July 31, 2009

Wedding Song #2

Apropos of my traveling for a wedding, here's one more from Smash Mouth. I recommended this one to Crystal and Vic for their wedding party playlist.

Whole Lotta Love

I'd like to think that you would never make me do this

July 30, 2009

Wedding Song #1

I'm traveling for a wedding this weekend, so I'm posting some fluff in my absence. Since it's a wedding, it's happy fluff.

This one and the next are from Smash Mouth, largely because it amuses that this is the same band that did "Pet Names." Oh, and this one has Ranking Roger, which can only improve a song.

You Are My Number One

There's a lot of good times ahead before we're done.

July 29, 2009

A Skeptic's View

Scientists can talk forever. They can do it eloquently. They can express their passion and the wonder they find in discovery. They can be funny and clever and humble. But a listener who isn't prepared to engage with the material will, at best, walk away with a slightly better view of scientists and about two and a half facts with which they can impress those of their friends who are impressed by that sort of thing.

This won't prepare them to deal with the next scientist they come across, who might be a chemist working in an oil refinery who doesn't "believe in" anthropogenic global warming, or maybe an astronomer entranced by the majesty of "the heavens" who tells them that evolution can't result in new species. It won't give them the tools to determine whether that scientist is someone to be trusted on that subject. It will just make them feel better about taking someone else's word for things that make their life more comfortable. That doesn't help us. It doesn't help them.

More discussion of Unscientific America at Quiche Moraine.

More Writer Don'ts

Living online makes it very easy to interact with readers. Social networking tools, from Amazon reviews to friend-based webs like Facebook, put a writer in touch with fans--and not so much fans. Once again, it's very important to differentiate between what the internet makes easy and what is smart behavior from a writer.


I have gotten into some pretty heated discussions with friends on Facebook. None have resulted in cut ties. The only incident of “defriending” on my part involved someone I could only call a spammer who, IMO, misrepresented themselves. I did nothing of the sort with Mooney. I have been nothing but supportive until now. So, either he does not like criticism, or he does not want it to influence his book sales which might ensue from his personal relationships on Facebook.

When selling books becomes more important to me than defending what is in them, I hope that someone will dig up this blog post and show it to me.

Criticism is not fun to hear. When it is accurate, it hurts. But I think it is important to hear it.

When criticism is unfair, I refute it or ignore it, but I do not censor it unless it is excessive, offensive (in a social, not intellectual sense), or incomprehensible. Most of the bloggers I read follow a similar philosophy.

Read (for the rest of the content as well). Learn. If you are a writer, don't let this be you. We'll cringe in sympathy over the temptation, but we will not love you for the bad behavior when we find out. And in case you haven't noticed, in this age when everyone blogs, we will find out.

Thanks to Abbie for the link.

July 28, 2009

Mike on Quiche

Oh, it's a busy week. Meeting, meeting, travel, travel, travel. It's all good, excellent in fact, but there's not much time to carve out for blogging. While I'm all tied up, have you been keeping up with what Mike's been posting at Quiche Moraine?

Atheism Evangelized

I see a hazard and a way that this can backfire. If you have a friend or acquaintance that you have targeted for conversion, consider that your friend has a conflicting goal. Their beliefs compel them to share their experience and their salvation with you in hopes of saving your soul for Jesus. Consider that you may have just engaged in a game of strategy and competition. For them, they have found a way to “get to you.”

Secure in Their Persons

There was a new problem to deal with. Waiting at the end of the farm road, blocking our access to the highway, was a police car. The lights weren’t on, so we weren’t sure if he was waiting for us or not. We were not going to be able to avoid scrutiny. As we approached the road he hit his siren button and his lights button and so I knew we were going to be “interviewed.” I stopped the car and politely waited for him to approach us. In the meantime I was reaching for my wallet to show him my driver’s license. I looked over at Mark and mouthed the words “Fourth Amendment.” He knew what this meant. Don’t say anything incriminatory.

I've got a few guest posts for QM sitting in the queue as well, to go up as soon as I've got a few minutes to, well, breathe. And Mike is looking for some advice at Tangled Up in Blue Guy, or maybe someone who needs an apartment in the northern suburbs. Anybody got some sage words for him?

July 26, 2009

The Comic-Con Kiss

For the slash fans out there who have been waiting for their Tenth Doctor/Captain Jack moment and been afraid it was never going to happen, I give you footage from Comic-Con.

0:45 Davies enters, introductions
2:45 Tennant starts talking in his lovely burr
4:50 Tennant turns the mic over to Barrowman, kiss follows shortly

July 25, 2009

Maid of Ice

ScienceWoman's request for help with Disney princess stories belated reminded me that I have a princess story of my own. I don't generally write those, since hereditary rulership doesn't much do it for me. In fact, there's an award-winning Young Adult author whose work I'm no longer interested in reading after she retold an old fairy tale without examining that piece of it. So this is a bit of a rarity.

Maid of Ice

Princess Gisela was everything I had dreamed of as a little boy playing at the feet of my father's throne.

To say she was beautiful was to do both her and the word an injustice. Her most striking feature was her hair, proud black waves that cascaded from her high forehead to the floor behind her. Her bones were strong and graceful; her skin milky and almost as finely blue as her bright eyes. Her highly tinted lips curved in irresistible invitation.

She was vivacious, flirtatious and, just occasionally, a bit imperious. In short, she was perfect, a princess straight from the stories my tutor used to read to me. And she had promised to be mine.

Her father, however, had made no promises to me. He bluntly recognized his only daughter's worth. He didn't hesitate to tell me she was far too good for the youngest prince of a tiny country, even a bordering land that offered important trading alliances.

I'd done what I could to prove my worth. I'd won the challenges he set for me. I had vanquished my rivals in combat both symbolic and physical. I had earned Gisela's affection and kept it. Still, he had one more task for me to accomplish before he would surrender her to me.

King Roland wanted me to find the Sword of Ice and bring it back to him. The tales said that the country that possessed the sword would enjoy a perfect protection. They also said that none who sought it ever returned.

Still, if it was the price of marrying Gisela, I had to go.

When I left a little past midsummer, only a few of King Roland's court stood by to see me off. Gisela clung briefly to my hand as I sat astride my dappled gray gelding. Her bold blue eyes flashed, entreating me to come back--with the sword, of course. I smiled at her in reassurance, wishing we didn't have to say our goodbyes in front of the others, and rode out the castle gates.

You don’t need the details of the dangers I encountered along the way. Their names were legend long before I passed through them, and I can't claim to have untangled their snares.

Everywhere I went, I encountered strangely helpful men, some younger than me, some grayed and lined, living as close to these hazards as human needs permitted. One and all, they had the look of the palace-reared, although they now led simple lives. Some raised crops or animals, while others ran inns.

I owe my survival to these men. I never approached peril on the road without being hailed, warned, and told what I needed to do to survive.

I assumed these men were princes who had failed in their own quests for the sword and itched to know why they stayed instead of returning to their parents’ courts and their old lives. Still, there was a quiet pain in their faces, something more than a recognition of disappointment, that made me hesitant to pry further. Indulging my curiosity seemed a poor repayment for their help.

