Archive | February 2021

Friday Five (needs more dinosaurs edition)

“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.” ― Carl Sagan

(click to embiggen)

We’ve already reached the second Friday in February! Wow!

It has been getting colder and colder all week. We started getting snow Thursday. Overnight lows significantly below freezing, and much most snow is expected Saturday. And I live on a hillside with very steep hills the only way out of the neighborhood, so I probably won’t be leaving the house until next week when the temps are predicted to come back up.

Meanwhile, we have the Friday Five. This week I bring you: one story about why snow is such a catastrophe here, the top five stories of the week, five stories of interest to queers and our allies, five stories about the pandemic, five stories about threats traitos, five stories about bad people getting their due, and five videas (plus things I wrote and some notable obituaries).

This Week In News Local to Me:

“To all the people who moved here in the last few years, and think you’re a great driver in the snow, you’re not,” Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan declared. “Seattle hills are notoriously difficult, in particular when the snow melts and then freezes.”

Stories of the Week:

8-Year-Old Calls Out NPR For Lack Of Dinosaur Stories.

They Stormed the Capitol. Their Apps Tracked Them. This story is not really about the murder mob, rather it is a fascinating and chilling example of what can be learned by aggregating anonymized ad network data. The graphics alone are worth the click.

KUOW – The last youth jail in the country moves to end contract with ICE.

Dozens of states see new voter suppression proposals after baseless fraud claims.

Essex academic’s imposter ‘copied work and tattoos’.

This Week in News for Queers and Allies:

Arkansas senate passes bill to allow pharmacists & nursing home staff to turn away LGBTQ patients – The bill lists protected health care professionals, including doctors and nurses and any “individual who furnishes or assists in the provision of a healthcare service.” Employers could demand their health insurance refuse to provide LGBTQ health care.

Federal agency to crack down on LGBTQ housing discrimination.

Activists gathered 500,000 signatures to force Michigan’s legislature to vote on LGBTQ civil rights – The state legislature will have to vote to accept the petition for LGBTQ protections and make it immediate law or put it on the ballot in 2022.

C.D.C. Report: Gay and Bi People at Greater Risk for Severe COVID-19.

Transgender activists in the South are battling homelessness with tiny homes and private shelters amid COVID-19.

This Week in the Pandemic:

US could have averted 40% of Covid deaths, says panel examining Trump’s policies – The country began the pandemic with a degraded public health infrastructure, leading to more deaths than other high-income countries.

Biden just purchased 200 million additional doses of coronavirus vaccines — and we now have enough shots coming to immunize most Americans.

Drugmakers Look for New Ways to Test Covid-19 Vaccines – Researchers aim to measure how much immune response a shot triggers—potentially useful for assessing new shots and new uses.

Vaccinated workers at Massachusetts hospital volunteer to sit with Covid-19 patients.

GOP Rep. Ron Wright dies after Covid diagnosis – Dozens of members have also tested positive for the disease over the past year and one representive-elect died from it less than two months ago, but Wright is the first sitting lawmaker to do so.

This Week in Seditious Traitors:

No, the Trump Era Was Not a ‘Thrill’ – White political journalists distanced themselves from the horrors of the Trump administration in a way many of us couldn’t.

Trump-supporting evangelicals should share blame for January 6 insurrection.

Justice Department says an Oath Keepers leader waited for Trump’s direction before Capitol attack.

A majority of the people arrested for Capitol riot had a history of financial trouble – Trail of bankruptcies, tax problems and bad debts raises questions for researchers trying to understand motivations for attack.

At Trump Impeachment II, the Republican Party Is Also on Trial .

This Week in Deplorable People Facing Consequences:

Twitter Suspends Right-Wing Activist Group Project Veritas, James O’Keefe.

Judge Orders Dan Bongino to Pay The Daily Beast $31,000 in Attorneys’ Fees for Filing Defamation Lawsuit ‘Without Merit’.

Judge Orders OAN to Pay Rachel Maddow and MSNBC $250,000 in Attorney Fees For Filing Frivolous Defamation Lawsuit.

Tim Eyman violated campaign finance law, judge rules, is barred from controlling political committees Eyman is a horse’s ass, a grifter, and man who has devastated local government budgets.

Trump could be fined $12 million after an Illinois judge ruled his Chicago hotel violated an environmental protection law for 3 years.

