Saturday, August 23rd, 2014 01:05 am
If the highest calling is utility
then show me I am useful
by using me.

Make of me a book,
vellum of my skin,
a vessel for your stories and your selves.

(art is good if it arises from necessity
ein Kunstwerk ist gut, wenn es aus Notwendigkeit entstand
I am good if I am necessary--
or at least I am sufficient)

(fill me with your breath your hope
your need
your dreams of being as sufficient
as beautiful as necessary as all
that we must be)

(o please gift me belief)
Friday, August 22nd, 2014 04:55 pm
Fri 8/15 - London

Step count: 8,976

Awake 7:30 before 8:00 alarm. Had a breakfast never seen before in human history: Greek yogurt and Cocoa Puffs -- an experiment that will not be repeated. Click for more excitement, and photos )
Friday, August 22nd, 2014 07:32 pm
What are they smoking over at Penguin? A rogue art department has given some books that deserve better a makeover. There's a certain amount of gratuitous ugliness (The Big Sleep, Ellison's Invisible Man), a jolly pastel cover for A Handful of Dust, and my antifave, battling troglodytes for The Man in the High Castle. As George Bernard Shaw said of Times Square at night, how lovely it must be if one cannot read! Oh well, this is the publisher that just did the baby doll cover for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Saturday, August 23rd, 2014 12:00 am

Posted by Andrew Rilstone

Doctor: All elephants are pink. Nellie is an elephant, therefore Nellie is pink. Logical? 
Davros: Perfectly. 

Doctor: You know what a human would say to that?

Davros: What?

Doctor: "Don't be silly. Elephants aren't pink."

Davros: Bah. Humans do not understand logic.

             Destiny of the Daleks

Two weeks ago, Prof Richard Dawkins decided that he would use the power of Twitter to give the plebs a jolly good lesson in logic. If thing A has quality X, he explained, and thing B has quality X to a greater degree, then it follows that thing A doesn't have quality X at all. If cheese is nice but chocolate is nicer; it doesn't follow that cheese is nasty. If the Beatles are bigger than Jesus, it doesn't follow that Jesus is small.

Ordinary language expresses this in different ways. If Andrew is 6 ft 2 and Steve is 6 ft 1, it would be a little odd to say "Steve is shorter than Andrew" or "Compared with Andrew, Steve is short." You would be more likely to say that Steve is tall but Andrew is even taller. It would be positively confusing to say "toothache is more enjoyable than a bone fracture" or "Joseph was even kinder and more humane than Adolph.". 

Prof Dawkins chose the most toxic and incendiary examples he could think of to illustrate this purely logical point.

Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knife point is worse. If you think that's an endorsement of date rape, go away and learn how to think.

Mild pedophilia is bad. Violent pedophilia is worse. If you think that's an endorsement of mild pedophilia, go away and learn how to think.

He spent the rest of the week insisting that the logic of the two assertions was valid (which, obviously, it was) and that anyone who had taken exception to his examples obviously didn't understand his logic.

To answer by the method: if you can't see what the problem is; you obviously don't understand language. Go away and learn how to write.

Utterances — even utterances on twitter — are not reducible to their logical content. Our problem is not that we are ignorant peasants who can't see that Thing B can be worse than Thing A without Thing A being good. Our problem is that chosen examples are riddled — riddled — with unexamined assumptions.

1: "X is bad; Y is worse".

What do you mean by "worse"? How can we tell? Who gets to decide? Do you mean more reprehensible in absolute terms; more severely punished by the law; causing greater harm to the victim; less aesthetically pleasing; incurring more bad karma...? These things obviously need not be the same. We are being asked to take for granted a value-neutral line from "black" to "white" with "grey" in the middle. Some kinds of empirical science might work like that. Criminal assault does not. Is Macbeth worse than anchovies?

2:  "Mild pedophilia is bad. Violent pedophilia is worse." 