Before the leaves had left the trees, I stood at the base of the path that led through the mountains to the palace of the sword. Without hesitation, I had left my horse behind me when the last of the humble princes had told me the path was not fit for hooves.

Having come this far so easily, there were only two things that worried me about my task. All the men I'd met along the way had mentioned the Curse of Ice. Yet, while each of them had been quite specific in their descriptions of their own adopted hazard, they would only say of the curse that it was the last challenge and thus far unbeatable.

My second concern felt like a small thing, but it disturbed me all out of proportion to its relevance to my task. I had often caught a glimpse of a woman on the farms and at the hostelries where I'd received such helpful advice.

Her task changed from place to place: feeding hens, sweeping a courtyard, carrying milk or ale, but very little else about her varied. She was always blond and slight, with pale eyes and a sweet face. She never paid much attention to me, or to anyone but the failed hero.

It wasn’t really one woman, of course. There were differences in age and height and smaller details, but the similarities were pronounced enough to give me the vague feeling of being followed throughout my travels.

I tried not to dwell on the sensation as I crossed the mountains. The man who was stabling my horse--yet another prince living far from his kingdom, with yet another sweet-faced blond wife--had told me where to travel and find shelter and had provisioned me well. Still, I was crossing the mountains in autumn. I wanted all the concentration I could muster.

The track I climbed was narrow and uneven. There were frequent steep drops to one side or another. I had be alert for debris underfoot and prepared always to brace myself against the shifting winds. I was tempted once or twice to keep going after reaching my appointed shelter with daylight still to burn, but the advice I had received had served me too well up to this point.

The mountains were beautiful and treacherous. Occasionally I wished for the leisure to appreciate the vistas I passed through. Still, my task was yet ahead of me.

As my trek stretched on, adding to the weeks I had been gone, a third doubt began to grow. While I had never questioned Gisela’s devotion before, I knew well her tolerance for boredom. She needed to be entertained and admired. She had chosen me in part because I'd provided her with good company. That was difficult to do from my mountainside. I wished I'd sent her a last letter before tackling the climb.

The constant snows began two weeks before I reached the palace. By the time I arrived, I was heartily grateful for the directions, the furs and the pack food that had seemed sickeningly rich on flat ground. More than once in my journey, I had sheltered with leathery human remains, evidence of how other quests after the sword had ended.

Finally, amid the falling snow, I reached the palace gates. They were tall iron slabs set into a forbidding stone wall that looked to have risen up out of the mountain itself. I tugged on a ring set into one of the doors. Touching it nearly froze my hand solid, but the door didn’t budge. With the wind picking up, I pounded on the doors.

I waited a couple of minutes, longer than I liked to stand still in the weather that was brewing. I was about to knock again when a panel I had overlooked opened in the right-hand door.

“Stand away from the gates.” With the wind, I couldn’t be sure, but the voice sounded young.

I wasn’t going to be turned away that easily. I thought resolutely of Gisela's hair and lips. The cold path I knew led back down the mountain helped as well. “I’ve come seeking the Sword of Ice.”

“Of course you have.” Heavy noises came from behind the door, and I heard a grunt of exertion. “That’s the only reason anyone ever comes this way. But when I unbar the gates, the wind may catch the doors. I'd think being brained before you reach the palace would be a silly end to a quest, but the choice is yours.”

I stepped back quickly. The winds weren’t quite strong enough yet to make the doors a danger, but they opened as soon as they were free. I helped wrestle them closed again. They were hung beautifully and moved at a touch, but the wind's touch was almost as strong as ours.

I could see from the skirts she wore that a woman had greeted me, but her face was covered against the cold. I guessed she was a servant of the palace. Instead of speaking over the wind, she plucked at my sleeve to indicate I should follow her.

As far as I could see through the snow, the palace that held the Sword of Ice was made of the same stone as the wall that surrounded it. I couldn’t tell whether it was similarly imposing, but I assumed it was.

The room I was led to was certainly impressive enough. Large fireplaces stood on either end of a long hall. Despite the climate, the ceilings were over three times my height, disappearing into shadows above us. The stone walls were bare of any hangings.

At either end of the hall, in front of the fireplaces, were low padded benches and cushioned chairs, covered in sumptuous fabrics and dyes. The colors were cool but rich. They invited guests to gather in comradeship in the warm parts of the room.

Still, when I had dropped my packs where the servant indicated and shaken the snow from my traveling furs, it was the large chunk of ice in the middle of the room that drew my attention.

The top of the ice was shaped into peaks and valleys, looking like the mountains I had just traversed. It was free of imperfection, clear as the mountain streams I had crossed, and in the center was a plain metal sword.

This could only be the Sword of Ice, although it looked a little small to be a thing of legend. The hilt and blade were both free of decoration. It was a good, solid sword. I could easily imagine swinging it in battle, as though the protection it offered were practical instead of magical. It seemed a prosaic thing with which to secure my future with Gisela. I reached one hand out to touch it.

Then I was rubbing my wrist where a strong hand had slapped it out of the way. "Don't be a fool. If you touch that now, you'll stick till thaw."

I was cold and tired and frustrated at receiving a lecture instead of the target of my quest. I turned, meaning to warn the servant that it was wise to keep a civil tongue in her head when talking to royalty.

I received two distinct shocks in almost as many seconds.

The young woman in front of me was almost certainly not a servant. I didn't know what she was. She wore good wool with little decoration, cut well, but I hardly noticed her clothes.

Her face had all my attention. It was formed from the same clear ice that encased the sword. Skin and hair, eyes and bone were all transparent. I could see the wall through her head, which was why it took me a moment to take in the second striking thing about her.

I had seen her before. She had no coloration to her features, of course, but otherwise, that face had recently become as familiar to me as my sisters'. It was the face I had seen so disturbingly repeated through my trip. Aside from being made of ice, she could have been the wife of any of the helpful princes I had met.

"Have you been following me?" I blushed immediately after saying it. It was silly, but I wasn't at my best just then. I was thankful when she smiled.

"I think I was here first. I unlatched the door after all." She put one finger to the side of her chin, her hands the same ice as the rest of her. "But that is original. Usually people just tell me I'm made of ice."

"Um, yes. So I see." Her calm helped ease my embarrassment, even as it fed the flame of my curiosity. "Would it be too trite to ask who you are?"

"Well, I suppose we would have to come to that question some time." It was hard to read the expressions on a transparent face, but I thought her smile faded a little. "The simplest answer is that I'm the guardian of the sword."

"Are you...," I realized in time that asking whether she was real might be impolite, "...human?"

"My father thought so, but I think my nurse had doubts from time to time." The smile was definitely wider now.

I returned it. Strange as she was to look at, she was very easy to talk to. "How did you end up here?"

"Ah, now that's a long story." She shook her head. Her hair was in a coronet braid, but a few strands hung free. In a most un-icy fashion, they swayed gently. "I think it's time to talk about you. Obviously, you're here for the sword. Prince, farmer, or swineherd?"

"Uh, prince."

