Kilt Weather

It’s that time of year, when you frequently get to choose between being comfortable and dressing very casually. Skirt weather, I call it. Kilt weather for the boys.

Yeah, kilts, but I’m not telling you to wrap nine yards of wool around your waist at the height of summer. That might have been necessary once, but no more. A few years ago, Utilikilts came along. Kilts in your choice of durable, washable fabrics–with snap closures and cargo pockets.

They also come with a stack of Utilikilts business cards. You’ll understand why if you get one of these things. I can’t overstate the attention they get. Even in Scotland, everyone wanted to talk about the boys’ kilts.

There are a few things to know if you want a Utilikilt. You’ll need a good, wide belt. The snaps don’t go all the way to the top, and even if they did, they’re snaps. Without a belt, Utilikilts are very easy access. A standard kilt belt is likely to be too wide, however. Two inches of belt is about right.

They’re machine washable, but you want to lay them (at least most of the fabrics) out to dry. The perfect place is an ironing board. Hold the ends of the waistband and shake the wet kilt hard to get the major wrinkles out and the pleats roughly in place. Lay it out on the board with a bit of an arc, so the pleats are just past the point where they fall flat. Starting in the middle, give each pleat a good tug and lay it in place. It’s a pain the first time, but it goes pretty quickly once you’ve practiced.

If you’re the kind of guy who worries about looking like you’re wearing a dress, don’t pair your kilt with a t-shirt of the same color. Dress shirts? Fine. Different color of tee? Sure. But somehow the single-color t-shirt/kilt pair generally looks like a dress.

If you’re shy, invest in a kilt pin as wind insurance. There’s a foot-plus overlap of fabric in the front, but I’ve seen wind in which that’s not sufficient to keep the color of your underwear a secret. If you’re really shy, you can invest in a sporran too, but everyone will know why.

You’ll also need a good answer to “What do you wear under there?” Ideally, you’ll have two answers–one for the people you don’t want to offend. Alan Cumming is still on record as having the best answer (X-2 premiere), but I’m not even linking to it here.

Ask a helpful woman to teach you how to sit down in your kilt, preferrably one who has pleat experience. Think of it as a chance to talk to a former Catholic schoolgirl. The process involves a sweep down the back of the kilt with one or both hands plus a little swish to get the pleats you can’t reach. I swear to you, people will be so mesmerized by the kilt, they won’t notice the swish. Getting in and out of the car just requires practice.

Finally, follow their sizing instructions very carefully, then order your kilt one size shorter. Utilikilts seems to have something against the male knee, or at least their instructions do. A kilt that covers your knee will, in addition to harming your social standing and looking more like a dress than ever, chafe the back of your calf.

So, guys, as we move into a hot, humid weekend across the States, let the weather be your inspiration. Get yourself into a kilt. And when someone asks, “Are you wearing a skirt?” tell them proudly, “Aye, but it’s a man’s skirt.”

Next Month’s Explosion Early

August’s SF blogosphere explosion came a little early. (You know these are scheduled, right?) This time, Orson Scott Card speaks publicly on the topic of gay marriage and the end of democracy. (You know they’re related, right?) Naturally, there is some discussion and analysis. And mocking, much mocking.

Kelly’s got the links over at Wyrdsmiths–definitely worth a read.

No Surprises

What kind of liberal am I again? Oh, yeah.

Liberal Identity

My Liberal Identity:

You are a Social Justice Crusader, also known as a rights activist. You believe in equality, fairness, and preventing neo-Confederate conservative troglodytes from rolling back fifty years of civil rights gains.

Actually, changing to any one of my second choice answers put me squarely among the “liberal elite.” Again, very unexpected. But the graphic is cute.

Thanks to Bora and Mike for the pointers. I needed a little fluff today.

Well, That’s Odd

I link to Will Shetterly in my blog roll for a couple of reasons. One: he’s a good writer who speaks well about writing. Two: although I disagree with him on certain things, he’s very good at helping to keep me honest online. He does mostly it by asking questions of himself. He’s that kind of guy.

He’s also apparently the kind of guy who gets banned from Boing Boing. I can’t find anything on Boing Boing, much less track a conversation across threads, but Will posted about it at his blog.

