Thursday, June 28, 2018

My First Encounter with Harlan Ellison

Harlan Ellison has died after a life of many contributions to literature. If there is an afterlife, he’s probably threatening to sue God. Or mailing off dead weasels to angels.

I met Ellison only twice, both times at World Science Fiction conventions. The first time, if memory serves, was in 1986 at Confederation in Atalanta, Georgia. It was my first Worldcon and I was still amazed that I was sharing the same air as the names that graced the books that I had been reading for years.

Ellison was chatting with a group of fans. He was easy to pick out, since he was the only one in the group who was under 5’10”. I plucked up my courage, walked over, and hung at the edge of group, unnoticed.

There was a break, and I said, “excuse me, Mr. Ellison.” He looked back and upward a bit, to that space whence the voices of fans typically came. Then he did a double-take as he realized his interlocutor was at his own height, if not a little shorter even. (Okay, okay, yes, a little shorter.)

I told him what a pleasure it was to meet him and how I had enjoyed his work. He thanked me, briefly turned back to the other people, and then back to me again. “Do you get the short shit too?”
“All the time.”

“This is what you do,” he said putting an arm over my shoulder. “You say, ‘my height is genetic; it is completely beyond my control. You could do something about being an asshole.’”

Sadly, I only met Harlan Ellison one other time after that. Still, when people make comment on my height (yeah, that happens), I think about what Harlan Ellison said.
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Friday, May 18, 2018

Who the Fuck Says “Hebrews” in 2018?

Who the fuck says "Hebrews"?
Tip: Don't.
There’s a meme going around Facebook which attempts to promote a viewpoint about Israel. I won’t share it here, because memes take complex issues and reduce them to their most stupid and reductive elements. Although I don’t think anyone should be sharing it,[1] I do think it should be unpacked.

The meme shows a Native American man, dressed in traditional garb while riding a horse. The text says, “So you’re telling me…” and continues “You believe Hebrews are entitled to the land of Israel because their ancestors once lived there?”

It’s simple. It’s clear. It’s also wrong.

Let’s start with the guy on the horse. The image reduces the Native American to a caricature. He’s the Noble Savage fighting against the cowboys in the Western Expansion. Specifically, he’s the actor Rodney Grant in a scene from Dances with Wolves. In the image, he’s in character as a Sioux during the Civil War. He’s not indicative of the lives of modern Native Americans. When Mr. Grant is not acting the role of a nineteenth-century Native American, he doesn’t dress like that. There are plenty of pictures of him in a tux or in t-shirt and jeans, and even a picture of him wearing a shirt patterned with images of Elvis.

On the other hand, a Native American dressed up for a job in biotech or computer programming might not have quite the same impact on its intended audience of white liberals who might be convinced to be unsympathetic to Israel.[2]

Then there’s the text. “Hebrews?” Who the fuck says “Hebrews” today? It used to be a commonly used term, but those days have passed. The Union for Reform Judaism was named the Union of American Hebrew Congregations from is founding in 1873 to 2006. According to Google Ngram Viewer, the term “Hebrews” had its biggest use between 1910 and 1930, while “Hebrew” had its biggest use between about 1935 and 1945. Both terms are used far less than “Jews” for any period. So then why use it?

It mucks things up if you call them, not Hebrews, not Jews, but Israelis. After all, many Jews no intention of taking up residence in Israel.[3] So it becomes the standard question: does Israel have a right to exist. Well, no more (or less) than any other nation. But we never seem to question it about France. Or England. Should the Welsh be agitating to take back their island?[4]

If we’re not giving the throne of Britain to a descendent of Owain Glyndŵr, then why would we ignore all the history of Israel that doesn’t fit tidily into that meme? Unlike Britain or the United States, Israel didn’t come about through the conquest an indigenous population by foreign invaders.

I don’t want to deny that people were violently displaced from their homes. That happened. On both sides. This becomes part of the complex history that can only be dumbed down in a meme.[5] Maybe, just maybe, Israel’s legitimacy comes from decades of treaties and international resolutions, and not only because in the wake what is likely the largest genocide in history[6] it seemed appropriate to establish a Jewish homeland, something the Zionist movement had been trying since about 1896. But that’s hard to put into a meme.

When I posed the question with which I’ve titled this post, a friend of a friend (who had posted the meme) had an answer. I can’t verify her answer, but it is tempting. Who the fuck says “Hebrews” in 2018? Anti-Semites.

Instead of looking at memes on Facebook, read this. It’s a balanced look at the issues on both sides.

