Tag Archive | history

The viaduct is being demolished at last — good riddance

This is not how a tunnel boring machine works…

I’ve written a time or two before about the extremely aging elevated highway in Seattle that was severely damaged 18 years ago in a severe earthquake. For the next several years after the quake, state and local governments fought over how to replace the cracked and sinking structure. A deal was reached, laws passed, and the then governor signed it. At the signing ceremony, she said that at the advice of the engineers, no matter how long the replacement tunnel took to build, the highway was definitely coming down no later than 2012…

…and here we are, seven years later, and three weeks ago said highway was finally closed. This week, the tunnel finally opened for traffic. Coincidentally on the first day of real winter weather we got this year. And then the process of taking down the unsafe structure—packing most of the rubble into a much older tunnel that, it turns out, is just as rickety as the old elevated highway and needs to just be filled and sealed—has finally begun.

I have found myself not just biting my tongue a lot reading commentary by some acquaintances about why, oh why, the ugly structure that hasn’t adequately served the region’s transportation needs for the last, oh, 50 years of its existence isn’t being replaced by something even bigger and uglier.

Fortunately, a friend has posted a much more reasoned and comprehensive explanation (and linked to an impressive number of pictures she took at the day this weekend the public was allowed to walk on the old elevated structure and through the new tunnel). So go read Dara’s take on this, including a really nice explanation of the why the highway became obsolete only a few years after being built: So long to the viaduct!

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What are you doing for others?

“Life's most persistent and urgent question is, What are you doing for others?” —Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, What are you doing for others?” —Martin Luther King, Jr.

As a white-bearded pasty-pale very white old guy, I feel I shouldn’t do anything to drown out the voices of people of color, specifically African-Americans, and what they have to say on this day to commemorate the legacy of Dr. King. So I am not going to. Instead, I want to refer you to this excellent article by Tyrone Beason published today:

Former Olympian John Carlos Raised a gloved fist for justice 50 years ago, but his act should inspire us today.

Go read it.

Misleading notions my teachers taught, Part 1: Democracy’s Not What You Think

U.S. population isn't equally distributed, which wouldn't be a problem except that the Constitution apportions several important thing by state. (click to embiggen)

U.S. population isn’t equally distributed, which wouldn’t be a problem except that the Constitution apportions several important thing by state. (click to embiggen)

I believe that it was one of my fourth grade teachers who first explained to me how the Founding Fathers designed our government. First she explained that seats in the House of Representatives were allotted proportionately to each state’s population. Then she explained why the Constitution gave every state two Senators, regardless of their population: “They were afraid that the big states would gang up on the little states.” And she pointed to Virgina on the map as an example of a big state, then Rhode Island as an example of a small state. For elementary students this choice evoked a very specific idea, because we were all familiar with the experience of a kid who was bigger bullying a smaller kid, as well as how gangs of bullies seemed to form on every school yard.

There were problems with the teacher’s analogy, of course. The first is that Virginia was a “big state” for purposes of the actual Constitutional question, not because it was physically larger, per se, but because it had a much higher population. The second is that, while a state is a governmental entity that in theory represents the people inhabiting it’s territory, that entity doesn’t always represent the needs and wishes of all of its citizens equally.

Now, at the time the Continental Congress was drafting the Constitution, state population densities were not as lopsided as they are now, so there happened to be a rough correlation between the physical size of most states and their populations, so it is easy to understand how the geographic size became conflated with size of population.

There was a fear among the states with lower populations that the higher population states would, if given power in the new government proportionate to population, overrule concerns raised by those states. That is one reason why the original Continental Congress had consisted of an equal number of delegates from each state, and why each state only got one vote (despite having multiple delegates). It is also why under the Articles of Confederation, the Congress (which consisted of only one house, and was the entirety of the Federal government for the first ten years of independence—there was no executive branch nor a judiciary) had also consisted of an equal number of delegates from each state, regardless of population.

It wasn’t a fear of a few big hulking bullies, it was a fear of the tyranny of the majority.

So, when the states all agreed in 1787 that the Articles of Confederation weren’t giving them an actual working government, they called a Continental Congress (separate from the federal Congress) to draft a solution.

