A trolley problem

Jul. 26th, 2017 04:34 am
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Posted by John Quiggin

I’ve generally been dubious about trolley problems and similar thought experiments in ethics. However, it’s just occurred to me that an idea I’ve tried to express in the economistic terms of opportunity cost, without convincing anybody, might be more persuasive as a trolley problem. So, let’s start with the standard problem where the train is about to kill ten people, but can be diverted onto a side track where it will kill only one.

In my version, however, there is a second train, loaded with vital medical supplies, which is about to crash. The loss of the supplies will lead to hundreds of deaths. You can prevent the crash, and save the supplies, by diverting the train to an alternative route (not killing anybody), but you don’t have time to deal with both trains. Do you divert the first train, the second train, or neither?

Hopefully, most respondents will choose the second train.

Now suppose that the first train has been hijacked by an evil gangster and his henchmen, who will be killed if you divert it, but will otherwise get away with the crime. As well as the gangsters, the single innocent person will die, but the ten people the gangster was going to kill will live.

The impending crash of the second train isn’t caused by anybody in particular. The region it serves is poor and no one paid for track maintenance. If the train doesn’t get through, hundreds of sick people will die, as sick poor people always have, and nobody much will notice.

Does that change your decision?

As I hope at least some readers will have realised, this version of the trolley problem is a metaphor for humanitarian military intervention. The moral intuition supporting such intervention is the same one that would lead to choose stopping the gangster over saving lives of people who would otherwise die as a result of poverty and disease.

As I’ll argue at length if needed, the numbers in the example are stacked in favor of humanitarian intervention. Many such interventions kill more people than they save. Even where they are successful in their own terms, the cost is massively more than that of civilian aid, for a fraction of the benefit.

One final point is that, in reality, the ‘henchmen’ are often conscripted, by force or economic necessity, from the same population as the people whose lives are supposed to be saved by intervention. On any reasonable account, their deaths ought to be weighed in the ledger against any lives saved.

Pelicana Chicken under Ditmars stop

Jul. 25th, 2017 10:51 pm
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Posted by /u/dc118

Signs went up yesterday for Pelicana chicken in the old Ditmars Natural spot next to Artichoke.

Korean fried chicken restaurant, already have locations in Flushing and Sunnyside. Looks pretty good!


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Best singles bars/clubs?

Jul. 25th, 2017 10:32 pm
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Posted by /u/Marowak22

So me and a friend recently moved here out of college and we were wondering what are the best bars/clubs to meet women/dance. The busier the better, thanks :)

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Souhaitable vulnérabilité?

Jul. 25th, 2017 09:39 pm
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Posted by Webteam

Benjamin Miller (University of Toronto Faculty of Law and School of Public Policy & Governance) reviewed Souhaitable Vulnerabilité (edited by Marie-Jo Thiel), a collection of articles on the theme of vulnerability It was once explained to me at a dinner party that when listening to certain pieces of classical music one first listens for a … Continue reading Souhaitable vulnérabilité?

The post Souhaitable vulnérabilité? appeared first on Ethics of care.

Book: The Coaching Habit

Jul. 25th, 2017 01:00 pm
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Posted by Cate

coaching_habit.jpgThe Coaching Habit (Amazon) is a really helpful book about asking questions. It starts with the premise of offer less advice, and ask more questions (which obviously I am bought into). I also like the concept of “the advice monster”. It probably belabours the point a bit, but it’s a short read so that isn’t too irritating.

The first question is “what’s on your mind?” – a good way to open a 1:1. Then you have three directions you can potentially take the conversation in: project, people and patterns.

The second question is “and what else?” – see where that takes you. Don’t ask rhetorical questions in order to passively dispense advice. Stay open.

The third question is “what’s the real challenge here for you?” – this gets you to the centre of it (one question I really like to ask in 1:1s is “what are you most worried about?”)

Questions should start with “what”. For example, the fourth question “what do you want?” – this is the go to question when conversation is not productive and you’re not sure why. You can also say what you want.

The key to a question driven interaction it to get comfortable with silence – give people time to think.

The fifth question is “how can I help?” Or more bluntly “what do you want from me?” Important to be mindful of tone with that one! (I like to ask “is there anything I can help you with” towards the end of each of my 1:1s).

The sixth question is “what are you saying yes to?” and the other side of that, “what are you saying no to?” – this gets to actively choosing priorities.

It’s important to acknowledge answers to questions. It’s not an interrogation!

The last question is “what was most useful here for you?” Offer what was most useful for you in return. This can help you improve. It sounds scary though – I will have to psych myself up and try it!