In Memoriam:

Mary Wilson, founding member of The Supremes, dies at 76 – “She was a trailblazer, a diva, and will be deeply missed,” Motown founder Berry Gordy said.

Mary Wilson, longest-reigning original Supreme, dies at 76.

Christopher Plummer, actor of ‘The Sound of Music’ fame, dies at 9 – Plummer died at his home in Connecticut with his wife, Elaine Taylor, by his side.

Remembering Christopher Plummer for so much more than ‘The Sound of Music’.

Porn Mogul Larry Flynt, ‘Hustler’ founder and 1st Amendment champion, dies at 78.

Things I wrote:

WandaVision Goes Even More Meta in “A Very Special Episode…”.

Monday Update 2/8/2021: Infamy, Defamation… but also a bit of good news.

Ask the Next Question, or how SF/F has always been confronting social issue.

Bullying, gender, and the importance of horses – or, more of why I love sf/f.

Always re-blog.

Videos!

One Billion Years of Earth’s Evolution in 45 Seconds:

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

Dolly Parton on Funding Coronavirus Vaccine and Teaming up With Barry Gibb:

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

Reality Sets In After A Weirdly Normal Super Bowl Sunday:

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Trump’s Impeachment Lawyers Are Very Bad: A Closer Look:

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

Never-Before-Seen Capitol Riot Videos Provide Damning Evidence Against Trump:

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

Always re-blog

Here I am, trying to finish tomorrow morning’s Friday Five, and a good friend sent me this link because her hubby was watching Lip Synch Battle and we both adhere to the sacred tradition…

Lip Sync Battle – Tom Holland:

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

Bullying, gender, and the importance of horses – or, more of why I love sf/f

Across the Green Grass Fields is the sixth book in Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series;

I read the sixth book in the Wayward Children series by Seanan McGuire a bit over a week ago. While I tried for several days to write a review, I realized that I couldn’t really talk about it without talking about the fifth book in the series, and how that left me feeling. But for some reason I didn’t write a review of the fifth book last year. My draft of the review of the sixth book wound up having more than a thousand words about the fifth book, so I decided to separate them and publish that review last week. And now I think I can tackle the sixth book.

There are spoilers ahead, though I try to avoid the biggest ones.

I was predisposed to love this series before I read the first bopok, after hearing the author explain that the inspiration for the first story was her own reading of tales (when she was a child herself) in which a child or group of children were transported to a magical world where they had a world-saving adventure but then were forced to go back home and just be ordinary kids again! And as a kid I had felt exactly the same way as I reached each of various fantasy books that I read.

For reference, I wrote about the first three novellas in this series here. And then I wrote about the fourth book (which left me sobbing uncontrollably) here, and the fifth here.

When Seanan McGuire explained how she came to write the award-winning first story in the series, she mentioned specifically the original My Little Pony cartoon as one of her inspirations. I was exactly the wrong age when the original series came out, but the more recent My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic series roped me in. So much so that for several years now with a group of friends I have been running a tabletop roleplaying game using the Fate system to run a campaign in the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic universe, with the twist that we are crossing the series over with the Cthulhu Mythos (with a heavy sprinkling of things like Ash vs Evil Dead).

The upshot of all of this is, that once the title of the sixth book, Across the Green Grass Fields and the official blurb was released, I was essentially vibrating in great anticipation for the book. Because it was going to be about kids crossing through a portal to a world of adventure, but also specifically the original world which had inspired the author to start the series. So since this story would be about the aspect of this theme about which the author feels most passionate, presumably it would be one of the stronger entries in the series. Given that the fifth book was “merely” Really Good, but was therefore a letdown (for me) from the Stupendously Incredible that was the fourth book, I really wanted this book to wow me.

So, the book follows a young girl named Regen—who happens to be really into horses—who is having a bit of difficulty navigating grammar school. She had two very good friends, until one of those friends did something which the other friend felt wasn’t properly girlish and thus needed to be shunned. Regen feels very badly for the shunned friend, but also feels she can’t risk losing the regard of the bullying friend. There is some discussion to be had about whether deciding to stop being friends with someone should be regarded as bullying, but I’m afraid I come down on the side of the shunned girl’s mother that this behavior is a form of bullying.

