[syndicated profile] oakland_local_feed

Posted by C.J. Hirschfield

“Read. Debate. Celebrate.”

That’s the credo of the first-ever Oakland Book Festival, a free, public event “dedicated to books, ideas and the pleasures of literacy” to be held May 31 at Oakland City Hall.

Oakland Book Fest photo

But you don’t have to wait until then to satisfy your curiosity. On Thursday, March 5, the festival will hold a special launch event, “Reading Oakland,” in downtown Oakland — and it’s also free and open to the public. The program will feature short excerpts from literature about, or set in, Oakland. I am very pleased to have been asked to recite a poem as part of the event. Other readers will be Desley Brooks, Vikram Chandra, Gary Kamiya, Nayomi Munaweera and Zac Unger. Festival co-directors Kira Brunner Don and Timothy Don — who have spent the last seven years creating and directing Lapham’s Quarterly, a journal of history and ideas — will also be there.

I admit I’m a bit intimidated to be in the company of such talent. Brooks was recently re-elected to a seat on Oakland’s City Council, where she has represented District 6 for 13 years. Chandra, who divides his time between Mumbai and Berkeley, teaches creative writing at Cal and is a nonfiction writer. Oakland-born Kamiya is a writer/editor as well as a columnist at Salon.com, which he co-founded. Oakland-based Munaweera’s first novel is “Islands of a Thousand Mirrors” and she’s currently working on her second. And Unger, who’s been with the Oakland Fire Department as a firefighter and paramedic since 1998, has written two nonfiction books, including “Never Look a Polar Bear in the Eye: A Family Field Trip to the Arctic’s Edge in Search of Adventure, Truth and Mini-Marshmallows.”

Festival organizers Kira and Timothy Don say they want the event to celebrate the City of Oakland and to encourage debate. They already have plans to make it an annual event. More than 60 writers will be in attendance, discussing gentrification, diversity, tolerance, labor, whistle-blowing and prayer.

Just outside City Hall, in Frank Ogawa Plaza, there will be a dedicated children’s area that will feature readings hosted by the Oakland Public Library, book-making projects sponsored by Oakland’s Museum of Children’s Art, and interactive storytelling programs courtesy of Children’s Fairyland. Book vendors and publishers will have tables with merchandise for sale; food trucks will be parked nearby.

“We want to make it possible for adults to bring kids to the festival because we want children to discover as early as possible the thrills of reading and the joys of storytelling,” say Kira and Timothy, who are raising their young children in Oakland after having lived in New York for over a decade.

I asked them: Why Oakland for this ambitious festival?

Their emailed reply: “What was the last city you visited that was sparkling with as much promise, blessed with as much natural beauty, and filled with as many active, engaged, energetic and curious people as Oakland?”

Join us to kick off the first annual Oakland Book Festival at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 5, at Cafe Van Kleef, 1621 Telegraph Ave.

Here is the poem I’ll be reading, Joaquin Miller’s lovely ode to Oakland. Its last word — Arcady — refers to an ideal, rustic paradise. Oakland isn’t there yet, but reading, debating and celebrating might help get us there sooner.

by Joaquin Miller

Thou rose-land! Oakland! thou, mine own!
Thou sun-land! leaf-land! land of seas
Wide crescented in walls of stone!
Thy lion’s mane is to the breeze!
Thy tawny, sunlit lion steeps
Leap forward, as the lion leaps!
And thou, the lion’s whelp, begot
Of Argonauts, in fearful strength
And supple beauty yieldeth naught!
Thine arm is as a river’s length.
Thy reach is foremost! Thou shalt be
The throned queen of this vast west sea!
Yet here sits peace; and rest sits here;
These wide-boughed oaks, they house wise men:
The student and the sage austere,
The men of wondrous thought and ken.
Here men of God in holy guise
Invoke the peace of paradise.
Be this my home till some fair star
Stoops earthward and shall beckon me:
For surely Godland lies not far
From these Greek heights and this great sea.
My friend, my lover, trend this way;
Not far along lies Arcady.

Editor’s Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland.For guidelines, see: http://oaklandlocal.com/guidelines.

For more information on posting to Community Voices, see The word on Oakland Local’s Community Voices posts.

[syndicated profile] oakland_local_feed

Posted by Simone Larson

Oakland’s homicide rate: we study it, write about it, talk about it, and in some devastating cases, experience it. News anchors report on it without even blinking — a string of words that, when iterated time after time again, can become more an assemblage of sounds than an urgent symbol of our city’s well-being.

Like with all horrible things that happen in the world, we want answers on how stop it. We know that socioeconomic, cultural, and political factors are all moving parts of what leads to crime. Homicide numbers in Oakland have been decreasing over the past few years, but has Oakland found a definite strategy to alleviate these factors that we can point to as a cause for drops in numbers?

There have been many studies and reports aiming to gauge patterns in Oakland’s fluctuating homicide numbers, mainly to see which community and city interventions, if any, are working. Nicole Lee, executive director of Urban Peace Movement notes that, “It’s such a multi-layered issue. The economy could be a determinant of the homicide rate, but then there’s local conflict and retaliation which is harder to predict.”

At the height of the crack epidemic of the ’90s, Lee said, Oakland along with many major cities across the nation saw a directly correlated spike in violent crime.

