Friday, May 31, 2019

At the Dog Park

My dog Heywood at the dog park in our town. He's the little one to the right swimming desperately after his two new friends. (Photo by the Kid.)

We also met this nice boy, whose name is Gunner, according to his collar at least

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Update on Update

Here's a couple articles about the great bank robbery!



We were about a mile away from the bridge pictured in the first article.


We retrieved the kid from Fayetteville yesterday, in a speedy trip up the mountain. We wanted to get back down the mountain before the big storms hit, which we did, just barely -- the tornado went by just ten miles behind us, where we were stalled on the interstate.

Which is another story.

As we were leaving Fayetteville, about six minutes down the interstate, traffic suddenly came to an absolute standstill. No traffic was coming in the other direction either. We assumed it was a huge wreck. Police cars wailed past on the shoulders, and one ambulance -- just one.

"Must be some wreck," I mused. I had turned the car off and we were waiting. I was watching the weather, but it looked like the huge storm would miss us, despite the near constant warnings that kept coming on NPR, telling us to take shelter at once. (Where? Not even any ditches on that stretch of the interstate.)

After we'd waiting nearly an hour, the traffic started moving again. We passed about sixty police cars, their trouble lights spinning, up under a bridge. No wreck that I could see. Also, about a mile on, we saw the police had shut down the north-bound interstate, and it was still closed. Traffic backed up for miles.

"That's odd," I said, but we were moving, and I got the car up to 80, getting home just as the storm reached the Fort.

Later we found that someone had robbed a bank in a town near us, and the police had shut down the interstate in both directions to swoop down on the bank robbers and arrest them. I guess they didn't want to risk shooting passing motorists?

We're home, anyway, and the Kid is home, and our house is still not flooded.

Ads and Pop-Ups

I used to read six or eight conservative blogs and news sites because I wanted to keep in touch with people not like me.

But lately these sites are so filled with pop-up ads and auto-play commercials as to be unreadable -- literally so, my browser freezes trying to load them.

It's a metaphor, y'all: late-stage capitalism destroying speech.

Rod Dreher is the specific example I was just trying to read, but it's true of so many right-wing sites. I mean, Dreher is no big loss, given that all he writes lately is shills for his book and outrage about trans people daring to exist, but still.

Neal Schusterman's Unwind Chapters 32 -34

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More Unwind Fan Art

We get a little more back story in this section, but it's as bizarre as the rest of this narrative.

This is Part 5 of the novel, and Schusterman starts it off with a tiny excerpt that explains what an airline graveyard is, I guess for those of us who live in caves and don't know what one is.

Chapter 32

This chapter is just a list of rules for the Graveyard, which the Admiral makes every Unwind kid memorize. None of them seem unreasonable, for a guy taking care of 432 kids in the middle of the desert. For example, boys don't live with girls, everyone has to work, no teen rebellion. The only one that might give us pause is Rule # 3: My Way is the Only Way. The Admiral is the boss, with no checks on his power or authority. Except, I guess, the check of teens rebelling, which frankly -- give the origin of some of the Unwinds -- is something he should be worrying about.

I can't decide if we're supposed to read the Admiral as a villain or not. Maybe it will come clear later.

Chapter 33

Our main characters get assigned jobs. Risa is a medic, Connor does repairs. Roland, cast as our most apparent villain, gets assigned to helicopter maintenance. (The Graveyard has a helicopter, plus a pilot who flies the Admiral around.)

They're assigned these jobs by the Goldens, a group of five kids who are the Admiral's second in command. Don't get attached to these kids, btw.

Chapter 34

Connor's point of view. He notices Roland building a coalition of kids around himself, via his evil manipulative ways. Connor builds a coalition of kids around himself too, but that's okay, because he does it with his natural integrity.

Also Connor is changing. Why? Because Risa. He thinks of Risa before he acts, and this makes him act more carefully and with more forethought. See? All bad boys need is a good woman to civilize them. (Also, that's the job of women: civilizing bad boys.)

We also find out about "Work calls," which are basically when the Admiral sells Unwind kids as slave labor to people outside the Graveyard. It's all work like cleaning houses and clearing land. The kids do not get paid, though they do get hidden from the Unwind Authorities.

Roland starts a rumor that the Admiral is also selling kids to the Unwind authorities, and benefiting by getting organs and such himself. Frankly, it's a believable rumor.

Lev is brought in with a new transport of Unwinds. Connor punches him and then hugs him. Later, Lev warns Connor not to punch him again. Connor says he'll only punch Lev when he has it coming. Lev accepts these terms.

Violence is justified if someone misbehaves, apparently.

The Admiral pretends his coffee pot is broken (he lives in an old Air Force One plane) as an excuse to get Connor to come "fix" it -- really to get enlist Connor as one of his spies. He shows Connor the bodies of the Goldens, and claims "someone" among the Unwind kids has killed them. A rebellion is brewing!

Or the Admiral killed these kids himself, a possibility that doesn't occur to Connor, and seems hella more likely to me. Connor suspects Roland, but how would Roland kill five kids who are older and better connected than he is?

The Admiral thinks Connor's constant fighting is just fine. He's using violence to "fix" things, see, so that's okay.

This comment does not set off alarms in Connor's mind. I don't know if we're supposed to think Connor is really smart or really stupid.

We find out the Admiral had his own son unwound.  Once again, this sets off no alarms in Connor's mind. Instead, he feels pity for the poor Admiral who "had" to kill his own kid.

We also get some background about the "Heartland War," the big war between Pro-Life and Pro-Choice people which led to people being Unwound.

“There were dark days leading up to the war. Everything that we think defines right and wrong was being turned upside down. On one side, people were murdering abortion doctors to protect the right to life, while on the other side people were getting pregnant just to sell their fetal tissue….It was beyond madness!"

Wow, yeah, that does sound crazy. And I suspect this is one of the places which made the Library Journal call this book "fair and balanced."

But in fact, of course, while it is true that "Pro-Life" people are killing doctors and nurses and bombing women's clinics, no one on the Pro-Choice side is actually getting pregnant just to sell their fetal tissue. That's not just a lie, it's a vile and ridiculous lie.

Anyway, the Admiral says he helped write the "Bill of Life" because it stopped the Heartland War.

We brokered a peace by bringing both sides to the table. Then we proposed the idea of unwinding, which would terminate unwanteds without actually ending their lives. We thought it would shock both sides into seeing reason—that they would stare at each other across the table and someone would blink. But nobody blinked. The choice to terminate without ending life—it satisfied the needs of both sides. 

This is insulting to both sides of this argument. It assumes that "Pro-Choice" people just want to kill children, and don't care how it happens. And it assumes "Pro-Life" people are fine with killing 13 year olds if those 13 years deserve it.... which, well, okay, that's not too far off the mark. But still.

The Admiral says this is why he had to send his son to be Unwound -- because he helped write the bill, and because his son was a trouble-making kid. The sort, the Admiral adds, that we would have once sent to the military.

I mean, boys will be boys, right.

But now, the Admiral says sadly, we just Unwind such kids. Boys cannot be boys anymore. It is so sad. (This does not fit with all the kids we've seen being raised to go into the Army, but go off, I guess.)

The Admiral says in memory of his son, he started this Graveyard, to save Unwinds. He says he's saved more than a 1000 kids so far. Given that there are 432 kids at the Graveyard now, this is also a red flag, but Connor doesn't notice anything. I guess he's bad at math?

Also we find out Connor knows some things about guns. How? Who knows.

We're 60% through the book. At least things are happening again now.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019


I love this story by Ellen Kushner

Here's the stupidest argument you'll read today

In case you're still pushing the narrative that trans people are mentally ill -- yeah, no

Or in case you think kids today are silencing speech they don't like

On the other hand, this is what happens when you access (and believe) bad sources

In case anyone thinks pregnancy is no big deal

Our economy is broken

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Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Update on Floods

With the bridges closed, the only route out of our city was State Hwy 59. And since so many people live on one side of the river and work on the other, Hwy 59 had jammed to a standstill by dawn this morning.

The good news is that one of the bridges in now open again -- the river rose more slowly than AR-DOT had been expecting.

The bad news is more rain is expected to fall in Oklahoma and Kansas, both of which feed into the Arkansas River.

We're fine where we are, though, and I'm hoping to get the Kid tomorrow, before the water from OK/KS arrives.

