Archive | December 2015

Hokey Religions and Ancient Weapons – more of why I love sf/f

"Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid." Harrison Ford as Han Solo in the original Star Wars.

Harrison Ford as Han Solo in the original Star Wars. (Click to embiggen)

I was a high school student in the small town of Longview when Star Wars first came out. I saw it on opening night, thanks to a couple of older friends who were even bigger science fiction fans. They drove me down to Beaverton, Oregon, (which was the closest place with a full-sized wide screen and Dolby sound at the time) on opening night, insisting that I’d love this film I had never heard of.

They were right. A lot of people loved it.

It wasn’t really original. The movie was a loving homage to the pulp magazine adventure stories and serial movies of the 30s and 40s. It didn’t have anything profoundly new philosophically to say. The special effects were better than we were used to seeing, but otherwise it just told an old-fashioned story. You knew who the good guys and the bad guys were. The heroes were confronted with a series of obstacles to overcome, and they worked hard to win the day.

In that way, it was an oasis in the desert. Over a decade before the movie came out, “legitimate literature” had embraced the modernist school. Narrative (storytelling) was considered “unrealistic” and “naïve.” Modernist writers abandoned plot and character development for style and grand themes. Resolution was replaced with ambiguity.

That listless ambiguity had infected a lot of pop culture. To be fair, in the U.S. at least we had good reason to be despondent. The economy had tanked. Inflation was out of control, lots of people were out of work, and even more were under-employed. We had finally admitted what a pointless quagmire the war in Viet Nam had become, so closely on the heels of the national embarrassment of the Watergate scandal and the ouster of President Nixon (itself following not the long after Vice President Agnew had resigned and pled guilty to tax evasion charges). And victories of the civil rights movement seemed to have produced more backlash than noticeable improvements in the lives of ordinary people.

By 1977 most of popular culture had been tainted by modernist angst. Many of the films and novels of the day accentuated style, mood, and setting, and had endings that left the audience wondering what had happened.
Star Wars brought plot, heroes, and villains back in style. And none too soon, in my opinion. There’s something comforting and satisfying about a story that begins with a problem, builds to a climax, and resolves things in the end.

Not to say that some of the other types of stories aren’t fun from time to time.

Star Wars was the perfect combination of fun, adventure, struggle against a seemingly unbeatable foe, and triumph. With space ships and blasters and energy swords thrown in for good measure. It’s not really science fiction, because the attempts it makes at science are laughably wrong. It follows the conventions of 30s science fiction in that regard. It’s space opera, following the rules of epic fantasy with the accoutrements of science fiction. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

The Empire Strikes Back was a much darker story, and as a middle chapter in a continuing tale, its ending wasn’t triumphant. But it still told a really good tale. There were resolution of some issues, character arcs advanced, and the open issues were daunting problems, but with a hope that they could be resolved. It was a superior movie to Star Wars in every way, but was still firmly built from the foundation laid by the previous movie. Return of the Jedi was fun—flawed, but fun. It wasn’t as good a move as Empire, but it still worked, and it paid off in at least an acceptable way on all of the cliffhangers of the previous films. Don’t get me wrong, some of the pay-offs were fantastic, I’m just admitting that not all were perfect.

Star Wars (which I hate referring to as “Episode IV – A New Hope”) still remains an especially bright shining beacon in my personal firmament. It made me love the idea of science fiction and fantasy in movies, again. It gave me a new celebrity crush (if you were a queer boy watching the first film and didn’t swoon for Han Solo I don’t know what’s wrong with you!). It gave me characters to aspire to be like: Obi Wan, Luke, Leia (yes, Leia! Seriously! Go watch those scenes with Leia and Darth, or the moment she takes the blaster away from one of the men, shoots open a vent cover, and says, “Someone has to save our skins. Into the garbage chute, fly boy!” and tell me she isn’t bad ass!)…

I love Star Wars. I loved it so much that the first summer it was in theatres, I drove to a theatre in another state 13 times to re-watch it. Not to mention seeing it at a local theatre, later watching it on cable, and eventually on tape again and again. It was a life changing experience.

But I must admit that the modernists were right in some ways. The traditional narrative form is seldom the way real life works out. The difference between real life and fiction is that fiction has to make sense. In real life, we don’t always get the clear-cut endings where the heroes defeat the villains and go on to live happily ever after:

  • The friend who drove that night when I first saw Star Wars, 38 years ago, is dead. James Curtis Bruce died from complications of AIDS at the age of 36.
  • Another friend, who drove us down to see the opening of Empire, has also passed away. Lawrence Lee Church died of an anueurysm at the age of 34.

I had admired and looked up to both of them as “big brothers” during a very important part of my life. Jim was a lot like the character of Han Solo, while Larry had more in common with Yoda.

I miss them both.

Sometimes we all wish that life was more like a good, fun movie.

Weekend Update 12/26/2015: Boxing Day links

Some explanations of Boxing Day.

Some explanations of Boxing Day, how it is celebrated, and so on. (click to embiggen)

It’s December 26, the Feast of St. Stephen, which most people in this country only vaguely know about because of the song:

“Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the Feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even;
Brightly shone the moon that night, tho’ the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight, gath’ring winter fuel.”

…which most people think is a Christmas song, but was originally simply a traditional song, and was more likely to be sung at Easter and Lent than Christmas.

Today is also Boxing Day, a confusing holiday for many, including the country of its origin. It used to be a day for wealthy people to give boxes of clothes and such to their servants. Don’t confuse it with the modern concept of a gift, though—the clothes in question where those that had belonged to and been worn by the employers. The servants didn’t necessarily keep the clothes themselves, but rather turned around and sold them. Before cheap mass manufacture of clothing became the norm, clothing was handmade and if you weren’t well off you couldn’t afford new clothes. You purchased hand-me-downs. And the custom of giving cast-off clothing to servants became so entrenched that it was virtually a contractural obligation.

