May ends. June begins. Things occur. And there’s a cat photo in the middle of this post, so keep reading

One occurrence: I applied a month or so back to do some freelancing for The Local Reporter, a Chapel Hill nonprofit newspaper (Chapel Hill, like Raleigh, neighbors Durham). This week they contacted me, said a change in editor led to my response falling through the cracks, and they were interested. We talked on the phone; sounds like I’d be doing mostly business-related stories, and not a lot of them (the budget, at the moment, won’t stretch to a ton of articles). But it would be income, and the kind of gig I’m familiar with, so I’m down with it. I’ll let you know when something comes out.

Another occurrence: as I mentioned last week, I was blocked on Oh the Places You’ll Go because I hadn’t reconciled to doing more rewriting than my beta-readers had suggested. Monday, I got down to it; by Tuesday evening I’d gone through two rewrites and much improved things, including fixing the problems my beta-readers flagged. However I’ve introduced a couple more: a change in the time-travel rules required more exposition but what I wrote is neither clarifying nor enjoyable, just muddled and confusing. So more work ahead to smooth it out.

I sat down and rewrote the third chapter of Let No Man Put Asunder as I’ll be reading that to the writing group soon as I get on the schedule. I realized the fight scene needed a lot of work — too much banter instead of attacking — and I think I’ve fixed it. We’ll see what the group thinks.

That took up most of the week. Plus I had a post at Atomic Junkshop on Silver Age DC (possibly) knocking off Marvel’s storytelling style. Below, for instance, Gil Kane and John Broome inflict some atypical angst on Green Lantern. Plus I’m in Con-Tinual’s YouTube channel discussing mythological tropes in fantasy.

#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holders.

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To start your morning off on an up note …

Will Trixie do the trick?

I love this dog. But if you follow this blog, you know that already.


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Fear of women getting out of their place

Sunday I reviewed some books dealing with the idea that cleanliness, purity and order are subjective concepts, and that this also affects our modern society: it has to be tightly ordered, with everyone knowing their place and staying there. And the places are not even: “One category of persons is assigned to privilege, power, and dominance, and the other category is designated for a life of subordination. This prescribed order has been ‘ordered’ for you, not by you.  If you’re in the subordinate category, you’re taught you have no choice but to submit and stay in your place.” Robert Altemeyer makes the same point in The Authoritarians: people who believe in a fixed, authoritarian hierarchy are terrified of change, fearful any disturbance to the way things are will topple society like a house of cards.

For some people, the terror reaches levels that would be laughable if they didn’t d0 real-world harm. Misogynist complementarian preacher John Piper, for instance, thinks a man having to ask a woman for directions is a terrifying spiritual crisis: in that instant the woman is taking the lead, the man following her instructions. Only handling the moment carefully can avert upending them both spiritually.

As Fred Clark sums it up, complementarianism — men dividing the world between women and men without consulting the women — “sounds like a sweet deal for men. It means you’re in charge by virtue of having been born in charge, and hierarchy brings all manner of privileges. You get paid more. Your legal rights are better protected. Society is literally designed to meet your desires and appetites and emotional needs. Plus someone else is going to make you food, clean up after you, launder your clothes, and tend to your children. Being “above” and being deferred to by default is, all things considered, a pretty terrific arrangement for you. It’s good to be the king.”

But unearned, unjustified power is an unstable thing, Particularly in the modern U.S., where women have the right to walk out of their marriage if it’s not working, something men such as Piper, Matt Walsh or James Dobson frown on (at the link, Dobson explains abused wives trick their husband into hitting them so they can justify a divorce). For instance right-winger Stephen Crowder, caught on video verbally abusing his wife, is furious she has the right to divorce him (she is). Maybe this explains why Michigan Republican Tudor Dixon thinks school libraries should ban books with divorced characters. Equality anywhere is a threat to inequality everywhere. And for those who benefit from inequality, that’s terrifying.

For more critiques of misogynist bullshit, check out Undead Sexist Cliches, available as a Amazon paperback, an ebook and from several other retailers. Cover by Kemp Ward, all rights remain with current holders.

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Signal boosting for Wednesday

M.K. Martin is a friend of mine, a veteran, and a former member of my local writing group. As she has the second in her post-viral apocalypse series Survivor’s Club available for pre-order this week, I’m giving y’all a heads up. I haven’t read the book but I heard her read segments of it to the group and she’s good. You can buy Book One and pre-order Book Two, Ashfall from Amazon or her publisher. The book comes out Independence Day.#SFWApro. Cool cover art by Aaron Smith.

