Covers for Tuesday

First, an uncredited but creepy one.Next an uncredited cover for Wylie’s Gladiator, playing up the Sex Sells angle.A pulp cover by Frank R. PaulOne by James TeasonAnd another uncredited cover.#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holder.

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A somewhat random bunch of political links.

Good for Vermont’s Republican Governor Phil Scott: he just signed a bill for universal mail-in voting. At the shallow end of the talent pool, Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks continues lying that Trump won in 2020. Perhaps he agrees with QAnonite and false prophet Johnny Enlow who says believing Biden is president is disloyalty to God. But hey, Mike Pence is talking tough — oh, wait, he’s saying more-in-sorrow-than-anger that he and Trump just don’t see eye to eye about Jan. 6.

You know how Republicans keep claiming the Jan. 6 seditionists were peaceful except for the antifa plants? Turns out one of them went on to a plot to blow up Amazon data centers. Seditionist Doug Jensen’s defense is that he believed QAnon so he’s really just a gullible sheeple. Other QAnon believers are feeling lost without The Former Guy in office.

A new right-wing fantasy: Trump becomes House speaker, then impeaches President Harris if she wins in 2024!

The judge who struck down California’s assault weapon ban claims in his opinion that assault weapons kill fewer people than the COVID vaccine.

An anti-vaxxer claims the vaccine will make us into human magnets who can tune in 5G. Sounds cool to me!

False prophet and Trump worshipper Hank Kunneman claims it’s liberals who can lie without suffering consequences.

With the “former guy” now banned from FB for two years, he’s unsurprisingly sulky and telling other nations to ban FB and Twitter.

Republicans committed to ending democracy but Sen. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema are refusing to axe the filibuster. Manchin also won’t support the Democrats’ voting rights legislation. The reason? A meaningless babble about reaching across the aisle and being partisan. As someone said on Twitter, every interview with them should start by asking what they’ve done to build bridges and get Republican support? I suspect it ain’t much.

I am not at all surprised that Trump and William Barr wanted the FBI to find antifa terrorists and didn’t care about investigating right-wing terror. Trump’s fine with right-wing violence, and I imagine his thug of an attorney general is too.

Lawyer Michael Avenatti tried extorting $25 million from Nike by threatening to smear their brand. His defense team claims three months in prison and public mockery are enough punishment. I know lawyers are supposed to say stuff like that, but seriously, if Avenatti were some guy working minimum wage on trial for trying to steal $100, nobody would even try that defense. It’s only the upper classes who can be chastened by a slap on the wrist.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has angrily condemned Twitter and FB for blocking conservative bullshit and suspending Trump’s accounts. I am so totally shocked that he supports suspension when it’s people he doesn’t like.

Why the right-wing panic over critical race theory? “Since anything resembling free intellectual inquiry is extremely destructive to the basic world view of right wing America, right wing America has decided to come up with a solution to that problem. ”

Trump’s press secretary Kayleigh McEnany lied like a rug. She’s now lying that as she’s such a good Christian and mother she’d never have lied!

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Feathers, Avengers, pandemics and a feral child: this week’s reading.

FEATHERS by Jorge Corona is a fantasy graphic novel in which a noblewoman’s daughter and a bird-boy work together to stop a mysterious Someone who’s kidnapping kids from the rougher areas of the city. I think this is targeted to a younger demographic than me, but I enjoyed it.

So as part of rereading the Silver Age, I’m now up to 1963 (which I’ve discussed in a couple of Atomic Junkshop posts here and here) which is when the Avengers debuted. So on impulse I ordered AVENGERS: The Origin by Joe Casey and Phil Noto, which expands the first issue into a five-issue miniseries (I’ve often joked about how many Silver Age stories would be expanded into a Big Crossover Event if they’d done them today — apparently I wasn’t wrong).