I do like the description of the modern observance I’ve seen of, “You spent Boxing Day at the pub celebrating with your friends because you spent Christmas with the family.” My Boxing Day is going to include driving to another town to watch Star Wars: The Force Awakens a second time with a different set of friends. So I guess that counts.

Yesterday I did more-or-less my usual weekly collection of links: Friday Links (Ho! Ho! Ho! edition), and as usual after the post had gone up, I came across a few more interesting stories that either relate to things I posted yesterday, or it doesn’t make much sense to wait until next week to link to them, such as Cards Against Humanity Just Blew Everyone Away With This Open Letter. Wow. Paid time off is something that lots of people in the world never get, even in the alleged wealthiest nation on the planet. It would be nice if more people who have the resources thought about that. It’s nice to see someone at least trying to set an example.

Over the course of several editions of Friday Links I’ve posted a couple of stories about some of the Gay rights organizations that have closed down their operations or re-tooled during the last year. There have been a lot of others. It makes sense, just as the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell five years ago made the mission of organizations that were focused solely on allowing gay and lesbian military personnel obsolete, the Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality has left those groups whose only missions was marriage equality redundant. A lot of people have lamented these closures, correctly pointing out that there is still a lot of inequality in the laws, and plenty of legal and cultural battles to fight, yet. While it is true that part of the reason for the closures is that most of their donors figure the fight is won, so why donate, that isn’t all that’s happening: Gay Groups Are Not Shutting Down, They Are Clearing the Way for the New LGBT Agenda.

That headline is a bit misleading on two counts. First, yes, several specific organizations are literally shutting down. I get that what the author means is that most of the people involved are moving on to different groups to focus on the next steps in the fight. The other inaccuracy, IMHO, is that idea of the next steps being a new agenda. Maybe the specific battles seem new and different, but the agenda has been for a long, long time quite simply: full equality regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, et cetera, and nothing less. Marriage equality was a significant step because of the thousands (literally) of legal rights that our society ties to marriage (with no other way to obtain those legal protections), as well as the cultural step of recognizing that queers do love, their love matters, and it is the same love non-queers experience. But it was merely another step toward that goal of full equality. And there is still a way to go, including the simple step of securing the right to marry (and everything it entails) against the attempts to limit that right or take it away outright.

The battle isn’t even really new. As Alvin McEwan has pointed out several times, the lies and the tactics used against us have been the same for decades (at least), they just get tweaked and repackaged as social attitudes shift.

Enough about that! Today is also the third day of Christmas. Though most people think that Christmas is all over, so if I don’t want to wait eleven months to get this two things in, now’s my last chance: The Real Attack on the Spirit of Christmas — 2015. It’s the people who scream mostly loudly about the War on Christmas who are actually trampling all over the religious teachings of the man who they claim is the reason for the season. And: Hank at Vlogbrothers talks about why Christmas (and the Holiday Giving Season) often come under such significant fire (from apparently all sides).

Finally, the band Radiohead has given everyone on interesting seasonal gift: Last year we were asked to write a theme tune for the Bond movie Spectre. Yes we were. It didn’t work out, but became something of our own, which we love very much. As the year closes we thought you might like to hear it. Merry Christmas. May the force be with you. I’ve embedded it below. If that doesn’t work, click the previous link to go to their Bandcamp page and give it a listen.

Happy Boxing Day! May the Force be with us, every one!

Ho! Ho! Ho!

IMG_4252Happy Christmas! Blessed Yul! Happy Hogswatch! Joyous Kwanza! Festive Festivus! Feliz Navidad! God Jul! Mele Kalikimaka me ka Hauʻoli Makahiki Hou! Beannachtaí na Nollag! Buon Natale! Priecīgus Ziemassvētkus un laimīgu Jauno gadu! Felix Dies Nativitatus!

…and bless us, every one!

(And don’t forget to check out Friday Links (Ho! Ho! Ho! edition).)

Friday Links (Ho! Ho! Ho! edition)

"I've seen your twitter feed. You're getting a dictionary for Christmas."

(Click to embiggen)

Thank goodness it’s Friday. And Christmas! Let this queer taoist wish you and yours a very, merry Christmas! And Happy Solstice! Joyful Kwanza! Happy Holidays!

I got all the presents wrapped last Friday before our big party. I finished my Christmas Ghost Story in the wee hours of the morning Saturday, and that night read the story while dressed as Grandfather Frost. My husband and I and a couple friends saw Star Wars: the Force Awakens on Sunday, and I’ve have a fun week of vacation, including a run down to see a bunch of the family. Given how grueling the previous two weeks at work had been, I’m really glad to have this time off this year!

Anyway, here are links to some of the interesting things I read on the web this week.

Link of the Week

I shared this web site earlier, but it deserves a repeat: Your Holiday Mom: OFFERING OUR LGBTQ YOUTH A VIRTUAL HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS.

This week in Geek

Winnipeg Free Press: Don’t Ready the Comments?

‘Tis the Season

Speaking to the Soul: Finding Stillness.

Where America’s Christmas trees come from, in one map.

Lunch lady who was fired for giving a poor child a free meal offered job back.

The Real Reason for the Coffee Season.

The Only Holiday Decoration in the Florida Capitol Is a Rainbow Gay Pride Festivus Pole.

This week in Heart-wrenching

Why I Am Probably Going to Send the Drunk Driver Who Killed My Parents a Christmas Card: The 10th anniversary of my parents’ death brings up many emotions. Hate isn’t one of them.

A Christmas Themed Story. “No reindeer. No elves. I think you’ll remember it though. You’ll say “Safe Travels” and you’ll mean it.”

