Wednesday, October 29, 2014

General Suckitude

My life has just been generally terrible for the last several months.

Sometimes, as all of us who are mortal know, these things happen.

Bad shit piles up.  Bad things occur.  Brothers die, cars wreck, radiators spring leaks, appliances break down, dogs get ill.  Migraines happen.

I remind myself it's not personal.

 (I mean, you know, except for my fuckwad neighbor who keeps calling the lawn police on me every five or six days for truly ridiculous reasons, because that shit is personal, and dude, I know who you are now, and it is on.)

I remind myself it is random circumstances, not some evil fate or cursed star or what the fuck ever, I just have to live through it, blah blah blah.

But boy, is it wearing.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Wheels of Justice

Yesterday I had my second first-hand experience with the Justice system.

This is the fall-out from the wreck I was involved in back in August.  I am still not entirely clear why this incident went to court -- the fella that hit me received a citation for following too close.  That's not something that usually gets you put in jail, is it?

And yet, here we were, in a court with people who were receiving jail sentences.  Not long sentences -- five days, twenty days -- and most of them were being suspended, in lieu of fines or in favor of probation, but still.

Dr. Skull and I speculated that this guy who hit me maybe had several other accidents on his record.  (We speculate thus from something he said at the scene, to the effect that he had been through this, reporting an accident, plenty of times.)

Anyway.  He had a lawyer, someone we knew socially interestingly enough, the lawyer and the DA talked several times, fencing with each other as far as I could tell.  His lawyer had pictures that my guy had taken at the scene of the accident, which they thought exonerated him (because it showed I had been changing lanes, though both the DA and I and the police officer on the scene felt that made little difference in the case, since the charge was following too close).

This fencing went on for some time, while all the other cases were being swiftly tried or put off to a later date -- several people had failed to show, and had bench warrants issued.  One immigrant was brought into court in chains and the judge levied a four hundred dollar fine for driving without a license, and then informed him he wouldn't have to pay, since they were deporting him.  That was charming.

There was a DUI who plead out: $650 and a six-month suspended license, plus a mandatory educational course.  That was a first offense.  Also 25 days in jail, suspended.

There was a woman who showed up late to court, whose trial date was rescheduled to December, who also got a lecture from the judge on her improper attire.  "You're lucky I didn't issue a bench warrant.  Don't show up late again."

"No, m'am.  I won't."

"And I don't like what you're wearing.  Don't come in here dressed like that again."

"No, m'am."

To be fair, what she was wearing was pretty appalling.  No one except the lawyers was wearing a suit, and a few of the defendants were in jeans and teeshirts; but she had on what looked like a bikini sort of thing under a really tight drape that was cut in a vee down the front and up to her knees on the sides.  The bikini was black and the drape sheer and white.

How my trial turned out:  The guy that hit me lied like a thief on the stand, which everyone, even the judge, seemed to know.  The DA caught him in the lies, openly, several times, during the questioning.

The judge found him not guilty anyway.

I'm pretty much okay with this, though.  He's got two or three little kids, I think, and my car is repaired.  If the outcome was putting him in jail or taking away his license, I don't see what purpose that would have served.

I hope  he slows down on the roads from now on, though.

And my foray through the court system has been educational, I must say.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

High School Essays, Y'all

So, my kid has been assigned an essay for her AP World History class: briefly compare and contrast the tenets of Islam and Christianity from their beginnings through 1650 (because this is the first half of AP World History -- it only goes through 1650).

She comes to me with her fists clenching her hair. "So...Islam has the Shahada, right?"

"Right," I agree.

"And Christians have what, exactly?  Is that the Jesus prayer?  The bit where they say I accept Jesus as my Savior, or what?"

"'s complicated."

"No.  Please.  Just..."

"Sorry," I said, because she hates it when it's complicated.  "It is.  See, if you're Catholic, you gotta get Confirmed.  And if you're Mormon, there's a whole process, you can't just be baptized, you gotta pass an interview, and I think there are classes, and --"


"And for Baptists and Pentecostals, there are altar calls, you gotta get the Holy Ghost, you can't just want Jesus, you have to be called to Jesus.  And --"

She began wailing.

