Friday, December 31, 2021

Goodbye 2021

I watched a mocumentary on Netflix called Death to 2021, and I considered calling this post that, only maybe a bit stronger (fuck 2021), but rose above it. As the kid said when his boyfriend learned that someone in their family (with whom the boyfriend had just spent a week) had just tested positive for Covid-19, "Yeah, 2021 just had to get in one last 'Fuck you'."

Top posts of 2021:

January: My mother dies

February: Giant snowstorm

March: Bigots

April: Bees

May: This was fun

June: Remember CRT? Good times!

July: Unmasking as a Cultural Marker

August: The Right throws another pretend tantrum

September: In a rare burst of good news, my book is released, is featured on Scalzi's Big Idea, and gets good reviews

October: Conservatives try to make art

November: I come to a realization

December: Another bit of good news!

Also, this was the year of Evergreen, Jorts the Cat, Milkgate, that Texas law, and This. Also we're currently at 823k deaths from Covid in the US, and 54 million cases. USA! USA! USA!

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Some Day This Plague's Going to End

Honestly at this point I hardly remember a time before Covid.

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Time Loop, Maybe?

Jesus, how is it still December?

Hanukkah is long over, so we're just having the kid's Happy Graduation dinner today. Dr. Skull is currently fretting over the cheese cake.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

What I'm Reading Now

Claire Keegan, Small Things Like These

This is another of those novellas-published-as-novels. Just over 100 pages, it's a story about an Irish guy, Bill, who sells coal, set in 1985. He himself is illegitimate, but his mother's employer took her in when her own family kicked her out, so he was brought up in safety and relative luxury. Now married, he has five children with his wife, all of whom are being educated by the local nuns. This same nunnery runs, besides a school for the locals, a reformatory for "bad girls," which is to say girls who have gotten pregnant out of wedlock. Bill comes across one of these girls locked in the coal shed on a freezing night, and slowly comes to realize the abuse she is suffering. His wife and everyone else in the town comes down on him hard to look the other way, and the nuns threaten reprisals against his own children. He has to decide what to do.

Beautiful writing in this one, and the dilemma Bill is caught in is convincing. The novel(la) feels unfinished, though. Another couple hundred pages would have helped.

Annabel Abbs, Miss Eliza's English Kitchen 

Another one about women with illegitimate children. The main focus here is on Eliza Acton, who wrote a famous cookbook in 1845, and the kitchen girl who worked with her on testing and evaluating the recipes. 

The main plot move is Eliza's illegitimate child, raised by her sister, and Eliza having to decide between marriage and continuing her work as a writer (of poems and the cookbook). There's some nice details about the sensual side of life, which was not quite respectable in Eliza's circles. The kitchen girl's mother is suffering from dementia, so that part hit home with me.

This is also nicely written, and gives a good look at what life was like for women, including poor women, in 19th century England. I enjoyed it, but I would have liked more recipes, frankly. 

Richard Feynman, Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman

An odd but interesting book -- Feynman was one of the physicists who worked on the Manhattan project. He won the Nobel prize for something I don't quite understand. (Lots of the book is physics, which I have a hard time with.) The book is mostly anecdotes about his life, so if you're interested in what life was like for an academic from about 1935 on, it's fun to read. Apparently there's a sequel, but my library doesn't have it. 

CN: Some misogyny, related to picking up women in bars. One of his friends teaches Feynman about "negging," well before that term was invented, I suspect, and he relates several stories about how he made it work, before noting that he didn't enjoy having sex with women via that method. This part of the book is a pretty unpleasant read.

Dorothy Sayers, Strong Poison, Gaudy Night, Nine Tailors

Re-reads, because my library is still mostly buying books for children. I'm all for kids getting books, but this book drought is a little lengthy. I've decided against buying a Roomba, though, and now am wavering between buying a Kindle and just buying more books. The downside to buying more books is I will need more bookshelves. The downside to buying a Kindle is that if I read electronic words late at night, my insomnia is worse. (Or anyway I think it is. I need to look into whether that is true or just a scoldy myth.)

Anyway, Sayers holds up. This is like the 10th time I've read these books, and they're still wonderful. My library has them in large print, also, which is much easier for me to read late at night.

The New Lie

 Apparently this is the one Trumpists are pushing now:

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

I feel really bad....

 ...for laughing at this one:

Buying Bacon Fat

I saw this for sale in our local Wal-Mart:

WTAF. Doesn't everyone keep a coffee can or an old mayonnaise jar (one of the glass ones) next to their stove to drain bacon fat into? I thought I was getting fancy when I bought a dark brown mason jar to keep mine in (because dark glass means the fat keeps longer). Recently, I saw someone say putting the grease in the fridge, instead of leaving it on the counter, meant it would keep longer too.

But honestly I've never had bacon grease go bad. It gets used up too fast in this house.

Here in the South, bacon grease is a key ingredient in many foods. But you've already paid for the bacon; you don't need to pay for the grease as well.

I guess it's for people who don't eat bacon? But who doesn't eat bacon?

I mean, we don't eat it often, because it's pricey, but you don't have to eat it often to build up a good store.

Anyway, now I want some beans. You grill the onions in bacon grease first, then add the garlic, then a little flour. Then you put in your beans (which have been soaking overnight) and simmer for a couple hours. The bacon grease makes them wonderful.

You can also cook your eggs in a little bacon grease, if you like eggs.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021


 I have been to the eye doctor and now my eyes are dilated. I am useless: I can neither read nor write. This is my vision (heh heh punful) of hell.

However I am getting new reading glasses which should help with my inability to read fine print.

Monday, December 20, 2021

New Recipe at Cooking with Delagar

I've been working on this recipe for a month or two now.

I first had a samosa pie when I bought one by accident from the Co-Op in Fayetteville. (I thought it was a chicken pie.) It was absolutely delicious, and I've been working on making mine as good since. I think we're there.

This one is made with Dr. Skull's excellent pie crust, but you can use one of your own or buy that one Pillsbury puts out, all ready-made.


Sunday, December 19, 2021

We Are Living in Amazing Times

The Jorts Saga continues:


Saturday, December 18, 2021

Covid-19 Update

We've hit 800,000 dead, and fifty million infected.

