Monthly Archives: August 2017

Writing should be an adventure

“One of the dumbest things you were ever taught was to write what you know. Because what you know is usually dull. Remember when you first wanted to be a writer? Eight or ten years old, reading about thin-lipped heroes flying over mysterious viny jungles toward untold wonders? That's what you wanted to write about, about what you didn't know. So. What mysterious time and place don't we know?” — Ken Kesey
“One of the dumbest things you were ever taught was to write what you know. Because what you know is usually dull. Remember when you first wanted to be a writer? Eight or ten years old, reading about thin-lipped heroes flying over mysterious viny jungles toward untold wonders? That’s what you wanted to write about, about what you didn’t know. So. What mysterious time and place don’t we know?” — Ken Kesey (click to embiggen)
Some of the best stories I’ve ever written (by which I mean that I don’t cringe much when I re-read them years later) began with me trying to figure something out. I didn’t sit down at the keyboard thinking, “I’m going to write a story about a detective who left the force looking for the one who got away, and X, Y, and Z are going to happen.” Instead, I had a question I didn’t know the answer to, or an image in my head of a character in a situation and I didn’t know how they got there, or a snippet of conversation I had imagined between two characters and I was trying to figure out what they were talking about (or even who they were, sometimes)! I didn’t know what the story was, and I was writing to find it out. I wasn’t writing what I knew!

I’m not saying that it’s wrong to plan out your plot or to chart your character arcs. I’m also not saying not to do research. What I am saying is that making art isn’t about re-hashing what you already know and assembling it into a perfectly constructed package. When I was a kid trying to write adventure stories I didn’t know what it was like to pilot a rocket ship to another planet. I didn’t know what it felt like to face a dragon armed with a shield and a magic sword. But I wanted to know what that felt like. So I imagined it and tried to write it. And I would go to the library with a list of things to look up in the card catalog. Yes, at ten years old I was tracking down books on piloting planes and about fighter pilots (because I knew most of our astronauts at the time had been military pilots), and bringing home books about sword-making and astronomy and geology and so on.

One of the reason I usually had at least two stories in progress back then was because when I hit a point where I didn’t know how something worked that I needed my characters to do next (that I couldn’t figure out from the set of encyclopedias we owned and would require a library trip), I could pull the page out of the typewriter, set it aside with the rest of story A, and pick up story B. It was really frustrating if I had a snag in both. I would usually wind up picking up one of my fictions books (or going to the bookcase in the living room and see if any of my parents’ current fiction choices looked interesting) and reading until I thought of something to do with one of stopped stories.

One of my favorite parts about moving back when I was 12 to the small town where I’d been born was that the library was close enough to our house that I could hop on my bicycle and ride to the library any time it was open. So I didn’t get stuck on those insurmountable snags nearly as often.

The only limit to your writing should be your imagination. Yes, you will need to do research from time to time. Research isn’t just about going to the library or browsing the internet. You will be amazed how many experts in things are willing to talk to you if you ask politely. I got a tour of the county morgue just by calling and saying I was trying to write a murder mystery and didn’t want to just copy things I’d seen on TV. And the most fascinating thing about that was a nice long talk I had with an investigator that wasn’t about the process of an autopsy, but rather about the steps they go through to locate next of kin and gather information at the scene. Particularly heartbreaking from this investigator: he had a bundle of file folders of John and Jane Doughs (several of them teen-agers) that he was determined to identify before he retired. They’d been buried in anonymous graves. As he said, “All of them had to have been loved by someone sometime. They deserve a name and to be properly mourned.” I went in thinking I was going to learn how to describe an actual autopsy accurately, and came out with much more.

Also, you want to be careful when you portray people and events from cultures other than your own (More research! Find more people willing to answer your questions!). But again, your imagination is the limit, not just your own lived experiences.

Don’t settle for what you know now: ask yourself what you want to know, and go write it!

We mistake our privilege for something earned, and think the worst of those without pedestals

Who knows what self-delusion lurks in the hearts of white men? The Shadow knows...
Who knows what self-delusion lurks in the hearts of white men? The Shadow knows… (click to embiggen)
My dad was the kind of racist that was almost too easy to spot. He threw around the n-word and other racial slurs not just casually, but with great frequency. It was impossible to talk to him without also hearing how all those people were the cause of anything and everything bad that he perceived was happening in the world. Friends and acquaintances didn’t always believe me when I would describe the phone conversations where I had to ask him, multiple times, to stop talking like that or I would hang up.It was simply toxic to talk to him, which is why I literally stopped speaking to him at all about seven years before he died. My dad was the kind of racist who made it easy for other people to congratulate themselves that they weren’t racist because they didn’t talk as crudely as he did. We look at guys like my him, or the people waving Nazi flags and throwing Nazi salutes in Charlottesville, Virginia this last weekend, and tell ourselves that we aren’t like that, so clearly we aren’t racist.

Who speaks truth about the evil that lurks in the hearts of men?
Who speaks truth about the evil that lurks in the hearts of men? (click to embiggen)
But we live in a racist society. We’ve been conditioned to believe all sorts of things about each other based on the color of their skin. Studies show that when we’re shown photographs of black teens of either sex we consistently over-estimate their age, for instance. We’ve been conditioned so that if we look at a young black man, we don’t see a kid, but a thug. We’re pre-disposed to believe that a young black man is not only capable, but likely to hurt someone. We see a video of a dark skinned person carrying a toy gun getting gunned down by police (even though he has dropped the toy and has his hands in the air), and say, “Well, he still looked dangrous.” Then we see video of hundreds of white guys showing up at a political rally carrying rifles and guns and say, “They’re just exercising their rights.”

It is impossible to grow up in a racist society and not absorb a lot of racism. It is also impossible to grow up in the U.S. as a white person and not benefit from all that racism. Part of it is the generational thing: we lived in nicer neighborhoods than we otherwise would because our parents, grandparents, and so on benefited from preferential hiring practices, redlining of mortgages, and unequal distribution of resources for public schools. And it’s easy for us to say, “Well, that was the bad old days. Things have changed, now, and besides, I can’t do anything about it.” But it isn’t just the bad old days. Racist assumptions are baked into all of our social conventions, institutions, and business practices. Studies have shown again and again that changing something as simple as making a name look less ethnic on a resume substantially improves the odds that a submitted resume will get result in a call for a job interview, for instance. We see it in statistics of which people cops decide to stop and question, let alone the ghastly statistics about police shootings.