"I'm sorry, babycakes," I said.  "It really is complicated. But you don't have to put all that in your paper.  Just give one or two examples, and say that there are many other Christian sects.  It will be fine."

"I hate writing papers! I hate this!"

"Oh, come on.  Writing papers is easy.  Now, math is hard."

She flung me a murderous glare and stomped away.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


The President votes, and adorableness ensues.

I love the woman's last line here.

Monday, October 20, 2014

New Story Up Strange Horizons by me!

Read it here:  Dream Cakes.

Or you can listen to it -- there's a podcast! -- here.

As I noted earlier this week, Strange Horizons is currently having their fund drive.  They're a great SF/F magazine. Kick in if you can.

New Grounded Parents Post!

Grounded Parents

Over at Grounded Parents, my new post is up.

It addresses the common belief that either you beat your kids or the cops will beat your kids.

Not so, I say!  Instead, how about teaching your kids how to deal with the police?

Read it here:

Talking To Your Kids About The Police.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

This Amuses Me

It's kind of funny -- well, funny to me -- that the Conservatives on my FB feed and the Right-Wing Blogs I follow, and especially the deeply religious Conservatives (Rod Dreher being a case in point) are the ones losing their shit about Ebola.

You would think they would have their religious faith to fall back on.

You would think they would believe in Jesus, and know that This is Not the Only World, and understand that if death comes, they are among the saved.  That heaven awaits them?

I mean, that's what all that religion they're always on about is for?  Is this not the case?

So why are they screeching in such panic?  Ebola Ebola Ebola?  We're all gonna die?  Death isn't even important to them, after all.  It's just a translation.

Whereas for us atheists, who know that this world is all there is -- none of us are even concerned.

I'm tempted to say this is because atheists and leftists tend to be better educated than Conservatives.  But that's a cheap shot.

I'm also tempted to say this shows that Religious Conservatives don't actually have the faith in their God that they claim they do -- that this shows clearly that they don't actually believed in the heaven they claim so ferverntly and so often to have such faith in.

But in fact, I think the cause is a simpler one, and one that explains both their affinity for religion and their affinity for Conservatism: those who tend toward religion and toward Conservatism tend to be cautious.  They tend toward fear, in other words.   They want reassurance, they want promises, they want rules that will protect them.

Well, you know, that's not how the actual world works.

Leftists and those of us who tend toward the science-based and reasoning-based world get that.  We know what "theory" means -- we know it means "here is the data we have, and here is the answer that fits that data, and we'll go with that answer until we have more data, and when we have more data, if that data changes our answer, we'll change our answer."

And we're fine with that way of living.

It's why we're fine with situational ethics, which really, really upset many Conservatives.  They hate the idea that ethical answers can change depending on circumstances.

[True story: When I was teaching in Idaho, I posed this question to my students, attempting to demonstrate situational ethics: "Is it right to fight for your country?"

"Yes!" one of the [male] students answered emphatically.

"That's a code ethicist's answer," I explained to the class.  "A Situational Ethicist says, well, tell me the war, tell me why we're fighting, and I will tell you if it is right to fight."

That student and three others went to the dean to complain that I was teaching the students it was wrong to fight in defense of our country.]

The facts are Ebola is not likely (even remotely likely) to become epidemic here in the USA.

Could this change?  Sure.  Anything can happen.  Is this likely to change?  No.

A million things could happen.  It makes more a great deal sense to spend your energy on those that really are likely to happen.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

What Am I Reading?

Cheese & Responsiblity and Nicole & Maggie do these sorts of posts from time to time and I enjoy them bunches. So here is one of my own.

I have been heavily into Laura Ingalls Wilder criticism and related readings for the course I am teaching on her; but I will not count that.  This is a list of what I'm reading for my own pleasure.

Cecelia Holland, Floating Worlds.

This is a re-read -- I first read the novel years ago, after it first came out.  I believe it was the first novel by Holland I ever read.  I only half-liked it (and only half-understood it, I suspect) at the time, being either fifteen or sixteen.  But I kept returning to it, and eventually sought out and read as many other Holland novels as I could find in the (limited) Louisiana library I had access to.

