"Joy and pleasure are as real as pain and sorrow and one must learn what they have to teach. . . ." -- Sean Russell, from Gatherer of Clouds

"If you're not having fun, you're not doing it right." -- Helyn D. Goldenberg

"I love you and I'm not afraid." -- Evanescence, "My Last Breath"

“If I hear ‘not allowed’ much oftener,” said Sam, “I’m going to get angry.” -- J.R.R. Tolkien, from Lord of the Rings

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Today in Disgusting People: What Took Them So Long?

I've been waiting for this to happen:

A pair of right-wing provocateurs are being accused of attempting to recruit young Republican men to level false allegations of sexual assault against Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg.

The details of the operatives’ attempt emerged as one man suddenly surfaced with a vague and uncorroborated allegation that Buttigieg had assaulted him. The claim was retracted hours later on a Facebook page appearing to belong to the man.

A Republican source told The Daily Beast that lobbyist Jack Burkman and internet troll Jacob Wohl approached him last week to try to convince him to falsely accuse Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, of engaging him sexually while he was too drunk to consent.

The source who spoke to The Daily Beast said Burkman and Wohl made clear that their goal was to kneecap Buttigieg’s momentum in the 2020 presidential race. The man asked to remain anonymous out of a concern that the resulting publicity might imperil his employment, and because he said Wohl and Burkman have a reputation for vindictiveness.

Buttigieg should go after them for defamation. I realize there are limits on that, given that Buttigieg is a "public figure," but I have a feeling those limits wouldn't apply in this case -- there is quite obvious malice involved here, and a brazen attempt to ruin Buttigieg's reputation.

Mustang Bobby at Bark Bark Woof Woof seems to be following my line of thinking:

This isn’t the first and certainly won’t be the last of the attacks against him — we’ve already seen the phony religious grifters going after him — and you can always count on rating points if you bring up sex.

Speaking of religious grifters, he has a post on this from John Pavlovitz:

Dear Franklin Graham,

Recently you tweeted about Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, writing that the Mayor “says he’s a gay Christian.” You then immediately implied that he isn’t—as if his sexuality somehow disqualifies him.

I know that you’ve been sequestered within in the gilded gated community of your privilege and guarded by sycophants and yes-men for so long that you’re unaware of your catastrophic hubris here, so let me help you:

You’re wrong.

Pete Buttigieg is a Christian because he has chosen to follow Jesus. Full stop.

His sexual orientation is irrelevant to the matter—as is your evaluation of him because he is a gay man.

He doesn’t need your permission, doesn’t require your blessing, and isn’t waiting for your approval.

It goes on, and it's merciless.

It really is going to get worse, as long as Buttigieg is in the running.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Review: Emma Bull: Bone Dance

Another foundling from the late, great Epinions.

A good argument can be made for calling Emma Bull’s Bone Dance an urban fantasy. There is a great deal to do with the spirit world, events that are only explainable in terms of magic of some sort, and there are visitations from supernatural beings. However, the fact that it is set in a post-Apocalyptic dystopia, technology plays a pivotal role (although that is more because of its scarcity than because of its reliability), and the magic comes from “hoodoo” (Voudou is part of modern reality, for some of us at least) make me place it firmly in science fiction (which does, after all, leave room for beings with advanced mental powers).

Sparrow is the narrator, leading us through the maze of the City (which is only the City, no other name; it could, perhaps, be Minneapolis, Bull’s hometown, although a couple of references seem to place it south of The Border) a few decades after someone pushed the Button. The history is unclear, which doesn’t really matter – the damage was done, and what we must deal with is now. Life in Sparrow’s City runs on the Deal – money is hard or soft, favors are owed one way or the other, and that is the basis of trade. Sparrow is an electronics expert (although the explanation for this comes not until midway through the story) who runs a black market in old videotapes and sound recordings – black market because most of the information from before the Bang is subject to seizure and destruction by whatever authority there may be. In this case, the authority is A. A. Albrecht, who holds a monopoly on energy in the City proper. He is also one of Sparrow’s best customers for old movies, especially originals (as opposed to dupes), which bring very high prices. One of Sparrow’s haunts is the Night Market, where goods of all sorts are available from dusk until dawn; another is the Underbridge, a dance and video club of which Sparrow is one of the operators. Sparrow also has blackouts – periods of varying length that leave no memories, although Sparrow’s absence is apparently not obvious. Into this mix comes Frances, who, as it turns out, is one of the legendary and hated Horsemen, secret military weapons who could take over the bodies of others. It was the Horsemen who pushed the Button; Frances is on her way to kill Tom Worecski, who put together the plot to rain nuclear death on the Western Hemisphere and duped Frances and other of the Horsemen into participating. Mick Skinner is another who comes into Sparrow’s ken, seemingly briefly, since we discover that he has been dead since before they met. Events conspire to draw Sparrow into Frances’ search for Tom, and the interlocking relationships – Sherrea, perhaps Sparrow’s closest friend, who is a talented card reader; Theo, one of the other operators of Underbridge, who has a surprising relationship to Albrecht; Cassidy, who is setting himself up to be a victim; and Dana, who has connections – provide a fair measure of suspense.

