kathmandu: Close-up of pussywillow catkins. (Default)
"wiki" is not a proper noun. A wiki is a website set up to be easily editable by lots of people working independently, usually to pool their knowledge. There are wikis for pooling knowledge on science fiction, on sewing patterns, and on architecture. Wikipedia is a specific site; its name is capitalized because it is a proper noun.

Citing the source of your information as "wiki" is no kind of citation at all.
kathmandu: Close-up of pussywillow catkins. (Default)
Today was a presidential primary. In my state, you can vote in any one party's primary.

I think the Republican candidates are all equally awful, just in slightly different ways. I don't care which of them gets nominated.
I'm not much happier about Obama, but he's running unopposed. Which means he'll be the Democratic candidate no matter what.

A primary election in which your least-disliked candidate is unopposed is the perfect example of a time when your vote will make no difference in the course of government.

So I thought a little about the possibilities, and then I got a Democratic ballot, and wrote in Glass & Steagall.
kathmandu: Close-up of pussywillow catkins. (Default)
Posted as part of the "Cooking for People Who Don't" Blog Carnival (Carnival the First: Food Security) organized by [personal profile] commodorified.

This is a very simple, easy (and cheap! Did I mention cheap?) recipe made from things that keep well. It also counts as a vegetable dish and a protein dish. Tastes yummy, warms you up on a cold night, looks elegant if served elegantly. Total cooking time maybe fifteen minutes.

I usually make it as a stovetop dish. Hot plate would be fine, microwave should work also, just make sure to bring to a boil before adding the egg and heat again until the egg solidifies. All proportions are to taste. The only key point is 'bring to a boil, add egg while stirring so it gets spread out thoroughly, cook a little bit more until done'.

Quantities given are for one vegetarian with a small appetite, or two to three people as an appetizer. Scale up as necessary, but only on a stovetop---a microwave probably wouldn't heat evenly enough.

Water / chicken broth / veggie bouillon, two cups
Tomato paste, about two to three tablespoons
Egg, one

1) Heat the water or broth and stir in the tomato paste.

2) Break the egg into a small bowl or cup, stir lightly with a fork so the white and yolk are well mixed.
(If you don't have an extra bowl or cup, you can break the egg directly into the boiling liquid and immediately stir like crazy. The egg will form larger lumps and need to cook a bit longer, but you'll still have cooked food.)

3) When the tomato liquid boils, turn down the heat (or remove from the microwave). Pick up the bowl of egg in one hand and a fork in the other hand. Pour egg slowly into liquid, while stirring. The egg should form long thin ribbons.

4) Turn the burner back on or microwave on high, briefly, so the egg is solid and opaque. Clear bits of egg are not done yet. When you taste it, it should taste cooked but not hard-boiled.

Flavorings you might like to add if you have them around:
hot sauce
lemon juice
pepper/salt/garlic powder
minced onion / scallions / chives

Because the egg is only lightly cooked, I never try to keep this soup. But the ingredients (tomato paste and eggs) keep excellently in the fridge, and dry bouillon cubes keep for years on the shelf.
kathmandu: Close-up of pussywillow catkins. (Default)
Happy Birthday, Oursin!
kathmandu: Close-up of pussywillow catkins. (Default)
So, you know how feminists talk about the way this culture treats men as the default human being, the normal and expected type of person, and every time there's a difference between men and women it's treated as women's deviance from the norm? Rather than, say, men's deviance from the norm, or two equally valid norms?

I started reading Melissa Scott and Lisa Barnett's fantasy novels when I was in junior high or high school. They do historical fantasy with a wealth of historical detail, and magical systems based on things that were believed in Europe at the time. The Armor of Light treats Elizabethan belief in demon-summoning and spell-casting as if it were true. Point of Hopes and Point of Dreams treat astrology as if it were true; businesses time their activities according to the most propitious arrangements of stars.

