Archive | May 2016

Evil Captain America and other bad writing hacks

The cover of the very first appearance in any comic of Captain America shows him punching out Adolf Hitler, in case there was any doubt whose side he was on.

The cover of the very first appearance in any comic of Captain America (March 1941) shows him punching out Adolf Hitler, in case there was any doubt whose side he was on. (click to embiggen)

So, in the latest edition of the official comic book adventures of the original Captain America, Steve Rogers, the writers (and editors and surely a few other powers that be at the comic book subsidiary of the massive Marvel/Disney conglomerate) decided to publish the shocking plot twist that Steve Rogers has been an evil double agent all along! And by the initial reactions they have had to the less-than-happy reaction of at least some of the public, they seem to be taking great glee in this “amazing” and “clever” twist which they had to take in order to keep the story “fresh” and “relevant.”

This twist is neither fresh, clever, nor amazing. The most polite way to describe it would be as click-bait. And as Jessica Plummer pointed out in a post on Panels.Net (ON STEVE ROGERS #1, ANTISEMITISM, AND PUBLICITY STUNTS), it’s not just ordinary click-bait, it’s using the deaths of the 11 million victims of the Nazi Holocaust as click-bait, which means that it is a bigoted publicity stunt, at that.

I’m not saying that the writers intentionally set out the make an anti-semitic (not to mention homophobic and white supremacist) statement. What I’m talking about is the thoughtless bigotry of people who don’t recognize their own privilege nor the inherent unconscious bigotry that permeates our culture at large. The only people who think that someone who is admired as a hero being revealed to actually be a villain is a surprise are people who have never personally experience systemic prejudice. As Sashayed pointed out in a blog post a few days ago:

There is a particular kind of shock that comes with discovering that someone you care about holds a belief or set of beliefs that is dehumanizing to you personally, if not actually – LOL!! – inimical to your existence. Many if not most women have suffered and weathered this shock. Many people of color have. Many LGBT people have. Relevantly to this specific discussion, MANY Jewish people have. It is not Shocking to anyone in an unprivileged cultural position that someone you like, someone you care about, someone who is a “hero,” even someone you thought cared about YOU, can be revealed to have been metaphorically Working Against You All Along. Nobody thinks it’s fucking SURPRISING that you CAN’T TRUST ANYBODY to be on your side! Of course you can’t! You just adjust to that and try to get through your life in spite of it. No shit, white dudes.

From my own personal experience, I would amend “Many LGBT people have” to “nearly every single LGBT person ever.” As Solarbird commented, elaborating on Sashayed’s observations:

I’ve had three people – three people – that I thought were various degrees of friend start posting things from anti-queer groups just this spring. This “ha ha really evil” thing is fucking routine. One of them was even one of the tiny, tiny number of Christians I’ve always brought up to myself whenever I’ve tried to tell myself, “they’re not all like this, they’re not all like this, remember, there’s X and Y and Z” and SURPRISE! X IS TOTALLY WILLING TO POST ANTI-QUEER MEMES AND DEFEND THAT! so I’ve just been through this again recently.

Hell, I’ve been through this so many times it almost – almost – doesn’t even faze me anymore. (Well, okay, X did, and I have now learned that lesson.) It’s more a matter of, “okay, move this one to “Surprise Explicit Enemy” category, and two more to add to the absolutely do not trust list.“

If you’re queer in this society, you have to keep lists like that, you see. It sucks.
So yeah, this is not new to my life, and more of it is the opposite of shocking. It’s more just…

…one more goddamned disappointment. Of which I have had enough.

In case the message wasn't clear in issue #1, the creators of Captain America, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, had Cap attacking Hitler on the cover of the second issue of the comic, as well.

In case the message wasn’t clear in issue #1, the creators of Captain America, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, had Cap attacking Hitler on the cover of the second issue of the comic, as well. (Click to embiggen)

One of my experiences along this line was a friend who had been arguing emphatically on a particular public forum for a law that would “quarantine” all gay men in “medical camps” (this was back in the late 90s or early 00s); when other people pointed out she was being homophobic, she actually named me as one of her gay friends whose existence proved that she wasn’t a bigot! She didn’t hate me, she just firmly believed that every single gay, lesbian, and bisexual person was deeply and incurably mentally ill, and that we needed to be locked up for our own good. But she wasn’t a bigot.

Or the many times my aunt who regularly posts articles and memes and so forth saying that god is going to destroy america because of marriage equality or queer rights or trans people using public bathrooms, and then sends disappointed messages wondering why I and my husband don’t visit more often. And how can I say she’s bigoted? She loves me and all of her gay and lesbian friends, and has said so many times.

So, yes, don’t color me surprised by this shocking and tone-deaf development.

And there’s more. I reblogged some observations on Tumblr that it is very telling that the producers of Captain America are quite willing to make him a Nazi or Hydra double agent, but remain adamant that the character couldn’t possibly be bisexual. Equally telling is that the same fanboys who come out in angry droves when someone posts fan art or fic that depicts Cap as bisexual, have remained completely silent at this revelation that Cap has been secretly a Nazi all along. Someone felt the need to admonish me about that, because “making this about queer representation is dismissive of the persecution of Jewish people.”

No. No it is not. First of all, we can be upset about more than one aspect of an egregiously bad storytelling decision. We can point out that it is both anti-semitic and racist towards various people of color. We can point out that a situation is anti-semitic, racist, homophobic, and sexist all at the same time. Mentioning one or more of the problematic aspects doesn’t erase or diminish any of the others.

Furthermore, reducing a comment about homophobia (and the linkage between it and other bigotry) to the phrase “representation” is a form of erasure. It’s playing oppression olympics, saying that one group is more oppressed than another. It’s saying we can’t talk about homophobia until all other “more important” issues have been utterly solved.

