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Posted by Mary

  • Homeopathic remedies harmed hundreds of babies, families say, as FDA investigated for years – “Over a 10-year period, from 2006 to 2016, the FDA collected reports of “adverse events” in more than 370 children who had used Hyland’s homeopathic teething tablets or gel, a similar product that is applied directly to a baby’s gums. Agency records show eight cases in which babies were reported to have died after taking Hyland’s products, though the FDA says the question of whether those products caused the deaths is still under review.”
  • Margaret Sanger Regularly Published Letters From Women Pleading For Abortions – “Whenever Sanger is mentioned, it is worth remembering that she was a proponent of eugenics (which some debate is decontextualized from the cultural norms of the time) and also that she was firmly against abortion. Her anti-abortion stance is important, because unlike many anti-choice proponents of modern times, Sanger believed that birth control and education was a way to prevent women from terminating unwanted pregnancies, rather than treating contraception as ‘abortion lite.’ “
  • Counter Lies with Emotions, Not Facts – “In fact, by trying to stem the tide of untruths, we were probably making everything worse. Repeating a falsehood, even as part of a meticulously researched article that debunks it, actually reinforces the falsehood; the human brain seems to experience fact-checking as a statement followed by a bunch of Charlie Brown teacher noises.”
  • Today’s Feminism: Too Much Marketing, Not Enough Reality – “Akin to the debate over white privilege, the debate over feminism is similarly stuck in a binary construct, largely defined in middle- or upper-middle class white-lady contexts. Variations exist along generational lines: see the Lena Dunham crowd contrasted against the Steinem wing. But the marketing of modern feminism, and the oxygen-sucking place it holds in the public imagination, is largely occupied by white women.”
  • I told my doctor I didn’t want kids. She sent me to a therapist. – “The gynecologist’s condescending smile faded slightly. She wanted to know why I was in such a rush. Why I had come into her office only a week after reaching the minimum age legally required to ask for sterilization without the intervention of social services. ‘You will still be able to have this procedure at age 30 or 35.’ “
  • Why can 12-year-olds still get married in the United States? – “Unchained At Last, a nonprofit I founded to help women resist or escape forced marriage in the United States, spent the past year collecting marriage license data from 2000 to 2010, the most recent year for which most states were able to provide information. We learned that in 38 states, more than 167,000 children — almost all of them girls, some as young 12 — were married during that period, mostly to men 18 or older.”

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Posted by Phil Plait

Artwork of planets orbiting TRAPPIST-1

Astronomers have found an astonishing seven Earth-sized planets orbiting a single star just 40 light years away! This is one of the most common kinds of stars in the galaxy, implying systems like this may outnumber our own.

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Posted by John Scalzi

Yesterday I was having a conversation with a friend regarding the implosion of Milo Yiannopoulos, the remarkable two-day period in which the public bigot and Breitbart editor lost a high-profile speaking engagement, a lucrative book contract, and a job, because one of his positions (regarding sexual contact between adults and young teens) finally crossed a line for the horrible clutch of bigots who were keeping him around as their One Gay Friend. The implosion was inevitable — the horrible bigots never really liked him, they just found him useful, and suddenly he wasn’t useful anymore — and moreover the implosion was karmically appropriate, because Yiannopoulos is terrible person who became famous for being terrible to others. The dude earned it, and in a very real way it’s delightful to see the comeuppance.

While my friend agreed with me that the comeuppance was indeed delicious, he also asked me, essentially: But do you feel even in the tiniest bit sorry for Yiannopoulos? Do you have empathy for him?

And the answer is: Well, sure. In my opinion Yiannopoulos is clearly emotionally damaged in all sorts of ways and for all sorts of reasons, and it’s exhibited itself in a particularly itchy combination of personal self-loathing and a desperate need to feel special, and to have attention. He discovered that playing to a crowd of horrible bigots gave him attention, made him feel special and made him either hate himself less, or at least allowed him to ignore how much he hated himself, so he went with that as long as he could.

And things appeared to be going his way! Trump won, which gave him a more legitimate platform because the horrible bigots he played to were elevated and wanted him to speak at their gathering; he nabbed himself a pretty good book deal with a major publisher; and he got to go on national TV and had hit it off well with the host, even if the other guests told him to go fuck off, which of course played to his strengths as a media personality. It was all coming together!

Then, in roughly 36 hours, all of it was taken away. Not to mention his reputation and standing among much of the crowd that had previously stood behind him. And to top it all off, he lost his professional income. It was all in public, and it happened quick, and in humiliating fashion.

So here’s the thing: A damaged soul who thought he had found acceptance, reaching for the goals that he probably thought would finally satisfy him, only to have them (from his point of view) cruelly taken away, all at once, in public?

Again: Sure. I have some empathy there. That all sucks.


(And you knew there was a “but” coming)

Yiannopoulos’ damage explains but does not excuse his actions. Lots of people are damaged by life, one way or another. Lots of people crave acceptance and desire fame. Lots of people try to heal themselves through the attention of others. But Yiannopoulos decided to deal with all of that by spouting racist and sexist and transphobic hatred, by lying about his targets and by pointing his passel of online, bigoted followers at people in order to harass and threaten them, and then by laughing at and dismissing as unimportant other people’s pain and fear, pain and fear that he caused. It’s what he became famous for. It was all a lark to him, or so he’d have you believe. Saying so gave him attention and admiration, and if that attention and admiration was from hateful bigots, eh, that’d work for him. Until it didn’t.

