Fright N–Ooh, Yum

So, there’s a new trailer out for the remake of Fright Night. It is being passed around because it stars David Tennant’s bare chest.

The passing around prompted Dana to ask, “Does retweeting that David Tennant thing make us sexist pigs?”

Because I live to answer these questions and make these distinctions between sex and sexism, I answered, “As long as we don’t feel entitled to it, I think we’re okay in appreciating it.”

So please, enjoy. Things like this should not be wasted.

Is This a Bad Day?

Yesterday morning, I left for work dressed for the temperature, not the windchill. Since I walk to work, this makes a difference. At one point, I thought, This is stupid. If I had to do anything more than walk a mile and a half, like stop walking at some point, being dressed like this would kill me. Ah, Minnesota spring.

Still, chilly weather is good for something. In this case, it was pushing my heart rate without sweating to death (or even beyond the requirements of office etiquette). Spring and fall, between icy sidewalks and saunas, is a good time to get in aerobic exercise instead of just movement on my commute.

That put me going at a good clip as I rounded the last corner before the office, which put me a few feet in front of a couple of guys talking as they walked together. One of them sped up to (I assume) try to pass me. He couldn’t. I walk pretty quickly for a short woman.

So, instead, he decided to tell his friend that I walked “too fast” to show off my ass. Then he proceeded to describe what ought to be done with my ass “right here.” From three feet behind me. Loudly. With hand gestures I could partly see out of the corner of my eye.

I tweeted about it. Why? These things should be documented for those who don’t see them because they don’t happen when said people (i.e., guys) are around. Not that my friends don’t trust me when I say that this happens to me, but here, now, and details all matter when you want to provide a visceral understanding. If you stand next to me, it won’t happen, but I’ll cheerfully put you next to me when it happens.

People on Twitter were suitably supportive, and I went about my day.

Later, I was chatting with one of my twitter friends about this post on whether there are “hot” authors in science fiction. I was annoyed with “pretty pretty versus scifi pretty” and particularly with the idiots who decided to discuss how one woman rated while she stood in front of them. To the best of my reckoning, “scifi pretty” is nothing more than “I’m so simultaneously drawn to and terrified by your smarts that I can’t see straight enough to fully engage in my normal judgmental, anti-social behavior.” Let’s just say the discussion says far too much about the people trying to make the decision.

My friend and I were talking about why we wouldn’t even want to touch a discussion that seemed designed to reinforce boring stereotypes, elevate the importance of superficial criteria, and make people feel bad about themselves. Instead, we held our own private appreciation fest over those in F&SF who are hot in all sorts of ways (not an insignificant number of people).

At one point, I complimented his partner. He agreed enthusiastically. Then he asked, “Is this a bad day to compliment your looks?”

Never mind what the compliment was. I’m not going to tell you–not that and not the compliment I paid him. Because as nice as it was, being asked about how I was doing after my morning was an even bigger compliment.

It told me he was paying attention to my day. It recognized that paying me a compliment was supposed to be a benefit to me. It recognized that my needs of the moment might not include validation of my appearance. It was risky in a society where we have few templates for that kind of behavior, particularly since he and I have never had that sort of chat. In short, it was tailored to me in a way that compliments almost never are.

I love having friends who are that adult, that adept. And I love that a day that starts with that kind of crappy personal interaction can end with some of the best. Not a bad day at all.

And sorry, boys and girls, but I’m pretty sure that his current romantic relationship means he’s not available for more.

At the Nevada Test Site

Prelude and Postscript: Creech AFB

If you watch as we pass, you should get to see them to touch-and-go landings. No disrespect to everyone involved, but those kids who spent all that time with joysticks in their hands….

I. Our Host

“They said Kennedy really wanted to step up testing, and I said, ‘You can’t do that here. It’s not big enough. But the British have been testing at Christmas Island.’

“A couple weeks later, they called me in and said, ‘We need you to go to Christmas Island to set up for XYZ.’

“I went home and handed my wife the checkbook.”

“Did you ever get your checkbook back?”

“Unfortunately, yes, I did. My wife has Alzheimer’s. It’s been a good 51 years, though.”

II. The Protests

One pen for the men. One for the women. Then we’d bus them to the magistrate, and they’d generally be released on their own recognizance. But at that point, they’d be eighty miles away from their personal effects.

I support their right to protest. That’s their privilege. But I wasn’t going to help them more than I had to.

Over twelve hundred people went to jail that day. And that’s another story in itself, but anyway. The protesters estimated their crowd at fifteen thousand. At the time I swore up and down it wasn’t more than twelve, but I really believed them. I think there were fifteen thousand people.