I don’t really know what to compare this book to in order to give you some touchstones – perhaps Dhalgren meets The Maltese Falcon. The environment is near-hallucinatory, the more so because the main lighting seems to be neon (the Night Market is, after all, the Night Market). The context is very rich and detailed. Sparrow’s blackouts begin to intercut with hallucinations, involving stick figures who pass on cryptic messages; one of them is definitely Kokopelli, the trickster-hero of the ancient American Southwest, who speaks in lines from movies; another is, perhaps, Oya Iansa, who governs wind and the lightning and brings change.

Sparrow is a true anti-hero. Many of the surprises in the book come from the fact that Sparrow has an obsession about privacy, and is consequently not terribly perceptive of the details of others’ lives, even when those details are available. The reason for Sparrow’s privacy fetish is unveiled halfway through the book, along with revelations about the Horsemen: Sparrow, it turns out . . . no, I don’t think I’ll tell.

Bull is one of those writers who can pull you into a context with no effort. As hallucinatory and distasteful as this world is, you are there, and you go willingly. Her prose is tight and lucid, particularly when she is writing about the supernormal, which only makes it more real. Voudou and the Tarot form a major part of the foundation for this story, along with the key plot issue, which is energy as the operative force of the universe. Bull’s treatment of this reminds me of the philosophy of the creators of the original Whole Earth Catalogue, which was one of my touchstones during the 1970s – if energy keeps the universe turning, anything that has the potential to block the flow – like money, or too much power in too few hands (which seems to have become the same thing) – needs to be dealt with very carefully, and sometimes very forcefully.

“Coming of age” has a multitude of meanings, and it’s a type of story that I seem to have been running into a lot lately. Maybe that’s because every work of fiction is about coming of age in some sense. We move from childhood to adolescence to adulthood to maturity, and not all parts of us make the progression at the same rate. Bone Dance is a coming-of-age story as much as anything else; and Bull uses it to explore one other thing that I want to note: how our perceptions of what others’ perceptions are or might be color our reactions – often before there is anything to react to. It’s also an object lesson in how opening ourselves to the wider world – the next stage of our lives – is often costly and hurtful, but necessary unless we are to give up our responsibility as human beings to be human beings.

This is a terrific book.

(Ace Books, 1991)

What's New at Green Man Review

And more good stuff for your enjoyment:

Folklore in the Twentieth Century, Russian Music, Real Fairy Tales, Swedish Pan Pipes, and more

Here's the link. You know what to do.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

It's April 27th

The National Weather Service is predicting 2-4" of snow tonight.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Culture Break: Goeyvaerts String Trio: Arvo Pärt/ from: Stabat Mater

I've remarked before on my long engagement with the music of Arvo Part. This popped up on my playlist this morning:

This is just a small selection from the beginning -- the full piece is around 28 minutes, but it's worth listening to. And the Goyvaerts String Trio does a more than ceditable job with it.

Today in Happy Reunions

Just a reminder that good things do happen.

With thanks to commenter jixter at Joe.My.God.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

What's New At Green Man Review

Yep, it's Sunday again, with more good stuff at GMR:

A History of Tull, the Polesotechnic League, Chocolate Eggs, More Tull, Payback, and other neat stuff

So off you go to feast on the goodies.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Saturday Science: Boom!

A fairly interesting article on a recent find at the K/T boundary -- which is when the dinosaurs were wiped out:

If, on a certain evening about sixty-­six million years ago, you had stood somewhere in North America and looked up at the sky, you would have soon made out what appeared to be a star. If you watched for an hour or two, the star would have seemed to grow in brightness, although it barely moved. That’s because it was not a star but an asteroid, and it was headed directly for Earth at about forty-five thousand miles an hour. Sixty hours later, the asteroid hit. The air in front was compressed and violently heated, and it blasted a hole through the atmosphere, generating a supersonic shock wave. The asteroid struck a shallow sea where the Yucatán peninsula is today. In that moment, the Cretaceous period ended and the Paleogene period began.