What I didn't notice until I re-read them in adulthood, is that Point of Hopes and Point of Dreams are set in a world where women are the default person. A male character, considering what he should do next, thinks "This is the point at which a wise woman would..." meaning a wise person would. Groups of men-and-women mixed are addressed as "My ladies". It's not the point of the series, it's just a background detail, but it's a neat view into an alternate universe.
kathmandu: Close-up of pussywillow catkins. (Default)
I read this book called Catastrophe in the Making about New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina. It took the long view, tracing New Orleans' history from its start as a very small settlement where piracy was an important part of the local economy to the modern day.

One of the things the author pointed out was that, of the several canals in and around New Orleans, only the first two were built with local money. They were small, short canals that made local shipping more efficient, and local business-owners found it worthwhile to build them.

Every canal after that was a product of the Growth Machine.

The Growth Machine is the author's term for when a group of business-owners and local government officials band together and announce they're going to "boost Smalltown" and "help Smalltown grow" and so forth. They petition the state and national government for grants for large construction projects---it may be a canal, or a highway, or a dam, or 'urban renewal'. They claim it will produce wonderful economic development, new businesses, trade, agriculture, the sky's the limit!

But it doesn't. The real point of these projects is to bring in outside money for the construction. The construction-company owner and his buddy the mayor pass out the grant money to their supporters, thereby entrenching their own power more firmly. The construction does happen, but it never generates any new economic activity. The local economy "grows" by exactly the amount of grant money coming in, for exactly as long as the grant runs, and then it goes back to its old size. The town didn't have the skills and opportunity to make productive use of the construction, or the construction was never capable of being useful. No canal on earth could have turned New Orleans the river town into the seaport it wanted to be, and the river that the grant applications described as narrow, shallow, choked with snags, and plagued by fogs was still deeper and wider than any canal they could have built. The canals built with federal grant money were mostly obsolete before they were finished, or obsolete soon after, but from their boosters' perspective, that wasn't a problem; it had never really been about shipping, only about getting the money. Which was why they had patiently lobbied, for decades, over the Army Corps of Engineers' strong objections, for federal funding: they certainly weren't going to fund useless canals themselves. Just like the pirates of old, they were bringing in outside resources rather than producing anything.

A few days after I read this I watched some early episodes of Leverage that I'd missed the first time around. In the first episode, Sophie pretends to represent the Nigerian government, looking for a contractor to build a fleet of small planes. The airplane-company guy points out that Nigeria has very few airports, with very bad runways, could they really use new planes? And Sophie says that that isn't the point, now is it? The planes will be paid for with foreign aid, so don't worry your pretty little head about it.

And I thought, this is the Growth Machine. Foreign grant money coming in, and someone will get the contract in exchange for supporting the politicians in power, and all the sub-contractors will get their own shares to hand out in exchange for support, and probably there will be bribes at every step. And it won't matter to the lobbyists if the planes are never used.

It's useful to have a term for a phenomenon that comes up so often. Makes it easier to distinguish the Growth Machine from real development.
kathmandu: Close-up of pussywillow catkins. (Default)
So my followup to the previous thought was that all this emphasis on 'education as the route to a better job' is there because the labor movement lost momentum. There are two ways to save yourself from the tedium, bodily wear and tear, and low pay of bad blue-collar jobs: qualify for a white-collar job (personal), or make the blue-collar jobs better (societal). That's what unions did.

And my impression is that for at least the last forty years, we as a society have pretty much given up on that. That's why my generation and younger got so much pressure all focused on "do well in school, aim for the high-paying corporate jobs"---there was hardly anything else left that paid decently.
kathmandu: Close-up of pussywillow catkins. (Default)
I was thinking about college education. My career path has been stumbling and undirected, and I think part of where I went wrong was in absorbing all those messages about 'study hard and do well in school, and you'll have a successful and well-paid career'. Along with those were the messages about 'Oh, you're smart? That's wonderful! It will be a huge advantage all through life, because smarts are rare and valuable. You will be successful at whatever you want to do!'