I can feel empathy for a damaged human being, and understand why he does what he does. I get Yiannopoulos. He’s not exactly a puzzle. But my (or anyone’s) empathy and understanding for him has to be weighed against the damage he’s done to others and his reasons for doing so. And the fact is, the damage he’s caused others is immense, and the reasons he’s done so are self-serving, vain and ultimately wholly insufficient to excuse or mitigate his actions. Empathy and understanding are important, indeed I think critical, when considering the people who have chosen to oppose you. It reminds you they are merely human, and not actually monsters. But they are part, not the whole, of one’s consideration of such people; nor does empathy automatically convert to sympathy. Personally, considered as a whole and including his actions, I don’t judge Yiannopoulos deserving of much sympathy. He’s earned this moment of his, and in point of fact, he’s earned much worse than this. But this will do for a start.

And here’s another fact, which is that Yiannopoulos isn’t special. There are a lot of damaged people out there on the racist, sexist, bigoted side of things, who have been fucked up by the world in one way or another and who have decided the best way to dig themselves out of that hole is to try to take it out on other people. These are the very people fringe radical and reactionary organizations and would-be leaders seek out; they’re susceptible because they’re damaged and crave acceptance and attention. To get personal here, I look at the bigots who have decided to make me their special enemy and it’s not hard to understand why they do what they do, nor to feel empathy for what they have to be going through in their brain. But again, that’s weighed against the damage they do to others and try to do to me, and I proceed accordingly.

(Also, a supplementary thought I have, which is that that Yiannopoulos is well into his 30s. He’s not a child or a young man of whom it could be said that he did not know better. Yiannopoulos may be damaged in various ways, but it doesn’t appear that he is not in control of his actions, or doesn’t have enough presence of mind to understand right or wrong, even if he apparently doesn’t care about such things. Yiannopoulos understands what he’s doing and why. He owns his choices and actions, and he owns the results of those choices and actions, even when they result, as they did this week, in his downfall.)

So: Empathy and understanding for Yiannopoulos? Sure. Maybe even the smallest soupçon of pity. I think the ability to feel these things for him allows me to say, in full consideration, that he deserves his fall this week from the grace of the horrible and bigoted. And to continue in that vein, I wish for him the empathy and understanding to realize just how well he’s earned this moment, and to realize how much work he’ll have to undertake to atone for the damage he’s done to others. I don’t expect he’ll actually arrive at that empathy and understanding, mind you. I don’t think he wants that. I wish it for him nonetheless.

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Posted by Phil Plait

Jupiter and Earth to scale

A group of astronomers is proposing a new definition of what a "planet" is, which would now include Pluto ... as well as a hundred other solar system objects. This is a definition we want, but is it a definition we need?

Kenneth Arrow has died

Feb. 22nd, 2017 02:52 am
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Posted by Henry

Arrow was a wonderful economist and from all accounts that I’ve heard, a very good guy. Others are much better able to evaluate the technical contribution than I am. Still, It always gave me a little pleasure that the person who had co-discovered the foundational account of general equilibrium, and more than anyone else, had built the basics of social choice theory was a cheerful social democrat. My old co-supervisor, Colin Crouch, told me about the time that he met Arrow at a conference in the Vatican and wandered off together with him to chat about their bemusement at the odd life chances that had brought two left-wing Jewish boys together to roam the corridors of the Catholic Church’s sanctum sanctorum. Arrow was also a one-time Crooked Timber seminar participant – we’re lucky to have had him, and I’m glad of the contact, however slight and glancing, that editing the piece involved.

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Posted by Rebecca Watson

Support more videos like this at patreon.com/rebecca!

Sorta transcript:

Prehistoric Wooly Mammoths About to Be Resurrected, Claim Harvard Scientists!” Holy crap! Wooly mammoths! Harvard! No way is this fake news, right?

Ah, god damn it.

Geneticist George Church is telling news outlets that he’s just two years away from reintroducing the extinct wooly mammoth back to Earth. Gosh, this sounds so familiar but I can’t quite put my finger on why. Could it be because this isn’t the first time we’ve heard this claim?

If you’ll recall, waaaaay back in 2011 a scientist at Kyoto University announced that HE was going to bring back the wooly mammoth within five years. Let’s see, quick back-of-the-envelope math here, carry the one…oh my, five years ago was 2016! So it must have already happened, and Church didn’t even realize! Boy is his face going to be red.

The Kyoto researcher is Dr. Akira Iritani, and some quick Googling led me to the horrific discovery that he has failed to produce a wooly mammoth within five years as promised. He was going to use a technique in which a mouse was cloned from 16-year old frozen tissue, and he was weirdly confident that that trick would work on tissue that’s been frozen for 4,000 years and no longer has a living female member of the species to carry an embryo to term, which would then require an elephant to be the surrogate.

That apparently isn’t working, so Church is attempting to get a mammoth by going the other way — not by starting with mammoth genetic material and putting it in an elephant, but by taking elephant genetic material and tweaking it to look like mammoth genetic material. He’s way more confident than Iritani, because he thinks he’s going to have a little baby mammoth in two years. As I stated many years ago when Iritani first hit the news, I simply cannot wait for my utopian future full of baby mammoths wearing jetpacks.

Over on Medium, John Hawks does a great job of explaining several of the ways in which we will not enjoy that future in two years. He points out that Church has edited 45 elephant genes to be more wooly mammothy, which means Church only has another 4,000 to go. Yikes.