This takes for granted that "Violent" is a synonym for "Severe" and that "Non-Violent" is a synonym for "Mild". "Severe pedophilia is worse than mild pedophilia" would have been meaningless, amounting to no more than "Bad things are worse than good things". But "Violent pedophilia is worse than non-violent pedophilia" is contentious, to say the least. People with human feelings would  probably think that the two are, well, differently bad. The offences for which Rolf Harris went to prison were non-violent. Yet the victims testified in court about the devastating effect the assaults had had on their lives. Some people might think that a long term quasi-consensual "love affair" between an adult and a young child was if anything rather "worse" than a violent attack. But it's simply nonsense. Are orange things worse than bank holidays?

3: "Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knife point is worse." 

This has the same problems: we are being asked to take for granted that there is a thing called "rape" of which "stranger rape" and "date rape" are more and less severe examples — in the way that "punching Richard Dawkins on the nose, terribly hard" is a more severe example of "punching Richard Dawkins on the nose, not very hard." This ain't necessarily so. A court can send a rapist to jail for a period of time between seven years and forever. It takes into account a large number of mitigating factors (ones which make it less bad); and aggravating factors (ones that make it worse). I don't think that any court would or should regard "I bought her dinner beforehand" to be mitigating factor.

4: Go away and learn to think

Dawkins spends 30 of his 140 characters peremptorily insulting anyone who doesn't agree with him. It is just not true that people who can't do logic don't know how to to think. The world is full of people who raise families, survive in combat zones, manage farms, hunt antelopes, and carve sculpture who would go all to pieces if you asked them how many Bs were As if all Xs were Bs but only some Cs were As. (There are also people who are really good at keeping track of numbers in their head, but can't cope with the simplest written maths test.) The assumption here is that there is only one kind of thought — narrowly logical thought. Anyone who doesn't think in that way is a moron. Any subject that can't be talked about in terms of logic and simple continuum's from "good" to "bad" really doesn't count.

So, the question remains. Can we, as the young people say, give Dawkins "a pass" and say that, yes, he has been incredibly insensitive, but that's sort of incidental to his status as National Treasure. We really should focus on the incredibly important logical point he is making, and not pay too much attention to the horrible way he has chosen to but it. Someone on line said, well, yes, of course, Dawkins can sometimes come across as a bit sexist, but what do you expect of someone who is a scientific genius but also a 75 year old privately educated Oxford Don?

I am not at all sure I buy this. I think that his insensitivity is part and parcel of his ideology.

Judge every man according to what he posted on Twitter, and which of us would 'scape whipping. But the current outburst fits into a pattern. Back in June he effected not to understand why anyone would consider throwing bacon at a mosque to be a hate crime. "Who" he asked "apart from the pig, is harmed by bacon?" That word "harm" again. It starts to look very much as if he thinks that if there hasn't been direct and measurable physical injury, nothing very serious can have happened. This is on approximately the same level as the person who doesn't understand why black people get so het up about the n-word. It's just a word, after all. Who is harmed by a fairly neutral set of syllables? If they can't deal with it it's their problem. Why is the law so worried about this made-up idea of "offence"?

I assume that I don't actually need to spell this out: that particular words and particular kinds of meat have particular meanings in particular contexts for particular reasons. No-one was claiming that Johnny Turk was kicking up a big fuss about a Bacon McGuffin which had been left near his place of worship by someone who didn't mean anything by it. The bacon had been placed there intentionally by racist bastards who knew the symbolism perfectly well. You might just as well say "what's the big deal about putting excrement though someone's letterbox?" You've probably got some marigolds and some disinfectant in the kitchen. Anyone with small kids or a dog has to clear muck up all the time.

In fact, if you press this kind of thinking too its, er, logical confusion, you might end up saying something like this: Why is it such a big deal to touch someone's penis without their permission? More than, say, to tweak their nose or tap them on the shoulder? It's just a part of the body, like any other. It's only social convention that has made it taboo.

Dawkins' Tweets are a sort of a test, like the pea which the prince put under the princess's mattress in one of those fairy stories which Dawkins doesn't want us to read to our kids any more. Make a trivial logical statement, wrapped up in horrible example that makes light of what is, for quite a lot of people, the worst thing that happened to them in their whole lives. And watch people's reactions. Some people -- the one who don't believe in cultural meanings, feelings, or that language is complex -- will only see the logical bit, and not be able to understand how anyone could be "offended" since the logical is sound. Other people will react to the horrible beliefs that are "signaled" by the text as a whole, and say that the logic of it is neither here nor there.