The thing is, smarts aren't that rare. Lots of people have enough intelligence to do smart-people things like accounting or programming. It doesn't look like that many because lots of people don't get the help and opportunity to develop their intellectual potential. And that is because smarts are a low-valued resource. We don't bother developing people's intellectual capacity because we have plenty of thinkers. The powers that be want lots of minions. Think of the job ads: secretary, medical billing and coding, driver, waiter. They don't need any more systems designers or inventors.
kathmandu: Close-up of pussywillow catkins. (Default)
Crooked Timber had a post by John Holbo last month on The Economics of Elfland. It included a paragraph saying:

Zombie economics is all well and good. But maybe we need a volume on the Economics of Elfland. ‘The Magic of Money’ is a standard theme. It’s mysterious stuff, how it grows and breeds and exerts strange power over the mind, charming whole populations. All gold, in an economic sense, is fairy gold. It lasts as long as the spell it casts lasts. So how has the general subject of economics – not just money and gold – been treated in fairy tales? There’s Midas, of course. Bit of a cautionary tale, that one. I can’t think of too many examples, but I expect they would tend to be along Jack Frost lines. The magical creation of money is an invitation to satire. Are there fairy tales about elves crashing the economy with fairy gold-induced hyper-inflation? Or saving the economy with a heroic helicopter drop? Stories about elves themselves fleeing Elfland for the human world, with its relatively stable currencies? Hedge fund managers practicing crude ‘hedge magic’, to get rich quick, only to call up dark forces beyond their control or comprehension?

No there aren't stories like that, because Holbo has fundamentally misunderstood the stories about fairy gold. When a fairy makes a deal with a human, and pays in golden coins that turn into dead leaves in the morning, that wasn't real fairy currency. The whole point of the story is that the human has been scammed. The fairy deceived the human into thinking dead leaves were valuable just long enough to get away.

In our economy, fairy gold was all those promises about the money to be made from real estate. Banks were making mortgages they knew the borrowers could never pay off, but recording the loans as though they were worth real money. Fairy gold evaporating is a metaphor for those loans going bust, the phantom income having to be removed from bank balance sheets, those houses turning out not to be capable of attracting that much real money.
kathmandu: Close-up of pussywillow catkins. (Default)
A majority of delinquent [home] loans (and loans in foreclosure) are prime loans.

Subprime mortgages are made at extra-high interest rates to borrowers who have bad credit. The worst loans made during the bubble were to people with good credit (meaning they were 'prime' borrowers) but nowhere near enough income to make the payments on bubble-inflated prices. Now that the teaser interest rates are expiring, they can't make payments and their loans are headed for foreclosure.
kathmandu: Close-up of pussywillow catkins. (Default)
Happy birthday, Oursin!
kathmandu: Photo of markers that write glittery ink in rainbow colors. (Glitter pens)
Today, in honor of Ada Lovelace, world's first computer programmer, I have a book to recommend. It is Druid's Blood, by Esther Friesner, and it may be hard to find; I've only ever seen one copy of it.

It's a mystery novel, but set in an alternate universe where magic works. Queen Victoria rules England by right of her druidic heritage, and Sherlock Holmes applies logical analysis to magical crimes. I highly recommend it.

When I read the Sherlock Holmes canon as a child, Holmes struck me as a man for whom sexuality was almost never an active element of his life: he lived a life of the mind, and practically never met anyone who could meet him on that level. Even his best friend trailed loyally after him going, "Wait, what?" There was a serious lack of anyone he could really fully engage with.

So I was charmed by a minor plot element of Druid's Blood, in which Sherlock Holmes meets Ada Lovelace and is mildly smitten with her. Of course she was the perfect candidate: a woman of his time who was as logically analytical as he was.
kathmandu: Close-up of pussywillow catkins. (Default)
So "health care reform" passed. Except that this isn't anything to do with actual health care; this is about insurance. And it doesn't really qualify as reform either. Oh, they say it bans insurance companies from refusing to take customers with pre-existing conditions, and that it bans insurance companies from denying coverage when you try to use it (PDF, but a great summary. You should go read it), but some states have bans like that already, and they don't help. Bans are only effective if they have strong enforcement clauses. This has very weak enforcement clauses: companies that deny coverage will be fined ten dollars a day. That's $3,650 a year. Just one specialized medical procedure can cost more than that; surgery can cost a lot more. So insurance companies will find it totally worthwhile to deny coverage, pay $3,650 a year fine, and let people die of kidney failure or whatever.

