Let’s do sciencing! Science and tech links

We’ve lost so much polar ice to global warming, it’s shifting Earth’s axis of rotation.

Are unidentified drones in the midwest just a new UFO myth? It seems not.

The NYPD introduced a Robodog to fight crime. The public objected.“Do not think that thoughtful design is just for the elderly, or the sick, or the disabled. In the field of design, this is called “inclusive design” for a reason: It helps everyone. Curb cuts were meant to help people who had trouble walking, but it helps anyone wheeling things: carts, baby carriages, suitcases. Closed captions are used in noisy bars.” — from an article on why good design for the elderly can benefit everyone.

The Netherlands may have reversed the decline in its bee population.

Speaking of bees, here’s how honey can stay edible for centuries.

Florida has banned social media companies from censoring journalism or deplatforming candidates, but Disney + gets an exemption.

Three years ago, a piece of the Vesta asteroid crashed into Botswana.

There’s a global shortage of semiconductor chips — and even dog-washing is suffering from it.

Arkansas is pushing creationism back into schools.

Azimuth Security has hacked iPhones for the government. Apple does not approve.

Why does QAnon enthrall people? A game designer’s analysis says it’s beautifully designed to lead you away from reality and into a maze of mystery.

#SFWApro. Covers by Sheldon Moldoff, Murphy Anderson and Jack Kirby



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The margin of hope is wafer-thin

As someone who feared Biden would be centrist and too eager to cooperate with Republicans, I’ve been happily surprised that he’s pushing a relatively radical agenda for 21st century America. As John Scalzi says, it’s hard for Repubs to hammer him as the Evil Devil Socialist because he’s a blandly boring, decent white dude. While Republicans shriek about him betraying his talk of unity, Catherine Rampell says he’s delivering it a different way: by not treating the enemy the way Trump treated his.

The downside? Although Biden’s policies are popular and Republican policies are very much unpopular, our country has reached a point at which Republicans find minority rule easy. It’s not just that they won two of the last five elections despite losing the popular vote; the counter-majority elements in the U.S. system also give them disproportionate power in the House, the Senate and at state level. And they’re pushing to make it harder to vote while lying it’s because the election was stolen.  Or that their voters think it was stolen (“When half of the voters of this country don’t have faith in our electoral system, doing nothing is not an option,”) which is supposedly enough of a reason (I’m sure if Dems feel the same about 2024, they’ll be back to “fuck your feelings.”).

As we’ve seen the past month or so, given a choice between supporting corporate America and making it harder for people to vote, they prioritize disenfranchising people. This leads to bizarre twists such as Ted Cruz admitting he’s sold out America for corporate donations and pretending he won’t do it again.  Or Marco Rubio’s outrage that corporations won’t support the new version of Jim Crow. Or Glenn Beck being shocked and appalled that anyone would see this as a return to Jim Crow (whereas it’s perfectly acceptable for him to call liberals Nazis). Of course Ron DeSantis tops him by insisting systemic racism is a myth.

Hell, they’re still trying to “prove” Trump won in 2020.

Republican candidates have to worry about alienating their voters in primaries much more than winning over the majority. That gives them an incentive to let their inner, anti-American scumbag out. Especially with Trump still demanding revenge for Republicans not overthrowing the government for him. That involves giving them someone to hate; as gay-hating is losing its punch, we’ve seen the sudden concern about the trans menace. Sexism isn’t the only thing that spawns undead cliches.

And there’s no stopping the rejection of reality or the lies. Michelle Bachman lying about how Biden will impose the homosexual agenda. Tucker Carlson telling viewers to call the cops on parents with masked kids. Republicans supporting Carlson’s rants about replacement theory. A lying snake who claims the George Floyd murder was a hoax. Or the completely bullshit claims that Biden’s climate-change plan will restrict Americans to one burger a month.

Meanwhile, the capital rioters are still struggling to stay out of jail. And extremist groups are making it fun and entertaining to become a white supremacist and hang out with your buddies. Which is not surprising: it was part of the appeal of the 1920s KKK.

And when you get down to the state level, like Kansas Rep. Mark Samsel, they’re even creepier.