Some years later, Regen begins feeling more insecure around her remaining friends because they seem to all be going through puberty and she isn’t. When she talks to her parents about it she finds out that she is intersex, specifically she has androgen insensitivity. They explain how the doctors discovered it, and reassure her again and again that this doesn’t mean anything is wrong with her. It’s just she won’t undergo puberty on her own, but she can with hormone replacement therapy.

This revelation bothers Regen even more. The next day at school she makes the mistake of telling the bully who she thinks is her friends. This does not go well, and she flees the school grounds, intended to go the long way back home. In the wooded area she is walking through toward home, she finds a mysterious door, which she goes through, and she winds up in another world.

She meets some of the inhabitants (a family of centaurs), and is informed that whenever a human comes to the Hooflands (which is what they call the world) something big will happen, and the human will save the world. Regen doesn’t want to save the world, particularly when she hears some of the stories of humans who came before her who all disappear after saving the world.

The Hooflands are inhabited by a lot of mythical creatures, all with some kind of hoof or other. The unicorns seem to be dumb animals (and are raised as livestock to be eaten by the centaurs). There are kelpies, fauns, perytons, and so forth. Some of species do not get along with others. Kelpies, for instance, are describe as mindless beasts and monsters.

Regen lives with the centaurs for a time. The happy family is disrupted because the Queen of the Hooflands puts a bounty on Regen. The centaurs relocate to a place where they think the Queen can’t find them and live there more or less happy for several years. Until it becomes clear that the Queen is evil and is hurting the other inhabitants of the Hooflands, so Regen sets out to try to save the world (without vanishing afterward).

There was, for me, a big problem with the book. The opening chapters, while Regen is dealing with the difficulties at school and discovering that she is intersex and so forth was extremely compelling. You know how some people yell at the TV when a character does something foolish? I was talking to the book when it became clear that Regen was about to tell the bully about her gender. I knew it was going to go badly, and McGuire had me on the edge of my seat about how badly it would go and what happened next.

But, again, this is how I experienced the book, not long after Regen arrived in the Hooflands almost all dramatic tension evaporated. I literally fell asleep while reading the second half of the book. Twice. It took me two more days than it ought to have to finish it because it just wasn’t grabbing me.

I’ve read other reviews of people who absolutely loved the book and found it rivetting to the end. The writing is good. There is not a big glaring plothole or anything like that. I just wasn’t able to make myself care about what happened to the Hooflands. I kept wanting to know what was going to happen when Regen got back. It just didn’t feel like anything important was at stake within the Hooflands part of the story.

This doesn’t mean that the book was badly written. It means this falls into the category of books that aren’t for me. This is not the first time that I have encountered this phenomenon with an author whose stories I otherwise adore. For whatever reason, this one didn’t grab me.

And I’m not happy about that! Because I really wanted to adore this book. I wanted it to move me the way book four did.

I might try to re-read it again later. Maybe I was just not in the right place mentally that week for it to resonate for me.

I still highly recommend the series. As mentioned above, there are people out there who absolutely loved this one. So maybe you will, too. I’m still looking forward to the next book. I hope it’s one that grabs me.

Ask the Next Question, or how SF/F has always been confronting social issues

I need to get my other hosting issues sorted out and get a couple of my other sites back up on the web. But a conversation elseweb made me dig out this essay I wrote and first published 22 years ago and resurrect it on this blog. Homophobia is not a recent development in the sci fi community. But also neither is allyship, so:

(Originally published 18 June, 1999)

Theodore Sturgeon (1918-1985) was one of America’s finest writers. He was one of the great figures of the Golden Age of science fiction. During his lifetime he produced over 200 stories, several novels, film and tv scripts (including two of the most famous episodes of the original “Star Trek” series), plays, and dozens of non-fiction reviews and essays. His many literary awards include the Hugo, the Nebula, and the International Fantasy Award.

Sturgeon wrote such great fiction because his philosophy was “Always ask the next question.” He even created a symbol or personal shorthand for “Ask the next question,” a capital “Q” with an arrow through it. He was never satisfied with conventional wisdom or pat answers.

And that tendency got him in big trouble in 1953, making him the central target of an intense “anti-homosexual blacklist” within the publishing community. Prior to the 1970s, it was virtually unheard of for gay men, lesbian, or bisexual characters to appear in any kind of fiction, and when they did, they were either vile villains or tragically flawed creatures who committed suicide before the end of the story. While many science fiction authors were questioning racial stereotypes or decrying McCarthy’s rabid anti-communism, they closed ranks with the rest of the status quo on the question of homosexuality.

