Nov 202015

997DVA_Al_Pacino_025…and it is our fault.

Remember Starbucks Red Cup Controversy? Where the media spent days telling us how christians are outraged that the Starbuck holiday cup is plain red instead of having christmas trees and snowflakes on it? And it turns out that it was just one christian shock-jock type, and every single real christian in America was like “What the fuck guys? We don’t actually care. Who is making shit up about us?”

Which is exactly what we liberals think every time we see a “War on Christmas” story.

But the interesting part is that there aren’t less War on Christmas stories as time goes on. Rather, they’ve expanded, so now the leftwing media has their own version, re the crazy Red Cup guy. Years ago the rightwing media found that War on Christmas stories don’t have to be true. They still generate TONS of revenue, because they emotionally charge their viewers. Now the leftwing media has found out the same thing.

As a result both sides of America become more and more polarized, viewing the “other” side as evil and/or idiotic. Over what is essentially lies given to them by their own media. It’s getting worse.

Perhaps you saw today that Donald Trump wants to put all Muslims on a national registry and issue them special identification, and he’s crossed the Nazi Line.

If you’re like me, you shared with the quote from a friend that: “if Trump got elected President, and somehow persuaded both houses of Congress to pass a “Muslims must register” bill, it would be struck down by the federal courts. But the problem here isn’t that there’s a danger of this policy being implemented in the near future. The problem is that it is currently not only acceptable but popular to openly advocate fascist ideas … his popularity says a lot of frightening things about the current American mindset”

But if you’re like me, you also have friends on the other side, who then point out that this is a massive distortion (I apologize for linking to that particularly vile news site). “It is clear from the exchange that Trump thinks Hillyard is talking about new entrants to the United States, presumably Syrian refugees. But Hillyard reports Trump’s answer as if he is talking unambiguously about Muslims already in the United States.”

Which isn’t to say that Trump isn’t both wrong and racist. But he’s plenty wrong and racist on his own, and painting fangs on him just makes our side look like fucking idiots.

But more importantly, it makes us think of him as an irredeemably evil person, and all his supporters as similarly evil, or too stupid/blind to see past their own fear. It further polarizes us into camps that think the worst possible things about each other, and don’t talk to each other. Because it makes for GREAT ratings/clicks.

America seems to be drifting ever closer to civil war, and these sorts of intentional misportrayals by the both sides is spurring it on. Seriously, how long are we going to let the media ask vague questions that could be interpreted to mirror Nazi policies, and then if someone doesn’t immediately and strongly side with the questioner, report that “they didn’t rule it out“???

The thing about devils is that they give you what you want, per your revealed preference. That’s always how the story works. That is what makes those stories compelling. You get what you deserve because the devil always is simply giving you what you want. And then the angels – who care about our stated preferences rather than our revealed ones – come and save us. The Ego triumphs over the Id.

But the Ego doesn’t generate clicks, or share things on social media. The Id does. We have created institutions that mimic the devils of myth – they are rewarded for giving us what we want, in terms of revealed preference. But we haven’t created equally strong institutions that mimic the angels of old – rewarded for giving us what we want in terms of stated preference.

Until (if?) that happens, we really need to develop an immune response to hatemongering.  Never share anything that pisses you off. Especially if it’s about someone from the other side. DOUBLE ESPECIALLY if it’s because they are doing something evil or idiotic that must be stopped before all of society is destroyed. And if we could coordinate some sort of institutional response that would punish these media companies/devils whenever they do this (seriously, government oversight to head off a civil war is a legitimate use of government power IMHO), that would be great. Maybe necessary.

Nov 032015

pixels movieTwo cultural appropriation notes.


I attended MileHiCon over the weekend (an awesome local SF Lit con), during which time I went to a “Writing Characters with Mental Illness” panel. A relative of mine has fairly severe shizoaffective disorder, so I’m familiar with what mental illness looks like IRL, but I’m not a healthcare professional so I like to get some actual professional views on the matter, ya know? The panelists were all either suffering from mental illness themselves or professionals in the field. And I did get some use out of the panel, but not nearly as much as I could have. Part of the reason why? They spent a big chunk of time helping everyone defend themselves from charges of Cultural Appropriation. You gotta say “It’s not a disability, it’s a different-ability” sort of thing. FFS. At one point one of the panelists said “No matter what you do, some people will attack you for writing mental illness. Ignore them, please! Do it anyway! We need more characters struggling with mental illness in our fiction.”