I keep trying to think of ways I can contribute besides writing a check, or writing to the lying liar Sen. Thom Tillis, but so far I haven’t much in the way of ideas.

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Two noteworthy failures: LGX: Tempest and the Golems of Gotham

When League of Extraordinary Gentlemen debuted, it blew me away. The final volume, Tempest, barely rates a “meh.” Creators Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill (who did the cover here) didn’t stick the landing, but then the series has been on a downward path for a while. I don’t think I actually hate Tempest as much as Century: 2009, and there’s maybe less rape than usual, but that’s hardly a thumbs up.

The plot pits Mina, Orlando and Emma Peel against James Bond, who’s recovered his youth in the waters of Kor. While Emma tries to take out Bond, Mina recruits Jack Nemo to reach the Blazing World and Prospero. It turns out Prospero has his own plan for the world, however, and it’s finally coming to a climax. A second plot involves the Seven Stars, a team of public domain British superheroes Mina organized in the 1960s (cue Moore’s tedious grumblings about how worn out and overdone superheroes are). This storyline comes off like a parody, but it isn’t funny.

The plot threads multiple increasingly, complicated with flashbacks, until I lost track of who was doing what to whom.  There’s more heavy-handed name dropping, like a pointless imitation of Sheldon Moldoff’s cover for “Robin Dies at Dawn” which serves no purpose. And much like Black Dossier, the good guys are ultimately useless. Ultimately they abandon Earth to its fate and go ff to have fun among the stars. The final chapter has Moore and O’Neill snickering at readers for wanting more “Bloomsbury Justice League” and other things (though they pass over readers who dislike the rape elements and the racial stereotyping). The results weren’t good but I’ve added them to my LGX Timeline nonetheless.

Thane Rosenbaum’s THE GOLEMS OF GOTHAM has a teenage girl, Ariel, create a golem and summon her grandparents — Holocaust survivors who killed themselves before she was born — to occupy it (she bases the combination of letters used in the ritual on an alphanumeric code derived from the numbers in their camp tattoos). She hopes they can help snap her dad Oliver, a mystery writer, out of his writers’ block.

Ariel summons her grandparents but also several writers’ ghosts, all Holocaust survivors and suicides, who proceed to turn the Big Apple upside down. Smoke reminds the “golems” of the death-camp crematoriums so they remove all sources of smoke. The pinstriped New York Yankee uniforms remind them of camp uniforms so they erase the stripes. Tattoos are contrary to Jewish law so poof, no more tattoos. And Rosenbaum apparently hates feel-good Holocaust films like Schindler’s List (I’ve seen the movie and that is definitely not how I’d describe it) so the golems erase that and other movies (the narration rants that saving Jews is meaningless, it’s the deaths that are important!). They’re also horrified that Holocaust denial is a thing — that’s outrageous, nobody denies the ugly truth about slavery (which was bullshit even then)!

While I’m sympathetic to some of Rosenbaum’s points, such as the hollowness of “never again,” a lot of what he had to say is unconvincing. The novel’s discussion of Art! and how it comes from Suffering! (those writers committed suicide because as artists they couldn’t put away their memories of the camps) didn’t do much better. I don’t think it holds up as a work of fiction, either: the mix of Holocaust tragedy with humor doesn’t work (particularly the sort-of lighthearted ending) . Then there’s an entire chapter where Ariel gives some of the ghosts physical form to enjoy New York but at the end of the chapter Rosenbaum announces none of that happened, it was only a What if. That’s nowhere near as clever as it probably looked in his head.

#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holders


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Second-string Hitchcock: I Confess and Dial M For Murder

A number of Hitchcock fans rate I CONFESS (1953) as an underestimated masterpiece. I’m not one of them.

Set in Quebec, the film stars Montgomery Clift as Father Michael Logan. In an early scene, Michael takes confession from the church handyman, Otto (O.E. Hasse): he’s robbed and murdered Villette, a shady lawyer. Logan can’t tell the police (represented by detective Karl Malden) because what’s said in the confessional is between him, Otto and god.