Flooding in the River Valley

The part of Arkansas where I live is on the Arkansas River. This is downstream from the all the massive storms that have hit Oklahoma over the past month.

So our river has been rising steadily over the past week, and starting flooding the city a few days ago. This evening the state closed almost every bridge that goes across the river -- there's still one open, but we would have to drive way out through Oklahoma to reach it, and also from what we've heard, it might close soon too.

This means we're stranded in our little city, I hope for only a few days. The kid is up the mountain, in Fayetteville. We were supposed to go pick him up on Wednesday, to bring him home for the rest of the summer. I'm hoping the bridges will be open by then.

Meanwhile, everyone is stripping the shelves at the Wal-Marts, buying mostly bottled water, from what I could see. I bought ginger ale and extra cream, because I cannot live without my coffee. Also, I don't expect that we will lose water. But someone started a rumor that our water had been contaminated, and there you are.

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Sunday, May 26, 2019

Neal Schusterman's Unwind Chapters 26 - 31

Schusterman has this book divided into 'parts,' and each part starts with a quotation he's found somewhere.

Part Four, which we have now reached, starts with a note from eBay. Apparently in 2001, someone tried to auction off their soul on eBay. eBay took the offering down, providing the explanation that either souls didn't exist, in which case this was fraud; or they did exist, and thus -- because auctioning off parts of the human body is against eBay's policy -- the auction violated the policy.

It's a clever bit of reasoning, and I guess Schusterman includes it because in Unwind, people's body parts get auctioned off? Maybe. Who knows?

Chapter 26

We're back with Lev, but this chapter comes from the point of view of the owner of a pawnshop. The one thing this chapter makes very clear is that Schusterman has never been in a pawn shop, and knows nothing about poor people and why they pawn items.

Here's why people pawn items, usually: it's two or three days until payday, and some emergency has come up. Maybe the car needs a water pump. Maybe the kid needs antibiotics. They need a couple hundred dollars, and they have no one to borrow it from. So they pawn something pricey that they own -- a nice shotgun, for instance, or grandma's wedding ring.

Mostly these things are reclaimed when the people get paid, though sometimes there's not enough money to get them back in time. Pawnshops are like the pay-day lender for people who are broke but have kept a few nice things around.

Schusterman thinks people come to pawn shops because they're junkies, and also I guess bums. It's illegal to sell things you don't own at a pawnshop, just FYI, and the pawnshop owner won't let you pawn things unless you have a valid ID.

ANYWAY: The pawn shop owner is impressed by Lev, since he's not a junkie bum. But he doesn't want to buy the fancy diamond necklace that Lev has to pawn (an item stolen by CyFi), since buying stolen goods is illegal.

Lev explains to him how he can get away with buying the stolen necklace. Lev knows more about running a pawnshop than the pawnshop owner does. Which makes perfect sense, given that he's the sheltered son of rich conservative Evangelicals. They always know about pawn shops.

Blah, blah, blah, Lev sucker-punches the guy and steals all the money in his safe, but he leaves the necklace behind, because he's not Evil, I guess.

Kind of a pointless chapter.

Chapter 27

Back in Conner's POV. Another sort of pointless chapter.

The Unwind kids at the Underground Railway stop get packed up in crates and flown out. The plane is being flown to an airplane graveyard. It's abandoned there with the kids still in crates, but don't worry, people come to get them out.

There is a very elaborate explanations of the details of all this, which is fine, except it makes no sense. Obviously the pilots are part of the Underground Railway, since they're loading this cargo into a plane that's going to the graveyard. Why not just load the kids in the plane and fly them out? Especially since it turns out that some of the kids die, suffocating in the crates.

Anyway, while he's in this crate with three other runaways, Connor and the other kids have a long discussion about whether being Unwound kills you or not, and also what happens to your soul when you're Unwound.

Hayden, one of the kids, suggests that people who are Unwound don't have souls. God always knew they'd be Unwound, he explains, so they were never given a soul. Like unborn babies, he says, except another kid is outraged, since unborn babies do have souls, from the moment they're conceived. It's the law, he says.

Connor says the law is an ass. He says unborn babies don't have souls. He says when they're born, that's when they get souls.

A kid named Diego agrees with him, though everyone else is outraged. Diego says that the mother loving the baby is what gives it a soul. Connor says what about Storked Babies, don't they have souls? Not unless someone loves them, Diego says.

I think this is the part that made people say this book was "balanced." Schusterman lets someone say that souls exist from the time the sperm meets the egg, but then he goes on to have our point of view character, and this Diego, say something different. The final answer, though, is given by Hayden, the rich kid whose parents got him braces before they shipped him off to be Unwound.

Hayden says he doesn't know when the soul enters the body. Everyone agrees that's the best answer.

Chapter 28

Risa's point of view. We're at the airplane graveyard -- which is just called the Graveyard -- and runaway kids are milling about, being organized by other kids, these kids wearing khaki clothing. "Army surplus," one of the kids tells Risa. "Stolen clothes for stolen souls."

So I guess we're going with Unwinds having souls then.

Blah blah blah, Risa hears some kids died during the trip, suffocating in one of the crates. She's afraid one of them might be Connor, and realizes how sad she would be if he's dead. Schusterman tries to build up some tension here, except we already know Connor survived to land in the Graveyard, so it's just dull.

She finds Connor. Surprise, he's alive. Risa doesn't fling herself into his arms, but she wants to.

A man named the Admiral shows up in a golf cart. He's clearly military, Risa thinks, though she doesn't tell us how she learned to recognize 'clearly military' guys. He's around 60, and was in the Heartland War, the one that led to the Unwind Amendment.

His uniform is blue. Risa can't remember whether that was the color for the Pro-Choice or the Pro-Life side, and then realizes it doesn't matter -- after all, both sides lost.

The Admiral says they will stay at the Graveyard until they are 18.

(After you're 18, it's apparently illegal to Unwind you, which really makes no sense. Why would they not -- for instance -- be harvesting organs from criminals of any age? If we've got a fat market in organs, why not profit off people of any age? I know it's because this is a YA novel, and Schusterman wants to make kids the victims, but this is some terrible world-building, frankly.)

The Admiral says running away, as they have done, is illegal, but the Graveyard isn't a law-free zone. They will follow the law -- his law.

“We are a community here," [the Admiral says] "You will learn the rules and you will follow them, or you will face the consequences, as in any society. This is not a democracy; it is a dictatorship. I am your dictator. This is a matter of necessity. It is the most effective way to keep you hidden, healthy, and whole.” 

I hope Schusterman meant this to be disquieting, because it is.

So far the Admiral seems fairly benevolent, and he does make sure the kids have water before he marches them off toward...somewhere.

Chapter 29

Back to Lev. He and CyFi are now entering Joplin, MO, which is the town where the kid in his brain came from -- the Unwind whose temporal lobe CyFi has. This kid is somehow compelling CyFi to come home to Joplin.

I hope there's something the kid wants done. Otherwise this will be a very pointless digression.

Lev is now in charge, by the way. The Magical Negro can't be in charge, obviously.

CyFi asks Lev why he hasn't dumped him, left him to fend for himself, and Lev says it's because he's here to bear witness.

I mean, that's very nice and poetic and all, but neither Lev nor CyFi know why they're in Joplin. I guess Lev read ahead in the book?

Blah, blah, blah. They get to Joplin.

Chapter 30

CyFi's point of view. He's pretty wonky, but he knows the kid in his head wants something. They wander around Joplin (I think Schusterman thinks Joplin is the size of Mayberry) until they find a place CyFi recognizes, an ice cream shop the kid used to eat at. He realizes the kid's name is Tyler.

Lev notices a police car is watching them. But CyFi knows where to go now. He stumbles off toward Tyler's house. Memories come to him -- apparently Tyler's parents are abusive assholes.

When they reach the house, Cyrus's two dads (the ones that got mmarried) are waiting outside, along with more police officers; but Cyrus screams at them that he has to do this, and they (and the police) let him. He goes up to talk to Tyler's parents who are (justly) horrified.

"Give it to me!" Cyrus screams at them. They don't have any idea what he means. He figures out he wants a shovel, and then uses the shovel to dig up a briefcase filled with jewelry, that I guess Tyler stole from his parents? Or from people around town.

CyTy, as he's now calling himself, flings these jewels at the feet of Tyler's parents, saying they can have it all, they can take it all, he doesn't want it, just please don't unwind him.

