The night of the wolf, the day of the bullshit artist: links

A new book on Trump reports that Obama forced CIA agents to attend political correctness meetings. The author is ignorant of common intelligence-service terms.

Supposedly Oberlin students pitched a fit in 2015 over the cafeteria serving sushi and banh-mi because that was cultural appropriation. Like the PC meetings above, it’s not true. (as a former Obie, I find the idea of cafeteria sushi terrifying, though that’s nothing to do with the story).

The D. James Kennedy Ministeries insists that equating gays with pedophiles and similar sentiments does not make them a hate group. So they’ve sued the Southern Poverty Law Center for saying they are.

Wall Street is outraged at Elizabeth Warren!

Sexist and bigot Jesse Lee Peterson is black, but he tells neo-Nazis the civil rights movement was a mistake — black America should just have waited for whites to change and accept them.

Despite Trump’s support, right-winger Matt Bevin lost in Kentucky. So he’s claiming non-existent voter fraud to justify not conceding. And the Senate president (who unfortunately may get a say in who wins) says Bevin’s the real winner because he should get all the votes for the Libertarian candidate.

Right-wing bullshit artist Dave Daubenmire insists that right-wing Christians have a right to be tried only by a jury of right-wing Christians.

Yet another right-wing claims women can only protect their freedom by becoming baby factories for the white race! Oh, and feminism causes alcoholism.

And here we have another exciting trip to the wild lands where Trump voters roam.

Years after it helped swing the election for Trump, the NYT admits that Hilary Clinton’s email practices was a non-story.

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Femmes fatale: books read

THE MANY LIVES OF CATWOMAN: The Felonious History of a Feline Fatale by Tim Hanley makes the interesting point that Catwoman has become a successful, long-running DC character despite never having had a single, iconic look the way the Joker or Penguin (or for that matter Batman) have, as witness the renditions by J. Winslow Mortimer, Carmine Infantino and Darwyn Cooke below

She’s also never had a single, consistent characterization: she’s been antihero, hero, gang boss, jewel thief, supervillain, love interest and man-hating dominatrix. It wasn’t until the Bronze Age that she became a serious love interest for Batman rather than a sexy bad girl. Nevertheless she’s immensely popular both as a character and as Batman’s lover (even during a period DC retconned out all romance between them, the Bat and the Cat wound up together in several Elseworlds.

While I knew a lot of her history, Hanley covers a lot of stuff I wasn’t aware of, including tracking the long stretches she vanished from comics for one reason or another. He points out, for instance, that while the pre-Crisis Huntress was the daughter of Batman and Catwoman, she sees herself entirely as Batman’s heir — her mother apparently had no influence on her at all, other than getting killed to inspire Helena to turn hero. Despite a couple of minor errors, very good.

FEMME FATALE: Love, Lies and the Unknown Life of Mata Hari by Pat Shipman looks at how teenage Dutch girl Margaretha Zelle went to colonial Indonesia with her much older husband, then returned to Europe, divorced him (two promiscuous people with zero money-management skills proved a bad recipe for marriage) and reinvented herself as the exotic dancer Mata Hari (claiming her dances were sacred mystic temple rites let her elevate near-nudity to serious art). Unfortunately, when WW I began, Zelle became a target: traveling across Europe and having many lovers in multiple countries made it easy for French security officials to frame her as a spy; Shipman suggests a mixture of contempt for her casual affairs and the need to justify their jobs by a big score gave them an incentive to ignore her innocence and claim her evil schemes had sent 50,000 Frenchmen to their deaths! As Mata Hari is one of those figures I know of but not about, this was most interesting

Despite putting Cleopatra first in the title, CLEOPATRA AND ANTONY: Power, Love and Politics in the Ancient World by Diana Preston doesn’t focus on Egypt’s queen as much or as well as Lucy Hughes-Hallett’s Cleopatra. That said, Preston does an excellent job of putting her in context, covering the Ptolemaic dynasty’s history in Egypt, the Roman imperial ambitions and power struggles that brought first Caesar, then Antony to her door (in this era Egypt was both an agricultural and cultural superstar) and the internecine Roman power struggles that led to Octavian becoming the first Roman emperor. Dry, but satisfying.

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Rom-coms based on dating-advice books: a triple feature

I know of at least a couple of others in this niche genre, such as 1970’s How to Pick Up Girls, but despite that one being available on YouTube, I didn’t have time to go for a quadruple play.