Michael goes to check on Villette’s house but can’t explain to the police why he’s there. The police become more suspicious when witnesses report the killer was a priest (Otto disguised himself with a cassock). Ruth Grandfort (Anne Baxter), Michael’s old girlfriend, gives him an alibi but it’s too early for the time of death. In the end, Michael ends up in court.

Villette, it turns out, was blackmailing Ruth. While Michael, still a civilian, served in WW II, stress led him to stop writing home to Ruth. She lost hope and married her boss, but when Michael returned, they spent the day together … which turned into a chaste night together when they were caught in a storm. Even for a more conservative era this seems like a thin reed to blackmail someone with, but Ruth paid up. Michael, therefore had reason to kill Villette. He didn’t, but how can he prove it without compromising the seal of the confessional?

Everything eventually works itself out a little too conveniently for me. And not entirely happily; like Suspicion, Ruth’s marriage hardly looks healthy enough to provide a satisfying ending. It was apparently a personal film for Hitch, a devout Catholic, and the cinematography is great. But it still doesn’t work for me. “God, perhaps has forgiven me thanks to you — but the police never will.”

I’m not aware of anyone claiming 1954’s DIAL M FOR MURDER is an unsung masterpiece; according to Films of Alfred Hitchcock, the director picked it to wrap up his obligations to Warner Brothers, and because he needed something undemanding to work on while he recharged his batteries.

Ray Milland steals the show as Tony, an unctuous fortune-hunter married to Margot (Grace Kelly). whom he knows has fallen in love with Mark (Robert Cummings), an American mystery writer. Tony explains to a shady former acquaintance, Swann (Anthony Dawson) that he’s worried she’ll leave him and take her money with her; if she dies first, well, her will makes him the sole heir. Tony has it all worked out how Swann can break into the flat and kill Margot while Tony and Mark are out; instead, Margot kills Swann. Tony quickly sees how he can make it look as Swann was blackmailing her over her affair with Mark, and murdered him.

This is a competent staged play, but nothing more than that. The mystery element in the script wears thin by the climax, which revolves around multiple keys and which characters know where to find them. Still, if it let Hitchcock recharge and do Rear Window next, I can forgive its weaknesses. “They call police flat-footed, but heaven save us from the talented amateur.”

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This week unfolded almost as I anticipated

With TYG’s and my second vaccine shots on Monday and Tuesday respectively, I wanted to make sure there was nothing on my writing to-do list that had to be completed after Monday. That way, if worst came to worst, as I said a couple of weeks back, I could just lie around doing nothing.

Worst actually came to worst Monday night. I woke after a couple of hours, which was normal, but instead of going back to sleep I got hit by a panic attack: what if I couldn’t get back to sleep? How could I make it to the Walgreens some ten miles away (not my preference, but it was the first available when I was making the appointments) if I was too tired to drive? Aaaaaaah! As usual, fear of not getting enough sleep guaranteed I did not get enough sleep. Fortunately, TYG, while feeling rundown Tuesday after her shot, was able to drive me there; I could probably have managed it but I wouldn’t have trusted my judgment had I had to make any decisions.

You can see a shot of myself here on the monitor at the pharmacy. I thought I looked kind of look a weird troll out of a Twin Peaks dream sequence or something, but it doesn’t quite come across in the photo.

My decision to wrap up everything early proved wise. Wednesday I felt much like I did when my seasonal allergies kick in: tired, drained, almost feverish, strongly desirous of rest. Having gotten my golem article in on Monday, I was free to rest, or as free as possible given the need to walk and care for dogs. TYG, fortunately, was about the same level. It was unpleasant, but livable. I spent Wednesday reading and watching TV, and of course napping a lot.

Thursday I felt normal, just tiring very easily. That may also have something to do with Plushie having digestive difficulties that requires taking him out around 1:30 AM. I sat downstairs with him after that — I divined correctly that he might need more trips — and didn’t catch up on sleep. So more TV and napping, though I also batted out a final Leaf article for the month.

And then last night, it happened again. Fortunately Plushie didn’t need it more than once so I got most of a full night of sleep. I turned in a Veterans Network article this morning (and one I’d written on Atomic Veterans came out this week) and then we had a vet checkup for both pups. The rehab treatment has done well by both of them, particularly Trixie; Plushie still has some leg weakness. I suppose that may reflect his advancing age, sigh.