That process created a Congress of two houses, one had members (in theory) proportionate to the population of each state, the other gave equal representation to each state regardless of population. At the time, this seemed like a brilliant compromise. Another portion of the Constitution laid out the election of the President in a similar way: each state would get a number of votes equal to the total number of representatives and senators it had in the Congress. This gave high population states more votes than low population states, but also gave the low population states more votes than they would be entitled to due to population alone.

I mention above that the representation in the lower house is only proportionate in theory, and here’s why: every state, regardless of population, gets at least one representative. There are currently three states whose populations are fewer than the average population of a congressional district in more populous states. And, because the size of the lower house hasn’t been increased in 90 years, these disparities get weird even when comparing only states that have more than two Representatives in the House: some districts are nearly twice the population of others.

Because the Electoral College is skewed by both the two-senators-no-matter-population rule and the mathematical disparities of the apportionment of the House, that means that voters in the less densely populated states have, for all intents and purposes, four times as much say in selecting the President as voters in some of the more densely populated states.

Because of this disparity, half the population of the country only accounts for 18% of the votes in the Senate. That means that the other half get 82% of the votes.

Because of this disparity, half the population of the country only accounts for 18% of the votes in the Senate. That means that the other half get 82% of the votes.

When maps like the second one here are shared by conservatives, the question that gets asked, “Do you really want only this much of the country to elect our Presidents?” This plays into the same misconception that my teacher gave about big states and little states: Even though it says right there in the text by the map that these nine states comprise a full half of the population, emotionally you process the size of the other states as representing a majority, when it doesn’t.

The fact that 82 of the 100 members in the Senate represent only half the population of the country, is also one reason why we frequently have Congressional gridlock. And it is certainly playing out in the current government shutdown.

How to steal and election. Gerrymander.

How to steal and election. Gerrymander. (click to embiggen)

Gerrymandering of district for electing Representatives also contributes to these problems. And gerrymandering can be very powerful. My favorite example is to just look at what happened in my state, Washington, during the 1994 midterm elections. At the time, Washington had nine Representatives in Congress. In that election, just over 60% of the voters of Washington state voted to have a Democrat represent them in Congress. Knowing that 60% of the voters chose a Democrat, you would expect that out of 9 seats, at least 5 of them would be filled by Democrats, right? That isn’t what happened. Instead, only 3 seats went to Democrats, and 6 went to Republicans. That was because of gerrymandering.

When I’ve written about these issues before, some folks have pointed out that fixing it would require amending the Constitution—which requires supermajority votes in both houses of Congress and then a supermajority of states have to ratify. Plus, fixing the Senate is a particularly difficult issue. And no one likes the solution I suggested (half-jokingly), which is a Constitutional amendment that requires any state whose population isn’t large enough to justify three Representatives must cease to be a state and merge with a neighboring state.

But there are things that can be done to alleviate the problem which don’t require amending the Constitution. The first is to simply increase the number of Representatives in the House so that the district disparities are alleviated. There have been a number of bills proposed (and some with bipartisan sponsors) toward this end. One popular solution is called the “Wyoming Rule.” Not because it was proposed by Wyoming, but because Wyoming is the lowest population state. The Wyoming Rule would set up a system where each time when Congress does reapportionment after each Census, part of the process is to increase the total number of Representatives so that the average size of a Congressional District equals the population of the least populous state. Many nations of parliaments/assemblies/what-have-you that are much larger than our House of Representatives and they manage to conduct business just fine.

Increasing the number of Representatives alleviates at least two of the problems: it decreases the odds that a Presidential candidate who lost the popular vote will win the electoral college, and it makes gerrymandering much more difficult.

Another couple of things that could help: Statehood for the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. D.C. has a population larger than two of the states of the union, and they have no vote in either house of Congress. D.C. statehood has been opposed by National Republicans for several years because the demographics of the district make it likely that it was most often elect Democrats to the Senate. Puerto Rico has a population that exceeds the three least populous states added together! In fact, it has a higher population that 21 of the states. Again, National Republicans have opposed statehood for the territory because it is assumed it would likely add two more reliably Democratic seats to the Senate. And that is precisely why statehood for each would alleviate some of the problems of partisan imbalance in the Senate.

Then, of course, there is the movement to change the way the states appoint their electors: National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.

