Myself from Space

For a couple of years recently, I worked at a strenuous but fun job painting faux finishes on fiberglass architectural forms.

A mostly outside job winter or summer, it involved schlepping big cast brickwork arches onto sawhorses, fixing the (numerous) flaws from the manufacturer, and painting a three tone finish to mimic a particular type of Italian brickwork.

Even when the Phoenix temperatures hit 117, I loved that gig. I had a great team and a wonderful boss who is a master of moldmaking and theatrical props. The work was easy once I figured out how it all went together. There was always enough shade, cold water, and excellent coffee. The boss had wrested from the unforgiving clay a remarkable garden, so that meant fresh tomatoes and artichokes. (I hadn’t seen an artichoke flower before. They are otherworldly.)

For comic relief and amazing eggs we had urban chickens.

The boss got out of that business, two years after I left it for an indoor job, and is now departing to the Antipodes and a saner country. I can’t blame him. He’s having an artwake/farewell party in a couple of weeks.

The house will be sold. Will the new owners will keep up the garden, or keep funny obnoxious chickens, or create mad art miracles behind a privacy fence? Or will they be a boring bland example of gentrification?

In a fit of nostalgia I looked up our little enclave on Google maps, and found a satellite photo snapshot circa 2014 or 2015:

Google’s commercially available detail is stunning. From the vegetation and shadow angle it’s summer, a couple hours after noon. The house, shop, and garden are tucked into an unassuming scruffy corner of metro Phoenix. The boss’s truck, one of my coworkers’ vehicles, and my car are clearly visible in the locked, fenced parking area.

Out in the workyard are the shade canopies, the unpainted white fiberglass forms, the upright drying racks, stacked sawhorses. And two blobs casting shadows as they work: my coworker and me.  I know because I can see the colors of the shirts we’re wearing.

It’s really weird to see yourself from space, from orbit, from a past time.

But also damn cool.



Happy Halloween, 2017!

Because they make me smile:

Sugar Skull ceramic planters from a nearby Trader Joe’s.

I’m wondering if I could coax a Datura seedling into growing in one, instead of the succulent shown.

Probably shouldn’t, though. Responsibility in gardening, and all that.

But honestly: wouldn’t it be gorgeous?

Horehound candy from scratch

Note: ‘Natural’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘safe’. A surprising number of herbal products can harm or kill you, used improperly. This stuff is no exception. So if you are mad enough to make your own horehound candy, be careful and don’t overdo it, either in the making or the eating.

These are horehound candy ‘sanded’ lozenges from a company called Claeys. They’re readily available online, at candy shops, or kitschy folk-life/food outlets like Cracker Barrel. Their characteristic bitter flavor is well balanced by the cane sugar candy, and they are nicely soothing for sore throats and stopped-up sinuses.

But they are made to a modern American taste. I find them rather wimpy and mild.

Horehound itself, good old Marrubium vulgare, is an odd plant. Kind of the coyote of the mint family: drought tolerant, tough, opportunistic, and so bitter most sane animals won’t nibble it. It probably originated around the Mediterranean, but has spread as a colonizing weed nearly everywhere. (My given name comes from the same root word as this plant, so I have several dimensions of fondness for it.)

My first taste of ‘real’ horehound candy came in my early teens. My local community college had a great wintertime presentation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and my junior high English class got to attend.

The college made a Renaissance Faire thing of it. My local historical re-enactors/Faire folks added flavor by dressing up in garb while running sales booths. I most clearly remember one selling blackberry tartlets (damn those were so good), and one selling horehound candy.

The candy had been poured into dark brown glassy sheets looking like medicine-bottle glass, then broken into irregular shards. This comes close, from sugarontheweekend.

Clients bought it by weight. A shop matron in full merchant-class Tudor garb weighed it out on a shiny brass suspension scale somewhat like this one.

I’d heard of horehound candy in novels, and knew what the commercial versions tasted like. This stuff? In a class by itself. First I tasted the brown sugar, then the deep herbal bite like the funkiest of mints. I enjoy strong, bitter flavors, especially if they have complex layers. Coffee, tamarind, grapefruit, even bitter melon: bring ’em on!

The candy did something else: my usual persistent winter sore throat, legacy of childhood illness, hayfever, and some seriously polluted air, vanished for the rest of the show.

I snuck out at intermission and used the rest of my spending money on brown chunks of miracle candy, which I doled out carefully until spring. Especially after our family doctor told me I could give myself high blood pressure or heart failure if I over-ate it.

Commercial horehound candy has been a mainstay in my house ever since, but I’ve missed the rich bitterness of the Ren Faire version.

I decided to make my own.

There are recipes. You can find them online. I do not recommend this. It takes a bloody long time, and it reeks up the whole house. Not quite as bad as cannabis, but damn close.

I, however, am a bit insane. Possessed of a candy thermometer, brown sugar, maple sugar, vanilla extract, some excellent spearmint, and a nearby herb & tea shop selling very fresh dried horehound leaves from a quality supplier…I spent last Saturday making my own horehound candy.

Once I slowly boiled off the water from the decoction, I didn’t take it to the ‘hard crack’ candy stage. I wanted easy-to-break sugar crystals, and I’d already spent most of a very stinky afternoon.

The result, 5 hours after the initial herbal steeping, was a revelation: soft, luscious crystals that look like dark-honey quartz drusy. The taste is better than I remembered: first the cane and maple, then hints of vanilla and spearmint, then SLAM the bitter glory of the horehound.

Works on my throat, too.

I just have to remember that this is much stronger than the safe old Claeys drops.

If I keep it cold and dry, I figure I have a couple of years’ supply at least. Which will give me enough time to try out online suppliers, because I am probably not making this stuff again. (The reek!)





Coursera and why I blather about it

Note: this post contains paid marketing links, which I only do when I really support a product or service. If you click/buy through the link below (at the bottom of the post), I will get a micropayment to help defray the operating costs of Blue Night.

But really? I’d much rather you just go look at what Coursera has to offer you.

Coursera is an online educational service that provides access to some of the world’s best university courses and lectures, from thousands of sources, most priced from $29 to $99 per course. Courses generally run from 4 – 6 weeks.

You can brush up on old professional certificates, earn new ones, round out your old degrees before challenging course requirements at new universities…or just round out your knowledge base.

Why pick Coursera?

It’s easy, if you have little self-discipline. If you can pay bills online and navigate Facebook or Twitter, you can do this.

Your brain will thank you. We’re seeing more and more evidence that early-to-midlife brain workouts help reduce Alzheimer’s Disease and some other forms of dementia.

Your future earnings might thank you. Yes, we’ve all heard the one about Masters-degree grads flipping burgers. But did you know that many jobs that didn’t require a Bachelors’ degree in 1997, do now? People with a better knowledge base can take advantage of earnings opportunities others might miss. As jobs become more high-technology, workers must keep up with new job specifications…even whole new industries.

Plus, you’ll be better insulated against falling for ‘fake news’ scams and tricks, on the right or left side of political debates.

