[syndicated profile] realsocialskills_feed

I think that picture books with disabled characters are probably really important, but I don’t know of many.

I’m looking for books that are *not* disability awareness books, but books where disability is just part of the world.

Eg: I saw a picture book once that was about going to the doctor, and one of the people working in the office was an adult wheelchair user. She wasn’t sick, she was just at work working. 

Does anyone know what that book is called? Or other picture books where disabled characters exist but the story isn’t about disability awareness?

Why My Wife is Amazing, Part 73,592

Jun. 25th, 2017 04:05 pm
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Posted by John Scalzi

Conversation between me and Krissy yesterday:

Me: With all this bullshit around health care, and the possibility of pre-existing conditions and insurance caps coming back, we should probably look into supplemental insurance.

Krissy: I got us supplemental insurance years ago.

Me: You did?

Krissy: Yes. I even have policies for very specific things.

Me: Like what?

Krissy: I have an insurance policy on your hands.

Me: My hands?

Krissy: You’re a writer. You use your hands. If something happens to your hands, it’s a problem. We’ll need to pay for someone for you to dictate to.

Me: You’ve insured my hands.

Krissy: Yes.

Me: I’m not going to lie. That’s literally the sexiest thing you’ve said to me this whole damn month.


Colossal

Jun. 25th, 2017 06:35 pm
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Posted by Abigail Nussbaum

Going into Colossal with only the film's trailers and promotional material to prepare you, it's easy to expect an entertaining but fairly shallow handling of its premise, in which a hard-partying alcoholic (Anne Hathaway) is kicked out by her boyfriend and returns to her home town to wallow and hang out at a bar with her childhood friend (Jason Sudeikis), before discovering that she mysteriously
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Posted by livius drusus

A few days ago, workers with Nicaragua’s National Electric Transmission Company (Enatrel) discovered six large pottery vessels while digging a ditch for a substation to power the new National Baseball Stadium currently under construction in Managua. They called in experts from the archaeological department of the Nicaraguan Institute of Culture (INC) who excavated the site further and discovered more than 30 of those large vessels. They also found the vestiges of inhumation burials, skeletal human remains and smaller pieces of pottery. Archaeologists believe this was a Pre-Columbian cemetery dating to sometime between 800 and 1350 A.D., although those dates have yet to be confirmed.

The skeletal remains are few and scattered. One of the most intact skeletons has a skull with some teeth still in the jaw (important features if there’s any hope of stable isotope analysis or DNA extraction), ribs, arm and leg bones. Its hand and feet, however, are missing.

Some of the large pottery vessels contain human remains as well, and while their contents haven’t been thoroughly examined in situ, these were almost certainly Pre-Columbian funerary urns. Even though they were found buried less than three feet under the surface, many of them are in excellent condition, complete with fitted lids, reliefs and engraved images of animals like iguanas and human faces. Some even have traces of the original polychrome paint. They come in a variety of shapes — squashed spheres, pot-bellied, horizontal alien egg with the lid all the way to one side.

According to INC Director of Archeology Ivonne Miranda, this is a finding of national significance. It’s the first funerary complex found in Nicaragua with such a density of burials in the same small area. The ancient cemetery site hasn’t been populated in modern times, which is damn good luck because there’s no way these delicate remains and ceramics would have survived major construction just a few feet underground, but centuries ago the indigenous people who lived in what is now Managua settled there because of the ample sources of water from a nearby lake and rivers.

Other objects from the period have been found in Masaya and Granada, about 20 miles southeast of Managua, and in Rivas, about 56 miles south of the capital. Archaeologists hope this historic find will shed new light on the population and culture of the region.

“This allows us to understand a little better how the dispersion of these materials in the same space of time … and try to rescue the cultural identity of the old settlers of Managua,” Miranda said.

The archaeological discovery also “helps us to know about the behavior of our pre-Hispanic societies,” Miranda said.

Excavations are still ongoing. The urns, remains and other artifacts will be transferred to the National Palace of Culture where they will be analyzed in the National Museum’s laboratory.

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PW reviews Penric's Mission

Jun. 24th, 2017 08:37 am
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Of the Subterranean Press hardcover; I don't think they cover many e-books. May be seen here:

https://www.publishersweekly.com/978-...

A Publishers Weekly review is, or was (probably still is), considered rather a coup for an aspiring writer. I remember how excited my agent was for my first one; she mailed me a clipping, which should give you an idea how many years ago.