The description of the events immediately following the impact is breathtaking. It's a wonder anything survived.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Culture Break: Toto: Africa

Always been one of my favorite songs:

This is the first time I've ever seen the video. Weird.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Paris is Burning

Well, not Paris, just Notre Dame cathedral, but that's bad enough.

Contrary to initial reports, the cathedral is not destroyed, not gutted, and is mostly still standing. The wooden framing is pretty much a loss, as is the wooden roof, but the vaulted ceiling is still intact, most of the stained glass is in good shape.

If you want more information, there are stories on this everywhere.

Thought For the Day

I'd never really thought about this before:


And it's absolutely true: "pre-existing condition" is the excuse insurance companies use not to insure you.

With thanks to commenter Doug105 at Joe.My.God.

Monday, April 15, 2019

It's Tax Day

Do you know where your money went?

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Review: Makoto Tateno: Yellow

Makoto Tateno is a mangaka doing yaoi whose work I've learned to keep an eye out for. The first series I happened across by her was Yellow, an action-adventure series involving two "snatchers," free-lancers who recover illegal drugs for various clients, usually the police. Inside the larger story line, there are several substories of the more-or-less standard cops-and-robbers variety. Because this is one of those series that won't really support separate reviews for each volume, I am going to talk about the whole series here rather than just volume 1.

Yellow is slightly outside the normal run of BL or "bishonen-ai" manga. Both protagonists are older, in their early twenties, and one is avowedly gay (a device that Tateno makes use of in other stories). And it is definitely an action-adventure series, although yaoi in general tend to be more oriented toward shoujo ("manga for girls") than shounen ("manga for boys"). (But it's worth pointing out that even in this one the emphasis is on the relationship between the lovers.)

Taki and Goh are partners: they are snatchers and get their assignments from Tsunuga, the somewhat mysterious owner of the cafe below the apartment they share and where they take their meals. If you search this series online, you will meet a repeated blurb that claims Taki is masculine and straight, and Goh is feminine and gay. Nothing could be farther from the truth: yes, Taki is straight and Goh is gay, but both are tough, aggressive men, and Goh is not at all reticent about what he wants -- he is, in fact, the seme to Taki's uke in this story -- and what he wants more and more is Taki. Goh’s attempts to seduce Taki form an ongoing motif throughout the series. We see Taki’s resistance start to erode in Volume 2, as we also see Goh’s feelings shift from playful jokes to little more than lust to deep and very real love. This "main" story finally becomes the focus in the third volume: Taki, as might be expected, has a dark secret in his past, and when he realizes how that secret has come back into his present, in the guise of two assassins who have come to claim him, he is devastated. He also realizes that he loves Goh, whom the assassins see as an impediment to their goal, and will do anything to protect him. All the threads come together in the last two volumes -- Taki's past, Tsunuga's past, the assassins who call themselves the "Sandfish," and Taki's growing love for Goh.

It’s a treat to see in this series the interplay of character between these two, particularly as the final crisis comes and we realize just how deeply their feelings for each other run. Tateno hits a level in Yellow rare in yaoi. The long-awaited love scene, perhaps because it has been so long in coming, achieves an amazing intensity, almost poetry, made even more evocative by Taki's thoughts as he and Goh make love for the first time. The fact that Taki believes this is the last time he will be with Goh provides another layer of poignancy.

Do keep in mind that this is directed toward teenage girls (in this case, one suspects later teens rather than earlier), so it is overwhelmingly romantic and more than a little melodramatic. I also suspect there are a number of teenage boys who would find it appealing as well.

Tateno's visual style falls well within the range of typical manga styles, in her case tending toward slender young men with somewhat elfin features; one drawback is that it can be difficult to tell characters apart. She also adheres to what seems to be a manga convention of interspersing highly "cartoony" frames among the more realistic ones as humorous asides or throwaways -- meant, I suppose, to be cute, but sometimes merely annoying.

I do recommend this series highly: it’s a cut above most in this genre in the complexity of characters, and there’s a refreshingly low incidence of big-eyed waifs.

(June [Digital Manga Publishing, 2009, 2010)

What's New at Green Man Review

Yep, it's that time again, and a whole raft of goodies for your perusal:

Joanna Russ, Live Music from Altan, Outlander, Really Great Brownies, Haunted Gotham and Other Neat Stuff

As usual, that's just the tip of the iceberg, so scoot on over and check it out.