Main caveat – I’m following a reading list lately which means the writers are less diverse than I usually aim for. This book cited men I think exclusively, including a man giving a talk that mentions a study… which I recognized as being by Sheena Iyengar (a blind woman of color) whose name wasn’t even mentioned (watch her TED talk – it’s amazing). The book recommendations at the end were seemingly all by men. It was definitely a helpful book but possibly missing context about the other 50% of the population. Maybe that’s why the act of asking questions instead of offering advice seems so radical.

The Grim Lessons of Charlie Gard

Jul. 25th, 2017 07:05 pm
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Posted by Jason Willick

A U.K. death panel has forced parents to abandon hope for their baby’s life. The Wall Street Journal reports:

The parents of Charlie Gard abandoned their legal fight to take the terminally ill 11-month-old abroad for experimental therapy, ending a challenge to British doctors who want to switch off his ventilator and give him end-of-life care.

Saying they were prepared to spend their “last precious moments” with their son, Chris Gard and Connie Yates told the U.K. High Court on Monday that it was too late for a possible treatment because his muscles were irreversibly damaged by the advance of his rare mitochondrial disorder.

Conscience is a flexible thing, so the authorities who blocked a desperate parental bid to risk an untested therapy that just might have helped their child are presumably sleeping soundly with no bad dreams.

But it was a wicked abuse of the state’s coercive power to prevent the parents from trying their best for their child, and it should strengthen the determination of everyone who cares about human liberty to fight the inexorable, gratuitous growth of states that fail at the most basic jobs (like educating children in public schools) but who endlessly seek to expand their ‘competencies’ into new and more challenging fields.

We need states that stick to their knitting: that perform a few core functions efficiently and well, rather than the current set up of slovenly, meddlesome government that fails at basic tasks (like keeping the drinking water safe in Flint) while interfering mindlessly in the most intimate dramas of family life.

The post The Grim Lessons of Charlie Gard appeared first on The American Interest.

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Posted by mark

I used to have all my guitars and basses on stands — it only takes two or three and suddenly a whole side of your room is taken up by them. Then I remembered these hangers that guitar stores use. They take guitars down and put them back up over and over again, and the hangers they use have mechanism inside.

The way they work is they have a saddle, a U-shaped design, and when you put the guitar in the saddle and then lower it, the weight of the guitar causes a mechanism to grab onto the guitar and swing its arms around it and hug it and then now it’s securely in place in the wall. Then when you want to take it back off again you simply lift it up and then that mechanism releases it. It’s a really neat simple machine that grabs and releases your guitar. It uses three screws and it drills right into the wall.

-- David McRaney

[This review was excerpted from our podcast with David McRaney. ]

Hercules Stands Wallmount Guitar Hanger ($21)

Available from Amazon

What is it like to be white?

Jul. 25th, 2017 04:16 pm
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Posted by Jason Kottke

Here’s Fran Lebowitz talking about race in the US in a 1997 Vanity Fair interview:

The way to approach it, I think, is not to ask, “What would it be like to be black?” but to seriously consider what it is like to be white. That’s something white people almost never think about. And what it is like to be white is not to say, “We have to level the playing field,” but to acknowledge that not only do white people own the playing field but they have so designated this plot of land as a playing field to begin with. White people are the playing field. The advantage of being white is so extreme, so overwhelming, so immense, that to use the word “advantage” at all is misleading since it implies a kind of parity that simply does not exist.

It is now common — and I use the word “common” in its every sense — to see interviews with up-and-coming young movie stars whose parents or even grandparents were themselves movie stars. And when the interviewer asks, “Did you find it an advantage to be the child of a major motion-picture star?” the answer is invariably “Well, it gets you in the door, but after that you’ve got to perform, you’re on your own.” This is ludicrous. Getting in the door is pretty much the entire game, especially in movie acting, which is, after all, hardly a profession notable for its rigor. That’s how advantageous it is to be white. It’s as though all white people were the children of movie stars. Everyone gets in the door and then all you have to do is perform at this relatively minimal level.

Additionally, children of movie stars, like white people, have at — or actually in — their fingertips an advantage that is genetic. Because they are literally the progeny of movie stars they look specifically like the movie stars who have preceded them, their parents; they don’t have to convince us that they can be movie stars. We take them instantly at face value. Full face value. They look like their parents, whom we already know to be movie stars. White people look like their parents, whom we already know to be in charge. This is what white people look like — other white people. The owners. The people in charge. That’s the advantage of being white. And that’s the game. So by the time the white person sees the black person standing next to him at what he thinks is the starting line, the black person should be exhausted from his long and arduous trek to the beginning.

