Nanowrimo’s Almost Over

Dr. Doyle's Blog

And so is my Thanksgiving/Winter Heating Season quickie sale, which ends at midnight on Sunday the 26th of November.

As always, you can make the purchase for yourself or as a gift for a friend, and can collect on it either right away or at a future date.

Meanwhile, I have to trundle out and purchase this year’s turkey and all the rest of the traditional Thanksgiving oddments.

And in honor of the season, a reprise of my 2012 posting of The World’s Easiest Cranberry Sauce recipe:

1 bag fresh cranberries

1 cup sugar

1 cup water

Put cranberries into a small-to-medium-sized saucepan. Take a moment to make certain there isn’t a twig or a pebble in there by mistake. (I’ve never encountered one, but everybody says to check, so somebody must have, at least once.)

Add the water and the sugar. Stir to combine. It’s probably a good…

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Mental Health

Mental illness.  It happens, just like physical illness.  If you had the signs and symptoms of a heart attack, you’d get help.  If you had the signs and symptoms of diabetes, you’d get help.  We’ve gone to a lot of time and trouble to make sure everyone knows the signs and symptoms of an awful lot of common diseases (and some not-so-common ones).  Mental illness is pretty darned common.   But tons of people don’t even know the signs and symptoms of mental illness, so they don’t get help.  We’re trying to get the word on the signs and symptoms of mental illness out there.  Tell all your friends.


Here are the signs and symptoms:

Five signs for mental illness

Know the five signs

    Know the five signs:

  • not feeling like yourself?
  • feeling agitated?
  • are you withdrawn?
  • not caring for yourself?
  • feeling hopeless?



  • Recognize the signs of emotional suffering
  • Express concern and offer support
  • Act now and talk to someone you trust — parent, teacher, coach, relative, friend, doctor
  • Care enough to follow through and follow-up.
  • Text SIGNS to 741-741 or call 603-448-4400 (24/7)


Take care of yourself.  Take care of others.  It matters.

(For substance abuse concerns, call 844-711-HELP or visit


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Uncle Tom’s SERE

Was Uncle Tom’s Cabin written by a feminine hand?

No, it was written by Harriet Beecher’s toe.

For years, pretty much all I knew about Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the novel, was that it existed.  Important in the social history of the United States, sure.  Important in American literature, sure.  But the plot?  Nope. All I knew of the plot was what I’d gleaned from watching The King and I.  So, recently, I decided to correct that lack.

(BTW: Spoilers)


Over the course of a couple of trips to Boston and to Burlington I listened to an audio recording of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

The first surprising thing (to me, anyway) was that the scene of Eliza crossing the Ohio on the ice floes wasn’t the climax of the book.  It was an incident in Chapter Seven (out of forty-five chapters).

I hadn’t looked at Uncle Tom criticism beforehand (I don’t read reviews of anything I plan to read or watch, to avoid spoilers), so I was surprised afterward to find that the character Sam on the Shelby farm, early on, was supposed to be a stereotype of the Happy, Lazy Darkie.  I’d taken him to be engaged in a long-running campaign of passive resistance.  But never mind that.  The main thing that caught my attention was the theme of escape, literal escape, and that I haven’t seen commented on in any of the sources I’ve looked at.

When one is engaged in Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape, there are two main strategies for the Evasion and Escape part of the mix.  Either get ahead of pursuit and stay ahead of it, or hole up somewhere in the search area until the searchers get tired of looking for you (or assume that you’ve already gotten out of the area, see strategy one above).  We see examples of both of those strategies in Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

First, we have Eliza.  She uses the first strategy.  Having learned that her master intends to sell her young son down the river (he’s chosen to sell because as a Pretty Young Boy he’ll get a good price; Stowe several times hints as strongly as you can in a 19th century novel that the Basest and Vilest of Men will buy Pretty Young Boys and Girls in order to do Unspeakable Things with them), she puts together a few things and does a midnight flit.  She grabs some clothes, some food, and her child and scrams out of there.  She does pause along the way to tell Uncle Tom what she’s doing, partly to see if he’ll come along (since he too is scheduled to be sold).  He declines, both for thematic reasons and because if he’d gone this would have been a pretty short novel.  It also serves the purpose of letting Stowe clue in the readers about things both Eliza and Tom know perfectly well. [NOTE: One of the things that got Representative Preston Brooks to cane Senator Charles Sumner on the floor of Congress in 1856 was Sumner’s claim that the South would never give up slavery since (among other things) slavery provided an unending supply of pussy for ol’ Massa.]

So far, so good: Eliza’s got an escape kit, even if it’s a hasty one.  She has a plan: head for Canada.  She does make some mistakes along the way, starting with telling anyone what she’s doing.  Nobody who isn’t traveling with her has a need to know her plans.  (What folks don’t know they can’t betray due to malice, accident, threat, or entreaty.) She also sticks to the road, and she heads for an easily-guessed primary destination: the closest crossing of the Ohio River.