Ta, L.

posted by Lois McMaster Bujold on June, 24
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Posted by livius drusus

A three-week excavation on the site of the Roman circus in Colchester, southeast England, has unearthed the remains of one of the circus’ passageways and the hoof bone of a small horse. The Colchester circus was built in the 2nd century A.D. as a venue for chariot racing. It is the only Roman circus ever discovered in the UK and it’s the only one ever found north of the Alps. Its characteristic U-shaped arena was 450 meters (1476 feet) long had eight starting gates plus a monumental archway at the flat end of the U. There were three tiers of bleachers around the arena with one large entrance passage at the curved end and multiple other passageways through which the estimated 8,000 spectactors attending the races could enter and leave the stands. These entrances/exits were known as vomitoria in Latin because of the crowds that spewed forth from them. Some were also used by the staff for the quick removal of mangled bodies, human and equine, and chariots from the arena floor.

The Colchester Archaeological Trust (CAT), which raised funds to save the circus from being buried under a housing development and then even more funds to buy the adjacent Victorian barracks to expand the excavation and build a new visitor’s center, has been excavating the site for more than a decade and still don’t know precisely how many passageways the circus had. They estimate there were 12 of them. The newly discovered vomitorium is only the fifth unearthed so far and it is the best preserved of the five. Six Roman feet (5.8 feet) wide, it has a north-south orientation and led from outside the arena to the southern stands. Archaeologists thought the passageway in this section was about 20 feet east of the one they found, so the discovery came as a surprise.

Another happy surprise was a small but significant find: a small hoof bone. Just 6 cm (2.4 inches) wide, 3.5 cm (1.4 inches) high and 4.2 cm (1.7 inches) deep, it’s the coffin bone, aka the distal phalanx, the core of the hoof. Its diminutive size — comparable to a large Shetland pony’s — suggests it came from a small female horse or a pony. The clean symmetrical shape and lack of wear indicates this was a young horse, but there is evidence of arthritis which would not be present in a young horse unless it was subjected to major physical strain. The sharp turns and hard running of the chariot races — each race required competitors to do 14 turns around the central spina and breakneck speed — would certainly qualify.

The bone was found inside the passageway. If this particular passageway was used for the removal of charioteers, horses and equipment that met a Ben Hur-like end in the arena, the little hoof could be all that remains of one of the equine athletes.

Mr Crummy said: “It is another exciting find but quite ambiguous as to what it means.

“There has been a long-running debate about the size of the horses which would have been used to race the chariots and this discovery suggests they would have been quite small.

“It suggests it would have been about nine hands quite is small but the bone has not been looked at properly yet.”

Even if the horse wasn’t part of a chariot team, the bone is a significant find because horse remains are very rarerly discovered on the site of a Roman circus. Other ancient hoof bones have been found in Colchester, but not in the circus itself. They were also larger.

You can explore the newly discovered circus entrance in this 3D model:

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Posted by John Scalzi

Gotta be honest, I had entirely forgotten I’d done this interview last year when I was in Iowa City for a book festival. But eventually it all came back to me. Also, it’s a pretty good interview. Enjoy.


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Posted by John Scalzi

Hey, did you know I’m currently writing a novel? I am! It’s called Head On, and it’s coming out in ten months. Also, it’s not done yet, and the deadline is real soon now. I need to make some real progress on it in the next few weeks or else my editor will give me highly disapproving looks. Which would be no good. My problem is that whenever I make any real progress and take a break to see what’s going on in the news, it looks like this:

 

And, well. That’s not great for my focus.

The world is not going to stop being like this anytime in the near future, alas, but I still need to get my work done, and soon.

So: From now until the book is done, my plan is to avoid the news as much as possible, and also, to the extent I do see news, to avoid writing about it in any significant detail. Tweets? Maybe. 1,000+ word posts here? Probably not.

Note that I’m going to fail in avoiding the news entirely — I live in the world, and next week I’ll be at Denver Comic Con, which means that at the very least in the airport CNN is going to come at me, and anyway whichever way the Senate plan to murder the ACA falls out, I’m pretty sure I’m gonna know about it. Be that as it may I’m going to make an effort to keep as much of it out of my brain as possible.

Incidentally, yes, just in case you were wondering, this is confirmation that at least one of your favorite writers — me! — finds it hard to get work done in these days of the world being on fire. “The art of the Trump era is going to be so lit!” people have said. Dudes, when you’re worried about friends losing access to health care and American democracy being dug out from below because the general GOP attitude to the immense corruption and bigotry of the Trump administration is “lol, as long as we get to kick the poor,” just to list two things about 2017, the creative process is harder to get into, and stay inside of. I’m not the only one I know who is dealing with this right now.

But the work still needs to get done — and not just for you folks. I like getting caught up in my work. It feels good when the writing is moving along.

So, again: News break.

This doesn’t necessarily mean fewer Whatever posts over the next few weeks, since I’ll have July Big Idea pieces and other posts in the pipeline. It does mean the posts that show up probably won’t touch much on world/national news or politics.

