, Joel says the dog needs to be carried up and down stairs. The dog says he doesn’t. This makes for a bit of a conflict around walk time, as we are on the second floor.)

I did, despite all of this, manage to finish reading The Three-Body Problem, a work of Chinese science fiction that connects the Cultural Revolution and an alien invasion, and various oddities of physics. Now I’m reading The Goblin Emperor. (I tentatively voted my Hugo ballot already based on reading the beginning of everything, but plan to adjust my votes after reading more, before the end of July.)

Also, on Tuesday Joel and I went to the Meeting of the Minds. I’m not, right now, writing up everything I heard there, but I’ll note that at one session, where I heard about a program in which mental health professionals ride with the police and help the cops work better with calls that involve mental illness, the questions were divided between the “we could use cops better trained in mental illness” questions and the “could you cops please move homeless people along from places where we don’t want them” questions. Even at a mental health conference, some people’s reaction to homeless mentally ill people is frustration that they aren’t somehow helping themselves better.

On a positive note, that session had some good stories about getting people back to their families and the help they needed.

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The cough from hell, and more Duggar thoughts

Posted by Sappho on June 5th, 2015 filed in Daily Life, News and Commentary


For the past week, I have had what started out as a normal, if very tiring, cold or flu, but for days now has been the dry, unproductive cough from hell. I have to spend all day constantly supplying my throat with a soothing supply of water, soup, broth, honey, cough drops, and hard candies, to ward off coughing attacks, which, if they start, will bring up nothing, but proceed with greater intensity until I feel as if I am going to vomit. This makes it a bit hard to do anything beyond work, go home, and rest (I’m still able to work, since I can keep the cough at bay with constant effort). I think I am probably going to call the doctor today.

With this going on, I’ve been impaired in my regular exercise (exertion brings on the cough, and I’m not even doing my usual climb up and down four flights of stairs twice a day at work, though I do still walk the dog), and Wolof practice (talking also brings on the cough). I did, though, manage to go to Toastmasters, getting the special speaking free accommodation of being Timekeeper, and communicating only with cards and gestures.

That personal note aside, I’ve still been reading and thinking about the Duggars. First, thanks to Irene for pointing out this comment suggesting that the statute of limitations in Arkansas might not be the barrier that many think it is. I’d have thanked you sooner, Irene, had I not been preoccupied with the cough from hell.
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State of Fear

Posted by WiredSisters on May 29th, 2015 filed in California Wildfires, Climate Change and Desertification, Environment


I’m in the process of reading Michael Crichton’s State of Fear¸ but I find it so unpleasant I can’t swallow it at one sitting, but have to consume it in small pieces throughout the week. Crichton made his literary reputation, such as it is, with Andromeda Strain and Jurassic Park, and most of his stuff is pretty good techno-thriller, interesting and not quite mindless. But in State of Fear, he is taking himself too seriously as a public intellectual, filling up the plot with cardboard characters straight out of Pilgrim’s Progress and the morality plays, and worse still, tacking on to the novel itself a couple of essays on the questionable validity of techno-journalistic conjecture and the politics of environmental doomsaying. Read the rest of this entry »

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Josh Duggar

Posted by Sappho on May 24th, 2015 filed in News and Commentary


Way back when, I actually started this blog to talk about the crisis in the Catholic Church concerning priests being found to have sexually abused minors, and bishops being found to have covered the matter up and recycled the priests. (One of the most notorious of those priests, as it happened, got recycled to the church my mother-in-law attended, where my husband had gone when he was younger.) Time passed, and I wandered on to other blog topics, but, given my original focus, I can’t completely ignore the scandal about the Duggar family. So, here are a couple of the links that I’ve found most thoughtful and useful:

What You Need to Know about the Josh Duggar Police Report:

I’ve gone back and forth about whether I should blog about this. This is not a gossip blog. I blog about weighty issues, and when I do blog about scandals like this I try to do so in a way that makes larger points, rather than just scoring cheap shots. That said, I’ve decided to go ahead and blog about this for several reasons. For one thing, I want you to have a reliable place to get good information (there’s still incorrect information circling out there). For another thing, I do think there are larger points to be made here. I’ll start by summarizing the police report….