III. Camp Desert Rock

I’ve been in the trenches many times when these things went off, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. But only on the upwind side. I don’t hold with making anyone watch on the downwind side. Why’d it happen? The military side was making those decisions. We didn’t have any say.

IV. Grable

MacArthur famously wanted to keep going into China and settle things once and for all. They didn’t let him do that, but he did order a bunch of these cannons. This was only fired once.

V. Priscilla

We’ll get about three hundred feet from Ground Zero. Those pens you see held animals–mostly pigs, because they’re a good human analog–at various distances, above ground and in trenches to find out what the effects would be.

The buildings–you can see the steel and aluminum didn’t do so well. We thought being dome-shaped might protect them. It didn’t, but the earth berms did. Normal concrete wasn’t so good either. The special, high-PSI concrete did pretty well.

This train bridge was built just like a section of the Chicago “L”. It was so badly twisted up, we had to take most of it down. I’m glad we kept a section. We weren’t planning on tours then, but I always like to show people the bridge. One-inch I-beams, thirty-two inches wide, just bent like that.

An enormous Mosler bank vault sits abandoned and forgotten on the dry lake bed of Frenchman Flat, Nev. It is ugly and rusting, a big cookie jar from hell — yet it now exists as one of America’s greatest monuments to clear thinking.

That giant safe is a relic of an Atomic Energy Commission experiment in 1957 (“Response of Protective Vaults to Blast Loading”). Filled with stocks and bonds, cash and insurance policies, it confirmed that our official valuables, contracts and financial instruments could survive nuclear war. The test must have seemed like a good idea at the time, a masterpiece of steel-and- concrete realpolitik.

VI. Gravel Gerties

It’s just a little shack for assembling and disassembling the devices. Only it’s got dirt heaped up the sides and gravel on the roof. If something bad happens to you inside, the readings get to the folks outside, and they blow the roof and bring everything down to smother it all so it can’t go critical.

Only then, you’re not going home for dinner.

VII. Carbon Dioxide

That tank over there provides extra carbon dioxide to the plants in the area. The platforms allow the effects to be seen without disturbing the plants. It’s just one of the non-nuclear experiments now on the site.

VIII. IceCap

At 12:01 a.m. October 2, 1992, George Bush entered a moratorium on nuclear weapons testing. Just a few hours later, IceCap would have been lowered into the shaft. The tower and all of the instrument cabling are still in place, although I wouldn’t trust the impedance on those cables after they’ve been lying in the sun all this time.


The test would have determined how well a device would have performed in atmospheric conditions at 40 degrees.

IX. Sedan Crater

The debris plume was five miles wide.

X. Apple II

We found that the cars that were pointed head-on at the blast did quite well. Those that were side-on just rolled.

(If you don’t need the math up front, start at 3:00.)

XI. Joint Verification Experiment

While the Russians were here, I managed to spend about eight hours a week at home.

The fact that there are two Soviet teams in and around Nevada reflects the opposing views of how to best reach tha
t goal. The official Soviet team at the Nevada test site is experimenting with so-called hydrodynamic methods of verifying the yield of nuclear weapons, a technique favored by the Reagan Administration. Hydrodynamics deals with the motion of liquids – the rock around the shaft becomes molten when the nuclear device goes off.

The second team, which is not part of the official experiment, is positioned at a Soviet-designed seismographic station on the California-Nevada border. It hopes to help demonstrate that the yields of most nuclear explosions can be accurately estimated with remote instruments, the method favored by Soviet officials.

At the Atomic Testing Museum

I. A Is for Atom

II. F.D. Roosevelt, President of the United States

Sir:

Some recent work by E. Fermi and L. Szilard, which has been communicated to me in manuscript…new phenomenon would also lead to lead to the construction of bombs…might very well destroy the whole port together with some of the surrounding territory…the most important source of uranium is Belgian Congo…attached to the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institut in Berlin where some of the American work on uranium is now being repeated.

Yours very truly,
Albert Einstein

III. Operation Crossroads

The first bomb missed its target by almost 800 yards. Watchers were not impressed. They reconvened a month later for the second test.

The third demonstration was canceled.

IV. Daigo Fukuryū Maru

Unknown to the testers, a Japanese fishing vessel was also in the area.

V. Underground Testing

We were determined to learn from any incident and we did. We never repeated an incident.