And that’s pure B.S.

Besides, I hate to have to be the one to point this out, dear anonymous Tumblr commenter, but those 11 million victims of the Nazis you mentioned? That included between 5,000 and 15,000 gay men. In fact, homosexuals were among the very first groups targeted for internment in the camps by the Nazis in 1933. Even worse, when the allies liberated the camps, while prisoners who had been locked up because they were Jewish or Roma or biracial and so forth were set free? The homos were transferred to regular prisons.

The death toll of the Nazi camps also included nearly a quarter million Roma (who were targeted as an ethnic group), tens of thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses (the denomination was identified as an enemy of the Aryan race relatively early because of its public resistance to the racist policies of the Nazis), biracial people, and pretty much every ethnic group the Nazis didn’t consider Aryan. They also locked up a lot of white folks for the horrific crime of being married to someone that wasn’t Aryan, having had children with someone who wasn’t Aryan, and so on. This gets to the real reason I made the link between the refusal to consider that Steve Rogers might be bi and anti-semitism:

The bigotries tend to go hand in hand. If someone is homophobic, that’s a very good indicator they are also sympathetic to misogynist ideas, racist notions, and yes, anti-semitic assumptions, too. If supposedly heroic people being bigots comes of no surprise to many of us, the fact that people who are homophobic are bigoted toward a lot of other groups should come as even less of a surprise.

I understand this is a comic book, and that comics have a long tradition of rescinding storylines or retroactively changing continuity whether it be telling us in a few issues it was all a clever plot to trick some of the bad guys, or that it is really a Skrull shapeshifter pretending to be Captain America, or some other hand-waving. If that’s what they had in mind all along, that makes it even more of a cheap trick. It’s a publicity stunt that tramples on the history of a character that was created by two Jewish men: Joe Simon (born Hymie Simon) and Jack Kirby (birth name Jacob Kurtzberg) explicitly as not merely an anti-Nazi symbol, but as the embodiment of what they thought were some of the most noble aspirations of the human heart.

I’m not saying the writers don’t have a right to tell this story. I’m not arguing for censorship. I’m simply pointing out what it was a bad choice. I’ve tried to explain why it isn’t a clever or creative plot twist, but rather a dickish stunt. It’s disrespectful of the audience. It is using the horrible murders of 11,000,000 humans as clickbait. And it is a bad choice artistically. As Pablo Picasso said:

The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.

This is trampling the hopes of some people in the dust of mockery in order to try to make yourself look clever. That isn’t art at all.

Memorials, reposting

I noticed this morning on the Washington Post web site that Valerie Strauss has republished the article she’s been publishing for a few years now on both Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day: Why Memorial Day is different from Veterans Day. And while I am all for any effort to prevent people from turning every single even moderately patriotic holiday into a variant of Veteran’s Day, I have a quibble.

She leaves out the fact that before the first official federal observation of a Memorial Day, at Arlington National Cemetery back in 1868, there was another holiday observed in many parts of the country—long before the Civil War—called Decoration Day, which was a day to have family reunions and celebrate the lives of all of our deceased family members. And my Grandmother was someone who observed that version faithfully her whole life, long before the official creation of the modern Memorial Day with the Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1968.

I tried to simply reblog the earlier entry, but apparently because it has been reblogged by myself before, WordPress won’t let me. So I’ll republish the entire thing below. If you don’t want to read about me and my mom crying at Grandma’s grave, you can skip to my post about my absent-minded coffee cup issues from earlier today: A cup, a cup, a cup, a cup, a cup… boy! instead.

Anyway, for Grandma (originally posted on Memorial Day 2014):

Memorial, part 2

copyright 2014 Gene Breshears

Flowers for Grandma’s grave.

Grandma always called it by the older name, Decoration Day. As I’ve written before, the original holiday was celebrated in many states as a day to gather at the grave sites of your parents, grandparents, et cetera, to honor the memory of their lives. It was often a time of picnics and family reunions. At least as much a celebration of their lives as a time of mourning. The connection to military deaths didn’t happen until 1868, and particularly in the south, was often seen as a pro-Union, pro-war, anti-southern celebration.

I didn’t understand most of those nuances when I was a kid. The modern version of the holiday, celebrated on the last Monday in May, didn’t even exist until I was a fifth-grader, when the Uniform Monday Holiday Act went into effect.

Grandma observed it faithfully. Every year, as May rolled around, she would begin calling distant relatives and old family friends. Grandma knew where just about every person descended from her own grandparents was buried, and she made certain that someone who lived nearby was putting flowers on the graves of those relatives by Memorial Day. She took care of all the family members buried within a couple hours drive of her home in southwest Washington.

She was putting flowers on the grave of my Great-aunt Maud (Grandma’s sister-in-law) seven years ago on the Friday before Memorial Day when she died. My step-grandfather said he was getting in position to take a picture of her beside the grave and the flowers (there are hundreds and hundreds of photos of Grandma beside graves with flowers on them in her photo albums) when she suddenly looked up, said, “I don’t feel good!” and pitched over.

One weekend she had blown out the candles on the cake celebrating her 84th birthday. The following Friday, while putting flowers on Great-aunt Maud’s grave, she died. And one week after that a bunch of us were standing at her graveside. It was just down to a few family members, and we were at that stage where you’re commenting on how pretty the flowers that so-and-so that no one had heard from in years were, when someone asked, “Isn’t grandpa’s grave nearby?”

Grandpa had died 23 years earlier, and was buried in one of a pair of plots he and Grandma had bought many years before. And after Grandma re-married, she and our step-grandfather had bought two more plots close by.

