Science and comic book science fiction covers

Once again, a mix of visuals and interesting links.

A thought experiment suggests at least one of quantum mechanics’ principles (the theory is universal; it’s consistent; and two contradictory facts cannot both be true) are wrong.

How the right wing came to embrace the anti-vaxxer movement. Oh, and Russia helped.

“Someone I was dating asked me if I could reschedule my period so it didn’t coincide with his birthday.” A look at things too many men don’t know about women’s bodies.

How worried should we be about facial recognition software?

Andrew Wiles cracked Fermat’s last theorem. He almost blew it.

Researchers look at black genes to explain racial differences when they should be focused on black lives.

IP mapping and its discontents. An article at Citylab argues this is one reason why print maps are still useful.

“Most people struggle with the idea that medicine is all about probability.” A look at why a lot of what doctors do to treat us doesn’t make a difference.

#SFWApro. All covers by Gil Kane, rights to covers remain with current holder.


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Update on NC Senator Thom Tillis

Despite his record of supporting bad alternatives to Obamacare, Tillis is enthusiastically claiming  the Republican Protect Act will shield people with pre-existing conditions from being charged higher premiums. See, he cares!

Even if true, is a much, much worse deal for most of us than the post-ACA status quo. This fits with most of the Republican alternatives. And while the bill says a plan may not discriminate between people based on pre-existing conditions, the LA Times says there’s nothing to stop an insurer from offering two tiers of plans, one for healthy young people, and a pricier one for older sicker people. Which fits, too; a stock conservative solution is that if we don’t let states set minimum standards for insurance, the free market will fix everything (they are amazingly flexible on “state’s rights” when it gets in the way of big business, aren’t they?

Here’s the text, if you’re curious.

Given Tillis lies like a rug, I am not inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.

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Airboy, hero of the indie comics skies!

So having written about the Unwritten series last week, I thought I’d tackle a less arty, but still enjoyable series today, Eclipse Comics’ 1986-89 Airboy (I finished up the series last year, using TPBs to fill gaps in my original run).

Airboy was a revival of the hit WW II character, who started in Air Fighters from Hillman and eventually took it over. How could he miss? A teenage boy taking the fight to the Axis in his personal plane, Birdy — and better yet, the plane has wings that flap, making it the most maneuverable thing in the skies (never mind whether it’s aerodynamically sound, the point is it just looks so cool!).

The premise of the Eclipse version is that Davy Nelson Jr. is the son of the original Airboy. His father has always been distant, and Davy doesn’t discover Dad’s true history until after his death. Inevitably, with the help of his father’s right hand, Hirota (a Japanese ace dad shot down during the war) Airboy steps into his father’s shoes. With the help of some of his father’s old friends, such as Skywolf, the Iron Ace and the Heap (the prototype for Swamp Thing and Man Thing), Davy, Birdy and Hirota go up against Misery, a demon of suffering whose flying fortress, the Air Tomb, holds the souls of aviators who die in despair. It turns out he’s also holding Valkyrie, a reformed Nazi aviator he captured on the eve of her wedding to Davy Sr. Sparks immediately fly between the new Airboy and Valkyrie (she hasn’t aged any) but he’s freaked out by the idea of dating his father’s girlfriend.

The stories are fun, action-packed and as I said last month, don’t use the retro aspect of the series to perpetuate sexist/racist cliches. The action jumps from the US to Central America to the USSR and Afghanistan, pitting Davy and his crew against drug dealers, dictators, werewolves and the living dead (Misery’s work). In the process he has to grow up fast, get a handle on his relationship with Val and wrest back control of his father’s aviation company, which Dad had largely neglected as Misery worked on his soul.

Although I associate Airboy writer Chuck Dixon with being anti-gay and very conservative, a lot of readers thought of his Airboy work as ultra-left wing, for example because it criticized US support for Latin American dictatorships (one of whom has Reagan’s autographed photo on his desk). This may be partly because Eclipse editor Catherine Yronwode was way to the left of Dixon, but from his responses to letters, he seems to have been perfectly comfortable with those choices (he also has a long history of writing capable women, having been the original writer on Birds of Prey).

In the final arc of the series, Davy learns how Misery captured Val on the eve of her wedding to his father, and how losing her broke Dad, leaving him writhing under Misery’s influence the rest of his days … until his soul ended up on the Airtomb. Davy rallies his allies and takes the fight to Misery, destroying the Airtomb (temporarily) and apparently dying himself. The next arc would have involved Davy finding himself in Africa, where he winds up battling with a Tarzan-type white jungle god.

