Civility and moderation

Ever since the Red Hen restaurant told Sarah Huckabee Saunders to leave the premises, the media (as noted at the link) have been protesting that it’s outrageous! How can Democrats/liberals be so — so uncivil! How would they like it if Republicans played that game?

As multiple people have pointed out, Republicans play that game all the time, particularly the current party leader (but it’s hardly unique to him). Right-winger Bill Deagle, for example, says anyone who harasses him will die; it’s not front page news. Neither as No More Mr. Nice Blog points out, is the constant harassment of abortion providers and patients; the WaPo had an editorial that pretends that would be a new thing. Nor right-winger Liz Crokin claiming there’s a video of Hilary Clinton torturing children.

And it’s not just actual confrontation that grabs attention. Liberals refusing to date conservatives is hardly uncivil, but NBC News still devoted a column on its website to how awful it is.  Trump supporter Alan Dershowitz has been the subject of several news stories because people in his Martha’s Vineyard neighborhood burned his house — oh, wait, wrong, they just don’t invite him to parties. Similarly, I remember a few years ago, there was a profile of New Jersey governor Chris Christie which mentioned how much he loves Bruce Springsteen and how it hurts him that Springsteen doesn’t want to meet with him because of politics.

I’m inclined to agree with NMMNB and others that there’s a double standard. The media may not like Trump’s meanness, but they aren’t shocked the same way. And some of them are actually fine with it; a while back Chris Cillizza had a column admiring Trump’s habit of slapping nicknames on people (e.g., “Pocahontas” for Elizabeth Warren) because that dude really knows how to target his enemies’ weak spots!

Why the double standard? It may be, as Jonathan Chait suggests, that having Republicans in the White House for most of the past 50 years tilts the media Republican. Similarly, in a country where white male rule has been the norm, white men lashing back as they become a minority may be seen as more acceptable than when the lower orders do it (as Ta-Nehisi Coates says, white male grievance is always taken seriously). Or as Echidne suggests, it’s that Democrats are supposed to be nurturing and kind, Republicans are the strict father-figures. Similarly, I wonder if that’s liberals prize tolerance and respect as values while conservatives don’t.

It reminds me a little about how the media are always, always warning Democrats not to be too liberal. The linked article contrasts “centrist pragmatic” Democrats with the wild-eyed extremists who focus on divisive issues instead of jobs and the economy. The extremists aren’t realistic, they’re just passively counting on a blue wave in November to get them elected by not being Trump! A NYT column linked in the article argues the centrists have the right ideas, in contrast to the newly elected Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with her crazy talk about abolishing ICE (which actually has surprising support for a fairly new proposal).

It’s quite possible the centrists are right about what sells in their districts; I don’t have the expertise to judge. I’m not so sure it follows that centrism is the way to go everywhere or everywhere outside extremely liberal areas. It’s hard to see how a call to abolish ICE or provide better health insurance constitutes not actively competing for votes. Or that we shouldn’t focus on divisive issues; abortion, immigration, and equality before the law are all divisive and those are important to a lot of people in the base.

My point is, of course, that I don’t see anywhere near as much coverage arguing that Republicans shouldn’t be divisive. Just like they’re not denounced as much by the mainstream media for engaging in identity politics. I’ve seen articles over the years demanding Democrats (Obama, for instance) refuse to do what voters want to prove he’s his own man. I don’t see articles demanding Republicans should refuse the religious right or the anti-gay hatemongers to prove they’re independent. It’s what they do.

As others have pointed out, this may be a problem with the media this fall, and in 2020; whoever the Democrats pick will be too liberal. Whatever criticism they offer will be too uncivil. But I don’t think tacking to the center and being nice is the answer.