So if you’re like me, looking at this news this weekend and being horrified that an angry white man who drove his car into a crowd killing a woman (and wounding at least 19 other people), while people ranging from ordinary citizens to news anchors and even the president are bending over backward to say that bigotry isn’t involved—it isn’t enough to say, “Aren’t they terrible people?” We have to be willing to admit that these terrible people were enabled by a society which explicitly benefits white people, whether we individual white people think of ourselves as racist or not.

Some other folks have explained it quite well: How “Nice White People” Benefit from Charlottesville and White Supremacy:

“For white people who don’t self-identify as disciples of Richard Spencer, David Duke, and/or the ancient demon Beelzebub, there is extreme anxiety around the accusation of racism. We see this fear of blame in Trump’s statement. “Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama” seems to say, ‘Hey, there’s been a tense racial climate in this country forever. It’s not anyone’s fault!’ Except the opposite is true. American white supremacy has been a problem forever, and it is all of our fault, fellow white people.

“White people benefit from white supremacy. Period. Peggy McIntosh spelled this out for us in 1989, but apparently we’re still not quite getting it. Her famous piece, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” lays out undeniable ways that it is simply easier to be white in this country, like always having a boss who is a fellow white person, or, you know, being able to eat Skittles at night without getting shot. Most white people didn’t ask for this privilege. Actually, that’s the whole idea. White privilege is an inherent advantage that easily goes unnoticed and unacknowledged. Rather than stuffing down the sense of shame associated with this obvious unfairness, why not work to even the playing field?”
—Lauren Duca

The referenced article by Peggy McIntosh is also a very good read: White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.

“I was taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group.”
—Peggy McIntosh

We can’t just shake our heads and blame it all on those people. Society as a whole, including us, are to blame. The first step is recognizing that the problem isn’t something which was forced on our country. The problem isn’t something that just appeared recently. The problem has always been there. It has been growing and getting angrier for years. We are part of the problem, so we have to be part of the solution. We have to find ways to oppose this racist authoritarian movement with more than just words.

Weekend Update 8/12/2017: Hugo Winners and many other things

The 2017 Hugo award base was designed by Finnish artist Eeva Jokinen. (Photo by Michael Lee.)
The 2017 Hugo award base was designed by Finnish artist Eeva Jokinen. (Photo by Michael Lee.)
The Hugo Award winners were announced yesterday at Worldcon 75, this year happening in Helsinki. I’m not there, but enough people I know are that my twitter feed was full of news and reactions. And it’s really fun when people whose work you love and who you have met in person are among the people bringing home rockets. I checked against my ballot after, and found that in four categories the person/work that I picked as number one had won. And it looks like in every other category, the winner was in my top three. Of course, as I said at the time, I thought that every category had at least four or five pieces that I absolutely thought deserved the award. It was a good year. And isn’t this year’s trophy gorgeous?

Anyway, the winners are:

Novel:

The Obelisk Gate, by N. K. Jemisin (Orbit Books)

Novella:

Every Heart a Doorway, by Seanan McGuire (Tor.com publishing)

Novelette:

“The Tomato Thief”, by Ursula Vernon (Apex Magazine, January 2016)

Short Story:

“Seasons of Glass and Iron”, by Amal El-Mohtar (The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales, Saga Press)

Related Work:

Words Are My Matter: Writings About Life and Books, 2000-2016, by Ursula K. Le Guin (Small Beer)

Graphic Story:

Monstress, Volume 1: Awakening, written by Marjorie Liu, illustrated by Sana Takeda (Image)

Dramatic Presentation, Long Form:

Arrival, screenplay by Eric Heisserer based on a short story by Ted Chiang, directed by Denis Villeneuve (21 Laps Entertainment/FilmNation Entertainment/Lava Bear Films)

Dramatic Presentation, Short Form:

The Expanse: “Leviathan Wakes”, written by Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby, directed by Terry McDonough (SyFy)

Editor, Short Form:

Ellen Datlow

Editor, Long Form:

Liz Gorinsky

Professional Artist:

Julie Dillon

Semiprozine:

Uncanny Magazine, edited by Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas, Michi Trota, Julia Rios, and podcast produced by Erika Ensign & Steven Schapansky

Fanzine:

Lady Business, edited by Clare, Ira, Jodie, KJ, Renay, and Susan

Fancast:

Tea and Jeopardy, presented by Emma Newman with Peter Newman

Fan Writer:

Abigail Nussbaum

Fan Artist:

Elizabeth Leggett

Series:(Special Category added by option of Worldcon 75)

The Vorkosigan Saga, by Lois McMaster Bujold (Baen)

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer: (Not a Hugo Award, but administered along with the Hugo Awards)

Ada Palmer


And I’m sure that in certain corners of the trollnet there is a lot of angry thrashing: Women swept nearly every category at the 2017 Hugo Awards. To paraphrase Ruth Bader Ginsburg: and for how many years were the categories literally swept by men (and almost always white men, at that)? Let me repeat: I’m an old, literally grey bearded, cis male white fan who literally learned how to read from Robert A. Heinlein novels, and every single one of this year’s winners were fabulous sf/f works that deserve that award because they are awesome stories.

So, congratulations to all the winners!

Oh, another thing announced yesterday: Worldcon 2019 will be in Dublin, Ireland! It’ll be the first Irish Worldcon! Yay! There’s a lot of other fun news from the con, you can see a bunch of pictures and more here.

On to other things: Terry Gross is one of my favorite people to listen to on the radio. She’s been interviewing people for years, and much of what I like about her show is how many times she made me really connect with and care about people I didn’t expect to. Anyway, she was on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon this week, and it was funny in a way I absolutely did not expect. Watch the whole clip to learn about her process, but also to get a really good laugh when she tells the story of the time Bill O’Reilly angrily stormed out of an interview.

NPR’s Terry Gross Has a Sick Burn for Bill O’Reilly Walking Out on Their Fresh Air Interview:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.