I saw someone on Twitter recently noting that this is now a conservative pandemic -- meaning far-right conservatives were responsible for the pandemic's constant growth over the past year. 

This isn't entirely true, since some of us who have been vaxxed and boosted can still transmit the virus; but the claim contains a grain of truth. Over 90% of progressives have been vaccinated; less than 60% of conservatives have. (Source.) 

It's worse in my state, where we have a blend of willful ignorance and rabid conservatism. Regularly on the Fort Smith Residents forum I see people repeating Fox news propaganda about the vaccine. It's pretty depressing.

And of course the conservative blogs I read (far fewer now than I did a year ago, since they are just too stupid these days) keep repeating the lie that Covid-19 is "just a bad cold," or that kids can't get or transmit the disease, or that the vaccine "doesn't work." I saw one blog author explain that a dear friend of hers had just died of Covid-19, and then in her next breath explain that this did not mean Covid-19 was a serious disease. No, it's still just a bad cold. 

That sort of deliberate denial of reality is positively Orwellian. And more than a little depressing.

Anyway, it doesn't look good for this pandemic ending any time soon, that's all I'm saying.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Jorts: Or, Why the Internet was Invented

Y'all, if you have missed the saga of Jorts the Cat, you need to rectify that omission at once.

It starts with this AITA submission:

AITA for “perpetuating ethnic stereotypes” about Jorts?

[EDITED TO ADD:]This post is about 2 cats who are named Jean and Jorts, cat tax HERE :

UPDATE is here

THE STORY We have two workplace cats in one area of our worksite. They add value to the worksite, we all love the cats and the worksite cat presence is not the issue. One of the cats (Jean) is a tortoiseshell cat we have had for years. The other cat (Jorts) is a large orange cat and a recent addition.

Jorts is just… kind of a simple guy. For example, Jorts can’t open a door even when it’s ajar— he shoves it whether he is going in or out, so often he closes the door he is trying to go through. This means he is often trapped inside the place he was trying to exit and meows until he is rescued.

My colleague Pam (not her real name) has been spending a lot of time trying to teach Jorts things. The doors thing is the main example — it’s a real issue because the cats are fed in a closet and Jorts keeps pushing the door closed. Jean can actually open all the other interior doors since they are a lever type knob, but she can’t open this particular door if she is trapped INSIDE the closet.

Tortie Jean is very nice to poor orange Jorts, and she is kept busy letting him out of rooms he has trapped himself in, so this seems easy to resolve. I put down a door stop.

Pam then said I was depriving Jorts of the “chance to learn” and kept removing the doorstop. She set up a series of special learning activities for Jorts, and tried to put these tasks on the whiteboard of daily team tasks (I erased them). She thinks we need to teach him how to clean himself better and how to get out of minor barriers like when he gets a cup stuck on his head, etc. I love Jorts but he’s just dumb af and we can’t change that.

Don’t get me wrong— watching her try to teach Jorts how to walk through a door is hilarious, but Jean got locked in the closet twice last week. Yesterday I installed a cat cutout thing in the door and Pam started getting really huffy. I made a gentle joke about “you can’t expect Jean’s tortoiseshell smarts from orange cat Jorts” which made Pam FURIOUS. She started crying and left the hallway, then sent an email to the group (including volunteers) and went home early.

In her email Pam said I was “perpetuating ethnic stereotypes by saying orange cats are dumb” and is demanding a racial sensitivity training before she will return. I don’t think it’s relevant but just in case, Pam is a white person in a mostly minority staff (and no she is not ginger/does not have red hair).

TL;DR: AITA for ‘enforcing an ethnic stereotype’ by joking that orange cats are often dumb?


So much followed (SO MUCH), but my favorite is this bredlik poem:

Anyway, this is Jorts and his friend Jean:


Monday, December 13, 2021

Achievement Unlocked

Despite having a pandemic come crashing down on his junior and senior years, and despite changing majors halfway through, and despite suffering from anxiety, trauma, and depression, my wonderful son today finished his undergraduate course of studies.

He will graduate in precisely five days, with a BS in Bioanthropology, and a team of professors who are urging him fiercely to continue on through the doctorate level. (He's going to take a year off to think that over.)

I could not be more proud.

The Kid at 12, launched on his academic career

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Winter is Here, for like a Minute

Frost on the grass this morning, and it is still in the 30s.

Next week back up to the 80s, though. And two days ago we had tornados rip through Arkansas on their way to Tennessee and Kentucky. Perfectly normal weather for December.

I am grading and grading. Since I haven't bonded well with my students this semester, grading is especially tedious.

Here's hoping next semester will be better.

Friday, December 10, 2021

I Am Boosted

I have achieved my booster. It's Moderna, while my first two shots were Pfiezer, but the pharmacist said it was okay to mix and match.

So far only mild body aches and a headache, but I might take the rest of the day off. I could use some sleep.

Wednesday, December 08, 2021

Last Day of Teaching

This was my last day of teaching for the semester. (I'm still going to be working with students on papers and grading, right up to Dec 17.)

It's been an odd semester. The first one when we were all back in the classroom, and yet I continued putting most of the work online -- we did not hold in-person conferences, for instance. In some way, the work was more, and others less; but I don't feel I bonded with the students as well.

Also, we were all exhausted, I think. Me, of course, but also the students. Several of them tested positive for Covid, and others had friends or family get sick. I don't think anyone died, but that was constantly on their minds, and mine. That's just exhausting.

The ones who got sick early in the semester, and had to isolate for ten days, had trouble from that point on, even though I put the work online. It's hard to miss that much and then pick up afterwards. And maybe there was some Covid-brain in there, though I don't think anyone was very sick.

I remember when this first started, when I was sure it was all going to be over by summer.

Tuesday, December 07, 2021

What I'm Reading Now

Jodi Picoult, Wish You Were Here

I started out feeling meh about this one -- the main character, in the first few chapters, is sort of unlikeable, and honestly I thought it was way too soon to write a book about Covid-19. But within 50 pages, I was all in. This is a really good book.

