Friday, December 14, 2018

Winter Break

I finished my grading early (go me!), so now I have nothing to do for almost four weeks but write, read, and catch up on Netflix. (Winter break is my favorite, because it's cold and dark and I can write for hours.)

Here's my reccs for those of you trying to decide what to Binge Watch over the break:

The Good Place: I assume all y'all have all already found this wonderful show, but if you haven't, now's the time -- we're halfway through Season 3 and it's just getting better. Premise: Four people wake up dead in the Good Place, none of whom are actually supposed to be there. They have to fool everyone if they're not going to be sent to the Bad Place. Since one of them is a professor of Ethics and Philosophy, he agrees to teach the other three how to be good people. It's a mix of SF, philosophy, and wonderful characters and writing. First two seasons for free on Netflix.

Travellers: Time travel! Need I say more? Okay, I'll say more. In the future, earth is a wreck. A band of survivors from a scientific bunker build first an AI and then a time-traveling gizmo, which lets them 'travel' back into the bodies of those who would have died, otherwise. Their mission is to avert the catastrophe/s which left the planet wrecked. Season 3 just dropped. Available on Netflix.

Dr. Who Season 11: Jodi Whittaker as the Doctor! Who could ask for more? But there are also wonderful British accents and typical Dr. Who plots. You gotta buy this one, sadly.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel: This is a deeply entertaining comedy set in the 1950s in New York City. A young Jewish mother sort of stumbles into the desire to be a comedian. As with Mad Men, much of the charm comes from sets and other period details, but the characters and the comedy also work to make this fun. Free on Amazon Prime.

Brooklyn 99: Just renewed for another season, this is an adorable show about police officers in Brooklyn. Every character is wonderful, and Andre Braugher plays Captain Holt, which was enough to sell me on the show right there. You gotta buy this one too, but it's available on Amazon Streaming.

Steven Universe: Best cartoon ever. Excellent LGBT characters, and a wonderful attitude toward life. Available on Amazon Streaming.

What are your suggestions?

Sunday, December 09, 2018

More Trouble

The tire on our car blew out this morning. We picked up a piece of what looks like shrapnel somewhere, and it slammed into the wheel rim itself and totaled it.

This is the third repair work I've had to do on this car this year. Two last year, and three the year before that.

There is only one possible conclusion. Our car is possessed. Obviously I should perform an exorcism.

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Vague Posting

Did you ever spend literally months trying to figure out just what was wrong with someone, to make them continually say such odd and ignorant things, and then have a sudden realization that this person just... isn't very bright?

I mean, here I was blaming Fox News and maybe some lack of experience ("Could it be that they just don't understand irony?" "Is it really that they aren't able to tell propaganda from facts?"), but nah.

Just your standard bone-headed ignorance, which they lack the intellectual facility to correct.

Sunday, December 02, 2018

What I'm Reading Now

Tana French, The Witch Elm

I'll pretty much read anything Tana French writes. Among other things, I love her use of Irish dialect. This one has an unreliable narrator, and also a fairly unlikable narrator. It's a mystery novel, more or less, as French's novels always are.

Early on in the novel, the main character, Toby, is badly injured. The injury leaves him unable to trust his own memory. He ends up at The Ivy House, his family house, where he and his cousins spent their summers and holidays growing up. Then a body is found out in the Witch Elm in the house's garden -- a boy who was murdered ten years before.

Because Toby can't trust his mind, or his memory, he can't be sure what is true. He doesn't know to believe about how the body got in the garden. This is where French's first-person point of view really pays off. Because Toby doesn't know, we don't know either.

As with all of French's novels, this one is page-turner, filled with great characters and a twisty little mystery.

Johanna Sinisalo, The Core of the Sun 

I read this one for the science fiction class I'm teaching next semester. It's a feminist dystopian work, set in a mythic near-future, grown out of an alternate past in which Finland began practicing 'domestication' of women around 1870. Women were bred like foxes or dogs, so that the adult traits were bred out of their species, and the juvenile traits reinforces (a process called neoteny, which I'm pretty sure you can't actually sex-select, but let's go with it).

By 2016, which is more or less the year the novel is set in, women are either elois or morlocks -- elois being slender childlike blonde creatures, stupid and obedient; morlocks being dark-haired and stolid, built for labor. Morlocks are sterilized at puberty; elois are married young, and often beaten to death by their owner-husbands, or remanded into state custody when their owner-hsubands grow tired of them.

The novel is told from the point of view of Vera, a morlock born into the body of an eloi, who is planning an escape from Finland, but who wants to find her missing sister (an actual eloi) first. As with most dystopian novels, it spends a great deal of time taking us through the culture.