Not Theodore Sturgeon. At the time a father of four and somewhat notorious womanizer, Sturgeon still couldn’t help but ask the next question. If racism was wrong, why not sexism and heterosexism? He wrote three short stories in quick succession. The first, “The Silken Swift” was a twist on the unicorn legend that questioned society’s definitions of purity and innocence, while making some comments about the role of women in most cultures. It caused a slight stir, but didn’t seem too far out. Then “The Sex Opposite” started showing up in editor’s mailboxes, in which Sturgeon posited a whole subspecies of humans who could change their gender at will, and whom engaged in long term relationships with members of all three sexes. This provoked a mild uproar, and many editors shied far away from it. Sturgeon started receiving unsolicited advice, some of it implied that people were assuming he was homosexual (because only a “pervert” would even think of portraying such relationships as possible, let alone successful and happy) and suggesting that he tone it down, for the sake of his career.

Which seemed to firm up Sturgeon’s resolve. He sat down at his typewriter and created “The World Well Lost” in which homosexual characters were not only portrayed as normal, well-adjusted people in the future, the story came right out and referred to the homophobic past has a horrible time. Fear and loathing of homosexuals was a sign of an immature society, the story said. This was too much for some people. The editor of the magazine Fantastic, Howard Browne, was so outraged by the tale, not only did he reject it, he immediately started phoning all the other editors he knew to organized a boycott of Sturgeon. Browne wasn’t satisfied with bullying other editors into agreeing never to publish anything from Sturgeon again. He and his cronies promised to completely ruin the career of anyone who dared publish “The World Well Lost” itself.

Ray Palmer was a feisty man who was editor of Universe Science Fiction, a small pulp sci-fi zine at the time. Perhaps it was because Mr. Palmer had suffered from disfiguring disability since childhood, and had little sympathy for bullies, but in any case, Palmer put “The World Well Lost” into a fast track to get it published right away. And he publicly dared Browne’s group to make good on their threat.

Browne’s coalition quickly crumbled, and the “Homosexual Blacklist” faded away before it had a chance to damage any other careers.

Sturgeon kept on asking the next question, never afraid to broach topics just because they were controversial. And Palmer enjoyed a long and successful career in publishing. Thanks to them, other writers in the fifties, sixties, and seventies could explore the subject of homosexuality in a more balanced and tolerant fashion. While it was true that, even into the late seventies, most readers, critics, and editors assumed that any author who wrote such a story was probably gay, bi, or lesbian themselves, it was because of two courageous heterosexual men, Sturgeon and Palmer, that those authors could give us those rare, early glimpses into a world where homophobia was neither common nor acceptable.

This pride month, remember to raise a toast to Theodore Sturgeon and Ray Palmer, two people who knew it was better to do the right thing than to be perceived as the right kind of people. Where ever their spirits are now, I’m sure they are still asking questions.

Monday Update 2/8/2021: Infamy, Defamation… but also a bit of good news

Let’s play…

I put all my blogging time over the weekend into finishing my WandaVision episode review and a book review that will publish later in the week. There were a number of news stories that broke or had new developments after I composed this week’s Friday Five, So here are a few of those stories that I want to share and comment upon before next Friday.

First up, we have a number of news stories involving media, social and otherwise:

Rudy Giuliani lashes out at his employer, WABC, for adding a legal disclaimer to his radio show – Giuliani: This “gives you a sense of how far this free speech thing has gone and how they frighten everybody. I mean we’re in America, we’re not in East Germany. They’ve got to warn you about me?”. Giuliani has been pushing the lies about the election everywhere, including on his radio show. That includes unfounded (and in some details, impossible) claims about one voting machine manufacturer and an unrelated election software maker. The two companies have filed lawsuits against some of the networks that repeated those lies for weeks. So, the radio station decided to try to avoid being named in one of the lawsuits by putting a disclaimer on the show. Exactly what a lawyer that is worth his fees would advise, right? Rudy’s reaction is wrong in so many ways.

