It’s all projection with the right: two examples

It’s a staple, and I believe accurate view on the left that right-wingers are big on projection. They actively work to restrict voting rights, but complain that Dems are engaging in voter fraud. They wreck the lives of workers while accusing Democrats of destroying the working class. They complain about being persecuted for religion while doing their best to gut everyone else’s religious freedom. Herein, two examples

First, Missouri Senator Josh Hawley. He’s acquired a reputation as the Great Dark Hope of the religious right, though he doesn’t seem that different to me than every other theocratic authoritarian swarming around since the 1980s. In an article for Christianity Today, Hawley argues that European and American society have been shaped too much by the views of the heretic Pelagius that we can achieve salvation through individual effort, which is the basis for Western individualism (I’m not an expert on Pelagius, but I find this argument tenuous). “But here is the irony,” Hawley writes. “Though the Pelagian vision celebrates the individual, it leads to hierarchy. Though it preaches merit, it produces elitism. Though it proclaims liberty, it destroys the life that makes liberty possible.” Because of Pelagius, liberals believe (to quote one Supreme Court decision) that “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”

Well, yes, the search for God or meaning without God, should be up to each individual. But for Hawley, that leads us to the paradox he complains about: if freedom means having choices, “then people with the most choices are the most free. And that means the rich.” And the richer and more successful you are, the more God must love you. Pelagian individualism teaches us to celebrate the wealthy and the powerful which is why we’re now a hierarchy run by the elite where people at the bottom have crappy lives. We need to rebuild a culture that celebrates the working class and offers opportunity to all.

This is standard Republican boilerplate: an elitist (he’s a banker’s son whose education costs ran to half a million, according to this New Republic piece) ranting about elites and glorifying the little people. But then why is Hawley a Republican? The party does everything it can to gut protections for workers, protect payday lenders, make it harder for students to get out of student-loan debt, even from scam schools… I’m not really seeing a lot of support for the working class there. Hawley says he wants insurance companies not to discriminate against pre-existing conditions but that’s not the policy he supports. Nor does he seem to care that a lot of regular Americans are pro-choice and pro-immigration.

And his arguments about the evils of individualism (I suspect Hawley would be happier with anti-life) is bullshit. Yes, unfettered individualism can led to a lot of people getting screwed over, but hierarchy doesn’t just arise from that. A lot of hierarchy is directly opposed to individualism, a belief that people’s place in life is assigned by birth, by class, by caste. The divine right of kings. Aristocracy. Jim Crow. Slavery. The belief women simply shouldn’t be treated as equals. All anti-individualism and all of them reinforcing hierarchy. And as these things still have support on the right (Former Supreme Court Justice Rehnquist once wrote about the positive benefits of the divine right of kings compared to democracy), again, why is Hawley a Republican? He’s in a party that supports precisely the things he claims to hate.

The we have projectionist #2, right-wing blogger Christopher Cantrell. In a recent post, he argues women don’t belong in the “public square” because they whine so much. When men disagree, they trade insults and biting wit; when women are insulted, they complain about it, saying someone’s a racist or a rape apologist. How wimpy! Women will destroy the public square with their whiny demands for safe spaces!

First off, calling someone on their racist or sexist (or homophobic/transphobic/disabled-phobic or whatever) isn’t weak and isn’t about hurt feelings. Discrimination is a moral failing and a wrong, and it’s perfectly justifiable — and I think necessary — to label it. Of course, a lot of modern conservatism celebrates the right to be a racist, sexist shitbag; scumbag conservative Dave Daubenmire, for example, laments that he’s denied the right to say the N-word. He’s not alone. So it’s not surprising Cantrell gets huffy about it.

And second, conservatives do exactly what Cantrell complains about. They whine about how being criticized oppresses them. And right-wingers love the idea of safe spaces, but define it as the freedom to keep women and minorities out of the public square.

Curiously enough, I managed to refute Cantrell’s bullshit without once engaging in insult. But it was tempting.