So yeah, the CA-police are having a chilling effect, but people are pushing back. So, hooray for that?


I’ve been told a few times that straight white guys will never feel the sting of Cultural Appropriation. (Actually I was told this by a straight white guy who said he’d never feel it, so he didn’t have any right to have a voice in the conversation.) I think that’s a very silly thing to claim, because there are many types of culture, and almost everyone belongs to SOME minority culture that can be “appropriated.” As proof of this I would like to submit this review of the movie “Pixels” by Movie Bob.

Movie Bob is LIVID about the appropriation of video gaming culture by one of Hollywood’s biggest douchebags, Adam Sandler. Says Movie Bob:

>“it’s so oppressively, endlessly, bald-faced cynical about the disingenuous appropriation of its own supposed reason for existing.”

“[It’s] so fucking glib and self-satisfied with its own sleazy cash-grab existence that it takes time out to make sure it also shits on the sort of more earnest, heart-felt version of the same idea that someone who gave two shits might have made”

“It plays at being this sentimental ode to glory days of classic video games, but clearly doesn’t have a fucking drop of sincere interest of what’s made these characters and imagery so enduring or even what made the game so compelling for all these years.”

“It’s always nakedly the work of a bunch of shit-gargling fuckwits with zero love or understanding of this stuff beyond the ability to sell tickets based on ‘Hey, remember Pac-Man?’”

As a video game geek myself (and old enough to have played most of these games in my childhood), I sympathize strongly with every single thing Movie Bob says. In fact, I challenge every white male video game geek who thinks Cultural Appropriation is bullshit to watch this review so they can understand what other people feel when they say their culture is being appropriated. Are you telling me to you don’t feel even a spark of anger at Sandler/Hollywood after seeing that impassioned rant? Cuz I’m not sure that’s possible.

And now, having seen the other side, reconsider your position on cultural appropriation. Don’t just take a reactionary “Screw you, I can do what I want” stand. Take a principled stand. Stand firm with “It is better to allow cultures to mix. The things that are bad about “Cultural Appropriation” are more correctly termed either “Racism” or “Being An Asshole” and should be fought as such, and the things that are good about Cultural Mixing are being destroyed by the Cultural Appropriation Police. That is why the term Cultural Appropriation is toxic. Its only real effect is to eliminate the good things that we want to keep around!”

Hate Pixels because it is shit. Don’t support Cultural Appropriation Policing, because that would destroy wonderful things like The Wizard and The Last Starfighter as well. We will accept Pixels because sharing culture and understanding between groups is more important than making sure Adam Sandler can’t shit on a culture’s values. We will not raze the commons in an effort to punish the free-rider.

Oct 292015

water knifeThe Water Knife, by Paolo Bacigalupi

Synopsis: Grimdark near future where the American Southwest collapses into low-level civil war over water.

Book Review: Bacigalupi is known for his post-environmental-collapse dystopias, and this is another fantastic entry in that style. Many of Paolo’s works carry a theme of ‘We are living in an absurdly wealthy period, where we can afford things like compassion and charity. When the easy resources dry up and we are left fighting over the remaining scraps, those who try to retain their compassion and humanity will be torn to pieces by the people willing to do what is necessary for survival. People are always exactly as good as circumstances allow them to be.’ Moreover, we’re currently able to believe any old crazy thing for that reason, but in the near future people will be forced to see reality only as it is, or die. It’s a very Hansonian view.

He differs from Hanson in that Hanson says this isn’t as bad as we think it is, and “poor people still smile”, whereas I think Bacigalupi’s message is “So let’s work hard to make sure THIS NEVER HAPPENS.” And he shows you vividly what the This is, and how it could happen. Don’t expect an uplifting story.