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Legends, Southern Women, Apes and Faith: books read

According to the introduction, WE ARE ALL LEGENDS by Darrell Schweitzer was inspired by The Seventh Seal with its story of Julian the Apostate (“Second of that name.”) who in his first encounter with evil rolls over and surrenders. Denied salvation, he wanders a world of strange cults and warped Christianity (“God is mad, yes, but so is his adversary.”), hoping to escape damnation but unwilling to redeem himself. Dark, gloomy and weird, this reminds me a lot of Clark Ashton Smith’s work; like a lot of short story series, it gets repetitive at times, but it’s still well worth reading.

MOTHERS OF INVENTION: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War by Drew Gilpin Faust looks at how Southern ladies, raised to believe they were utterly dependent on men for protection, guidance and support, suddenly found their men yanked away by the war. Now it was the women who had to order slaves around, run businesses, petition the government for help and make public appearances at fund-raisers, which often left them in a state of cognitive dissonance and outraged other Southerners (even the slightest departure from their conscripted gender roles would piss someone off). The normal course of life was similarly disrupted, as young girls found themselves deprived of the courtship and husband hunting that would usually consume their time and many young widows decided lifelong mourning was not the way to go. Faust concludes that the women never really embraced their new roles, which is part of why feminism never found fertile ground in the south (Southern suffragettes didn’t demand the vote based on equality, but on the grounds they deserved it more than Negros). Not as striking as Faust’s This Republic of Suffering, but interesting.

PLANET OF THE APES AS AMERICAN MYTH: Race, Politics and Popular Culture by Eric Greene argues convincingly that the subtext (and frequently text) of the original films is race relations in America, both reflected in the ape caste system (orangutan leaders, chimp intellectuals, brute gorillas) and ape/human relations (the slaves rising up in revolt in Conquest, for instance).  Greene explores how the theme works itself out in the different films and proposed scripts, from the bleak view of the first two films to the tentative hope of the last three that racial equality might be attained, however much a long shot. An interesting read that also includes the two TV shows and the various comics adaptations, plus several 1990s attempts to revive the franchise (Greene wrote well before the current cycle kicked off).

FAITH: California Scheming: by Jody Houser and Pere Pérez is an excellent sequel to V1, Hollywood & Vine (which apparently I forgot to review). Faith is a plus-size telekinetic and extreme comics nerd (her secret identity name “Summer” is a tribute to both Summer Glau and Scott Summers) who’s just sunny as all get out about being able to use her powers to help people. Here she encounters Chris Hemsworth (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) who reveals an unpleasant secret and goes with her boyfriend Archer to a con where she faces one of the classic dilemmas (“Which of us is the evil double?”). Highly recommended.

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

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A djinn and a detective: two series on DVD

Given my love for the Arabian Nights, it’s not surprising that as a kid I loved SHAZZAN, Hanna-Barbera’s fantasy series about two kids and their nigh-invincible genie. Rewatching as an adult, I can see all the flaws I expected, but I still enjoyed it.

The premise is that two American kids, Chuck and Nancy (Janet Waldo, Jerry Dexter) find two halves of an ancient ring, join them together and are instantly transported back to fantasy Arabia. The genie of the ring, Shazzan (Barney Phillips), whose name is an obvious riff on “Shazam!”, tells them that to return home they must deliver his ring to the Wizard of the Seventh Mount, but he has no idea where the mage is. Until then, they have a magical flying camel, Kaboobie, and whenever they join the ring together they can summon him. Which of course they need to do as they run into a variety of wizards trying to oppress, conquer or otherwise wreak havoc (so yes, we have something of a white savior element).

The animation is more imaginative than I expected, though the stories are formulaic. A bigger problem is that Shazzan is so powerful, he usually overwhelms everyone he goes up against. As the series goes along, the kids get absurdly powerful too. At the start they have a couple of magic items (enchanted rope, cloak of invisibility) but by the end of the show they’re just pulling endless magical gadgets out of their utility belts, as it were.

Still, I had a lot of fun watching this.