In our modern American (and some other countries, I’m sure) education system, we’re seeing two horrific trends: the debt bubble crippling many for-profit-college students, and the ‘cheat-your-way-to-the-top’ mentality made popular by Wall Street and our politicians. For the latter, there’s growing evidence that relying on paid thesis papers and other outsourced coursework doesn’t really ‘teach’ the student, so they don’t go into a field with the necessary base knowledge, or even the ability to learn and retrain as new information evolves. That can be fine if it’s a low-impact position in a minor industry.

But it can become a catastrophe. Like this guy:

A little history: the American and British industrial era was helped along in the 1880s to 1920s by many factors, but a love of (even a duty toward) education became many citizens’ aspiration. Free public libraries and reading rooms sprouted up from the biggest cities to the tiniest coal-mining towns. Their proponents knew that not everyone was going to college, or would become a fancy businessman in a marble house. But they knew it was important to have informed citizens. Who read and debated, and sometimes became writers and scholars guiding the next generations of informed citizens.

We need to ditch the fashionable hatred of ‘intellectual elites’ and get back to the America that loved learning and science. STEM is for everyone, not just the geeks in labcoats!

Self-guided learning can be a more-affordable option for busy (and poorer) people, to hone critical professional skills, or regain (or find in the first place) a joy of simply learning new things. Again with the science: learning and play (‘plasticity’ in neurological terms) help keep our brains functioning better and longer.

So, back to Coursera. Don’t be afraid of their course lists and lectures. Hop onto the site. Browse the catalog.

Do you like to watch how-to building, cooking, or crafts shows on cable or TV? Is there anything you have ever…however briefly…wondered about: How does that work? Why does this happen? What was it like, in that time, or that place?

You can find a course or lecture on Coursera that might answer your question, taught by the experts in that field, more deeply than you might get in a brief Wikipedia search.

Kudos if you know how to do basic Google or Wiki searches: many people who fall for ‘fake news’ scams can’t even do that…in an age of internet wonders, they’re stuck watching the sideshows.

This is Coursera. I’ve tried it a couple of times and enjoyed the experience, and I have friends who’ve been fans for years.


Hurricane Harvey

I may go on a rant later about the twin dangers of deregulation and ignoring manmade climate change, and how millions of people in south and central Texas will be paying for those governmental, industrial, and institutional mistakes.

Flag tangled in power line, image courtesy Mark Ralston / AFP /Getty

But right now, let’s consider the sheer power behind this ‘historic’ storm, made immeasurably worse by warm Gulf waters and a weak Jet Stream. Harvey, now a tropical storm, hit the Texas coast at between 130 and 140 miles per hour. Its slow progress northeastward means that trillions of gallons of rain will be unleashed in the next few days to a week. That’s rainfall totals in feet, not inches. 

Entire counties are underwater. As of an hour or so ago, there were no safe routes out of Houston.

There have been confirmed fatalities. There will be many more. If you have loved ones in Texas, try to keep in contact with them. Emergency services will be in urgent need of blood donations, food, clean water, and money over the next weeks. Here are some ways to help.

What was President Trump doing while the dire news came out of Texas? Pardoning Joe Arpaio and pitching Sheriff David Clarke’s book.

Patreon Ahoy!

Happy Independence Day, for my fellow US friends (and for everyone else!)

While we’re on the subject of independence, do you know about Patreon?

The company bills itself as the best way for creators to build a sustained income. From what I’ve seen from many Patreon accounts, it’s succeeding. 35 creators each earned over $150,000 in 2016, according to a recent Patreon blog analysis. Many more earn a respectable $500 to $1000 each month from their subscription services.

Who’s on Patreon already? Artists of every kind. Writers of fiction, non-fiction, graphic novels, and webcomics. Science and pop culture bloggers. Musicians, gamers, teachers…it’s a dizzying array of skills and interests.

All operating under one simple idea: fans helping content creators afford to be creative, in return for regularly delivered content (often first-run or available nowhere else.) This can range from digitally delivered stories, interviews, podcasts, videos, songs, lesson plans, and even physical items. The Patreon service can run indefinitely, for a limited duration, or a set financial goal.

The webcomics on my right sidebar? Most have Patreon accounts. If you love them, subscribe!

Are you a content creator? What could you do with an extra few hundred dollars a month? What would you do if you didn’t have to rely solely on a day job, publishing royalties, a gallery or art agent, or a music label?

All you need to do is set up an account with Patreon, be somewhat social, and have the time, energy, and willpower to provide that regular content.

I’m not at the level of name recognition to jump on Patreon, and I don’t have enough professionally-edited content to do it well. If the Lonhra Sequence books don’t end up with an agent or a large publisher, I might bolster my self-publishing with a Lonhra/Blue Night Patreon. But that’s probably a year away, at least.

I have several friends who are researching their Patreon options right now. I plan on hosting their links when their accounts are operational. It will be an interesting experiment to watch!

Added December 9, 2017: alas, Patreon did a very stupid and greedy thing under the guise of ‘helping’ creators. Patreon changed its fee structure to effectively penalize small (under $5) donors.

Here’s a link to some of the resulting ruckus.

For me, it means permanently disabling my Patreon account and finding other ways to send my tiny contributions to creator friends.


Phoenix Comicon 2017

That’s right folks, the madness that is Phoenix Comicon starts in just a few hours!

I probably won’t attend this year because of schedule conflicts with other work and art stuff. If you’re brave enough to deal with the heat and crowds, I can promise there will be lots of insane, wonderful, awe-inspiring moments for you.

This show is nowhere near as vast as San Diego, which still makes it approachable and fun. Phoenix is in the midst of reinventing its city center (yet again), which gives intrepid visitors and locals plenty of great food, drink, and entertainment…if you even leave the convention itself.

STEM and art

Americans are so myopic, sometimes. In the rush to ‘teach to the test’ or advance our science and math education (well, until Betsy DeVos became Education Secretary), we’ve forgotten that art can involve some high levels of math and science, too.

Follow this and Twitter thread for an in-depth look at the MetGala dresses and outfits, from scientist Mika McKinnon’s POV.

Black Ceramic Chain

Technology is wonderful. Especially when bright but otherwise bored people say ‘Hey, these zirconium ceramic ball bearings and whetstones are nearly as tough as sapphire. I bet we could make jewelry out of this stuff!’

Jewelry wonks are already familiar with Cubic Zirconium, the relatively cheap and readily available diamond-substitute gem, usually faceted and sold either clear or colored to mimic other gemstones.*

Zirconium powder can also be purified and melted with binding agents into a tough, hard, opaque ceramic (the aforementioned ball bearings). I’ve seen the jewelry results in pieces from David Yurman ($1500) or Jona ($5000).

Recently, Fire Mountain Gems got some black and white zirconium ceramic jewelry components in stock. When they had a deep sale on the 29x16mm and 13x10mm oval links, I bought. That yielded 12 of the big links and 2 of the smaller ones. For less than I’d pay for a good cheesesteak sandwich at my local deli.

Combined with matte-finished black #11 seed beads in ladder-stitched links, fire-polished Czech faceted ovals, and black nylon thread, the zirconium ceramic links made this minimal 20-inch necklace with toggle clasp. I like how the polished ceramic links have the black glitter of hematite, but much less weight. (It’s as light as a fiber art piece, honestly, with more weight from the glass.)