This Week in Diversity

Words that Need to Die in 2016.

6 Reasons Your Discomfort with They/Them Pronouns Reveals Unchecked Cis Privilege.

5 Ways Christian Privilege Shows Up During the Winter Holiday Season.

This week in Evil, Greedy People

Listen: whistleblower story that Marineland threatens to sue journalists for disclosing.

News for queers and our allies:

Scholarship Could Be Ray Of Hope For Rural LGBT Students.

My Day in Court.

Free Gay-Themed Holiday Indie Film: ‘Red Lodge’.

US drops lifetime ban on gay men donating blood.

Obama Commemorates Fifth Anniversary Of ‘Dont Ask, Don’t Tell’ Repeal.

Anti-Transgender Ballot Initiative Fails in California.

Science!

Astronomers Find New Object, Possible Super-Earth In Our Solar System.

Record heat hit East Coast on Christmas Eve.

HIV antibody curbs virus in trial: Dramatic reduction in circulating HIV produced in those not receiving antiviral drugs.

Science Fiction, Fantasy and Speculation!

How Bad Is the 1978 ‘Star Wars’ Holiday Special? (Even though I was around and a big fan when this aired, I refused to watch it, suspecting rightly that it would be awful)

George Lucas nearly wrote a perfect prequel trilogy. He just didn’t notice.

Tales From The Four Color Closet: By The Force, Let Poe Dameron Be Gay.

TOLKIEN, THE FORCE AWAKENS, AND THE SADNESS OF EXPANDED UNIVERSES.

Culture war news:

Waivers Allowing Christian Schools To Ban LGBT Students Spike In 2015. Only two schools applied during the entire Bush administration, but 60 have applied in the last two years!

The Winner of The Stranger’s Design a Christian Starbucks Cup Contest!

Most U.S. Christian groups grow more accepting of homosexuality. 54% of all U.S. Christians (including a majority of Evangelicals under the age of 35!)!

Atheist Display Will Force Removal of Nativity Scene. The headline is very misleading: the state allowed all groups to sign up for time periods when their holiday display will be up on public ground. This is the time period the Christian group signed up for, and their turn is now over, so the next group goes up.

Mennonite minister loses U.S. appeal of kidnapping case conviction. “…upheld the conviction of a Mennonite minister accused of helping a woman flee to Nicaragua with her daughter to evade court orders giving her former lesbian partner visitation rights.”

Texas Gov. censors Bill of Rights; uses fake quotes and fraudulent history to claim atheists ‘promote ignorance and falsehood’.

Liberty Counsel: We Lost Every Legal Battle to Try to Stop Gay Rights, But Send More Money.

Home Arrests Texas Football Player Gets 20-Years In Prison For Killing Transgender…Girlfriend? [Video].

This Week in the Clown Car

Ted Cruz Vows To Break Up Historic Climate Change Agreement If Elected President.

Blood, Sweat and Trump.

Ted Cruz Can’t Decide: Is Gay Marriage a Threat to Democracy, or Not a Priority?

Carson suggests campaign shake-up is coming.

Jeb Abandons Jeb! Trademark.

Donald Trump Signals Support for Vilest Anti-Gay ‘Religious Freedom’ Bill of Our Time: WATCH.

If Trump wins the nomination, prepare for the end of the conservative party. For the first time in a long time George Will has a couple of correct points. But his primary conclusion has a major flaw: the Democrats are the Conservative Party in the U.S., the Republicans are Radical Authoritarians, not Conservatives.

Back to Carson and Trump… and other ideal men!

Ronald Reagan’s Daughter Goes On Tirade Against GOP.

Marco Rubio Doesn’t Like Being Called A Bigot For Acting Like A Bigot.

This week in Other Politics:

The Tunnel-drilling Machine Stuck Beneath Seattle for Two Years has Finally Moved–A Teeny Tiny Bit. The Real Test Will Be When the Machine Breaks Out of Its Access Pit and Into Seattle Soil Next Year..

The Justice Department just shut down a huge asset forfeiture program.

Many U.S. Citizens Will Have to Get a Passport to Fly Domestically. Only 22 states have complied with the post-9/11 Real ID act, and Homeland Security is starting to crack down.

The Thing The Atlantic Didn’t Mention In Its Profile of Nick Hanauer.

Hillary Clinton Seizes on Donald Trump’s Remarks to Galvanize Women.

Farewells:

George Clayton Johnson, co-writer of Logan’s Run and many science fiction TV scripts, has died.

Things I wrote:

Hang your stockings and say your prayers….

Past Christmas or Christmas Past?

Christmas Presence.

Not Yet Christmas.

Videos!

“All I Want For Christmas Is You” MUSIC VIDEO – Steve Grand:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

I Am NOT Black, You are NOT White:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Bernie Sanders explains Trump’s irrational reaction to learning that women go to the bathroom:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Sean Hayes Gets a Sugar High and Lip Syncs Barbra Streisand’s ‘Jingle Bells’:

Embedding doesn’t work except on Facebook, so click here.

Whitney Houston (and Bobbi Kristina) – Little Drummer Boy (HD):

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas – Ella Fitzgerald Jazz Collection:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Billy Idol – 2007 – Winter Wonderland:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

The Christmas Can Can:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Snoopy’s Christmas:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Not Yet Christmas

Alistair Sim meets the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come in the 1951 "Scrooge."

Alistair Sim meets the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come in the 1951 “Scrooge.”

Today is the first day of my husband’s Christmas vacation, while for me it’s the eighth vacation day. As luck would have it, he woke up with a slight fever and other cold symptoms this morning. If it isn’t the same bug I had a couple of weeks ago, then I’ll probably come down with it right about the time I’m suppose to go back to work. Fun, no?