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Bruce Lee, Andre Norton, Agatha Heterodyne and Cats: books read

Reading Nerds of Color‘s post on how Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood disrespects Bruce Lee got me curious to read about the legendary kung fu star. Fortunately the library had BRUCE LEE: A Life by Matthew Polly, chronicling, Bruce’s story from hyperkinetic mixed-race child actor (his nickname as a kid was “Never sits still”) to teenage brawler and street punk to cha-cha fanatic to gung fu master, and all of that before he began his climb to become Hollywood’s first Chinese superstar. Martial arts movies and Asian-American actors are so much more common now (though obviously Hollywood’s still solidly white-dominated) that it was a shock to realize how out there Lee’s ambitions seemed at the time, and how much discrimination he had to deal with (one newspaper article on Lee actually worked “Rotsa Ruck” into the headline). Nor did he have it easy in Hong Kong, where initial enthusiasm for the hometown boy’s success was later shaded by concerns Lee’s biracial heritage meant he wasn’t Chinese enough. Very good.

TREY OF SWORDS by Andre Norton (striking cover by Charles Mikolaycak) is set in Escore roughly during the events of Warlock of the Witch World. The characters are a stock type in this series: Yonan and Crytha, both mixed-race, both orphans, both uncertain where they fit in and Yonan crushing on an oblivious Crytha. The first two sections of the book involve Yonan discovering the magical Sword of Ice (or vice versa — the Sword chooses it’s wielders) and alongside an ancient warrior traveling back in time to avert one of the Dark’s great triumphs in Escore’s past. The effects of this in the present aren’t really dwelt with, except Crytha, who has just enough untapped power to be vulnerable to the Dark’s control, encounters some of the leftover villains of that battle and has to choose her own destiny. I can’t say this really grabbed me but that’s partly because I read it while I was surfeited with dog care and unable to focus. It does have an unusual end for a Witch World book in that Crytha doesn’t come to return Yonan’s feelings, and chooses a life alone to study her craft.

GIRL GENIUS: The Second Journey of Agatha Heterodyne: The Incorruptible Library by Phil and Kaja Foglio continues Agatha’s adventures as the threat of the mind-controlling Other looms over Europe and Agatha and her crew penetrate the catacombs under Paris in search of a McGuffin that … well, actually I’m not quite sure. There are so many characters, plot threads and character bits that I found it impossible to keep everything straight. It was still amusing (“I write love poetry about cheese.”) and I still look forward to the next volume, but it wasn’t very coherent.

YOUR CAT: The Owner’s Manual: Hundreds of Secrets, Surprises and Solutions for Raising a Happy, Healthy Cat by Dr. Marty Becker didn’t actually have any surprises as it covers the same material as the other cat books I’ve read recently. Which isn’t a criticism of the book — if it had been the first one I picked up, I’d have liked it fine — but I wound up skimming most of it. The chapter on cat training may come in useful though.

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Amicus curiae: horror movies viewed

From the early 1960s on into the 1970s, Amicus Productions was known as the British horror-film company that wasn’t Hammer Films. Unlike Hammer, which favored period pieces, Amicus films were almost entirely contemporary. They also liked anthologies, one of the company heads believing it was easier to sustain a horror premise in a sprint rather than a full-length work. As I like their films, I picked up a three-DVD set with some of my Christmas money.

ASYLUM (1972) is the film I really wanted in the set. Based like most of their anthologies on Robert Bloch’s short stories, this opens with Robert Powell as a psychiatrist applying for a post at a mental hospital. Unfortunately the doctor who hired him is now insane, having fabricated an entirely new personality and history; his replacement (Patrick Magee) offers to hire Powell provided he’s sharp enough to identify which of four patients is the doctor. This leads to interviews with Barry Morse, Charlotte Rampling, Barbara Perkins and Herbert Lom, after which Powell thinks he’s identified the doctor — but has he? All the Amicus anthologies interwove the stories with the framing sequence, but the frame here is the best; Peter Cushing and Brett Eklund are among the cast. “Run — hide from the truth like the idiot downstairs.”