I mean, I hope they won’t. But I also know this is a thing, especially with me:

So. I will try to be strong.

Also, when the book is done, oh, how I shall opine.

In the meantime, I don’t suspect you will have difficulty finding other opinions on news and political events. It’s called “the Internet.” You may have heard of it.


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Posted by John Scalzi

If you’re a fan of the Midnight Star video games I helped create, here’s something fun for you: John Shirley, legendary writer and lyricist, has written “Purgatorio,” a serialized story set in the Midnight Star universe. He’s written it for Bound, a new company (and iOS app) specializing in serialized fiction. Which is pretty cool.

And, it’s the first time someone’s done media tie-in work for a universe I helped to create. Which is also pretty damn cool, if you ask me.

Here’s the post on Bound’s site talking about the story. If you have an iOS device you can also download the app there.


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Posted by Phil Plait

Chad Cowan is a storm chaser, and takes astonishing photographs and video of the magnificent weather systems we get here in the middle of the United States.

In late June of 2016, he took time-lapse footage of a supercell forming and growing over Nebraska. It's stunning. Watch:

 

Storm chaser Chad Cowan shot this time-lapse video of a supercell forming and merging with another huge storm system behind it.

 

So what's going on here? The details can be quite complicated — we're talking fluid hydrodynamics here, which is fiendishly complex— but conditions have to be just right for this sort of storm to form.

The video starts with cumulonimbus clouds, the big, puffy, cauliflower clouds that occur when warm, water-laden air rises (called convection). As it does the water condenses to form the visible cloud, and the various updrafts punch upward to form the numerous bumps and bulges.

Then an important event occurs: Underneath the cloud base, the wind shears. This is when a layer of air is moving faster or slower than a layer next to or beneath it. If a layer of air above another is moving faster, it can start a slow horizontal roll or cylinder of air, like a barrel rolling on the ground. But there are also strong updrafts, air moving upward. This can lift one end of the horizontal roll and make it vertical, generating a huge, rotating wall cloud. You can see that under the main part of the cloud.

That's called a mesocyclone, and the whole system is called a supercell. In this case, it's what's called a "low precipitation" or "dry" supercell, because there's not much rainfall from it. Sometimes these dissipate, but not this time: In Cowan's video it merged with another line of storms you can see behind it and to the left, and strengthened.

The intense aquamarine color is not uncommon in these storms, and the exact cause is still unknown. It's likely due to the presence of hail, with red light getting absorbed by the ice so that more green and blue lights gets to us. But it's not clear that's all that's going on.

I've seen a few big systems similar to this, though a very well-organized rotating mesocyclonic wall cloud is still on my "to see" list. They tend to form farther east of where I live; it helps to have wide plains so the wind shear can get picked up by those updrafts. In a sense I'm glad; while weather like this is mind-blowing to see, it's also extremely dangerous to be in.

I asked my friend Marshall Shepherd —who happens to be a meteorologist and in fact was president of the American Meteorological Society in 2013 — about the video, and his thoughts mirrored my own:

The beauty of this storm merger masks the inherent danger it also brings. One of our biggest challenges in meteorology is to developing an observational and modeling understanding of all the physical processes happening at this scale. Such understanding will move the needle further in possibly predicting tornadoes ...

It's sometimes easy to forget, while watching the spellbinding beauty of these systems, how dangerous they can be. This one was reported to spawn a tornado after the merger, but all by themselves the high winds, lightning and torrential rain are threatening enough. Understanding these storms is critical to life in the U.S. Midwest, and I'm glad scientists like Marshall dedicate their careers to doing so.

Tip o' the lens cap to Maksim Kakitsev. You can follow Chad's work on Vimeo, Facebook, and Twitter.

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Being a member of the Organization for Transformative Works means being able to vote for your Board. This helps affect how the OTW, and projects such as the Archive of Our Own, Fanlore, and Transformative Works and Cultures, are run now and going forward. This year, our Board elections are from August 11th–14th, and to be eligible to vote, you need to be a member of the Organization for Transformative Works by June 30, 2017.

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The Big Idea: Laura Lam

Jun. 23rd, 2017 12:47 pm
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Posted by John Scalzi

Big Ideas are great for a book (I mean, that’s kind of the whole point of the “Big Idea” pieces). But as Laura Lam explains about her novel Shattered Minds, sometimes the Big Idea is just the jumping off point.

LAURA LAM:

Sometimes you get the big idea for the story. Sometimes that’s not enough, even when you’ve written the damn thing.