Lots of people have been freaking out about all the nuclear war talk this week. I left most of it out of yesterday’s round up of links other than to link to an analysis of why it is almost certain that we don’t actually need to be worried just yet. But besides most people not understanding the technological hurdles as to why North Korea doesn’t have that missile-capable bomb there’s more. And Nothing New On North Korea Except Donald Trump’s Freak-Out. There actually isn’t any new news. Only one agency is saying this is a possibility, and that same intelligence agency claimed the same thing several years ago and was shown to be wrong then. Furthermore, Donald isn’t suddenly talking about this because of a security briefing he got. He started angrily threatening war when he saw a headline in the Washington Post… which he has also claimed in one of the fake news outlets, but obviously he doesn’t really think that, does he? Anyway, Rachel Maddow’s clip that I linked is really good. And she had an actual
(recently retired) intelligence expert whose specialty was North Korea for decades. It’s really worth the watch.

Related, I’m really irritated that this is even necessary: From the editor in chief of Christianity Today: The Use of Nuclear Weapons Is Inherently Evil. Even though I consider myself a former christian, it angers me to a level that is difficult to describe that there are so-called christian pastors saying the opposite, saying things like Megachurch Pastor Says Trump Has God’s Approval to Start Nuclear War. Geezus! Even the religious right’s favorite president, Ronald Reagan, condemned nuclear weapons as “totally irrational, totally inhumane, good for nothing but killing, possibly destructive of life on earth and civilization.” And who can forget what the late evangelist Billy Graham said on the subject: “I cannot see any way in which nuclear war could be branded as being God’s will. Such warfare, if it ever happens, will come because of the greed and pride and covetousness of the human heart.”

Well, we certainly have a president who epitomizes greed and pride and covetousness…

Grrrr! And don’t get me started on the literal Nazis marching in North Carolina… but at least some Republicans are waking up: Former GOP Senator Calls For Trump’s Removal “Donald Trump is seriously sick. He is dangerous. As a citizen, a former U.S. Senator and twelve-year member of the Armed Services Committee, I urge you to act at once. This is an emergency.”

I can’t end on a sour note. So, here’s some much better news: ‘Sense8’ is back in production, and the finale is going to be totally ‘epic’ and Formerly Abused Husky Now Helps Children Who Have Been Abused.

Friday Links (death defying edition)

“A gay christian is not an oxymoron. A hateful christian most certainly is.” - “When you get quoted on a church sign.” — John Pavlovitz
“A gay christian is not an oxymoron. A hateful christian most certainly is.” – “When you get quoted on a church sign.” — John Pavlovitz (click to embiggen)
It’s the second Friday in August, and we’re surviving a tamped down heat wave and smokezilla. Those are related. While the unhealthy air quality is not good for us, on the other had, it’s blocking enough sunlight that (depending on which part of the region you’re in) temperatures have been between 10-16 degrees farenheit cooler than they would have been without the smoke. Prevailing winds have finally shifted, bringing in cooler air, so the temps will go down a bit and the air quality is improving.

We’re both still very busy and have been feeling less than well which we’re attributing to the haze–we’ve both got red eyes and painful sinuses all the time, and despite sleeping in a room with an air purifier and an air conditioner, neither us seems to be getting nice deep sleepl

Anyway, on to links! I’m still trying to sort it so that the science and other, mostly happy news is at the top, and then we get to less pleasant topics before finishing with music videos. Enjoy!

Links of the Week

The supposition that NK will soon have missile-capable thermonuclear weapons is, at best, stupidly generous.

The Last Death-Defying Honey Hunter of Nepal.

Science!

10 Badass Trees That Refuse To Die.

How America Really Lost Its Mind to Pseudoscience: Hint, It Wasn’t Entirely the Fault of Hippie New Agers and Postmodern Academics.

City-dwelling sea snakes are changing colors for a strange reason.

Early humans may have seen a supervolcano explosion up close.

Study: The Milky Way is swarming with black holes.

The Largest Space Telescope Ever Could Study an Earth-Like Exoplanet Next Door.

Prehistoric Baby Skull Shows What Our Common Ancestor With Apes May Have Looked Like.

Malicious code written into DNA infects the computer that reads it.

Rare Fossils Reveal New Species of Ancient Gliding Mammals.

Evolutionary psychology is the most obvious example of how “science” is flawed.

This Week in Weather and the Atmosphere

The Long Seattle Haze Shows How Climate Change Will Hit the Poor.

This Week in Typography

The Loveliest Living Fossil“Nº was the number sign before # became a number sign, and it refreshingly serves this one and only purpose.”

Science Fiction, Fantasy and Speculation!

Locus Online News » Dragon Awards Refuse Withdrawal.

The Story of the Bad Ugly Monster by May Peterson.

This Week in History

How Ice Cream Helped the U.S. Military at War.

Here’s Why the U.S. Hasn’t Brought ‘Fire and Fury’ to North Korea .

News for queers and our allies:

The Hero Who Saved His Gay Friends.

Conservatives Are Really Scared Of This Purple ‘Gender Unicorn’.

This Week in the Patriarchy

If Men Were “Just Polite” To Each Other – comic by Kasia Babis.

How a 19th century nude painting became a feminist meme.

This Week in Misogyny in Tech

I’M A GOOGLE MANUFACTURING ROBOT AND I BELIEVE HUMANS ARE BIOLOGICALLY UNFIT TO HAVE JOBS IN TECH.

Researcher reveals how “Computer Geeks” replaced “Computer Girls”.

Culture war news:

Republicans and Democrats differ markedly in perception of discrimination.
Republicans and Democrats differ markedly in perception of discrimination. (click to embiggen
Court Blocks Federal Prosecution of California Pot Growers.

We Hold Sasha and Malia Obama to a Higher Standard Than the Trump Children, and That’s Ridiculous.

The Walls We Won’t Tear Down: “what used to be racial segregation now mirrors itself in class segregation.”.

Texas Transgender Bathroom Bill Falters Amid Mounting Opposition .

This Week Regarding the Lying Liar:

© Copyright Gary Markstein – http://www.gocomics.com/garymarkstein
Nearly Half of Donald Trump’s Twitter Followers Are Fake Accounts and Bots.

How Twitter took on Trump’s bot army—and won.

‘I hate when people take credit for an election I won’: Trump blows his top over Bannon-praising book.

