Occult Open Thread

Good evening…

I put the remember-me checkbox back on the desktop site*, so now you have to humor me. 😈

*(If you would like to use the remember-me checkbox on your mobile device, you’ll have to scroll all the way down and request the desktop site.)

This caught my eye while browsing the local news: Why Do San Francisco Psychics Need Permits From the Police?

Fortunetelling isn’t just mentioned in the San Francisco police code. It gets its own section — starting with a rundown of all 70 things SFPD counts as fortunetelling.

This includes: clairvoyance, cartomancy, phrenology, tea leaves, tarot cards, coffee grounds, crystal gazing, astrology, palmistry, telepathy, and placing or removing curses.

“Fortunetelling,” the police code reads, “shall also include pretending to perform these actions.”

[…]

The application process for a San Francisco fortunetelling permit involves a background check, fingerprinting and even a public hearing. The fees are just under $350 — more than a permit for a masseuse, but less than one for a tow operator or walking-tour guide.

But why?

Unlike other Bay Area cities that require fortuneteller permits but don’t explain why, like Benicia and Lafayette, San Francisco says these permits are to help fight fraud. The police code says the regulations should “protect the public by preventing people who have been charged with deceptive practices from having easy access to persons who may be vulnerable to fraud or confidence games.”

Fair? Although…

Of course, when it comes to fortunetelling, the very notion of fraud is a subjective one.

Well, as long as it helps.

The S.F. District Attorney’s Office has received zero complaints in the last couple of years. The SFPD wasn’t able to say how many reports it has received about this kind of fraud recently, because fortunetelling fraud is not a unique category of crime it tracks.

Next, a shameless plug! Speaking of urbanite occultists, my new short story is now available for free online if you’d like to read it.

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Doctor Atomic

For the first time, the opera Doctor Atomic is being performed at the Santa Fe Opera, just down the road from the events at Los Alamos that it depicts.  I attended the premiere and wrote a review of it for Physics Today, the magazine of the American Institute of Physics.

Open thread.



Darkest Night Open Thread

I suppose now’s as good a time as any for an open thread.

I had a bit of a rough day. Nothing in particular happened; I was just exhausted the whole time. Well–the three-hour meeting probably didn’t help.

Anywho. On the train ride home, I saw a tweet that reminded me of Cole’s Sesame Street thread from yesterday:

…which reminded that I had some quality grimdark cat content to share…

…and wouldn’t you know it, later in the evening, I had a nice photoshoot with a similar-looking cat:

The one okay part of today, other than this lovely picture, is that I am now a published fantasy author. The magazine responsible is available here; mine is the first story. It will be available free online starting Friday. (Don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll find a way to work it into a post then too.)

Caption contest?? And open thread!



For A Good Time On The Intertubes — Soon!

Hey all,

Just so you know:  I’ll be talking with some very interesting folks at 1 p.m. today on a Facebook Live panel as part of PBS’s Great Read series.

On the panel with me is the Boston Globe‘s Love Letters columnist Meredith Goldstein, novelist and essayist Kaitlyn Greenidge, and essayist and blogger on science and fiction Joelle Renstrom (who also teaches across the river from me at BU).  We’ll be talking about how science fiction, and more broadly, how the representation of science and scientists in fiction across genres affects (or doesn’t) how we grasp and value science in daily life.

I’m very much looking forward to the chance to talk such fun stuff with such fascinating conversants.

In the meantime, my prep for the discussion led me to this 2016 essay by Greenidge, “Who Gets To Write What.”  It bears on what we talk about I think, but even more it offers a rich inquiry into the duty of imagination — of doing the work of empathy and inquiry that goes into creating a fiction that cuts to the bone.  Which is to say, that says something about the world from which fictions derive, and to which their readers return.  Highly recommended.

Anyway, check it out the gabfest if you have a chance.

Image: Vincent van Gogh, The Novel Reader1988



Shameless Self-Promotion

I’ve been quoted recently in articles at The Verge and the Daily Beast. Both have to do with the chemical weapons being used in Syria.