My first idea excited me and got that fire of creativity going. I wanted to play with the Dexter notion—the serial killer who feels conflicted about it. A character who loves killing in rather inventive ways, who thrives off violence, but has enough of a glimmer of a conscious to want to change. A serial killer who doesn’t want to kill innocents is sort of like a vampire who doesn’t want to drink human blood—can they suppress that thirst or will they succumb? We as humans love staring into that darkness. It’s why we read about serial killers, about mythological creatures who prey on humans, or it’s why we watch horror. Carina, the protagonist of Shattered Minds, is a serial killer who becomes deliberately addicted to a dream drug called Zeal so she’s only killing people in her imagination.

The first big idea: serial killer lost in dream drugs. I knew this book would be more violent than my other work and have some cool, trippy dream sequences. I also wanted to build on the world I created in False Hearts, which came out last year (the Pacifica novels are a series of standalones set on the West Coast of the formerly United States). This book is set in Los Angeles instead of San Francisco. The series blends psychological thriller and near future tech, with a big nod at 80s and 90s cyberpunk. Shattered Minds has hover cars, floating skyscrapers and mansions, bright moving ads against the sides of buildings. People can change their appearance at will thanks to flesh parlours. Moving tattoos are etched on their skin, and their eyes might glimmer in the dark from extra implants. Pacifica is a shiny ecotopia that’s an ugly dystopia once you scratch the surface.

I wrote Shattered Minds, and the plot worked, for the most part. Carina scared me, but not quite as much as the villain, Roz (if you watch Orphan Black, Rachel is a big inspiration for her). I did a lot of research on serial killers, especially female ones, and neuroscience, hacking, corporate espionage, and more. But something was missing. All the pieces were there, made sense, but it was just . . . lacking. The puzzle pieces had the right images but they weren’t slotting together. And that was terrifying. This was going to be my fifth published book. Shouldn’t I have a better handle on this by now? I’d put in all this work, and I could tell something was wrong. This is where good editors are worth their weight in gold. Together, we found the second big idea to bring the project back to life.

It became a Frankenstein retelling. I struck the thing with lightning, basically (har, har). In the first draft, Carina was a serial killer just because . . . she was. There wasn’t much explanation or reason. No purpose (to use the most overused word said in lectures on the MA in Creative Writing I help teach at Napier in Edinburgh). In the next draft, Roz experimented on Carina when she was a teen, reprogramming her brain to be cool and collected—the perfect unbiased scientist, unbothered by things like empathy or ethics. (Note: this isn’t a spoiler—you find all this out in chapter three after the third murder in a row). However, Roz’s experiment went wrong. Carina started feeling things again, with the side effect of her also wanting to kill everything around her. Now Roz has a much stronger reason to want to take down Carina rather than just greed. Carina is the broken experiment that much be eradicated. The one who got under her skin. The one she couldn’t let go.

The next draft just worked. I loved editing Shattered Minds as much as I had hated writing the first draft. Scenes slotted into place, Carina and Roz finally worked, circling each other like sharks. It was glorious fun to make my dark, bloody book even darker and more twisted.

Sometimes, maybe a book needs more than one big idea. More than just “what if” question. Maybe something is missing in the first draft and you just need to add a little lightning to revitalise the corpse.

—-

Shattered Minds: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.


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Posted by livius drusus

The Concord Museum in Concord, Massachusetts, has an extensive collection of artifacts from Concord’s Native American, Colonial, Revolutionary and 19th century history. The town’s pivotal role in the opening salvos of the War of Independence, the Battles of Lexington and Concord, is represented by, among other treasures, the lantern Paul Revere had hung in the steeple of Boston’s Old North Church to warn the colonial militia that the British regulars were coming by land, and the Amos Barrett powder horn which was used at the Battle of Concord on April 19th, 1775.

Concord is just as prominent in 19th century literary history. Ralph Waldo Emerson, whose father was raised in Concord, moved there in 1835 and his circle of Transcendentalist writers and thinkers grew around him. The likes of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Louisa May Alcott wrote seminal works as part of Emerson’s Concord crew.

It’s Henry David Thoreau, however, who left his greatest mark on Concord and its museum. He was one of Emerson’s circle, but he didn’t follow him to Concord; Thoreau was a native Concordian, the son of a local pencil maker father and committed abolitionist mother. Their family home was a stop on the Underground Railroad. Walden Pond, where he lived in a little cottage for two years and wrote his seminal work Walden is in Concord. He wrote Civil Disobedience after spending a night in Concord jail for refusing to pay taxes in protest of slavery.