As of the new year, there have been 16 homicides in Oakland, the most recent having been the shooting of 14-year-old Davon Ellis on February 28th. While Oakland’s homicide numbers have been on a downward trend, this year so far has seen the highest number of aggravated assaults since 2009.

This begs the question then — does a lower homicide rate necessarily mean a less violent city?

Josie Halpern-Finnerty, program planner at Oakland Unite, explains: “Homicides are a useful indicator of what’s happening with violence because the data is usually very well tracked. It’s important to look at other indicators as well, like shooting incidents or other types of violence, like domestic violence, within aggravated assault, but homicides and aggravated assaults do tend to track pretty well together over time.”

It seems like population size has little to do with amount of murders but could correspond with amount of violence: For the months of January and February, 2009 had 8 homicides and 2010 had 7. When Oakland’s population dropped by about 17,500 people in 2010, the number of reported aggravated assaults was nearly half that of 2009’s YTD.

Frank Zimring, a UC Berkeley criminal law professor, points out in this article that there’s always been this “see-saw” semblance of homicide numbers in Oakland.

“Predicting who will commit murder is nearly impossible,” says Sanjay Marway, assistant professor of criminal justice administration at CSU East Bay. Marway highlighted a study done by University of Texas at Dallas that suggests two distinguishing commonalities in people who commit murder: having a lower IQ and having been exposed to violence.

“Any prediction of crime is situational — looking at what’s likely to increase the probabilities of violent crime. We have to look at characteristics present in particular situations strongly associated with violence,” says Marwah.

Halpern-Finnerty speaks to the success of Oakland Unite’s programs. “Our evaluators look at re-arrest rates for participants to get a sense of whether programs are having their intended effect. Only 20 percent of our participants had a re-arrest within the following two years of their involvement with the program.” In California, 60 percent of people are re-arrested in the year following their release date.

Though we can’t substantiate what exactly it is that definitely subdues violent crime and homicide rates across the board, Oakland continues to design new strategies and tweak existing ones in hopes to turn the tables in favor of collective safety and security.

“Although Oakland has seen a reduction in our homicide rate in recent years, typically it remains 3 to 6 times the state average. We’ve had a fairly stable problem with homicide for many years,” Halpern-Finnerty acknowledges. “Being able to shift that trend will take sustained efforts on a number of levels.”

[syndicated profile] oakland_local_feed

Posted by Sophia Hussain

The guys behind the light and sound of some of Downtown Oakland’s most successful music and art venues of the early 2000’s are now setting the stage for growth in one of the core parts of Oakland–Uptown, Downtown and the Lake Merritt district. Steve Snider, District Manager of the jointly managed Lake Merritt and Downtown Oakland community benefit districts (CBDs), and his business partner, Andrew Jones of Oakland Venue Management, have progressed over the past ten years or so from running events in Oakland spaces to making things happen in one of Oakland’s most rapidly evolving areas.

Though the journey from running nonprofit art spaces to CBD district management may be unconventional, Snider and Jones describe it as a natural transition.

“Oakland is a small town,” Jones said. “It’s big, but it’s really small and there are a lot of crossed paths and cross pollination of projects. Every single thing we’ve ever done has never been plotted out. And [CBDs are] like big venues–the financial statements for a district are almost identical to those done when running events.”

The outgoing Snider and the quieter Jones, the duo behind major Oakland venues of the early ‘00s, such as the Oakland Box Theater2232 MLK—and, for a brief two years–the Historic Sweet Ballroom—had operated Oakland Venue Management since 2008, and saw an opportunity to step up their activity in 2009 when CBDs entered the Oakland scene.

“At the time, we had just started street festivals,” Snider said. “We were dabbling in street festival production world and part of that work was working with various business districts in Oakland.”

 According to Jones, Snider worked at the bottom of the totem pole as an administrative assistant to get access to the CBDs.

 “Long story short we got our foot in the door…and they started to sort of groom us,” Snider said. “We had an opportunity to be mentored into the role over the first few years of operation.”

 Now entering in their third year of exclusive management of strategy and operations for Lake Merritt and Downtown Oakland, Snider is vocal about the role CBDs play in providing baseline services to local business, workers, and residents that city governments have historically provided, but often do not anymore.

“Who is the contact in the city that can help bring some consequences to bear from behavior that is not helping the Downtown?” he asked, explaining that he sees the CBD as the becomes the eyes and ears for the police department, as well as a watchdog for absentee landlords.

It was through operating art and music venues that Snider witnessed firsthand the radical change community art spaces could impact. Though Snider said that Oakland has always had a lot of talent, the Downtown of the ‘00s didn’t take advantage of that.

“Pretty much until about 2009, downtown Oakland—which didn’t have an Uptown at the time—was a ghost town on nights and weekends,” he said. “We’re in the middle of this seven million-person metropolis, right near San Francisco, and in all the middle of this, and yet there’s tumbleweeds on Saturdays and Sundays and no one walking around on the evenings except when we’d open and have great community events,” he said.

With the opening of the Box Theater in 2001, Snider turned a formerly blighted storefront into a hub for artistic activity. Inspired by Berkeley’s La Peña Cultural Center, he sought to use the platform of a nonprofit art space to create a new narrative with art.

“It all really snowballed after opening the door for the poetry slam,” he said.