Cyrus realizes Tyler doesn't know he's been Unwound.

This is a pretty good scene, I have to admit. Good for Schusterman.

Chapter 31

I was going to stop at Chapter 30, but Schusterman has us at a cliffhanger, so I went on.

This chapter is from Lev's point of view, and he's screaming at Tyler's parents. Tell him you won't do it! he screams. Say you won't unwind him! Promise!

Tyler’s parents still huddle together, comforting each other instead of comforting Cy. It makes Lev even more furious. “TELL HIM YOU WON’T UNWIND HIM!” he screams. 
Lev threatens Tyler's parents with the shovel, promising to bash their heads in if they don't tell Tyler want he wants to hear. They say it, and Cyrus collapses into the arms of his two dads. They tell him everything will be all right now, and Cyrus agrees.

Lev runs away. For some reason the police do not stop him.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

A Tradition

Dr. Skull came home from work tonight and wandered around awhile. He changed his clothes. He fixed some water.

Then he said, "Hey."

Me: "What?"

Dr. Skull: "You know what today is."

Me: "What?"

Dr. Skull: "It's our anniversary."

Me: (checking the date on my computer) "Oh shit."

This is how we have celebrated (very nearly) every anniversary so far.

My Beloved Dr. Skull

Crabs in a Bucket

This is an idiom that I've had to explain to people more than once. It's like we have a collective insistence on forgetting what it means.

Or maybe you just have to have done some fishing and crabbing at some point in your life, in order to understand it to your bones.

See, you put crabs in a bucket as you trap them. The crabs try to climb out, but you don't  have to worry about that -- the other crabs, the ones still in the bucket, will pull those trying to escape back down into the bucket.

This is America.

You would think those of us who are less well off would try to help each other. We'd celebrate workers who held a successful strike and increased their pay. We'd be pleased at people getting their healthcare and their education paid for by the state -- which is how it ought to be done, obviously.

Nope. Instead, here in America, we want to yank our fellow workers back down in the bucket. How dare you make $15/hour? When I'm only making $20/hour myself?

How dare you get healthcare? How dare you demand to be free from drug testing? How dare you expect to be educated without going into crippling debt?

Here in America, we won't even allow retail workers to sit down during their shifts, even when it makes perfect sense for them to be sitting (those running registers, for instance). How dare they ask to be treated humanely?

I'd say this stems from ignorance, but in fact it stems from the American worship of capitalism. Here in the USA, poverty is not just a crime, it's a sin.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

The Sockdolager

The Sockdolager is back up!

This is the magazine that published several of my favorite stories (the favorite one I myself wrote, I mean).

Check them out.

Monday, May 20, 2019

The Kid Moves

We spent today helping the Kid and his roommate move to a new apartment. The kid's uncle helped. (A friend will help you move. A wonderful friend will help your kid move.)

It was unseasonably cool for Arkansas in May, so our suffering was not great. I did learn that I am not 100% over whatever that disease was that laid me low for four or five months last year. I thought all my strength was back; but apparently it was only day-to-day strength, rather than helping-to-move strength.

The Kid's new place is nice, though -- two bedrooms, big windows, lots of light.

Also it is now de rigueur for apartments to come with a washer and dryer, just as once upon a time they only came with stoves; and then they started coming with stoves and refrigerators. Now it's stoves, refrigerators, washer-and-dryers, a microwaves.

Also built-in wifi.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Neal Schusterman's Unwind Ch 22 -25

Apparently some people like this book enough to have done fan art of it? So it has a target audience out there, who ain't me.

 Here's Connor holding the Storked Baby, which, you know, is interesting, since he holds the baby once in the entire book, when Schusterman wants to write that touching paragraph. Otherwise, it's Risa stuck carting the infant around, and feeding it, and changing it, and dealing with it when it wakes up crying at 1:00 a.m.

But yeah. Connor holds it once. He's a hero.

Chapter 22

Risa's point of view. The Underground Railway has dumped all the AWOL Unwinds in a big warehouse with no bedding, no heat, and only one bathroom (no bathing facilities) for over 40 adolescents. Also nothing to do except some ancient board games (Schusterman doesn't tell us which board games, but I'm guessing not Life, since how would anyone fit 10 kids in one of those little plastic cars?

Fights and friction ensue. Risa cleverly susses out that the bully from their first stop on the Railroad -- Roland -- is trying to take control of all the kids. Why? You got me. They're all going to move on soon, I assume?

Anyway, so we get Risa explaining group dynamics to Connor, who has apparently had social anxiety or maybe a touch of Autism. Risa defines this as him being a hero, since he's willing to fight "for his rights," she says, but actually he just fights when he's over-stimulated by crowds and noise.

The kids are being guarded by seven people in camouflage fatigues, and also armed with rifles. This leads to a surprisingly good passage, when Risa asks one of the guards why they're helping the Unwinds.

“Saving you and others like you is an act of conscience,” the woman had said. “Doing it is its own reward.”  
The Fatigues all talk like that. Big-Picture-speak, Risa calls it. Seeing the whole, and none of the parts. It’s not just in their speech but in their eyes as well. When they look at Risa, she can tell they don’t really see her. 

Chapter 23

Connor's point of view. Nothing happens. Connor feels bad for losing Lev, Conner notices that Risa's analysis of what Roland was doing is correct. Connor is sad.

Chapter 24

Risa again. It's Christmas day. The guards bring their food, and Risa goes to use the bathroom while everyone else is eating, except Roland follows her in and tries to rape her.

Connor interrupts and acts like he doesn't care if Risa gets raped, because, as he says, "We broke up this morning."

It's okay to rape girls in this world so long as their ex-boyfriends don't care about it.

But no worries! Roland was only raping Risa to get Connor to fight with him. (Why, when we've already seen that the guards don't care when the Unwinds fight? I have no idea.) So when he finds out Connor has ditched Risa, he loses interest in raping her and leaves.

Which was Connor's cunning plan all along.

Connor had done the right thing. For once, he had seen the situation more clearly than she—and he had probably ensured that Roland wouldn’t physically threaten her again, at least for a while. And yet there’s a part of her that can’t forgive him for just standing there. After all, heroes are supposed to behave in very specific ways. They’re supposed to fight, even if it means risking their lives. 

Risa is disappointed that he is clever instead of violent. Heroes are supposed to be violent and dumb, I think is the subtext here?

Chapter 25

Connor's point of view. Nothing happens. Connor is sad that Risa is mad at him.

We're 40% through the book. I hope this really dull sidetrack episode ends soon.

Saturday, May 18, 2019


It's been a rough week. Here's some links, most of which will not cheer you up, I'm afraid.

But facts and evidence are better than ignorance and propaganda.

This has happened before

More on that

It's a feature, not a bug

N&M have more links, and ways to take action

This is America

A mother's day post

See also this

I like this AOC. 

Also Warren. If AOC were just a bit older, we could have a Warren/AOC ticket in 2020.

A wonderful short story


I love this comic

Mice in Space!

As I often tell my students, don't let people who hate something define that thing for you:

Also, as I noted above, this has happened before:

"Are you going to be loyal to me or to that f*cking Constitution?"

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Neal Schusterman's Unwind Chapters 20-21

This section contains high-grade weirdness, so just be warned.

Chapter 20

Not too weird. Sonia ships her underground railroad group off to another stop on the railroad, but first the teacher Hannah shows up to take the baby off Risa's hands. She's going to adopt it -- which here in this world just means claiming she was storked.

No checks into Hannah's background, or her husband's background, or how she plans to parents, or where she's living, or if she can afford a child. In Schusterman's world, adopting a child is like adopting a kitten, which is about what babies are worth in this world, apparently.

Also, why did Hannah wait to come get the baby at the very last minute?

You got me.

Risa thinks about the hundreds of babies that Ohio Home Number Four, which it had been her job to help feed and change -- there was no time and no staffing for any real caring.

“In a place like this you have to practice triage,” [Nurse Greta] told Risa, referring to how, in an emergency, a nurse had to choose which patients would get medical attention. “Love the ones you can,” Nurse Greta told her. “Pray for the rest.” 

I hope Schusterman is going to explain at some point why people who get storked can't just ditch the unwanted infant at a home. How are Home infants different from Storked infants?