Unlike Emerson’s, Thoreau’s writings were largely dismissed during his lifetime, especially his political essays which would have such a profound influence on world-changing figures like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi. His writings on natural history, primarily Walden, got more attention, but they received mixed reviews at best. Even though his friend and literary luminary Ralph Waldo Emerson delivered the eulogy at his funeral after he died of tuberculosis in 1862, Thoreau didn’t even get his own individual obituary. It was lumped in with a group of other people who had recently died.

His younger sister Sophia, an accomplished botanist whose precision and artistry in mounting specimens was and is staggering, took on the responsibility of maintaining her brother’s legacy. They had been very close — Thoreau was no social butterfly and could be a cantankerous cuss even with his close friends, but he was a loving and warm sibling — and enjoyed their shared interest in naturalism. He recorded several times in his journals that she had discovered botanical specimens he’d never seen before. Her particular skill was in pressing and attaching plants to a backing sheet with strips of paper that were entirely invisible once she was done. They were so good that a professional like Louis Agassiz, Harvard’s first professor of botany, acquired some of Sophia’s specimens. Several of her specimens now in the Concord Museum include tributes to great authors including Emerson, Shakespeare, and of course her beloved brother. She wrote verses from their poetry in ink on pressed leaves.

Their bond and love of nature is sweetly illustrated in this passage from Thoreau’s journal dated May 22, 1853.

When yesterday Sophia and I were rowing past Mr. Prichard’s land, where the river is bordered by a row of elms and low willows, at 6 P.M., we heard a singular note of distress as if it were from a catbird — a loud, vibrating, catbird sort of note, as if the catbird’s mew were imitated by a smart vibrating spring. Blackbirds and others were flitting about, apparently attracted by it. At first, thinking it was merely some peevish catbird or red-wing, I was disregarding it, but on second thought turned the bows to the shore, looking into the trees as well as over the shore, thinking some bird might be in distress, caught by a snake or in a forked twig. The hovering birds dispersed at my approach; the note of distress sounded louder and nearer as I approached the shore covered with low osiers. The sound came from the ground, not from the trees. I saw a little black animal making haste to meet the boat under the osiers. A young muskrat? a mink? No, it was a little dot of a kitten. It was scarcely six inches long from the face to the base — or I might as well say the tip — of the tail, for the latter was a short, sharp pyramid, perfectly perpendicular but not swelled in the least. It was a very handsome and precocious kitten, in perfectly good condition, its breadth being considerably more than one third of its length. Leaving its mewing, it came scrambling over the stones as fast as its weak legs would permit straight to me. I took it up and dropped it into the boat, but while I was pushing off it ran to Sophia, who held it while we rowed homeward. Evidently it had not been weaned — was smaller than we remembered that kittens ever were — almost infinitely small; yet it had hailed a boat, its life being in danger, and saved itself. Its performance, considering its age and amount of experience, was more wonderful than that of any young mathematician or musician that I have read of.

Page from Thoreau's journal. Photo courtesy the Morgan Library & Museum.Sophia edited The Maine Woods, a collection of articles he’d written about his travels in what was then an unspoiled wilderness, and Cape Cod and saw them through publication. She also preserved Thoreau’s belongings, manuscripts and journals. Practically everything of Thoreau’s in museums and collections today is a result of Sophia’s commitment to her keeping her brother’s memory and literary legacy alive.

Today the Concord Museum has the largest collection of Thoreau-related objects in the world. More than 250 pieces of his furniture, glassware, books, pictures, manuscripts, pottery and textiles are in the Concord Museum, including the green pine desk on which he wrote Walden and Civil Disobedience. Fully half of the objects in the Concord Museum’s Thoreau collection came directly or indirectly from Sophia. The rest came from donations and purchases over the past 50 years.

July 12th is the bicentennial of the birth of Henry David Thoreau. The Concord Museum has even more cause to celebrate because a previously unknown daguerreotype of Sophia Thoreau has come to light and has been donated to the museum. It was bequeathed to the Concord Museum by the Geneva Frost Estate in Maine. Curator David Wood and collection’s manager Tricia Gilrein went to Maine and retrieve the rare image.

The daguerreotype of Sophia will go on display at the Concord Museum in This Ever New Self: Thoreau and His Journal, the first major exhibition dedicated to Henry David Thoreau, which opens in Concord on September 29th, 2017. The exhibition is currently at the Morgan Library & Museum, collaborators with the Concord Museum on this very special show. Thoreau journaled his entire adult life, recording his thoughts, observations of his surroundings, books he’d read, and botanical data from Walden that scientists are still studying today. When the exhibition opens in Concord, the new image of Sophia will be displayed next to her brother’s quill pen, one of the many artifacts that she preserved for posterity. It still bears a tag with labelled in Sophia’s own hand: “The pen that brother Henry last wrote with.”

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Posted by John Scalzi

First, my initial thoughts, as rendered on Twitter.

