And it was in the pages of the April 1983 issue of Asimov’s that I first met Connie Willis.
The novelette included in that issue, “The Sidon in the Mirror” is told from the point of view of person just arrived on a new planet. Except it isn’t a planet. Paylay is a dead star, and somehow humans have figured out how to live on a solid crust of the outer layers of the dead star. It isn’t a terribly nice place to live, but large pockets of various pure elements can be mined, so people have an incentive to come there. A side effect of the mining process has created a thin layer of mostly breathable air that is much higher in helium and hydrogen that ours is.
We learn that our viewpoint character is not human, but rather a Mirror: an alien species that has the ability to absorb personality traits, skills, and other things from other beings. They don’t take on the shape of the copied person, and the process is totally involuntary. Mirrors don’t even know they are copying, their personality being re-written as they go, unless someone else notices and tells them. There have been some instances in the past of Mirrors absorbing the murderous thoughts of others and acting on them, so they have been banned from various world.
He’s been brought to this strange mining colony to play piano in the colony’s only brothel. He had previously absorbed the piano playing skills of a now dead man who was known to both the other of the brothel and at least one of her employees, which is at least part of the reason he was brought to Paylay.
The rest of the plot is difficult to summarize, in part because Connie does a really good job of putting you inside the head of the person who doesn’t know or trust his own thoughts and motives. He is afraid he is going to be compelled to do something horrible, and there are characters he is now living among who appear to be trying to manipulate who he copies for their own nefarious purposes.
But I should explain the title. The viewpoint character’s species are called Mirrors, as explained. There is another alien creature mentioned, it’s called a sidon. Sidon’s are vicious predators, but some people have tried to tame them (because people will do that), and it has always gone badly. The miners have taken to naming their mining taps as sidons—while all the compressors and pipes and such are holding, everything seems under control. But ever miner knows it is only a matter of time before a tapped sight explodes. They’re just all trying to make their money and leave before that happens.
By the end of the tale there are violent deaths, and it is left to the reader to decide which of the deaths were murder, which were self-defense, or whether they fall into another category all together.
On one level the story is about the meaning of free will. Willis herself has said, when introducing the story in collections of her work, that the story was inspired to seeing stories of twins who were adopted out separately, and then find each other as adults and learn how many things about their lives are spookily similar. Many things we think of as choices may not be at all.
If was a tough story to read, because there were points in the tale when I wanted the viewpoint character to do something different. I saw moments he could have escaped the trap. Except when I got to the end, I found myself questioning the definition of trap I had been using. Was the trap the manipulation coming from one of the two characters who were trying to turn the Mirror into a killer, or was the trap the Mirror’s own belief that he himself would inevitably turn into a violent killer, or was the trap the fear of the other characters?
I’ve re-read the story many times over the years. And even though I know how it ends, I’m always at the edge of the seat throughout. As mentioned above, Willis really puts you in the mind of this character so that by the middle of the story, I’m just as afraid and uncertain as to what will happen as the character is.
The story made me think a lot about how we make decisions. How much of what we feel is the result of what people expect us to feel? How many decisions that we think are our own are being forced upon us? What, exactly, is the nature of our own identity?
They were questions I was wrestling with personally. While I didn’t have an sudden epiphany at the end of the tale, it did nudge me further in the direction of coming to understand how the nature of the closet. The stifling social trap that many queers find themselves living in is constructed at least as much by our desire to win the approval of society, family, and even my closest friends. It isn’t just fear that drives one into the closet, but also (ironically) the need for love.
And it took an alien playing piano on the surface of a dead star to show me that.
So, a woman and her daughter went to use the pool owned by the neighborhood Home Owners Association, of which the black woman is a member (which means she is one of the owners of the pool). There are a couple of different videos of the incident, with the guy explaining that it isn’t racial, he’s just enforcing the rules. A white woman in the background of one video points out that she wasn’t asked to show her ID. A few moments later, after the police determine the the black woman has a valid keycard to unlock the gate, and the white guy tries to imply that the black woman stole the key card from a valid resident, an different white woman says, “You didn’t make me sign in!” The guy has subsequently resigned from the board of the home owners association, resigned from his position as the “pool chairman” and either was fired or agreed to resign from his job.
The funniest take I’ve read on this was written by Michael Harriot: Sentient Marshmallow Calls Police on Black Woman for Swimming in Her Own Pool, which is where I grabbed the image above, because he has a theory as to why certain white people, as he asks, who do “white people believe the cops are their personal fugitive slave catchers. Are police supposed to be universal technical support for white people? Why are white people like this?”