Hawks also answered my main question with Church’s two-year plan — if you want an elephant to give birth to a baby mammoth in two years, you’d better be getting that elephant pregnant right the fuck now, because elephants have a 22-month gestational period. Plus you’d better be getting tons of elephants pregnant, like a serious elephant orgy, because the cloning failure rate is ridiculously high and you’re going to have to sort through a lot of half-formed mutant babies before you find your mammoth.

Hawks points out that that’s because Church doesn’t actually plan to get the mammoth to term — he only wants to make an embryo, which will happen faster but won’t actually show all the wooly mammoth traits that he’s editing the genes to produce, so we won’t actually know how much of a success it is.

There are other problems with the story, so check out Hawks’ full breakdown. Apologies to everyone who, like me, was looking forward to a more mammothy 2019, but we’ll probably have more success knitting fuzzy sweaters for elephants.

To end on a positive note, I got curious and wanted to see if I could find photos of elephants wearing sweaters. Delightfully, I found an elephant rescue in India that gets volunteers to knit sweaters for their weakened elephants to be more comfortable in the cold winter. It’s pretty much the greatest thing ever. Sometimes humans are okay.

Placeholder? Placeholder!

Feb. 21st, 2017 07:15 pm
[syndicated profile] charlie_stross_diary_feed

Yeah, so I haven't been blogging for more than a week. Sorry 'bout that; I had a guest blogger lined up for while I was traveling, but they turned out to be a no-show and I was too busy to take time out from work.

This week's excuse is that "The Delirium Brief" is being typeset twice—separately for the US and UK releases—and the US page proofs landed in my inbox with a thud and a very short deadline which is going to keep me busy for the rest of this week once I'm over the jetlag.

Note that this isn't a separate edit; the US and UK editions were edited and copy-edited in a common process and share the same spelling, grammar, and word-shaped objects. But the US and UK publishers (who are two different companies who just happened to buy the respective territorial rights to publish the work on their own patch) decided to typeset the copy-edited manuscript independently of one another, which means I need to check a second set of page proofs for errors. It a while to plough through a 400 page book; even if you're just treating it as a reading text and can read at a page a minute, that's nearly seven hours—and checking page proofs for typos and errors is somewhat slower and more laborious. (Normally one publisher takes the lead on production and the others just buy in the typesetting files, but because of [REDACTED] that ain't viable this time round, hence the last-minute round of extra work.)

So normal blogging will probably wait until next week, and I'm going to be scarce in the comments for a bit.

Oh, that reminds me: some of you are wondering if I had any trouble entering the United States, right?

The answer to that is "not really"—the usual questions asked by the Immigration officer at the airport has merely grown by one ("Have you visited any of these countries: Syria, Iraq ..."), and by the time my interrogator got to "Afghanistan" I was visibly finding it so hard not to snigger that he just shrugged and waved me through.

But leaving the United States was a little more troubling.

I always opt out of being scanned by a body scanner on general principle; I think it's an annoying, ineffective, intrusive waste of time and I want to signal my disapproval by not cooperating. The TSA have a set theatrical routine for dealing with opt-outs that requires you to stand in the naughty corner while someone shouts "we've gotta male opt-out!" and some other poor guy has to pull on latex gloves and give you a massage.

It turns out that a couple of weeks ago the TSA rolled out a new pat down process that seems designed to ... well, some folks would pay good money for it, but the main effect seems to be intended to embarrass and deter body-shy people from opting out. I am not body-shy, at least in well-understood/controlled circumstances like a search at a security checkpoint or a naturist club, so the main effect in my case was to embarrass the dude following the orders to pat down my crotch.

But I think it's highly suggestive that this idiotic measure surfaced while everyone was agitated over Trump's ban on people entering the USA from majority-muslim countries that weren't major Trump business partners, and I am now wondering: what other low-key "administrative measures" slid by under the radar while we were all distracted by one act or another in the Washington DC puppet show?

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Posted by Jennifer Kesler

A few days ago, I read Why Does Dating Men Make Me Feel Like Shit? by Emma Lindsay. It stuck with me. It got me thinking, and kept me thinking. It felt like a conversation where you and a friend are fumbling toward an answer, but you never quite get there. Your friend veers off […]

The post Reaction: feeling ashamed when dating men appeared first on The Hathor Legacy.

[syndicated profile] badastronomy_feed

Posted by Phil Plait


Sometime between 2012 and 2016 a one-meter wide asteroid slammed into the surface of Mars, creating one the planet's youngest impact craters.

The Big Idea: Meg Elison

Feb. 21st, 2017 01:42 pm
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Posted by John Scalzi

Ideals are a great thing, if you can afford them. In The Book of Etta, award-winning writer Meg Elison takes a look at ideals and what they cost, and who can afford to have them in a world where ideals are very dear indeed.


There comes a time in the life of every idealist when they must come to terms with real life. Many of us find ourselves in this terrifying era with unpleasant tasks ahead: conversations with racist family members on Facebook are just the beginning. Over and over we have to confront the reality that we are not on a non-stop flight, headed inevitably toward progress. A more apt metaphor would be that we are rowing arduously upstream toward progress, and many of our fellow rowers are openly wearing MAGA hats and rowing backward, or else nurturing secret misinformation and grievances and choosing not to row at all.

The Book of Etta is about an idealist. It’s about a fighter, a queer survivor who wants to kill fascists, free slaves, and give no quarter. However, Etta learns to row for progress alongside people who see progress differently, and are willing to obtain it by any means necessary.