Other than finishing the Christmas Ghost Story (whose title is currently “Whips for the Wicked”) and copy editing, I haven’t gotten any writing done so far this vacation. Some years I manage to get a lot of writing in during my time off for the holiday, but most years are more like this. There are enough things I need to do (finish shopping, mail last minute things, deliver gifts, visit people, clean, cook, change my mind about what we’re cooking a zillion times, watch Christmas movies, sleep in, and spend time just staring at the tree while listening to Christmas music) that very little writing gets done.

That’s okay. One’s mental and creative batteries can get a recharge from at least some of those holiday activities. Being an introvert who does a really good job of faking extroversion, it’s complicated. I get a lot out of spending time with people I love. And I really enjoy those moments when a loved one is overjoyed with a gift you gave them. Heck, I get a charge when I see someone being really excited by a gift someone else gave them. And my time spent with some of my favorite Christmas movies, particularly the ones that make me cry, is good for both my soul and my creative subconscious.

Just this morning I found myself once again explaining to my Aunt Silly, who is probably the biggest extrovert in the family, why I don’t mind having Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with just Michael and I. Yes, I love my friends and family. I enjoyed the time spent with several on Thanksgiving, and everyone who came to the party, and all the visiting I did with family members on Tuesday. And yes, on past Christmases I’ve loved watching my nieces opening presents on Christmas morning with their Grandma. I just don’t need that all the time.

Grandma with myself and my almost-twin cousin.

Grandma with myself and my almost-twin cousin as babies.

And I have to admit, Christmas with the extended family hasn’t been the same since Grandma died. I sometimes miss the big boisterous Christmas Eves when you never knew which shirt-tail relatives would pop in next to say “Merry Christmas” and see everyone. Grandma’s biological children, adopted children, step-children, and honorary children and their kids and grandkids would often make an appearance. Not to mention some of the children and grandchildren of Grandpa’s siblings some of whom still lived nearby. And it really was a wildly extended group.

I remember one day in High School not long after Mom, my sister, and I had moved to southwest Washington (after my parents divorce back in Colorado), a classmate whose name I hadn’t learned, yet, walked up to me and said, “I think we’re cousins.” We weren’t actually related by genetics, it turned out. She was the daughter of the step-son of one of my mom’s adopted father’s sisters. (Say that three times fast!) By the usual definitions, we weren’t cousins, but her entire life she had called my grandmother “Aunt Gertie.” And that was to distinguish Grandma from her other Great-aunt Gertrude, because Grandpa George (Mom’s adopted dad) wasn’t just married to a Gertrude, one of his sisters was also named Gertrude. So she had both an Aunt Gertie and and Aunt Gert.

But what made those big get-togethers work was Grandma. She was happy to see whoever showed up, and her laughter and love poured out and infected all the rest of us. So even when the relative was someone that you couldn’t remember precisely how they were related, they loved Grandma and she loved them, and that made everything feel right. Without the glue of Grandma’s love, some of us are just that awkward person who used to spend some holidays together.

Our lives have drifted in different ways. I’m an out queer guy who votes for Democrats and Greens and Socialists, and then complains that my own choices for elected official are too conservative. That makes me the polar opposite of a bunch of my relatives. That’s not the only way I’m an alien to some of them. Even my cousin who’s an engineer and works for Intel has never quite understood what a Technical Writer/Information Architect actually does, for example.

And don’t get me started on the gulfs between me and some folks on Dad’s side of the family!

I’ve digressed a long way from where I meant to go with this post. It’s nearly Christmas, yet not quite. There are lights on the trees and presents beneath it. Stockings are hung. Soon there will be mulled wine steaming in the kitchen. Cookies will be consumed. The NORAD Santa tracker will be consulted a few times. Carols will be sung. If I play my cards right, I might convince my poor, sick, hobbling-on-crutches husband to kiss under a sprig of mistletoe.

A can’t wait to see what Santa brings us!

Christmas Presence

Edward Woodward as the Ghost of Christmas Present and George C. Scott as Ebenezer Scrooge from the 1984 CBS "A Christmas Carol."

Edward Woodward as the Ghost of Christmas Present and George C. Scott as Ebenezer Scrooge from the 1984 CBS “A Christmas Carol.”

We’re having Christmas at home for just the two of us, this year. And like last year I have the entire week off while my husband has to work for most of the week, so I drove down to Mom’s yesterday to drop off her presents and take her to lunch. I also dropped off presents for one of my sisters, my nieces, my grandniece, an aunt, and a friend that all live in the same town. So there was lots of chatting. It was nice to spend some time with everyone.

There is some new drama going on with some of the family, and I got to tangentially experience a teeny bit of it, but mostly it was just a wonderful day. The drive down was a dream, so it only took about two hours to get there. The drive home was not quite as good. The rain was so bad that for a couple of stretched visibility was severely reduced, and there was a few points that between the wind and the rain it was a bit of a challenge to keep the car in it’s lane. Still, it only took about 3 hours to drive home, so it was still a lot better than a couple of the really awful trips have been.

My aunt didn’t have a tree up. Usually she has a big tree with all blue ornaments, but she decided last year that it was silly to decorate just for herself, so she gave away the artificial tree, all of her lights, and all of her ornaments. And she says she’s been regretting it all month. So her current plan is to buy a new, much smaller artificial tree and some lights and ornaments (particularly if she can find them in after Christmas sales) for next year.

Mom did something similar a couple years ago, although her story was a bit different. My Great-grandma had a small artificial tree which she bought in 1957 or so, and she set it up and decorated it every year until she died in 1975. Then her tree went into storage at Grandma’s for several years. Until some point in the 80s, when my mom was preparing for her first Christmas after getting divorced from my step-dad, and she happened to mention to Grandma that she wasn’t certain she had to time, energy, or money to set up a tree that year. So Grandma showed up at Mom’s house with Great-grandma’s tree. Mom used that tree every year until it literally fell apart while Mom was taking it down four years ago.