Twitter suspends army of fake accounts after Trump thanks propaganda ‘bot’ for supporting him.

News about the Fascist Regime:

What The Fuck Just Happened Today? Anyway, congratulations. So far you (and America) have survived Steve Bannon, Steve Miller, “alternative facts,” “Braggadocious,” Jeff Sessions, Anthony Scaramucci, Neil Gorsuch, and so many bad policies and apocalyptic pronouncements that a person needs a web archive like this to track them all.”>.

Video reveals how actions of US border officers led to tragedy: Investigation finds allegations of abuse (including sexual abuse of minors), impunity along U.S.-Mexico border.

This week in Politics:

Get Off Kamala Harris’s Back: Lately the Democratic senator has been criticized for being too establishment. But this discussion is much bigger than her.

Mueller Seeks White House Documents on Flynn.

A Congressional Candidate Asked Men If They’d Be Willing To Give Up Their Civil Rights.

This Week in Racists, White Nationalists, and other deplorables:

White people should be more afraid of other whites than they are of people of color.

This Week in Hate Crimes

Minnesota mosque bombed during morning prayers.

On average, 9 mosques have been targeted every month this year.

Farewells:

Glen Campbell Is Dead at 81 from Alzheimer’s.

Things I wrote:

Weekend Update 8/5/2017: Let’s stick with happy stuff.

Getting a better perspective on threats to knowledgee — and us.

By their fruits you will know them — when people show you who they are, believe them.

Videos!

P!nk – What About Us (Lyric Video):

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

Move Your Body – Sia ft Kazaky:

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

By their fruits you will know them — when people show you who they are, believe them

“Just a reminder. There's not two of you — Internet you and real you. There is just one real you. Which means if you're not kind on the internet, you're not kind.” —Glenn Melton Doyle
“Just a reminder. There’s not two of you — Internet you and real you. There is just one real you. Which means if you’re not kind on the internet, you’re not kind.” —Glenn Melton Doyle
Those of us who are fans of Geek Girl Con had a little scare this week, as a message that seemed to indicate a huge portion of the staff was quitting together came into our mailboxes. The post (also put up on the con’s Facebook page and elsewhere) was carefully crafted to push the outrage buttons of the types of person most likely to be attracted to the con’s spirit of inclusivity. And yes, the outrage machine seemed to be gearing up. But there were enough skeptical people to keep it from snowballing too quickly. And the manner in which the post was made was a big clue for many people: the folks who were resigned hijacked the official Geek Girl Con mailing list to post their vaguely described grievances, and hijacked the official web page to post it, and none of them were willing to sign their names to it. Even before I read it, once I knew that, I knew that it really didn’t matter what their grievances are. Anyone who would hijack the official mailing list and the web page were the kinds of people who needed to be removed from convention staff.

But you don’t have to take my word for it Rob Salkowitz breaks it down nicely: GEEKGIRLCON DEALS WITH THE PAINS OF PROFESSIONALIZATION.

“As anyone who has ever worked for or with a nonprofit can tell you, the transition from volunteer to professional organization is not always smooth. People who contributed to the growth of the organization may feel resentment toward an outsider brought in above them, whose job is to make tough decisions and impose management discipline on previously informal systems. As fair-minded and inclusive as you might want to be in that role, eventually you will piss some people off just because you are the boss and they aren’t.

“It’s not unusual for longtime staffers to quit in these circumstances, sometimes in a huff. Sometimes, to really make a statement, they’ll resign in a group. If there’s something actionable, they can call a lawyer. And if they really want to leave a mark, they’ll take their dispute public via social media.

“But taking over the organization’s official email to blast out their manifesto after they’ve already quit? Nope. NOPE. In no conceivable universe is that ok.”

We now know that all of those who quit were white guys who posted their grievances anonymously (vague claims of being discriminated against by the new executive director who happens to be a woman of color) because they didn’t think they would be taken seriously. And that might have been true no matter what, but the way they did it really shows all we need to know. I’ve been either on staff or closely involved with enough people on staff for a lot of cons to recognize both the dynamic Salkowitz explains above and the circumstances that likely led to the mass resignation. By the way, it was only five guys, out of a staff of a bit over 50, so while it seems like a lot, it certainly isn’t most of the staff, as their post clearly tried to imply.

I could go into more detail about why hijacking the con membership’s list was wrong, how it is triangulation and so forth. But the real reason is this: when I have been in situations where I felt I was the aggrieved party and have been tempted to do such things, I knew that the suggestion was coming from the little devil on one shoulder, and not the little angel on the other. (Although in my imagination it’s the evil fairy tale queen on one shoulder, and a happy glitter-covered fairy on the other).

We come up with rationales for vindictive, angry, destructive behavior all the time. It’s not fair, we say. Or they started it! Or it’s just the internet! Or I was joking! Or you took it wrong! Et cetera and ad nauseum.

Maybe you are right. Maybe you have suffered a great injustice. But here’s the thing: if you win by fighting dirty, that isn’t justice. The ends don’t justify the means. There is a big difference between righteous indignation and vengeful lashing out. Just as there is a difference between cruelty and kindness. How we take a victory or defeat matters just as much as the actual outcome.

Situations are messy and there’s always more than two sides to every story. But every side isn’t equally true, or equally valid, or equally relevant. And sometimes you can tell which side has the fewest facts in their favor by their tactics. And I, at least, can spot a sore loser from miles away. Even when they’re hiding behind anonymity, misleading verbiage, and the furtive fallacy.

There are not two of you. There isn’t literally a devil/evil queen on one shoulder and an angel/good fairy on the other. There’s just you. A noble and just person doesn’t have to resort to dirty tactics. If you’re fighting dirty, even if for a just cause, then you’re not the hero.

Getting a better perspective on threats to knowledge — and us

This is what we thought the world-threatening artificial intelligences would look like. We were wrong.
This is what we thought the world-threatening artificial intelligences would look like. We were wrong.
A few years ago a lot of people were sharing some articles about the rapidly declining ratings of Fox News and either a) cheering that at last real news was overtaking propaganda, or b) urging people like me to stop ragging on Fox News because if we just ignore it it will finally die. I argued at the time that is was the wrong way to look at it: ignoring bullies didn’t make them go away when we were kids (because getting other people to laugh at what the bully did to us was all the positive feedback they needed), and because the dwindling number of people watching Fox News were more than eager to share the misinformation to their friends via social media, et cetera. I was right, but also just a little bit naive. I got a new perspective recently when I changed my primary email reader on my laptop.