THE UNPLEASANTNESS AT THE BELLONA CLUB brought back Ian Carmichael as Peter Wimsey. The eponymous unpleasantness is that an elderly general expired in his arm chair at Wimsey’s club on Armistice Day. Nothing suspicious about it, until it turns out the exact time of death will determine the distribution of sizable inheritance. And someone worked very hard to cover up the time … This is much better than Clouds of Witness (of course, it’s a better book) though it’ll be a while before I get any more of Carmichael’s later seasons. “If you keep people young with monkey glands, they’re not going to die of heart failure.”

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The thing about subjective assessments

One of the reasons I like keeping written goals is that it gives me an objective standard to measure my performance. Because subjective standards are frequently wrong.

Managers doing annual reviews, for example, are sometimes waylaid by the recency effect: “Wow, Stella’s been amazing this past week, way above average. Okay, time for her annual review, I guess her performance for the year must be ‘above average.'” Likewise if my Friday writing’s going poorly, it’s very easy to feel my whole week was wasted.

And yeah, it was kind of poor today. TYG was out of town, so I took the dogs on the morning walk. Then I had to spend an hour dealing with some lingering stuff involving Mum’s estate (as my sister handled the executor’s duties, which is no small amount of work, I’m happy to do whatever I can to help her). As frequently happens when my morning goes off-schedule, I felt a little disoriented (things like that knock me off my game more than they should). I didn’t get much done today, so I feel like my whole week was unbalanced and ineffective. Actually I did okay.

Leaf work has started back up, so I got in 10 of those.

I finished the current draft of Undead Sexist Cliches. It’s around 40,000 words and I think I’ve resolved most of the problems from the earlier drafts, such as what goes in which chapter. Next up, a print-out and I’ll see if I can do one more edit. Well, plus an index for the hard-copy version. I’m also debating whether I should add endnotes (or links for the ebook).

I got several thousand words done on Southern Discomfort. I think it’s progressing well.After it’s finished, I will need to make one cursory pass though to make sure I didn’t make any massive screw-ups (pointless blank space, repeated paragraphs) — I went back to an early section this week and found a couple. But that will be pretty minor.

I got some more done on proofing Atoms for Peace. Nowhere near as much as I’d wanted, but it’s coming along.

And I got a couple of IRL tasks done that needed doing.

As TYG’s schedule was inevitably crazy after a week away, I also coped with a little extra dog care. Not as much as I’d anticipated, but I think I did well not stressing out over it.

Today was still a mess, but overall I did well.

For humor, here’s Plushie yearning to check out a dead snake (you can’t tell from the image but it’s dead as a doornail) and probably roll on it. He did not get his wish.

#SFWApro. Cover by zakarianada, all rights to it are mine.


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Filed under Atoms for Peace, Nonfiction, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, Time management and goals

Lost and Won

LOST: My travel mug, while we were in Indianapolis. It was the first night, when I had pizza at the hotel restaurant and took some of it back upstairs. They gave me a massive box, way larger than I needed (it would have been big even if I’d had the full pizza) and maneuvering it around, stopping to read for a bit … well somewhere on the way I focused on the box and forgot the cup.

Which wouldn’t have been so bad except I cannot handle drinking tea from styrofoam. It’s horribly acidic, and makes my stomach miserable. I went on a mall hunt for a substitute mug, but to my surprise couldn’t find one. Finally I settled for the hotel Starbucks and shelled out $20. Way overpriced! However it met the need, and I must say it’s a good mug, both for keeping the tea warm and for not leaking when I tip it to drink.

WON: Okay, the team I played with for Culture Quest, “The Standard Deviants,” did not actually win the contest. But they announced at the AG came in eighth, the best we’ve ever done, and that’s pretty damn impressive (to me, anyway). I’m very pleased with us. And even though I go to hang out with Courtney, not to actually win, I certainly don’t object.

To celebrate the near-win, here’s a Bob Abbett book cover. No connection to tea or Mensa, I just like it — simple, but interesting.

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

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The merits of taking a break

Okay, not as drastic as proclaiming “Spider-Man … No More!” (art courtesy of the great John Romita), but our vacation last week just reminded me how important not working is. At least for me.

