Happy 80th Birthday, Ursula K. Le Guin

Today is Ursula K. Le Guin’s 80th birthday.

Ursula K. Le Guin reading from Always Coming Home at Potlatch 18, streamed into Second Life

Ursula K. Le Guin reading from "Always Coming Home" at Potlatch 18, streamed into Second Life

I read The Dispossessed for the first time during my junior year of college, and its lesson, in a friend’s words, that “it’s always more complicated” has stayed with me, even if I don’t always remember it. Three Roads Four Ways to Forgiveness should be read by any would-be liberator from oppression.

Earlier this year, I was very happy to help arrange for her reading from Always Coming Home at Potlatch, a small literary SF convention, to be streamed into Second Life. Every time I see that screen shot, I can’t help but think that she’s conversing with the machine intelligences in the City of Mind.

Happy Birthday, Ms. Le Guin, and thank you for your books.

All of the Hurt, None of the Comfort

I’ve recently learned that my nickname, which my friend Karen bestowed on me back in 1989, is a term of art in fan fiction.

To ‘whump’ a character is to write a fic where awful things happen to him, often at the hands of other characters from the book/show/movie, after which everyone realizes they’ve done him wrong and make amends. Daniel from Stargate SG-1 is the canonical whump!fic target since he’s always dying, getting kidnapped by aliens, or dropped into stray singularities.

It’s amusing to learn this, and explains the odd reaction I get when introduced to fan writers.

I’ve asked how long the term has been in use, and guesses range from a decade to the past 20 years.

More on the High Cost of Being Poor

Two recent, related posts about surcharges faced by the working poor.

Andrew Leonard, writing at Salon, discusses debit cards. Which, outside of California, can expire if not used. Wal-Mart plans to stop cutting checks for employees who don’t have direct deposit and give them debt cards. The cards will incur fees for checking balances as well as for transactions.

Over at Slacktivist, Wal-Mart doesn’t fair any better. The company is now going to charge $3 to cash checks, which is lower fees than charged elsewhere, but still that’s $3 that someone who is working poor could had used to pay utilities. And over the course of a year that fee adds up to what might be a dentist or medical co-pay.

Slacktivist points out that check cashing fees and debit cards are two symptoms of a lack of affordable banking services for the working poor. Nobody, it seems, is interested in serving that market. Back when banks were local, they would at least offer things like passbook savings, and in Europe and Japan, there are the Postal Banking systems that the poor and middle class use.

Links for Labor Day Weekend

If this is a long weekend for you, I’m hoping you’re enjoying it.

Blogging Verisimilitude

Cynthia and I watched Julie and Julia last Saturday, and I enjoyed it.

However, in the scene where Julie, annoyed by her friends and depressed with her job, decides to start a blog* she goes to a web page with Salon and Blogger branding.

I turn to Cynthia and whisper, “I’m certain that Salon was using Radio Userland for their hosted blogs back then!”

She chuckled and whispered “Pedant!” back at me.

Cynthia found the first entry of the actual Julie Powell’s blog, and sure enough:


Why didn’t the production designer keep the Radio Userland/Salon co-branding? Dave Winer’s software was cheated of its star turn!

Meanwhile, both the movie and the blog it’s adapted from are very enjoyable.

Minor Spoiler:

I really got a kick out of the reveal about Avis in the second act. It was a nice way to thematically link Child and Powell. But I doubt there were moral panics about pen-pals.

* A movie about blogging!?! I know. Ten years ago, I’d never imagined that happening.

Slacktivist on the Current Contentions

Slacktivist has been putting out some great posts on the shrillness of some of the opponents of health care reform:

In The IndigNation, Fred Clark talks about “The National Indignation Convention” (!) an early 1960′s movement, similar to the shouting mobs showing up at public meetings on health care, but were convinced that the danger to America was fluoridated water instead of public insurance.