But it wasn’t to be. In the last issue, Yronwode said she and Dixon were both a little uncomfortable with the idea of a teenage boy shooting bad guys for no better motivation than his father doing it — plus, Kid With Guns Killing People raises hackles in a way killing people with mutant powers doesn’t. And while both she and Dixon liked political stories, they invariably got flak for them, yet they didn’t want to rely purely on supernatural villains or bad guys it was acceptable to kill (child molesters, drug dealers, etc.). All of which wouldn’t have mattered if sales were stellar but they’d been dropping. So game over.

But while it lasted, Airboy was a kick.

#SFWApro. Covers top to bottom by Tim Truman, uncredited and Joe Kubert, all rights remain with current holder.

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Is authenticity a white people’s illusion?

That’s LGM blogger Erik Loomis’s argument in a response to a WaPo article by Mexican American John Paul Bremmer on why people should stop expecting him to eat “authentic” food. Bremmer jokes that he’s from a Mexican family that can’t cook (“I had already discussed all the recipes in our family tree after just two essays.”). His family’s Mexican food in childhood came from Taco Bell.

Bremmer looks at white folks craving “authenticity” in their Mexican food and concludes “it assures the visitor that whatever they’re experiencing, be it a meal or a poem or a human being, is rarefied and exotic, something they can’t get anywhere else. People going about their ordinary lives, whatever their ordinary lives look like, don’t have to think about authenticity any more than my mother has to think about whether her microwaved eggs and bacon in bread is ‘Mexican.’ At that point, calling something authentic can help you sell it.”

Conversely, Mexican food that doesn’t fit what people expect is dubbed inauthentic (CityLab discusses whether “authentic” means anything other than ‘customers like it.’). “Heritage and tradition are important, there’s no doubt. But it’s also important to free our imaginations from the tyranny of authenticity … Our culture — any culture — isn’t static. It is a living thing. It pulls from its surroundings to adapt in a world that in equal turns marginalizes and fetishizes it. The truth is, I see myself more in Taco Bueno, in my abuela sacking the salsa bar, in the Parmesan crispy taco, than I do in whatever Yelpers think is authentic.”

Which reminded me a lot of Michal Wojcik’s recent post about children of immigrants being told drawing on their homeland culture is inauthentic: they’re not part of it, they can’t claim it. So they only “authentic” thing they can write is immigrant fiction.

I don’t think authenticity is all about the outside view. Preeti Chhibber at Book Riot expresses her fondness for books about Indian characters by Indian authors who know the culture. In An Offer We Can’t Refuse, George di Stefano wrote about how much of The Godfather connected with him for being so very Italian (no, not the part where Italians are all mobbed up).

But at the same time, I do think Bremmer and Loomis raise good points. Most importantly, Loomis argues that whether food is “authentic” has nothing to do with whether it’s good; I’d say the same is often true of fiction. I could certainly write a more authentic story of being an English ex-pat in America than NK Jemisin but the odds are she’d write a better story; that’s why she won all those Hugos.

And authenticity really is subjective when we judge a culture we don’t know. Daniel José Elder’s Shadowshaper felt authentic when I read it, but as I said at the time “if he were pulling it all out of his butt, I wouldn’t have a clue.”

It is important to get it right, whatever “it” is, but if that required “authentic” writing then we’d have nothing to draw on but personal experience. Take CL Moore’s Doomsday Morning, which I just finished. The story involves a theatrical troupe caught up in a government plot and the stage details are just perfect. Struggling to come up with stage business to fill a slow expository scene. Adapting to theater in the round when you only know conventional staging. Rehearsing your lines until they feel absolutely canned, then finally feeling them sound spontaneous again.

Did Moore have a lot of theater experience? I can’t find any reference to it, which doesn’t prove anything (if it was community or college, biographers might not know); maybe she talked to someone who does have experience and listened. But I don’t care whether it’s her authentic experience or not, because she got it right.

#SFWApro. Shadowshaper cover photo by Michael Frost, cover design by Christopher Stengel; all rights to images remain with current holder.

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Words to the wise: quotes about politics, with links

“I had a hard time believing that wealthy people in the 1950s had a different attitude toward the taxman than wealthy people do today. And guess what? I was right.” A look at the days of the 90 percent top tax rate.

” To maintain his pose, the centrist must always be shifting his positions to somewhere close to the midpoint between the dominant political ideologies, even if one of them (let’s call it “the Republican party”) is racing at light speed toward the most extreme radical reaction.”

Rep. Duncan Hunter says he “Probably killed women and children, if there were any left in the city when we invaded. So do I get judged, too?”