Part Three of the book starts with an actual 'news' story from 2006, which was in fact published by the BBC, about how parents at a Ukrainian hospital claimed their healthy newborns were being taken from them by the hospital and murdered. The hospital agreed to allow the bodies of  about 30 "foetuses and full-term babies from a cemetery used by the maternity hospital" to be exhumed, and someone sent the BBC footage of bodies that had been dismembered and were missing organs, "including brains."

This news story was picked up by "Pro-Life" propaganda sites, including the always stellar LifeNews, as evidence that "liberals" were murdering their babies for their organs.

That's clearly what Schusterman wants us to believe as well -- that these fetuses and newborns were killed for their organs.

We're reminded of the faked videos put out by David Daleiden claiming Planned Parenthood was selling fetal organs for profit. I see no further mention of these Ukrainian baby-murders anywhere on any reputable site, and suspect this "story" is as much propaganda as Daleiden's was.

Schusterman, however, obviously believes it's the stone truth. So if you thought he had any intellectual credibility....

Chapter 21

We're back with Lev, and this is such a bizarre chapter.

Schusterman tackles not just gay marriage but racism. And it would be hilarious if it wasn't appalling.

Lev has been taken under the wing of a Magical Negro -- wait, I mean a Magical Umber.

Umber because this is how Schusterman solves racism in America. See "this artist" started painting "people of African ancestry in the Deep South," and the paint color he used most was Umber. So everyone started calling black people "Umbers" and presto! That solved racism.

Me: "Oh, my God."

Anyway! This new character is a kid who seems about sixteen named Cyrus Finch, though he calls himself "CyFi."

What's a Magical Negro? It's a black character (occasionally some other minority character, such as an Asian or a disabled person or an immigrant or a "sassy gay friend") who is put in the story to help the real person -- the white main character -- on their spiritual journey.

The Magical Negro speaks in folksy language, using folksy tales to teach the white character the lessons they need to learn. Magical Negros usually come from poverty or some other "inferior" background, which of course is more "real" than the privileged background of our white character. (See, their experience has been "real," whereas the white character is "spoiled" or "soft," coming as they do from a not-real world.)

Magical Negros often have "funny" names, to emphasize the nature of their Otherness. They're so wacky, those people.

Magical Negros exist only to help white people. They have no agency or desires of their own. They're servants -- in fact, the first Magical Negros were often slaves. CF Uncle Remus, or Uncle Tom from Uncle Tom's Cabin. 

Eva with her Magical Negro Uncle Tom 

CyFi speaks in a faux-black dialect.

Schusterman lampshades this by having CyFi admit he doesn't speak AAVE naturally.

[Lev says]"You’re speaking wrong on purpose.” 
“Wrong? What makes it wrong? ... I ain’t appreciating you disrespecting my patois. 

But he's careful to make it clear that one sort of English dialect (American Broadcast Standard) is "right" while other kinds (such as AAVE) are "wrong."

“Sure, I can talk like you," [CyFi says], "but I choose not to. It’s like art, you know? Picasso had to prove to the world he can paint the right way, before he goes putting both eyes on one side of a face, and noses stickin’ outta kneecaps and stuff. See, if you paint wrong because that’s the best you can do, you just a chump. But you do it because you want to? Then you’re an artist.”

See, AAVE is just "wrong" English. Not a dialect with its own grammar, wordstock, and rules for pronunciation. Nah. Just "bad" English.

This is how people who think they know something about how language works describe non-standard dialects -- just in case you thought Schusterman knew anymore about linguistics than he did about evaluating sources. (See also Dunning-Kruger Syndrome.)

Back to the plot!

CyFi is teaching Lev how to live off the land, more or less, which means charming people into giving them food (Magical Negros are always wily and charming) and breaking into abandoned houses and other buildings to find shelter for the night.

As is always the case with the Magical Negro trope, the student becomes the master -- Lev is soon better at finding food and shelter for them than Cyfi was, even though he's two or three years younger and ignorant as dirt. Because white genes are superior, obviously.

Magical Negros also often have supernatural powers, and CyFi has something like that -- he had a bad bike wreck and since kids in the Unwind world don't wear helmets, he damaged his brain.

But his two dads bought him a new temporal lobe from an Unwind to replace the damaged part.

(Wait, two dads? Yeah, gimme a minute.)

This new temporal lobe takes control of CyFi's will and body, making him do things, like shoplift, and walk to Joplin, Missouri. That's what Lev and CyFi are doing in this chapter -- walking to Joplin, because the kid who used to own the temporal lobe wants CyFi to go there.

Lev knows all about brain tissue grafts, by the way:

Lev knows about that. His sister Cara has epilepsy, so they replaced a small part of her brain with a hundred tiny brain bits. It took care of the problem, and she didn’t seem any worse for it. It had never occurred to Lev where those tiny pieces of brain tissue might have come from. 

(A) I am pretty sure that's not a viable therapy, anymore than getting someone's temporal lobe transplanted in would be a viable therapy for a traumatic brain injury; and

(2) Schusterman knows no more about how brains work than he does about linguistics or how to evaluate sources. In this section, he also makes it clear that schools do "brain scans" to determine what a person's IQ is, which, yeah, no. That's just goofy.

And speaking of goofy! Marriage Equality also doesn't exist in Schusterman's world, so while CyFi has two dads, they aren't married. But after CyFi was storked on their doorstep, they got "mmarried."

What's "mmarried"?

Apparently it's when two gay people marry. The extra M stands for Men, see, because Lesbians and bisexuals and transpeople don't exist in this world either.

Schusterman is careful to let us know, however, that both CyFi and Lev are one hundred percent heterosexual males. No icky gay people in this book.

CyFi has an episode, and self-harms, and Lev promises to take care of him. Isn't that sweet, the white kid won't let anything happen to his Magical Negro sidekick.

Sweet Jesus.

No Classes This Summer

Our university changed its policy for how it runs and pays for summer classes, which means -- as it develops -- that I won't have any classes this summer.

The bad news: This means I don't get summer pay, which we pretty much need to keep out of debt.

The good news: I get the summer off, for the first time since the kid was four years old.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Absolute Idiocy Corrupts Absolutely

Apropos the previous post, I spent way too long yesterday trying to reason with such a reactionary ignoramus on Twitter. It was an utter waste of time, for the reasons I mentioned.


Then I had a delightful Twitter argument with my kid, in which he was using reason and I was playing the part of a reactionary ignoramus.

It started when he wondered what he could eat. Like his father, he requires a heavy meat diet to stay on an emotional even keel, but we had no meat in the house.

Me: What about eggs, you could have eggs, we have eggs*

Him: Eggs aren't meat

Me: Of course eggs are meat. They're animal protein, that's meat

Him: My mom, who has a PhD: Eggs are meat

Me: My kid calls me out, ONE DAY AFTER MOTHER'S DAY





Him: No they are not, vegetarians can eat eggs, vegans can't, that's one of the differences, eggs aren't meat!

Me: Vegetarians eat fish, are you telling me fish aren't meat? I mean, I know the Catholic church says so, but

R: (another twitter friend): Fish are animals, eggs aren't animals

Me: They're potential animals, like babies are potential toddlers. Are you going to tell me babies aren't meat?

R: ...oh my God, dr delagar

Me: Admit it! Babies are little meat dumplings!

R: Yes, babies, I just can't

The Kid: Babies are creatures unto themselves while eggs are only potential creatures and milk is no creature at all

Me: They're just little creatures

Him: If you're going to reference peepee the term is creacher

Me: Milk makes muscles, muscles are meat, checkmate, creacher

Him: in which case, peanuts are meat?

Me: Don't be silly. Peanuts come from dirt, milk comes from people. If something COMES from something, it's obviously made of that something. So peanuts are dirt and milk is meat.

Him: (catching on) You have learned a lot from the whackos you argue with on twitter

Me: :D

Me: So do you want some eggs or not?

(Narrator: The kid ate eggs for dinner)

*This argument was conducted almost entirely over Twitter, even though we were literally about ten feet apart in the house, him in his room and me in the living room.

The Right-Wing Noise Machine

It's sad watching people who used to be fairly rational creatures having their judgment and their ability to reason destroyed as they get sucked into the toxic swamp of Fox News, the National Review, and all the other reactionary media sources.

It's telling, also, just who gets sucked in like this -- it's almost always those whose critical skills are under-developed and those who lack empathy.