I mean, it’s been clear for a while now the Rudy is woefully ill-informed, has very poor reasoning skills, and doesn’t actually understand the law very well. I keep running into people online who point out that Rudy was a successful prosecutor years ago. That doesn’t necessarily mean anything. He could well have been one of the guys who was completely reliant upon his staff to write all the briefs, draft this questions for witnesses, and so forth. He may have been really good when he was younger at delivering the lines that had been scripted for him by his staff, without much understanding. But clearly he doesn’t have that kind of assistance now. It is also possible that he’s just suffering some sort of mental decline/neurological issue. In any case, the radio station that pays him to make his show is not censoring him if they put a legal disclaimer in front of it. They are still broadcasting his show in its entirety.

Free speech has always meant the government can’t stop us from speaking in advance, and that many types of speech are protected from legal repercussions. It has never mean that there will never be any consequences when we shoot off our mouths. Sometimes the consequence is that someone argues with us. Sometimes the consequence is that make fun of us. Sometimes the consequence is they block us on social media. And in the case that we knowingly lie about someone in a manner that harms their reputation, and so forth, the consequence can be getting sued.

If the statement is false, is published (or broadcast, et cetera), caused harm to the person—then it is defamation. It could be argued that the two corporations qualify as public figures, and if so, to prevail in court they would have to prove that the statements were made and/or published with malicious intent. And it looks like they have a good argument for that.

Meanwhile: Trump Lost Twitter and the Presidency. Guess Which One Hurts More? One of the stories that almost made it into another post asserted that the Grifter has been writing down insulting things he wants to say about certain election officials and public figures and trying to get other people who haven’t been banned from Twitter to post them for him. That’s just so pathetic. But that also tells us both how twitter aided and abetted the Grifter’s agenda, and why he didn’t just start walking into the press room the make statements once he was suspended: his twitter account was never about communication. It was always about trolling, bullying, and harassing. And even the most sycophantic news networks would try to phrase things to have at least the appearance of being news.

And somewhat related: Parler Wanted Donald Trump On Its Site. Trump’s Company Wanted A Stake – Documents seen by BuzzFeed News show that Parler offered Trump 40% of the company if he posted exclusively to the platform. The deal was never finalized. I’m not completely certain, but it seems to me offering the sitting president a large chunk of stock in exchange for him granting them exclusivity windows on each of his public statements would constitute a bribe, right?

Of course, the so-called Free Speech alternative to Twitter has other problems: Parler CEO Is Fired After ‘Constant Resistance’ Inside The Conservative-Friendly Site. And they still don’t have the service up. The managed to get a static page back on line, but so far that’s it.

Meanwhile, Twitter permanently suspends Gateway Pundit Homocon founder’s account. This guy has been pushing racist lies conspiracies from many years. A long overdue ban.

Speaking of long overdue things: Facebook to take down posts with false claims about vaccines.

And also: We Won’t Have Lou Dobbs To Kick Around Anymore. Dobbs was even more in the tank for the former Grifter in Chief that any other Fox host. A lot people are assuming the sudden cancelation of his show is because of the big lawsuits being filed about the false election stories. Dobbs is mentioned as a co-defendant and if the suit proceeds through discovery, he’s going to be deposed under oath. And Dobbs’ show was the highest rated of the Fox Business shows, so they didn’t cancel it because of bad ratings. There are other Fox hosts named in the lawsuits that haven’t been fired—at least not yet. On the other hand most of them have—after being forced by the network to read on air a statement disclaiming all those election stories—shift emphasis away from those election claims. Whereas Dobbs couldn’t seem to stop bringing them up. So maybe the network did fire him because of the lawsuit. It’s possible that Dobbs had become a problem in some other way that hasn’t been made public.

Dobbs, of course, isn’t taking it well: Lou Dobbs is lashing out at Fox on Twitter for dropping his show.

The important thing is that the lying racist homophobe is off the air. At least for a while.

Let’s shift gears to something more pleasant:

Dr. Fauci talks about his visits to gay bars & bathhouses (for scientific reasons) – He also contrasted the AIDS activists that once targeted him with COVID deniers, saying the former “ultimately were on the right side of history.”. I love the bit where he talked about going to meet about 100 angry AIDS activists by himself: “not for a second did I feel physically threatened to go down there, not even close. I mean, that’s not the nature of what the [AIDS] protest was.” The COVID deniers, on the other hand..

You can hear the whole interview on NPR’s Fresh Air podcast: Dr. Fauci On Vaccinations And Biden’s ‘Refreshing’ Approach To COVID-19.