Vera is also a junkie -- addicted to chili peppers, which are illegal in this dystopia. I'm still trying to work out what this might mean. I have a feeling there's some obvious metaphor I am missing.

I like the structure of this novel a lot: diary entries, snippets from history texts, school essays, newspaper articles. It reminds me of Dracula, a bit.

Elizabeth Gaskell, North and South

I read this one mainly because I'm reading Ursula Le Guin in order to review her for Strange Horizons, and she mentions Gaskell's works. It's one of the Industrial Novels, written about the problems of industrial England -- in this case Manchester. Gaskell did her time in Manchester, living with her minister husband there, so she knew the lives of the mill workers. The book is worth reading for those details alone.

On the other hand, it's very clear that Gaskell is on the side of the mill owners in this book. She thinks the workers who join unions and go on strike for higher pay are fools -- she honestly believes that the mill owners are paying workers as much as they can, and to ask for more pay is not just unreasonable, it is entirely unrealistic. (We're still seeing this notion with people today, who claim raising the minimum wage will destroy American business.)

In contrast, Gaskell presents the mill owners as God-like heroes, creating the economy England ex nihilo -- and certainly creating it without any help from the mill workers they hold in such contempt.

The two classes, those who own the mills and other property, and those who work for the owners, are two different sorts of beings. Both are human: Gaskell is clear about that. But one, the workers, should be submissive. Like a child, these workers should do as they are told. They should ask for anything they want, and obey the owners. The other, the owner and creator, gives orders and can expect obedience. He is wise, knows best, and never need explain anything to anyone. The workers must trust him to do what is best, as children trust their father.

Margaret Hale is our main character. She comes from the rural South into the industrial North, and briefly wavers between the two classes -- worker and owner. She is, for a few months, not quite sure which class is justified in the strike, or to which class she belongs. But never fear! It is the owner class. Soon she sets the workers straight in their mistaken belief that they have a right to strike, or demand fair working conditions, and all rights itself in the end.

This is a very readable book, but the classicism might make you queasy.

Barbara Kingsolver, Unsheltered

I'm just not sure how I feel about Barbara Kingsolver. I liked her first three books a lot, and then didn't much like her next few books. This one is readable, but odd.

It's certainly a book for our times: the premise is a family -- an immigrant grandparent, parents, 20-something child, and infant grandchild -- are, like many of us, broke. They inherit a house which has been in the family for generations, and all of them move into it together. The father had a (terrible) job at a local university; the mother is a freelance writer; the daughter works various minimum wage jobs; the grandfather is dying.

Once they have moved in, they find the house is not built to code, and is, in fact, falling to pieces around them. Also the dying grandfather's health insurance sucks. Also, he's rabidly far-right, and because of his dementia says appalling things, most of them in Greek, luckily. (Everyone in the family at least understands Greek, though only the grandfather and the husband, his son, speak it.)

Meanwhile, interspersed with the story of this family, we have flashbacks to the story of another family, about a century earlier, who lived (as we think) in the same house. (It is also not to code, it is also falling down. We wonder through much of the book how, if the house is in such bad shape, it can still be standing a century later -- but as it develops, the houses are not the same. Oops, spoilers.)

All of this is obviously heavily freighted with anvilicious metaphorical meaning, as Kingsolver's books tend to be. It is readable and engaging, and I stuck with it to the end, but I don't know that I would read it twice.

Carrie Vaughn, Martians Abroad

A lot of YA books are actually being written for adults these days, but this one is definitely aimed at kids, and younger teens at that. It's a ripping yarn of the sort we saw during the 1950s and 1960s -- it's been compared to Heinlein's Red Planet, not without cause.

Here, a pair of siblings from the management class of the fledgling colony on Mars are sent to an upper-class boarding school on Earth. Their mother, who runs the colony, sends them, without giving them a sensible explanation, so that from the start we suspect something is up. Polly, our point of view character, is something like Podkayne, from another of Heinlein's books, Podkayne of Mars; Charles, her twin brother, is a bit like Clark from that novel, except older and not nearly so sociopathic. (He's a bit of a sociopath.)

So we have a fish-out-of-water story; and a boarding school story; and a travelogue, since the boarding school takes its very wealthy students on field trips around Earth and to its moon; and a mystery. What is up with Polly and Charles' mother?

It's a lot of fun, in other words, even if it isn't exactly original. Also, Polly and Charles are a lot more likable than Podkayne and Clark.