(via @amirtalai)

Tags: Fran Lebowitz   interviews   racism


Jul. 25th, 2017 03:22 pm
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Posted by Mary Anne Mohanraj

Sothi (Coconut Milk Gravy)

(45 min. + soaking time — serves 8)

This is a delicious traditional accompaniment for stringhoppers, served with a little coconut sambol.  When I last visited Sri Lanka, that was one of my favorite meals to have for breakfast, in the very early morning at the hotel, when I was still jet-lagged.  It’s quite soothing.  This makes a fairly large quantity, suitable for feeding several people; just cut ingredients in half for a smaller portion.

1-4 T fenugreek seeds, soaked for two hours beforehand

1 T toasted rice powder (optional)

1 large onion, diced

12 curry leaves

1 small stick cinnamon

2 fresh green chilies, seeded and chopped

1/2 t. turmeric

1 t. salt

2 c. water

1 russet potato, peeled and cubed (optional)

3 c. coconut milk

4 hard-boiled eggs, cut in half lengthwise (optional)

1-2 T lime juice, to taste

NOTE:  Traditionally, this dish was made with quite a lot of fenugreek; modern recipes tend to reduce to about 1 T, instead of 4.  But fenugreek is a potent galactagogue, so if you’re making this dish for a nursing mother, you may want to go old-school.

NOTE 2:  Toasted rice powder is used through Asia (esp. in Thai cooking) to thicken and add flavor and fragrance to dishes.  It’s best made fresh, in the quantities needed.  To make, take one T rice and sauté over medium heat in a dry pan for 10-15 minutes, stirring constantly.  It’ll release a beautifully nutty, toasted scent.  Then grind to a powder — I use a coffee grinder that I keep dedicated for spices, but you could also use a food processor, or the traditional mortar and pestle.


1. Put all the ingredients except the coconut milk, eggs and lime juice in a saucepan.  Bring to a boil, then turn down heat and simmer, covered, until onions are reduced to a pulp and the potatoes are cooked, about 30 minutes.

2. Stir well, add thick coconut milk and heat without bringing dish to a boil.  Stir in lime juice, additional salt to taste, and then carefully add the eggs.  Simmer a minute or two longer, stirring, and then serve hot, with stringhoppers or rice.

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Posted by admin

My first novel, God’s War, came out in 2011. It sold long before that, in 2008, but due to the vagaries of publishing, came out much later from a different publisher. I started writing it in 2003 and finished it in 2007, when I was 27 years old. This was not, of course, the first novel I’d ever written, but the ninth. And I can’t say there was anything about that novel that made it sell while the others didn’t. In truth, that book was a really hard sell, and almost never made it onto the shelves at all. But unlike my prior work, it had a pretty simple quest plot, which helped keep readers engaged, and I threw in pretty much every great idea I’d ever had – Bug magic! Centuries-long wars! Violent matriarchies! Harsh desert! Colonized worlds! – and just had fun with it.

In discussion with my agent on the latest episode of the podcast, though, I started thinking about what it was that made these books to compelling for people, and why The Stars are Legion (which was, emotionally, the toughest book I’ve ever written) seems to be doing so well. The truth is there are so many things in publishing that are beyond our control that we can’t say, “Well, this one is just a good story!” to explain why some did well and some didn’t. The Worldbreaker books have all earned out as well, and sold more than the God’s War books, but people don’t get as emotionally invested in those books as the God’s War books and The Stars are Legion. People don’t cry over them the way they do my other stuff.

It’s the emotional connection that we make with stories that makes them mean so much to us. On the podcast Hannah mentions how much she loved the Twilight books, not for their clunky prose, but for how well they captured, for her, the experience of falling in love for the first time. That was a bit revelatory to me, because these were books that I never connected with. But talk about The Girl on the Train, and I’ll tell you it’s not only the mystery aspect, but the fact that it’s a woman who drinks too much who’s being (spoilers) gas-lighted. And whoa boy did I ever connect with that whole, “Everyone thinks you’re crazy but you’re actually being set up by a nutty dude,” experience. It’s something a lot of women in particular deal with, and I was wholly invested in her discovering she was not actually crazy because it mirrored so much of my own journey toward discovering feminism. I often think that the reason a lot of YA novels don’t connect with me is that they don’t explore emotional themes that really interest me right now the way that many adult novels do. YA tends to be about finding oneself, about the first discovery that the world isn’t what you were told it was. And I’m past that and on to other things.