Thanksgiving Links (ritual sacrifice, with pie edition)

“Hurray, I'm Gay, it's Happy Thanksgiving Day! How's that for a holiday family outing?”

(click to embiggen)

In the U.S. it’s Thanksgiving, a day which most of us were taught in school was to commemorate a peaceful feast between the the Pilgrims and their neighboring Native Americans. Of course, we are also taught in school the equally false notion that the pilgrims came to the America from England looking for religious freedom, when in fact what they came to do was establish a theocracy—they fled England because the folks back home wouldn’t let them persecute neighbors who worshipped very slightly differently than they did. So while the Native Americans whose land the Pilgrims were squatting on did occasionally meet and break bread with the colonists—and have to teach them how to farm since most didn’t know how and so forth—the traditional Thanksgiving story is a myth.

Being raised in evangelical fundamentalist churches, I was also taught that it was a religious holiday (after all, who would we be saying “thanks” to, right?), though there isn’t really anything very holy about what the European colonists did to either the Native Americans nor the environment we found here.

Anyway as Anya observed in that one episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: “To commemorate a past event you kill and eat an animal. A ritual sacrifice… with pie.” And I have to admit that the past events I am commemorating are the holidays spent with extended family back when all my grandparents and most of the great-grandparents were still alive. Which is why one of the dishes I’m cooking and serving today in sweet potatoes with heavy cream, molasses, and pepper… as close to how Great-grandma used to make it as I can get.

Since a lot of my bookmarked stories this week don’t really make sense to include in tomorrow’s Friday Five, in case you need something to read today, here are some Thanksgiving Links:

(click to embiggen)

Here’s What Your Part Of America Eats On Thanksgiving.

This Is How Long Thanksgiving Leftovers Actually Last .

The Ultimate Thanksgiving Dinner Menu .

It wasn’t just an episode of a sitcom, this community actually through turkeys out of planes at their annual festival: Tossing a Bird That Does Not Fly Out of a Plane: A Thanksgiving story about the limits of human empathy.

Why First Nations People Regard America’s Thanksgiving Day as a National Day of Mourning.

And let me remind you: don’t jump the gun on Christams!

"Slow down!! Let's eat the damn turkey first!"

(MemeGenerator.Net Click to embiggen)

Indigenous People’s Day: Columbus didn’t discover America, he invaded it

“Columbus didn't discover America, he invaded it!”

“Columbus didn’t discover America, he invaded it!”

I’ve written a couple times before why I support renaming Columbus Day. Yes, I’m a pasty-white-skinned blue-eyed guy whose ancestors came from places like Ireland, England, and France, but I recognize that I only got to be born here because a lot of horrible things were done to the native peoples, including driving them off the land.

And don’t get me started on how the European invaders just had better technology and the land was underused. Get yourself some history about the pre-colonial Piedmont Prairie and Forests, which were maintained by multiple native tribes, who did controlled burns and crop rotation in some portions, carefully leaving other protions alone, so a huge number of species of plants and animals (including a species of woodland bison) could thrive there. The European colonists made land sharing deals with native tribes… and then decided to ignore their own deals and through encroachment, clear cutting, dam-building, and the occasional outright slaughter drove the indigenous people away. And also drove a bunch of species into extinction.

And if you’re the sort of person who uses “illegals” as a noun and yell at anyone with dark skin, or a non-European name, or who just disagrees with you politically to “go back where you came from!” I have to say, “You first.” Until then, shut up.

Other people have written a bit more about the historical reasons we rename the day and why Columbus isn’t a hero. And since some of them are natives, you should read what they have to say on the topic.

Of the dead, speak nothing but truth… or, I refuse to whitewash this sepulcher

This was a John McCain campaign ad, approved by him, run by his campaign. Many times. Do not call him the savior of the Affordable Care Act.

This was a John McCain campaign ad, approved by him, run by his campaign. Many times. “Leading the fight to stop Obamacare.” Do not call him the savior of the Affordable Care Act.


Lots of people repeat the very bad translation of an ancient proverb, thinking that it is rude or crass to say anything in the slightest bit negative about someone who has died. But that isn’t what the proverb actually meant in the original language. It didn’t say never say bad things about the dead, what it actually said was, “Of the dead, speak nothing but truth.” Don’t tell lies about the dead, but there is nothing wrong with saying truthful things that are less than flattering.