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Thank you Netflix!

As I mentioned last month, Netflix is ending its DVD service. Rather than ghost on us, it’s sending out lists of every DVD they’ve mailed us from the first. I was started to see what I watched in my first year on the service — no, that’s not a clickbait lead-in, I really was.

I remembered clearly that the reason I signed up with Netflix was to watch all of Daybreak, a TV series with Taye Diggs as a cop caught in a time loop (I rewatched it for Now and Then We Time Travel). It got yanked for low ratings by ABC and I desperately wanted to know how it all ended so when I saw Netflix had the DVD set … And it was worth it too; it’s an excellent one-season series.That was in February of 2009. After wrapping up the series, I watched a few more things through June (I was on the one-DVD-at-a-time plan) including Coupling, The Big Lebowski and the British Jekyll. Starting in June, though, everything through April of the following year was movies or TV shows I watched for Screen Enemies of the American Way, my book on subversion, infiltration and political paranoia in film and TV. That was a shit ton of stuff I’d have had to buy; streaming wasn’t an option back then and I doubt my library back in Florida had most of it. Local video rental stores could have provided some of it, but still more expensive.That included multiple series such as The Invaders, Surface, Threshold and Sleeper Cell. There were also lots and lots of movies, many of them nothing I’d want to spend money on such as John Wayne’s red-baiting Big Jim McClain.I also caught The Stepford Wives, Rosemary’s Baby, JFK, The Quiller Memorandum and a great many other good films.Other films, such as Red Nightmare, were only available on YouTube; some, such as Stepford Wives‘ dreadful sequels, I taped off the air. Netflix was still a life-saver, from the first movie I watched for the book (They Live), through the last (Left Behind and Left Behind II, because Satanist infiltration is a subgenre). Fortunately with Durham Library’s larger DVD selection and the wide range of streaming, doing my next film book without the DVD service won’t be as pricey.

I’ll blog about what I watched after the book was done, assuming there are further interesting insights to mine from the list.

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

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Filed under Movies, Nonfiction, Now and Then We Time Travel, Personal, Screen Enemies of the American Way, TV, Writing

Cover images for the last Tuesday in May

Leading off with a Richard Powers cover for Clifford Simak — two great creators that taste great together.Next George A. Frederiksen provides a neat-looking mystery covder.This Rudolph Belarski cover doesn’t grab me as much as the blurb about “Satan of the Sea spreads evil tentacles …”And finally one by Virgil Finlay#SFWAPro. All rights to images remain with current holder.

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Republican right-to-lifers are not moderates

The Washington Post reports that 12-week bans such as North Carolina’s are the new Republican forced-birth approach: see, they’re not trying to ban all abortions, only after the first trimester. They’re moderate — now, forget about abortion and vote Republican!

As the article notes, it’s not “before 12 weeks you have a right to abortion.” There’s a 72-hour waiting period after the first appointment, added regulations on clinics and, as Vox says, a ban on mifepristone at home. Oh, and the doctor must send a detailed report on the patient’s abortion/pregnancy history to the state. As LGM says (I don’t have the link), some forced-birthers point out that France (for example), has a ban after 14 weeks; before that, however, they don’t bog the process down with regulations and it’s covered by state health insurance. Not the same.

As noted at the second link, neither NC nor most other states with strict abortion bans have done much to expand the social safety net for pregnant women and mothers (Florida, at the same link, may become an exception). They are, however, perfectly fine with throwing money at crisis-pregnancy centers (including money marked for poor families) even though they don’t provide birth control, don’t give accurate information and often don’t have medical personnel on staff. But hey, regular ob/gyn care is nose-diving as doctors back away from right-to-life states — maybe bad medical help is better than none (said sarcastically).

It’s not just these details that give the lie to Republican pretense of moderation (and never forget, the forced-birth movement lies a lot), it’s that this is nothing but a temporary political tactic. This is not “we’ll compromise and settle for a 12-week ban,” it’s “we’ll compromise until we have the power to get what we want without any electoral consequence.” Maybe that’s by gutting voting rights (something NC, like Florida, has been working on for years) or the theocratic takeover some of them dream of; either way, if they can get away with it they’ll be all in on bans.