This updated version (Rick Jones’ Teen Brigade are now sound like a proto-antifa) resolves some of the oddities of the original tale, such as a circus stumbling across the Hulk and thinking he’s a giant robot they can use in their show and gives the Wasp more character and capability than Lee and Kirby gave her. It also does a good job on showing these new heroes interacting awkwardly with each other (though Casey did better in his previous two Earth’s Mightiest Heroes retcon minis — and Mark Waid did it better in JLA: Year One). However it never addresses something that leaps out at me reading the original story — the complete absence of Bruce Banner. At the time, Banner used a ray to turn himself into the Hulk. Avengers #1 never explains why the Hulk is just leaping across the desert and even Bruce’s sidekick Rick Jones never mentions Banner (given how much the Hulk’s short-lived first series kept rebooting him, I’m guessing this was another reboot, to see if Hulk worked better without Banner).

I’ll make the minor complaint that while I largely enjoyed Noto’s art, his view of Asgard is way too neon — it’s feels like Vegas.

THE RULES OF CONTAGION: Why Things Spread — and Why They Stop by Adam Kucharski argues the same rules that shape pandemics and analyzing pandemics also affect financial crises (Too Big To Fail banks being the equivalent of superspreaders for the 2008 crisis), how memes and false news spread online and the problems of research (you can’t ethically launch a pandemic to see how it spreads, and some people debate the ethics of spreading rumors). While I’m normally suspicious of this kind of one-size-fits-all explanations, Kucharski knows his stuff (he’s worked in both epidemiology and the finance industry) and he’s clear that one size doesn’t fit all: despite the popular concept of memes miraculously going viral, they don’t usually spread both fast and wide. Interesting.

BEASTS OF EXTRAORDINARY CIRCUMSTANCE by Ruth Emmie Lang tells the story of Weylyn Grey, a feral child who can also control the weather (though often badly), talk to animals, grow plants instantly and teach himself to read overnight. While this starts off with a nice folktale feel,Weylyn, powers aside, is too bland as a character, not changing much from where he starts out. He’s more the excuse for the story, which is told almost all from other people’s viewpoints than its heart, and in the end that runs out of steam.

#SFWApro. Cover by Jack Kirby, all rights remain with current holder.

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Martial artists and extraterrestrials: TV and movies viewed

The CW’s new KUNG FU has nothing to do with the David Carradine series (of which I’ve seen S1, S2 and S3) besides the name) which made me worry the name would turn people off rather than draw them in. It’s been renewed for a second season, though, so I guess they knew what they were doing.

Olivia Liang plays Nicky Shen, who fled her overbearing mother and wound up spending three years in a Shaolin monastery. After the mysterious martial artist Zhilan (Gwendoline Yeo) murders Nicky’s mentor Pei-Ling (Vanessa Kai) and steals an ancient sword, Nicky returns home. Reuniting with a family she blew off isn’t easy; then she learns from history student Henry (Eddie Liu) that the sword is part of a set of mystical weapons that will make Zhilan seriously bad news if she collected all of them. In between trying to recover some of the McGuffins, Nicky winds up helping out family members and others with her combat skills.

While the mystical backstory doesn’t grab me, the characters and actors are good, the action’s fun and the Chinese-American elements are interesting (Nerds of Color gives them a thumbs up). I look forward to the second season. “If you want to judge my teaching, do not look to my skill — look to yourself.”

After watching Beyond Skyline I Netflixed the previous film, SKYLINE (2010) but it’s neither informative about the alien agenda nor particularly good: a group of unremarkable twentysomething friends have to put their personal dramas on hold to evade the aliens who’ve attacked Los Angeles. Even though this ends on a cliffhanger, I don’t think Beyond Skyline followed up on any of the characters here; I wouldn’t bother with the third film, Skylines, but it has elements I think will be of interest for Alien Visitors. “They aren’t dead — they’re just really pissed off.”

I rewatched THE VAST OF NIGHT (2020) to see if I gleaned more from it now that I’m further into the alien abductions chapter. What I mostly gleaned was that I must have been in a bad headspace when I first watched it as I liked it so much better this time (though the gimmick of making it an episode of a Twilight Zone type anthology still doesn’t add anything). A telephone operator picks up a strange sound coming over some of the wires, which leads to her and the local DJ investigating and discovering a story of UFOs, abductions and mysterious government cover-ups.