Bacigalupi’s writing is strong, the story never falters or lets up, and you feel like you are in a crumbling metropolis. The city itself feels like a character, with large events taking place in the background that both make for great flavor and inform and constrain the human protagonist’s actions. You realize that these people are just one small part of a large world. The human protagonists themselves are fantastically portrayed. Even when they are doing awful things you are rooting for them, because they’ve won you over with their ideals, or their fears, or simply their desperation to not be ground down and abused every single day. I sympathized deeply with every character, and in each case for a different reason.

In short, this is a very good book. Strongly Recommended.

Book Club Review: Also a fantastic book for book clubs! There is SO MUCH to talk about here! And I don’t just mean the message portion, because frankly all of us in the book club are already very much onboard with Bacigalupi’s message, so we didn’t talk about that part at all. Rather, the portrayal of humanity and what happens to us when the shit REALLY hits the fan lead to a lot of discussion over the nature of humanity, and whether Bacigalupi is a cynical misanthrope and we’re better than that, or if he’s just a realist who isn’t afraid to view the world with open eyes. (You can probably guess my position by the phrasing of that sentence). The fact that this is very near-future really drove home that this story is about us, and made a lot of people challenge his assumptions. There was a lot of talk of idealism vs circumstance, and whether we are uniquely situated to fail in situations our ancestors wouldn’t, because we are so socially isolated and insulated that the institutions of community have broken down and all we’re left with is this fragile individualism that isn’t actually worth shit in any non-modern/non-super-wealthy situation.

Plus lots of discussion about character arcs and plot elements. One of the major contributors to the discussion is that this is NOT a perfect book. It has flaws, and those imperfections add to the conversational grist as well. The discussion was so rich and interesting that we ran right up to closing time without realizing it.

One caveat – two of our members had very negative reactions to the grimness of the book, one in particular is in a bad stretch of life right now and declared she wouldn’t be reading any other works by Bacigalupi. I can’t blame her. It’s not the worst thing ever, it’s certainly not slasher horror or anything, but it may be a bit too much for some readers. With that warning – Strongly Recommended.

Cultural Appropriation Watch! The protagonists in this work are American Hispanic female, white female, and Mexican male. Bacigalupi is none of those. A couple of our bookclub members (who don’t read my blog) expressed appreciation for the diversity of the cast. It was very well done, and definitely increased the quality of the storytelling! The Appropriation Police would have us whitewash this book so it only contained white male characters (bleh) or simply not allow it to be published at all (bastards!!!). They shame their ancestors, let us hope they repent their ways quickly.

Oct 222015

interview-with-the-vampireA literary agent I’m acquainted with recently posted “we’re getting wind that publishers are extremely wary of buying diverse books by “non-diverse” authors because they don’t want to deal with readers’ accusations of cultural appropriation.”

If I can only ever write white male middle-class characters in my stories, I will kill myself.

It’s just plain bad art too. I remember reading a book where every character read like a middle-aged Canadian male, (yes, including the teenage girl and the alien intelligence) and I was bored to tears. I want multiple perspectives from various people in my novels, and most of them will not match that of the author.

And do the people pushing this not bother thinking about the consequences of their own agendas? If gay authors can only write gay characters, women authors can only write women characters, black authors can only write black characters, etc, this hurts everyone. There will be less interesting fiction to read, and far fewer stories that any author can tell. How does it help women authors to tell Anne Rice that only men are allowed to write male POV sections?


Oct 222015

I keep seeing excitement about the new Star Wars, and I can forgive it from my younger friends, who weren’t around for Phantom Menace. But no one over the age of 30 has any excuse, IMHO. Do we, as a species, never learn??

Oct 162015

Mort-coverMort, by Terry Pratchett

Synopsis: Death wants to take a holiday, so he takes on an apprentice to cover for him, and things go as well as you might expect.

Book Review: If you’re one of those people who hasn’t read Pratchett before and wants to know what the big deal is, here’s half of the big deal:

His writing is stellar. He creates a world that is charming and extremely fun. It shows a fondness for the tropes of sword-and-sorcery fantasy and mocks them affectionately while simultaneously using them to tell a good story. His characters have a joy-in-life but aren’t naïve. They are, in fact, generally very smart, and react the way an intelligent reader would react, rather than the way a stereotypical “hero” might.

