December 31st, 2007


[links] Link salad, New Year's Eve edition

Language and Culture

The distracting word meme — I might take a crack at this later.

The science and theology of global language change — It is to snicker.

Another Shorpy railroad photograph — I've been to Irrigon, Oregon. I know pretty much where this would have been taken.

Books and Publishing

Sky not falling on book industry

Harry Potter TNG — "...the author promises that the future of her characters, their relationships and children will remain locked in her imagination, ruling out any sequels." Uh huh.

Science and Technology

Great minds don't think alike — The role of outside perspective in expert fields.

Ion mask waterproofing — Further proof that we are living in the future. In case you needed it.


An airline pilot discusses air travel security — My favorite comment, concerning the 3 oz liquid limit: "'s rather awkward to do chemistry in an airplane toilet."

Five Untouchable Symptoms — Progressive causes the Democrats are ignoring. (Might also be interesting reading if you're a conservative.)

New York Times on what America has become — More to the point, on what conservative leadership and the politics of fear have made us into.

Huckabee: "I hope we answer the alarm clock and take this nation back for Christ." — That's funny. What year was Jesus on the ticket? Wasn't He Reagan's running mate?

Confidential to GOP in America: Repeat after me. Sep-a-ra-tion of Church and State. The fact that you don't get to force me to pray the way you want is also what guarantees that you get to pray the way you want.

[politics] The connection between evolution denial and public policy

In comments here, after agreeing that faith and reason are not mutually exclusive (sorry, I'm not a full blown Dawkinsite), I said:
[However, a]ll you have to do is glance at American politics to see how widely faith and reason can be separated. Evolution denial is a basic example of how faith and reason become mutually exclusive, and it is a tenet of at least two of the leading Republican presidential candidates. Once you can accept anything that basic and important to the exclusion of all evidence of the senses and the empirical world, you are lost to reason, at least in the Enlightenment sense of the term. And we live in an Enlightenment world.

lordofallfools answered:
I'm a lot more concerned about the candidates' various positions on immigration and health care reform than I am about their (un)informed opinions on evolution.

At which point it occurred to me for the first time that the very obvious connection I see between evolution denial, either of the Creationism or Intelligent Design sort, and deep political trouble, is not necessarily so very obvious to others. Especially to people who aren't committed secularists. So, slightly paraphrased (and edited for clarity), here is my answer to lordofallfools:
As for the candidate's positions, I simply don't trust the reasoning of anyone with the kind of mental block that evolution denial requires. That's faith-based reasoning, not reality-based reasoning. What you get is pretty much the Bush administration. Where, for example, the deep faith in tax cuts means that tax cuts are considered the ideal policy response to literally any economic situation. Where, for example, PNAC's obsession with Iraq, melded with Bush43's daddy issues, means that invading Iraq was going to happen no matter how they had to twist the evidence of WMDs and the 9-11 rhetoric.

To your specific concerns, would a Millennialist view immigration in a sensible fashion? Bush is a Millennialist, Huckabee is almost certainly one. If you believe the End Times are at hand, and coming in your lifetime, how do you manage the long term population and economic issues that immigration presents? Why would you even bother coming up with a sensible solution?

Likewise healthcare. How does someone who believes in healing through prayer view health insurance? How does someone with a religious mandate manage reproductive health? The Bush administration's handling of teen sexual health through abstinence only programs -- faith based reasoning -- has been a massive waste of Federal money with no substantiation other than the belief of his Evangelical constituency. The stem cell ban -- another faith-based bit of reasoning -- has shifted the focus of key elements of biomedical research to Europe and East Asia, which in turn undermines our technological competitiveness and leadership.

Or go back in time, to James Watt, Reagan's Secretary of the Interior, who told Congress that since Jesus was going to return in our lifetimes, we didn't need to make long term plans for resource conservation. (I think it was a timber or coal hearing, don't recall right now.)
ETA:ericjamestone points out in comments that there is no primary attribution for this, and the cite cannot be substantiated.

These are the kinds of things that make me think that faith to the exclusion of reason is a very important political disqualifier. The candidate's positions on immigration and healthcare are directly related to their opinions on evolution, because evolution is a key signifier for that constellation of nonrational thinking which disregards actual data in favor of a cherished belief. That is not the basis of public policy. It can't be, not if the United States wants to continue to prosper in a world where our economic and political competitors are led by (generally) rational, empirical actors.

Faith-based reasoning in politics has real, tragic impact on real life. When you have political leaders who begin from a position of faith so blindered to reality as any evolution denialist does, public policy is off the rails before it starts.

