MacAllister Stone is Editor in Chief of and She attended the Viable Paradise specfic writing workshop in October of 2006 and has been a member of the VP staff, since. She can often be found on the Absolute Write forums.

Celebrating Banned Books Week

Banned Books Week, 2015 runs from September 27 through October 3, 2015. The American Library Association describes it like this:

Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Typically held during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information. Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community — librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types — in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.

tango_makes_threeAttempting to ban books is nothing more than attempting to ban ideas. Here at Sleeping Hedgehog, we’d like to celebrate the freedom to read, write, and think challenging thoughts by sharing some of our favorite banned and/or frequently challenged book recommendations.

J.K. Rowlings’ enduring Harry Potter series was the number one most challenged book between 2000 and 2009. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by renowned poet and writer Maya Angelou was the third most-challenged book, that same decade. Other books that just keep on challenging the hearts and minds of readers everywhere — and making lists of books some people find so objectionable they don’t want anyone to be able to read them — include Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, Jean Craighead George’s Julie of the Wolves, Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, and Morrison’s The Bluest Eye.

If you’re looking for a few more dangerous ideas to explore, here’s a list of the ten books most frequently challenged in the USA in 2015. The ALA lists the 100 most frequently challenged books, by decade. You can also follow @BannedBooksWeek on Twitter.

Celebrate your freedom to read and support the exchange of new ideas: read a controversial book this week!

SOPA on hold, PROTECT IP still pending

I’m a registered Democrat. I vote, I canvass, I caucus. As a Website owner and as an American, I’m dismayed by Congressional attempts to censor the internet. I’m appalled and chilled that we have a former Senator who publicly asserts that the U.S. should take a lesson from China to establish internet censorship and stifle the free exchange of information.

censorship graphicThe House just acknowledged “legitimate concerns” about SOPA — its version of the PROTECT IP Act (pdf link) — and backed away from a vote that looked certain to occur. The Senate needs to do the same: PROTECT IP will kill jobs and innovation, undermine cyber security, censor the Internet, and provide ready justification to foreign regimes that want to crack down on dissent and political reform.

PROTECT IP won’t catch or punish internet pirates. They’ll simply move shop, work on darknets, or code workarounds. Online piracy won’t even slow as a result of this legislation. Legitimate sites, however, DO have a great deal of reason to worry.

It should be instructive that Universal Music incorrectly and abusively used the DMCA take-down process to stifle and censor content they did not own, just recently.

As flawed as the DMCA is, there IS recourse built into the process for site-owners who are improperly censored and/or interrupted by competitors who abuse the legal process.

I direct your attention to a December 8th, 2011 article in Techdirt:

The US government has effectively admitted that it totally screwed up and falsely seized & censored a non-infringing domain of a popular blog, having falsely claimed that it was taking part in criminal copyright infringement. Then, after trying to hide behind a totally secretive court process with absolutely no due process whatsoever (in fact, not even serving papers on the lawyer for the site or providing timely notifications — or providing any documents at all), for over a year, the government has finally realized it couldn’t hide any more and has given up, and returned the domain name to its original owner. If you ever wanted to understand why ICE’s domain seizures violate the law — and why SOPA and PROTECT IP are almost certainly unconstitutional — look no further than what happened in this case.

PROTECT IP and SOPA would both make these sorts of abuses devastatingly likely, remove the fragile existing protections for independent Websites and small Internet businesses, while doing nothing to effectively prevent piracy.

Harry Reid and Patrick Leahy: Don’t bring this bill up for a floor vote.

To my Senators: Please vote NO if the bill reaches the floor.

(Cross-posted on AbsoluteWrite.comSome text remixed from original letter here.)

Please feel free to remix and reuse this post to contact your own Senators. No attribution necessary.


Maine Mead Works, Honeymaker Meads

In 2007, entrepreneur Ben Alexander co-founded the Maine Mead Works in Portland, Maine, with experienced South African mead-maker Dr. Garth Cambray. Maine Mead Works is going strong today, still staffed by Dr. Cambray, mead-maker Nick Higgins, and Ben and Carly Alexander. They offer a variety of carefully-crafted meads made from Maine wildflower honey, with a range that will suit both sophisticated palates and the most novice of mead drinkers.