Now, let me talk a little bit more about the part where I say “rich people don’t miss their taxes,” since I think there are people who may be reasonably skeptical about this. Warning: I’m going to talk about my money. Then I’m going to talk about other people’s money.

To begin: I pay taxes on a quarterly basis, because I’m self-employed and the IRS, alas not entirely unreasonably, questions whether self-employed people will keep track of their money for a full year in order to pay off one big tax bill. So every quarter, I pay taxes. And in each of those quarterly tax payments, I pay in taxes roughly what I grossed (and definitely more than I netted) in income from the entire four-and-half years of my first job out of college, working for a newspaper. Add up my yearly tax bill, and it’s close to what I grossed my first ten years of being a professional writer — and there was never a time in there I didn’t do okay; it was a solid continuous progression up the middle-class income ladder.

So these days, whenever I see how much I pay in taxes annually, my first thought is always something like HOLY CRAP that’s a lot of money. I could totally use that! As someone who grew up poor and has worked his way steadily up the income ladder, it’s a freakin’ huge amount in terms of the raw dollars.

And then I pay my taxes and I discover that anything I would have used that ridiculous wad of tax money for, I still have enough in my net income for. I literally cannot think of a thing I want — or need — that my post-tax income can’t handle. Because as it happens, even with federal, state and local taxes, my tax burden is reasonable. I don’t pay taxes in 1980, when the highest marginal federal income tax rate was 70%; I pay taxes in 2017, where top federal tax bracket maxes out at just under 40%. With state and local taxes, I have to break a sweat to have a total top marginal tax rate of 50% — and my real world taxes indebtedness doesn’t come anywhere near half my income, because of how marginal tax rates work and because like lots of people in my position I have a very smart accountant who finds me lots of deductions.

So even with literally the full (pre-deduction) tax burden someone in Ohio can pay — we max out all the marginal rates — there is more than enough left over for pretty much anything that we want to do, individually, as a couple or as a family. We save a lot, invest a bunch, and thus take that money out of the short-term income pool we use for bills, household spending and, uh, “consumer activity,” and we’re still just fine, thanks. I suppose it’s possible that we could spend so much of our post-tax income that we’re left with little or nothing and thus would wish we had some of the money that we paid in taxes back into our hands, but speaking from experience, this takes effort, and some willful stupidity about your money. Yes, I’m looking at you, Nick Cage and Johnny Depp. But if you’re not the sort of person who spends $30,000 a month on wine, you’re probably going to be fine.

We do just fine. The other people I know who have similar or better incomes than we have also do just fine. The ones I know with substantially better incomes than we have are also doing just fine. No one at my income level or better actively misses the money they spend on taxes, because they’re still rich after they pay taxes.

Would I like to pay less in taxes? When I look at the raw number of dollars I send to the IRS, sure. When I think about the actual impact on my day-to-day life having that money would make, versus the actual and positive impact on the day-to-day life of millions of other people, when people like me pay our taxes? Nope. I have certain (in more than one sense of that word) opinions about how those taxes I pay in should be used, and whether they are being used effectively, and whether I’m getting value for what I pay, to be sure. Those are different issues, however.

Cratering health care for millions in the United States (and crippling Medicaid in the bargain) in order to give people like me a tax cut means that we are taking something from people who need it, often desperately, to give something to people who don’t need it and may not even notice it in any substantial way. In the House version of this legislation, you have to make more than $200k to get any tax benefit from it; people with incomes between $200k and $500k a year would get a tax break of $510 on average. $510 is not a lot to get in return for asking millions of other Americans to be potentially priced out of health coverage, have lifetime insurance caps reinstituted, be denied for pre-existing conditions, get sicker and die earlier. And the roughly 95% of Americans who don’t make $200,000 a year won’t even get that.

Rich people don’t need any more tax cuts. They’re doing just fine. They will continue to do just fine. And no, their tax burden isn’t onerous. Trust me, I know. I live that tax burden daily. It doesn’t hurt. What does hurt is knowing that people I know and care for will likely die sooner and sicker than they should just so someone like me gets back a few more dollars they won’t notice. Don’t come at me with “but the rich earned those dollars.” Dude, I earned my dollars, too. I earned them in a country that helped me get where I am in part through taxes. I earned them understanding that getting rich came with an obligation to the society I live in and benefit from, an obligation discharged, in part, by paying a perfectly reasonable amount of taxes.

The motto of the United States is not, in fact, “Fuck you, I got mine.” It was, and should have remained, “E Pluribus Unum” — out of many, one. We’re all Americans. We all deserve the blessings this country can provide. This one is willing to pay his taxes for the benefit of the many.


Misogyny is not legitimate criticism.