The Box Theater was famous for its Thursday Night event series, and the list of performers and artists the space attracted is like flipping through a before they were famous yearbook. The Box Theater helped start the careers of Chinaka Hodge and Ise Lyfe, among others.

“If you put enough people in the room, a larger story will emerge when you allow people to express themselves creatively,” Snider said. “That’s what I felt my role was in Oakland, opening the doors and making a stage available and an art gallery available for people to express themselves.”

Though the trajectory of his career has transitioned to managing a growing business district , Snider says that he still dreams of creating a new incarnation of the Oakland Box Theater, which is currently a dormant nonprofit.

“We learned the hard way that people don’t fund venue-specific, they fund programs,” Snider said. “When I was doing the Box project or any of these other venues, it was so grassroots and we were working with the community arts and activist community, and you never [knew] who’s in all these skyscrapers around here…we didn’t have any relationships with those kind of folks” he said. “But we did know that…we were doing something these districts really valued, which is creating a vibrant community and activating storefronts.”

Treating the city as a venue, Jones said that he and Snider want to make Oakland a premier destination for the world.

“Certainly what were tying to do is foster an environment that’s a community based on justice, ecology, sustainability and opportunity for everybody in this whole town,” Jones said. “Of course we’re not going to do it all on our own, but we can be a player at a table. The work will probably never be done but it will be fun to try.”

The ethos of the early community venues sticks.

“Let the community artistically direct itself,” Snider said. “Provide lights and a venue; you’ll be incredibly inspired by the voice that the community has.”

(no subject)

Mar. 3rd, 2015 09:43 am
the_rck: figure perched in a tree with barren branches (Default)
[personal profile] the_rck
I wrote three or four hundred words yesterday, and I'm not entirely sure what happens next. It really depends on how much I want to emphasize that a couple of characters are not at all nice people. I have an idea for that, but I'm not sure I want to use it. It might be a distraction. Parts of this story are already darker than I expected.

I would like to write more today, but I need to link find for [community profile] metanews, and I'm not sure how long that will take. We're having severe issues with being under-staffed and not being able to cover everything. I would really rather not take on more link finding responsibility because what I do now, half the Feedly blog list and all of Pinboard, already takes two to four hours a week. This is my week to post the entry, but I won't do that until later in the week (we aim for Wednesdays, but more often than not, we've ended up posting on Fridays), and it doesn't take more than about forty five minutes.

Scott had a rough day at work yesterday. He was completely exhausted, and he never got his second break (I don't know about first break or lunch). Tuesdays are usually unpleasant, too, because he pulls carts all day, so I expect him to be worn out tonight, too.

I need to bake sweet potatoes tonight. We've had them for about three weeks, and I keep forgetting them until it's too late in the evening. They need about an hour in the oven, so remembering them at 6:30 means not cooking them that day. We've got regular potatoes that I could roast, too, but I think I should do the sweet potatoes first as we've had them longer.

Cordelia wants us to buy her some 'spirit wear' for her school. I don't object, in principle, but it's going to be annoying to deal with because the PTO hasn't given clear instructions for how to do it. I've got until the 13th to figure it out. I'll probably order her a t-shirt. She's more likely to wear that than she is to wear a sweatshirt.

They did have buses to take the kids home from school yesterday. According to what I've heard, the problem in the morning was that too many bus drivers called in sick. They apparently have different drivers in the afternoon and so were able to get the kids home. We were going to have Cordelia's friend and her brother over if the buses hadn't been running. The school district has not renewed the contract with the agency that has been doing the buses.
[syndicated profile] sociological_images_feed

Posted by Lisa Wade, PhD

Urban planning is a partisan issue. The graph below, produced by the Pew Research Center, shows that the American public are evenly split between small, walkable communities (48%) and sprawling suburbs with McMansions (49%), but that split is strongly partisan.

77% of consistent liberals want to live in neighborhoods where “the houses are smaller and closer to each other, but schools, stores, and restaurants are within walking distance.” In contrast, 75% of consistent conservatives prefer it when “houses are larger and farther apart, but schools, stores, and restaurants are several miles away.”


Relatedly, Americans are about evenly split between those who prefer to live in cities, suburbs, small towns, and rural areas, but there is a clear partisan divide.


And everyone seems to agree that they want to be near family, good schools, and the outdoors, but liberals are significantly more likely to care if they’re near art museums and theaters.


I’m familiar with the idea of the urban liberal and the rural conservative, but I’m still surprised by the strength of these correlations. If the preferences hold true in real life, it means that there is significant partisan residential segregation. That would translate into fewer friendships between people on different sides of the political spectrum, fewer conversations that help them see the others’ point of view, and more cross-group animosity.

In fact, that’s exactly what we see: a strongly partisan population that doesn’t talk to each other very much.

H/t Conrad Hackett.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

(View original at http://thesocietypages.org/socimages)

Chapter 8: The Crossing

Mar. 3rd, 2015 02:36 pm
rmc28: Photo of cover of Penguin edition of Watership Down, by Richard Adams (watership)
[personal profile] rmc28
The top of the sandy bank was a good six feet above the water.

[This post is part of my Watership Down read through. You are welcome to join in at any time; please read my introduction post first.]

(Also, I missed two weekends in a row.  This is the post that should have been posted 21/22 Feb;  I'll make another on Thursday to get us back on track.)