  1. Although some of my friends and relatives have.  ↩

  2. Which is to say, if you’re white and posting this, you might want to check if you property was once in lands claimed by a Native American tribe. I’ll wait until you figure out your back payments.  ↩

  3. Wht? Nd hv t lrn Hbrw? Ths ppl r n nd f vwls.  ↩

  4. It’s only been about 1,570 years.  ↩

  5. Memes are cancer. Memes make you stupid. Memes are the irritating inspirational poster in the office of that asshole boss you hated. “Work smarter, not harder,” reminding you that you just cancelled your plans because you have to work late and clean up a mess of your boss’s making.  ↩

  6. The Holomodor in Ukraine may have killed more Ukrainians than Jews died in the Holocaust, though the total death toll of the Holocaust is larger.  ↩

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Saturday, February 3, 2018

Going for Gougères

My gougères
I run the risk of this being one of those precious bits of food writing when I say that I first had gougères while doing wine tasting in Bordeaux. I’ll take the risk. It might sound less hoity-toity if I mention that we signed up for the tour at the tourist office and that we travelled about by minivan. (And given the cost of the tour, those were some terribly expensive glasses of wine.)

At one of the chateaux, the woman who showed us around the property (which was lovely) and led the wine tasting, said, “oh, look, the chef has made gougères for us.” The words were meant to indicate surprise and delight, though the way she said them made it clear that she said them about eight times a day. They smelled good, though. Instead of getting to the gougères and the wine, we got a tour first.

The French ones. Nicely piped,
but a little flat.
We had them between our first and last tasting. Yeah, they were yummy, but I was already analyzing them. They were cold, since they were already there when we arrived and we walked about for about a half hour before we even drank any wine. They were a little tough. One was slightly deflated. Everyone was enthusiastic about them. I munched on mine and thought, “someone makes these better.”

As we walked back to the minivan, my husband expressed surprise about them. “Oh, you can have those any time you want,” I said. “They’re just choux pastry with cheese.” Yup, gougères are cheezy choux pastry, and pâte à choux is easy.

I learned how to make it years ago. We took a cooking course and the dessert was profiteroles filled with vanilla ice cream. Profiteroles are easy. I prefer the term “cream puff,” since instead of ice cream, I fill mine with pastry cream (which is also easy). While I’ve been aware that you can fill profiteroles with all sorts of things, I’ve stuck to filling them with pastry cream and dipping them into chocolate.[1]

Recently, I was making a French-themed meal and decided that gougères were showing up in the menu. I checked a few recipes for choux pastry, two from Julia Child (Mastering the Art of French Cooking and The Way to Cook), one from Françoise Bernard (La Cuisine) and Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. Both Child and Bernard noted that gougères were made by adding cheese, though in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Child adds pepper and nutmeg. That allowed me to get my basic recipe:


1 cup water
6 Tbs butter (¾ of a stick), cut into pieces
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
dash of nutmeg
1 cup flour
4 eggs
about 5 oz. shredded cheese, preferably Gruyere or similar[2]

Preheat the oven to 425°
Put the water, butter, salt, pepper, and nutmeg into a saucepan. Bring the ingredients to a boil. Once it is at a boil, turn off the heat, and pour in all the flour and stir vigorously with a wooden or plastic spoon until everything is combined. Continue until it is a thick paste that pulls away from the sides of the pan (this should take a couple of minutes).

Put the pan back on heat. Cook, stirring, until a film appears on the pan. (This takes another couple of minutes.)

Let cool for (you guessed it) a couple minutes then beat in the eggs, one at a time, incorporating each one before you add the next. (This can be done by hand, or you can use a mixer.)[3]

[At this point, other than the pepper and nutmeg, you have pâte à choux, which you could fill with something sweet or savory.]

Add the cheese. It will not incorporate into a smooth batter, but will be somewhat lumpy.

Using a pair of tablespoons, form the batter into balls on a baking sheet or parchment. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool (but not too much, these things are heavenly hot from the oven).

Just a note, in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julia Child says these will cook in fifteen minutes. I took her at her word and my gougères deflated on cooling. People ate them anyway, but I gave the next batch another five minutes and they retained their shape as they cooled. And people ate them just as avidly.

These can be piped out (the ones in France clearly were), but that starts to transfer this from a quick and easy recipe to one that has you scrubbing cheese off a piping bag. I own piping bags but I’m happy not to use them.

These are going to become a standard at my house.