This discussion about the bleeding heart of the story led me to ask what the bleeding heart of the story was in my own work. It’s interesting because you don’t always know what the heart of the story is when you first begin to write. It wasn’t until Nyx fell to her knees in the ring at the end of her big fight at the end of God’s War that I knew what the heart of that story was about. Nyx struggled with all sorts of issues related to faith and submission, and independence and dependence. These were issues I, too have and do struggle with. Much of Nyx’s emotional struggle throughout all three books springs from having someone I was in a relationship with say that i was a monster. That stuck with me for a long time. Was I monster? In rejecting the weak person I had been, had I become everything I hated? Good stories tap into the very darkest parts of us, and Nyx was certainly the female Conan I wished I could be, wading out into pools of blood and coming out the other side being just as true to herself before as after. She and Rhys are tangled in the sort of snarky abusive relationship that for many years I’d assumed was love. The way they actually end up shows that I have learned something since then. In God’s War, the entire drive of the narrative is to get Nyx onto her knees in that ring, to allow her to admit to herself that what she would love, more than anything else, is just to submit to God, to fate, to the world, and stop fighting it. But she can’t. She knows she can’t, even as she admits it. The drive in Infidel was always to break them down into their component parts, to have them both lose everything and see what it made of them. And of course, in Rapture, the terrible events that they endure there are meant to break them both down emotionally so that they can have, finally, for the first time, an honest conversation about their feelings and why they can’t be together. The rest of the books: the bug magic, the blood-eating sand, the giant hornets, the bel dames, the assassinations and beheadings – existed to tell that emotional story between Nyx and Rhys.

The Stars are Legion was, famously, a difficult book for me to write because unlike with the Nyx books, I knew exactly what the bleeding heart of the story was going to be before I wrote it, and understood what I would have to write about, and that’s some scary stuff. At its heart, Legion is about women’s control (or not) over their own bodies and reproductive power. It also has not one, but two wildly abusive relationships at its core. I wrote deeply about things that mattered to me, issues related to fertility and bodily autonomy and of course, the monster inside so many of us. Once one has been monstrous, the book asked, is it possible to go back, to repent, to become someone different? Those were the bleeding emotions of the story, the burning questions, and I faced them down in all their cold, stark truth. Those are deep, powerful emotions, and beyond the gooey ships and birthing ship parts and struggling through the spongy center of some world, it’s the emotional stuff that we can all relate to on some level that powers its heart and makes it so unforgettable.

As the saying goes, folks may forget what you say, but they won’t forget how you made them feel. Fiction is very much like this, and it’s another reason I don’t like to tie up my stories into nice neat packages. I want to leave the readers with questions that they can mull over as they contemplate the story itself and how it affected them. There’s a reason I ended Nyx’s story the way I did in Rapture. And it’s not because I’m an asshole. Like the reader, I too, like to wonder what fate Nyx deserved, and whether it was the lady or the tiger stepping out of that bakkie. Nyx has done terrible things, but I understand that it’s not up to me to judge her, after all. Rhys would say it’s up to God; I would say it’s up to each individual reader. It’s not for me to decide. Such are the endings on which much great fan fiction can be imagined.

When I sit here looking at Broken Heavens and the original emotional heart of the story, I understand why it’s collapsed, like a souffle, now that I have a different ending. I had spent a great deal of time in the prior two books setting up a very specific ending. What I had failed to do in this latest draft of Broken Heavens is make it clear what the emotional turning point is for the character here so she understands she doesn’t just have two choices, those two choices I set up so many books ago. I realize that the character needs to have the same kind of emotional moment I did after the election, when my entire conception of my country and where it was headed and who were not only were, but who we wanted to be, got flushed down the toilet forever. I will never forget that moment. How betrayed I felt; how my own people had voted to destroy everything I knew and loved. It was a break in reality, for me, the moment when I felt the whole world literally lurch onto another timeline. It was among the most surreal moments of my life. And I knew I had to accept immediately that it had changed everything I knew, and was going to profoundly affect the future – my own and those of my friends and family and the world itself – in terrible ways.

Those are the emotional turning points we talk about. It’s the moment I got out of the hospital after nearly dying, and had to ask for help cutting asparagus because I was so weak. It was laying out the syringes and medication I would have to take now everyday for the rest of my life, or die. It was that understanding that I was not as strong and robust and invulnerable as I’d always assumed, that knowledge that everything I believed about the world and myself had been irrevocably changed. My future, my expectations of such, were rewritten before my eyes.

These are the emotional experiences, and the emotional moments, that we often use fiction to explore. I may not know what it’s like to chop off someone’s head, but I know what it is to be called a monster, and to wonder if it’s true. I may not have ever given birth to a world, but I know what it is to be at war with one’s body while the world itself tries to control you. We use these emotions as leaping off points, and memorable fiction understands that to endure, to touch people, takes more than explosions. It takes tapping into these very vulnerable parts of ourselves, often the very worst moments from our lives, and translating them onto the page.