At least Pool Patrol Paul remained non-violent, unlike Pool Patrol Paula (no relation): A white woman allegedly hit a black teen, used racial slurs and told him to leave a pool. Then she bit a cop. Last week a group of 15-year-olds showed up at a pool, invited there by a friend, and this woman started yelling at them that they couldn’t be there. The boys (and at least one other witness) say that she used a racial slur, which is what prompted one of the kids to start recording it on his phone. The phone really set her off, because he shouts and comes at him, trying to bat the phone away and she hits him several times. She asks angrily, “How does that feel?” after hitting him. The boys retreat, at least one can be heard very politely saying, “Yes, ma’am, we’re leaving.” Police, reviewing the video and talking to at least one witness at the pool, then got an arrest warrant and went to pick her up. She fought the two cops at her home, injuring both of them—biting one severally enough to break his skin. She’s been charged with assault and battery on the teen, plus two counts of assault on the cops. She’s out on bond, but she has also been fired from her job.
I saw at least one comment to the effect that Pool Patrol Paula, since she got violent with the cops, has some other issues and this shouldn’t be considered a racial case. That’s the wrong way of looking at it.
Let’s go to the case of Pool Patrol Paul insisting that he was only doing his duty as the pool chair person, which including making sure the facilities weren’t used by non-members. When it was pointed out that he didn’t ask anyone else there to prove they belonged, he dodged the question. One of the explanations given over the fact was that he simply didn’t recognize her, since she had bought the house and moved in recently.
Seems plausible, right?
One of the big disconnects that people who are not members of a marginalized group have about the nature of racism, sexism, homophobia, and so forth, is that bigotry is about feeling a burning hatred for those people. But bigotry is much, much more subtle than that. The video indicates that the pool was pretty crowded. It was a hot day, it was Independence Day, so a lot of people were there. It is not possible to believe that in that situation that he carefully assessed every face around the pool, ticking off names from his mental list. As two of the white women there pointed out, he wasn’t enforcing the rule that everyone sign in—until the black woman and her black daughter showed up.
Systemic bigotry is a subtle, insidious force that we absorb throughout our lives. It tints our perceptions, creating filters in our minds that we don’t process consciously. Our brains are really good at classifying things, people, and sounds we recognize. But it classifies them according to these assumptions that we don’t always understand.
I have no problem believing that Pool Patrol Paul did not literally think, upon seeing the two enter the area, “Uh, oh! Can’t let the n—–s in the pool!” It’s more subtle than that. All of the white skinned people moving around him registered to his subconscious as folks who belong, without him thinking about it. The racial issue made him notice the woman and her daughter, and once he noticed, only then did he think, “I don’t recognize them.”
He asked her her name and address. He went into the office, then came out and asked for her ID. In subsequent attempts to explain himself, he first claimed that he forgot the address by the time he got inside to look her up. Then he changed the story to say that the address she gave was for a part of the subdivision that hadn’t completed construction. Then he said that she gave two different addresses.
What really happened is: she gave him a name and her address. He went inside and looked that name up, and it was the name of a home association member registered at that address. But his gut told him she was lying (later he told the police that it’s possible the key card was stolen). So he went back and asked for her ID.
And the problem is that he never asked himself why his gut was telling him she didn’t belong. And given what statements have come out since, he still hasn’t asked himself that question.
Similarly with Paula—she seems to be a more inherently violent person, but again, it isn’t just that she’s violent, it’s why she immediately assumed those boys didn’t belong at the pool (where she was just a person using it herself; she wasn’t responsible for enforcing any rules), and therefore were legitimate targets for assault. When the cops came to her home a couple days later to arrest her, of course she was outraged! She had done nothing wrong, in her mind.
Michael Harriot was on to something with the comment about perceiving police as personal fugitive slave catchers. These incidents happen because on a fundamental level, people like Pool Patrol Paul and Paula, and BBQ Becky, and Permit Patty, and the neighbors who called the police on a 12-year-old for mowing a lawn, all perceive certain people as not belonging. More than that, they perceive the presence of (in these cases) black people in these places as a wrong that must be righted.
Until they understand that about themselves, they’re going to keep doing things like this, while loudly proclaiming that they aren’t bigots.
A lot of people were sharing the above tweet, which is nice and succinct. When I quoted it on twitter, I added, “I would amend that the civility = treating cis het nonliberal white people with respect AND defference, but otherwise nailed it!”