One of the rules of escape (or strong guidelines, anyway) is avoid tactically-significant terrain.  That’s roads, crossroads, bridges, hilltops, towns, houses, dams (I’m looking at you, Dr. Richard Kimble), peel towers (yeah, Flynn from Tangled, you should have paid attention in SERE school) and pretty much everything Owen Wilson does in Behind Enemy Lines).

More through good luck than good judgment she reaches the Ohio ahead of the pursuit launched by her buyer, and makes that famous (and thematically significant Leap of Faith) escape across the ice floes.

After that she falls into the hands of an escape organization that gets her to a steamer across Lake Erie to Canada.

The use of resistance organizations can be fraught.  Remember: their goals and your goals may not coincide.   A word of advice to you, Eliza if (once again due more to good luck than good judgment) you learn of the plans of the slave catcher (confusingly also named “Tom”) who is after you, to take you on a particular piece of road at a particular time on a particular day, make it your business to be elsewhere. This may save you from a desperate gunfight on a wild crag (although it will also prevent slave-catcher Tom’s Fall and ultimate Conversion and Redemption).  At this point in your career you’re interested in reaching friendly territory, not in redeeming the Cossacks who are after you.  Yes, I know that Harriet Beecher Stowe was interested in talking about the Fugitive Slave Act in this part, but hey, Eliza?  You aren’t interested in it, other than getting out from its jurisdiction as fast as you can.

Any contact with the bad guys will give them a definite time/place mark on you, and reset the pursuit to zero, only with you more worn down and with fewer resources than when you started.  (Yeah, Tears of the Sun, you got that wrong too.)

(Also, note for the guy who wrote The Pervading Influence of Uncle Tom’s Cabin in Pop Culture, the minstrel show goes back way farther than the “Tom Shows.”  See half the songs in the 1844 Whig song book.)

At this point I’ll move to the other strategy: hold in place.  Cassie, the former sex-slave (literally) on Simon Legree’s plantation, carries this out when Simon brings home his newer, younger, prettier replacement and she can see how things are going to go for her from that point on.

She takes some time and expends quite a bit of ingenuity in creating a place that everyone knows she would never go, and makes it a place that Simon would never go either (a garret room in the big house that she convincingly makes haunted by ghosts).  She puts together escape kits (one for her, one for the new sex-slave, Emmeline) choses her time, makes it look like she’s gone off into the swamp and instead doubles back to the house, where she stays for months before finally just walking out the front door and down the road one night.

One essential part of her escape kit, and one that should be part of your escape kit, was cash money.  When the time came she  went down to the river, got on a steamer, and sailed to the Free States.  She got away a lot easier than almost anyone (aside from having a history full of horrors, that is). She can’t resist talking, though, before she gets to Canada, which is a mistake.  She should not assume that a white southern slave-owner is her friend.  Even if the author needs it in order to get to the climax (a series of coincidences that would make Charles Dickens blush).

There are a couple of other escapees: George Harris (Eliza’s husband), who finds that a) cash and b) boldness work (although he can’t resist talking and Telling All to a former employer of his along the way, which is a remarkably stupid idea, even if the author does need the dialog to make moral points and tell the reader what happened.  Stay quiet!  Oversharing can be fatal if the guy you told all to decides to repeat it as a funny story over brandy to his friends the next town over.   George (who is quite light-skinned)  is traveling disguised as a Spanish gentleman, accompanied by a darker “servant,” Jim.  The latter had made it to Canada once, and had returned to the south in order to find and rescue his mother.

They do well, and all get away.  Cash helps.






Posted in history, Novels, Review, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

An Early Opportunity

Dr. Doyle's Blog

In honor of Nanowrimo, and of the onset of the winter heating season,† I’ll be running a seasonal sale on editorial and critique services from now through the end of Thanksgiving weekend. My usual rate of $1500 for a line-edit and critique on a standard-weight novel goes down to $1000 for the duration, and rates for epic-sized doorstops will be similarly discounted.

As always, you can purchase a gift certificate – as a gift for a friend, or for yourself – to be redeemed at a later date.

The snow that fell last Friday? Is still here.

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A Not Entirely Disinterested Public Service Announcement

Dr. Doyle's Blog

Fantasy writer Jo Walton is running a Kickstarter for Scintillation, a small convention to be held – provided the Kickstarter succeeds — in 2018 in Montreal.

Jo (who deservedly often has Homeric epithets like “acclaimed” and “award-winning” affixed to her name) ran the Farthingparty convention in Montreal from 2006 to 2014, before time-management issues and the stress of worrying every year whether or not the convention would draw enough members to break even brought the run to an end. She’s coming back now with the new Kickstarter model, which she explains in detail on the project page.