"Curse, princess, or sworn oath?"

I cleared my throat. "Princess." I suddenly realized how many men had come before me in search of the sword. I'd met some who had failed and seen more who had died. "You said you were the guardian of the sword. What do you do?"

"You mean, how will I stop you from taking the sword? "She put her hands on her hips and squared her shoulders. "Do you doubt I could?"

I'd been trained in swordwork from the time I was five, but she was a woman of ice. Despite the warmth of the room, she showed no signs of melting. "I don't know."

She threw her head back and laughed. It reminded me of my youngest sister's laugh, hearty and unforced. "Good answer.

"I told you it isn't safe for you to touch this now." She patted the block of ice encasing the sword. "That is the extent of my duties to the sword. The ice protects it. I keep people from making silly mistakes about the ice."

I considered asking about the Curse of Ice, but looking at her, I thought it might be too personal a question for our short acquaintance. "It isn't safe to touch it now. When will it be safe?"

She ran one finger over the ice and cocked her head. "When the thaw comes."

"I have to wait for spring?" Visions of Gisela stewing in her father's castle for the winter assailed me. I hoped that her new maid was unusually entertaining. Otherwise, there were plenty of young men who would be happy to do their best.

"I think..." She held up her hand. "Listen."

I was glad of the large fireplaces. Despite the thick walls, I could hear the wind raging outside. "I'd be here until spring anyway, wouldn't I?"

She shrugged. "There's always the possibility of a very mild winter, but I haven't seen one yet."

I didn't ask her how long she'd been here. There'd be plenty of time for conversation. I held out my hand. "My name is Conradin, although my friends and family call me Con. It's a pleasure to meet you."

She avoided my hand and dropped into a light and graceful curtsey that would make my older sisters envious. "Likewise, Conradin. My name is Ludovica. Let me show you to your rooms."


I discovered quickly that Ludovica and I were alone in the palace. I tended the fire in my room and my own night pot, but she saw to everything else.

Meals appeared at regular intervals--porridge and sausages in the mornings, simple dishes for nooning, and formal dinners. She served fresh fruit and vegetables, but as magic, fresh food in the dead of winter seemed feeble compared to the woman who served it.

We ate in the dining hall to begin with. It was nearly as big as the room I'd first seen, which turned out to be the main hall of the palace. Filling the dining hall was a table three times the size of any I'd seen, even at Gisela's father's court. Conversation would have been difficult across the width of the table, but Ludovica set places for us at opposite ends of its long length.

It was only in the evenings after dinner, when we came together in the main hall, that I had opportunity to talk to Ludovica. She spoke well and wittily, without flirtation. Her education had obviously been excellent, although she was out of touch with the affairs of the world.

"Conradin, tell me what goes on beyond the palace gates," she demanded one night near midwinter. We didn't keep close track of the calendar. She was leaning on the edge of a chair, her chin in her hands. "Have there been any great battles of late?"

I considered. "Harald of Terrant and Sophia of Dambes have spent the last three years warring in the hills between them over which of them owns the sheep pastured there. Sophia was close to winning when I left, but I don't know whether there are any sheep left. Actually, I'm not sure the land will still support sheep after the fighting."

Ludovica snorted and frowned. I was getting better at reading her expressions, although firelight playing over and through ice was still distracting.

"I was thinking of something more heroic." She shifted in her chair. "What about monsters? Has anyone awakened any dragons lately?"

She looked so eager for excitement, I was sorry to disappoint her. "It's been so long since anyone has seen a dragon that many people believe they are only creatures of myth."

She sat up. "No gryphons or basilisks either?"

I shook my head.

"But you believe in them, don't you, Conradin?"

I felt sorry for this young woman, who must lead a very dull life alone here. I realized that even the novelty of being made of ice would have to pall in time. Still, it was hard to believe in something I had never seen. "I don't know."

"You've said that before." She leaned back in her chair and looked at me skeptically.

Conversation lagged for a time. I felt that I had disappointed her, and it wasn't a comfortable feeling. I might have worried over the consequences of disappointing Gisela, but I wasn't sure I would have felt the fault so personally. I told myself it was because Gisela had half a court to cheer her, while Ludovica had only me.

Her voice shook me from my reverie. There was something in it I hadn't heard before, a tension that made me wary. "Conradin, what part do women play in the world these days? Does Sophia fight her own battles, or does she rely on her men to fight them for her?"

I knew I was on untested ground. "I don't believe that Sophia was ever taught to wield a sword,"--no women were in my experience, certainly no royal women--"so I doubt she risks herself in battle. Her people would miss her if she were to be killed or injured. From everything I hear, she is a fine ruler."

Ludovica's voice was demanding. "But Harald rides to battle?"

I laughed long and hard. I only stopped when I saw Ludovica's face. "Harald must weigh upwards of three hundred pounds and has been known to hire manicurists away from his nobles. I don't believe he's been on a horse since he was a boy."

It was Ludovica's turn to laugh. The tension drained from the conversation. "Fair enough. Still, I suppose that fighting is still generally considered a man's skill."

I nodded. "I don't know many women who would want to learn the sword."

She tilted her head. "Do you know any?"

I discovered I did. "My youngest sister maybe, Adela. She's never said as much, but she always wanted to know what I learned in my lessons." I thought about it, surprised. "She might even be good at it. She learned to dance far more quickly than I did, and she has good reflexes."

Ludovica smiled. "I'd like to meet Adela. I think I'd like her."

"We all do, even Mother, who despairs of finding her a 'proper' husband when she's of age." I hesitated. I was still a bit in awe of the creature in front of me, although she'd never been anything but friendly. "And I think she'd like you. You remind me a little of her."

That earned me the biggest smile I'd ever seen on Ludovica. "I think I like you too."

It was shortly after that conversation that I persuaded Ludovica that we could take our meals in the main hall. There was a smaller table in one corner that, while it wouldn't support all the trappings of a formal dinner, did allow us to talk over our meal.

By that time, I had thoroughly explored the palace. It was as impressive on the inside as it was on the outside, if not exactly designed for comfort. All the rooms were sized for small giants. There were books here and there, but it wasn't in my nature to sit still for long. Aside from the architecture, there wasn't much to occupy my days but dreaming about Gisela--and worrying. Meals and a pleasant companion were a welcome respite.

It took longer to get Ludovica to let me help with her tasks around the palace. The fires came first. I insisted. Watching her reach her icy hand into the flames made me wince. I could never get over the conviction that she would melt away before my eyes.

So I chopped and hauled wood and kept the palace warm. There was sweeping to do and scullery work. Ludovica had to teach me, but it was nice to have active work to keep me busy.

Sharing the chores of keeping the palace running gave us more time to talk. Remembering Ludovica's hunger for the world outside, I exerted myself to be entertaining, putting to use skills I'd learned courting Gisela. Ludovica easily held up her end of the conversation. She'd read the books I'd scorned, and her discussion of the odd and amusing things she'd found in them made me wonder what I'd missed by not reading more.