AND NOW THE SCREAMING STARTS (1973) was a rare Amicus period piece, set in 1795 as newlyweds Stephanie Beacham and Ian Ogilvie arrive at the latter’s country mansion. The idyllic honeymoon soon goes south as a homicidal hand and an eyeless ghost keep appearing to Beacham, despite which everyone insists there is absolutely nothing to worry about (the hand deals with those who try to tell the truth). This starts slow but gets more effective as it goes along, and it’s well cast (Peter Cushing, Herbert Lom and Patrick Magee round out the cast). However it unpleasantly embodies the woman-as-property attitude toward rape: Ogilvie’s grandfather raped one man’s virgin bride so Beacham must be violated in retribution. “That’s twice you’ve raised your hand to me today — I’ll see to it that it doesn’t happen again.”

Amicus billed THE BEAST MUST DIE (1974) as a horror murder mystery with a thirty-second break before the climax for us to guess who among the cast is a werewolf. I don’t think that’s actually such a startling idea, as lots of horror movies have a mystery element (both Howling V and Doctor X have a list of suspects who could be the movie’s monster), but it works here: Calvin Lockhart plays a millionaire game hunter who’s decided tracking and killing a werewolf would be the ultimate challenge (“A creature no hunter has ever faced before.”), so he’s invited a number of individuals linked to suspicious killings, including lycanthropy expert Peter Cushing. Fun, even though there’s no real way to deduce who the wolf turns out to be. “Tonight, the beast must die — and it will.”

This seemed like a good week to rewatch another of their Bloch anthologies THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD (1970), which studio co-head Max Rosenberg says was their second most successful film ever, which he credits to his choice of title (the director’s preference was Death and the Maiden). Investigating the disappearance of horror star Jon Pertwee from his country estate, a cop learns that the house has a history of unpleasant incidents: thriller author Denholm Elliott becoming convinced his latest villain has come to life, Peter Cushing and Joss Ackland becoming obsessed with a waxwork figure of Salome (as you can see from the poster, Cushing quite loses his head over her) and Christopher Lee warning governess Nyree Dawn Porter that there’s a reason he’s so abusive to his little daughter. And then there’s Pertwee’s fate … TYG bought this for me while we were dating, and found 1970s fashion (“Purple paisley shirts, nooooo!”) scarier than anything else in the movie, but it’s actually quite entertaining. “There is little I don’t know about the subject of the supernatural.”

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There will be blood! And it was mine!

No, I didn’t have an accident, I finally donated blood on Thursday.

While I’d arranged my schedule to account for the wiped-out feeling a double donation of red blood cells gives me, this trip still threw me off my game. There was a rash on my left arm when they were ready to stick the needle in — probably a reaction to something on the blood-pressure cuff — and as a result they decided to use my right arm. The veins weren’t as good, so they slowed down the system and I got out 30 to 40 minutes later than I normally would have. Then I had to walk across the parking lot and almost to the street to call a Lyft because the Red Cross is in a cell-phone dead zone.

But it’s done! And with a double dose, I won’t be ready to give again until May, so being wiped out the rest of the day (the only thing I got done was a post on Death-Ray Mirror of Dr. Mabuse on Atomic Junkshop) is worth it to cut back the number of appointments. And overall this was a productive week. That’s good, as I’ll be starting back on Leaf articles next week, so there’ll be less time for other stuff.

I rewrote Death Is Like a Box of Chocolates which I’ll submit to the writing group in a week or two. Now that the McGuffin is a box of Stuckey’s praline candies, I’ll leave it up to the group whether the title still works or if I need an alternative (It Flutters on the Soul would be my backup).

I finished Chapter Six of Sexist Myths and went on to incorporate a number of bookmarked web pages into the book. I’ll jump back and start on Chapter Four next week (it’s much rougher so I figured I’d be more able to tackle it if I got a couple of other chapters under my best).

I went over the rewrite of Fiddler’s Black I did last week and it looks good. Next week I’ll start looking for markets.

I completed two more chapters of Impossible Takes a Little Longer. Despite all the changes from the last draft, it’s flowing very well. A big part of that is the first person voice works so much better than third-person did, conveying much more of the intensity. I’m on track to get to Chapter Eighteen by the end of the month, which was my plan. However it’s shaping up to be very short for a novel length work. Then again, so did Southern Discomfort and it’s now a comfortable 90,000. Fingers crossed.