So not much accomplished this week, but that was planned for. Successfully, if I do say so. For the month I got about 55 percent of my goals accomplished, but given how I had to shift my schedule to prepare for this week, I don’t feel bad about that.


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Filed under Nonfiction, Personal, Time management and goals, Writing

An oddly lazy weekend

Lately my weekends haven’t been lazy, or not as lazy as I’d like. As we have to take the dogs to their rehab appointment at least once a week, I’ve been compensating for that by watching Alien Visitors movies on the weekend. But this weekend, after rushing to get all my Leaf and Veterans Network stuff done, and finish the golem article, I just decided to crash. And did.

So I watched some Hitchcock, read quite a bit, cooked dinner, made what’s called a cottage loaf —— and no, that’s not two bagels on top of each other, it’s one loaf — and watched some TV. Plus petting dogs, Wisp, using the stationary bike and snuggling with TYG some.

Now that the golem piece is done (subject to edits) I imagine I’ll get back into weekend movie viewing, but it was a really good break.


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Undead Sexist Cliche: Statistics prove men are better at everything

One of the topics I tackle in the Undead Sexist Cliches book is statistics, and how they supposedly explain men getting the best jobs and the top positions in everything.

Male and female performance statistics overlap quite a lot. The average woman and man scored on pretty much any skill are going to be closer to each other than the best and worst man (or woman) are. When you graph the stats, however, the male bell curve spreads out much further than the female: the very best and the very worst are both men.

This, according to a number of articles I’ve read over the years, is why men rule, girls drool. Okay, not drool, but obviously if the very best in (for example), STEM fields are always men, it’s no surprise women don’t get the plum jobs. What woman in physics can match up with Einstein, Bohr, Oppenheimer? No discrimination at all, no sirree bob.

There are a number of problems with this argument. First off, the assumption that because the very best people in the field are men, therefore the men applying for a job must be better than the women. This does not follow: Einstein was a genius but that doesn’t mean every man who applies must be closer to Einstein than the female applicants are. Most people are going to fall into that big average bulge at the center of the Bell curve. That’s the nature of averages. And given that men occupy the bottom of the skill distribution too, wouldn’t it make just as much sense to assume that the average woman has a good chance to be better than the male applicants? Indeed, one study found women who apply for STEM jobs tend to be above average, possibly because only an exceptional woman thinks she has a shot.

About 15 years ago, Larry Summers made a speech on why women were underrepresented in STEM: in his opinion, they just weren’t as good. Several right-wing pundits, such as John Leo and Walter Williams, cheered him and insisted his argument should end any talk of sexism or bias affecting women’s chances. But that’s a load of codswallop. I’ve read lots of stories of women winning traditionally male jobs and the response is rarely “Wow, you must be way better than the average woman. I’m impressed to have you on my team!” It’s more likely “affirmative action” or “tokenism” or “who did she blow to get that job?” One bank back in Florida, for instance, discovered the president had promoted a woman he was having an affair with; they promptly demoted every woman he’d promoted.

And if all else fails, there’s the old “Why is that bitch taking a man’s job?”

So no, statistics do not prove we live in a post-sexism world.


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Filed under Undead sexist cliches, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book

On working for free

So the golem article is done and off. Which has me thinking about Harlan Ellison’s advice that you should always work for pay, because this piece was a freebie.

Generally speaking, I’m down with Ellison’s argument: this is a business, someone, somewhere is making money off your work, so you should too. But I make exceptions. One is fiction. If I can’t sell a story to a magazine that pays decently, I’ll sell it to one that pays poorly. If I can’t do that I’ll sell it to the free ones (of course, sometimes even they turn it down). Unlike Ellison, fiction isn’t where I make my money. I’d sooner have my story published and readable somewhere that’s free than go unpublished — though as I mentioned last year, I’m thinking of just self-publishing them instead, even given that won’t be massively lucrative either.