They can't tell fact from fantasy because they've never tried to do that, for whatever reason; and they feel that lack of empathy like a wound, so that they'll do anything to justify it. Reactionary media lets them do this. It gives them an excuse to hate, and an excuse to stay ignorant.

I know I should feel sorry for such people, but as long as their ignorance and bizarre fantasies create danger for so many truly innocent people -- including my kid -- I just can't find it in me.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Schusterman's Unwind Ch 17 -19

Something I didn't mention in reviewing the last few chapters -- when Lev pulled the fire alarm, everyone thought it was a bomb scare. Apparently, in this world without contraception or birth control, people called "clappers" blow up schools for fun. (They do this by making their blood explosive, so that when they clap, they become tiny nuclear weapons, I guess. How do you make blood explosive? What an excellent question.)

I assume this impulse to blow up schools full of kids is because Unwinding is supposed to cause people to devalue life. That's a claim that's often made about contraception and birth control -- I've heard Evangelicals claim, for instance, that abortion leads to school shootings, because hey, if it's okay to kill a zygote, why isn't it okay to kill a 14 year old?

What really devalued life was women not being able to control their fertility. That's when we had slavery. That's when we had baby farms. That's when we had people leaving their excess children to die in jars, or dumping them en mass at foundling homes (where 90% of them died). That's when we had capital punishment for crimes as minor as theft or loitering.

I guess we could read Schusterman's book as saying that -- women unable to control their fertility leads to too many babies leads to contempt for all life.

I'm dubious, though.

Chapter 17

We're back in Risa point of view. The teacher is still helping them escape the school. She takes the baby, because obviously the police are looking for two kids with a baby. (What? Since when? Oh, since Lev betrayed them -- but how the fuck does the teacher know this? She doesn't even KNOW about Lev.)

Then Risa and Connor almost escape the two police officers who are scanning the crowd, looking for two kids with a baby -- since now Hannah has the baby (all of a sudden the teacher has a name, and it's Hannah, which we never actually learned, but okay).

They almost get away, but then Lev yells their names. In front of the police. Because he wants them to wait for him.

(1) Apparently Lev is an idiot, which I guess we knew, since he believed the whole it's-holy-to-be-tithed thing
(2) I thought the police didn't know Connor and Risa had run away? Wasn't that the whole point of the previous several chapters? Can we get a ruling on this plot point please?

Anyway, the police zero in on Risa and Connor, but not to worry, the jig is not up. Risa and Connor begin clapping wildly, because apparently that's what people who are blowing up schools full of children do, and everyone begins to run in circles, screaming and waving their arms.

Hannah catches up with them, dumps the baby on Risa again, and sends them to this antique shop, apparently a stop on the Unwind Underground Railroad.

Chapter 18

Lev's point of view. He's sad because Risa and Connor don't like him. Also, if he's not a Holy Tithe to God, then who is he?

Poor Lev is having an existential crisis. But he doesn't recognize that. He should have read fewer bible verses and more actual books.

Chapter 19

This is a long chapter. Brace yourselves.

Risa and Connor find the antique shop, but not before Connor gets annoyed at the constant crying of the baby. We get this charming sentence:

The baby is inconsolable, and Connor wants to complain to Risa about it, but knows that he can’t.

And that's how it will be from this point on, by the way. The baby is Risa's responsibility. She has to feed it and take care of it and it's her fault when it cries. I mean, we can't expect Connor to do anything to take care of a baby.

The antique shop / Underground Railroad is run by a grumpy old woman named Sonia who are first pretends not to know why Connor and Risa are there, though later she admits that Hannah called to say they were coming.

Why would Sonia do this? I think Shusterman is trying to create tension, at the expense of credibility.

Sonia advises Risa to let Connor get her pregnant "again." Apparently pregnant children aren't Unwound, so that would buy her 9 months. But apparently children can be Unwound once they give birth. Which makes very little sense. What happens to their children? State Homes? What?

Anyway, Sonia sends them to the room she lives in, behind the store, where Risa feeds the baby cow's milk straight from the fridge with a spoon.

This tells you how much time Schusterman has spent with day-old infants.

Then Sonia stows Risa and Connor and the baby down in the cellar with three other Unwind AWOLS. One is a juvenile offender, one is a rich boy with braces on his teeth, and one is an Asian girl.

We hear all their stories.

Hayden, the rich kid, has parents who are going through a messy divorce. Neither will surrender custody of him. Both agree to have him Unwound instead.

I don't need to say that makes no sense at all, right? As much sense as paying for braces for a kid you're planning to Unwind.

The juvenile offender, Roland, beat up his stepfather for hitting his mom. Mom sided with the stepfather, so Roland was sentenced to be Unwound. Apparently Unwinding is also a judicial punishment. But why only use it for 13-18 year olds? If you're going to harvest criminals for their organs, what sense does it make to stop when they turn 18?

The Asian girl, Mai, is a racist cliche. Her parents wanted a son, and kept having babies -- and unwinding the girls -- until they got one. Mai says this is "normal," and that in China "back in the day" girl babies were killed right and left.

Two chapters ago we were told Unwinding was different from killing. But now it's not again. Which is it, Schusterman?

Anyway, they squabble like adolescents down in this cellar. Risa takes care of the baby, who somehow acquired the name Didi. Connor and Hayden bond.  Hayden tells us the story of Humphrey Dunfree, who were heard about some chapters back.

See, Humphrey's parents sent him to be Unwound. But later they were sorry. So his dad hacked into the Unwind Database and found out who had gotten all of Humphrey's organs and skin and all his bits. Then the parents murdered all those kids and stitched Humphrey back together again.

I'll give it to Schusterman, this is a pretty good urban legend. It fits the worldbuilding he'd done pretty well.

Sonia takes everyone upstairs one at a time and has them write a letter to whoever they loved most in the world. (This is Connor's parents, which is a little surprising.) She says if they survive to 18, they should come back for the letter. If not, she'll mail it to their loved ones.

Again, nice touch.

The chapter ends with Connor holding the baby -- the one he's left Risa to care for non-stop since they acquired the kid -- so that Schusterman can give us a touching paragraph:

It’s asleep, and right now, in this place and at this moment, there’s something so comforting about holding it in his arms, he’s thankful he saved it. And he thinks that if his soul had a form, this is what it would be. A baby sleeping in his arms. 

Connor 'saved' it. But caring for it 24/7 is Risa's job. I don't know if Schusterman thinks this makes sense, or if we're supposed to see Connor as kind of a dick.

Maybe both.

According to my Kindle, we're only 30% through the book. I hope something interesting happens soon.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Happy Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day to all y'all who celebrate such things.

We don't, usually, but Dr. Skull hasn't cooked a splendid meal (one of his favorite things to do) in a long time, so we're celebrating this year.

The menu:

  • Champagne Salmon 
  • Potatoes Dauphinoise
  • Broccoli some fancy way
  • Sourdough bread (from his own sour, of course)
  • Lime ice cream

The lime ice cream has been a sore trial. Dr. Skull made it for my very first mother's day, when the Kid was like six days old, and never again since. (It requires juicing tons of limes, which without a juicer is a struggle.) Also, this is Oh My God There Are Ants Everywhere! season in Arkansas, so when he poured the sugar into the measuring cup it was mostly ants. Also he had to make an emergency four a.m. run for cream, since the sort we had on hand was deeply inferior.

Dinner is at five, however, and everything is currently under control.

Friday, May 10, 2019

New Chapter of Triple Junction

A new chapter of Triple Junction* is available over on my Patreon.

Also! You can read the first five chapters, plus several reviews of SF works, over there for free.

And for as little as $3/month, you can read a new chapter of Triple Junction every Friday.

What a deal!

*Triple Junction is the long-awaited sequel to Broken Slate.

Thursday, May 09, 2019

Schusterman's Unwind: Chapter 11-16

Y'all, they're apparently making a movie out of this book. What the hell.

It looks really terrible. But I do note in this movie, it's not parents selling their kids to be Unwound. It's the "government" coming to confiscate the kids.

I wonder if the part about no abortion/contraception will be in the movie.

Chapter 11

Connor finds a newspaper in some bushes. It was "misthrown" by a paperboy.

In the future, we have paperboys and newspapers printed on actual paper. Good to know.

The three felons read the newspaper eagerly, looking for a story about their escape. Nothing.