That essential conflict is the Big Idea in The Book of Etta that I’d like to share, because it’s one that plagued me while I was writing it and plagues me still.

If you can free a slave by buying them, have you done enough good to negate your own support of the slave trade? If the women in your village are safe and cared for, but not allowed to leave or speak in your presence, are they free? If they’re better off than most, is that enough? If you venerate motherhood and treat all mothers with respect, isn’t that enough to make sure that all women choose that path? If humanity is in danger of extinction, isn’t it only fair to suppress same-sex love?

Etta’s answers to all of the above are no, no, and no. She inhabits a world of absolutes and cannot reconcile herself to compromises or to accepting what is good enough or safe enough or too important to question.

Etta meets Flora, who inhabits a world with no absolutes where each of these questions must be weighed against survival. An apprentice to a slaver herself, Flora understands the trade. A subject to fascist regimes, she makes allowances and avoids conflict as a way to keep out of trouble. Flora would rather live than insist on her principles, while Etta is ready to die on every hill she climbs.

I began as a writer, as a woman, as a person in that idealistic mode. I wanted to be the guy who stood in front of a tank in Tiananmen Square and said no, things must not go on this way. What my public school education did not show me was the aftermath of that moment: Tank Man was dragged into the crowd by friends who knew it was better to live and fight another day than be flattened into another martyr, another statement, another idealist lost.

I had to face the idea that we need each other, that we are better off rowing together, even arrhythmically and begrudgingly, than we are on our own. We are capable of more if our friends keep us from becoming street pizza beneath fascist tanks.

Etta has to learn that, too, but for her the stakes are higher. Etta is born into a world created out of my terror and dread; a world where the tanks just keep rolling and most people row backwards and we all stop fighting the current.

But Etta’s fight never ends, and her book is just beginning.


The Book of Etta: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Visit the author’s blog. Follow her on Twitter.

Quick Note re: Comments

Feb. 21st, 2017 01:22 am
[syndicated profile] scalziwhatever_feed

Posted by John Scalzi

It is:

My spam filter seems to be unusually aggressive recently and more legit comments are finding their way there; I just released a bunch. So if for some reason you’ve been trying to comment and your comment doesn’t appear, don’t panic, I’m (probably) not intentionally moderating you, it’s just a hyperactive spam filter. It’s not personal, in other words.

[syndicated profile] skepchick_feed

Posted by Rebecca Watson

Support more videos like this at patreon.com/rebecca!

Sorta transcript:

Ladies, are you sick and tired of dealing with your periods? Does being a woman make you too stupid to fix the problem of your uterine lining sloughing out of your body once a month? Well, good news! A male chiropractor has invented the product that will finally free us from the tyranny of tampons: it’s glue, so you can literally glue your stupid vagina shut.

First of all I want to make it very clear that this is not a joke. Dan Dopps, a chiropractor from Witchita Kansas, has a patent and is actively promoting this product on Facebook. The product doesn’t appear to actually exist yet, but since when does that stop any quack from trying to make money?

Second of all, I want to point out that Dopps’ own brother, Brad Dopps, who is also a chiropractor, says that Dan is “insane.” Normally that would mean I wouldn’t talk about any of this, but screw it. I’m sick of talking about politics and Dan is a woman-hating asshole marketing possibly fraudulent and most assuredly dangerous pseudoscientific garbage. So let’s discuss it.

Dopps calls his company “Mensez.” It may be pronounced “Men-seez” but really, is there anything more fitting for an idiotic product marketed to women by a man who has no idea what he’s doing than calling it “Men-sez”?

The product in question is a glue stick. Dopps wants women to smear it on their labia in order to shut the blood and tissue inside. In his imagination, the glue would come un-stuck when exposed to urine, so simply peeing would open up the vagina and allow all the materials to come out. He compares it to waking up with your lips (on your face) stuck shut and needing to wet them with saliva from the inside to unstick them. That’s never happened to me, but okay. So you pee, all the blood and tissue comes out, and then you reapply the glue. Ta-da! Our menstrual woes are over.

You may have already thought of several problems with this. For a start, women don’t pee out of our vaginas. The urine would unglue the labia at the urethra, but then it would need to work its way over to the vagina in order to work. What if a few messy drops of urine on the outside aren’t enough to disengage the glue? Do you pry your vagina open with a butter knife?

There’s also the issue of putting a foreign substance anywhere near your vagina and then sealing it in. The vagina is a remarkable, self-cleaning instrument, but only if you don’t, you know, stick mysterious manmade chemicals into it and then seal it off. That’s a recipe for yeast infections or bacterial vaginosis, which can lead to even more serious problems like infertility.

You may have noticed I referred to Dobbs as a woman-hater, and that may be confusing. After all, he’s trying to solve a problem for women! Well, over on his company’s Facebook page, he has responded to early criticism with the following screed:

“I am a man and you as a woman, should have come up with a better solution then diapers and plugs, but you didn’t. Reason being women are focused on and distracted by your period 25% of the time, making them far less productive then they could be.”

By “diapers” he’s referring to pads, by “plugs” I assume he means tampons, and by “distracted by your period 25% of the time” he means he’s never actually met or talked to a woman.

If he had, he would know several things. First, that pads and panty liners are nothing like diapers, and that now we can get underwear that does that job perfectly anyway. Second, he’d know that menstrual cups exist for women who don’t like using tampons. They keep material inside until you go to the bathroom, without gluing your vagina shut.