Floating Worlds is more or less epic SF tale of a woman, Paula Mendoza, who negotiates her way through a future in which Earth, Mars, and the Jovian planets form the Three Worlds.  Paula's from an Earth nearly destroyed by pollution; she rises to a precarious position of power via her connections with Earth and Mars' de facto governing body, The Committee, and the Jovian Empire's government, the Styth Akellar.

It's a long, complex, and intriguing story, with (for me, anyway) a somewhat flat ending.

Hild coverNicola Griffith, Hild  

Everyone kept telling me how amazing Hild was.  I kept putting off reading it, because it didn't look like SF and wtf, why do I want to read about some Christian Saint?  Everyone was right.  Y'all should all go read this one now.

It is (I guess? Eventually?) going to be about Saint Hilda.  This first book is about Hild, growing up in England in the 7th Century.  The beauty of the detail, the wonderful writing, the wonderful creation of character. It starts when Hild is three, and ends when she is a young adolescent.  In between she does both mundane and amazing things -- shears sheep, weaves cloth, slaughters brigands, climbs trees, forsees the future -- and is as engaging a character, in a book filled with engaging characters, as I have met in a long while.  She's also bisexual (so yay!) and living in an England that is moving from pagan to Christian, and not entirely easy about that shift.

This is a nearly perfect book.  Read it now.

Sandra McDonald, Annie Wu Saves the Future

Sandra McDonald, as I believe I have said before, is one of my favorite writers. This is the beginning of a middle-grade series she is writing, and it's wonderful. Annie comes home from school one day to find out her past is not what she thinks it is -- I don't want to give spoilers, but the real past involves spaceships and time travel.

And cats.

(Though this is indeed aimed at younger adults, I loved it to bits.  Just saying.)

T. Kingfisher, Toad Words

Well, you gotta love T. Kingfisher, who (as many of us already know) is actually Ursula Vernon.  This is a collection of some of her short stories.  If you know Ursula Vernon, that's all I have to say.  My personal favorite is the re-telling of "Bluebeard's Wife," though, you know, it's hard to pick just one.

Jamie Harrison, Edge of the Crazies and etc.

This is a mystery series, sort of.  

Harrison only wrote four of them -- Edge of the Crazies, Going Local, An Unfortunate Prairie Occurrence, and Blue Deer Thaw.

They're all great, though, with a well-developed cast of characters, from Jules Clement our depressed and moody sheriff, who grew up in Blue Deer, Montana, moved away at 18, and then returned for reasons he can't quite understand to follow in his father's footsteps and join its police force; to Alice and Peter, his best friends (one a lawyer, the other moving through multiple jobs); to Jules' mother and his various elderly relatives and friends; to the other officers of the law and locals.

It had been compared to Northern Exposure, and I do see why.  Harrison's humor is different than the humor on that show though; her writing and sense of place is great, and the use of police procedural and detail works perfectly.  I read these for the first time back when they were published as well.  They hold up on a second read excellently.

So what are y'all reading for fun?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Strange Horizons Pledge Drive!

It's that time of year again!

Strange Horizons is having its fund drive.

Those of us who read and write SF know that Strange Horizons is one of the greats in contemporary and cutting edge science fiction. They publish online, which ten years ago (I can remember!) seemed bizarre; these days publishing any other way is the mark of an archaic press.  (I get deeply annoyed at any magazine I can't find online now!)

Every week, Strange Horizons publishes science fiction and occasional fantasy fiction, poetry, and reviews; there are illustrations; there are podcasts. There are essays.  There is a blog.  Around the time of the Hugos and the Nebulas and other awards, there are reviews and commentaries of the awards lists.

It's a wonderful magazine, is what I am saying.  And there are prizes!  Go fund them -- twenty bucks, thirty bucks, fifty bucks, whatever!

Monday, October 13, 2014

#Nobel_Prize Winner_Problems

Such a hassle!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Review: Ayn Rand Anthem

Oh, holy shit.

My kid came home with the news that they're reading Anthem in her English class.

I knew there would be risks involved in sending my kid to public school.  But this?

