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.