I hadn't forgotten about the sword or my reward for winning it, but the first signs of spring on the mountain didn't make me as happy as they would have in the fall. I knew there had to be more to gaining the sword than waiting. I hadn't forgotten about the curse.

There was also an unacknowledged question deep in my heart as to whether what I'd gain when I left with the sword would equal what I'd leave behind me. I'd spent much of the winter thinking about what Gisela was doing to pass the time without me. The never-ending parties, balls, games and flirtations had been easy to imagine.

Ludovica, on the other hand, constantly surprised me. She'd asked one day to borrow my sword. It was big for her, but she had wielded it proficiently. If we'd had another sword, she would have served quite well as a sparring partner to keep my skills honed. We caught each other looking at the Sword of Ice and laughed, knowing we'd both had the same thought.

In our rambling conversations, we often spoke of the business of ruling countries. Her perspective on the subject wasn't always in line with my own, but once she explained her thoughts on something, I agreed with her at least as often as not. I found myself considering responsibilities that even my father hadn't impressed on me.

This was how I discovered she was a princess. I'd suspected it for some time, but she finally confirmed it. In one of our discussions, she'd said something about "my father," when she was obviously referring to a king. She hadn't noticed her slip, and I hadn't pointed it out.

She was still unwilling to talk about her past, changing the subject or quickly discovering something that needed to be done elsewhere in the palace whenever it came up. As I would rather talk with her about the color of the walls than lose her company, I didn't press her.

Then came the day that the snow was gone from all but the most shadowed corners of the palace yards. The ground was mostly firm again, and we took a walk together after nooning to enjoy the air. I can't say the walk was a success. I was preoccupied, thinking about Gisela, beautiful and shallow, and Ludovica, funny and wise--and cursed.

I don't know what Ludovica was thinking, but she was as quiet as I during the walk. When we went back indoors, we separated by silent consent. I wanted to think.

I spent my time in the main hall, staring at the block of ice. I'd forgotten it for days at a time over the winter. It didn't appear to be melting yet, but with spring having arrived outside, the appointed moment would have to arrive soon. I should be glad, impatient, but I only felt troubled. When it was time to build up the fire in the kitchen and help prepare dinner, I still hadn't found the answer to my question.

Dinner was silent enough that we could have eaten at the long table. But when it was done and cleared and we sat before the fire again, Ludovica took a deep breath. "Conradin, there's something I should have told you earlier."

The sensations in my middle made me wish I hadn't just eaten. I was wary, hopeful, elated, terrified. "What?"

Ludovica ignored the tremor in my voice, or maybe she didn't hear it. "It's about the Sword of Ice." Another deep breath. "It...the thaw...it doesn't happen just because it's spring."

My jaw dropped open, more at my own stupidity than at the revelation. Of course. If the ice simply melted every spring, there wouldn't be any sword left for me to take back to Gisela. That was, assuming I still wanted to.

With that, another thought occurred to me that should have long before. "What happens to you?" I gestured vaguely toward the block. "I mean, when that ice melts...?"

She shrugged. I couldn't read her expression. "The thaw is the thaw. All the ice melts together."

I was horrified. I reached out and touched the back of her hand where it gripped the arm of her chair. "I--I don't need the sword. I don't want it. Is there anything I can--"

I pulled my fingers back and blinked at them. Ludovica was looking too. She'd been warm to the touch, but my fingers were cooling now. They were wet.

I didn't know what to do. I stared at her with wide eyes. I'd seen her reach that hand into a fire, fire that had singed the hair off my knuckles, without damage. But a simple touch.... Had I done something wrong, or was it the thaw coming?


She jumped from the chair and fled the room. I wanted to follow her but thought I'd already done enough damage.

I went to look at the sword. As I watched the ice for any sign of melting, I knew I'd already made up my mind. Curse or no curse, even if I could never touch her again, it was Ludovica I wanted.

She was vital where Gisela was merely hungry. She'd taught me about the necessary traits for a good ruler and helped me find them in myself. She hadn't once complained about the life she was forced to lead, no matter how it must have grated against her gregarious nature. If Gisela had been in her place....

I winced at the image. In that brief moment my eyes were closed, I heard the sound I'd been dreading--a splash. A drop of water had splattered across the floor. As I stared at it, another fell.

I had to find Ludovica. She shouldn't be alone for this. And with so little time left, I wanted to spend it all with her.

I rushed for the door--and almost collided with her in the doorway. She still looked solid. There was no water on her collar or her skirt where she held it up as she hurried. Maybe there was still a chance. Maybe--please.

"Ludovica, I'm sorry." I gasped out the words. "There has to be something I can do. Just tell me. I don't want the sword. I don't want Gisela. I just want you."

She laughed then, the last thing I expected her to do, and threw her arms around my neck. "That was what I hoped you'd say." Then she kissed me.

It was warm and cold and very, very wet. I don't remember much else about it now, despite the fact that I spent most of it trying to brand every last second into my memory.

Eventually, I heard the sword clang onto the floor behind me. Ludovica was still solid in my arms. I opened my eyes.

The ice was gone. In its place was a lovely young woman. She wasn't as breathtakingly beautiful as Gisela, but I didn't want her to be. It was so much more than enough that she was still there.

I knew her features already, or thought I did, but color made a world of difference to her. Her eyes, which had looked so serene, were black and merry. Her skin was brown and rosy. Now that I wasn't looking through her, I could tell that her mouth had a little quirk on one side that made it look as though she was always about to smile.

Her hair was a dark warm brown. It, like the rest of us both, was completely soaked.

"Like what you see?" She was smiling in earnest now.

"Like it? Ludovica, I--"

She put one hand to my lips. "Con, there is something we should get straight." She dropped it and kissed me again. "My friends call me Dovi."

I don't see that it's anyone's business what happened for the next several minutes. Eventually, we found ourselves drying in front of the fire. Dovi--I liked the name; it said things about her that Ludovica only hinted at--was finally satisfying my curiosity about the curse.

"Mother never in her life considered even touching a sword, but somehow, she understood how I felt about it. Father just wanted me married and off his hands.

"I'll never know how she did it, but she persuaded him to let me undertake a quest." She smiled again. I didn't think I'd ever tire of that smile. "It might have had something to do with the fact that I'd just scared off another bunch of suitors. In any case, I'd come all this way, past a haunted river, a dragon, three elves who thought they were funny, a couple of talking trees...well, you know."

I did. They were all still there, except the dragon. I was terrifyingly glad she didn't think I was too young for her.

"I expected to have to charm a magical guardian or solve an odd puzzle before I could get the charmed water I'd come for. Instead, I had to deal with a crotchety old wizard who was incensed that a 'girl' would come to him, expecting to take what a bunch of 'men' hadn't."

"I think he'd probably been turned down by a 'girl' and was just a little bitter." She smiled and leaned her head on my shoulder. "He pointed at me and muttered. I don't think all of it was spell casting. The next thing I knew, my sword was encased in a block of ice, the hut I'd been standing in was a monstrous palace, and I felt funny."

Then it struck me. "That's your sword?"