I finished a first draft of Death’s Jester though that’s definitely not the final title. It involves a couple of teenage schoolgirls in 1960s London getting entangled in a supernatural struggle. However the ending is really rushed, because I was bone-weary this morning and I couldn’t think very well, so I just wrapped it up all of a sudden. There are some bits in the ending I like, but I may revisit it next week and mess around with other options.

And I gave blood which is something I take pride in doing as much as possible. So yay.

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Nursing is a world of danger, drama and death!

Because obviously a Bronze Age Marvel Comic wouldn’t lie about that would they?

And it is my imagination or does the protagonist have some serious push-up bra action going on?

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Controversial golden agers and other writing links

SF editorial legend John W. Campbell has become controversial in recent years. Cory Doctorow explains why. A friend of mine who showed this post to me added that it’s not just a matter of being bad personally: as the editor supreme, Campbell shaped and influenced what hundreds of writer got published. His ideas matter.

And then there’s Isaac Asimov. I’d heard about his fondness for grabbing or slapping women’s butts, but it was worse than I realized, At the link a good argument Asimov was not just “the product of his times.”

Several famous guitar riffs in classic songs are not in the sheet music used to register copyright. That could make them public domain. And lots of stuff made in 1924, such as Tarzan and the Ant Men and Rhapsody in Blue is now public domain. And if not for Congress extending copyright duration in 1978, material from 1963 would be available now, including Where the Wild Things Are and Spy Who Came In From the Cold.

Mystery novelist Sherry Harris says don’t write what you know, write what you suspect.

John Rogers of the TV show Leverage suggests “don’t write crime. Write sin.”

Male–male friendships are valued onscreen because, in addition to fleshing out male characters, they establish that men aren’t solely emotionally dependent on women, that they have lives and interests of their own. Female–female friendships are devalued for precisely the same reason, particularly in genre shows: they encourage the radical notion that a man, even a romantically suitable one, might not be the most important thing in a woman’s life. ” — Foz Meadows on representation and also how diversity in fiction favors white women.

Meadows also reminds us that while women and minority protagonists may be labeled as unrealistic, mediocre white protagonists get a pass.

The Mako Mori test: is there at least one woman in the story who has her own narrative arc, independent of supporting the man’s story?

The struggles to have a functional journalism in the 21st century.

“I don’t know about you, but I’d feel a lot more comfortable in a neighborhood full of Mr. Rogerses than I would in one patrolled continually by John Wayne wannabes with assault rifles.”

Another article on the question of whether we can separate the art from the artist.

“It was basically an early colonial version of Footloose.Atlas Obscura on America’s first banned book.

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The Rise of Skywalker and the Redemption of Sith Lords

Fair warning, this post will have slight spoilers for THE RISE OF SKYWALKER.

Some years back, Orson Scott Card, in a review of one of the Star Wars films, complained about Darth Vader’s appearance as a “force ghost” alongside Obiwan and Yoda at the climax of Return of the Jedi. By what logic has Darth Vader redeemed himself when all he did was turn on his master and trusted friend, Palpatine? Did that one moment of heroism when he saved Luke in Return‘s climax?

The same point could be made about Kylo: he chose his dark side, loyally served the First Order, murdered his father. Do his actions after Rey leads him back to the light really justify his redemption?

I wrote about this some years back and I don’t disagree with what I said then. But since I saw Rise of Skywalker I’ve been thinking about redemption in terms of Rabbi Danya Rutenberg’s breakdown: God absolves us of sin if we ask, the victim forgives us if they chose and we do the work of our own redemption.

To put that into a Star Wars context, as I said in my previous post on redemption I accept that despite all the horrible things Anakin and Kylo did (let’s not forget Anakin’s body count in the prequel trilogy is high), absolution for sin is possible. In a Christian context, there’s nobody so evil that they can’t attain redemption by turning to God. I can buy that something equivalent applies with Force ghosts.

Does that obligate Leia to forgive Anakin after his death? No, it doesn’t. She might — saving Luke and helping defeat Palpatine certainly counts for something — but Darth Vader still tortured her and blew up Alderan, her homeworld. If she doesn’t want to forgive him, or to forgive Kylo for killing Han, she’s within her rights. Getting into Heaven or Force Heaven doesn’t mean your crimes didn’t happen.