This is not to say that there aren’t plenty of bestsellers that don’t do this. I just read a bestselling author who wrote a mystery novel that was absolutely emotionally devoid. I also tossed it immediately into my Goodwill pile to give away and promptly forgot even the names of the characters. But making work that lasts needs to touch people in some way. It must be memorable. It must bleed all over the page.

I get that, and yes, some days it does bother me, because frankly, I don’t want to revisit a lot of my most vulnerable moments. This is likely why I’m a discovery writer, because it allows me to sneak up on these emotions in a very organic way. It allowed me to simply write Nyx falling to her knees in the ring, longing to submit, knowing she couldn’t, and having no idea why that scene felt so powerful to me; why it felt just right. Not until much later.

But as I struggle with the massive backlog of projects I have right now, I realize that I have less time to allow myself the comfortable blinders of pure discovery writing in order to creep up on the truth. I have to face it head on, first thing. Even if it scares me.

Even if it bleeds.

The post The Bleeding Heart of the Story: Reflections on a Career in Fiction appeared first on Kameron Hurley.

CitiBike Update

Jul. 25th, 2017 02:35 pm
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Posted by /u/vaccster

I hadn't heard anything since the flurry of articles in the Spring, so I reached out to the CitiBike team for an update on the expansion to Astoria.

Apparently we can expect CitiBike in Astoria in Late September/Early October. Thought this update was worth disseminating.

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Pablo Escobar’s hippos

Jul. 25th, 2017 02:03 pm
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Posted by Jason Kottke

At the height of his power and wealth in the 1980s, Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar was one of the richest men in the world. On one of his many properties, Escobar built a private zoo, complete with animals from around the world, including zebras, rhinos, ostriches, and hippos.

As Escobar’s power waned and he was eventually killed, the animals in his zoo were transferred to proper zoos…except for four hippos that escaped into the wilderness. Nature did its thing and now the Colombian wild hippo population stands at nearly 40 and could rise to 100 in the next decade.

Tags: biology   Pablo Escobar   video
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Posted by admin

July 25, By Jason Cohen

An Astoria man faces multiple charges for allegedly possessing and selling narcotics laced with Fentanyl.

Bernard Lewis, 45, was caught as part of a long-term narcotics investigation that led to several arrests and included the use of court-authorized wiretaps. The investigation was launched following two non-fatal overdoses.

Lewis, according to the Queens District Attorney’s Office, allegedly had telephone conversations between April 6 and June 17 with six individuals who asked to purchase narcotics from him.

Lewis, or one of his associates, would then drop off the drugs for cash after each call, according to the District Attorney’s Office. In each case, the buyer was arrested and the drugs seized. The drugs were chemically analyzed, which confirmed the presence of Fentanyl.

On Friday, Lewis was arraigned and was ordered held without bail.

Lewis was charged in a 15-count criminal complaint, including one count of third-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance and six counts of third-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance. He faces up to 12 years in prison if convicted.

Lewis’ wife, Catrice Brown, was also caught up in the investigation. She was charged with several counts of criminal possession of a controlled substance, among other charges. She faces up to nine years in prison if convicted.

District Attorney Richard A. Brown said the investigation was launched in response to the increased number of drug overdoses in Queens and New York City in recent times.

According to data from the City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, there were more than 1,300 fatal overdoses in New York City in 2016, a nearly 40 percent increase from the previous year, and approximately half of the drug overdoses in the last six months of 2016 involved Fentanyl.

“Heroin, unfortunately, has made a deadly comeback in New York City and in the surrounding suburbs,” Brown said. “Over the past six and a half months, Queens has had 81 fatal overdoses – far exceeding the number of homicides and vehicular deaths that have occurred in the borough so far this year.”

In one drug deal, Lewis allegedly received a phone call May 9 from an associate, Hubert Harris, 66, of Corona, who said he needed to get a supply of narcotics. Approximately an hour later, Harris allegedly arrived on a bicycle at Lewis’ home and spent approximately 45 minutes inside before exiting.

Harris was then arrested shortly after he left Lewis’ home while riding his bike on the corner of 41 Road and 12th Street. Police allegedly recovered 98 white glassine envelopes, which contained a mixture of Fentanyl and heroin.

Harris faces up to 12 years in prison and remains in jail in lieu of his bail.

Lewis implicated himself in his drug dealing when he received a prison call from Harris and they discussed bailing him out, according to the District Attorney’s office.

“If I use a bondsman they are going to want know where the money came from. I can’t do that,” Lewis allegedly said. Harris allegedly replied that the bail was so high because the drugs he was charged with selling were Fentanyl, and that Fentanyl was killing people.