The main character, Diana, is working for Sotheby's when the pandemic kicks off, consulting on impressionist paintings; she and her boyfriend. Finn, are about to head off on vacation to the Galapagos Islands. But he's a resident, and he has to cancel his vacation to deal with the surge of Covid-19 patients. You go without me, he says.

Next thing we know, Diana is arriving at the Galapagos, except the island is locked down due to the pandemic. She can't get a signal, and can't make calls or send emails, though she does receive them, mainly from Finn. While she wanders the island, meeting a troubled fourteen year old and her father, Finn sends her a series of more and more horrifying emails, detailing his experiences dealing with first surge of the pandemic. The contrast between the quiet beauty of the locked-down island of Isabel and the horror of the island of Manhattan works perfectly, as does the (spoiler) midway through.

This is probably Picoult's best book. Brilliant writing, excellent use of detail, and with a deeply satisfying ending. I read it straight through in one day. Highly recommend.

Neal Stephenson, Termination Shock

I dnf'd this one, as I do most of Stephenson's fiction. He can't stick the landing, though I don't always know why. Lots of good ideas, but while that was enough for science fiction in the 1940s, it really isn't now.

In this case, he really had too many characters and I found it hard to care about any of them. Even the feral hog hunter, who was probably my favorite character, was mostly a cipher. The queen, who should have been doing a lot, did almost nothing. I'm still not sure what Laks was doing in the book. I mean, I liked some of the episodes involving him, but what did he have to do with climate change? (I admit this might have been revealed in the last hundred pages of the book, but I could not go on.

Here's another take on the novel.

Stephen King, The Shining

This is a re-read -- I read this first when I was probably 15 years old, and have read it a couple of times since then. The story, basically, of a haunted hotel. The real story is how abuse gets passed down from generation to generation, and how hard it is to climb out of that abuse.

I remember reading somewhere that King thinks the father in this story, Jack, was actually a good guy and a good father, who just got taken over by the hotel. That's not the case, of course -- Jack is abusive to his kid and his wife even before he takes a job at the Overlook. It's more the story of how abuse can continue to fuck us up years after the event, and how hard it is to fight against that.

Also about what alcoholism can do to someone, about which King knows plenty.

There's also an interesting strand in the story, about Wendy not being able to leave Jack because where would she go, and what would she do? Women, as we all know, cannot make a living or support themselves. (This, even though Wendy was supporting all of them while Jack finished school.) It's true she has a five year old son, which might limit her options somewhat; but King's own mother was a single mother who support herself and her two kids for years. So you would think King would have known better. Very much a product of its time in that regard. 

A side note: on twitter recently someone made herself famous by advising that we should all give away books once we had read them, since we'd never "consult" them again. When people pointed out that many of us re-read novels, this person wondered why anyone would ever re-read a novel. I've heard this from before from other people -- why would you read something you've already read? -- and it's always puzzled me. You re-read to enjoy the novel on a deeper level, clearly, the same way you listen to a sing more than once. 

This person claimed to have a degree in English literature, and I am puzzled. Surely the joys of re-reading is what brings us all to the study of literature?

Maybe not. 

Monday, December 06, 2021


Our university is holding an in-person commencement this semester, as they did last semester. Last semester, faculty did not attend; this semester, they've made it optional.

And they're requiring masks. So that's something.

Last semester I volunteered to work the gate, making sure people had masks and an invitation (only three people per graduate were allowed to attend). This year, with the rise in cases, not to mention omicron, I'm opting out.

Almost fifty percent of our population is vaccinated. That's not enough, obviously. And we do have Trumpsters shrieking about the the vaccine is a plot to mutate us all or make us all sterile or kill us -- one person on FB solemnly informed us that anyone who got the vaccine would die two years to the date after getting the vaccine.

Meanwhile, I am working on giving feedback for final papers and also working on my book review for Asimov's. Also reading Jodi Picoult's new book. I always like them about on the 80% level and this one so far is running true to form.

Friday, December 03, 2021

Global Climate Change in Arkansas

 It's 76 degrees on the third of December here in the Fort.

I may have to put the AC on tonight.

But yeah, it's all just a liberal plot to destroy capitalism.

See also this.

I'm currently reading Termination Shock, by Neal Stephenson, about rich Texan who decides to do something about global warming his own self. Stephenson, who would be a better writer if he could quell the urge to include snide comments amounting to "LOL librals are silly" every 40 or 50 pages, makes good points about the expense of climate change. I'm not entirely convinced by his fix, and the book badly needs an editor -- it's over 700 pages long, and honestly should have been half that.

Also, the feral hogs seem a side issue, frankly. But I'm only on page 419. Maybe they make more sense later.

Thursday, December 02, 2021


 And if anyone thinks for a minute that conservatives are going to stop with abortion, I have three words for you: HA HA FUCKING HA.

Wednesday, December 01, 2021

Spend my Money

 I will probably about $100 or $150 in holiday gifts from various relatives. What should I spend it on?

(1) A Roomba. The cheapest ones are around $200, so I'd have to put some non-gift money into that. Do I really need a Roomba? I have a broom, after all.

(2) A Kindle. My ancient iPad died, so if I want to read e-books, I have to do it on my laptop. Kindles are well within the $150 I might have.

(3) Shoes. Do I need new shoes? I already have three pairs, one for commencement ceremonies, one for snow, and one for everyday. Who needs more than three pairs of shoes? I only have two feet.

(4) More books. I always need more books.

(5) Save it for emergencies. God knows one will be along any moment.

Tell me what you think!

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Doing 20 to Life in The Fort

I turned in Part I of my annual evaluation today. This is the part where I tell the school what I plan to accomplish in the upcoming year, so it has to do with what I'll be writing and teaching, and the committees I'm on -- standard stuff.

But one blank to fill in is how many years you have been at this institution. I have been nineteen years at this university.


People have done less time for murder.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

What I'm Reading Now

 I'm working on my second guest review for Asimov's, so much of my reading is directed toward that. But here are some works I'm reading just for fun.