Anyway, as soon as someone asked that, my step-grandfather’s eyes bugged out, he went white as a sheet, and said, “Oh, no!” He was obviously very distressed as he hurried toward his car. Several of us followed, worried that he was having some sort of medical issue.

Nope. He and Grandma had been driving to various cemeteries all week long before her death, putting silk-bouquets that Grandma had made on each relative’s grave. Aunt Maud’s was meant to be the next-to-the-last stop on their journey. Grandpa’s silk flower bouquet was still in the trunk of the car. My step-grandfather was beside himself. He’d cried so much that week, you wouldn’t have thought he could cry any more, but there he was, apologizing to Grandma’s spirit for forgetting about the last batch of flowers, and not finishing her chore—for not getting flowers on Grandpa George’s grave by Memorial Day.

The next year, several of us had the realization that without Grandma around, none of us knew who to call to get flowers put on Great-grandma and Great-grandpa’s graves back in Colorado. None of us were sure in which Missouri town Great-great-aunt Pearl was buried, let alone who Grandma called every year to arrange for the flowers. Just as we weren’t certain whether Great-great-aunt Lou was buried in Kansas or was it Missouri? And so on, and so on. One of my cousins had to track down the incident report filed by the paramedics who responded to our step-grandfather’s 9-1-1 call just to find out which cemetery Great-aunt Maud was in.

copyright 2014 Gene Breshears

Flowers from us, Mom, and my Aunt Silly on Grandpa’s grave.

Mom and her sister have been putting flowers on Grandma’s and Grandpa’s graves since. Our step-grandfather passed away three years after Grandma, and he was buried beside her.

Some years before her death, Grandma had transferred the ownership of the plot next to Grandpa to Mom. So Mom’s going to be buried beside her dad. Mom mentions it whenever we visit the graves, and I don’t know if she realizes how much it chokes me up to think about it.

We had put the flowers in place. We had both taken pictures. Mom always worries that she won’t remember where Grandpa’s grave is (it’s seared in my head: two rows down from Grandma, four stones to the south). Michael helped Mom take a wide shot picture that has both Grandma’s and Grandpa’s spots in it.

I thought we were going to get away with both of us only getting a little teary-eyeed a few times, but as we were getting back into the car, Mom started crying. Which meant that I lost it.

Grandma’s been gone for seven years, now. But every time we drive down to visit Mom, there is a moment on the drive when my mind is wandering, and I’ll wonder what Grandma will be doing when we get there. And then I remember I won’t be seeing her. It took me about a dozen years to stop having those lapses about Grandpa. I suspect it will be longer for Grandma. After all, she’s the one who taught me the importance of Those Who Matter

A cup, a cup, a cup, a cup, a cup… boy!

"Now, where in the heck did I leave my glasses?" This is a frightening accurate representation of the author.

“Now, where in the heck did I leave my glasses?” This is a frightening accurate representation of the author.

Absent-mindedness manifests in many ways. For instance, my coffee cup. When I was younger, I would often lose track of my current cup. I would spend time looking for it, and then conclude that maybe I was simply mis-remembering having poured a cup at all. I’d grab a mug from the cabinet, fill it up, head back to whatever I was working on. About a third of the time I’d sit down with the cup and hear a clink as I tried to set the second on top of the first mug, which I was absolutely certain hadn’t been in that spot on the desk just five minutes before. But there is was, half full.

Other times I would work for a while, then get up to retrieve a book from another room, or run to the bathroom, or something similar, and I’d find the first mug, sitting in an odd location, half full and gone completely cold. Some days I’d wind up with three or more mugs scattered around the house.

I was only able to reduce the occurrence of that problem by adopting the practice of using only my favorite mug for coffee. If I couldn’t find the coffee near me where I expected it, I’d keep searching until I found that mug.

Of course, it isn’t always coffee. I currently have a second favorite mug, and I use it for tea. If I decide to make tea, I go find my Queen of Everything mug, pick out a tea bag from my rather frightening collection, turn of the electric kettle portion of my coffee maker, and then make a cup.

Sometimes I get in the mood for tea and forget that I still have a half a cup of coffee sitting around somewhere. I usually find it a bit later, and half the time I don’t even realize it until I pick up the mug, take a sip expecting tea, and I get room temperature coffee instead. Never mind that my favorite coffee mug is mug bigger, is a different shape, and a completely different color from the tea mug. When I’m in the middle of something, I don’t notice any of that.

But that isn’t the end of it. Some afternoons or evenings, I’ll have a craving for some soda. So I’ll grab a can of La Croix, or a bottle of Dry Soda, or some other low- or no-sugar sparkling drink, open it, and drink half of it before I realize that I already have a half-finished mug of tea or coffee… and sometimes half a mug of each.

And then there are the evenings I decide to make myself a cocktail, or have a glass of wine. Yes, some times I have had the embarrassing moment when I reach for my beverage, and realize that within reach of me there is a half-full cocktail glass, a half can of soda, a half bottle of iced tea, a half mug of coffee, and a half mug of tea. Not often, but some nights…

“The Java Jive” (Ink Spots, 1940):

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

Weekend Update 5/28/2016: Haters show true colors

"The call volume for Trans Lifeline [suicide hotline] has doubled since HB2 was passed. This shitty law has a body count."

“The call volume for Trans Lifeline [suicide hotline] has doubled since HB2 was passed. This shitty law has a body count.” (Click to embiggen)

Last week I skipped a bunch of links I’d gathered for my weekly Friday Links post because I was getting a little too outraged just reading some of the headlines. I wound up including four of them in the follow-up post, along with a bit of better news related to one of them.