In response, Lewis allegedly stated that he should have got Harris underwear with a hidden pocket to hide the drugs.

The police searched Lewis’ home on July 19, and allegedly recovered one large rock of Fentanyl, a box containing numerous empty glassine envelopes commonly used to package Fentanyl and heroin; two large plastic bags containing more than 750 glassine envelopes containing Fentanyl inside a shoe box in the hall closet; and $2,900 in cash.

Lewis’ next court date is Aug. 4.

My Worldcon Schedule

Jul. 25th, 2017 08:20 am
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Posted by Jo Walton

Creating Rules of Enchantment

Wednesday 17:00 – 18:00, 207 (Messukeskus)

Magical worlds are wonderful places for readers to inhabit; however, they can be devilishly tricky places for writers to create. The magic must be powerful enough to be instrumental to the characters and storyline, and yet not so potent that the characters who wield it become indomitable and their stories therefore boring. Researching existing legends, mythology, and folklore can help an author frame effective magical systems.
Mark Tompkins, T.Thorn Coyle (M) , Jo Walton, Kari Sperring

Signing: Jo Walton

Thursday 11:00 – 12:00, Signing area (Messukeskus)

Jo Walton

Asexuality in SF

Thursday 13:00 – 14:00, 101c (Messukeskus)

Is romance always necessary? How have asexual characters been written in SF and who are they?

Todd Allis, Kat Kourbeti, Jo Walton

Reading: Eva Elasigue, Jo Walton

Thursday 19:00 – 20:00, 101d (Messukeskus)

Eva L. Elasigue, Jo Walton

Gender and “Realistic History”

Saturday 11:00 – 12:00, Hall 3 (Messukeskus)

The panelists discuss how people from the past (particularly women and LGBT+ folks) were much more prominent and awesome than most fantasy & alternate history would have us believe.

Cheryl Morgan (M), Thomas Årnfelt, Gillian Polack, Jo Walton, Scott Lynch

History as World-building

Sunday 15:00 – 16:00, 216 (Messukeskus)

Using knowledge and research of real-life history as world-building fantasy and science fiction.

Thomas Årnfelt, Jacey Bedford, Heather Rose Jones (M) , Jo Walton  Angus Watson

Note — I have no kaffeeklatch. 🙁


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Posted by Surabhi Kanga

Diane Coffey and Dean Spears are visiting researchers at the Indian Statistical Institute in Delhi. In their book, Where India Goes: Abandoned Toilets, Stunted Development and the Costs of Caste, Coffey and Spears investigate why more than half the Indian population defecates in the open in India, and why, despite schemes such as the Swachh Bharat Mission­­—the central government’s flagship sanitation project—the use of latrines in rural India remains low. As part of the research for the book, the writers, along with a research team, traveled to various parts of rural Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Bihar and Tamil Nadu. They found that the primary reason for poor sanitation in rural areas is the persistence of caste prejudices—most Indians, especially upper-caste Hindus, continue to associate defecation with impurity or “dirty” practices, and are often unwilling to have latrines constructed in their otherwise “pure” homes. This prejudice is a by-product of caste hierarchies, which relegate any work involving proximity to human waste to those considered lower-caste, and perpetuate practices such as manual scavenging. “Open defecation in rural India is a globally special case that helps us understand how social inequality constrains human development,” Coffey and Spears write in their introduction to the book. “It may not be possible to accelerate India’s future without engaging with the illiberal forces of caste and untouchability that are still part of India’s present.”

How these prejudices further unsanitary practices is illustrated in the excerpt below: despite recommended World Health Organisation standards for small, affordable latrine pits, most homes in rural India desist from having these installed, or build extremely large pits in the ground—thereby increasing the cost of building toilets, among other issues. The reason behind these decisions, Coffey and Spears found, is that most people refuse to participate in the process of emptying of latrine pits. In the extract, the writers discuss their findings regarding this reluctance, and explain how it is rooted in caste.

In other developing countries, where untouchability and manual scavenging never existed, emptying latrine pits is a job done by people who are poor and down on their luck. But they are not people whose parents were prevented from drawing water from a well. They are not people whose parents were forced to eat scraps after public functions. In other countries, emptying latrine pits is an unpleasant job rather than a symbol of generations of oppression and humiliation. India’s history of untouchability—and the way it is being renegotiated in villages today—is what makes the job of emptying latrine pits in Indian villages markedly different from other places in the developing world.