First up, HE’S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU (2009)was based on a Sex and the City episode that got turned into an advice book based on the principle that if the guy doesn’t call/call back/propose/ask you out, the only possible reason is that he’s not really interested (speaking as a tremendously shy person, I can say that as a universal rule, this is bullshit — though in some cases, certainly it’s true) Ginnifer Goodwin (pre-Once Upon a Time) plays a woman who keeps making excuses for the men in her life (good thing she meets an Obnoxious, Irritating man who can mansplain how things work); Jennifer Aniston reluctantly accepts live-in boyfriend Ben Affleck is never going to propose; Drew Barrymore tries to figure out if guys contacting her by MySpace (wow, does that date this film now) or email are really interested; and Scarlett Johansson tries to steal Jennifer Connolly’s husband away from her.

Much as I disagree with the premise (they do acknowledge, at least a little, that men fall into the same delusion, but not how bad male “no means yes” assumptions can get), I’m also annoyed they don’t follow through on it: Goodwin turns out to be an exception to the rule, Afleck pops the question after all. The Connolly/Johansson triangle doesn’t even fit the theme because “he’s cheating on you” is not the same thing. A great cast, but a poor production. “I miss the days when everyone had just one phone number and one answering machine and one tape for messages.”

THINK LIKE A MAN (2012) worked a little better for me as this adaptation of Steve Harvey’s how-to-land-a-man guide sticks to the basics in its ensemble’s romantic dilemmas: can a woman win a mamma’s boy away from his mom? Will the player in the group be brought to heel if his new woman withholds sex? The battle of the sexes that results is stereotypical, but more entertaining, though the product placement for Harvey’s book is about 100 times less subtle (so many people turn out to have copies, you’d think it was outselling the Bible) “She’s trying to push me towards my dreams and help me accomplish your goals — why would she do that?”

THE LONELY GUY (1984) works best of the three because it’s a)starring Steve Martin and Charles Grodin; b)it’s partly written by Neil Simon; c)the source book is a parody of the single life so it doesn’t have any message to put. Getting dumped by girlfriend Robyn Douglass leaves Martin talking to ferns, contemplating suicide, adopting dogs, trying to win over commitment-phobic Judith Ivey (“You’re all right for me — that’s why you’re all wrong for me.”)and bonding with lonely schlub Grodin. This is hit or miss (the sneezing-as-orgasms scene fell very flat for me, for instance) but overall very funny; Joyce Brothers and Merv Griffin play themselves. “I think I can say, without undue modesty, that I am an expert on dog poop!”

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Saving Daylight, Stealing Sleep

Like so many people, the switch to Daylight Savings Time messes up my body’s clock something fierce. I’d go to bed regular hours, but if I woke up around 3:30, my body would insist it was 4:30 which is too close to 5 AM to go back to sleep. So I’m a little sleep-deprived, again.

Despite which I had a productive week, making up for the mess of October. And that’s despite Plushie and Trixie insisting an hour before lunch and dinner that Daddy, it’s time to eat, it really is, why are you writing? And having to take Trixie into the vet Thursday for a sore throat. Chihuahuas are prone to collapsing trachea, and hers was acting up (it’s not fatal, but we have to take care of it). We got some drugs, she’s doing fine.

So what did I do, besides my usual quota of Leaf articles?

•I worked on my rewrite of Rabbits Indigneotem. I think my friend Cindy was right that a more upbeat ending works, but it’s still not quite right. I feel it’s close though, so I’ll keep working on it. I think something upbeat but black-humored would be ideal, but that’s tricky.

•Having gotten such a good response to the rewritten Chapter One of Impossible Takes a Little Longer from the writing group, I followed up with the next three chapters. I’d actually already made some changes on them so it didn’t take a huge amount of effort. It’ll get tougher as move forward into terra sort-of incognita.

•I continued rewriting Oh, the Places You’ll Go. I want to either finish the story by the end of the month (if it’s a short) or get 10,000 words in (if it turns into a novel). While I’m keeping the core of the original short story, which is the relationship between the four protagonists, I’ve followed my feedback and put a lot of work into fleshing out the world of people who use maps to time travel.

•I started going through the articles and blog posts I’ve bookmarked for Sexist Myths and incorporating them into the book. It’s going better than expected. I suspect I’ll have to cut some stuff when I finish this draft, because it’s getting pretty damn big.

