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May 20, 2022


A diplomat, a member of Russia's mission to the UN, has resigned in protest of the war in Ukraine. Unlike other members of the government who have resigned (and, sometimes, fled the country), he has made his letter of resignation public.
‘Ashamed’ Russian diplomat resigns over Putin’s ‘aggressive war’

Bondarev took direct aim at Russia’s ruling class. “Those who conceived this war want only one thing — to remain in power forever, live in pompous tasteless palaces, sail on yachts comparable in tonnage and cost to the entire Russian Navy, enjoying unlimited power and complete impunity,” he wrote.

“To achieve that they are willing to sacrifice as many lives as it takes,” the letter continued. “Thousands of Russians and Ukrainians have already died just for this.”

And there's lots more in the same vein.

nous, I wonder why Rory Thorne (the first one, anyway) is not available on UK Kindle? Luckily for me, I have access to a US Kindle too, so have ordered it on that, but I thought it odd. Anyway, it looks like fun, and, as we all know, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun (this GftNC, at the moment, anyway)!

Don't know all the details of how the various eReader editions become available in different countries. That's usually handled by the publisher. Audiobook stuff is usually a separate contract, as is foreign language edition licensing (Italy and Bulgaria for the first book, Turkey for the latest - which is fun, but seems a bit random how that happens).

Has anyone here read Norwegian Wood?

I'm afraid the only Murikami I have read is A Wild Sheep Chase.

Charles, I wanted to thank you for posting that Vonnegut quote. That is excellent, and I think I will memorize it for the next time I start gabbling about this topic.

GftNC, I forgot to say that I had read one of the Company books, but I don't remember it well enough to recommend or disrecommend it.

nous, thanks for that brief disquisition on Atwood in particular. It is aggravating to read that description of speculative fiction that is essentially the exact formal definition of science fiction I've heard used by those more sympathetic to SF. Your mention of Ishiguro and McCarthy suddenly brought to mind something Theodore Sturgeon wrote many years ago, about his irritation at seeing the kudos given to a dabbler like Kingsley Amis [for that one alternative history he wrote which is anyways a pile of shite compared to Keith Roberts's wonderful Pavane] while a thoughtful and serious [?] writer like Edgar Pangborn goes overlooked by critics. GftNC -- if you haven't read any Edgar Pangborn, let me suggest you give A Mirror for Observers and Davy a try, if you can find them. Almost everything he wrote is terrific though (but, let me note, some has an emotional freight not much different from the best of the Culture books, like Use of Weapons or Inversions. I suppose another liminal author would be Mark Helprin, on the fantasy side. Leading of course to the thought that the whole magic realism thing is liminal, pace Gabriel Garcia Marquez's comment in his memoir that in fact in a place like Colombia, it's just realism, that things as crazy as in Hundred Years of Solitude actually happen all the time there.

That Judith Merrell definition of Speculative Fiction is one of the four or so accounts of what SF is that I introduce students to in my SF class, along with Darko Suvin's "a literary genre whose necessary and sufficient conditions are the presence and interaction of estrangement and cognition, and whose main formal device is an imaginative framework alternative to the author's empirical environment," Delany's argument that SF isn't a genre but rather a set of reading protocols (demonstrated in his piece "About 5,750 Words" and expanded upon in "Some Reflections on SF Criticism"), and John Clute's position of SF being not so much a genre, but rather a mode of representation (like the pastoral) where the edges of the form begin to bleed into other genres and the metonymy of extrapolation/extension gives way to a sort of realist mode of metaphor.

It's a lot, I know. It takes about four weeks of class and several readings for it to start to make sense to someone who is not familiar with SF and who is new to the tools of criticism.

Don't know if this is interesting to non-academic readers of SF or not. I have a semi-captive, but consenting, audience in the classroom.

Poetry reading.


I've always heard that the Official Definition of Science Fiction is:
"what I'm pointing at when I say the words 'Science Fiction'"

I heard it from an SF author, so it must be true.

I wish I could take your class.

Snarki, SF told us we would have flying cars by now. Don’t you know these guys lie?

Snarki - right up until you ask another SF author, then a fight breaks out in the hotel lounge.

I'm afraid the only Murikami I have read is A Wild Sheep Chase.

Did you like it? I've never read him - thanks.

I did like it, and didn’t have any moments of “why am I reading this?” as I recall. I liked it enough to think I might try 1Q84 or one of his other books down the road. A book in that weird liminal space we were discussing a bit above. Had echoes of Paul Auster, maybe.

"SF told us we would have flying cars by now. Don’t you know these guys lie?"

What are you gonna believe, this or your lyin' eyes?


OK, that flying car flies. But drive it on a road? Not so much.