Once you have divided people into sheep and goats assimilate the logical ones into your cyber-army and exterminate the inferior creatures who do not know how to think.

Most of the people you talked to today are probably "atheists", in the sense that they don't believe in a personal deity who can be talked to and invoked; or in the sense that they don't give it very much thought. But it is increasingly clear that what the "new atheists" disbelieve in is not the God of church and religion. It's also feelings and cultural meanings and subjectivity and the humanities and just about anything which isn't cold A = B logic. If "atheism" means denying all that stuff as well, then you have probably never met an atheist.

And of course, it might be that Dawkins is right. It might be that once you have eliminated Jehovah and Krishna and Wotan -- all the old men and all the sky fairies -- then all the rest caves in as well and what you are left with is a race of Daleks, who know-how-to-think. And it might be that if you admit cultural meanings and feelings and fuzzy language and morals then all the gods-with-faces start creeping back in through the back door. And that might be one reason why religion can't, ultimately, be dispensed with. Not by human beings, at any rate. There is no point in asking the Daleks. They wouldn't, by definition, understand the question. 
Friday, August 22nd, 2014 06:53 pm
It wasn’t til recently that
men derived cause from effect
found that thunder did not
cause milk to spoil
but was merely a symptom
of the storms of heat
and humidity
and summer
in a place that was not Paradise.

We had that Paradise, you and I,
made two bodies from clay and
breath; you, Adamah, the earth,
and I, Lil, the wind. We had the same
source, the same Maker; why, then,
did you demand that I serve? I was made
your equal. But three inches of flesh between
your legs somehow deserved more than the three
pounds armored over my heart.

Of course I left.

I would’ve returned had you grown up. But you
could not stand to be wrong. I heard you, that day,
when you demanded a new woman, one unequal to
you, one unlike me, and our Maker asked if you were
quite certain. I’ve since learned His question, a thousand
thousand shades of are you certain, in genies and monkey’s
paws and the too-fair folk. Are you certain? You were certain.

Be careful what you wish for.

Your children’s children lost the word in Babel, forgot it was
no rib He used when I watched Him create Haya for you.
Did you not weep for the backbone of your manhood, Adamah?
Perhaps you never noticed it gone, blind as you’d become.
How did you not see that the welts only ever came up
upon your own skin? That the earth was not red until you
bled yourself out upon it, under that last full moon
in Paradise? How did you forget throwing Haya into the
orchard to wait out your disgust?

Haya only ever did what you demanded, Adamah, and,
dearest husband, you ever were a snake.

Original Post
Saturday, August 23rd, 2014 08:38 am
Originally posted at

Me learning to ski a couple of weeks ago is a weirdly long story, beginning in 1998.

In 1998, I was in the final year of high school, but because of my ludicrous and I now think in some ways ill-advised academic program, I had already completed 9 units of study of the required 11 minimum for the Higher School Certificate and was only doing 8 more. (The reason I now think this was ill-advised is beside the point, but in short, I should have risked a slightly lower university entrance score in return for just completing the entire thing in a year early in 1997, and not spent so much energy on doing 1½ times the required courses for absolutely no long-term benefit.) So it was not completely out of the question to head off to New Zealand for a week in winter.

My sister Julia and I were both working retail at the time, and my parents offered us half the price of the trip if we saved the other half. We duly did so and thus embarked on all the mysterious preliminary rituals for a snow trip (getting fitted for gear and such before leaving) and flew to New Zealand with a small group of fellow pupils. It wasn’t my first extended trip away from my family by any means, nor my first plane flight: in the preceeding year, I’d done two fortnight long nerd camps and flown by myself to Sydney a few times to take part in a selective university-level philosophy course for high schoolers. But it was my first international trip, and my first trip between time zones.

The trip was basically a disappointment in several ways. First, I think in retrospect that the supervising teacher, who went every year, must have been frustrated at the social dynamic. There’s good odds that when you take a small group of teenagers out of their usual environment and hierarchies and give them something to do, they behave much more like adults. But it didn’t really work like that. Unless I’m forgetting someone, in terms of age, there was myself in Year 12, Julia in Year 10, and six or seven other girls all in Year 11. All but two of those were part of a group that even I, a year older and not really in need of knowing their class’s dynamics, recognised as the core of a notoriously cliquish group of princesses. We were staying in a lodge in Methven, and they grabbed their own dorm room with unseemly haste and proceeded to have nothing to do with the likes of the rest of us. We made shift for ourselves, but it was still less than ideal.