Rex Stout, Fer-de-Lance, League of Frightened Men, Too Many Cooks, Some Buried Caesar

Rex Stout wrote mystery novels, among other things, from the early years of the 20th century until the 1960s. His Nero Wolfe novels, which all of these are, are his most famous. Some Buried Caesar was a novel assigned to me in my American Lit II class, back when I was an undergrad, and it was my first introduction to Rex Stout. What I remember most about the class is how the other students whine and moaned about having to read a mystery novel. "This isn't literature," one of them complained to the professor. "What are we supposed to do with this?"

I read Some Buried Caesar for that class, and then a ton of other novels by Rex Stout -- this was back in the days when we were limited to the books we could find in local libraries and bookstores. Previous to the internet, there was no other way to get books (or rather no way that I knew about -- I could have ordered books via the bookstores, if I had known that, but I didn't).

Anyway! When I put my books in order last summer, I found the two Rex Stout novels I had bought, way back then -- Fer-de-Lance and Some Buried Caesar.  And when I was sick, I re-read them, and then read the Nero Wolfe books our local library has, and then bought a few (Too Many Cooks, League of Frightened Men) from Thrift Books, which I highly recommend, by the way.

These are all early Nero Wolfe novels, written in the 1930s, and I'll admit I am reading them more for the pleasure of visiting that era and Nero Wolfe's house and life in that era, than for the actual mysteries. Though the mysteries are just fine.

In Too Many Cooks, for instance, Wolfe travels by train to West Virginia to attend a kind of convention -- he's a gourmand, and this is a meeting of the 15 best chefs in the world. There is of course a murder and subsequent mystery attached to it, but most of the pleasure of the book comes from traveling by train in the 1930s, and visiting a West Virginia resort, and watching Stout write about racism* in the 1930s, since the West Virginia resort is staffed almost entirely by local black men, who are being set up for the murder.

Stout is a bit of a jingoistic patriot, and definitely a conservative, but this was before conservatives turned bat-shit crazy. He's an old-style conservative, in other words, which makes him (by current standards) very nearly a progressive.

The books are all told through the point of view of Archie Goodwin, Wolfe's secretary and go-fer, who in these earliest books is written as a bit of a dope. (He gets smarter later.) The later books are not as good as those written in the 1930s and 1940s, but all of them are readable.

*When people lecture me about "presentism," and tell me that people back then didn't have the same attitudes "we" have today, so we can't judge them by our standards, fap fap fap, Rex Stout is one of the writers I think about. Sinclair Lewis is another.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Lessons at the Border

Lobbing tear gas at refugees -- including infants and children -- besides being technically a war crime is not just a bad idea. It's a sure-fire way to be certain the young adults in our nation lose what little faith they have left in our government and its ability to do the right thing.

That's the progressive kids.

Worse, almost certainly, is what lobbing tear gas at infants and children does for conservative young adults among us. They too see us attacking children with chemical weapons, but they hear from all those around them -- their parents, their preachers, Fox News, their coaches, their friends and neighbors -- that this attack is the correct action. These young people are told, with great earnestness, that immigrants are dangerous invaders, that they are rapists and terrorists and gang members, and thus that any action our country takes against them is justified.

Which group of kids is being damaged the most? It's hard to say.

UPDATE: Don't miss Nicole & Maggie's comment -- take action!

Friday, November 23, 2018

The GOP and Reality

The GOP has literally lost touch with reality.

According to the GOP, "middle class" means someone who makes between $70,000 and $125,000/year. That's (1).

(2) is that -- according to the GOP -- people making this amount of money are "working class."

I mean, who doesn't make that, am I right?

And anyone who makes less than $35,000 a year? Those people just don't exist, apparently.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Thanksgiving on the Rise

It's a chilly sunny day here in Arkansas. Sweet potatoes are roasting the oven. That's the only part of the feast I'm responsible for -- the sweet potato casserole. This year I will make it with ginger, cinnamon, maple syrup, brown sugar, butter, and bit of orange juice and orange zest, with lots of home-made marshmallows on top.

Other items on the menu:

  • Roast turkey
  • potatoes dauphinoise
  • green bean casserole
  • sourdough bread
  • fresh cranberry sauce
  • turkey gravy
  • a cheese, fig, olive, and grape plate
  • Pumpkin pie
  • babka
Wine or ginger ale, depending on preference

Uncle Charger and the kid's bff and new roommate Clover will be attending. We'll be dining around five. Aside from making the sweet potato casserole, my main charge is vacuuming and setting the table.

Hope all y'all have a splendid day!

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

This is What I'm Talking About

I don't know if UBI is the solution.

But we do need some solution. The current economy is broken.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Every 30 Year Old Should Have A Unicorn and a Magic Ring...

This sort of delusion bullshit just goes to show that "financial planners" and "experts" have no idea how most of the USA actually lives.