I'm still holding out for Taco Trucks On Every Corner, as TFG promised if he lost.

Wait, does that mean the lack of Taco Trucks is evidence TFG really won?1??

Time for a forensic Taco Truck audit.

SF told us we would have flying cars by now. Don’t you know these guys lie?

Not just flying cars, but Jetsons-style flying cars that clearly had anti-gravity. AG in a teeny-tiny package, to boot.

My complaint is about all the SF movies and TV where controlled gravity is implicit but unacknowledged and never used.

At the intersection of SF and the current and impending food shortages, Soylent Green took place in 2022.

Election fraud is real!!!

Five of 10 Republican candidates for the gubernatorial nomination in Michigan are ineligible to appear on the ballot because of invalid signatures on their nominating petitions, the Michigan elections bureau said in a report Monday, upending the race little more than two months before the August primary.

Those the elections bureau said were ineligible include former Detroit police chief James Craig and businessman Perry Johnson, who have been considered the leading candidates for the GOP nomination for Michigan governor. Others were Donna Brandenburg, Michael Brown and Michael Markey. [Emphasis added]

Projection: the mental process by which people attribute to others what is in their own minds.

Election fraud is real!!!

Attempted fraud, please. They got caught. Another example of my assertion that retail election fraud is hard. Effective election fraud is almost invariably done by election officials on a wholesale basis on the back end.

As an observation, the Big Lie people have largely dropped the argument that there are tens or hundreds of thousands of people voting improperly on the front side. Now it's almost all about subversion of the counting equipment or huge numbers of fraudulent ballots being introduced into the counting process on the back end.

Attempted fraud, please. They got caught.

Fair enough. But interesting that, overwhelmingly, the ones who get caught attempting retail fraud are Republicans.

I guess moving on to accusations of back end fraud is preferable to asserting that Democrats are smarter, because they don't get caught doing retail fraud...

This is interesting— Klein says liberals should work on making government more efficient so we can build the things we need to build. My summary isn’t very good so you should read it.


Snarki recently proposed this, as a joke. Which just goes to show, nothing is too ludicrous for our current leadership:


The US is technically and officially on the metric system; has been for decades. We still mostly use Imperial measurements in daily life, but metric has been seeping in. For example, gas (petrol) is still sold in gallons, but drinks are routinely packaged in liters. Of course, anyone with scientific training is comfortable with metric measurements. But so, too, are folks like auto mechanics -- all those imported cars with metric parts, you know.

I expect that we will eventually catch up with the rest of the world on this. Partly, it's a matter of the world getting more interconnected, so more people here are routinely exposed to metric. And exports must at least have metric measurements included (those EU regs that GftNC mentioned), so easier to just make them that way to start with. It will doubtless take us insanely long(er) to get with the program, but that's American exceptionalism in action.

I wonder whether BoJo knows the measurements of his bicycle-chain links.

And American exceptionalism has also meant that, even in Imperial measures, yours are different from ours! Which, given you never actually (officially) had an Empire, is quite funny.


But, but, our idioms!

He inches closer to her.
a. meters? - too far
b. centimeters? - too weird
c. scoots? - don't use units

By then, she was miles away from him.
a. far away? - again, don't use units
b. kilometers away? - maybe
c. light-years away? - probably better, preserving the hyperbole

This is an amazing foot-long sandwich.
a. half-a-meter-long? - not accurate
b. dong-long? - even less accurate. It rhymes, though
c. about-a-third-of-a-meter-long? - pretty accurate, but not very marketable

I went the whole nine yards.
a. the whole 8.23 meters? - ...No
b. all the way? - again, don't use units

An ounce of common sense is worth a pound of theory.
a. A gram/a tonne? - preserve the weight comparison, but even more hyperbolic
b. A little/a lot? - again, don't use units

Preparing for metric dominance: alternatives to idioms using imperial units

There is a metric pound (500 g)
In Germany the ell (cubit) is still used proverbially. But usually not in the sense of a physical length but more metaphorically as 'too long'. It's often applied to length of time (in particular the spoken word).
Same for the mile (i.e. more often used metaphorically than in the sense of an actual length).
The hundredweight (1 Zentner = 100 metric pounds) is a metaphor for any heavy weight (in the still portable range) while the (metric) ton serves the same purpose for what goes beyond that.
Obsolete currency units still are alive and well in sayings, idioms and proverbs.
But personally I think all of this is on the way out because the younger generation does not understand many of them anymore.

I expect there to be long-surviving specialty units.

Stones, for weight (of humans) in the British Islands.

Hands, for height of horses.

Fathoms, nautical miles.

Points, for print size.

Parsecs and light-years (non metric!)