Mona Clee, Branch Point

This is a SF book published in the mid-90s. It's got both AU and time travel, so it's hitting my buttons. The initial situation has Kennedy swerving in the wrong direction during the Cuban Missile Crisis, touching off a nuclear war which ends up destroying Earth's population and ecosystem, all except for a handful of people who survive in a bunker in northern California. These people too are doomed, so they spend most of a century developing a time-travel device, which can only be used four times. They send their three best young people, two women and a man, back in 1962 to warn Kennedy. They can't come back, so they're supposed to monitor world events and fix things if another nuclear war ever happens. In the event, they have to stop three more nuclear apocalypses. The book reaches through 2019, which means we get a look at what someone in 1995 thought the early 21st century would be like, always fun. Clee predicted the first black US president, for one thing, but she's waaaay off.

This is probably more interesting to people who lived through the end of the 20th Century, since there's a lot of recent history that gets discussed and played with. Several times, Clee spends pages and pages discussing the history of this era of that one. And there are some unlikely as well as some queasy moments, as James Nicoll notes in his review.  Still, I enjoyed this one enough that I'm planning on reading her other book -- apparently she only wrote two.

Joe Haldeman, Forever Peace

Another 1990s book. I think this is the only Haldeman novel I have never read. It's supposed to be one of his best, along with Forever War, but I didn't like it all that much. It's not a bad book, mind you. Like Forever War, Haldeman's experiences in Vietnam inform both plot and theme. So we get a lot of pretty horrific violence, all being excused by those committing it because, after all, this is war, and the enemy is evil. 

This is not Haldeman's point of view -- he's showing us how it works, and how people come to fervently believe the truth of it. I remember being told as a child that it was okay to shoot small Vietnamese children, since (after all!) those (slur deleted) used them to kill American soldiers. I also remember adults in my neighborhood explaining that "nuking" Vietnam (and then later Iran) would be a good thing, since "those people" were commies who killed Americans.

Anyway, in this novel, "soldierboys" are used to fight "terrorists" in Central America. Soldierboys are drone-like machines, powered through link to actual soldiers, lying in a "cage" thousands of miles away. These soldierboys are almost indestructible, so the enemy (that being anyone who lives in Central America, including small children) doesn't have a chance. There are hints that the war is being continually ramped up because of a religious sect in the US, the Enders, who want to bring about Armageddon; and more hints that it is being ramped up because of profits being made by arms manufacturers; and more hints that the war continues because the best way to create enemy terrorists is to continually destroy their families and communities in drone strikes.

The tech people have a fix, and through the last half of the book we watch a race between the Enders and the scientists -- one wanting to create endless peace, the other to destroy the planet. I'm not sure why I felt lukewarm about this one. The endless gore and violence, maybe. It needed to be there, but I'm just exhausted by it. 

Interesting point: Apparently one of the controversial details about this book when it was first published in 1997 is that some of the soldiers are women. 

Anne Bernays, Growing up Rich

This is a re-read, which I enjoy mainly for the look it gives us of life in 1940s New York / Brooklynn. An obscenely wealthy rich girl, Sally, who is also neglected and unloved by her skinny beautiful mother (Sally is slightly plump), loses her parents in a plain crash and has to go live with a (just slightly less wealthy) friend of her stepfather's. So we get to look at live among the haut in New York, and then life among the upper-middle-class in Brooklynn. The details and the writing are what make this enjoyable. The plot is unsurprising -- the rich girl learns to like life among the warm and loving (slightly less rich) middle class. Also she loses weight.

Bernays wrote some other books, none of which I have ever read, but I see my library has one. I might give it a try.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Being Thankful in America

 According to a NYTimes editorial, liberals can't be happy because we can't convince ourselves that inequality and injustice are super cool, and Jesus is real.

Also, we need to be married and have babies and be conservatives. If we could just do that....

I'm always suspicious of research that depends on self-reporting, and even more so in this case, since I've been living among Evangelicals for the past 20 years. I know that group. When my kid was in school, one of his friends (a little girl) was punished if she ever said she was unhappy, or if she ever even looked unhappy. Being unhappy was a sin, see, because Jesus.

Anyway, if "happiness" means I have to convince myself that up is down and slavery is freedom, then yeah, I'll take being a bit moody now and then.

Meanwhile, my kid and his roommates and Uncle Charger are all coming for the big dinner today. We're combining Thanksgiving and Hanukah, since Hanukah is very badly placed in this year's calendar.

On the menu:

  • Butternut squash soup
  • Turkey
  • green bean casserole
  • Sweet potato casserole 
  • mac n cheese
  • cranberry sauce
  • rolls 
  • pumpkin pie

Everything except the sweet potato casserole is made from scratch by Dr. Skull. I do the sweet potatoes. Cum marshmallows, of course! 

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Psyche of a Writer

 Me (sitting down after folding a load of laundry and glancing at the clock on my laptop): Holy hell it's almost 1:30 and I haven't done a thing.

(I have spent the morning doing laundry and dishes, sweeping, grading student papers, and making a run to the grocery, but apparently only writing novels counts as actual work in my stubby little lizard brain.)

Monday, November 22, 2021

Movies in the Movie Theater

I haven't been to the movies since the early days of the pandemic -- the last movie we saw in the theater was Little Women.

Now the theaters are open again, but all the local theaters are showing are (1) superhero movies (2) horror movies or (3) Christian movies. 

Also kid movies. I could go see Clifford the Big Red Dog in three different theaters.

I guess I'll keep watching Netflix for a while. 

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Today's Young Conservatives

This is the end result of thirty years of conservatives working to discredit and destroy the public school system. They have taught their children that public school teachers are beneath contempt. Note the racism also.

When children grow up in a household and community in which their parents are constantly shit-talking teachers, as well as women and black people, this is the result.

Friday, November 19, 2021

Deep inside the Cave

Watching today's conservatives (really reactionaries/fascists) talk about what progressives and liberals are like is just so strange.

It's not so much that they're deep in Plato's cave, explaining earnestly to each other what the shadows on the wall mean and how those shadows really are reality. It's that they're so so far down in the cave they can't even see the shadows. They're sitting huddled together in the dark, around a fire they have made by rubbing the sticks of their ignorance together, creating shadows by making shapes with their fingers, and declaring those shadows to be the only reality.