When you get right down to it, almost the only thing this bill does---besides making it even harder to get an abortion when you need one---is require all of us Americans to pay lots of money to insurance companies, without getting actual health care in exchange. If the money we can pay is not enough, the government will pay even more of our collective tax money to make sure the insurance companies get as much money as they want.

This is, in fact, the third leg of the bailout. Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate got us into economic trouble. Finance and Real Estate have already been bailed out. Now it's Insurance's turn.
kathmandu: Close-up of pussywillow catkins. (Default)
If you thought Avatar had some good material but didn't do much with it, you might like these stories better.

1) Code of the Lifemaker, by James P. Hogan: a quite different take on encountering another civilization with Stuff We Want, and choosing sides. Includes a proposal to use the aliens as avatars with which to explore the new world, but rejects it.

2) A much more thoroughly grounded take on nature rising up to repel invasion: Pennterra, by Judith Moffat. I think of this as Quakers in Space. It's very neat, quite reflective, has no violence, but cut for sexual squickiness ).

3) Islandia, by Austin Tappan Wright. Our hero journeys to a little-known civilization, decideds to stay and assimilate, but without falling for the Exotic Foreign Women plot-device. If you like long narrative description and world-building, this is for you.

4) Fire in a Faraway Place, by Robert Frezza. Mercenaries sent by a corporation to put down a freedom movement on a corporation-owned planet. The mercenaries took a good look at the situation and switched sides. This is a very grim story about fighting a war of resistance against an opponent who comes from far away but has a lot more total resources.
kathmandu: Close-up of pussywillow catkins. (Default)
Here's the thing. We all understand about kyriarchy, right? An elaborate caste system, with many axes on which we're placed higher and lower than other people? And how it's wrong? And how men as a caste outrank women as a caste, even though there are lots of caste divisions within the male population. So women complain about how a man is oppressing them, and the man will say "Hey, I'm oppressed because I'm [poor/disabled/black/etc] and therefore I'm entitled to trample women!" And women say, "No you're not. Nothing excuses trampling people, not even having been trampled yourself."

This applies to slash-fic too. There are a lot of stories purporting to be about men, but portraying 'anal sex' that cannot possibly work. If you call the writers on it, they'll say that not every detail has to be exact. But it is exact. Those stories are exactly realistic portrayals of vaginal sex. They're stories about a het couple, with a search-and-replace done on the pronouns. Kaigou discussed some of the reasons some people write stories that way.

Occasionally a gay man will say that he doesn't like having his name taken in vain, that he wishes straight women wouldn't use gay men's images as a front for female experience. He may point out that it's hard for gay men to tell their stories when all the relevant search terms are drowning in het-disguised-as-slash. He will promptly be jumped on by a bunch of women saying "This is women's space, slash is not about you."

Except I don't think that's fair. It's true that we don't have enough women's spaces or enough stories where women's experience is given central importance. But neither do gay men have enough safe space to tell their stories, and it's not fair for us to project our erotic fantasies onto them, and drown out the reality of gay male experience, any more than it's fair for straight men to project their erotic fantasies onto women and drown out the reality of our experience.
kathmandu: Close-up of pussywillow catkins. (Default)
This isn't about health care. This is a bailout.

The bill as it seems likely to pass forces individuals to pay lots of money to insurance companies. People who don't pay money to insurance companies will be fined. If that still doesn't produce enough money to satisfy the insurance companies, the government will pay extra money directly to the insurance companies.

The financial industry (banks and investment brokers), the real-estate industry, and the insurance industry, are all so closely intertwined that economists treat them as one sector of the economy. In this current economic crash, we've already seen bailouts for the banking industry and the real-estate industry. This is the third part, bailing out the insurance industry.