Jun. 22nd, 2017 12:00 pm
[syndicated profile] realsocialskills_feed

Women are people. Women face misogyny regardless of what they do.

Sometimes people do bad things. Some of the people who do bad things are women.

When women do bad things, that justifies criticism. It does not justify misogyny, or sexualized insults.

For instance: If a female politician votes against health care for poor people, it’s important to talk about how that will get people killed.

That doesn’t make it ok to call her ugly, mock her body, or make comments about how she needs to get laid. None of that has anything to do with health insurance. None of that is valid criticism. None of that serves any constructive purpose. It’s just misogyny.

Directing misogynistic insults at any woman is harmful to all women. It sends the message that there’s no problem with misogyny so long as the woman is a bad person who has it coming somehow. This implies that the only real disagreement about misogyny is about which women deserve it. 

We need to object to misogyny in principle, regardless of who the target is. Misogyny is not criticism. It’s just destructive hatred.

[syndicated profile] badastronomy_feed

Posted by Phil Plait

Astronomers have just announced the discovery of a pretty unusual binary system: A white dwarf and a brown dwarf orbiting each other. That's pretty rare, so as cool as that is — and I'll explain why in a sec — even better is how ridiculously close together they orbit: They're separated by a mere 310,000 kilometers, closer than the Moon is to the Earth! And that means they move around each other fast: The intense gravity of the white dwarf tosses the brown dwarf around it at a speed in excess of 100 kilometers per second. That's rapid enough that they make a complete pass around each other every 71 minutes! Yes, minutes.

Yegads.

There are a few really nifty things about this system, so let's take a closer look. But not too close, because you'll get fried. Let me explain.

First, the white dwarf: It's called WD 1202-024, and it was first discovered in a survey of the sky in 2006. At 2700 light-years from Earth, it's pretty faint; the faintest star you can see with your naked eye is 150,000 times brighter!

Like all white dwarfs, it's the remains of a star that was once much like the Sun but ran out of usable hydrogen fuel in its core. It takes billions of years for a star to get to that point, but in this case WD 1202 reached this stage not too long ago, just 50 million years or so in the past. Normally, when a star like that is all by its lonesome, it responds to losing its fuel by expanding its outer layers, swelling to enormous size and cooling down. We call that a red giant. Over time, the outer layers of the star get blown away, exposing the hot core to space. This core is small (around the size of the Earth) and terribly hot, shining a painful white. That's a white dwarf (and you can find out lots more about them in my episode of Crash Course Astronomy about them).

WD 1202

[WD1202-024 just looks like a white dwarf sitting out there in space, alone and dim. But it harbors a surprising secret. Credit: Rappaport et al., SDSS]

But WD 1202 is different. In this new study, the astronomers discovered it's a variable star, changing its brightness in regular, predictable cycles that take a little over an hour. It slowly and subtly brightens and dims, then, for a few minutes each cycle, the light from the star drops precipitously. That's pretty unusual behavior for a white dwarf, and the astronomers quickly figured out what's going: WD 1202 isn't all by its lonesome. It has a companion: a brown dwarf.

Although the names are similar, they couldn't be more different. Brown dwarfs are objects that are too massive to be planets, but not massive enough to ignite fusion in their cores and become proper stars*. In this case, WD 1202's brown dwarf companion has a mass of about 6.6% of the Sun, which is definitely too low for fusion. It's about 67 times Jupiter's mass, so it's way beefier than a planet, too.

Even though it's far more massive than Jupiter, it's not much bigger (brown dwarfs are weird that way; their cores are very dense and take on odd properties, such that as you add mass to them they actually shrink). But it's still much larger then WD 1202, probably 4 or 5 times wider.

And that's why the brightness of the system changes. Get this: The subtle variations are caused by the brown dwarf itself as it goes around the smaller dwarf. We're seeing its phases!

[The WD 1202-024 light curve is caused by the phases we see of the brown dwarf orbiting the white dwarf, plus a bonus eclipse. Credit: Rappaport, et al. / Bishop's University]

This is just like the Moon, where we see it go through its phase of new (when we only see the dark half), first quarter, full (when we see it fully lit by the Sun), then last quarter, then new again.

But in the case of the brown dwarf we're seeing phases, not because it's reflecting light from WD 1202, but because it's heated to incandescence by it!

The white dwarf is small, but it's furiously hot, about 22,400° C. The side of the brown dwarf facing the white dwarf is heated to glowing. When it's on the other side of the WD 1202 from us we see it full. A quarter of an orbit (about 69 minutes) later it's half full, then another quarter of an orbit after that the unlit side is facing us, so the system is dimmer. After that we start to see the lit side again until it's full, and the cycle repeats.