WandaVision Goes Even More Meta in “A Very Special Episode…”

© Disney+

Time for a review of the latest episode of WandaVision: “A Very Special Episode…” Since I keep taking too long to finish these, I’m going to try to do a bit less verbose in my recapping and focus on reviewing. And before we get into that, I want to mention up front that while I thus far love this show playing on Disney+, it is still unfortunate that the Disney corporation is refusing to pay Alan Dean Foster and other authors money they are owed for media tie-in novels.

This week’s episode continues the trend seen in the first three where Wanda, Vision, and the town of Westview moves through the decades with styles, decor, and so forth evoking sitcoms of a particular era. This episode has moved into the 80s, and while i recognized the styles and at least the homages during the opening sequence to Family Ties, but I have to confess that while I am familiar with a lot of the sitcoms of the 50s, 60s, and 70s, I didn’t watch much TV during the 1980s1. So I probably missed a bunch of subtle stuff in this one.

This episode moved back and forth between the viewpoint of Wanda and Vision inside the reality bubble, and the scientists and agents outside. With some direct interaction that did not go very well. It was interesting, it was intense in places, and the mystery managed to deepen some more. I don’t think I can say more without spoilers, so if you don’t want to read those, stop now!

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Seriously, spoilers ahead!

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Read More…

Friday Five (baseless lies edition)

Randy’s parody gets the best recognition…

We’ve already reached the first Friday in February! Wow!

It’s been very rainy, but the temps have been just a bit higher than average, and it is starting to look as if this might be the third winter in the last 100 years where the daytime high never fell below 40ºF… Meanwhile, both my husband and I have been having extra bad allergy symptom all week.

Meanwhile, we have the Friday Five. This week I bring you: one special story to bring a smile, the top five stories of the week, five stories of interest to queers and our allies, five stories about the pandemic, five stories about threats to the future of democracy, five stories about the seditious traitors, and five videos (plus things I wrote and some notable obituaries).

This Week In News to Lighten Your Day:

Trans lesbian destroys transphobic trope in viral video – She responded to “You know, wearing a dress doesn’t make you a woman” by showing off butch fashion.

Stories of the Week:

Can shortage leaves Chicago breweries scrambling, adding yet another COVID-19 hurdle — and spelling the demise of at least 1 brand. This article focuses on the Chicago area, but the aluminum can shortage is effecting beverage producers everywhere.

Seanan McGuire, award-winning fantasy author, talks new novel and her Marvel Comics dream.

‘Meme stock’ rally rescues AMC theaters from $600M debt.

Has science solved the Dyatlov Pass incident, one of history’s greatest adventure mysteries?

Media Literacy 101: 5 Steps to Help You Avoid Fake News.

This Week in News for Queers and Allies:

TJ Osborne, One Half of ‘Brothers Osborne’ Country Duo, Comes Out as Gay.

Markey, Lowenthal to reintroduce bill requiring US to promote LGBTQ rights abroad.

Biden issues presidential memo protecting rights of LGBTQ people internationally – The United States will welcome and protect LGBTQ asylum-seekers and refugees again.

Federal court nixes Alabama’s ban on trans people correcting driver licenses without surgery – The judge said the state couldn’t even say why it required both top and bottom surgery to correct the gender marker on a driver license.

For First Time Ever, Three National LGBTQ Orgs Have Black Leaders.

This Week in the Pandemic:

Pfizer and Moderna vaccines may be even more effective than previously thought, new data suggests – Data from large-scale Israeli trials indicates high levels of protection against COVID-19.

Biden administration weighs plan to directly send masks to all Americans – The Trump administration scrapped a plan last year to deliver cloth masks to every U.S. household.

COVID deaths are starting to drop in every part of the US – Covid-19 deaths have begun to decline in every section of the U.S., the latest sign of relief as cases continue to drop and the vaccination push accelerates.

The mystery of the missing vaccines.

Race and ethnicity data missing for nearly half of coronavirus vaccine recipients, federal study finds.

This Week in the Future of Democracy:

Senate approves power-sharing agreement, allowing Democrats to take control of committees. By dragging his feet, Moscow Mitch managed to steal a whole month from the Democrats…

From banging on doors to hiding on the floor, congresswoman describes moment pro-Trump rioters stormed Capitol .

Facebook Knew Calls for Violence Plagued ‘Groups,’ Now Plans Overhaul – The giant struggled to balance Mark Zuckerberg’s free-expression mantra against findings that rabid partisanship had overrun a feature central to its future.

Exclusive: Dozens of former Bush officials leave Republican Party, calling it ‘Trump cult’.

Republicans outraged by Dems’ willingness to govern without them – Republicans genuinely seem to believe Biden has a responsibility to give the GOP the power to veto his own COVID relief bill.

This Week in Seditious Traitors:

DOJ debating use of RICO law to charge insurrectionists involved in Capitol coup: report .

Men who are anxious about their masculinity are more likely to support aggressive politics and to have voted for Trump.

Arizona GOP lawmaker introduces bill to give Legislature power to toss out election results – One section grants the Legislature the ability to revoke the secretary of state’s certification at any time before the presidential inauguration.

Brian Williams Roasts Kevin McCarthy with ‘Exclusive Video’ of Mar-a-Lago Meeting with Trump.

Madison Cawthorn is a Republican creation and North Carolina embarrassment.

In Memoriam:

Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick lies in honor in Rotunda.

Remembering Officer Brian Sicknick, an American hero.

Former Tarzan Actor and NFL Player Mike Henry Died Aged 84.

Hal Holbrook, prolific actor who played “Deep Throat” in “All the President’s Men,” has died at 95.

Ex-Pirates pitcher, World Series champion Grant Jackson dies at 78.

Paul Crutzen, Nobel Laureate Who Fought Climate Change, Dies at 87 – He named our age the “Anthropocene” and warned the world of threats that certain chemicals posed to the ozone layer.

Andrew Brooks, who led development of the first FDA-approved Covid-19 saliva test, dies at 51.

John Chaney, Temple’s towering Hall of Fame basketball coach, dies aged 89.

Joseph Sonnabend, pioneering AIDS physician, dies at 88.

Things I wrote:

WandaVision Interrupts the Program to Give Some Answers, and Raise More Questions.

When the lightning burns, the wolfsbane blooms, and the autumn moon is bright – or, more of why I love sf/f/a>.

Videos!

House Votes to Remove Marjorie Taylor Greene from Committees: A Closer Look:

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

My Pillow Guy Spouts The Same Election Fraud Lies The Ex-President Plans To Use At Impeachment Trial:

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

‘These are her words, her lies’: Cooper calls out Rep. Greene:

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

Boyfriend D vs Vacation D (NSFW):

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MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE – A Randy Rainbow Song Parody:

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

When the lightning burns, the wolfsbane blooms, and the autumn moon is bright – or, more of why I love sf/f

I have been trying to write a review of the sixth book in the Wayward Children series by Seanan McGuire, and realized that I couldn’t really talk about it without talking about the rest of the series, and I had somehow neglected to write about the previous book when I read it last year, so I need to talk about it before I jump into the latest. So, this will be a review of the fifth book. For reference, I wrote about the first three novellas in this series here. And then I wrote about the fourth book (which left me sobbing uncontrollably), here.

I should preface this with this statement: before I read the first book in this series I was predisposed to love them, as the author had explained on a panel at a sci fi convention I attended, that the inspiration for the first story was her own reading of tales (when she was a child herself) in which a child or group of children were transported to a magical world where they faced danger, monsters, and adventure but managed to save that world… and then were forced to go back home and just be ordinary kids again!

And I definitely loved the first book in the series, as well as the next several sequels.

The fourth book, In An Absent Dream was—for me—the most devastating, but the first three had been pretty moving.

When the first teasers for the fifth book came out, I must admit I had mixed feelings. The first book had introduced us to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, a refuge for those children who were not happy to be sent back to mundania after having slipped through the shadows into another world. Among the children we met in the first book were the twin sisters Jack and Jill, who had been to a world of horrors. And they had turned out to be central to the mystery of the first book. The second book in the series is a prequel to the first, and tells the story of how Jack and Jill (or Jacqueline and Jillian as they were known by their parents) went to that world, had their adventure, and come home.

It was clear from both the announced title of the fifth book and its official summary that we were going to be treated to yet another adventure involving Jack and Jill. And while I had enjoyed the first and second book in the series, there had been a whole lot of other characters introduced in the first and third books whose stories I really wanted to learn more of. So giving yet one more book to Jack and Jill, who had already had two books, seemed like it was giving the shaft to some of the other characters.

On the other hand, the magical world that Jack and Jill had traveled to, known as The Moors, was based on the old Universal Horror movies of the 1930s and 1940s. And I loved those particular movies, which had contributed quite a bit to how much I had loved the second book in the series, Down Among the Sticks and Bones. So I wasn’t really complaining about getting to spend more time there.

McGuire has explained several times that the series is set up thusly: odd-numbered books will be set at the school and involve groups of children who have already had at least one magical adventure on their own working together to solve a problem, while even-numbered books will be straight up Portal Fantasies where we see one or more children going to one of the magical worlds for the first time, and how that transforms them.

So. Come Tumbling Down begins with Jack unexpectedly coming back to Eleanor West’s school after taking her deranged sister back to the Moors and needing help. Several characters accompany Jack and her resurrected girlfriend, Alexis, back to the Moors to try to stop Jill from doing something truly horrible that will (among other things) cause great harm to her sister, Jack. Not to mention cause a lot of other bad things to happen to the mostly innocent bystanders trying to live their lives on The Moors.

It is clear right away that something is very wrong. Jack and Alexis explain the situation, and beg some of the students of Eleanor West’s school to come back with them to The Moors to stop Jill’s evil plan, because Jack can’t do it without them. A couple of the other wayward children we met in earlier books, as well as at least one we haven’t seen before this book answer Jack’s call and go back with her to the Moors.

We get to see aspects of this world that weren’t covered in Down Among the Sticks and Bones, which is cool. But as the rest of the quest unfolded I had a bit of a problem. Most of the characters that Jack persuaded to come back weren’t actually needed to complete the quest. Honestly, exactly one, and only that one and only for one specific task of the characters that Jack begged to come back with her did anything that actually contributed to solving the problem. All of the other actions that contributed to the solution were performed by Jack on her own. So most of the characters (including one who paid a very significant price) were not needed after all. Their only purpose in the plot was to get hurt (or worse) to create some tension, and not actually to contribute to the final solution.

It can be argued that Jack didn’t know that when she pled her case early in the book… but the author should have known that, and should have structured the story somewhat differently.

Mind you, I enjoyed the quest, its solution, and the new things we learned about the Moors. I just think the author dropped the ball at a couple of points in the plot, is what I’m saying.

However, the over all story—most importantly the explicit revelation that what some people call a monster can actually be the hero of the tale—was very entertaining and quite good. So like every other story I’ve read by this author, by the end despite some things not going the way I thought, I was still left mostly happy with that tale and looking forward to the next story in the series.

But it didn’t feel either as tight nor as poignant as the fourth book. And maybe I should just accept that sometimes an author hits their stride on every single aspect of a book in an incredible way, and other times they only hit it on say three out of five major components.

I mean, I liked the book. I went back to reread it and enjoyed it the second time. And as soon as I knew their was another book in the series coming out I preordered it. Which means, I guess, that I’m saying some of the books in this series are Incredible and Stupendous, and others are merely Really Good.

And that’s okay.

WandaVision Interrupts the Program to Give Some Answers, and Raise More Questions

© Disney +

Time for the next installment in my weekly WandaVision episode review. I reviewed the first three episodes here. I’ll try to to stick to one episode at a time going forward.

This week’s episode, entitled “We Interrupt This Program” gave us a lot of answers while raising many more questions. It is also chock-full of connections to and characters from other parts of the Marvel universe. Which is cool for nerds such as myself. But I want to stress that you don’t have to be familiar with all of those other things to understand. The show is still doing a fairly good job of framing this story in a way that people who aren’t familiar with the other properties can follow and be just as perplexed about what’s going on as the rest of us. There is one bit at the beginning of this episode that might need a bit of extra explaining for someone who isn’t Marvel obsessed, but even then they gave some explanation that I think might have been enough for those not familiar.

So, I’m going to limit the body of this review to only what happens on screen, and if I feel the need to squee about any of the bonus things along the way, I’ll toss that into footnotes.

The only non-spoilery thing I can say is that this episode tells us what was happening from the point of view of government agents and scientists who are outside of Westview. Which is way the viewers (us!) gets some answers, obviously.

I can’t really say anything more without spoilers, so, if you don’t want to be spoiled, stop reading now.

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Seriously, spoilers ahead!

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