I really really want this Kickstarter to succeed. (Yes, I’ve already thrown in my mite, and will throw more as more becomes available.) Farthingparty was the closest convention to where we live,† and I think we made every single one of them, even the one which we had to do as a…

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Magic in Vermont

Where to find me this weekend:

James D. Macdonald, Steampunk Magician


Friday I’ll be in Bradford, Vermont, for the Midnight Madness.  I’ll be doing street magic from 6:00 pm to 10:00 pm.  Saturday and Sunday I’ll be doing walk-around at the Vermont Steampunk Expo in South Burlington, VT.


Come find me, say “Amaze me!” and I shall.

Posted in Conventions, fantasy, magic, science fiction | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Health Insurance

The sad fact is that people who don’t have medical insurance don’t get medical care.

Today is the first day of the Affordable Care Act open enrollment program.  Go sign up.  Today.

See also:

Doing My Part for ACA Open Enrollment Awareness




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Mars Attacks!

Due to the recent storms in the northeast and massive power outages, the scheduled Podcast UFO for tonight has been delayed.  I’ll let y’all know the rescheduled date as soon as I know it.


UPDATE 02NOV17: New date will be Wednesday the 29th of November, 8:00 pm Eastern time.  The place is Podcast UFO.


This Islan Earth

Posted in Emergency Prep, fantasy, history, New Hampshire, Science, science fiction | Tagged | 2 Comments

Keep Watching the Skies

This coming Wednesday, November the 1st 2017, from 8:00-10:00 pm Eastern Daylight Time, I’m Earth vs. the Flying Saucersgoing to be a guest on Podcast UFO. The subject is going to be Betty and Barney Hill.  Those who want to prepare might read this paper:  Amabile, JD, MD, Phyllis E. and Jobe, MD, Thomas H. (1987) “Hypnosis in the Criminal Case: Facts and Fallacies,” Jefferson Journal of Psychiatry: Vol. 5 : Iss. 1 , Article 3.

Or, as they say in the small fishing village where I was raised, “Klaatu barada nikto.”


UPDATE 01NOV17:  The podcast has been delayed due to weather.  I’ll update you when it’s rescheduled.


UPDATE 2 02NOV17: The rescheduled date is Wednesday, the 29th of November, still 8:00 pm Eastern time.

Posted in fantasy, history, magic, New Hampshire, science fiction | 2 Comments

Doubling Down

All too often these days we read or hear in the news, “[Name of politician] doubled down on his earlier remarks…”

So what does it mean to “double down”?

The term comes from the world of gambling, specifically from the game of Blackjack (AKA “Twenty-one”).  The object of the game is to draw cards so that their combined value is a) equal to or less than 21, and b) higher than the dealer’s hand (such that the dealer’s hand is also less than 21).  Spot cards 2-10 have values equal to their nominal values; face cards are all valued at 10, and aces can be either one or eleven, at the player’s discretion.  The players are dealt two cards, generally both face up; the dealer initially gets two cards, one face down and the other face up.  After all the players draw the cards they desire, the dealer reveals his or her down card, and must draw cards according to a strict set of rules (which may vary from casino to casino).

The full rules of blackjack are available many places.

So, what is “doubling down”?

Doubling down is this: after you have already seen your hand, and you know the dealer’s visible card, you may double your bet in return for drawing one, and only one, additional card.  No matter what that card is, you must stand with the hand you have at that point. You have the chance to make some serious money by doubling your bet, with a lot more information in your possession than you had just a moment before

So when should you double down?

If you’re counting cards, follow your system.   If you aren’t counting cards (and why aren’t you?):

Consider two cases, one a hard hand (i.e. it doesn’t have an ace) or a soft hand (it does have an ace):

Hard hands:

Hard eleven (e.g. seven and four), regardless of what the dealer is showing, double down.

Hard ten, (e.g. eight and two), and the  dealer is showing a 4,  5, or 6, double down.

Hard nine (e.g. six and three), and the dealer is showing  a 5 or 6, double down.

Soft hands:

If you have an ace and an 8 or higher, do not double down.

If you have an ace and a 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, or 7, then:

If the dealer is showing a 2, or the dealer is showing a 7 or higher, do not double down.

If the dealer is showing a 5 or 6, then double down.

If the dealer is showing a 3 or 4,  and the sum of your non-ace card plus the dealer’s up card is nine or less, then double down.

Don’t play hunches.  Follow the math. Quit while you’re ahead.  And know the house rules.

So why do we talk about politicians “doubling down”?  It’s an imperfect metaphor.  Perhaps because doubling down is something that beginners know is possible, but if it’s done unwisely they can lose a lot of money in a hurry.


Posted in history, politics, Uncategorized | 1 Comment