"Thought it was the 'Sword of Ice,' didn't you?" Dovi snuggled closer. "I think that was the wizard's joke. I'm pretty sure I'm supposed to be the Sword of Ice. He was so sure I was never going to melt. He really didn't know much about 'girls.'"

I spent some time then convincing her that I didn't think she was remotely icy.

She came home to my father's kingdom with me. The palace dwindled again to a stone hut as we stepped outside.

None of the failed princes recognized her when we passed though, but she knew them. The stories she told me about them made me understand why she'd never melted. They’d fallen in love with the romance of her situation, not with her. Looking at the substitutes they'd found for themselves, I knew they'd never even gotten to know her. I felt sorry for them. They seemed happy with their sweet-faced, sweet-tempered, ice-colored wives, but I had Dovi.

Dovi and Adela got along as well as I thought they would. The first sword lesson settled that.

And it may have been a wizard's invention to keep men coming to the palace, but the prophesy about the Sword of Ice making a kingdom invincible came true. Two years after my father died, Gisela's pretty husband decided to invade, to take by force what hadn't been awarded to her by marriage.

Adela and Dovi came across the first scouting party while out riding. They fought the surprised group of men to a standstill and took their leader hostage. It was the warning we needed not to be overrun. Between that and the speech Dovi gave the men before the first battle, it was the shortest war I've ever heard tell of.

That suited us just fine. We had plenty else to do. We were busy living happily ever after.
Continue reading...

July 24, 2009

Is Hate a Crime?

It's time for another one of those posts in which I take an argument that's been getting repetitive (very repetitive) and put the whole thing in one place in the hopes of moving forward instead of arguing in parallel. In this case, we've been talking about hate-crime legislation, specifically the bills that have passed in the House and are under consideration in the Senate that would extend the existing definition of hate crimes to cover crimes motivated by the victim's sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.

The four quotes at the top of the post summarize the objections I've seen to the law. Well, the sane objections anyway. I'm not counting the people who argue that the law would protect pedophiles under sexual orientation ("sexual orientation" under federal law has a very strict definition) or who make it clear that they think anything that happens to homosexuals is fine with them. No, these are just the legitimate, if misguided, objections to the bill, and it's time to tackle them in one place.

And that place, since today is Friday, is Quiche Moraine.

July 23, 2009

This and That

A few things on the web worth taking note of:

Justine Larbalestier is talking, in some detail, about the experience of having one of her books white-washed.

Liar is a book about a compulsive (possibly pathological) liar who is determined to stop lying but finds it much harder than she supposed. I worked very hard to make sure that the fundamentals of who Micah is were believable: that she’s a girl, that she’s a teenager, that she’s black, that she’s USian. One of the most upsetting impacts of the cover is that it’s led readers to question everything about Micah: If she doesn’t look anything like the girl on the cover maybe nothing she says is true. At which point the entire book, and all my hard work, crumbles.

No one in Australia has written to ask me if Micah is really black.

No one in Australia has said that they will not be buying Liar because “my teens would find the cover insulting.”

Both responses are heart breaking.

There's much more at her blog, including a simple solution to support the publishing houses that get it right.

Also, at The Reality-Based Community, a look beyond the obvious at the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. Not that the obvious isn't bad enough, but it's important to note this too.

No one who is familiar with law enforcement can miss the significance of Crowley's report. As so often happens with documentary evidence, a person seeking to create a false impression spends lots of time nailing down the elements he thinks will establish his goal, but forgets about the larger picture. Under color of law, Crowley entered a residence to investigate a possible break-in, and after his probable cause had evaporated, he continued to act under color of law, but without any justifiable purpose. And he covered it up with false charges. Figuring that his best defense was a criminal charge, Crowley did what bad cops do. He decided he would look better if Gates looked worse. Perhaps one day cops will figure out that trumped-up charges worsen a case of investigating something that turns out not to have been a crime. It is horribly wrong when police officers falsely accuse an injured arrestee of A&B PO ("assault and battery on a police officer," a felony) but at least there is some logic to the lie. If a disorderly conduct charge follows an investigation of a non-crime, chances are pretty good that the cop handled himself badly. Pursuit of charges should be strongly disfavored.

Finally, the U.S. minimum wage increases tomorrow to $7.25 an hour. To put that in perspective, that's only slightly less than I was making when I quit cashiering at a gas station to get a real job. Sixteen years ago. Sociological Images has an inflation-adjusted chart that quickly shows how minimum wage has historically compared to the official federal poverty line. It's more than worth a look.

July 22, 2009

Is 1984 a Gendered Book?

So the 15 book meme is running rampant (bloggers blog about books? who knew?), and I'm noticing something interesting. The majority of the male bloggers who have posted their lists are including Orwell's 1984. None of the female bloggers have that I've seen.

Personally, I hated it. I understood the points about privacy and conformity. Yes, yes, big warning labels. Got it.

What I didn't believe, what I did not and would not buy was the way it portrayed human rebellion as a fragile thing. It is not. It's one of the most durable qualities we have. Don't believe me? Find a book of Soviet jokes. Read Anne Frank's diary and see the life they made despite the Nazi's wanting them dead. Read about Mildred and Richard Loving.

Rebellion is fundamental to humanity. A government may kill or suppress it in an individual, but they can't suppress all of it. No government, not even one with cameras everywhere, has the resources. And I hated Orwell for trying to tell me it could be done.

But now I find myself wondering whether these messages about rebellion and conformity are generally read differently by groups with different relationships to the ruling class. Did other women reject 1984 for its hopelessness? Did other poor people find what it had to say about suppression to be trite?

Or am I still the only person who hated that book? What say you, blogosphere?

July 20, 2009

Tagged--15 Books

DuWayne is going into meme overdrive and has tagged me with the 15 books meme that two people also tagged me with on Facebook tonight. Just for him, I'm posting my answers here before I put them on Facebook. (It's been mean to him.)

Rules are simple: 15 books (or in DuWayne's case, 15 minutes of books) that will always stick with you. I make no claims about whether my list says anything profound about me. Feel free to psychoanalyze in the comments.

  1. Andersen's Fairy Tales
  2. Grimm's Fairy Tales
  3. Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner
  4. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevski
  5. Deerskin by Robin McKinley
  6. The Demon Breed by James Schmitz
  7. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  8. Rilla of Ingleside by L. M. Montgomery
  9. Flim-Flam by James Randi
  10. Brokedown Palace by Steven Brust
  11. Cards of Grief by Jane Yolen
  12. Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchet
  13. Drinking Sapphire Wine by Tanith Lee
  14. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis
  15. An Old Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott

I'm not tagging anybody, since the last time I tagged people, those tag hung out there for more than a month. I hate feeling as though I've obligated anyone to do anything. Still, if you want to participate, I'm always interested in what people read and what influences them. Meme away.

July 19, 2009

Samia's at It Again

Blogging things that make me vaguely uncomfortable, that is. I do believe she's requiring me to think.