It's April 14th

And we are having a freaking blizzard.

Twitter Thread du Jour

This one's priceless:


I really don't have anything to add.

With thanks to commenter juanjo54 at Joe.My.God.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Today's Must-Read: Shooting Yourself in the Foot

This is an interesting story via Spocko at Hullabaloo, illustrating how not to lobby for legislation you favor:

In March gun-rights activist Chris McNutt posted rants on Facebook about lack of movement on a Texas bill allowing gun owners to legally carry handguns without obtaining a state-issued license. McNutt, executive director of Texas Gun Rights, then drove to Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen's home about 50 miles south of Houston while Bonnen was in Austin and his wife and teenage sons were home. McNutt also visited the homes of Reps. Dustin Burrows of Lubbock and Four Price of Amarillo. . . .

After The Facts reported that Department of Public Safety troopers stopped Chris McNutt, executive director of Texas Gun Rights, in Bonnen’s neighborhood on March 27 Speaker Bonnen issued a written statement condemning the actions and declaring "Their issue is dead."  Advocate’s actions kill bill allowing no-permit gun carry The Statesman Bonnen’s statement came

Yes, they did kill the bill. It's an interesting read, with some detail on how these idiots think, if you want to call it that.

Sidebar: I've been binge-watching Midsomer Murders on Netflix. It's a series of murder mysteries set in the mythical Midsomer County in the English midlands, and one thing struck me last evening: it was one of the very rare appearances of a handgun. If guns appear at all, they are hunting rifles, and yet I find myself thinking periodically, as the action heats up, "If this were an American series, bullets would be flying." And yet the criminals are apprehended and sent off to their just deserts, and no one gets shot.

Yes, you can have law and order even if people aren't packing heat.

Sunday, April 07, 2019

Review: Harold Zwart: Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

I have to confess, I went to see Mortal Instruments: City of Bones simply because I had seen a big display at my second favorite theater. It opened at my favorite theater (close, cheap), so I went. I liked it well enough that when I ran across the DVD at the right price, I bought it.

Clary Fray (Lily Collins) is having a birthday. To celebrate, she goes out with her best friend, Simon (Robert Sheehan) to a poetry reading. As an antidote, she insists that they stop at a club afterward – because she saw a symbol on its sign that just like the symbol she’s been drawing. Strangely enough, no one else can see it. And somehow, she and Simon don’t really fit in, which becomes fairly obvious when she witnesses a murder that no one else sees – not even Simon. When she comes home one day to discover the apartment she shares with her mother, Jocelyn (Lena Headey) a sea of wreckage and said mother missing, she doesn’t quite know what to do, especially when she’s attacked by a pair of thugs and rescued in the nick of time by – the man who committed the murder she witnessed, Jace Wayland (Jamie Campbell Bower). From the fact that she can see him, he surmises that she is not a “mundane” – that is, human. She’s a Shadow Hunter, from a long line of Shadow Hunters, and she holds a secret that everyone is after – the whereabouts of a Chalice that enables the Shadow Hunters to survive. The problem is, she has no idea what it is or where it is. And it’s essential that it be found: the Shadow Hunters protect the world from demons, and without Shadow Hunters . . . well, you can guess.

Basically, this is a classic coming of age story – Clary first of all has to learn what she is and what she can do, and then how to do it. Add in werewolves, led by her mother’s sort-of boyfriend, Luke (Aidan Turner), and a mad Shadow Hunter, Valentine (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), who claims to be not only Clary’s father, but Jace’s, assorted demons, and the Portal, which can transport a Shadow Hunter to anywhere he or she can visualize clearly, and you have the makings of an engaging and action-packed adventure story on top of it.

And it works. I went into this one cold – not only was I not a fan of the books, I wasn’t even aware that they existed – so I was saved from premonitions of another Twilight. I admit, I was not riveted by Collins’ performance on first viewing – flashbacks to Kristen Stewart in Snow White and the Huntsman – but after seeing it a second time, I chalk that up to the meds my doctor has me on. I would have liked a bit more clarity in her growth into her powers, but I suspect the script is more than a little responsible for that – there’s doesn’t seem to be a lot of room for subtext here, which is a shame, because it affects all the characters. Bower is engaging as Jace, but somehow remote, whilte Sheehan is more than appealing as Simon, in good part because he’s really the only one who lets us into his head.