This works despite explaining very little of what’s going on, or why. It does show how much UFO abduction stories track with horror; with a little tweaking, this could be about the protagonists stumbling onto some Lovecraftian secret, just as one woman’s strange child could be a changeling. “Free will is an illusion with them up there.”

#SFWApro. All rights to image remain with current holder

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Chaotic but productive. I can live with that.

Yesterday, our housecleaners made their monthly appearance, as usual amazing me with how good they are. I don’t think I realized one of my shower door was actually clear glass. But I knew they’d make it hard to focus, so I put in a full day of work Sunday instead. That proved wise, because I did indeed get little done yesterday.

I completed plenty of Leafs; other than that, my priority was Alien Visitors. I watched movies (including Earth Girls Are Easy), and got around to rough drafts of several chapters. Whatever’s been bogging me down in working on the book, I’ve finally broken out of the slump. I also read my UFO Abduction chapter to the group on Tuesday, and got some excellent feedback, as usual.

I wound up taking today off to get various stuff — paperwork, mostly — done, and watching more stuff for the book.

And … huh, that’s pretty much it. When things go smoothly, there’s not much stuff to say I guess.

My article on military suicide came out on Veterans Network. I believe this is it until the fall but that works out well — more time for Alien Visitors and finishing up Undead Sexist Cliches.

Wisp has been coming in for snuggles a little more frequently this week, which is nice. Oh, and we belled Wisp, at the request of our neighbor. It’s a breakaway collar, so it’s safe for her, I hope, and perhaps it will make it harder for her to snatch any birds from the neighbor’s feeder. Fingers crossed.


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Filed under Nonfiction, Personal, Time management and goals, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book, Writing

Plushie, being helpful

So last weekend we put a second rug in the living room so that the dogs would have less hardwood surface to run over. We don’t want them stumbling and the yoga mats we put down weren’t cutting it.

Plushie decided to help by standing on the backing mat and not leaving.

Later in the process, he jumped up on a couch we’d moved, then jumped off the back onto his ramp. Given his back and leg issues, TYG was terrified he’d hurt himself, but he was fine.

Both he and Trixie seem delighted with the new carpeted area. Particularly Trixie, as she’s more of a run-and-chase toys dog.


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Will grift bring America down?

“Who better suits a marketing strategy than a group that voluntarily organizes itself according to their most passionately shared beliefs? ” Rick Perlstein asks in The Long Con, an article he wrote almost a decade ago. While this works for liberals and conservatives — subscribers to Mother Jones or National Review are obvious targets for certain kinds of pitches — Perlstein shows how snake-oil salesmen have become a fundamental part of the right. Direct mail lists become the target of fund-raising lies (like this recent one from homophobe lawyer Matt Staver, or this Stover pitch); lists are sold to let more people milk the marks; and hucksters offering miracle cures (the secret ones the Deep State is hiding) bleed people for more money. “In this respect, it’s not really useful, or possible, to specify a break point where the money game ends and the ideological one begins.”

For example, Republican governors may sincerely want to get people off unemployment for principle — but some of them also want more people applying to work at businesses the various governors own.

Wayne LaPierre, for instance, may sincerely believe in the NRA’s stance the second amendment is sacred, using the NRA as a personal piggy bank gave him a vested interest in their mission. Donations and advertising from gun manufacturers makes up a lot of their financing; I’m sure having an extremist screaming at people to buy guns before the government makes it illegal kept the money spigot turned on.

Or consider Hank Kunneman, one of the many self-appointed prophets who declared Trump won in 2020. As I’ve mentioned before, he has books to sell, he has religious souvenirs to hawk, so despite being proven wrong he keeps insisting he’s a real prophet. He’s one in a long train of Christian hucksters from the medieval pardoners to Jim Bakker selling fake Trump Virus cures. Mike Warnke, for instance, had a long, lucrative career posing as a reformed Satanic high priest who’d gone from human  sacrifice to Praise Jesus!