I don't get this unspoken idea in the white West that Muslim (esp brown) women are somehow more lost/mindless/submissive/in-need-of-saving than women of other faiths. It seems the bodies, sexuality, and general suffering of many Muslim women are just fine to trot out when they serve the interests of various Western war machines or the egos of some feminists. But there's almost no respect for the personal agency and intelligence of women who choose to practice Islam in certain ways. It's too much for people to try and listen before deciding they Care More and Know Better.

No, if a woman is Muslim, then it's Islam holding her down-- class, cultural, familial, racial, colonial*, layers are blotted out completely. And don't let her tell you different! Even if she identifies as feminist!


Catch the rest of her post on the complexities of restrictive religions and how they are reported. Don't miss the comments, either.

Samia also posts links to writing she finds thought-provoking. This last set is particularly good, so good that even while I strongly suggest you go read the rest, I'm stealing this video. Note that it applies very well to discussing behavior in general, not just in the context of race.

July 18, 2009

Today's Question

When do we get to stop defining smart, passionate women by the most powerful men in their circle?

My head is spinning 4 bazillion different kinds of purple because I have no idea what any of this means. I'll grant ERV that she never said the word "atheist" in her post criticizing the book she didn't read. That said, to deny that the current disagreement has anything to do with religion when she links specifically to PZ is disingenuous at best.

Or maybe a better question is, "Is it really that difficult to tell atheists apart?" or, "Why is the only thing of interest about an atheist their opinion on religion?"

Okay, enough with implying that Isis is displaying sexism or anti-atheist bigotry. It's a cheap trick and just not that hard to do, as we've seen over and over. Today's real question is, "Why not ask Abbie? She was right there!" Same question goes when you don't understand the relevance of a comment. What does it hurt to ask?

Haven't we seen enough strawmen burned in effigy in other discussions? Haven't we seen how easy it is to fan the flames of righteous anger and how hard it is to put them out with the wind that is our only real tool here on the internet? Why wouldn't we want to settle the question of what's actually going on before we pour so much energy into tearing the situation apart? Aren't we supposed to be the empiricists, the evidence-based crowd? Why would we neglect a primary source of information?

Now, I'll freely admit I didn't know what Abbie was talking about when she said her history with Chris Mooney on this topic went back to 2006. I've only been reading widely in the science blogosphere for about a year and a half. Abbie didn't link to it, and the search function on the old ERV blog wasn't working. So there I was, stuck in ignorance despite my curiosity.

Well, no.

Yesterday morning, I sent Abbie an email asking for more information. I had to look up her email address. The most we've ever exchanged is a comment or two and blog links. I got a reply in about half an hour, giving me the basic background that this dates back to Discovery Institute and other creationist attacks on The Republican War on Science.

I didn't ask for permission to quote, so I'll paraphrase somewhat less colorfully (I trust Abbie will correct me where I get it wrong): Creationists personalized their attacks on RWS, misrepresenting Mooney and the book in order to do so. PZ, Abbie and others who fight the good fight on keeping religious objections to evolution from screwing up science education stood up for Mooney. They took apart the bad arguments and exposed the misinformation.

Now she feels Mooney has done the same thing to PZ that was done to him, that he has attacked him based on irrelevancies and distortions. As for the comment that Isis didn't understand, if Mooney had done the same thing to Isis, saying her open letters suggested that disagreeing with her on anything was incompatible with science and this was hurting the cause of science literacy, Abbie would call bullshit on that too. Ditto for others who in any way upset people while being scientists instead of having personalities as pale as their labcoats. After what he's been through, Mooney doesn't have the option to credibly claim he's ignorant of what he's doing.

Shortly after the first email from Abbie, she followed up with another that gave me the links to follow along in her discussions on framing and science outreach. It starts, in fact, with her post chronicling Casey Luskin's objections to RWS.

This is what you come up against being a science advocate in the real world. These people have absolutely no interest in 'teaching both sides.' They want to teach their side, their creation myth, nothing else. They blockade themselves in their churches and their religious schools and religious camps and nobody gets through with an outside opinion. Filtering questions?? Common!! I would ask Chris, why hasnt he promoted his book on 'The 700 Club'? He says we need to plead with the Religious Right to come back to reality, so why doesnt he go on 'The 700 Club' and do just that? Well, the same reason why I cant leave my 'ivory tower' to speak at local anti-evolution churches. I might want to go, but theyarent letting me in.

The answer is not to further condemn frustrated science activists, but to properly condemn the evil individuals that would rather keep their flocks ignorant than lose their tithes. Evil little twits like Casey who continue the religious mental abuse of teenagers and young adults with their IDEA clubs. Dont bitch to me about staying in my 'ivory tower' when youve never been in the dark trenches of the Bible Belt.

I have to say I'm impressed with how precisely accurate she was in saying she's been having the same discussion with Mooney for almost three years. Just like she's right that she's been asking for practical help.

Id like to think that when I do have the opportunity to address the public on some form of science, I do a decent enough job, but how about some real advice, journalist friends? How about some advice as to how to get invited to speak about science? Hell, Im at a major research institution, and the only after work presentation weve had is some jerk-off talking about 'God and Science.' I mean Jesus, Im a young, relatively attractive, cutesy female, and I cant get a science speaking gig around here. You think burly old professors get invited inside church walls to speak about evolution?
How about getting your journalist friends to talk to scientists when speaking about science, and not getting a fully loaded panel of idiotic Creationists/Deniers/Skeptics/Anti-Vaxers/etc with one actual scientist (who gets talked over the entire 'conversation')? Scientists arent in Ivory Towers, the people who need to hear what we have to say are behind Iron Curtains. You two cant be naive enough not to know this.

She's also been critiquing the idea that all we need are more scientist-communicators for over two years.

And in my current environment, I feel completely ignored. What is making 200 more of me supposed to do? 200 more people to be ignored. Super. I mean are we to believe that I am the only scientist on the planet that already has these super special qualifications? Im the only person being ignored? Thats idiotic! This cadre of Super Communicator Scientists already exists, especially within my internet-video game-Red Bull generation! But we're being ignored, and we have very few outlets by which we can cut our communication teeth, so to speak. Our talents arent being utilized to their full potential. This blog has been a much needed stress-release valve for me.

Suggestions like Science Cafes and speaking at local schools are helpful. I didnt find the N/M article helpful. I kinda took it personally, though Im sure N/M only wanted to help. And Id love to have a post-presentation critique from Chris Mooney! I know I still have a lot to learn about public presentations!
But until I, or others, can slide past the Iron Curtain of ignorance that some desperately want (need) to maintain, I maintain my stance that if N/M really, really believe that our scientific illiteracy problem is a result of few 'good' science communicators, they are incredibly naive, and enabling the perpetrators of the real barriers to productive communication.

And her response (in early 2007) to the critique (from Nisbet) that overt atheists are hurting science outreach.

Here is a real problem, that you and Chris are either unable or unwilling to address. Brace yourself here: I am not Richard Dawkins.

I am a 5'8" chick with blue eyes, long brown hair, and (Ive been told) a *cute* voice, that wears polo shirts from Old Navy. Im not how most Christians/Muslims/etc would picture an 'atheist', so I can slide in cognito through even the most fundamentalist theistic environments.

And I have difficulty getting past the Iron Curtain gate keepers.