First, I tried the Honeymaker Lavender Mead. Since I’m not a big fan of trendy artisan-style herbal flavorings, I was a little cautious. Well, okay; I was actually downright skeptical. Lavender is what grandmothers put in those little pomander balls hanging in the backs of old lady’s closets. My caution was entirely misplaced, though, and I’m happy to confess my skepticism was utterly baseless. You know how a summer hayfield smells? That’s sort of what this mead tastes like: honey, herbs, and sunshine, all carefully distilled into a lovely glass of crisp, pale liquid. The mouth feel is refreshing and gently astringent. The nose is reminiscent of a lazy country summer afternoon in a hammock. This mead definitely wanted to open up a little more as it warmed in the glass, and the flavor blossomed, too. Better served cool than actually chilled.

The other mead I tried, the Honeymaker Dry Mead, was so crisp and pleasantly dry that it seemed almost effervescent in terms of mouth feel—but nonetheless redolent of honey and citrus blossom. With all the elegance of a dry white wine, with all the tradition and flavor and spiciness of this ancient beverage, the Honeymaker Dry Mead was truly exceptional. This is a mead you can serve to friends with well-educated wine palates, and serve just as happily as to your more adventurous and less-jaded pals out in the yard on a warm spring evening. I’m very much looking forward to the opportunity to sample some of their other flavors, after this very pleasant introduction.

Maine Mead Works ships to Alaska, Florida, Idaho, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Virginia, Washington D.C., West Virginia and Wyoming, through their partner website,, or if you find yourself in Portland, stop by their tasting room and taste some of their many extraordinary and carefully-crafted meads for yourself.

When Truth is Stranger…

NOTE: SF writer Charlie Stross inadvertently broke a fairly major story online, so the links to his original post may only work intermittently, and the comments feature at Autopope may not work at all, for a bit. He’s expressed some difficulties serving the anomalous amount of traffic.

But here’s the link to the relevant Hansard transcript.

Apparently, a shadowy organization is offering an undisclosed-but-fabulous sum of money to bail out Britain. No strings attached, of course…

The money quote?

Lord James of Blackheath:  For the past 20 weeks I have been engaged in a very strange dialogue with the two noble Lords, in the course of which I have been trying to bring to their attention the willing availability of a strange organisation which wishes to make a great deal of money available to assist the recovery of the economy in this country. For want of a better name, I shall call it foundation X.

We can only hope that offer isn’t coming from the organisation’s secret lair beneath a remote volcano…

Amazing Yellowstone

Okay. I must confess, I’m a fan of apocalyptic-science, even though I realize that terms like “Super-volcano” are scientifically meaningless.

But how cool is this?

Once thought to be the dead remains of an extinct volcano or volcanic system, the Yellowstone Caldera is alive and well, sleeping just below our feet.

USGS Volcano Alerts

Earthquake report for Yellowstone.

Yellowstone Webcams: Watch the planet breathing.

AfricaTown and the Last Slave Ship

Anthropology professor Neil Norman from the College of William & Mary has recently excavated sites in Plateau, Alabama, searching to reconstruct the lives and deaths of those early inhabitants of AfricaTown, according to this article at Dr. Norman has been working to reconstruct the everyday lives and history of AfricaTown’s residents, and to locate and map the gravesites of many of those residents, as well.

Abaché and Cudjoe Kazoola Lewis

Abaché and Cudjoe Kazoola Lewis

The project was funded and supported by local sources, including a grant from the Alabama Historical CommissionMobile County, the City of Mobile, and the Museum of Mobile.

The United States passed legislation in 1808, prohibiting the importation of slaves.  Those laws against importing human beings to be sold were largely ignored until the beginnings of the Civil War, however. As late as 1860, the Clotilda—widely identified as the last slave ship—carried a human cargo in excess of 100 souls (and perhaps as many as 160, the actual number varies by report). Men, women, and children imported from West Africa to Alabama, where they were to be sold as slaves.

Some reports have it that Timothy Meaher, the owner of the Clotilda, bet $100,000 that he could import a shipload of African captives, without getting caught. Other reports simply name Meaher as the financier. To evade the authorities waiting in nearby Mobile, Alabama, the human cargo were transferred to a waiting riverboat, and Captain William Foster burned the Clotilda then sank her. The captives were transported by riverboat up the Spanish River, then hidden, eventually some of them were sold, but many more escaped.