  1. I’ve read that as a savory appetizer, you can fill them with chicken liver paste, that is mousse de foie de volaille. That’s easy too, but I haven’t thought they’d go over well at parties.  ↩

  2. I’ve seen variation on this from 4 oz. to 6 oz. How cheesy do you want them?  ↩

  3. You can double this. Then you’ll really want to use a mixer.  ↩

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Sunday, August 27, 2017

News Flash: The Primaries Weren’t Rigged

Friendly tip: some stuff that looks like news is propaganda.
My whole point here is how you might distinguish news from propaganda, since we (unfortunately) live in an era when the propagandists are making able use of the internet to try to con people. And so I find myself having to look at the (thoroughly debunked) claim that the Democratic primaries were rigged.

Am I really writing this in August 2017? The final primary was June 17, 2016, at which point Senator Sanders had an unwinnable position with regard to the pledged delegates (that is, he got fewer votes than Secretary Clinton and in fewer states) and so he started chasing after the superdelegates, despite months of saying that the superdelegates were unfair and that the Democratic Party ought not have them.

So superdelegates were really, really bad until it was clear that only with the help of the superdelegates could Senator Sanders get the nomination, even if it meant going against the popular vote. The will of the people is really important until it looks like it’s the will of the people that you shouldn’t be the candidate. Sanders did not withdraw until July 26. Four years earlier, Clinton had withdrawn after the last of the 2008 primaries, when it was clear that she did not have sufficient delegates to become the Democratic presidential nominee.

Those are the facts. If you want to dispute them, do some research. There is absolutely no evidence that the Democrats rigged the elections, because they didn’t do it. It’s pretty much impossible to rig a nationwide election in the United States, since our elections are all decentralized. It’s not like one of these countries in which the national government runs the election and the Glorious Leader gets 103% of the vote.

Civics Lesson 1. There’s a hierarchy in voting procedures that never hits the federal government. My votes aren’t even tabulated at a state level, but rather at a county level. Those are then reported up. It’s efficient that way. A quick search shows that in 2004 (close enough) there were 174,252 precincts, but only 113,754 voting places. Clearly some states are allowing precincts to share voting location (then have precincts), while California law provides that a voting precinct may contain no more than 1,000 registered voters and that each precinct must have at least one polling place. This is actually typical, as Wikipedia notes that
A 2004 survey by the United States Election Assistance Commission reported an average precinct size in the United States of approximately 1,100 registered voters.
If you want to rig an election in the United States, you have to target not just a few places, but hundreds of local election boards. There’s a line from Ben Franklin that “three may keep a secret if two of them is dead,”[1] but those think that a grand conspiracy of the DNC rigged election have to believe that several thousand people (some of whom would be opposed to anything the DNC wanted) can keep a secret. If you want to claim that the 2016 primaries were rigged, you need to go beyond strident claims and start producing some hard evidence.[2]

In the fever dreams of Sanders supporters, there is no way that Hillary Clinton could possibly have beaten Bernie Sanders in a fair election (despite that pointed out that the primary election results were completely predictable).

Into this mix comes an article from the Observer (more on the source later) that screams in its headline that “Court Admits DNC and Debbie Wasserman Schulz Rigged Primaries Against Sanders.”[3] This is a lie. The second paragraph makes it clear that
On August 25, 2017, Federal Judge William Zloch, dismissed the lawsuit
Civics Lesson 2. There’s no findings of fact in a dismissed lawsuit. Zip. Nobody produces any evidence. The court could not have admitted anything about the factual nature of the case, because there were no claims tested by the fact-finding procedures of a court of law.

So what really happened? Sainato cites a section of the order of dismissal, to which he helpfully provides a link, but he takes it out of context. This is what he quotes, running together material in separate paragraphs from page 9 of the order:
The Court thus assumes that the DNC and Wasserman Schultz preferred Hillary Clinton as the Democratic candidate for president over Bernie Sanders or any other Democratic candidate. It assumes that they stockpiled information useful to the Clinton campaign. It assumes that they devoted their resources to assist Clinton in securing the party’s nomination and opposing other Democratic candidates. And it assumes that they engaged in these surreptitious acts while publically proclaiming they were completely neutral, fair, and impartial. This Order therefore concerns only technical matters of pleading and subject-matter jurisdiction.
This is quoted accurately, right to the misspelling of “publicly.” The final sentence comes from the subsequent paragraph, but let’s look at the third word, “thus.” The word indicates that the conclusion is a consequence of something. But of what? Mr. Sainato does not tell us. Oh, but we do have the court order.
At this stage, the Court is required to construe the First Amended Complaint (DE 8) in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs and accept its well-pled allegations as true. (page 8)
This is in the same paragraph as the quote material and immediately precedes it. The court has to accept it as true, despite there being no finding of fact, until that finding of fact happens. It’s akin to “innocent until proven guilty.” Plaintiffs are assumed to be telling the truth until the defense proves otherwise. The judge doesn’t get to say, “I don’t buy your allegations, and so I’m not giving you a chance to prove them.”