It started here, when Will pointed out a problem with a source of information for a post. It was, apparently, pointing out with some insistence on Boing Boing that this problem mattered that got him banned. From there, he was moved to speculate about how to make moderation more open and transparent. Then a note about what gets lost in disemvowelling. A diversion into keeping the web from being edited out of existence. Then he started wondering who really owns our comments?

His latest post on the topic is pretty near and dear to my heart just at the moment. “When the Benefit of the Doubt Goes Wrong” is classic Will. It’s all good, solid, gentle advice about living with other people. Everyone in the story but Will comes off as insightful. He’s attracted some very smart people to the comments. And he refuses to get angry at any of the people who have banned him largely for trying to keep conversation open (which, honestly, probably drives them nuts).

Will…Will is the kind of person I often wish I wished I were.

Why Spook Bugged Me

I’m reading Mary Roach’s Bonk, her new book about sex research, in between, oh, everything else. It’s quite good, and I’m relieved.

I read her first two books, Stiff (about the treatment of human cadavers) and Spook (about the search for proof of an afterlife). Stiff was wonderful, but Spook left a bit to be desired. I wasn’t sure whether it was sophomore slump, a rush to capitalize on the success of Stiff, or something else. After Bonk, I finally get it.

Roach’s trick is to take her readers inside an alien culture, strip away taboos, and expose the humanity that’s left. She acknowledges her own limited frame of reference, then uses humor, matter-of-fact reporting and sympathy to get beyond it.

This worked for Stiff, where she introduced us to people who treat the dead with respect but not fear. We got to know and understand morticians and researchers at the body farm. We saw the ups and downs of their jobs. These are scientists and technicians who are like you and me but without the squeamishness. Nice folks. Cool. Glad to meet them.

Then the same thing happened in Spook, only this time it was the ultra-credulous who got the treatment. They were still nice folks and all, but I could never shake the desire to shake them and ask why they weren’t turning their talents to something useful. What I had mistaken in Stiff for Roach’s respect for reason and rationality was really respect for her subjects.

Luckily, with Bonk, we’re back on useful territory. The history of inquiry moves from interesting but bizarre belief to understanding based on reality. We’re back in my world.

And I know now to check the subject before picking up Roach’s next book. I’ll probably still buy it, whatever the subject, but I’ll know whether to expect something enjoyable, or just something interesting.

Riddick and Reznor

My husband and I have a peculiar metric for some art we just don’t like. It isn’t that it’s bad, exactly. It’s that it’s Chronicles of Riddick bad.

Making this extra peculiar is that I haven’t seen Chronicles of Riddick. However, I did hear quite a bit about it after my husband saw it. Seriously, lots. He ranted for days, vaguely at first but zeroing in eventually on what had bothered him.

Finally, he said, “It didn’t bother me so much that it wasn’t good. I could have just sat back and enjoyed the badness if that were the case. But every time I started to think, ‘Okay, this is just going to suck,’ they’d introduce something promising and get my hopes up. Then they wouldn’t do anything with it.”

We all know that kind of bad. It’s when you, as an amateur sitting in the audience, have to shout, “No, no no! Turn left, you idiot!” You can see the rails and watch the plot go right off them. It’s Stargate Atlantis bad. It’s Lost bad. It’s Star Wars Episode 3 bad. In my case, it’s Nine Inch Nails bad.

I want to like Nine Inch Nails, especially since my husband’s a fan. Failing that, I want to ignore it. But it won’t let me do either.

I’m big on lyrics, and Reznor’s just aren’t up to my standards. They’re pedestrian where they should be insightful or at least clever. Except for that occasional phrase that catches my attention against my will. Then he goes right back to substituting profanity for provocation. Blah, blah.

The same thing happens with the arrangements, except this time they start out interesting. Good musicians, good hooks, well executed. But rather than stringing the good hooks together or exploring variations on them, they give me repetition. Sometimes, I get repetition with noise. Sometimes, the hook goes away, and I’m left with just the noise. Not that noise is bad. It just isn’t music unless you do something with it.

Even more frustrating, I know that they can put it all together and make it work. The one song I like is “Piggy.” There’s noise. There’s interesting musicianship with variations to keep it interesting. There’s not a lot in the way of lyrics. But it all works together. It’s good.

Then the next song comes on and squanders all the potential again. “Ha, ha,” it says, “Made you look. Made you hope.”

That kind of bad.