The reasons I switched from the program I’ve been using for years isn’t important. The interesting bit was what I learned after setting up one specific account in the new reader. It’s an email account that is on a domain I own. The sole purpose of this account is to be the home account of one of my side Twitter accounts. I have an twitter account in the name of one of the fictional characters in my novel series. At the time I set it up I had vague plans to promote the books through it. Anyway, the mail services for that domain are outsourced, and for various reasons when I set up my new email reader to pull that account, the junk mail filters at the outsourced place are being ignored. So ever single bit of spam coming to that account gets downloaded to my laptop. This account has never been shared with anyone other than Twitter. The email account doesn’t appear on any contact anywhere, I don’t believe that I have ever sent an email message from it. But still, it gets hundreds of spam messages every day — and at most one legitimate piece of email, because once a day Twitter sends a message to the account with “hightlights” from the people that the twitter account follows, or to tell me someone replied to a tweet, or whatever, right?

So this account is just getting flooded with spam, and you would expect that most of said spam would be Nigerian-Prince-style scams, right? Nope. Don’t get me wrong–there are some messages about “Get in on this 10 Million Dollar deal!” or “Regarding your credit account” or “We tried to deliver your package” that try to get you to click on a link and enter your password for a service they can hijack or get you to confirm credit card information. And there are the ads for Viagra or quack remedies for various illnesses, yes. But that’s less than half. The other half are emails with subject lines: “Obama treason confirmed!” or “Birth Control Makes Women Violent” or “Planned Parenthood Still Selling Infant Organs” “You Won’t Believe What the Gay Agenda is Pushing Now” or “Hilary Crimes Finally Proven” or “You Won’t Believe this Obama Outrage!”

That’s right, a half year since Obama left office and the sexual-predator-in-chief was sworn in, there are bots out there cranking out anti-Obama and anti-Hilary propaganda, and mailing it to millions of people. And clearly, someone must be clicking on some of these mails.

I already knew about the literally millions of twitter-bot accounts that retweat Donald’s nonsense or hate speech and propaganda from alt-right news sites. I knew about the millions of twitter-bot accounts pretending to be Bernie Bros tweeting out slightly more dog-whistling hate speech and anti-Hilary disinformation. I’ve included in recent Friday Links posts some stories about the role of algorithms and those bots in skewing the way the people see and understand the news: The Threat From Artificial Intelligence May Already Be Here and Maybe the AI dystopia is already here.

I had thought I understood what was happening. But it took seeing thousands of these spam messages from several months worth of spam to one account to finally connect a couple of dots I hadn’t been thinking about it. The various alt-right faux news sites, plus Fox, the millions of twitter-bots, and so forth function like spam in more ways than one. One avenue of success similar to spam is that only a fraction of a percent of any message needs to be seen by the targertted person for it to hit. Most of them aren’t seen by any individual because some are caught in various filters such as junk folders. But as long as some get through, the person is still exposed to the misinformation.

But another aspect of spam’s effectiveness we don’t think about is this: the less tech-savvy someone is, the more likely they are to see the misinformation. And studies have shown that the more educated a person is, or the more knowledgeable they are in a variety of subjects, the more likely they are to be liberal. Conversely, the less knowledgeable, the more likely they are to be conservative. So there’s an asymmetrical distribution of the misinformation, with more of the people who see it being likely to view those ridiculous headlines and subject lines as confirmation of their current beliefs, rather than react with skepticism.

The other aspect is contagion. Certain types of malware and scams depend on people forwarding them on to other people. We all had that one relative who always, without fail, used to click on every single chain email and so forth forwarded to them by anyone they knew, and who in turn would forward it to all of their friends and family (no matter how many times we tried to explain to grandpa that he was forwarding viruses half the time, right?).

The person who sees the false headline and believes it may share the false news link to all their friends by posting it on Facebook or forwarding the message or whatever. And many of the people they know are sharing similar bits of misinformation, creating the impression that everyone they know agrees with their worldview and/or validates the misinformation.

It’s not just that they live in an information bubble, or that they inhabit an echo chamber, its that they are surrounded my scores of overlapping misinformation bubbles that invade and reinforce each other.

And the fourth area comes back to that bit I said about not being able to convince my one grandparent to stop forwarding the bad stuff. After awhile I just had to give up and quarantine all of his emails. Similarly, it’s not just that the misinformation drowns out the good information, but we’re socially conditioned not to argue with some of the vectors of misinformation. And because we get tired of having arguments with all those racist cousins, so we simply mute them or whatever. Then they assume that because we’ve stopped arguing, that we now agree with them.

I wish I had a solution to this. It would be so much easier if the enemy were an army of Cylons coming at us. Instead, twitter-bots and the like are turning our neighbors and relatives into the army that is trying to take away our rights, take away healthcare, and so much more.

Weekend Update 8/5/2017: Let’s stick with happy stuff

Voyager: The Grand Tour and Beyond. Image © NASA
Voyager: The Grand Tour and Beyond. Image © NASA Planetary Science Division
As often happens, several interesting bits of news that I would have included in my weekly round up of links if I had seen them before Thursday night have turned up. And some of them are things I could write a bit of a rant on, but I’m just not in the mood to rant or be outraged. We can find bad or disturbing or worrisome news everywhere. So I will just save that for next week, okay?

I really wish I’d seen this story before I did this week’s Friday Links, because it would be a great candidate for Link of the Week: The Loyal Engineers Steering NASA’s Voyager Probes Across the Universe. “As the Voyager mission is winding down, so, too, are the careers of the aging explorers who expanded our sense of home in the galaxy.” It’s bittersweet to think about: two devices built in the 70s that can only understand a programming language that has been considered obsolete for decades, billions of miles away, but parts of them are still functioning and sending their data back. It’s just a really good story. You should go read it. I’ll just point out that Voyager 1 launched just 20 days before my 17th birthday.

In much less serious news, this story (and the adorable video that accompanies it) is just funny: Gay Dads Obsess Over Baby’s First Haircut In Adorable Diaper Ad. Go, watch. Have a chuckle.