Mom was in the process of getting rid of a lot of things and preparing to move to the small town where my sister and several other relatives live at the time. The first place she moved to there was much, much smaller than her previous place, and she decided she didn’t have room for a tree. Then she moved to her current place which is a bit bigger, but she told me that fall, when we were discussing holiday plans, that she hadn’t liked any of the artificial trees she’d found in stores because all the ones in the size she wanted had built-in lights, and that was a no-starter. So I could her to talk about what she wanted, and as she described it, I searched on-line until I found a tree that met all of her specifications. It wasn’t until after I had ordered it that I told her what I had done, and that her tree would arrive later that week.

She had ornaments. She has some that belonged to Great-grandma, and a few that belonged to Grandma, but also a bunch that were made by her own grandkids (my nieces). She says she’s very happy with it. When we were there on Thanksgiving, she had us help her set it up and decorate it. One of her favorite decorations, a blue glittery garland with white snowflakes (which I think had been Grandma’s), was falling apart badly and she was pretty sad about it.

So while I and the youngest niece were hanging ornaments and Michael was sitting with his broken leg propped up, he secretly searched online until he found an identical garland and ordered it for Mom. It showed up a few days later and she sent me excited texts with multiple pictures of it.

Great-aunt Noriko's Santa pin.

Great-aunt Noriko’s Santa pin. (Click to embiggen)

If you haven’t figured out by now what a soppy sentimental person I am, you haven’t been paying attention. For example, back in the early 90s, a co-worker came to me one December with an unusual gift. The co-worker’s name was Noreen, and she had been born and raised in Hawaii. She had been named after her Great-aunt Noriko. And Great-aunt Noriko had owned this very silly plastic Santa brooch or pin. Great-aunt Noriko, she told me, had worn it every Sunday in Advent leading up to Christmas, and would wear it to any holiday parties or get-togethers. Noreen had inherited the pin along with other things when her Great-aunt died, but unlike her aunt, Noreen was Buddhist and didn’t observe Christmas. She said she always felt guilty for not wearing the pin at Christmas time; whereas, I wear jingle bell earrings, Santa hats, and other silly Christmas things during December all the time. So it had occurred to her that I might be willing to wear Great-aunt Noriko’s pin.

I told her I would be honored to, and I meant it. I said as soon as I’d seen the pin, I had been flabbergasted because it was identical to one my one Great-grandmother (the same one whose tree my Mom wound up using for many years) had owned, but I never knew what had happened to it. So I said that of course I would wear Great-aunt Noriko’s pin at Christmas time, and tell people about Great-aunt Noriko who loved Christmas and Santa and so on.

Which is when Noreen told me of the Hawaiian tradition of referring to everyone who is approximately your own age as cousin, and any one who is older as either auntie or uncle as a sign of respect, but also a sign of the Hawaiian belief that all people are one big family. Which of course, we are. So she gave me the pin and told me that I should consider myself Great-aunt Noriko’s honorary nephew. So, for over thirty years I have, every Christmas season, worn Great-aunt Noriko’s pin, in honor of her, and my Great-grandma, and my former co-worker.

Merry Christmas, cousin!

Past Christmas or Christmas Past?

Joel Grey as the Ghost of Christmas Past and Patrick Stewart as Ebenezer Scrooge from the 1999 TNT adaptation of "A Christmas Carol."

Joel Grey as the Ghost of Christmas Past and Patrick Stewart as Ebenezer Scrooge from the 1999 TNT adaptation of “A Christmas Carol.”

Once again we hosted a Holiday Party on the third Saturday in December. And for the third year Michael and I reserved a suite at a hotel about four miles from our place for the purpose. We had a smaller crowd than last year, but it was still a lot of fun.

This year’s party was a milestone in a couple of ways. For me, it’s now been 30 years celebrating Christmas in Seattle with a group of friends that includes Keith and Mark. It has also been 20 years since the first time that I wrote an original Christmas Ghost Story to read at the party. Since the first one was written and read 20 years ago, that means this year’s story was the 21st such tale. I’ve mentioned before (Conjuring the proper ghosts) about the the variations I’ve explored under the notion of a Christmas Ghost story. Several of the tales have been set in a hard science fiction universe and tended to use more metaphorical ghosts, for instance. I’ve written comedic ghosts, dramatic ghosts, grim ghosts, and hopeful ghosts.

This year’s story had a fairy tale approach. It was the fifth or sixth Christmas Ghost Story that I’ve written set in the same universe as my fantasy novels. I’ve described this particular universe as a light fantasy world using anthropomorphic tropes with an epic fantasy wrapper. So the novels have sorcerers and dragons and knights and epic battles. The Ghost Stories have tended to be a lot more intimate. The most recent one before this year’s was a comedic murder mystery in which one of the constables in the City Watch is confronted by a headless ghost on Solstice Eve to kick of the action. This year’s was a more serious tale, and I think for the first time since I started doing this, directly related to one of the others. It’s actually a prequel to a funny Christmas Ghost Story which, it happens, was mostly written originally long-hand while I was staffing a table in the Dealer’s Den of Midwest Furfest.

Me trying the costume before the Halloween Party. For Christmas I had a black belt and wore my round gold-rimmed glasses.

Me trying the costume before the Halloween Party. For Christmas I had a black belt and wore my round gold-rimmed glasses.

I had a costume this year. Michael talked me into getting a Father Christmas costume for our friends’ Halloween party (to go along with a devil costume he got to do a silly pun). He’s been talking about getting me some sort of Santa suit or similar to wear to the Christmas party for a few years. This was wasn’t bad. It needs some more work, if I’m going to use it again.