The judge makes it quite clear that the plaintiffs have failed to establish standing:
As to the fraud-type claims Counts I, II, III and IV, Plaintiffs fail to allege any causal connection between their injuries and Defendants’ statements. The Plaintiffs asserting each of these causes of action specifically allege that they donated to the DNC or to Bernie Sanders’s campaign. See DE 8, ¶¶ 2–109. But not one of them alleges that they ever read the DNC’s charter or heard the statements they now claim are false before making their donations. And not one of them alleges that they took action in reliance on the DNC’s charter or the statements identified in the First Amended Complaint (DE 8). Absent such allegations, these Plaintiffs lack standing. (Page 13)
Further, the judge notes later on that page (and continuing on page 14) that
To be sure, two paragraphs of the First Amended Complaint (DE 8) assert generally that the “DNC Donor Class Plaintiffs, the Sanders Donor Class Plaintiffs, and members of the DNC Donor Class and the Sanders Donor Class, relied on Defendants’ false statements and omissions to their injury.” DE 8, ¶¶ 188 & 195.3 But this boilerplate recitation, absent factual content to support it, does not permit the Court to “determine that at least one named class representative has Article III standing to raise each class claim.”
Key words “absent factual content.” The plaintiffs provided allegations (which is all they need to file), but no factual content (because that comes later). There have been no hard facts offered to support claims that the DNC rigged the primaries and the preponderance of evidence is that they did not.

But now let us consider the source. In reading it’s always important to consider the source. Is it a respected media outlet, known for its commitment to fact checking (like the New York Times) or is it the random blog of some loud individual with a keyboard (this).[4] This story was promoted by the Observer. Okay, what’s that?

The Observer is the internet remnant of the former New York Observer, a newspaper that was purchased by Jared Kusher. This is a source that goes directly to the President’s family. Yeah, just not any Jared Kushner, but the one who is Donald Trump’s son-in-law.

There is insufficient separation between the Observer and the Trump administration to consider the Observer anything but the propaganda arm of the Trump administration. Some liberals have accused Fox News of being the propaganda arm of the Republican Party (and Fox News is good at making themselves seem to be the propaganda arm of the Republican Party), but even there the RNC chair doesn’t own Fox News. If you’re getting your news about the 2016 Democratic primaries from Jared Kushner, you really need to consider the source.

While the Observer hasn’t shown that the DNC rigged the election,[5] this story is a good lesson on how to read.
  1. Consider the facts. Is there a factual basis to the article? In the case of the Observer piece, a careful reading says no.

  2. Look at the sources. Does the source support the article’s claim? In this case, no. One thing to watch for are one-sided pieces, such as articles on the harms of same-sex marriage where only opponents of same-sex marriage get cited.

  3. Consider the source. Is this a likely biased source. Hint: “published by the President’s son-in-law” is not an assurance of objectivity, just the opposite.

If the Observer’s unsupported claim that the DNC rigged the election fills your heart with righteous joy, please read more carefully. They’re lying to you.

  1. Often quoted as “two may…” but Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations gives the cite. It’s from Poor Richard’s Almanac of July 1735.
  2. And if you have no hard evidence, then we have to assume that nothing happened. That’s when you shut the fuck up.
  3. I know I usually link to news articles, but since this article my Micheal Sainato, published on August 26, 2017 is a lie, I see no reason to do so.

  4. This is an invitation to rigorously fact-check me. Have at it. I love more and better facts. Still, if you have hard evidence that the DNC rigged the primaries (and not just that Sanders won smaller, whiter states) then don’t tell me, tell the New York Times.

  5. Because there is no evidence to support this idea and a lot that undermines it.  ↩

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Monday, May 8, 2017

Nay to Née

Né? Not for me!
I tend to be fairly conservative in language, preferring the tried-and-true to the innovative, but there is one point where I have to draw the line. There may have been an era in which the use of the French word née didn’t come off as affected or pretentious. We are no longer in that era.

Worse yet, the only times I ever see it, it’s been misused. There are multiple forms. In French there are times in which you would write not only and née, but also •nés* and nées. It’s just the French word for “born” (that is, the past participle of the verb naître). As a convention in English, it’s acquired the meaning of “born under the name of,” and it’s typically used to indicate that some man is performing under a name other than that with which he was born.