“That can’t be right,” says Lev, “I was kidnapped, or . . . uh . . . at least they think I was. That should be in the news.” 
“Lev’s right,” says Risa. “They always have incidents with Unwinds in the news. If we’re not in there, there’s a reason.” 
Connor, who we have already noticed is terrible at thinking ahead, claims it's good news. No pictures in the paper, no way to find them.

Risa claims the lack of story means Lev's family (who are rich, apparently, although I don't see how, what with 10 kids, unless they've been scamming their church, never mind, okay, I get it now) want him back, and are covering up the story to keep his felonious behavior out of the news. Also to shoot Connor and Risa, because...I don't know, just because. Why not just knock them out with the stun gun and then proceed with the unwinding?

Also in this section, both Connor and Risa seem to think that being "murdered" is worse than being Unwound. It's not what they thought before, but okay.

While everyone is arguing, a police car cruises past, as does a school bus, and also Connor hears a baby crying. It's teh Storked kid!

Connor thinks uneasily about the two Storked babies who showed up on his doorstep. Apparently some Dark Secret here, since Connor has only one younger sibling.

In any case, he approaches the Storked infant (which is still crying) and Risa tries to get him to leave. She demands to know if he's crazy.

Then the door to the house open, and the six-year-old who opens it wails, "Oh no! Mom! We've been Storked again!"

 Most people have two emergency modes. Fight and Flight. But Connor always knew he had three: Fight, Flight, and Screw Up Royally. 
It was a dangerous mental short circuit. The same short circuit that made him race back toward armed Juvey-cops to rescue Lev instead of just saving himself. He could feel it kicking in again right now. He could feel his brain starting to fry. “We’ve been storked again,” the fat kid had said. Why did he have to say “again”? Connor might have been all right if he hadn’t said “again.” 
Don’t do it! Connor tells himself. This is not the same baby! But to some deep, unreasoning part of his brain, they’re all the same baby. 

Connor's just a hero, y'all. Trying to save all the babies. (Fat shaming? What fat-shaming?)

The kid's mom shows up, and she's angry and disgusted. As you would be, if you were forced to have kids you didn't want, couldn't afford, and had no time for.

Mom accuses Connor of having left the baby on her doorstep, and threatens to call the police (the cruiser is still there, stopped by the school bus, which is taking forever to load, I guess because we have so many kids in this Future) over to deal with him. At that point, Risa steps up and claims she left the baby there.

Bear in mind Risa is 13. Apparently that's a common thing in this world without contraception or abortion -- 13 year old children having babies.

Mom says to come get the kid, then. (Storking is only legal if you don't get caught.) She also advises Risa that men are no good, and you should never trust them.

Chapter 12

They take the baby and get on the school bus, so that the police officer won't notice them.

The bus is packed full, and other students are carrying babies too. So yeah, apparently in this future children get pregnant and have babies all the time. It's NBD.

(I mean, this is accurate. Here in Arkansas, where our schools don't teach sex ed; where our Evangelical parents tell their kids that abstaining is the only legitimate form of birth control; where access to condoms, never mind other forms of birth control, is limited at best -- well, we have the highest rate of pregnancy among of 12-17 year olds in the nation: 39.5 per a thousand. In Colorado, where sex education and contraception are readily available, it's 7.9 per thousand.)

Luckily, as one of these children tells Risa, the school has a "great daycare."

Chapter 13

Back in Lev's point of view. He's on the bus, trying to understand why he didn't run to the police when he had the chance. He thinks Risa is probably right, and that the police have orders to shoot Risa and Connor, with actual bullets.

Again, this makes no sense. I suppose Lev's Evil Family (he tells us they're influential, and not to be "trifled with") could want to keep Lev's escape, as they see it, quiet. But it's not like Unwound kids at the Harvest Factory have access to the media. I mean, I wouldn't expect they do.

Lev doesn't want Risa and Connor shot. But he does think they should be Unwound:

These two Unwinds are out of control. He no longer fears that they’ll kill him, but that doesn’t make them any less dangerous. They need to be protected from themselves. They need . . . they need . . . they need to be unwound. Yes. That’s the best solution for these two. They’re of no use to anyone in their current state, least of all themselves. It would probably be a relief for them, for now they’re all broken up on the inside. Better to be broken up on the outside instead. 

"Broken on the inside" reminds me of the way Arkansas Evangelicals talk about progressives. We're "dirty on the inside," as one of my kid's classmates told her.

It's a way of dehumanizing people, and thus very accurate here.

Anyway, he decides to enlist the help of the boy sitting next to him, telling him he's being held hostage by the AWOL kids sitting behind them.

The boy could not care less, which is kind of funny.

Chapter 14

The bus arrives at school. Connor, Lev, and Risa (still toting the baby) go to hide in the girl's bathroom until lunch time. Schusterman seems to think this would work, that no one would notice three kids and a baby going into a girl's bathroom and hiding out all morning. Connor says he used to hide in bathrooms all the time, to get out of going to class.

Did Schusterman go to high school? That's really not how it works. I mean, these kids aren't students, so no one will be looking for them. But Connor was a student at his school. The minute he didn't show up for class, his teacher would be issuing a report to the office, where someone would call his parents to ask where he was. Even when I was in school, back in the dark ages, that was how it worked. And I know it's how it works now, since I got more than one of those phone calls (always clerical errors, since my kid is an inveterate rule-follower).

Anyway, they hide in the bathroom. And we hear Connor's story about the storked baby that showed up on his doorstep.

His parents didn't want a baby, so they storked it to another house in the neighborhood. Who also storked it. Who also storked it. Eventually it showed up at Connor's house again, but by then it was dying of neglect.

That's Connor's trauma.

Except this story doesn't make sense in the world as it has been given to us -- apparently if you get a Storked Baby, and you don't want it, you're allowed to send it to one of the State Homes. That's what happened with Risa, remember.

Lev tells us that storking is perfectly moral, and no big deal. Doesn't his family have three storked kids? Also storking is in the Bible. Wasn't Moses storked? Checkmate, pagans.

Classes change. A flood of students. When the bathroom is empty again -- Connor and Risa notice Lev has run away.

How? He's a boy in the girl's bathroom. No one noticed as he left with them? No one said a thing? I mean, okay, maybe in the Future adolescents are more accepting of trans kids, but (a) Lev isn't trans and (b) this world doesn't seem like that world. So far we haven't even seen any LGB kids, much less trans kids.

Also, the baby starts crying.

Chapter 15

Ah. Now we get an explanation. As Lev was leaving the bathroom, the girls did notice him. But they just made fun of him.

Lev finds his way to the office and turns himself in, telling them he's been kidnapped by AWOL Unwinds.

Everyone is horrified and very sympathetic. The police are called. Lev is puzzled by their assumption that he's going home -- I guess he didn't notice that he didn't tell them he was an Unwind as well. To be fair, Lev doesn't consider himself an Unwind. He's a Tithe, which is...somehow better?

He calls home, and his pastor answers the phone, and is horrified to find Lev is trying to be unwound. He tells Lev that he convinced Lev's parents not to call the police, that Lev's escape was "God's Will."

And he tells Lev he should run for it. Lev is stunned.

And all at once the truth comes to Lev. Pastor Dan wasn’t telling him to run away from the kidnapper that day—he was telling Lev to run away from him. From his parents. From his tithing. After all of his sermons and lectures, after all that talk year after year about Lev’s holy duty, it’s all been a sham. Lev was born to be tithed—and the man who convinced him this was a glorious and honorable fate doesn’t believe it. 

So apparently in Schusterman's world the religious leaders know murdering kids for their organs is wrong, but...for some reason they don't stand up and say so?

Lev slips out of the office and pulls the fire alarm.

Why? I guess so he can escape in the hoo-rah, but that's not really clear.

Chapter 16

Now we're in the point of view of a teacher. She's mad that there's a fire alarm during her planning period, and also she thinks it's a fake alarm, like always. She thinks about staying in her room.

(Hey, Schusterman: Teachers are told when there's going to be a fire alarm test, and for just this reason -- you don't want them deciding to stay in their rooms during a real emergency.)

But she decides to evacuate with all the students, because she wants to be a good example.

As she's herding students from the building she hears -- a baby crying!

Following the sound, she finds Connor and Risa hiding in a chemistry lab with the storked baby. She realizes they're Unwinds (why? how? This is two kids with a baby, why does she think they're Unwinds?) and decides to help them escape.


