Weekend Update 4/13/2019: Evil comes in many forms…

Tweet from Jeff Tiedrich (@jefftiedrich)  “Hey kids. I'm in my 60s. You've never lived in an America where the rich paid their fair share. I have. Let me tell you what that was like: * We built new schools * We built new highways * We cut the poverty rate * We lead the world in technology * WE WENT TO THE FUCKING MOON”

We went to the moon! (click to embiggen)

Once again here we are with some stories that broke after I completed this week’s Friday Five or have had further developments since being reported in an earlier Friday Five or Weekend Update. Specifically stories that I want to editorialize a bit more about than I usually do in the Friday Five. And spoilers: it isn’t all bad news!

Let’s begin with a series of stories that are specifically relevant here in my home state of Washington.

I have occasionally written before about our local perennial anti-tax, anti-gay, anti-well-anything-decent initiative filer Tim Eyman. A man whose full-time job for a couple of decades has been running these shitty initiatives to restrict the power of the legislature to raise taxes, to make it difficult for local governments and counties to raise taxes, to stop transit projects, to repeal gay civil rights protections and so many more. He famously planned to make his official announcement of filing one anti-gay initiative dressed in a pink tutu because he somehow thought that would be funny—one of his supporters showed up with a rented Darth Vader costume and convinced him to wear that instead.

A bit over a month ago his usually operation switched gears when the Attorney General filed a lawsuit against him and one of his paid signature gathering groups for campaign finance violations including money laundering and diverting a lot of funds for Eyman’s personal use. The state elections commission had already ruled on some of his earlier campaigns that this sort of thing was frequently happening, and in a settlement of those charges some years ago, Eyman agreed to never the the treasurer of an initiative campaign or similar operation. But that apparently didn’t stop the malfeasance.

So, right after that, he sent out a whining money beg to his supporters, in which he also mentioned that he was filing for personal bankruptcy and that his wife was divorcing him. And it is mostly in the realm of that separate bankruptcy filing that he came into the news this week: Judge refuses to let Eyman back out of bankruptcy. So, when he filed for bankruptcy, his claim was that between his wife leaving him and that fundraising has become less successful (which he was blaming on the lawsuit that had just been filed—I guess his argument was that donors heard rumors of the lawsuit coming and had stopped sending in money?), plus the estimated legal fees for defending in that lawsuit, that he was going broke. He filed for Chapter 11, which allows for a reorganization and gives the bankrupt person some same in how the finances are sorted out.

The state has since asked the court to convert this to a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, where all assets are liquidated and then the court decides how to parcel out to the debtors. They argued that the primary purpose of the filing was to protect his wealth from the lawsuit—in other words, to prevent any punitive action of the courts from actually, you know, punishing him. And to bolster their argument, they produced bank records showing that he is spending money and an incredible rate, among other things.

This news going public apparently is not going over well with the donors who had started sending in money for his legal defense fund. So Eyman had filed a counter motion to end the bankruptcy proceedings entirely, all but admitting that the only real point of the filing was to avoid being penalized later.

The judge didn’t let him out of the filing, but also didn’t grant the state’s request. What he did do was order that Eyman has to every month file a list of exactly what he’s spending his money on, along with an estimate of his expenses for the coming months, and that at a particular date ahead, file a budget that the court will enforce.

This comes one week after the judge in the lawsuit dealt him another blow: Tim Eyman loses in court, faces possible lifetime ban on managing political finances . The lawsuit is still in early stages. There isn’t a jury or anything, yet. But part of the process includes the state outlining the kinds of penalties they will ask the jury and the judge to consider. And one of those was a lifetime ban on having any management or control over the finances of any political campaign. Eyman countered that this would infringe on his constitution right to free speech, because the courts have ruled that political spending is a form of speech.

The judge ruled, based on Supreme Court rulings in the matter, that what the court has said that spending your own money for political reasons is protected speech, but not spending other people’s money. She also pointed out that similar lifetime bans have been handed out in various jurisdictions (such as the one forbidding him from being a treasurer of a political committee) without the courts ruling them unconstitutional. This doesn’t mean that he has been banned, it just means that it remains an option in the proceedings.

And all of this is separate from his criminal trial of stealing an office chair from a store: Watch-WA Anti Tax Zealot, Tim Eyman, Steals Office Chair from Office Supply Store- in campaign shirt. And don’t forget the follow-up: Tim Eyman films himself trying to return the chair he allegedly stole. I’m sorry, just watch the video in the first story. Tell me that was an accident! He claims that since he came back inside the store and bought other things, that he meant to tell the clerk about the chair, or that he thought he did tell the clerk. But witnesses at the scene note that he tried to decline the offer of one of the employees to carry take his heavy purchases out to his car on a handtruck, and when they wouldn’t be deterred, insisted that they stack the stuff up next to his car, then he fumbled with his keys for many minutes until the clerk went back inside.

My only regret on this story is that, since Tim is a well-to-do white guy, that he’ll only get a slap on the wrist for stealing a $70 chair.

Imagine for a minute how all of this would go down if he wasn’t white…


Now we go from anti-tax/anti-gay a-holes who troll the tax system, to another kind of troll: Online trolls hijacked a scientist’s image to attack Katie Bouman. They picked the wrong astrophysicist. So, along with the story about that image that scientists created from 5 million terrabytes of data from hundreds of telescopes around the world to finally get a look at the supermassive accretion disk around a supermassive blackhole, people were sharing images of astrophysicist Katie Bouman with the giant stack of hard drives.

A bunch of misogynist guys online started spreading the story that another scientist had done most of the work. And the put his picture and several lies into memes of their own to share. He came back at them, hard. Since these trolls are usually also anti-gay, it seems like a bit of poetic justice that the guy they tried to make into their anti-feminist hero not only wouldn’t play along, but also is openly gay. And he used the media attention to point out that we need to do more to encourage girls and women into pursuing science careers, and that his branch of study, astrophysics is especially in need of more diversity.

As both he and Bouman point out in the various stories: hundreds of scientists contributed. Many many algorithms were developed and used to pull data from the various kinds of telescopes involved. Bouman coordinated the assembly, and contributed algorithms of her own, but she never claimed to be the sole discoverer.

This kind of science takes a whole lot of people. Not just because there is a lot of data to get through, but because different people bring different perspectives, and as they interact, more interesting ideas emerge. So, we need more people in science, and we need more kinds of people in science!


And yet another kind of troll: More than half of banned books challenged for LGBTQ content – The American Library Association noted there’s a “greater number of challenges” to LGBTQ books — “especially those with transgender characters.”. Because of course they are. Dang it, why are people so scared of queer kids? Why?


Finally, I promised at least some good news, and here it is! The first official teaser for Star Wars Episode IX dropped, and it is so good! Sometimes I wish we lived in a galaxy far, far away, where evil can be defeated with courage, ingenuity, and a light sabre…

STAR WARS: EPISODE IX – THE RISE OF SKYWALKER Teaser Trailer [HD] Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher:

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

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Friday Five (crimes with crimes edition)

Trump commits crimes to cover up past crimes with more crimes...

Trump commits crimes to cover up past crimes with more crimes… (click to embiggen)

It’s Friday! We are barreling through April already!

I was hoping the return of rain would give me a break from the hay fever, but no such luck!

Anyway, welcome to the Friday Five. This week I bring you: the top five (IMHO) stories of the week, the top five queer stories of the week, five stories about deplorable people, and five videos (plus notable obituaries and things I wrote).

Stories of the Week:

Joe Nguyen Is an AOC of the Washington Senate.

The backlash against Pete Buttigieg has exposed some sad facts about evangelical Christianity. um…. DUH!

IRS, Congress Struggle to Shed Light on Opportunity Zones’ Impact.

TRUMP PURGING ANYONE IN DHS WHO REFUSES TO BREAK LAW FOR HIM.

Bonnie Haim murder trial starts against husband Michael Haim after skull discovered in yard.

This Week in Science:

Evidence Found Of Previously Unknown Human Species.

The first picture of a black hole opens a new era of astrophysics.

Mystery surrounds humpback whale found dead in depths of Brazil’s Amazon jungle.

National Geographic: Giant purple squirrels do exist—and they have an odd behavior.

New species of ancient human unearthed in the Philippines.

Queer stories of the Week:

GOP Gov. Doug Ducey Signs Repeal Of “No Promo Homo” Ban On LGBT-Inclusive Sex Education.

San Jose city council votes to make their airport Chick-fil-A the ‘gayest’ in America.

Oklahoma City’s first openly gay city councilman takes office.

Dear Alabama: Sen. Doug Jones’ Gay Son Has a Message for His State.

Chelsea Manning misgendered by NBC reporter – PinkNews.

Awful, Deplorable People:

Devin Nunes said the quiet part out loud about his defamation lawsuit targeting journalists “I am absolutely sure that they do not want this to get to discovery so that we find out who their sources are.”.

Illinois Senate Approves Bill Mandating Release Of Five Years Of Taxes In Order To Appear On Presidential Ballot.

Conservative Columnist Bashes AG Bill Barr With 7 Brutal Reasons Why No One Should Trust Him.

Suspect in Louisiana black church fires is son of sheriff’s deputy, officials say.

Julian Assange Charged by U.S. With Conspiracy to Hack a Government Computer Background: Ecuador’s president says Assange breached terms of London embassy asylum | Reuters.

In Memoriam:

A Small Town in South Carolina Mourns the Prom Night Death of Trinity Harrison.

Mystery as missing Mouseketeer Dennis Day, 76, is found dead at home, EIGHT MONTHS after he vanished as it emerges his disappearance initially went unreported because the star’s husband has dementia. Correction to headline: disappearance WAS reported, but police didn’t take it seriously because of the husband’s health…

Background: Body found at home of missing original Disney Mouseketeer Dennis Day.

Things I wrote:

Weekend Update 4/7/2019: Sword-wielding hate crime suspect arrested.

Not to be cliched, but I don’t like Mondays….

Filling up the gaps, or, why An Archive Of Our Own deserves that Hugo nomination.

Julian Assange finally dragged from the Ecuadorian embassy.

Who is the actual monster? Or, more of why I love sf/f.

Videos!

Lucifer | Season 4 Teaser [HD] | Netflix:

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Tales of the City | Teaser [HD] | Netflix:

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Assange Arrest Puts WikiLeaks Tie To Donald Trump Camp Back In Spotlight | Rachel Maddow | MSNBC:

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Seth Meyers Destroys the Dumbest GOP Congressman on the House Oversight Committee: A Closer Look:

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Kevin McHale – Help Me Now (Lyric Video):

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Who is the actual monster? Or, more of why I love sf/f

The Modern Prometheus Preface Mary Shelley subtitled her novel "The Modern Prometheus." According to the Greeks, Prometheus, a Titan who preceded the Olympian Gods, created Man from clay. Zeus demanded food offerings from Man, but Prometheus taught them how to trick Zeus into accepting the less useful parts of a butchered animal so that Man could keep the best parts for themselves. Once Zeus learned of the deception he decreed that Man was not to be allowed fire. Prometheus crept into the underworld, stole fire from Hephaestus, and gave it to Man. Again, Zeus discovered the transgression and chained Prometheus to a rock, where an eagle would devour his liver every day (it would grow back every night). He remained there for 30,000 years.

[Swiped from an educational slideshow about Mary Shelley’s most famous novel: https://www.slideshare.net/mrsallen/frankenstein-the-modern-prometheus )

I’ve written about Frankenstein as a pair of classic movies, as an award-winning parody, as the basis of a whacky sixties comedy, and I’ve mentioned it many times while talking about the history of science fiction, but I’ve never written a post just about the original novel published in 1818. I’m obviously long overdue, and since something I saw on line earlier this week almost made me type a twitter storm of irritated commentary, I figure that now is as good a time as any to remedy the situation.

The full title of the novel is Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus, and Mary Shelley famously wrote the short “ghost story” that would eventually become the novel in 1816 while she and the man who would later become her husband were at Lake Geneva, Switzerland, spending a lot of time with Lord Byron. The novel was published in 1818 in a limited run as a tthree-volumn set without the author’s name. After a successful run of a play based on the novel, a second edition, listing Mary as the author, was published in 1823. Finally, in 1831 a heavily revised edition was published, and for the first time made available at a “popular edition” price.

Most people think they know the story of Frankenstein, but few have actually read the book. And as a fairly typical novel of its time, the very slow burn of the story, not to mention the surfeit of complex sentences and frequently mini-monologues of all the characters can make it a difficult read for modern readers. Even the structure of the novel is different than typical modern books.

The novel is told in the first person, but from three different viewpoints. It begins from the viewpoint of the captain of a sea vessel that has been trapped in the Arctic ice, who finds a half-dead man similarly marooned. The man identifies himself as Victor Frankenstein, and then tells the captain how he came to transform a body assembled from corpses into a living being, then horrified at how hideous is looked (not anything it actually did), that he rejected it, drove it away, fervently hoping it was die in the forest since it had no skills, couldn’t talk, et cetera, and then tried to go back to his life. The middle of the book is from the creature’s point of view (though still filtered, because the creature eventually found Victor and told him the story, which Victor is now telling to the captain who is writing all of this down for us).

The creature did not die. He took shelter new the cottage of a family that lived in the woods, and by watching them learned to speak, eventually learned to read, and came to hope that he might not die alone in the world. The grandfather of the family was blind, and the creature struck up a friendship with him, carefully only coming around when the old man was alone (since every person who had laid eyes on the creature up to that point had been so horrified by his appearances as to scream and chase him away). Alas, the rest of the family catches him once, and they have the usual reaction, sending the creature fleeing deeper into the woods. The creature finds Victor, explains all of this, and then asks Victor to create a second person like himself, to be his companion and mate. Victor agrees.

The next part is back to Victor’s point of view, and Victor begins assembling body parts in secret again, but he suddenly becomes afraid of what will happen if the creature and his mate can actually reproduce. I emphasize at this point that here at more than two thirds of the way through the novel the creature hasn’t harmed anyone, hasn’t threatened anyone, has not behaved in any way other than as frightened child. But Victor suddenly decides that he can’t let the creature have a companion, he destroys the body parts, tells the creature he will not help him after all. The creature loses it, and eventually decides the best way to get his revenge on Victor is to start killing people Victor loves. Victor tries and fails to kill the creature, and they wind up chasing each other across northern Europe and into the Arctic.

Finally, we return to the viewpoint of the sea captain, as Victor gives a last monologue and dies. The creature find the ship, has a conversation with the captain in which he agrees that he has done terrible things, and explains that his intention had been to lure Victor to a spot where the creature could kill him, and then not just kill himself, but set himself on fire in a place where no one would be able to study his body and figure out how Victor did it.

And that’s where it ends.

Like any work of art, everyone interprets the story differently. A little over a year ago there was a bit of a kerfluffle when one newspaper ran a story about how modern readers feel sympathy for the creature with a headline that referred to such students as “snowflakes.” There seemed to be an assumption that having sympathy for the creature—seeing him as misunderstood and a victim—was some sort of modern politically correct reaction.

There’s a big problem with that: the original novel actually does portray the creature as a victim and as being misunderstood. And that’s not interpretation, it is literally what happens in the story. Not to say the story makes him a blameless victim, and certainly how the creature takes his revenge by killing innocent people beloved by Victor is an evil act.

But it is an act of revenge. And the book frames it that way.

Lots of people assume that the theme of the book is that there are some things which mortals are not meant to know, and that if mere humans try to play god horrible things will happen. But that isn’t really Victor’s sin. We get a hint of that in the title itself: Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus. Prometheus was not a mortal who stole from the gods, Prometheus was one of the gods (yes technically a Titan, but that was just the name in Greek mythology for the first generation of gods). And what Prometheus was ultimately punished for was giving humans the gift of fire, then not making sure they would use it responsibly.

Victor’s sin, then, is that he gave life to a creature, and then abandoned it, rather than caring for it. As the creatures creator, he had a responsibility to teach it how to get along in the world, to know right from wrong, and so on. He didn’t do that. And he drove the creature away not because of anything the creature did, but simply because of the creature’s hideous appearance.

The middle narrative, when the creature tries to teach himself how to be a good person, is the next big clue as to the real them. The creature naturally craves love and the comfort of companionship, and he tries to learn how to be a member of society. He befriends the blind man and earns his trust. It is only when once again people see him and assume because of his looks that he must be a dangerous, evil thing, that he abandons his plan to try to become part of the human community.

Then there is this admission from Victor himself, in the final deathbed monologue:

“In a fit of enthusiastic madness I created a rational creature, and was bound towards him, to assure, as far as was in my power, his happiness and well-being. This was my duty”

Victor goes on, unfortunately, in that monologue to insist that he was right to abandon the creature, but his rationalization only works by assuming that somehow he knew how the creature would react to yet another betrayal.

Finally, we have the creature’s final plan: he had already destroyed the remaining records of Victor’s experiments (those that Victor hadn’t destroyed himself), then set out to kill both Victor and himself so that no one could have create another creature like himself. Before Victor died, he had admitted to the captain that the creature had been leaving clues to make sure that Victor was still pursuing him. The creature had thought it out: Victor was the only one who knew how he had reanimated dead flesh, but it was possible that another could study the creature’s corpse and figure it out, so the creature needed to kill Victor, and then he needed to destroy himself. He planned to set himself on fire somewhere on the arctic ice precisely because any remains would eventually wind up lost in the sea.

In other words, he was cleaning up Victor’s mess.

There are plenty of quotes one can pull from Victor’s and the creature’s monologues to support the usual interpretation that this was all about an arrogant scientist treading into areas best left alone. But those are all perspectives of characters within the narrative. Just because a character says something, that doesn’t mean it is what the author believes—it’s something the author thinks the character must believe in order for their actions to make sense.

I’ve said many times that an author’s values and beliefs manifest not necessarily in the words of the characters, but in the consequences of the actions of characters, and how the way the narrative portrays them shows you whether the author thinks those consequences are deserved. It’s very clear from that perspective that yes, both Victor and his creation have done deplorable, immoral things. But it is also clear which of them realizes it and takes personal responsibility for it.

Victor blames the creature for everything, including his own actions, up to his dying breath. The creature blames both Victor and himself for the various atrocities, and in taking the blame, pronounces (and then carries out) his own death sentence.

Which means that ultimately, it isn’t the creature who is the monster.

Julian Assange finally dragged from the Ecuadorian embassy

I could hold this for tomorrow’s Friday Five, but I want to editorialize a bit here, so…

Assange arrested in London after seven years in Ecuador embassy, U.S. seeks extradition.

All right, so, while I am all in favor of transparency and recognize that without whistle-blowers even more corruption, malfeasance, and war crimes would go unpunished than already do, however, not all so-called hacktivists are good guys. Assange has claimed to be a journalist because he supposedly brings information to light. For part of my college career my major was journalism, and I have some strong feelings about journalistic ethics. One of the tenants of journalistic ethics is that if one engages in covert methods of uncovering information, one’s ethical obligations (to ensure accuracy, objectivity, while avoiding causing harm to innocent people) increase.

One of the basic questions an editor is supposed to ask when dealing with sensitive information of a diplomatic, political, or military nature, is will releasing this information place people in danger? And yes, you weigh that against the harm that has been caused or is being caused by whatever it is you are about to expose. It can be a difficult question.

But another one of the harms to innocent people that journalists are supposed to think about is: will releasing this information impede or interfere with legitimate democratic processes? Because elections matter, and who is in power can mean the difference between life and death— particularly for society’s most vulnerable.

The way in which Assange and his colleagues have stolen and dumped, unfiltered, large amounts of information into public view means that they are not even thinking about those kinds of questions. Therefore, what they are engaged in is not journalism, let alone ethical journalism.

I have no idea whether he is guilty of the sexual assault in Sweden that first sent him to seek asylum in the Ecuadoran embassy, but since Sweden isn’t exactly a vicious totalitarian state known for convicting innocent people of bogus crimes, I do wonder why an innocent man wouldn’t be willing to have his day in court there.

Yes, I believe in the Golden Thread of Justice: I believe that a person must be presumed to be innocent until they are proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. But I am allowed to judge his character, and here is the thing that completely disinclines me to have any sympathy for the man: after taking shelter in the Ecuadoran Embassy for seven years—seven years in which these people sheltered him, fed him, and suffered strained relations with many allied states—when they asked him for the umpteenth time that he clean his own room and take care of his own cat, rather than expecting embassy staff to do those things for him, he sued the government of Ecuador claiming that these demands are a violation of his civil rights.

Expecting you to clean up after your own cat is not a violation of your civil rights!

He’s a self-important, arrogant jerk. And frankly, everyone is still being way nicer to him than he deserves.

BBC News – Footage shows Julian Assange being dragged from the Ecuadorian embassy:

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Filling up the gaps, or, why An Archive Of Our Own deserves that Hugo nomination

The actual quote, according to Lewis' Letters to Children (in aanswer to a letter from a child named Denise) was: “I am delighted to hear that you liked the Narnian books, and it was nice of you to write and tell me. There is a map at the end of some of them in some editions. But why not do one yourself! And why not write stories for yourself to fill up the gaps in Narnian history? I've left you plenty of hints—especially where Lucy and the Unicorn are talking in The Last Battle. I feel I have done all I can!”

The actual quote, according to Lewis’ Letters to Children (in aanswer to a letter from a child named Denise) was: “I am delighted to hear that you liked the Narnian books, and it was nice of you to write and tell me. There is a map at the end of some of them in some editions. But why not do one yourself! And why not write stories for yourself to fill up the gaps in Narnian history? I’ve left you plenty of hints—especially where Lucy and the Unicorn are talking in The Last Battle. I feel I have done all I can!”

The Hugo Awards Ballot was released a bit ago (and I linked to at least one post about it at the time), and one of the more interesting items to make it to the ballot was the fanfiction web site, Archive Of Our Own (known to many of us as AO3) in the Best Related Work category. This nomination is, of course, not without some controversy. Best Related Work is usually awarded to works of non-fiction, such as biographies of authors and editors from the field, or collections of non-fiction essays and/or reviews, and so forth, but the definition of the category allows for other things, which bothers some people. This is hardly the first time that something which isn’t clearly a non-fiction book or collection or non-fiction essays has been nominated, and it won’t be the last.

The first objection many people have is that it doesn’t qualify. I think this blog post says it best: Archive of Our Own is a work and its related and I’m really happy that it’s a Hugo finalist.

Cam expanded the official definition of the category into a bullet list and then answered most of the issues. I’m just going to blatantly steal most of it here, then proceed:

  1. Related to the field or fandom. Lots of SF/F in there and by its nature what gets written is out of fanishness. Check.
  2. Either non-fiction or, if fictional, is noteworthy primarily for aspects other than the fictional text. The contents of the archive are fiction but what is being nominated is the thing as an entity. Consider the difference between lots of science fiction novels and a library of science fiction novels. It’s the library that’s being nominated, which includes its contents but which is not the same as its contents. Check.
  3. Not eligible in any other category. Obviously. Check.
  4. Which has been substantially modified during the previous calendar year. I think this is the only weak point in an eligibility argument…

On the last part of the category definition, the archive itself, as a platform, has some significant expansions to the search and filter options. There are a number of other feature improvement during the 2018 calendar year, including: support for several new character sets (which means the works originally written in languages the previously couldn’t be uploaded and read can—it isn’t just emojis!), importing several other fandom archives that were in danger of being lost due to various issues through the Open Doors Project (which isn’t just about importing the contents, but also the relational data and ownership controls), and a change log.

If the argument is that the platform itself and the way it enables fannish activity is what has been nominated, then I think those clearly qualify as significant changes in how the platform worked before.

A related controversy to the questions of whether it is really eligible under the current definition is whether the category definition itself is the problem. One form this argument has taken is that a win for AO3 will open up the floodgates of other weird things being nominated and soon non-fiction books and the like will never be honored again.

Bull!

That’s a slippery slope argument, and there are many reasons logicians consider the slippery slope assertion a logical fallacy. And I’m not wasting any more pixels on a logical fallacy.

An actually debatable aspect to this argument is whether or not non-fiction book-length works deserve specific category of their own, while a separate and more explicitly Miscellaneous category could exist beside it. I think the answer at this time is that we just don’t know if it would make sense to split this into two categories.

One reason I lean against splitting them is that, as it is now, the down ballot categories get the attention of fewer nominators and voters as it is, and I think that added another category isn’t going to help that situation. Whether there are enough items that aren’t non-fiction books at this time to give us more than 6 candidates a year is simply not clear.

Another reason I lean against it is that no matter how categories are defined, there going to be works that don’t clearly belong in them. Books, stories, dramatic works, et al, are works of art. And art is supposed to be creative. Humans are tool-making animals that constantly improve existing tools and invent new ones. There are going to be emerging forms of artistic expression that don’t clearly fit into an existing category. For that reason I’m very comfortable with having at least one of the categories have a flexible enough definition to allow for those unexpected things.

I mean, seriously, if sci fi fandom can’t accommodate novel means of expression, then what is the point of its existence?

And a third reason I lean against splitting the category is that well, some years there aren’t that many excellent non-fiction works of book length concerning sf/f or the fandom published. At least not IMHO. If, when the nominating data is released after the awards ceremony, it turns out that some book-length non-fiction just barely missed making the ballot, that might indicate that we need to rethink the categories. Which is why I said we can’t know, just yet.

Let’s move on to the next controversy: what exactly has been nominated here? Most everyone is going with the argument that it is the platform and the manner in which it promotes and facilitates the creation, collection, and discovery of fanfiction and related information. And I totally understand that interpretation and that is certainly what many of the people who were arguing in favor of nominating it said.

But I want to point you to item number two in Cam’s list above. I really like his analogy of thinking of this as a library that has been nominated. The library as a whole is more than just the sum of its parts, but it also includes those parts. And further, without those parts, it is meaningless. A library with no books at all is just a building with shelves, right?

Well, sort of.

A library is also a system for collection, collating, relating, and distributing books. And that is not an insignificant thing. Which is why a lot of people are pushing the nomination of the platform. But a library is also a system for stimulating imaginations. In that way, a good library is, itself, a work of art.

A library is also a system for education, and more than just as a repository of information. Sufficient exposure to books has the effect of inspiring some people to write books of their own, and so a library is also a system for creating writers, and ultimately, a system for creating more books. Again, the library can’t do that if it doesn’t contain the books that inspire.

AO3 fulfills that phenomenon, too. There are many professional writers working today who started out writing fan fic. And I don’t just mean younger writers reading fanfic online. The internet didn’t exist when I was six years old, and I hadn’t yet discovered the existence of mimeographed-then-sent-through-snail-mail fanzines, yet. But I was writing my own versions of stories I loved at that age. Sometimes my motivation was to tell more stories because I had reached the end. Other times I was unhappy with how a story had turned out, so I decided to write my own version.

All of that is how I got into writing. It’s why I started faithfully reading The Writer and Writer’s Digest in the local libraries. It’s why I started mailing my (at the time very derivative) stories to magazines when I was 12 or 13 years old. It’s why I kept working at it until I started actually getting published (even if it was almost always in very small circulation ‘zines).

The creation and consumption of fan fiction is, in itself, a fannish activity. The conversation, both implied and overt, that happen between the fans and creators of fanfic constitute commentary on the original works that inspired the fan fiction, as well as the phenomena of how people receive and react to narratives and other works of art. Creating fan fiction, for some, is a training ground for going on to create original fiction.

And sometimes, when either the original works have gone into public domain, or when a clever writer changes things just enough that they don’t infringe on trademarks, fan fiction wins Hugo Awards.

So, a platform that facilitates the creation and discovery of hundreds of thousands of works of fan fiction certainly deserves to be in the running for a Hugo itself. And everyone who contributes to it, not just the administrators and programmers, should be proud.

Not to be cliched, but I don’t like Mondays…

“My body is a TEMPLE ancient and crumbling probably cursed or haunted.”

…probably haunted. (click to embiggen)

Most of my adult life I have worked in office jobs where the work week runs from Monday to Friday, and office hours tended to hover around 8-to-5, with some workplaces and some positions have varying amounts of flexibility. I’ve never been a morning person, so whenever possible I try to get my “expected time to arrive at the office” no earlier that 9:30. That usually means I was expected to work later. Of course, like most tech companies, the expectation has become that a worker will be available at times outside of office hours, which is both exploitive and irritating. At my current workplace one of the ways they try to make that less annoying is to give most of us a lot of flexibility.

So, for instance, I currently have two recurring work-from-home days each week: Tuesday and Friday. On a work from home day I can sleep in a little bit, since I don’t need to commute in. It also means that as soon as I sign out and sign-off I’m already home. Yay! We also have the flexibility to call into meetings from pretty much anywhere. And since my group has a daily morning status meeting that I can fully participate in via phone while I’ve riding the bus. On good days, with the meeting goes quickly, we’re usually just wrapping up when my bus gets downtown. One more complicated days, I stay on the call while walking from the bus to the office, and sometimes for a while after I get to my desk.

But, back to the work-from-home days. When I first started having a single work-from-home day a week, my husband’s work schedule was such that I would get up, start making coffee, set up my work computer, sign in, check for urgent emails while my husband was taking his morning shower. Then I’d grab a travel mug, drive him to his workplace and hurry back to our place and settle down to work. The round trip to his workplace was less than 15 minutes, so that was like my morning coffee break. At the end of the day when I picked him up (if it wasn’t one of those days were a work emergency meant I needed to go back and keep working for a while), we could go out to dinner right away.

When his work shift moved to much earlier in the morning, that didn’t work any longer. And then when we moved, it became even less practical.

As it is, he comes home from work in the middle or late part of my work day. And since he often leaves early Friday (because he usually winds up working extra hours earlier in the week and isn’t supposed to log overtime except when told to), his return time on that day is very unpredictable. I therefore have a little game I play against myself. I start checking his location in the Find Friends app on my phone, and when I see he’s left the office, trying to keep tracking him until his bus is almost here. My goal to open the front door just before he gets to it and greet him. I consider that a touchdown and award myself 6 points when I pull it off.

But I also try to head out onto the veranda just before his bus gets to our stop (which I can see through a gap in the trees). If I see his bus pull up, I get an extra point. If I watch him stand at the corner and cross the street, I get another extra point.

This is all very silly, but particularly on stressful work days, just seeing my hubby standing out there on the corner knowing he will be home soon makes me happy.

Whether I manage to time it so that I open the door for him, when he comes in I always say something like “Hello, honey! How was your day?” and he almost always says something like, “Hang on! Let me turn off my headphones. I can’t hear you.” And I don’t mean to repeat this little routine every time—I just in that moment forget that he almost certainly has his headphones on listening to a podcast or an audiobook or music and of course he can’t hear me, because when you’re outside walking along a street or riding in a bus there is so much ambient background noise that you have to have the music turned up a ways to hear it at all.

So, Thursday was not a work from home day. But it was a day where a bunch of things went just a little bit wrong and I wound up working later than usual. Ordinarily when that happens, when I realize that I’m still in the office at a point when I might be walking in the door, I’ll call him to let him know I’m working late.

I didn’t this time. For some reason it didn’t even occur to me that I hadn’t called him until my bus was nearly home—about an hour and a half later than I usually arrive. At that juncture it seemed pointless to call, because I’d be home in just a few minutes. So I got off the bus, waited at the crosswalk, crossed the major arterial, walked up the hill, crossed the more ordinary road, and came around the corner at the driveway into the apartment parking lot and I see my husband standing at the foot of the stairs, looking expectantly my way. He smiled and turned around to go up the stairs just as I raised my hand to wave.

So I crossed the parking lot, climb the stairs, come into the house, and I can hear him talking to me, but I have my headphones on and my phone has been blasting music so I say, “Just a minute. Let me turn off the headphones.” And he starts laughing.

Once i had the headphones off he says, “That’s okay, just consider it payback for all the times you do that to me.” And then he told me how when he got home midafternoon, he put the pork roast we’d talked about making for dinner into the crockpot then took a nap. He woke up at about the time I usually get home, and he checked the Find Friends app and saw that I was still in the office. So he waiting until app showed that I was about halfway home before he started working the side dishes, and he kept monitoring my location. He took the trash out, and since the phone app had indicated I was nearly home, he’d paused at the stairs to watch for me.

I don’t have a point to any of this. I just find myself on Sunday evening, when I probably ought to be working on other things, being annoyed that the weekend is nearly over, and I decided it had been a while since I wrote a blog post that was just about our mundane life.

And there you have it.

Weekend Update 4/7/2019: Sword-wielding hate crime suspect arrested

And now time for another post where I comment on news that either broke after I created this week’s Friday Five or there has been new developments in a story that I’ve previously written about. So, last week I linked to the story of a guy in a red Make American Great Again hat yelling homophobic slurs are people going into a skating rink in San Francisco who eventually allegedly attacked one of those people with a sword.

There’s been an arrest: Attempted Murder Charge In SF MAGA/Sword Attack. Police found the guy because they had a fingerprint from a beer bottle left at the scene, and someone found a bloody sword wrapped in a shirt which matched the description of the alleged perpetrator’s clothes as described by some of the witnesses. And the sword a fingerprint that matched the print on the bottle.

The stories I’ve read thus far don’t say whether the perpetrator’s fingerprints were already in the system, though The Blaze reports that the alleged perp was arrested for unlawful entry into a vehicle in Multnomah County, Oregon, in October 2012 and during that crime he threatened the owner of the vehicle with a knife. In any case, the guy doesn’t appear to be very bright because he got into an argument with his court-appointed defense attorney during the arraignment. I’ll get to that in a minute.

We now have a lot more information on the crime. Some of the eyewitnesses at the time had mentioned a pirate costume along with the red hat, while others had described a red flannel shirt over otherwise unremarkable clothes. Apparently he was wearing the sword on his back, and some witnesses had seen that and assumed it was a costume piece, and not an actual, you know, sword.

Also, while the victim wasn’t named last week, and was described as being treated for non-life-threatening injuries, the victim’s name has since been released, and the injury is described as “partially severed hand” and “gruesome.” The victim has admitted that he attempted to knock the guy’s hat off his head, and then he thought that the perpetrator knocked his arm away with an umbrella or a nightstick, and didn’t realize what had actually happened right away.

I mentioned that alleged perpetrator got into an argument with his defense attorney during the hearing. The perp is insisting that they have no evidence to tie him to the crime and that he was at home minding his own business at the time. The defense attorney, on the other hand, was trying to argue in court that his client should not be held over for trial, and that the case be diverted to arbitration because the attack with the sword was essentially self-defense after the other guy knocked his hat off. That’s when the perp started yelling at his attorney:

“You just basically implied that I did it,” Bergland said as prosecutors argued for him to be held in jail without bail. “Why are you telling me to be quiet?” Bergland then said to his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Eric Quandt. “I can defend myself.”’

I think the attorney recognizes that his client has all the evidence against him. Multiple eyewitnesses, his fingerprints at the scene and one the weapon used in the assault are just the parts we know about. The stories last week mentioned that the police were in the process of obtaining video footage from neighborhood security cameras, for instance. And I bet that were hair fibers left on the hat, and possibly on the bloody shirt that the sword was wrapped in. We presume that he discarded the shirt with the sword because there was blood on it, but looking at the photos in last week’s story of the huge splash on blood on the sidewalk, I wouldn’t be surprised that some of the other clothes the alleged perpetrator was wearing that night that he didn’t dispose of got a bit of blood on them.

If the evidence against him is even worse than what we know, the defense attorney may be correct that the best defense that is available to his client is to spin for the self-defense angle. His client is being held on $1 million bail, so I don’t think he’s going to avoid a trial without a plea deal.


Let’s go from a hate crime that had lots of witnesses and other evidence, to one lacking all of those things (not to mention credibility): Chicago to Sue Jussie Smollett After Deadline to Pay $130,000 Investigation Reimbursement Passes. As I mentioned in an earlier post, once we knew the details of Smollett’s report of an alleged crime it seemed very fishy. Why would Trump-supporting homophobic racists recognize an out gay actor who plays a supporting character on a prime time soap opera-type show that is all about a family of african-american musicians? They just aren’t in the same demographic as the show’s audience, right?

Smollett has since been given deferred prosecution and let go, and he seems to be really leaning hard into the lie that this exonerates him of all charges that the report was a hoax. And let me be clear: deferred prosecution, particularly when the Deputy District Attorney who did so explicitly said that this doesn’t exonerate him, is neither vindication nor exoneration. I suspect that the District Attorney’s office made this call because pursuing the case wasn’t going to result in significant jail time. I also suspect that the two brothers who say they were hired by Smollett to stage the crime may not come across very good in the witness stand if it came to that.

I also think that good attorneys on Smollett’s side could get a lot of mileage by talking about cases (and there have been some in Chicago) where white people have falsely reported crimes but they were never prosecuted.

Not that I think Smollett should get off scott free, here, but I can see reasons that not pursuing the charges might make sense. As another story noted, during the few weeks between the time that Smollett was charged for filing a false report and the day the charges were dropped, about 2900 other criminal cases where handled by the same prosecutor’s office. The sheer volume of crime cases in the county are often cited as the reason that they have been deferring prosecutions and seeking other kinds of diversion for a lot of non-violent crimes during the last few years. At least the District Attorney’s office is supporting calls for an independent investigation into their handling of the case.

Since it is also alleged that Smollett is behind the threatening letter that was mailed to the TV show before the alleged hoax attack, and since the FBI is looking into that letter, I suspect that Smollett is going to be standing in front of a judge again in the not-so-distant future.

The part that I’m still most angry about is that this case is being used by folks on the right to claim that all hate crime reports are fake. It’s exactly what many, many people were posting as comments on the reports about the sword-attack I mentioned above. Even though there is a lot of evidence that that crime did happen.

Friday Five (five, only five edition)

Click to embiggen

It’s Friday! It is the first Friday in April. It’s already April. APRIL! How did that happen?

Pollen counts have been high all week, and so my hay fever has been bad all week. We got a little drizzle Thursday evening, and supposed to get more Friday morning, so I hope that will clear out the air a bit and maybe bring some relief to my sinuses.

Anyway, welcome to the Friday Five. This week I bring you: the top five (IMHO) stories of the week and five videos (plus notable obituaries and things I wrote).

Stories of the Week:

‘Captain Marvel’ Box Office Hits $1 Billion .

Discovery of Aboriginal handprint art in Blue Mountains halts trains.

A Jury May Have Sentenced a Man to Death Because He’s Gay. Now, the Supreme Court Could Hear His Appeal.

High school robotics students build power wheelchair for 2-year-old.

Barbara Bush blamed Trump for heart attack, GOP exit in The Matriarch.

In Memoriam:

Science Fiction Author Vonda N. McIntyre, Official Obituary.

Vonda N. McIntyre (1948-2019).

Vonda N. McIntyre, 1948-2019: Final novel adds to Seattle science-fiction star’s legacy.

Vonda N McIntyre obituary – A leading writer of science fiction for half a century.

House Music Artist Kim English Dies.

Things I wrote:

Weekend Update 3/31/2019: Bullies need an audience.

Life is short and other musings about writing, reading, and variety in sf/f.

Believe nothing….

That’s not a plothole, or, Just because it isn’t like yours, that doesn’t mean it’s bad….

Videos!

5 Facts About Sexual Abuse You Need To Know (PSA MUSIC VIDEO):

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

THE DEAD DON’T DIE – Official Trailer [HD] – In Theaters June 14:

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

William Barr’s Rosy Report Spin Frustrates Mueller Investigators: NYT | Rachel Maddow | MSNBC:

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

CRUELLA DEVOS – Randy Rainbow Song Parody:

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

Ariana Grande and Victoria Monét – MONOPOLY (NSFW):

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

That’s not a plothole, or, Just because it isn’t like yours, that doesn’t mean it’s bad…

“While not every book is intended for every reader, each of us has the right to decide for ourselves what to read, listen to, or view. Celebrate your freedom to read!”

Freedom to read! (click to embiggen)”

I saw this great, short post on Tumblr some time back that I thought I would expand into a series of posts about writing. I thought that I recorded the name of the Tumblr blog that I lifted it from, but when I went into my note a while later, it wasn’t there. I didn’t really want to steal it without attributing it, and for some reason it hadn’t Googled the quote until today.

People should probably learn the difference between “plot holes” and “things I didn’t like” or “things the franchise plans to explain in the future” or “things film makers didn’t think they needed to explicitly explain because they thought you had critical thinking skills”
—Gina at ahandsomestark.tumblr.com

I was reminded of this quote while reading some gripes about the recent Captain Marvel movie—complaints that echo criticisms of other films, books, and shows that all happen to have one thing in common: the protagonist isn’t a cishet white male.

To stick to Captain Marvel for a minute, the particular complaint is that it is supposedly a bad movie because Carol’s final battle with the bad guy doesn’t involve her defeating said bad guy without using her superpowers. Now read that again: guys who claim to be superhero fans are angry that the superhero used her superpowers to defeat the bad guy. Not only that, they claim this failure of the superhero to not use her super powers is bad plotting.

Of course, they didn’t phrase it that way. And when someone called them on it, asking them why they expect a superhero in a superhero movie to not use super powers, they twisted themselves in a knot trying to say that wasn’t what they were saying.

And you know what, they are sort of correct on that. I mean, it is exactly what they’re saying, but it isn’t what they mean. What they mean is that the moral victory that Carol achieves at the end of the film isn’t the moral victory they think she should achieve. They can’t even see what the victory is, because they are so deeply immersed in societal expectations of gender roles that they can’t perceive it.

Several times in the movie the audience is shown, as she gets fragments of her memories back, Carol climbing back to her feet after getting knocked down. That is a fairly standard part of any hero’s story, right? No matter how many times you get knocked down, you stand back up and keep fighting. The part these guys don’t understand is it isn’t just about being physically knocked down—it’s also about the guys yelling at her to stay down, telling her that she doesn’t belong there, telling her she isn’t good enough, telling her that the only worth she has is what they have given her.

Overcoming that constant message is the point.

Members of marginalized groups understand that. We’ve spent our whole lives being told that who and what we are isn’t good enough. We’ve been told that our worth comes from what they have given us. We’ve been told that only if we become like them will we amount to anything in the world. We are told to be quiet, do as we’re told, act more like them, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

The whole point of Carol’s arc is that she has been lied to, manipulated, and put in a position where her power is limited by the liars. She was always good enough. She was always strong enough. But she believed the liars. And her triumphant moment at the climatic battle is first the moment when she throws off the shackles and embraces the power that was always there.

An even more important moment is when the man who has been lying to her day in and day out for years, who falsely told her that the only reason she had anything was because he gave her his blood, who kept telling her she was too emotional, and that she would never be good enough if she couldn’t come down to his level and win under his rules (rules that are very specifically designed to ensure her loss). Her triumph was when she realized that her worth had nothing to do with his approval.

When she refuses to stoop to his level and blasts him in the face, that was an incredibly big deal. Because the enemy she was always facing was the abusive, manipulative, toxic system that he represented.

I understood how important that moment was because for me it reasonated with the moment in my teens when I finally realized that every time my dad had been telling me that I was broken, worthless, not man enough, et cetera, had been a lie. The moment I stood up to him, and then walked away from him was an important victory.

Millions of women who watch Captain Marvel recognize that moment because they all have had a time where they realized they don’t have to please and prove their worth to the awful, lying people and the system that has been holding them down. Their value does not derive from pleasing a man or serving the needs of men—their worth comes from within.

Her character arc is not going from powerless to powerful—her arc is about going from oppressed to free. Just because it wasn’t the arc you were expecting, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a character arc, nor a worthwhile one.

Finally, if you really think that somehow you were robbed because at the end she didn’t engage in a meaningless fist fight with the lying dude at the end, tell me why everyone in the theatre back in Raiders of the Lost Ark burst into shouts and applause when Indy was confronted by the unknown sword-wielding man and he merely pulled out his gun and shot him.

Life is short and other musings about writing, reading, and variety in sf/f

“Life is short. Write that novel. Paint that painting. Try new recipes. Learn black magic. Go into the forest at night. Summon a demon. Earn that demon's trust. Become best friends with it. Brag to everyone else about your new cool demon best friend. Knit that sweater.”

Life is short… (click to embiggen)

So, I started Camp NaNoWriMo yesterday. I and a few friends have a cabin (which is basically a private chat group for up to 12 people who have set up projects). Camp NaNoWriMo is similar to the full fledged National Novel Writing Month, but it’s meant to be a bit more low-key and flexible. You get to set your own word count goal, for one. Lots of people use Camp NaNo to edit or revise a large project (such as whatever they wrote during a previous NaNoWriMo). It’s fun. I like having the private chat and having a structure for posting progress, getting and giving encouragement to friends, and so on.

Our cabin isn’t full, so if something like this appeals to you, set up a project and send me a message with your user name so I can send you an invitation to our cabin.

My particular project is an editing one, and I’m counting words as I go through scenes in the larger project. When I finish the edits on a scene, I copy it into a seperate Scrivener document to keep track of my word count. I was a little suprised at how much I got done on the first day, since it was a day at work where I don’t really get a chance to take a full lunch to spend writing, and I was feeling more than a bit out of it when I got home from work.

In other news, the 2019 Hugo and Campbell Awards Finalists have been announced. I was quite pleased to see that in every category at least one thing I nominated made it to the final ballot. The flip side of that is that there are also a lot of things with which I’m not familiar that made it onto the ballot, so I get to read a lot of new stuff soon!

I was really happy to see that Archive of Our Own—a massive fan fiction repository—is nominated in the Related Works category. It’s a little weird, because there are thousands of contributors (including me, though I have such a teeny tiny bit of stuff posted I don’t really count). Clearly if it wins, thy won’t be handing one of the big rocket trophies to every contributor. There are a couple of things in that category that I haven’t read, so I don’t yet know if AO3 is going to be my first choice for Related Work, yet.

As I said, I’m once again looking forward to reading stuff that has been nominated for the Hugos. As happy as I am to see things I nominated make the list, I also love seeing new things that I haven’t read, yet. Because, as I mentioned as part of another point last week, no one’s favorites list can encompass all of science fiction/fantasy. And that isn’t just because a whole lot of it is being published today (although with self-publishing being so much easier, and the internet making things more discoverable, there is an incredibly wide variety to choose from).

But a lot of people operate under the illusion that in times past a single fan could, indeed, read everything in the genre that had been published that year. It only seems that way if you assume that only the authors and stories you have heard of years later are who and what were being published at that time. A great example of this misapprehension is one of the flaws in a recent blog post by whacko Brian Niemeier (that I won’t link to directly, but since Camestros Felapton does a nice analysis of some of the flaws, I’ll link to his post: Did fandom cause the collapse of civilisation or vice versa? Let’s Assume Neither 🙂).

Niemeier makes the claim that “back in the day” everyone read Edgar Rice Burroughs and everyone listened to The Shadow radio show. Now, it’s true that Burroughs’ Tarzan books sold so well that he was able to form a film company and produce his own adaptations of his books, something that would be unthinkable for an author to do today. But it’s simply not true that everyone read the Tarzan books, if for no other reason that regular readers of novels and the like have always been a minority of the population. James Branch Cabell, a contemporary of Burroughs, sold more copies of his books during the nineteen-teens and -twenties than Burroughs did, yet he is largely forgotten today. There were scores of magazines publishing sci fi, fantasy, horror, and related fantastical fiction, publishing thousands of stories during that time most of which written by hundreds of authors many of whom we’ve never heard of.

While there is a huge amount of fantastic fiction to love now, there was a huge amount then, too. And I think that’s great! Because not everyone likes the same things, and the more variety there is, the more likely that there is something wonderful to discover and read for the first time, right? Similarly, the fact that many people like many things, mean that something you or I create is likely to find a receptive audience.

I am quite certain that if someone wrote a story about a conjurer who becomes best pals with a demon and they take up knitting together, someone out there will want to read it.

And those are good things.