There is a lot of disinformation being floated by Russia and its allies about both the Skripal poisoning and the Douma attack. Russia and Syria are now preventing international inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons from visiting the Douma site and taking samples. Russia has, of course, complained that proper samples haven’t been taken so nothing is proved about who used the chemical weapons. But no, you can’t come and take samples. That’s only one of their tactics. They throw multiple garbage stories out to confuse the issue. They’re doing it in the United Nations and conflate the Skripal poisoning and the Douma attack (spoiler: the UK did them both).

It’s a lot of work to refute them all, but Adam Rawnsley at the Daily Beast decided that this one was being used generally enough that it deserved debunking. His article also appears at Bellingcat, with different pictures.

Update (already!): Here’s a long thread that investigated Russian disinformation on the Skripal poisoning.



Of Microbes and Men — and Women and Children

Update: I see I inadvertently bigfooted Adam. (This is the only context in which that statement could be remotely plausible).  But I figure the Jackals can read below, comment, and then, when they get around to it and if interested, read something else. Consider this is a proof-of-concept experiment.

Self-aggrandizement apology.

I’ve got a long piece (by newspaper standards) up now at The Boston Globe:  “The world defeated smallpox.  Why does polio still exist?” (Dead tree version comes out on Sunday.)

What I’m really on about (and I’m on and on and on about it — no one ever accused me of excessive terseness) is what it means when the institutions and norms of collective action erode.

Smallpox eradication can be understood in many frames, but a key one is that it was a Cold War phenomenon.  It was so not just in the sense it occurred over the same years that the Soviet Union and the US maneuvered around the edge of direct, hot conflict, but as a skirmish within the larger competition as well.  Not to be nostalgic for hair-trigger nuclear confrontation, but in a bipolar world in which international institutions could both call on superpower resources and, in essence, play a kind of intermediary role, coalition efforts towards the common good could take place.

That capacity, that ability to play a kind of virtuous game, has degraded over the last several decades, and my story is the long way round to this conclusion:

There were just 22 wild-polio infections worldwide last year, all in Pakistan and Afghanistan. So far in 2018, there have been only two new cases, both in Afghanistan. It’s conceivable that polio incidence may drop to zero before the end of the decade.

If and when that occurs, it will be a monument to the power of public health work. But the question will remain: Why was the end of polio so long in coming? It wasn’t because, after solving smallpox’s riddles, human reason couldn’t solve the problem, or that science or medicine failed. Rather, it was because such achievements exist within history, the way human beings construct our world at any given time.

The history still being made of polio eradication reveals the costs that follow when the ability to pursue common goals degrades within and between nations. Infectious disease, pollution, and conflict itself do not respect borders, not even those of countries that build big, beautiful walls.

That is:  there are so many subtle ways in which Donald Trump and the entire Republican Party are both deluded and dangerous. Infectious disease is one arena where we can see the risks and consequences of their malign folly play out.

There’s one more little story that follows that thought, a tragic one, as you might expect, a kind of foretaste of what happens if we are going to get this kind of thing wrong going forward. Anyway, if you’re interested, check it out  — and if you are so moved, comment there (as well as, or instead of) here.

Image: Anonymous, Christ cures a leper; an apostle holds a garment in front of HimWellcome Collection, undated.



Nuclear Policy In The Trump Administration

 

A couple of weeks ago, the administration released its Nuclear Posture Review. All administrations like to put their stamp on policy. The last review was in 2010.

There are lots of things in this one to talk about, and many articles out there about them. I’ve been trying lately to stand back from the trees and look at the forest. So, as a former project manager, some of the first questions I come up with have to do with budgets and timelines. Things like resource availability and scheduling. I wrote that up for Physics Today.

Short version: Looks to me like they can’t do what they want with the resources they’ve got. Plus it will take a decade or more to build the nukes they want, so maybe diplomacy can achieve our ends faster.

 

Cross-posted at Nuclear Diner.