Someday, no one living will have seen one of these explosions in person. That worries me. (paraphrased from Robert Rex Brownlee)

VI. Project Pluto

The result was a cruise missile that would be able to drop multiple warheads while leaving a swath of radiation in its wake.

VII. BREN Tower

Japanese-style houses were built. An unshielded reactor could be moved up and down the tower to test how the buildings shielded inhabitants from radiation in an effort to help the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

VIII. Counter Terrorism Operations Support

It is the only place they can learn to find and deal with actual radioactive materials at no danger to them.

IX. Modern Remote Sensing

They were able to test how hazardous materials dispersed under a variety of conditions.

X. Inhabitants

The Mojave Desert Tortoise is the only one of the area’s inhabitants with a place on the Endangered Species List.

Native Americans volunteered for WWI, ten years before they were granted citizenship. They returned to the test site and kept returning until fences were built and borders enforced.

XI. EEIOCPA

The Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program delivers benefits to eligible employees and former employees of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), its contractors and subcontractors, or to certain survivors of such individuals, as provided in the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA). This program also includes benefits for certain beneficiaries of Section Five of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act.

The Edge and Beyond

Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint came out while I was in high school. I didn’t read it then, although I rather wish I had. Although I loved it on reading it, it didn’t immediately become my favorite book. It has, however, stayed in that place through to the present.

Why? Well, there are a few things. It is a plot-driven novel, by which I mean, not the usual, but that there are schemes and politics propelling the events of the books. It’s all about the intersection of identity and social roles, with a subtle helping of what it means to be family. And it is a fantasy book that relies not one tiny bit on magic to tell its story.

If you haven’t read, go find a copy. If you have read it (and The Privilege of the Sword), you can now find out the ending to Richard and Alec’s story in “The Man with the Knives.” Be warned. It is an ending. It is other things as well, but it is decidedly an ending.

And if someone hasn’t already, you may still be able to get me a copy for Christmas.

Auto-Argumentation

Oh. This. This is beautiful.

The result is the Twitter chatbot @AI_AGW. Its operation is fairly simple: Every five minutes, it searches twitter for several hundred set phrases that tend to correspond to any of the usual tired arguments about how global warming isn’t happening or humans aren’t responsible for it.

It then spits back at the twitterer who made that argument a canned response culled from a database of hundreds. The responses are matched to the argument in question — tweets about how Neptune is warming just like the earth, for example, are met with the appropriate links to scientific sources explaining why that hardly constitutes evidence that the source of global warming on earth is a warming sun.

I need about six of these. I need the “race realist” bot, the “men are just smarter” bot, the gun nut bot, the anti-vax bot, the libertarian bot, and the evangelical/creationist bot. Then, once I don’t have to keep repeating myself on those topics, I’ll probably need about six more, since I’ll have time again to spend on evaluating and formulating new sets of arguments.

Would it do any good? Looking for some kind of external metric, it’s hard to say. I don’t know that these kinds of arguments ever convince anyone. I do know, however, that they rarely change and their proponents are generally dogged. This means that chatbots like this can waste plenty of time that these people would otherwise spend trying to spread misinformation and information-free jingoism. That, in itself, would be worthwhile, as would freeing up more of the time of the people who currently go out of their way to combat this kind of nonsense.

So, who’s in?

The Right Kind

It was the kind of wedding where the bridesmaid’s dresses were chosen, each for the individual woman, with an eye to appropriately displaying body ink. It was the kind of wedding where the little boys who participated were dressed as pirates, complete with plastic swords that formed an arch for the flower girls, and no one thought to suggest we weren’t being solemn enough. It was the kind of wedding where the bride wore a fearsome fashion creation in dark gray–and daisies in her hair.

It was the kind of wedding that wasn’t short but came without a wasted word. It was the kind of wedding where the bride and groom stood behind the officiant, whispering and giggling to each other whenever it occurred to them. It was the kind of wedding where the assembled made promises before any were asked of the couple. It was the kind of wedding where watching couples held hands and kissed–and smiled at each other over their marriages rather than their weddings. It was the kind of wedding where the wasp flying around became a memory shared between weddings rather than a mere pest.

It was the kind of wedding with readings like this:


When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possess’d,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.


And this:

You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.
You shall be together when white wings of death scatter your days.
Aye, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
Love one another but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.
Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together, yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.

It was the kind of wedding where the bride and the groom promised to plant their roots in each other’s soil and grow into both the wind and the sun. It was the kind of wedding where the groom interrupted the officiant, being too impatient (and silly) to wait for the proper time to say, “I do.”