Health care is just an excuse. You can tell because anything that might have improved actual health care has been systematically stripped out of the bill: no guaranteed publicly funded care, no publicly-run insurance, no option to just pay a doctor directly, no anything that wouldn't allow private insurance companies to rake off tons of money.
kathmandu: Close-up of pussywillow catkins. (Default)
Oursin graciously included me in a meme she's doing wherein I get to answer five questions she asks. Since my profile is a bit on the cryptic side, she came up with the following:

1) Resisting the temptation to ask, 'is your location somewhere south of a one-eyed yellow idol': are you living in the place you would choose, or is there somewhere where you would rather make your life?

I'm happy living in the northeastern U.S.A. I am a native New Englander, and my family is strongly traditional. The traveling I've done so far made it very clear that I belong here and nowhere else. If I moved far away, lost my accent, learned all the customs, and wore local clothes, I would still be 'that Yankee lady'.

On the other hand, there aren't many old-style Yankees left even here in Yankeeland, so sometimes I feel out of place anyway, like one of the last survivors of an ancient culture, possibly arrived by time travel.

2) Have you ever been to Nepal, or is it on your 'some day' list of places you would like to visit?

I've never been there. It might be neat to travel there someday, but that would probably be part of a round-the-world trip.

3) While thinking about greeneyed yellow gods, would you say that you subscribed to any belief (or unbelief) system?

Hmmm. Lots of belief systems. I learned feminism at my mother's knee. Strong second-wave influence there. For religion, I subscribe to the Baha'i faith.

I believe that cats try hard to communicate with us. My cat's communications often boil down to "Mom? Excuse me? Mom? Mom! MOMMMMM! FEED ME! I haven't eaten in an hour!"

I assume that luck demons listen to us. It is never a good idea to say things like "Nothing can stop me now!" or "We should be fine as long as it doesn't snow." I don't really believe in demons, or a sentient and reactive Fate, but fairy tales, Buffy, and F/SF reading have left me with a firm conviction that it's just not worth the risk.

And I believe that, if you break into people's house of worship and desecrate their sacred art, they will be angry, and probably come looking for you with extreme prejudice.

4) What works of feminism would you strongly advise the Colonel's daughter to read?

Probably The Female Eunuch, by Germaine Greer, for the message that trading sex appeal or conventionality for presents is not such a good idea. And maybe Cynthia Heimel on the benefits of directness, and not demanding a man jump through hoops to amuse you.

5) Resisting the temptation to ask 'any relation to Mad Carew', is there any particular significance to your username?

I thought of Kathmandu as an ancient trading nexus, like Samarkand. See, my father traveled through Samarkand when I was first a gleam in his eye, and my mother's best friend traveled through Nepal and Tibet, so in a way it feels like ancient trading nexuses are where the idea of me began.

And I like wordplay, so Kat -> cat -> catkin as in pussy-willow.
kathmandu: Close-up of pussywillow catkins. (Default)
(A post to be updated intermittently.)

'Periodic' means every so often. 'Periodical' is a magazine.

'Assumably' is not a word. The word you want is 'presumably'.

'Lowly' is an adjective, not an adverb.

"This annoys me to no end" means this annoys me pointlessly. "This annoys me no end" means this annoys me infinitely.

'Conflation' is treating two different things as though they were the same thing. 'Conflagration' is a big fire.

'Gourmand' is a person who eats a lot. If you mean someone with very good taste in food, that's a 'gourmet'.

'Diffusing' conflict means spreading it around. 'Defusing' conflict means stopping it.

'Lurid' means either pale as a ghost or dark as a bruise. Bright colors are not lurid.

'Indigence' means poverty. 'Indignance' means being upset.

'Reticent' means not saying much on the subject you're asked about. It does not mean being reluctant or being cautious.

Normative does not mean normal.
People are not heteronormative. People are (sometimes) heterosexual: sexually attracted to the opposite sex. Heteronormative doesn't even mean 'assuming that being hetero is normal'. Heteronormative means 'assuming that heterosexuality is the Right, True, and Only Way to Be, that any other orientation is inferior'.

One criterion, two criteria.

One candelabrum, two candelabra.

Tenants live in houses. Tenets are clauses of belief systems.