This week wasn’t quite as bad, but I also made an effort to spend less time browsing certain news sites just to avoid a bit of that. And this time I missed a couple of links that I meant to include, but somehow omitted:

Why the conservative war against transgender rights is doomed to fail lays out nicely why demographics are already against them. Yes, they’re winning some victories and causing more than a bit of pain, but they also have less public support than they believe. Even in North Carolina, which is fighting hard to protect its anti-trans law, less than half the voters support said law.

But crazy people will continue to say crazy things: Louie Gohmert: No Gay Space Colonies! I wasn’t aware that anyone was proposing a queer space colony, but Texas Republican Louis Gohmert is ready to stand agains this imminent threat. He says if Earth is ever under threat of destruction by an asteroid, Congress needs to make sure we don’t waste any resources putting queer people or queer animals on the space ark. Never mind that Gohmert has voted the gut the space program time and again, so the likelihood that if we detected such a threat that we would be able to assemble and launch such an ark in the time we had is exceedingly low.

And for anyone who is trotting out the argument that queer folks aren’t oppressed in our society, or at least are much less so than other groups, let’s remember that this happened this week: U.S. House Republicans read ‘death to gays’ Bible verse before voting against LGBT rights law. He was actually leading the caucus in a prayer, and quoting from a translation of the Bible that converts some text that in the original greek does not explicitly reference homosexuality into rather explicit hate speech. So this congressman was actually publicly praying for the death of gay people. And while some Republicans walked out of the meeting in protest, most didn’t. And as noted in this article, when contacted for comments, not one single Republican has apologized.

But they don’t hate us. How can we possible think that?

Friday Links (diabetic mice edition)

Fatmouse-640x435It’s Friday! The final Friday in May already. Yeesh! I’m not quite ready for the year to be half over. It’s also nearly June, and my annual project of creating the perfect Pride Playlist for my iPhone is not going quite as well as it ought, in part because of a weird issue that has popped up with a small number of tracks in my library which has resulted in me filing very complicated trouble tickets with Apple. But the real problem is that I can’t quite figure out what mood to go for this year. This might be one of the years where I make two lists with very different, uh, textures.

Meanwhile, here are links to some of the interesting things I read on the web this week, sorted into various topic areas.

Links of the Week

The Wonderful and Terrible Habit of Buying Too Many Books.

WINNING, LOSING, AND PARTICIPATING: SHUT UP ABOUT THE TROPHY.

And other news:

The Bible is #2 on This List of the Best Books Ever. Guess What’s #1?

Peter Thiel, Gawker, and Freedom of Speech. “I, for one, don’t dispute Peter Thiel’s right to back Hogan’s case. I simply think he’s an asshole for doing it, and a coward for having attempted to do it in secret.”

On Peter Thiel and Gawker. “The notion that Thiel or any one percenter could wage a war of attrition against a media outlet with the intent of destroying it for slights real or perceived should be horrifying to anyone who believes that freedom of the press is a necessary condition for an open society…”

No Road is Big Enough for a Beyoncé Concert.

Five Years Later, Harold Camping’s Followers Are Still Predicting the End of the World.

This Week in Tech

One Week without iTunes: the Results.

This week in Health

What You Need to Know About ‘Smiling Depression’.

Gluten-free ≠ healthier.

This Week in Diversity

ON STEVE ROGERS #1, ANTISEMITISM, AND PUBLICITY STUNTS. “I am not angry because omg how dare you ruin Steve Rogers forever. I am angry because how dare you use eleven million deaths as clickbait.”

Good People Often Stay Closeted. Good People Sometimes Stay Silent.

‘Normal America’ Is Not A Small Town Of White People. Demographics and other fun facts.

NSFW: Sexing the wheelchair (Part 2) – Disabled clients and the saviour complex.

This Week in Inappropriate Machismo

This Black Mom Perfectly Nails What’s Wrong With Dads Posing in Prom Pictures With Guns.

This week in awful news

Man in Mississippi jail 11 years without trial.

News for queers and our allies:

LGBTI kids are now protected from conversion therapy in Vermont.

Give Captain America a Boyfriend: The Campaigns to Make Disney’s Big Franchises More Gay-Friendly.

Picking Clothes Is Never Easy, Especially for Gender-Nonconformers.

Science!

Thousands of bees chased this car for 2 days looking for their queen.

Scientist who wants to ‘regenerate’ 20 brain-dead patients deluged with warnings of a zombie apocalpyse.

The Long History Behind the Reburial of ‘Kennewick Man’.

What will happen when Mount Rainier erupts?.

Scientists find cure for type 2 diabetes in rodents, don’t know how it works.

A survey of more than 216,000 adolescents from all 50 states indicates the number of teens with marijuana-related problems is declining. Similarly, the rates of marijuana use by young people are falling despite the fact more US states are legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana use and the number of adults using the drug has increased.

This bizarre sea monster shows how strange life gets after an apocalypse.

A controversial theory may explain the real reason humans have allergies.

Raccoon hands are nature’s most wonderful and terrifying appendages.

Science Fiction, Fantasy and Speculation!

Sad Puppies Review Books: Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel.

Satirical erotica author Chuck Tingle’s massive troll of conservative sci-fi fans, explained. Right-wing sci-fi writers tried to delegitimize the Hugo Awards by nominating a writer no one took seriously. Here’s how he took them all by surprise.

How a Game of Thrones hashtag sparked a debate over ownership, linguistics, and cultural appropriation.

This week in Writing

AUTHOR ROSANNE PARRY ON THE BENEFITS OF READING LEVELS.

What’s Wrong With Inkitt’s “Publishing Contest” – A Partial List.

Ask the Agent: what are your thoughts on a white girl (for example) writing a “diverse” story from the POV of a character of color?

This Week in History

Ronald Reagan’s legacy of poverty and death.