Did Kylo and Anakin redeem themselves by their actions? If they’d survived their final battles should the good guys treat them as trustworthy? Put them on trial for crimes against humanity? Suspected them of shifting alliances for their own ends?

All of these are possible options, depending how the writer shapes the story and stacks the deck. I’d be inclined to say that yes, they still have a lot of work to do: the Rebellion would be perfectly justified putting Darth Vader on trial for his crimes, though considering his final actions as a factor in sentencing. Or if there’s no actual punishment, Darth goes off and finds some way to balance the scales.

This is not a deal-breaker for me. I’m okay with both movies settling for one simple act of heroism to fix anything: movies are a dramatic medium so using a single moment as a turning point works for me dramatically. But if this were something longer form (TV, print, comics) where the creators can take their time, I think it would work better if they did.

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The setting is the story: two examples

In his various books on writing, Orson Scott Card says the core of a story is usually one of four things: Character, Question, Setting or Plot. Both CRAZY RICH ASIANS and AIRPORT, which I read earlier this month, strike me as examples of books where the setting is the essence of the story.

In a setting story, we start with our entry into the world — the milieu of the super-rich of Singapore in Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians, a bustling international U.S. airport in Arthur Hailey’s Airport. We end when we leave. The story doesn’t focus so much on the character arcs or the plot as telling us about the setting: how things work, why things happen the way they do, what’s going on behind the scenes. Both books are info-dumpy; both books wander away from the main characters and the main plot to show us the setting. That would be flaws if the plot or the protagonists’ character arcs were the center of the story, but they aren’t.

In Crazy Rich Asians, the nominal plot is a traditional romance one: can a poor-but-honest girl (Rachel, an economics professor) convince her boyfriend’s (Nick) fabulously wealth family that she’s not a gold-digger? Can she cope when jealous exes start sharpening their knives and setting out to humiliate her? The book starts when the relationship intersects Nick’s world: some of his Singapore friends spot the couple together, snap some photos and the gossip mill soon gets word to his mother, Eleanor. She despises American born Chinese, and would much sooner Nick marry a girl from a good, Singapore family.

The heart of the book, though, is the setting. Kwan introduces us to Singapore culture: slang, food, neighborhoods, customs and schools, which I found interesting (it’s not a place I know much about). And we get the time-honored fictional fixation of OMG, Look How Rich These People Are (you can find the same thing in The Count of Monte Cristo). Characters constantly drop designer names. We get detailed descriptions of their trips to Paris, or rides on jets bigger than Air Force One, spectacular jewelry massive yachts, insanely over-the-top bachelor/bachelorette events, huge mansions, someone bringing in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to sing at their wedding … This is the kind of thing that normally bores me to tears, but the Singapore setting helped keep it interesting for 200-300 pages. Unfortunately the novel is 500 pages and it wound up being a slog.

The book ends when Rachel and Nick make it through the family gauntlet and leave Singapore. It’s also another info-dump as we learn a shit-ton about Rachel’s paternal family in mainland China (setting up Book Two, China Rich Girlfriend).

Airport starts with Lincoln Airport struggling to cope with a massive snowfall. Planes are delayed, passengers are pissy, everyone’s under stress. We soon meet Mel, the chief of operations, who alongside his right hand, Tanya, is struggling to deal with closed runways, a plane that’s frozen in place, and angry complaints from a nearby neighborhood about planes overhead (airspace is to crowded to stay away). Mel’s personal arc — his marriage is collapsing, he and Tanya are contemplating an affair — plays a role in the book, as does his brother Kevin (an air-traffic controller contemplating suicide due to stress) and Mel’s brother-in-law Vern (having an affair with a stewardess). But these are just the spine on which Hailey hangs the meat of the book, how airports and airlines work.