In fact, less than 60% of our country now earns enough to live a secure middle-class existence. Almost no one can afford to save any money, much less a "three to six months of living expenses." Almost everyone is in debt -- almost always due to living expenses, including medical expenses. Only 40% of the country can handle a $400 emergency.

This is America right now.

Frankly, I am impressed that Ocasio-Cortez had $7000 in the bank, and I promise you she only had that much because she had no children, and has had no medical emergencies. Before I was married and before I had cancer, I had a big chunk of money saved too.

"Plan to save 15%" is charming advice. Plan all you like. Life has other plans.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Oh Look

Trump's favorite philosopher:

Scamming People for Jesus

Over at Patheos some time back, Libby Anne wrote about a tactic young Evangelicals use -- are taught to use -- which is quite similar to one con men use, not surprisingly.

They find an "in," some area of commonality between them and the 'target,' as Evangelicals call it (or 'mark,' to be more honest about what they're looking for).

In other words, they're looking for common human ground between them and their mark, something they can play on. Once they find this common human ground, they exploit it.

This has happened to my kid, up in Fayetteville, more than once now. My kid is very sweet, with a lot of empathy. They also look gay -- so gay. (Dyed bright purple hair, plaid denim jacket, no makeup.) Invariably a pretty little Evangelical Christian child will sit down next to them and say, in friendly voice, "I like your hair!"

Among the LGBT kids, this is code for, I'm queer, are you queer too?

So my kid responds with a friendly, "Thank you!"

And the Evangelical Christian does some friendly chat, just as if she actually likes the kid, and actually wants to be friends with the kid. And the kid is thinking, aw, I've found a friend, a queer friend, this is nice.

And then the Evangelical asks if the kid wants to come learn about Jesus.

And now my Kid feels stupid, like they're an idiot for thinking anyone would actually want to talk to them, or be friends with them. This Evangelical has made it very clear that the only reason anyone would sit down next to them is in order to run a scam on them -- to lie to them, to cheat them, to con them.

Because they're broken, obviously.

Because they're something that needs to be fixed.

Is this what Evangelicals think their God wants them to do to people? That's what Jesus commands them to do?  Lie to people? Treat them like marks to be cheated and conned into their churches? Make them feel like fools and idiots for trusting people?

I hope one day these people grow up and never stop cringing at how they treated their fellow human beings.

UPDATE: Just to make it clear, I don't blame this little Evangelical child. She's been sent out by someone -- likely someone as brainwashed as herself -- and told to do this horrible thing to her fellow human beings. She's been given a script to follow. She's been told she has to do this, or these poor LGBT sinners will burn in hell. So no. I don't blame her. It is still an evil thing to do, and it is an evil thing to teach her to do. There is a reason bearing false witness is a sin.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Sunday Links

Have some links!

Anne Theriault makes a connection


Why Trump (and his base) want to repeal the 14th Amendment (Spoilers: it's because they're racists)

This YouTube series on Mad Max: Fury Road is really good. Kind of long, but it's broken into 8 or 9 minute segments, so you can pace yourself.

Doggo has a COMPLAINT:

Saturday, November 17, 2018

My Kid Does Comics

You should be reading my Kid's comic!

You can find it here or here!

We'll Get the Rest in 2020

Some Good News

Update on Rod Dreher's Exorcism

This is my surprised face:

I mean, really, this isn't even remotely funny. This poor woman and her terrible husband are deeply disturbed, and since he probably has her convinced that she's possessed by demons, she's in deep trouble.

Religion can do a lot of good in the world. I've seen that happen. But it can also do horrible, ugly, evil things like this. This is the main reason I'm so wary of it. I've seen it destroy too many people and their families. Once you start believing in one impossible thing, it's very easy for a charismatic leader to make you believe in other impossible things.

Once you lose your ability to determine what is factually true, to tell what is real from what someone is making up -- once you can no longer evaluate evidence, in other words, and determine what is real and what is fantasy or myth or propaganda or just something someone else made up, for whatever reason -- you are lost.

Anyone can tell you anything, and make you believe it. How will you know? This demon is why your tooth hurts. That chemical is why your child can't read. This crystal will cure your backache. Those people are possessed by witches, they are the enemy of the people. Any of those could be true, or all of them. You have no way to tell. You'll just believe whatever the 'right' people tell you, and disbelieve whatever the 'wrong' people tell you.

And then you'll end up drinking Kool-Aid in a jungle somewhere, or voting for Donald Trump, or having your husband hold you down while a priest performs an exorcism on you, grimly insisting that the reason you hate him is that you're infested by a demon.

Yeah, that's the ticket.