To ascribe is to give credit, as in "Some people ascribe Shakespeare's plays to Francis Bacon." If you want to say you believe something, use subscribe, as in "I subscribe to that view myself."
kathmandu: Close-up of pussywillow catkins. (Default)
I didn't see any of Leverage last year, not even any commercials for it; but the fan reviews I read motivated me to try this season's episodes. I started with S2 E1, the Beantown Bailout Job. You know the scene in the bar after the play, when they're all saying What I Did on My Summer Vacation? ("...we are doing some very hinky things in Pakistan." "And what did you do, Elliot?" "I was in Pakistan." ) And they're all saying how bored they are, committing regular old crime, how it was so much more fun being good guys and having daring adventures? That's when I realized: These are the heirs of the Saint.

You may have seen the movie starring Val Kilmer. Ignore that. It didn't convey the mood of the Saint canon at all. The movie was violent and grim and desperate. The book Saint tended to smile, even in straits that seemed grim to the lay eye, because he saw it all as a game; he was having fun.

The Saint was a con man's con man. He would fall into conversation with a clever man who had this nifty device to extract gold from the air, or some such, and who just needed a little capital for the patent fees...and the encounter would end with the clever man completely cleaned out of money and the Saint strolling away whistling.

He didn't identify exactly as a con man. He described himself as a buccaneer: pirate, or maybe closer to privateer. He was comfortable and competent at fighting, picking locks, shadowing people... oh, just read the author's own description (from Catch the Saint)

In the course of his good works, of which he himself was not the smallest beneficiary, the man so paradoxically called the Saint had assumed many roles and placed himself in such a fantastic variety of settings that the adventures of a Sinbad or a Ulysses had by comparison all the excitement of a housewife's trip to the market. His range was the world. His identities had encompassed cowboy and playboy, poet and revolutionary, hobo and millionaire. The booty he had gathered in his years of buccaneering had certainly made the last category genuine: The assets he had salted away would have made headlines if they had been exposed to counting. He could have comfortably retired at an age when most men are still angling for their second promotion. But strong as the profit motive was as a factor in his exploits, there were other drives which would never allow him to put the gears of his mind permanently in neutral and hang up his heels on the stern rail of a yacht. He had an insatiable lust for action, in a world that squandered its energies on speeches and account books. He craved the individual expression of his own personal ideals, and his rules were not those of parliaments and judges but those of a man impatient to accomplish his purposes, according to his own lights, by the most effective means available at the moment.

He pulled some capers for himself, some to help out other individuals, and a few against major villains who were a threat to the general welfare. He was mainly UK-based, although when the author, Leslie Charteris, started traveling to the U.S. and dealing with Hollywood, the Saint did too.

The canon runs from 1928 through most of the rest of the 20th century, the exact end date depending on whether you count collaborations or licensed works. I can particularly recommend the short stories collected in The Saint Intervenes (1934) as giving a good view of his cheerful style and varied activities.

(Crossposted to [community profile] what_ho_chaps.)


Aug. 14th, 2009 06:14 pm
kathmandu: Close-up of pussywillow catkins. (Default)
We are all just souls in bodies. The kind of body you are in does not control what kind of person you are. This is the whole premise behind feminism: women and men are fundamentally the same kind of people, with the same range of interests and human worth. The only intrinsic difference is that women can become pregnant, and can give birth. Men can cause pregnancy in others. Everything else---math, cooking, liking pink or blue, being assertive or being shy---is a combination of random genetic traits with social conditioning.

Gender is socially constructed. It is not an intrinsic part of a person's identity.

So I don't believe in the current social construction of 'transgender'. I think it amounts to gender essentialism, claiming that a person who likes to wear dresses and date men must be a woman, and a person who likes to wear trousers and date women must be a man.

Men are people born with prostates. Women are people born with uteruses. Everything else is a matter of what you do, not who you are. And I'm annoyed when people say that someone who wants to wear trousers and play with boys, or work in a traditionally-male job, must be a man, because that's the same old "You're not a REAL woman! REAL women always wear dresses!" propaganda that some of us have been fighting for generations now.

In conclusion, I wish people would stop diverting their energies into petitions to be allowed to move into a more comfortable gender-box and instead join the fight to destroy gender boxes altogether.