So, I am not here to say false things about John McCain, I am here to speak truth, a truth that absolutely contradicts most of the stuff people are trying to say about him.

First of all, he was not a maverick. He was not a loose cannon who stood up to President Trump. He said some things that condemned some of Trump’s worst lies and distortions and most hateful statements, and then he turned around and in every case except two, voted in favor of the evil, hateful laws that Trump wanted and the corrupt unqualified people Trump nominated.

And this is something that McCain did for his entire political career. At certain strategic moments he would verbally disagree with some of the most extreme statements of his fellow Republicans, but then nine times out of ten he voted in favor of the very policies that people think he opposed.

As an example of this theme, let’s look at the Affordable Care Act, often called “ObamaCare” (though a more accurate name would be RomenyCare, because it was virtually identical to the health care system that Mitt Romney signed into law when he was governor of Massachusetts). Many people like to focus on McCain’s dramatic vote against the attempted repeal after Trump took office. First, this ignores the more than 50 times that McCain voted to repeal the law during the six years prior to Cadet Bonespur occupying the White House. McCain opposed it when it was initially proposed. He voted to repeal it more than 50 times. He bragged about voting to repeal it. He mentioned his opposition to it in numerous re-election campaign ads. He fundraised for both his re-election campaign and multiple Political Action Committees on his pledge to repeal it. For a bit more than six years McCain was opposed to Obamacare.

There are people who try to spin his decision to switch sides and stop the repeal of Obamacare are the result of newfound compassion due to his own health care crisis. First, is statement when he cast the vote doesn’t support that interpretation. He said he was opposed to repealing it without going through proper hearings about the impact of the repeal.

And think about what was going on. His own constituents (and thousands of other people outside Arizona) were calling his office and begging him to spare their lives. Voters were begging for the health care coverage of their loves ones. They were begging. And they had been for some time. Every time the Republicans had brought up repeal before, the devastating cost, including the tens of thousands of people who would die needlessly because of the repeal in the first few years was explained. They had the facts and figures. They knew what it meant.

And John drew it out dramatically until the last moment, swooping in with maximum press attention to save the day.

It was the moral equivalent of holding a gun to head head of someone’s sick grandmother or child saying, “It would be a shame if something happened to them,” then pulling the gun away at the last moment and saying, “All right, I won’t kill you today.”

And he expected to be treated like a hero for doing not pulling the trigger.

The primary way that a senator influences policy is with their vote. And if you look at John McCain’s voting record, it does not paint a picture of a hero. He opposed gay rights at every opportunity. He voted against adding sexual orientation to the list of protected classes for anti-discrimination laws and hate crimes. He voted against the federal government recognizing civil unions or marriage of queer people if states enacted it. He voted against allowing queer people to service opening in the military. None of those votes makes him a maverick among Republicans. And it shows a clear bias against my rights under the law.

Another way a senator can influence the policy is decided which party to caucus with. No matter what party the senator belongs to or was elected under, they can choose to caucus with either party. Doing so changes who makes decisions about what is voted on and when. If John McCain had truly been opposed to Trump’s policies, he could had caucused with the democrats. It would only have taken three Republican senators doing that to stop most of Trump’s agenda in its tracks. That would have been the actions of an independent-minded senator putting loyalty to the country ahead of party.

He didn’t do that. Despite the fact that many constituents were writing and calling his office and begging him to do so.

John McCain served his country for most of his adult life. He served in the Navy as a pilot during the Vietnam War until he was shot down and capture. He spent a long time in a prisoner of war camp and was tortured. I don’t dispute his service or his patriotism displayed at that time. I’m not one of the crackpots who try to claim he was a war criminal or traitor because of some of his actions to being tortured.

While he had been a prisoner of war, his wife had been in a horrific car accident. She was required 26 surgeries over a six month period to recover. Once she was able to leave the hospital, she needed assistance to walk, but she resumed caring for their three children. Six years after returning from Vietnam, McCain started an affair with a much younger (and wealthy) woman. He divorced his wife, moved to Arizona, married the younger woman, and then started campaigning for Congress. It has always amazed me how the party that embraced the Moral Majority and calls itself the Family Values party embraces men who cheat on their wives, leave those wives for the younger women, and insist that the men are honorable and upstanding men.