Because that’s the thing, it isn’t just about respect, it’s about a very different bar for the definition of respect. The folks who are up in arms about civility aren’t just used to being treated with respect, they are used to being respected as an authority or someone else who deserves deference and reverence and esteem. They are not referring to the most basic level of respect that every person is entitled do just for being human.
And they think that when other people don’t honor them in this way, that means they were justified in not treating other people as less than human.
It’s like they also have a nonlinear understanding of time, right? Their past actions and behaviors are being justified by the fact that people are calling them on the bigotry and intolerant behavior.
I’m once again participating in Camp NaNoWriMo. Camp is different than the full-fledged National Novel Writing Month in that the word count goal is set by each participant, folks frequently use camp to edit an existing work rather than write new, and the camp website supports small private chat groups called “cabins.” The best part of either project, IMHO, is having a mechanism to publish your daily word count totals, and have friends to encourage you.
At least those are good things for me. I am more productive when there are people I have promised certain things (completed stories, word counts, edits, et cetera). I’m also someone who loves getting in a race with someone on word count, if they’re into that. That doesn’t always work for everyone.
But writing buddies and cabin mates are a good way to have folks to consult with or just get encouragement from or give it to. That’s another thing I find that motivates me: getting to encourage other people and congratulate them on milestones improves my mood considerably. And sometimes when you’re trapped deep in seemingly irresolvable plotholes, anything to perk my mood up is great!
So, that’s what is happening here. If you’re doing Camp NaNoWriMo, especially if you’re interested in joining my Cabin, leave a comment here, or send me a message on twitter, or send me an email with the Contact Me page here—or if you already have another way to ping me use that.
Let’s get writing!
Once I had the Magic Mouse and had been using if for a while with one computer (getting used to the greater number of options the gesture support provided), by the end of the year next year I had purchased another Magic Mouse so that both of my computers had one.
When the Magic Mouse 2 came out almost three years ago, the most significant change was an entirely internal battery. They also updated the bluetooth chip and processor, and managed to make it slightly lighter. Otherwise it was virtually identical, and I didn’t see a reason to update. Part of the reason for that at the time was my Macbook Pro was over 4 years old, and my Mac Pro was over six years old, and it seemed a little silly to get super shiny new mice for older machines.
When I got my shiny new Macbook Pro with Touchbar in late 2016, I considered buying a new mouse along with it, but then I was dropping a lot of money on the laptop, so my inner cheapskate was opposed to additional unnecessary expenses. And, the old Magic Mouse worked just fine with it.
I admit that last year, when they introduced the new iMac Pro which was available in Space Grey which could come with a Space Grey Magic Mouse (among other accessories), my inner gadget lover went “oooooooo! Shiny! Want!” However, Apple was only selling the Space Grey Mouse (and Space Grey Keyboard and Space Grey Magic Touch Pad) with the matching iMac. So despite that fact that I had a cool Space Grey Macbook Pro, I couldn’t get the Space Grey Mouse.
And besides, as the inner cheapskate kept pointing out, the old Magic Mouse worked just fine.
And it did.
Until about a month and a half ago, when it started loosing connection with the Macbook a lot more often, but more annoyingly, instead of taking just a few seconds to reconnect when I moved or clicked it, I would have to fiddle with the mouse for at least a minute before it connected again. Two weeks ago, it got a little worse. The mouse would eventually reconnect, but it would immediately disconnect and I would have to fiddle for another minute before it connected and would remain connected for… a while.
I did notice that it was more likely to do this when the batteries were reporting less than 70%. Now I’ve had this bad habit of ignoring all the warnings from my laptop that the batteries are low. Dismissing the alert again and again for days until the batteries completely die. Then I go swap them out (we keep several sets in chargers all the time, because between the two of us we use the rechargables in a couple of wireless keyboards, at least four wireless mice, one wireless Magic Track Pad, and several small motion-activated LED lights around the house). Funny thing is, that when I get the exact same low battery alert on my Mac Pro Tower, and I almost always stop when I’m doing and go swap the batteries.
Anyway, the upshot is that I know the mouse has in the past worked perfectly fine when the batteries are at 1%. Also, because I’m a weird nerd whose past career titles have included quality assurance and hardware qualification engineer, I did some experiments, and confirmed that even when the batteries are low and the mouse is in another room, it remains connected to the laptop and can control the cursor…
It was getting really annoying by now.And recently Apple has started selling the Space Grey Magic Mouse 2 as a stand alone accessory… so I could get a new mouse to replace the flaky almost nine-years-old one and it would match my laptop. So I did.