And then having screaming hysterics when one of their number catches a glimpse of the shadows further up in the cave -- Plato's shadows -- and mentions that maybe they should climb up a little out of the darkness, see if there's anything to those shadows.

This post brought to you by (1) Rod Dreher's reaction to David Brooks' editorial in the NYTimes and (b) this really, really, really bizarre post.

See also this

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

In case you were wondering

 Have a watch here

It's ten minutes long, a video outlining the work done by Jason Stanley, a philosophy professor at Yale who studies fascism. Every tactic he notes is a tactic currently in use by the American Right. See Rod Dreher's blog, for instance, which does every one of these things, over and over.

It's a little worrisome.

Monday, November 15, 2021

Doing a Re-Read

Since I ran short of new books (I'm still waiting for my library to buy some more -- they've been buying a lot of kids books lately, which I am all for, but...) I began re-reading John Barnes' Century Next Door series. 

It's what it says on the tin, a series of four books set on a near-future alt.history Earth, one in which everything goes to hell when a series of biological attacks lead to an all-out global war that lasts most of a century and ends with the Earth's ecosystem and its people all but destroyed.

There are SF elements -- mainly the bioweapons and something called "memes," which are AI that can run on biological parallel processors, which is to say people's brains -- but the books mainly deal with the aftermath, what happens during a giant climate-and-world catastrophe. Including pandemics. So these novels are instructive to read for just that reason -- here is what climate refugee-ism will look like, here is what happens when the world economy really crashes, here is the world without public schools or a social safety net or functioning infrastructure. That kind of thing.

I've taught three of the four in SF classes, so my books are filled with marginal notes, things I wanted to be sure to ask/tell the students. It seems like I liked Orbital Resonance best, and Candle least.

Kaleidoscope Century is horrific, since the main character is delights in his war crimes, and relates the things he has done in a matter of fact way. I'd skip it unless you have a strong stomach.

But all of the characters except those in The Sky So Big and Black (in which the murder/rapist/torturer from Kaleidoscope has a cameo) are some flavor of sociopath, so KC guy fits right in.

These are good science fiction, in that they force us to look at the world in from a new perspective -- they make it strange, as Darko Suvin says all good SF does. And the writing is good.

Don't read them if you're looking for a good time, though.

Friday, November 12, 2021

Facebook Memories

 I have to admit, I like the FB Memories feature. 

This came up today -- eleven years ago:

Jasper as a kitten.

Well, Your Kid Sucked Anyway

After months and months of claiming that kids don't get Covid-19, MAGA Americans switched to claiming that sure, kids could get Covid-19, but they didn't die of it, so calm the fuck down.

Now? Now they've switched to "Sure, kids can die of Covid-19 -- but only the weak ones."

With each iteration, their masks slip a little more. If kids die of Covid-19, well, clearly they were inferior, and needed to die. Clears out the old genepool, doesn't it?

Thursday, November 11, 2021

I Wish This Wasn't True


Stolen from Twitter: Your Library

 What do you remember of the library where you grew up?


Mine was the Wagner Library, maybe three miles from my house? Close enough that I could reach it on my bicycle. I used to ride over there a couple of times a week from age twelve or thirteen on. Before that, my mother took me, generally as often as I liked.

There was a children's room, down a short hallway to the right of the desk; the books for adults -- including a tiny science fiction section -- was directly facing the desk. It smelled of books and paste and library tape, my favorite smell in all the world. Well into my adolescence, the librarians still stamped due dates on little Manilla cards kept in pockets in the back of the book. Also, you could only take ten books out at a time, which was why I went back at least twice a week.

This is what it looks like now -- not at all what it looked like when I was a kid. Then it was cream-colored brick and giant darkened windows. Also it was square, not whatever shape this is. But it was exactly that tiny, which explains the limits on how many books could be taken out.

No lie at all, this library kept me alive through some dark times. We didn't have much money in those days -- later, when my father went to work for LOOP, we had more. So my mother couldn't buy us many books. (My father thought reading fiction was a bewildering activity, and couldn't see why we would need to buy books when we already had books.) If I'd been limited to books my mother could buy for me, or those I could buy myself when I started earning money, my scope and my mind would have been much narrower.

(I remember the first book I ever bought with my own money: Door into Summer, by Robert Heinlein. It cost seventy-five cents and was a skinny paperback, but it was a revelation. I had money now. I could buy books.)

I remember when I was eight years old walking into this library and taking a deep breath of that delicious smell, being so happy I was going to get more books. I was so overwhelmed with gratitude for all the people who had written books for me to read, that I decided I would have to write books when I grew up, to pay them back.

You can blame this library for my life, I guess is what I'm saying.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021


I am about to run out of books.

The library has bought about 50 in the past two days, but none of them are books I want to read. 😕

Time to re-read, I guess. Or go browse the shelves and read something I ordinarily would not consider.

Sunday, November 07, 2021

A Hit Dog Will Holler

 A sad case of too much Fox News:

Saturday, November 06, 2021

Every Fall

I dreamed last night that my parents had put me in a Christian school where I was going to have to wear a uniform with a skirt every day, so I ran away from home with my dog.

File this under #EveryFallI'mStillGladIDontHaveToGoBackToHighschool

Friday, November 05, 2021

Update on Milkgate

 Milkgate was only a Twitter star for one day -- sign of an outrage which is actually outraging no one -- but I thought I would share this from Roy Edroso.

See also this, also from Roy.

That's the big problem we have with today's unhinged conservatives -- they don't care whether something is true, or what the facts say. They care whether something supports their worldview. Have you seen the claims that Biden shit himself in Rome? They're all repeating that lie as if it were true (it's not), and as if it proves something about Biden's competence. Why? Because it makes them feel better about themselves.

"We're not bigots! We didn't vote for Trump because we're bigots! We voted for him because Biden is senile!"

See also: their lies about trans people.

Thursday, November 04, 2021

Today's Twitter Star!

The star of twitter today is the Texas family that drinks 12 gallons of milk a week

TBF, they have several kids -- nine, I think. But even so, that's a lot of milk. Apparently each kid is drinking a glass or two per meal? I mean, yikes. 