[syndicated profile] cakewrecks_feed

Posted by Jen

It may be "Unusual Names Day" to you, but for me? IT'S CHRISTMAS.

And here are some of the names on my list:



Ellen & Philip:



Try not to call your friend Georgia "Gorgia" from now on. JUST TRY.



Possibly my new favorite.



Way to OWN that line spacing, baker.


Sophie & Reilly:

Oh, the irony. It's a two-fer!



Is this a real name? Please let this be a real name. If only so I can imagine someone saying, "Well, I should head over to the preschool to pick up my Porn."

Or, "Would you ask the babysitter to watch Porn for me?"

Or, "Hey, Mom, I posted pictures of Porn on your Facebook page!"

Or, "Thanks to Porn, I haven't slept in a week and my house is full of stinky diapers."

[gigglesnort] Yep, it's official: someone needs to at least name their dog/cat Porn, STAT.


Um, so I had more cakes to post, but I seem to have completely derailed myself with the Porn thing.
(Bet all you cubicle workers know what I mean, EH? Heyoooo!)

So here, let's just go out with a bang:
(Or did we do that already?? [Ok, Ok, I'll stop.])

I guess the lawyers insisted.

(And I can't even tell you what they renamed Piglet.)


Thanks to Andi V., Amadie H., Bryar, Jennifer A., Mark B., Rich G., Holly S., & Rachel F. for helping make today's post especially classy. (POOP AND PORN 4EVA!!!)


Thank you for using our Amazon links to shop! USA, UK, Canada.

Dinitrophenol: A Possible Comeback

Mar. 3rd, 2015 06:57 am
[syndicated profile] in_the_pipeline_feed

I've mentioned metabolic uncoupling as a possible diabetes therapy. The idea is that your mitochondria will plow though large amounts of lipids under these conditions, and there's plenty of evidence that knocking down free fatty acids and tissue lipid stores would be of great benefit for Type II patients. The problem is that this therapy has a well-deserved reputation for having a low therapeutic index.

2,4-dinitrophenol is a pretty unlikely-looking drug, but it most certainly has metabolic effects. It was on the market for a while (many decades ago) as a weight-loss therapy, and no one can say that it won't make you lose weight. The danger is that you lose it all the way down to your dry bone mass, though, because it doesn't take much extra DNP to give you dangerous amounts of overheating and perhaps even a critical shortage of ATP, which frivolous organs like your heart and brain seem to have become dependent on. Various foolhardy types (extreme bodybuilders, etc.) have experimented with it since then, but it's just too dangerous to recommend to anyone. Even short of death, there were other unpleasant side effects.

But there have been reports from time to time that the compound might still have legitimate uses, and a recent one from Gerry Shulman's group at Yale is getting a lot of attention. Shulman is one of the world's experts on diabetes and metabolism, and his lab has been working on DNP for some years now. The latest version is a time-release form of the drug, one that delivers up to 100-fold less Cmax than the standard human dose, if DNP can be said to have one.

This formulation does a dramatic job of reversing diabetes symptoms in rodent models, and fatty liver disease as well. Shulman is working on taking this toward human clinical trials, and the animal results make a good case. If this were any other drug showing these effects, people would be moving it forward as fast as possible - it's just the history of DNP that's going to make things more difficult. But we have the example of thalidomide - if that can find a therapeutic niche, anything can. The next key step will be rodent and dog tox studies, and if DNP can clear those, then I would see no reason not to take it on into Phase I and beyond. Who'd have thought?

Gen Fic Day and Soup update

Mar. 3rd, 2015 04:25 pm
fignewton: (Default)
[personal profile] fignewton
As of now, I have 19 Soup fics, which means we're still seven short. It's not as bad as it seems - a few authors have been in touch with me, so I expect to get them soon - but for now, we're in a holding pattern before the Soup can go live.

Meanwhile, we have a lot of links to gen time-travel themed SG-1 fics. Maybe you've got a few more to add to the list? Comment at the SG-1 Gen Fic Day entry and link away!

I'll be posting the roundup of links and recs in a few hours, so there's still time to dash off a ficlet or contribute a link or three. :)

Autocomplete strikes again

Mar. 3rd, 2015 01:43 pm
[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum

I think I know how an unsuitable but immensely rich desert peninsula got chosen by FIFA (the international governing body for major soccer tournaments) to host the soccer World Cup in 2022.

First, a personal anecdote that triggered my hypothesis about the decision. I recently sent a text message from my smartphone and then carelessly slipped it into my pocket without making sure it had gone to sleep.

I figured out later that, during the process of putting the device back into my pocket, my finger must have slid across the Q, the A, the Space bar, and the Send button. Autocomplete did its blindly uncooperative work without checking with me (there is only one word in English beginning with the two letters I accidentally typed), and the result was (I swear this is true) that the last person I had texted received an additional text from me.

The text said simply "Qatar".

There are people who point out that FIFA is famously corrupt. They note that one whistleblower has claimed that two executive committee members were paid $1.5 million to vote for Qatar (over another finalist, the USA — you may have heard of it), despite Qatar's manifest geographical unsuitability — its broiling temperatures, way over 100°F between May and September, would make playing full-length soccer games by daylight medically inadvisable and perhaps suicidal. (Already there is a plan to shift the World Cup from its customary summertime slot to December, infuriating many managers in the soccer industry who need the autumn for regular fixtures.)