Yeah, life is complicated and people are imperfect. I’m not saying that he was a monster. But he wasn’t a hero in his political life. He voted for and enabled racist, sexist, homophobic, and transphobic policies. He enabled a corrupt and probably treasonous administration to push this country a long way toward being a fascist autocracy. And he wasn’t a hero in his personal life. He was a man. Not a great man, merely a man.

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you are like unto whitewashed sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outwardly but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.”
—Matthew 23:27

John McCain giving a thumbs up. The words: “I got my healthcare! Good luck affording yours” over the image.

(click to embiggen)

Malice or ignorance — more reflections of exclusion at sf/f conventions

I need to do a bit of a follow up to my previous post about the issues at Worldcon. I didn’t touch on everything that happened, and since the issue blew up, Mary Robinette Kowal, whose tweet from years ago on a related subject I quoted in that post, has agreed to help redo the programming. Kowal has been running the programming tracks at the annual Nebula conferences for a while, and she had posted a nice summary of their process for trying to put together a program that appeals to many parts of the community. So many of us are provisionally hopeful that the situation will be a bit better at the actual convention than they appeared just days ago.

I have also been reminded that sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference between ignorance and actual malice. Now, I was thinking that most of the bigotry that seemed to be motivating the issues were likely unconscious—all of us are often unaware of just how many prejudices we have absorbed from society. Alis Franklin, in particular, has pointed out another explanation for much of the problem:

“This all feels very much like people used to running a small-town parochial con with an established member-base suddenly getting in a twist because they have to accommodate (gasp) outsiders.”

And she’s likely on to something. A lot of this does sound like the people in programming are speaking from their past experience running their local convention, where they believe they know their audience and what those attendees expect. But even if that is the case, I still suspect that their local crowd includes a lot more queers, people of color, and other folks who are interested in topics that their local con doesn’t recognize in programming—because as I said, we’re everywhere, and we’re all used to being excluded and dismissed; so much so that when we raise an issue and are shut down, we often just hold our tongues thereafter.

On the issue of the one pro whose submitted bio was edited to change all of eir pronouns to “he” and “him”, and the insistence for a few days that this was a bio taken from the web (when no one can find such a bio and they can’t provide a link), that gets into the conscious versus unconscious bias. Either the person who copied the bio was simple too ill-informed about non binary people and nontraditional pronouns, and simply assumed it was some kind of extremely consistent typo (which I think is a stretch), or they’re one of those people who balk at pronouns to the point of refusing to use any they don’t agree with and decided to change the bio and then claim it was a mistake if they were called on it.

I don’t know if the same staffer is the one who decided not to use another pro’s usual publication bio and photograph, and instead write a different bio using information that usually was not released publicly and use a photo taken from the pro’s private Facebook. In any case, it is difficult to construct an “honest mistake” excuse for that one. And if it is the same staffer, I think that is more than adequate proof that the changed pronouns on the other bio was an intentional aggression.

In several of the discussions online I’ve seen a lot of people not understanding what the problem was with requesting semi-formal wear for the Hugo ceremony. Foz Meadows summed it up better than I did:

”…the fashion at the Hugo Awards ceremonies tends to be a welcoming, eclectic mixture of the sublime, the weird and the comfortable. Some people wear ballgowns and tuxedos; some wear cosplay; others wear jeans and t-shirts. George R. R. Martin famously tends to show up in a trademark peaked cap and suspenders. Those who do dress up for the Hugos do so out of a love of fashion and pageantry, but while their efforts are always admired and appreciated, sharing that enthusiasm has never been a requisite of attending. At an event whose aesthetics are fundamentally opposed to the phrase ‘business casual’ and whose members are often uncomfortable in formalwear for reasons such as expense, gender-nonconformity, sizeism in the fashion industry and just plain old physical comfort, this change to tradition was not only seen as unexpected and unwelcome, but actively hostile.”

I also note that a few days ago Mike Glyer posted a link to a letter from decades back from E.E. “Doc” Smith (the author of the Lensmen books, among others) when the 1962 WorldCon asked for all the ladies attending the award ceremony to wear long formal gowns. Smith commented that his wife had not owned formal wear since entering retirement and thought it was unreasonable to expect people to go to such an expense.