Unsurprisingly, the movement started in Dallas, which at the time was a hotbed of anti-Catholic sentiment in the wake of JFK’s election. Of course, there was another facet to the meanness:

The woman who assaulted Adlai Stevenson with the picket sign was affiliated with the National Indignation Convention. Photojournalist Wes Wise, who captured that incident on film, reveals another revealing detail in Robert Huffaker’s book, When the News Went Live: Dallas 1963. After the woman’s assault on Stevenson was condemned nationally, the crazy lady offered what she considered an excuse for her behavior. “I was pushed from behind by a Negro,” she said. There were, of course, no black people in the vicinity.

These Pearls Won’t Clutch Themselves is a funny dialog between someone who is scandalized by someone saying a politician is lying (in this case, Governor Palin, on the so-called ‘death panel’) and the person who pointed out the lie.

B: You realize what you’ve done, don’t you?

A: Drawn a link between the spreading of malicious falsehoods and the practice commonly referred to as “lying”?

B: Well, yes, that. That’s not allowed.

No, its not malpractice…

I’m just going to link Gawande’s oft-cited report in the New Yorker about the cost of medical care in Brownsville, Texas (which caps damages from medical malpractice) so I can have a short URL to hand out to people who still think malpractice is the main driver of the cost of medical care in the US.

Spatial Hypertext in Second Life

Peter Miller’s StoryMachine is a 3D spatial hypertext system (like Tinderbox) for Second Life.

It’s been hooked up to TiddlyWiki, and the creators are looking at how to make it work with the new HTTP-in (every prim a server) functions in LSL so you can update the StoryMachine instance from outside of Second Life.

Attitudes towards Torture

The criticism of my country’s government over torture is well meaning, and deserved. However, there is a demand side to torture (just like censorship and security theater.)

And in the United States, over 40% of my fellow citizens think it’s justified according to polling data published in The Economist.

Stopping torture doesn’t just mean petitioning the government, it requires changing ordinary peoples’ attitudes (and maybe a little less Jack Bauer on TV.)

Crowdsourcing Caltrain Status to Twitter

There’s no official Caltrain twitter feed, so Ravi Pina created a service for people to post status on trains and the scarce bike cars to a shared account. Now Caltrain’s participating in it instead of starting their own feed. [ via San Mateo County Times ]

Michael Collins on Apollo 11 @ 40 years

NASA posted an amusing and candid interview with Apollo 11 Command Module pilot Michael Collins (he got to sit in orbit while Armstrong and Aldrin made the landing.)

Heroes abound, and should be revered as such, but don’t count astronauts among them. We work very hard; we did our jobs to near perfection, but that was what we had hired on to do. In no way did we meet the criterion of the Congressional Medal of Honor: ‘above and beyond the call of duty.’

The Q&A is intertwingled with quotes from Collins’ book Carrying the Fire, which I read back in middle school. Farrar, Straus & Giroux released a new edition of it to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the first human landing on the moon.

Edited to fix broken markup. Sorry about that, folks.

Dinosaurs on Dirtbikes and Shibuya in Summer

Leonard Richardson’s short story, Let Us Now Praise Awesome Dinosaurs starts with a Thymomenoraptor trying to buy a handgun. You’ll hear Iggy Pop’s theme from Repo Man while you read it.

Everyone’s been buzzing about the story, and it’s great.

But I also want to point out Rachel Manja Brown’s new story, also in Strange Horizons, that grabbed me by the shoulder and pulled me back to Tokyo when I read it.

[ via raanve's twitter stream ]

Charles N. Brown, Publisher of Locus, has Died

Locus serves as the de-facto trade magazine for the business of writing and publishing Science Fiction and Fantasy. Charles N. Brown, who started Locus in 1968, died on July 12, while returning from Readercon.

“If you want to understand…”

For the Fourth of July, Maria Kalman’s sketchblog on Thomas Jefferson, a brilliant and flawed man.

If you want to understand this country and its people and what it means to be optimistic and complex and tragic and wrong and courageous, you need to go to [Jefferson's] home in Virginia. Monticello.

This does not absolve him of the wrongs he did, but I have some better perspective and respect for the man. [ via Terry Karney ]

JQuery is the Sincerest Form of Flattery

Recreating the .Mac/MobileMe gallery using JQuery and CSS. [ via Fozbaca ]