Now, a lot of people who have looked at the mouse (but haven’t used it) complain that the lightning recharge port is on the bottom of the mouse. “So if it dies, I have the wait around for it to charge back up! I can’t use it while it’s plugged in.” Bull. Seriously, it’s a purely B.S. objection because here’s the thing: if you connect it for two minutes, that charges the battery enough for nine hours of use. In And remember what I said about about alerts from the computer that the battery is low? I am being serious when I said that I would ignore it and keep using the mouse for days. So, when you see the alert, make a mental note, and the next time you go to refresh your beverage, or run to the bathroom, or get up to walk around (which my Apple Watch reminds me to do once an hour), plug the mouse in for a few moments and you will be good to go.
I know, my use case doesn’t match everyone elses, but I am quite certain that if Apple had put the port where all the complainers want it, that those some complainers would be bitching about how awkward the device which is designed to be wireless and that you use wirelessly all the time is when the attach a wire to it.
Anyway. I am sad that my first Magic Mouse is flaking out. But I’m also very happy with my shiny new one!
Well, there are at least two reasons. The simplest one is that if the Dems manage to take back the Senate, they could prevent Cadet Bonespur from appointing anyone new to the court. So at least some of the GOP operatives see this as their only chance to ensure future court rulings continue to take rights away from workers, women, queers, and everyone else that isn’t a Republican billionaire.
But that isn’t the only issue! Now that we know that Justice Kennedy’s son arranged for Trump to get a billion dollar loan, and that Trump has made references to Kennedy’s son within earshot of live microphones just about every time the Justice and the alleged president have been together in public, it seems extremely likely that among those dozens of sealed indictments that Robert Mueller has obtained over the last year or so is probably against Kennedy’s son. This could result, if any of the related indictments or Cadet Bonespur’s attempts to pardon (pre-emptively or not) key people winds up being appealed to the Supreme Court. While recusal is solely up to each Justice, it would be very unlikely that Kennedy would not recuse himself if his son was involved in a case before the Court.
Though it angers me enough that the Republicans stole a seat from Obama last year, and I’m not looking forward to what the court will do with another arch conservative on the bench, I do take heart that despite all the brave talk about a red wave, the people in the know (like those billionaire mentioned above) are acting as if there is a good chance that the Senate won’t have a Republican majority after November. So there is that, I guess.
In other hopeful news, the resistance is alive and well: Thousands across U.S. join ‘Keep Families Together’ march to protest family separation. And people have some great signs: 21 Signs From Americans Fed Up With Trump At Families Belong Together Marches.
The marches themselves may not directly accomplish something, but the turn-out indicates people are willing to take action (which includes voting in November).Meanwhile, there have been continued mock outrage over things like a restaurant deciding it didn’t want to serve members of this administration that our aiding and abetting the kidnapping of children at the border, taking health care from tens of thousands, encouraging white supremacists to commit violence, and so forth. I don’t always agree with columnist Michelangelo Signorile, but this week I do: Fuck Civility. And an extra stron f– you to the editorial writers who seem to think that getting in the face of people who have either ordered the commission of these crimes (mass separation of families is defined under international law–the very agreements our country help promulgate after World War II–as genocide and is a crime against humanity) is somehow just as bad or worse than actually committing those heinous acts.
ETA: I hadn’t seen this interview with Hilary at the Guardian: Hillary Clinton: ‘What is more uncivil than taking children away?’
“Give me a break! What is more uncivil and cruel than taking children away? It should be met with resolve and strength. And if some of that comes across as a little uncivil, well, children’s lives are at stake.”
Another in my series of posts recommending web comics that I think more people should read. This time around, since it is Pride Month, it’s all queer!
Private I, by Emily Willis and Ann Uland is a comic set in 1942 Pittsburgh in which queer gumshoe Howard Graves is trying to sort out a collection of bewildering clues and infuriating eccentric suspects. It’s an interesting take on a lot of noir tropes. It handles the queer elements well—being outed or caught by the wrong people can spell the end of not just one’s career, but possibly life. Which isn’t to say the story is grim (at least not more than any other noir story), but it manages to walk that fine line of being sympathetic to the characters without unrealistically portraying the surrounding society as being more accepting that it would have been. Anyway, it’s a cool story, and the artwork is really good. If you like period stories, or detective stories, or noir milieus, you’ll like this comic. If you like the comic and want to support the creators, check out their Ko-fi.