Stop enabling their behaviors by 'blaming' atheism. Oh, or even better idea, why dont you all focus your energies on solving the Iron Curtain problem, rather than pointing out the sky is blue.

She documented this problem of outlets for science outreach a couple days later with an email exchange between someone who was trying to represent science and event organizers. Then she dropped the subject for a while, coming back with a post that suggests she reads Mooney very closely indeed.

Should we confront anti-scientists at all?
Chris Mooney, 2006--

And just as science-abusing corporations must be fought in the courts, science-abusing religious conservatives-- who would misinform our children about the origin of the human species and about virtually every thing having to do with sex-- must be fought in schools, the educational system, and the public arena more generally.

Chris Mooney, 2008--
First of all, what is the point of fighting and debating climate skeptics any more?

... if you actually bother to rebut the Heartlands and Discoverys of the world, you instantly enter into a discourse on their own terms. The strategic framing these groups employ to attack mainstream science heavily features the rhetoric of scientific uncertainty—and so if you try to answer their arguments, you’re inevitably committed to conveying more abstruse technical information and, thus, more uncertainty as soon as they wail back at you (which they thoroughly enjoy doing).

And, still more than a year ago, she asked who the religious moderates were who were going to be so offended by an atheist's views on religion as to turn away from science.

Oh certainly my friends and I could get into a big fight over religion (especially me and Ian-- he does that 'I used to be an atheist' thing that drives me up the wall LOL!). And of course I think my friends are being silly and childish-- they know that. And of course I know they think Im going to heaven and Im going to LUV IT, whether I like it or not (???).

But we arent going to fight about science.

Okay, having read all that, I understand a whole lot better why she doesn't think there's much point in her trying to engage Mooney on an intellectual basis. I get why she's annoyed and angry, and I understand the critiques that there is nothing new in the book much better as well. When one has been asking for more information for years, it's definitely going to be frustrating to be handed what you already know and have responded to.

I know I prefer it when I get my questions answered. I'll have to try more.

Maybe for tomorrow: Chris and Sheril, if you think Crackergate hurts science among theists, why include it in a book meant for a broader audience with a higher proportion of theists in it? Or maybe: Do we want to put all our eggs in one basket? Or even: Why would an author ever think it's a good idea to argue with a review, much less a solicited review?

Do you think they'll answer?

Foul, Vile and Expressly Stupid

Apropos of the derailment here, the further concern trolling here, and the pointless pissing on the parade here. Because sometimes you just have to ask why someone doesn't have something better to do than hang out in places that offend them.

I Hate Your Blog

Guess I'll try to go despise a blog by someone else.

July 17, 2009

Atheists in Love

I turned back to the conversation between PZ and the very earnest young man sitting across from me. He had come to atheism relatively recently and with great relief, and he wanted to give something back. He was shy, though, and diffident, and didn't know what he could do to help. He asked PZ.

Now, I'm not a big talker. It takes some wind up for me to get to the point of even opening my mouth. However, this time, I interrupted before PZ could answer.

"Be happy."

He looked confused.

"One of the best things you can do to promote a positive view of atheism is to live a happy, healthy life as an out atheist."

More at Quiche Moraine.

July 15, 2009

My Day Is Made

Charlie Pierce, of Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me (and, you know, a career in journalism, but who's counting) has weighed in on the Unscientific America row.

Just a word of advice: never piss off a comedian. There is nobody better at spotting hypocrisy and nobody more willing to point it out.

Today's Reading in Science Communication

[E]leven years ago after hearing Kent Hovind on the radio making a complete ass of himself on the radio, and worse hearing a bunch of “Coast to Coast” listeners call in to agree with him, not only confirmed for me that creationism is just another version of UFO’ism supported because it kind of fits with the Bible and they really don’t have to learn much more about it than they can get in church. Salvation granted, Satan thwarted, let’s eat! My problem was that if called on to defend my position I would be the one who was a fool, I really didn’t know all that much about how it all works together.

So, I decided to learn.

Mike is taking his turn at diagnosing the cause of science illiteracy at Tangled Up in Blue Guy. It's well worth a read.

July 14, 2009

Hollywood, Science, and Unscientific America

I'm a bit busy at the moment, having a very important house guest this week and just having taken on a new and very exciting project that I'm only going to tease you with for a while. However, that doesn't mean you'll lack for continued criticisms of the new Mooney/Kirshenbaum book.

Peggy got herself a copy of the book and dug into the chapter on science in Hollywood much more thoroughly at Biology in Science Fiction than I did at Quiche Moraine working from just one quote. She's not entirely thrilled.

I'm disappointed that Unscientifc America indulges in the same sort of negative stereotyping of scientists that pop culture does. And maybe I'm misunderstanding, but the suggestion seems to be that scientists should not comment on or complain about "minor" scientific inaccuracies, because, well, just because:

Sound familiar? That's not the only thing that chapter appears to have in common (in a negative way) with the rest of the book. Go find out how Dawkins is taken out of context again.

Also, while we're still talking about the book, Jason would like your help with a little poll.

July 12, 2009

The Mooney/Kirshenbaum Strategy

I must issue an apology to Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum. I admit to having wondered whether their intention in criticizing the world's most popular science blogger and a much-awarded science communicator whose books all remain in print as being bad for science literacy was merely to generate publicity for their own book. After all, picking a fight with someone better known than you has proven successful in drawing heaps of attention to people who would otherwise be ignored.

But lo, I shouldn't have doubted, for while digging back into the history of such conflicts, I discovered what their true purpose in making such an attack must be, and it is a noble purpose. They are simply trying to help the "New Atheists"' cause. We already know atheism has a huge PR problem.

No, I suspect this is a gift to Pharyngula, a gift to Richard Dawkins. The controversy raises the profile of the New Atheists, people--especially with a book like this, which is by its very nature courting controversy and baiting working science communicators.

It took some time and thought, but I must now conclude that Chris and Sheril are doing more here than merely trying to set themselves up as a new voice emerging reflecting our diversity, tolerance, the encouragement of ideas, and ultimately, in fact, promoting a similar message to that of Expelled...that we must question what we're told--in religion, in science, in life.

Because if the general public thinks all they've got to say is 'shut up,' they lose.

July 11, 2009

Ellison Is a Lousy Cameraman

But he's a great representative. Big Media not want to talk to you and your allies about your legislative agenda? Get your message on camera yourself.

Why don't the rest of you have representatives like this?

July 10, 2009

Mere Factual Accuracy

Now, having said that, I’ll admit up front that I haven’t read the book that’s raising so many hackles. However, in PZ Myers’ general review, he pulled a quote that I have to address:

Dawkins and some other scientists fail to grasp that in Hollywood, the story is paramount—that narrative, drama, and character development will trump mere factual accuracy every time, and by a very long shot.

I write science fiction. I read science fiction. I watch it on television and in the theater. I read and write and watch in other genres too. This statement is one of those gross oversimplifications that makes me cringe. Maybe it’s better in context, covered in caveats, but an awful lot of people aren’t seeing it in context right now.

Go find out why I'm cringing at Quiche Moraine.

July 08, 2009

Ed Started It

...with his post asking his readers about themselves. DrugMonkey took up the call and tagged "science-y or academic-y blog[s]" with the meme.

That raises a question I find just as interesting as the secret identities of my lurking readers. Why does Almost Diamonds keep getting listed as a science blog? I know people have waffled on this. Some of folks who have been so kind as to put me on their sorted blogrolls have had a tough time classifying me. But it still happens.

So if you'd care to indulge a confused blogger, please tell me in the comments what kind(s) of content brings you to Almost Diamonds. And if I don't already know who you are, I'd love to hear a bit about your background too.


Bora was kind enough to include me in his interview series for SciencOnline'09, and he posted the results today. It's a very strange experience being interviewed, especially when the questions include minefields like:

What are your thoughts on the never-ending debates between groups of people who are generally on the same side, but differ in one tiny detail, usually of strategy? For example, in the evolution/creation debate, silent vs. vocal atheists, or different strands of feminism (including the question of women in STEM), people who are on the same page 99% of the time, spend a lot of time aggressively arguing the remaining 1%?

He's a rabble-rouser, is our Bora. Let me know how well you think I handled it.

July 07, 2009


Talk about disgracing your profession.

According to the criminal complaint:

The pastor, identified in the complaint only as "M.S.O.," first contacted Byington about three years ago by answering an ad for an exotic dancer. He began seeing her at her home in Fargo for dance shows. Eventually, the pastor started paying Byington for sex.

In March, the pastor said he wanted to stop paying her and hoped they could consider their relationship as an affair.

On May 14, she told the pastor that he had to give her $6,000 to keep her from telling his wife and the bishop about their relationship.

Really, I expect better from exotic dancers.

July 06, 2009

Still Running

Um, yeah. Hi. So, I was going to post some con report today, talking about what went on at CONvergence and SkepchickCon. Then Skepchick carr2d2, otherwise known as Carrie, sent me a note about dinner. Then dinner lasted for four hours, ending just as an apologetic server came up to say we were sitting where the stage would be in about 15 minutes. So con reports will have to wait for tomorrow. I have sleep debt to repay.

In the meantime, Greg is posting analysis of the con in general and panel reports. Bug Girl is giving her own con report and posting pictures. And Rebecca is telling me I went to bed too early Saturday night.

Enjoy. I certainly did.

July 04, 2009

Thoughts on a Declaration

I am not asleep. The cats need reassurance, and every time I start to drift off, another explosion happens outside. Or a dozen explosions. Or an explosion preceded by a screech.

This strikes me as a very good time to remember what Independence Day is actually about.

Over at Quiche Moraine. Happy Independence Day, everyone.

July 03, 2009

Running Full Out

I'm off to CONvergence for the day and saving my Fourth of July Quiche Moraine post for tomorrow, so I'll leave you with some odds and ends to amuse anyone who isn't off amusing themselves today.

This I had to share only because I'd never seen the very silly video. The song holds up well, though.

Jane's Getting Serious

It's a relationship based entirely on trust.

Elsewhere on the web, Toaster Sunshine is running a painfully funny series on how not to flirt. It's a must read.

Speaking of comics, Matt and Ian at Three Panel Soul have a little message for the residents of Provo, Utah regarding pornography. Tatsuya Ishida of Sinfest shows that even demons are not immune to the irresistible power of geek.


July 01, 2009

Who Has the Profit Motive?

Science-based medicine = Big Pharma? You hear it all the time from the peddlers of woo, but it's rare that they disclose their own profit motives.

Take the fellow who used Greg's recent post on the FDA and acetaminophen to complain about how the FDA conducts itself.

I think more people need to take a bigger picture approach to this latest FDA news. Who is the FDA ultimately protecting? How long do they wait, how many lives are affected before they take this kind of action on big pharma drugs? Too long. How long do they wait to come down hard on the natural health industry when a few people lose their sense of smell (for example)? Not that long. The makers of Zicam got dragged through the media a few weeks ago after 100 or so people lost their sense of smell temporarily over a ten year period, but it takes 20 years or so for the FDA to say anything about the drug that is the leading cause of liver failure in the U.S.

Set aside the fact that the post quotes an article talking about the years-long educational campaigns conducted by the government to help keep people from using acetaminophen dangerously. Set aside the fact that this is not the first FDA action on acetaminophen. Ben, the commenter, did, after all. Even after this was pointed out to him, he accused the FDA of "purposely staying silent" on the subject.

Ben wanted to "focus...on the priorities of the FDA." Of course, contrarian that I am, that only makes me look at Ben's priorities, particularly since I just looked at the FDA's and he ignored what I said.

Ben was kind enough to provide a link to the blog for his company, Swanson Vitamins. So I took a look at the company, specifically in regard to things he didn't think the FDA should be focusing on.

Zicam, of course, is the "homeopathic" cold/allergy/wealth remedy, at least one formulation of which actually contains an active ingredient (unlike most homeopathic remedies, which are just water). The FDA recently released a consumer warning that Zicam Cold nasal gels can temporarily or permanently impair users' sense of smell. That may not sound so awful, but it's an ugly condition.

Now, as Ben pointed out, his company's site doesn't carry the Cold products. Of course, those can't currently be marketed without FDA approval, so that's not evidence of care for their customers. They do, however, continue to carry other Zicam products, even after:

There have been 130 cases reported to the FDA of decreased sense of smell following the use of one of these Zicam products - sometimes after a single use, sometimes after repeated use. All of these cases were reported by patients or their doctors; none were reported by the company, Matrixx Initiatives. According to reports, the FDA has asked Matrixx to turn over 800 consumer complaints regarding to Zicam. There is a 2007 law that requires company to report such complaints to the FDA, although the FDA has not said whether Matrixx violated this law.

Swanson Vitamins could choose not to carry any of these Zicam products in order to protect their customers. They don't. They are instead choosing to ignore a company history of unsafe formulations and failure to report problems with their own products in order to continue to promote a popular brand name of woo.

Ben points to the fact that the other Zicam products haven't been dunned by the FDA. He links to an article on his own blog that says that the FTC and FDA have regulatory powers over "natural" medicines. What he doesn't tell you:

While most homeopathic remedies are diluted to the point that they are indistinguishable from water, that is not a requirement. Lesser dilutions may contain small amounts of active ingredient. If a “homeopathic remedy” contains a biological active amount of a drug as an active ingredient, is it not a regular drug?

This is relevant to Zicam because these products are regulated as homeopathic drugs - which means they were allowed on the market without having to provide any evidence for safety or efficacy.The homeopathic exception allowed the manufacturer to simply bypass the usual requirements, even though Zicam is not really homeopathic but contains biologically active levels of zinc.

Why doesn't he tell you that? Why doesn't he tell you the the FTC has only the power to make sure he's not making direct medical claims for his products? Well, you could ask Ben, or you could just read the title of this post again.

Update: Note that a profit motive can also encourage other unethical behavior. As Jason points out in the comments, the astroturfers from Swansons Vitamins have arrived.