If you watch the episode, you'll see they buy five boxes of cereal a week as well. That could be where a lot of the milk is going.

My kid drank and still drinks water most of the time. We put milk in our tea and coffee, and occasionally I made pudding when he was little. He sometimes had cereal too, and we'd use some milk then. Even so, we had a hard time getting through a half-gallon per week.

But people's diets differ! Maybe it's perfectly normal for a kid to go through half-gallon of milk a day in some families?

The point of the article is that inflation is making food more expensive. That remains true no matter how much milk this family goes through.

I am dubious that they were buying milk for two dollars a gallon six months ago. Milk here in Arkansas has cost between three and four dollars a gallon since I can remember. Eight dollars a gallon if you buy organic.

Anyway, does 12 gallons of milk for a family of eleven strike you as normal or over the top? 


Tuesday, November 02, 2021

Mmmm, Curry

Cold and wet today, so I made my extra-spicy vegetable curry.


One onion

One sweet potato

One regular potato

One carrot

One apple

1/2 cup peas

1/4 cup butter

Curry powder



Heat oven to 350 degrees F.

Put a heavy five quart pot on the stove on low heat. Put the butter in to melt. Dice the onion and add it to the butter.

Peel the sweet potato and cut it into chunks. Mix in with the onion. Add the curry powder. I used this kind, but you do you. Stir while spices wake up. Add a little flour, stir some more. Add about a cup of water, stir some more. Add salt. 

Scrub and cut up potato (I leave the peels on). Add to curry. Scrub, peel, and cut up carrot. Add to curry. Stir some more.

Peel and cut up apple. You want sizeable chunks. Add frozen peas. Stir, stir.

Put a lid on and put it in the oven for about half an hour. Eat with toast, rice, noodles, or crackers. Very good on a cold day.

If you want to add meat, you can put it bits of left over chicken or cut up scraps of beef. But it's fine without.

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Why Can't Conservatives Make Good Art Anymore?

 This would be hilarious if I believed for one moment that they were joking.


Among other things, it's blasphemy; but it's not like these people know their own religion. Or care about it either, except as a way to justify their bigotry.

ETA: I was thinking the "artist" was using Michaelangelo's Expulsion as his source material

but as Bardiac points out, Masaccio fits more closely:

And as my kid notes, this is a fine example of "drawing Joe Biden's dick to own the libs."

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Stolen from Twitter: Do You Know What Your Great-grandparents did?

 I'll admit I don't.

I know my maternal grandmother's mother was a housewife -- she had eight children, six of whom lived. Her husband, my maternal grandmother's father, worked on the railways, but I'm not sure what he actually did. Just that it meant he was away from home a lot.

My paternal grandmother's mother died when she was young. I don't know what she did before that. Her husband -- my paternal grandmother's father -- ran a roadhouse.

My maternal grandfather's parents? I have no idea. I don't even know their names.

My paternal grandfather's mother? No idea.

My paternal grandfather's father I met once. He was a Pentecostal preacher and also a farmer. 

Friday, October 29, 2021

What's This? Could it be Fall?

 Yes, it is finally chilly here! Three days from November, and we have...fall!

But only for a few days. Next week winter arrives.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

What I'm Reading Now

 Alix E. Harrow, A Spindle Splintered

Alix Harrow wrote The Thousand Doors of January and The Once and Future Witches, both of which I liked, so when I saw this one at our library, I picked it up. It's a very slim volume, just 120 pages, following the current practice of marketing novellas as novels, so I'm glad I didn't buy it. That said, it's a good read. Here, Harrow retells the story of Sleeping Beauty from the point of view of a 21 year old born with a teratogenic illness, caused by fracking chemicals in the water supply in her town, who has known since she can remember that she will almost certainly not live past her 21st birthday.

Sleeping Beauty becomes her favorite fairytale, from age six onwards: the girl who sleeps but doesn't die. She graduates early from high school, gets a degree in folklore, and on her 21st birthday pricks her finger on a spindle (her bff set up a sleeping-beauty themed party for her). Instead of falling into a hundred years of sleep, she slides into another dimension -- the one with the actual Sleeping Beauty. 

Among other things, this is a meta-analysis of the fairy tale, and of why we as a culture love such stories. Good writing, and a satisfying conclusion.

Eleanor Arnason, "Laki"

This is a short story, published in the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, so it might be hard for you to find. It's one of Arnason's Icelandic stories, this one set during and after the Laki eruption, which killed a quarter of the population of Iceland and may have caused the French Revolution.

As with  Arnason's Hidden Folk, which is a collection of five stories set in Iceland, this one has a tone similar to the Edda of Snorri Sturluson, selections of which I used to teach in my World Lit classes, and which I highly recommend (both Arnason's stories and Snorri). Here, a family living on an inland farm is driven onto the road by the eruption of Laki, and ends up sheltering in a cave with a family of trolls. (You may say this is fantasy, except trolls are not seen as fantastic in Iceland.) Later, they continue on and end up living with a mean brother and his nice wife on the coast. 

If you love Arnason as much as I do, you will drive to six different bookstores over the course of a week until finally you find one that carries F&SF so you can buy a copy. Worth it.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

What I'm Watching Now: Scott and Bailey

 Scott & Bailey is a police procedural set in Manchester, England. It's free on Amazon Prime; looks like you can get it on YouTube as well. One review calls it the Cagney & Lacey of British television, which, okay, I can see that. But also, no.

Cagney & Lacey, for those of you who don't remember when TV had only four channels, was a police show, debuting in 1982, about two women detectives (Cagney and Lacey) who worked for the NYPD. It was ground-breaking for having woman as main characters, but in every other way it was typical copaganda. Also, both the show and the two women detectives focused heavily on the men in the department, and on their lives. Men were in charge; women were allowed into the department, on sufferance, but they and everyone else knew who the real people were. 

Scott & Bailey had its first season in 2011. The idea of women in the workplace no longer seems groundbreaking (honestly, it never was: my grandmother had a job her entire life, including after her children were born), but that's not the big difference here. The big difference is that women are the center and main focus of this show. We have Scott and Bailey, the two detectives; but we also have Gill, who is maybe 20 years older than they are and the head of the Syndicate Nine of the Major Incident Team, the department in which the series is set; and we have Julia Dodson, head of another syndicate, and Gill's longtime friend and mentor. The show, written mainly by women, accurately portrays the lives of women -- what we talk about, what occupies our attention, the many ways we can screw up our lives, that sort of thing. 