Which is a nice segue to this: until the 34th WorldCon (MidAmericaCon I, 1976 in Kansas City, Missouri) the Hugo Awards were given out at the end of the convention banquet. The banquet consisted of eating (obviously) while the guests of honor gave speeches. Fans who couldn’t afford the extra expense of the banquet were allowed in (usually in a separate area such as a balcony) for the awards portion. The awards ceremony was separated from the banquet in 1976 for a couple of reasons, but one was to make it easier for everyone who wanted to attend to do so. The conventions had gotten so large that the fraction who wanted to see the award ceremony was too much for the banquet halls of typical convention hotels to accommodate, and there had always been the problem of people who couldn’t afford the banquet ticket. I wanted to close with that because I have seen a number of people arguing that the people who are feeling unwelcome because of this con’s actions are making unreasonable demands to change traditions of the conventions.

The traditions change over time for many reasons. It isn’t about change for the sake of change, it is change of the sake of practicality and realism. People have, in the past, believed that science fiction and fantasy was only created by straight white guys, and was only loved by other straight white guys. That has never been true, but the illusion was maintained through a variety of societal forces and some willful ignorance. It has become increasingly difficult to maintain that willful ignorance, and besides, ignorance is never a good look on anyone. It’s not about whether fandom is diverse, it is about to what lengths some people are willing to go to ignore, silence, or push out that diversity.

Millions of Voices Cried Out in Terror — or, That’s Not the Force You’re Feeling, Guys

“Imagine, if you will, millions of nerds arguing about Star Wars for 40 years.”

(click to embiggen)

I’ve started this blog post many times, but I either find myself wanting to pull my hair out at the mental gymnastics the haters (who claim to be TrueFans) keep putting themselves through to try to make their arguments that up is down and two billion plus one billion equals zero… and I keep giving up. When the craziness first came to my attention, back in those bygone days when the first trailer for The Force Awakens sent them into a tizzy of anger and outrage, I figure it was just an age thing. Right? I was 17 years old when the original Star Wars came out, and I had watched the Watergate scandal unfold and take down a corrupt president a few years before. I understood that the Empire was a corrupt government founded by people who had, at one point, been treated just as another other politician proposing what ideas that some people disagreed with, and that the Rebellion was being led by the remnants of what had been the opposition party before all of that. In other words, I understood that every single plot element in the original Star Wars was about politics.

These other folks, who whine and rage about the new movies, I just assumed they were closer to the median age of the typical internet user. Their first exposure to Star Wars had been to see it on a TV at home, possibly when they were too young to remember it, now. Whereas I saw it as a great movie that changed the way the genre was perceived as well as creating a seismic shift in all of pop culture, to them it had always been there. And they had been too young to understand that the word “empire” was inherently political, just as the phrase “rebel spy and a traitor” was also inherently political.

Oh, how naive I was just a few years ago. I hadn’t realized that the problem was much deeper than that.

Before I go on, a few other people have examined in depth a couple of the issues at hand, and rather than try to construct the same analysis, you should go check these out:

The Beautiful, Ugly, and Possessive Hearts of Star Wars.

Biased Opinion – The Wailing Ignorance of the Star Wars Fanboys.

The latter post, by the Aaron Pound, is extremely helpful in this discussion if for no other reason the two tables showing how box office of all the movies in the Star Wars franchise have done, and comparing them to other franchises (expressed in millions of dollars):

Please note: when adjusted for inflation, the original Star Wars made three-and-a-quarter billion dollars at the box office—that’s $3,252,000,000! Notice, also, the big drop-off that The Empire Strikes Back suffered, and then how the number went down a bit more for the third movie, The Return of the Jedi.

Now let’s look at the other chart (also in millions of dollars):

Aaron assembled this second chart to show how a single-character movie in a large franchise fares in comparison to the main courses, if you will. The Avengers and its sequels have made a whole lot more money than each single-character movie in the Marvel universe, and so we shouldn’t be surprised when Solo made a lot less money than The Force Awakens. Unfortunately, at least some execs at Disney didn’t understand this, otherwise they wouldn’t have authorized re-shooting almost the entirety of the film, bringing the cost of making Solo up to approximately $250 million (and then spent about $150 million promoting).