Inches will hang in there, as long as chips have pins spaced 0.100 (and 0.050 and 0.025) inches pitch.

The "english" fluid measures are well designed for a "binary" world, if anyone could recall how many gills are in a firkin.

In Charles' link, John Lawler, a pretty well known linguist (though he retired in 2009, so obviously who would listen to him?) points out in a comment

"This is why we still use words like dozen, score, pair, triplet, and so on. Idioms get more popular when they use unusual words."

A propos of nothing, here is my favorite limerick, in cellphone typography:


The US is the worst outlier as far as standards are concerned:

Never mind cups and ounces.

Fahrenheit is ridiculous and impossible to convert in your head.

And then there's NTSC, the video standard, which has driven everyone involved in film / TV production insane at one point or another.

I heard that NTSC stands for "Never Twice the Same Color."

Tony P: I am too broken down by age and sex (statistician's joke) to spend the time to work that out. I've shared my fave limerick here many times, I implore you to share yours decrypted!

It even has a wiki entry (under its inventor)

Thank you, Hartmut!

Tony P: clever, and of course (which was your point) an excellent use of archaic measures. But, in my opinion, not one of the world's great limericks. However, one man's meat is another man's poison, chacun a son gout, etc etc.

Fahrenheit is ridiculous and impossible to convert in your head.

It's not really all that hard.
Subtract 32 -- trivial
Divide by 9 and multiply by 5 -- not exactly higher mathematics
And it's not like I need to do it all that often.

What gets me is constantly having to convert UTC to local time. And it's even worse right after the switch to or from Daylight Savings time.

My main problem with Fahrenheit/Celsius is to remember the direction, i.e. in what direction one has to add and when to substract the 32.
Except at -40 of course where the value on both scales is the same. But it is rarely -40° around here.

"What gets me is constantly having to convert UTC to local time. And it's even worse right after the switch to or from Daylight Savings time"

Even worse when US/Europe dates for DST change differ.

There was a period in which they were the same, but then the GOP (*spit*) had to mess around with DST and we're back to having different dates on different sides of the pond.

F it. UTC universally.

UTC universally.

Ah ha! European Exceptionalism!

That might work for Europe (and Africa). But I just cannot see the rest of the world taking the plunge. The number of folks who are frequently on international calls, and so see it for scheduling, is big and growing. But it's still a microscopic fraction of the total population. Simply not enough benefit to warrant it.

Any more than switching to a decimal clock would be worth the effort.

Oops. That was Snarki, not Hartmut. Sorry.

I know not everybody here regularly reads the Guardian, so I thought you might enjoy Marina Hyde's latest roundup of the general state of the Tory party/government. It's not her absolute best, but still good, malicious, mischievous stuff. The part on bringing back Imperial measures:

The latest conflagration seems to be part of the play-to-your-base initiative previously described as “Operation Red Meat”. On reflection I don’t hate this as a name for what’s happening to Johnson. That painful moment when you think you’re going shark fishing, but only belatedly realise you’re the chum. As one cabinet minister put it, the imperial measures policy is “absolutely bananas”, while another cabinet minister apparently observed mildly, “no idea which muppet had come up with that idea”. Certainly not Count von Count. The whole thing has very strong Elmo energy, being an attempt to ruin something that doesn’t need ruining.


Oooh, thank you GftNC, I will go read this. The teaser you just posted is just too tempting.

That painful moment when you think you’re going shark fishing, but only belatedly realise you’re the chum.

How much of the Republican Party's "leadership" could that describe these days?

How much of the Republican Party's "leadership" could that describe these days?

Not enough. They still think they can "catch", or control, the sharks. But, to quote David Frum:

Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us, and now we are discovering we work for Fox

or, to put it another way (and with the advantage of subsequent insight), Fox (or Rupert Murdoch) now discover that they are, to an extent, at the mercy of what they have created. If they don't feed it on its own terms, they go down.

But, to be clear, it's not apparent how much of the GOP leadership realise this, or think it's a bad outcome. An example: McConnell says he would still vote for Trump if he was the R nominee.

I propose that the GOP/Fox is best represented by a new form of shark-derived anti-ouroboros. Like the snake version, but working in reverse, where the...umm..."tail" consumes the head.

An example: McConnell says he would still vote for Trump if he was the R nominee.

But I suggest that his comment reflects his recognition that he has become (or could instantly become) chum.

wj: maybe you're right.

nous: excellent image. Like a sort of snake version of a rat king. Or something.

Sorry, lost the plot - can't quite envisage a shark version of a rat king. But I imagine that one of the artists who does fantasy book covers might be able to make sense of this.

nous: perhaps we have reached the point where we need a new iconic image for the whole mess. No bright ideas here, just a sense that what we really need doesn't currently exist.

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