Second, most importantly, most of us really struggled to learn to ski. The teacher explained the setup to us, and pointed us at the trail guide and the longest beginner run that we were all going to ski with him at the end of the week, and it wasn’t to be. Or at least, I don’t recall how the princesses did, but of my dorm-mates, one was a natural, already turning parallel within a day of starting, one I think wasn’t and other than participating in lessons took to spending most of the day reading in the bus, and Julia and I weren’t much chop either. I think I was the worst. It was the first time in my life that I got pulled aside by an adult to be complimented for trying really really hard, as distinct from succeeding at all. (As I recall, the instructor was quite emphatic about this: he’d never seen anyone work so hard at it. Subtext: at least, not without learning anything.)

With hindsight: here’s what happened. First, I hadn’t even finished growing at this point. (I finished really late for a woman, when I was 18 or 19.) Physically, I was enormously tall and stretched out like gum. My brain and body were not well matched at the time. Second, this was the dying days of non-carved skis. If you were buying yourself skis, they were carved. If you were renting them, at least at Mt Hutt that year, they were still long narrow flat fence-posts. Thirdly, and most importantly, I just didn’t lean forward enough to stop my skis crossing in front. That last the instructor really ought to have picked up: it’s the most common failure mode in beginning skiing. Perhaps he did and I just never learned quite far enough forward to believe him.

The setup was much the usual for beginners: there was a very shallow first day slope and then over to a short but slightly steeper slope to get the technique down. And that’s pretty much where I was done. On, I think, the second last day, still believing that I’d celebrate with a run down the much longer ultimate beginners’ slope the following day, I grit my teeth and just figured that more hours were more better, went higher up a second short beginners’ slope, and went down it, falling at every single turn. I am pretty sure that I spent the best part of two hours snow-plowing cautiously down in one direction, trying to turn, falling over, retrieving my skis (the bindings were pretty loose), pointing myself in the other direction, spending ages knocking snow out of the soles of my ski boots and skiing in the other direction. Two hours, two baby slopes. Not one successful turn. Lots of crying and self-pep talks. Presumably my growing exhaustion and cementing bad technique were hindering me by then.

I don’t even know what got me back on the slopes the last day. Probably the money I’d spent on it. The last day brought the backhanded compliment about my work ethic (albeit true, I am bad at quitting things), and, crucially and a bit cruelly, the actual breakthrough I’d wanted the day before. For whatever reason, I decided to lean forward to what I considered a ludicrous degree, and which was probably barely acceptable, I pointed my skis downhill, I lost all fear, and I skiied to the bottom (if I am remembering correctly, more or less without attempting to turn) and stopped myself. And then I got back on the pommel, rode up, pointed myself down the hill again, and did it again.

It was exhilarating; I can still feel how happy I was about it.

And then there was absolutely no time to do it a third time because it was time to return my skis, get back in the minibus, ride the nailbiting drive back down to Methven, and fly home to Australia knowing that, probably, I was capable of skiing and would find it rather fun.

And then I didn’t return to the slopes until 2003 and, when I did, I made the regrettable decision to switch to snowboarding.

Friday, August 22nd, 2014 10:39 pm
Midafternoon nap times three:
Read more... )
Friday, August 22nd, 2014 06:19 pm
And last night I had a nearly realist, quietly pleasant dream in which I formed a friendship with a middle-aged man from a country that was Hungary in the dream, although awake I think it much more resembled other fictional countries of Central Europe. (I would have remembered if it were Orsinia.) We met while I was browsing the used books at his stall; we bonded over the 1934 film of The Scarlet Pimpernel with its shout-out to Daniel Mendoza rather than the random flare of anti-Semitism that has always marred the novel's denouement for me. He lent me records and a book he had written, a memoir in a language I couldn't read. It was winter in the dream and snowing outside the windows. I remember drinking hot chocolate, waiting for him to show up somewhere like a museum with interior stone colonnades. It was not a romance. He was selling antique, curling posters for operas that I am not sure exist. One of them was wreathed around the corners in green roses with a design of black horses and sheaves. It seems now that it should have been a retelling of Persephone and Hades, but I don't remember it. Because I couldn't read his memoir, he told me the stories.