Women aren't primarily or even mostly thinking about men in this show, is what I'm saying. Also, the male characters aren't shown as the norm, or the "real" police, who the women are allowed to pretend to be. The woman are the real police. Some of the men are too, but lots of them are mediocre white guys promoted beyond their level of competence. (Several of the reviews of the show are very pouty about this. Men shown as imperfect? As screw-ups? As people who make women's lives much, much, much harder? How very dare!)

The show also spends some time on men as criminals, and the effect the violence and exploitation and carelessness of men has on the lives of those around them. (There are women criminals as well, don't worry.) In fact, most of the personal problems, the real wearing down of the main characters, is due to the men in their lives: a husband who feels he's not the center of his wife's life; a brother who expects his sisters to continue being his mommy throughout his life; a lover who sees women as objects who exist for his gratification, and resents being called on his bad behavior -- resents it to the extent of violence.

The show lets us see how, rather than being valiant protectors and providers, many men* exploit the women in their lives, demand their support, and become abusive or pouty -- or simply leave -- if their women don't expend huge amounts of energy catering to those men's egos. One major arc concerns a handsome white guy, promoted beyond his capabilities, who goes into a prolonged sulk because his (female) bosses don't praise him constantly, and ends up betraying them.

Anyway, this refreshing view of the world alone makes this show worth watching; but it is also well-written and acted, and I love the accents. It admits that the police screw up, that they lie, cheat, and abuse their power; but only incidentally. This is still copaganda, in other words, so fair warning.

*Yes, I know, not all men.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Dennis Prager Gets Covid on Purpose

 At one time I used to write a lot about Prager's malicious and deliberate ignorance. Lately, what with so many other people on that schtick, he's dropped off my radar. (I have had to gently tell a few students that no, Prager U is not a reliable source.)

Anyway, yesterday the news broke that Prager deliberately contracted Covid-19, believing that "natural" immunity is better than a vaccine. (I did mention his deliberate ignorance?)

I know we're supposed to take the high road and wish ill on no one, but I know people who have died from this disease, or have being hospitalized with life-threatening cases. Prager's attitude is shameful and disgusting.

Since there is no God, and no justice (just us, as Pratchett notes) I am sure Prager will have a mild case and assert to the end of his smug, ignorant life that he was right, and not just lucky.

Other people he infects? Well, that's not his problem, is it.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Apropos my Previous Post

 From TYWKIWDBI, Covid-19 as "red Covid":

I'd point this out to the anti-vaxxers I know, but frankly it wouldn't make a difference. When you've decided to abjure evidence and reason, what do you care about data?

More at the original post.

ETA: See also this

Bad Days in the Fort

Despite the fact that fall has finally arrived -- we are sleeping with the windows open, and sometimes it is too cold in the house -- I am having a bad time lately.

A lot of things: the local public schools cancelled the mask mandate, even though a survey showed most people wanted to keep it in place. Dr. Skull has had both shots and a booster, so he should be okay. It's stressful all the same, and of course not everyone has or can get the vaccines.

I'm so sick of this pandemic, and so sick of the stupid fuckwits who insist on making it a political issue -- killing themselves and strangers so they can own the libs -- and frankly, so sick of this country, which seems determined to cater to the most hateful, the most willfully ignorant, and the most bigoted shits among us.

Further, my students are at the point in the semester where everything is too much for them. On top of that, several of them are having personal crises: parents dying, positive Covid tests, a wrecked car which is their only transportation. That sort of thing. There is not much I can do, but I do what I can.

I've been ill off and on, with migraines and stomach pain. Stress-related issues.

And my kid is having some problems.  This, of course, is the worst. My father-in-law, of blessed memory, used to say "Little kids, little problems, big kids, big problems." It's true. When they're little, nearly every problem they have is something you can handle, by the sheer power of being a parent. Once they're grown, your powers are no longer super-powers. You're just another adult, trying to help them figure things out.

It's rough.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

What I'm Reading Now

Rae Carson, Any Sign of Life

This is probably classified as YA, since the main characters are (were) seniors in HS, but I enjoyed it greatly -- stayed up late to finish it. 

It's the story of a pandemic with a near 100% mortality rate. Our main character, Paige, a high school basketball star, wakes up to find her entire family dead (and being eaten by crows), and slowly pieces together the truth: she has spent the past six days unconscious (her mother, a nurse, had hooked up up on IV fluids before herself succumbing to the disease) while a deadly flu killed everyone she knows and almost everyone worldwide. The cause of this disease turns out to be...unexpected.

Books about pandemics are my jam at the moment, for obvious reasons, and this one has both a great dog (don't worry, the dog lives) and a sweet romance (Paige is not the only survivor). It also has important things to say about strength, fear, and the imperfections of us all. Highly recommended.

Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, The War That Saved My Life

This is a kid's book, if you believe the classification. I'd have liked it when I was a kid, but I don't think I'd give to anyone younger than fourteen or fifteen: it's got some really grim content. The bit where the main character, Ada, helps with the soldiers being brought across from Dunkirk is the best portrayal of that I've seen, but very rough going. 

Set in the opening year of WWII in England, the novel is told from the point of view of Ada, who is a disabled ten year old (she has an untreated club foot) who is evacuated to Kent, along with her younger brother Jaimie. Both Jaimie and Ada have been neglected and abused by their mother, and both are vastly ignorant of what life is like outside their London street. They are assigned to live with Susan Smith, a woman in the coastal village. Susan has suffered the loss of her partner, and is deeply depressed. Watching the three of them, Susan, Ada, and Jaimie, forming a family is one of the chief pleasures of the book. 

There's also some good horse content. And a sequel.

Chibundu Onuzo, Sankofa

A woman, Anna Bain, whose mother has recently died finds a box while cleaning out her mother's house. Instead, she finds some documents and a diary written by the (African) father she never knew -- who left England not even knowing the woman's mother (white) was even pregnant.