Third, he’d know that blood coming out of our bodies is but one relatively minor inconvenience associated with menstruation. I’m loathe to bring this up, but has he heard of period shits? Thanks to a number of factors, pooping becomes a total hassle on your period: the uterus presses against the colon, and hormones can fluctuate in a way that leads to constipation and diarrhea.

Now that he knows about period shits, I assume he’ll start working on a way to glue the anus shut for a few days at least.

In the meanwhile, he’s taken down the company Facebook page, probably due to the flood of mockery that’s being visited upon him. The evil part of me hopes that he doesn’t give up and maybe goes on Shark Tank to get funding, just so I can see him mocked in front of a larger audience. But I know that even the most obviously ridiculous and dangerous quackery will attract a few eager customers, so it’s probably best to just hope that Dopps gives up on Mensez and goes back to his other patents for bottle caps and resealable snack bags.

[syndicated profile] scalziwhatever_feed

Posted by John Scalzi

CONTENT WARNING: Features liverwurst, and the end times.

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Posted by robinince

It is strange to look down at my hands and realise they are now older than Mick Ronson’s ever were?
I share a birthday with Kurt Cobain, though I have celebrated twenty-one more than him now.
What have I managed to achieve in the years that he has not had?
I was certainly more violently booed at Glastonbury than he would have been if he had appeared there in 1998.
“Teenage dreams so hard to beat…”
I don’t believe that mid-life crises are caused by a new awareness of your proximity to death, but in the knowledge that you are further away from the self you imagined when you and your friends would lie awake, late into the dark, and imagine where you would be when you had the freedom to be who you wanted to be.
It’s 29 years since I was a teenager.
The problem with childhood dreams is that you see the poster with your name on, or the partner with the ring you gave them, but you don’t see the intricacies. This is why pop stars can whine so much when they seem to have everything. They imagined if they achieved idol status, then they would metamorphosise into a new being, but they are still stuck with being themselves except when the drugs are very strong.
My feet have walked for more than two decades longer than Otis Redding.
I have had the time, but not the inclination, to kill for five years longer than Ted Bundy.
I stopped writing poetry by choice, mine and other people’s, while younger than Lord Byron’s death age, but had I continued with the twelve years extra I have had so far, I still don’t think I’d be of interest to Faber and Faber.

When I lay in that bed, wondering who I would be, I hoped I would be a stand up comedian.
That happened.
By 25 years old, it was my life.
Sometimes I try to lift up this parochial cosmological shutter and see what else I could have been, but I don’t have the imagination to see any alternatives.

I have a child now, who I’ll try not to fuck up.
And a wife who I’ll try not to upset too much.

I once saw Barry Humphries performing as Sandy Stone, the soft suburban man of gentle melancholy, he spoke of trying to find time to tell his wife he loved her, but he was always too busy saying sorry.

Samuel Beckett becomes observational comedy at 48. It becomes funnier the dustier you become.

The modern mid-life crisis requires a different disdain for contemporary culture. It was the aggressive choppy guitars of rebellion or remixed beats per minute that disturbed the middle aged of the mid to late twentieth century. Some could curse the cacophony by explaining that they had fought a war for you and the imagined noise of youth in the Foxhole was never Sham 69.
Now the middle aged are angry about the mundanity of TV and the insipid tunes of conformity and computer generated lost love lyrics.

It’s not what they watch so much as how they watch it, heads down, earphones in, striding blindly down the high street.

It’s harder to curse the youth because the elders do it too.

My nostalgia was nostalgia when I saw it first. Sitting with my dad, watching The Avengers or Callan or trying to name the actor between Cecil Parker and Alastair Sim on the boating pond.

When I was at school, I would have a horrible dream in the first week of the summer holiday. It would be over already and I would be saying, “no no, we’ve only had a week, it can’t be time to go back yet”. I would wake up with an incredible sense of relief after I checked the school bus wasn’t waiting by the stop. But then I’d stop observing the days and suddenly they really would be gone and it really was the end. It was like the crash zoom final shot of a horror movie. And that is how it feels now. Will I stop paying attention and suddenly be weak-legged and on a drip.
During the holidays, I try and make myself bored so the time went slower, but then a tree would look particularly appealing to climb, and then it was toast toppers and another day done.

I am fortunate, my life is rarely boring, which is why I don’t like the sense of missing it as it goes by.
Tonight, I will engage with it by doing my first solo show for sometime at the Leicester Comedy Festival, and then I’ll panic over a book deadline. These are things I hoped for when i was young and now I have them. Lucky.
I won’t drink too much because I have reached the age where there are things to be done. Well, I might have a couple of extra shorts. I wonder what Mick Ronson would have been doing tonight?

I will be touring Australia and New Zealand with chums, including Josie Long. Dates and details are here http://www.cosmicshambles.com (you can also find recordings of the live Q&As Brian Cox and I did on tour in 2016)

[syndicated profile] scalziwhatever_feed

Posted by John Scalzi

On Saturday night Krissy and I went and saw Hamilton in New York. This was a moment greatly anticipated by a large number of my friends who had seen the show (or at least listened to the soundtrack) had fallen head over heels in love with it, and who wanted to induct me into their Hamiltonian cult. I had previously refused to listen to the cast album of the show, choosing to go into it fresh (although only to a point — I obviously knew who Alexander Hamilton was, and I had read the Ron Chernow book that Lin-Manuel Miranda used as a basis for his play), so Saturday was my entrance into the congregation. Having been thus baptized, I would now be available for Hamilton sing-alongs and arguments as to which Schuyler sister was the best and so on.