I think we're supposed to understand that no one in this world thinks the Unwind program is a good idea. (Except maybe Connor's parents.) And yet they do nothing useful about it. I hope we find out why later.

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Exam Time

We're done with classes and into exams and grading.

In other words: my least favorite time of the year.

See you on the other side.

Monday, May 06, 2019

Reading Unwind Chapters 5-10

This sections gets a little more into world-building. Not convincing world-building, mind you.

Chapter Five

An entirely unnecessary point of view switch, though I guess it does give us some world-building.

You'll remember we left off with our three main characters, Connor, Risa, and Lev, fleeing from the scene of the accident.

This chapter (with the title "Cop") is from the point of view of a single police officer who chases them into the woods. We get a look at his thoughts about Unwind kids who try to run away:

He knows AWOL Unwinds will not give up as long as there’s an ounce of consciousness left in them. They are high on adrenaline, and often high on illegal substances as well. Nicotine, caffeine, or worse. He wishes his bullets were the real thing. He wishes he could truly take these wastes-of-life out rather than just taking them down. Maybe then they wouldn’t be so quick to run—and if they did, well, no great loss. 
This is going to be part of Schusterman's Big Theme, which is that this new world was created to make life more sacred, but has actually cheapened life.

And I mean, that makes sense. A world where parents were allowed to sell off their 13 year olds to the organ factory would be a fucked up world.

But I can't help seeing a covert "pro-life" message here, given that this is one of the arguments made often by anti-choice people. Their claim is that pro-choice people see life as disposable, and that abortion and birth control have created a generation that sees life as cheap and degraded. I've seen arguments that the pro-choice worldview has led to school shootings, for example.

(This is deeply ironic, obviously, given that it's "Pro-life" people who are adamantly opposed to such things as food stamps, socialized medicine, universal daycare, and every other social good which might help people and their children survive. Pro-fetus /= Pro-life.)

Anyway, the eeeevil cop is ambushed by Connor, who steals his tranquilizer gun and knocks him out.

So not a very good cop, apparently.

Chapter Six

Back to Lev's point of view. Connor has tied him to a tree with some handy vines (what?) and is refusing to release him, since he knows Lev will run right back and surrender himself to be Unwound if he does.

This part seems odd. I guess Schusterman wants to start build up Connor as our hero, someone who -- unlike his culture -- sees all life as sacred. Thus even though he doesn't know Lev, and even though Lev clearly wants to be Unwound, and even though that's a religious choice on Lev's point, Connor Knows Best, and will imprison him to keep him alive.

But in fact this doesn't mesh with the Connor as we've met him. That Connor didn't have enough foresight to stay out of trouble when he knew his life was at risk, didn't care about his parents or his sibling, didn't care about getting the girl he supposedly loved in big trouble (putting her at risk of being Unwound), and wasn't clever enough to leave his phone behind. But now he understands (intuitively, I guess?) that All Life Is Sacred.

If Connor was keeping Lev a prisoner because he knew Lev would betray them all, this would make much more sense. But nope.

Lev decides to play along and pretend to be grateful for their help. Then he'll run as soon as he has the chance.

Chapter Seven

This chapter starts out with the Connor we've come to know:

Connor should have kept the Juvey-cop’s gun, but he wasn’t thinking. He was so freaked out at having tranq’d a cop with his own weapon, he just dropped it and ran—just as he dropped his backpack on the interstate so he could carry Lev. His wallet with all his money was in that pack. Now he has nothing but pocket lint. 

We also find out that Lev bit Connor at some point, and that the bite on his arm is becoming infected.

Also, that Connor thinks Risa is pretty. You will never guess why:

Risa’s pretty. Not in the way Ariana was pretty—in a better way. Ariana’s prettiness was all about makeup and pigment injections and stuff. Risa has a natural kind of beauty. 
Ah, yes. The 'natural' kind of pretty that guys 'really' like.

I hope you can hear my eyes rolling from way over here.

Also in this chapter we hear about some mythic Unwind, Humphrey Dunfree, who kids "everywhere" tell stories about. We don't get the stories here. Shusterman makes us wait.

Chapter Eight

Nothing happens, except we learn people in this world litter a lot. Also, Connor and Risa flirt with each other, more or less. It's not very interesting flirting.

Chapter Nine

Now we're in the point of view of a 'mother' (that's her entire identity, Schusterman doesn't even give her a name, mother is all she is) who has just given birth to a child. Apparently on her own, I guess in this alley.

I mean, I know that happens, especially with adolescents (this one is 19) who don't want to be pregnant. But despite what (some) people claim, giving birth to a child isn't 'natural' and it isn't easy. It's a dangerous business, and a 19 year old giving birth to a child on their own would be a horror show, not no-big-deal.

The 19 year old passes a dumpster on the way out of the alley and thinks about how in the past she would have been tempted to toss her baby in that.

There was a time, shortly after the Bill of Life was passed, that Dumpsters such as that would be tempting to girls like her. Desperate girls who would leave unwanted newborns in the trash. It had become so common that it wasn’t even deemed newsworthy anymore—it had become just a part of life. Funny, but the Bill of Life was supposed to protect the sanctity of life. Instead it just made life cheap.

Luckily, there's a new law called "The Storking Initiative." Basically, people can abandon their infants on any doorstep they please, and the people who live in the house legally have to adopt the infant.

This sheds new light on Lev's parents. You'll remember they had several kids who were 'storked.' I thought this meant they adopted kids of their own free will. But not so. Adoption is as forced as pregnancy and childbirth are in this world.

The 'mother' leaves her infant on a doorstep and staggers off.

If they catch her, she’s obliged to keep the baby—that’s part of the Storking Initiative too—but if they open the door and find nothing but the child, it’s “finder’s keepers” in the eyes of the law. Whether they want it or not, the baby is legally theirs. 
This is so obviously a recipe for disaster that I can't believe Schusterman thought for a second this part of the worldbuilding would be convincing. Force people not related to a child to adopt a child against their will -- one they can't afford and don't want. What do you think happens next?

I mean, we know what happened historically in this situation. There was an entire industry of 'baby farms' where parents sent their own children that they didn't want and couldn't afford, knowing that 9 out of 10 infants died on these farms. Not to mention what happened in Romania when Nicolae Ceausescu made both abortion and contraception illegal.

But here in the Unwind world it's going to be different somehow?

Schusterman adds a tiny sermon as the 'mother' flees the scene:

As she hurries down the street, she thinks how wonderful it is that she can get a second chance. How wonderful it is that she can dismiss her responsibility so easily. 

See, you slut, if you have sex, you have to be punished with a baby. Using contraception, or abortion, to prevent or end an unwanted pregnancy? That's just irresponsible. If we don't punish women with children for the crime of having sex, why, who knows what will happen to Our Society?

Chapter 10

We find out Risa is good at conning people out of food and clothing, which is better than Connor's plan -- he was just going to steal shit.

They need new clothing so they can disguise themselves, since they're now fugitives. And felons, as Lev points out:

“We’re not perps,” says Connor, “we’re AWOLs.” 
“We’re felons,” says Lev. “Because what you’re doing— I mean, what we’re doing—is a federal crime.” 
“What, stealing clothes?” asks Connor. 
“No, stealing ourselves. Once the unwind orders were signed, we all became government property.
It's another eeevil government plot.

Which is another problem I have with books like this -- governments are always eeeevil. And that's what most adolescents grow up thinking, because of these books and because of the GOP: government = evil.

Lack of government is the real evil. Governments sometimes fuck up, and sometimes they are run by evil men (cf Nicolae Ceausescu), but government itself is a necessity, and the only way we can stave off disaster, prevent the tragedy of the commons, and keep robber-barons from devouring us all.

Though, obviously, when the robber-barons buy the government, as is happening these days, you've got a different sort of problem.

But eeeevil government is such a tired trope. Please can we have better villains please.

More later

Sunday, May 05, 2019

Saturday, May 04, 2019

Math Game

As all y'all know, I have a math phobia -- or rather, probably, a math deficiency, due to having been taught (not taught) math in the Louisiana public school system.

As an adult, I learned algebra and finite math at the university, and liked them both very much. But that was some time past.

Now I've been playing this kid's math game (it's free!) under different names at different grade levels. From what I can tell, my math knowledge is somewhere between 5th and 6th grade. Seventh grade is definitely too hard for me, and 4th grade is too easy.

