Subversions of Historical Contingency

“I am not speaking of randomness, but of the central principle of all history—contingency. A historical explanation does not rest on direct deductions from laws of nature, but on an unpredictable sequence of antecedent states, where any major change in any step of the sequence would have altered the final result. This final result is therefore dependent, or contingent, upon everything that came before—the unerasable and determining signature of history.”

-Stephen Jay Gould, Wonderful Life

Gould was primarily concerned with natural history, of course- he was writing about the Burgess Shale and its consequences for evolutionary theory and history. He chose his words very, very carefully, however- he didn’t say contingency was the central principle of natural history, he said it was the central principle of all history. Historical contingency in biology has a pretty well established opponent and bedmate in convergence- even the most ardent supporters of one acknowledge that the other plays an important role as well.

In more traditional historical studies contingency faces a very different set of opponents. The first, and most immediately obvious, is the material dialectic. It seems like it could be easy to include the Hegelian dialectic as an opponent of historical contingency if you tried hard enough, but I won’t be attempting either- the Hegelian because I don’t understand it well enough, the material dialectic because I don’t want to try and win a prize for writing the one billionth refutation of Communist historical theory. Let’s skip the question of what other opponents of historical contingency are out there for a second, though.

If you accept that contingency is the central principle of history (even if you don’t, just play along for the duration), (more…)


An idle facebook discussion, wherein I discuss eating thousands of liters of toothpaste.

A Facebook friend posted a meme discussing the dangers of fluoride toothpaste, so I did a little math:

“It takes 5-10 grams of sodium fluoride to kill a full grown human. Fluoride drinking water contains less than a single part per million. (about 0.5 ppm, usually.) The average person consumes a bit more than a swimming pool worth of water in their lifetime. (Around 87,000 liters). The amount of fluoridated water that would be required to reach 5 grams of sodium fluoride? 10 million liters. Humans are literally incapable of drinking enough fluoridated water to kill themselves, or even enough to cause tooth color mottling, the first effect of fluoride buildup to appear. (Other fluoride salts than sodium fluoride can be used, but similar math applies.)
What about toothpaste, though? Well, sodium fluoride in toothpaste (or in fluoridated water) reacts with apatite (the mineral your teeth are made of- I’m fairly sure the pun was intended) to to form fluorapatite, which occurs naturally in enamel. (There’s a lot of fluoride on Earth- as the lowest atomic weight halogen, there’s a ton of it around.) The levels of fluoride in toothpaste are pretty carefully calculated so that most of it is used in the reaction that forms fluorapatite, and the rest gets spat out. In order to actually get fluoride poisoning from toothpaste, which has around 1,000 ppm of fluoride, you’d have to eat several thousand liters of toothpaste. Again, rather impractical. You’ll never put enough toothpaste in your mouth to cause even the most minor of symptoms, even if you retained 100% of the fluoride (which your body slowly flushes out over time) and none of it reacts with the apatite in your teeth.
Fluoride poisoning does occur, but not from toothpaste or fluoridated drinking water. More often, it’s from industrial waste or wells built in regions with certain types of high-fluoride granite.”
Moral of the story? Don’t eat thousands of liters of toothpaste.

2015 in review

Hey, I’m going to start doing things on this blog again!

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,400 times in 2015. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.


My absolute LAST ever post on Sad Puppies ever; or, how I met Larry Correia.

Anyone who reads my blog regularly (so nobody) knows that I’m pretty politically opposed to the Sad Puppies- and, at this point, that I really don’t care about it anymore. I just don’t have the energy to care about online drama. At Rose City Comicon (I really should have posted this sooner, but first weeks of the semester and all), I ran into Larry Correia, founder of the Sad Puppy movement.

Honestly, I was a little intimidated to talk to him. As easy as it is to disparage people online who are on the opposite side of the political spectrum, it’s another thing entirely in person. Not just because Larry’s a really big dude (which he is), but because it’s actually pretty tough to completely dismiss someone for their political beliefs in person- annoying, I know.

So after walking past his booth once and not saying anything, I worked up the nerve to go chat with him. My friends might have helped pressure me a bit; just a bit.

And, well: He’s actually a really nice guy in person.

We spent ten or so minutes chatting about his experience so far in Portland, the Sad Puppy movement, Vox Day (Larry readily admitted that Day is a terrible person, but vagaries of politics put them on the same side on one issue), Marion Zimmer Bradley (terrible person, more on that below)*, Jim Butcher (we both think he’s a badass), Brandon Sanderson (his work ethic is terrifying), etc. Oh, and his Grimnoir trilogy, which I liked quite a bit, despite my investment in the Sad Puppy drama on the opposite side of him at the time. I actually have changed my opinion about the books since- it’s still more violent than I usually prefer, but I’ve decided that it’s not nearly as problematic as when I first decided. (Malazan, I blame you for that.) Regardless, I liked it when I first read it, and I like it still.

Anyhow- Larry Correia was quite friendly, we had a lovely conversation, he took a picture with me, and OH GOD I’M BALDING IN MY 20s YOU CAN SEE IT IN THE PHOTO AHHHH. (Actual real life problems, people. Probably going to pull a Tywin Lannister and shave it all off soon.)

The conclusion I came to?

The internet makes assholes of us all. Is that a grossly simplified conclusion? Yes, yes it is. We are on the internet, however, so…

The internet makes assholes of us all: especially me.

*As far as the Marion Zimmer Bradley bit- I’ve been in a bit of a mental feedback loop for a while about her now. Her books were a big part of my childhood, and then recently I found out about, well… Well, she was a genuinely horrible person. I normally prefer to judge art independent of an artist, but she did such horrible things I couldn’t separate them- but nor could I easily come to a conclusion. Hearing Larry’s take actually helped, believe it or not. He used to be a fan (can’t remember which book of hers he had on his shelves) but tossed it when he learned about her actions. Frankly, hearing that from someone so far away from me politically helped me make up my mind more than hearing identical things from people on my side of the political spectrum. Jim C. Hines, for example, said some very similar things, and you can’t get much farther apart in SF/F than Hines and Correia. (Actually, you can- Samuel Delaney and John C. Wright, for example, but my point should be apparent.)


Campaign Setting Supplemental Details: Tibera and Itasoa

I decided to do some updates to my two D&D campaign settings- because why not. I’m also working on a couple others in the back of my head that I might write up for the hell of it. Maybe I should join the self-publishing craze just to publish a book of my campaign setting ideas through Amazon. I’m normally not particularly interested in self-publishing, and have no intention of trying to get any of my fiction published this way, but this would just be a fun little project.

For those of you who haven’t read anything about Tibera or Itasoa yet, you’ll want to read the original posts first.