This Week in Fighting Back in the Culture War:

How Do You Solve the Problem of Gendered Bathrooms? This Capitol Hill Brewery May Have an Answer.

Screaming Christian in Target Store is Confronted by Customer, Then Escorted Out By Security.

Culture war news:

Honest Error or Homophobic Humiliation? What Really Happened to the Gay Men’s Chorus at Petco Park?

Archdale (NC) Officials End Jersey Sponsorship Program After Businesses Put Bible Verses on Shirts.

The bathroom issue has turned 2016 into a very important election for LGBTQ rights.

LGBT divide grows as 11 states sue feds over transgender bathroom rule.

I’m trans and I want to stop talking about toilets.

Tennessee Activist’s Documentary Will Draw a Line Directly from Church Sermons to Anti-LGBT Laws.

Church Funding Anti-Trans Attack Tells Evangelicals “It Ain’t Over”.

Too gay for TV? Get used to it, honey.

2 Church Pastors Among 32 Arrested in Sting Operation Offering Sex With Teens.

This week in Politics:

I’m Voting For The Democrat In November Because I’m Not A Human Tire Fire.

EXPOSED: Trump Fans Divide Democrats By Posing As Sanders And Hillary Supporters Online.

One Of The Most Aggressive Gerrymanders In The Country Just Lost In The Supreme Court.

If You’re A Woman Or A Minority, America Was Never Great.

Calm Down: House Republicans Didn’t Just Challenge President Obama on Federal LGBT Discrimination.

Farewells:

Alan Young dies at 96; star of TV’s ‘Mister Ed’.

Things I wrote:

Weekend Update 5/21/2016: Ringtone Rhapsody and Beyond.

Farewell to Camden County.

A cup, a cup, and a cup….

Out of Body Vacations – more of why I love sf/f.

Videos!

Frankmusik – Turnin’:

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

Justs – Heartbeat (Latvia) 2016 Eurovision Song Contest:

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

Out of Body Vacations – more of why I love sf/f

Cover of the May 1976 edition of Galaxy Magazine, which is where I probably first read Varley's “Overdrawn at the Memory Bank.”

Cover of the May 1976 edition of Galaxy Magazine, which is where I probably first read Varley’s “Overdrawn at the Memory Bank.” (Click to embiggen)

In the spring of 1976 I still had a subscription to Galaxy magazine, thanks to my grandparents, though things were not going terrible well in my life at that time, so I didn’t always get all the way through one issue before the next came in. So I might not have read it until some months, after my parents’ divorce was final, and Mom, my sister, and I moved 1200 miles away. I definitely remember owning the magazine with this cover. This issue contained the story, “Overdrawn at the Memory Bank” by John Varley.

Varley was the author of “Picnic on the Near Side” which I wrote about before, and which made quite an impression on me. This story is set in a similar world, with extensive colonies on the moon. It concerns a man named Fingal how has purchased a vacation at one of the “disneylands” which was large lunar caves that have been made to duplicate long lost environments on earth, complete with cloned wildlife. Fingal’s memory and personality are transferred from his brain into a cube, which is then implanted in a lioness so that Fingal can experience the life of a predator on the savannah.

Something goes wrong, and Fingal finds himself back in his own life sooner than expected, and strange things keep happening, such as books rewriting themselves before his eyes to become messages to him. He eventually learns that his body has someone been misplaced, so the memory cube has been put into a safety mode, interfacing with a computer which is creating a simulation of his real life. Messages come to him from a technician named Apollonia Joachim who explains that the simulation is necessary to keep his memories and personality intact until it can be returned to his body.

As the days stretch into weeks, Fingal starts taking classes in the simulation to teach himself new skills to get a better job when he does get back. Strange things happen, as the technician tries to keep him focused. In one incident, Fingal notices strange patterns in the floor tiles in his bathroom, and starts tracing them with his toe, suddenly the bathroom fills up with money. Fingal’s consciousness had somehow gotten into someone’s financial records. Apollonia warns him about losing himself again and again.

Over the months that follow, Fingal finds himself falling in love with Apollonia, and making plans for a future together.

Eventually Fingal is reunited with his body, and then learns that what felt like years to him in the simulation was only six hours, because his thoughts were moving at computer speed while connected. Ms Joachim has only been interfacing with him for a few hours, and doesn’t share his feelings.

The simulated classes he took did result in real learning, so he does have new skills and can pursue a more interesting job. Plus, of course, he gets a refund on the vacation and a lump sum settlement from the company. He’s informed that other people who suffered similar accidents have not always fared so well, and he’s the first person two survive six hours outside the memory cube’s normal limit.

Varley didn’t win an award for this particular story. He did win a Special Locus award the year this was published for having four novelettes, including this story, voted in the top ten in the Locus Reader Awards.

The story was adapted badly into a movie that changed a lot of things for no particular reason. Avoid the movie. The story isn’t action packed, but is more focused on the internal conflicts of a man unhappy with his life who is forced to stay there even if it is simulated. The notion being that if they allow his fantasies to run wild while his personality is in the memory cube, he will go mad and forget who he really is.

I enjoyed the story a lot. The notion that it’s the boring and repetitive parts of our lives that anchor our identities wasn’t terribly revolutionary, but it was interesting to see how this sort of technology might play out without any world-threatening peril giving it at artificial sense of danger. Really, who needs a bigger threat than literally losing your mind to provide a sense of dramatic tension?