I do much better with the NYTimes word puzzles, but that's hardly a shock.

Friday, May 03, 2019

Reading Unwind, by Neal Shusterman

This is my next read-through, at the request of the Kid, who was compelled to read in it high school. This was one of the required texts in one of his English classes.

It purports to be a 'fair and balanced' response to the battle between Pro-Choice Americans and 'Pro-Life' Americans. In response to the 'Heartland War," the epigraph tells us, a 'Bill of Life' was passed.

To end the war, a set of constitutional amendments known as “The Bill of Life” was passed.  It satisfied both the Pro-life and the Pro-choice armies.   
The Bill of Life states that human life may not be touched from the moment of conception until a child reaches the age of thirteen.    
However, between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, a parent may choose to retroactively “abort” a child . . 

We are one page into this text and I am already saying Oh My God.

The 'Bill of Life' only makes sense if we assume (as apparently Shusterman did) that what pro-choice people really want to do is kill children.

Which, yeah, no. That's not what pro-choice people want, at all. They want the choice to be pregnant or not to be pregnant. And they want the risks and costs of the decision to be pregnant to be up to those who after all bear the physical dangers and costs of pregnancy. This 'Bill of Life' would do nothing about that.

Also, for fuck's sake, what "Pro-Life" person would be happy with killing children at 13? Even as annoying as most 13 year olds are. That's just beyond stupid.

Shusterman says people accept this because the 13 year olds don't 'really' die. Their body-parts and organs are transplanted into other people, so 'really' the children continue to live.

Again, in what universe would anyone find this argument acceptable?

But that's our premise. This novel already has a D- rating from me.

Chapter One

We meet Connor, who has discovered that his parents have sold him to the Unwinding... corporation? I don't know. It's not clear, at least so far, who runs the Unwinds.

Connor has been a trouble-making kid and young teen. He acted badly and mouthed off and refused to do well in school, even though he knew kids who acted that way were likely to be sold as Unwinds. Connor's kind of stupid, in other words, and terrible at planning ahead. True, he is thirteen. But still.

His parents are selling him off and using the money to go to Disneyworld with his younger, better behaved sibling. I'll admit I found this detail funny. I'm not sure Shusterman wanted us too, though.

Connor and his girlfriend decide to run away, except the girlfriend bails at the last minute.

Sulky, Conner runs on his own. He gets a lift from a sympathetic truck driver, who lost an arm in some early accident and now has an Unwind arm. The truck driver says the arm still had part of the dead teen's skills and personality (it can do card tricks) so he feels bad. That's why he helps.

Muscle memory is a thing, but I don't think it works like this. But whatever.

Just before they take off, Connor sees another teen get taken by the Unwind Police -- he was trying to run away too. But he draws attention away from Connor, in his noble way, and so Connor escapes in the truck.

He takes his phone with him, though. After his dad rats him out (boy, parents really hate their kid in this future world, I guess that's just how pro-choice people are, right?) the police track the phone, and the truck gets stopped.

I mean, this is realistic -- kids and their phones, amirite? -- but Connor has to be pretty stupid not to know he can be tracked by his phone.

The Unwind police are about to arrest him when Connor leaps the divide between two sides of the interstate (what?) and flees. At this point, between Connor's lack of foresight and his idiotic behavior, I'm really wondering if being Unwound wasn't his best possible future.

A car on the other side almost hits him, and crashes instead. Inside is a kid in white -- another Unwind! Connor pulls him from the wreck and they run off together.

Chapter Two

We meet another future Unwind, Risa. She's an orphan, living in Ohio State Home 23, and has been training in the orphanage to be a pianist. But she's just not quite good enough.

A little world-building here. Since contraception and abortion are now illegal, lots of parents surrender their extra kids at birth to the state. Some are adopted (storked, this is called). The rest end up in state custody, where they have to earn their right to survive past 13.

Risa hasn't. She's good at music, but not excellent. And 5% of the kids in the home have to be Unwound every year. This year, she's one of that 5%. She offers to change tracks -- she doesn't have to be a musician! She'll join the military instead!

Too late, her administrators tell her cheerily. Off she goes.

In the transport, she meets another Unwind, who seems happy about it. He knows he's a useless human being, he says, but this way part of him will go on to do something useful.

On the one hand, this makes sense -- the propaganda that must be fed to the kids in the home (excel or be unwound) might actual create this sort of resignation.

On the other hand, wow.

Then the bus they're in crashes into the pile-up Connor created by jumping across the interstate barrier, and Risa escapes.

Chapter Three's the creepiest chapter yet.

We meet a religious family. In this world, the 'Pro-Life' people now apparently make a religion out of bearing a lot of kids and 'tithing' one out of ten to the Unwind Centers. Apparently, all religious families do this now -- they have a ton of kids and designate one or more of them as their 'tithe.'

I'm guess for the money? I don't know. This doesn't make any sense. I don't care how much you believe in God, the notion that you'll send one out of ten kids to be slaughtered and call that 'Pro-Life' seems....

I was going to say unlikely, but then I remember the family in my neighborhood that was famous for not believing in birth control. They had twelve kids, which they could not afford (who can afford 12 kids?) and the three oldest joined the military in order to send money back and help the rest.

I mean, I don't know that those three died or even suffered injuries. But this was the era of the Vietnam war, so, yeah, kind of a tithe.

Lev is the tithe from his family. He's been raised from birth with the understanding that he's a special child, a sacrifice to God. Now that he's 13, and it's time to be Unwound, he's a little uncertain.

His preacher tells him that this is what God wants, and that he's the best of all his siblings, and that God wants the best. We find out that several of Lev's siblings are adopted (storked, as the novel puts it), because after all good Pro-life families all adopt lots of kids. And then send one of their own kids off to be Unwound.

Nevertheless, Lev is convinced, at least for now.

Lev, of course, is the kid that Connor rescues from the car.

Chapter Four

Lev objects to Connor's attempt to rescue him -- he's a tithe, God wants him to do this -- but the Unwind Cops are shooting at the three of them (Connor, Risa, and Lev) and Lev gets knocked out.

Connor shoulders him and he and Risa run for it.

Exasperated Thoughts:

So far this book fails the how-people-act test.

I'm not saying people don't surrender one or more children to help the other children in the family -- as I noted, a family in our neighborhood did just that. And I'm sure we can all think of families in which the oldest child works at terrible jobs to give the younger children a better advantage.

But there's a wide difference between that and selling your child to have its organs and other parts harvested.

Schusterman might think there's a parallel here, with some parents having abortions -- stopping a pregnancy because they can't afford another child, because that expense would harm the future of their family, including their already existing children.

Or someone at 16 having an abortion in order to finish school, giving themselves and their future children a better life.

Maybe that's the metaphor he's working with.

But there's a big difference between an abortion and killing your 13 year old.

Pretending this is exactly the same thing, either morally or ethically, is not just nonsense, it's the vile sort of lie we hear from 'Pro-life' people all the time. A blastocyst is the exact same thing as a toddler, so killing one is the same as killing the other.

No one believes that, not really. Or if they do, they're not someone I'd trust with a child anyway.

Also, Schusterman is ignoring the actual reason many people have abortions -- they don't want to be pregnant. Maybe they just don't want to be pregnant now; maybe they never want to be pregnant.

This is typical of the 'pro-life' crowd, obviously. Pregnancy isn't a disease! they declare. Childbirth is natural, they declare. It's only nine months, after all, and if you don't want they baby, why, you can just let some good Christian family adopt it.

Pregnancy kills over 700 people in America a year, and injures many, many others.

Pregnancy is a debilitating and miserable experience.

Yes, I know, some people love being pregnant. But for most of us, no, it's nausea and swelling feet and agonizing pain in our bones and ligaments, it's heart burn, it's the inability to take medication, some of which is vital for our health, it's a condition that causes permanent and sometimes debilitating changes to our bodies. It's not 'just nine months' of no big deal, and it's not over when we deliver, either.

And pregnancy creates a child which we are responsible for, forever. Giving that child up for adoption may seem easy to someone who had never birthed a child, but I could no more have given my child away than I could have sliced out my liver. It would have felt exactly the same.

The whole premise of this book, frankly, is something that only a person who could never be pregnant would have thought made any sense at all.

I'm going to keep reading, but jeez.