Having now seen Hamilton, here’s what I have to say about it:

One, it is in fact really good. I see why all my friends went nuts for it, and also why it won all the awards it did and propelled Lin-Manuel Miranda into the stratosphere of celebrity. It’s all entirely deserved. I suppose I could quibble here and there if I was feeling contrary — the play is notably episodic, particularly in the second act, and some characters and plot points are jammed in and then dropped out, which suggests the play could have been more tightly edited — but one can always quibble on details and miss out on the overall effect of a work, which in this case is significant. I hugely enjoyed myself, and was thrilled in particular with the second half of the first act. I’d see it again, surely.

Two, I don’t love Hamilton like my friends love Hamilton. This is not the fault of the play, nor a matter of me being contrarian to be contrary, and choosing not to love that which my friends love, simply because it’s already gotten all their love. It’s because of something that I already knew about myself, which is that generally speaking I have a level of emotional remove from a lot of live action musicals, both in theater and in film. I can like them and enjoy them, and certainly admire the craft and skill that goes into making them, but I don’t always engage with them emotionally. A really good live action musical can easily capture my brain, but in my experience they rarely capture my heart.

Why? The short answer is a lot of live action musicals exist in the emotional equivalent of the Uncanny Valley for me — an unsweet spot where the particular artifices of musicals make me aware of their artificiality. The longer answer is I’m perfectly willing to engage in live musicals intellectually — and why wouldn’t I, says the writer of science fiction, a genre with its own slate of artifices — but seem to have trouble with them emotionally. Live humans stepping outside of their lived experience to burst into a song directed to an audience pretty much always makes my suspension of disbelief go “bwuh?”, and then I’m not lost in the story, I’m aware I’m a member of an audience. That sets me at a remove.

Which is, to be clear, entirely on me. This is my quirk, and not an indictment of live action musicals. They clearly work perfectly well for large numbers of people, who do not suffer from my own issues regarding emotional engagement with the form. Nor does it mean I don’t enjoy musicals in general. I do. Not being at 100% with musicals doesn’t mean that the experience is like ashes in my mouth. Getting 90% of the effect of a musical can still be pretty great, and was, in the case of Hamilton. It does mean, however, that the fervor so many of my friends feel about a really great musical is usually not something I feel.

Interestingly, in my experience the way for me to engage emotionally in a musical is to add more artifice to it. For example, I’m a sucker for animated musicals — I think Beauty and the Beast is one of the best musical films of all time, The Nightmare Before Christmas is a brilliant operetta, and Moana, whose songs were written or co-written by Miranda, made me cry where Hamilton didn’t — precisely because the animated format adds another layer of willing suspension of disbelief. I mean, if you’re willing to accept talking candelabras, or skeleton kings or the ocean as a comic foil, it’s not that hard to accept characters breaking out into song, either.

Likewise, I have an easier time with funny musicals — or more accurately, musicals intended to be comedies as well (Hamilton has several funny moments, including the bits with King George, but is not meant to be a comedy). I enjoyed the hell out of The Producers and The Book of Mormon and Spamalot because they were fundamentally ridiculous anyway, so the breaking out into song doesn’t pull me out the way it does with more serious musical work.

Going the other direction — movies with songs in them which yet are not musicals — also works for me too. Strictly Ballroom (the film) feels like a musical and yet isn’t, and I love it insensibly. The concert film Stop Making Sense is a perfect film, from my point of view; watching it is like going to church. And I’m looking forward to Sing Street because everything about it suggests I’ll get the thrill watching it like I got watching The Commitments back in the 90s.

Again, this is about my quirks, not an argument that, say, Hamilton would have been better as Hamilton!, a funny farce where a zany founding father gets into all sorts of hilarious hijinx with his best ol’ frenemy Aaron Burr. It wouldn’t have (although I have no doubt now that someone will try it). It’s merely to the point that for whatever reason, a lot of live action musicals exist in a place I can’t get fully emotionally engaged with it. I find that interesting, and wonder if I’m alone in this.

The real irony? Not only did I perform in musical theater as a kid (and enjoyed it! And would do it again!) I’d kind of like to write a musical one day. Not to say “you people have been doing musicals all wrong, this is how you do it” because, yeah, no, I’m not that asshole. But because I think Redshirts in particular would make a damn fine musical, of the funny sort, and because I know I appreciate and engage with science fiction better, having written science fiction, so who knows? Maybe that trick will work again in another genre and medium. Or (actually “and”), maybe I should just go and see more musicals. That would probably help too.

In the meantime: Hamilton is excellent, as advertised. Go see it when you can. I’m not likely to join the HamilCult, but that shouldn’t dissuade you, should you be of a mind to.

(Also: Angelica Schuyler was the best Schuyler sister. I mean, come on.)

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Posted by Phil Plait

SpaceX Falcon 9 booster landing

SpaceX successfully launched a Falcon 9 rocket on their tenth resupply mission to the International Space Station. The first stage booster also made a dramatic landing, this time on solid ground as it punched right through a low cloud deck.

Amazing Spider-Man #19

Feb. 19th, 2017 11:57 pm
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Posted by Andrew Rilstone

Spidey Strikes Back! 