For the record, I liked Solo a lot. But I went into it knowing that because it’s a prequel, it will not cover any new ground. They had to show us how Han and Chewie meet, they had to show us how Han wins the Falcon from Lando in a card game, they had to show us the Kessel run. Those beats have to be hit. And because we’ve seen Han’s story play out in the original trilogy and The Force Awakens we already know who the love of his life will be, and he won’t meet her in this movie. Right? And when we meet Han in the original movie, he’s an established smuggler and scoundrel who owes money to at least one dangerous crime lord, so we can expect that this prequel will be some sort of criminal action-adventure movie. So it is nearly impossible to make this a movie that’s going to blow anyone’s mind.

They delivered a solid heist movie that did show us parts of the universe that the other films have mostly glossed over. It isn’t a bad movie, it’s just the sort of movie more likely to make $400 million than $1 billion, which can’t justify the amount they spent making it.

The angry guys who insist that this is more proof that some how the franchise whose main movies are earning more than a billion each is betraying true fans and so forth, don’t understand how the blockbuster movie industry works, compared to, say, the book publishing industry, or the gaming industry, and so forth. A cadre of true fans can make books profitable, but any group of “true fans” in any genre is simply too small a group to generate a billion dollars in revenue for a single movie.

Because the “true fans,” the kind of fans who argue about the economics of the cloud cities or who are dying to see the back story of characters in the original films are going to number in the thousands, at most. Whereas to make the sort of money that The Force Awakens made, you don’t just need millions of people buying tickets, you need at least 100 million.

And when you consider that the so-called “true fans” who are making this argument are the same guys who are angry that one of the leads of the new movies is a black man, and are furious that the primary protagonist is a woman, and are absolutely livid that another lead character is a chinese woman—well, that just means this is an even smaller fraction of the audience than simply people who are nostalgic for the original trilogy.

And with that belief system, well, it’s clear that they aren’t aligned with the light side of the force, either. That ain’t the force you’re feeling, guys.

No, today’s official holiday name isn’t what you think

Several years ago my employer did a weird re-arrangement of the holiday calendar that results in the office being closed for almost a full week at Christmas, but we no longer observer MLK, Jr Day, Washington’s Birthday, or get a floating holiday. So I had literally forgotten today was even a holiday until after getting on my bus which was far emptier than usual and never filled up, riding on roads that were very empty, finally walking through downtown front the bus to my office through a downtown that is nearly deserted.

If I had remembered, I might have scheduled the post that published this morning for later in the week and written a new post about Washington’s Birthday and the myth of President’s Day. Instead, I’ll repost something I wrote on this line originally three years ago. Enjoy:

That’s not the name of the holiday

usafederalholidays.com

usafederalholidays.com

I’ve written before about the fact that President’s Day is a myth, the official name of the holiday is Washington’s Birthday Observance. Click the link to read about the history of the holiday, the few states that do observe a holiday called President’s Day (though some observe it in completely different months), and so on. Today, I want to talk a little bit about why there has never been a Federal holiday honoring Lincoln’s birthday, and how that contributes to people thinking that today’s holiday is about anyone other than Washington… Read More…

That doesn’t mean what it used to — more adventures in dictionaries

“terrific, a [L. terrificus, from terrere, to frightenm and facere, to make.] Dreadful; causing terror; adapted to excite great fear or dread; as a terrific form; a terrific sight.”

Using my self-lighting magnifier with my latest dictionary acquisition, (Click to embiggen)

If you’ve ever known a collector of anything one thing you learn is the collector seldom has a concept of the word “enough.” No matter how many trading cards or figurines or fossils or whatever it is the collector fancies they already own, if they find one that they don’t already have in good condition at a reasonable price, they’re all over it. And my penchant for collecting dictionaries is no exception. While other people were watching the Super Bowl last Sunday, my husband and I were hitting a few thrift stores. And guess what I found?

Now the sad part is that we were doing this specifically because we’re both working on hall costumes for NorWesCon (at the end of March). My husband actually found things for one of his costumes, but what did I find? Well, I found a copy of the 1951 edition of the World Publishing Company’s New Twentieth Century Webster’s Dictionary of the English Language Unabridged. Yes, that whole thing was the official title. This was one of the dictionaries produced after the legal ruling that found the Merriam-Webster Company could not prevent other companies from using Noah Webster’s name on their dictionaries even though they weren’t actually using Webster’s original dictionaries nor operating under the auspices of the agreement made between Mr. Webster’s estate and George and Charles Merriam back in 1843.