We get details of staff burnout, stewardesses slipping miniature drink bottles into their purse to stock their bars at home, how airlines handle pregnant stewardesses (back in the 1960s when this came out, they’d pay for the maternity care, then arrange an adoption), how you clear a snowy runway, conflicts between homeowners and nearby airports, the financial struggle to keep the airport equal to the boom in air travel, a discussion of airports of the future (that part didn’t age well), how stowaways sneak on board. Even the characters come with info-dump backstories that tell us more than we need to know — it’s like they’re another piece of equipment at the airport. The ending is Mel and Tanya leaving for dinner at her apartment while the snow finally eases up.

This worked better for me than Crazy Rich Asians because while the details did get to be more than I wanted to know, the various subplots do keep things moving a little faster. And it is an interesting time capsule back to the days when cockpits and business meetings were full of tobacco smoke, airlines serve high-quality delicious meals to passengers, abortion is talked about in whispers and someone can walk right onto a plane to give a passenger an item they forgot when they packed (there’s also a discussion about whether it’s time to tell passengers not to bring guns on board).

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Links about people behaving badly.

I’m always amazed how much anti-gay pastors turn out to be bottling up either a closeted gay side or something actually horrible For example, anti-gay preacher Ken Adkins and his taste for underage sex.

Being a conservative talking head is sometimes just a way to scam your followers.

Rep. Steve King, who insists white supremacist didn’t use to be an offensive term, doubles down.

Speaking of white supremacists, Richard Spencer’s National Policy Institute is falling on hard times.

The right keeps talking about civil war if they don’t get their way. For example.

How corporate culture crashed the Boeing 737 Max.

Global warming has Australia on fire. But media magnate Rupert Murdoch wants everyone to know it’s arson and environmentalists.

Eric Metaxas argues that as we’re all sinners, Christianity Today shouldn’t call for Trump’s impeachment.

Jamelle Bouie on why Trump is a Lovecraftian monster.

“Chauvinist American commentators always presume America has the best intentions, and that the American military is composed of saintly warrior-poets. The reality is that the lumbering American colossus has unleashed a Thirty Years’ War-level of violent chaos all around Iran for no good reason at all. ” — Ryan Cooper on why if Soleimani is a bad guy, so are we.

It’s not the first time I’ve heard bullshit that if Democrats win, Christians will be the new Jews.

Harvey Weinstein’s lawyer warns women that if #metoo keeps up, they’ll never get another date!

And right-wingers complain about liberal political correctness!

Incels freak out that even if they sleep with prostitutes, the sex workers have had other lovers.

5G cell service may be a major problem for weather-forecasting satellites.

Chuck Todd of Meet the Press is stunned to realize Republicans tell lies.

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Scooby-Doo, Smash and Robert Bloch: books read

SCOOBY DOO TEAM-UP Vol. 2 by Sholly Fisch, Dario Brizuela and Scott Jeralds continues in the spirit of V1, except broadening the range: rather than sticking to DC superheroes, they time travel back to the “modern stone age” of the Flintstones, forward to the age of the Jetsons, then encounters with Superman Jonny Quest, Secret Squirrel and Harley Quinn. A lot of the fun is the in-jokes (“I’m glad you kids won’t be here for breakfast — Barney keeps trying to steal my cereal.”) so the weakest installment is with Secret Squirrel — he simply doesn’t have enough of a history to contribute much material. Second weakest is Superman, because while funny, the kids really don’t affect the plot any. Still, a pleasure to read.

SMASH: Trial by Fire by Chris A. Bolton is a graphic novel in which pre-teen Andrew accidentally acquires the powers of the world’s mightiest hero when the villainous Magus’ attempt to steal the powers of the Defender goes slightly awry. The results as Andrew struggles to live up to his new powers are funny, but the art got too confusing in the action scenes.

THE BEST OF ROBERT BLOCH is a collection of short stories ranging from Yours Truly Jack the Ripper (which Bloch himself considers somewhat overrated), to the pastiche The Man Who Collected Humor the gentle humor of All on a Golden Afternoon (easily his gentlest mockery of psychiatry) to the utopian World Timers and the computer-terrorism story The Oracle. Not all A-list — The Learning Maze is a tedious Western Union — but overall excellent. The cover comes from Bloch’s Hugo-winner That Hellbound Train, a funny but pointed story about our inability to know how good we have it.

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