Intrigued by the diary, and at loose ends (the dead mother, a recent separation from her husband, a daughter who is busy with her own life), Anna begins investigating her missing father and the people in the diary. These leads her to discover that her father, who she saw being radicalized in his diary, has returned to his own (fictional) country, started a revolutionary movement to free the country from British rule, and then become a sometime lauded, sometime reviled Prime Minister. He's no longer Prime Minister, but he is still alive.

Anna decides to travel to Bamana, her father's country, to meet him. 

Lucid, interesting prose. Chibundu Onuzo was born in Nigeria, though she moved to England when she was 14. This may be why the African section of the book seems a little over the top; or I may just be woefully ignorant of Africa, which is probably more likely. I enjoyed reading this, though.

Maggie Shipstead, Great Circle

I've read several novels over the past few months put together this way -- a narrative thread in the past, another in the present, and then a third in either the future or the deeper past, all tying together. In this case, they tie together in a great circle, hence the title.

In SF novels one of the strands is in the past, and the others will be in the future/far future, or deeper past.

Anyway, this is a non-genre (which is a way of saying it's in the genre "literary") novel, about a young woman who grows up in the early 20th century wanting to be and then becoming a pilot, following in the footstep (or flight paths, heh) of Amelia Earhart and others like her; and of the young actress in the early 21st century who ends up playing the pilot in a biopic of her life.

That's the general plot; there's tons more going on. I liked both the threads in Montana during the pilot's childhood, and the thread in LA during the actresses young adulthood. There are also really short threads about the lives of other characters.

Very nicely done, and a compelling read.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Plus ça Change

The way I run my Comp I classes (at least at present) is by giving them assignments that build to one giant research paper, drafts of which are due in early November. We then work on that draft, with the final draft being due on the day of the final.

Topics are suggested during the first few days of the semester. I tell them that the readings I will give them will cover X, Y, and Z, and that they can make their lives easier by choosing a topic that relates to one of those subjects.

Then all along, through the semester, along with instruction in how to do research, how to tell a credible source from propaganda, how to cite, and so on, I also give them readings in X, Y, and Z, usually but not always peer-reviewed papers from legitimate journals. (I also have to teach them, early in the semester, how to read a peer-reviewed paper. They're all, theoretically, able to read on a college level; but in fact for all their years in high school they've mostly only read high school textbooks and YA fiction. They have no idea how to read something that isn't instantly accessible. TBF, neither did I as a freshman.)

ANYWAY: All this to say that we are now working with this semester's Z, which is Pandemics and Epidemics of the past. Last week I assigned them this article. It's quite accessible, which was a relief to many of them, and deeply interesting (to me) in how reactions the plague hitting San Francisco in 1900 echoes reactions to Covid-19 now.

This paragraph is especially interesting:

Chinatown leaders denied the reports of plague—and, fearful of an epidemic’s economic repercussions, so did others in power. Mayor James D. Phelan sent telegrams to the mayors of dozens of other cities, assuring them that San Francisco had seen just a single, isolated case—nothing more. Governor Henry Gage told reporters that Kinyoun had caused San Francisco’s cases himself, by letting the plague germ escape his lab. Gage even proposed making it a felony for newspapers to publish “false” reports on the presence of plague in the state. 

In case the link doesn't work, the article is 

Conis, Elena and Daniel Roman, "Epizootic," Bay Nature Magazine, Sept 27, 2020,

Saturday, October 09, 2021

High of 95 Today, October 9

 I swear all I do these days is fret about why fall refuses to arrive. Today, for instance, the high is projected to be 95 degrees. WTAF.

Weather guy is promising us fall in a few days. Fingers crossed.

Nothing to do with the weather, but I enjoyed this graphic:

Friday, October 08, 2021

What I'm Reading Now

 Naomi Novik, The Graduate

This is the second book in the series that started with A Deadly Education -- a magic school filled with monsters actively trying to kill the young sorcerers. Class politics and ethical question dealt with here. Is there ethical existence under capitalism, sort of thing.

These aren't exactly fun, but they're very much worth reading. I like that the main characters are three young women who are interested in their own lives, and their own work, rather than being focused like 110% on some guy.  The male characters are great, also. It's not like, an anti-male book. It's just realistic.(Just a tip in general, men who are trying to write women: women don't think about men nearly as much as you think we do. Or at all, some days.)

Also there's a great pet mouse.

T.L. Huchu, The Library of the Dead

A story about someone who can see ghosts -- which I'm a sucker for -- set in a near-future, dystopian Scotland. There's a mystery about missing children, which works as the spine of the book, but I am here for the magic library, the mouthy protagonist, and Scotland functioning without oil or jobs under an oppressive King.

This is clearly the first of a series, and I want more. Huchu had written some non-SF books, apparently. I will have to make due with those.

Tracy Kidder, Among School Children

TBH, I read this one because it was in large print and my library has almost no books in large print that I want to read. (Mostly westerns, romances, and inferior mystery novels.) Especially late at night these days my eyes get tired and it's hard for me to read regular print. Since my iPad died, I'm having to resort to large print or listening to the books available on YouTube.

But Tracy Kidder can certainly write. If you're interested in what public schools were like in Massachusetts in the 1980s, this is your source. Extremely readable, a deep five into a single classroom in a single school and the problems faced by both the teacher and the students.

Kit Whitfield, Benighted

This is a re-read. It's a werewolf book from 2006, which I haven't read since about 2009 (I think?). A quick check of Google shows me that Whitfield hasn't published anything since 2009. I remember she had a kid right about then.

Twitter tells me she has a book coming out soon! That's good news. 

Anyway, Benighted holds up -- it's sort of a mystery novel with werewolves. In this universe, 99% of those born are werewolves. Non-werewolves, or "nons," work for DORLA, which is a formerly religious and now secular organization that patrols during "the moon" to keep werewolves from killing anything, or anyone. The main character works for DORLA. When one of her fellow DORLA workers is murdered, she's involved in finding out who did it and why.

If you like heterosexual werewolf novels, this one is pretty good. (Most werewolf stories are heavily gay and trans coded, FYI.)