One odd side note: I always get this story mixed up with another Varley tale, “The Phantom of Kansas.” They’re both set in the same fictional future world (the Kansas in the title of the second story is an artificial recreation of the midwestern plains of North America in another Lunar cave), and both stories involve stored personalities, but otherwise the plots have nothing to do with each other. The simple fact is that I think the title “Overdrawn at the Memory Bank” would have been better for the second story as it evokes a metaphor for the central plot better than the notion of a phantom. So there has been more than one occasion when I’ve pulled out an anthology, such as my hardcover copy of Wolheim’s 1977 World’s Annual Best Science Fiction, see the title of Varley’s story, turn to it expecting to read the other story, and then as I read the opening paragraphs remember that I always get them mixed up.

Oddly, I own more than one anthology that includes “Overdrawn at the Memory Bank,” but absolutely none that include the other story. I need to fix that.

A cup, a cup, and a cup…

My favorite coffee mug in it's natural habitat: a bookshelf within reach of my favorite chair.

My favorite coffee mug in it’s natural habitat: a bookshelf within reach of my favorite chair.

So I drink a lot of coffee. And when I’m at home on a work-from-home day or a weekend, I typically make a pot in the morning, fill up my mug, drink only some of it before I decide it needs a warmup, so I top it off. How many cups of coffee do I drink, then? Is it one long cup, or is it twelve? Except my cup is rather large, so how do we count by the cup or by the cup?

It has long amused me that coffee pots still measure the amount of coffee in the carafe by a measuring cup. One cup of liquid equals half a pint, which means 1/16th of a gallon. But at no time when I have own a coffee maker, have I ever drank coffee from a drinking cup that holds just one measuring cup’s worth of coffee. Most people drink from a coffee mug that holds nearly two measuring cup’s worth of coffee in a single serving.

l to r: A coffee mug of the size most people seem to use, a classic teacup, and then my favorite coffee mug.

l to r: A coffee mug of the size most people seem to use, a classic teacup, and then my favorite coffee mug. (Click to embiggen)

My current favorite home mug is bigger still. It’s the purple one in this picture. The little teacup in the middle is the kind of cup that the coffee pot manufacturers seem to think that people still use for drinking coffee. The mug on the left is one of my old favorites. At one time it was my office mug. I brought it home because a co-worker was weirded out that a man liked to drink coffee from a mug that said “The Queen of Everything.” Never mind that I was an openly gay man, it still freaked at least one person out. So it was a mug I often drank coffee or tea from at home for years after that. Until I found the large purple one.

The coffee pot right after making a full put. Not that the liquid goes up the the 12 mark.

The coffee pot right after making a full put. Not that the liquid goes up the the 12 mark.

My current coffee maker includes a carafe which claims to hold 12 cups of liquid. And it certainly looks like a huge amount of coffee when I first make a pot in the morning. Twelve measuring cups is three quarts, and three quarts of coffee seems like a lot. Right?

You would expect that anyone who would drink 12 cups of coffee in a single day would be vibrating, I suppose. Maybe even vibrate so fast that I open a portal to an alternate universe and pass right through. All that caffeine in one person is bound to make one at least a bit manic. I remember a historian once mentioning that one of the prominent figures of the Enlightenment recorded in his journals (in which among other things he kept careful account of his household expenditures) of some weeks drinking 40 cups of tea a day. The historian said, “No wonder all those guys wrote so much and discovered so much. You try drinking 40 cups of tea and see whether you’re up all night having all sorts of exiting ideas bouncing around your head!”

I filled up my favorite mug exactly once, and look how the coffee level has dropped!

I filled up my favorite mug exactly once, and look how the coffee level has dropped!

However, when I pour coffee out of the carafe to fill my favorite mug, note that the coffee level has dropped down to just below the 9 mark. So my favorite coffee cup holds three cups of coffee. Which means that if I drink the whole pot, while one could say that I drank 12 measuring cups of coffee, it’s only actually four refills of my coffee mug. So, do I drink 12 or 4 cups in a single day?

Well, there’s at least one more complication I haven’t told you. Periodically over the course of the day, whenever I notice that the carafe is less than half full, I pour about three cups of water (using an aluminum pitcher I keep nearby for reasons) into the reservoir and kick-off a new percolation cycle, letting the machine top off the pot. I confess that when I do this, I don’t grind fresh coffee beans, I just let the new hot water go through the grounds that I put in in the morning. This probably makes me a freak or a loon in the opinions of some hard-care coffee fanatics. I usually only do this twice in a day.

So, that would indicate that I actually drink about 18 measuring cup’s worth of coffee a day, right?

Well… the truth is, I usually stop in the early evening, and there is usually still coffee in the pot at least up to the 4 cup line when I do. So let’s call it 14 measuring cups again. That’s enough to completely fill my bit mug four times, and nearly a fifth afterward.

I’ve left out one more wrinkle that applies to work-from-home days. When I first get up on a work-from-home day, I do my meds and some of the other morning routines quickly, including making coffee, so I can drive my husband in to his place of work. As a treat for myself, I grab a small can of coffee drink, either a Starbucks Double-shot Lite, or there’s another brand that has a Salted Caramel flavored coffee drink in a small aluminum can. Both types claim to have the equivalent of two shots of espresso in the drink.

I pour one of these cans into a travel mug, which fills it a bit over half full, then top it off with coffee from the pot. That’s my “latte” for the drive in. I usually drink about half of it in the trip. When I get back home, I pour the remainder into my big purple mug, and top it off with hot coffee. The Starbucks’ can holds 6.5 ounces. The other brand’s can holds 7 ounces. Let’s just call it one more cup. Except it’s supposed to be two shots of espresso, so should we call it two cups?

Just how much coffee do I actually drink?


P.S. Please don’t chime it to say that coffee isn’t good for your health. The studies that most people think showed that were all conducted over 50 years ago, and newer studies show no correlation between coffee drinking and any of the health effects people attribute to them. None. Deeper analysis of the raw data from the earlier studies has revealed that the researchers completely failed to notice that there was an extremely strong correlation between being a heavy coffee drinker and being a heavy smoker. There was also a very strong statistical tendency for men to drink more coffee per day than women. And oddly enough, all the health issues that people now blame on coffee because of these badly quoted studies are also illnesses that one is more likely to have if one is either male or a smoker.