And Libby Anne proceeds to give a good summary of the police report and make good points about how families and churches should handle cases of sexual abuse by minor teenagers.

Josh Duggar Thoughts: QuadCityPat, a professional child abuse investigator, Storifies his thoughts on the case.

I started to write about some of the less thoughtful reactions I have seen to this news, but I decided the post was turning into Someone Is Wrong on the Internet, and that it was better to highlight the thoughtful and informative responses than the ones that suck. Suffice to say, there has been a lot of suckage to be found.

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A squirrel round up

Posted by Sappho on May 20th, 2015 filed in Blogwatch, Whimsies


Here is a post by John Scalzi that includes a photoshopped image of a squirrel riding a Pomeranian.

Squirrels and birds can talk to each other. Evidently, Felix Salten’s novel about the squirrel Perri is actually a documentary.

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What actually happened, as best I can determine, with Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation

Posted by Sappho on May 14th, 2015 filed in Genealogy


Recently, a friend of mine on Facebook shared a story reporting that AncestryDNA had turned over customer DNA to the police without a warrant. This story turns out to be false. But, for reasons that I’ll make clear when I tell you what actually did happen, I found it tricky to figure out just what AncestryDNA had or hadn’t done. Here, as best I can tell (with links) is the truth of the story.

First, a bit of background.
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Links, the “it’s not so easy staying 100% positive 100% of the time when you have freaking cancer” edition

Posted by Sappho on May 14th, 2015 filed in Blogwatch, Health and Medicine


I see that it has been a week since I posted here. That’s because I gave my fourth Toastmasters speech yesterday, and spent my free, non-work time practicing the speech instead of blogging. I do have some ideas for posts, but more ideas than time to write them at the moment, so I’ll give you a few links, instead, so you know that I’m not dead yet.

I’m not dead yet, in part, because, more than three years out from my cancer diagnosis, I am still in remission. Some others are not so lucky. One of those others, Kevin Drum, is currently under treatment for multiple myeloma (the illness that killed my father), and, in his honor, Jim Henley, who went through cancer treatment more recently than I did, is doing some cancer blogging. Here is Jim Henley’s Quora post on how to support someone with cancer, which I warmly second. Among other things from that post:

3. Offer to do specific, time-consuming things that will ease the lives of patients and caregivers. Then do them. Babysitting. Dog-walking. Cat-feeding. Transportation. Oh yes transportation. A lot of people don’t realize that a typical radiation patient has to go to the facility at least once a day for 2 to 6 weeks. That’s 10-30 trips someone has to make, and it shouldn’t be the patient, and the patient’s primary caregiver – if she’s lucky enough to have one – can use a break.

Yes, yes, yes! Transportation is really useful when you’re going through treatment for cancer. Radiation is an every day event, and chemotherapy, though less frequent, is absolutely exhausting.

Just as a lot of people don’t realize that a typical radiation patient has to go to a facility once a day for 2 to 6 weeks, a lot of people may not know that the American Cancer Society offers rides to treatment for those who can’t drive themselves. So, if you know someone with cancer, offering transportation can be one of the best ways to help (and I’m also forever grateful to the friends who offered pet care and freed my husband to be with me), and if you don’t currently know anyone going through treatment for cancer, but are looking for volunteer work that will make a difference, the American Cancer Society’s Road to Recovery program is a worthy place to volunteer.

How does the program work?

Volunteer drivers donate their time and the use of their cars so that patients can receive the life-saving treatments they need. If you or your loved one needs a ride to treatment, call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345 to be matched with a volunteer, or enter your zip code below to check for programs in your area.

I also second Jim Henley’s thoughts on

OK, that’s actually more writing than I thought I was going to do, when I started this post. Non-cancer related links are below the fold.
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Support Your Local Police State

Posted by WiredSisters on May 7th, 2015 filed in Daily Life, Democracy, History, Law, Moral Philosophy, Race, Torture


You might want to google “police history” before reading the rest of this post. There are a bunch of good books and articles on the subject out there, and what they mainly tell you is that the wild-eyed Marxist radicals who usually get dismissed as overwrought ideologues are, if anything, pulling their punches in characterizing the police as lackeys of the ruling classes. The whole idea of having a police force was invented by a ruling class to keep the lower orders in their place. At the time, in 18th-century Britain, there was no racial element to it, unless you count anti-Irish prejudice. But there were lots of poor people who could not possibly survive within the limits set for them by employers, landlords, church, and state. For them, as for poor people and especially homeless people today, survival required lawbreaking, because the law made their lives illegal. Read the rest of this entry »

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Noah Millman on Africa

Posted by Sappho on May 7th, 2015 filed in Africa news and blogwatch


And, because today’s my day for linking Noah Millman, here’s another of his posts, on why Africa Matters.