That said, even doing something for free or token payment costs me in time and effort, often in spending on research materials. So I try to keep the amount of time manageable, but that doesn’t always work. I’d figured the golem article would be a light, simple one to work on, but it turned out to be way more effort than I’d anticipated. Had I known that in advance, I might not have jumped in. My McFarland movie books don’t generate much in the way of $/hour revenue either. However writing about stuff like this is a lot of fun, so I’m willing to go for it (admittedly I sometimes regret it when I’m pressed for time and half-wiped out).  Ditto blogging at Atomic Junk Shop (where my latest, on Dc’s Bat Lash, just appeared at the link).

Undead Sexist Cliches was supposed to be a much simpler, snarkier book, but it changed as I started working on it. Footnoting alone was a ton of work. I have no idea if it will generate any sales. But it’s a cause I believe in, so why not?

And at this point in my life, I don’t feel concentrating on fiction would make it a cash cow.

That said, after Alien Visitors is done in the fall, I think I’m going to concentrate on fiction (excluding time spent on Leaf, Veteran Network and other clients who pay). I’ve only got so many years left, I might as well devote them to what’s the most fun, even if it isn’t profitable fun. As I’ve said before, if I think of writing as a demanding, time-consuming hobby, I don’t worry so much about the bottom line.

It would be nice if my fiction were selling so well that “is it a paying market?”and “why am I doing this for free when I could be selling a novel?” were pertinent questions. But it isn’t. So what the hey.

#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holder. Cover by Nick Cardy.

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A few comic-book covers

Yes, this was an actual comic book. Bio-comics of prominent people weren’t unusual back in the day.Back in the early 1960s, a House of Mystery story was never as cool as this Dick Dillin cover looks.DDitto this Dillin cover.And to wrap up, a great Joe Kubert war-comics cover.#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holders.

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Derek Chauvin, guilty of all charges

This is a good thing. That we live in a country where past experience made me and lots of other people wonder if that was possible is not so good. The system worked this time but it far too frequently fails.

Is the Chauvin verdict an outlier? The police department for once didn’t go Blue Wall but hung him out to dry (which was the right call); does that mean after this it’s back to normal or is the first crack in the dam? I’ve no idea.

Certainly Republicans are hoping to get back to giving cops a bank check, hence the slew of bills cracking down on protesters. Particularly telling is the Kentucky bill making it illegal to address police with “‘offensive or derisive” words or gestures that would have “a direct tendency to provoke a violent response.'” If you’re arrested under the bill you must be held in jail 48 hours, which is not mandatory for accused murderers or rapists. In Minnesota, a proposed bill would deny protesters student loans and other forms of aid.

I’m quite sure all these bills will be applied discriminately when Republicans have any say so. BLM protests are protests; Oath Keepers and other right-wing extremists will be labeled something else. Running over protesters who are a good Trump voters will be treated as a crime, running over BLM will be justice.

Over at Gateway Pundit, the Chauvin verdict has commenters seething about uppity blacks and oppressed white people. White supremacist misogynist Tucker Carlson insists Chauvin didn’t kill George Floyd (which is not out of character for Carlson), proving once again that the judge who said nobody should believe Carlson was spot on. Dave Daubenmire weighs in on what he sees as the big issues in policing: women shouldn’t be cops. Lots of other right-wingers chime in on how unjust the verdict is.

Oh Carlson also claims that Rep. Ted Lieu confessed that replacement theory — the idea immigrants are going to take over and marginalize white America — is true.

Fred Clark on how white evangelical theology supports racism.

How do we change the police for the future? Much good discussion in this LGM thread including what sort of jobs should be turned over to social workers, mental-health professionals (or if police should be restructured to include specialists like that). Related, here’s what I think is good news: The Manhattan DA says his office will no longer prosecute prostitution. And AG Merrick Garland says the DOJ will be looking into Minneapolis policing practices.

Abolishing ICE, the agency younger than CSI Miami, seems like an excellent idea.

Texas’ newest voting restrictions don’t even figleaf the racism: they specifically target urban counties with large populations and not rural counties.

A final thought: one of the standard complaints when cops get punished for killing someone is that they’ll hold back — do you want them to hesitate when lives are at stake? Well, yes; when someone’s helpless or an unarmed teenager is standing there, I think they should be hesitating, at least a little.

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