•I went out to Hillsborough, about 30 minutes from my house, to meet with the new owners of an art gallery there. They’re looking to have someone write some press releases and articles for them; I’m sure they can’t pay what Leaf does, but it would be a fun break and a second income stream, which I haven’t had for a while — and not one that would suck up a huge amount of time, as some projects have.

I’m crunching numbers to figure out what to charge; I’ll get back to them this weekend and we’ll do a trial run article for their opening next week. Good thing I work fast.

•I sent off three short stories to different markets.

Hopefully I can keep up the momentum next week despite a doctor’s appointment. It does feel good to be productive again.

#SFWApro. Photos are mine.


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Filed under Impossible Takes a Little Longer, Nonfiction, Personal, Short Stories, Story Problems, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book

Cosplay for Halloween

I’m not actually much of a cosplayer. But my mother-in-law got me a scarf in the style of Fourth Doctor Tom Baker, so I figured that would do.

I tried to capture Baker’s slightly loonie grin, but I don’t think I managed it.

Our hosts, fellow writer Allegra Gullino and her husband, appeared as Gumbies—

Writer Ada Milenkovic Brown came as Ursula.And writer/artist Sam Collins came as Capwolf.

We agreed that the awkwardly fitting costume makes her look like Cap drawn by Rob Liefeld.

Finally Audrie Michelle appears as Ruth Vader Ginsburg.

#SFWApro. Photos are mine.


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So even Harvey Weinstein isn’t as awful as Harvey Weinstein

One of the standard complaints about the #metoo movement is that it treats ordinary men, men who may have said or done something inappropriate but clearly aren’t bad people, like they were Harvey Weinstein, destroying their careers and crushing their lives. They do not, however, offer much in the way of examples, and the examples are usually wrong: an in-depth investigation by the employer gets treated as a he said/she said situation (more here). I’m beginning to think “he’s being treated like Harvey Weinstein!” means something along the lines of “he got fired, Weinstein got fired, ergo they’re treating him like Weinstein!”

Now it turns out even Weinstein, the poster boy for absolute rock bottom, has his defenders too. Weinstein recently showed up at Actors’ Hour, an event in NYC for young performers (there’s some debate whether he was invited or just showed). Comedian Kelly Bachman cracked jokes (“I didn’t know we’d have to bring our own Mace and rape whistles.”); some audience members booed. A male comic got up and mocked her. Another woman confronted Weinstein at his table, with profanity hurled on both sides (not by Weinstein but by some of his entourage); the woman was asked to leave.

So why not ask Weinstein to leave? I’s a private space and the organizers could certainly have told Weinstein he wasn’t welcome. The organizer said she protected the women by letting them have “freedom of speech” — the comics were free to mock him — but then why ask the one woman to leave?

Partly it may just be that Weinstein wasn’t actually doing anything other than being there. Admittedly with his record that’s pretty alarming but it wouldn’t surprise me if the event organizers just didn’t want any confrontations. A lot of us (myself included) tend to be confrontation averse. Though that’s not a good reason: women have good reason to scream at a guy who preys on them.

And part of it, undoubtedly, is that we seem to have a reflex to forgive sexual harassers. They’ve suffered enough by being criticized and shunned for a while; surely we should forgive and move on. As Weinstein’s spokesperson put it, he was at Actors’ Hour “trying to find some solace in his life that has been turned upside down. This scene was uncalled for, downright rude and an example of how due process today is being squashed by the public.” Of course it ain’t an issue of due process; it’s true he hasn’t been convicted of anything, but private citizens outside the jury box are free to believe the victims. And if his life has been turned upside down — well, given the reasons, why should we feel sympathy for him? Yet somehow people do, far more than for the many women he allegedly assaulted, or whose careers he ruined for refusing him.

Similarly we have one Heather Mac Donald arguing that Placido Domingo’s alleged history of sexual assault (apparently one of those open secrets in the opera world) should be forgiven because Domingo’s that awesome. We cannot punish a singer of such caliber merely because he assaulted a bunch of nobodies! Which is not a new thought: Rebecca Traister has written about being told “That’s just Harvey being Harvey” when she heard stories about his behavior; simply being a powerful man is held up as an excuse.

Of course, we don’t know what the women whose careers Weinstein allegedly destroyed (I believe the women, but I think sticking with “alleged” covers my butt) might have accomplished without his interference. Or how good the women who left opera rather than stay around Domingo and people who supported him might have been. We’ll never know. But somehow their careers dead-ending, their lives turning upside down, isn’t as important as the suffering of powerful men.