But really, how plausible are these fairytales about buckets of money? My theory is so much simpler. Suppose FIFA president Sepp Blatter had promised a certain journalist that he would leak the name of the winning country to him in a text message, and as he slipped his phone back in his pocket his fingers (and we know this can accidentally happen!) slid across Q – A – Space – Send. The journalist would have immediately published the scoop. And after that Blatter would have been too embarrassed to admit to the error. So (I conjecture) he simply told the rest of the executive committee to shut up about it and treat Qatar as the official winner.

Why posit institutional corruption on a vast scale within FIFA, and multi-million-dollar bribery to gain visibility for a small country in the sporting universe, when there is a plausible hypothesis available that posits no such unsavory things? Autocomplete, already guilty of so many crimes, is the hitherto unsuspected culprit in the 2022 World Cup scandal. Elementary.

theferrett: (Meazel)
[personal profile] theferrett

After many long months of waiting, my Breaking-Bad-by-way-of-Scott-Pilgrim novel Flex is available for purchase at just about any bookstore you can name!  Which means that for the first time you, dear reader, can actually read it.   Thanks to the easy availability of Kindle books and poor impulse control, some of you may well have finished my dang book by the time I post this.

So what now?

Well, if you liked Flex and would like to help it along in its book journey, there’s a couple of things you can do:

Write A Review.
‘The two standard places that reviews help authors are the book social network GoodReads and Amazon – not that Amazon is superior to any other bookstore, but I’m told they are more likely to show a customer a book in search results if it gets over a “critical mass” of reviews.  (No, I don’t know what that number is.  And neither does any other author.)

But writing a review on your blog is also good!  Even just a Tweet or Facebook status that says, “I liked Ferrett Steinmetz’s book Flex” helps get the word out – and believe you me, “Word of mouth” is the most important part of selling any book.

Yet please don’t hype up the book. I don’t want fake reviews with engineered enthusiasm. Be honest.

Come To My Book Tour.
I’m showing up all over the East and West Coast over the next month, and I’ll be mighty lonely at some of those stores unless you show up to keep me company.  I will be thrilled to see you, I’ll hug you if you like, and afterwards I’ll be all too ready to head out for drinks.  So if you’re nearby, drop by!

Tell A Friend. 
I’m getting lots of extraordinarily kind reviews for Flex.  Yet all of those blog-posts won’t sell nearly as many copies as repeated versions of this conversation:

“Hey, have you read Ferrett’s book?”


“How was it?”

“Pretty damned good.”

Feel free to lend Flex out, if you liked it.  Give it to someone you think would dig its vibe.  If my words spoke to you, then speak to others when the topic of good books come up.  Because really, if you’re not talking to your friends about the books you liked – not just mine, but in general – then what the heck are you doing with your life?

(Also, he says, sharing this post wouldn’t hurt.)

Buy The Sequel.
The sequel The Flux, which beta readers have largely agreed is way better and more intense than Flex, is coming out in early October.  The ending of Flex has a bit of a game-changer, and The Flux rides that to new levels.  So if you liked Flex, I’m about 90% sure you’re gonna enjoy the continuing saga of Paul Tsabo.

And if you like the idea of Flex, but for some reason have yet to purchase the sucker, may I suggest now is a good time?  I’ve written about why buying as close to the release date as possible benefits the author – and since the release date is today, that’s as close as it gets.

So What Do I Do If I Didn’t Like Flex? 
Here’s the trick:

Do the exact same thing.

I want honest opinions on my book, so if you didn’t like it, write a review, tell a friend why you didn’t care for it, and if you still like me but not the book I’ll totes hug you at my book tour regardless.

(Maybe don’t buy the sequel.)

The value of most reviews is that they tell people whether they’re likely to enjoy a book or not.  Elucidating your reasons why Flex didn’t float your boat is every bit as valid as squeeing over why it hit you deep.  And if you’d like to help Flex find its natural audience, indicating that this audience is not you may alert other like-minded people that this isn’t their bag.  And that’s fine!  There’s plenty of beloved books that I didn’t like, there’s plenty of classic movies that I didn’t care for, and even Shakespeare is loathed in some circles.  The idea that everyone will love me and despair is the author’s egotistical quicksand.

So: I hereby free you from any obligations to like this book.


I will say that Flex is the most purely me thing I’ve ever written.  All the other novels I wrote – you know, the endless list of ones that never sold - had these Big Commercial Elements where I thought people would like it.  Flex was written to please an audience of one – namely, the guy writing this here blog here. It’s about kinky, chubby, confident women. And parental love. And turning obsession into beauty. And the struggle to be seen as more than your handicap.

And donuts. God, so many donuts.

As such, I feel comfortable saying that if you like the sentiments and style presented in this blog, there’s a damned good chance you’re gonna like my novel.

And I hope you do.  I hope you love it enough to press it into your friends’ hands and go, “Man, I loved this, and you will, too.”

Now.  Let’s see whether that actually works.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

[syndicated profile] wonkette_feed

Posted by Florida Correspondent



So the weed has been legal in Colorado for, like, a year now, which affords us the opportunity to analyze how much of it Coloradans — or at least, those who can access legal weed, since only 67 of the state’s 321 jurisdictions permit it, but OK, all the important ones do — are smoking and eating and otherwise using to enter Maureen Dowd-style cannabis-induced psychoses in their hotel rooms.