The Comics of Shan Murphy As far as I can tell, Shannon Murphy doesn’t post a regular comic on the web. But among the categories of illustration on her site are comics. Her work would get shared across my tumblr dashboard just frequently enough for me to think I recognized the comic, but often it was difficult to track back to where the original came from. Until recently, when someone included a link to her page. Her art styles (multiple) are really expressive. And she just writes really good stuff.
The Young Protectors: Legendary by Alex Woolfson. Technically, this is just a new story arc for the Young Protectors comic that I first reviewed and recommended a while back. However, Alex is changing up the artists he’s working with in this arc, and the focus is decidedly different. The first series involved some major supervillains and a fight to save the world. This new arc begins by exploring the changed relationship between our protagonist, Kyle (aka Red Hot) and one of his teammates, Spooky Jones. The story is NSFW, although unless you are a patron of Alex’s Patreon, you see a lot less of the explicit artwork. It isn’t porn, per se, and it isn’t a romance. And the story takes a turn into something very different than either of those. It’s still in progress, so I’m anxiously checking it out each week to find out what happens next. Which is probably the best review I could give it, right? If you check out the page, you’ll see that Alex has written several other comics, some of which are available to purchase in hard copy. And, as I mentioned, he’s got a Patreon account.
A queer subset (because it’s Pride Month) of the comics I’ve previously recommended: Some of these have stopped publishing new episodes. Some have been on hiatus for a while. I’ve culled from the list those that seem to have gone away entirely.
Check, Please! by Ngozi Ukazu is the story of Eric “Bitty” Bittle, a former junior figure skating champion from a southern state who is attending fictitious Samwell College in Massachusetts, where he plays on the men’s hockey team. Bitty is the smallest guy on the team, and in the early comics is dealing with a phobia of being body-checked in the games. He’s an enthusiastic baker, and a die hard Beyoncé fan.
“Manic Pixie Nightmare Girls” by Jessica Udischas is a hilarious web comic that tells of the adventures of Jesska Nightmare, a trans woman trying to make her way in our transphobic world. The comics are funny, insightful, and adorably drawn. The sheer cuteness of the drawing style is a rather sharp contrast to the sometimes weighty topics the comic covers, and I think makes it a little easier to keep from getting bummed out to contemplate that the strips aren’t exaggerations. If you like the strip, consider supporting the artist through her patreon.
Life of Bria by Sabrina Symington is a transgender themed comic that ranges from commentary to slice of life jokes and everything in between. Even when commenting on very serious stuff it remains funny—sharp, but funny. It’s one of the comics that I would see being reblogged on tumblr and lot and I’d think, “I ought to track down the artist so I can read more of these.” And I finally did. And they’re great! If you like Symington’s work, you can sponsor her on Patreon and she has a graphic novel for sale.“Stereophonic” by C.J.P. is a “queer historical drama that follows the lives of two young men living in 1960s London.” It’s a very sweet and slow-build story, with good art and an interesting supporting cast. But I want to warn you that the story comes to a hiatus just as a couple of the subplots are getting very interesting. The artist had a serious health issue which was complicated by family problems, but has since started posting updates to his blog and Patreon page, assuring us that the story will resume soon. If you like the 300+ pages published thus far and would like to support the artist, C.J. has a Patreon page, plus t-shirts and other merchandise available at his store.
The Young Protectors: Engaging the Enemy by Alex Wolfson begins when a young, closeted teen-age superhero who has just snuck into a gay bar for the first time is seen exiting said bar by a not-so-young, very experienced, very powerful, super-villain. Trouble, of course, ensues.
Tripping Over You by Suzana Harcum and Owen White is a strip about a pair of friends in school who just happen to fall in love… which eventually necessitates one of them coming out of the closet. Tripping Over You has several books, comics, and prints available for purchase.
“Deer Me,” by Sheryl Schopfer tells the tales from the lives of three friends (and former roommates) who couldn’t be more dissimilar while being surprisingly compatible. If you enjoy Deer Me, you can support the artist by going to her Patreon Page!
Muddler’s Beat by Tony Breed is the fun, expanded cast sequel to Finn and Charlie Are Hitched.
If you want to read a nice, long graphic-novel style story which recently published its conclusion, check-out the not quite accurately named, The Less Than Epic Adventures of T.J. and Amal by E.K. Weaver. I say inaccurate because I found their story quite epic (not to mention engaging, moving, surprising, fulfilling… I could go on). Some sections of the tale are Not Safe For Work, as they say, though she marks them clearly. The complete graphic novels are available for sale in both ebook and paper versions, by the way.