“The animating impulse of Trump’s campaign — the beating heart of ‘Make America Great Again’ — was a defense of traditional hierarchies. Trump promised, explicitly, to weaken America’s commitment to principles of fairness and equality to strengthen privileges of race, gender and wealth.”

According Alabama’s George Faught, people calling for a rape exception to the state’s anti-abortion bill are “saying that God is not sovereign with every activity that happens in someone’s life and can’t use anything and everything in someone’s life, and I disagree with that.”

“The notion that an in-custody stillbirth at 27 weeks is not a death, but that an abortion at six or eight weeks is a murder punishable by up to 99 years in prison, requires wild feats of mental jujitsu.”

“But on the other hand why not send the message directly? In Donald Trump’s America, why be subtle?”

“Before you ask them to respect our borders, ask yourself: Has the West ever respected anyone’s borders?”

“The rot extends further than Trump.”

“Like many right-wing attempts at historical revisionism, [it]ignores the long and violent imposition of Jim Crow apartheid in the former Confederate states after the Civil War—not to mention official and unofficial policies that have continued to perpetuate glaring racial disparities in opportunity, income, wealth and well-being.”

“The reason that there’s enhanced punishment on domestic violence is to recognize and protect the sanctity of marriage. And I said, ‘there’s no marriage to protect.’ So I don’t prosecute them as domestics.” — anti-gay bigot DA Craig Northcott on why he won’t prosecute domestic violence cases involving gay marriages.

“The U.S. Catholic Church spent $10.6 million on lobbyists to prevent victims of clerical sex abuse from suing for damages.” And yet they say they have no money to pay damages.

“Despite this — the use of the swastika, a far right symbol and the fact that nearly every single anti-Semitic offense reported was perpetrated by the far right — despite this, the Times writer(s) nevertheless repeat their utterly false equivalence of right, left, and Muslim.”

“Who rolls back environmental regulations in the face of a massive climate crisis? Republicans — all of them, or nearly all.

“The belief that the Key to Everything is “the startling news that the media isn’t reporting!” always leads, ultimately, to anti-Semitism.”

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Gods, clones, superheroes and flappers: this weeks reading

After the disappointing filler of Wicked and the Divine V3 the series gets back to form with THE WICKED AND THE DIVINE: Rising Action by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McElvie. It turns out Ananke’s murder of Laura, the groupie recently turned into Persephone, didn’t take; Persephone’s back but can she convince the other gods that Ananke has an agenda they need to stop? As odd and absorbing as always — though it suddenly struck me how odd it is one of the deities is Baphomet, as he wasn’t any sort of a god (confused crusaders identified him as the god worshipped by Muslims, but he was never actually worshipped by anyone).

X-23: Family Album by Mariko Tamaki and Juann Cabal was an exercise in frustration: the character bits are good, the action scenes are good and the creators are capable but the whole thing is less than the sum of its parts. Partly that’s because the plot (pitting X23 and her clone sister Gaby against the Stepford Cuckoo Clones of Doom) never made a lot of sense (it’s also really hard to sort out one Stepford clone from another), partly because clone angst is just as annoying as mutant angst; as one clone in DC’s Power Company put it, nobody in the world ever chose to be born so just suck it up.

ASTRO CITY: Aftermaths by Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson wraps up the long-running series not by resolving the plotlines in Broken Melody (I presume that will in one of the planned graphic novels) but with three stories dealing with loss, and what happens afterwards. A two-parter spotlighting the man-Corgi superhero G-Dog made me cry (admittedly that’s no great accomplishment when it comes to stories with dogs); a three-parter catches us up on Michael, the protagonist of The Nearness of You in which he learned the wife he loved had been erased from history as collateral damage a cosmic time war. He’s running a support group for people who have similar losses, but how will they react if they learn his story — especially when there’s no way to prove Miranda ever existed. The one part story dealing with a woman learning her father’s final fate was minor, though I do like the idea of a superhuman whose response to police brutality or government overreach is purely defensive (as opposed to Magneto like militarism).

FLAPPERS: Six Women of a Dangerous Generation by Judith Mackrell is not the book I thought it was (my fault for just going by title and not reading the flyleaf) — rather than an overview of the flapper generation, it’s six biographies of prominent artistes of the era, from Zelda Fitzgerald to Josephine Baker to Russian emigre painter Tamara de Lempicka. As a collection of biographies it’s good, as an exploration of flappers in general it isn’t (though it does have a lot of general cultural perspective in the early chapters). And while I agree Zelda and Brit party girl Diana Cooper could reasonably qualify as flappers, I can’t see Baker or de Lempicka making the cut.