Africa is the largest place on earth that it is possible, most of the time, to ignore. It won’t be forever. The journalistic cliché is that, as the 20th was the American century, the 21st will be the Chinese. But there is a plausible case to be made that, within a few short decades, we’ll be talking instead about the African century.

The reason is simple arithmetic. Demographically, Africa is expanding at a rate unmatched by any other remotely comparable region. Of the 25 countries with the highest total fertility rates, all but two (Afghanistan and East Timor) are African—and included in that list are some of Africa’s largest and most populous countries, such as Nigeria, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo….

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I’m not in love. So don’t forget it …

Posted by Sappho on May 7th, 2015 filed in Sexuality


Noah Millman writes, in Tell Him, Tell Him, Tell Him, Tell Him Right Now, about the Modern-Love-contest-winning essay

… about a woman who is so terrified of losing what little she has, romantically-speaking, that she dare not tell the truth about her feelings.

I’ve sometimes toyed with the idea of making the Big Master Post (or series of posts), that will tell you all exactly what I think about sexual ethics and advice, and what the good life really is, where sexual and romantic relationships are concerned. I never do, because every time I sit down to do it, it all becomes complicated. What’s defensible in secular terms isn’t the same, in important ways, as what’s defensible in faith-based terms. What should be legal isn’t the same as what’s right. What I can easily, in secular terms and without any appeal to Bible or any faith tradition, say is flat out wrong isn’t the same as what may sometimes work, but often doesn’t, and may on the whole not be prudent or wise.

But I’m fairly sure that, if I did write that post, or that series of posts, a big part of it would be two rules: Don’t do what predictably makes yourself unhappy. And don’t do what predictably makes other people unhappy. Think of it as a version of Hillel’s famous questions: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, who am I?”

What I love about Noah Millman’s reflections on sexual and romantic relationships, when he does write about them (mostly he’s more of a literary blogger these days), is the fact that he seems to write with a grasp of the value of both those questions. So many people don’t. And so we get, either “war of the sexes” arguments in which it’s each person’s business to look out for herself, and it’s unreasonable for her to ask any regard for her feelings and perspective, because each person’s just out for what she wants, any way she can get it, or else arguments that suppose she can expect the other person to be a mind reader, and know that of course a person’s going to feel led on in such-and-such a situation. Millman hangs onto both points, sometimes drawing out one, and sometimes another, as the case requires. Here it’s “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?”

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The flames of the Tigers are lighting the road to Berlin

Posted by Sappho on May 5th, 2015 filed in Books, Music


This year’s Hugo Awards have proved more controversial than usual, with the sweep of several categories of Hugo Award nominations by two slates known as Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies.

I don’t mean this to be a post about Puppies. If you want to know more about puppies, you can check out the blog of, well, almost any science fiction author right now, or Google “Hugo Awards 2015″ and look at all the Puppy posts and articles. But the debate about Puppies raised a meta-Puppies point that interests me: the relationship between politics and art.

You see, two things are true, at the same time. The first thing: Art has always been, and always will be, political, and in the sense in which “politics” is being discussed here, politics can’t be extracted from art. The second thing: What Scott Lemieux at Lawyers, Guns, and Money likes to call aesthetic Stalinism – preachy message fiction where the message overwhelms the story, and preachy reviews that evaluate books, movies, music, or other art solely on their political implications – is really, really annoying.

I have been trying to think of how to write about this, and finding that the post in my head kept growing way too long, as I ran through all of the examples and qualifiers that I wanted. Then I ran across three other people’s posts that said different aspects of what I wanted to say, so I’m going to link them, and make my post much shorter.
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