The effects are persuasive, and although the pacing is given to fits and starts, the acting is capable enough to carry it as an action/adventure quasi-horror flick.

And yet, it’s not that strong a film, largely because of that lack of subtext: the story’s engaging, the visuals are sometimes riveting, the characters are sympathetic, but when it was all over, I just said, “Well, that was nice” and went on to the next activity. It doesn’t really have the depth to stick with you.

Rated PG-13, running time 130 minutes.

(Constantin Film, Unique Features, Mister Smith Entertainment, Mr. Smith Productions, 2013)

What's New at Green Man Review

Yes, it's that time of the week, with yet more goodies on offer at GMR:

A Tale of Two Cities, A Bokashi Composter, Zombies, Scrapple, Jazz, Opera, and Other Tasty Matters

And it's all there just waiting for you.

Today's Must-Read: Yes, It Matters

A thoughtful essay by Lucas Grindley in The Atlantic about Pete Buttigieg's run for the presidency and why it's important:

Pete Buttigieg plays harmonica, guitar, and piano! He speaks Norwegian! Whoa, he actually speaks eight languages! I heard he even wrestled a bear live on CNN. None of the gee-whiz stories solidifying into the Buttigieg canon make any difference to me in deciding which of the Democratic candidates will get my vote. But as a gay man, I do care that Buttigieg is gay.

In my lifetime, it has been illegal for me to serve in the military, illegal for me to marry, illegal for me to adopt children, and even illegal for me to have sex. Society barred me from the first three; until 2003, the fourth meant risk of a fine or a prison sentence in some states. This discrimination did not just happen in a history book—it happened to me, and it happened to Buttigieg, too.

I don't have more to add, except to not that I'm somewhat older than either Buttigieg or Grindley, and grew up in an era when you didn't even talk about it.

Read it. With thanks to Mustang Bobby at BarkBarkWoofWoof.

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

A Little Kindness

This is the sort of thing I would do:

With thanks to commenter Doug105 at Joe.My.God.

Today's Must-Read: Rogue Court: A Twofer

While the continuing circus of the shenanigans of the occupant of the White House and Congressional investigations are hogging the news, the Supreme Court is taking us back to barbarism:

On Monday, five justices of the Supreme Court authorized Missouri to torture a man to death. In the process, they appear to have overruled decades of Eighth Amendment precedents in a quest to let states impose barbaric punishments, including excruciating executions, on prisoners. The court’s conservative majority has converted a once-fringe view into the law of the land, imperiling dozens of decisions protecting the rights of death row inmates, as well as juvenile offenders. Its ruling signals the end of an Eighth Amendment jurisprudence governed by “civilized standards”—and the beginning of a new, brutal era in American capital punishment.

I don't want to paint with too broad a brush, but Gorsuch's decision as described in the article seems to reflect the attitude of the "Christian" right. It's difficult to excerpt, but essentially, Gorsuch has adopted an interpretation of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of "cruel and unusual punishment" that not only ignores sixty years of precedent, but ensconces the interpretations of Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, which the Court has previous found "dangerously extreme", in the law.

That's bad enough, but when you add religious discrimination into the mix, it paints a pretty nasty picture:

Domineque Ray died at 10:12 p.m. Thursday night, by lethal injection at the Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, Alabama. The execution was allowed to proceed after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to stay it earlier in the day on Thursday. The request for the stay came via a religious argument — the prison’s policy only allowed a Christian chaplain into the execution chamber. Ray’s attorneys argued this policy violated his religious freedoms—Ray was Muslim.
(Emphasis added.)

If this isn't a clear-cut violation of the Establishment Clause, I can't think of anything that would be. The Court's conservatives, however, did not address that issue: they thought it was all about the timing. But the timing wasn't really left to Ray's discretion:

The Alabama statute in fact provides that both the chaplain of the prison and the inmate’s spiritual adviser of choice “may be present at an execution.” The prison refused to give Ray a copy of its own protocols—so he only learned about the Christian chaplain rule on Jan. 28 and petitioned five days later. Too bad, says the court, the state’s urgent need to carry out the execution overcomes Ray’s religious freedom. Kagan concludes, pointedly: “Ray has put forward a powerful claim that his religious rights will be violated at the moment the State puts him to death. The Eleventh Circuit wanted to hear that claim in full. Instead, this Court short-circuits that ordinary process—and itself rejects the claim with little briefing and no argument—just so the State can meet its preferred execution date.”

Just remember: "Elections have consequences."

Read them both.

With thanks to commenter billbear1961 at Joe.My.God.