We have a long way to go.



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Here, I think, is some great marketing

So when I read Blackout, about New York’s 1977 power outage, I though I’d follow it up by watching 1967’s Where Were You When the Lights Went Out?, about the 1965 blackout (which took in a wider area, but had less looting). Too bad for me, it’s not available in any format except VHS, for about $35 (something I discussed over at Atomic Junkshop). The opening, nothing more, is on YouTube. But in the process of looking for it online, I found this copy of the poster.

I know perfectly well that no Doris Day movie is going to be as racy and sexy as this implies. Every review says the movie was an unfunny mess. But the poster still makes me want to see it. Still makes me think the film will be fun, fun, fun, and maybe a little bit naughty (never mind that picking movies on that basis has never worked well for me). So obviously they did good.

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Why not a woman?

One-time X-Men editor Louise Simonson has said the reason Chris Claremont’s X-Men run (starting with #94 of the Bronze Age run) included so many memorable women characters was that when he created a character he’d ask “why can’t this character be a woman?” And frequently there was no reason the character couldn’t be a woman, so she was.

That’s a neater trick than it sounds. For a lot of writers in that era (or even now), colorblind casting was not an option. The male protagonist or even supporting character was the default: characters are men automatically. Rather than “male or female?” it’s “male unless there’s a good reason to make them female” (trans or non-binary wasn’t usually in consideration at all). You didn’t need a reason to write a guy, but you did for a woman. Or a gay. Or a minority. And it had to be a plot reason, not just “let’s put a woman in this role.” That was just tokenism.

Max Allan Collins and Terry Beatty said in the letter column of their 1980s PI comic Ms. Tree that they’d include a gay character when it was significant to the plot, not before. Director Martin Scorsese, in a recent interview, said similarly that he wouldn’t write a female lead “if the story doesn’t call for it …. It’s a waste of everybody’s time. If the story calls for a female character lead, why not?” (Several of his movies have had female leads, as people in the comments noted). Lionel Shriver has similarly said deploying a transvestite or bi character might “distract from my central subject matter.”

As countless writers and readers have pointed out, the idea you need a story reason to cast a woman/gay/Latino/Muslim in the role has problems. As Foz Meadows puts it in response to Shriver, it implies that straightness/masculinity/whiteness is thematically neutral whereas gays/women can’t simply exist in fictional worlds: they have to be there because being there is the topic of the story or relevant to the plot: “By treating particular identities as “subject matter”instead of facets of personhood – by claiming that queer characters can “distract” from a central story, as though queerness is only ever a focus, and not a fact – you’re acting as though the actual living people with those identities have no value, presence or personhood beyond them.”

That doesn’t mean race/gender/orientation-flipping the characters always works: it’s possible to do a movie with a woman as the hardbitten sergeant leading her platoon to glory, but not if it’s WW II. Switching out the white guy for a black woman may make some of the story unworkable, or open up new options. Ms. Tree herself was as hardboiled a PI as they come, but I doubt if Collins and Beatty had written about a male PI they’d have focused as much as they did on the relationship with her stepson (the authors do a good job not making her a stereotypically nurturing person under her hard shell).

When I first wrote Southern Discomfort my protagonist was male. Gender-flipping didn’t actually change Maria as much as making her a nurse rather than a modern-day combat veteran (much less likely to fight). Raceflipping characters (not so much “why not a black character?” as “why are there no black characters in this?”) caused a lot of changes for the better, but as huge chunks of plot got cut out, I wound up dropping the characters and making a couple of minor black roles into major roles. That worked better.

So no, the answer to “why not a woman?” is not always “yeah, why not?” But often it can be.

#SFWApro. Cover art by Gil Kane, all rights to image remain with current holder.

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Monday’s looking ugly—

And so are the stories behind these links.

Rep. Matt Gaetz continues embracing Trumpism with both arms. Of course, he’s just following established Republican precedent.

Republicans claim impeachment is a witch-hunt but they’re the ones obsessing about witchcraft. Or thinking that witch hunts were led by witches.

If the NCAA allows college athletes to benefit from endorsements, NC’s worthless Senator Richard Burr has a dumb-ass response: tax athletic scholarships.

So a New Jersey public school system banned kids from prom if they hadn’t paid off their lunch bills. A good Samaritan offered to wipe out the debt; the school district said no.