The Idaho GOP has already rejected life-of-the-mother exemptions; I doubt they’re alone. And even with exceptions, the bills are written to scare doctors out of abortion, no matter how awful the case. Many of the movement may not be as extreme as this guy, but as I’ve written before, that doesn’t mean they’ll stand up to extremists. After all, underlying the right-wing, as Kristen Kobes Du Mez says, is a horror of women defying men’s control. How can a man be master in his house if he knows his woman can divorce him?

Don’t get me wrong, 12 weeks with insane restrictions is preferable to six weeks. But it isn’t good. And the people pushing it definitely are not moderates on the issue.

For more on forced-birth bullshit, Undead Sexist Cliches is available as a Amazon paperback, an ebook and from several other retailers. Cover by Kemp Ward, all rights remain with current holders.

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Dirt is matter out of place: three books

“Dirt is matter out of place” is the key insight of PURITY AND DANGER: An Analysis of the Concepts of Pollution and Taboo by Mary Douglas. I first read the book a little over a decade ago and reread it to accompany Miasma, below; as I thought it holds up well.

Douglas arguments is that things like purity/impurity, clean/dirty aren’t absolute, objective measures but subjective. Just as standards for cleanliness changed when cleaning became easier, so pure and impure, spiritually clean and contaminated, are subjective. The Old Testament marks out clear boundaries between what’s clean and unclean for Jews to eat; in our own era, as Douglas points out, we’d flinch from someone putting shoes on the table while we eat, even if there was no threat of getting dirt on our shoes. Matter out of place is disorder and therefore dangerous.

This is dated in some ways — Douglas’ argument that “primitive” shouldn’t be offensive as a description of certain cultures — and a lot of it is refuting other interpretations of taboo and uncleanness; Douglas mocks, for example, the idea that dietary restrictions in Leviticus are about avoiding unhealthy food (“That paints Moses as less a prophet than a divinely appointed health inspector.”). As she sees it, the “unclean” animals are those that cross boundaries in some way, such as swimming creatures without scales or fins, or birds that don’t fly. It’s thought provoking even if I’m not sure what the thoughts are.

Robert Parker cites Douglas frequently in MIASMA: Pollution and Purification in Early Greek Religion though he’s not sure about some of her specifics: would Jews have found anomalous animals any more unsettling than we find the tomato, the fruit that looks like a vegetable? In studying the role of spiritual pollution in ancient Greece, Parker is more uncertain about drawing conclusions than I remembered from first reading. Do stories of pollution and purification in Greek drama, for example, reflect real life or are they just using conventions the audience would understand? Does horror at being around patricides (among the worst of crimes in Hellenic culture) reflect a fear of pollution or merely revulsion of their evil acts? Did people stay their hand to avoid pollution or was it applied retroactively to explain tragedy (“Your whole family dead of the plague? Guess you shouldn’t have slept with a virgin priestess!”). A deep and very focused dive, but interesting despite the uncertainties.

DIRT AND DOMESTICITY: Constructions of the Feminine was a smaller book released to accompany photos in a museum exhibit. It looks at, in part, how housewives are supposed to purge dirt and disorder from the household but also avoid contamination; servants, particularly POC, provide a useful solution that lets the housewife (or the man of the house — plenty of single men have employed domestic staff) avoid touching dirt while taking credit for mastering it.

While I didn’t reread it, WEEDS: An Environmental History of Metropolitan America by Zachary Falck covers similar issues regarding plants that symbolize disorder and urban decay regardless of the supposed rational reasons for destroying them (fighting hay fever justifies uprooting ragweed but never grass). And like dirt, weeds can become a symbol for unwanted people too.

If you’re curious about how this applies in our modern world, I’ll recommend this old post, or this one.

#SFWApro. Top cover by Berni Wrightson, bottom by Neal Adams.

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Marvel superheroes, a tramp and a king: movies viewed

THE WOLVERINE (2013) has Hugh Jackman still shattered by Jean Grey’s death in last stand (Famke Janssen makes a cameo as a memory) when hellraising mercenary Yukio (Rila Fukushima) drags him to Japan. Years ago, Logan saved Yashida, a Japanese soldier, from death; now the man is a corporate titan who wants to repay Wolverine for the gift. Unfortunately that repayment involves Yashida becoming immortal by stealing Logan’s healing factor with the help of Viper, a mad scientist/geneticist (making her a nihilist as well is a nod to the comics but doesn’t affect anything). The results aren’t classic but they are enjoyable. “You’re not going to want to watch this part.”