Anyway, one of the Ghost Story ideas that’s been sitting in my queue for a while involved my fantasy world’s version of Santa, who is “one of the oldest of the dark fae” and goes by the name Grandfather Frost. If you know your cross-cultural history, Grandfather Frost is the usual English translation of the Russian character Ded Moroz, which means literally Old Man Frost. In the original Slavic myths he was a snow demon or a winter wizard—generally a creature to be feared. As the Orthodox Church took hold in those regions, some aspects of Saint Nicholas were grafted onto the character he became more like our Santa.

So, since I had the costume, and since some other aspects of the fantasy novel I’m working on were related to Grandfather Frost, I wound up in late October starting a Ghost Story about the character. I had a good start before NaNoWriMo, so I figured this year the story would be done early for a change. No such luck. I had been hung up at about 1200 words for a few weeks into December before I finally figured out where I was going wrong and got the tale straightened out.

People seemed to enjoy the story. Yay! I need to get a couple of short story collections together and either self-publish them or something.

This week I’m in that weird headspace I often find myself in after the party. Spending time with this group of friends, exchanging gifts, and continuing the Ghost Story Challenge tradition (this year Mark and Edd each had a story ready to read to answer the challenge) feels like my “real” Christmas. So I end up feeling a little weird during the days between the party and actual Christmas day. I keep having to stop myself from asking people how their Christmas went, past tense. Or from wishing strangers a Happy New Year.

Today I need to finish packing up the car to head down to Mom’s where I’m going to deliver presents. If all goes well, I’ll be stopping off at Mom’s, one of my sisters’, my older niece, my aunt, and a friend I haven’t seen in person in many years. It’ll be a bit of a whirl, but should be fun. And I hope I wind up saying “Merry Christmas” enough that I remember that Christmas isn’t quite here, yet.

Happy Solstice! Merry Christmas! And have a great day!

Hang your stockings and say your prayers…

The original Saint Nicholas and his modern avatar.

The original Saint Nicholas and his modern avatar.

One of the weirder arguments I ever got into with a friend was over the song Here Comes Santa Claus. For context, this was back when I was still closeted, and I had met this friend while we were both members of an Evangelical touring teen choir. We got together one day to work on a gaming project, and I was playing Christmas music, which meant that every 40 minutes or so I would have to swap cassette tapes (because this was the stone ages, i.e., the early 1980s). About midway through Bing Crosby’s recording of Here Comes Santa Claus my friend stopped talking and got a weird frown. I asked him what was wrong, and he asked me to wait a minute, he was listening.

While Here Comes Santa Claus isn’t particularly my favorite Christmas song, it is fun to sing, and that particular recording has some fun orchestration, so I thought he was just appreciating the song. When it reached the end he said, “Disgusting!” and launched into a tirade about how secularism was destroying Christmas. Also, how could I listen to such blasphemous music?

The lyrics he objected to first were: “Santa knows that we’re God’s children, that makes everything right.” He felt it was telling children they weren’t going to hell just because Santa said so. Which I could understand where he was coming from, but it seemed more than a bit of a stretch. I pointed out that, first, it’s a children’s song, and second it wasn’t really that different than the sentiments expressed in a lot of hymns. Under the theology of the churches we both attended, if you were a born again Christian, then you were one of God’s children, et cetera.

His angry response was that most of the people who heard this song weren’t saved, though. And it would lead children astray. I quoted the lyrics of a few of his favorite christian songs, and pointed out that they weren’t all that different, but it didn’t mollify him. It just got him even more worked up.

He had other issues, such as the part of the song where it told children to pray to Santa. I pointed out it said no such thing, “Hang your stocking and say your prayers” meant to say your usual bedtime prayers, which lots of children in the sorts of churches we attend were expect to say every night.

Then he jumped to the part that pissed him off most: “Let’s give thanks to the lord above, ’cause Santa Claus comes tonight!” He was really upset about the notion of thanking god for Santa, and seemed to think that was the most blasphemous of all. I asked him how it was blasphemous to thank god for good things that happened, and his response was a rather confusing thing about myths and false gods. It just made no sense to me.

I had been thinking it was all pretty funny up until this point, but he was getting livid. And so I pushed back a bit harder than I probably ought. The girl he was dating (who eventually became his wife) was from a family that went to an even more fervent evangelical church than the one I attended. And they were one of those families who said, “Praise the Lord!” all the time. Any time that anything good happened, one would say, “Praise the Lord!” and the others would chime in with various affirmations.

And I do mean anything. Kid gets a decent grade at school? “Praise the Lord!” Bee buzzes around your head when you’re in the garden, but never stings you? “Praise the Lord!” Car starts (any car, one that is brand new and has never shown any signs of trouble)? “Praise the Lord!” Open a can of soda without it spraying all over everything? “Praise the Lord!” Successfully get the lid of the toothpaste back on the first try? “Praise the Lord!”

They were hardly the first family that did that, but it always had seemed a bit over the top. So, I mentioned them, and asked how it was any different than the song suggesting people thank god for the presents they were going to get on Christmas morning. I went further, and quoted Matthew 6:5, “And when you pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men.” I suggested that his girlfriend’s family—and anyone who was constantly repeating “Praise the Lord!” at every little thing—were being like that: doing it because they wanted people to see them and know how devout they were. So, if he wasn’t objecting to that, he could hardly be justified getting wound up about a children’s Christmas song.

I should point out that I didn’t believe his girlfriend was some egotistical hypocrite. As it happens, I’d known her longer than he had. I’d even dated her, once. She was one of the sweetest people I had ever met. Still is, actually. But he was just so angry at Here Comes Santa Claus that I couldn’t help it. And I did think he was being hypocritical.