Right-wing bullshit artist David Barton insists quite untruthfully that human beings can’t damage the Earth’s climate.

Republicans don’t support veterans, not when the veterans don’t toe the party line. Or when they’re immigrants.

Ultraconservative forced-birth attorneys are getting judicial appointments. This kind of strategy is paying off: Brett Kavanaugh and Sam Alito met with the leader of an anti-gay hate group.

Climate change is going to hammer our power grid, infrastructure and military unless we do something. And it’s pretty obvious we won’t.

I remember when handwriting analysts would brag about how they could identify the right candidate for companies to hire. I have the same skepticism that AI analyzing facial expressions in interviews is any more reliable, but it’s seeing use anyway.

The power of the Internet to fill kids’ minds with racist, sexist garbage.

Republicans and propagandists keep insisting impeachment is falling apart. No More Mr. Nice Blog looks at why they may not care their lies are so debunkable.

“What leader worth voting for would negotiate with Mitch McConnell or Kevin McCarthy and believe either will keep his word; what sane president would turn over sensitive documents to Republican-led committees; what Democratic president would simply accept that the federal courts are now the property of the opposition, and submit issues of national policy to them, in the confidence of receiving a fair shake? ” — from a discussion of where liberals and America go after the Trump era (assuming there is an after).

The first Republican tax cut didn’t do much for the economy. So they’re going to try it again. Not really that surprising — from the view of the 1 percent, I suspect the issue is less jump-starting the economy than “give us more money!”

Cover art is uncredited, all rights remain with current holder.


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First superheroes, then the Middle East then Mr. Sammler’s Planet: reading

While I have most of Hawkman’s Silver Age run in either originals or reprints, a used copy of SHOWCASE PRESENTS HAWKMAN Vol. 1 by Gardner Fox, Murphy Anderson and Joe Kubert did give me a chance to get the two issues I’ve never read. And Joe Kubert’s art on the early stories actually looks a little more impressive in black and white. As the series progresses, though, the stories lose some of their early pulp feel and become (as Murphy Anderson complained in The Hawkman Companion) not that different from the kind of crimes Batman tackled in the Silver Age (with plenty of exceptions, such as the wild alien world of Hawkman #6). Still I’m glad to finally have everything.

FAITH: The Faithless by Jody Houser and multiple artists was the last of Faith’s original series (previous volumes covered here and here), wherein her small rogue’s gallery gathers together with the intent to exact revenge. Can Faith stop them when they’ve convinced LA she’s gone rogue? This is fun, as usual, but the ending felt a little like Houser just had to wrap it up before the book folded. Some great moments, even so.

THE ATTACK by Loic Dauvillier, Glen Charpon and Yasmina Khadra has a Palestinian Arab working as an Israeli surgeon, convinced he and his beloved wife fit in perfectly — until she commits a suicide bombing. Obsessed with understanding how he didn’t understand her, the doctor questions his friends and family, the police, the terrorists in hopes of getting an answer. This does a good job capturing the tangled Arab/Jew politics inside Israel but I wish we’d gotten the protagonist’s view of things (the radicals think he’s an Uncle Tom, but how does he see things?). And the ending was frustratingly trite.

Nothing trite about the memoir PERSEPOLIS: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi, chronicling her growing up during the Islamic revolution in Iran and then the Iran-Iraq War, before being sent out of the country to relatives in France. What makes it stand out is the kind of quirky details American portrayals of the Middle East would rarely think of, such as Satrapi fantasizing herself as Iran’s Che Guevera or hoping she’ll become the Twelfth Imam (a Muslim analog to the Second Coming) so she can heal her grandmother’s aging knees). Not as cute as that makes it sound (Satrapi doesn’t sugar coat the blood and oppression of that era), but very good.

I’d always assumed my parents’ copy of MR. SAMMLER’S PLANET was an SF novel by that Saul Bellow literary guy (hey, Kurt Vonnegut wrote SF!) so when I saw it in the library recently, I checked it out on impulse. And put it down after 30 pages of Sammler reflecting on his life, all the people in it and how violent New York is getting in one long internal monologue (the planet, in short, is Earth, or Earth as Sammler interprets it). Precisely the kind of literary fiction I don’t read — though that’s very much a matter of personal taste.

#SFWApro. Cover by Murphy Anderson, all rights to image remain with current holder.


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