The MCU’s Guardians of the Galaxy have popped in several films since their second film, then came this year’s GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 3 (2023). This opens with the team at rock bottom — the resurrected Gamora (Zoe Saldana) has no memory of her romance with Star Lord (Chris Pratt) which leaves him getting steadily drunker on Nowhere. Then Adam Warlock shows up to kidnap Rocket Raccoon; the Guardians thwart him but trying to heal Rocket’s injuries triggers a failsafe that will kill him in 48 hours. Deactivating it requires learning his secret origin and confronting the godlike power of the High Evolutionary on the weird world of Counter-Earth. It’s a suicide mission but the Guardians aren’t letting one of their own down … This swan song for the team (though bringing them back is certainly an option) was thoroughly enjoyable, with bit parts for Nathan Filion and Sylvester Stallone. “I never noticed how black your eyes were.”

CITY LIGHTS (1931) was Charlie Chaplin’s last silent film, a whimsical concoction in which Chaplin’s little tramp befriends a drunken millionaire (Harry Myers) and becomes his BFF when the guy’s trashed; sober, the rich man doesn’t know him. In between the drunken revels, the Tramp tries to help out a blind young woman he’s fallen in love with. Funny, charming and touching. “Tomorrow the birds will sing!”

In the 1970s and 1980s, the BBC filmed the complete run of Shakespeare’s plays. THE LIFE AND DEATH OF KING JOHN (1984) shows the advantages of this because it’s not a play anyone performs very often, yet watching the DVD let me do so. This has a lot of elements familiar from the Bard’s better plays, including a king whose crown has dubious legitimacy, a charming bastard rogue, marriage as a tool to unite everyone (it seems very topical for the Elizabethan age that the Papacy winds up undoing this and bringing on tragedy). Unlike most of Shakespeare’s histories, as Shakespeare After All points out, this has some strong women’s roles with queens on both sides asserting their influence to shape the outcomes. With Claire Bloom as Constance and John Thaw as the tormented, tragic Herbert. “O now doth Death line his dead chaps with steel — the swords of soldiers are his teeth.”

#SFWApro. Cover with Wolverine’s first appearance by Herb Trimpe.

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Dogs, disorder and doom! Okay, not much doom.

Another week where things did not go as well as planned. But let’s start off with good news: I had my semi-annual checkup this week and all my signs (cholesterol, weight, blood pressure) are better than last time. So yay! This is good.

Otherwise this was a sub-par week. Wednesday Plushie was having a mood, constantly barking whenever I came close to having a coherent thought. Thursday morning, before the doctor’s appointment, I just couldn’t focus. I suppose not eating so they could get clear lab results might have something to do with that. The dogs were both needy this morning, plus we had the housekeepers in.

At several points I wound up working on The Savage Adventures because it required much less creative thought than anything else.

It would have been worse if I’d gone to the in-person writing group Tuesday (as I’ve mentioned before, I wake up exhausted), though next time I’m going. I’ll have to schedule around sleeping late Wednesday or something. I intend to read the first chapter of Let No Man Put Asunder so I worked on that this week, tightening it up.  I got a little work done on Oh the Places You’ll Go; in hindsight not getting more was because after getting it beta-read, I’d started seeing a bunch more stuff I wanted to change. Today I faced up to that and started a more thorough rewrite than I’d planned.

Oh, I also finished proofing 19-Infinity and got some cover sketches. So I guess I’m on the way to publication, though also nervous that somehow I’ll have missed something in editing. Maybe one more pass, just focusing on spelling and grammar? We’ll see.

A few links of interest: I have a post on various Silver Age comics scenes up at Atomic Junk Shop. For example —Does that look like a plain Jane to you? Another post looks at how often superheroes wind up fighting when a little talk could resolve things, like in the Spectre’s encounter with Anti-Matter Man below.Two of the Con-Tinual panels I’ve been on are up on YouTube, one on worldbuilding for small towns, one on Hammer Horror.

One last good note: someone checked out one of my books again on Hoopla. Thanks, whoever! Still, next week needs to be better.

#SFWApro. Art by Bob Kane, Carmine Infantino and Mike Sekowsky, all rights remain with current holders.

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