Terpsichore Maras-Lindeman is raking in money from QAnon believers by claiming all elected officials from 2020 are illegitimate, therefore they can simply sue to take those officials’ places. It can’t miss! Of course someone probably claimed the same about replacing Congress and Biden with the Steward of Gondor.

A growing number of Republicans are approaching their roles as elected officials more as reality show stars than legislators. And at least 10 states divert TANF funding for needy families to finance anti-abortion groups.  Supporting forced-birth and abstinence-only education is a way to channel money to religious conservatives who loyally vote Republican.

Or consider Jesse Lee Peterson telling OAN viewers that the Tulsa race massacre was exaggerated to make whites look bad. Lies like that undoubtedly endear the black radio host to the white OAN audience (much as right-wingers love an antifeminist woman pundit). Or radio host, misogynist and right-wing minister E.W. Jackson accusing the Bidens of eating French food on Memorial Day instead of American food. It’s gibberish but some right-wing rageaholics will be happy to believe it so they can get their fix. And that’s money in the bank for Jackson.

Does this mean they don’t believe? Some, I’m sure, are complete manipulators (Bakker, for sure). Others fall on the borderline: I don’t doubt Staver’s hates gays just as Rick Wiles hates Jews. However neither one has any qualms using bigotry to raise money. Maybe that encourages them to get more outrageous: the uglier lies they tell about the Zionist/Gay Agenda, the more they can drive their fund-raising. Roy Edroso argues pundit Peggy Noonan blaming liberals for right-wing conspiracy theories may be a calculated career move: Republicans are solidly Trumpite now, so while she may disapprove, she wants them to know it’s Not Their Fault.

Then there are dudes like Paige Patterson. The misogyny he’s shown as head of the Southern Baptist Conference is certainly sincere, but he’s allegedly also a crook, stealing valuable art from the SBC for his own HQ (they kicked him out a while back) and also the donor list for fundraising — which he’s now using to channel money to his own organization.

Others, as Paul Campos says, may know specific claims are bullshit yet still believe in their truthiness. Sure, Sidney Powell and Maras-Lindeman are liars, there wasn’t any election fraud, but it’s still cheating for Democrats to win when Republicans are the only Real Americans. I suspect something similar is true of most of the marks for all this grift: they’re not so much fooled as choosing to believe. They want to believe their enemies are devils or that they’re virtuous, and fighting QAnon’s nonexistent Satanic pedophiles makes them feel so. Some of them may start off choosing and eventually convince themselves into absolute belief.

But regardless of their sincerity, they’re doing damage.  Prosecutors cited Warnke’s claims about Satanism in America to prove the Satanic Panic of 30 years ago was real. People went to jail in that witch-hunt, for years.

Believing the Trump Virus vaccines are the Mark of the Beast doesn’t make sense (how are the unvaccinated able to buy or sell when Antichrist only permits that from those who take the mark?) but it makes it harder to fight the virus.

Whipping up claims of election fraud and how audits are proving it is killing our democracy; they won’t remove Biden from office but a system in which every election result people don’t like has to be litigated is unworkable. Democracy, as others have pointed out, hinges on the belief that even if you lose, the government is legitimate. Without that, we’re screwed.

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Is Our Writers Learning? Pax Demonica by Julie Kenner

As I mentioned a while back, the editor who rejected Southern Discomfort suggested I read more urban fantasy. Perhaps she has a point because reading Julie Kenner’s PAX DEMONICA I discovered it shows exactly the kind of pacing problems she said I had (and in discussing them, there will be lots of spoilers. Be warned).

I didn’t expect that when I ordered the book because I love the Demon-Hunting Soccer Mom series. Kate Conner is Buffy with the serial numbers filed off, an orphan trained by the Catholic Church for Forza, the demon-hunting fellowship. By the start of the first book, she’s retired, married with a kid and her adventuring days are long behind her. Then the demons start returning … but after V5, Demon Ex Machina, her published killed the series. Kenner went on to other stuff but realized a few years ago that self-publishing was an option.