The real problem was, I think, that afternoon may have been the first time in his entire life he had heard Here Comes Santa Claus. At least in a setting where he could actually hear all the lyrics. I’d learned some time before that until he joined the touring choir and we started rehearsing our annual Christmas concert that he hadn’t been familiar with really any Christmas songs. His family wasn’t the type to own Christmas albums, or sing carols around the tree, and so on.

Another part was his family had never been religious, at all. He had been raised in a pretty anti-church home, in fact. He’d been converted to Christianity in junior high, after some incidents where he’d gotten into somewhat serious trouble at school. He always seemed to be trying to make up for his supposedly misspent youth. Given that at the time this conversation happened, he was 19 years old, he wasn’t exactly an old man looking back on decades of debauchery, but he could get that crusader’s gleam in his eye sometimes.

I’m sure that he believes that one of the reasons I’m a queer bound for hell now is because I listened to songs such as Here Comes Santa Claus without being offended. Whereas I still can’t wrap my head around how, with all of the pain, suffering, inequality, hunger, and war going on in the world, the things that people like him get most revved up with righteous fury about are Christmas song lyrics or nativity scenes on public property or whether someone says “Merry Christmas” rather than “Happy Holidays.”

As silly as it is, I really think this Christmas carol is a lot closer to the true meaning of Christmas than those war on Christmas screeds:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Friday Links (holiday frenzy edition)

CUX4n3rUAAAtN-kThank goodness it’s Friday. Especially this Friday, because I’m on vacation now, and after the last few weeks I really, really need some time off! Christmas is only a week away, and even though I’m a gay taoist married to a bi wiccan, our house has a big tree covered with ornaments (this year lots of otters, seals, penguins, polar bears, mermen, and starfish) and lights. We’re cooking today for a big holiday party we’re hosting this weekend. And I’m still trying to finish my Christmas Ghost Story in time to read it at the party! Eek! And I have a gazillion presents yet to wrap. Where has the month gone?

Anyway, here are links to some of the interesting things I read on the web this week.

Link of the Week

The “War on Christmas” Cries Overshadow The Daily War On Christ—By Christians. ‘Frankly, I’m tired of annual demands to “keep Christ in Christmas” by Christians who don’t seem particularly interested in keeping Christ in their Christianity the rest of the year (you know: caring for the poor, protecting the marginalized, alleviating suffering, shunning greed, championing equality). I think lots of people are.’

This week in Evil, Greedy People

The 4 worst patents of 2015.

Turing’s reviled Martin Shkreli arrested for alleged securities fraud. This is the jerk who bought a life-saving drug and raised the price 5000%…

How the Las Vegas Review-Journal broke news about its own sale.

This week in Topics Most People Can’t Be Rational About

We Asked A Mass Shooter Why The Hell This Keeps Happening.

This week in Difficult to Classify

Atlantic Challenge: Four men, three legs and 3,000 miles.

The Elf on the Shelf is preparing your child to live in a future police state, professor warns. The article is from last year, and it isn’t a crazy conspiracy, the academic paper referenced is talking about the very real psychological effects the Elf on the Shelf concept has on children. I thought they were creepy before…

Seattle’s 4.5-Foot-Wide ‘Spite House’ Up For Sale.

News for queers and our allies:

Calgary parents update mom’s tattoo to support their transgender son.

This is the story behind that weird gay Robert Dyas Christmas ad.

30 Moments That Made Us Proud In 2015.

LGBTQ: ‘There’s a Real Shift Happening’ in Christianity.

10 Superheroes Who Need to Come Out Right Now.

Happy News!

We Are Gay Atheists, and We Love Christmas.

Science!

Town rejects solar farm for many dumb reasons, including fear the solar panels are stealing energy from nearby trees and gardens.

DEBUNKING THE “CRIMINALS DON’T FOLLOW LAWS” MYTH 2.0: WHY GUN CONTROL WORKS. The problem, these studies show, isn’t that criminals don’t follow laws, but rather that criminals aren’t dissuaded by weak laws.

18 Hybrid Animals That Are Hard To Believe Actually Exist.

The ancestry of a 21st century multi-racial American family.

Butterflies remember a mountain that hasn’t existed for millennia.

Debunking the myth that evolution can’t explain eyeballs.

Smithsonian Scientists Name New Species of Sperm Whale.

Could a Human Not in Our Species Still Exist?

Sail-Backed Dinosaur Fossil Found In Spain.

Science Fiction, Fantasy and Speculation!

Can we talk about Susan Pevensie for a moment?

And another take on the same thing (using the same quote for the title on the web page, but it is a different article) There comes a point where Susan, who was the older girl, is lost to Narnia because she becomes interested in lipstick..

The Quiet Gender Glass Ceiling in Fantasy.

C.S. Lewis Was a Secret Government Agent.

5 Things ‘Star Wars’ Fans Don’t Understand About ‘Star Wars’. A better title might have been: “You can love something while still understanding it’s a product.”

This week in Writing

Sad Puppies and The Goosebumps Rap: The Best and Worst Things to Happen to Literature in 2015.

ScrivenerVirgin Blog: Keeping track?

Red Pen is the home of writers who wish to polish their words ready for exposure to the world.

Writers–Give Yourselves a Break.

Culture war news:

Outrageous story about adopted baby taken from a lesbian couple and given to alleged child abusers.

Parishioners Terrified as Men Interrupt Catholic Masses by Shouting Religious Messages — and It’s All on Video. Note: these are Christians invading another Christian denomination’s service and shouting this slogans.

Austinites turn out in droves for anti-gun ‘mass farting’ protest.

WTF????? Homeless Women and Children Booted by ‘Christian’ from Shelter to Keep Them From ‘Tempting’ Men.