Sandman, the Enforcers 

Supporting Cast: 
Aunt May, Liz Allan, J.Jonah Jameson, Betty Brant, Flash Thompson, Ned Leeds, “Wormly” 

Guest Stars: 
The Human Torch, again. 


p6: “I couldn’t take a chance on ever having to eat someone else’s pancakes” 
“Wheatcakes” are simply pancakes made with buckwheat flour, so these are presumably the same breakfast food that Peter Parker liked so much in Amazing Fantasy # 15.

p9 “All hail the Spider, a hardy breed is he”. 
This sound like it should be a parody of a popular song, but I can’t work out what he has in mind: can anyone help? 

p9 “Hey, Amscray, you guys” 
More Pig Latin (Amscray = Scram = Scramble I.e “Everyone run away!”) 

p17 “You sure took your own sweet time about freeing me” 
“Count your blessings, mister.” 
These are both arguably references to hymns. (”Father, lead me day by day / ever in thy own sweet way” “Count your blessings, one by one.”) Perhaps part of the Spider-Man / Torch feud is a clash between their Jewish and Protestant heritages? 

Peter Parker’s Financial Position: 
Jameson thinks that the pictures of Spider-Man fighting the Enforcers are “sensational”; so he probably gets the same $2,000 he did for the pictures of the Vulture.

One of the wrongest things which has ever been said (by Andrew Garfield, among others) is that Spider-Man is a Christ figure. 

The Jesus-story is about a divine being who condescends to come down to earth from heaven to be our Saviour. That’s why characters like the Silver Surfer and Adam Warlock and Superman (who have supernatural origins and come from the sky) find it so hard to avoid being Christ-like. 

Spider-Man doesn’t descend from heaven; he pulls him self up from the earth. On webs. Which he made in his bedroom. His story is about an all-too-human Everyman who struggles to do what is right with the hand that life has dealt him. His situation isn’t fundamentally different from anyone yours or mine. If it were, we wouldn’t be very interested in it. 

Throughout 1963 and 1964 one of the key themes of the comic has been perseverance. Spider-Man gets knocked down, but he gets back up again. Up until now, this has largely consisted of Spider-Man being beaten defeated by a baddie but coming back and beating the baddie on the second attempt. But it is now going to take a slightly new — and much more inward looking — form. From now on the formula is going to be:

  • Spider-Man suffers a set-back
  • Spider-Man despairs
  • Spider-Man quits being Spider-Man
  • Spider-Man changes his mind and swears that he will remain Spider-Man forever. 
The story is there in embryo in Spider-Man Annual #1, when Peter wishes his powers away; and it forms the moral center of the triptych. It will crop up over and over again for the rest of the comic's history (most notably in Spider-Man #50, which forms the basis for the second and best Spider-Man movie. )

And most versions of the story do indeed contain a de prefundis moment. 

Long before Joseph Campbell turned the whole thing into colossal bore, Northrop Frye (a proper literary critic, who was examined by C.S Lewis) had argued that heroic stories typically have a V shaped pattern of descent and ascent. This could be literal — a hero might go down and face an enemy in a cave, or a dungeon, or an undersea base, or a giant glass fish-bowl and then come up into the light. But it could also be metaphorical — a hero might descend to the depths of despair and then have his faith and confidence restored. That “V” movement of descent and ascent does have a structural resemblance to Christ’s Passion and Resurrection, even if the hero in question is very un-Christ-like indeed. Frye called these kinds of romances Secular Scriptures, although perhaps he would have been better off saying that the Gospels are sacred romances. 

Many of Spider-Man’s greatest adventures clearly do have that “V” shaped structure. And many of his finest moments do take place at the nadir of the “V”. It’s when he doesn’t have any powers and faces Electro anyway that he is most like Spider-Man; it is when he has chucked his Spider-Costume in the dustbin that he realizes who he irreducibly is. The Sinister Six story has a moment when he very nearly calls out "my powers, my powers, why have you forsaken me?"


Spider-Man 19 is not as highly regarded as the other two stories in the triptych: but it is essential, and a marvelous comic in its own right. Together, the three parts show us the fall and rise of Spider-Man in beautiful slow motion. Amazing Spider-Man #17 showed us Spider-Man humiliating himself in front of the biggest audience possible; #18 showed us him at the very depths of despair; so issue #19 has to show us a truly confident Spidey bouncing back, and even showing the Human Torch a thing or two. 

Stan Lee’s claims about “non stop action” would normally presage an extended fight scene — but the truth is that this issue is more violent and kinetic than the comic has been in months. Ditko seems to be reveling in the Spider-Man-ness of Spider-Man. The character can too easily become merely a strong guy with a web-shooter-full of plot devices; but Ditko spends this issue thinking of new poses for Spider-Man to strike and new angles to look at him from. Instead of taking it for granted, we keep being surprised and delighted by the fact that Peter Parker can stick to walls.

Look at pages 12 and 13: Spider-Man is in every panel, and every panel puts him in an imaginative pose: crouched on the wall outside Jameson’s office; hanging upside down to interrogate the hood; caught mid leap, letting go of a web at the apex of a swing and propelling himself forward, feet first. Panel 4 on page 13 has Spidey swinging straight at us: an iconic image that would be used over and over again both in the movies and the TV series. If you ever imagined that Spider-Man was just a hipper, younger version of Superman then you need to look at these pages, and see the uniqueness of the character. It’s all in the energy. There is a realism here that even Kirby would struggle to compete with. (An apparent realism, at any rate: a circus performer or a gymnast could tell us which of Spider-Man's maneuvers are physically possible.) 

Look at the choreography of the fight against the Enforcers and the thugs on page 8: Spider-Man on the ceiling, on all fours. Spider-Man spotted by the Enforcers, now sticking to the ceiling with just his feet. Ox throwing Montana at Spider-Man, knocking him down. Spider-Man landing in a handstand position; three thugs running at him from different directions; Spider-Man springing up again so the thugs knock each other out. Granted, the “jumping away from two guys who are running at you” motif has been used before: and it probably works better in slapstick than an actual fight. But quite brilliantly, Montana catches Spider-Man in his lasso as he jumps — so Spider-Man escapes from one peril (the thugs) and into another (Montana) in a single frame. 

It would be an interesting exercise for an artist to redraw these twelve panels (pages 8 and 9) in a more contemporary, decompressed style. I suspect that it would be impossible. The action probably wouldn’t make realistic or cinematic sense: Ditko thinks in terms of individual frames, and the whole thing would break down if you had to work out where everyone is standing. (What happens to the bodies of the thugs Spider-Man knocks out?) An 11 panel fight in which slightly more is happening than you can easily keep track of is precisely what is necessary to to create the sense of exhilaration which Ditko is aiming at. It's the sensation of being released, the feeling that Spider-Man is now free and can do anything he likes… 

Spider-Man’s dialogue reflects the pictures. It’s punchy, it’s funny, and it confirms that Spider-Man has embraced his identity and is having a good time. We sometimes criticize Stan Lee for being too wordy; we sometimes point out that dialogue which would take ten or fifteen seconds to speak is superimposed over a frame representing a fraction of a second of action. But it isn’t really possible to imagine a Spider-Man fight without a running commentary — 

“Ha! I thought that would rattle ya a little!” 
“You were right, meathead! It did rattle me..but just a little!” 

Lee and Ditko are delivering on the promise made at the end of last issue. Spider-Man really has dropped the self-pity. He’s kind and funny with Aunt May ("what’s a pretty young girl doing here in my Aunt May’s kitchen?") relaxed with Flash Thompson ("I heard the whole routine before, I could recite it by heart!") and only mildly unpleasant to J.J.J. ("Sometimes, I suspect that man just doesn’t like me!"). Betty remarks that “he seems to have a new confidence in himself”. 

As a story, though, there is not very much to it. The Sandman, who Spider-Man ran away from last issue, teams up with reliable division-two baddies the Enforcers to kidnap the Human Torch. They cleverly use asbestos rope to pull him down; chemical foam to douse his flame; before Sandman deposits him in a specially constructed glass jar – which lets in just enough air to keep Johnny alive, but not quite enough to let him 'Flame On'. (It would be interesting to know who constructed all this hardware — the Judo expert, the Big Strong Guy, the Rope Trick Guy, or the Habitual Thug Who Never Finished High School?) But of course, Spider-Man comes along and rescues the Torch -- which is a kind of pay-back for all the times he's been upstaged by him.

Perhaps the highlight of the whole comic — of the whole trilogy — is Jameson falling on his arse one more time. He spent the whole of last issue with a terrible grin on his face, telling Betty to forgive Peter for apparently two-timing him, and telling his “loyal employees” they were welcome to ask their “tender hearted employer” for help and advice. He hears that Spider-Man is back in action just before he is supposed to give a lecture entitled “How I proved that Spider-Man is a cowardly fraud.” The three-frame sequence in which the smile falls from his face — eyes drooping, frown lines appearing — is a little masterpiece. (It also reminds us that olden days arts could do decompression if they wanted to.) When we next see Jonah, he’s wondering if he’s “too old to join the foreign legion.” 

In January 1964, Spider-Man threw away his glasses and punched Flash Thompson. The Return of the Green Goblin, The End of Spider-Man and Spidey Strikes Back bring the year to a triumphant end. They tell us the tale of a hero who loses his confidence, regains his confidence and bounces back just about as well as it could be told. 

But we are left with a dangling question.

Has whiny Pete really quit the stage for good? Is this new, self-confident Peter going to be who the comic is about from now on? 

Or will we have to go through the whole thing again this time next year? 

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Posted by Mindy

Sunday Funny: Give Ebola a chance. (via Beatrice the Biologist)

Mad Art Lab

America is Grate!
Beth highlights a pattern of behavior in the Trump administration that will make every copy editor cringe.

The Importance of Buying Stuff
Jim argues that there are many ways to use our money in protest.

No to Deportation Police! ¡NO a la Migra!
Amy shows her support for immigrants and encourages you to do the same.

Featured image credit: Fibonacci Blue via Flickr

Leaving New York

Feb. 19th, 2017 02:52 pm
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Posted by John Scalzi

Dear New York: You gave us a delightful weekend, and we loved visiting you, but now I’m afraid we must depart and return to our Ohio environs. Thank you for having us. We’ll be back again, you can be sure.

(Also, for all of you who want a Hamilton review from me, I’ll be posting one probably tomorrow or Tuesday. Tune in then!)

matgb: Artwork of 19th century upper class anarchist, text: MatGB (Default)

British Liberal, house husband, school play leader and stepdad. Campaigner, atheistic feminist, amateur baker. Male.

Known to post items of interest on occasions. More likely to link to interesting stuff. Sometimes talks about stuff he's done. Occasionally posts recipes for good food. Planning to get married, at some point. Enjoying life in Yorkshire.

Likes comments. Especially likes links. Loves to know where people came from and what they were looking for. Mostly posts everything publicly. Sometimes doesn't. Hi.

Mat Bowles

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October 2015


Stuff and nonsense

I'm the Chair of the Brighouse branch of the Liberal Democrats & the membership secretary for Calderdale Lib Dems and run the web campaign for the local candidates. I have a job, a stepdaughter and a life.

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