Oh, and over on Atomic Junkshop I have a post up about my fondness for DC’s largely ignored 1990s superhero Gunfire.

#SFWApro. Cover by Alex Ross, all rights to image remain with current holder.

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From the Wild West to Ireland and Beyond: Movies and TV

The third season of WILD WILD WEST dropped in quality from S2, probably due to the death of series creator and producer Michael Garrison. Without him, this really seemed to lack spark, with too many episodes that weren’t much beyond a stock Western (it doesn’t help that health issues kept Michael Dunn from making more than one appearance).  The show still boasted some good episodes, including the strange, elaborate trap in The Night of the Death-Masks, the horror episode Night of the Undead and Night of the Simian Terror and Ed Asner’s understated turn as a mass murderer in Night of the Amnesiac. Overall, though, not up to the first two years.

THE PRIVATE LIVES OF PIPPA LEE (2009) is an excellent indie drama alternating between Robin Wright Penn, who’s cracking from her role as Alan Arkin’s Perfect Wife and younger self Blake Lively who runs wild after fleeing her speed-freak mother Maria Bello. The cast includes Julianne Moore as a kinkster, Winona Ryder as Penn’s bestie, Monica Belluci as Arkin’s ex and Keanu Reaves as the younger man who sparks something in Penn; I’d suggest doubling with All That Heaven Allows for another film about a woman falling for a younger man as she pushes back against her staid existence. “You’ve been burying me for years — I can feel the dirt in my mouth.”

Brendan Gleeson is THE GUARD (2011), a foulmouthed, sharp-tongued cop investigating a murder in Ireland’s Gaeltach when he finds himself reluctantly forced to ally with FBI agent Don Cheadle, who’s crossed the Atlantic in pursuit of the drug-dealers now operating out of Gleeson’s patch. A mix of character study and buddy cop film, very well played by the leads. “You’re just reeling off movie titles with numbers in them — I could do that!”

Reading Hollywood’s Copyright Wars got me interested in checking out SCORPIO RISING (1964), which was an inspiration to Martin Scorsese and others. The avant-garde half-hour short shows a couple of bikers getting ready for a wild night, using clips of comic books and background music built of copyrighted songs. This convinced Scorsese that “fair use” allowed for much more music than he’d thought, something that influenced his own films — even though it wasn’t true, the director having paid for the rights to all the music. Other than historical interest, this didn’t do anything for me.

I’ve never really cared for THE INCREDIBLES (2004) as a superhero spoof, mostly because the “clever” ideas (how do superhero suits work? Superheroes getting sued! What happens to ordinary people in superhero battles?) were the kind of thing Marvel was doing four decades earlier. As a somewhat oddball superhero adventure, though, it holds up well as mild-mannered claims adjuster (Craig Nelson) and his stay-at-home wife (Holly Hunter) find themselves forced back into the game by former wannabe sidekick Syndrome (Jason Lee) who claims to represent the triumph of the ordinary person (as one acquaintance put it, it’s hard to see such a Luthor-class genius as “ordinary”).

The film also got some flack because it was seen as a kind of Ayn Randian endorsement of the elite, exceptional individual not to be dragged down by society’s rules — why should the Incredible family have to pretend to be ordinary? I always thought it was more “why try to fit in when you were born to stand out?” (in the words of What A Girl Wants), the time-honored movie message that you should never be afraid to be yourself. Though that said, Dash at the end winning a race with superpowers raised my eyebrows (is that fair when no ordinary human has a chance against him?). Overall, though, fun. “These bad guys aren’t like the ones on those shows you watch Saturday mornings.”

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


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Caffeine couldn’t stop me but canines did!

So after last week’s insomnia-fest I stopped using my decaf tea in the afternoons and sure enough, I slept better Sunday and Wednesday night. The other nights? Pull up a chair, I’ve got a story …

So Monday night, Trixie had this very loud hacking cough for a few minutes, loud enough to wake me up (admittedly it doesn’t take much to do that). By the time I’d checked whether she was okay, I was wide awake and couldn’t get back to sleep. Tuesday night, first Trixie demanded to go out and poop after we’d all settled into bed. Even after that she was fidgeting, or lying against me while chewing on her feet, which didn’t lend itself to sleep. So another night down.

Last night, it felt like everything would be fine. But just as I was drifting off, TYG noticed Plushie was getting restless and checked him out closely. Turns out he had some sort of swelling in his eye, so it was up and off to the 24-hour emergency vet. We brought Trixie along rather than leave her alone but oh, the alarmed whimpers when she saw them taking Plushie away without her! She did not like it at all. We finally got back a little after midnight, with medicine for the eye (it was just an inflammation). To my surprise, I slept soundly after that, but the window before I got up again was … small.