And then, in case you need some heartwarming family friendly goodness: In a Heartbeat – Animated Short Film:

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

The learn more about this short film: YouTube Falls Hard for ‘In a Heartbeat,’ a Boy-Meets-Boy Story.

Friday Links (where there’s smoke edition)

NASA satellite photo showing smoke clouds covering my home...
NASA satellite photo showing smoke clouds covering my home…
I’m trying not to freak out that it’s already August. So, it’s Friday, the first Friday in August. No big deal. The Senate has unanimously decided not to recess because no one on the planet, including Donald’s own party, trusts him with the power of recess appointments. Republicans actually had ethical limits. Who knew? Certainly not any of us who have been paying attention to them since 1980…

There are dozens of wild fires raging in the forest of British Columbia, some a thousand miles to the north of my location, but my city is currently blanketed by a layer of smoke from those fires so thick that they are telling us not to venture outdoors if we can avoid it, and certainly not to exercise outside. But we’re also experiencing a record-breaking heatwave, so on Thursday night, many hours before you can read this, I’m sitting outside with my laptop because it is somewhat cooler out here than inside.

Usually the third paragraph of these weekly round ups says simply that here are the links sorted into categories. But I think I need to change things a bit. I’m a news junkie and I approach the weekly roundup from my perspective as a queer man concerned with the future of the american republic and the world at large. But some people take some of those links differently. So I’m going to lead off with Science and other topics that are non-political this time. I’m going to finish off with music videos as I usually do. The things some people classify as politics/proof how awful the world is/etc will still be here, but you can skip down to the music once you hit those if you are so inclined.

Science!

Evidence mounts that the first cities are much older than we thought.

Kepler Spots the First Exomoon Candidate 4000 Light Years From Earth.

Eat, Pray, Fossilize? Praying Mantis Fossil Is 110 Million Years Old.

Death Valley just experienced the hottest month ever recorded in the U.S..

Bee Extinction Is Threatening the World’s Food Supply, UN Warns.

A lot of people were sharing this link: Bees Are Bouncing Back From Colony Collapse Disorder. Please note that the “bounce back” has caveats, and the original site publishing the link is a marketing group for the manufacturers of pesticides. So the real take away is that beekeepers are trying to help the bees bounce back, but…

Scientists Reversed Glaucoma in Mice With the Help of a Single Gene.

Spiny Worm Beast Haunted the Seas 500 Million Years Ago.

Scientists Just Discovered the Oldest Asteroid Family Ever.

Physicists Capture the Elusive Neutrino Smacking Into an Atom’s Core. Wow!

Hubble Telescope Detects Stratosphere on Huge Alien Planet.

Apollo Astronaut Penlight Shines Again as Nautical Lantern Maker Replica.

This Week in Weather and the Atmosphere

Hot and hazy: Smoke from B.C. fires will hang around Seattle.

Giant Canadian Smoke Cloud Covers Puget Sound: NASA Photo.

Blistering Heat Wave Threatens Seattle, Where Only a Third Have Air-Conditioning.

Where’s the AC? Heat grips Portland, Seattle.

Seattle’s heat wave, wildfire haze could linger into next week, weather service says.

Western Heat Wave Breaks Record Highs in Oregon and Washington.

Science Fiction, Fantasy and Speculation!

Book Review: Dinosaur Empire!

WHEN SHE WAS CAMP: BUFFY TURNS 25.

David gerrold on franchises.

Maybe the A.I. dystopia is already here .

THE BEST AND WORST TIME TO BE AN X-FAN.

This Week in Tech

Two Sides to Apple’s China Story.

How to Hack an Election in 7 Minutes.

Culture war news:

NAACP issues its first statewide travel advisory, for Missouri.

Christians are more than twice as likely to blame a person’s poverty on lack of effort.

Of Course Abortion Should Be a Litmus Test for Democrats.

There’s no evidence that immigrants hurt any American workers.

Texas Republican warns religious right getting “out of hand” with bigoted bathroom bill.

This Week in This Guy is So Gay it’s Painful to Watch Him Pretend Otherwise:

Do straight congressmen post hundreds of pictures of themselves like this on line? Of course not...
Do straight congressmen post hundreds of pictures of themselves like this on line? Of course not…
Self-loathing closet cases who bilk taxpayers to lavish international trips on their boy toys must be outed.

Court docs reveal Aaron Schock’s aides urged him to stop acting so ‘gay’.

Aaron Schock gay rumors: More than just snarky jokes.

Aaron Schock Outed As Gay By Itay Hod, Journalist, On Facebook in 2014.

The 7 gayest Aaron Schock Instagram posts.

This Week Regarding the Lying Liar:

5 things Trump did while you weren’t looking: Week 8.

CNN’s Jake Tapper destroys Trump: Russia seems like the only one that can control the president.

Trump Cabinet Secretaries Attend Bible Study Led by Extremist Pastor ‘Not Biblically Qualified for Spiritual Leadership’. This pastor’s own church and ministry decided he isn’t qualified to lead Bible studies, so of course the Trumpites are pretending to listen to him.

Lawsuit Alleges Fox News And Trump Supporter Created Fake News Story. The lawsuit includes enough evidence to drop the word ‘alledged’ from that headline.

Brinkley: Trump is ‘unfit for command.

CBO says Trump budget plan doesn’t come close to balance. We’ve known this for weeks…

Trump’s Dangerous Incitement of Police Violence.

News about the Fascist Regime:

Read the Full Text of Bill Browder’s Testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee .

This week in Politics:

Democrats Aren’t In Lockstep Over Abortion — That’s Why They’re Fighting.

Dem campaign chief vows no litmus test on abortion . This is a really bad idea. I should write a blog post on why, for a legal and logic point of view this is a supremely bad idea.

Why are Rand Paul and Kamala Harris teaming up on a bill? Because the whole point of the U.S. Republic is that sometimes we find alliances in unlikely places?

Sen. Mazie Hirono Holds Back Tears During Impassioned Health Care Plea.

This Week in Racists, White Nationalists, and other deplorables:

William Shatner Attacks Snowflakes, Social Justice Warriors, and Misandrists.

xJesse Lee Peterson Claims African Americans Were ‘Better Off’ Under Jim Crow.

Maybe Taking the Arguments of Nazis At Face Value Is Bad.

GUILTY: Judge rules in former Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s criminal contempt case

This Week in Hate Crimes

Two more men have gone missing from Toronto’s gay village, rekindling old fears in the queer community.

Things I wrote:

Weekend Update 7/29/2017: More Words and Pictures.

Settling in to the new place.

You never know where you’re goin’ ’til you get there! (or, Revising my goals).

It’s not a food allergy & other misconceptions about diabetes.

Everybody was kung fu fighting, even mighty whitey — more of why I love sf/f.

Self-loathing closet cases who bilk taxpayers to lavish international trips on their boy toys must be outed.

Videos!

Adam Lambert – Two Fux [Lyric Video] (NSFW, but this is my new anthem):

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

Public Service Broadcasting – They Gave Me A Lamp:

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

Tegan and Sara – Boyfriend [OFFICIAL MUSIC VIDEO]:

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

Charli XCX – Boys [Official Video]:

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

Adam Lambert – Welcome to the Show feat. Laleh [Official Music Video]:

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

Self-loathing closet cases who bilk taxpayers to lavish international trips on their boy toys must be outed

Totally normal to have your photographer (far right) pose with you in all the official photos rather than actually operating a camera. Even if the taxpayer is picking up the photographer's tab, right?
Totally normal to have your photographer (far right) pose with you in all the official photos rather than actually operating a camera. Even if the taxpayer is picking up the photographer’s tab, right?
The former Congressman who is under indictment for various financial shenanigans is in the news again: Former Rep. Aaron Schock Furious After Feds Ask If He’s Gay And If That’s Really His “Girlfriend”. And Shock’s lawyers are asking to have his 24-count indictment for financial wrongdoing tossed out because of asking about the gay questions: Aaron Schock lawyers seek dismissal over ‘prosecutorial misconduct’. There are many big problems with this, only one of them being this: among the financial improprieties the former Congressman (and almost certainly self-loathing closet case) is charged with is using taxpayer money to pay for accomodation, first class international air travel tickets, and more for the unmarried hot young man who lived with him as a roommate for years and with whom Shock would pose in photographs as if he was a spouse.

As Joe Jervis over at JoeMyGod.com observed, “investigators are trying to determine, among other things, if his traveling companions were legitimate staffers or, you know, his boyfriend(s).”

On one of those taxpayer funded trips Congressman Shock had this guy who was listed as a staff photographer (but he never took pictures) put in a hotel room with a door adjoining his, get upgrades and other things using programs that are usually meant for spouses, and so on. Those are among the many, many, many reasons that everyone with a lick of sense has been saying for years that the Congressman who pushed lots of anti-gay legislation when he was in office and made speeches saying the employers should be able to fire people who they even suspect might possibly be gay (and that landlords should have the right to evict tenants simply because the landlord suspects they might be gay, et cetera) is probably a closeted gay man. So the exact relationship between Shock and this string of good-looking unmarried “roommates” that Shock kept in his multiple extremely expensive homes is quite relevant to some of the financial shenanigans under investigation.

Congressman Shock has a great anti-gay voting record, but posts pictures of himself to Instagram like this, has never married, and has lived with a string of similar male “roommates” for over a decade.
It’s not just the former Congressman’s fashion choices. It’s not just the fact that at one point his personal Twitter account and Instagram account was following hundreds of gay models and male athletes who were always known for posting pictures of themselves scantily clad (and then unfollowing those hundreds of accounts en mass when a major news site finally mentioned the gay rumors). It’s not just the years of being unmarried and wealthy but always having unmarried male “roommates.” It’s not about the adjoining hotel rooms with the unmarried male roommate while traveling. It’s not about the way when he was walking around a gay neighborhood during Pride week with reporters where he was supposed to be talking about some urban issues but he kept getting distracted on camera with his eyes following the hot shirtless men who walked by. It’s not about using an airline perk that is supposed to be reserved for spouses to get the unmarried male roommate/supposedly staff photographer moved up to First Class to sit with him. It’s not about his decorating choices. All of that smoke adds adds up to a something, yes.

But the two issues are: he was a public official who voted for and campaigned on anti-gay causes. He tried to make it legal for people to fire folks merely for being suspected of being gay. That means the moral and ethical imperative is to look into all this suspiciously gay behavior. So the Log Cabin Republicans are absolutely wrong (again) when they insist that outing is always wrong.

But yes, with all the financial crimes that he’s been indicted for, including spending taxpayer money to take a so-called staff photographer who acted like a boyfriend the entire trip and never took pictures, those questions are completely legitimate. If the guy went along because he was the Congressman’s boyfriend and didn’t perform any legitimate staff duties, then that was a misappropriation of funds. Lock him up!

Everybody was kung fu fighting, even mighty whitey — more of why I love sf/f

On reflection, I don't think the story lines were why hormonal 14-year-old closeted me was fascinated with the character right away...
On reflection, I don’t think the story lines were why hormonal 14-year-old closeted me was fascinated with the character right away…
This post will eventually become a commentary on the Netflix series Ironfist based on the Marvel comics character, but I have a lot of ground to cover first. I am an old literal grey-beard fan who was reading U.S. comic books before the great Kung Fu/Asian cultural appropriatation phase of the early 70s, so my relationship to any media property related to that era is a bit complicated. Because both the Jessica Jones series and Luke Cage series had significantly transcended their original comic book incarnations, I had high hopes for what might be done with Iron Fist. Alas, those hopes were not met. However, I think that the series Netflix ultimately produced is not a complete failure, and may eventually be redeemed with the subsequent series in the franchise.

In the early 70s U.S. pop culture became obsessed with martial arts. One of the best examples of this was the television series, Kung Fu which ran from 1972-1975. The show, which was wildly popular both with audiences and critics, told the story of Kwai Chang Caine, a half-chineses, half-white man raised in a Shao Lin monastery who winds up in the American Wild West wandering the countryside seeking his father while evading agents of a Chinese nobleman who wants him dead. The show cast white actor David Carradine in the role (after rejecting Bruce Lee). And it really was wildly popular. In the redneck rural communities I was living at the time, every one of my classmates would quote favorite lines from the show and make allusions to it in various ways. While the show cast a white actor in the role of the supposedly biracial lead, since ever episode relied heavily on flashbacks to incidents in Caine’s childhood, teen, and young adult years back in China, it also provided a lot of acting roles for Asian American actors in recurring and supporting roles. Probably more so than all of American TV before then. Which doesn’t make up for the white washing, but was at least a teeny step forward.