Pratchett is genuinely funny, and often made me laugh. His turns of phrase are delightful. And he breaks the fourth wall frequently in his books, talking directly to the reader, so it isn’t a traditional narrative insomuch as it is a favorite uncle regaling your with a tall tale. In all of this his love of writing really shines through, you can feel the passion this man has for this craft.

That being said, this is only half of what makes him good, and isn’t enough to hold my interest on its own. The other half of what makes Pratchett great (with a caveat I’ll get to soon) is that he has something to say. He cares about our world, he cares about his fellow man, and he’s pissed off about the ways society sometimes fails us all. He will let you know what is wrong, and what can be done about it, in no uncertain terms. He’s assertive and has the strength of his convictions. In a word – he writes excellent message fiction.

The first book of his I read was Going Postal, one of his later ones, about why certain social services (in this particular case, the Postal System) are damned important, and a really good thing, and efforts to privatize it can go suck an egg. It is amazing. I fell in love right away. (The Truth is similar, for journalism)

So that caveat – Mort isn’t like this. It’s one of his early books, and he hadn’t come into his own yet. Maybe he was worried about offending people? You can still see hints of that passion poking through here and there, but it feels like he’s pulling every punch that he takes, and not even swinging at all most of the time. It ends up being a humorous little tale that doesn’t go much of anywhere or say much of anything. And it’s OK, I guess. But his later work is SO MUCH BETTER! Including his books focusing on Death. Although I haven’t read it yet, I hear The Hogfather is truly excellent, has things to say, and it will make you stop and really think about our society… while still being extremely funny and a great story to boot.

If you are reading your way through all the Discoworld books… well, in that case you don’t really need this review. But if you don’t have time to read even half the things you’d really like to, don’t spend that time on Mort. You’d be FAR better served reading some of Pratchett’s later works. Not Recommended.

Book Club Review: Basically all the things I said above apply here as well. It’s kinda fun to compare everyone’s favorite scene/joke/gag, but in the end the book just doesn’t have much to say, and so there isn’t much to say about it. It reads fast and it’s funny, so it’s not a let down, but it certainly didn’t spark anything either. Not Recommended.

Oct 142015

October is a very busy month for me at work. I’m working long hours, and don’t have much time on my breaks for typing. Hopefully in a week or two I can go back to more regular posting.

In the meantime, here’s a bit of interesting news – a gun store was held liable for illegally selling a gun! It’s sad that I’m excited by this, it shouldn’t be such a rarity. Anyway, from here:

The store was accused of encouraging an illegal straw purchase of the gun used in the crime. A straw purchase is when a gun is purchased in someone else’s name for another person who legally cannot own a gun.

Eighteen-year-old Julius Burton paid a 21-year-old friend $40 to come with him and buy a gun at the store. Surveillance video from 2009 showed Burton pointing to the Taurus semiautomatic he wanted and said, “That’s the one that I want.”

This was just a couple days after someone commented on my old Take Responsibility For Your Death Machine post. Coincidence?

(Yes. But still neat for me. I hope the 21-year-old faces consequences too.)

Oct 082015

grass-is-greener1I realize some people are just genetically monogamous. But if that’s not you, here’s yet another reason to not be afraid of opening up your relationship – it makes you appreciate your SO even more.

It’s a cliche that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. It’s because you can’t try that grass, so you end up idealizing it, and nothing in real life can compare to the ideals humans can imagine. It can drive a person to distraction, this constant feeling that you’re missing out on the best grass evar. And it’s right there, just in reach, but forbidden. Argh!

This sort of thing is toxic, but there turns out to be a really easy way to counter it. Just go and have some of the grass on the other side of the fence. You will realize that while it may be really darn good grass, it is still real-world stuff and not magical fairy food.
This metaphor is starting to outgrow itself, so to bring this back into the realm of the literal – when you develop extra-primary relationships, you reground yourself in reality. I have found that I appreciate my SO even more now. I’m not comparing our relationship to a Hollywood fantasy, I’m comparing it to other real people, and I notice all the things about her that make her ideal for me. No disrespect for my other partners, of course! I like them a *lot*, obviously. But you forget all the little things about your primary that makes life with them exceptional, and being involved with someone who doesn’t fit you as well reminds you in a hurry. I’m sure my paramores feel the same way about me vs their SOs. And the fact that we can all help each other remember what makes our primary so magical to us is a beautiful thing.
So, as I’ve said before, if you’re already with the right person, having an open relationship tends to make your relationship stronger. Don’t be scared of it.
Also, it really is nice to get that variety. :) No matter how much you love pinot grigio, a bit of sangria now and then to shake things up is vital.
Sep 302015

surpriseThis is really ridiculously sweet. Mom surprises her trans teenager with her first dose of hormones.