When the data from the old studies is re-analyzed to compare only smokers to smokers, non-smokers to non-smokers, men to men, and women to women, all statistical correlation between the amount of coffee someone drinks and any negative health effects vanished.

It ain’t the coffee that you need to be worrying about.

Farewell to Camden County

MV5BMTc2MzQxNDIxMl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwOTk1MDU1MQ@@._V1_UY1200_CR111,0,630,1200_AL_So years ago I was a faithful viewer of the comedy series “My Name Is Earl,” the story of a not terribly bright petty criminal who became convinced that because of all of the awful things he’d done in his life, he was destined to try to make up for them or karma was going to keep punishing him. So he made a list of all the bad things he’d done, and with the assistance of his brother, Randy, and Randy’s sometimes girlfriend Catalina set out to make amends. Earl and Randy are also frequently both helped and hindered in their quest by Earl’s ex-wife, Joy. Everyone is frequently helped and oddly rescued from various situations by Joy’s current husband, Darnell aka “the Crabman.”

The series was a silly look at life in the fictitious Camden County, which was inhabited by a strange assortment of characters. It wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, though I was always amused by the fact that the one person I knew who most disliked it said he hated it because it was completely unbelievable, yet he himself is always telling stories about his ridiculous in-laws and the unbelievably stupid problems they got themselves into. Which made me decide that either a) he had a really big blind spot, or b) all those stories he liked to regale people with of his supposed true family misadventures might have been more than slightly exaggerated.

Regardless, I really enjoyed the not-cynical way that “My Name Is Earl” demonstrated in its storylines again and again that most humans are muddling along as best as they can, seldom realizing just how much our lives are interconnected, and how much we contribute (in both good and bad ways) to the lives of others.

Then one spring we learned that it wasn’t going to be renewed for a fifth seasonRead More…

Weekend Update 5/21/2016: Ringtone Rhapsody and Beyond

Gizmodo brings us this little story of pianist Tony Ann who has created a short piano piece that incorporates the music of several popular ringtone, transforming them into brief melodic themes that are woven together into a song. It’s pretty cool!

Famous Cellphone Ringtones Played On The Piano (Tony Ann Arrangement):

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

Yesterday a friend asked why I didn’t include anything about Oklahoma Lawmakers Passing a Bill Criminalizing Performing Abortion among the rest of the Friday Links. As I explained in the comments, their was so much ridiculous and outrage-inducing news out of Oklahoma this week (and a few other places), that on Thursday night while I was assembling the Friday Links post I reached a stage where I was seething. I was literally shaking so hard with rage that I could not sit still at the keyboard. I kept getting up and angrily pacing back and forth, muttering about how ludicrous it was. So I skipped over a chunk of the links I had bookmarked for the week and tried to move on to calming news.

Oklahoma was not one of the states I lived in as a child, but both my dad’s and Mom’s side of the family came from there, and I had a lot of relatives living there back in the day. My husband grew up in communities in Missouri and Oklahoma, and many of his closest relatives still live there. The upshot is that I have emotional ties to Oklahoma and keep hoping that it will become a better place than I recall it being. (While I was telling Michael about this update, he said, “There are reasons I always say that Oklahoma is a great place to be from!”) So here are a few other links that I could have included about Oklahoma yesterday:

Oklahoma lawmakers call ‘state of emergency’ to stop trans kids from using the restroom.

Transgender bathroom bills introduced in Oklahoma Legislature.

Oklahoma introduces measure to impeach Obama over bathroom rights.

Since then, there is some slightly better news. Midday Friday, the governor of Oklahoma vetoed bill that would criminalize abortion. And that’s nice. Unfortunately, she didn’t veto it because the law is blatantly unconstitutional. Nor did she veto it because the decision whether to have an abortion should be a matter of conscience for the woman involved. She vetoed it because the law failed to identify the definition of “medically necessary to save the life of the mother” which is the one exception in the law. It probably didn’t hurt that every expert agreed that the law would make it impossible for any OB/GYN to practice in Oklahoma, since any miscarriages or any tubal pregnancies that a patience experienced could be charged under the law. The governor explicitly said that she hopes a president will soon appoint judges to the Supreme Court who will overturn Roe v Wade and make abortion illegal at a federal level.

So it isn’t great news, just less awful than it originally appeared.

Speaking of good news: South Carolina Senate blocks Berkeley anti-transgender bathroom ban. This is the second time since this trans bathroom mania began that South Carolina legislators have killed one of these kinds of bills.

While we’re on the topic of improving news, some months back when the first trailer for the next Star Trek movie went up, it was pretty cringe worthy. It was blatantly obvious that whoever edited it was thinking, “Guardians of the Galaxy was a goofy comedy action movie that was a blockbuster, so how can we edit this to make it look like it is also a goofy comedy action movie?” The new trailer just dropped, and thankfully it looks much, much better:

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

Friday Links (harvest mouse edition)

tumblr_inline_o4s7497kFQ1td6wq0_540It’s Friday! And despite being a shorter week than usual because I was on vacation Monday, I am really worn out and glad the weekend is almost here!

Meanwhile, here are links to some of the interesting things I read on the web this week, sorted into various topic areas.

Link of the Week

This SuperHero Movie By A Nigerian Teen Was Shot Using A Blackberry Bold 5. And it’s awesome! Go look at his YouTube Channel!

This week in privacy

How many times have I said with enough metadata you can rule the world? Scientists show telephone metadata can reveal surprisingly sensitive personal information.