(Title of this post unrelated to the dream; I have been listening to the original cast recording of Repo! The Genetic Opera (2009) since last night and it seemed pointedly relevant this afternoon when I got a bill for something I thought my insurance had covered in the winter. Phone calls sorted it out. I hope.)
Friday, August 22nd, 2014 04:50 pm
He has developed a fever and is being admitted overnight. As they won't release him until he's been without a fever for 24 hours, we expect him to spend most of the weekend there. My phone is about out of charge, and I have a couple of hours of errands to run, but I will try to do a CaringBridge post tonight. Among other things, I need to set up contingency plans in case Rob is too sick or it's too unsafe for him to make the drive this coming week to take Delia to college.

More later. Just know that he's in the place he needs to be right now.
Friday, August 22nd, 2014 10:44 pm
 I am currently in sending postcards mode. 

If you would like a postcard from somewhere in Ireland/Scotland/Northish England in the next two or so weeks, please either comment here, PM me, or send me an email to my work email address (assuming you know it) with the address you would like the card to go to.

If you want me to send a surprise card to someone else, because you think that I'll be able to get my hands on some particular card that they would like, feel free to do the same - whether I send those will depend on the number of responses I get, my general level of organisation, and the reasons for requesting (I can't at this point think of low priority reasons, but I reserve the right to be capricious). 

If you have preference for scenery or humour or some other broad genre of postcard, feel free to state this - much better than me saying 'George? Can't decide whether zie would like the buxom lass in the bad replica costume or the still life of tomatoes more. Ah well, better go for the tomatoes. After all, everyone likes a good fruit, don't they?'.
Friday, August 22nd, 2014 09:28 pm

Posted by shinyjenni

Do you have a Doctor Who community or a journal that we are not currently linking to? Leave a note in the comments and we'll add you to the who_daily reading list.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Because of the high posting volume and the quantity of information linked in each newsletter, who_daily will no longer link fanfiction that does not have a header. For an example of what a "good" fanfic header is, see the user info. Thank you.

Off LJ News
Latest countdown trailer for series 8
Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman make surprise London appearance
Doctor Who guide to Glasgow
Series 8 episodes will be subtitled rather than dubbed for their Germany broadcast
Actors respond to a possibly spoilery casting rumour
This weekend's Middlesborough convention, The Shadow Proclamation, has been cancelled
Clip from series 8, episode 2
Blogtor Who reviews Zygon Hunt
Re button times for Doctor Who Extra
Round up of Doctor Who tweets (may contain spoilers)

(News via og_news, blogtorwho and tardisscanner among others. For additional news please visit: googledw)

Discussion and Miscellany
ragdoll posts Peter Capaldi's Newsround interview
boji links to an image of the TARDIS in Parliament Square and to an interview with one of the writers of series 8
elisi links to an interview with Jenna Coleman

dwstills with winner banners for challenge 28

Secrets We Have Kept by templeremus (Eleven, Clara | PG)

Out of the Howling (3/?) by goldy_dollar and _thirty2flavors (Ten II/Rose | PG-13)
Two Birds in a Cage (10/?) by daystarsearcher (alt!Sarah Jane, alt!Three, Section Leader Shaw, Brigade Leader Lethbridge-Stewart)
76, Totter's Lane (27/30) by wildwinterwitch (Nine/Rose | M)

If you were not linked, and would like to be, contact us in the comments with further information and your link.
Thursday, August 21st, 2014 05:15 am
Back again.

Four more bags of trash carried out of my room since I last updated.  I haven't even begun to touch the stuff I need to get rid of but do not want to throw away.  Yard sale fodder.

I'm just surprised.  I mean, it looked messy in here, but it did not look six trash bags worth of messy.

Cleaned the bathroom, too.  More thoroughly than I've cleaned it since I moved in.  And that bathroom stays fairly clean anyway, since it's the one company uses.  I still need to clean the tub.  Gross.  But it's not so disgusting that I feel guilty looking at it.  I'm doing okay.