Turns out gettting up at my regular hour was a wasted effort. Plushie’s in the cone of shame and not happy about it. Dealing with him and working proved … impractical shall we say? For example I can’t use my lap desk because it bumps into his cone too easily when he’s in the lap. Fortunately the two nights of insomnia meant I’d put in some extra hours, so I only lost a little writing time.

Pretty much everything I got done was either Leaf articles or work on Undead Sexist Cliches. I’ve almost completed this draft (two or three more yet to come) and I figured out the right breakdown to chapters two and three. Chapter two will cover antifeminist arguments about why giving women equality is pointless (they don’t need it, and they aren’t actually equal) while chapter three will focus on claims feminism is not only pointless, it’s destructive. I can feel how much better it flows now.

One reason I didn’t get more done is that I took Thursday off to deal with the mundane matters. North Carolina’s Department of Revenue had sent our return back (for what I found absurdly technical reasons) so I had to print out a fresh copy of the paperwork, then redo the whole thing. Plus get my estimated taxes for the year to date in.  Plus a few minor tasks including getting a free credit report from the Annual Credit Report website (it’s legit. And actually free), an electrician appointment, bicycling for one hour (highlight of the day) and going over our emergency kit in case we have evacuate fast (not that I expect it, but it’s possible). That took up the day nicely.

Today? Work just didn’t happen.

However I did find a dead shrew in the driveway —

And removed it before Trixie or Plushie could rub themselves on its gloriously stink flesh.

So that’s something accomplished, right?

#SFWApro. All photos are mine.

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

So recently I made a sandwich, but I didn’t photograph it

Because while it was tasty, a sandwich on a baguette just looks like every other sandwich on a baguette (the photograph below is from Wikimedia). But it got me thinking about the way I change recipes when I cook.

I found this one in an issue of Vegetarian Times. It looked tasty but it included three ingredients I hate: olive tapenade, eggplant and green beans (okay, I don’t hate them, but I’m kind of “meh” on them). So I substituted, respectively, mango chutney, portobello and peas (the vinegar-based marinade, garlic powder, hard-boiled eggs and red peppers in the recipe stayed the same). Obviously the taste was very different than the original concept, but it was still tasty. And I liked it a lot, as did TYG.

Mushroom for eggplant is a standard change in my cooking. So is swapping either peas or some sort of bean for corn, because I loathe corn. As TYG hates yogurt, I find substitutes for that, too, which is trickier; if it’s just a topping rather than a sauce, I’ll use goat cheese, which we both like.

The thing is I don’t need to do any of that. As I’ve mentioned before, I have a lot of cookbooks. There’s more than enough recipes with no “problem” ingredients that I could save myself any efforts to swap stuff out this way (the exception being when I run out of ingredient A and have to dig up something that will work as an alternative). Yet some recipes just click with me when I read them in the cookbook or recipe magazine or wherever, even though they have an ingredient that makes me go “yuck!” Not all recipes; some just don’t substitute naturally. I can’t stand sauerkraut but I can’t think of a good substitute, so vegetarian Reuben recipes are a no go.

I honestly don’t know why I can look at a recipe and see it as something different that I’ll like better (not that it is better — it’s a matter of personal taste, nothing more). But it expands my range of options and gives me some delicious meals, like the baguette. So why not?

#SFWApro. Image by Nicola taken from Wikimedia under Creative Commons license

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The most sensational news you’ll read today! Or at least in this post.

So McFarland, which publishes my four movie books and dozens of others, is having a 40th anniversary sale. Everything 25 percent off, including my four movie books. It’s a great opportunity to buy one, two or collect the entire set! It’s always cool to have the entire set, right?

My books are:

Cyborgs, Santa Claus and Satan, a book on made for TV specfic films of the 20th century.

The Wizard of Oz Catalog, an encyclopedic look at Oz books, movies, TV shows, radio shows and stage plays. A lot of oddball material such as a 1930s women’s college film and a sales-training video, The Wizard of Sales.

Screen Enemies of the American Way looks at American fears of the enemy within — subversion by Nazis, Japanese, Commies, pod people, Stepford Wives and extraterrestrials.

Now And Then We Time Travel lists and reviews time-travel television and film stories from around the world.

The sale runs through the end of the month. I’ll be buying a couple of books (maybe more) myself, though I haven’t completely settled on which ones yet. Prime contenders are one on The Saint in his many fictional forms and a book on witches in films and TV, Bell, Book and Camera.

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

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