If higher-caste people cannot look beyond the supposedly polluting nature of sanitation work and learn to see the people who do such work as equals, it may help to accelerate social progress if more people like Neha [a young Dalit woman that the writers met] refuse to do the stigmatising work that others expect of them. This is a strategy that many Dalit activists have promoted, even as other Dalits advocate instead for better pay and working conditions—especially those like Neha’s father, who have found meagre economic security in performing untouchable work. It is against this backdrop that people in villages fret about what will happen if they were to use a simple pit latrine, and if that pit were to fill up.

By the time we had finished [the studies described in the book], our whole team had come to understand how important the lack of affordable pit latrines is to India’s open defecation crisis. But we did not yet fully understand just how difficult it would be to get a latrine pit emptied in a village. Could someone get a latrine pit emptied if he wanted to? Our colleagues returned to Sitapur [a district in Uttar Pradesh] in December 2014 to find out.

One of the first things that they learnt was that latrine pits are so rarely emptied manually in villages that it is difficult to estimate the price of this service. The few families they found who had ever had a honeycomb-style pit emptied reported paying a very high price compared to what they pay for other services in villages. A young Brahmin named Abhishek Sharma explained to our colleagues that his relatives had recently needed to get their pit emptied:

There is no one who will empty out a pit here. Near us, in 10, 20, 50 kilometres, there is no one who will empty out a pit. This is a problem. Our uncle’s latrine pit got filled up. It was a soak [honeycomb-style] pit. We had to bring someone from Lucknow to get it emptied out. They took five-and-a-half thousand rupees for a two-hour job. That’s why this is a big problem.

To put this price into perspective, an unskilled day labourer who works in Sitapur town could expect to earn about Rs 200 per day. He would earn even less if he were working in a village. An economist who is unaware of India’s history of untouchability would be shocked by the high cost of getting a latrine pit emptied. How could someone charge Rs 5,500 for two hours of manual labour when the wage for day labour in the same market is so much less? For this much money, one could buy two complete latrines in Bangladesh! The economist, drawing upon the familiar model of supply and demand, would expect more workers to enter the market for latrine pit emptying and compete against one another for work until the price of the job came down.

The key reason why people who empty latrine pits can charge much more than the prevailing wage for day labour is that very, very few people are willing to do this work, even for high wages. The model of supply and demand itself is not wrong, but something unique is holding back supply in this case. While visiting an NGO that works on sanitation in Bihar, Diane and Nikhil [a researcher who contributed to the fieldwork] met a field manager whose job was to convince people to adopt affordable latrines. Having talked to many villagers himself, the field manager understood that people did not want government latrines because they did not want to deal with having to empty latrine pits. He wondered if more people would adopt latrines if he were also able to offer a pit-emptying service. But he struggled to find people to provide those services. He explained, “For [people who empty latrine pits] it is like this: if you earn well, but you can’t go to a restaurant, and you can’t go to a temple, what is the use?”

Earlier, we mentioned that one important limit on the pace of social progress in rural India is that higher castes are unwilling to perform traditionally untouchable work, even as more and more Dalits reject these forms of employment. But you might still be wondering whether, faced with such high prices, at least some higher-caste latrine owners would learn to swallow their distaste and empty the latrine pit themselves? After all, as Abhishek Sharma explained, it is a job that takes only a couple of hours.

We did meet a handful of people who had emptied or claimed to be willing to empty their own latrine pits. Most were Muslim. More often than not, they whispered to us that they had emptied the pit under the cover of darkness rather than pay the exorbitant price that a scavenger would charge.

But the vast majority of people we talked with said that they could not even conceive of emptying a latrine pit themselves. Priya, a woman living in peri-urban Sitapur who belonged to a lower, but not a Dalit, caste, explained why:

We cannot empty [the latrine pit] ourselves. We call a Bhangi [a term used to refer to Dalits, often employed as a slur] even if something gets clogged in the latrine … How can we empty it ourselves? It is disgusting, so a Bhangi must come to clean it … We are Hindus, so how can we clean it? [If we do], how will we worship afterwards? If money were an issue we would take a loan for it; we would have to find some way to get it emptied. This work can only be done by people who inherit this occupation. They are Bhangis, they have been created [by God] for this work.

Dalits from other than manual scavenging castes also refuse to empty their own latrine pits. A 60-year-old Pasi (a traditionally pig-rearing Dalit caste) man who works as a nightwatchman explained:

We can’t empty it on our own. It’s their occupation, they are the ones who do it. We are not that. They are the Mehtars, so they clean, but we are Pasi, so we can’t clean … If we clean, we will [be ostracised] – nobody will smoke hookah with us – I mean that nobody will eat or drink with us if we clean [faeces] … People won’t eat with us, and they won’t drink water from our cups.