That TV show wasn’t the only bit of pop culture effected. Action movies and television series of all kinds started introducing martial arts experts to their story lines, and soon audiences were expecting amazing martial arts fights in all of their entertainment. Even the BBC’s Doctor Who had to bow to the expectation, with the velvet-jacketed Third Doctor suddenly becoming an expert in “Venusian Karate” though embarassingly what that meant was the actor occasionally exclaiming a cliche “Hai-ya!” as he felled opponents with an unconvincing chopping motion of his hand.

And comic books were hardly immune. Suddenly every comic company was adding martial arts experts (some of asian descent, some not) into their superhero lines. Comic titles such as Master of Kung Fu, Karate Kid (no relation to the 80s movies), and Kung Fu Fighter, and Dragon Fists were suddenly popping up in department store comics racks. Along side characters such as Shang Chi, Richard Dragon, Lady Shiva, and Karate Kid (no “the”) there was Danny Rand, aka Iron Fist: the Living Weapon.

Danny was a classic mighty whitey: a white orphan taken in by mysterious monks in a secret temple in the Himalayas, who masters their semi-mystical martial arts to a degree that far exceeds any of the natives and becomes their greatest warrior. This being an American comic, of course Danny comes to America, specifically New York City, where he tried to reclaim his family fortune (along the way discovering that his parents’ deaths on the journey may not of have an accident). His costume was a bit unusual for male superheroes of the time—ridiculously plunging necklines were usually reserved for women. The excuse for exposing all that skin was the black dragon mark on Danny’s chest. It’s not a tattoo, but rather a symbol that was burned into his flesh during a fight with a dragon, which is an important part of the ritual of becoming the Iron Fist.

This was the fifth issue of Marvel Premiere that featured Iron Fist. Premiere was a series Marvel used to introduce new characters or revive old ones that might lead to a new series.
This was the fifth issue of Marvel Premiere that featured Iron Fist. Premiere was a series Marvel used to introduce new characters or revive old ones that might lead to a new series.
When Marvel debuted in comics in 1974 I was 14 years old. I didn’t read the very first couple of issues. Back then my source of comic books was the rack at the only drugstore in the small town where we lived, and which comics they got were hit and miss from month to month. But I remember seeing this cover in that rack one day and being instantly fascinated. I bought the comic, and as I frequently did in those days, read it, re-read it, and re-read it again and again. The story was middle episode in the middle of a story arc, so I was a bit confused about some things, but was still immediately enamored with the character. I kept my eyes peeled for the character from then on, and managed to pick up a few more issues as they came out, but not all of them. It was a constant frustration at the time: not being able to count on the next issue making it to my town.

Because of that inconsistency—where I would pick up, say, issue #85 of Spider-Man, then not find another issue until #89 came out—I spent a lot of time looking for clues in the stories as to what I had missed in the intervening issues, and I would write up my own versions of the adventures my favorite heroes had experienced in between. Very occasionally I tried to draw my own comics, but mostly I wrote them out more as prose stories. This skill of figuring out all the ways a character might go from point A to point Z has been useful in my own writing since.

Eventually, after my parents’ divorce, Mom, my sister, and I moved to a town large enough to have multiple book stores and an actual comic shop, where eventually I managed to purchase at relatively cheap prices many of the back issues I had missed of Iron Fist and several other titles. I was a little disappointed that some of my attempts to fill in the gaps between issues were way off, but I still loved the character. I know now (but didn’t realize back then) that one of the things that appealed to me about the character originally was that chest-baring costume. But Danny Rand’s story also appealed to me because he was an outsider, never quite fitting in anywhere. That was something I really empathized with.

Another thing that appealed to me about Iron Fist the comic (and some of the other Kung fu-ploitation properties) was the inclusion of (often mangled, I know) zen, buddhist, and taoist philosophy. Seeing other traditions underpinning moral and ethical principles, seeing good, brave, and noble character behaving morally and ethically outside of the fundamentalist Christian framework helped me reconcile my growing discomfort with the evangelical beliefs I’d been raised with. Yes, it was culture appropriation, and it was a stripped-down and distorted representation of those other religions, but it wasn’t being done to deride those beliefs. The distortion was because of ignorance and the expediency of meeting writing deadlines, not out of a hostility to the cultures themselves. While it was problematic, it still helped me find a way to escape the clutches of a homophobic denomination. And that’s a good thing.

As I said at the beginning of this post, I had had high hopes for the Netflix Iron Fist series. I’d read enough reviews when it first came out to know that the consensus of critics and a lot of fans was that the show was nowhere near as good as some of the other Marvel-Netflix shows. But I still hoped. I still think that the show would have been improved immensely if they had cast an asian american as Danny. It would have been really easy, and I think would have made the way they chose to tell his story work a bit better. The external conflict of the series is mostly about control of the corporation originally founded by Danny’s father and the father’s best friend. The internal conflict is about Danny trying to figure out his place in the world. If they had made Danny biracial, showing his father in the flashbacks as white and his mother as, let’s say, Chinese American, then that internal conflict would have had more layers. And this story desperately needed something less shallow than a badly thought out boardroom drama.

It also doesn’t help that the actor they cast as Danny seems about as talented as a block of wood. Seriously, the adam’s apple of the actor who was cast to play Danny’s childhood friend from the mystical city displays more acting talent and skill in a single scene than the actor playing Danny does in the entire series. Another big problem is pacing. The series spent about 9 episodes setting things up that could have easily been handled in one. The first episode was pretty an okay beginning of the tale, but it wasn’t until about episode 11 that things seemed to pick up. I also can’t figure out why they showed virtually no scenes of the mystical city where Danny gets his training. Let along never showing us the dragon. I mean, what is the point of telling Iron Fist’s story without showing us all that?

Maybe they’ll do better in season two.


In case you don’t know where the title of this blog post originated, here’s a music video that might explain things:

Carl Douglas – Kung Fu Fighting:

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