Click to embiggen

The World Publishing Company only produced this edition, a two-volume version, and a slightly revised 1953 edition before selling out to Macmillan Publishing USA. This dictionary, while being labeled “unabridged” and spanning approximately 2300 pages isn’t exactly one of the most highly regarded, given that a third of that page count is actually a desk encyclopedia, and the editorial staff hadn’t been working on it for as long as some of the more storied dictionaries. Which isn’t to say that it’s a poorly made dictionary.

But its primary claim to fame is that the editorial staff for this edition was headed up by Professor Harold Whitehall, of the University of Indiana. Whitehall was an interesting choice to edit an American dictionary because Whitehall was British. Whitehall was born in 1905 in Ramsbottom, Lancashire, England. He got his first degree at Nottingham University, studied for a while after at London University, before coming to the U.S. where he obtained is Ph.D. from the University of Iowa. He taught at the University of Iowa, at the University of Wisconsin, and Queen’s College New York, before settling at the University of Indiana where he spent the rest of his academic career. While he was at Michigan, he served as assistant editor of a Dictionary of Middle English (the English spoken during the 12th, 13th, and 14th Centuries), which was probably why he was recruited by the World Publishing Company.

And why it’s important that Whitehall worked on this dictionary is, that while the number of words and depth of the definitions weren’t on a par with other unabridged dictionaries of the time, the New Twentieth Century Webster’s Dictionary had the most thorough etymologies of any America-published dictionaries published up to that date. Because linguistics—specifically the history and derivation of our language—was Whitehall’s passion.

When Macmillan acquired most of the World Publishing Company, they already had a staff of dictionary editors, but they asked Whitehall to stay on, created the post of Linguistics Editor for him, and they released several more editions of this dictionary for subsequent years, before the company was acquired by another publisher in 1998, who sold off the reference division to yet another company in 1999 and so on. Whitehall stopped working for them some time before 1960, though he continued to teach English and Linguistics at the University of Indiana until his death in 1986.

In honor of my finally acquiring my own copy of this dictionary famous for bringing a new level of etymological rigor to American dictionaries, this is a perfect time to talk about why understanding when your dictionary was created and how it is being maintained is important. Don’t assume that just because there are lots of free dictionaries available on the internet that anyone started with a high quality source or experts are keeping it up to date. And this is important because the language is a living thing that changes over time.

For instance, terrific used to mean terrifying (terrific is to terror as horrific is to horror, as a friend so eloquently put it). As the 1951 edition puts it (shown in the picture above I took the other night):

ter-rif’ic, a [L. terrificus, from terrere, to frighten and facere, to make.] Dreadful; causing terror; adapted to excite great fear or dread; as a terrific form; a terrific sight.”

How did the word come to mean the opposite? Simple, the sarcastic or ironic use became far more common than the original meaning. People used it sarcastically to refer to something that wasn’t horrifying at all—quite the opposite—and people hearing that usage while not being familiar with the word themselves inferred its meaning from context. And soon everyone was using terrific as a synonym for “wonderful” instead of “horrible.”

Notice from the image above, there is no other definition given. If we jump ahead to one of my 1987 dictionaries, for instance, we find the primary definition being “causing great fear or terror”, the second as “remarkable or severe” and only the third definition, marked informal is “very good or wonderful.” Whereas my 2001 Oxford New American Dictionary lists the “causing terror” definition as archaic, but even then, the primary definition is “of great size, amount or intensity,” and the second sense of “extremely good or excellent” is still listed as informal. Although that may be because the editorial board of the Oxfords include a lot of British people. Most of my American published dictionaries from the late 90s on list something along the lines of “extraordinarily good” as the primary definition.

But this is part of the reason I am obsessed with dictionaries and how they are made. I have watched the meanings of some words change in my lifetime. It’s important to know this happens, particularly if you ever read books or stories written many years ago.

Some words don’t mean what they used to. That’s not a bad thing, but it can cause some confusion and consternation from time to time. Did I mention, that while consternation now means “feelings of anxiety or dismay” that is once used to mean “terrified”?

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