The inside cover of the book supplies the answer: The Andrew Lessman Foundation (a foundation started by a guy who made his fortune shilling vitamins and health supplements) has donated free copies of this vile piece of propaganda to the schools of our city.

I read the work this evening, to see what my poor child would have to deal with -- the first time I read this particular blight that Rand inflicted upon language.

I knew Rand was a terrible writer.  How terrible, frankly, I had forgotten.

This piece of work is just abysmal.

(Spoilers from this point on, for anyone who gives a shit.)

The thesis of this novel -- well, novel is putting it kindly -- of this little sermon is One Man Good, Societies of Men Evil.

We open in a dystopian society, where all the citizens are given names suitable to society that views unified men as a good thing -- Solidarity, Equality, Union.  But of course they all also have numbers attached to their names, because Rand has to make the point that in a world where people work together in a society, we can't possibly also have individuals.  Everyone must become a cog, a number, a thing, in such a world.

So the ego is lost!  Equality 7-2521 is forbidden to think of himself as I.  The very word I is forbidden, in fact!  Everyone must use the word We instead!

Blah, blah, blah.

The worst part about this book is how dull it is.  There are very few scenes.  The first twenty pages or so is just Equality 7-2521 ranting on and on about how misunderstood he is, and how mistreated he is, and how hard he fought to be stupid like he was supposed to be, and yet his brilliance kept shining through, because -- after all! -- he is just so smart and tall and blond and not like the idiots around him.

And he just loved science and thinking!  And this made the Teachers so mad at him.  Because no one is supposed to be different!  And he is so different!

So the Council who tells you want to be made him a Street Sweeper!  Instead of a Scientist!  And he was glad!  Because now he could repent and make up for his bad, bad desires!

And all of this is just stupid.

Because I know it's a metaphor, okay, but for it to work as a story it needs to be a story first and a metaphor second, and just how exactly is this world going to function if the teachers beat down all their best students for being good students? If they turn all their smart kids into street sweepers, then who, exactly, are their Council of Scientists and Council of Elders?  Would that not be the Kind Of Dumb Kids?

Would we then not have all the really smart kids sweeping streets and fixing plumbing?  Would we not then -- I'd say in about fifty years, tops -- have a revolution on our hands?

Not to mention, who is going to run your society?  Who keeps the books?  Who runs the Secret Police?  Who figures out who the smart kids are, in order to make sure they aren't the ones ending up in charge?

Beyond that, the structure is terrible.  Very few scenes, and a lot of exposition -- we're almost entirely in Equality's head; and Equality is (of course) a Superman.  He discovers electricity all on his own.  He withstands torture.  He gets Liberty 5-3000(a lithe and beautiful blonde seventeen year old girl) to throw off the chains of her communitarian upbringing and run away to be a Randian Superhero with him, pretty much simply by staring deeply into her eyes.

(Of course she is blonde.  Everyone who is of any worth at all in this book is tall and slender and white and blond, blond, blond.  What was that you said?  Aryan? Eugenics?  I can't think what you could mean!  Ayn Rand is TOTALLY against eugenics! She says so right here in the introduction!)

And, of course, the penultimate chapter is a lecture on the rights of man:

"Only three [words] are holy: 'I will it!"...I owe nothing to my brothers, nor do I gather debts from them. I ask none to live for me, nor do I live for any others.

"For the word "we" must never be spoken, save by one's choice and as a second thought.  This word must never be placed first within a man's soul, else it becomes a monster, the root of all evils on earth, the root of man's torture by men, and of an unspeakable lie.

"It is the word by which the depraved steal the virtue of the good, by which the weak steal the might of the strong, by which the fools steal the wisdom of the sages.

"What is my joy if all hands, even the unclean, can reach into it?  What is my freedom, if all creatures, even the botched and the impotent, are my masters?  What is my life, if I am but to bow and agree and obey?"

Truly, what kind of freedom is it, if the "botched and impotent," the weak and poor and impoverished, are always going to be hanging around in your society, acting like they have a right to be there?  I mean, jeez.  Bunch of takers.

The opening line, by the way? "It is a sin to write this."

Truer words were never spoken, Ayn.