Sometimes, when we were interviewing people about latrines and pit emptying, we would explain how honeycomb-style latrine pits work. We did this because most people wrongly believe that if they are used daily, government latrine pits fill up very quickly, in a matter of two or three months. However, a 1.5-metre-cube latrine pit that is used daily will actually fill up in a matter of years, not months. This is because the water used for flushing and the water content of the faeces seeps into the ground.

Incorrect beliefs about how long it takes a pit to fill up lead people to considerably overestimate the cost of owning a latrine. They think that they would have to pay several hundreds or thousands of rupees every few months to have the pit emptied. It is no wonder, then, that the SQUAT survey documented that people think that a latrine pit should be reserved for daughters-in-law, for old people, or for “emergencies.” Pits are a depletable resource: the thinking goes that the more often they are used, the more money will have to be spent on emptying them. We suspect that correcting the false belief that pits fill up in a matter of months could be a good first step for a programme of behaviour change informed by the complaints rural Indians have about government latrines.

When Nikhil explained the use of twin pits [a system where two pits are constructed for use—when one fills up, it is covered for six months so that faeces can decompose and therefore, become safer to handle] to Abhishek Sharma, he did not challenge the ideas that the faeces would decompose, and that, biologically speaking, they would be less infectious. Nevertheless, he was firm that this new information did not change his thinking about pit emptying or his family members’ thinking. He said, “We will not be able to do it. I mean, this depends on your thinking and your himmat. People can do it, but we can’t do it.”

Several other people also referred to himmat when talking about pit emptying. We found this word choice revealing. “Himmat” typically translates to “courage,” but when our respondents used it to talk about pit emptying, they linked it to a person’s thinking or orientation towards caste and untouchability. People with himmat were those who were willing to challenge social norms and face the stigma and ostracisation that might accompany such an act.

This is an excerpt from Where India Goes: Abandoned Toilets, Stunted Development and the Costs of Caste, by Diane Coffey and Dean Spears, published by HarperCollins India. The excerpt has been edited and condensed.

The post “We Are Hindus, So How Can We Clean It?”: How Caste Prejudices Promote Open Defecation in Rural India appeared first on The Caravan.

[syndicated profile] shauna_gm_feed

So I read Kushner’s statement today, which includes the line “I am not a person who has sought the spotlight” and, well, I couldn’t help myself. 


I have never been the type to try and grab the spotlight
We were in a meeting with some Russians on a hot night
Laughin’ at my brother in law, trying to leave the room
Then you walked in and my heart went “Boom!”
Trying to understand who it is that’s recruitin’
Everybody’s dancing ‘round the fact that it’s Putin

Aligned to the Kremlin as we wine and dine
Grab my brother and
Mutter, “Yo, this
One’s a crime.”

My brother made his way across the room to you
And I got nervous, thinking “What’s he gonna do?”
He grabbed you by the arm, I’m thinkin’ “We’re through”
Then you look back at me and suddenly I’m

Oh, look at those lies
Yeah I’m colluding
Down for the count
And I’m drowning in it

Issue 55 is here!

Jul. 25th, 2017 06:19 am
[syndicated profile] expandedhorizons_feed

Posted by Dash

Dear Readers,

The July issue is here! This month’s issue brings a ghostly battle, a look at disability through science fiction and fantasy lenses, spirits, Saami folklore, and a glimpse at the possible future of war, life, death and control over one’s body. We have five stories this month, not the usual four!

Please note that Expanded Horizons is temporarily not accepting new submissions. When I have finished responding to all the submissions in the queue, I will re-open the magazine to new submissions. We will still publish in the meantime – I have so much good material here! But if you all keep sending me your wonderful works, I’ll never get through them all.

As always, if you like the issue and appreciate our efforts, please consider making a donation to Expanded Horizons through the PayPal button on the right. See you next month!

– Dash, for Expanded Horizons

Keep Calm and Write a Blog Post

Jul. 25th, 2017 12:00 am
[syndicated profile] softwarecarpentry_feed

Writing a blog post should not be hard. A blank screen can seem very daunting, but if you populate it with a few questions, such as Who? What? Where? When? Why? and How?, then you have the genesis of a post.

Workshop report? Once you’ve answered the questions above, you’re pretty much done. Throw in something that went well or a funny story about something that didn’t, and that’s it.

Conference reportback? Ditto. Project you’re working on? Ditto.

Perhaps you’ve stumbled across some new tool that you love so much you want to tell the world? Tell us why you like it and what you use it for, and that’s a post right there.

If you are not sure how to format your post for our blog, check out our CONTRIBUTING.md file, which now includes instructions on posts.

If that all seems too hard, feel free to email your text to me, and I will arrange to post it for you.

We want our blog to be useful to our community, and a multiplicity of voices helps with that.


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