It feels good to be making progress.  I don't know.  I read something a while ago about how it has a genuine negative psychological effect living in restricted and/or messy quarters.  I think for a lot of people, this is probably true.  And I think it's probably true for me, too, even though I am what Sargon calls a "stuff-intensive" person.  (We both are.)  I'm on the hoarding scale, but only at, like, a two or something?  It just has the potential to get worse, is the thing, so I have to watch it.

It's gotten better every time we moved.  Our old-old house was a fucking nightmare.  The last one was merely unlivable.  This one is messy and cluttered but not unbearable.  I just was so tired from painting and then moving that I never really got things set up properly, and I'm currently sleeping in my studio for a long list of reasons that basically boil down to "I had to move my bed in here temporarily, and now I'm lazy and also cannot decide on a color to paint the bedroom".

Thank you, everyone, for saying such kind and helpful things the other night.  If I can wave my codger stick for a minute, it makes me miss the old days when we were all on here more often and talking much more freely.  LJ isn't what it used to be, and while I've fully accepted Tumblr into my heart as my Lord and Corrupter, it isn't the same.

If I haven't replied yet, I'm sorry.  Even though I'm feeling a little more stable, I still have limited spoons.  I was exhausted emotionally yesterday for no reason I could name, and was glad I didn't have to go out.  Today I feel better I think, but I only just got up.  Regardless, I did read every comment and I appreciate every single one.  Sometimes the ones that mean the most, the kindest ones, are the hardest to find a reply to.

I'm going to clear off my table enough to use it again and then we'll see about getting some work done.  A warm-up pony, I think, and then on to the incentive ponies I owe people.  Pull down this wall one brick at a time.
Friday, August 22nd, 2014 08:24 pm

Posted by Jay Livingston, PhD

Despite the cellphone video of two police officers killing Kajieme Powell, there is some dispute as to what happened (see this account in The Atlantic). Was Powell threatening them; did he hold the knife high; was he only three or four feet away? 

The video is all over the Internet, including the link above. I’m not going to include it here.  The officers get out of the car, immediately draw their guns, and walk towards Powell. Is this the best way to deal with a disturbed or possibly deranged individual – to confront him and then shoot him several times if he does something that might be threatening?

Watch the video, then watch London police confronting a truly deranged and dangerous man in 2011.  In St. Louis, Powell had a steak knife and it’s not clear whether he raised it or swung it at all.  The man in London has a machete and is swinging it about.

Unfortunately, the London video does not show us how the incident got started. By the time the recording begins, at least ten officers were already on the scene. They do not have guns. They have shields and truncheons. The London police tactic used more officers, and the incident took more time. But nobody died.  According to The Economist:

The police in and around Ferguson have shot and killed twice as many people in the past two weeks (Mr Brown plus one other) as the police in Japan, a nation of 127m, have shot and killed in the past six years. Nationwide, America’s police kill roughly one person a day.

The article includes this graphic:

1 (2)

I’m sure that the Powell killing will elicit not just sympathy for the St. Louis police but in some quarters high praise – something to the effect that what they did was a good deed and that the victims got what they deserved. But righteous slaughter is slaughter nevertheless. A life has been taken.<

You would think that other recent videos of righteous slaughter elsewhere in the world would get us to reconsider this response to killing. But instead, these seem only to strengthen tribal Us/Them ways of thinking. If one of Us who kills one of Them, then the killing must have been necessary and even virtuous.

Originally posted at Montclair SocioBlog.

Jay Livingston is the chair of the Sociology Department at Montclair State University. You can follow him at Montclair SocioBlog or on Twitter.

(View original at

Friday, August 22nd, 2014 08:49 pm

Okay girls, let's put our handbags in the middle of the floor, and dance round like we're dancing on these specimens of poor stuff:

Finding a good man girls is like finding a Needle in a Haystack )

He's likely to turn out like Nathan Jones )

Or that Honey Chile )

So, be Too Strong to Be Strung Along )

And if necessary, say Bye Bye Baby )

Remember to Shop Around )

Because there's Too Many Fish in the Sea )