It was the kind of wedding where the bride and groom didn’t need to stand together to receive their guests, where guests who only knew one party introduced themselves to the other. It was the kind of wedding where, when asked how I knew the bride, only then realized that it was because she and I had spent some part of one weekend a year together for almost the last ten years, and that she is incredibly important to me for someone I hardly ever speak to.

It was the kind of wedding where the compliments on the kilt came, not from the people who were indulging in being mildly scandalized by it, but from the woman with the primary-colored hair and the guy who paired a dapper suit with big hoop earrings and the guy whose accent put him somewhere close to Scotland–and the catering manager, who stopped to give us pronunciation lessons. It was the kind of wedding where the hipster look-alike was almost certainly not being ironic.

It was the kind of wedding where guests were seated by their reading preferences. It was the kind of wedding where someone at the dinner table says, “I’m ashamed to have a vagina because Stephenie Meyer has one too.” It was the kind of wedding where two open seats at your table result in the DJs inviting themselves to dinner and fitting right in, despite being a decade younger than everyone else there.

It was the kind of wedding where the Belgian-style ales were served in pint glasses. It was the kind of wedding where the catering staff made note of the brand of sparkling wine because it was both decadently delicious and cheap. It was the kind of wedding where drinks were poured by award-winning mixologists because they happen to be chummy with the bride and groom. It was the kind of wedding where you tot up everything you’ve had to drink, blink a few times, and still put your hand out when they say, “I’ve got an extra Aftermath. Who wants it?”

It was the kind of wedding where dancing skills are appreciated but not required. It was the kind of wedding where the tan kids were the ones lacking rhythm. It was the kind of wedding where a four- or five-year-old could steal the show, not by being a great dancer, but by being a showy, confident one. It was the kind of wedding where the DJs couldn’t stop dancing themselves, and the one with the fauxhawk (film major with a bright future ahead of him unless I miss my guess) gave it all he had, which was not insignificant. It was the kind of wedding where the bride’s now former PI got out there and shook her mad scientist hair just a little more mad.

It was the kind of wedding that could go on until all hours of the morning. It was the kind of wedding where people either left around their normal bedtimes or were prepared to stay forever. It was, in short, the right kind of wedding.

Many congratulations to my friend Tracy and her lovely husband John.

Joy in Odd Places

There’s something weird that’s been making me happy. I don’t know that I can explain it, or even that I ought to try, but that isn’t the sort of consideration that stops me.

This goes back a ways, about a year. I was walking through the skyway in downtown Minneapolis (habitrails for cold-weather city dwellers with a tradition of good infrastructure) when I saw it.

*wink*

I blinked, a bit confused. I was in the middle of a high-end department store. I hadn’t had my coffee yet, but I knew the floor shouldn’t be winking at me.

Even as I got closer, I couldn’t tell what it was. All I really knew was that it didn’t belong there according to the normal rules of things. I was intrigued. No one else seemed to notice.

Finally, I was there, right on top of it, and I could see what it was–a massive rhinestone stuck in the crack between two tiles. I don’t know how it got there. All the stories I tried to tell myself got very silly very quickly, based on not much more than the fact that it was just off the corner of the men’s underwear display, which wasn’t and isn’t actually interesting enough to support said silly stories. Or at least, interesting only in the sense that the carefully studied and agreed upon degree of detail in simulation of men’s genitalia is interesting. Not much to do with rhinestones.

Having identified it and had my fun with it, I moved on. I don’t usually use the skyway much unless I’m getting coffee, so I only noted now and again that it was still there.

Then I had surgery. Then I had complications from my surgery. Then I had complications from my long recovery. Then, finally, I went back to work. I needed coffee.

It was still there. It winked at me for the first time in many long weeks. And despite the fatigue and the stress about what I’d find at work, it made me ridiculously happy. It was still there.

Maybe at that point I identified with it hopefully, this little useless thing that had found a place from which it refused to be dislodged. Maybe I just needed the wink. Or the pretty. I didn’t care. I winked back.

More than half a year later, it’s still there. How many people have seen it? How many times has that floor been cleaned (over a snowy, salty Minnesota winter)? No one has dislodged it or tidied it away, or even carted it off as a little, portable piece of shiny that “no one” will miss.

It endures, this improbable bit of ephemera, this thing that is so out of place, this emblem of disposable tackiness. It isn’t supposed to. It isn’t supposed to even be there. It isn’t supposed to appeal. It isn’t supposed to matter.

But it endures, and it fits, and it accretes meaning all out of proportion to what it would be as described by anyone else. And it brings me joy.