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Friday, April 14, 2017

Zamenhof Died. Esperanto Still Lives

The Zamenhofs in Antwerp, 1911
We live in an age where when even the deaths of minor newsmakers and celebrities are reported globally almost instantly. When Ludovik Zamenhof died on April 14, 1917, this global communications network still in its infancy, but many American papers did report on Zamenhof’s death just two days after, which is (by the standards of the day) reasonably fast. They might not have heard about it until the Sunday, April 15, 1917 newspapers were set in type.

It actually says something that Zamenhof’s death in Warsaw hit the American papers so quickly. After all, Europe was at war. The front page of the April 16 New York Tribune (they fit the Zamenhof obituary on page 7) all about war: “President Calls Nation to War Duties,” “Treasury Asks for $1,807,250,000 in Special War Taxes,”[1] and “Socialists’ Peace Plan Called German Ruse.”

The reports given in various newspapers (New York Tribune, Washington Times, Washington Evening Star, The Tacoma Times) overlap in their text, so the whole thing was probably taken from the wire services. This is the article as it appeared in the Tribune:

Dr. Ludwig Zamenhof 
Author of Esperanto Dies in Warsaw at Fifty-eight
Amsterdam, April 16.—Dr. Ludwig Zamenhof, author of Esperanto, died yesterday at Warsaw, according to advices received here.

Dr. Zamenhof was born at Bielostok in 1859 and published his first book on the new language called Esperanto in 1887. Dr. Zamenhof chose the roots of Esperanto from existing languages, mainly European. There are 2,642 roots in his dictionary. The phonology of his language is said to be very simple. The grammar, like Volapuk, wich it succeeded as an international auxiliary languge is partially borrowed from existing languages.

The last ten years of Zamenhof’s life must have been difficult (even apart from health issues). He had seen the movement split with the Ido schism, a breakaway which saw more favor among prominent Esperantists than the rank and file, so Zamenhof saw old friends and allies break with him. He had seen the 1914 Universala Kongreso abruptly cancelled due to the beginning of World War I, and though the armistice would happen later in 1917, he wouldn’t be around to see it.

It was a low point for Esperanto.

The succeeding century saw mixed fortunes for Esperanto. French opposition to Esperanto in the 1920s was nothing to German persecution of Esperanto in the 1930s and 40s. Let’s be blunt: the French just blocked the use of Esperanto in diplomacy and education; they didn’t murder Zamenhof’s family. And yet despite attempts to stamp out Zamenhof’s dream, it persists after his death.

The 1915 UK was a hastily thrown-together affair, moved from the initial choice of Birmingham to San Francisco in the still-neutral United States. Only 163 people marked the tenth anniversary of the first UK. A century after that, in 2015, 2,698 Esperanto speakers participated in the 100th UK in Lille, France.[2]

Things have changed recently.

Join the club, it's easy and fun!
In May 2015, Duolingo ( released Esperanto lessons. As of today, 810,000 have signed up to take these lessons. Esperanto for Spanish came after that and has 94,800 studying it (and I hear that Esperanto for Portuguese speakers is coming next). It looks like Esperanto might be in a bit of a resurgence.

Ludovik Zamenhof died a century ago, but his dream lives on. A century after his death, people are learning and speaking the language that he published 130 years ago this year. Let us raise a toast to the memory of Ludovik Zamenhof, the creator of Esperanto:

Zamenhof mortis, sed sia revo ankaŭ vivas!

  1. Can you imagine a newspaper today being so specific in a headline? Now it’d be $1.8 Million.  ↩

  2. Not the record. That would be Warsaw in 1987, the 72nd, and the centennial of Esperanto.  ↩

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Thursday, June 2, 2016


We are proud to be a
Pride, Celebrating Diversity and Community, by Robin Stevenson (Orca Books) is geared to middle readers (8-12). I would suppose it would be perfect for a teen who is becoming aware of LGBT relatives or even teens who becoming aware that they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. I would be remiss in my review if I didn’t note that I, who was seven when the Stonewall Riots happened, actually learned something from this book.

No fooling. It wasn’t something that happened in the last year or two that had slipped my attention, but the origins of gay-straight alliances, which Stevenson notes started at George Washington High School in New York City in 1972. She further cites a 1976 pamphlet from the Youth Liberation Front (her research and scope is impeccable) which exhorted gay teens to come out, a message that still needs to be heard today by people who have left their high school days behind.

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