Read more on Colorado Is Straight-Up Stoned All the Time, And Everything Is Awesome…

Suspension of disbelief went snap

Mar. 3rd, 2015 01:31 pm
oursin: George Beresford photograph of Marie of Roumania, overwritten 'And I AM Marie of Roumania' (Marie of Roumania)
[personal profile] oursin

I think my suspension of disbelief is always stretched by those plots which involve Our Protag setting up some incredibly convoluted long game in the service of vengeance or an elaborate con (or a combination of the two), involving false identity/ies and deception on a wide scale. And everything going exactly as according to plan.

However, if they have at the most one, maybe two, close confederates I will give this a pass (and in fact the prime examples I can think of are in Dorothy Dunnett or else Eugenides in the Attolia books, i.e. with the strongest of tendencies to play a lone hand).

What I cannot be doing with is the notion that this is a way to run a political conspiracy aimed at overthrowing a corrupt system -

Unless, of course, what you have here is the Henry Treece Ask for King Billy stratagem of having a visible person apparently about the business in hand with the MacGuffin to distract the villains while the actual necessary task is being done in a quiet and unobtrusive way under the radar by somebody else.

But if not, what it reminds me of is the Newer Better Mousetrap invented by Michael Bentine as a mad scientist in It's a Square World, which involved luring your mouse into a Heath Robinsoneque labyrithine machine, which eventually tipped it into a vat of whisky. When it climbed out, it was confronted with a magnifying mirror, and went forth and picked a fight with the nearest cat.

The Big Idea: Ferrett Steinmetz

Mar. 3rd, 2015 01:33 pm
[syndicated profile] scalziwhatever_feed

Posted by John Scalzi


In his novel Flex, author Ferrett Steinmetz comes up with a rather ingeniuous way of controlling the ultimate cosmic power that magic-wielders could have against the rest of the world — and suggests why maybe magic isn’t always what’s it’s cracked up to be.


We all have obsessions. I have a friend who’s played through Dragon Age eighteen times so she can hear every one of the 80,000 potential lines of dialogue. I have a friend who scrutinizes the Internet code that determines where text is placed in your browser, in the hopes of discovering that the webkit-transform property actually rotates an image 7.3 degrees, not 7.0 as promised.

What if those obsessions started to wear holes in the universe?

What if, merely by pouring so much attention into some random hobby, the laws of physics would soften to fit your outlook on life?

And what if the universe hated you for bending its rules?

Personally, I’ve always hated those stories where magicians a) had no limitations on their power, and b) weren’t ruling the world. If magic came with zero drawbacks, then wizards would clobber the paranormally-illiterate with magic missiles in less time than it takes to say Neanderthals went extinct.

So when I wrote Flex, I wanted a really good reason why magicians hadn’t kicked Obama off the White House and installed themselves as the Eternal Emperor-Kings of Washington.

The key was obsession. I liked the idea that every ‘mancer would have their own set of powers keyed to whatever snared their attention – illustromancers, videogamemancers, origamimancers, deathmetalmancers – but that tight focus would be as much a hindrance as a help. By the time that Crazy Cat Lady has crossed the event horizon to become a felimancer, her priorities had warped. Does a crazy cat lady want to rule the land with an iron fist? No! She wants a house with infinite corridors so her kitties can roam safely under her benevolent cat-centered pocket empire.

Yet when my sister-in-law almost died, what I needed was a bureaucromancer.

See, I fantasized about having a magical power over paperwork when I was fighting the insurance companies to get life-saving surgery for my sister-in-law. She had a rare disease (at the time, her malady didn’t even have a Wikipedia entry). The insurance company kept returning our paperwork because we filled out the wrong form, even though that was the form they’d sent us. They claimed her treatment was experimental (and hence uncovered), when in fact so few cases of this disease had surfaced that every treatment counted as experimental. They refused claims for ridiculously trivial reasons, hoping my sister-in-law would quietly kick the bucket before they’d have to shell out $200,000 for her kidney surgery.

You can get wrapped around the axle, seeing that kind of injustice. My sister-in-law’s okay now… but even the slightest discussion of medical paperwork can send me into a frothing tirade.

So when I envisioned a magic system based on obsession, the first thing that came to mind was the living hell of a compassionate man working at a cut-rate insurance company like the kind that almost killed my sister-in-law.

That man would hate his employer. Except instead of quitting, and letting the insurance company win, a truly compulsive man would sabotage the system from within. He’d spend years mastering the insurance company’s paperwork, staying at the office after dark, filling out the right forms for customers so the insurance company would have to pay for their surgeries.

And so I created Paul Tsabo, employed him at crappy ol’ Samaritan Mutual, and drove him magically insane.

To Paul, paperwork is power. Fill out the right requests for information, and governments will fall. Now Paul can send SWAT teams crashing through your door by magically dropping warrants onto the right people’s desks.

He is righteous. He is pure.

He is hopelessly, hopelessly naïve.

Now, I don’t plot my books extensively; I just find a person I like well enough that I’d be willing to follow them through four hundred pages’ worth of book. Paul was the kind of stand-up dude I personally would root for.

But sadly, the grand tradition of fiction is this: choose your hero. Yank him out of his comfort zone, plop him into a new battleground where all of his strengths no longer matter, where in fact all those grand ideals may be liabilities. Make sure he’s going to have to either grow new talents to survive, or die horribly as he clings to the wreckage.

I needed to make Paul’s life a nightmare. And having watched my sister-in-law’s health dwindle, I can tell you that there’s no greater hell than watching someone you love hurt and being unable to help.

So when Paul’s daughter gets burned in a terrorist incident, he doesn’t have the skills to magically summon up the money he needs to get her the reconstructive surgery. Because, he’s new to this whole “bureaucromancy” schtick, a complete novice at his powers – and as mentioned, the universe hates ‘mancy. Do enough magic, and the universe rains horrific coincidences down upon your head, sabotaging you with bad luck until the scales are balanced out.

(We’re not even going to talk about the Bad Thing Paul accidentally did to his kid the first time he tried to save her.)

He’d do anything to save his kid, of course. So what profession, I asked, was a paperwork-loving, government-adoring bureaucromancer least suited for?

Brewing magical drugs, of course.

And who’s the only person who can help him to master his magical backlash so he can get his daughter the treatment she needs?

That’s right; the videogame-playing, magical terrorist who burned his daughter. Who happens to need some help brewing magical drugs.

Ladies and gentlemen, explosions are about to begin. Big magical battles. The quiet implosion of ideals meeting a raw and ruined reality on the ground. Obsessions compromised.

Let’s hope the kid doesn’t get hurt.


Flex: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Twitter.

[syndicated profile] tordotcom_feed

Rafael Mayani Disney Pixar master class art

With the perpetual Disney princess fanart overload, it’s refreshing to see someone take on all of Disney’s beloved characters. On his blog Disney Animated Features, Barcelona-based artist Rafael Mayani tasked himself with drawing one illustration per animated Disney movie (excluding direct-to-video releases). Manyani watched the films in chronological order before illustrating them, starting in April 2013 with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and concluding this past December with Big Hero 6. Even better, Manyani had concluded a Pixar master class before starting the blog, so all of his illustrations are in the Pixar house style.

Morning Roundup brings you Ursula K. Le Guin on identifying with fantasy, Brandon Sanderson movie news, and a Bob’s Burgers/Game of Thrones crossover!

[Read more]

Read the full article

[syndicated profile] wonkette_feed

Posted by Kaili Joy Gray

Guess who's helping our enemies now?

Guess who's helping our enemies now?

The civil war in the Republican Party is getting a lot uglier, which is excellent news if you enjoy watching Republicans try to eat each other’s intestines with their bare hands, no utensils or a bib even. And yup, we sure do enjoy the hell out of that. Because Speaker John Boehner is terrible at his job, he only managed to get funding for the Department of Homeland Security extended for one whole whoppin’ week, setting himself up for another week of the extremists in his caucus batting him around like a cat with a half-dead rodent.

Read more on John Boehner’s Running Attack Ads Against His Own Party Now, That’s Fun…

gender options

Mar. 3rd, 2015 08:20 am
kate_nepveu: sleeping cat carved in brown wood (Default)
[personal profile] kate_nepveu
Hey DW,

Chad's doing a workshop and wants to get a diverse group of participants, but hand-coding free-form demographic responses would be suboptimal in light of the number of applications he expects. For a reasonably compact gender identification list, what would you suggest? Mine was cis female, trans female, cis male, trans male, genderqueer, agender, other, decline to state; corrections, improvements, rejections?

[syndicated profile] slacktivist_feed

Posted by Fred Clark

Southern Baptist Convention president Ronnie Floyd and 16 of his predecessors have penned an open letter to President Barack Obama, calling on him to do … something or other about ISIS.

This is one of the strangest documents I’ve ever seen produced by a group of religious leaders. Here is the body of the letter, unedited, in its entirety:

Since ISIS is a continuing threat to world peace in a way unknown to us since the Nazis of World War II, we humbly call upon you to use the influence and power of your distinguished office to take the necessary actions now in this urgent hour to bring an end to these human atrocities. The abuse, brutalization, and murder of children, women, and men that is occurring before the world calls our country to lead forward to bring this to an end.

As you do this, please know that we are not only praying for you, but assure you that you will have the unequivocal support of the vast majority of America’s largest, and some say most multi-ethnic and multi-lingual, Protestant denomination in America. The world will applaud your courage and compassion as you defend those that Scripture calls “the least of these.”

Mr. President, just as Esther led forward for the deliverance of the Jews in her day, we believe you also “have come to the kingdom for such a time as this.” You have been given an historical moment to lead in protecting the people and the principle of religious freedom in the world. We are praying for you to have wisdom and courage in this hour.

These former presidents of our Convention join me, the current President of the Southern Baptist Convention, in making this humble, but urgent appeal to you.

I don’t just mean that this open letter is strange because its a bunch of churchmen calling for war in Jesus’ name. That’s pretty kooky, but not surprising or even unusual for Southern Baptist leaders. They’ve often publicly argued that the Prince of Peace wants another war.

And yes, using the parable of the sheep and the goats to argue for military intervention is a creative and innovative interpretation of that text. (“Then the Son of Man will say, I was hungry, and you crushed my enemies, saw them driven before me, and heard the lamentation of their women.”) But that’s not the strangest part of this.

The absence of any mention of the refugee crisis in Syria and Iraq is appalling and shameful, but it’s not strange. These are Southern Baptists, after all, and “America’s largest Protestant denomination in America” isn’t renowned for its hospitality toward foreigners of the wrong shade.

No, the weirdest thing about this weird open letter is that these pious churchmen who profess such deep concern about the threat of ISIS seem utterly unaware that the president they’re addressing has been bombing the hell out of ISIS for quite some time now.

That’s what makes this letter such a surreal document. That’s what exposes its signatories as utterly unserious. This is like an open letter to FDR calling for military action against Japan — in 1944.

It’s bizarre. But these Southern Baptists aren’t alone, as Steve Benen documented late last month:

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) complained Obama “won’t act” against ISIS after the president had already launched a military offensive against ISIS. Around the same time, Fox News aired an on-screen message that falsely told viewers there had been “no military action yet against ISIS.”

If I could explain any of this, I would. It’s as if much of the Republican Party sees American airstrikes against ISIS targets, but has chosen not to believe their lying eyes. …

The prerequisite to having a credible debate about U.S. military intervention abroad is acknowledging that U.S. military intervention abroad exists. We can’t have a serious debate when one side of the fight replaces our reality with their own alternate version where facts don’t matter.

Benen followed that up with a look at Sen. Marco Rubio’s proposal for a new approach against ISIS — which is pretty much exactly what the Obama administration as been doing since last August.

Kevin Drum put it this way: “The drumbeat for President Obama to ‘do something’ to fight ISIS is growing louder every day among prospective Republican presidential candidates. It’s all a bit weird, since Obama rather plainly is doing something, as interviewers repeatedly point out whenever the subject comes up.”

Perhaps the most memorable example of that was when Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin trotted out this “do something” language on ABC News’ “This Week,” but wasn’t able to clarify what he meant when Martha Raddatz asked him to explain:

WALKER: I think aggressively, we need to take the fight to ISIS and any other radical Islamic terrorist in and around the world, because it’s not a matter of when they attempt an attack on American soil, or not if I should say, it’s when, and we need leadership that says clearly, not only amongst the United States but amongst our allies, that we’re willing to take appropriate action. I think it should be surgical.

RADDATZ: You don’t think 2,000 air strikes is taking it to ISIS in Syria and Iraq?

WALKER: I think we need to have an aggressive strategy anywhere around the world. I think it’s a mistake to -

RADDATZ: But what does that mean? I don’t know what aggressive strategy means. If we’re bombing and we’ve done 2,000 air strikes, what does an aggressive strategy mean in foreign policy?

Walker couldn’t say. It’s hard to tell whether he genuinely was unaware that the U.S. military was already pounding ISIS with thousands of air strikes, or if he was just counting on the audience and the interviewer not knowing that.

The latter would be coldly cynical, and I would not wish to suggest that the current president of the Southern Baptist Convention and his last 16 predecessors are all so wholly cynical. So, to be more charitable, I will assume the best-case scenario — that these men all endorsed a call for the president to “do something” about ISIS without ever bothering to find out if their country was already doing something.

That incuriosity and ignorance is difficult to reconcile with these eminent Southern Baptists’ claim that they consider this a matter of great and urgent importance. They seem to think it’s important enough to write an “open letter” to the president about, but not so important that any of them needed to bother to read even a basic newspaper report about the U.S. military response that’s been going on for more than six months. Weird.

I suppose it could be that these men were just too excited to bother reading about this. They seem giddily thrilled by the idea of ISIS — “a continuing threat to world peace in a way unknown to us since the Nazis of World War II.” That makes no sense at all as any kind of objective assessment — grossly misrepresenting the scope and scale and potential of this brutal group. But that description has nothing to do with any objective assessment — or with anything resembling reality. It has to do with what Josh Marshall calls an “episode of war intoxication.”

Which is to say it has to do with exactly the same kind of self-aggrandizing fantasy role-playing that we talked about yesterday.

In passing--

Mar. 3rd, 2015 01:40 pm
kaberett: Euphorbia cf. serrata, green crown of leaves/flowers central to image. (spurge)
[personal profile] kaberett
It is a delight to me that I had a conversation on Sunday night in which I pointed out to facesfriend that I do not, in point of fact, know them very well -- I started paying any consistent attention to their existence about 6 months ago and we started dating about 4 months ago (which is weird for me; I am really not used to getting to know people by dating them); he looked gently baffled and said he thought that, in fact, I knew him pretty well. I paused. "Okay," I said, "my predictive model for your behaviour is based on a relatively small sample size, and what data I do have isn't necessarily representative." "Right," he said, "that makes sense." Hurrah for human interactions wherein I get to express myself like that and it's just okay; this is, of course, some of why Hel bemoans that there's no way they can ever write dialogue that is an accurate representation of conversations they have with friends, because nobody would believe people talk that way in real life.

(Tangentially relatedly, but only sort of sideways rather than directly: I am having a pretty bad case of the I-am-not-allowed-to-want-things/I-am-not-allowed-to-be-wanteds this week. Not entirely sure why, but it's a thing; sorry if I go a bit spiky and weird on you.)


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