At the end of the previous book, Kate had a number of questions about Forza, such as how Eric, her dead first love and father of her daughter Allie wound up alive and possessed by a demon. They’re off to Forza’s Rome headquarters to get some answers. It’s a tense trip as Stuart, Kate’s husband, briefly walked out on Kate when he got the whole story about her side hustle.

Adding to the tension: demons attacking Kate demanding a McGuffin of some sort. A girl showing up who claims to be Kate’s cousin (Kate’s an orphan with no knowledge of her birth family).  Kate discovering she comes from a long lineage of Forza demon slayers. Eric’s warning that she shouldn’t trust anyone in Rome.

It turns out the McGuffin is a key that can bring on the apocalypse, literally bringing hell to Earth. Some of the demons are on humanity’s side in wanting to stop it: they like possessing mortal forms so they’re opposed to their fellows who simply want to destroy the world. Despite their assistance, the destruction demons get the key and open the gate to Hell. Kate and Co. figure out the gate’s location, rush to it, and discover that Allie has inherited some of Eric’s demon side — enough that her human/demon blood can close the gate. The world is saved!

It’s a solid plot, but the execution is imbalanced. Despite the demon attacks, the first three-quarters of the book spend way too much time on personal stuff: Kate rejoicing in being back in Rome, Allie pushing against her parents to go off and explore, sightseeing (a running gag is that they never actually make it to the tourist destinations. It should have been funnier than it was), Kate and Stuart rebuilding their relationship. All of which is typical for this series, but normally the threat level is high enough to balance it out. Not this time.

Instead we get the threat jumping to omega level in the last quarter. Backed up by a lot of exposition to rationalize how the Conners, Kate’s cousin and the McGuffin all showed up in Rome at the same time. It was too much exposition for such a small portion of the book, and Eric’s warning never pays off. Even the Forza priests who put a demon in him were doing so with an eye to his future child sealing the gates.

Which is a minor complaint: the book’s rosy view of the Catholic Church feels like the equivalent of “copaganda.” Not that every story with a Catholic priest has to make him a pedophile (Southern Discomfort has a perfectly decent priest) or that every nun runs one of the Magdalene laundries. It’s nowhere near as bad as Tarn Richardson whitewashing the Inquisition in The Fallen but it still feels like Forza should have had a little bit of a dark side.

I must admit, if Southern Discomfort made the editor feel as disappointed as Pax Demonica made me, I’m not surprised she rejected it.

#SFWApro. Cover by the Killion Group, all rights remain with current holder.

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Alien as Immigrant: The Brother From Another Planet

Alien immigrants and refugees have been around in movies since It Came From Outer Space(1953). There, though, the aliens were just on Earth temporarily, to repair their space ship. Later we’d see them coming to Earth as permanent refugees in District 9, the Alien Nation franchise, The Coneheads, Mork and Mindy and others.

For some people it’s an unsatisfying metaphor. I’ve read arguments that by focusing on discrimination against the aliens (such as the Newcomers of Alien Nation) films ignore that in real life having a new group to discriminate against doesn’t make old discrimination go away. Irish immigration to America generated lots of bigotry — the Irish were considered about one level above blacks, maybe — but racism didn’t disappear. And many of the Irish soon embraced racism, aligning themselves with WASPsby showing they hated the same people. Some Italian immigrants did the same.

Another criticism (also leveled at the X-Men As Minority trope) is that it’s offensive to take aliens who are literally nonhuman and present them as the counterparts of human refugees — isn’t this exactly how xenophobes see immigrants, as something less than human? Watching John Sayles’ 1984 film THE BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET, I wonder if making the immigrant black weakens that argument at all (I have no opinion on that myself).