I was saddened to discover that Beaver Anus is only a miniscule fraction of food flavoring in the US. :( I apologize to anyone who I told otherwise. It made a great story.

Wil Wheaton on why he supports a video game voice-actors strike. I didn’t even know there was a dispute.
“Our employers want to be able to fine the union $50,000-$100,000 if your franchised agent doesn’t send you out on certain auditions […] If my agent doesn’t submit me for something, for whatever reason, that’s between my agent and me. Maybe I don’t want to work for a certain studio, so my agent doesn’t submit me for their projects. Maybe I don’t want to work with a certain director, or another performer or whatever I feel like because I’m a sentient human being who makes his own decisions.”

The best of computer-generated headlines, as voted by users. Uniformly hilarious, like reading the best Onion headlines.

Turns out “Bossa Nova” is an actual word. And that Chevy Nova was an actual type of car. ‪#‎TMNT1990‬

YES!!! Why Winning the Dancing Baby Lawsuit Is a Big Deal For the Internet No more mass takedowns issued by bots.
“The key part of Lenz’s legal case revolved around Universal’s blanket issuance of a DMCA notice, without first even considering if Lenz’s use constituted fair use — something that’s required under the DMCA.
Currently, big rights-holders like Universal and the RIAA use algorithms to generate DMCA takedowns — basically, they have computers trawling YouTube and Google, looking for video clips that violate their intellectual property, and send DMCA notices to whoever’s hosting the video.
But in doing so, they aren’t first considering if use of the material constitutes ‘fair use’, like a parody (or a baby dancing to said work).”

Someone needs to make Cat Valente’s suggestion a reality.
“Oooh, what if the awards were ACTUALLY for story? Like…aspects of story?
Best Ending
Best Twist
Best Worldbuilding
Best Villain
Best Action Scene
Best Romantic Scene
Best Death Scene
Best Dramatic Speech
Best Protagonist
Best Climax
Best Battle Sequence”

Trek v DavisNext Gen was the Best Trek

A fantastic episode of 99P!
[Lawns are] essentially a moral commons. It’s not your lawn, it’s the whole community’s lawn, and you’re responsible for this part.
YES! This is what you sign up for if you have a lawn! Don’t like it? Can’t hack it? Don’t get a lawn! (and I say this as a hater of lawns)

Scott Alexander’s Theses on Trump
“the establishment hates him. […] in signaling terms, what they’re unintentionally saying is “Moderates hate this guy! He’s too politically incorrect to win over Democrats! Only vote for him if you’re a real Republican.” And Republicans are eating it up.”

Streaming Music is Ripping You Off (and what you can do about it)  “One band made an album of completely silent tracks and told their “fans” to play the blank album on repeat while they slept. If a subscriber did as instructed the band earned $195 in royalties from that single subscriber in just one month. But if each subscriber only pays $10 in subscription fees, then where did the other $185 come from?
It came from people like you.”

Why People Want To Die  “The way to convert deathists isn’t to argue with them, but to get them interested in something. Twist them the way you’re twisted.”

If I get a call from a polling place, I know who I’m telling them I’ll be voting for.

The CDC is finally weighing in, stating that early school start times are a health hazard. It’s a start!

Now being a chicken owner, it suddenly seems a much bigger deal that Gaston eats 5 dozen eggs a day. 60 eggs a day likely is the entire output of 120-150 chickens! Which means A) Being Gaston is expensive. And B) Since Gaston can afford to be Gaston, he could probably provide a pretty decent life for Belle.
Although, admittedly, not nearly the same level as the local nobility.