Even though I love what I do, it still takes on a treadmill overtone over time. Get up. Write with dogs sitting next to me. Repeat the next day. And because I spend a lot of evenings and weekends sitting in the living room with the dogs and TYG, sometimes it all blends together — I feel like I’m always just sitting with dogs. And even though I love them, that gets oddly draining.

Doing something different scrubs my mind clean. I’m able to think more clearly, imagine doing things differently, plus of course just being refreshed from the break. These are good things. While the week got slightly crazy for other reasons, I’m way more refreshed and ready to work than if I’d stuck around last week.

Even small breaks make a difference. Working at the paper, it was easy to tell myself “I’m so close to finishing, I’ll just skip lunch break, keep working, get a little ahead for tomorrow.” I ended up with my brain futzed. Doing something different, even if it’s just sitting and reading over lunch, is amazingly refreshing.

It will wear off eventually, but eventually we’ll go somewhere else. And I’m trying to think of ways to do more types of different things on the weekend, so it doesn’t feel all of a piece with the work week.

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Indiana wants me, but I can’t go back there … oh, wait, yes I can

(Title courtesy of the R. Dean Taylor song).

One thing TYG and I love doing on our Mensa trips is visiting zoos, aquariums, anything of the sort. And wouldn’t you know, the Indianapolis Zoo was located within a mile of our hotel. A very hot mile, but it was worth it. We caught the morning dolphin show (later we found a room offering a view from under the water), saw a cage full of macaws (didn’t photograph well, alas) and a colony of meerkats and hydrated a lot. Like I said, hot.

I thought this bear was a small bear. Then I got close and realized how much of him was in the water.

The flock of helmeted guinea fowl were a hoot as they clucked at us. That’s a crowned crane in the background.

There’s an orang-utan house with several apes. We got to watch one of them practice identifying symbols on the computer. It did pretty well. Below, a mother and child clown around.

Gila monster!


Lion fish!

And seal! Regrettably I didn’t photograph the walrus exhibit.

One moment of comedy was when a kid next to us informed his mother very seriously that he’d counted the rhino butts and there were definitely three of them in the exhibit.

It was definitely worth getting hot and exhausted for.

#SFWApro. All photos are mine.

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Indianapolis Mensa gathering: the basic economy trap!

So Monday we arrived at the Raleigh Airport and discovered we’d booked our flight basic economy. This is a low-cost, low-service option designed to wean travelers away from bargain airlines. But airlines and travel sites don’t emphasize the drawbacks (only one bag on board) or alert you, so we arrived and learned we’d have to pay to check our third and fourth bag. No upgrades possible (I’m surprised, as airlines make a packet that way). And TYG has another trip we made the same mistake on — but next time we book, we won’t be so foolish.

We arrived in Philadelphia for our plane change, and it was surprisingly compact. Narrower aisles and the gate was just a desk inside the bar/restaurant above (which isn’t a bad idea). A few hours later we made it into Indianapolis, then to the hotel (the big blue slab).

As usual the highlight of the trip was hanging out with friends. Lots of Mensans I know from Florida, or who’ve moved away from Florida, or whom I know just from annual gatherings. Wednesday, the first day of the gathering, I was pretty much social-whirling for the entire day, catching up with people, going out to dinner, chatting with strangers in the line at Starbucks (there was a Church of God in Christ convention the same weekend. Starbucks was packed). The next couple of days I still socialized but gave myself a little time to sit and read — now that I’m accustomed to spending most of the day with nobody but the pups, constant people sometimes felt overwhelming. TYG got out and hung too, though she’s less of a social butterfly than me.

I also explored the area: a skywalk connects the hotel to the convention center to the mall and beyond. Made for a lot of walking.

I didn’t do much in the games room but my friend Zarya convinced me to play a round of Azul, a new tile-based game. It was a lot of fun. And I couldn’t resist the bestseller covers-jigsaw above.