More than thirty of those original captives made their way back downriver to the outskirts of Mobile, where they established AfricaTown. From the last link:

The most noted of the original 33 was Cudjoe Lewis, who Howze said was her great-uncle. Lewis joined Allen and others to build churches, homes and schools. They built a community during a time of racial strife that has now survived nearly 150 years.

Records are not clear whether Africatown was ever formally incorporated as a town. It is now part of Pritchard, Ala., a suburb of Mobile. Africatown has more than 12,000 residents.

Mr. Lewis lived out his life in AfricaTown, and related much of the history of AfricaTown and its founders before his death in 1935.

Cudjo Lewis

photo from

The Encyclopedia of Alabama website informs us:

After their secret arrival—in 1820 the introduction of Africans was declared an act of piracy punishable by death—about 25 young people were sold upriver to slave brokers, but the majority remained in Mobile. Thirty-two became the property of Timothy Meaher, who had financed the expedition, and his brother James enslaved eight others, including Cudjo Lewis; twenty were sent to Burns Meaher’s plantation in Clarke County; between five and eight went to William Foster as payment for the trip; and others were bought by plantation owner Thomas Buford. The young Africans were employed as deckhands, field hands, and domestics.

After emancipation following the end of the Civil War in 1865, those formerly enslaved on Burns Meaher’s plantation joined the others in the area north of Mobile known as Plateau. They hoped to return to Africa and their families but were unable to do so for lack of money and thus decided to remain where they were, albeit on their own terms. In 1866, they established the settlement of African Town as the first town founded and continuously occupied and controlled by blacks in the United States.

For more information, consider the Sylvia Anna Diouf’s widely acclaimed book, Dreams of Africa in Alabama. Diouf painstakingly collects rare photographs, eyewitness accounts, interviews with former slaves, slavers, and other previously unpublished primary source material, to tell the stories of these remarkable settlers, and reconstruct the thread of narrative between their lives in Africa and their forced emigration to the United States.

The Tower Restored

Pisa’s famous leaning tower was reopened in 2001, but now the historic turret has been deemed stable, and its gradual tilt seems to be semi-permanently arrested for the first time since its construction more than 800 years ago.

The Telegraph reports on the release of The Tower Restored, a 1000 page account of the saving of Pisa’s Tower, representing step-by-step the experiences of the entire committee that spent years working towards a solution that would allow the  preservation of the eight-century-old wonder:

On the night of September 7 1995, the tower lurched southwards by more than it had done in the entire previous year. Burland was summoned for an emergency committee meeting, and Ladbrokes were offering 11-4 odds the tower wouldn’t survive into the 21st century. ‘We really were within days of losing it,’ Burland says. The anchor plan was immediately abandoned and another 300 tons of lead ingots added.

The locals were up in arms, the Mayor of Pisa railing that a ‘plumber with a toilet-jack’ would have done a better job. Worse still, because they had to have their charter ratified every three months by the Italian parliament, Burland and co spent the end of 1995 and start of 1996, an election year, waiting for a new government to sanction them anew.

The lead eyesore remained, and several committee members’ cars were pelted with Tuscan tomatoes.

diagram of how they saved the tower
Professor John Burland was part of the committee charged with with solving the unique challenges of saving the Tower of Pisa for more than two decades before the historic reopening in 2001. Burland and the rest of his team managed to solve the complex challenges involved in saving the wonder, while preserving the historic, artistic, cultural, and architectural integrity of Pisa’s miraculous landmark leaning tower.

The committee stood down in 2001, but last year saw two intriguing postscripts to their work: first, the official announcement that the tower has been fully stabilised, its lean finally checked; and second, the publication of The Tower Restored, an intriguing 1,000-page account, co-authored by the whole committee, of every step they took to save the marble cylinder.

While apparently some of the locals have grumbled that arresting the ever-increasing lean that would lead to inevitable collapse somehow diminishes the very character of the very famous Leaning Tower of Pisa, the team that’s spent two decades racing to solve the terribly challenging engineering difficulties entwined within extremely important artistic and cultural considerations would clearly disagree.

Saving the grand old tower seems actually to affirm the aptness of the name of the Piazza dei Miracoli.