But there's more. Because the brown dwarf is so much bigger, when it's "new" it actually gets in the way of the white dwarf and blocks its light from us. That's why the brightness drops so much every 71 minutes!

WD 1202 light curve

[The light curve of the binary (the change in brightness over time). The red line is a model that includes the phases of the brown dwarf and the eclipse; the black line is the observations (exposure times are about 30 minutes, so the eclipse isn't seen), and the blue line is the model mathematically fit to the observations (including the exposure time fuzzing out the eclipse). Credit: Rappaport et al. / Bishop's University]

I love just this part of the story. That brown dwarf is far too faint and close to WD 1202 to see it separately, but we can infer its existence because of its phases even though it's 27 quadrillion kilometers away. How about that?

But there's more, and it's also wondrous. Get this: The brown dwarf was, for quite some time, literally inside WD 1202!

Let's rewind the clock back to when WD 1202 was a regular star, about to run out of hydrogen fuel in its core. Back then, the brown dwarf was farther out, probably something like 50 million kilometers out (or half the distance from the Earth to the Sun), well separated.

But then WD 1202 expanded into a red giant. These kinds of stars get really big, easily spanning a hundred million kilometers across, sometimes more than twice that. That's bigger than the orbital distance of the brown dwarf, so when the primary expanded, it engulfed the brown dwarf.

Yet it persisted. That's because when it expands, the density of the gas in the red giant's outer layers dropped hugely. The lower density is what saved the brown dwarf from destruction. It would've been heated a lot by the star around it, and the drag from plowing through the material would have shrunk its orbit. As it got closer it would have orbited faster than the red giant rotated, too, so the companion acted like an egg beater, stirring up the primaries outer layers.

That can give the gas so much energy that they are expelled even more rapidly. When this violent period in the binary's life was over, what was left was the white dwarf with the companion brown dwarf in its tight orbit. Judging from what we know about the physics of such events, and the temperature of the white dwarf (they cool over time, giving us a measure of their age) this happened about 50 million years ago.

That's seriously cool. And yet there's one more thing.

[Artist's drawing of the RS Ophiuchi system, a similar one to what WD 1202 will be like in a couple of hundred million years. Credit: David Hardy & PPARC]

The gravity of the white dwarf is impressive. When you squeeze half the mass of the Sun into a ball about twice the size of the Earth, it's phenomenally dense. The surface gravity is tens of thousands times stronger than Earth's. If you stood on its surface, you'd weigh thousands of tons. Oof.

As it happens, the brown dwarf is orbiting so close to WD 1202 that its gravity is felt very strongly indeed. Over time, even now, the brown dwarf is slowly spiraling in, getting closer to the white dwarf as they emit gravitational radiation (for more about that, read this article about gravitational waves). The astronomers who observed the system calculate that in about 250 million years, the brown dwarf will get so close to the primary that the white dwarf's gravity will start to draw material off the companion!

This material will pile up on the white dwarf and get squeezed excruciatingly hard by the intense gravity. When there's enough, it will undergo sudden and catastrophic hydrogen fusion, exploding literally like a thermonuclear bomb. This explosion is very energetic, and the system will dramatically flare in brightness. Then it will fade as the material blown off cools and blows away … and then the cycle will star again.

This kind of object is called a cataclysmic variable, or CV, and we know of quite a few. We also know of a few pre-CV systems, but this one has the shortest period of any known, which means it's the closest we know of that will become a proper CV in the future.

So, as amazing as this system's history is, and is now, its future will still hold plenty of wonder. As long as you stand a bit back from it. Cataclysmic variable are given that name for a very good reason.

This is one of those science stories where I dig every piece of it. It's got quite a bit of the stuff I love: stellar evolution, weird objects, cool geometry, and it ends quite literally with a bang.

The Universe is a pretty interesting and astonishing place, if you look at it carefully enough.

*Some people call them "failed stars", which is a term I don't like, for two reasons: They aren't stars at all, they're their own class of object; and why call them that when you could be more positive and call them really overachieving planets?

[N.B.: In the title of this post, I refer to the brown dwarf as a star. As I describe in the text, technically it isn't. But in a title I have to be brief, and if I said, "... one of the components..." it would read oddly, and distract from the main point. I struggled with this, to be honest, trying to figure out a good way to say this while still be being accurate. It was surprisingly difficult (note that I never refer to this as a "binary star" in the text, but instead call it a system or a binary system). Being scrupulously accurate in terminology can make things harder on the reader sometimes, and in this case I decided to ease up on the pedantry to allow an easier understanding. If you agree or disagree, I'd be curious to hear your opinion. There's probably an interesting article all by istelf on this topic!]

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