The Brother (Joe Morton), an escaped ET slave, crashes to Earth in New York Harbor, then climbs out on Ellis Island. Human except for his alien feet, he steals clothes and wanders through the Big Apple, ending up in Harlem. Mute unsure how to fit in, unclear about our culture, he’s empathic enough to understand other people. And he wins a job when he demonstrates a psychic ability to heal machines. Slowly he begins to make a place for himself, but hot on his heels comes two slave hunters (one of them director John Sayles, who can project a surprisingly nasty presence onscreen).

There’s a moment that hits me as much creepier now than it did on earlier viewings, when Sayles demands one black guy who’s being uncooperative show him his green card. The black dude informs Sayles his family have been American for centuries so STFU.

The film is good but flawed. The plotline of the Brother (as he’s mute, he never gives his name) busting a drug ring feels like it wandered in from a 1970s blacksploitation film. The fight scenes with the slavers feel more comical than they should.

On the plus side, this is less about the politics of immigration than the emotional experience. The Brother doesn’t know anyone, doesn’t know the rules, is terrified of making a mistake; when he sees a crucifix he assumes it’s a representation of how Earth punishes people which doesn’t make him feel at ease. Slowly, even without speaking, he develops friendships, begins to fit in and makes himself a home here. I don’t know if any of that makes the Alien As Immigrant aspect more palatable (I tried looking online, but didn’t find much commentary), but it works for me.

#SFWApro. All rights to image remain with current holder.

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A racial reckoning that isn’t happening?

That’s Simon Balto’s take on the past year or so: “It strikes me that we are now living in an era defined not so much by ‘racial reckoning’ but more so by the desperate, gasping grasps at reclaiming white innocence from the perils of such a reckoning. Do not teach us or our children honestly about our past or our present, the opponents of racial justice demand. Do not question our allegiance to an openly white supremacist political leader. Do not impugn the institutions that uphold white supremacy and do violence to those not like us. But most of all, they ask that we absolve them of their sins for having made all those demands.”

Paul Campos similarly suggests that for too many white people, “making a white person feel bad about being white is the very worst form of racism there is — in fact it’s pretty much the only real form of racism that still exists — and that we must stop that from happening by any means necessary.” He focuses on one example: a white veteran’s Memorial Day speech discusses blacks helping bury the Union dead after the war, and the event organizers cut the audio for that part of the speech.

Similarly, a historian in Sherman Texas wanted to put up a marker to a black man lynched there in 1930. The all-white historical marker commission is refusing to act on it, even though it meets all the rules. One of them invokes the same arguments we hear today, that maybe the black guy they killed was no angel.

And black right-wing radio host Jesse Lee Peterson is assuring whites who watch OAN that the racial massacre in Tulsa wasn’t a massacre at all — “They have written it to be something that is more dramatic so they can make white people look racist, make them look mean, as though they hate all Black people”

None of this is new. As Slacktivist details, Billy Graham’s father-in-law Nelson Bell was committed to segregation. And he insisted ministers and churches that got involved in fighting Jim Crow were selling out their spiritual mission to meddle in politics — whereas his insistence segregation remain unchanged wasn’t political at all.

I have a similar feeling to Balto’s about misogyny. Despite the impact of #metoo, is anything really changing? Is it really riskier for a man to sexually harass his coworker? To paraphrase James Baldwin (quoted in Balto’s piece), male dominance has destroyed and is destroying hundreds of thousands of lives. People “do not know and do not want to know it.” Easier to believe in a just world where women aren’t routinely cat-called or harassed. Where they don’t routinely get death threats online. As H.P. Lovecraft said, the most merciful thing in the world is the inability to correlate facts to get the big picture, because the big picture is horrifying. Blocking it out makes it easier to sleep at night. And so women, like black Americans and other minority groups, wind up fighting the same shit all over again.

When I was a tween I thought the sixties had resolved all that racism stuff and the 1970s were going to fix gender issues the same way. I wish I’d been right. And assuming Republicans do not destroy democracy and establish a theocratic banana republic, I think we’ll get there some day. But nowhere near soon enough.


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Filed under Politics, Undead sexist cliches