Book Meme–No, No, A Different One

This one comes from, oh, everyone at ScienceBlogs. Presumably, the average American has read six of them. Like the average American does book memes. And yes, there are problems with the list.

Bold are finished. Italics are partially read. Number of asterisks tells you how many body parts I’d give up before reading it again (I added that part myself).

1 Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series – JK Rowling

5 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte

8 Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell **
9 His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
11 Little Women – Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare
15 Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch – George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House – Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

26 Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis
34 Emma – Jane Austen

35 Persuasion – Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh – AA Milne
41 Animal Farm – George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving
45 The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies – William Golding ***
50 Atonement – Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi – Yann Martel
52 Dune – Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
62 Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History – Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road – Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick – Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
72 Dracula – Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses – James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal – Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession – AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple – Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web – EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection
91 Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
94 Watership Down – Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet – William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl

100 Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

I’ve read other Du Maurier, Nabokov and Atwood and liked them. I just haven’t read these. I’ll read more Austen and probably Dickens, but I’m not in a hurry. I came to Tolkien too late for him to inspire enough wonder to get me to put up with the prose. I really need to read Dracula, but I was spoiled by reading Saberhagen’s take on it first.

Much of the rest of this list just doesn’t address why I read fiction. I don’t do dystopias. Dostoyevsky is one of the few authors I know of who can write “cautionary” works that are still readable. I don’t do the meticulously observed mundane. And I want something like a happy ending.

So let the “Oh, but you must read…” begin.

One of Those Nights

I’m not very entertaining today. I’m tired and my head hurts and I can’t go to bed yet and I turned down a free happy hour after work with some fun people because I was going to crack if I had to deal with noise. So if you want to be entertained, here are a few of the people who have amused me today.

  • Mike wants suggestions of good microbreweries. I’d appreciate it if you’d contribute your favorite or two, because I have every intention of using the comments as a checklist.
  • Moving from drink to food (sort of), the cracker finally got nailed, and Greg found something very interesting in the remains.
  • For yummier food, Steve wrote a song about Alton Brown, “His shoulders, his thighs, His voice and his kosher salt.” This is actually the second time I’ve heard Steve say he wants to have someone’s baby, and the second time I agreed with him.
  • Will is also writing songs, or at least new lyrics to songs. His don’t scan quite as well as Steve’s, but they’re written in not-French, so I guess it works.

Enjoy.

Why Vaccinate? Diphtheria

Over on the denialism blog, PalMD is asking people to brainstorm about countering the anti-vaccination message. I’m not sure I have much to say to parents who are trying weigh what’s best for their children, but I know some people who do. They lived with these diseases and survived to write about them, although their loved ones may not have.

The following is an excerpt from Rilla of Ingleside by L. M. Montgomery. The croup they’re fighting is diphtheria.

Then, the third night after father and mother went away, Jims suddenly got worse–oh, so much worse–all at once. Susan and I were all alone. Gertrude had been at Lowbridge when the storm began and had never got back. At first we were not much alarmed. Jims has had several bouts of croup and Susan and Morgan and I have always brought him through without much trouble. But it wasn’t very long before we were dreadfully alarmed.

‘I never saw croup like this before,’ said Susan.

As for me, I knew, when it was too late, what kind of croup it was. I knew it was not the ordinary croup–‘false croup’ as doctors call it– but the ‘true croup’–and I knew that it was a deadly and dangerous thing. And father was away and there was no doctor nearer than Lowbridge–and we could not ‘phone and neither horse nor man could get through the drifts that night.

Gallant little Jims put up a good fight for his life. Susan and I tried every remedy we could think of or find in father’s books, but he continued to grow worse. It was heart-rending to see and hear him. He gasped so horribly for breath–the poor little soul–and his face turned a dreadful bluish colour and had such an agonized expression, and he kept struggling with his little hands, as if he were appealing to us to help him somehow. I found myself thinking that the boys who had been gassed at the front must have looked like that, and the thought haunted me amid all my dread and misery over Jims. And all the time the fatal membrane in his wee throat grew and thickened and he couldn’t get it up.

Oh, I was just wild! I never realized how dear Jims was to me until that moment. And I felt so utterly helpless.

And then Susan gave up. ‘We cannot save him! Oh, if your father was here–look at him, the poor little fellow! I know not what to do.’