Border Agents Detain U.S. Citizen For 3 Hours For Sketching In Her Notebook.

Unbelief As A Belief System: Core Tenet For Christians’ Fight For Religious Rights.

This Week in the Clown Car

Trump’s brazen rhetoric and willingness to run as an independent may be proof that he was bullshitting us all along.

Finished: Fiorina Iowa Town Hall Event Draws Only 14 People.

Trump Audience Member Yells Nazi Salute as Protester Removed From Las Vegas Rally.

Donald Trump supporter wants to burn a black man alive: “Light the motherf**ker on fire”. And Trump was egging the crowd on…

FACT CHECK: Do Tax Cuts Grow The Economy?

This week in Other Politics:

Deconstructing Israel’s “Self-Defense” Claim and Its Campaign Against the ICC.

You’re more likely to be fatally crushed by furniture than killed by a terrorist.

This Week in Racism

White America’s toxic ignorance: Abigail Fisher, Antonin Scalia and the real privilege that goes unspoken.

Things I wrote:

Weekend update 12/12/2015: Man(un-)splainin’.

Getting nerdy as f— about things we love.

Of course Han shot first!

Videos!

Alton Brown reviews Amazon’s dumbest kitchen gadgets (a lot of people have been sharing this, many arguing with it; I figure I have no room to criticize other people because I have owned numerous unitaskers: coffee maker, coffee grinder, krumkake iron, waffle iron, and so to a lot of people…):

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

BEST NEWS BLOOPERS 2015 (I won’t point out that we still have a few weeks of the year to go…):

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

The Christmas Song with BLAKE and Dame Shirley Bassey:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Santa Baby – Christmas Charity Single – Out of the Blue:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Of course Han shot first!

After re-editing his own movies to change the order of the shot, Lucas was spotted in 2012 wearing a Han Shot First t-shirt on the set of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

After re-editing his own movies to change the order of the shot, Lucas was spotted in 2012 wearing a Han Shot First t-shirt on the set of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. (Click to embiggen)

In the original version of the first Star Wars movie, Han Solo is confronted by an alien named Greedo pointing a gun at him. They have a conversation about the bounty on Han’s head, and how Greedo is here to collect the money Han owes. Han surreptitiously unholsters his own gun under the table, and when Greedo threatens to kill Han if necessary to take his ship as payment, Han kills Greedo.

It was a great scene, shows us a lot about Han’s personality, and was one of the many great homages in the film to scenes from classic Westerns and Noir Detective films.

Then, in later editions, George Lucas re-edited the scene so that Greedo shoots and somehow from nearly point-blank range misses. Then Han shoots after. And thus a meme was born and soon adored a million t-shirts. In more than one interview Lucas claimed that he had always meant that Greedo shot first. Or that Greedo was squeezing the trigger and Han was reacting to that as much as the verbal threat, and so on. But it made no sense to anyone. It seemed clear to everyone that Lucas was trying to make Han seem like more of a stand-up hero or something.

Despite those many interviews with Lucas, the original shooting script explicitly says that Han shoots before Greedo has a chance to make good on his threat. And George was himself seen wearing a Han Shot First t-shirt on the set of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in 2012. I always felt the decision to edit was extremely stupid, and thus felt vindicated by both the script and Lucas’ t-shirt shot. (You can argue that he’s embraced the controversy, or was being ironic, or maybe some fan had given him the t-shirt and he was wearing it to give Harrison a laugh on the set—whatever.)

I felt as if this particular thing had been settled a long time ago, until recently I happened across a reference to the Han Shot First “controversy” on the blog of a Sad Puppy supporter. At first he seemed to be making the case that Lucas’ decision to re-edit the scene was in response to pressure from the forces of political correctness (side note: I need to find that web browser plug-in that changes all references in articles to Political Correctness to “treating people with respect,” since the only thing that causes folks to accuse other people of being PC is when they are called out for failing to treat others with respect). But then the blog went on to claim that Social Justice Warriors prefer the second edit. He claims that he has been told (I think the actual term was “screamed at by SJWs”) that he’s an immoral person for thinking that Han shot first.

For the record, I am clearly a Social Justice Warrior supporter, and I have always argued (sometimes vehemently) that Han Shot First. And every feminist, pro-equality fan that I know personally who has ever expressed an opinion about the original Star Wars movie has also insisted that Han Shot First, and often just as vehemently as I do.

And Han shooting first isn’t an immoral choice!

He’s being held at gunpoint. Greedo makes it clear that if Han puts up a fight, he’ll kill Han. He threatens to take Han’s ship, which is his livelihood. When Han says “over my dead body” Greedo indicates he’ll really enjoy killing Han. BANG!

It’s a clear and unequivocal threat to Han’s life. He’s not just threatened with deadly force, it’s right there pointed at him. So he reacts with deadly force of his own. Is it the way Ghandi or Buddha or Mother Teresa would have handled it? No. Is it the way Sam Spade (or any other character Humphry Bogart played in many noir movies) would have handled it? Absolutely! It shows us that Han is a person that will do whatever it takes to protect himself and what’s his. It shows us he thinks on his feet. It shows us he has good survival instincts. It shows us that he can appear charming if necessary, but is more than capable of killing an opponent and carrying on.

And more importantly, it sets things up so it is both a genuine surprise when Han flies in to the rescue at the end, while at the same time making it believable that he would find a way to fly in through all that ship to ship fighting and get where he needed to be to save someone that he’s decided is a friend.

I can be the kind of person who believes that non-violent solutions are better than resorting to senseless violence, and at the same time recognize that in some circumstances, violence may be the least worst option. So, yeah. Han shot first. And it was a right thing to do. It doesn’t make him a saint. But not all heroes are. And we can cheer for flawed heroes when they do the right thing.

%d bloggers like this: