Just Push the Damn Button Already

Dec. 21st, 2014 06:02 pm
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Posted by Arrate

by Celeste Rita Baker

Eric Garner’s eyes. Art by Jeffrey Baykal-Rollins
Millions March NYC – Day of Anger. New York City, December 13, 2014

We are watching you. We’ve been watching you. And feeling the effects of every decision you make that has made life, not only here in America, but world-wide, a living hell for everyone but you. (Not all colorless people, but conveniently, enough to uphold the status quo.) And we know that your greed and total lack of soul has made you irredeemable. I will not list your crimes against humanity, just pick your favorite six dozen and take it as written. But let’s imagine that one of the things I’m thinking of is the attempted systemic destruction of colorful people as demonstrated by your need to take over, colonize, exploit and dominate every last one of us. We charge genocide. And when I say we, I mean me.

So just push the damn button already, because this long slow march to death is unnecessary. (Although quite profitable for you. Your wallet is stuffed, guess we’re working on your ego?)

You are not going to stop. We understand that. Your inability to share and your fear of retribution goads you to try even harder to solidify your power. Making us, from America to Australia to West Guinea, dependent upon you for food, (terminator seeds, anyone?)water (a commodity?), and a place to be, (What? You say you ‘control’ this land? But I live here!) Pushing your doctrine-driven education, not for the wonder of knowledge but to corral us into a self-defeating way of life that serves only you. Fomenting fear and hatred and violence because it pays so well. (And is so effectively distracting.)

But we’re not going to stop resisting either. How could we? Why should we? Your empire is not going to last forever. Your time has come and is done.

So just push the damn button already. Because we don’t have the weaponry that you do and we’re not going to fall for the trick of buying them from you, as so many other sufferers have, only to become just like you.

So just push the damn button already, and our survivors will show you what humans can be.

Celeste Rita Baker is a writer from St. Thomas, Virgin Islands living in Harlem, New York. She has a short story collection to be published by Aqueduct in 2015 and is completing a novel about a Black woman and a saint inhabiting the same body in a futuristic New York City.

Farewell Bear Facts - Xinzhou

Dec. 21st, 2014 11:58 pm
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Posted by John Finnemore

More on Xinzhou here.

You remember how, way back in the Cremona bear facts, I said that we would come to the most difficult to write episode of all eventually? Well... welcome to Xinzhou. Xinzhou was an absolute nightmare to write, or rather to rewrite, culminating in a marathon 36 hour rewriting session through the night up to the very morning of the recording, during which heroic producer David got a sleeping bag sent to him from home so he could sleep in the Pozzitive office while I wrote, and also … the thing for which he has never quite forgiven me… was forced to eat a sandwich from Subway.

There were three main things that made it so hard. Firstly, it was another bottle episode, like Fitton and Limerick, which as I've said elsewhere I find the hardest to write. Secondly, separately it also had quite a lot of hard work to do getting all the characters set up for Yverdon, and restating the stakes: Martin cannot go on as he is at MJN. But MJN cannot continue without Martin. Eventually, the way I found to do this without having everyone just sit around telling each other things they already know, was to put the focus on Douglas. And indeed, in a quiet way, this is an episode all about Douglas - the others all have fairly basic Wants about getting to sleep or fixing the plane; but it's Douglas who goes on an important journey from discouraging Martin from leaving, so as to save his own job; to realising it's his duty to encourage him. And, of course, to fix everyone's problems by doing something clever… by finally making Martin give him his hat.

The third problem, though, was entirely my own fault. Once I got the 'stuck on Gerti overnight' idea, I initially thought this would be more like Limerick - constantly flicking between various games and conversations as they tried to keep themselves amused. And I had a lot of ideas in my various notebooks and early drafts of other episodes for games and stupid 'how many otter…' style conversations that I'd never used. So why not, I thought to myself, gather them all together, and make an episode out of them? Because, I ought to have immediately answered myself, whilst kicking myself hard for even asking such a stupid question, that NEVER WORKS. On two other non-CP-related occasions I've tried to write something by assembling various bits cut from other shows or drafts and trying to stitch them together into a sort of Frankenstein's monster, and on both occasions it's gone about as well as it went for Dr. Frankenstein. And the same thing happened this time. The bits had been written at different times, they had subtly different moods, they involved different stages of the characters (Series 2 non-Arthur characters, as I've been saying a lot in these posts, do not act the same way as series 4 characters) , and no matter how I tried to rewrite and finesse them, it didn't work. It wasn't like an episode of Cabin Pressure  - it was like one of those clip show episodes US sitcoms sometimes do.  So, after a crisis meeting with producer David… I threw out almost everything, and started again. Hence the mad scramble to the very brink of the deadline, and beyond, as I ran quite chronically out of time. So… you can imagine how delighted I am that when a fan site did a poll, Xinzhou was voted their favourite episode of series 4 - and I know a lot of people have it as their favourite overall. Believe me, that did not seem a likely scenario at 5am on January 6th 2013...


DOUGLAS                  I’m sorry you’ll miss your date, Martin.

MARTIN                       It wasn’t a date.

CAROLYN                   Did you have a date?

MARTIN                       No.

DOUGLAS                  Yes.

CAROLYN                   Well, who with? Tell all!

MARTIN                       There’s nothing to tell. She’s very nice, but… our jobs are too different, and we live too far away, and it’ll never work, so…

CAROLYN                   Oh dear. Where does she live?

MARTIN                       Vaduz.

CAROLYN                   Oh, in Lichtenstein? Did you meet her when you picked up that awful Princess?

MARTIN                       …Yes I did.

CAROLYN                   And what does she do?

MARTIN                       She’s… er…

DOUGLAS                  She’s in management, didn’t you tell me, Martin?

MARTIN                       …Yes. She’s a manager. She’s quite high up.

CAROLYN                   What company?

MARTIN                       …I can’t really tell you.

DOUGLAS                  But put it this way, it has the turnover of a small country.
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Posted by John Finnemore

We interrupt this stream of Bear Facts to let you know that, by coincidence, I am doing something you can listen to, or even watch, over each of the next four days.

22nd December. Two today. In the morning, m'Souvenir Programme colleague Carrie Quinlan and I will be doing a short and Christmassy sketch during the Today programme. This, and all the things listed here, will be available on iPlayer once they've been aired. I'm not going to do links, because you're all terribly clever people, and can find them for yourself.

In the evening, I make my second appearance in this series of one of my favourite shows, I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue. (I stepped in at short notice for an indisposed Barry Cryer, by the way, which is why I'm not credited - but don't worry, he's absolutely fine.)

23rd December. There's this sitcom I write called 'Cabin Pressure', about pilots. Anyway, the first part of the two part show finale will go out at 6.30 on Radio 4. Incidentally, there are spoilers absolutely everywhere. The audience who saw the recording in February have diligently and heroically kept quiet for ten months. The papers previewing the show… not so much. If you haven't been spoilt yet, and don't want to be, I advise you not to read or listen to anything you see promoting the show. Except this. This is fine.

Christmas Eve. The second part airs. For what it's worth, I don't think I've seen any spoilers relating to events in this half. For instance, the scene the BBC has put out is from part one, and if you've seen the cast list, all of those characters have made their appearance by the end of part one. So, even if you've seen spoilers, you still have some surprises in store.

Christmas Day. m'Souvenir Programme Colleague Margaret Cabourn-Smith and I make a (brief) final appearance as Miranda's annoying friends Chris and Alison in 'Miranda' on BBC1.

Boxing Day. Blessed relief for the nation - the plague of relentless festive Finnemore appearances is over.

The Longest Night

Dec. 21st, 2014 10:09 pm
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Posted by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee

And so the Shortest Day came and the year died
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive.
And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, revelling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us – listen!
All the long echoes, sing the same delight,
This Shortest Day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And now so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.

Susan Cooper

With profound thanks to Rams, our Lady of the Comments, who always knows the right poem for everything.

treecandle.  2014-12-21

I love this night. The longest one there will be all year, and the shortest day to go with it.  Tomorrow the sun will shine a little longer, the night – just a few seconds less.  We celebrate tonight, as we always do, with friends, and food and good wine, and mostly with candles, and light. Twinkle lights hang everywhere, the tree is sparkling against the afternoon dark,  ice lanterns will line the steps to greet our guests, fresh candles top every flat surface.  Dinner’s on the stove, and I’ve just finished the peppermint bark, which is good – because I think I have a friend or two who only come for the wee package of it they’ll find in their pockets on the way home.

treeknit 2014-12-21

The friends who come tonight are women and mothers,  knitters too, in fact, and I feel like today I open my home to people who are the cradle of their homes. People who make things. Sweaters, dinners, presents… people… they’re powerful, wonderful women. (They’re a little twitchy this time of year, but that’s nothing that candlelight, a little knitting time and a glass of wine can’t fix.)  We’ll celebrate our unbelievable good fortune tonight, that we’re warm, that we’re full, that our children are whole and safe, that the light is all around us, and that there will be more of it tomorrow.

So many people can’t say the same this evening, and I’m going to skip gifts for knitters today, and suggest that this day, we think of a gift for someone with less.  I don’t know how much you have, and maybe all you can give is a few dollars, or even a little time – you’ll know best what speaks to your heart, and what you can manage.  We give to charity this day, it brings a little more light into the world, even while it is the longest night. Who we give to varies, according to what we’re grateful for, and what we wish other people had.  This year, it’s MSF – because we’re so grateful to have outstanding, affordable health care, and because we’re so impressed with the incredible work and risk that the MSF teams have undertaken on the front lines of the Ebola outbreak.  We’re giving to Because I am a Girl, because we have three educated, healthy daughters.  We’re giving to PWA because they do so very much good, and what the hell. I’m riding again. We’re giving to World Birth Aid, because on that map of maternal morbidity – I live in a country that is coloured blue.  There’s no safer place to give birth, and a clean birth kit can change that for another woman, so another family can have their mum with them, like I have mine, and my family has me.

candles 2014-12-21

Happy Happy Solstice, dear ones.  Light a candle. Namaste. Peace.


(PS. Luis hung up the reindeer.  He has no sense of decorum.)

rudolf 2014-12-21


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Posted by Fred Clark

Here’s an item for my Christmas wish list. I’ll need the help of: A) Someone with video editing and synching skills; and B) someone who can do a good impression of Linus from the Charlie Brown Christmas special.

The Christmas story only appears in two of the four Gospels in the New Testament. Paul’s letters were written much earlier, but the closest thing we find there to a Nativity story is Philippians 2:1-11.

And but so, I’d love to see a version of the classic scene below in which Linus says, “Sure, Charlie Brown. I can tell you what Christmas is all about. Lights, please. …” But then instead of the familiar Bethlehem story, we’d hear him recite this:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

Linusp2who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death —
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name.

Then he would, as always, pick up his blanket and walk out of the spotlight to say, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

Click here to view the embedded video.

And then we could all go outside and reconsider poor Charlie’s sad little tree and maybe decide it’s a pretty good tree after all.



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Posted by spam-spam

  • How user research woke me up to harassment in the design community | Medium (December 19): “But then I get a bad response, and then 2 more. My heart sank. […] My immediate reaction was to play down the comments in my head, after all it was only 2 people. But then I thought back to all the stories I’d read and the endless blog posts about sexism and harassment in the digital industry. Suddenly I was faced with the realisation that a huge group of my target market think it’s a good idea and want to use my product, but don’t feel safe enough to. It’s not just a business problem I’m facing, it’s a moral one.”
  • MIT Computer Scientists Demonstrate the Hard Way That Gender Still Matters | Wired (December 19): “The AMA became, to borrow one Reddit commenter’s phrase, “a parody of what it’s actually like to be a woman working in a STEM field.””
  • Why it’s so hard to stop online harassment | The Verge (December 8): “In her column last week, Jessica Valenti wrote, “If Twitter, Facebook or Google wanted to stop their users from receiving online harassment, they could do it tomorrow.” […] Valenti assumes here that Content ID works. But Content ID and other blunt, algorithmic tools in the service of copyright enforcement are documented trainwrecks with questionable efficacy and serious free speech ramifications. In other words, Content ID and its ilk are simultaneously too weak and too strong. Their suitability in addressing copyright infringement is already deeply suspect; their suitability in potentially addressing harassment should be questioned all the more.”
  • 2015 wall calendar of women in science | SmartyWomyn on Etsy (December 17)
  • [Warning for discussion of sexual assault] Defending the indefensible: gaming’s fondness for ‘rape’ | ABC Technology and Games (December 3): “It’s  true that adolescents around the world have co-opted [the word] as a term of comprehensive dominance for their online prowess. And yet despite the incredibly broad and increasingly diverse demographic that gaming has come to represent, […] there remains a staunch obsession to hold onto the uses of words like [these].”
  • Codecracker | CastillejaDPW on Youtube (December 15): [Video] “The Dance Production Workshop Class in collaboration with the 8th grade choreography class created Codecracker. This dance was created at the all girls school Castilleja in Palo Alto, CA. This dance combines coding, technology, art, and education. Enjoy!”
  • Hilarious Christmas Song Is the Feminist Rally Cry You’ve Been Waiting For | Identities.Mic (December 17): [Video] “the Doubleclicks, a musical duo made up of sisters Angela and Aubrey Webber. Hailing from Portland, Oregon, the sisters write songs “that are all at once snarky, geeky and sweet.” This holiday season, they’ve gifted all of us with their version of a Christmas carol, only instead of sleigh bells and Santa coming down the chimney, they sing about a magic weapon for ridding the world of sexists and a fervent hope that slut-shaming dudes will be long gone this holiday season.”



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Sunday favorites

Dec. 21st, 2014 11:53 am
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Posted by Fred Clark

Luke 2:8-20

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see — I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.

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Posted by Fred Clark

Opposition to the burning of kittens is not what sets the members of the AKBC apart from everyone else. What sets them apart is their strange belief that they are a special, beleaguered minority. What sets them apart is their refusal and/or inability to recognize that opposition to the burning of kittens is a unanimous, universally shared opinion. Apart from the AKBC, most people don’t feel a need to imagine or to pretend that there exists somewhere a vast Pro-Kitten-Burning Coalition that they must denounce as a demonstration of their moral superiority.

Reposted from 2008. For Patrick Lynch and all his fans on Twitter.

Every once in a while, I am sorry to say, some sick bastard sets fire to a kitten. This is something that happens. Like all crimes, it shouldn’t happen, but it does. And like most crimes, it makes the paper. The effects of this appalling cruelty are not far-reaching, but the incidents are reported in the papers because the cruelty is so flagrant and acute that it seems newsworthy.

The response to such reports is horror and indignation, which is both natural and appropriate. But the expression of that horror and indignation also produces something strange.

A few years ago there was a particularly horrifying kitten-burning incident involving a barbecue grill and, astonishingly, a video camera. That sordid episode took place far from the place where I work, yet the paper’s editorial board nonetheless felt compelled to editorialize on the subject. They were, happily, against it. Unambiguously so.

agreed with that stance, of course. Who doesn’t? But despite agreeing with the side they took, I couldn’t help but be amused by the editorial’s inordinately proud pose of courageous truth-telling. The lowest common denominator of minimal morality was being held up as though it were a prophetic example of speaking truth to power.

That same posturing resurfaced in a big way earlier this year when the kitten-burners struck again, much closer to home. A group of disturbed and disturbing children doused a kitten with lighter fluid and set it on fire just a few miles from the paper’s offices.

Pic snurched from knowyourmemes.com.

Pic snurched from knowyourmemes.com.

The paper covered the story, of course, and our readers ate it up.

People loved that story. It thrilled them. It became one of the most-read and most-e-mailed stories on our Web site. Online readers left dozens of comments and we got letters to the editor on the subject for months afterward.

Those letters and comments were, of course, uniformly and universally opposed to kitten-burning. Opinon on that question was unanimous and vehement.

But here was the weird part: Most of the commenters and letter-writers didn’t seem to notice that they were expressing a unanimous and noncontroversial sentiment. Their comments and letters were contentious and sort of aggressively defensive. Or maybe defensively aggressive. They were angry, and that anger didn’t seem to be directed only at the kitten-burners, but also at some larger group of others whom they imagined must condone this sort of thing.

If you jumped into the comments thread and started reading at any random point in the middle, you’d get the impression that the comments immediately preceding must have offered a vigorous defense of kitten-burning. No such comments offering any such defense existed, and yet reader after reader seemed to be responding to or anticipating this phantom kitten-burning advocacy group.

One came away from that comment thread with the unsurprising but reassuring sense that the good people reading the paper’s Web site did not approve of burning kittens alive. Kitten-burning, they all insisted, was just plain wrong.

But one also came away from reading that thread with the sense that people seemed to think this ultra-minimal moral stance made them exceptional and exceptionally righteous. Like the earlier editorial writers, they seemed to think they were exhibiting courage by taking a bold position on a matter of great controversy. Whatever comfort might be gleaned from the reaffirmation that most people were right about this non-issue issue was overshadowed by the discomfiting realization that so many people also seemed to want or need most others to be wrong.

The kitten-burners seem to fulfill some urgent need. They give us someone we can clearly and correctly say we’re better than. Their extravagant cruelty makes us feel better about ourselves because we know that we would never do what they have done. They thus function as signposts of depravity, reassuring the rest of us that we’re Not As Bad As them, and thus letting us tell ourselves that this is the same thing as us being good.

Kitten-burners are particularly useful in this role because their atrocious behavior seems wholly alien and without any discernible motive that we might recognize in ourselves. We’re all at least dimly aware of our own potential capacity for the seven deadlies, so crimes motivated by lust, greed, gluttony, etc. — even when those crimes are particularly extreme — still contain the seed of something recognizable. People like Ken Lay or Hugh Hefner don’t work as signposts of depravity because we’re capable, on some level, of envying them for their greed and their hedonism. But we’re not the least bit jealous of the kitten-burners. Their cruelty seems both arbitrary and unrewarding, allowing us to condemn it without reservation.

Again, I whole-heartedly agree that kitten-burning is really, really bad. But the leap from “that’s bad” to “I’m not that bad” is dangerous and corrosive. I like to call this Thornton Melon morality. Melon was the character played by Rodney Dangerfield in the movie Back to School, the wealthy owner of a chain of “Tall & Fat” clothing stores whose motto was “If you want to look thin, you hang out with fat people.” That approach — finding people we can compare-down to — might make us feel a little better about ourselves, but it doesn’t change who or what we really are. The Thornton Melon approach might make us look thin, but it won’t help us become so. Melon morality is never anything more than an optical illusion.

This comparing-down is ultimately corrosive because it bases our sense of morality in pride rather than in love — in the cardinal vice instead of the cardinal virtue. And to fuel that pride, we end up looking for ever-more extreme and exotically awful people to compare ourselves favorably against, people whose freakish cruelty makes our own mediocrity show more goodly and attract more eyes than that which hath no foil to set it off. …


Dec. 21st, 2014 12:00 am
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Posted by Dave Hingsburger

Today is my 62nd birthday.


These days 62 isn't considered very old. But for me, it's a miracle. Eighteen years ago I had my first of two catastrophic illnesses. I still remember the doctor telling me that I probably would not survive and that I'd best make sure that my affairs were in order. When your life expectancy shrinks to days and hours from decades and years, your perspective changes. Really changes.

This happened again, ten years later, and again I was asked to prepare myself for the ultimate farewell. It was then that I plotted out what I wanted to do if I survived. My career path completely changed as a result and my focus and goals were redefined.

Leaving the hospital, that I'd walked into, in a wheelchair meant only one thing - I was leaving the hospital. Joe and I worked together to incorporate this new reality into our life and, for the most part, succeeded. I see him and our life together, differently, because of these experiences.

I've had 'happy birthday' sung to me several times in the days leading up to my actual birthday. And, I realize, it is just that: a happy birthday. I'm glad to be here, I'm glad to have time to work on things that matter to me, I'm glad for each day that Joe and I have with each other. I'm glad of it all.

So today I'm 62.

And I couldn't be happier to be here, celebrating the day and giving thanks that I've been given two second chances.

Farewell Bear Facts - Wokingham

Dec. 20th, 2014 10:30 pm
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Posted by John Finnemore

More on Wokingham here.

- Arthur's irresistible helpfulness meeting Wendy's immoveable resistance to being helped is one of my favourite Arthur scenes. Partly because Arthur affects and furthers the plot for reasons other than clottishness. Partly because I love the friendliness that develops between them once Wendy realises she's met her match. And partly… because I got to perform a two-handed scene with Prunella Scales!

- There is a good reason why the pronunciation of Caitlin's name changes between Limerick and Wokingham. It's not the after-the-fact one I came up with in the blog post above, although that one will do in the characters' world.  Unfortunately for you… I cannot tell you what the real reason is. I know, maddening of me. But true.

- Nice, amongst all the character development and series arc-i-ness going on these days, to have a nice old-fashioned C.P. subplot about trying to win a silly game. And nice that it's Douglas and Carolyn doing it for a change, rather than Douglas and Martin.

Deleted scene. This is an interesting one, because rather than being cut for reasons as time, as usual, I requested Producer David to cut it, because I felt it was a mistake on my part. Here it is:

CAROLYN                   Oh, not at all. I know what it’s like… well, you’ve met Ruth. She still makes me feel like a five year old.
ARTHUR                     I’m glad I don’t have an older brother. Although, also, now I think about it, an older brother would have been great.
MARTIN                       Mm. Although… actually, as it happens… Simon’s my younger brother.
DOUGLAS                  What?
CAROLYN                   He’s not, is he?
MARTIN                       Only by a year! And he’s always acted like he’s older! And he’s so much bigger than me! And he’s got that moustache!

So, that works perfectly well as a sitcommy joke; and it's certainly true that there are siblings where the younger acts as if they were the older and/or vice-versa. But, ultimately, in this case, I didn't and don't think it was truthful. Simon's behaviour - which, as I've said before, I was keen to make irritating but not horrible - is so much influenced, in my mind, by the fact that he's an older brother who can't recognise that he and his siblings are all equal adults now; and so treats Martin as if he was still a kid, that to remove the root of that just for the sake of a capper at the end of the episode felt cheap. So, to be clear, the order of the Crieff siblings is: Simon, Martin, Caitlin. (Martin is such a middle child…)


Dec. 20th, 2014 09:40 pm
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Scalzi and Rosefox were on Twitter, and what with one thing and another...

(I do apologize for the brush font, though!)
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Posted by Timmi Duchamp

Pleasures of Reading etc.

by Nancy Jane Moore

Here’s how big a fan grrl I am of Rebecca Solnit: I bought a copy of Harper’s in the grocery checkout lane last month because she had an essay in it. Harper’s always disappoints me – this time was no exception – but Solnit never does.

I read Solnit’s A Paradise Built in Hell some years back. Her description of how people rise to the occasion in disasters – and how official efforts to “restore order” often do more harm than good – resonated with me at a time when I was also reading about the biological bases for human cooperation. And her writing was beautiful.

This year I read Men Explain Things to Me and turned the corner from casual appreciator to rabid fan. Solnit has a way of saying something important from a slightly different perspective, and of doing it in exquisite sentences. Here is an example of both from her essay on Virginia Woolf, “Woolf’s Darkness: Embracing the Inexplicable”:

“The tyranny of the quantifiable is partly the failure of language and discourse to describe more complex, subtle, and fluid phenomena, as well as the failure of those who shape opinions and make decisions to understand and value these slipperier things. It is difficult, sometimes even impossible, to value what cannot be named or described, and so the task of naming and describing is an essential one in any revolt against the status quo of capitalism and consumerism. Ultimately the destruction of the Earth is due in part, perhaps in large part, to a failure of the imagination or to its eclipse by systems of accounting that can’t count what matters.”

I was very surprised to find that Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century was not on The New York Times 2014 best-of lists – not even the 100 “notable books” one. This comprehensive explanation of the systemic inequality of wealth and income in the world today provides a core education in how the system works. Any solutions to extreme inequity that do not take into account Piketty’s formulas will likely turn out to be mere window dressing. This book is an indispensable tool for anyone looking to change the world’s economic system.

I hadn’t heard of James McBride until he won the National Book Award last year, but I was intrigued by The Good Lord Bird and gave it a try. It turned out to be an amazing book; despite the satirical tone, it ended up breaking my heart – which is probably a crucial element in any book on slavery and the Civil War.

Browsing in Oakland’s Marcus Garvey Books a few months later, I discovered McBride’s earlier novel, Song Yet Sung, and read it as well. It was just as brilliant and just as heartbreaking. In these days when historians are recognizing the effect of slavery on this country, McBride is using fiction to get at the underlying truths of that era.

On a lighter note, I finally got around to reading Madeleine E. Robins’s Sarah Tolerance novels this year. These are mysteries set in a slightly alternate world in which the Queen, rather than the Prince of Wales, acts as regent for George III. Miss Tolerance is a fallen woman skilled in swordplay who makes her living as a private investigator.

These delightful books are grounded in the conventions of regency novels while providing a most satisfactory active and independent heroine. There are three of them: Point of Honour, Petty Treason, and The Sleeping Partner. Robins is at work on a fourth, and I mention it here in hopes of moving that along. I would gladly spend many more hours in the company of Miss Tolerance.

Movies often disappoint me, but I did manage to see several this year that were worth my time. Twelve Years a Slave provided another powerful take on US slavery. Obvious Child is a romantic comedy that gets women’s lives right – including the choice to have an abortion. Laura Poitras made Edward Snowden’s efforts worthwhile by putting his story on-screen in Citizenfour.

I could probably come up with a large list of Austin musicians everyone ought to know, but I’ll confine myself to one: Ruthie Foster. Her latest album, Promise of a Brand New Day, is up for a Grammy, but her old ones are also an excellent introduction to her music. The best way to hear her, though, is live: She’s one of those musicians who brings added joy when she plays for an audience.

Nancy Jane Moore’s novel Seven Cities of Gold (working title) will be published by Aqueduct in 2015. Several collections of her stories are available as ebooks from Book View Café.
[syndicated profile] sociological_images_feed

Posted by Joshua Page PhD

Iconic images — such as a single student standing stoic before Red Army tanks in Tiananmen Square, a protester leaning forward to put a flower into the barrel of a soldier’s gun, or two African-American athletes raising black-gloved fists on the Olympic victory podium — often seem to shape much of what we “know” about various historical events or social movements. In our social media, mass culture world, images and interpretations spread fast. But where do these images come from? How and by whom are they produced?

Last week, wire services photographer Noah Berger found himself behind the lens of a photograph that has the potential to become such an image. In it, a white, plain-clothes police officer in Oakland, CA, aims his gun at protesters and reporters, while his black partner holds down a black protester. At a historical moment when protests are sweeping the country, bringing issues of police violence and the unequal treatment of minorities into public consciousness with slogans like “Black Lives Matter,” it is perhaps not surprising that the photo seems to have gone viral.

Sociologist Joshua Page reached out to Berger to discuss the photographer’s experience in creating this powerful image. In an interview, the two talked about the social logistics of photographing protests, the life of a “stringer,” and the struggle to capture the essence—even the sociological significance—of events that have complex backstories and often conflicting meanings in single, silent photographs.

1aREUTERS/Noah Berger

1. The Photo.

Page: Why was the police officer pointing his gun at people?

Berger: In basic, loose terms, what happened on the night that the plain-clothes officer pulled his gun on the protesters began with protests on the Berkeley campus, about 7:00pm. They disrupted a lecture by, I think, one of the founders of Paypal, but they marched peacefully for a couple of hours. It was about 150 people, and they marched all the way from the Berkeley campus to downtown Oakland—about three miles.

When it reached downtown Oakland, at 14th and Broadway, which is sort of “protest central,” it started getting a little bit edgier. You could just feel it in the crowd… Pretty soon after that, the first window got smashed. Then the cell phone store got looted. I watched that happen. I couldn’t take any pictures, but I did watch it.

So, the protesters kept marching, banging on windows. There was some minor vandalism, and, according to the California Highway Patrol [CHP], when the cell phone store was looted, that was when two officers who had been in a car behind the protest group got out and started walking with the group. This is all according to the CHP.

I noticed the officers in the crowd, and I actually thought they looked kind of scary. I made a mental note to stay away from them. They didn’t strike me as cops, they just looked kind of scary. But as far as I saw, they just walked along with the crowd. There have been some reports of them doing other things… but all I saw them doing was walking along with the group.

About 20 to 30 minutes after the first vandalism started, a group of roughly 60 people were walking, and someone just turned on these two guys and started yelling that they were cops. Kind of taunting them. More people joined in. At that point, the San Francisco Chronicle photographer tells me, somebody ran up behind the cops and pulled the hat off one of the guys, threw it on the ground. Apparently another person hit one of the officers on the back of the head. This is according to the Chronicle.

At that point, one of the officers in the crowd and a guy just started scuffling. It just turned into a brawl, and the crowd started advancing on these two officers. At that point, one of the officers pulled out a baton, which you can see in some of the pictures, and he also pulled out his firearm. He kind of aimed at the crowd and swung it around, saying something to the effect of, “Stay back! Back off.” He held them off for about 30 seconds until the regular, uniformed officers swooped in from the end of the block. They formed a protective semi-circle around these two guys and the protesters they were detaining, and pushed the other protesters backwards to secure the area.

Page: At what point did he point the gun at the Chronicle’s photographer?

Berger: I very much doubt that the cop knew the guy was press and was specifically pointing at him. He was holding the crowd back. It was more general, to everybody, “Stay back.” And in the picture, his hand isn’t on the trigger. So, I don’t think he was specifically targeting the press. It was just that we were close to him.

Page: Have you been surprised at how widely that image has been circulated and the ways people have interpreted it on Facebook and elsewhere?

Berger: Very much so. Michael Short, the Chronicle photographer and I, when we talked about it right after it happened, we thought the story was gonna be, “How crazy is this that a group of protesters knowingly attacked undercover officers?” That’s what we thought was the amazing part of the moment!

But after that picture came out, it conveyed a different perspective: “How crazy is it that this undercover cop would pull his weapon on protesters?” It’s a really good case of the picture not showing the whole story. It’s not a lie. It definitely is part of the story, but it’s not the whole occurrence.

It’s led to a cascade of interest that I’ve never really seen before, which was weird and mostly good. Not all good, but mostly good.

2. The job.

Page: So, what is your job title?

Berger: I’m a freelance photographer, a “stringer.”

Page: Do you see yourself as a photojournalist?

Berger: Yeah, I kind of wear two hats. It changes depending on the season, but I spend about 60% of my time on the news and about 40% in corporate or government work. But when I’m out during the protests, I certainly consider myself a photojournalist.

Page: Are there particular assignments you like to take?

Berger: Definitely the protests, the edgier protests are high on my list. That, and wildfires. My favorite assignments are protests and wildfires.

King Fire Photo Copyright Noah BergerThe King Wildfire, 2014. © Noah Berger

Page: What is it you like about them?

Berger: The wildfires are great, because you’re in these volatile, somewhat dangerous situations, but no one’s aiming for you, unlike in the protests. You’re out in the woods, trying to get your shot, and you’re not dealing with the public relations side or negotiating society. You’re just on your own.

The protests, it’s just interesting to see when there are clashes and when the emotions and violence flare up. And on another side, it’s just interesting to see that side of life. It’s something a lot of people don’t witness.

Page: Are there particular types of images you’re looking for when shooting a protest?

Berger: Sure. Working for the wire services like the AP or Reuters, I try to keep in mind one image that sums up an event. I’m not just looking for one image from the night, but I like my images to say something. When you’re working for a wire service, it’s more important to consider an audience outside the local area and know that you’re looking for images that sum up the event.

Page: Those tend to be more dramatic images.

Berger: “Dramatic,” like for the police protests, obviously would be something that might have a policeman and a protester in it, and some interaction. But it doesn’t need to be. Reuters, another photographer, got a shot of this guy with fire around him and a sign that said “Black Lives Matter.” There’s no other context, but it just had a great feeling. So it doesn’t need to be both sides, but I think the photo needs to speak to the whole issue.

Page: How do you know when the picture represents what’s going on?

Berger: You just kind of know when it happens, I guess…

Page: Another shot you had the other day, of the freeway stopped in both directions, was just amazing.

Berger: That’s actually a little different than I normally shoot; it doesn’t tell the story as quickly as the images I would normally look for. It took me longer to warm to that photo, because it was harder to “read.” You need more context [to know that these are protesters stopping traffic on a freeway].

Page: What’s your process for shooting a protest? How do you know where to go?

Berger: Well, there are a couple different ways. To find out where the protest is gonna be, there’s a website that lists the bigger ones. Twitter has become huge. A lot of these protests are just organized a couple hours before by someone saying, “Hey, let’s meet at 7:00 at the corner of _______ and _______,” and that just creates the protest. So, Twitter’s good.

I also use a police scanner, and I’ll have that on, depending on what the protest is. Like, if there are multiple protest groups roaming the streets, that’s really useful…. The other way is following, if there are multiple groups, following where the police helicopters are. You can look up and kind of figure that out. But the scanner’s a really useful tool.

3. Interactions: Protesters, Police, and the Press Corps.

Page: Do you ever get pushback from protesters, get hassled?

Berger: All the time. When I’m out there, my primary concerns are staying safe from protesters, staying safe from the police projectiles or clubs, and just keeping my gear safe.

Page: I’m sure there must be times when the idea of a protest is to get the images out there and spread the word. Are there times when your relationship with the protesters is more collaborative than antagonistic?

Berger: It’s not necessarily true, actually, that they want the word out. There’s definitely a large group that does want the world to know what’s going on here… but a lot of people seem to want to be out there pushing the boundaries of police and society and don’t want it documented.

Page: Is there a sense in some protests that the press is part of the “system” people are protesting to begin with?

Berger: You do hear that. I’ve had a lot of people that are well meaning come up and say, “The mainstream media isn’t covering this.” And I’m like, “I’m working for the AP right now. It doesn’t get much more mainstream than that!” …I am a fairly big believer that the mainstream press tries to convey objective, unbiased accounts of what’s going on. We don’t always get it perfectly right, but I think the effort is there. That’s the intent.
Page: What does it look like when a protester harasses you?
Berger: It can be different forms. The other night, during the looting at the cell phone store, a woman and a man came up to me and just held their cameras up to me and held their middle fingers up and said, “You’re not gonna take pictures of this. You’re not gonna take pictures of this.” And just followed me wherever I moved. That’s kind of a normal tactic. One of the other photographers, they tried to grab his memory card. There are more threatening forms, where people are just lurking behind you saying, “No photographs. No photographs.” It’s hard to watch stuff happening and not be able to shoot, but it’s just one of those times you have to let your camera down.
Page: What about the police?
Berger: For the most part, the police do a fairly good job at respecting the press out there…. There are definitely cases where the police are caught up in the moment and go after you—maybe knowing you’re press, maybe not—but I think they kind of respect the boundary. I have been batoned a lot, but it’s when I put myself between the front line of the protesters and the front line of the police. That’s where you can get the dramatic shots, but you’re kind of asking for it in that spot. It’s a risk of going up there: that you’re gonna catch a baton… I mean, you can always drop back a little bit. If you drop back from the front line of protesters, you can have a few minutes to collect.
Page: How do you interact with other photographers when you’re covering these events?
Berger: We definitely work together. We’re very actively backing each other up. Just before this protest, a Reuters photographer got pepper-sprayed by the police and, when he put his gear down, someone who wasn’t part of the protest came and took his gear. Ran off with thousands and thousands of dollars of camera equipment, and another photographer tried to chase them down, unsuccessfully. But anyway, we do stick together. We’ll talk beforehand about who’s going out, sometimes ride in a car together, and we’ll decide together when something’s not safe enough to cover.
We have a great community of photojournalists. We really do look out for each other. There’s definitely an element of competition—we all want to get the best shot! But the overarching feeling is that we want to keep each other safe.

4. Framing and Representation.

Page: Do you think about potential public or political reactions to the images when you’re shooting them?

Berger: Yeah. And I have a strong belief that we’re showing the world what’s happening in any given situation. I mean, that moment with the handgun coming up, you’re not gonna see that otherwise. There were, plus or minus, three mainstream journalists there, and we’re really the eyes of “truth” in the bigger, somewhat objective reality that’s being conveyed to the world.

Page: Do you think about how certain images would support particular narratives?

Berger: Sure. I think there’s an inherent bias toward, in protests, the sparky, edgy action shot. It’s not because we want to show protesters [as violent], but it makes for more dramatic pictures… I don’t ever go into it going, “I’m gonna take a shot that makes this side look like this,” but sometimes when you’re editing, you can see that. “Oh, this shot really conveys this.”

Page: You’re aware that certain images support certain perspectives, and recognize that sometimes you’re emphasizing the edgier side of a protest when a lot of it is peaceful. Like you were saying, all the way from Berkeley to downtown Oakland…

Berger: I am very conscious of that: one image can convey something that isn’t the whole truth. I try, when I write my caption, to reflect that. When I covered Occupy, if there was a protest where 1,500 people shut down a port and then 100 people broke windows, in my caption I’d say, “After a largely peaceful protest of 1,500 people…” There is definitely a responsibility beyond the image.

Page: So, what is your view of the current wave of protests? Do you think they’re effective? Justified?

Berger: I definitely don’t feel comfortable speaking to whether they’re justified… I don’t think any mainstream journalist trying to report from an objective position should put out their opinion on an issue they’re covering…. Our job is to stay, to try to stay as objective and neutral and balanced as we can. Telling our opinion would fall outside those boundaries, so it’s not something I’m comfortable talking about. …You could definitely be looking at a group on any side of an issue and think… “That’s kind of wacky,” but it’s still your job to stay objective and present all sides to an issue.

5. Letting Go.

Page: It must be really interesting to shoot the images, put them out there, and see how people respond to them and use them. I’ve seen this undercover cop photo turned into a meme. Do you pay attention to how they get written up and used?

Berger: On this story, I have been, definitely, but not always. I mean, there are all kinds of ironic things. This one was used as a protest poster for this coming weekend’s protest. I’m sure some of the people, maybe even the people designing the poster, are gonna be out there blocking my camera! Usually, the photos just sort of go off into the media world, and they’re gone for me.

Joshua Page, PhD, is a professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota, where he specializes in crime and deviance. He is the author of The Toughest Beat: Politics, Punishment, and the Prison Officers Union in California. This post originally appeared at The Society Pages.

(View original at http://thesocietypages.org/socimages)

That whole house is sticky now

Dec. 20th, 2014 06:08 pm
[syndicated profile] yarn_harlot_feed

Posted by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee

When my girls were little (and when they were bigger too) we always had a Gingerbread Party.  It used to be that we’d fill up the house with people, and food, and music, and I’d bake a couple hundred gingerbread cookies, and make a few pounds of royal icing (that kind that gets hard when it dries) and then we’d just make merry all over the place while my gingerbread cookies got decorated by littles and big ones alike.  It’s been a few years since we did it now.  With no real littles around, the tradition seemed silly to the big kids I think, and I’d invite them and we’d try to make it happen and they’d say no, because it was gingerbread and what self respecting young person trying to assert themselves as an adult shows up for a gingerbread party? It undermines your adulthood.

loucookies 2014-12-20

loupiano 2014-12-20

In my secret heart through, I really, truly believed that I wasn’t the only one who missed the gingerbread party. I brought it up a few years, but nobody seemed to want to – but I thought they were lying.  I had rented kids over to scratch my itch (the neighbours, and Jen provided a few) but this year I took a different tack.  I invited the family for dinner. A regular family dinner, like we do all the time, and then – I ambushed them.

samthumbsup 2014-12-20 loudecorates 2014-12-20 pato 2014-12-20

When everyone arrived, the gingerbread was laid out, icing was made and put into ziplocks to be makeshift piping bags (they actually work really, really well) and from there, instinct took over.

carlos 2014-12-20

loudecoratessmile 2014-12-20


joe 2014-12-20

It was a wonderful evening.  Music was made, dumb reindeer songs were sung, Lou decorated his first gingerbread, and everyone got into it. I’d go into the kitchen to lay out more food (the food – holy cats they demolished it all) and come back out to find someone else had sidled up to the table and was having a go.  People came and went from the table, but the die hards -the ones who decorated the most and had the biggest fun, were the young men. Exactly the ones who shrink back in horror when you suggest such a thing.

oldjoe 2014-12-20 (1)

The older men didn’t have a terrible time either, and my mum and Joe’s were happier than I can tell you.  It reeked of good, clean fun.  When the night was over, and the last gingerbread decorated, and the house tidied, I sat on the chesterfield and had a good, long smirk.

mumcarol 2014-12-20 loudecoratesbetter 2014-12-20

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alldone 2014-12-20

I knew they would love it.  Sneak attack gingerbread  party.  One of my better plans, and worth the sacrifice of the knitting time.  They’ll remember this more than whether or not I finished their mittens.

What did Luis hang today?

El jersey.  (That’s an easy one to learn in Spanish, isn’t it?)

eljersey 2014-12-20

I knit this one almost to the pattern (although I admit to changing the shoulder shaping, and the pattern on the yoke, so it would match the hat. WHAT.  I thought it should be a set) and Joe used a paperclip to make a tiny little hanger.

jerseywithhangar 2014-12-20

I know that a sweater isn’t something that would thrill Lou (and that likely explains it’s late arrival on the tree) but it was intended as a little homage to the many sweaters I’ve knit him.  I am the sweater Auntie, and when he’s bigger, maybe he’ll think of the sweaters I’ve made him over the years, keeping him warm and cozy.  (More likely he’ll remember that Sam let him squirt icing straight into his mouth at the party, but I can’t compete with that.)

Gifts for knitters, Day 20

This one’s quick and dirty, easy and fast.  Personalized labels for your knitter to sew into the things they make. There’s great ones here, and charming ones here, and if labels aren’t quite your kntiter’s style, think about some personalized tags.  They all say “I’m proud of the things you make” and that’s a great message to send your knitter.

[syndicated profile] sexisnottheenemy_feed


We jumped in the Atlantic Ocean on Dec. 08 reset brains to awesum coordinates.
Magnets and Mirrors, My Love.
andrewcauthen.tumblr.com Jules 37
pairoffdie.tumblr.com age Laura 28

From Our Archives: Christmas

Dec. 20th, 2014 02:00 pm
[syndicated profile] sociological_images_feed

Posted by Lisa Wade, PhD

2The History of Christmas

Christmas Across Cultures

The Economics of Christmas

Racializing Christmas

Christmas and Gender

Gift Guides and the Social Construction of Gender

Sexifiying Christmas

Christmas Marketing

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

(View original at http://thesocietypages.org/socimages)

[syndicated profile] geekfeminism_feed

Posted by spam-spam

We link to a variety of sources, some of which are personal blogs.  If you visit other sites linked herein, we ask that you respect the commenting policy and individual culture of those sites.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on Pinboard, Delicious or Diigo; or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Farewell Bear Facts - Vaduz

Dec. 20th, 2014 02:15 am
[syndicated profile] forget_what_did_feed

Posted by John Finnemore

More on Vaduz here.

Princess Theresa was a real risk. Introducing a new romantic interest for a main character, only four episodes from the end, and expecting the audience to care, and to want them to get together, was quite a tall order; and giving her such a high-concept identity as a foreign Princess even more so. I felt there was a definite risk of shark-jumping. 'Oh, right, so Martin's going out with a Princess now? Fine…'

In the end, though, I haven't heard many complaints about Theresa, and I have heard quite a lot of enthusiasm, which I think is largely down to Matilda Ziegler's fantastic, warm, intelligent, amused performance. The other thing that helps, though, is that though the character is new; the situation is set up in Newcastle - Theresa is quite a lot like Linda Fairburn, but with the crucial differences that a) Theresa quite fancies Martin and b) Martin has changed between N and V. He's still going to make a stammering fool of himself, of course, but… well, he truly does earn that medal for teasing recognition. Speaking of which, here is a Deleted Medal:

THERESA                  Super, that gets you the Holy Cross of St Luzius. Have you been to Triesenberg?
MARTIN                       I… I don’t think so.
THERESA                   Do you want to go to Triesenberg? Basically, we have this whole medal foreigners can get for going to Triesenberg. I think it was some kind of eighteenth century tourism thing. I tell you what, you can have it for now, if you don’t go to Triesenberg in ten years, send it back.

And here's another deleted scene, in which Martin gives Maxi some advice:

MARTIN                       Maxi… what does the Sheik of Qatar do, exactly?
MAXI                             (SULLEN) It’s not just him. It’s all the boys. They laugh at me all the time. And they call me Serena. 
MARTIN                       Why do they do that?
MAXI                            I don’t know.
MARTIN                       Was it after you told them to call your Your Serene Majesty?
MAXI                              …I can’t remember.
MARTIN                       Look, can I give you some advice?
MAXI                            You? But you’re a commoner!
MARTIN                       Even so. Look, I used to be in the air cadets. Well, you know that. And I was the first in my flight to become a Junior Corporal. And, and it’s just good military discipline to address people by rank, rather than name, or… anything else.
MAXI                           Of course.
MARTIN                       Yes. But, looking back, even though I was technically right, I sort of wish I hadn’t insisted.
MAXI                            Wouldn’t they call you it?
MARTIN                       No, no they would. They wouldn’t stopcalling me it. I mean… there are people I see when I go back home who still call me Junior Corporal. What I mean is, the thing to remember about bullies-
MAXI                            I know, I know, ‘they’re cowards really, you’ve just got to stand up to them.’
MARTIN                       No, no. Some of them are cowards, but some of them really aren’t. No, the thing about bullies is, they do it for fun.
MAXI                            How does that help me?
MARTIN                       Well, it gives you a strategy. Be boring to bully.
MAXI                            How?
MARTIN                       Don’t react much. Don’t try really hard not to react, because that’s fun to watch. But otherwise… just sort wait for it to finish.
MAXI                             And that works?

MARTIN                       I don’t know… I never learnt to do it. But I think it might.

[syndicated profile] slacktivist_feed

Posted by Fred Clark

Every year, PNC Bank calculates its “Christmas Price Index,” a whimsical holiday tradition in which they estimate and tally up the full cost of everything my true love gave to me in the song “The 12 Days of Christmas.”

The bank does a bang-up job at this, coming up with creative ways of determining the cost of things like lords a-leaping and presenting it all in a cool animation. But this index based on “The 12 Days of Christmas” still has several problems that PNC can’t overcome.

First, there’s the expense — $116,273 for the 12-day total in 2014. That’s more than most of us and/or our true loves can afford to spend on the holidays. Then there’s the weird obscurity of most of the Christmas gifts in that song. (“Ohhh, you got me turtle doves. Again. Thanks so much.”)

And finally there’s the problem of the song itself. “The 12 Days of Christmas” is the “99 Bottles of Beer” of Christmas songs. It may seem like a fun idea for a moment there during the first few verses, but soon you’re just kind of begging for it to end. For me, the song has occasionally been redeemed by Muppets or McKenzies, but otherwise it’s not really something I look forward to hearing over and over and over again every December.

This, on the other hand, is a Christmas song that can still make me smile:

Click here to view the embedded video.

Robert Earl Keen’s “Merry Christmas From the Family” is a bit more relatable for most of us, I think. It’s a simple reminder of the things that matter most during the holidays. Christmas shouldn’t be about spending thousands of dollars on golden rings and pear trees. It’s about home and family. It’s about alcohol, low-simmering feuds, and passive-aggressive tensions that have lasted for decades. And it’s about loving one another enough to make sure that no one runs out of diapers or tampons or cigarettes.

And, happily, it provides a convenient alternative to the “12 Days of Christmas” as the basis for an annual Christmas Price Index. While the tumultuous family gathering Keen narrates occurs over a single night, the song’s chorus also lists precisely 12 items that somebody’s gonna have to run to the 24-hour Kwik Mart to get.

Here’s the first list from the first time through that chorus:

Carve the turkey, turn the ball game on
It’s margaritas when the eggnog’s gone
Send somebody to the Quickpak Store
We need some ice and an extension cord
A can of bean dip and some Diet Rites
A box of Pampers, Marlboro Lights
Hallelujah, everybody say “cheese”
Merry Christmas from the family

And here’s the second:

Carve the turkey, turn the ball game on
It’s bloody Marys, ‘cause we all want one!
Send somebody to the Stop ‘N Go
We need some celery and a can of fake snow
A bag of lemons and some Diet Sprites
A box of Tampons, some Salem Lights
Hallelujah, everybody say “cheese”
Merry Christmas from the Family

So a few years ago I started keeping track of this Robert Earl Keen Christmas Price Index, tracking down everything in that list as best I could in the various gas-station convenience marts here in Chester County. It ain’t easy to find Diet Rite, but I tracked some down this year. (The place also had Tab. Are they still making Tab, or were those cans just really old?) Still no luck finding aerosol snow in convenience stores, so I’m plugging in a price for that from online.

First chorus: ice, $2.99; extension cord, $14.29; can of bean dip, $2.99; Diet Rites (12 pack), $4.99; box of Pampers, $24.99; Marlboro Lights, $6.39.

Second chorus: celery, $1.69; can of fake snow, $15.42; bag of lemons, $3.99; Diet Sprites (12 pack), $5.49; box of tampons, $4.49; Salem Lights, $6.39. Gas station lemons looked a bit iffy.

Total cost: $94.11.

The REKCPI is remarkably stable. It’s up only slightly from last year’s index ($91.31). The index was much lower in 2011, but that was mainly because I substituted a can of that fake window frost stuff for the fake snow, which knocked, like, $12 off the total.

Feliz Nav-i-daaaaaad.

Screen shot 2014-12-19 at 5.22.15 PM

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Posted by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee

All is well here, although only because I’ve given up, in the most relaxed way possible.  I’m still trying to get everything done by the 20th, but I understand that’s tomorrow and that  I live in a world of dreams.  Even if I don’t totally finish, I’ll be close enough that the last few days of the holidays won’t be an enraged blur of wrapping paper and baking.  The gingerbread was baked last night, dinner for tonight is almost made, and it’s a simple one, so it’s bubbling on the stove, making the house smell like I’m ready, even if I’m not. A little while ago I got this huge urge to vacuum, and then realized that only a fool vacuums *before* a two year old comes to your house for dinner.  I’ll clean up the crumbs he leaves behind tomorrow.  It was always a pipe dream to have the knitting done by the 20th – I haven’t thought I would make that for a while… but I stand by my idea that I’ll be knitting for me on Christmas Day, with a cup of eggnog and the tree twinkling next to me.  I don’t have that much to knit really (sorry, let me just stop laughing enough to type.)  No, really – it’s not that bad.  A pair of Cloisonée mittens remain to be finished…

cloisoneeontheway2 2014-12-19

and I’d forgotten how much I love this pattern. Fast, fun, and easy to make the right colours for anyone – I hunted on Ravelry for just the right thing for a while before I realized that I’d already come up with it.  (You know you’re not thinking when Rav suggests a pattern you’ve written.)  After that there’s one more pair of mittens (two, if the sun shines) another pair of fingerless mitts, and one (two if the sun shines) hats.  I’m still in the running. This afternoon I’ll finish the cooking, work for a little longer, and then if all goes well, I’ll have an hour to knit before the hordes descend.  (Did I mention I’m looking forward to the hordes?) I was going to clean, but then I remembered I just don’t give a sh*t. I’d rather this was the first year I didn’t give anyone a gift still on the needles.

What’s Luis hanging today?

La luz de navidad. The Christmas light. (Edited to fix my crappy Spanish spelling. Big surprise.)

lalux 2014-12-19

I admit, I think of this as the “Christmas bulb” but Christmas light is close enough.  I was knitting it, and thinking that really, Lou probably wouldn’t know what it was, since all the strings of lights now are little LED things that look nothing like this, which is so much better for the environment, and so much worse for nostalgia.  Still, when I think of a the strings of lights you hand on a tree (and despite not having had anything that looks like this for years) this seems just right.  I  used this pattern, and didn’t change a thing, but for the gauge.  (The pattern called for worsted and 3.25mm needles, and I switched to fingering and 2.25mm needles to make it small enough.)  I imagine that when Lou’s old enough to really look at these, he’ll think of this the way that he will dial phones with an attached cord. If I were a better woman, I’d knit a long string of these for my tree.

Gifts for knitters, Day 19

Today’s gift for knitters, is project bags.  I know, I know, yesterday I did bags for knitters, but these are project bags, not knitting bags.  These go inside the knitting bag.  (I know. I told you we had a bag thing.)

I love these box bags from Splityarn with a passion.  There’s big ones, and smaller ones, and they squish enough to fit in my bag when I travel or go places, but they’re also tidy enough (and have a handle on the end) so that I can take it as is.  Lots of other great people make box bags too (look! Polkadots! This ones a call box! Sharknado! Hedgehogs!) Ones you can colour co-ordinate to your other stuff!)   and they’re fabulous (and they stack, like bricks so that the place your knitter is keeping projects is very tidy indeed.  (Yes, having more than one project on the go is normal, as a matter of fact, it’s a pretty good idea.) If you’re as crafty as your knitter, there’s a great tutorial on how to make a box bag here.

If your knitter isn’t that square (see what I did there?) then you can go the more traditional project bag route.  There’s a million of them, and they’re all good – there’s so many in fact that there’s no reason that you can’t co-ordinate it to fit in with your knitters other interests.  Sheep? CoffeeTardis? Do they wanna put a bird on it? Maybe chickens? Creepy stuff? The Enterprise? Crafty PiratesDaleks?  (As an aside, and this fits in with yesterday too.  If your knitter has a thing for the Doctor, maybe you wanna go nuts and pre-order this.)  If your knitter likes something, you can find a bag that goes with it. Go to Etsy, and modify this search with something your knitter likes.

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Posted by Timmi Duchamp

Aqueduct Year in Review 2014 
by Cheryl Morgan

My stand out book read in 2014 has to be We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler. It thoroughly deserves all of the praise heaped upon it, and I was very sad that it didn’t win the Booker.

Running it very close was Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy. I have been a fan of Jeff’s work for a long time, and this series has seen his career take a massive step forward. I’m delighted for him.

Naturally I picked up Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Sword as soon as it came out. The story is very different from Ancillary Justice, but it is still an excellent read and now I am eagerly awaiting book three to find out … [no spoilers!].

Still with science fiction by women, I loved Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon. To start with it is very funny, but mainly it is just so refreshing to read a book set in Nigeria written by someone with a good understanding of Nigeria and its people.

Moving on to horror, Mike Carey showed that there is still life in the zombie novel with the excellent The Girl with All the Gifts. Mike has been heaped with honors in the comics industry, but his novels have been oddly ignored. Hopefully this book will change that.

Superhero novels appear to be popular these days. Nick Harkaway’s Tigerman and Lavie Tidhar’s The Violent Century are very different works, but both show that there is a lot more to the genre than men in tights. Samit Basu’s Resistance was also a lot of fun, though not quite as impressive as his first novel, Turbulence. Then again, Indian superheroes; what’s not to like?

This year saw two fine novels by trans women. Roz Kaveney’s Resurrections is the third in her Rhapsody of Blood series. It does something utterly outrageous. I remember all of the fuss when Moorcock’s Behold the Man came out, and it has nothing on this. Content warming for blasphemy, I guess, though that rather depends on whether you believe in a god of enforcing societal norms or a god of love. Rachel Pollack’s The Child Eater is much more traditional fantasy, mixing a modern world narrative with one set in a world of wizards. Along the way it has things to say about psychologists, for which I am duly grateful.

Lots of mainstream literary novels dabbled in genre this year. One of the most prominent is David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks. I’m normally a big Mitchell fan, but I’m struggling with this one. That’s partly because the first section is essentially a YA story, and I came to it immediately after reading Tricia Sullivan’s Shadowboxer. An awful lot has been said about that book, which I don’t have space to go into here, but I enjoyed reading it and Sullivan’s portrayal of a troubled teenage girl knocks spots off Mitchell’s tired clichés. Still with the mainstream books, Emily St. John Mandel’s Station 11 is beautifully written, but is a terrible piece of science fiction. If you want to read a book about making a new world after a global catastrophe, Pat Murphy’s The City Not Long After is far superior. Emmi Itäranta’s Memory of Water has similar issues. I loved the writing, but kept asking myself why this water-starved future world wasn’t making use of desalination technology. The best of the bunch may turn out to be Michel Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things, which I am very much enjoying thus far.

In October I was lucky enough to be asked to chair a panel at the Cheltenham Festival of Literature. It was on dystopias, and as part of my research for it I read Sherri L. Smith’s Orleans. I now have another fine African-American writer to follow. The scene in the Superdome will stay with me for a long time. On the panel with me was Jane Rogers, so I finally got around to reading The Testament of Jesse Lamb, which is indeed a worthy Clarke winner.

This year I have been doing a lot of book related broadcasting with Ujima

Christmas in the Trenches

Dec. 19th, 2014 06:00 pm
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Posted by Juliet Wagner

By Juliet Wagner (Regular Contributor)

Weihnachtsausstellung Friedensfest

“Little father outside in slaughter and fight surely thinks of us on Christmas night”

Contrary to the confident predictions of August 1914, the war was not over by Christmas. The killing would persist through Christmas 1914—the famous “Christmas Day Truce” on one battlefield in Belgium notwithstanding—and for another three Christmases, before the armistice brought the conflict to an end in November 1918.

The Baden-Württemberg “Haus der Geschichte” (History House) in Stuttgart is currently hosting a wonderful special exhibition on “Das Friedensfest in Kriegszeiten” (The Festival of Peace in Times of War), to accompany its larger exhibition, “Fastnacht der Hölle” (Carnival of Hell), on the First World War and the senses. The special exhibition, which runs until January 11, 2015, is presented in the form of an advent calendar, with 24 display boxes arranged in rows, each showcasing a different artifact or document relating to Christmas and the First World War in the Baden and Württemberg armies. It is also broadly chronological and emphasizes the increasing tensions and fatigue as the war progressed. The sentimental postcards produced for Christmas 1914, depicting divided but optimistic families, already struck a naïve note a year later.

One of the most touching displays (#3) contains a child’s drawing of Christmas trees, peppered with shrapnel holes. The drawing belonged to Reserve Lieutenant Karl August Zwiffelhoffer, who received an “unexpected Christmas vacation” in November 1916 in order to attend his uncle’s funeral. He took this picture, drawn by his four-year-old daughter, Annie, back to the front with him. It was folded in the breast pocket of his jacket when he was killed by shrapnel on May 4, 2017, in the bloody ‘Chemin des Dames’ offensive. Although his effects were returned to his widow, she could not bring herself to open the box in which they were delivered, and the uniform jacket and its contents were not discovered until Annie moved to an old people’s home decades later and her daughter went through her belongings.

 ZeppelnOther display cases contain: orders of service from battlefield worship; children’s Christmas wish lists, requesting cigars (presumably to send to the troops); Christmas postcard advertisements for Bahlsen cookies; a haunting acquatint etching of a Stuttgart soup kitchen at Christmas by the artist Reinhold Nägele; Steiff soldier dolls; home-drawn Christmas cards, depicting life on the home front; and military Christmas ornaments, like this Zeppelin Christmas tree decoration.

 Additional Resources:

A brief video of the special exhibit by local region tv is available on their website (commentary in German): http://www.regio-tv.de/video/343043.html

There is a slide-show of selected artifacts on the SWR website:


For more information on visiting the exhibition (open Tuesday-Sunday, until January 11, 2015), see: http://www.krieg-und-sinne.de/besucher/

Entry to the exhibition (including the special Christmas side-exhibit described here) costs 3 Euros for adults, and the Haus der Geschichte is walking distance from the main Stuttgart train station. The special exhibition alone is worth the walk and the entrance fee.

Sexy Women as Food: A Collection

Dec. 19th, 2014 02:00 pm
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Posted by Gwen Sharp, PhD

Flashback Friday.

In her now-classic books The Sexual Politics of Meat and The Pornography of Meat, Carol Adams analyzes similarities in the presentation of meat products (or the animals they come from) and women’s bodies.

She particularly draws attention to sexualized fragmentation — the presentation of body parts of animals in ways similar to sexualized poses of women — and what she terms “anthropornography,” or connecting the eating of animals to the sex industry. For an example of anthropornography, Adams presents this “turkey hooker” cooking utensil:

Adams also discusses the conflation of meat/animals and women–while women are often treated as “pieces of meat,” meat products are often posed in sexualized ways or in clothing associated with women. The next eleven images come from Adams’s website:

For a more in-depth, theoretical discussion of the connections between patriarchy, gender inequality, and literal consumption of meat and symbolic consumption of women, we highly encourage you to check out Adams’s website.

This type of imagery has by no means disappeared, so we’ve amassed quite a collection of our own here at Sociological Images.

IndianFeminist sent in this example from India for a Mango flavored drink called Slice. “The brand ambassador,” our reader writes, “is Katrina Kaif, undoubtedly India’s most popular actress.” The ad puts her inside the bottle and merges her with the liquid, then offers her as a date.

3 17_27 Banner

An ad I found for I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter turns Spraychel into a female politician:

Blanca pointed us to Skinny Cow ice cream, which uses this sexualized image of a cow (who also has a measuring tape around her waist to emphasize that she’s skinny):

For reasons I cannot comprehend, there are Skinny Cow scrapbooking events.

Mustard and ketchup make up a “sexy” woman (from Las Vegas Living):

Are you hungry for some lovin’, er, lunchin’? Do you have an all-American appetite for chick(en)s? Or are you secretly ravenous for pig? We think we might have just the thing to satisfy your lust for breast, thigh, and rump:

(These ads were designed by a marketing firm in Thailand. Found via copyranter.)

Denia sent in this image of “Frankfurters” with sexy ladies on them. The text says “Undress me!” in Czech.

Finally, Teresa C. of Moment of Choice brought our attention to Lavazza coffee company’s 2009 calendar, shot by Annie Liebowitz (originally found in the Telegraph):

And this, of course:

Spanish-language ads for Doritos (here, via Copyranter):



Amanda C. sent in this sign seen at Taste of Chicago:


Dmitiriy T.M. sent us this perplexing Hardee’s French Dip “commercial.”  It’s basically three minutes of models pretending like dressing up as French maids for Hardees and pouting at the camera while holding a sandwich is a good gig:

Dmitriy also sent us this photo of Sweet Taters in New Orleans:


Jacqueline R. sent in this commercial for Birds Eye salmon fish sticks:

Crystal J. pointed out that a Vegas restaurant is using these images from the 1968 No More Miss America protest in advertisements currently running in the UNLV campus newspaper, the Rebel Yell. Here’s a photo from the protest:


And here’s the ad:

RY grind burger

Edward S. drew our attention to this doozy:

Dmitriy T.M. sent us this example from Louisiana:

Haven’t had enough?  See this post, this post, and this post, too.

Originally posted in 2008.

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

(View original at http://thesocietypages.org/socimages)

Them, Not Us

Dec. 19th, 2014 08:42 am
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Posted by Dave Hingsburger

I posted this video on my Facebook page because the behaviour of the woman in the video appalled me and I made comment about how this video demonstrates what's wrong with society today. For me, I was trying to say in my comment, this behaviour is dreadful but not surprising. The number of times that people step in front of me, to be served first, pretending not to see me but communicating that they don't value my time as equal to theirs. So, I see this as an act of selfishness which, in our time, isn't atypical.

However, in reading a lot of comments about this short video, I see that many, not most but many, people state flat out that this woman must have a "mental illness" because only someone with a "mental illness" would behave is that way. They are ignoring, of course, all the people around her. Those she high fived with and those who saw the thing happen with no comment or intervention. They must all be "mentally ill" too.

It distresses me that so many people place any behaviour, beyond that which is saintly, into categories of human difference. They must have a "mental illness" ... their sense of fair play must be "disabled." It's clear from this that, since they hold those of us with differences in dangerously low regard. Historically we've been seen as 'sinners,' 'deviants,' 'drains of society,' 'moral degenerates,' and 'god's punishment'. We are the dumping ground for any behaviour deemed unworthy of the morally upright class of typical, blemish free, upright walkers. If they can make her 'us' then they don't have to consider that they, too, might be capable of acts of pure selfishness. I'm not them so I'm not selfish. I'm not them so I wouldn't do that. I'm not them so I'm loved by God.

Let me state clearly that I don't see mental illness here, I see human selfishness and greed. I do not see these as diagnostic criteria from the DSM-V. I think of  this as kind of a subtle demonization of people with mental illness that continues ugly and hateful stigmatization.

This woman's behaviour is this woman's behaviour. In 20 seconds it's impossible to see anything more than that one moment. We can't even tell if this was just an impulse that was not typical of her. We can't tell if, upon reflection, she's mortified at what she'd done. All we see is a single moment.

That's all.

A moment that anyone could have done because all of us have moments of selfishness and greed.

A moment that is more typical than one might guess.

A moment.

That's all.

There is no need to use those few seconds to slap people with mental illness with blame, or to attribute to her character anything more than a bad moment and a bad decision.
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Posted by Fred Clark

According to Left Behind, the clothes of true believers will, like heathens and liberals, be left behind. This means both a sudden influx of nudity in Heaven and the sudden appearance, here on Earth, of billions of piles of unoccupied clothes.

If you saw a dozen people instantaneously vanish, leaving only a pile of clothing where they formerly stood, you would probably take a look at those piles of clothing to try to figure out what just happened. But then you’re not a character in Left Behind.


Left Behind, pp. 21-25

Here we read with greater detail — although less detail than we might like — of how LaHaye and Jenkins envision the bodily rapture of believers, but not of their clothes. Thus:

Harold’s clothes were in a neat pile on his seat, his glasses and hearing aid on top. The pant legs still hung over the edge and led to his shoes and socks.

L&J seem to envision a great gathering in the clouds of all the believers in their born-again birthday suits. At the very least, this invites a rewording of some of the old gospel hymns about heaven: “When the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be bare.”

There’s a logic to this idea, I suppose. Before the Fall, Adam and Eve are described as going about naked and unashamed. So if the shame of nudity is a temporal, this-worldly consequence of fallenness and sin, then one could argue there’s no need for clothing in heaven. (Admittedly, it’s difficult for me to imagine this without also imagining the redeemed frolicking about, playing volleyball.)

This heavenly disrobing also seems a bit suspect coming from the writers who created Rayford Steele — poster-boy for raging lust and repression. There’s a whiff, perhaps, of something lascivious in this unexpected promise of heavenly nudity.

L&J may also be missing a cross-promotional marketing opportunity. Back in the 1840s, William Miller made a nice profit selling his followers white “ascension robes.”

The news that Harold’s eyeglasses and hearing aid are left behind along with his clothes follows the same logic about the restoration in heaven of all that is fallen, broken and less than whole. The heavenly Harold angel will hark without need of a hearing aid.

But reading this about the hearing aid and eyeglasses makes one want to know more. You want Rayford or Buck to examine these piles of abandoned clothes more carefully. Isn’t that what you would do? If someone vanishes leaving only their clothes, wouldn’t you want a closer look at those clothes?

And if the hearing aid is left behind, what about fillings, pacemakers, prosthetic limbs, toupees and silicon implants? In heaven, one imagines, teeth and hearts are healthy, missing limbs are restored, bald head’s bloom like Rosenzweig’s desert, and breasts are, well, everything that breasts are meant to be.

Yet it doesn’t occur to any of the characters on the plane to take a closer look at the rumpled piles in any of the empty seats. Even Buck, the GIRAT, remains steadfastly incurious in the face of this sudden mystery.

Consider again the description of Harold’s clothes and see if it doesn’t remind you of something:

Harold’s clothes were in a neat pile on his seat, his glasses and hearing aid on top. The pant legs still hung over the edge and led to his shoes and socks.

Somehow, no one on the plane is reminded of having seen this exact scene in dozens of “shrinking man” movies. My favorite such example is in the Beatles’ Help, the scene titled “The Exciting Adventure of Paul on the Floor.”

Paul accidentally gets injected with the shrinking serum that was supposed to shrink Ringo’s finger so that he could remove the ring of Kaili. The others look away, then look back, and Paul’s clothes are in a neat pile on his seat. The pant legs still hung over the edge and led to his shoes.

Paul meanwhile, has been miniaturized, slipping down his pantleg and onto the floor where he dons George’s discarded gum wrapper, and bathes in orange soda in an ashtray.


We readers know, of course, that Irene had been right, and Left Behind is a rapture story — not the story of the fantastic voyage by an adventuresome band of microscopic airline passengers. But it seems strange that the characters should know this as well.

Confronted with the bewildering sight of all these Pauline piles of clothes, you’d think it might have occurred to the folks on that plane to tread carefully. If I were on that plane, I’d be checking my shoes on the off-chance that Harold and the others missing were now on safari among the harsh, tree-like strands of the plane’s carpeting, fashioning its microfibers into crude weapons with which to battle gargantuan, monstrous dust mites.

I’m not saying that the shrinking scenario (whether via the filthy eastern ways of Kaili, or via a shrinking ray from some trite hackneyed mad scientist) is the most plausible explanation for the passengers’ disappearance. But it’s no less fanciful than any of the other suggestions that might quickly spring to mind.

These would include, among others: mass hallucination/insanity, alien abduction, rapture/Enochian assumption, spontaneous human combustion, rapid-acting flesh-eating bacteria, wormhole in the space/time continuum, the return of D.B. Cooper and his extended family, and/or an evil sorceror from an alternate dimension plucking away slaves to work in his sulfurous mines. You can probably think of others.

Sherlock Holmes famously said, “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” Confronted with the apparent impossibility of the mass disappearance, it ought to occur to the people on that plane to begin speculating on the possible, if improbable, explanations.

What’s bewildering is the characters’ lack of bewilderment, their lack of curiosity. No one inspects the piles of clothes. No one seriously attempts to consider who disappeared and what else they might all have in common.

If you were on a plane, and 50 or so passengers suddenly disappeared shortly after dinner, wouldn’t it be good to find out whether or not they all had the salmon?

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Posted by Timmi Duchamp

Pleasures 2014
by Liz Henry

I have a lot of recommendations this year for works that I’ve enjoyed. It is an extra pleasure to get to pass them along to other Aqueduct readers and writers!

At http://thisisthemovement.org you can sign up for a near-daily newsletter on the #Ferguson protests, with links and information from Netta and DeRay. Also follow them on Twitter as @deray and @Nettaaaaaaaa. This is a good guide to what’s happening and where your support may be useful!

Elysium by Jennifer Marie Brissett. I’m recommending this with huge enthusiasm on all channels!
This is the story of Adrian(ne), Antoine(ette), Hector/Helen moving through time and identities as the world is fragmented and destroyed. Their love of each other and the world comes through vividly in each glimpse you get of their stories, interrupted by head injuries, dying or death, insanity, war, interspersed with a somewhat sly, poetic, internal computer dialogue in code. Gorgeous writing, haunting characters and a fast pace (but good if you slow down to savor it.) It has a great structural beauty and will make you think of fugues, both musical and mental.

The World of the Indigenous Americas, ed. Robert Warrior. This book was briefly free for the Kindle this year, but is now over $100. It is a good book to suggest to your local library. If you don’t mind academic writing, it’s excellent and mind-expanding. I’m still in mid-book, but have particularly enjoyed the chapters on the Zapatista concept of rights and collective decision making, the one on Alaskan native politics since the Alaskan Native Claims Settlement Act, and the article on Yoeme geographies which describe awareness among the Yoeme people around Tuscon but across the border into Mexico of their history of generations of fighting in several splintered groups over the last hundred years.

The Kingdom of Little Wounds by Susann Cokal. The Kingdom has the surreal feeling of a fantasy world or a fairy tale, but I’d call it speculative historical fiction. It’s set in a 16th-century Scandinavian palace. The story cuts between several protagonists who are in different social classes in palace life. The politics of sugar production and empire, and the horrible fact that everyone has syphilis, are central elements. I think it is a fairy tale about sugar and syphilis not just about syphilis and that’s important! Really, really not for the faint of heart. You know the part in Octavian Nothing where his mom dies of smallpox? This entire book is like that bit. Power and politics are rather horribly embodied. I am amazed anyone classified this as YA. Rape, intense racism, invasive gynecological “exams”, putrescence, and more rape. If you can handle that, this is an AMAZING book. It even has a happy ending, sort of.

The Mirror Empire: Worldbreaker Saga 1 by Kameron Hurley. Another weird and wild story with multiple realities and worlds. There is an inter-dimensional civil war! Sentient, scary plants! Weird magic and biological weaponry! Hurley’s usual lushly complicated, brutal, perturbing, and awesome world building, with bad-ass characters caught up in cosmic battles. I love super vivid epic fantasy with big casts of characters! I’m looking forward to the next book in this saga!

Framing the Rape Victim: Gender and Agency Reconsidered, by Carine M. Mardorossian. Great food for thought in here. I am very intrigued by how Mardorossian frames violence as always sexualized. This is an intense, thinky book that’s taking me a while to finish.

The Boy at the End of the World by Greg Van Eekhout. A fun and satisfying kids’ book good for middle grade readers. The protagonist wakes up in a sort of cold storage facility and realizes he’s the last person on earth. He roams around the post-apocalypse world, fishing, eating bugs, and looking for the other Arks along with a friendly but somewhat clueless janitor robot, a pygmy mammoth, and a giant talking mutant prairie dog who loves her blaster pistol collection. This is one of the books I’m recommending to people who ask for recent science fiction (not fantasy), not so intense or graphically violent as books that are classified as YA — along with True Meaning of Smekday, MM9, and Cryptid Hunters.

Ra by Sam Hughes. This hugely popular web serial is about a world where magic was discovered in 1970 and works kind of like computer science. It starts as the story of twin sisters, one a theoretical thaumaturge and the other more into experimental and practical science, exploring the use of magic as they re-think the tragic death of their mother who disappeared while trying to rescue an exploding space shuttle. This book one-ups itself every couple of pages as its characters discover what they thought was true has to be turned on its head. The way that it wipes out reality so quickly and the constant techno-magic babble made me laugh pretty hard.

Stranger by Sherwood Smith and Rachel Manija Brown. A good read about life in the post apocalypse environmental disaster Southwestern US. There is great tension over who does and doesn’t have mutant psychic powers. Life in a multiethnic far-future small town. Hard to fail with mutant teenagers having drama, giant crystalline vampire trees, and a border war.

Kabu Kabu by Nnedi Okorafor. Every single short story in this collection blew me away! Super
fabulous. I will always read everything Nnedi writes. She’s funny, deep, superb on every level in her far-ranging stories. This is a brilliant book!

Sansûkh by determamfidd. (Archive of Our Own). Thorin, Fili, and Kili wake up after death surrounded by loving family in the halls of the creator of the Dwarves. By gazing into a tv-like pool they can enter Middle Earth to watch and be present as the events of LOTR unfold. Thorin alone has the gift of being sometimes seen or heard by the living in their dreams or unconscious mind. The rich history of the Dwarves unfolds, including many explorations of the strong and powerful women of their clans, along with drawings of them. The dead watch and discuss the doings of the living collectively in a way that is very reflective of fan culture. G-rated by the way. This is a very long, epic book, and the writing is sometimes a little clumsy but well worth it as a total re-write of LOTR from the point of view of the dead, re-centering Gimli as a hero of great depth while exploring Thorin’s flaws and personal/political damage.

An Expected Journey by MarieJacquelyn. (Archive of Our Own). This is definitely not G-rated. Bilbo dies and goes back into his body when he was 50, just before the events of The Hobbit, with a chance to live it all over again and do things “right” this time. He so desperately loves Thorin and wants to save Thorin, Fili, and Kili from death.

Born from the Earth by venusm. (Archive of Our Own). This alpha/beta/omega Avengers fic is definitely not for the faint of heart and is for Mature audiences only. Some very interesting worldbuilding including biological details and social background here. It centers around Tony Stark as a severely traumatized abuse survivor who resists his social role. If you

A Night to Surrender by Tessa Dare (Spindle Cove Book 1). This is the first in a series of romance novels set in Spindle Cove, a small seaside town where misfit debutantes come to enjoy an independent life where they get to be active, do scientific research, and learn to shoot in the company of like-minded women. A military regiment comes to town. Hijinks ensue. These are often funny and good. But sometimes veer into what I feel is rapey or non-con territory.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. Everyone I know who read this enjoyed it and its insistence that we hold every object we own, and only keep it if provides us with a “spark of joy.” If you don’t feel the spark of joy, thank the object for its service and what it taught us. Then get rid of it. Also notable is Kondo’s charming and loving anthropomorphic descriptions of how socks feel if they are folded incorrectly in your drawer.

Cheesemonger by Gordon Edgar. (aka gordonzola). Edgar writes an interesting journey into work and the politics of food, describing what it’s like to work at the Rainbow Grocery co-operative and his years of learning about cheese. Honk if you like politics in your cheese!

Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins. Every story in this anthology was good! “Most written chronicles of history, and most speculative stories, put rulers, conquerors, and invaders front and center," the editors wrote in the project description. "People with less power, money, or status—enslaved people, indigenous people, people of color, queer people, laborers, women, people with disabilities, the very young and very old, and religious minorities, among others—are relegated to the margins.” Except in this book where they are front and center!

Nazi Literature in America by Roberto Bolaño. Bolaño is an awesome writer in general. This book is probably not everyone’s cup of tea. It parodies literary criticism in a series of essays about (fake) Nazi authors over the 20th century and their influences on various literary scenes.

Almanac of the Dead by Leslie Marmon Silko. No question in my mind this is one of the Great American Novels. I could just suggest it every year.

I have been enjoying Spotify! For a low monthly cost it gives access to a very good selection of music. I’ve been impressed at how well their Latin American music coverage has gotten. You can construct playlists and download them for offline playing.

Tkay Maidtza. Switch Tape. Super fun hip hop with weird electronic or dubstep bits. Peppy and energetic! U-Huh is a very catchy song.

Kelis. An incredibly versatile artist. I have especially enjoyed her album “Flesh Tone” and recommend for your feminist science fiction playlist, 22nd Century, Brave, and Lil Star.

Janelle Monae, Electric Lady. Great stuff! Listen and watch!

Felicia Alima, Know Me. I only have found a few songs by Alima but they are very catchy hip hop. I hope to hear more work by her in the future!

The Best of Bootie series. This is a free, downloadable, yearly compilation of mashups. My favorites from 2013 are “Funky Black Party Starter”, “iwantthatPOWER” and “The Next Episode in the Thrift Shop”. Harking back to 2011 I have to mention Gucci Gucci Girl Power, a mashup of Kreayshawn, Toni Basil, Le Tigre, the Ting Tings, and the Trashwomen. This song includes meowing. Guilty pleasure indeed! (http://bootiemashup.com/bestof/)

The Red Aunts. Try Detroit Valentine if you like screamy punk rock! The Shitbirds. Oh Joy is also on this year’s “screamy punk rock” list. Brody Dalle, Diploid Love. Riot Grrrl action!

Viewing (with some listening included)
The “Internet Feminists are Watching You” sticker. This is available at the Double Union feminist hackerspace in San Francisco. It is hilariously effective to perturb people who notice it on my laptop.

It’s Raining Men, a music video by the Weather Girls. I spent an enjoyable day recently foraying into the work of Martha Wash, whose career spans disco, house, and club music. She backed Sylvester and then formed her own group with Izora Rhodes, the Weather Girls. You can hear her powerful voice in Everybody Everybody and C+C Music Factory’s “Gonna Make You Sweat”. She was regularly denied credit for her work on songs and albums. Music videos of her songs replaced her with a lip syncing model since music company marketing people declared she was unmarketable due to her weight. At some point Wash successfully sued to get vocalist credit and royalties. This case led to successful legislation requiring credit for vocalists in music videos and albums. Anyway, she kicks ass. We can count this video as speculative fiction, as well, based on its representation of Mother Nature and all those fabulous angels. Watch the video for a loving, hilarious, positive expression of desire straight from the 80s: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l5aZJBLAu1E

Monument Valley is a very beautiful and emotionally moving little puzzle game, for iOS or Android. It is a little girl walking around an Escher-like landscape. The plot is minimal but evocative. I played the game through twice along with its prequel, Forgotten Shores. I also watched my son play through both games and enjoyed watching him think through the puzzles, have his mind blown by the solutions, and react emotionally to the beauty of the art and music of the game. We both marveled at how strong our feelings were for the “Totem”, the friend of the princess, basically a stack of yellow lego-like blocks with a single eyeball. How can we love a stack of blocks with an eyeball on it quite so much? An impressive array of fan art is collected on http://monumentfriends.tumblr.com/.

A Dark Room is a brilliant game especially if you’ve played a lot of text adventures and games of economic balance. Extra bonus if you know rogue-like games and played Nethack. Though I don’t think that is necessary, I felt many insights into those categories of games and my own enjoyment of them. This game has versions that aren’t quite right (or official) for Android. To play it fully, you need to play it on iOS. The prose is very minimal but affecting. The pace is brilliant. To say more would really spoiler it. It pushes the boundaries of what “text-only” means. I found the game’s impact to be emotionally devastating in the best of ways.

Clash of Clans is a MMORPG that looks very simple at first but which has some nice strategy if you like directing armies and tower defense games. I got a little bit bored with Kingdom Rush (which is still great) and feel this kicks it up a notch. I can play solo or attack other players with my barbarians, goblins, giants, and wizard armies. I joined my 7 year old nephew’s clan along with my sister, our dad, her husband, and my kids. The pace of the game is slow. It’s not something you really play for hours, but rather something you can check on and fiddle for a little while with every day or so, upgrading your elixir collectors and mines, sending out armies, watching replays of attacks on your village, and so on. It is pleasantly addictive without leading me to destroy my hands with over-play. Warning, if you give this game to a small child, be sure to disable in-game purchases, as they can “accidentally” spend real money to accelerate the game pace.

Ascension and Ticket to Ride both have good mobile game versions with the option to play an AI, play locally (with others on your wifi) or against remote opponents. They aren’t mind blowing but they’re fun and very playable. A good way to pass some time if you are stuck in bed on painkillers, as I sometimes am.

Ingress wins my pick of the year though. I have been playing it endlessly. It is a geographically based game which was bought by Google and has a huge, huge player base around the world. As you look at the game on your phone, you see an overlay on the actual map around you. Mostly, you can only affect things in the game that are close to you. The game’s premise is that works of public art, like statues or graffiti or murals, and including interesting signs on businesses, are portals leaking exotic matter from another dimension into our universe. Players are on either the Blue or the Green teams, Resistance and Enlightenment. (I am Resistance. Join us!) As you walk, or roll in my case, by portals, you can hack them to get equipment, or blow them up and place your resonators around them to occupy and defend them. You can also link a nearby portal to other portals to draw lines and fields. As you progress in the game, you often end up meeting and chatting with other players in your neighborhood. People are playing this game all around you!! It can be played solo and in many styles, not necessarily competitive or goal-driven. Or, you can pick various goals to drive your style and pace of play.

The creepy part of Ingress, of course, is that when you play it, Google has all your location data and knows a fair bit about your behavior. One of the nice parts of the game is the strong feeling I have of engagement with the map. I am now aware of this extra dimension of geography all around me. My family (also playing the game) refers to these half-imaginary landmarks. I can tell my son how to get to the post office entirely navigating by portals instead of street names. I realize that I will never forget the sequence of portals going down Mission in my neighborhood between 30th and Cesar Chavez streets or my many epic battles here. The murals and shops will change over time but it will remain a strong memory! That is pretty cool. There are other cities I have visited, Portland and Montreal, whose downtown areas I know much more intimately that I would have years ago, because I was motivated to roam around hacking portals.

Liz Henry is a true Renaissance woman. She blogs, hacks, writes poetry, and commits activism on a variety of fronts with panache, effect, and affect. Aqueduct Press published her book of poetry, Unruly Islands, in 2012, and a book she edited, The WisCon Chronicles, Vol. 3 in 2009.
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Posted by Fred Clark

Amanda Marcotte writes at Salon about “10 things conservative Christians got horribly wrong.”

Looking over the long history of people claiming to be speaking for God’s wishes, it quickly becomes evident that Christians are frequently on the wrong side of history. Here are 10 things that American Christians of the conservative stripe got completely wrong when they were so sure they were speaking on God’s behalf.

I realize that Marcotte is both an atheist (gasp!) and, even worse, a feminist, and thus she’s not someone that conservative Christians are inclined to listen to. So let me point out that many politically conservative white evangelical men would agree with her on at least some of the items in her list.

For example, the first item on Amanda Marcotte’s list of “things conservative Christians got horribly wrong” is slavery. Southern Baptist spokesman Russell Moore agrees with her. Here’s what Moore recently said on that topic:

The founders of the Southern Baptist Convention were wrong and wickedly wrong on the issue of human slavery. And the problem wasn’t just that they were on the wrong side of a social issue; they were on the wrong side of Jesus and the gospel when it came to brothers and sisters in Christ made in the image of God that they treated with injustice.

Moore would probably (I think) agree with about half of Marcotte’s list. I’m guessing he’d also agree that conservative Christians who defended segregation were “horribly wrong.” And I’d guess he would agree that Prohibition was a mistake, and that opposing women’s suffrage was wrong (but not opposing women’s ordination). And I’m pretty sure he would say now that evangelicals’ hostile anti-Catholicism during the 19th and most of the 20th centuries was something that shouldn’t have happened.

But he would likely disagree — strenuously — with the other half of Marcotte’s list, which includes things like evolution, official prayer in schools, contraception and marriage equality.*

On all of those points, of course, Moore and his fellow “conservative” Christians would insist that their own opinions aren’t the issue here. What matters, rather, is what the Bible clearly says. It’s not that “conservative Christians” reject evolution, but that the Bible insists it’s wrong. And same-sex marriage is anathema not because “conservative Christians” think so, but because that is what the Bible clearly teaches. And contraception is wrong because the Bible clearly says so (right there in … um … I’ll have to get back to you with chapter and verse on that one).

These conservative Christians would object to Marcotte’s assertion that they are wrong on these matters. What she’s really saying, they would say, is that the Bible is wrong about such things.

The problem with that argument is that this is exactly what those earlier conservative Christians said about slavery, segregation, women’s suffrage, Prohibition, and the Papist Menace. If Russell Moore’s Southern Baptist predecessors had been confronted with Moore’s claim that they were “wrong and wickedly wrong on the issue of human slavery,” they wouldn’t have defended their opinion — they would have said it wasn’t about their opinion, but about the clear teaching and inerrant authority of the holy Word of God. And then they’d have viciously attacked Moore for his refusal to accept the clear and unambiguous authority of scripture.

"You shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you ..."

“You shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you …”

This isn’t speculation about how they would respond. This is what they actually did. Those pro-slavery Southern Baptists were — regularly and repeatedly — accused of being wickedly wrong about slavery. And their response — documented in thousands of volumes — was always to attack their accusers for infidelity to the clear teaching of the Bible.

Anti-slavery Christians, in response, insisted they weren’t criticizing the Bible itself, only the way that pro-slavery Christians had chosen to interpret the Bible. The problem isn’t with what the Bible says, they argued, but with how the pro-slavery Southern Baptists were reading it and misusing it.

But that response only made those pro-slavery Baptists angrier. There can be only one way to read the Bible, they insisted. There can be only one way to interpret it. More than that, really what they were arguing was that the Bible didn’t need to be interpreted at all.

That claim is the identifying characteristic of the people Marcotte identifies as “conservative Christians.” They all share this idea that the Bible is uniform and unambiguous — that despite being a diverse collection of ancient texts written over a period of centuries in diverse contexts for diverse audiences, it never displays a diversity of perspectives. The Bible, they insist, never contradicts itself and never presents opposing views, and thus requires little interpretation for a contemporary reader.

Unfortunately, while this view of the Bible is horrifically misleading, it’s also widely accepted not just by conservative Christians, but by many of their critics. Thus we see things like Marcotte writing “the Bible clearly has a positive view of slavery” — uncritically accepting not just the illiterate anti-hermeneutic of the fundies, but even their favorite thought-suppressing adverb (“the Bible clearly …”). 

The Bible does, in fact, contain a great deal of material that endorses various forms of slavery. That is undeniable. Slavery is, in various parts of the Bible, commended and commanded. In some places in the Bible, an abundance of slaves is presented as evidence of God’s blessing.

But the Bible also does, in fact, contain a great deal of material that attacks slavery. That is also undeniable. Slavery is, in various parts of the Bible, condemned as contemptible. In some places in the Bible, an abundance of slaves is presented as evidence of wickedness, disobedience and rebellion against God.

Such contradictory arguments can be bewildering if you haven’t got some way of determining which part of this biblical argument is the winning side. (Jubilee, people, it’s always about Jubilee. All of it.)

But there’s no way of doing that if you’ve decided ahead of time that such intra-biblical disputes cannot be allowed to exist. Pretending they don’t exist doesn’t make them go away. Refusing to acknowledge their existence doesn’t make them vanish in a puff of smoke — no matter how much “conservative Christians” wish that it were so.

This is a huge problem for 21st-century white evangelicals. Like Russell Moore, they’re mostly convinced — now — that white evangelical support for slavery had been a terrible mistake. Yet they still want to cling to the pro-slavery Christians’ insistence that the Bible is uniform and unambiguous and that no interpretation is necessary to understand what it clearly says.

So while they’re pretty sure those earlier, pro-slavery Christians were wrong, they’re not able to explain how or why they were wrong. And thus, today, they are also unable to explain how or why they themselves are right about all the things they claim “the Bible clearly says.”

If those early Southern Baptists were wrong about slavery, then they were wrong about the Bible — wrong about how to read the Bible. They were wrong about slavery because they were wrong about how to read the Bible.

Contemporary white evangelicals want to retain the same approach to reading the Bible, but not the same conclusions about slavery. That doesn’t work.

If you want to retain the anti-hermeneutic of the early Southern Baptists while rejecting their pro-slavery views, then you can’t say, “The founders of the Southern Baptist Convention were wrong and wickedly wrong on the issue of human slavery.” You have to say, instead, that the Bible itself used to be wrong and wickedly wrong on slavery, but somehow isn’t anymore (even though it never changed).

If you’re not willing to reject that anti-hermeneutic, then you have to say that the Bible itself used to be wrong about a lot of things.

- – - – - – - – - – - -

* I’m a bit worried about mentioning item No. 4 on Amanda Marcotte’s list:

4) Pain relief for childbirth. The Bible explicitly lays out pain in childbirth as Eve’s punishment for sin, so unsurprisingly, that’s what many Christians in the 19th century believed had to be so. Once reliable pain relief in childbirth began to be developed, therefore, there was a lot of resistance to it from Christians who feared it defied God to let women have some relief. … Eventually, the argument that women owed it to God to suffer through childbirth faded to the fringes of right-wing Christianity.

It’s true that this was once conventional wisdom — a widespread argument that shaped common practice. Childbirth was seen as something that ought to be painful, because Eve. Today, though, that argument is a mostly forgotten relic of history.

But today we also have a reflexively polarized religious right that trips over itself in a rush to oppose anything and everything that we evil liberals and baby-killers view approvingly. Just by mentioning stuff like this, we may be giving them ideas. If Amanda Marcotte approves of reliable pain relief in childbirth, that probably means that Barack Obama does too. And Sandra Fluke and Rachel Held Evans and Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi and Brian McLaren and Planned Parenthood. Probably even Rob Bell.

And once they realize that, they’re likely to start angrily opposing such pain relief as another evil symptom of women’s lib and the sexual revolution. After all, if bearing children isn’t as painful and dangerous as it was back in the Golden Age, then it’s like we’re giving these wanton hussies permission to go out and do the sex without the fear of pain and suffering that God intended to accompany such filthy behavior, etc., etc.

If you think that’s an exaggeration, keep in mind that this is exactly what has happened in recent years when it comes to the abruptly newfound white evangelical opposition to contraception — a position that has surged to prominence without any credible biblical, ethical, scientific or logical argument to support it.

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Posted by Timmi Duchamp

Notes on Readings, 2014
by Mark Rich

 A minor official from the state of Chaos reigned over my life in 2014, to judge from my readings: scattered hither and thither, in thicket and glen; begun and pondered clearly, then left off and forgotten until only visible vaguely, as through a fog; picked up as source for simple pleasures, or for nosebleeds -- as when I have placed said organ into books unusual in their elevation ...

Yet a few organizing principles emerged, over time. For I seemed to gravitate toward biographies -- chancing on them in thrift stores, by and large, in several states besides that of Chaos. One, whose discovery in a central-Wisconsin Goodwill store thrilled me, relates the life of Edna St. Vincent Millay; another, from a central-Oregon thrift shop, that of Yeats. In a used bookstore located across from the area where Martha and I set up our antique wares, summers in Baraboo, I bought a Woolf biography one Sunday, and a Melville, on another. Except for the last I read these with a promptness unusual for me. That last, by Lewis Mumford, I began reading just before a torrent of auctions, flea markets, and general runnings-around, which lasted in strength from late summer to just days ago (as I write), overwhelmed and obliterated my reading pile. At some point in my excavations I will find this Mumford, to begin again -- along with Andrew Wiener's book on Pragmatism and evolutionary thought, which I had read up to its last chapter, and Ytasha Womack's on Afrofuturism, which likewise I had nearly finished.

Among the biographies Nancy Milford's Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay (2001)
proved most satisfying, helped by my having felt greatly curious for so long about the person behind the poems. I had had not a clue that this book existed. It answered questions in my mind from reading Edmund Wilson -- such as why she rejected so astute a writer, and holed up in the countryside with a man who cast no literary shadows. The book does offer insights into that. The husband, Eugen Boissevain, now enjoys some existence in my imagination, even if I still cannot write his name without needing to check its spelling.

I like Arthur Ficke's calling her "the oddest mixture of genius and childish vanity." Milford must have liked this, too, in quoting him. I emerged from the biography, however, feeling that I had been exposed to the childish vanity without having been given enough looks at the genius. This may have been inevitable: for many must have witnessed the vanity, while few would have witnessed her in the throes of creation. Late in the book, Edna, or Vincent, as she was called by many friends, does appear in a passage or two actually toiling over her lines. Anyone who has read the poetry, who has any acquaintance with the act of composition, and who has any notion how exceedingly difficult lyrical clarity can be, must know that these labors formed an important, if not all-important, part of her existence. Yet they receive mention as a seeming afterthought, when the phenomenon that she was had neared its end. Nancy Milford previously wrote Zelda, which I have not read. The thought mischievously arises: did she learn from that biographical effort to focus primarily on the public, the social, the interpersonal, to produce the coffee-table bestseller? I see just now, on the present book's cover, a quotation from Newsweek: "An incendiary cocktail of literary ambition, fame, sexual adventure and addiction." Well, yes. That mix would suit Newsweek happy hours. I believe that the cocktail called Vincent, however, had its strongest alcohol in something we might better call literary ability than ambition: for she achieved the public prominence that she did because her early works astonished readers. That late-in-book mention of her struggling with dedication over her individual lines, and working out, through endless repetition, the difficulties encountered in her chosen poetic structures, I recall striking me as a refreshing element, after so many details concerning her outward personal and professional lives. It came across as a true image -- like a three-dimensional view of Vincent unexpectedly seen when a stereoscope is thrust into one's hands -- an image that briefly allows the artist to arise away from her chronology, and that makes one think: yes, it must have been so.

I overemphasize the book's weakness in this area, simply by mentioning it, since the book rates the highest marks. I should note that Milford wrote what would have been impossible before her: for she obtained the long-withheld help of a recalcitrant and resistant sister, who had been protecting Vincent's legacy and papers. I recall how transforming it was for me when I received a call from Cyril Kornbluth's son John, at a point when I had assembled a life-story but had no particular reason to believe in its full integrity: so I appreciate, in a way which may be different from other readers' feelings, the fact that Milford's book carries an authority beyond the ordinary. So allow me to let my quibble stand while contrarily stating that I have no real quibbles with this book.

That I will need to re-read this biography fails to distinguish it from those of Yeats and Woolf, two other creatures of the Modern who keep drawing me and whose works, and lives, I have taken in, but only in fragmentary ways. These slender but substantial works, W.B. Yeats (2006) by Augustine Martin and Virginia Woolf (2001) by Mary Ann Caws, each helped me put a little more flesh to my skeletal knowledge. Michel Butor's Extraordinary Journeys (1969), about Baudelaire, helped in a similar way, although Butor's oblique approach and my French, entirely inadequate to deal with quotations from poetry in that language, made my gains less than I might have wished.

Another biography left me less satisfied: Jonathan Eller's new book, Ray Bradbury Unbound (2014), a second volume of a biographical pair, the first of which I have yet to set eyes upon. I read this with interest -- and with a growing sense that the latter-years Bradbury cared mainly about stage works and film adaptations of his stories, while his new stories and novels occupied him relatively little. Since I previously nursed no great interest in his film or theatrical work, I entered the biography with curiosity about the writer, and emerged with that curiosity mostly intact. Clearly I need to read the first volume.

I appreciate the book for its effort to assemble a well-documented narrative encompassing the later years of the man. All the same, the short shrift given the later writings and the upsurging academic solecisms, here and there, give the book an other-than-hoped-for flavor. It remains impressive, scholarly, reputable. Ah, well! It may well be that Bradbury's aesthetic and creative senses, finding it heavy going against the demands of Hollywood, keeled over, thusly making Eller's depiction utterly apt. I did emerge from the book understanding more clearly the heavy tax imposed upon the creative soul by movie work. Yet to my mind Bradbury's later writings deserve deeper examination than do his attempts to court directors and studios. In his late years, simply from long-distance observations, I did gain the sense that a creative personality continued to exist. From this book's late pages, especially in its hurried ending, I received no similar sense. All this makes the book's title an odd choice, since the man as depicted seems all too bound.

Unexpected pleasure came from a book that called to me at a thrift store far to the south in Wisconsin, where we were staying for a night before setting up at a breweriana show. I never knew myself to be curious about George F. Kennan; but when I saw Sketches from a Life (1989), the thought of my leaving the store without it suddenly seemed ridiculous. This book contains little direct remembrance relating to his doings as a diplomat, which fill other books that I may now need to read. Instead it contains journal selections from in-between those diplomatic occurrences. I found these pieces thoughtful, affecting, and at times beautiful. While they fill an ample volume, they made me yearn for more.

Among other readings ... I took pleasure in a half-dozen Ravenna Press books, including Kathryn Rantala's Traveling with the Primates (2008) and John Burgess's Graffito (2011). Since I mentioned an editor's name here last December, I feel I should again: Marjorie Barrows, whose One Hundred Best Poems for Boys and Girls (1930) did satisfy the part of me that wanted to read it. Similarly I followed strands of interest from last year in reading What Is Philosophy? (1960) and Man and People (1957) by José Ortega y Gasset, and Jo's Boys (1886) by Louisa May Alcott -- among others from the philosophy-and-children's-novels department. In reading Dickens's Bleak House and William Dean Howells's The Rise of Silas Lapham for the first times, I found myself greatly impressed. . Howells describes Lapham in such realistic terms that I imagine many readers may fail to perceive the man as particularly heroic, when he is, in fact, painfully heroic, even if quietly so. I also worked through some 1950s science fiction collections that I must re-approach this next year, along with Dianne Newell's and Victoria Lamont's frustrating Judith Merril: A Critical Study (2012). Why two who profess that they possess no grounding in popular literature except the Western novel should have undertaken such a book I have little notion. As to newer fiction, I have read much too little. I took pleasure, however, in Mary Rickert's The Memory Garden (2014) -- in particular due to the way her characters seem to draw themselves, rather than seeming drawn by the author.

Currently? Essays by Macaulay and Carlyle on Samuel Johnson ... and Karen Joy Fowler's latest -- unspoiled, it seems so far, from having lain buried in laurels.

Cheers ...

Mark Rich is the author of a major biographical and critical study, C.M. Kornbluth: The Life and Works of a Science Fiction Visionary, published by McFarland. He has had two collections of short fiction published — Edge of Our Lives (RedJack) and Across the Sky (Fairwood) — as well as chapbooks from presses including Gothic and Small Beer. With partner-in-life Martha and Scottie-in-life Sam, he lives in the Coulee region of Wisconsin where an early-1900s house, a collection of dilapidated antique furniture, and a large garden preoccupy him with their needs. He frequently contributes essays to The New York Review of Science Fiction and The Cascadia Subduction Zone.

Another Freakin’ Column

Dec. 18th, 2014 08:43 pm
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Posted by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee

Without a word of a lie, I swear in the name of all things woolly that today was going to be easy.  Yesterday’s shopping mission went off without a hitch. I left, I shopped, I returned, and I even got home about an hour earlier than I thought, because it was all so easy.  I poured myself that reward beer and wrapped gifts for that found hour (I see now I should have been knitting. Someone else could have wrapped.) I got the meringues in the oven – right on time, and despite the perilous business of having to turn the oven on and off (it gets too hot otherwise, and the cookies colour instead of just dry out) I did not once forget that they were in there during the “on” phase, and ruin the whole batch. (I used a timer. I can’t be trusted.) I even put a post it note on the button for the stove, so that someone else wouldn’t turn on the oven – not knowing they were in there, and torch the whole thing. (We had a pizza dough incident a few weeks ago. Joe’s right. You should tell people if you’re going to leave something in there.)

meringues 2014-12-18

Last night I almost finished a knitting project, and made the gingerbread dough so that it could chill in the fridge for long enough – and I went to bed early, thinking that today was just about going to be the most pleasant walk in the park that you can imagine.  I drifted off to sleep thinking about what a pleasure today was going to be.  I can only imagine that the high of finishing the shopping did some kind of number on my brain, because I woke up this morning, made coffee, sat at my desk and looked at the spreadsheet, compared it to the calendar, and then opened the top drawer of my desk and threw up into it.   Okay – that part didn’t really happen, but it could have.  I am a delusional lunatic if I think I’m finishing by the 20th.  I can’t even believe that was a goal. See, I think I forgot another column on the spreadsheet.  Social.  We have FIVE family gatherings between now and Christmas Day, and let me be super clear about this, that’s cool.  Actually, it’s better than cool, it’s fantastic.  I love it when the house is full and the family is here, and I feel right and whole and happy and the reason I do all of this is so that we have those evenings, but why the hell didn’t I put them on the spreadsheet? What part of me thought I would simultaneously host the whole family while baking gingerbread and pounding out another pair of mittens? Who exactly did I think was going to cook for that crew? Santa?

cookie cutters 2014-12-18

I’ve moved up the cookie baking to today, so that tomorrow I can cook, clean and get that together, and since knitting tomorrow night will mostly be out while I run with Lou and the girls and put dinner on, that means that today I need to somehow finish the knitting I need for Saturday.  I suddenly regret the bath I took yesterday.  Time wasted, I see that now.

Wish me well, knitters.  Today has to be a miracle, and so far it doesn’t look so good. It’s 3 in the afternoon, and progress has been dismal. I think I’m tired.

What’s Luis hanging today?

I’m embarrassed to say that I had no choice this morning but to look up the word Carlos texted me.  I know I don’t speak Spanish very well (that is an understatement. Lou speaks Spanish better than I do) so usually I’m not bothered when I can’t figure it out, but this one is a word that matters to me so much in English, that I can’t believe I didn’t know the Spanish!  It was “El calcetin”

weesock 2014-12-18

The sock!  Now, this one I remember the pattern for very well.  It was this rather charming bit of business, although I converted it to be knit in the round, and knit it on smaller needles.  Also, when I was looking at that pattern just now? Mystery solved on the mitten.  There’s the chart I used. (I must have been having some sort of urge to make a matched set.) Voila.

Gift for Knitters, Day 18

There is an affinity that lies between knitters and bags that’s hard to explain. Knitters are, in general, so drawn to them that the presence of several bags about a person is a good way to spot a knitter.  (Usually we try to condense this, putting bags inside bags, but sometime we still end up with a couple visible.)  For reasons unknown, no matter how many bags your knitter has, another bag is always a good present. You can get just about any bag you think your knitter might like, except remember two things.  First, no velcro on the bag. Velcro is, along with moths and carpet beetles, a natural enemy of knitting. The presence of Velcro automatically makes something not a great knitting bag. Second, zippers aren’t so awesome either, depending on where they are in the bag.  A lot of zippers on the inside or near the top of the bag is just going to snag yarn in the pulls and teeth, and force your knitter to use language  unbecoming an artisan of their ilk. Last, it should stay open, and stay upright. If you’d like to get them a knitting specific bag? Start here. Tom Bihn had a whole line of knitter-friendly bags, from wee pouches to larger ones that are fabulous. (I have several swifts, and love them.) This Knit and let Knit tote is big this year, I see it everywhere, and this one is cute too.  Namaste bags are to die for, Della Q makes several nice ones, Offhand Designs makes ones that could go with any outfit (if your knitter wears outfits, instead of just clothes) and Green Mountain Knitting bags? Well. just look.  The Nantucket Bagg is super cool (and masculine, if your knitter rolls that way.) Jordana Paige has some good ones – and while you’re there, check out the tool butler. (Your knitter would dig that. They would put it in their bag.) Good hunting.

Farewell Bear Facts - Uskerty

Dec. 18th, 2014 05:06 pm
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Posted by John Finnemore

…As previously discussed here, complete with entire deleted final scene. Which reminds me, that deleted scene will be one of several, such as  the bit from St. Petersburg in which Martin and Douglas talk about their fathers, included as a bonus track on the complete CDs, which will be released on January 15th, but which is available for pre-order here.

(Sorry, Amazon haters - I do take your point, but they're offering a 35% pre-order discount, and it seems unfair not to point people at the place with the cheapest price.)

- Anyway, back with Uskerty - finally the companion piece to Johannesburg, where the crew are split Martin & Carolyn / Douglas & Arthur for the first time. A split which worked so well, I rather wished I'd done it before -  though arguably the Douglas and Arthur duo, at least, wouldn't have been as effective before Douglas reached his Series Four evolution. 

- I've talked about visual jokes before, and how radio is actually the perfect medium for them, because you have such precise control over what your audience sees when. Generally, I give Douz as an example, because it has both the unfilmable final cricket team / firetruck / desert highway scene, and also the scene where it's revealed at the end of a tense and serious scene that Douglas has - for sound plot reasons - been in his underwear throughout. But there are examples of two more varieties of radio visual jokes in Uskerty. First, teasing the listener with deliberately withheld information. Finn McCool III is discussed, produced, and admired with the listener having no idea what he is, before it's finally revealed he's a sheep… and a stuffed one. This type of joke obviously can, and often is, done on TV; but it generally looks quite forced, as the camera deliberately avoids showing the thing we're interested in. Similarly, I suppose you could shoot the Douz scene with Douglas only visible from the neck up, but it would look odd, and would give away that something was up. 

The other type is my favourite, which is to remind the listener about something visual that they already know, but have forgotten to keep picturing. So, when Martin finally arrives at the airport, we picture him looking bedraggled, and because it's just happened we probably remember he's fallen in goose poo. But hopefully with each of Douglas' questions:

MARTIN  Douglas, quick. I need your help.
DOUGLAS  Martin … Good Lord, you’re soaking wet.
MARTIN  Yes, well, it’s raining outside. Look …
DOUGLAS  What happened to your uniform?
MARTIN  I tore it falling out of a tree …
DOUGLAS  Yes, but what’s that all over it?
MARTIN  Oh, er, goose droppings, but …
DOUGLAS  Is your hand okay?
MARTIN   No, a bee stung me …
DOUGLAS  What are you carrying?
MARTIN   What does it look like?! A stuffed sheep!
DOUGLAS  You see, Arthur? The master.

…we recall something else that we already knew happened to him, and revise our mental image of him accordingly. And that's a joke you can only do in sound only. 

- Ben's performance of the tree-climbing scene is a thing of beauty and a joy forever. That is all. 

- Sometimes people ask why Carolyn's bad mood at the beginning was never explained. Well, for some reason - probably because Roger and I were enjoying taking our… sweet… time… in the film noir scenes so much - this episode ran way, way overlong; and as well as the deleted scene in the other Uskerty post, and another deleted scene about opera which will be on the CD, we also had to lose the following dialogue between Martin and Carolyn as they're waiting for a lift. We were right to cut it, because it sort of over-explains things we already know, but just for your interest: 

5.   CAROLYN:         Good. Put it in your pocket
6.   MARTIN:          Yes, alright!
7.   CAROLYN:         I hate it that I can't pay you, you know
8.   MARTIN:          So do I.
9.   CAROLYN:         You deserve to be paid. And also, it makes me feel ... unprofessional. You know, silly old woman, thinks she can run a business, can't even pay her staff

1.   MARTIN:          Look ... it's alright. I know you would if you could.
2.   CAROLYN:         Yes. I mean ... actually ... I could pay you. If you'd like.
3.   MARTIN:          Er ... yes. I would like. Have I not made that clear?
4.   CAROLYN:         Not a salary. But I could give you a lump sum. Quite a big one, actually. As back-pay.
5.   MARTIN:          Really? But ... how?
6.   FX:              CAR APPROACHES
7.   C AND M:         Hello! Hello! Please! Hello!
8.   FX:              ... AND PASSES
9.   CAROLYN:         Gordon's made his annual offer to buy Gerti back.
10.  MARTIN:          What? After what happened in St Petersburg? He's got a cheek!
1.   CAROLYN:         Yes, that's a version of what I said. But still. He's offering seventy thousand for her. It's way more than I'd get anywhere else.
2.   MARTIN:          I hope you told him no!
3.   CAROLYN:         I told him many things, starting with no, and getting progressively more creative. But I could change my mind.
4.   MARTIN:          No! Of course you can't! He tried to steal Gerti, Carolyn! He doesn't ever get to have her now! (BEAT) When did he call you?
5.   CAROLYN:         In the taxi on the way to the airport
6.   MARTIN:          Ohhh ...
7.   CAROLYN:         What? What 'Ohhh'?
8.   MARTIN:          Nothing.

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Posted by Philip N. Cohen PhD

First, a note on language

In American English books from 1910 to 1950, about 25% of the uses of “family” were preceded by “the.” Starting about 1950, however, “the family” started falling out of fashion, finally dropping below 16% of “family” uses in the mid-2000s. This trend coincides with the modern rise of family diversity.

In her classic 1993 essay, “Good Riddance to ‘The Family’,” Judith Stacey wrote,

no positivist definition of the family, however revisionist, is viable. … the family is not an institution, but an ideological, symbolic construct that has a history and a politics.

The essay was in Journal of Marriage and the Family, published by the National Council on Family Relations. In 2001, in a change that as far as I can tell was never announced, JMF changed its name to Journal of Marriage and the Family, which some leaders of NCFR believed would make it more inclusive. It was the realization of Stacey’s argument.

I decided on the title very early in the writing of my book: The Family: Diversity, Inequality, and Social Change. I agreed with Stacey that the family is not an institution. Instead, I think it’s an institutional arena: the social space where family interactions take place. I wanted to replace the narrowing, tradition-bound term, with an expansive, open-ended concept that was big enough to capture both the legal definition and the diversity of personal definitions. I think we can study and teach the family without worrying that we’re imposing a singular definition of what that means.

It takes the unique genius that great designers have to capture a concept like this in a simple, eye-catching image. Here is how the artists at Kiss Me I’m Polish did it:


What goes in the frame? What looks like a harmless ice-breaker project — draw your family! — is also a conceptual challenge. Is it a smiling, generic nuclear family? A family oligarchy? Or a fictional TV family providing cover for an abusive, larger-than-life father figure who lectures us about morality while concealing his own serial rape behind a bland picture frame?

Whose function?

Like any family sociologist, I have great respect for Andrew Cherlin. I have taught from his textbook, as well as The Marriage Go-Round, and I have learned a lot from his research, which I cite often. But there is one thing in Public and Private Families that always rubbed me the wrong way when I was teaching: the idea that families are defined by positive “functions.”

Here’s the text box he uses in Chapter 1 (of an older edition, but I don’t think it’s changed), to explain his concept:


I have grown more sympathetic to the need for simplifying tools in a textbook, but I still find this too one-sided. Cherlin’s public family has the “main functions” of child-rearing and care work; the private family has “main functions” of providing love, intimacy, and emotional support. Where is the abuse and exploitation function?

That’s why one of the goals that motivated me to finish the book was to see the following passage in print before lots of students. It’s now in Chapter 12: Family Violence and Abuse:

We should not think that there is a correct way that families are “supposed” to work. Yes, families are part of the system of care that enhances the lived experience and survival of most people. But we should not leap from that observation to the idea that when family members abuse each other, it means that their families are not working. … To this way of thinking, the “normal” functions of the family are positive, and harmful acts or outcomes are deviations from that normal mode.

The family is an institutional arena, and the relationships between people within that arena include all kinds of interactions, good and bad. … And while one family member may view the family as not working—a child suffering abuse at the hands of a trusted caretaker, for example—from the point of view of the abuser, the family may in fact be working quite well, regarding the family as a safe place to carry out abuse without getting caught or punished. Similarly, some kinds of abuse—such as the harsh physical punishment of children or the sexual abuse of wives—may be expected outcomes of a family system in which adults have much more power than children and men (usually) have more power than women. In such cases, what looks like abuse to the victims (or the law) may seem to the abuser like a person just doing his or her job of running the family.

Huxtable family secrets

Which brings us to Bill Cosby. After I realized how easy it was to drop photos into my digital copy of the book cover, I made a series of them to share on social media — and planning to use them in an introductory lecture — to promote this framing device for the book. On September 20th of this year I made this figure and posted it in a tweet commemorating the 30th anniversary of The Cosby Show:


Ah, September. When I was just another naïve member of the clueless-American community, using a popular TV family to promote my book, blissfully unaware of the fast-approaching marketing train wreck beautifully illustrated by this graph of internet search traffic for the term “Cosby rape”:


I was never into The Cosby Show, which ran from my senior year in high school through college graduation (not my prime sitcom years). I love lots of families, but I don’t love “the family” any more than I love “society.” Like all families, the Huxtables would have had secrets if they were real. But now we know that even in their fictional existence they did have a real secret. Like some real families, the Huxtables were a device for the family head’s abuse of power and sexuality.

So I don’t regret putting them in the picture frame. Not everything in there is good. And when it’s bad, it’s still the family.

Philip N. Cohen is a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, College Park. He is the author of The Family: Diversity, Inequality, and Social Change and writes the blog Family Inequality. You can follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

(View original at http://thesocietypages.org/socimages)

Committees Everywhere

Dec. 18th, 2014 07:57 am
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Posted by Dave Hingsburger

I was rolling up the street, minding my own business, when someone decided to mind mine. A woman, sitting on the street with a sign asking for change, saw me go by and said, "It's cold out, you need to dress for the cold." I didn't think she was speaking to me, why would I, so I kept on going. "You, there, in the wheelchair, it's cold out, you don't want to get sick, you should wear a winter coat." Now others, waiting at the light with me, are looking at me and I'm being evaluated on my life skills and calculations are being made as to my suitability of dress in relationship to my suitability for independent community access. Trust me, there are committees everywhere

 I may say it but many don't understand it: Disability isn't permission.

It's astonishing the degree to which people, often strangers but not always, feel they have the right and even the obligation to 'help out' by interjecting themselves into my life with their opinions and values. From what I've ordered at a food court, to how I get on an elevator, to what I should do to heal myself, I get advice. Advice and intrusion. I've spoken to parents of kids with disabilities and am told that they, too, sometimes get unwanted advice on parenting, nutrition, healing strategies, from people.

We're supposed to think of people who do this as 'kind hearted' and as 'only trying to help'. I suppose some of that is true, but I wonder why they seem to target those of us with disabilities or those with a family member with a disability. Maybe because they have learned it's inappropriate and unwelcome when done to others. I don't know.

But what I do know is that I wish, just some times, that people would just, and there's no nice way to put this, shut up. If you want to talk to me, say hello and engage me, in the same manner as you would with anything else.

As I write this I can still hear her voice, "A sweater isn't enough on a day like this!" And for those of you thinking, "Oh, my gosh, Dave went out with a sweater in the winter, maybe I better write him and tell him that it's not weather appropriate," hush. It's was a pullover winter coat/sweater worn over a thick black shirt, worn over my cloth light green shirt. I layer. That works for me. A winter coat doesn't keep me as warm as this combination. So, really, I'm good with dressing for the weather.


Please don't take away my community privileges.

12 Days: Christmas…A Roman Holiday

Dec. 18th, 2014 12:00 pm
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Posted by April Stevens

By Caroline Lawrence (Wonders & Marvels contributor)

When I was researching my sixth Roman Mystery, set during the mid-winter festival called the Saturnalia, I was amazed by how many ancient Roman customs have survived, embedded in our Christmas celebrations. Here are twelve!

1. Five day vacation. In the first century AD the Romans set aside five days holiday to celebrate the festival of the Saturnalia, a mid-winter pagan festival to bring back the sun. We take approximately the same number of days off for Christmas.

2. December 25th. Romans sacrificed to Saturn but by the first century some were celebrating the birth of an eastern god of light on the 25th of December. No, not Jesus: Mithras! His rites and rituals shared many similarities with our Christian ceremonies. There was a baptism, a sacramental meal, an observance of Sunday, and the god himself was born on the 25th of December

3. Christmas tree, mistletoe, wreaths, etc. Romans decorated their houses with greenery. As Sheldon from Big Bang Theory says, “In the pre-Christian era, as the winter solstice approached and the plants died, pagans brought evergreen boughs into their homes as an act of sympathetic magic, intended to guard the life essences of the plants until spring. This custom was later appropriated by Northern Europeans and eventually became the so-called Christmas tree.”

4. Lights & candles. Romans also decorated their houses with extra lights at this darkest time of the year. Again, this was a pagan attempt to bring back the sun. Torches, tapers, candleabra and oil-lamps flickered throughout the houses of the rich. Because of this Rome was a particular fire hazard in the winter. One historian estimates that a hundred fires broke out daily in the Eternal City, which had its own entire corps of firemen, the vigiles.

5. Feasting! In mid-winter instinct tells us to build up a nice layer of fat, to feast in preparation for lean times ahead. A bit like a bear before hibernation. Yum. Carbohydrates are on the menu again.

6. Drinking. It has been medically proven that a small amount of wine added to water will kill off most known bacteria. For most of the year Romans drank diluted wine, but during the Saturnalia they often drank neat wine, heated and spiced. That’s my excuse for a glass of mulled wine: it’s hygienic.

7. Partying & Role Reversal. For the five days of the Saturnalia, slaves didn’t have to work. They could eat, drink and be merry. Some masters let their slave switch roles. Others, like Pliny the Younger, just left them alone to get on with it. Today, office employees find Christmas the time when they are tempted to take the most liberty. Be careful. Once the Saturnalia is over, you have to go back to being a slave… er, employee.

8. Board games and/or cards. In first century Rome, the only time gambling was legally permitted was during the Saturnalia. Even children and slaves could roll dice for nuts or money without fear of punishment. In the West, Christmas is the only time many families play board games or cards.

9. Party pieces. On the first night of the Saturnalia many households threw dice to determine who would be the King of the Saturnalia. The “King” could command people to do things like prepare a banquet, sing a song, or run an errand. Today we often perform party pieces at our Christmas parties, but Mom usually gets landed with preparing the banquet.

10. Santa hats. Many Roman citizens wore the hats traditionally given to slaves when they were set free. The pileus or pileum – both forms are attested – showed that freeborn Roman citizens were “extra free” from the usual restrictions and laws. These “freedom caps” were conical in shape and made of colourful felt, perhaps fur-trimmed in the winter. Hmmm. A red felt conical hat trimmed with white fur. Remind you of anything?

11. Presents! The Romans gave gifts on the Saturnalia, especially small clay or wooden figures – sigillum singular, sigilla plural – often with moveable joints. Action figures, LEGO and Barbies are our modern equivalent!

12. Gift tags. Finally, Romans often composed two-line epigrams to accompany their Saturnalia gift. So come on all you NaNoWriMo graduates and would-be writers: try composing your gift tags as a two line poem!

Caroline Lawrence has been writing detective stories about first century Rome and the Wild West for over a dozen years. Her passion for plotting combined with an obession with historical accuracy means her history-mystery stories are popular with children, parents and teachers. Here she is at a Christmas booksigning, wearing her pileum or freedom cap.

This post was first published on Wonders & Marvels in December 2012.

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Posted by Timmi Duchamp

The Pleasures of 2014 
by Carrie Devall

One of the biggest pleasures for me in 2014 has been a two-year-old Border Collie/Siberian Husky mix named Betty. The MN Border Collie Rescue saved her from an animal hoarding situation, and she was terrified of people, even after being with her foster hosts for almost a year. However, a ton of treats and a pack and comfort dog of her own have let her sneaky, goofy, bit-of-a-princess personality blossom. I spent a lot of time this year about the gross mistreatment of dogs and about their resilience on animal rescue sites. I'm realizing in retrospect that a lot of the books I read this year also focused on animal and human behavior, and in particular animal violence and human cruelty, or “inhumane treatment,” as they say.

I saw a bunch of international films at the the MSP International Film Festival, though not half as many as I wish I could have seen, looking through the catalog again. The best these were about harsh landscapes and human cruelty towards other humans and animals, except for one. Purgatorio: A Journey Into the Heart of the Border was a very personal film by Rodrigo Reyes, who came to speak at the showing. I though he ably showed some of the stark contradictions in life at the U.S.-Mexico border, where I once worked for legal aid, though some audience members did not like the part that showed the mistreatment of stray dogs to raise questions about treatment of humans.

Harmony Lessons was an engrossing movie from a young Kazakh director that used graphic images and a pattern of violence among high school boys in a metafictional discussion of torture, power, and control, I assume alluding to both the Kazakh and Russian governments. The documentary Dangerous Acts Starring the Unstable Elements of Belarus followed a troupe of actors as they fought against repression while the dictator staged his re-election. This was another very well-made film where the graphic violence was not at all gratuitous.

On the flip side, We Are The Best was a fun and easygoing film about Swedish girls in the early 1980s Death to Prom was a locally-made film with a multiracial cast that I remember being very funny and charming though the actual plot has escaped me beyond the guy and girl who are artists and best friends competing for the hot new Russian boy at their high school. Belle falls more into the serious side as it was based loosely on a true story and explored the legal status of freed slaves in the eighteenth century through the vehicle of a costume drama.
who fought everyday sexism with punk rock, by Lucas Moodysson. It was refreshing to see a film that focused on girls without being difficult to watch or stupid, and the music and 80s hair is great. (Check out the trailer.)

I just finished Karen Joy Fowler's book from 2013, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, which I found to be very gripping and insightful, my two go-to words to describe books I read from cover to cover in less than a day or two. It's hard to have too much to say about this book without giving away spoilers, because so much of the style of the book has to do with surprises, revisions, and questions about memory. I also say “insightful” with a caveat: that sharp insight into human character and behavior and our treatment of animals, and into family dynamics, can be deeply disturbing.

Another novel that dealt with disturbing questions in a deceptively 'easy' style and is difficult to put into an elevator pitch was Tehran in Twilight by Salar Abdoh, a noirish novel of political intrigue set in New York and Tehran. Often reading like cynical poetry, this novel has a meditative pace but covers an immense amount of internal and external territory in amazingly few words.

I also just read the book I'd been waiting all year for, which got rave reviews outside the US and then was delayed in being released here. For the record, wikipedia would tell you that Johanna Sinisalo is a Finnish writer who has won Nebula and Tiptree awards, respectively, for English translations of the short story "Baby Doll" and novel Troll: A Love Story (U.S. translation)/Not Before Sunset (U.K. translation), as well as the Finlandia prize for Troll in the original.

While waiting for her new novel, I reread her available fiction and the Daedalus anthology of Finnish Fantasy translated into English that she edited. That contains many intriguing stories, including a rollicking tale about a wily dog demon. I'm always surprised how few fans of feminist SFF seem to have read her work, because I can't stop rereading regularly for the pleasures of finding the deeper layers and more subtle nuances. I am hoping folks will work to make Worldcon go to Helskini in 2017(!) so the work of Sinisalo and other great Finnish writers will get more play. (See Cheeky Monkey Press, also.)

While Troll focused on Finnish characters and folklore, Birdbrain decentered Finland. The protagonists, a newly-coupled young Finnish man and woman, go on a trek through relatively “untouched” wilderness in Australia and Tasmania. Birdbrain explores, among many related themes and conflicts, the relationships of humans to animals and of Westerners and Europeans to the globe as a living entity and its many other peoples, also in amazingly few words.

Ostensibly moving back to Finland as the setting, Enkelten Verta, translated as The Blood of Angels, sets its gunsights on the dirty secrets and grimy underbelly of BigAg as well as the contradictions inherent in animal rights activism against it. Sinisalo uses blog entries as the lifeline that links the greater world, the “real world,” to the protagonist, a bee farmer in rural Finland who steps into and out of present reality/spacetime that is linked to the massive die-offs and disappearances of bees. The novel's action takes place in that kind of ethereal near-future-yet-already-here timeline that William Gibson has set up in his recent novels, taking that one small step from events happening now IRL (bee colony collapse) to the possible logical outcomes that may already be underway as we read and share the book.

The end result is a terse but lyrical hybrid of science fiction and fantasy similar to the other two nooks, here weaving speculation in with the characters' highly politicized opinions about the underlying causes of the bee colony collapse syndrome. Angels hides its feminist hand a lot more than the earlier two novels. However, for starters, the fact that the women of this world are so obviously missing from the web of relationships that connect the characters is a statement in itself.

The same translator, Lola Rodgers, translated another book I enjoyed this year, a science fictional noir novel with similar themes and setting in a near-future Finland in the midst of global environmental collapse. After working on learning Finnish through Teach Yourself books, I can say pretty assuredly that the challenges of translating the subtleties of Sinisalo's wordplay and so-dry-you-might-miss-them witticisms between languages as different as Finnish and English have got to be daunting. It also seems like misplaced energy to try and render judgment about a particular translation of Sinisalo when she reads so well across translations. I could say that Rodgers' translations seemed particularly smooth and skillful, but that would only really be saying that I found both books very readable.

In Antti Tuomainen's The Healer, a poet searches for his wife, a journalist who has gone missing while researching a story about a serial killer. The pacing of the unraveling of the mysteries of the wife's disappearance and the role of the serial killer was pretty brisk. Hamid, a recent North African immigrant who drives a cab, assists him for a complex mix of reasons. I had trouble deciding whether this was simply another Magical Negro role or at least a partial escape from that trap, but it seems to represent a small step forward for the prominent books in the “Scandinoir” framework. The generous handful of Scandinavian crime/noir novels I read over the last year discussed race and immigration mostly by having gangster and skinhead characters commit racial assaults as a showy backdrop to the anti-hero's battle against criminal masterminds. It was interesting to see a Finnish book, out of the few marketed to an English speaking audience, that tried to grapple with race in present-day Finland. Sinisalo's books have some characters rant about the history of global slavery and exploitation but do not really attempt that task.

I've really enjoyed the Skiffy and Fanty podcast series on World SFF, too, for the wide variety of people and con panels and in-depth discussions.

Away from SSF, Pissing In a River was the long-awaited follow-up for Lorrie Sprecher, who wrote Sister Safety Pin, another novel about dykes who love punk rock and get involved in AIDS activism in the 1980s. Both novels center on women who are navigating relationships with each other while dealing the impact of male violence against them in the recent past. I thought Pissing In a River had a more complex and emotionally moving storyline, but I like that both books deal with sexual assault (and PIR with OCD) as something the characters are dealing with in their busy and complicated lives instead of a gratuitous plot device.

Eating Fire: My Life as a Lesbian Avenger, by Kelly Cogswell, pretty much explains its premise in
the title. This book got hella things right in terms of describing the in-fighting and ridiculousness of direct action affinity group activism in the most loving and nostalgic possible terms. It also also names bad choices, racism, and internalized homophobia for what they were in the moment and the movements of the time. This book is not just a list of the cool things a bunch of activists did or a recounting of how they did it, but also a parsing of what worked and what did not and why choices that proved detrimental to the overall project and individual actions were made. Cogswell was in an interesting position in terms of viewing and intervening in the racial dynamics of the NYC Avengers, and she also explores the challenges she and her Cuban partner faced in their relationship and with the Avengers.

I found Sarah Waters' new novel, The Paying Guests, to be one of her strongest yet, along with Affinity and The Night Watch. I am generally not a big fan of historical novels with rich period detail, but this is reliably the aspect of her novels which draws me into her stories. This one truly is ripped straight out of a tabloid headline, about a murder trial. It's not simply a bodice ripper and neither a murder mystery, but a little of both.

I read a lot of biographies of queer activists and artists focused on a certain era, the 1970s to early 1990s. Among the ones I liked the best were Just Kids, Patti Smith's book about her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe, because it touched on both the punk music and fine art scenes of the time and really got into both the spiritual aspects of the creative process, the business aspects of these arts, and the gritty realities of life as an artist. Cynthia Carr's biography of David Wojnarowicz, Fire in the Belly, was an eye opener for me because I had read his books but not seen his art, and the biography has great color plates of many of his paintings and photos. In a nutshell, both men died from complications associated with AIDS and were fierce fighters against right wing attacks on their art and arts funding for similarly challenging work, the not-coincidentally recurrent theme in queer artist/writer biographies from this era. I also finally saw The Dallas Buyer's Club, which had a lot of flaws but ultimately did a decent job of viscerally depicting the root of the raw fury that fueled AIDS activism before the cocktail.

Martin Duberman's biography of Essex Hemphill and Michael Callen, Hold Tight Gently, mines similar territory. Essex Hemphill was an African American poet from Washington, D.C., who founded, co-founded, and helped nurture a wide array of organizations and literary magazines, readings, etc. His life became closely intertwined with that of Joseph Beam, who edited the groundbreaking anthology In The Life, and they co-edited Brother to Brother. Michael Callen was a white singer and AIDS activist who bucked the gay and both the AIDS activism and industry establishments with a no-b.s. approach towards the scientific data available about longterm survival with HIV. All three men were heroes to me as a baby dyke. Duberman's biography delves deeply into the history of seemingly everyone and everything both subjects were involved in as well as their own personal histories, with all their human contradictions. Like Cogswell, he covers in detail many of the controversies and conflicts that came up in the artistic and activist organizations and movements they were involved in, making this a history of an era as much as a split biography.

Christopher Bram's biography of a generation (or three) of gay writers, Eminent Outlaws, was also a good read. While it is hard not to think of it as the story of the white gay canon plus James Baldwin, I found that I knew less about that canon than I thought, despite having read many of the novels and stories they wrote and a lot about their personal histories in the course of following gay lit over many decades. Bram provides concise yet detailed intertwined biographies of writers but also focuses on the larger social forces they faced, particularly publishing industry homophobia.

On a completely different note, I was surprised to enjoy Stephen King's sequel to The Shining as much as I did. The antagonists in Doctor Sleep were truly creepy, though not at all like the Overlook Hotel. This is one I would not recommend to people who are squeamish or reactive to repeated musings about child abuse or cravings for alcohol, but it makes a right proper horror story out of these longtime King themes without being a retread.

Carrie Devall lives in Minneapolis and has been told so many times that she spends too much time working and not enough time writing that it just might be true.
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Posted by Fred Clark

1960: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1961: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1962: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1963: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1964: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1965: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1966: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1967: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1968: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1969: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1970: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1971: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1972: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1973: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1974: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1975: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1976: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1977: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1978: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1979: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1980: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1981: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1982: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1983: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1984: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1985: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1986: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1987: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1988: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1989: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1990: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1991: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1992: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1993: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1994: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1995: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1996: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1997: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1998: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1999: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
2000: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
2001: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
2002: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
2003: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
2004: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
2005: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
2006: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
2007: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
2008: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
2009: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
2010: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
2011: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
2012: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
2013: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
2014: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.

But now, apparently, President Barack Obama plans to break with this grand tradition of tough-talk and consistent failure.

According to White House materials, the new policy will establish diplomatic relations with Cuba, expand travel opportunities to and from the island, make it easier for those in the United States to send money to people in Cuba, and create opportunities for limited financial transactions between the countries, among other things.

About time. America’s Cuba policy has been been an utter failure for longer than I’ve been alive.

Some will no doubt try to get political traction by decrying this change as a “betrayal,” but I’m not sure that criticizing the president for an insufficient commitment to abject failure and fecklessness is really a winning argument. A losing policy should never be a winning argument.

After more than half a century of failure, it’s time to try something else.

Plus, we need the pitching.


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Posted by Timmi Duchamp

2014 Roundup
by Richard Bowes

JAMIE MARKS IS DEAD –  It’s fascinating to see a novel one knows well adapted for the screen by a director (Carter Smith) who obviously loved the book. Based on Christopher Barzak’s 2007 Crawford Award winning debut novel One for Sorrow is a coming of age story and a ghost story set in a dead end rustbelt town. It features strong and very believable performances by three young actors playing high school kids: Jamie the outcast boy who is found dead, Gracie, the girl who finds the body, Adam, the track team star alienated from his family who becomes fixated on the ghost of the dead boy when  Jamie Marks returns.

Scenes are cut, characters omitted as in any screen adaptation. But Smith remains as true to Barzak’s vision, I think, as it is possible to be – the wintry town, the kids brave and scared at the same time – a clear, affecting vision of this country at this moment.

With Judy Greer, Liv Tyler, Cameron Monaghan, Noah Silver, Morgan Saylor. 


For about the last ten years, Mary Rickert’s stories ("Journey to the Kingdom," "The Corpse Painter’s Masterpiece") Story collections (Map of Dreams, Holidays) have appeared on dozens of award short lists and have won awards (World Fantasy, Jackson).

This year her first novel (The Memory Garden) appeared from Sourcebooks Landmark and has been selling like a little engine ever since.

Clearly she has her fans and supporters. Yet, somehow she remains a secret in so many ways.

Now, Tor.com with its online publication of her remarkable novella “The Mothers of Vorhisville" (which seems like a novel) has made Ms. Rickert available to anyone who clicks on this site. Reading about this town, its women, their secret, the mysterious stranger, made me feel like I was spinning away into the sky. I invite you to grab hold of its coat tails!


From total obscurity, the street photography of Vivian Maier especially the shots she took in New York and Chicago in the mid 20th century) have become a major surprise that has become a sizeable posthumous industry.

Maier is the subject several well designed books displaying aspects her work. She has had major galleries and museums in the U.S. and Europe. A well-received documentary film FINDING VIVIAN MAIER shows us the work but also deals with the paradox and mystery.

As often with street photography, her photos seem to strip the subjects of their defenses and privacy. Her technical ability is impressive – a photograph of her seen reflected in a store window – integrates itself onto the items seen in the store. She looks like a photo on the wall of the shop.

For much of her life she worked as a children’s governess. The children she cared for early in her career, loved her. Those who had her later on liked her less. Her employees knew little about her background. The few hints she gave often proved to be less than true.

When one reads about a visual artist one wants to see the art. That’s easily done, with the film, the books, a trip through easily found sites on the Internet.

The Mystery? Not so easily solved.


A world of self made women

This Broadway play by Harvey Fierstein was based on actual events in a small Catskill guesthouse in the early 1960’s that catered to transvestites. The play only ran a couple of months. I found it interesting, but not compelling and flawed in its plot and character motivation.

It was illegal for men to dress as women, something that today would be regarded with indifference. The laws were stupid and sad. But so were the anti-gay, anti-choice, anti-racial minority laws of 1962.

And yet the play stuck with me, bothered me, which I’ve always taken to mean that a work of any kind, has some truth, some valid point.

Thinking about it, I realized that as depicted here, many of these transvestites are women on weekends but men first and foremost. In the play many, though not all, are as contemptuous of gay men as any other American males in 1962. They lie to their wives like any philandering husbands. They resent being outside the law but express no sympathy for other groups so treated.

Richard Bowes has published six novels, four short story collections and seventy stories. He has won two World Fantasy Awards, an International Horror Guild and a Million Writer Award. 2013 was a busy year for him: Aqueduct brought out an illustrated book of modern fairy tales, The Queen, the Cambion and Seven Others, and Lethe Press published a new novel, Dust Devil on a Quiet Street, and republished Bowes' 1999 Lambda Award Winner, Minions of the Moon. This year, Dust Devil on a Quiet Street was a finalist for the Lambda Award. 

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Posted by Fred Clark

“They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.”
– Jeremiah 6:14 (and also Jeremiah 8:11)

Here’s a five-sentence puff piece about the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, touting its recent ministry in Ferguson, Missouri — “Billy Graham Evangelical Response Team Helping Restore Peace in Ferguson“:

Dozens of North Carolinians are helping to restore the peace in Ferguson, Missouri.

The Billy Graham Evangelical Association’s rapid response team headed straight into the middle of riots and violence last month, just days after the controversial grand jury decision was made in the Michael Brown case.

However instead of being met with hostility they were welcomed into the community.

“From the law enforcement community to the inner city, all components of the community are very supportive that we’re here,” said Jack Munday, international director of the team.

He says through their work, they are beginning to see the community heal.

At best, that is ineptly worded and tone-deaf. And I suppose the worst of that might be the work of the “Time-Warner Cable News” reporter, and not the fault of the Graham people themselves.

But I fear that it’s as bad as it looks — that the awful language used by the reporter here, and the clueless framing of this horrifically misguided effort, may have originated with the BGEA team and not just been mistranslated by the TWC writer transposing their press release into a “news report.”

Let’s take this piece by piece. First there’s the absurdity of the assertion in the headline, repeated in the first sentence, that “restoring the peace” in Ferguson is a meaningful statement, or that any meaning it might have might be something good.

When protesters in Ferguson or elsewhere chant “No justice, no peace,” they aren’t just repeating a catchy slogan. They’re stating a tautology. They’re reciting a law of the universe. It’s no different than if they were chanting “F = ma!” It’s simply a fact: In the absence of justice, there can be no such thing as peace.

Yet the Billy Graham team seems to think that peace is something that can be “restored” in Ferguson. They seem to think that “peace” is somehow an accurate description of Ferguson, Missouri, before the protests began. They seem to be so thick-headed and thick-hearted that they think the people’s response to the violence and injustice done against them is somehow the reason Ferguson lacks “peace.”

The BGEA;s rapid response team headed to Ferguson "to minister to police" about a month after the group's first annual "National Law Enforcement Retreat."

The BGEA’s rapid response team headed to Ferguson “to minister to police” about a month after the group’s first annual “National Law Enforcement Retreat.”

That would be an epic level of obtuseness, but I think even that is an overly optimistic assessment of what this “rapid response team” is really doing. They don’t seem to be nearly that innocent. Not when you consider the weird nastiness of the next bit in this story, when we’re told that the BGEA team “headed straight into the middle of riots and violence.”

That, apparently, is all they could see when witnessing thousands of marchers singing and praying and standing with their hands raised in the air. It takes an incredibly powerful predisposition to witness thousands of people with their hands in the air — people loudly chanting “Hands up, don’t shoot!” — and to see only “riots and violence.”

The BGEA apparently headed to Ferguson wearing their Wilson-Vision Glasses — those special specs that prevent you from seeing anything other than violent demons who threaten your safety whenever you turn to look at black people.

I suppose, in their defense, that the BGEA folks are more interested here in striking a “courageous” pose that will allow them to congratulate themselves on their fearlessness. They’re only emphasizing the inherent menace of black people in order to highlight their own supposed bravery in “heading straight into the middle” of every white racist’s nightmare. But in service of puffing themselves up, they’re all too willing and eager to reinforce the lethal libels that portray black neighborhoods as “dangerous” places filled with dangerous (sub-)people.

And just look at how the next bit in the story reinforces that further: “However instead of being met with hostility they were welcomed.”

Ooh! It’s just like Daniel in the frickin’ lion’s den! God miraculously protected his anointed even there in the “inner city.”

Everything about this story is premised on the idea that black people and black communities are inherently dangerous — a threat. Even when the reality of those people and communities explodes that fearful, prejudiced stereotype, it gets twisted into a weird affirmation of the premise. So the rapid response team shows up in Ferguson expecting a hostile warzone filled with angry rioters and looters chanting “Kill whitey!” Yet they encounter, instead, a hospitable community of normal human beings, saddened by loss, yet resolute. But this clear evidence doesn’t cause any re-evaluation of their original preconceptions about black people and black neighborhoods – instead it’s spun into evidence about the extraordinary bridge-building power of the BGEA’s spiritual message.

And, you see, it’s because of that — because of this extraordinary capacity of these ministers to overcome even the threatening hostility and inherent dangerousness of black people — that the BGEA wants its audience of white Christians to know that there’s hope to “restore peace” in Ferguson. They can help the community “heal” by convincing the scary people to settle down and to quiet down and to go back to peacefully accepting the status quo that preceded all of this recent unpleasantness.

They’ve done this before, you know. They’ve done this for decades. And they believe they can do it again this time around.

Look, I generally like the idea of Graham’s “rapid response teams.” They were designed to be a kind of chaplaincy flying squad, a group that has been constructively “deployed” to minister to communities in the aftermath of hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and other natural disasters. Pastoral care can be a meaningful, vital help to people who are suffering.

But what’s happening in Ferguson isn’t a natural disaster. Thousands of people in the streets affirming that “Black Lives Matter” isn’t a disaster at all — it’s God’s work. And it seems like the mission of the BGEA response team in Ferguson is to shut down God’s work — to quench the spirit.

That’s not pastoral care. That’s false prophecy.

Note that Billy Graham’s people didn’t decide to go to Ferguson on their own. They were invited there by members of the Ferguson police department. According to the BGEA itself, the purpose of the trip was “to minister to police.”

That is what this team means by “restoring the peace.” They’re there to help Ferguson police regain their peace of mind. They’re there to help the Ferguson police “restore peace” by getting all those uppity protesters to settle down and go back to accepting the status quo in which everyone knows and keeps their place.

The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association rapid response team, in other words, was brought to Ferguson as a tool to supplement the work already being done with tear gas, rubber bullets, and a kangaroo-court parody of a grand jury put forth as the substitute for a fair trial.

They were brought in not to serve as chaplains, but as court prophets who would say “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace.

We’ve already seen what Jeremiah had to say about that message and that form of ministry. Here’s what Ezekiel says about it:

“Because they lead my people astray, saying, ‘Peace,’ when there is no peace, and because, when a flimsy wall is built, they cover it with whitewash, therefore tell those who cover it with whitewash that it is going to fall. Rain will come in torrents, and I will send hailstones hurtling down, and violent winds will burst forth. When the wall collapses, will people not ask you, ‘Where is the whitewash you covered it with?’”

Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: “In my wrath I will unleash a violent wind, and in my anger hailstones and torrents of rain will fall with destructive fury. I will tear down the wall you have covered with whitewash and will level it to the ground so that its foundation will be laid bare. When it falls, you will be destroyed in it; and you will know that I am the Lord. So I will pour out my wrath against the wall and against those who covered it with whitewash. I will say to you, ‘The wall is gone and so are those who whitewashed it, those prophets of Israel who prophesied to Jerusalem and saw visions of peace for her when there was no peace, declares the Sovereign Lord.’”

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Posted by John Finnemore

Just a short one this time, because this is the third one of these I've written today. But more, including cut scene and notebook pictures, can as usual be found here. 

- This is the first time Carolyn's had much to do in a Birling Day episode, and it makes me wish I'd used her more in the others - Stephanie and Geoffrey play off each other particularly well. I've always loved the line 'I thought perhaps you'd died' in Paris, but the early discussion between them here about the whereabouts of Timbuktu is another of my favourite Birling scenes.

- I like it that the effect on Martin of bending the rules is more or less the same as the effect on Arthur of trying to lie. Though, dammit, it's just occurred to me for the first time now that when Martin says in Yverdon that he cannot think of any time he's bent the rules, he's forgetting this trip. Although on the other hand, he doesn't bend any aviation rules, so maybe it's ok.


In other news, I'm very proud to say that I've somehow managed to con my way onto I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue for the second time. We recorded two episodes in Canterbury, the first of which went out on Monday, and the other of which will go out next week. So, if you've always wondered what Marvin Gaye's Sexual Healing would sound like if sung, by me, to the tune of Morning Has Broken - and who hasn't? - you can satisfy your very natural curiosity here. 
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Posted by Fred Clark

Kathryn Schulz, “The Story That Tore Through Trees”

The story of man against nature is one of the most ancient and compelling of all human narratives. But it is also, by definition, adversarial. Not by coincidence did Maclean come to Mann Gulch after years of trying to write about Custer’s Last Stand — another small group of men succumbing to the enemy on the side of a hill. The book he wrote instead is the seminal text in our national war on fire. As an account of how that war is fought, it is accurate and thrilling. As an elegy for the victims, it is beautiful. But, like many such stories, it fails to ask the crucial question: whether that war should ever have been fought in the first place.

Ezra Klein, “One sentence that proves the American torture program was a national disgrace”

Click here to view the embedded video.

W. Caleb McDaniel, “History’s Echoes in the Policing That Made Eric Garner Say ‘Enough’”

In view of that past, there is little, if anything, about our country and our legal system that we should not be subjecting to a critical eye today. None of our institutions stand outside of our history, not our grand juries, not our police and not even our excise tax laws. And every chapter of that history contains evidence of black Americans being harassed by both legal and extralegal means.

The nation has found countless ways to “mess with” black lives for generations, and our past ways are not dead. They are not even past. That is why Eric Garner started by saying “I’m tired,” and why so many other Americans are now shouting “I can’t breathe.”

Stephen Prothero, “Do Liberals Always Win? An Interview With Religion & Politics

Culture wars are often seen as these battles between liberals and conservatives over cultural questions. But I see them more as dramas that are produced and acted in by conservatives. They are conservative projects whose purpose is to drum up support from traditionalists in society who perceive that something precious is being lost to them, and that something precious changes over the course of history. It might be the traditional family, with a man at its center. It might be a society in which the leaders are all white. It might be a society in which the important figures are Protestants. In order to activate that anxiety … which is going to create a political upsurge for your party, you need to find an issue that will agitate peoples’ emotions. The moment of highest agitation seems to be the moment when it’s becoming clear that the liberals are starting to win, the conservative complaint kicks in, but lo and behold, the liberals actually do win. It is a fixed game. It’s not really a fair fight because the conservatives are not picking the issues on which they are winning, which are many. In my lifetime, conservatives have done better than liberals on many political issues. But on questions in the culture wars, they tend to pick the issues that they are losing or are about to lose.

Andrea Powell, “Children who are prostituted aren’t criminals. So why do we keep putting them in jail?”

Only 12 states have “Safe Harbor” laws that prohibit the arrest of children for prostitution-related crimes. … But while these children can’t be arrested for prostitution, many are instead jailed for truancy, being a runaway and other minor violations. The majority of FAIR Girls’s 45 minor clients (we have 125 clients total, aged 11 to 24) last year were arrested for such crimes. Without effective training for law enforcement and a comprehensive trafficking response model, the vast majority of child victims are simply locked up anyway.


Quick hit: #ThisTweetCalledMyBack

Dec. 17th, 2014 04:00 pm
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Posted by Tim Chevalier

Who gets to claim the title “activist”, and who quietly does the work that’s needed for activist movements to succeed while getting simultaneously derided and appropriated from?

A collective of, in their own words, “Black Women, AfroIndigenous and women of color” have issued a statement on how they’re being treated by white feminism, academia, the mainstream media, and the rest of the social-justice-industrial complex:

As an online collective of Black, AfroIndigenous, and NDN women, we have created an entire framework with which to understand gender violence and racial hierarchy in a global and U.S. context. In order to do this however, we have had to shake up a few existing narratives, just like K. Michelle and her infamous table rumble on Love & Hip Hop.

The response has been sometimes loving, but in most cases we’ve faced nothing but pushback in the form of trolls, stalking. We’ve, at separate turns, been stopped and detained crossing international borders and questioned about our work, been tailed and targeted by police, had our livelihoods threatened with calls to our job, been threatened with rape on Twitter itself, faced triggering PTSD, and trudged the physical burden of all of this abuse. This has all occurred while we see our work take wings and inform an entire movement. A movement that also refuses to make space for us while frequently joining in the naming of us as “Toxic Twitter.”

Read the statement from @tgirlinterruptd, @chiefelk, @bad_dominicana, @aurabogado, @so_treu, @blackamazon, @thetrudz, as well as #ThisTweetCalledMyBack on Twitter, for a critical perspective on the role of intersecting racism and sexism in how activist work is valued. If you’ve ever been dismissed as “just an Internet activist” or told to get off your computer and out in the streets, then you need to read this essay. If you’ve ever dismissed someone else as all talk, and no action, not like those real activists who are running big street protests, then you need to read this essay. And if both are true for you, then you need to read this essay.

At least it’s not snowing

Dec. 17th, 2014 03:28 pm
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Posted by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee

Today’s the day.  I’ve been trying to avoid it, I’ve done all I can to make it unnecessary, and yet, it has come.

I am going to the mall.

I made one last ditch attempt yesterday to shop in my neighbourhood, on foot, but I couldn’t get everything, and now there are five things left on the spreadsheet that Joe cannot get, that I can’t find, and even though five items is the smallest number ever, it means that I am going to the stinking mall. I am going to get in the car (that alone is remarkable. I drive my car about once a month. I am not fond of that thing either) and I am going to go to the one place where all the things I need are in one place, and I am going to go in, get the stuff and get out. The mall is the opposite of everything that I like about the world, and bad things have happened to me at the mall before, and so this year, I am taking extra precautions.

1. Last year (every year) I cannot remember what bloody door I came in and then I can’t find the car, and this ends up with me sobbing through the parking lot and I only find it right before I take the bus home and tell Joe to work it out. This year, I am taking a picture of where the car is, and of the door I go in, so that I have an escape route well planned.

2. I am leaving my coat in the car. It is better to be freezing for the three minutes that it takes to walk from the car to the door than it is to be sweaty, overheated in the mall for two hours while still trying to be nice to the lady in front of me in The Bay who is paying for her foundation garments with dimes while complaining about the quality of service.  I want to extend her patience, but I just can’t do it with my coat on.

3. I am taking hand sanitizer,  because other people don’t wash their hands, and a few years ago I got Noro Virus, and I’m sure it was at the mall, and it was the Nightmare Before Christmas.  (I’m not a germaphobe, I swear.  I don’t use seat protectors in the loo (because there is nothing you can catch through your thighs) and I don’t use a disinfecting anything in the house, but I know some of you are not washing your hands after the loo (or you are, but then you’re touching the taps and door handle again) and this year I’m just going to use the hand sanitizer a few times, and that way I can feel less nervous about the worlds hygiene.  (If you care, turn on taps, wash hands with soap, get paper towel, dry your hands, turn off the taps with the towel, use the towel to open the door, discard towel. If I’m in a bathroom where the bin isn’t by the door, I know something.)

4. I have a list of the stores I have to go into. I am not going into any other stores. I am not adding a single thing to the list, I am not being swayed by panic, nor 50% off signs.  I know what I need. I do not need more than that.  I have enough wrapping paper (I checked) and everyone on my list has plenty.  The list is all I am getting.

5. I am not even looking at the food court, never mind trying to find something to eat there.

6. I am taking my knitting in with me. It’s not like there’s knitting time, and it will be too crowded to knit while I am walking, but it’s a small comfort.

7. I am not going to let the way things are marketed to me shift the way I think Christmas should be, by wool.  I am not going to be tricked into thinking that I’m not doing it right, that I didn’t buy people big enough presents, or that I need to buy them more for them to be happy.  I am not going to be convinced that this family needs to dress differently, value different things, or stop baking our own cookies, and giving little kids books as presents. No matter how this season is presented at that place, their goal is to make me feel bad enough about what I have that I give them all my money so I can have better stuff, and therefore be happier.  I will keep it in my mind the whole time I am there that I am not unhappy because I don’t have that stuff.  I am unhappy because I am in a mall.

8. I am going to be like the wind. I am going to go in, strike like a ninja, and get out. I am going to be extra crazy nice to every other lunatic in there, and if I start feeling bad about it, I am going to remind myself that when I get back home, you can stick a fork in me, because I am done shopping.

9.  I am going to smile, and be the nicest stinking lady in the mall.  In the name of merino, I swear that every person who encounters me is going to have a better day for it.

10. I am putting a beer in the fridge for when I get home.

What’s Luis hanging today?

The wreath!

wreath 2014-12-17

This morning there was no text from Carlos, because he had taken a picture of the thing, and sent me an email because (while he liked that ornament) he didn’t know the word for it in Spanish, because it’s not really a Spanish thing.  “El Circulo de ramas?” he suggested – a circle of branches?  We eventually settled on “Corona de Navidad” which is close enough.  This one has no pattern either, though I was inspired by these ones, for sure.  I cast on, worked in that pretty blackberry stitch for a while, then cast off, folded the knitting edge to edge, to make a tube, stuffed it lightly, and sewed it into a ring.  Then I knit that bow to cover my seam.

Gifts for Knitters, day 17

Another simple one, though it can be hard, because to do it, you need to go to a yarn shop.  Knitters well, like people who have a pub they always go to, a lot of knitters have “a local.”  At this local, they might even know your knitter, and know what they would like.  (Big tip, some yarn shops have gift registries – just like when you’re getting married, and you go the The Bay and put everything you would like on a list? The yarn shop might have that. Ask them.) If they don’t have a registry, and your knitter isn’t a frequent enough flier that they shop can advise you on what to get (because if they know your knitter, you should just give them a dollar value, and then step off. Take the bag they give you. Smile. Leave.) then you should get a gift certificate. Your knitter will like it a lot, and they’ll really like that you went to their local. It’s nice that you know where it is.

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Posted by Jay Livingston, PhD

“We need to get rid of Obamacare,” says Ed Gillispie in a NYT op-ed. The reason: Obamacare’s “gravitational pull toward a single-payer system that would essentially supplant private insurance with a government program.”

Gillespie, who lays out his credentials at the start of the article – he ran for Senate in Virginia and lost – notes that Obamacare is unpopular. But he omits all mention of a government-run single-payer system that happens to be very popular – Medicare. No Republican dare run on a platform of doing away with it. Gillespie himself accused Obamacare of cutting Medicare, a statement that Politifact found “Mostly False.”

So how are seniors doing? Compared to their pre-Medicare counterparts, they are  probably healthier, and they’re probably shelling out less for health care. But compared to seniors in other countries, not so well. A Commonwealth Fund survey of eleven countries finds that seniors (age 65 and older) in the U.S. are the least healthy – the most likely to suffer from chronic illnesses.* 

Over half the U.S. seniors say that they are taking four or more prescription drugs; all the other countries were below 50%:

And despite Medicare, money was a problem. Nearly one in five said that in the past year they “did not visit a doctor, skipped a medical test or treatment that a doctor recommended, or did not fill a prescription or skipped doses because of cost.” A slightly higher percent had been hit with $2,000 or more in out-of-pocket expenses. 

In those other countries, with their more socialistic health care systems, seniors seem to be doing better, physically and financially.  One reason that American seniors are less healthy is that our universal, socialized medical care doesn’t kick in until age 65. People in those other countries have affordable health care starting in the womb. 

Critics of more socialized systems claim that patients must wait longer to see a doctor. The survey found some support for that. Does it take more than four weeks to get to see a specialist? U.S. seniors had the highest percentage of those who waited less than that. But when it came to getting an ordinary doctor’s appointment, the U.S. lagged behind seven of the other ten countries.

There was one bright spot for U.S. seniors. They were the most likely to have developed a treatment plan that they could carry out in daily life. And their doctors  “discussed their main goals and gave instructions on symptoms to watch for” and talked with them about diet and exercise.

Gillespie and many other Republicans want to scrap Obamacare and substitute something else. That’s progress I suppose. Not too long ago, they were quite happy with the pre-Obamacare status quo. Throughout his years in the White House, George Bush insisted that “America has the best health care system in the world.” Their Republican ideology precludes them from learning from other countries. As Marco Rubio put it, we must avoid “ideas that threaten to make America more like the rest of the world, instead of helping the world become more like America.”

But you’d think that they might take a second look at Medicare, a program many of them publicly support.

* Includes hypertension or high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, lung problems, mental health problems, cancer, and joint pain/arthritis.

Jay Livingston is the chair of the Sociology Department at Montclair State University. You can follow him at Montclair SocioBlog or on Twitter.

(View original at http://thesocietypages.org/socimages)

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Posted by Fred Clark

Majority of Americans Believe the Story of Jesus’ Birth Is Historically Accurate,” Time magazine reports:

According to a new Pew Survey of over 1,500 U.S. adults, 73 percent say they believe Jesus was born to a virgin, and 74 percent say they believe Jesus’s birth was announced to the shepherds by an angel (among Protestant respondents, that rate is 91 percent and 90 percent, respectively). 78 percent of women say they believe in the virgin birth, 65 percent of the respondents said they believe all elements of the Christmas story are factually true.

This makes sense. The Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke tell us that Jesus was born of a virgin. It’s right there in the Bible.

Good, Christian American people believe the Bible. If the Bible says it, that settles it. Period.


Majority of Americans Believe Torture Can Prevent Terrorism,” Time magazine reports:

More than half of Americans (57 percent) believe that interrogation tactics such as waterboarding — techniques widely considered to be torture — are successful in preventing terrorist attacks at least some of the time.

That survey found that white evangelicals were more likely than non-Christians to approve of torture, with 69 percent of white evangelicals approving of the CIA’s torture program.

The Bible — the same authoritative, infallible, inerrant Bible that includes the Christmas story  – commands Christians to love their enemies. The same Gospels that include the accounts of the Virgin Birth categorically rule out the possibility of torture as anathema to anything Jesus stands for.

But this still makes sense, because while these Christians say it’s very important to affirm the authority of the Bible when it comes to stuff like the Virgin Birth and not doing the sex, they don’t really give a withered fig what the Gospels have to say about stuff like torture and loving your enemies and all the rest of that liberal crap.



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