[process] The television rant (again)

"Blow up your TV, throw away your paper
"Go to the country, build you a home
"Plant a little garden, eat a lot of peaches
"Try an find Jesus on your own"

    — John Prine, "Spanish Pipedream"

Every now and then, I mention on this blog that I gave up TV and gaming in pursuit of being a writer. This statement always seems to challenge some folks. It seems to me that people feel defensive about this.

Almost everyone in our society is a consumer of media. (I've discussed this before, here and elsewhere.) Exceptions exist, as a matter of choice (the Amish, for example), or a matter of situation (the homeless, for example), but by and large, Americans are heavily exposed to advertising, information and entertainment via radio, television, the Internet, outdoor (a/k/a billboards), bumper stickers, campfire tales and pretty much every other medium someone has been able to dream up.

Some of us choose to be producers as well. Anyone who aspires to writer, or design games, for example. That includes (I think) the majority of the people likely to be reading this blog. A very key idea, for me at least, is that the time and mental energy required to be a producer comes out of the same budget as the time and mental energy required to be a consumer.

For example, I have a day job. I don't make enough money writing to not have that day job, so I focus on it as required. I don't have the privilege of trading day job time for writing time.

I also have a child. the_child, actually. While I can sometimes negotiate a writing day or writing hour with her ("Can you go play with Daniel so Dad can write until dinner?"), I don't generally have the privilege of trading parental time for writing time. (Nor do I wish for it.)

Where my writing time comes from is the same flexible time that I used to use to watch television, go to movies, play computer games or do pleasure reading. I'm not willing to give up reading, even though I have accepted cutbacks. To a very limited degree, I've traded away movies. The other two...

I don't think tv is evil. I don't think it's bad or wrong or anything else. There's no judgment here. But every hour you spend watching it is an hour you spent not writing. One of the biggest reasons I quit was that I would sit down to watch The Simpsons in rerun at 6:30, and at 10:00 pm I'd realized the entire evening was gone, and I couldn't remember what I'd seen. Television is literally hypnotic, and it is quite entertaining. Likewise computer games. I used to dedicate dozens of hours per month to various Sid Meier games. Warlords II was crack for me as well, playing "just one more turn" until 2 or 3 am on worknights.

I want to be a producer, not just a consumer. Being passive entertained during all me otherwise free hours did not suit me.

How does it stack up for you? As I said here:
If you want to try an experiment, add this to the mix: track the number of hours you spend with the television on, the number of hours you spend surfing the Web, the number of hours you spend gaming, and/or the number of hours you spend out of your house going to parties, clubs, concerts and bars. Do that for a week or two, then look at how those things balance out. That will tell you how much of a priority writing really is for you. It doesn't matter what the answer is, I've got no judgments here, but you might be quite surprised.

Ultimately, being a working, professional writer is about taking away excuses. "I can't write because House is coming on tonight..." "I can't write because I have to go hear this really cool band..." "I can't write because..."

Television was one of my biggest excuses. Chances are you're better at switching it off than I was. Most people are, I hope. Cold turkey is kind of extreme in a culture where almost all the common referents come from television. Still, I somehow have gotten by these last 14 years without it. I've retained and managed control over my time. And I've had a lot of fun and built a hell of career.

What's your excuse? How much tv did you watch last week? How much did you write?

[food] Biscuit recipe

Per a request from brisingamen, the current version of the biscuit recipe. This is based on the recipe found here, with substantial input from khaybee and ellameena, and taste testing from the_child and lasirenadolce.

2 cups sifted pastry flour (cake flour may be substituted, in either case, "soft wheat" flour)
4 teaspoons baking powder
3 tablespoons turbinado sugar (raw sugar with large, rough crystals)
1/2 teaspoon salt (omit if using bacon grease)
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 cup of butter chilled (can substitute 2 tablespoons of bacon grease for 2 tablespoons of butter)
3/4 cup whole fat butter milk, room temperature

Sift flour, baking powder, turbinado sugar, salt (if used) and cream of tartar together into large mixing bowl. With pastry knife, cut in butter (and bacon grease if used) until bits of butter are size of rice grains. Mix in buttermilk, only until ingredients are blended.

Do not overmix, do not let be too wet or too dry

Form into a ball; pat out on floured board to 3/4-inch thickness. Cut biscuits using a round cutter (I use a drinking glass dipped in flour). Place on baking parchment on cookie sheet. Bake at 475 degrees for 10 minutes or until golden brown.

Others have suggested lard, goose fat or duck fat as the shortening. Experiment to taste. My next step is to slightly up the leavening to see if I can achieve a lighter density.
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