I attended several presentations, although I didn’t give one — I’d applied but the new scoring system shot me down (no idea why). I did have the pleasure of getting several “You’re not presenting? But I love your presentations!” compliments when people found out. The good ones included one on tombstones and art; one on the Green Book used by black motorists for a chunk of the last century; and a Roma college professor who’s written a book about her people (TYG picked it up). A couple of others were dull enough I walked out. I won’t name names.

Hospitality, despite the excellent company, was piss-poor. No vegan alternatives according to one of the other attendees, and the vegetarian alternatives, except for a good hamburger, were uninspired. The pasta with marinara sauce? It was pasta with the tiniest possible streaks of sauce dabbed on. Seeing as we only had lunch and breakfast served (a new thing, IIRC) I think they could have done better — vegetarianism aside, the food was bland. I know it’s cafeteria food at these things, but how about a better cafeteria?

Fortunately there were excellent restaurants in the hotel and around the area, so we spent quite a bit of money enjoying them. Below, some decorations at one of the Italian places (we ate a lot of Italian).

TYG and I also spent a lot of time just reading in bed (yes, reading). With her crazy schedule and the dogs to take care of, we rarely get to spend an evening doing that the way we used to.

Sunday we left early so we could pick up the dogs before the vet closed. Much as I enjoyed the break, it’s good to have them with us again.



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My vacation has given me the secret to best-seller status

So as I mentioned Friday, I spent last week with TYG attending the annual Mensa gathering. And it hit me late in the week: John Scalzi devotes blog posts to photos from his hotel room windows. John Scalzi is a best-selling SF novelist. So if I show photos of the view from my hotel … QED, am I right?

And besides I didn’t have time to get anything else about our trip written up, so—


Next, a day view

And a view of some of the roofs below.

Here’s a view of a rainy Indianapolis street, just because I think it’s a good photo

Tomorrow, some actual blogging about the trip, plus more photos.


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A few good superheroes: graphic novels read

BATMAN: The Rules of Engagement was the first Tom King Batman TPB (with art by various creators) I genuinely liked (as opposed to, say, The War of Jokes and Riddles). Batman’s engaged to Selina which leads to lots of genuinely enjoyable banter, a battle with Talia al Ghul, shock from the Robins and Bruce and his sweetie going on a double date with the Kents. This was the most lighthearted Batman story I’ve seen in years — so perhaps it’s not surprising that the wedding ain’t going to happen (the Big Twist of the upcoming wedding issue, spoiled by an NYT story).

ABE SAPIENS: Lost Lives by Mike Mignola, Scott Allie and others is a mixed bag of short stories set throughout Abe’s career; “mixed bag” puts it better than most of Abe’s series, ike the previous couple of TPBs. The origin of occultist Gustav Strobl is more interesting than he ever was as an adversary, for instance, but the final story involving Abe’s life as Langdon Caul never really comes to a point. The most noteworthy thing is that setting one story in 2013 forces me to revise the Hellboy Chronology  — I had Abe’s transformation into his new form happening a couple of years earlier. I still think 2013 is a little late, but Mignola gets to make the call.

THE BUZZ AND DARKDEVIL by Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz collects two miniseries showcasing two of Spider-Girl’s supporting cast (if they were hoping for spinoffs, alas, they did no better than A-Next or Juggernaut. The Buzz is J. Jonah Jameson’s grandson, JJ; when grandpa’s latest attempt to create a new superhero goes as badly awry as all the others, JJ steps into the Buzz suit and begins fighting the bad guys. Darkdevil has a truly loonie origin: son of Spider-Man clone Ben Reilly, transformed when the demon Zarathos tried to possess him, saved by the ghost of Matt Murdock, he now fights crime with his odd mix of spider/demon/Daredevil powers. If only for sheer weirdness, I liked this one better.

#SFWApro. Cover by Sebastian Fumiura, all rights remain with current holder.



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