*About 30 years ago, when Cubic Zirconium gems (CZ) really came onto the hobbyist market, there was a mail order scam trade run by several ‘jewelers’ who would convince people they’d ‘won’ a free CZ faceted gem, for a minimal shipping fee. They even had soap opera celebrity spokespeople, which should have been an instant warning.

Sometime between 1985 and 1987 I got a mailing from one of the companies. (I’ve taken it off web links because the owner’s apparently just got out of prison on racketeering charges, with a side of witness tampering. Typical GOP businessman, alas.)

Back then if you accepted the stone and the ‘cash winning opportunity’, you’d get hounded to buy their other products. I had a pretty good idea what was really going on, so I said ‘Sure, Redacted Jewelry Company, send me my genuine fine diamond simulant!’

What I got was a pretty nice 1 carat white faceted stone for the shipping cost (not much), and a massive sales pitch for their crappy gold or silver plated jewelry settings. Because most people even then weren’t silversmiths, or knew that real silver and vermeil (gold plated silver) findings were easy to come by and easy to set with a few basic tools. Redacted Jewelry Company and I had some more go-arounds while I talked them out of a few more CZ gems (Hey, cheap CZ!) before they finally gave up on me.

What to take from this? I love technology, and I really like this necklace. Also, every new product or service has scam potential…but if you know what’s happening, you can have a hell of a lot of fun with the scammers.


Beall’s List and fake academic publishers

The predatory vanity publishing world is not limited to fiction. Academic and scientific papers are also a hot commodity, since the legitimate markets can have high entry barriers in fees and vetting. A host of predatory and often outright criminal publishers have surfaced to ‘serve’ those customers.

Many scientists and academics need to publish work to promote their career, grants applications, or general reputation.

Many dubious presenters need an official-looking publishing credit to bolster their claims or products (similar to how fiction vanity publishers use fake or problematic contests and associations to push their services.)

How to tell the difference, when many respected logical thinkers may not be able to?

Look for the same flops in logic you’d find in other anti-intellectual communities. The same meaningless jingoism, the same vague promises…and often, the same exorbitant publishing fees!

The US and Europe have their share of these outfits. But a large number of them are based in India – a rising market combining powerful legitimate publishers, brilliant academics, knowledge-hungry students, large amounts of money, predatory vanity publishers, and viciously divisive nationalist politics.

Here’s a link to Scholarly Open Access, and Beall’s List of predatory and fake journals. If you find a ‘journal’ listed here, it’s worth taking your time to be skeptical before you decide to submit to it!

Here’s a link to Brian Dunning’s ‘Skeptoid’ podcast about fake academic publishers and the white hat hoaxers who help expose them.

Just for laughs – and the learning experience! – here’s a Wiki link to the time when SF writer Isaac Asimov thoroughly trolled a scientific journal that wasn’t paying attention.

Here’s John H. McCool in The Scientist ‘Opinion: Why I Published in a Predatory Journal’.

Why is this crap a worldwide problem? A lack of properly vetted and researched scientific and academic work hurts all countries’ scientific intelligence quotient. It allows for easier plundering of whole economies by special interests using ‘fake news’ to advance their agenda. It covers and excuses wars and genocides. It promotes simplistic thinking and Orwellian Double-Speak over difficult but worthwhile truths. It has specific individual human costs, as when cancer patients choose ineffective bogus treatments over proven science, based off poorly-researched work in fake journals.

It has career costs, too. When unprepared or corrupt professionals plagiarize other people’s work or ‘buy’ their credentials, they’re lying about their qualifications. It might slide by without anyone knowing, and no one may be substantially harmed by the deception. But it can also lead to career shame, such as this case when some savvy Kansas students did the research that their school board obviously failed to do. Or now, when the antics of the manifestly unqualified Donald Trump may lead to countless unnecessary deaths in wars and poverty.

Peer review, like democracy, only works when your peers are intelligent, critical-thinking, and well-read members of the wider community.

What up, Russians?

First off, to the Russians who keep trying to hack me: why? I’m small fry, not worth your effort. I have 13 subscribers with a handful of other readers, and I run a blog that is mostly a wall o’text. No pretty pictures, no clickbait ads, and no one powerful cares what I think.

Granted, I’ve got your number. You’re either an entrepreneur or a state-sponsored hacker. You’re probably just trying to make a buck in an authoritarian state where the average wage has dropped to what, $200 a month? $100? Less? Where corruption, alcoholism, drug use, and kleptocracy have run rampant since the failure of perestroika, while life expectancy has plummeted. Where your Supreme Despot deflected your rightful anger away from himself and toward cultural ‘others’, in a shameful alliance with the Russian Orthodox Church.

Hint: Pussy Riot isn’t your enemy. Putin and his friends are.

Communism failed to ever create its perfect state, with Russia, Cuba, North Korea…shall I go on? The authoritarian leanings in your country transformed emerging capitalism into plutocracy almost immediately; jury’s still out on what going to happen in Cuba or North Korea.

When you copied Western Capitalism, you also imported the worst of our attitudes toward scorning the poor and the working class, and worshiping the rich. I’m sorry for that, I had better hopes for you. Carl Sagan saw where you were going in 1996:

Russia is an instructive case. Under the tsars, religious superstition was encouraged, but scientific and skeptical thinking—except by a few tame scientists—was ruthlessly expunged. Under Communism, both religion and pseudoscience were systematically suppressed—except for the superstition of the state ideological religion. It was advertised as scientific, but fell as far short of this ideal as the most unself-critical mystery cult. Critical thinking—except by scientists in hermetically sealed compartments of knowledge—was recognized as dangerous, was not taught in the schools, and was punished where expressed. As a result, post-Communism, many Russians view science with suspicion. When the lid was lifted, as was also true of virulent ethnic hatreds, what had all along been bubbling subsurface was exposed to view. The region is now awash in UFOs, poltergeists, faith healers, quack medicines, magic waters, and old-rime superstition. A stunning decline in life expectancy, increasing infant mortality, rampant epidemic disease, subminimal medical standards, and ignorance of preventative medicine all work to raise the threshold at which skepticism is triggered in an increasingly desperate population.

But honestly, while I love Russian art, culture, and poetry, I have to accept I’m talking about a social mindset that still thinks xenophobia and Stalin are worthy ideals.

So for the user in Moscow with the IP address

Stop trying, you’re just embarrassing yourself. Go be useful to humanity’s future. Go hack the American GOP again, and show the world whatever pictures of live boys and dead girls you can hold over Trump & Co.

Artists, protect yourselves

The lessons are piling on from last Friday’s horrific ‘Ghost Ship’ fire in Oakland, California.

At least three dozen people died.

To recap: The Ghost Ship was an urban warehouse illegally and shoddily converted into cheap work-live housing for artists, musicians, and other creatives. Electricity and water were siphoned from neighbors, and frequently didn’t work. Pre-fire images show a cluttered maze-like space called both ‘beautiful’ and ‘horrible’ by ex-tenants. It was a tinderbox waiting for a spark.

City and county officials explain they’re too overworked and disorganized to effectively deal with the hundreds of other illegal ‘work-live’ sites in their area.

Neighbors explain they called officials numerous times about the infamous warehouse.

The building owners claim they had no idea it was being used as a living space, or that the interior was hideously not up to safety codes…even though they were cited numerous times.

The building manager has shrugged off repeated warnings about fire safety and health codes, and even now seems to be trying to whine and bluster his way out of blame. He’s making those claims about ‘we’re all a family’ that we’ve heard from other exploiters.

Urban artists explain that the economy and affordable housing shortages force marginalized groups to seek ‘Ghost Ship’ types of often-illegal and nearly always exploitative communal housing. That governments and social groups have to step up to protect those vulnerable communities.

You know what, creative snowflakes? That’s feelgood Obama-era bullshit. You are on your own.

Most cities and states don’t actually care about artists, because most artists are not a lucrative enough tax base to be heard. Cities may make ‘We support the creative class’ noises, but seldom make solid promises or follow-through on safe housing and workspaces. We have a few good examples in AZ, but we also have our share of Arty Slumlords and boom-to-bust art neighborhoods.

Most civic leaders don’t want to encourage ‘alternative’ artists in any genre, because those artists have a bent for critical social commentary. In a Trump America, artists need to acknowledge they are now resistance fighters instead of cash cows. Trump himself, with his rants about comedy shows and Broadway musicals (and his own horrible taste in art!) has shown he doesn’t get that art *should* be able to challenge comfort zones.

In Trump America, there will be fewer regulations facing businesses, so don’t look for help there, either.

Why do we artists gather in cities? More opportunities, and often more safety and self expression than our heartland hometowns…especially now. Even for those of us who previously shied away from activist art. We no longer have that luxury.

The good news is we CAN protect ourselves. We can learn some basic science and safety measures. Make friends with (and pool our resources to PAY) electrical, construction, and plumbing specialists. Up our critical-thinking skills, so we can recognize deathtrap housing and megalomaniac site management when we see it. We can take logical steps to make our live-work spaces as safe as possible.

We need to think like doomsday preppers, and plan to be artists in zombie-apocalypse dystopias, where our survival depends on the choices we make. No one else is going to rescue us.


How Electors can redeem their honor

This is a long shot, for actually doing anything…but you can sign a petition to the US Electoral College to recast or overturn their votes for Trump. They have a little over a month. Try this site, for more information.

Clinton won the popular vote, but not the Electoral. Hmm. When have we seen this before, recently? Oh yes, in 2000. And it was a Republican-engineered takeover then, too.

And we ALL saw how eight years of the Cheney/Bush White House worked out.

Trump is magnitudes more unfit for office than George W. Bush. He’ll not only make America more of an international pariah state and laughingstock, he’ll endanger our livelihoods and our lives. His mere victory has emboldened the alt-right thugs who helped drive his campaign, and he’s shown no sign, willingness, or ability to repudiate them.

Maybe our voices can’t coax the members of the Electoral College to save America from a Trump regime…but it can signal that we’re here, we’re not going away, and we can play the obstructionist long game, too.

Sign the petition for that reason, at least, and pass it on to people who feel the same way.

A new needle

After looking at my old 1st attempt at a fossil mammoth-ivory needle, I decided to re-create the second needle I made back in the mid-80s. Ergo, the new needle is here:bone turquoise needle1 blog

This is a fossil mammoth ivory needle 62 x 4 x 3mm, hole 4 x 1.5mm.  Inlaid plug of stabilized turquoise. Anchored with DevCon high-strength epoxy tinted by NuPastel chalk. Polished with 300-grit garnet paper, 600-grit wet/dry sandpaper, and white oxide.

Working time approximately 4.5 hours.

I’m really happy about this piece. It’s better than the one I sold.

But if I’m getting back into nalbinding, I’m going to need a larger needle…

Added 8-26-2016: I redrilled the old needle and chopped it down to around 55mm. A bit of repolishing, and it’s a great companion to the turquoise inlaid needle.

Ivory needles

I’m holding off making or buying the larger bone needles I want, because that would mean new distractions in nalbinding (Honey, I made you VIKING SOCKS) and expensive trips to every yarn store I know. And remembering how much I stupidly love carding fine wool and plant fiber.

I need to win a lottery just to handle my creative obsessions.

The oldest known bone needle

I thought I’d step back from dire politics, horrendous wars, and unimaginable natural disasters for a look at an amazing artifact just announced to the world.

This bone needle.


Of probable Denisovan origin, it dates to around 50,000 years old, and was found at a very information-rich cave site in Siberia.

What’s so cool about this piece?

It’s a sign and symbol of human* ingenuity.

It’s a tool of creation.

A needle is a long, tapered sliver of something relatively hard, with a point at one end and a hole or a single or double split prong at the other. The point goes through leather, basketry coils, or woven or knitted cloth…or even flesh, if you’re stitching a wound. The hole carries a doubled thread or cord; the split prongs do the same thing for a single cord, helped along by tension and/or some thin cord wrapping.

Needles help human beings make things and alter their environment. These are sophisticated tools requiring good spacial skills and predictive reasoning to even imagine.

Some of the easiest (and probably earliest) needles were porcupine quills, which have a wicked natural point on them and can carry a thread of plant fiber or animal sinew. This Etsy shop has pre-drilled quills, in case anyone wants to sew old-school.

We still have the basic form today, in steel or bronze two-prong needles for leather lacing. Here’s an example from Tandy Leather, Inc.2-prong-lacing-needle-1190-00-250_250The leather gets pushed between the two prongs, and possibly secured with some thin thread in those two holes you see inside the top prong.

Split-backed or two-prong needles in bone, ivory, stone, or hardened wood are very prone to break or give way, usually just when you are dragging the needle through a tough piece of leather that you forgot to pre-punch with a slightly larger hole. Or you made the hole too small. Or any number of reasons that don’t salve your frustration factor.

The smart thing (other than being very finicky about pre-punched holes!) is to forget about the prongs, and put a hole in the back end of the needle. You still have to be careful about breaking that fragile end, but it makes sewing so much easier.

I made a fossilized mammoth-ivory needle in a paleontology class years ago. It took a couple of hours, even with steel tools and modern sandpaper.

This is my first 2.5″ long needle. I’m amazed I still have it after all these years.ivory needle

It earned about a B- if I recall. The hole is drilled off-center, with a risk of snapping on that side. The back grooves meant to carry the thread below the level of the needle (less snagging!) are also off-center. I made another, slightly larger one in that class, and it turned out so well the teacher encouraged me to ornament it below the hole with an inlaid turquoise disk. That needle sold for $30 to an SCA historical re-enactor a few years later. (I’m looking at this one, plotting to chop it down and re-drill the back. Hey, another metaphor for trunked works and revision!)

For a paleolithic artisan, a holed needle would have been an even bigger investment in time and material…and a valuable trade good, once finished.

The really cool thing about this Siberian needle?

*It wasn’t technically made by humans, but by our long-extinct older cousins. Denisovans are a recently-discovered hominid species or subspecies who existed well before modern-type Homo Sapiens, and appeared to range around what is now northeast Asia and Siberia. At least 125,000 years back, maybe more. They were an arty bunch, too, showing evidence of some startlingly modern-looking and well-designed jewelry.

So bully for proto-humanity, making needles in southern Siberia that long ago!

Faith and Freedom Coalition Survey Part 2 (political rant)

Faith and Freedom Coalition Survey, Part 2 of 2.

Question 8: What is your opinion of the fact that Hillary Clinton says she wants to use the full force of the government to change the beliefs of Christians to conform with support of same-sex gay marriage and support for abortion-on-demand? I’m given, predictably, the choice of Outrageous, Frightening, Concern, or I Support Hillary’s Call for Criminalizing Christian Moral Teachings, or Not Sure.

Facepalm. These are very clumsy leading choices.

I’m beginning to wonder about the conservative obsession with gay marriage. I mean, I write some gay characters (and straight, and asexual, and wow even non-binary!) and I’m not as obsessed as you.

My gay friends are getting married? Great! The world can be a weird and strange place, it’s good to find someone who loves you through all your foibles and faults. I’m exactly as threatened by gay marriage as I am by straight marriage: in that I’m just as likely to roll my eyes and mutter about expensive gift registries.

As for abortion…hmm, guess what. Young people are too busy dealing with dicey job markets and student loans to have much sex. They’re too poor to move out of their parents’ houses, so hook-ups are tricky. Poverty is not an aphrodisiac.

Abortion levels go down with higher education and access to real, proven family planning aids. Abstinence is a joke. Ignorance is deadly in a world with AIDs and drug resistant sexually transmitted diseases. You want to reduce abortion? Make birth control better. Teach real and effective sex education. Make sure girls aren’t married off in their teens to become broodmares pumping out little Stepford clones.

No one wants Chinese-style mandatory abortion. But like pet spay-and-neuter clinics, we need to be realistic about sex, relationships, and messy reality. The GOP needs to stop being the party of of ‘Forcible Rape’. Stop being the base camp for underhanded legislation that claims to be on behalf of ‘women’s health’, but is really aimed at shutting down women’s health clinics. Those happen to offer a lot more, especially to poor women, than just abortions.

Let’s talk about abortion and Zika, to use one heartbreaking example. The abortion laws in America thawed in response to a previous disease outbreak that caused massive, debilitating, and even fatal birth defects. Are you conservatives pledged to spend the millions of dollars to ‘save’ every Zika baby that does not have a functioning brain? To offer the mother a lifelong stipend so she can care for her Zika baby, herself? Because at the moment, the joke among the younger demographic is that many conservative activists will lie, cheat, and steal to get a pregnant teen to deliver…but offer her nothing but shame and scorn afterward. Or they just want the (healthy) baby to only be raised by ‘good Christian’ straight white adoptive parents.

By now, I’ve about had it with this idiotic survey and I’m tired of finding diplomatic answers. So this time, I do vote I Support Hillary’s Call for Criminalizing Christian Moral Teachings…insofar as that pertains to institutionalized sexism, racism, anti-science nonsense, faith-based medicine, child abuse and endangerment, and child rape. No, your cherished beliefs do not get a pass here.

Drumroll…another Issue Summary: ‘FAITH & FREEDOM COALITION believes that 2016 is probably the most important election of our lifetime because America is heading over a cliff in so many areas – and that America is right now at a “tipping point.” We believe that 2016 is our last chance to save America as the “land of the free” for your children and grandchildren.’

Ah, I see. They’ve narrowed down what they think is my demographic. Wrong again, Ralph. I firmly believe that America is only in critical danger from people like you.

Question 9: How strongly do you agree or disagree with this assessment by FAITH & FREEDOM? Yay, I have the choice of Strongly Agree, Strongly Disagree, Disagree, Agree, or No Opinion.

I vote Strongly Disagree. I do worry that you clowns will create your own Apocalypse, and I doubt you’ll have the grace to only take each other out. Can we please have a Rapture here, soon? It may just save the planet.

Question 10: Are you currently registered to vote? The choices are Yes and No. The survey then helpfully offers ‘If your answer is “No,” would you like FAITH & FREEDOM COALITION to send you a Voter Registration Kit?’ Again, a Yes or No answer (with my prediction that if the survey reveals someone sympathetic, they are sending that kit anyway.)

I vote Yes, that I am registered to vote. Honey, I am so registered.

Question 11: Will you solemnly pledge right now to vote in 2016 if you are physically able to do so? A Yes or No choice, followed by an official ‘Important: Please sign on this line to verify your pledge to vote in 2016:’

Oh, to quote Sarah Palin: “You betcha!” I say Yes because I certainly pledge to vote. And I sign, but not with a signature that completely matches my legal one (I don’t trust these folks, after all, and this is not a legally binding document.) I am more committed to voting now, than even before. They’ve mobilized me!

Question 12: Will you also pledge to bring like-minded friends with you to vote in 2016, or to take steps to make sure they vote? Yes or No choice, refreshingly urgent in its simplicity.

Again Yes, and “You betcha!” I’m DMing all my gay millennial friends in about twenty minutes. And all my erotic romance writer friends. And a few age-tamed anarchists I know who are still on the fence.

Question 13: Will you send your best donation right now to FAITH & FREEDOM COALITION to help fund this $12.3 MILLION FINAL 90-Day HOME-STRETCH PUSH Battle Plan Dr. Ralph Reed described to you in his letter, so that we can save the America you love for your children and grandchildren?*

*Their words and capitalization. ‘Nuff said.

The America they love is the one with segregation and the Klan, ‘Strange Fruit’ and Emmett Till, banned abortions, banned birth control, anti-science and isolationist factions in power, and the fantasy of a theocratic empire. Where to prevent black people and white people swimming together in the early 60s (gasp!) Lynchburg VA, filled in three public swimming pools. And this home of Christian Liberty University wasn’t the only American city to go to such drastic lengths to avoid following the law of the land.

And get this: my choices literally are:

Yes, because I share your view that the 2016 Elections is our last chance to save America.

No, because I like the direction America is heading.

Of course this is about money in the end. It’s about money for the Coalition. Money that Trump makes off his name-value association during his political stunts, whether he wins or loses. Money made by lobbyists and political appointees. Money lost by the Trump followers, who still believe that Prosperity gospel will somehow transfer the equivalent of The Donald’s wealth to them. Meanwhile all of them are making my America an uglier, meaner, angrier place.

I vote No.

America is already great, and it can be much greater. Ralph, I don’t want to live in your version of ‘great’ America, because I’ve already seen it in post-apocalyptic dystopian fiction. Yuck.

Added later for emphasis: Ralph Reed says he is ‘counting on’ every good Christian to contribute an average of $26.43 to his fund raiser for Donald Trump. Neither of them are getting one greasy penny from me. In fact, this week I’m calling the Hillary campaign to offer my support.

Because she’s the adult in the room.


Added October 23, 2016:

Because she didn’t bother to post in comments, I’m adding in an email from a recent reader, Eileen Lupkes. I’m copying her words verbatim.

“Born in Minnesota on a farm, married and moved to AZ at 40.

Where did you learn about life?  I find your comments sad and alone.  Perhaps missing understanding of our Constitution that was framed with an American dream of the common man coming from dictators, monarchs and socialist tyranny in Europe.  It was of LOVE and equality of men found in the Bible.  World Government and open borders will be a disaster letting in more pandemics, and ISIS taking us back to the Dark Ages.

Right now our government is trying to spend it’s way out of debt.  Does your bank allow this?  Ours didn’t and we lost our farm in Minnesota.  Our 4  children had to learn to make their own living.  Our government now is leaving a terrible debt and unsafe  future to our children.

OBamacare has taken billions out of our Medicare and has 21 taxes and an exemption for religions not believing in insurance on page 107.  Insuring 11 million illegals at the expense of our elderly.   $7000 deductibles and several thousand a month premiums?

I am praying for you and your elite friends.”

Thank you for your prayers, Eileen. I’d ask you to broaden their focus to our whole country, our planet, and our species. I agree that many things our government has done have been messed-up and stupid (hence, I’m an Independent voter and not a Democrat.)

I’m sorry your family lost its farm. We need more small-business-friendly infrastructure and investments in family farms, not more corporate giveaways (which have been just as much a hallmark of the GOP elites as with Democrats.)

The Bible has some shining moments of equality. One of Jesus’s greatest teachings was affirming that we are all of equal worth in the eyes of the Deity. But the Bible, yes, even the New Testament, shows some astonishing cruelty and inhumanity. I’d like to think our religions can outgrow the selfishness and evil of their youth, and become forces for true human good. I stopped waiting for it to happen, and became an agnostic years back.

As for the founding history of America, our Founding Fathers (the real ones, not the parody version in Tea Party daydreams) recognized the real horrors of allowing state religions, and of allowing any one religion to dominate others. I agree with them. I’ve got no problem with law-abiding, community-minded Christians…or Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, or whatever religion. I draw my line when any one religion or way of life starts claiming it is the ‘one true path’, and that all others must convert or die. That’s a part of religious Islamic fundamentalism…and if you’ve at all studied European history, you’ll know it is a shameful part of the Christian heritage, too. There isn’t much standing between Daesh (what ISIS really should be called, because it pisses them off) and Christian theocrats.

I draw the line when one group says their right to be prejudiced assholes trumps the rights of other humans around them. Gay marriage doesn’t scare me. Abortion doesn’t scare me. Politically honed and aimed religion…yeah, that worries me. People voting against their best self-interests out of suicidal pride and desperation…that grieves me.

My folks come from west Texas, and have lived in a semi-rural area of NM since the 1950s. We see the real costs of commercial flight and changing demographics, in my home county. Many of us also see that while Hillary Clinton isn’t our best choice, she’s worlds more responsible than a lecherous, entitled New York manchild like Donald Trump…who talks a good game to his followers, but has no real intention of helping them over his own petty revenge and power fantasies.

Trump is Nero 2.0, not Cyrus the Anointed.

Whatever happens on November 8, Eileen’s letter is an indicator that we’re all going to have to work together, to make sane and responsible compromises, to make sane and responsible decisions, to overcome the real divides between urban and rural America.



Faith and Freedom Coalition Survey, Part 1 (political rant)

Part 1 of 2.

Summary and warning: I get harsh with certain evangelical Christians.

Why did Dr. Ralph Reed and his evangelical Christian Faith and Freedom Coalition send me an advertising pitch disguised as a voter survey? Maybe because I was a registered Republican for many years? I’m a 50ish female Independent voter in Arizona, which is shaping up to be something of a battleground state?

They’re casting their net wide to include me. I haven’t been even a casual Republican for almost 2 decades. I never saw 100% eye-to-eye with many Democratic Party issues, so I became an Independent. I see only the worst tokens of old Republicanism in the Trump cotillion. I also see disturbing parallels to the Nazi Party and Mussolini’s fascist expansion of the late 1930’s.

Even if I were somehow still ‘undecided’, the testimonial letters included in this mailing would be likely enough to push me away. When the likes of Donald Trump, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Mark Levin, Ben Carson, Sean Hannity, Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, Tim Scott, Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee, and Bobby Jindal endorse your movement, I know I’m not welcome in your Big Tent.

So, I thought, I should at least look at this survey, and see what my adversaries are saying. This is new and unscripted: I just opened the thing, and am alternating reading it and typing this post.

Please bear in mind that most of the grammatical and punctuation errors are simply what I’ve copied from the mailing. I’m not editing it beyond paraphrasing when necessary for brevity. The Faith and Freedom folks have a loose idea about grammar and punctuation, I’m afraid.

  1. The survey itself almost exactly mimics a paper ballot in its layout, paper thickness, and size. I’m in marketing, I know this game. Create expectation and anticipation. Fake reality until enough people believe your lie. Frame your narrative to make your conclusion seem correct and inevitable.
  2. The survey opens with a plea to conservative Christian voters to get out and vote in November. It reminds voters that up to 30 million Christian voters stayed home in 2012. In 2014, the coalition prides itself on reaching out to Christian voters, who were only 32% of the electorate but voted 86% Republican, allowing massive sweeps in that midterm election. (Their numbers. I’m not playing fact-check right now.)
  3. The survey aims to energize registered Christian voters and convince the stragglers to register and vote.
  4. The survey expounds repeatedly on the theme that America is doomed unless Christians ‘take it back’ the ‘Left’s radical anti-Christian, anti-family, socialist agenda to transform America.’
  5. The underlying Vote or Die! meme is continued at lower right of the first page, with the direction ‘Continue Official Ballot Inside’ and a large black arrow. I remind my readers this isn’t a real ballot. It’s a fund raising tool aimed at getting millions more dollars for Donald Trump and lesser Republican candidates.

On the inside, again flipped vertical exactly as a legitimate ballot, the survey embarks on 13 questions. Bear with me, as I grab a black ink pen and go through each one.

Question 1: If the election were held today, for whom would you vote? I get a choice of Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, or a blank spot for a write-in candidate.

Even with my skepticism about Clinton’s ties to big business…and as tempting as it might be to write in ‘Giant Meteor’…I choose Clinton. Why? Because Donald Trump appears to show signs of several psychological disorders, and can’t be trusted with a New Jersey casino, let alone what I think is still one of the greatest countries on earth.

Question 2: How do you rate Barack Obama’s performance as President? I get the choice of Excellent, Good, Fair, Poor, Abysmal, or Undecided.

I choose Fair because I think that we did not get Candidate Obama or even The Rock Obama…we got someone who waffled a lot, was under the delusion he would get any kind of compromise from this new psychotic GOP, and allowed the Republicans to pretty much frame the national narrative over the last eight years. A typical Democratic flaw, alas.

Question 3: If Hillary Rodham Clinton is elected President in 2016, do you think she would be an improvement over Barack Obama, about the same, or worse for America’s future? (Nice leading language on that last point, folks. Frank Luntz should be proud of you.) I get the choice of Worse, A Slight Improvement, No Opinion, About the Same, A Big Improvement, and a large write-in spot for Other. (I’m estimating it’s large enough for one of several Fox Talking Point rants.)

I chose About the Same and write it in, because I see no reason she would change. But then I realize there is one good thing about Clinton’s nearly 30 years of experience with GOP adversaries: she already knows their tricks and probably won’t tolerate as many of their tantrums as Obama has. But I’ve already written in ‘About the Same’. And while Barack Obama has disappointed me in many respects, he and Hillary Clinton share an important trait: they’re both intelligent, rational adults.

Before we get to the next question, we have a block of highlighted text announcing an Issue Summary. Why? Because the Coalition wants to make sure we survey takers understand the Terrible Peril We Face if we answer the next question wrong.

Partial summary text: ‘The next President is likely to have three new Supreme Court Justices and will set the direction of the Supreme Court for generations.’ Then follows some dog-whistle language about gay marriage and other ‘outrageous and unconstitutional rulings’. Imagine the liberal orgy if more left-wing judges get appointed! I have two words to answer that: Citizens United. Liberal-leaning judges did not jam that one through the SCOTUS. Nor did Dems screw with the Voting Rights Act.

After all that, the next question is almost anticlimactic.

Question 4: How important to you is it that we elect a President who will appoint Supreme Court justices and federal judges who will follow the Constitution of the United States and NOT just make up their own laws in accordance with their own personal ideological views?

Room here for a comment here about psychological transference, Scalia, Roberts, and Thomas. I’m given the choices of Essential to America’s survival as the “land of the free”, Very Important, Not Important, Important, No Opinion, or that pesky big blank line for Other (another slot for a Talking Point, yay.)

I’m choosing Essential to America’s survival as the “land of the free”, though not for the reasons these alleged patriots might want. For all his faults, Obama is a constitutional scholar. I think the Supreme Court has been hampered (and its reputation harmed) by the actions of Scalia, Roberts, and Thomas…who all played fast and loose with their take on the Constitution.

Not to mention the deep horror I feel while contemplating who and what Donald Trump might appoint as a SCOTUS judge. A business crony? A horse? His wife? A Putin or Erdogan puppet? If he appoints Christian theological judges, we’re up for the Christian version of Sharia Law. No thanks.

Oh, look, another Issue Summary. More spoon feeding leading statements.

‘It’s now obvious that Barack Obama, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and the Democrat Party are trying to transform the voting electorate in America by granting amnesty and ultimately citizenship to the estimated 20,000,000 illegal aliens now living in America and inviting tens of millions more illegal immigrants to break into America to become voters. This is how they aim to “fundamentally transform” America (as Obama put it) into a one-party socialist country. According to a new study by the Center for Immigration Studies, 76 percent of immigrants in America who have children are now on at least one welfare program.’

My reaction: What? I think your numbers are far higher than they really are, and I wouldn’t trust any think tank you reference.

I live in the Southwest, I see immigration issues all the time. There are some real problems, but honestly it’s not as bad as you’d think. The real issue, hidden behind all this coded language, is flat out racism, fear of the future, and fear of a Zero Sum Game in which poor white people are last onto the life rafts. Lyndon Johnson pointed out decades ago that as long as poor white people have someone else to piss on, they feel better about their own faults and failures.

Immigrants made the America we love. My Cherokee ancestors might have something to say about all those white people who rolled into Georgia and the Carolinas, and thanks to Andrew Jackson sent my folks on the delightful gallivant known as the Trail of Tears. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure some of those Cherokee ancestors (and English, and German ones) also owned slaves.

I would like to believe in a changing world adapting to terrible pressures, through better social instincts and better science. We are actually in a much less violent world than the one our ancestors knew. We just see more of the awful stuff because of the 24 hour news cycle and the internet. This isn’t a Zero Sum Game in which one group’s gains mean another group’s loss. We can rise together.

So give me what is sure to be your travesty of a next question:

Question 5: How concerned are you about this invasion of illegal aliens that is now overwhelming America’s health care, welfare, and public school system? I’m given the choice of Very Concerned, Not Concerned, Concerned, or No Opinion.

I pick Not Concerned, because this is a straw man issue hiding a lot of other very real problems with health care, welfare, and the public schools. Most of those problems I can lay at the feet of my once-brethren in the GOP, plus a few idiotic Democrats.

Question 6: How concerned are you that, because of this invasion of illegal aliens, we are coming to a point when a conservative pro-freedom candidate will never win another Presidential election in America? I am given the choice of Very Concerned, Not Concerned, Concerned, or No Opinion.

To be fair, I pick Not Concerned, although I would much rather have a write in spot for I SEE YOU, YOU OLD SCARED ASSHOLES! I SEE EXACTLY WHAT THIS IS ABOUT.

This is an issue about freedom, to this coalition: Their freedom to worship and live as they chose, and deny anyone different that same choice. No tolerance. Their way or none. They and ISIS, the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and Boko Haram are all the same mindset. It’s just that the Islamic terrorists have gotten away with it by violence, and the evangelical Christians have learned to play the game with politics over the last 50 years. It’s more subtle, but it spells the same doom for the vibrant progressive America that I love.

Donald Trump’s latest angle is repealing some tax-restrictive policies that supposedly inhibit and threaten free worship today…but were once enthusiastically championed by Republicans, when those provisions were drafted to hamper socialist organizations.

You know what, Coalition? I think those tax policies don’t go far enough. I’d like to see NO TAX EVASION from churches, synagogues, mosques, and other houses of worship. Get a crowbar into those coffers. Pay your share. Render unto Caesar, and all that jazz. Many churches do wonderful, responsible social safety-net work with their tithes. Many others allow their pastors to have gold toilets and Lear Jets. We’re talking billions of dollars in cash, bonds, stock, precious metals, and property.

What next? Oh, stars, another Issue Summary:

‘We have reached a point in America that government will crack down hard on you if you adhere to Christian moral teachings. Christian bakers, photographers, and wedding service providers are being fined by the courts and threatened with prison for declining to participate in gay wedding ceremonies. One Christian baker in Oregon was fined $135,000 for declining to make a wedding cake for a gay marriage ceremony.’

Ugh. I can’t even ponder the GIF I should use for my reaction. Other than a big fat link to all the fact check sites that tell the real versions of these stories. This is just more dog-whistle code.

So-called ‘moral’ viewpoints on gay issues are sharply generational: if you are under 35 you are much more likely to see gay marriage and other gay issues as norms and non threatening. And that scares the crap out of older white conservatives.

I’m not threatened by gay marriage. I don’t think that conservative businesses should be railroaded as much as they might have been, but some of the Culture Wars anti-gay stuff I’ve seen has been ridiculous. If I were a gay person, I wouldn’t ask a conservative to bake my wedding cake. I wouldn’t sue the baker, I’d just agree to disagree and go elsewhere.

But the baker’s side won’t back down, because their entire moral viewpoint is shaped by shutting down and shunning anything that is not their ‘norm’. They not only do not want me to have their cake if I’m gay or somehow ‘other’, they don’t want me to have any cake, or any wedding, or any legal protection against harassment and violence.

Time and again, I see language from the Christian right that conflates ‘compromise’ with ‘criminalize’. Like this next question, which I saw coming several paragraphs ago.

Question 7: How concerned are you that Christianity (which includes Christian moral teachings) is quickly becoming criminalized in America? I’m given a choice of Very Concerned, Not Concerned, Concerned, or I Want Christianity Criminalized.

Sigh. The choices ignore the nuances of compromise and coexistence. I’m an agnostic at best, atheistic to a degree, and always a skeptic. I would not mourn if the more virulent forms of *all* fundamentalist religions were contained or eradicated. I’ve been reading some fascinating and chilling social studies articles about early human societies and the possible links between religiously motivated human sacrifice, authoritarian government, and oppressed populations. Big religion almost always seeks out incestuous relationships with power and privilege. The Trumps and Putins of the world will always court legitimacy with craven or naive religious leaders.

I’m fairly certain that Putin made his deals with the Russian Orthodox Church not because he believes, but because it’s a useful alliance. In Turkey, Erdogan wants a less secular society because the pro Islamist factions are more likely to prop up his personality-cult style of government. Trump is not a moral person by many of the measures Christian conservatives know. By rights, many more of them *should* be labeling him an Anti-Christ. But they and he think they can each control and use the other.

Like any religion, the moderate expression of Christianity is not a bad thing. I have fond memories of the staunch hardworking Calvinists, gentle Presbyterians, and level-headed Methodists I knew growing up. Instead of the ancient Mediterranean cultures’ focus on individuals as cogs in destiny or a state machine, early Christianity gave revolutionary precedence to individual human beings and their personal relationship with the Divine. (That it also encouraged slaves to meekly accept their earthly lot in exchange for exalted rewards in Heaven is a bit bogus, I’ve always thought.)

So no, I emphatically do NOT want to outlaw Christianity. I would like checks and balances on irrational Christian persecution complexes before they lead to the next American Civil War or World War III.

I vote Not Concerned on Question 7, simply because you assholes didn’t give me a reasonable choice.

Ramping up the persecution complex is the next Issue Summary: ‘Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is telling Christians that “deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed.” In other words, she is saying Christians need to change their beliefs to agree with gay marriage and abortion-on-demand (including partial birth abortion) and even threatens saying, “Laws have to be backed up with resources and political will,” [against those who subscribe to Christian moral beliefs].’

Okay, wow, let me unpack that for a moment. Cultures change. Secularism and humanism is on the rise, and that terrifies some Christians. Not all, I might add: Reed’s coalition and his like-minded allies certainly do not speak for all Christian-identifying folks in America. Demographics shows that younger Americans are far more likely to be un-Churched if not nonreligious than older citizens. Reed and his coalition know they are on the losing side of history, and this is their last attempt to hold onto their cherished moral beliefs.

Some of which are good, and some are awful. I’ve read my Bible through multiple times, I’ve seen the sublime passages, the ridiculous, the unsavory, and the horrifying.

The conservative right has made demons out of the liberal left. The liberal left has typically passively ignored or mocked many of the right’s complaints. But if conservatives push too far the other way, they risk utterly alienating not only this younger generation, but many more to follow. Moderation and compromise are not utter defeat. If that’s the only language you understand, so be it.

(Continued in Part 2.)


Packing and shipping for dummies

A subtweety primer, for folks who ship stuff from online sales:

If you are selling glass jars of honey over international borders, it doesn’t matter if you carefully wrap all jars in bubble wrap…if you push them against one side of a too-small cardboard box! Nor does the amount of air-packs and newspaper you stuffed into the other side.

I’d like to think the bad arrangement was Customs doing its Thing, and not you…but YOU chose the small box. Remember: breakables go into the center of the box, with at least 3″ of crushable packing around them on all sides. Putting ‘Fragile Glass Inside’ tape outside was apparently taken as an invitation, not a warning, because this box came looking like it had barely survived an airplane crash. Nothing was broken, by sheer luck.

We won’t discuss how you managed not to pack a single jar of the honey actually ordered.

Also, if you are selling delicate porcelain jewelry components off Etsy, please don’t shove them all into a small clear plastic bag together, tape the bag tightly, then shove that into a padded mailer. Ceramics crunch and break when crushed by, say, automatic mail sorting machines. Again, by sheer stupid luck, not a piece was broken. But they should have been separately bagged or bagged individually in plastic foam, then shipped in a more rigid box.

I wrap and ship things professionally, and have for the past 20+ years through several jobs. If you don’t know how to wrap things, and you cannot afford to have your local UPS, DHL, or FedEx depot do it for you…LEARN.

Here is a UPS guideline set to packing.

Here’s the catalog for Gaylord, a museum-grade archival firm whose products I use a lot when prepping pieces for shipping or longterm storage.

Etsy itself even has this comprehensive guide: How to pack and ship anything.

Do these things, and you will have happier customers. Return customers. Customers who will not call you out with snide blog posts.


Offensensitivity, part whatever (adult language)

Taking a break from the Tour for a quick rant, brought to you by too damn many news items.

Offensensitivity‘ is the punchline of a brilliant Bloom County cartoon from back in 1982.

It could also be the chilling tagline for a recent host of social actions, from both right and left sides of the Culture War aisle across the world. Here’s an essay that frames my opinion in more detail and much better than I can frame it myself.

Here’s another from 1644 and that old hack John Milton, who for some rather base and personal reasons wrote one of the most soaring anti-censorship tracts ever read in English: his Areopagitica. I was fifteen when I read ‘I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue…’ and understood how that applied to real life. I couldn’t understand why so many other people couldn’t. Still can’t.

Life is messy. Life is offensive. Living within a social fabric requires individuals and groups to make compromises and allowances within the boundaries of social requirements. Social norms bend, grow, and evolve just as organisms do, in response to environments and stresses.

Gay people getting married somehow challenges our faith and our path to heaven? Grow the fuck up, get over it, and take a good hard look at your own fragile faith, if it can be torn so easily.

Someone else is better than you, at something that is important to you? Grow the fuck up. Learn from them and improve yourself, or accept that you might not be at their level. Don’t tear them down or try to steal their show.

A book affronts you so much you want to make sure other people can’t read it in school? Stop reading the goddamn book. Stop thinking you’re the Supreme High Dictator telling everybody else what to do, based on your personal triggers. Or better yet, grow the fuck up, READ THE BOOK and see where it challenges or strengthens your worldview. You can learn important things even from books you decide to hate. Write a clear, honest review making your point, not a whiny complaint to the Dean’s office.

Someone makes a joke about your concept of God, or the Divine, or some earthly manifestation thereof? Grow the fuck up and ignore it. God probably does – and if he/she/it doesn’t, well, that’s a rather immature and spiteful deity to be gambling eternity with, eh?

We need, as a species, to grow the fuck up. If we don’t, that might as well be our epitaph.



Cool whistled language article

Turkish has a whistled version, used often in the mountains of northern Turkey. It’s eerie and lovely, and seems to do interesting things to the brains of people who listen to & understand it.

Why am I excited to blog about it? I have another data point for ‘singspeech’, my made-up Sonnaroi constructed language. Think four separate vocal cords and big chest cavities, as well as long nasal passages and tongues to help modify sound. I ‘hear’ this non-human language as a combination of higher-pitched whistles and deep-toned calls. The language goes higher and lower than humans can usually detect. A human, standing in the middle of a Sonnaroi tribal conclave, would probably only hear a little bit of the debate going on around her. She might ‘feel’ more of it, just as we can feel the deep rumbles of elephant calls.

a Sonnaroi female

Sonnaroi, in my made-up universe, are deceptively primitive hunter gatherers. They’re a bit shunned and discriminated against by the more human-seeming civilizations on their planet. But Sonnaroi keep a lot of very important secrets, including a verifiably-accurate spoken history going back more than a million years.

This, right here, this is why I tell new fantasy and science fiction writers to read and watch more non-fiction. We can build so much more vividly from solid, real-world foundations!