I looked at Jims and I thought he was dying. Susan was holding him up in his crib to give him a better chance for breath, but it didn’t seem as if he could breathe at all. My little war-baby, with his dear ways and sweet roguish face, was choking to death before my very eyes, and I couldn’t help him. I threw down the hot poultice I had ready in despair. Of what use was it? Jims was dying, and it was my fault–I hadn’t been careful enough!

Just then–at eleven o’clock at night–the door bell rang. Such a ring –it pealed all over the house above the roar of the storm. Susan couldn’t go–she dared not lay Jims down–so I rushed downstairs. In the hall I paused just a minute–I was suddenly overcome by an absurd dread. I thought of a weird story Gertrude had told me once. An aunt of hers was alone in a house one night with her sick husband. She heard a knock at the door. And when she went and opened it there was nothing there–nothing that could be seen, at least. But when she opened the door a deadly cold wind blew in and seemed to sweep past her right up the stairs, although it was a calm, warm summer night outside. Immediately she heard a cry. She ran upstairs–and her husband was dead. And she always believed, so Gertrude said, that when she opened that door she let Death in.

It was so ridiculous of me to feel so frightened. But I was distracted and worn out, and I simply felt for a moment that I dared not open the door–that death was waiting outside. Then I remembered that I had no time to waste–must not be so foolish–I sprang forward and opened the door.

Certainly a cold wind did blow in and filled the hall with a whirl of snow. But there on the threshold stood a form of flesh and blood–Mary Vance, coated from head to foot with snow–and she brought Life, not Death, with her, though I didn’t know that then. I just stared at her.

‘I haven’t been turned out,’ grinned Mary, as she stepped in and shut the door. ‘I came up to Carter Flagg’s two days ago and I’ve been stormed-stayed there ever since. But old Abbie Flagg got on my nerves at last, and tonight I just made up my mind to come up here. I thought I could wade this far, but I can tell you it was as much as a bargain. Once I thought I was stuck for keeps. Ain’t it an awful night?’

I came to myself and knew I must hurry upstairs. I explained as quickly as I could to Mary, and left her trying to brush the snow off. Upstairs I found that Jims was over that paroxysm, but almost as soon as I got back to the room he was in the grip of another. I couldn’t do anything but moan and cry–oh, how ashamed I am when I think of it; and yet what could I do–we had tried everything we knew–and then all at once I heard Mary Vance saying loudly behind me, ‘Why, that child is dying!’

I whirled around. Didn’t I know he was dying–my little Jims! I could have thrown Mary Vance out of the door or the window–anywhere–at that moment. There she stood, cool and composed, looking down at my baby, with those, weird white eyes of hers, as she might look at a choking kitten. I had always disliked Mary Vance–and just then I hated her.

You can read the book to find out what happened to Jims. Wikipedia has more information on the disease, including additional complications, which vaccine prevents it, and the trivia that “diphtheria was cited in the Guinness Book of World Records as ‘most resurgent disease.'”

Summer Fruit

My husband asked me last night what I wanted for dinner. We’d both just walked home in dark clothes under an insistent sun, and I had no appetite. I looked at him and said, “Ice.”

Then we grinned at each other. He headed for the basement freezer while I checked the juice pitcher in the fridge.

Every year, when the trees bow under their fruit, the melons drip with ripeness, and you start having to fight the wasps for the raspberries, we collect the sweetest, juiciest fruits we can find and take them home. We don’t eat them. Well, we pick at them a bit as we’re chopping them up–you would too–but these are destined for the freezer.

Nectarines and plums with their skins on, honeydew and musk mellon, pears, pineapple, raspberries, grapes–all fresh–plus frozen blueberries and cherries and whatever else looks good. All go into the biggest bowl we have and get tossed together. Then we stash them in the freezer in gallon bags. Some will come back out on the hot days before fall settles in. The rest will wait until the next summer, when the weather is oppressive but nothing is ripe yet.

Then, on those days that are too hot for solid food, we chop off hunks of our frozen fruit, throw it in the blender, and cover it with juice. It takes an amazing amount of juice, because none of the fruit liquifies as it blends down. But the end result is a brain-freezing mix of pure, sweet, icy fruit.

Uh, unless we add rum. Rum is good, too, although it gets harder to claim it’s dinner then. Either way, they’re the best fruit smoothies I’ve ever had. It makes those hot days something to look forward to.