And other news:

Why Are Strippers More Heavily Vetted Than Uber Drivers

Meet the meticulously hand-crafted replica of Boston’s streetcar system—and the man who made it.

CAPITAL CRIMES, PART 1 : SHOUT, SHOUT, LET IT ALL OUT: GLENN FLEISHMAN ON THE TYPOGRAPHIC HISTORY OF USING ALL-CAPS TO DENOTE SHOUTING.

Transgender Mafia Don Murdered in Naples. But it’s not what you think!

The war on cops is a myth: FBI Confirms 2015 Was One Of The Safest Years Ever For Cops.

This Week in Diversity

Protect And Serve: The Detectives Of Blaxploitation.

“But They’re Ours”— John Jennings Talks about Black Superheroes.

Racism is the bogeyman.

This week in Evil People

This one worried me when it first came up. Now the idiot has admitted he was lying. On top of that, though he claims to be a pastor of a gay-friendly church, he doesn’t seem to actually be associated with any church at all: Gay Pastor Who Sued Whole Foods for Writing Slur on His Cake Finally Admits He Made It All Up.

News for queers and our allies:

Coming Out on Instagram.

I Went to a Eurovision Sex Party.

Jesus, Friend of Sinners…Except Not You.

A Remarkable Life: One 95-Year-Old Shares Her Hope For Fellow Trans People.

Mariah Carey Remixes LGBTQ Acronym To Accept GLAAD Award.

A Major Branch Of The U.S. Military Will Now Be Led By An Openly Gay Man.

Majority of Older Americans Now Support Gay Marriage, Poll Finds.

The Plot Thickens In The Gay Pride Dispute Between Alaska & Delta.

Science!

Rare harvest mice return to Hampshire village where they were first discovered.

Journey of shuttle fuel tank to California saves four people in Pacific.

Scientists may have figured out how the world’s tallest animal got its long neck.

Why psychedelics could be a new class of antidepressant.

Evidence of gargantuan asteroid strike unearthed in Australia.

SCIENTISTS HAVE DEVELOPED AN ALGORITHM THAT CAN DETECT SEIZURES UP TO 20 MINUTES IN ADVANCE.

Dog sex cancer’s global march mapped in DNA.

There Are Whales Alive Today Who Were Born Before Moby Dick Was Written.

Giant tsunamis washed over ancient Mars.

Killer Nile crocodiles in Florida? Experts say it’s possible.

Do women really go for ‘bad boys’? Here’s the science that settles the question.

What Science Says About the Bathroom Debate.

Hubble just captured one of the coolest photos of Mars ever taken.

Geology Is Breaking Apart Over When the Americas Came Together.

Science Fiction, Fantasy and Speculation!

Podcast: How to Win Games and Beat People

The 2015 Nebula Awards, the Bram Stoker Awards, the Eurovision Song Contest… and a bit about football.

The Many Faces Of “Rocky Horror’s” Dr. Frank-N-Furter, From Tim Curry To Laverne Cox.

Author Spotlight: Alyssa Wong.

Reviewer compares the DC movie with the gay porn parody, and you will probably not be surprised at the outcome: Batman v Superman vs Batman v Superman: A Gay Porn Parody.

This week in Writing

Keep your story promise: Establish theme early and stick with it..

PHOTOS: Lost Original “Rocky Horror” Polaroids Were Discovered In NYC Subway.

This Week in History

34 Vintage Ads That Prove The Good Old Days Weren’t So Good.

Culture war news:

A Conservative Christian Politician Left the Porn Tabs Open on Screenshots He Posted to Facebook.

WHAT IS THE “VITO RUSSO TEST” AND WHY DOES IT MATTER TO LGBT FILM?

PORN-AGAIN CHRISTIANS: WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A BIBLICAL LITERALIST LAUNCHES A SEX SITE?

Atoning For Daughter’s Satanic T-Shirt, Arizona Dad Sacrifices the Family Dog To God.

After Azealia Banks’ antigay rant and Twitter ban, Bette Midler acts important question.

Christian High School Says It Has the Right to Expel You if You Have a Gay Sibling at Home.

House Passes Defense Bill Allowing Discrimination Against LGBT Workers.

Gay Mormons, reparative therapy, and the safe spaces of conservative religion.

This week in Other Politics:

Donald Trump Is Not Expanding the GOP.

Donald Trump Refuses to Reveal His Tax Rate: ‘It’s None of Your Business’.

How Donald Trump Is Already Surrounding Himself With Fervent Homophobes.

House Dems Outraged After GOPers Switch Votes To Defeat LGBT Measure.

Sanders Camp Flirts with Going Full “Burn It Down”.

Transgender Candidate Danni Askini Drops Out of State House Race. I was very sad last week to get the email from Danni saying she was dropping out of the race. But since she’s doing so to work on the fight against the anti-trans initiative headed for our ballot, I can’t fault her.

This Week in Misogyny

Until I was a man, I had no idea how good men had it at work.

Men Are Sabotaging The Online Reviews Of TV Shows Aimed At Women.

Farewells:

Comic book artist Darwyn Cooke dies at 53.

Morley Safer dies at 84: A reluctant voice on camera, he changed television news.

Things I wrote:

Weekend Update 5/14/2016: Molester going to prison.

Anti-trans bigot demonstrates that bullies are cowards… (duh!).

Who is excluding who, now?

Robots Aren’t People, Are They? – more of why I love sf/f.

Videos!

San Cisco – Fred Astaire:

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

This insane and hilarious flashback to the 80s popped up on more than one spot this week and I couldn’t resist posting: BOY TOWN GANG – Can’t Take My Eyes Off You:

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

We The Brave – Kiss:

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

%d bloggers like this: